This is a rewarding book. In terms of area, it has one foot firmly planted in metaphysics and the other just as firmly set in the philosophy of science. Nature's Metaphysics is distinctive for its thorough and detailed defense of fundamental, natural properties as essentially dispositional and for its description of how these dispositional properties are thus suited to sustain the laws of nature as (metaphysically) necessary truths.
This book is part of the Fundamentals in Philosophy series, edited by John Shand, offering introductions to core areas of philosophy which are “not mere bland expositions, and as such are original pieces of philosophy in their own right”. AlexanderBird’s book meets this remit admirably. In my review I shall concentrate on the philosophical argument of the work and set aside its merits as a student text though they compare well with rivals currently on offer.
In this paper I outline my conception of the epistemology of science, by reference to my published papers, showing how the ideas presented there fit together. In particular I discuss the aim of science, scientific progress, the nature of scientific evidence, the failings of empiricism, inference to the best (or only) explanation, and Kuhnian psychology of discovery. Throughout, I emphasize the significance of the concept of scientific knowledge.
Essentialism as applied to individuals is the claim that for at least some individuals there are properties that those individuals possess essentially. What it is to possess a property essentially is a matter of debate. To possess a property essentially is often taken to be akin to possessing a property necessarily, but stronger, although this is not a feature of Aristotle’s essentialism, according to which essential properties are those thing could not lose without ceasing to exist. Kit Fine (1994) takes (...) essential properties to be those that an object has in virtue of its identity, while other essentialists refer (as Fine also does) to the nature of an object as the source of its essential properties. It is sometimes important to distinguish the essential properties of a thing and the ‘full’ essence of a thing. The latter is the set of the essential properties of a thing, when that set necessarily suffices to determine the thing’s identity. One might hold that something has essential properties without agreeing that it has an identity-determining essence. Essentialism was largely in abeyance during the first two thirds of the twentieth century thanks to the domination of analytic philosophy by anti-metaphysical logical empiricism and the linguistic turn. The rehabilitation of essentialism owes much to the development of a formal apparatus for the understanding of modality more generally, thanks to C. I. Lewis, Ruth Barcan Marcus, and Saul Kripke. Kripke’s discussion of essentialism both about individuals and also about about natural kinds brought essentialism to wider philosophical prominence. Natural kind essentialism, which finds its modern genesis also in the work of Hilary Putnam, claims that natural kinds have essential properties: to say that possession of property P is is part of the essence of the kind K implies that, necessarily, every member or sample of the kind K possesses P. Essentialism about individuals has been linked to thinking about natural kinds by the contentious claim that one of the essential properties of any entity is that it belongs to the natural kind (or kinds) it actually belongs to. In this chapter I shall first outline certain claims and arguments concerning essentialism concerning individuals (Section 2).. (shrink)
Thomas Kuhn was undoubtedly the strongest influence on the philosophy of science in the last third of the twentieth century. Yet today, at the beginning of the twenty-first century it is unclear what his legacy really is. In the philosophy of science there is no characteristically Kuhnian school. This could be because we are all Kuhnians now. But it might also be because Kuhn’s thought, although revolutionary in its time, has since been superseded. In a sense both may be true. (...) We are all Copernicans—yet almost everything Copernicus believed we now disbelieve. In this paper I shall examine the development of Kuhn’s thought in connection with changes in the philosophy of science during the second half of the twentieth century. Now that philosophy in general, philosophy of science in particular, is in a post-positivist era, we all share Kuhn’s rejection of positivism. But we do not, for the most part, share Kuhn’s belief in incommensurability, or his scepticism about truth and objective knowledge. Just as in Copernicus’ case, Kuhn initiated a revolution that went far beyond what he himself envisaged or even properly understood. (shrink)
This paper sketches a dispositionalist conception of laws and shows how the dispositionalist should respond to certain objections. The view that properties are essentially dispositional is able to provide an account of laws that avoids the problems that face the two views of laws (the regularity and the contingent nomic necessitation views) that regard properties as categorical and laws as contingent. I discuss and reject the objections that (i) this view makes laws necessary whereas they are contingent; (ii) this view (...) cannot account for certain kinds of laws of nature and their properties. (shrink)
Those who favour an ontology based on dispositions are thereby able to provide a dispositional essentialist account of the laws of nature. In part 1 of this paper I sketch the dispositional essentialist conception of properties and the concomitant account of laws. In part 2, I characterise various claims about the modal character of properties that fall under the heading ‘quidditism’ and which are consequences of the categoricalist view of properties, which is the alternative to the dispositional essentialist view. I (...) argue that quidditism should be rejected. In part 3, I address a criticism of a strong dispositional essentialist view, viz. that ‘structural’ (i.e. geometrical, numerical, spatial and temporal) properties must be regarded as categorical. (shrink)
We talk as if there are natural kinds and in particular we quantify over them. We can count the number of elements discovered by Sir Humphrey Davy, or the number of kinds of particle in the standard model. Consequently, it looks at first sight at least, that natural kinds are entities of a sort. In the light of this we may ask certain questions: is the apparent existence of natural kinds real or an illusion? And if real, what sort of (...) entity are natural kinds? Are they sui generis? Or can they be identified with or reduced to some other kind of entity? In this essay I shall look at possible reasons for asserting that either kinds are no sort of entity, or, if they are entities, their existence is equivalent to some fact not involving kinds. Richard Boyd seems to take the view that the apparent existence of natural kinds is an illusion. (shrink)
In this paper I examine and question Marc Lange’s account of laws, and his claim that the law delineating the range of natural kinds of fundamental particle has a lesser grade of necessity that the laws connecting the fundamental properties of those kinds with their derived properties.
It is widely agreed that many causal relations can be regarded as dependent upon causal relations that are in some way more basic. For example, knocking down the first domino in a row of one hundred dominoes will be the cause of the hundredth domino falling. But this causal relation exists in virtue of the knocking of the first domino causing the falling of the second domino, and so forth. In such a case, A causes B in virtue of there (...) being intermediate events I1 . . . In such that A causes I1, I1 causes I2, . . . , In−1 causes In, and In causes B. Cases of this sort include my putting my foot on the brake causing the car to slow, the smoke from a fire causing the fire brigade to be alerted, and so forth. In other cases the more basic causal relations may not be intermediate (or at least it is controversial that they are). My seeing that it is raining may cause me to want to stay inside, and this causal relation depends upon more basic causal relations among various components of my brain. But it does not seem possible to analyze this in terms of my perception causing certain brain events, which cause other brain events, which eventually cause my desire. Rather it seems as if the principle causal relation, between perception and desire, is constituted, rather than mediated, by the more basic causal relations in the brain. The same is true of the operation of the dynamo causing the current to flow. Again there are not intermediate events, but rather the causal relation between them is constituted by the motion of the charged particles in the wires moving though a magnetic field, which causes an electric field, which causes the charges to move in the wire. There are thus at least two kinds of complex causal relation: the chain kind and the constitution kind. If we wish to understand causation, we need to understand the basic causal relations, at least as found in the chain kind. That is, to understand what it is for A to cause B when the latter is a causal relation of the chain kind, requires understanding what it is for the intermediate, basic causal relations to hold. In the case of a complex causal relation of the constitution kind, it is may be that understanding what it is for A and B to be causally related does not require understanding what it is for the constituting causal relations to hold.. (shrink)
Is the nature of explanation a metaphysical issue? Or has it more to do with psychology and pragmatics? To put things in a different way: what are primary relata in an explanation? What sorts of thing explain what other sorts of thing? David Lewis identiﬁes two senses of ‘explanation’ (Lewis 1986, 217–218). In the ﬁrst sense, an explanation is an act of explaining. I shall call this the subjectivist sense, since its existence depends on some subject doing the explaining. Hence (...) it is people who, in this sense, explain things. In the second of his two senses, Lewis says, quoting Sylvain Bromberger, that one may properly ask of an explanation “Does anyone know it? Who thought of it ﬁrst? Is it very complicated?” (Lewis 1986, 218; Bromberger 1965). In this second sense, no subject is needed, the explanation can remain unknown, perhaps for ever. So I call this the objectivist sense. (shrink)
I present an argument that encapsulates the view that theory is underdetermined by evidence. I show that if we accept Williamson's equation of evidence and knowledge, then this argument is question-begging. I examine ways of defenders of underdetermination may avoid this criticism. I also relate this argument and my critique to van Fraassen's constructive empiricism.
Dispositional essentialists claim that dispositional properties are essentially dispositional: a property would not be the property it is unless it carried with it certain dispositional powers. Categoricalists about dispositional properties deny this, asserting that the same properties might have had different dispositional powers, had the contingent laws of nature been otherwise.
Peter Lipton argues that inference to the best explanation involves the selection of a hypothesis on the basis of its loveliness. I argue that in optimal cases, a form of eliminative induction takes place, which I call ‘Holmesian inference’. I illustrate Holmesian inference by reference to examples from the history of medicine.
The usual, comparative, conception of Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) takes it to be ampliative. In this paper I propose a conception of IBE (‘Holmesian inference’) that takes it to be a species of eliminative induction and hence not ampliative. This avoids several problems for comparative IBE (e.g. how could it be reliable enough to generate knowledge?). My account of Holmesian inference raises the suspicion that it could never be applied, on the grounds that scientific hypotheses are inevitably underdetermined (...) by the evidence (i.e. are inevitably ampliative). I argue that this concern may be resisted by acknowledging, as Timothy Williamson has shown, that all knowledge is evidence. This suggests an approach to resisting scepticism different from those (e.g. the reliabilist approach) that embrace fallibilism. (shrink)
In this paper I draw a connection between Kuhn and the empiricist legacy, specifically between his thesis of incommensurability, in particular in its later taxonomic form, and van Fraassen's constructive empiricism. I show that if it is the case the empirically equivalent but genuinely distinct theories do exist, then we can expect such theories to be taxonomically incommensurable. I link this to Hacking's claim that Kuhn was a nominalist. I also argue that Kuhn and van Fraassen do not differ as (...) much as might be thought as regards the claim that observation is theory laden. (shrink)
This paper discusses the prospects of a dispositional solution to the Kripke–Wittgenstein rule-following puzzle. Recent attempts to employ dispositional approaches to this puzzle have appealed to the ideas of finks and antidotes—interfering dispositions and conditions—to explain why the rule-following disposition is not always manifested. We argue that this approach fails: agents cannot be supposed to have straightforward dispositions to follow a rule which are in some fashion masked by other, contrary dispositions of the agent, because in all cases, at least (...) some of the interfering dispositions are both relatively permanent and intrinsic to the agent. The presence of these intrinsic and relatively permanent states renders the ascription of a rule-following disposition to the agent false. (shrink)
Dispositions are related to conditionals. Typically a fragile glass will break if struck with force. But possession of the disposition does not entail the corresponding simple (subjunctive or counterfactual) conditional. The phenomena of finks and antidotes show that an object may possess the disposition without the conditional being true. Finks and antidotes may be thought of as exceptions to the straightforward relation between disposition and conditional. The existence of these phenomena are easy to demonstrate at the macro-level. But do they (...) exist at the fundamental level also? While fundamental finkish dispositions may be excluded fairly straightforwardly, the existence of fundamental antidotes is more open. Nonetheless I conclude that the phenomenon is likely to be less widespread than at the macro level and that fundamental antidotes may be eliminable. According to the dispositional essentialist, the laws of nature can be explained by taking natural properties to be essentially dispositional. This account can be extended to show that the existence of finks and antidotes explains ceteris paribus laws. Consequently the existence or otherwise of fundamental finks and antidotes sheds some light on the question of whether fundamental laws may also be ceteris paribus laws. (shrink)
Those who hold that all fundamental sparse properties have dispositional essences face a problem with structural (e.g. geometrical) properties. In this paper I consider a further route for the dispositional monist that is enabled by the requirement that physical theories should be background-free. If this requirement is respected then we can see how spatial displacement can be a causally active relation and hence may be understood dispositionally.
I defend my view that scientific progress is constituted by the accumulation of knowledge against a challenge from Rowbottom in favour of the semantic view that it is only truth that is relevant to progress.
Dispositional essentialism, a plausible view about the natures of (sparse or natural) properties, yields a satisfying explanation of the nature of laws also. The resulting necessitarian conception of laws comes in a weaker version, which allows differences between possible worlds as regards which laws hold in those worlds and a stronger version that does not. The main aim of this paper is to articulate what is involved in accepting the stronger version, most especially the consequence that all possible properties exist (...) in all worlds. I also suggest that there is no particularly strong reason for preferring the weaker to the stronger version. For example, Armstrong's instantiation condition on universals entails that according to strong necessitarianism every property is instantiated in all possible worlds. But first we do not need to accept Armstrong's instantiation condition, in part because his arguments for it are forceful only for a contingentist about laws and properties. Secondly, even if we do accept the condition, the consequence that all properties are instantiated is not itself contradictory, so long as any form of necessitarianism holds. Strong necessitarianism is prima facie counter-intuitive. But for that matter so is weak necessitarianism. Accepting either weak or strong necessitarianism requires denying the force of intuition in this area. And indeed we have every reason to deny the force of intuition and its primary source, imagination, concerning modal facts. (shrink)
Rae Langton and Jennifer Hornsby have argued that pornography might create a climate whereby a woman’s ability to refuse sex is literally silenced or removed. Their central argument is that a failure of ‘uptake’ of the woman’s intention means that the illocutionary speech act of refusal has not taken place. In this paper, I challenge the claims from the Austinian philosophy of language which feature in this argument. I argue that uptake is not in general required for illocution, nor is (...) it required for refusal in particular. I conclude with remarks on the relationship between illocutionary and perlocutionary speech-acts. (shrink)
In ‘Finkish Dispositions’1 David Lewis proposes an analysis of dispositions which improves on the simple conditional analysis. In this paper I show that Lewis’ analysis still fails. I also argue that repairs are of no avail, and suggest why this is so.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is one of the most cited academic books of all time. His contribution to the philosophy science marked not only a break with several key positivist doctrines but also inaugurated a new style of philosophy of science that brought it much closer to the history of science. His account of the development of science held that science enjoys periods of stable growth punctuated by revisionary revolutions, to which he added the controversial ‘incommensurability thesis’, that theories (...) from differing periods suffer from certain deep kinds of failure of comparability. (shrink)
Dispositional monism is the view that natural properties and relations are ‘pure powers’. It is objected that dispositional monism involves some kind of vicious or otherwise unpalatable regress or circularity. I examine ways of making this objection precise. The most pressing interpretation is that is fails to make the identities of powers determinate. I demonstrate that this objection is in error. It does however puts certain constraints on what the structure of fundamental properties is like. I show what a satisfactory (...) structure would be. (shrink)
I show that Armstrong’s view of laws as second-order contingent relations of ‘necessitation’ among categorical properties faces a dilemma. The necessitation relation confers a relation of extensional inclusion (‘constant conjunction’) on its relata. It does so either necessarily or contingently. If necessarily, it is not a categorical relation (in the relevant sense). If contingently, then an explanation is required of how it confers extensional inclusion. That explanation will need to appeal to a third-order relation between necessitation and extensional inclusion. The (...) same dilemma reappears at this level. Either Armstrong must concede that some properties are not categorical but have essential powers – or he is faced with a regress. (shrink)
Emergent properties are intended to be genuine, natural higher level causally efficacious properties irreducible to physical ones. At the same time they are somehow dependent on or 'emergent from' complexes of physical properties, so that the doctrine of emergent properties is not supposed to be returned to dualism. The doctrine faces two challenges: (i) to explain precisely how it is that such properties emerge - what is emergence; (ii) to explain how they sidestep the exclusion problem - how it is (...) that there is room for these properties to be causally efficacious, given the causal completeness of the physical. In this paper I explain how functional properties can meet both challenges. (shrink)
Why, despite his enormous inﬂuence in the latter part of the twentieth century, has Kuhn left no distinctively Kuhnian legacy? I argue that this is because the development of Kuhn’s own thought was in a direction opposite to that of the mainstream of the philosophy of science. In the 1970s and 1980s the philosophy of science took on board the lessons of externalism as regards reference and knowledge, and became more sympathetic to a naturalistic approach to philosophical problems. Kuhn, on (...) the other hand, started out with a strong naturalistic streak, employing non-philosophical disciplines, primarily psychology, in order to build his accounts of scientiﬁc change and the nature of observation and scientiﬁc thought. But by the 1970s Kuhn’s work had taken on a much more purely philosophical, a priori, tone. His explanation of incommensurability moved from a psychological explanation to one embedded in the philosophy of language. Increasingly he gave his outlook a Kantian gloss. I suggest, nonetheless, that Kuhn’s most valuable contribution is to be found in The Structure of Scientiﬁc Revolutions and not in his later work, and that the naturalistic direction of the former has important links with connectionist research in cognitive science that deserve further study. 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. (shrink)
I defend this claim that some natural essences can be known (only) a pos- teriori against two philosophers who accept essentialism but who hold that essences are known a priori: Joseph LaPorte, who argues from the use of kind terms in science, and E. J. Lowe, who argues from general metaphysical and epistemological principles.
In this paper I aim to show that a certain law of nature, namely that common salt (sodium chloride) dissolves in water, is metaphysically necessary. The importance of this result is that it conﬂicts with a widely shared intuition that the laws of nature (most if not all) are contingent. There have been debates over whether some laws, such as Newton’s second law, might be deﬁnitional of their key terms and hence necessary. But the law that salt dissolves in water (...) is not that kind of law. The law statement ‘salt dissolves in water’ is clearly synthetic. It appears a classic case of a contingent law. We like to believe that there are possible worlds in which the laws of nature are different and in which salt does not dissolve in water. (shrink)
Debates concerning the analysis of the concept of law of nature must address the following problem. On the one hand, our grasp of laws of nature is via our knowledge of their instances. And this seems not only an epistemological truth but also a semantic one. The concept of a law of nature must be explicated in terms of the things that instantiate the law. It is not simply that a piece of metal that conducts electricity is evidence for a (...) law that metals conduct electricity. It is also the case that to explicate what it is for there to be such a law requires, and requires little more than, alluding to the fact that the piece of metal conducting electricity is an instance of that law. This is the driving intuition behind regularity theories of laws — to understand the concept ‘law,’ as in ‘it is a law that metals conduct electricity’ one need only understand little more than what it is for something to be a metal and to conduct electricity and the concept of universal generalization. On this view a law just is a regularity (or some kind of regularity) among its instances. (shrink)
In his (2002) Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra provides a powerful articulation of the claim that Resemblance Nominalism provides the best answer to the so-called Problem of Universals. Resemblance Nominalism has not been popular for some time, and one inﬂuential reason for this is the widespread belief that Resemblance Nominalism cannot dispense with all universals. The realist critics appeal to what is known as Russell’s Regress (cf. Russell 1997). If properties are to be explained in terms of one object’s resembling another, then this (...) seems to leave the relational property of resemblance itself unexplained. The critics’ objection is that this property itself must be explained by a dyadic universal of resemblance. (shrink)
Evidence is often taken to be foundational, in that while other propositions may be inferred from our evidence, evidence propositions are themselves not inferred from anything. I argue that this conception is false, since the non-inferential propositions on which beliefs are ultimately founded may be forgotten or undermined in the course of enquiry.
Selection explanations explain some non-accidental generalizations in virtue of a selection process. Such explanations are not particulaizable - they do not transfer as explanations of the instances of such generalizations. This is unlike many explanations in the physical sciences, where the explanation of the general fact also provides an explanation of its instances (i.e. standard D-N explanations). Are selection explanations (e.g. in biology) therefore a different kind of explanation? I argue that to understand this issue, we need to see that (...) a standard D-N explanation of some non-accidental generalization (al Fs are Gs) may also ipso facto explain its contrapositive (all non-Gs are non-Fs), but the explanation is particularizable with respect to the former but not to the latter. This can be seen by noting that the Raven Paradox counterexample to the H-D model of confirmation also generates a counterexample to the D-N model of explanation (all ravens are black does not explain why the non-black shoe is a non-raven). In such cases it is natural to take the generalization with the positive predicates to have a particularizable explanation. However, this need not be the case, and in selection explanations it is the generalization with the positive predicates whose explanation is no particularizable. Thus there is no need to suppose that selection explanations are fundamentally different. (shrink)
The first obstacle that confronts the student of induction is that of defining the subject matter. One initial point is to note that much of the relevant subject matter goes under the description ‘the theory of confirmation’. The distinction is primarily that the study of induction concerns inference, i.e. cases where one takes the conclusion to be established by the evidence, whereas confirmation concerns the weight of evidence, which one may take to be something like the credibility of a hypothesis (...) in the light of the evidence. Discussions of confirmation often concern incremental confirmation, i.e. cases where the evidence is taken to increase the credibility of some hypothesis, even if not sufficiently to warrant inferring the truth of that hypothesis. However, some uses of ‘confirmation’ clearly refer to absolute confirmation, cases where the credibility of the hypothesis in the light of the evidence exceeds some (high) threshold. One may ask whether inductive inference corresponds to the case of absolute confirmation for some suitable threshold. I shall discuss inference and confirmation together, though it should be noted that some approaches eschew inference altogether. For example, the Bayesian takes scientific reasoning to be a matter of adjusting credences in propositions in the light of evidence, and says nothing about unqualified belief in a proposition. However, if we are interested in inductive knowledge then we must consider inference, since only then do we have a detached proposition that is the possible content of a mental state of knowing. A more pressing question concerns which inferences (or allegedly confirmatory relations) should be classed as inductive. A natural and straightforward approach is to define induction as encompassing any form of reasoning that extrapolates from one population to another, usually from a sample of a population to the whole population. For example, one might note that all observations of the position of some planet fall on an ellipse that has the Sun at one of its foci; from this one concludes that all the positions that planet takes fall on this ellipse (i.e.. (shrink)
I argue for the claim that if Lewis’s regularity theory of laws were true, we could not know any positive law statement to be true. Premise 1: According to that theory, for any law statement true of the actual world, there is always a nearby world where the law statement is false (a world that differs with respect to one matter of particular fact). Premise 2: One cannot know a proposition to be true if it is false in a nearby (...) world (the epistemological safety principle). The conclusion that no law statement can be known to be true follows immediately from the two premises. (shrink)
I defend against criticism the following claims concening Thomas Kuhn: (i) there is a strong naturalist streak in The structure of scientific revolutions, whereby Kuhn used the results of a posteriori enquiry in addressing philosophical questions; (ii) as Kuhn's career as a philosopher of science developed he tended to drop the naturalistic elements and to replace them with more traditionally philosophical a prior approaches; (iii) at the same there is a significant residue of positivist thought in Kuhm, which Kuhn did (...) not recognise as such; (iv) the naturalist elements referred to in (i) are the most original and fruitful elements of Kuhn's thinking; (v) the positivistic elements referred to in (iii) vitiated his thought and acted as factors in preventing Kuhn from developing the naturalistic elemtns and from following the path taken by much subsequent philosophy of science. Preston presents an alternative reading of Kuhn which emphasizes the Wittgensteinian elements in Kuhn. I argue that this alternative view is, descriptively, poorly supported by the textual evidence and the facts of the history of philosophy of science in the twentieth century. I provide some defence of the naturalistic approach and related themes. (shrink)
I argue that the naturalism of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientiﬁc Revolutions, which he himself later ignored, is worthy of rehabilitation. A naturalistic conception of paradigms is ripe for development with the tools of cognitive science. As a consequence a naturalistic understanding of world-change and incommensurability is also viable.
Can we have a posteriori knowledge of modal facts? And if so, is that knowledge fundamentally a posteriori, or does a priori intuition provide the modal component of what is known? Though the latter view seems more straightforward, there are also reasons for taking the first option seriously.
Let us call a property that is essentially dispositional a potency.1 David Armstrong thinks that potencies do not exist. All sparse properties are essentially categorical, where sparse properties are the explanatory properties of the type science seeks to discover. An alternative view, but not the only one, is that all sparse properties are potencies or supervene upon them. In this paper I shall consider the differences between these views, in particular the objections Armstrong raises against potencies.