[hist-analytic] My response

Bruce Aune aune at philos.umass.edu
Tue Aug 25 10:59:30 EDT 2009

Steve’s latest contribution to our ongoing discussion contained his  
answer to a question I asked him, namely, “How [in your view], [that  
is,] by what method or procedure, is the truth of metaphysical  
propositions ascertained?  What shows them to be true?”  I have here  
revised this question slightly, putting “the truth of” in place of the  
original “are true,” and in view of Danny’s response I should have  
added “or probably true” to the end of my second sentence. I asked  
Steve essentially this question because I felt that the issue I raised  
on my contribution (or memo) of July 29 was becoming lost in the  
shuffle of subsequent discussion and I was genuinely interested in  
hearing Steve’s view of how the truth or probable truth of  
distinctively philosophical assertions, if indeed they have a truth  
value, could be rationally ascertained.

2.    It appears that Steve was unwilling to answer my question:  
instead of writing about the truth of “distinctively philosophical  
assertions,” he spoke about “metaphysical positions” that philosophers  
take.  I would never deny that there are metaphysical “positions,” but  
I was not concerned with such things.  One reason why I was not  
concerned with such things is that their nature is quite unclear.   
What is nominalism, as Steve understands it?  Is it an assertion about  
what exists, an assertion that existing things are invariably concrete  
and particular, or that rationally acceptable discourse ostensibly  
about abstracta (properties, propositions, and possibly sets) must be  
equivalent, or reducible, to discourse about linguistically items? Or  
is nominalism something else entirely?  Is it some kind of proposal or  
resolve to speak in a certain way.  Or what?

3.    In my memo of July 29 I was specifically concerned with true  
assertions of a “distinctively philosophical” kind. [For my use of  
“distinctively philosophical” see my July 29 memo.] As I observed in a  
note to another philosopher, the object of this concern was  
essentially hypothetical, for I was prepared to concede that  
distinctively philosophical assertions may [= might possibly] never,  
in fact, be true, or be false.  Many empiricists regarded such  
assertions as cognitively meaningless, and others might consider them  
proposals or conventions of some kind.

4.    Steve’s response left me in some doubt whether he regards any  
distinctly philosophical assertions as actually true.  He says that  
nominalism is a “position” that may or may not be “most productive”  
with respect to “fitting all that needs to be considered in getting  
the big picture.”  Does the big picture he speaks of represent the  
nature or actual character of reality?  Is the big picture  
propositional?  Does it contain or consist of propositions that are  
actually true?  If so, can those propositions be known to be true,  
probably true, or more likely true than not?  Or are they essentially  
matters of faith, like typical religious claims? It is up to Steve to  
answer these questions.  If he doesn’t, we won’t know what his  
position actually is.

5.    Steve does make some claims about epistemology, but they are so  
abstract or high-level that they are hard to deal with.  He dismisses  
the claim that epistemology has “veto power” over metaphysics. But if  
a philosopher makes a determinate claim that such and such is the  
case, I would want to know why we should believe him or her.  Why  
should we take such a claim seriously?  I would want to evaluate it by  
reference to reasonable epistemic standards, the sort of standards I  
defend in my recent book.

6.    There is a lot more to say here, but saying more may not be  
useful.  The discussion needs clarification.  I think Roger has made  
useful remarks on this (I think I am in general agreement with him)  
but more needs to be said.


PS:  I think this is an appropriate response to Danny, also.
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