Optimism on metaphysics (and philosophy in general)

Is there reason to be optimistic about the progress of metaphysics? Jessica wilson (Toronto) thinks so.

[Grant Wood, “In the Spring”]

Asked about it in a recent interview at 03:16, Wilson replies:

Regarding the methodology [standards in metaphysics] question, I see reason to be optimistic. For starters, there has been tons of excellent work on philosophical methodology done over the past few decades – we are becoming clearer about the role of inference for the best explanation and the associated abductive principles, on the logic (s). , design, intuitions and other factors relevant to evaluating metaphysical theories.

Moreover, the metaphysicians are not really distant, methodologically speaking. Everyone agrees that clumsiness is a cost, that plausibility is a virtue, that ontological parsimony on fundamentals is desirable, all other things being equal, that metaphysical theories must be in accordance with our best scientific theories. , etc. The disagreement tends to lie not in theoretical desiderata, but in how these desiderata are weighted, and also – crucially – in which other metaphysical theses are considered methodologically fundamental. Should we weigh more heavily on parsimony than on plausibility or compatibility with intuitions? Should Hume’s Dictum, that there are no necessary connections between totally distinct existences, be seen as a constraint on metaphysical theorizing? Some go one way, some go another, but of course that’s not the end of the story. After all, philosophers can examine what motivations exist for a given weight or fundamental assumption and what impact adopting this approach has on whether and how data and desiderata can be taken into account.

Finally, even in the absence of consensus on these scores, metaphysicians can and are making progress in determining what would be true given certain methodological and theoretical assumptions, such as a kind of conditional inquiry into our options for understanding the nature of reality. It may not happen soon, or never, in metaphysical truth with a capital “T”, but it is still extremely informative.

Another important metametaphysical question concerns what metaphysics is and how it differs or not from other endeavors. It is also a properly metaphysical question! My favorite understanding of metaphysics is also optimistic and opposes the view, endorsed by some scientists and philosophers, that there is no distinctive role for metaphysics – only ordinary experience, science, or l Conceptual analysis already respond to very first order. metaphysical questions we might have.

On what I call the “integrated view” (sketched in “The Question of Metaphysics”), the distinctive role of metaphysics lies in the theorization of notions and concepts operating in other disciplines and in ordinary experience, at a characteristic level of generality and with a concern for systematic integration. The embedded point of view is opposed not only to the versions of pessimism according to which metaphysics has nothing interesting to do but also to the “non-interventionist” point of view to which some optimists adhere, according to which metaphysics is legitimate on its own merits. own ground but does not have the right to interfere with the claims of other disciplines. In my opinion, understanding reality – scientific, mathematical, social – is a shared endeavor, not something that we metaphysicians do ourselves in a special room, let alone through proprietary language.

Professor Wilson expresses his optimism about philosophy in general in his “Three obstacles to philosophical progress“(non-unlocked version here), published in the volume The future of philosophy: the problem of philosophical progress. There she writes:

If philosophical paradigms are not created equal, then why are there so many competing paradigms for any given topic? A plausible and explanatory answer is that we are currently at a fairly rudimentary stage of philosophical research. It is not only that, for a given subject, we do not yet have all the relevant data, it is also true for the sciences. More importantly, we do not yet have common, fixed standards for assessing whether a given approach or account of the subject is correct. Of course, there are fixed standards, the usual logical inferences, for example. But there is a lot, methodologically speaking, which varies according to the framework …

My point of view is optimistic, not deflationary. These are the first days, and it remains open that one day we will converge towards fixed standards.

The absence of fixed standards in philosophy exacerbates the problems which constitute obstacles to progress in the field. These barriers, Wilson writes, are

  1. Intra-disciplinary silo: “The lack of fixed standards encourages intra ‐ disciplinary silos, where philosophers ignore work outside of their own
    paradigm, leading to dialectical and argumentative difficulties and to poorly spent intellectual energy ”
  2. Sociological determinants: “Without fixed standards, the frameworks adopted are often determined more by sociological factors linked to the influence of elites and / or disciplinary inertia than by philosophical or other motivations of the approach”
  3. Bias: “The lack of fixed standards encourages bias (implicit and / or explicit) – a general empirical fact which, applied to philosophy, provides a new explanation of why philosophy has a distinctly serious problem of bias in relation to certain other fields argumentative and technical “

But these barriers are not insurmountable. Philosophers could indeed “begin to extend their field of action beyond their preferred or familiar frameworks” to overcome the compartmentalization. They could be more honest about the supporting status of their positions and “aim to be clear in their writings and teachings.
that most of the frameworks and associated claims are at this stage (at best) provisional. As for prejudices, in the interview she says:

There is no quick fix here, although the newspaper and other quotas can help. The usual dismissive response is that quotas would somehow ‘tarnish’ the place or work, but since the implicit biases work both ways, the impact of quotas on women would improve, not would decrease, the overall quality. Of course, people would need to be educated on this.

The interview covers a range of topics in metaphysics, including Wilson’s views on emergence and indeterminacy, and his critique of the core literature. Read it all here.

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