RBJones.com Monthly: November 2009
The present continuing evolution of Metaphysical Positivism is best understood in the context of and as continuous with an evolution of positivism on larger timescales which is conspicuous in the logical positivism of Rudolf Carnap.
Metaphysical positivism might be thought of as originating in the logical positivism of Rudolf Carnap, which was itself substantially inspired by Russell's conception of "scientific" philosophy. This is a positivist philosophy which is more pragmatic and less dogmatic than previous positivistic philosophies.
Metaphysical positivism had first to find an answer to the supposed refutations of logical positivism by Quine and Kripke, which is not hard to do. It then brings into the methodological picture an analytic method which is improved upon Carnap's in virtue primarily of advances in mathematical logic and theoretical computer science. Finally it continues the elimination of dogma by a fuller (if not entirely complete) rehabilitation of metaphysics.
The books projects which I am trying to progress began with an intended monograph on "the fundamental triple-dichotomy", to which was added an analytic history of philosophical logic, as a means both of drawing out the historical threads which lead to the analytic method central to metaphysical positivism and of exhibiting that method in application to historical exegesis. The idea for the monograph then broadened into one for a book on Metaphysical Positivism and the analytic history became one of philosophical analysis.
I have decided to soften the stance on the analytic method and on the underlying conceptual framework, from one of proposing a specific method and providing the necessary underlying metaphysics. The prescriptive aspect of this is to be eliminated by the adoption of a comparative methodology. Rather than proposing the method and it philosophical underpinnings, the idea is to provide a variety of objective comparisons of methods.
The Roots of Metaphysical Positivism
Metaphysical positivism might be thought of as originating in the logical positivism of Rudolf Carnap, which was itself substantially inspired by Russell's conception of "scientific" philosophy. This is a positivist philosophy which is more pragmatic and less dogmatic than previous positivistic philosophies.
The Character of Positivism

Positivism is a scientifically oriented strand in philosophical thought, characterised by a concern for scientific rigour and a sceptical attitude to more speculative knowledge, notably of metaphysics. It may be thought of as having emerged from the mitigation of pyrrhonean scepticism, which re-surfaced in modern times in the religious controversy of the seventeenth century and then appeared in more secular philosophical thought in the mitigated scepticisms of Mersennes and Gassendi.

Though pyrrhonism was helpful in undermining papal authority and thereby admitting greater freedom of thought, those who deployed it were likely to find it subsequently turned upon themselves. Had pyrrhonism been more thoroughly anti-dogmatic it might have been compatible with an enthusiasm for scientific progress, but pyrrhonism was tainted by negative dogma so thoroughgoing as to be wholly incompatible with scientific progress and some kind of moderation was necessary. Perhaps the best known response was Descartes' dogmatic rationalistic philosophical system, but the revolutionary sucesses of Isaac Newton inspired the empiricist philosophy of Locke which countered Descartes' emphasis on introspection and deduction with its own emphasis on sensory sources of knowledge and a belittlement of what may be known by deduction.

The new science applied mathematics in theories about the observable world, Newton delivered revolutionary mathematics hand in hand with science, and it was David Hume who created a philosophy recognising the great epistemological gulf between mathematics and science reflected in their differing methods.

Carnap's Positivism

Carnap's was a liberal positivist whose opposition to metaphysics was mitigated by a very specific and narrow conception of a proscribed variety of metaphysics, and a "principal of tolerance" which admitted most kinds of apparently metaphysical talk without the need for true metaphysical commitment. His conception of philosophical method, both in his "syntactic" phase and in his later work on semantics, considered all philosophical truths analytic, but a large part of his philosophy consisted in proposals for terminology, languages and methods for use in philosophy and science.

Carnap was among the least dogmatic of philosophers, and his variety of positivism reflects that trait of his character. Whereas the single most prominent characteristic of positivistic philosophies has been a dogmatic phenomenalism, Carnap declined

The Principle Innovations in Metaphysical Positivism
Metaphysical positivism had first to find an answer to the supposed refutations of logical positivism by Quine and Kripke, which is not hard to do. It then brings into the methodological picture an analytic method which is improved upon Carnap's in virtue primarily of advances in mathematical logic and theoretical computer science. Finally it continues the elimination of dogma by a fuller (if not entirely complete) rehabilitation of metaphysics.
The Book Projects and Their Evolution
The books projects which I am trying to progress began with an intended monograph on "the fundamental triple-dichotomy", to which was added an analytic history of philosophical logic, as a means both of drawing out the historical threads which lead to the analytic method central to metaphysical positivism and of exhibiting that method in application to historical exegesis. The idea for the monograph then broadened into one for a book on Metaphysical Positivism and the analytic history became one of philosophical analysis.
Prehistory

My inclination to write philosophy, so far unrealised in any substantive way, dates back a long way. For the sake of setting context there are two timeframes perhaps worth mentioning.

Back in about 1995 I had some ideas about architectures for Artificial Intelligence that I wanted to progress in some way. Writing seemed the right place to start, and since these ideas had roots in certain philosophical distinctions, it seemed a good idea to write something about the philosophical context in which the architectural ideas could be understood.

Not having any direct contact with philosophers, I did at that time engage in philosophical discussion on the internet through usenet and mailing list (the one I recall most readily in this context is Rodrigo Vanegas' "analytic"). I discovered something at that time which greatly surprised me, undermined my prospects of writing on the philosophical foundations for the kind of AI which interested me, and posed for me a very difficult problem which has persisted to this day.

What I discovered was that Quine's "Two Dogmas" had been taken seriously by the philosophers. So seriously that a philosophical exposition which made use of the analytic/synthetic dichotomy was likely to be dismissed and ignore simply on that account.

I have since occasionally wondered whether this was phenomena primarily confined to the non-professional philosophers who predominated in internet philosophy discussions. However, though it is moot what the real opinions of philosophers are on this matter, there is subtantive evidence in published philosophy that even professional philosophers who were sympathetic to Logical Positivism were unwilling to defend the analytic/synthetic distinction except in attenuated forms. The thesis of logicism, that mathematical truths are necessary and(/or) analtyic, suffered a similar fate. Professional philosophers dared not to embrace it, even though the stock arguments against it were complaints primarily against specific logical systems (usually Russell's theory of types) and ignored general arguments of (say) Ayer and Carnap which made these details largely irrelevant to the status of mathematics.

This is not the place to make this case, for it is not the merits of the case which concern us here, but the impact of the concensus upon myself. The salient facts are, firstly, that certain fundamental philophical concepts and principles essential for the writing I wanted to do were (and still are) regarded as having been definitively discredited to the point of being almost beyond discussion. Secondly, that the arguments which had this effect on the philosophical consensus were, in my view, of no substance. Cast for me, not a shadow of doubt on the validity and signficance of the concepts and principles in question.

I therefore believed that any straightforward answer to these arguments (such as had indeed already been delivered) was likely to be ineffectual (as they had been) in redressing the situation. The basis for the concensus, it seemed and seems to me, is not rational.

Latest Ideas for the Philosophy and the Books
I have decided to soften the stance on the analytic method and on the underlying conceptual framework, from one of proposing a specific method and providing the necessary underlying metaphysics. The prescriptive aspect of this is to be eliminated by the adoption of a comparative methodology. Rather than proposing the method and it philosophical underpinnings, the idea is to provide a variety of objective comparisons of methods.
I

I have recently decided on some significant changes to the main projects in progress on this site, which will take some time to effect. The main thrust of these is:

  • firstly to make "metaphysical positivism" a more purely analytic philosophical position. This primarily involves the excision of prescriptive elements (which are typical of positivistic philosophy).
  • secondly, the broadening of the accompanying material on the historical origins from a history of philosophical logic embracing much metaphysics, to a history of philosophical analysis. This change will permit a fuller account of the origins of the analytic method at the centre of metaphysical positivism, and make the whole thing into a more interesting story.

II

I have now a broader conception of method, which will permit the analytic method to more fully describe both its application in the writing of these two books and its application in diverse other fields.

The "broader conception" involves the separation of the analysis more thoroughly into two components, one concerned exclusively with deduction and the construction of the contexts in which deduction can rigorously be conducted (which we often call "models"), the other with all other aspects of the analysis. These are concerned with the relationship between the model and the problem domain in which the model is intended to be applicable.

III

This one is hot off the press, and I hope will prove the last change in my core conception of the "Metaphysical Positivism" project.

It is just a step further in the direction I was heading, a clearer and richer conception of how to go about the excision of dogma. The idea is to make everything comparative. Instead of a single proposed neutral metaphysic, for which a case is given, we consider many metaphysics and ways in which they can be compared. Though the neutral metaphysic remains a preference, I seek the objective comparisons with other metaphysics which bring out the grounds for that preference.

IV

The next step is to go epistemological, thus changing the principle thrust of the work from methodology (meta-philosophy) to theoretical philosophy. This involves incorporating some ideas which I have previously called "X-Logic" and broadening them into a fuller epistemological stance. This is intended to provide a framework in which a whole variety of comparative assesments can be fitted, which will support a sharper understanding of some fundamental issues.


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