[hist-analytic] My response
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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