An extract from Williams' The Ground of Induction (1947): "The sober amateur who takes the time to follow recent philosophical discussion will hardly resist the impression that much of it, in its dread of superstition and dogmatic reaction, has been oriented purposely toward skepticism: that a conclusion is admired in proportion as it is skeptical; that a jejune argument for skepticism will be admitted where a scrupulous defense of knowledge is derided or ignored; that an affirmative theory is a mere (...) annoyance to be stamped down as quickly as possible to a normal level of denial and defeat. It is an age which most admires the man who, as somebody has said, 'has a difficulty for every solution'. Whether or not this judgment is fair, however, it is safe to say, with Whitehead, that 'the theory of induction is the despair of philosophy - and yet all our activities are based upon it'. [A.N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York, 1925, p. 35] So prodigious a theoretical contretemps cannot remain a tempest in the professors' teapot. The news that no foundation is discoverable for the procedures of empirical intelligence, and still more the proclaimed discovery that there is no foundation, and still more the complacency which recommends that we reconcile ourselves to the lack, condemn the problem as a 'pseudoproblem', and proceed by irrational faith or pragmatic postulate, will slowly shatter civilized life and thought, to a degree which will make the modernist's loss of confidence in Christian supernaturalism, so often cited as the ultimate in spiritual cataclysms, seem a minor vicissitude. The demand that rational man adjust himself to a somewhat bleaker universe than he once hoped for is only one large and picturesque instance of the sort of re-orientation which inductive intelligence, in its very nature,continually imposes, and well within the proved capacities of human reason and good-will.. (shrink)
A classic defense of the rationality of induction. Williams argues that induction (conceived as inference from sample to population in general) is justified by the proportional syllogism (direct inference), the argument form "Probably if most As are Bs and this is an A, then this is a B." It is a necessary mathematical fact that the vast majority of large samples of a population nearly match the population in composition (e.g. if they have an unknown proportion of black and white). (...) Therefore if a large sample is taken, it probably matches the population; that is, probably the population nearly matches the sample. Hence sample-to-population inference is (probabilistically) logically justified. (shrink)
The definitive principle of actualism is that the world is composed wholly of actual or factual entities, including concreta like a horse and abstracta like his neigh, and the sums and the sets thereof, all on the one plane of particular and definite existents. There are no substrata of potency or prime matter, no forces or virtues, no blur of indefiniteness or press of tendency; no superstructure of unexampled essences or disembodied possibilities or transcendental acts of Be-ing. Our actual entities, (...) I specify further, are all either simple qualia, or relations belonging to one of three primitive categories, or some compound of these. The relational categories which I think sufficient and necessary are the whole-part or "merological" relations, resemblances or "comparisons," and locative distances and directions, not necessarily the physical geometry of space-time, but at least some analogous modes of deployment. "Factualism" here is a rhyming synonym of "actualism" and does not connote the very dubious doctrine of the young Wittgenstein that the world is the sum of "facts" in the sense of Sachverhalten. Nor does "actualism" connote the doctrine, so popular in New York and environs, that things must be active, though quite likely most of them are. (shrink)
If a bit of perceptual behavior is a trope, so is any response to a stimulus, and so is the stimulus, and so therefore, more generally, is every effect and its cause. When we say that the sunlight caused the blackening of the film we assert a connection between two tropes; when we say that Sunlight in general causes Blackening in general, we assert a corresponding relation between the corresponding universals. Causation is often said to relate events, and generally speaking (...) any event is a trope: a smile, a sneeze, a scream, an election, a cold snap, a storm, a lightning flash, a conspiracy, perhaps a wave, and so on up to such big and important events that they have proper names, like the Passover and Lulu the H-bomb explosion. We have called a trope a "case" of its universal, while the universal is the "kind" of the trope, so it is no surprise that a medical "case" is a trope--in the sense, at any rate, in which a person is said to have a case of typhoid fever rather than to be a case of it. A high-school boy, uncoached, has assured me, "Of course there's such a thing as Redness--this pencil has a case of it." When a scientist reports a temperature or a velocity or a viscosity he is reporting a trope--not a universal, because it is a once-for-all occurrence, but not a concrete thing either, though doubtless a component of one. He is likely to call it an "aspect" of the thing or, preferably, a "state," and generally speaking a "state" of a thing or a nation is a trope. Recent developments in sub-atomic physics, a none too reliable oracle, suggest that an electron, e.g., just is an existent state, and that the common-sense philosophy of concreta here abdicates altogether in favor of the trope. (shrink)
Metaphysics is the thoroughly empirical science. Every item of experience must be evidence for or against any hypothesis of speculative cosmology, and every experienced object must be an exemplar and test case for the categories of analytic ontology. Technically, therefore, one example ought for our present theme to be as good as another. The more dignified examples, however, are darkened with a patina of tradition and partisanship, while some frivolous ones are peculiarly perspicuous. Let us therefore imagine three lollipops, made (...) by a candy man who buys sticks from a big supplier and molds candy knobs on them. Lollipop No. 1 has a red round peppermint head, No. 2 a brown round chocolate head, No. 3 a red square peppermint head. The circumstance here which mainly provokes theories of subsistence and inherence is similarity with difference: each lollipop is partially similar to each other and partially different from it. If we can give a good account of this circumstance in this affair we shall have the instrument to expose the anatomy of everything, from an electron or an apple to archangels and the World All. (shrink)
My main thesis is that the necessary and its necessity are factual, or matters of fact, in the sense that they are realities on the same ontic plane or planes with any other beings there may be, physical, phenomenal, or Platonically transcendent, and are no more creatures of thought and speech than dogs and gravity are; if I think they are all physical actualities, this is only because I think everything is. I have a second thesis, however, which is that (...) the realities objectively characterized by necessity are "facts" in the more special sense in which we say it is a fact that the earth is round but not that the earth is a fact or that roundness is a fact. It is fashionable to declare that necessity and contingency pertain only to statements, judgments, or "propositions"; and though the popularity of this is due, I am afraid, to what is false in it, namely, its subjectivism, its philosophic force is due to a covert truth, that necessity can qualify nothing short of the states of affairs which make statements or judgments necessarily true. Any shifts that can avoid the admission of facts in general as first-class members of the universe can provide for what I shall say of necessary facts, but meanwhile the worth of the category will be so proving itself that I cannot foresee abandoning it, and it is all I shall be meaning hereinafter by the word "facts.". (shrink)
Argues against G.E. Moore's thesis that "good" is unanalysable. Consulting the dictionary ("more illuminating than many volumes of rational axiology"), Williams concludes that the fundamental meaning of "good" is being in accord with my purposes. That does not rule out a search for some highest good that will unify my purposes.