Quinean Naturalism in a Nutshell

by Luke Muehlhauser on October 12, 2010 in Funny

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

zaarcis October 12, 2010 at 12:43 am

I like this one. Especially after hard task to explain to a christian why Venus, Uranus or NGC_4622 (not 4266, as he wrote) doesn’t refute Big Bang theory.

I see the picture as expression (and maybe culmination) of my frustration. It ‘talks’ to me. :D


G'DIsraeli October 12, 2010 at 1:50 am

I agree , but I’m sick of the cliche :\.
Sure, science works. But does science point at any truths?
science changes, what is the status of its theories?
The best we have or the least worst? (reminds me a little of democracy as an issue).
I would, pretty please, like to hear an interview on philosophy of science more towards the strong program (sociology), Kuhn, Feyerabend, Lakatos (and not the demarcation problem which I find the least exquisite).
Or could you recommend me a decent book? :-)


MichaelPJ October 12, 2010 at 2:28 am

Even if science cannot guarantee truths, it gives pretty good approximations. And for the purposes of things “working”, I’ll take a bunch of decent approximations over a single perfect answer any day.


James October 12, 2010 at 4:00 am

“It works” is the only reason anyone cares whether a story is true or not.

Imagine if science said that prayer would have no effect on sick people who don’t know they are being prayed for, and religion says it will. Say you do the experiment, and find that there is no statistical evidence whatsoever. Lets say the theist says “Sure, your science works but what my religion said is still true.”

We’d be justified in saying “You can HAVE that definition of truth. We have the definition worth having.”

Or suppose that their religion predicts that they will meet God when they die. Let’s say science suggests that when they are dead they will not be able to see, hear, taste, smell, feel, speak, reason, or have any experiences whatsoever, ever again. What person would say… I grant you all that, but my religion will still be true.

The only reason people are in a snit about all this is because they want to be ready for the afterlife. The only merit any of these stories have is iff they work.


G'DIsraeli October 12, 2010 at 5:27 am

James, no it isn’t.
Truth meaning the relationship of meaning of your words (concept) & the world.
Let’s an example (not so great, but you’ll get the point) atoms, as round balls of matter, gives us workable symbols in a system that generates predictions (hence its usefulness).
But, tomorrow I could discover that matter is made out of small balls covered by tiny little triangles.

Now you could say (like Asimov) that we simply got a more accurate truth.
But many philosophers (like Kuhn) have a difference opinion on this.
i.e. there is no accumulation of knowledge in science and the ‘truths’ science generates are not only temporary but could be falsified and then ratified later (Einstein is closer to an Aristotelian view then to newton).

Feyerabend, for example calls for governments to not fund science at all.
So, I’m very interested in this aspect and I would like to hear about it more, and I had the chutzpah to ask for an interview by Luke, because I think this is in the field of interest (and more humbly a book recommendation since I can’t find any on the spot).


Muto October 12, 2010 at 6:47 am

“Einstein is closer to an Aristotelian view then to newton”

To my understanding this is just wrong. Could you please elaborate?


James October 12, 2010 at 8:33 am


Atomic theory was modified as soon as we discovered the ways in which it doesn’t work.

If you’re looking for certainty, then sorry, but it is not possible to achieve. (Probably.)


G'DIsraeli October 12, 2010 at 9:39 am

Kuhn: “Newton’s mechanics improves on Aristotle’s and … Einstein’s improves on Newton’s as instruments for puzzle-solving. But I can see in their succession no coherent direction of ontological development. On the contrary, in some important respects, though by no means in all, Einstein’s general theory of relativity is closer to Aristotle’s than… to Newton’s.”

An ad hoc solves nothing, but the particular case.

I’m not looking for nothing but information on the sociology of the history of science.
Got a nice book to rec?


Muto October 12, 2010 at 9:46 am

Well, can you elaborate which important aspects are more like aristotelian physics? At least at our scale GR and Newtonian physics are almost equivalent, whereas Aristotelian Physics seem to be completely wrong.


Gilgamesh October 12, 2010 at 10:47 am

I should point out that many of the observations of Kuhn, historically speaking, have been questioned. For example, the idea that geocentricism was dropped because the astronomers had to keep adding wheels within wheels, while heliocentric models were simpler. However, historian Owen Gingrich showed that there was no messy additions of gears or epicycles into the Ptolemaic model, while Copernicus had more epicycles that Ptolemy.

As for Einstein being more like Aristotle than Newton, it’s hard to believe that is overall true. Remember, Aristotle though heavy objects fall faster than lighter ones and that some sort of aether filled space, both of which are false in general relativity. Aristotle didn’t even have Galilean relativity, while Newton did and Einstein modified it to work for all velocities. Light was infinite in speed for Aristotle, finite for Newton and Einstein. And Aristotle did not have a mathematical framework for his physics, while Newton and Einstein did. It would be disingenuous to say that Einstein was closer to Aristotle than Newton without the sum-total consideration of their physics. Considering Kuhn only says that in some ways Einstein is closer to Aristotle than to Newton, this is more reasonable, though only a deep consideration will determine if it is a useful observation.

Feyerabend’s argument, on the other had, are often a joke. For example, he seriously argues that heliocentricism was accepted because Galileo wrote in Italian rather than Latin, thus getting the populace on his side. I don’t even know if he was really trying. Massimo Pigliucci in “Nonsense on Stilts” goes into his arguments and similar ones.


Reginald Selkirk October 12, 2010 at 2:13 pm

(Einstein is closer to an Aristotelian view then to newton).

Since this sentence has been followed up on by a few people, could someone please disambiguate it for me? Thank you.

Does it mean:

A) “Einstein is closer to an Aristotelian view than Einstein is to Newton.”

B) “Einstein is closer to an Aristotelian view than Newton is to an Aristotelian view.”


G'DIsraeli October 13, 2010 at 6:31 am

Reginald Selkirk,

I posted the quote from Kuhn.

Gilgamesh. Educated post, thank you for the rec.


ildi October 15, 2010 at 5:23 am

I agree with Steven Weinberg’s take on scientific revolutions:

It is not true that scientists are unable to “switch back and forth between ways of seeing,” and that after a scientific revolution they become incapable of understanding the science that went before it. One of the paradigm shifts to which Kuhn gives much attention in Structure is the replacement at the beginning of this century of Newtonian mechanics by the relativistic mechanics of Einstein. But in fact in educating new physicists the first thing that we teach them is still good old Newtonian mechanics, and they never forget how to think in Newtonian terms, even after they learn about Einstein’s theory of relativity.

But those who participate in a scientific revolution are in a sense living in two worlds: the earlier period of normal science, which is breaking down, and the new period of normal science, which they do not yet fully comprehend. It is much less difficult for scientists in one period of normal science to understand the theories of an earlier paradigm in their mature form. I was careful earlier to talk about Newtonian mechanics, not Newton’s mechanics. In an important sense, especially in his geometric style, Newton is pre-Newtonian. Recall the aphorism of John Maynard Keynes, that Newton was not the first modern scientist but rather the last magician. Newtonianism reached its mature form in the early nineteenth century through the work of Laplace, Lagrange, and others, and it is this mature Newtonianism–which still predates special relativity by a century–that we teach our students today.

It is important to keep straight what does and what does not change in scientific revolutions, a distinction that is not made in Structure. There is a “hard” part of modern physical theories (“hard” meaning not difficult, but durable, like bones in paleontology or potsherds in archeology) that usually consists of the equations themselves, together with some understandings about what the symbols mean operationally and about the sorts of phenomena to which they apply. Then there is a “soft” part; it is the vision of reality that we use to explain to ourselves why the equations work. The soft part does change; we no longer believe in Maxwell’s ether, and we know that there is more to nature than Newton’s particles and forces.


wissam November 16, 2010 at 10:52 am

Here’s the transcendental argument for the non-existence of God:

(1) If God exists, he freely created everything E ex nihilo (and in time).
(2) Prior to the act of Creation, E did not exist but God did.
(3) Subsequent to the act of Creation, E was necessarily causally dependent on God.
(4) God need not have created E.
-the propositions 2,3, and 4 are entailed by 1.
(5) Logic, morality, and science (natural law), henceforth LMS, are part of E.
(6) LMS is causally dependent on God (from 3 and 5).
(7) For all x and y, if x is causally dependent on y, then x is contingent.
(8) LMS is contingent (from 6 and 7).
(9) LMS is necessary.
(10) For all x, if x is contingent, then x is not necessary.
(11) LMS is not necessary (from 8 and 10).
(12) Contradiction- {9 and 11}.

Here’s a good discussion of the argument (on SEP): http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/god-necessary-being/


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