[hist-analytic] Carnap on Philosophy

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Mon Aug 24 16:11:06 EDT 2009

Some good stuff here, but to give a useful reply I need to know 
why you think singular causation vs. regularity theories can be 
empirically tested against one another. A few more specifics 
are, perhaps, required for a reply. 



----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Danny Frederick" <danny.frederick at tiscali.co.uk> 
To: hist-analytic at simplelists.com 
Sent: Monday, August 24, 2009 2:58:51 PM GMT -05:00 US/Canada Eastern 
Subject: RE: Carnap on Philosophy 

Hi Steve/Bruce, 

I do not think there is any sharp distinction between physics and metaphysics. It seems pretty clear that the two of you regard metaphysical theories as being ones which are not empirically testable. But whether a theory is empirically testable depends not just on the logical content of the theory (i.e., what it says) but also on what other theories we conjoin with it and on what technology we have developed. In ancient times, for example, atomism was a metaphysical theory, being completely untestable. But with the development of further theories and models, like the kinetic theory of heat, and with the development of microscopes, atomism became empirically testable. It passed from metaphysics into physics. 

Bruce asks (and Steve accepts the questions): ‘by what method or procedure, are true metaphysical propositions ascertained? What shows them to be true?’ 

But the questions are misplaced. There is no method or procedure by which the truth of ANY proposition may be ascertained or shown. We can test theories; but even if they survive refutation, that does not show them to be true. 

You may say: but how do we test metaphysical theories? I have just given the answer: we develop them, or develop auxiliary theories, and we develop experimental techniques, which may eventually enable us to test them. Grand new scientific theories often start out as untestable metaphysics. Relativity theory had to wait fourteen years before it could be tested. 

Steve says: ‘Metaphysical positions are taken not because they possess the mark of truth or evidence but because one position is better than another.’ 

This is true in that no position possesses the mark of truth. But for many metaphysicians AND SCIENTISTS metaphysical positions have been adopted because the theorist concerned DID think that it possessed the mark of truth. Kepler was a Pythagorean mystic for whom the sun was symbolic of the deity, so it just had to occupy the centre of the universe (not just the solar system). Descartes’ physics was based on metaphysical intuition, as was Leibniz’s rejection of it in favour of fields of force (see Popper’s ‘Philosophy and Physics,’ in which he shows how metaphysical disputes inspired scientific theories; it is in his ‘The Myth of the Framework’). 

Steve says: ‘Whether, for example, causation is singular or a matter treated within the compass of regularity views will not be decided on an evidential basis.’ 

Why not? Someone may develop a theory involving singular causation during the course of scientific progress, and the theory may survive testing. Admittedly, at first glance any theory postulating singular causes looks as if it would be merely an ad hoc way of explaining away some difficulty with another theory. But there seems to be no reason why such a claim of singular causality should not, in combination with other theories about the marks of causes, for example, turn out to be testable. When the motions of Uranus refuted Newton’s theory, the scientists said there must be another planet with just the properties required to explain Uranus’ divergences from Newtonian predictions. It may seem totally ad hoc. But in fact, a planet with the required properties would have been observable at certain times. So they looked for it. And they found it: they called it ‘Neptune.’ 

Science often progresses via untestable (‘metaphysical’) stop-gaps that eventually turn out to be testable. For various examples see Feyerabend’s ‘Against Method’ and Lakatos’ ‘Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes.’ 

I am currently reading, bit by bit, chapter 3 of Bruce’s book available on this site. It is a very pleasant and worthwhile read; but as should be evident from some of my statements above, I disagree with it. I reject the notion of analytic truth entirely (but not for Quinean reasons). I will post some criticisms in a message to the list later (I hope by the end of this week). 

Best wishes, 

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