Yorick's World [Book Review]

Review of Metaphysics 48 (2):397-398 (1994)
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Abstract

This is a collection of twenty-seven essays written by its author between 1962 and 1989 on topics in the history of science, the philosophy of science, and "the relevance of scientific practice to other parts of philosophy and culture". Twenty-one have been previously published, the remainder hitherto aired only as public presentations. The papers are gathered under six section-headings, including "Explanation," "Hume's Problem," "Logic and Causality," "Machines and Practices," "Scientific Knowledge--Its Scope and Limits," and "Science and Subjectivity"; yet their actual range is both more diverse and less in keeping with prevailing currents in the philosophy of science than these tidily familiar rubrics suggest. "Explanation," for example, flirts with mainstream subject-matter in a much deserved encomium to Hempel's contributions in philosophy of science that reaches beyond the titular subject to the whole of Hempel's work. The section also embraces a discussion of General Systems Theory that distinguishes a doctrinaire, a prioristic approach to the study of science from a pragmatic-pluralistic version, urging the ills of the former and the virtues of the latter. It culminates in two presentations of the view that the theory of evolution rests on "circumstantial evidence" only as it involves the "logical fallacy" of "the inference of causes from effects" : the one is a historical piece on the little-known nineteenth-century naturalist, Phillip Henry Gosse, highlighting his creationistic "Omphalos" theory of the origins of biological species and the fossil record; the other is a short treatment of some conceptual issues involved in the creationist controversy. If the remaining five sections are not so heterogeneous in the scatter of subjects on which their articles touch, they are for the most part more idiosyncratic in the issues they address, the questions they raise, and the answers they suggest. Typical are "On Being in the Same Place at the Same Time," an argument for the ultimacy of subjectivity on the basis of relativity theory, and "Truth and Presence," explicating the attempt of Gaston Bachelard to blend science and poetry as complementary aspects of the human imagination. Sometimes they are also eyebrow-raising. "The Paradox of Induction and the Inductive Wager," would "show the impossibility of... logical proof [of the principle of induction]... by locating it among the paradoxes". Caw's case for paradox is simply that if inductive inference is legitimate then our past inability to justify such inference warrants the inductive conclusion that we shall never be able to justify it. But even if nothing else were suspect in this argument, its force is presumably at most probabilistic, making it hard to see how it could establish the "impossibility" of anything. Another paper, "Three Logics, or the Possibility of the Improbable," concerns "the logic of incredible events", touting the merits of so construing the natural world that events with zero probability occasionally occur and initiate spontaneous causal chains. Yet it is thoroughly unclear what interpretation of probability theory could both license identifying uncaused with impossible events and yet allow that such events may occur. Still another, "Rethinking Intentionality," includes the puzzling contention that "there can't be a science of intention because science presupposes intention". Unlike these last examples, most of the essays in the collection are provocative rather than upsetting, bearing the earmark of the independent, iconoclastic, speculative mind from which they spring, a former physicist not aligned with any of the current schools in philosophy of science, and more influenced by the classic giants of the Western philosophical tradition and by Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger, and Sartre than by empiricist philosophers of science or the recent analytic tradition. Thus, it is no surprise that the issues Caws addresses are nonstandard, and that his manner of addressing them embodies a looser, more broad-stroked, more humanistic, and more metaphysically self-conscious approach than is common in recent mainstream philosophy of science. This orientation doubtless accounts, too, for the somewhat subjective-idealistic stance, the view that one cannot definitively progress beyond one's own sensations and ideas, argued in "Yorick's World or the Universe in a Single Skull," and manifest in the tone, substance, and central thrust of a number of the essays in the collection. It is thus appropriate that Caws should have borrowed from this title to name the anthology itself.-Robert B. Barrett, Washington University in St. Louis.

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