This book offers a vigorous and constructive challenge to relativism by examining a wide range of anti-realist theories, and in response offering a variety of arguments amounting to a strong defence of critical realism in the natural and social sciences.
This book is a critical introduction to the long-standing debate concerning the conceptual foundations of quantum mechanics and the problems it has posed for physicists and philosophers from Einstein to the present. Quantum theory has been a major infulence on postmodernism, and presents significant problems for realists. Keeping his own realist position in check, Christopher Norris subjects a wide range of key opponents and supporters of realism to a high and equal level of scrutiny. With a characteristic combination of rigour (...) and intellectual generosity, he draws out the merits and weaknesses from opposing arguments. In a sequence of closely argued chapters, Norris examines the premises of orthodox quantum theory, as developed most influentially by Bohr and Heisenberg, and its impact on varous philosophical developments. These include the ideas developed by W.V Quine, Thomas Kuhn, Michael Dummett, Bas van Fraassen, and Hilary Puttnam. In each case, Norris argues, these thinkers have been influenced by the orthodox construal of quantum mechanics as requiring drastic revision of principles which had hitherto defined the very nature of scientific method, causal explanati and rational enquiry. Putting the case for a realist approach which adheres to well-tried scientific principles of causal reasoning and inference to the best explanation, Christopher Norris clarifies these debates to a non-specialist readership and scholars of philosophy, science studies and the philosophy of science alike. Quantum Theory and the Flight From Realism suggests that philosophical reflection can contribute to a better understanding of these crucial, current issues. (shrink)
_Deconstruction: Theory and Practice_ has been acclaimed as by far the most readable, concise and authoritative guide to this topic. Without oversimplifying or glossing over the challenges, Norris makes deconstruction more accessible to the reader. The volume focuses on the works of Jacques Derrida which caused this seismic shift in critical thought, as well as the work of North American critics Paul de Man, Geoffrey Hartman, J. Hillis Miller and Harold Bloom. In this third, revised edition, Norris builds on his (...) 1991 Afterword with an entirely new Postscript, reflecting upon recent critical debate. The Postscript includes an extensive list of recommended reading, complementing what was already one of the most useful bibliographies available. (shrink)
In this sweeping volume, Christopher Norris challenges the view that there is no room for productive engagement between mainstream analytic philosophers and thinkers In the post-Kantian continental line of descent. On the contrary, he argues, this view is simply the product of a limiting perspective that accompanied the rise of logical positivism. Norris reveals the various shared concerns that have often been obscured by parochial interests or the desire to stake out separate philosophical territory. He examines the problems that emerged (...) within the analytic tradition as a result of its turn against Husserlian phenomenology and its outright rejection of what came to be seen as a merely "psychologistic" approach to issues of meaning, knowledge and truth. Norris shows how these problems have resurfaced In various forms from the heyday of logical empiricism to the present. He provides critical readings of such philosophers as Willard Quine, Thomas Kuhn, Donald Davidson, Hilary Putnam, Richard Rorty, Michael Dummett, Thomas Nagel and John McDowell. He also offers a running discussion of Wittgenstein's influence and its harmful effect In promoting a placidly consensus-based theory of knowledge. On the continental side, Norris argues for a reassessment of Husserl's phenomenological project and its potential contribution to present day Anglo-American debates In Epistemology and Philosophy of Science. He discusses Bachelard, Canguilhem and the French tradition of "rationalisme applique" as an alternative to Kuhnian conceptions of scientific paradigm change. This leads him to suggest a non-Wittgensteinian way around the problems that have dogged more traditional theories of knowledge and truth. In two chapters on the work of Jacques Derrida, Norris explores the "supplementary" logic of deconstruction and compares it with other recent proposals for a nonstandard logic. Here again he stresses the community of interests between the Two philosophical cultures and the extent to which continental thinking has engaged certain issues with a rigour largely ignored by Anglophone writers. By bringing a fresh perspective to questions that have often been considered the exclusive preserve of analytic Philosophy. Norris offers an overview of current debates that is at once refreshingly open-minded and sure of its own argumentative bearings. (shrink)
In What's Wrong with Postmodernism Norris critiques the "postmodern-pragmatist malaise" of Baudrillard, Fish, Rorty, and Lyotard. In contrast he finds a continuing critical impulse--an "enlightened or emancipatory interest"--in thinkers like Derrida, de Man, Bhaskar, and Habermas. Offering a provocative reassessment of Derrida's influence on modern thinking, Norris attempts to sever the tie between deconstruction and American literary critics who, he argues, favor endless, playful, polysemic interpretation at the expense of systematic argument. As he explores leftist attempts to arrive at an (...) accommodation with postmodernism, Norris addresses the politics of deconstruction, the issue of men in feminism, Habermas' quarrel with Derrida, narrative theory as a hermeneutic paradigm, musical aesthetics in relation to literary theory, and various aspects of postmodern debate. A chapter on Stanley Fish brings several of these topics together and offers a generalized statement on the function of current criticism. (shrink)
This book was written with a view to sorting our some of the muddles and misreadings - especially misreadings of Kant - that have charaterized recent postmodernist and post-structuralist thought. For these issues have a relevance, as Norris argues, far beyond the academic enclaves of philosophy, literary theory, and cultural criticism. Thus he makes large claims for the importance of getting Kant right on the relation between epistemology, ethics and aesthetics; for pursuing the Kantian question 'What is Enlightenment?' as raised (...) in Foucault's late essays; or again, for recalling William Empson's spirited attempt to reassert the values of reason and truth against the orthodox 'lit crit' wisdom of his time. These are specialized concerns. But for better or worse it has been largely in the context of 'theory'- that capacious though ill-defined genre- that such issues have received their most scrutiny over the past two decades. As its title suggests, The Truth About Postmodernism disputes a good deal of what currently passes for advance theoretical wisdom. Above all it mounts a challenge to those fashionable doctrines - variants of the 'end-of-ideology' theme - that assimilate truth to some existing range of language-games, discourses, or in-place consensus beliefs. Norris's book will be welcomed for its clarity of style, its depth of philosophical engagement, and its refusal to endorse the more facile varieties of present-day textualist thought. It will also serve as a timely reminder that the 'politics of theory' cannot be practised in safe isolation from the politics of activist social concern. (shrink)
Truth, Christopher Norris reminds us, is very much out of fashion at the moment whether at the hands of politicians, media pundits, or purveyors of postmodern wisdom in cultural and literary studies. Across a range of disciplines the idea has taken hold that truth-talk is either redundant or the product of epistemic might. Questions of truth and falsehood are always internal to some specific language-game; history is just another kind of fiction; philosophy is only a kind of writing; law is (...) a wholly rhetorical practice. In _Reclaiming Truth_, Norris critiques these fashionable trends of thought and mounts a specific challenge to cultural relativist doctrines in epistemology, philosophy of science, ethics, and political theory. Norris presents his case in a series of closely argued chapters that take issue with the relativist position. He attempts to rehabilitate the value of truth in philosophy of science by restoring a lost distinction between concept and metaphor and argues that theoretical discourse, so far from being an inconsequential activity, has very real consequences, particularly in ethics and politics. This debate has become skewed, he suggests, through the widespread and typically postmodern idea that truth-claims must always go along with a presumptive or authoritarian bid to silence opposing views. On the contrary, there is nothing as dogmatic—or as silencing—as a relativism that acknowledges no shared truth conditions for valid or responsible discourse. Norris also offers a timely reassessment of several thinkers—Althusser and Derrida among them—whose reception history has been distorted by the vagaries of short-term intellectual fashion. _Reclaiming Truth _will be welcomed by readers concerned with the uses and abuses of theory at a time when such questions are in urgent need of sustained and serious debate. (shrink)
In this book Christopher Norris develops the case for scientific realism by tackling various adversary arguments from a range of anti-realist positions. Through a close critical reading he shows how they fail to make adequate sense on any rational, consistent and scientifically informed survey of the evidence. Along the way he incorporates a number of detailed case-studies from the history and philosophy of science. Norris devotes much of his discussion to some of the most prominent and widely influential source-texts of (...) anti-realism. Also included are the sophisticated versions of verificationism developed by thinkers such as Michael Dummett and Bas van Fraassen. Central to Norris's argument is a prolonged engagement with the once highly influential but nowadays neglected work of Norwood Russell Hanson. This book will be welcomed especially by readers who possess some knowledge of the background debate and who wish to deepen and extend their understanding of these issues beyond an introductory level. (shrink)
In this detailed study, Christopher Norris defends the kinds of arguments advanced by the early realist, Hilary Putnam. Norris makes a point of placing Putnam's work in a wider philosophical context, and relating it to various current debates in epistemology and philosophy of science. Much like Putnam, Norris is willing to take full account of opposed viewpoints while maintaining a vigorously argued commitment to the values of debate and enquiry.
This essay presents a long, detailed, in many ways critical but also appreciative account, of David Bloor’s recent book The Enigma of the Aerofoil. I take that work as the crowning statement of ideas and principles developed over the past four decades by Bloor and other exponents of the ‘strong programme’ in the sociology of scientific knowledge. It therefore offers both a test-case of that approach and a welcome opportunity to review, clarify and extend some of the arguments brought against (...) it by critical realists. This purpose is particularly well served by Bloor’s having here assembled such a wealth of scientific, historical, political and socio-cultural data concerning one specific, very crucial period of research into theories of aerodynamic lift. His book thus provides an exceptionally useful point of engagement for anyone seeking to adjudicate these issues from a critically angled but engaged and constructive standpoint. (shrink)
Through a close engagement with some key thinkers, Norris argues that deconstruction is part of the "unfinished project of modernity." a project whose interest and values it upholds by continuing to question them in a spirit of enlightened self-critical inquiry.
This book offers a detailed account of Spinozaa s influence on various schools of present--day critical thought. That influence extends from Althusserian Marxism to hermeneutics, deconstruction, narrative poetics, new historicism, and the unclassifiable writings of a thinker like Giles Deleuze. The author combines a close exegesis of Spinozaa s texts with a series of chapters that trace the evolution of literary theory from its period of high scientific rigour in the mid--1960s to its latest "postmodern", neopragmatist or anti--theoretical phase. He (...) examines the thought of Althusser, Macherey and Deleuze as well as others who have registered the impact of his pioneering work without any overt acknowledgement. On the one hand, theorists like Althusser and Macherey could celebrate Spinoza as the first philosopher before Marx to understand the need for a riorous distinction between science and ideology. On the other, Deleuze makes Spinoza the hero of his crusade against theories of whatever kind -- Kantian, Marxist, Freudian, post structuralist -- which always end up by imposing some abstract order of concepts and categories on the libidinal flux of "desiring production", or the "body--without--organs" of anarchic instinctual drives. (shrink)
In this interview, Christopher Norris discusses a wide range of issues having to do with postmodernism, deconstruction and other controversial topics of debate within present-day philosophy and critical theory. More specifically he challenges the view of deconstruction as just another offshoot of the broader postmodernist trend in cultural studies and the social sciences. Norris puts the case for deconstruction as continuing the 'unfinished project of modernity' and—in particular—for Derrida's work as sustaining the values of enlightened critical reason in various spheres (...) of thought from epistemology to ethics, sociology and politics. Along the way he addresses a number of questions that have lately been raised with particular urgency for teachers and educationalists, among them the revival of creationist doctrine and the idea of scientific knowledge as a social, cultural, or discursive construct. In this context he addresses the 'science wars' or the debate between those who uphold t. (shrink)
This essay takes competitive aeromodelling as a test case for certain contentious issues in philosophy of sport. More specifically, I look at the challenge it presents to prevailing ideas of what properly counts as ?sport?, which in turn have their source in other, more basic or deep-rooted preconceptions. Among them are a range of ?common-sense? beliefs about the properly (naturally) human, the mind/body relationship, the role (if any) of scientific-technological innovation as a means of performance enhancement, and ? most fundamentally (...) ? the distinction between nature and culture in so far as it bears on these questions. My approach is broadly deconstructionist in taking them as genuine questions and in pressing hard on those unresolved problems thrown up by any attempt to secure a definition of ?sport? that would pre-emptively exclude any kind of advanced technological adjunct (or Derridean ?supplement?) that seemed to lead outside and beyond the realm of ?natural? human powers, capacities and skills. On the other hand I acknowledge ? as against ?strong?-conventionalist (e.g. Wittgensteinian) approaches ? that the category ?sport? cannot be relativised or culturally contextualised to the point where it loses all determinate sense or normative significance. My main purpose here is to assess various claims and counter-claims by running them past a fairly detailed account of competitive aeromodelling ? or one particular branch thereof ? and the kinds of difficulty it creates not only for conservative, essentialist or naturalising definitions but also for that other reactive trend towards all-out cultural-relativist or social-constructivist doctrines. In addition, though far from incidentally, I want to make the case that this is indeed a sport on any reasonable, fair, or adequately informed reckoning and that its recognition as such might help to clarify certain obscure corners of current philosophical thinking about these issues. (shrink)
Paul de Man - literary critic, literary philosopher, "American deconstructionist" - changed the landscape of criticism through his rigorous theories and writings. Upon its original publication in 1988, Christopher Norris' book was the first full-length introduction to de Man, a reading that offers a much-needed corrective to the pattern of extreme antithetical response which marked the initial reception to de Man's writings. Norris addresses de Man's relationship to philosophical thinking in the post-Kantian tradition, his concern with "aesthetic ideology" as a (...) potent force of mystification within and beyond that tradition, and the vexed issue of de Man's politics. Norris brings out the marked shift of allegiance in de Man's thinking, from the thinly veiled conservative implications of the early essays to the engagement with Marx and Foucault on matters of language and politics in the late, posthumous writing. At each stage, Norris raises these questions through a detailed close reading of individual texts which will be welcomed by those who lack any specialised knowledge of de Man's work. (shrink)
In this essay I examine various aspects of the nearcentury-long debate concerning the conceptualfoundations of quantum mechanics and the problems ithas posed for physicists and philosophers fromEinstein to the present. Most crucial here is theissue of realism and the question whether quantumtheory is compatible with any kind of realist orcausal-explanatory account which goes beyond theempirical-predictive data. This was Einstein's chiefconcern in the famous series of exchanges with NielsBohr when he refused to accept the truth orcompleteness of a doctrine (orthodox QM) (...) which ruledsuch questions to be strictly inadmissible. I discussthe later history of quantum-theoretical debate withparticular reference to the issue of nonlocality,i.e., the phenomenon of superluminal(faster-than-light) interaction betweenwidely-separated particles. Then I show how thestandard `Copenhagen' interpretation of QM hasinfluenced current anti-realist orontological-relativist approaches to philosophy ofscience. Indeed, there are clear signs that somephilosophers have retreated from a realist positionvery largely in response to just these problems. So itis important to ask exactly why – on what scientificor philosophical grounds – any preferred alternative(causal-realist) construal should have been ruled outas a matter of orthodox QM wisdom. Moreconstructively, my paper presents various arguments infavour of one such alternative, the `hidden-variables'theory developed since the early 1950s by David Bohmand consistently marginalised by proponents of theCopenhagen doctrine. (shrink)
Philosophers should not be put off by the preconceived notion that there is nothing of interest or value to be gained from acquaintance with that hybrid genre of writing that is vaguely and for the most part disparagingly known as “theory”. For it is in just this long disputed border-zone where philosophy comes into contact (or conflict) with language at its most inventive, unpredictable and wayward that thought may find itself venturing onto ground that has not yet been trodden into (...) ruts by the keepers of received philosophical-linguistic lore. (shrink)
This book is concerned chiefly with issues in epistemology, philosophical semantics and philosophy of science. It defends a causal-realist approach to theories and explanations in the natural sciences and a truth-based propositional semantics for natural language derived from various sources, among them unusually in this context the work of William Empson. It argues against various forms of anti-realist doctrine with regard to both the truth-claims of science and the construal of intentions, meanings and beliefs in the process of linguistic understanding. (...) His book will be welcomed for its vigorous arguments and notable clarity of style. It will be of particular interest to teachers and students in philosophy, critical theory, science studies and the history of ideas. (shrink)
Christopher Norris raises some basic questions about the way that academic philosophy has been conducted over the past quarter-century and, in doing so, offers a strong counter-statement to the overly specialised character of much recent work in the analytic mainstream.Topics addressed include speculative realism, the 'extended mind' hypothesis, experimental philospophy, the ontology of political song, Shakespearean language as a challenge to the norms of linguistic philosophy, and anti-realism as a antitode to epistemological scepticism. In many cases Norris shows how the (...) acceptance of prevailing academic codes of discourse has resulted in a narrowing of sights to the point where other, more expansive or philosophically productive approaches are blocked from view.As well as mounting this critique of local practice Norris also puts the positive case that continental philosophy, or certain developments under that broad rubric, may be seen to hold the most promising resources for a creative renewal of analytic thought. (shrink)
In this essay I consider what is meant by the description ‘great’ philosophy and then offer some broadly applicable criteria by which to assess candidate thinkers or works. On the one hand are philosophers in whose case the epithet, even if contested, is not grossly misconceived or merely the product of doctrinal adherence on the part of those who apply it. On the other are those – however gifted, acute, or technically adroit – to whom its application is inappropriate because (...) their work cannot justifiably be held to rise to a level of creative-exploratory thought where the description would have any meaningful purchase. I develop this contrast with reference to Thomas Kuhn’s distinction between ‘revolutionary’ and ‘normal’ science, and also in light of J.L. Austin’s anecdotal remark – à propos Leibniz – that it was the mark of truly great thinkers to make great mistakes, or to risk falling into certain kinds of significant or consequential error. My essay goes on to put the case that great philosophy should be thought of as involving a constant readiness to venture and pursue speculative hypotheses beyond any limits typically imposed by a culture of ‘safe’, well-established, or academically sanctioned debate. At the same time – and just as crucially – it must be conceived as subject to the strictest, most demanding standards of formal assessment, i.e., with respect to basic requirements of logical rigour and conceptual precision. Focusing mainly on the work of Jacques Derrida and Alain Badiou I suggest that these criteria are more often met by philosophers in the broadly ‘continental’ rather than the mainstream ‘analytic’ line of descent. However – as should be clear – the very possibility of meeting them, and of their being jointly met by any one thinker, is itself sufficient indication that this is a false and pernicious dichotomy. (shrink)
This article offers a critical review of various ontological-relativist arguments, mostly deriving from the work of W. V. Quine and Thomas K hn. I maintain that these arguments are (1) internally contradictory, (2) incapable of accounting for our knowledge of the growth of scientific knowledge, and (3) shown up as fallacious from the standpoint of a causal-realist approach to issues of truth, meaning, and interpretation. Moreover, they have often been viewed as lending support to such programmes as the 'strong' sociology (...) of knowledge and the turn towards wholesale cultural-relativist doctrines, whether of the Wittgensteinian ('language-games') or Heideggerian (depth-hermeneutic) varieties. Thus Richard Rorty recommends that we should henceforth drop all that old-fashioned talk of 'truth', 'knowledge', or 'reality', since whatever warrants those descriptions from time to time is just the product of some currently favoured language-game or range of elective metaphors. Such ideas have little in common with Quine's general outlook of robust physicalism, nor again - though the case is less clear - with Kuhn's reconsidered approach to these issues as set forth in his 1969 Postscript to The Structure of Scientific Revolutions . However, both thinkers have left themselves open to misconstrual by adopting a sceptical-relativist fallback position in response to the well-known problems with logical empiricism. This essay therefore reviews those problems with reference to alternative, more adequate accounts of what is involved in the process of scientific discovery and theory-change. (shrink)
In this essay I set out to place Derrida's work – especially his earlier books and essays – in the context of related or contrasting developments in analytic philosophy of science over the past half-century. Along the way I challenge the various misconceptions that have grown up around that work, not only amongst its routine detractors in the analytic camp but also amongst some of its less philosophically informed disciples. In particular I focus on the interlinked issues of realism versus (...) anti-realism and the scope and limits of classical logic, both of which receive a detailed, rigorous and sustained treatment in his deconstructive readings of Husserl, Austin and others. Contrary to Derrida's reputation as a exponent of anti-realism in its far-gone ‘textualist’ form and as one who merely plays perverse though ingenious games with logic I show that those readings presuppose both a basically realist conception of their subject-matter and a strong commitment to the protocols of bivalent logic. These he applies with the utmost care and precision right up to the point – unreachable except by way of that procedure – where they encounter certain problems or anomalies that cannot be resolved except by switching to a different logic. Philosophy of science in the analytic mainstream might benefit greatly from a closer acquaintance with Derrida's thinking on these topics, as it might from a knowledge of his likewise rigorous thinking-through of the antinomy between structure and genesis as it bears upon issues in the history of scientific thought. (shrink)
This essay examines some of the arguments in David Deutsch's book The Fabric of Reality , chief among them its case for the so-called many-universe interpretation of quantum mechanics (QM), presented as the only physically and logically consistent solution to the QM paradoxes of wave/particle dualism, remote simultaneous interaction, the observer-induced 'collapse of the wave-packet', etc. The hypothesis assumes that all possible outcomes are realized in every such momentary 'collapse', since the observer splits off into so many parallel, coexisting, but (...) epistemically non-interaccessible 'worlds' whose subsequent branchings constitute the lifeline-or experiential world-series- for each of those proliferating centres of consciousness. Although Deutsch concedes that his 'multiverse' theory is counter-intuitive, he none the less takes it to be borne out beyond question by the sheer observational/predictive success of QM and the conceptual dilemmas that supposedly arise with alternative (single-universe) accounts. Moreover, he claims the theory resolves a range of longstanding philosophical problems, notably those of mind/body dualism, the various traditional paradoxes of time, and the freewill/determinism issue. The essay suggests on the contrary, that Deutsch unwittingly transposes into the framework of presentday quantum debate speculative themes from the history of rationalist metaphysics, often with bizarre or philosophically dubious results, and that he rules out at least one promising rival account, namely Bohm's 'hidden variables' theory. It goes on to consider reasons for resistance to that theory among proponents of the 'orthodox' (Copenhagen) doctrine, and for the strong anti-realist, at times even irrationalist bias that has characterized much of this discussion since Bohr's debates with Einstein about quantum non-locality, observer-intervention, and the limits of precise measurement. Finally, the contrast is pointed out between Deutsch's ontologically extravagant use of the many-worlds hypothesis (akin to certain ideas advanced by speculative metaphysicians from Leibniz down) and those realist modes of counterfactual reasoning- e.g. in Kripke and the early Putnam- which deploy similar arguments to very different causal-explanatory ends. (shrink)
This essay takes Badiou’s recently published book as an opportunity to discuss not only his complex approach to Wittgenstein but also his evolving critical stance in relation to various other movements in present-day philosophical thought. In particular it examines his distinction between ‘sophistics’ and ‘anti-philosophy’, as developed very largely through his series of encounters with Wittgenstein. Beyond that, I offer some brief remarks about the role of set-theoretical concepts in Badiou’s thinking and the vexed question of their bearing on his (...) other concerns. Finally – with an eye to certain CR-internal trends and debates – I focus on Badiou’s powerful critique of the religious or mystical dimension of Wittgenstein’s thought. (shrink)
This is a verse-essay in the form of six extended villanelles that discuss various aspects of the relationship between poetry, music, and the visual arts. More specifically they concern issues of ontology, autonomy, endurance, expressive power, and formal resistance to the vicissitudes of cultural change. The rhyme-scheme is used to point up and differentiate the range of aesthetic attributes involved in this running debate.
This article examines Hilary Putnam's work in the philosophy of mathematics and - more specifically - his arguments against mathematical realism or objectivism. These include a wide range of considerations, from Gödel's incompleteness-theorem and the limits of axiomatic set-theory as formalised in the Löwenheim-Skolem proof to Wittgenstein's sceptical thoughts about rule-following, Michael Dummett's anti-realist philosophy of mathematics, and certain problems – as Putnam sees them – with the conceptual foundations of Peano arithmetic. He also adopts a thought-experimental approach – a (...) variant of Descartes' dream scenario – in order to establish the in-principle possibility that we might be deceived by the apparent self-evidence of basic arithmetical truths or that it might be ‘rational’ to doubt them under some conceivable set of circumstances. Thus Putnam assumes that mathematical realism involves a self-contradictory ‘Platonist’ idea of our somehow having quasi-perceptual epistemic ‘contact’ with truths that in their very nature transcend the utmost reach of human cognitive grasp. On this account, quite simply, ‘nothing works’ in philosophy of mathematics since wecan either cling to that unworkable notion of objective truth or abandon mathematical realism in favour of a verificationist approach that restricts the range of admissible statements to those for which we happen to possess some means of proof or ascertainment. My essay puts the case, conversely, that these hyperbolic doubts are not forced upon us but result from a false understanding of mathematical realism – a curious mixture of idealist and empiricist themes – which effectively skews the debate toward a preordained sceptical conclusion. I then go on to mount a defence of mathematical realism with reference to recent work in this field and also to indicate some problems – as I seethem – with Putnam's thought-experimental approach as well ashis use of anti-realist arguments from Dummett, Kripke, Wittgenstein, and others. (shrink)
This article offers a critical perspective on two lines of thought in recent epistemology and philosophy of science, namely Michael Dummett?s anti-realist approach to issues of truth, meaning, and knowledge and Bas van Fraassen?s influential programme of?constructive empiricism?. While not denying the salient differences between them it shows how they converge on a sceptical outlook concerning the realist claim that truth might always transcend the restrictions of some given state of knowledge. The author puts the case that such sceptical arguments, (...) if followed through consistently, must involve giving up all claim to account for our knowledge of the growth of scientific knowledge. He also takes issue with Dummett?s idea of truth as nothing more than a matter of?warranted assertibility? and with van Fraassen?s likewise verificationist conception of empirical warrant as the most we can have by way of epistemic justification. Thus it is wrong to suppose that the realist is merely indulging in a display of? courage not under fire? when she assumes ontological commitments in excess of the observational data. This disavowal of realism in favour of a theory which?saves the appearances? has a less-than-distinguished prehistory in the range of compromise strategies adopted by upholders of a dominant metaphysics or world-view, starting out with the orthodox Catholic attempt to defuse the implications of the heliocentric hypothesis advanced by Copernicus and Galileo. Such theological motives are nowadays not so prominent although? it is suggested fithey do emerge at certain points in Dummett?s writing. More constructively, this article presents a case for objectivism with regard to scientific truth and also for inference to the best causal explanation on both the micro- and the macrophysical scale as the only approach with an adequate claim to make sense of the history of advancements in scientific knowledge to date. (shrink)
In this article I raise a number of issues concerning John McDowell’s widely influential revisionist reading of Kant. These have to do with what I see as his failure – despite ambitious claims in that regard – to overcome the various problematic dualisms that dogged Kant’s thought throughout the three Critiques. Moreover, as I show, they have continued to mark the discourse of those who inherit Kant’s agenda in this or that updated, e.g., ‘linguistified’ form. More specifically, I argue that (...) McDowell’s ‘new’ reading amounts to no more than a series of terminological shifts or substitutions, such that (for instance) the well-known problem with explaining how ‘sensuous intuitions’ can be somehow synthesised with ‘concepts of understanding’ is replaced – scarcely resolved – by an equally opaque and question-begging appeal to Kantian ‘receptivity’ and ‘spontaneity’. My essay goes on to discuss a number of kindred dichotomies, among them that of nature and ‘second nature’, all of which can basically be seen as resulting from the normative deficit entailed by McDowell’s particular kind of half-way naturalizing project. I conclude that this project shows insufficient regard to the history of post-Kantian continental thought, in particular the similar problems faced by ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ idealists like Fichte and Schelling. (shrink)
John McDowell’s Mind and World is a notable attempt to redirect the interest of analytic philosophers toward certain themes in Kantian and more recent continental thought. Only thus, he believes, can we move beyond the various failed attempts – by Quine, Davidson, Rorty, and others – to achieve a naturalised epistemology that casts off the various residual “dogmas” of old-style logical empiricism. In particular, McDowell suggests that we return to Kant's ideas of “spontaneity” and “receptivity” as the two jointly operative (...) powers of mind which enable thought to transcend the otherwise unbridgeable gulf between sensuous intuitions and concepts of understanding. However, this project miscarries for several reasons. Chief among them is the highly problematical nature of Kant's claims, taken over by McDowell without reference to their later treatment at the hands of subjective and objective idealists. Hence he tends to fall back into different versions of the same mind/world dualism. I then question McDowell's idea that Kant can be “naturalised” by reinterpreting those claims from a more hermeneutic or communitarian standpoint with its sources in Hegel, Wittgenstein, and Gadamer. For the result is to deprive Kant’s philosophy of its distinctively critical dimension not only with regard to epistemological issues but also in relation to matters of ethical and sociopolitical judgement. (shrink)