According to StevenWeinberg, it is the goal of elementary particle physics to search for the final laws of physics, i.e. a simple set of principles from which everything we know about physics can be derived. The main criterion that guides the search for such a set of principles is, according to the author, the sense of inevitability of physical theories, which Weinberg conflates with the idea of beauty. The theoretical physicists’ task is, in this sense, to (...) look for constraining principles, such as symmetries and renormalizability, that increase the sense of inevitability of physical laws. It is the goal of this paper to discuss Weinberg’s arguments in favor of reductionism, as well as his conception of final theory and the associated concept of “inevitability.”. (shrink)
Like many other scientists, I was amused by news of the prank played by the NYU mathematical physicist Alan Sokal. Late in 1994 he submitted a sham article to the cultural studies journal Social Text, in which he reviewed some current topics in physics and mathematics, and with tongue in cheek drew various cultural, philosophical and political morals that he felt would appeal to fashionable academic commentators on science who question the claims of science to objectivity.
In this essay I examine a recent argument by StevenWeinberg that seeks to establish local quantum field theory as the only type of quantum theory in accord with the relevent evidence and satisfying two basic physical principles. I reconstruct the argument as a demonstrative induction and indicate it's role as a foil to the underdetermination argument in the debate over scientific realism.
I examine the construction process of the “Higgs mechanism” and its subsequent use by StevenWeinberg to formulate the electroweak theory of elementary particle physics. I characterize the development of the Higgs mechanism as a historical process that was guided through analogies drawn to the theories of solid-state physics and that was progressive through diverse contributions in the sixties from a number of physicists working independently. I also offer a detailed comparative study of the similarities and the differences (...) that exist between the approaches taken in these contributions. (shrink)
Might the world be structured, as Leibniz thought, so that every part of matter is divided ad infinitum? The Physicist David Bohm accepted infinitely decomposable matter, and even StevenWeinberg, a staunch supporter of the idea that science is converging on a final theory, admits the possibility of an endless chain of ever more fundamental theories. However, if there is no fundamental level, physicalism, thought of as the view that everything is determined by fundamental phenomena and that all (...) fundamental phenomena are physical, turns out false, for in such a world, there are no fundamental phenomena, and so fundamental phenomena determine nothing. While some take physicalism necessarily to posit a fundamental level, here I present a thesis of physicalism that allows for its truth even in an infinitely decomposable world. (shrink)
Karl Giberson and Mariano Artigas offer an informed analysis on the views of Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, Edward O. Wilson, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking and StevenWeinberg; carefully distinguishing science from philosophy and religion in the writings of the oracles.
Might the world be structured, as Leibniz thought, so that every part of matter is divided ad infinitum? The Physicist David Bohm accepted infinitely decomposable matter, and even StevenWeinberg, a staunch supporter of the idea that science is converging on a final theory, admits the possibility of an endless chain of ever more fundamental theories. However, if there is no fundamental level, physicalism, thought of as the view that everything is determined by fundamental phenomena and that all (...) fundamental phenomena are physical, turns out false, for in such a world, there are no fundamental phenoma, and so fundamental phenomena determine nothing. While some take physicalism necessarily to posit a fundamental level, here I present a thesis of physicalism that allows for its truth even in an infinitely decomposable world. (shrink)
It has been widely believed since the nineteenth century that modern science provides a serious challenge to religion, but less agreement as to the reason. One main complication is that whenever there has been broad consensus for a scientific theory that challenges traditional religious doctrines, one finds religious believers endorsing the theory or even formulating it. As a result, atheists who argue for the incompatibility of science and religion often go beyond the religious implications of individual scientific theories, arguing that (...) the sciences taken together provide a comprehensive challenge to religious belief. Scientific theories, on this view, can be integrated to form a general vision of humans and our place in nature, one that excludes the existence of supernatural phenomena to which many religious traditions refer. The most common name given to this general vision is the scientific worldview. The purpose of my paper is to argue that the relation of a worldview to science is more complex and ambiguous than this position allows, drawing upon recent work in the history and philosophy of science. While there are other ways to complicate the picture, this paper will focus on differing views that scientists and philosophers have on the proper scope and limits of scientific inquiry. I will identify two different types of science—Baconian and Cartesian—that have different ambitions with respect to scientific theories, and thus different answers about the possibility of a scientific worldview. The paper will conclude by showing how their differing intuitions about scientific inquiry are evident in contemporary debates about reductionism, drawing upon the work of two physicists, StevenWeinberg and John Polkinghorne. History is more complex than this simple schema allows, of course, but these types provide a useful first approximation into the ambiguities of modern science. (shrink)
This compelling study of the origins of all that exists, including explanations of the entire material world, traces the responses of philosophers and scientists to the most elemental and haunting question of all: why is _anything_ here—or anything _anywhere_? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why not nothing? It includes the thoughts of dozens of luminaries from Plato and Aristotle to Aquinas and Leibniz to modern thinkers such as physicists Stephen Hawking and StevenWeinberg, philosophers Robert Nozick (...) and Derek Parfit, philosophers of religion Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne, and the Dalai Lama. The first accessible volume to cover a wide range of possible reasons for the existence of all reality, from over 50 renowned thinkers, including Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Leibniz, Hume, Bertrand Russell, Stephen Hawking, StevenWeinberg, Robert Nozick, Derek Parfit, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, John Polkinghorne, Paul Davies, and the Dalai Lama Features insights by scientists, philosophers, and theologians Includes informative and helpful editorial introductions to each section Provides a wealth of suggestions for further reading and research Presents material that is both comprehensive and comprehensible. (shrink)
The theoretical physicist Paul Dirac rejected, explicitly on aesthetic grounds, a successful theory known as quantum electrodynamics (QED), which is the prototype for the family of theories known as quantum field theories (QFTs). Remarkably, the theoretical physicist StevenWeinberg, also largely on aesthetic grounds, supports QED and other QFTs. In order to evaluate these opposing aesthetic views a short introduction to the physical properties of QFTs is presented together with a detailed analysis of the aesthetic claims of Dirac (...) and Weinberg. It turns out that Dirac rejected QED, without regard to its success, because this theory fails to yield to what he perceived as beautiful mathematics, whereas Weinberg's support of QFTs is founded primarily on the physical concepts of the theories. In particular, he relies on symmetries that are the basis for the construction of the extremely successful current fundamental theories of particles physics. This success was decisive in leading to Weinberg's conviction of the beauty of QFTs. As a result of the evaluation of these approaches, the factors causing scientists to perceive a theory as being a fundamentally beautiful theory are discussed in detail. (shrink)
Although many philosophers do not consider Thomas Kuhn to be a great philosopher, there are at least two reasons to do so. First, he helped to remap our culture and created for it a new structural plan, and second even without being educated in philosophy his work bears an important metaphilosophical message. I took his work and applied consequences on the field of philosophy which helped me to view our culture not as an epistemological and ontological hierarchy reaching from formal (...) sciences down to rhetoric, but as a spectrum of viewpoints with rigidity of norms on one end and constant change on the other. There are still those who think Kuhn should not be taken seriously. Among them there are both analytic philosophers and natural scientists. StevenWeinberg serves as a great example. He believes that by virtue of his participation in the actual process of making physics he knows all the problems of philosophy of his discipline. He uses terms which philosophers were deciphering for a long time without any contemplation over their meaning. Kuhn is one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century and although he was afraid to articulate all consequences of his revolutionary work, he did a great job in showing us that the privileged position science has in our culture in not entirely justified. (shrink)
The question of the limits of reason, not just within philosophy but also in the modern sciences, is arguably more important than ever given numerous recent commentaries on “life”, “reality”, meaning, purpose, pointlessness and so on, emanating not from philosophers or metaphysicians, but rather from physicists and biologists such as StevenWeinberg and Richard Dawkins. It will be argued that such commentaries concerning the “pointlessness” of the universe, or the purpose of “life’, and other such things, are flawed (...) and unconvincing, not least because they seem to overlook or forget a number of well known and significant philosophical contributions on the question of limits, particularly by Kant, but also by Hume, Russell and Sir A J Ayer. (shrink)
In the first section of this paper, I discuss a quantum mechanical account, which is endorsed by the MIT physicist, Alan Guth, of the origin of what Guth believes to have been an absolutely first universe. I argue that, though his explanation is unsound, there is no reason to think that it needs to be replaced by a supernaturalist one. In the second section, I argue that though Professor StevenWeinberg's tentative explanation of the apparent fine-tuning of the (...) cosmological constant is unacceptable, we need not accept a supernaturalist account of the coming about of intelligent life. (shrink)
Scientific realism is the view that the aim of science is to produce true or approximately true theories about nature. It is a view which not only is shared by many philosophers but also by scientists themselves. Regarding Kuhn’s rejection of scientific progress, StevenWeinberg once declared: “All this is wormwood to scientists like myself, who think the task of science is to bring us closer and closer to objective truth.” But such a realist view on scientific theories (...) is not without problems. The paper discusses some arguments for and against the ontological commitments that scientific theories may entail. The upshot is that scientific realism according to which the semantic content of theories should be understood literally is not sustainable. Instead, it is argued that only realism with respect to entities can be reasonably and practically maintained. Finally, the paper discusses structural realism which presents itself as a modern alternative to scientific realism which may meet both the optimistic no-miracle argument and the pessimistic meta-induction argument. My conclusion is that such a position is neither attractive nor defendable. (shrink)
Near the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle claims that “our discussion will be adequate if its degree of clarity reflects the subject matter.” Those who seek to give a proper “theoretical” account of some enterprise, but who neglect this wise Aristotelian counsel, do so at their own peril. Aristotle is urging that sound theory should reflect and elucidate actual practice. When philosophical speculation loses touch with such practice, it tends to caricature what it ought to clarify. For example, (...) class='Hi'>StevenWeinberg points out the disparity that often exists between the view of science one finds expounded by some contemporary “philosophers of science” and that presupposed by those really engaged in scientific research: “From time to time I have tried to read current work on the philosophy of science. (shrink)
Alfred North Whitehead advanced a version of multiverse theory in 1929 that bears a remarkable affinity to the revolutionary ideas of current cosmological speculation. He postulated his theory for some of the very same reasons as those advanced today by leading cosmologists and physicists such as Martin Rees, Lee Smolin, Stephen Hawking, Max Tegmark and StevenWeinberg, but his theory has largely gone unnoticed.
In this paper we propose to argue for two claims. The first is that a sizeable group of epistemological projects – a group which includes much of what has been done in epistemology in the analytic tradition – would be seriously undermined if one or more of a cluster of empirical hypotheses about epistemic intuitions turns out to be true. The basis for this claim will be set out in Section 2. The second claim is that, while the jury is (...) still out, there is now a substantial body of evidence suggesting that some of those empirical hypotheses are true. Much of this evidence derives from an ongoing series of experimental studies of epistemic intuitions that we have been conducting. A preliminary report on these studies will be presented in Section 3. In light of these studies, we think it is incumbent on those who pursue the epistemological projects in question to either explain why the truth of the hypotheses does not undermine their projects, or to say why, in light of the evidence we will present, they nonetheless assume that the hypotheses are false. In Section 4, which is devoted to Objections and Replies, we’ll consider some of the ways in which defenders of the projects we are criticizing might reply to our challenge. Our goal, in all of this, is not to offer a conclusive argument demonstrating that the epistemological projects we will be criticizing are untenable. Rather, our aim is to shift the burden of argument. (shrink)
Recent experimental philosophy arguments have raised trouble for philosophers' reliance on armchair intuitions. One popular line of response has been the expertise defense: philosophers are highly-trained experts, whereas the subjects in the experimental philosophy studies have generally been ordinary undergraduates, and so there's no reason to think philosophers will make the same mistakes. But this deploys a substantive empirical claim, that philosophers' training indeed inculcates sufficient protection from such mistakes. We canvass the psychological literature on expertise, which indicates that people (...) are not generally very good at reckoning who will develop expertise under what circumstances. We consider three promising hypotheses concerning what philosophical expertise might consist in: (i) better conceptual schemata; (ii) mastery of entrenched theories; and (iii) general practical know-how with the entertaining of hypotheticals. On inspection, none seem to provide us with good reason to endorse this key empirical premise of the expertise defense. (shrink)
Using empirical evidence to attack intuitions can be epistemically dangerous, because various of the complaints that one might raise against them (e.g., that they are fallible; that we possess no non-circular defense of their reliability) can be raised just as easily against perception itself. But the opponents of intuition wish to challenge intuitions without at the same time challenging the rest of our epistemic apparatus. How might this be done? Let us use the term “hopefulness” to refer to the extent (...) to which we possess a good capacity for the detection and correction of the errors of any fallible source of evidence. I argue that we should not trust putative sources of evidence that are substantially lacking in hopefulness (even if they are basically reliable), and that we are indeed already operating under such a norm in our ordinary and scientific practices. I argue further that the philosophical practice of the appeal to intuitions is, in these terms, badly hopeless... (shrink)
Shelley Weinberg argues that the idea of consciousness as a form of non-evaluative self-awareness helps solve some of the thorniest issues in Locke's philosophy: in his philosophical psychology, and his theories of knowledge, personal identity, and moral agency. The model of consciousness set forth here binds these key issues with a common thread.
It has become increasingly popular to respond to experimental philosophy by suggesting that experimental philosophers haven’t been studying the right kind of thing. One version of this kind of response, which we call the reflection defense, involves suggesting both that philosophers are interested only in intuitions that are the product of careful reflection on the details of hypothetical cases and the key concepts involved in those cases, and that these kinds of philosophical intuitions haven’t yet been adequately studied by experimental (...) philosophers. Of course, as a defensivemove, thisworks only if reflective intuitions are immune from the kinds of problematic effects that form the basis of recent experimental challenges to philosophy’s intuition-deploying practices. If they are not immune to these kinds of effects, then the fact that experimental philosophers have not had the right kind of thing in their sights would provide little comfort to folks invested in philosophy’s intuition-deploying practices. Here we provide reasons to worry that even reflective intuitions can display sensitivity to the same kinds of problematic effects, although possibly in slightly different ways. As it turns out, being reflective might sometimes just mean being wrong in a different way. (shrink)
Locke’s account of personal identity has been highly influential because of its emphasis on a psychological criterion. The same consciousness is required for being the same person. It is not so clear, however, exactly what Locke meant by ‘consciousness’ or by ‘having the same consciousness’. Interpretations vary: consciousness is seen as identical to memory, as identical to a first personal appropriation of mental states, and as identical to a first personal distinctive experience of the qualitative features of one’s own thinking. (...) There is wide agreement, however, that Locke’s theory of personal identity is meant to complement his moral and theological commitments to a system of divine punishment and reward in an afterlife. But these commitments seem to require also a metaphysical criterion, and Locke is insistent that it cannot be substance. The difficulty reconciling the psychological and metaphysical requirements of the theory has led, at worst, to charges of incoherence and, at best, to a slew of interpretations, none of which is widely accepted. (shrink)
In order for Herman Cappelen to argue in his Philosophy Without Intuitions that philosophers have been on the whole mistaken in thinking that we actually use intuitions much at all in our first-order philosophizing, he must attempt the task of characterizing what something must be, in order to be an intuition.My discussion here is focused on the latter half of the book concerning the “argument from philosophical practice. I am in wholehearted agreement with the first half’s thesis that the usage (...) of the term “intuition” is highly motley and of no methodological use. I truly sympathize with the frustration he evidently feels at wrangling with that task, because I’ve felt the same in my own project critiquing what I do take to be a fairly common practice in contemporary philosophy that we often gesture at when we speak of intuitions. For the literature on intuitions can be a total mess on even the most basic questions about what intuitions are: beliefs, or sui generis seemings? Special in .. (shrink)
How ought we to go about forming and revising our beliefs, arguing and debating our reasons, and investigating our world? If those questions constitute normative epistemology, then I am interested here in normative metaepistemology: the investigation into how we ought to go about forming and revising our beliefs about how we ought to go about forming and revising our beliefs -- how we ought to argue about how we ought to argue. Such investigations have become urgent of late, for the (...) methodology of epistemology has reached something of a crisis. For analytic epistemology of the last half-century has relied overwhelmingly on intuitions,1 and a growing set of arguments and data has begun to call this reliance on intuition seriously into question (e.g., Weinberg, Nichols, and Stich 2001; Nichols, Stich, and Weinberg 2003; Cummins 1998). Although that method has not been entirely without defenders (BonJour 1998; Bealer 1996; Jackson 1998; Sosa forthcoming; Weatherson 2003), these defenses have not generally risen to the specific challenges leveled by the anti-intuitionist critics. In particular, the critics have attacked specific ways of deploying intuitions, and the defenders have overwhelmingly responded with in-principle defenses of the cogency of appealing to intuition. An analogy here would be someone’s responding to arguments alleging systematic.. (shrink)
The practice of appealing to esoteric intuitions, long standard in analytic philosophy, has recently fallen on hard times. Various recent empirical results have suggested that philosophers are not currently able to distinguish good intuitions from bad. This paper evaluates one possible type of approach to this problematic methodological situation: calibration. Both critiquing and building on an argument from Robert Cummins, the paper explores what possible avenues may exist for the calibration of philosophical intuitions. It is argued that no good options (...) are currently available, but leaves open the real possibility of such a calibration in the future. (shrink)
As an emerging discipline, neuroeconomics faces considerable methodological and practical challenges. In this paper, I suggest that these challenges can be understood by exploring the similarities and dissimilarities between the emergence of neuroeconomics and the emergence of cognitive and computational neuroscience two decades ago. From these parallels, I suggest the major challenge facing theory formation in the neural and behavioural sciences is that of being under-constrained by data, making a detailed understanding of physical implementation necessary for theory construction in neuroeconomics. (...) Rather than following a top-down strategy, neuroeconomists should be pragmatic in the use of available data from animal models, information regarding neural pathways and projections, computational models of neural function, functional imaging and behavioural data. By providing convergent evidence across multiple levels of organization, neuroeconomics will have its most promising prospects of success. (shrink)
After more than a decade of reflection on obedience experiments based on a laboratory model of his own design, the social psychologist Stanley Milgram is clearly confident that the experimental results make a substantial and striking contribution towards understanding human nature: Something … dangerous is revealed: the capacity for man to abandon his humanity, indeed, the inevitability that he does so, as he merges his unique personality into larger institutional structures.
Locke has been accused of failing to have a coherent understanding of consciousness, since it can be identical neither to reflection nor to ordinary perception without contradicting other important commitments. I argue that the account of consciousness is coherent once we see that, for Locke, perceptions of ideas are complex mental acts and that consciousness can be seen as a special kind of self-referential mental state internal to any perception of an idea.
Locke’s theory of personal identity was philosophically groundbreaking for its attempt to establish a non-substantial identity condition. Locke states, “For the same consciousness being preserv’d, whether in the same or different Substances, the personal Identity is preserv’d” (II.xxvii.13). Many have interpreted Locke to think that consciousness identifies a self both synchronically and diachronically by attributing thoughts and actions to a self. Thus, many have attributed to Locke either a memory theory or an appropriation theory of personal identity. But the former (...) stumble on circularity and the latter is insufficient for Locke’s moral theory insofar as he is committed to a theory of divine rectification. The common problem is that Locke’s theory seems to demand an objective, or metaphysical, fact of a continuing consciousness that does not appeal to a traditional notion of substance for the continuity. I’m suggesting something new. In II.xxvii of the Essay, we see an ambiguity in Locke’s use of the term ‘consciousness’. Locke seems to see consciousness as both a mental state by means of which we are aware of ourselves as perceiving and as the ongoing self we are aware of in these conscious states. First, I make the textual argument why we should read Locke as having a conception of a metaphysical fact of a continuing consciousness that does not appeal to thinking or bodily substance to establish its continuity. I then argue that the metaphysical fact of an enduring consciousness is revealed to us as a phenomenological fact of experience. Due to the nature of certain kinds of perceptual situations we have an experience of ourselves as temporally extended. Although the text bears out that Locke seemed to think there is a fact of an ongoing consciousness, I argue that it is consistent with his reluctance elsewhere that he makes no further epistemological or ontological claims about it. Finally, I provide an account of Locke’s understanding of memory and its relation to consciousness that supports the claim that consciousness is something ontologically distinct from either thinking or bodily substance. (shrink)
Timothy Williamson devotes significant effort in his The Philosophy of Philosophy to arguing against skepticism about judgment. One might think that the recent “experimental philosophy” challenge to the philosophical practice of appealing to intuitions as evidence is a possible target of those arguments. However, this is not so. The structure of that challenge is radically dissimilar from that of traditional skeptical arguments, and the aims of the challenge are entirely congruent with the spirit of methodological improvement that Williamson himself exemplifies (...) in the Afterword of his book. (shrink)