[hist-analytic] Nomologicality and Reichenbach

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Fri Sep 11 12:48:38 EDT 2009

Something happened to the debate over the nature of scientific laws. It was high-jacked by modal semantics, in my opinion. It was off to a good start in early discussions of Hume and Russell on the status of laws in explanation, but when it became "semanticized" the issue became one of counterfactuals. 

I think the issue of counterfactuals is a good one, and in particular the relation of counterfactuals to lawlikenss etc. But a glance at the history is disheartening. It went from brilliance in the work of Goodman and, then, to slightly lesser brilliance, I believe, in D. Lewis on Counterfactuals, and then sunk into tedious irrelevance in approaches based on Bayesian analysis, a graveyard of irrelevant ideas from the philosopher's point of view; and here I don't mean philosophers whose interests lie strictly within probability theory. I am reminded of a comment Einstein made to someone that the Einstein, Podolsky, Rosen began as a insightful and intuitive discussion of the completeness of quantum theory but the other authors ended up makiing it into a formal exercise (Chopin on a harpsichord). Isn't this the way it goes. But I would suggest a bit of back tracking. 

Before Goodman's Fact, Fiction, and Forecast, Reichenbach tackled the issue of nomologicality. He started out with the chapter in Elements of Symbolic Logic "Connective Operations and Modality" and his last important statement was Nomological Statements and Admissible Operations. Many will view his effort as dated; I judge it as buried by the onslaught of developments in modal logic which tended to gobble everything up, leaving us with just about nothing. 

So as I complete this book on action theory I'd like to take a hard look at Reichenbach on this matter. He was a furiously opposed to the synthetic a priori; perhaps more so than any of the positivists with the exception of Russell. Indeed in correpsondence with Russell he makes this a point of agreement. I bring this up because I am now moving towards the issue of synthetic a priori which was earlier under discussion. I'll move incrementally back to things like colors, but first the status of scientific laws and the nature of time may be addressed. For my money the most neglected philosopher of great merit of the last century was Reichenbach. 


Steve Bayne 
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