CPBD 089: John Shook – Dewey, Quine, and Some Varieties of Naturalism

by Luke Muehlhauser on September 14, 2011 in Podcast,Worldview Naturalism

(Listen to other episodes of Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot here.)

Today I interview John Shook about several varieties of philosophical naturalism. (Note that this interview was recorded way back on November 23, 2010!)

Download CPBD episode 089 with John Shook. Total time is 1:19:11.

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Transcript

Transcript prepared by CastingWords and paid for by Dan Nelson. If you’d like to get a transcript made for other past or future episodes, please contact me.

LUKE: Dr. John Shook is a research associate in philosophy at the University of Buffalo and he has written and edited more than a dozen books and is a previous guest on this show. John, it’s great to talk to you again.

JOHN: Well thanks so much, Luke. I’m a big admirer of Common Sense Atheism and your marvelous podcast. And I’m not sure if I’m the first return guest but I’m really delighted to be back on your show.

LUKE: Well thank you very much. So today, John, we talk about something that is near and dear to both of our hearts: philosophical naturalism. And I think the best entry point into that family of views in philosophy is the philosophy of John Dewey. So could you tell us who was John Dewey and how did Darwin influence his philosophy?

JOHN: Oh sure. It is a good place to start with John Dewey. He was professor of philosophy at Columbia University for… gosh. He was active either as a teaching professor or in retirement for just about all of the first half of the 20th century. He had a very, very large number of students that he influenced through Columbia.

And in many ways he is the father of what we might call modern 20th century naturalism. He took on every philosophical problem a naturalist would have to take on and he designed his naturalism to hold off the rival philosophies of his day. And he, along with other pragmatist colleagues, did that job so successfully that nowadays we almost never hear anything from these rival philosophies.

There were Hegelian rationalisms flourishing, other kinds of idealisms, various kinds of radical naive empiricisms, all kinds of anti-Darwinian alternatives. And Dewey just demolished them so thoroughly, or he incorporated what they were trying to say into a naturalistic framework so thoroughly, that nowadays the field looks very cleaned up from our perspective.

Furthermore, even if later philosophers didn’t agree with exactly how Dewey proposed that naturalism could help clean up philosophical problems, they certainly accepted many of the ways that he outlined what exactly the problem was. And they continued to argue over his proposed solutions. And really he had a tremendous, tremendous impact on naturalistic philosophy in Anglo-America.

LUKE: Well and John, when I look at the field today it seems very much that naturalism is the default position or the position that people want their work to be known by. People very much want to be naturalists. And sometimes I read somebody and think, ” Well that’s not really naturalism.” But they’d really like to be called naturalists. Is that what it looks like to you as well?

JOHN: Oh, I think you’re largely correct. There are plenty of philosophers, though, who if pushed a bit would say, “Well honestly naturalism really is very far from my specific philosophical concerns. I’m trying to clean up philosophical problems in linguistics, or in computer science, or dealing with the analytic, or the apriori.”

Or, “I’m dealing with metaphysical puzzles about the relationships between concepts. I don’t need to be out there advertising myself as a naturalist. Indeed, I’m not sure what naturalism comes to.” There would be folks who would say that if pushed a bit.

But on the other hand it’s not like they would deny the legitimacy of science. And it’s not as if they’re still holding on to some form of idealism or Cartesian dualism. So they seem happy enough in the broad naturalistic framework. That’s right.

LUKE: So back to Dewey, my understanding is that Darwin was a huge influence on his philosophy. Is that right?

JOHN: Oh, right. You had asked me to mention the role of biology in Dewey’s thinking. That’s exceedingly important for understanding Dewey’s naturalistic projects. Dewey never thought that all of reality would fit tidily into just the world view provided by the hard sciences: chemistry and physics and so forth. He thought that much of what we do as human beings is, of course, human. It’s biological, and by extension, of course, psychological and cultural, because this is what the human organism does.

And so Dewey, early on, like other pragmatists, including William James, latched on to Darwinian evolution as an excellent way to try to offer explanations of how human beings came to be capable of doing the rather extraordinary things that we’re capable of doing. For example, one of the problems that Dewey tackled early on, thanks to Darwinian evolution, was he was trying to explain how human beings would have the cognitive capacities to be able to do such terrible sophisticated things like logic, like mathematics, like specialized languages of the sort that science requires, and, of course, scientific method itself.

How does this human brain produce scientific knowledge? And of course, this all is very self-reflectively naturalistic in scope, because Dewey was looking to scientific knowledge itself in order to explain how human beings were doing science. And if you pause and reflect on that project, you see it kind of sounds a bit circular, right? But that’s the point to being a Deweyan naturalist.

And later American naturalists, particularly, inherited this world view, like Quine. And we’ll probably be getting into Quine soon. But just to finish up with Dewey, for Dewey there’s no first philosophy. There’s no metaphysics standing outside of our best scientific efforts. There’s no purely rational foundation to guarantee that we have knowledge of the world and then we can go on and do science. Rather, empirical inquiry and the refined scientific methods stand autonomous.

They are our best cognitive efforts that we’ve so far been able to design, and they don’t need any other outside justification. They sort of serve as their own justification in the long run, because they enhance what evolution has been trying to give us all along, namely the best tools for the species.

So, again, no first philosophy, no outside metaphysics, no foundational rationalism. And we’re trying to make sure, of course, that we, as naturalists, can explain how science works without ultimately having to admit the need for anything completely beyond science or beyond nature to explain how we do it. And keep in mind, the idealist, the rationalist, and the supernaturalist are all waiting to complain should there be any gap in that comprehensive explanation.

As soon as someone can point and say, “Ah-ha, you naturalists! You’ve got no way to naturalize this ingredient that you need. You’re confessing. You need something purely rational, something metaphysical, perhaps something spiritual.” You see? Right?

So this now is the contest between naturalistic and non-naturalistic philosophies.

LUKE: Yeah. One of the ways I look at it is that, ever since Descartes made such a big deal out of trying to justify science, it seems like that was a major project of modern philosophy. And then somebody like Dewey comes along and says, “Well, wait a minute. Hold on. Science is a way more successful knowledge project than philosophy, so science is the highest judge of truth that we have. If anything, it’s philosophy that would need to be justified.” Is that fair?

JOHN: I think you’re right. And, in fact, the pragmatic naturalists a had particular spin on this business of the relationship between philosophy and science. For the pragmatic naturalists, philosophizing about how we do science, about how all of our best scientific knowledge fits together in a coherent way, and to tell a coherent story about the evolution of human culture, so that we can understand all of our different projects – science just being one among many – fits this development of this coherent picture that philosophy has an important and justified project to continue to be doing.

It’s not as if these naturalists were trying to say, “Oh, well, no more theology and no more philosophizing. We’re all just going to become scientists now.” They didn’t hold that view at all, because they thought that science itself is not well designed to tackle at least three major things that it’s going to have to do in order to make sure it can produce a stable and coherent world view that doesn’t need outside help.

And if you think about it, first of all, there needs to be an explanation of how science… where science gets it’s data. What is observation? What experience and its more refined forms? What is consciousness? Where did science get it’s initial perceptual information from? What’s that about?

The second question is of course – and we’ve alluded to it already – what is reason? What is the logic and the mathematics? It’s the heart of science. It’s seems pretty clear, at least at first glance, that the technical modes of logical inference – your deduction, induction, abduction or reasoning to an explanation – are not themselves a result of any sort of observation or a laboratory experiment.

Modus ponens remains valid in some sense, even though empirical inquiry into the world or laboratory experiments on human brains didn’t figure it out. It has some sort of origin. So you need a story about where reason comes from that isn’t… it’s obviously not a product of physics or chemistry or geology.

And the third major thing is – and I mentioned this earlier: all of the several separate sciences have their own conceptual frameworks, have their own specific way of doing scientific method. And there’s no necessary reason to suppose that they’re all going to be speaking the same language, so to speak – using the same categories. Using the same definitions or their scientific terms. Reaching the same conclusions.

The social sciences painted a very different picture of what reality is like versus quantum mechanics. So there’s philosophical work to be done to ensure a coherent a world view. And that’s the larger, wider project of naturalism. It shouldn’t be confused – that I should mention at the outset – with any sort of narrow physicalism, which is often taken to be the paradigm of naturalism if not the definition of naturalism.

Physicalism would be the straight forward view that reality only consists of what your hardcore natural sciences says exists. For example, if you take physics to be the ultimate decider of what reality is made of and what reality is doing, then physicalism then would be the view that you haven’t naturalized something, you haven’t fitted into the natural world, until you can show that it either entirely consists of nothing but these fundamental bits of matter that physics is studying.

Or, it can be somehow sort of explained through bridging laws. You may not able to reduce it outright, but you may be able to show that it probably is nothing but these tiny bits of matter viewed from a larger perceptive view that you fitted into the physicalist world view.

And that’s a separate project. Dewey quite explicitly was not a narrow naturalist in that sense. He was not a physicalist. In his day, his way of putting it was, “I’m not a pragmatic naturalist. I’m not a materialist.” Materialism being another synonym for this sort of narrow physicalism.

LUKE: So what does it mean for John Dewey to be a naturalist but not a physicalist or a materialist?

JOHN: Well, sure. Let me give you an example. Take something that human beings do a great deal of–let’s say art, right? Humans produce an astonishing variety of art objects and aesthetically designed things that enrich our culture, enrich our lives. So, for Dewey, it would be very important for a broad naturalist to be able to tell a coherent story about how humans are capable of doing art.

And so this would involve some of the social sciences, the cognitive sciences. It would involve the study of how the brain processes perception, enjoys aesthetic qualities, why human beings would have preferences towards objects with aesthetic properties, how humans came to have such fancy tool capacities to allow us to make sheer objects of art with our imagination rather than just functional tools that happen to look nice.

In other words, why would human beings bother to make art, appreciate art, pass along art as a cultural project? Right? So this is fitting the art object and why human beings would make art and enjoy art into the natural world so that nothing, again, dualistic or supernatural is needed to explain.

A narrow physicalist might get bogged down into some sort of, I don’t know, I’m making this up–I don’t think this field existed, but I’m trying to create an analogy here. Suppose some philosopher said, “Well, that’s not just not good enough for me. In order to make sure that art really exists as part of the natural world, you’ve got to really, thoroughly reduce it down to just physicalism, to just physics.”

“We’ve got to make sure that aesthetic properties and artistic properties and works of art can all be on the list of approved, real objects according to subatomic physics.” And furthermore, right? We’re doing all this art. We need physicalist answers to definitions of what is art, what is aesthetic validity, what is artistic truth. We need answers to how we can evaluate art as genuinely art, and beyond that we need answers to how human beings make realistic judgments of art. World View.

In fact, I could imagine some sort of artistic, naturalist skeptic saying: “well, since physics can’t tell us what true objects of art are”, for some reason. It escapes the categories of quantum physics or something. Or, “because human beings just can’t use physics to decide which art object is more aesthetically pleasing and which form of art is the true highest form of art.”

“It’s impossible to see how physics could decide this. Therefore, art escapes the natural categories altogether because we can’t figure out what true art is or what aesthetic truthfulness is”. We can imagine a philosopher getting frustrated and saying “Well, I guess we’re just going to have to be non-naturalists about art. It just doesn’t fit into the natural categories.

So from a Deweyian perspective, this sort of project is ridiculous, unnecessary, creates all sorts of pseudo-problems. You don’t try to reduce what human beings are doing down to physicalist categories and down to ways of deciding truth and reality just by one scientific field. Art is one cultural project that human beings undertake and it has its own, fairly autonomous standards, since what artists are trying to do and how the artwork’s aesthetic quality should be evaluated and improved upon.

Science is another cultural project that has its own separate and autonomous methods for trying to accomplish what it’s trying to do.

Now here’s the thing. From the prospective of broad naturalism, it’s perfectly OK that science and art be autonomous without having to worry about art still being a natural thing existing in the natural world. Art objects are natural objects. Science can study natural art objects. They don’t seem to be unnatural, ghostly, spiritual things.

Science can help explain how human beings do art. So you see now I’m repeating the story about how you can tell a wider, non-reductive, non-physicalist story about how human beings doing art. But you see, now I’m repeating the story about how you can tell a wider, non-reductive, non-physicalist story about how human beings doing art can fit into the naturalistic world view. There’s no need to reduce art down to only the reality and truth categories accepted by, let’s say, one scientific field. It just doesn’t make any sense.

LUKE: Well, let me jump in and step up for the physicalists, then. I think of myself as a physicalist, and maybe I’m projecting my views on others here, but I think a lot of physicalists would want to reply to that that our physicalism doesn’t mean that we think that if we aren’t in a position to explain the bridge laws between works of art or intelligence or consciousness and fundamental subatomic particles, then, therefore, we’ve got to throw up our hands and not be naturalists anymore.

I, at least, would want to say that my physicalism is a kind of prediction. It’s a set of anticipated experiences. And by physicalism, I don’t mean that if we aren’t capable of showing the bridge laws between intelligence or consciousness or art and subatomic particles that we have to be non-naturalists. My physicalism would say, “I suspect that a work of art supervenes on the elements of physics and that there’s nothing else spooky in there.” And it seems like Dewey and I would fully agree on that, and I feel fine calling that physicalism.

So, am I using the word “physicalism” in an odd way here? Or what do you think?

JOHN: You’ve picked out the one part of physicalism that actually is the broad naturalist story, and you’ve conveniently omitted other things that physicalists usually do. If you don’t want to do them, then you’re not a physicalist.

Let’s take another example. Let’s take, I mentioned the cultural project of human beings doing art.How about the cultural project of people doing morality? Morality is usually a very nice test case. This business about art seemed rather fanciful, and that was my point. And now, by analogy, I can help out, perhaps, a bit with morality.

So, we wonder whether there are such things as moral truths. We wonder if there’s one objective moral code, perhaps a small core of principles that hold, objectively, over and above what this or that group of human beings think is moral. We have various questions about how to decide what is moral, the whole range of things that keep moral naturalists and non-naturalists busy.

Quine, notoriously, just was ready to dismiss the whole enterprise of morality as just something that someday human beings were probably just going to have to stop talking about, because he thought it hopeless that there could be a decision procedure for finding out the truth of morality. He seemed to suggest that some form of expressivism or emotivism was going to turn out to be the only way to deal with morality. He grew frustrated over reducing morality. He couldn’t find any bridge laws. Yadda yadda yadda, right?

So he ended up encouraging a lot of people to be very skeptical towards our capacity to fit morality easily into the naturalistic world view. And of course, there’s a whole host, then, of moral non-naturalists who are very eager to walk through that open door and say, “Well, maybe there are moral truths, but they don’t have anything to do with the natural world.’

‘So we must be talking about something unnatural here.” And it’s at this point that all kinds of dualisms and supernaturalisms are eager to step in with their explanations about how human beings know objective moral truths, how human beings can be responsible moral agents and the like.

But physicalists can get into pretty deep waters fairly quickly about trying to naturalize morality. It does look hopeless, trying to find some sort of guaranteed, objective, moral set of rules. It can be hard to explain how human beings can be responsible moral agents if physicalism is true, if it’s implied. Determinism, with its restraints on how much control we have on our lives, whether we’re really responsible and so forth.

So, morality can be a test case. Now, suppose you’re the kind of physicalist that says, well, wait a minute. Maybe it’s the case that morality is just a cultural project that human beings do. This is entirely natural because human beings are entirely natural. They’re using their brains in order to be social, and in social groups it makes sense to have some normative rules for how everybody ought to, at minimum, treat each other.

We could see this, perhaps, evolving naturally, or if it didn’t evolve naturally, perhaps human beings with enough cognitive firepower would invent it over time, gradually, as a cultural practice. Or some combination of the two, right?

But actually, now, you’re doing broad naturalism, Dewey-style, right? You’re already going well beyond the usual concerns of physicalism. Dewey was a moral naturalist, not in the sense that he thought we could read off from nature or get clues from physics about what the moral rules were, but because, again, he thought that all of the sciences, and some common sense, could tell a general, natural story about how human beings would come to practice morality and develop various sorts of moralities, some of which would have a wide common core that would seem objective to us, and perhaps it would be objective.

So, that’s the perspective of broad naturalism. But I still hear a lot of physicalists complaining that there’s just so many features about morality that just don’t seem to be part of the story told by science, so it becomes a very queer or completely unnatural thing. So, that’s the reason why morality, if not art, morality can be a very good test case to decide whether or not you’re really on the side of narrow physicalism or whether you’re more interested in a broad naturalism.

LUKE: So, a moment ago, John, you talked about how naturalists might talk about morality in terms of this thing that humans do, and so therefore it is part of the natural story because humans are part of the natural story. I can see how that fits into the project of broad naturalism, but I’m not quite clear yet on why it’s not also part of the story of physicalism.

I think the physicalist would just say that morality, let’s say it’s in terms of some relation of desires or some relation of wants, that’s a fairly popular view. Desires are brain states and brain states reduce to the items of fundamental physics even if we don’t know what the bridge laws are now. That’s what our suspicion is.

JOHN: Yeah, let me stop you there. For the broad naturalist, finding bridge laws is not likely and even if a few are found, they’re not terribly useful. For a broad naturalist, there needn’t be any “bridge laws” between the principles of morality and the truths of subatomic physics. We may never find them, but the sciences themselves may not be reducible to each other.

The pragmatic naturalist is very comfortable with lots of pluralism. Perhaps it’s necessary that the several sciences really never find large numbers of robust bridge laws. It just may be the case that much of human sociology, for example, never gets really thoroughly reduced down to just the activities of nervous tissue. We’re pretty sure human beings do what they do in a social way because we have nervous systems.

That’s one proposition, but it’s quite another to think that somehow the scientific truths that sociologists discover about human beings are eventually going to be reduced down to or simplified by bridge laws into the truths that, let’s say, cellular biology discovers. That’s probably never going to be the case.

A broad naturalist is very comfortable with lots and lots and lots of autonomy. Physicalists aren’t, meaning that the point of being a physicalist is that they are made exceedingly uncomfortable by too much autonomy across our separate knowledge practices. Coming back to Dewey, Dewey thought that the ethical enterprise of trying to figure out what the best moral rules are and how to modify them over time for human well-being is autonomous.

It’s an autonomous methodology, apart from the sciences. He didn’t think that moral knowledge could be reduced or bridge-lawed into some sort of scientific enterprise narrowly conceived. He viewed morality as an autonomous cultural enterprise with a sort of experimental inquiry powering it.

He would never deny that, of course, experimental inquiry is the smartest way to go. To call it scientific is a bit much. Sometimes Dewey spoke of making morality more scientific, but he didn’t mean, “Send in the white lab-coated people.” What he rather meant was that human beings facing common moral problems should try to solve them together by tinkering and experimenting with social structures, observing the consequences, and then modifying social structures accordingly. He meant this in a very broad sense.

So, I guess the ball really is in the physicalists’ court. If a physicalist wants to say, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re fine with that much autonomy. We’re fine with letting the several cultural projects and the several sciences find their own truths without having to worry about really reducing them to each other, ” well, that’s actually the world view of broad naturalism. But physicalism usually hardens up. The genuine physicalists really need truth and reality to be decided, more or less ultimately, by the hard sciences or some combination thereof.

LUKE: Well, it sounds like maybe I am just using physicalism, that term, in an unusual way, though, because I agree with everything that you said about the autonomy of different disciplines. I’m fairly hopeful that we will discover a lot of bridge laws, but I suspect that many we will never be able to compute. And yet I think of physicalism as a view about ontology, and so, even if we never have knowledge of how brain states reduce to quarks and leptons, I think that they probably do, even if we never have access to that complete story and can’t do the calculation to predict my next behavior on the basis of our observations of subatomic particles. But it sounds like you’re saying that, if I accept that kind of view, then I just shouldn’t be calling myself a physicalist, because that’s not what physicalism usually means?

JOHN: Physicalists will argue over the definition of physicalism, just like philosophers will argue over anything. But some classic test cases are, do you find moral language and language about being a responsible moral agent so either queer, unable to fit into the scientific world view, or so devoid of truth conditions that it’s really irresponsible to think you’re meaningfully talking about these things, or so psychologically eliminable because eventually the grand synthesis of the life sciences and the physical sciences will prove that no human being has ever really had a belief, a choice, a deliberation? Right?

These are classic physicalist problems. They really worry deeply over fitting other human projects and how we talk about them into the language of the hard sciences. If you think that these are genuine, hard-core, first-order philosophical problems, you’re a physicalist. If you’re a broad naturalist, you have other ways of trying to fit these cultural projects and their autonomous methodologies and truth conditions into a broadly naturalistic world view, without having to worry that one of the hard sciences is going to be doing, ultimately, all the heavy lifting.

Is this helping at all?

LUKE: Yeah, absolutely. So, let me ask you this, then. My own views on morality are very much rooted in the philosophy of language, and so I’m going to talk a lot about how there are lots of different sets of definitions for moral terms out there. And so, if you go with that set of definitions that includes an assumption of, say, intrinsic prescriptivity or even categoricity in moral talk,

I think those are things that are not going to be reducible to anything physical, and so I’m going to say that those moral theories or sets of definitions just refer to things that don’t exist. They just fail to refer. But then, if you define moral terms a bit differently, somebody like Peter Railton is not going to depend on a notion of intrinsic prescriptivity or even categoricity. Same thing with a, say, mid-’80s Phillipa Foot. And the things that they’re going to refer to, I think, are fully reducible to physics, in their ontology at least, even if we don’t know what the bridge laws are.

And so, it all depends on how you define it. And I think that if you’re going to define moral terms in this way, with reference to these things, those aren’t going to be reducible to physics. That’s going to have to turn out to be some kind of non-naturalism. But if you define moral terms in terms of desires and certain types of relations between desires or certain types of relations between different social structures or something like that, I think those are all, in their ontology, going to be reducible to physics.

JOHN: The Deweyan broad naturalist found most of that either unintelligible, uninteresting, or pseudo-problems, to be blunt. Again, this business of trying to reduce, to reduce, to reduce, to fit into a world view authorized by one of the sciences and the realities that it’s discovered. That’s not the broad naturalist project. That’s viewed as a dead end. Paradoxically, it’s by taking the sciences in their widest, pluralistic scope that we have the best hope for fitting how we do morality and what morality is into this broad naturalistic world view, rather than worrying about one science doing all of the heavy lifting, again.

So take, for example, social psychology, and a broadly cultural story about why human beings, we’ve come to use moral norms as opposed to just commands, prescriptions, coercion, other ways to get people to behave. And there’s lots of ways to get people to behave as you want them to do. Some of them are just simply commands or coercive threats or enticements, operant conditioning.

Some of them, on the other hand, involve the internalization of moral norms, and psychology and the brain sciences are telling a clear story about how that happens during indoctrination in youth. Morality seems to depend on the internalization of these things, and so the sciences can help us tell a story about why and how human beings would internalize and use moral norms.

Now, once you have a natural story about how human beings would be busily doing this to each other–that is to say creating societies where people, for the most part, are habituated into internalized obedience to moral norms, they’re enforcing it on each other–they now have, right, a sense of oughts, a genuine sense of oughts that doesn’t violate the is-ought problem, because you’ve told a natural story about how the ises, the human beings, do the practice of oughts.

You’re not reducing the oughts to is. You’re not figuring out that the truths of the oughts reduce to the truths of the ises. You’re not reducing the validity of moral norms to the operations of neurons, much less subatomic particles. Rather, you’re telling a story about how moral oughts would emerge in human beings more or less like us.

So you’re using lots of the sciences. You’re not worry about reducing truth conditions or realities. This is another way of saying morality is an autonomous practice, apart from other cultural practices such as art or science. But nevertheless, you can tell a coherent story about how morality can fit into the natural world.

Take, for example, a specific moral problem, like responsible agency. Well, here again, the broad naturalist would try to tell a story about how human beings raise children and hold them to certain norms of behavior where they’re supposed to reflect on what they do before they go ahead and do it. This is all perfectly natural. Indeed, it’s compatible with determinism, regardless of whether or not determinism is the truth about the world. It’s compatible with determinism.

It doesn’t require the introduction of any spooky spiritual unnatural agents. It’s doesn’t require the introduction of any breaks in the space-time continuum or violations of the laws of conversation of energy.

So with the help of the life sciences, which seems to be the most appropriate place for explaining something like how we do morality, broad naturalists can tell a story about how human beings would come to view certain moral norms as objectively valid, ruling over their behavior. And in that sense true. This business of worrying where moral fit into a natural world dictated by physical truth is, of course, a pseudo problem on this board naturalistic perspective.

LUKE: So let’s get back to Dewey and let’s talk about his epistemology really briefly. Also, since Descartes, a major, very popular view in epistemology was that we need to start with things that we know for sure, for absolute certainty, and then we can build up from those to larger truths or more general truths by certain very careful inferences. And this is the foundationalist project. What was Dewey’s approach to how we can know things about the world?

JOHN: Dewey tried again to tell a broadly naturalistic story about how the refined techniques of scientific reasoning and experimental justification grew out of the simpler tools of ordinary human practices that our species has been doing for a very long time. So he viewed ordinary practices that we do to live – construction of shelter, design of clothing, cooking, agriculture, and these sorts of things – refined into the technologies of engineering, which then in turn gave rise to the opportunity of human beings to refine experiments upon experiments.

This is in fact a new meta level that imaginative human beings were able to go to. So they literary invented a new technology of just playfully experimenting upon the techniques of dealing with nature, irrespective for the time being of any practical application.

So this gave rise to the idea of the sciences as opposed to mere engineering, trying to investigate exactly the operations of nature. Essentially a sort of what we now recognize as a causitive story. If we manipulate nature in this carefully controlled way, what consequences should we reliably expect to see next?

In this way, science becomes a rather sort of like an immense recipe box. If you want to accomplish ‘x’ and you only have at your disposal these various means ‘y, ‘ do ‘z’ in order to turn, right, your available ingredients into the things that you actually want. It’s a story of genesis in essence. It’s sometimes said that we have to destroy things in order to learn how they work.

In destruction taking things apart, smashing atoms together in super colliders. That can tell us a lot of information. But really, the payoff, the reason why human beings do this, is of course we want to be able to reverse the process. We want to be able to tell a genesis story. We want to be able to say, “Well, the things that we currently observe now ongoing, probably came to be because of the story of genesis. These prior things caused it to come into existence.”

So that’s what I mean by a certain recipe box. As for the scientific method itself, that, since we emerged creatively, it was invented right along with the story of science itself. What we don’t want to think as philosophers is that we have a job of telling some separate story of how reason evolved, how reason can be grounded, what justifies reason, what’s really apart from all these other cultural and scientific practices that I was just elaborating a minute ago.

We don’t again want to think that, as philosophers, we’re responsible for ultimately grounding the justification and truth of what the sciences are doing. We don’t want to take on the project of separately learning and refining the pure reason, the logic, the mathematics apart from it.

On the broad naturalist story of science as a cultural project, reason, logic, mathematics–these are just refined linguistic tools that have evolved right along with the refinement of engineering and scientific practice. They didn’t have some separate foundation, separate origin, or separate philosophical justification.

And this fits, again, very nicely, not just with, of course, what Dewey was trying to do. Quine can be viewed as part of this same project. Again, there is no first philosophy. Reason, logic, these things are refined linguistic tools that emerged right along with all the rest of our cognitive capacities. And, indeed, on this story, it can very nicely explain why mathematics, why logic would change, adapt, get redesigned, refashioned, reinvented for use in the sciences. In and of themselves, they’re projects of the imagination. But, insofar as they actually do anything, they were evolved right along with the rest of scientific practice.

LUKE: So, John, moving forward in the history of 20th-century philosophical naturalism, another figure that we’ve mentioned a couple times already is Willard Van Orman Quine. Could you explain what was philosophical naturalism for Quine? And I guess the best place to start is where he agrees with Dewey.

JOHN: Well, there’s large stretches of agreement, a couple of sharp points of disagreement, and that’s added some flavor to the rest of 20th-century naturalism and down to the present. The large areas of agreement should sound very familiar. There is no first philosophy, apart from our best cognitive practices, especially science.

There should be no philosophical project of discovering or elaborating or grounding pure reason, pure logic, pure mathematics so that then they have the legitimacy to be useful in science .Quine notoriously agreed with Dewey, that our best understanding of correct, valid, logical inferences may be, in the very long run, integral to the empirical adequacy of our scientific projects.

So, both Dewey and Quine were in the project of eroding away the aloofness of the analytic, of the operari , of such a thing as pure reason, and instead, incorporating it into how science does its work, how human beings use these things, and hence, in the broad sense, naturalizing them.

Now, they had different specific recipes for how to do the rest of the work in naturalizing epistemology. You can detect some daylight between Dewey and Quine, on some particular issues. For example, Dewey was much more socially oriented in his psychology; Quine tended to be much more individualistically oriented in his behaviorism, and later philosophers, such as Donald Davidson, inherited these sorts of problems. And Hillary Putnam, likewise.

They worried about the role of language in science: is it more individualistic, is it more community, and I won’t go into those byways, but that really added a lot of flavor to late 20th-century naturalism. They both had no difficulty letting all of the several sciences, from the social sciences, and behavioral and brain sciences, to the physical sciences, do their own proper work.

Quine sometimes talked like a reductivist, talked like an eliminavist , but I don’t know Quine actually ever intended to say anything too narrowly physicalist. A point of evidence of that is that some of Quine’s greatest students, who went on to become major philosophical naturalists in their own rights, tended to be what became known as non-reductive naturalists, or non-reductive physicalists.

They tended to think that there were several broad, autonomous areas of human effort, aims, and inquiries, and were really worrying about whether there were lots of bridge laws, or whether there were lots of linguistic reductions, or normalogical reductions. Probably doesn’t too much time and effort. It’s better to just have a sort of broad, pluralistic naturalism.

So, Quine, I think, lent much of the flavor to later non-reductive naturalism.

LUKE: And then, what are some of those sharp disagreements that you talked about between a Deweyan naturalist and a Quinean naturalist, or at least between Dewey and Quine themselves?

JOHN: We probably shouldn’t go into too much philosophy of language, but this business of naturalizing epistemology might illustrate where they disagree. Quine was powerfully influenced by behaviorism. But behaviorism and the social sciences, right around World War II and after, had a strongly individualistic flavor.

That is to say, if we want to understand how an individual does something, you study that individual’s behavioral interactions with the environment, but you just study that lone individual’s interactions with the environment. In other words, you enormously simplify your problem if you keep all other human beings away from contact with the human being under study.

Well, this makes sense when you’re studying lab rats, perhaps, rats not being the most social of creatures, certainly not anywhere near as social as humans. But humans are intensely social. For Dewey, all psychology is social, all epistemology is social. Quine didn’t talk that way.

Quine talked about how scientists, cognitive sciences, behavioral sciences, would eventually tell a story about how the environment produces sensory impacts upon the lone, organic individual, arousing the nervous system to try to process this information in an adequate way, to produce some sort of adequate response to the environment.

Now, at least this picture is far more intelligible than old empiricisms. Indeed, human knowledge is all about adequate cognitive response to what is going on in the environment. That’s a pragmatist view. And, indeed, Quine, in that broad sense, was a pragmatist.

The problem, though, from the broad naturalist perspective, is you’re omitting the sociality of human beings, which becomes very important for higher cognitive faculties. And really, for anything really, truly worthy of the name of human knowledge, you’re forgetting the fact that, really, it’s social groups that produce knowledge.

A lone human being is highly unlikely to produce anything like reliable knowledge of the environment, for the very simple reason that we’re a species not really equipped to do that thing on our own. Babies are intensely socialized in how to monitor and take stock of their environment, what’s relevant, what isn’t, what’s worth playing with, what’s not worth playing with. Children are very quickly indoctrinated and incorporated into group community projects of knowledge acquisition and knowledge use.

So, again, these higher technologies of human cognition are THOROUGHLY social in nature. Human beings literally have to, through societies, learn how to be individuals. The category of being an individual is a social category.

So, Quine isn’t so good at reflecting these uniquely human situations, and so perhaps his naturalization of epistemology is distorted or perhaps a bit dead-end in various ways, where a social psychologist, a cognitive scientist, who take seriously the way that we learn in groups best, would probably have more success accounting for some of our more sophisticated cognitive abilities of gaining knowledge of the external world.

LUKE: Now, Quine is also very famous for his holism in epistemology.

JOHN: Oh, yes.

LUKE: What do you think might be some differences between Dewey and Quine when we get very specific like that about their epistemologies?

JOHN: Very little daylight between the two. Dewey, in his own way, was a thoroughgoing epistemological holist. Dewey believed that theory and practice are thoroughly entwined. Dewey believed that theory and observation are thoroughly entwined.

LUKE: Now, John, you have a page called Naturalism and Science at, what is it, naturalisms.org?

JOHN: Yes. The fine website, naturalism.org. That’s a terrific website. But it was already taken, the domain name, so I put up a much smaller and less ambitious website called naturalisms.org. It’s where a bit of what we’ve discussed could be found. But really, it’s sort of preparatory to a book that I’m writing about broad naturalism, and pragmatic naturalism in particular.

LUKE: Yeah. And on that website, you have a wonderful page where you offer a fairly systematic taxonomy of different naturalistic views. And if that’s what your book is about, I’m very excited to hear that you’re writing that so that I can read it one day. So, in philosophy, there are these many different types of naturalism, and naturalists argue amongst each other. Could you explain, in addition to Deweyan naturalism and Quinean naturalism, what are some of the other varieties of naturalism that are out there today?

JOHN: OK. Well, for the benefit of our listeners, so far we’ve talked about Quinean non-reductive naturalism, but Quinean non-reductive naturalism displays a great deal of skepticism towards things like objective moral truths. It probably should be called non-reductive physicalism, perhaps, if that’s not a contradiction in terms.

But the basic idea is that, really, in the end, in the long term of scientific investigation, the physical sciences really are going to be the ones deciding what the furniture of the world consists of, in some sort of basic sense. But, while the physical sciences are helpfully supplying explanations, it’s one thing to supply an explanation for something; It’s quite another to reduce that thing down to the terminology, categories, and laws of the science.

Let me give you an example. Take another easy problem that philosophers deal with once in a while: consciousness. Well, I’m being ironic of course. Consciousness is one of the hard problems. How can consciousness be naturalized? Well, the reductive physicalist, let’s say the elimitavist or of that stripe, they’re not happy with consciousness unless they can take everything about consciousness and re-describe it in terms of the activities of the real things that the physical science authorizes.

JOHN: Mm-hmm.

LUKE: And anything about consciousness that can’t be ontologically reduced in that way must somehow be literally illusion. It has to be some sort of mass hallucination or some figment of bad grammar if you’re of the Constinian, right? You just simply need to stop talking about it.

Take for example, when people speak of the qualia of consciousness, the law qualities, the colors say, or tones, the perceptual experience. If in the end it just doesn’t look like these things can fit into descriptions of neuron activity at the chemical or physical level, then they just aren’t real. You think you’re seeing them, but you’re not. There is literally no “there” there for the reductive physicalist.

Now the non-reductive physicalist says “No, no, no, that’s too high a standard to set for naturalism.” Rather the idea can the several sciences, especially the physical sciences, help tell a sort of functional story about what consciousness does.

JOHN: Mm-hmm.

LUKE: See they’ve turned consciousness into a verb, into an activity, things the biological organisms do, and it turns out that there are many, many, many functional equivalents, parallels, correspondences almost, between higher order cognitive thinking that we do and the activities of the nervous system.

Let me rattle off a few stunning examples. All thought happens in time as a connective process, rolling on, absorbing the new and gradually fading out the old, but that’s actually a fair description of neuron activity as studied by brain scientists. All brain processes occur in time. It’s thoroughly interrelated. It has sort of this rolling cumulative effect, as new information is incorporated into the current state, while some of the older stuff gradually fades out from relevance and the neurons move on to do other things. So they sort of sent the rolling phases.

Another example is, conscious experience is intensely oriented towards dealing with the environment. Well, the nervous system is intensely oriented towards dealing with the environment.

So, at any rate, you get the flavor of it. You can see how the several sciences could find functional equivalence, a great deal of commonality between consciousness and brain processes, without reducing them. You’re still using different terms. You’re finding common functioning, common aim, general common features, and enough that that gives you a reliance that consciousness is part of the natural world. It just doesn’t necessarily look like it from physics.

But then again, when you’re a non-reductive naturalist, you’re not worried that all language has to conform to the things that physics describes, right? You just need a general picture of the world that sort of hangs together in a coherent way.

Now, Dewey is sort of on the far side of non-reductive physicalism. He’s so pluralistic that he’s quite comfortable with autonomous cultural practices that don’t even necessarily have to hang so tightly together according to the categories of the physical sciences. And I’ve already spoken at length so much about the Deweyan perception, of how the several cultural practices hang together in a coherent, natural way, that I shouldn’t continue on.

But at any rate, so far, I’ve outlined three major naturalistic world views. And I think they are “the” three. They’re the three major competing varieties of naturalism, and there really isn’t a fourth.

The three, again, would be the reductive physical ism, demanding that all reality and truth conditions be reducible to how the physical sciences do their work, particularly, I guess, physics itself; non-reductive physicalism, which is perfectly happy to let the many several sciences do their relatively autonomous work, as long as you get these functional, integrative stories about how you could sort of see how it all hangs together in a similar way; and then what we might call pluralistic or perspectival naturalism of the.

Deweyan sort, which really relies on broad cultural stories of practices to do most of the heavy lifting about how this all works together rather than just narrow scientific methodology, although scientific methodology remains at the core of any broad naturalism.

LUKE: And then, another variety of naturalism we might talk about is on one kind of extreme where it’s not clear whether or not it qualifies as naturalism. I don’t know. On the story of consciousness, maybe somebody like David Chalmers, in kind of a property dualism, but still talking about how consciousness is very lawful, and so it’s not anything like Cartesian dualism that still is going to be subject to completely separate ontology from the natural world. Or maybe somebody who accepts something like a non-physical, anyway, existence of abstract objects or mathematical objects…

JOHN: Right.

LUKE: Somewhere in there, we’re just going to say, well, we’re going to not call that naturalism, because then we’re clouding up our language too much and making the term “naturalism” not as useful. But what are some of the views over on that kind of edge of naturalism?

JOHN: Oh, right, right. Now largely a minority view, so I didn’t credit it with being one of the major three varieties of naturalism. But you’re right. On the far side of Dewey, and if you really take pluralism all the way out, if you take the separate categories of experience, right, our contact with the environment and our inner life, rationality, of course, the inference engine, and science, and you become very pluralistic about these things,you can end up with what I call synoptic pluralism, rather than perspectivalism.

Perspective means, boy, that one thing can look very different from two perspectives. So, for example, Dewey would say the activities of the brain look very differently if you’re examining neuron by neuron or if you’re talking to that brain, having a conversation, but still, really, it’s nervous activity that’s doing the work. On the other hand, synoptic pluralism would be very comfortable with consciousness sort of floating almost freely from the more easily understandable natural or physical things of the world, likewise with reasoning, or you also mentioned aesthetic contemplation.

I can just rattle off a few major philosophers to give our listeners some clues, if they want to pick up on it, or perhaps they’ve already heard of these folks. Some major synoptic pluralists, there are not so many of them anymore. Chalmers is trying to be one, and there’s a couple others.

But some major figures that have lent it respectability include Charles Peirce, with his theory of firstness, secondness, and thirdness. William James, in many ways, was a synoptic pluralist, with his radical empiricism. George Santayana postulated four realms of being that were seemingly autonomous and yet somehow still all connected in some mysterious way to the material world.

Alfred North Whitehead, his process philosophy is another one of these synoptic pluralisms. Nelson Goodman sort of fits into this. I think Richard Laurie fits into this synoptic pluralism. Is it still a naturalism? Well, right? We’re in that gray area, because synoptic pluralism, taken too far, ends up in full-blown pluralism, outright dualism, either of the Cartesian sort or perhaps the Kantian sort, perhaps the supernaturalist sort. So synoptic pluralism really flirts with going over into outright non-naturalism.

LUKE: I think the list of names that you gave for synoptic pluralism will probably be pretty helpful for people who want to look up specific types of views. I wonder if you might be able to do that for the other three types of naturalism that we’ve been talking about? I’m not sure if you can do that off the top of your head.

JOHN: Oh, well, joining Dewey are most of the rest of the pragmatic naturalists. For folks interested in that, I can mention just a couple more-recent major figures who do this sort of perspectival pluralistic naturalism. Nicholas Rescher, the philosopher of science at Pittsburgh. I’ve been in conversations with Ronald Giere, the prominent University of Minnesota philosopher of science, who’s come around to agreeing with this sort of pragmatic perspectival pluralism in his recent writings.

As for the non-reductive physicalism, well, there’s so many of Quine’s children, as it were. Most of the naturalists you’re apt to meet in philosophy departments would probably fall into this category. They’re not confident about reduction, either ontological or nomological.

Donald Davidson has had a tremendous influence in his phenomenalist nomism, falls into this non-reductive category. Folks like Daniel Dennett is another version of this sort of non-reductive, somewhat perspectival physicalism. And, in fact, some have argued that if you take what Dan Dennett has said very carefully and closely, one can almost see a sort of Deweyan pragmatic pluralistic naturalism.

And, let’s see, for the reductive physicalists, well, the Churchlands speak like this. Dennett is sometimes mistaken as a hard reductive physicalist, but I think in his better moments he really doesn’t intend to say those sorts of things. Clarence Nagel sometimes sounded that way.

LUKE: I’m thinking, maybe, David Papineau, Andrew Melnyk.

JOHN: Oh, sure. Right. Now, another figure that belongs in this conversation, but we can only mention him here, is Wilfrid Sellars. Wilfrid Sellars, of course, represents an enormous effort to try to narrow down physicalism fairly tightly and to make sure that, really, the hard physical sciences are going to be doing the heavy lifting of explaining and describing reality. Wilfrid Sellars has had an enormous amount of influence.

LUKE: He’s a slightly older naturalist, more of the generation between Dewey and Quine.

JOHN: Mm-hmm.

Man: So, great. That gives us a wonderful overview of some varieties of naturalism and where the debate is between these different fields. I think it’s been clear through our conversation that you are pretty partial to the Deweyan sort of naturalism. Do you think that’s because the other types just have bigger problems than any problems that might be faced by the Deweyan naturalist?

JOHN: Oh, yeah, problems. But problems have a way of being solved by the sciences themselves. And any naturalist really has to let the several sciences, really, provide our best clues, our best warranted conclusions about what’s really going on. So it may be that if you just continue to watch the operations of the several sciences, one or another variety of naturalism can prove to be the better story.

Promises that all of the sciences would somehow reduce, ontologically or nomologically, down into the hard sciences and then, one by one, down into physics or subatomic physics–I mean, there’s been huge promises made about these sorts of reductions. And there’s been no follow-through, right? Notoriously. The Unity of Science movement is dead. The promised reductions never came. The few examples that are often trotted out are precisely that: few examples. Right? The several sciences seem to be doing a great job of simply proceeding on their own.

Now, on the other hand, this presents enormous challenge because, in order to maintain a coherent world view, you need coherence. You need a way to see that, for example, the biological study of human beings is consistent with the sociological view.

And again, this sort of production of coherence, this sort of production of translation manuals, to make sure that our ontologies aren’t getting out of control, to make sure that scientists can still be confident that they’re more or less talking about the same things from multiple perspectives, that’s a huge amount of work. And, indeed, that’s good philosophical work. You don’t want the sciences themselves wasting their time on this. You want the sciences producing knowledge of the particular feature of nature that they’re studying. So, rather, it’s good philosophical work to keep things in perspective, to try to make sure we can continue to tell a coherent story without having to constantly produce reductions.

But that’s precisely, of course, the work, as I have described it, of this broad or perspectival pluralistic naturalism. If there are going to be serious reductions of the social sciences down into the physical sciences, if categories like the teleological, if categories like human agency and human responsibility are going to be eliminated or reduced down in some deterministic fashion, then maybe they will.

I look forward to seeing what science is going to tell us next. That puts us philosophers sort of in a waiting game. We have to wait and see how the sciences proceed. But in the meantime, it’s our job to produce a coherent world view.

And the argument, really, now is not even so much between naturalists. We’re waiting on the sciences, and we’re trying to be helpful. The game really is between the naturalists and those who think that the naturalism project, in a broad way, is either dead or dying.

And so the big philosophical debates now, you have a triad. You have the naturalist family that we’ve been talking about, versus what I’ll just call the rationalists. They think that there are certain things that humans do that are so heavily dependent on a priori truths, fundamentally grounded principles of reason, they can’t see at all how these things could be naturalized.

So these rationalists continue to talk about transcendental conditions for human understanding or a priori grounds for the possibility of logic and so forth. These can lead to Platonisms and these sorts of things. So that’s the rationalist family. And then, of course, there are supernaturalisms, thinkers who look to religion to try to explain things that they think naturalists can’t.

So this triad now is bequeathed on to the 21st century. But my confidence is, really, the serious philosophical work of advancing human knowledge and human understanding is going to be done by the family of naturalists.

Luke: You know, John, in the popular debate right now, the debate between naturalisms and supernaturalisms is all the rage, with the recent best sellers by the new atheists. But, to me, I often find the debate between these different varieties of naturalism a lot more interesting and productive than arguing about something that in a way I think is pretty trivial, like whether or not there are divine beings that are ruling the universe. I think that’s kind of like…

JOHN: Mm-hmm.

Luke: Maybe in a few centuries that will be seen as a question like whether there are or are not fairies.

JOHN: Right!

Luke: It’s like really? That’s what we’re spending all our time debating?

JOHN: Sure.

Luke: When we could be debating more important questions, like how does science work and which sciences can we trust more than others, or how can we go about knowing how the world works or how can we understand ourselves as part of nature. Those seem to be more productive debates to be having.

JOHN: I think so. And in fact, looked at it from another perspective-to use a phrase I’ve been pushing-it is the case that family squabbles among the naturalists still nevertheless have a huge impact on the grander project of keeping rationalisms and supernaturalisms at bay. For example a common, common supernaturalist argumentative trick is to say, “Well, you know, these naturalists! They promise to reduce consciousness to nothing but activities of physical particles. How ridiculous!”

In other words, they take naturalism to be just one of the cousins in the naturalist family, complain that the promised reduction isn’t seemingly at hand, and therefore quickly jump to the conclusion that consciousness must be spookily or spiritually unnatural.

Luke: Uh-huh.

JOHN: Now, from the perspective of the cousins of naturalism, we might be saying to each other, “Hey, you know, we’re kind of lending encouragement where we shouldn’t be. Maybe we’ve over-promised on this business of consciousness. Maybe the right way to do naturalism isn’t to over-promise what the sciences either shouldn’t or couldn’t ever deliver.

Let’s make sure that we have a naturalism that tells a reasonable, plausible story about how much the sciences are going to accomplish rather than over-promise. Because if we over-promise and fail to deliver, we know the rationalisms and the supernaturalisms are just waiting to pounce.”

Maybe it’s just not smart to promise that the truths of reason are going to be reduced to the truths of physics. Or that what exists in our perceptual consciousness is going to be sharply ontologically reduced to just subatomic particles.

In other words, here, I think, the pluralistic broad naturalist has a real big argumentative advantage over rationalisms and supernaturalisms because they’re telling what they take to be an accurate story about what the sciences can deliver and what they can’t, what naturalism promises, what it doesn’t promise, and it really, I think, tells a very plausible story about how rationality can be rationalized without being ontologically physicalized.

Broad, pluralistic naturalism may, for example, do a better job of explaining the phenomenon of religion itself. If we need many, many, many sciences-from the social sciences to the brain sciences to the hard sciences-to explain how religion gets its grip on us, that can be a very effective tool in taking down supernaturalism.

Luke: Now John, of course, you and I have been engaging in a bit of the debate between different varieties of naturalism, but I’ve become very suspicious while we’ve been talking that maybe we aren’t actually disagreeing at all, and the disagreement is a figment of language. And it’s really hard for me to see where you and I might actually be disagreeing on a matter of fact.

JOHN: Well, two philosophers and maybe a couple of beers cancel all sorts of disagreement.

LUKE: Dr John Shook is a research associate in philosophy at the University of Buffalo and he has written and edited more than a dozen books and is a previous guest on this show. John, it’s great to talk to you again.

Dr. John Shook: Well thanks so much, Luke. I’m a big admirer of Common Sense Atheism and your marvelous podcast. And I’m not sure if I’m the first return guest but I’m really delighted to be back on your show.

LUKE: Well thank you very much. So today, John, we talk about something that is near and dear to both of our hearts, philosophical naturalism. And I think the best entry point into that family of views in philosophy is the philosophy of John Dewey. So could you tell us who was John Dewey and how did Darwin influence his philosophy?

JOHN: Oh sure. It is a good place to start with, John Dewey. He was professor of philosophy at Columbia University for…Gosh. He was active either as a teaching professor or in retirement for just about all of the first half of the 20th century. He had a very, very large number of students that he influenced through Columbia.

And in many ways he is the father of what we might call modern 20th century naturalism. He took on every philosophical problem a naturalist would have to take on and he designed his naturalism to hold off the rival philosophies of his day. And he along with other pragmatist colleagues did that job so successfully that nowadays we almost never hear anything from these rival philosophies.

There were Hegelian rationalisms flourishing, other kinds of idealisms, various kinds of radical, naïve empiricisms, all kinds of anti-Darwinian alternatives. And Dewey just demolished them so thoroughly. Or he incorporated what they were trying to say into a naturalistic framework so thoroughly that nowadays the field looks very cleaned up from our perspective.

Furthermore, even if later philosophers didn’t with exactly how Dewey proposed that naturalism could help clean up philosophical problems; they certainly accepted many of the ways that he outlined what exactly the problem was. And they continued to argue over his proposed solutions. And really he had a tremendous, tremendous impact on naturalistic philosophy in Anglo-America.

LUKE: Well and John, when I look at the field today it seems very much that naturalism is the default position or the position that people want their network to be known by. People very much want to be naturalists. And sometimes I read somebody and think, ” Well that’s not really naturalism.” But they’d really like to be called naturalists. Is that what it looks like to you as well?

JOHN: Oh, I think you’re largely correct. There are plenty of philosophers though who if pushed a bit would say, ” Well honestly naturalism really is very far from my specific philosophical concerns. I’m trying to clean up philosophical problems in linguistics, or in computer science, or dealing with the analytic, or the apriori.”

Or, ” I’m dealing with metaphysical puzzles about the relationships between concepts. I don’t need to be out there advertising myself as a naturalist. Indeed, I’m not sure what naturalism comes to.” There would be folks who would say that if pushed a bit.

But on the other hand it’s not like they would deny the legitimacy of science. And it’s not as if they’re still holding on to some form of idealism or Cartesian dualism. So they seem happy enough in the broad naturalistic framework. That’s right.

LUKE: So back to Dewey, my understanding is that Darwin was a huge influence on his philosophy. Is that right?

JOHN: Oh, right. You had asked me to mention the role of biology in Dewey’s thinking. That’s exceedingly important for understanding Dewey’s naturalistic projects. Dewey never thought that all of reality would fit tidily into just the world view provided by the hard sciences, chemistry and physics and so forth. He thought that much of what we do as human beings is, of course, human. It’s biological, and by extension, of course, psychological and cultural, because this is what the human organism does.

And so Dewey, early on, like other pragmatists, including William James, latched on to Darwinian evolution as an excellent way to try to offer explanations of how human beings came to be capable of doing the rather extraordinary things that we’re capable of doing. For example, one of the problems that Dewey tackled early on, thanks to Darwinian evolution, was he was trying to explain how human beings would have the cognitive capacities to be able to do such terrible sophisticated things like logic, like mathematics, like specialized languages of the sort that science requires, and, of course, scientific method itself.

How does this human brain produce scientific knowledge? And of course, this all is very self-reflectively naturalistic in scope, because Dewey was looking to scientific knowledge itself in order to explain how human beings were doing science. And if you pause and reflect on that project, you see it kind of sounds a bit circular, right? But that’s the point to being a Deweyan naturalist.

And later American naturalists, particularly, inherited this world view, like Quine. And we’ll probably be getting into Quine soon. But just to finish up with Dewey, for Dewey there’s no first philosophy. There’s no metaphysics standing outside of our best scientific efforts. There’s no purely rational foundation to guarantee that we have knowledge of the world and then we can go on and do science. Rather, empirical inquiry and the refined scientific methods stand autonomous.

They are our best cognitive efforts that we’ve so far been able to design, and they don’t need any other outside justification. They sort of serve as their own justification in the long run, because they enhance what evolution has been trying to give us all along, namely the best tools for the species.

So, again, no first philosophy, no outside metaphysics, no foundational rationalism. And we’re trying to make sure, of course, that we, as naturalists, can explain how science works without ultimately having to admit the need for anything completely beyond science or beyond nature to explain how we do it. And keep in mind, the idealist, the rationalist, and the supernaturalist are all waiting to complain should there be any gap in that comprehensive explanation.

As soon as someone can point and say, “Ah-ha, you naturalists! You’ve got no way to naturalize this ingredient that you need. You’re confessing. You need something purely rational, something metaphysical, perhaps something spiritual.” You see? Right?

So this now is the contest between naturalistic and non-naturalistic philosophies.

LUKE: Yeah. One of the ways I look at it is that, ever since Descartes made such a big deal out of trying to justify science, it seems like that was a major project of modern philosophy. And then somebody like Dewey comes along and says, “Well, wait a minute. Hold on. Science is a way more successful knowledge project than philosophy, so science is the highest judge of truth that we have. If anything, it’s philosophy that would need to be justified.” Is that fair?

JOHN: I think you’re right. And, in fact, the pragmatic naturalists had particular spin on this business of the relationship between philosophy and science. For the pragmatic naturalists, philosophizing about how we do science, about how all of our best scientific knowledge fits together in a coherent way. And, to tell a coherent story about the evolution of human culture, so that we can understand all of our different projects – science just being one among many – fits this development of this coherent picture that philosophy has a important and apparently justified project to continue to be doing.

It’s not as if these naturalists were trying to say, “Oh, well, no more theology and no more philosophizing. We’re all just going to become scientists now.” They didn’t hold that view at all, because they thought that science itself is not well designed to tackle at least three major things that it’s going to have to do in order to make sure it can produce a stable and coherent world view that doesn’t need outside help.

And if you think about it, first of all, there needs to be an explanation of how science… where science gets it’s data. What is observation? What experience and it’s more refined forms? What is consciousness? Where did science get it’s initial perceptual information from? What’s that about?

The second question is of course – and we’ve alluded to it already – what is reason? What is the logic and the mathematics? It’s the heart of science. It’s seems pretty clear, at least at first glance, that the technical modes of logical inference – you’re deduction, induction, abduction or reasoning to an explanation – are not themselves a result of any sort of observation or a laboratory experiment.

Modus ponens remains valid in some sense, even though empirical inquiry into the world or laboratory experiments on human brains didn’t figure it out. It has some sort of origin. So you need a story about where reason comes from that isn’t… it’s obviously not a product of physics or chemistry or theology.

And the third major thing is – and I mentioned this earlier: all of the several separate sciences have their own conceptual frameworks, have their own specific way of doing scientific method. And there’s no necessary reason to suppose that they’re all going to be speaking the same language, so to speak – use the same category. Using the same definitions or their scientific terms. Reaching the same conclusions.

The social sciences painted a very different picture of what reality is like versus quantum mechanics. So there’s philosophical work to be done to ensure a coherent a world view. And that’s the larger wider project of naturalism. It shouldn’t be confused – that I should mention at the outset – with any sort of narrow physicalism, which is often taken to be the paradigm of naturalism. It’s not the definition of naturalism.

Physicalism would be the straight forward view that reality only consists of what you’re hardcore natural sciences says exists. For example, if you take physics to be the ultimate decider of what reality is made of and what reality is doing, then physicalism then would be the view that you haven’t naturalized something. You haven’t fitted into the natural world until you can show that it either entirely consists of nothing but these fundamental bits of matter that physics is studying.

Or, it can be somehow sort of explained through bridging laws. You may not able to reduce it outright, but you may be able to show that it probably is nothing but these tiny bits of matter viewed from a larger perceptive view that you fitted into the physicalist world view.

And that’s a separate project. Dewey quite explicitly was not a narrow naturalist in that sense. He was not a physicalist. In his day, his way of putting it was, “I’m not a pragmatic naturalist. I’m not a materialist.” Materialism being another synonym for this sort of narrow physicalism.

LUKE: So what does it mean for John Dewey to be a naturalist but not a physicalist or a materialist?

JOHN: Well, sure. Let me give you an example. Take something that human beings do a great deal of–let’s say art, right? Humans produce an astonishing variety of art objects and aesthetically designed things that enrich our culture, enrich our lives. So, for Dewey, it would be very important for a broad naturalist to be able to tell a coherent story about how humans are capable of doing art.

And so this would involve some of the social sciences, the cognitive sciences. It would involve the study of how the brain processes perception, enjoys aesthetic qualities, why human beings would have preferences towards objects with aesthetic properties, how humans came to have such fancy tool capacities to allow us to make sheer objects of art with our imagination rather than just functional tools that happen to look nice.

In other words, why would human beings bother to make art, appreciate art, pass along art as a cultural project? Right? So this is fitting the art object and why human beings would make art and enjoy art into the natural world so that nothing, again, dualistic or supernatural is needed to explain.

A narrow physicalist might get bogged down into some sort of, I don’t know, I’m making this up–I don’t think this field existed, but I’m trying to create an analogy here. Suppose some philosopher said, “Well, that’s not just not good enough for me. In order to make sure that art really exists as part of the natural world, you’ve got to really, thoroughly reduce it down to just physicalism, to just physics.

We’ve got to make sure that aesthetic properties and artistic properties and works of art can all be on the list of approved, real objects according to subatomic physics.” And furthermore, right? We’re doing all this art. We need physicalist answers to definitions of what is art, what is aesthetic validity, what is artistic truth. We need answers to how we can evaluate art as genuinely art and beyond that we need answers to how human beings make realistic judgments of art. World View.

In fact, I could imagine some sort of artistic, naturalist skeptic saying: well, since physics can’t tell us what true objects of art are, for some reason. It escapes the categories of quantum physics or something. Or, because human beings just can’t use physics to decide which art object is more aesthetically pleasing and which form of art is the true highest form of art.

It’s impossible to see how physics could decide this. Therefore, art escapes the natural categories altogether because we can’t figure out what true art is or what aesthetic truthfulness is. We can imagine a philosopher getting frustrated and saying “Well, I guess we’re just going to have to be non-naturalists about art. It just doesn’t fit into the natural categories.

So with Dewey in perspective, this sort of project is ridiculous, unnecessary, creates all sorts of pseudo-problems. You don’t try to reduce what human beings are doing down to physicalist categories and down to ways of deciding truth and reality just by one scientific field. Art is one cultural project that human beings undertake and it has its own, fairly autonomous standards, since what artists are trying to do and how the artwork’s aesthetic quality should be evaluated and improved upon.

Science is another cultural project that has its own separate and autonomous methods for trying to accomplish what it’s trying to do. Now here’s the thing. From the prospective of broad naturalism, it’s perfectly OK that science and art be autonomous without having to worry about art still being a natural thing existing in the natural world. Art objects are natural objects. Science can study natural art objects. They don’t seem to be unnatural, ghostly, spiritual things.

Science can help explain how human beings do art. So you see now I’m repeating the story about how you can tell a wider, non-reductive, non-physicalist story about how human beings doing art.But you see, now I’m repeating the story about how you can tell a wider, non-reductive, non-physicalist story about how human beings doing art can fit into the naturalistic world view. There’s no need to reduce art down to only the reality and truth categories accepted by, let’s say, one scientific field. It just doesn’t make any sense.

LUKE: Well, let me jump in and step up for the physicalists, then. I think of myself as a physicalist, and maybe I’m projecting my views on others here, but I think a lot of physicalists would want to reply to that that our physicalism doesn’t mean that we think that if we aren’t in a position to explain the bridge laws between works of art or intelligence or consciousness and fundamental subatomic particles, then, therefore, we’ve got to throw up our hands and not be naturalists anymore.

I, at least, would want to say that my physicalism is a kind of prediction. It’s a set of anticipated experiences. And by physicalism, I don’t mean that if we aren’t capable of showing the bridge laws between intelligence or consciousness or art and subatomic particles that we have to be non-naturalists. My physicalism would say, “I suspect that a work of art supervenes on the elements physics and that there’s nothing else spooky in there.” And it seems like Dewey and I would fully agree on that, and I feel fine calling that physicalism.

So, am I using the word “physicalism” in an odd way here? Or what do you think?

JOHN: You’ve picked out the one part of physicalism that actually is the broad naturalist story, and you’ve conveniently omitted other things that physicalists usually do. If you don’t want to do them, then you’re not a physicalist.

Let’s take another example. Let’s take, I mentioned the cultural project of human beings doing art.How about the cultural project of people doing morality? Morality is usually a very nice test case. This business about art seemed rather fanciful, and that was my point. And now, by analogy, I can help out, perhaps, a bit with morality.

So, we wonder whether there are such things as moral truths. We wonder if there’s one objective moral code, perhaps a small core of principles that hold, objectively, over and above what this or that group of human beings think is moral. We have various questions about how to decide what is moral, the whole range of things that keep moral naturalists and non-naturalists busy.

Quine, notoriously, just was ready to dismiss the whole enterprise of morality as just something that someday human beings were probably just going to have to stop talking about, because he thought it hopeless that there could be a decision procedure for finding out the truth of morality. He seemed to suggest that some form of expressivism or motivism was going to turn out to be the only way to deal with morality. He grew frustrated over reducing morality. He couldn’t find any bridge laws. Yadda yadda yadda, right?

So he ended up encouraging a lot of people to be very skeptical towards our capacity to fit morality easily into the naturalistic world view. And of course, there’s a whole host, then, of moral non-naturalists who are very eager to walk through that open door and say, “Well, maybe there are moral truths, but they don’t have anything to do with the natural world,

So we must be talking about something unnatural here.” And it’s at this point that all kinds of dualisms and supernaturalisms are eager to step in with their explanations about how human beings know objective moral truths, how human beings can be responsible moral agents and the like.

But physicalists can get into pretty deep waters fairly quickly about trying to naturalize morality. It does look hopeless, trying to find some sort of guaranteed, objective, moral set of rules. It can be hard to explain how human beings can be responsible moral agents if physicalism is true, if it’s implied. Determinism,with its restraints on how much control we have on our lives, whether we’re really responsible and so forth.

So, morality can be a test case. Now, suppose you’re the kind of physicalist that says, well, wait a minute. Maybe it’s the case that morality is just a cultural project that human beings do. This is entirely natural because human beings are entirely natural. They’re using their brains in order to be social, and in social groups it makes sense to have some normative rules for how everybody ought to, at minimum, treat each other.

We could see this, perhaps, evolving naturally, or if it didn’t evolve naturally, perhaps human beings with enough cognitive firepower would invent it over time, gradually, as a cultural practice. Or some combination of the two, right?

But actually, now, you’re doing broad naturalism, Dewey-style, right? You’re already going well beyond the usual concerns of physicalism. Dewey was a moral naturalist, not in the sense that he thought we could read off from nature or get clues from physics about what the moral rules were, but because, again, he thought that all of the sciences, and some common sense, could tell a general, natural story about how human beings would come to practice morality and develop various sorts of moralities, some of which would have a wide common core that would seem objective to us, and perhaps it would be objective.

So, that’s the perspective of broad naturalism. But I still hear a lot of physicalists complaining that there’s just so many features about morality that just don’t seem to be part of the story told by science, so it becomes a very queer or completely unnatural thing. So, that’s the reason why, if not art, morality can be a very good test case to decide whether or not you’re really on the side of narrow physicalism or whether you’re more interested in a broad naturalism.

LUKE: So, a moment ago, John, you talk about how naturalists might talk about morality in terms of this thing that humans do, and so therefore it is part of the natural story because humans are part of the natural story. I can see how that fits into the project of broad naturalism, but I’m not quite clear yet on why it’s not also part of the story of physicalism.

I think the physicalist would just say that while morality, let’s say it’s in terms of some relation of desires or some relation of wants, that’s a fairly popular view. Desires are brain states and brain states reduce to the items of fundamental physics even if we don’t know what the bridge laws are now. That’s what our suspicion is.

JOHN: Yeah, let me stop you there. For the broad naturalist, finding bridge laws is not likely and even if a few are found, they’re not terribly useful. For a broad naturalist, there needn’t be any “bridge laws” between the principles of morality and the truths of subatomic physics. We may never find them, but the sciences themselves may not be reducible to each other.

The pragmatic naturalist is very comfortable with lots of pluralism. Perhaps it’s necessary that the several sciences really never find large numbers of robust bridge laws. It just may be the case that much of human sociology, for example, never gets really thoroughly reduced down to just the activities of nervous tissue. We’re pretty sure human beings do what they do in a social way because we have nervous systems.

That’s one proposition, but it’s quite another to think that somehow the scientific truths that sociologists discover about human beings are eventually going to be reduced down to or simplified by bridge laws into the truths that let’s say cellular biology discovers. That’s probably never going to be the case.

A broad naturalist is very comfortable with lots and lots and lots of autonomy. Physicalists aren’t, meaning that the point of being a physicalist is that they are made exceedingly uncomfortable by too much autonomy across our separate knowledge practices. Coming back to Dewey, Dewey thought that the ethical enterprise of trying to figure out what the best moral rules are and how to modify them over time for human wellbeing is autonomous.

It’s an autonomous methodology, apart from the sciences. He didn’t think that moral knowledge could be reduced or bridge-lawed into some sort of scientific enterprise narrowly conceived. He viewed morality as an autonomous cultural enterprise with a sort of experimental inquiry powering it.

He would never deny that, of course, experimental inquiry is the smartest way to go. To call it scientific is a bit much. Sometimes Dewey spoke of making morality more scientific, but he didn’t mean, “Send in the white lab-coated people.” What he rather meant was that human beings facing common moral problems should try to solve them together by tinkering and experimenting with social structures, observing the consequences, and then modifying social structures accordingly. He meant this in a very broad sense.

So, I guess the ball really is in the physicalists’ court. If a physicalist wants to say, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re fine with that much autonomy. We’re fine with letting the several cultural projects and the several sciences find their own truths without having to worry about really reducing them to each other, ” well, that’s actually the world view of broad naturalism. But physicalism usually hardens up. The genuine physicalists really need truth and reality to be decided, more or less ultimately, by the hard sciences or some combination thereof.

LUKE: Well, it sounds like maybe I am just using physicalism, that term, in an unusual way, though, because I agree with everything that you said about the autonomy of different disciplines. I’m fairly hopeful that we will discover a lot of bridge laws, but I suspect that many we will never be able to compute. And yet I think of physicalism as a view about ontology, and so, even if we never have knowledge of how brain states reduce to quarks and leptons, I think that they probably do, even if we never have access to that complete story and can’t do the calculation to predict my next behavior on the basis of our observations of subatomic particles. But it sounds like you’re saying that, if I accept that kind of view, then I just shouldn’t be calling myself a physicalist, because that’s not what physicalism usually means?

JOHN: Physicalists will argue over the definition of physicalism, just like philosophers will argue over anything. But some classic test cases are, do you find moral language and language about being a responsible moral agent so either queer, unable to fit into the scientific world view, or so devoid of truth conditions that it’s really irresponsible to think you’re meaningfully talking about these things, or so psychologically unlimitable because eventually the grand synthesis of the life sciences and the physical sciences will prove that no human being has ever really had a belief, a choice, a deliberation? Right?

These are classic physicalist problems. They really worry deeply over fitting other human projects and how we talk about them into the language of the hard sciences. If you think that these are genuine, hard-core, first-order philosophical problems, you’re a physicalist. If you’re a broad naturalist, you have other ways of trying to fit these cultural projects and their autonomous methodologies and truth conditions into a broadly naturalistic world view, without having to worry that one of the hard sciences is going to be doing, ultimately, all the heavy lifting.

Is this helping at all?

LUKE: Yeah, absolutely. So, let me ask you this, then. My own views on morality are very much rooted in the philosophy of language, and so I’m going to talk a lot about–there are lots of different sets of definitions for moral terms out there. And so, if you go with that set of definitions that includes an assumption of, say, intrinsic prescriptivity or even categoricity in moral talk.

I think those are things that are not going to be reducible to anything physical, and so I’m going to say that those moral theories or sets of definitions just refer to things that don’t exist. They just fail to refer. But then, if you define moral terms a bit differently, somebody like Peter Railton is not going to depend on a notion of intrinsic prescriptivity or even categoricity. Same thing with a, say, mid-’80s Phillipa Foot. And the things that they’re going to refer to, I think, are fully reducible to physics, in their ontology at least, even if we don’t know what the bridge laws are.

And so, it all depends on how you define it. And I think that if you’re going to define moral terms in this way, with reference to these things, those aren’t going to be reducible to physics. That’s going to have to turn out to be some kind of non-naturalism. But if you define moral terms in terms of desires and certain types of relations between desires or certain types of relations between different social structures or something like that, I think those are all, in their ontology, going to be reducible to physics.

JOHN: The Deweyan broad naturalist found most of that either unintelligible, uninteresting, or pseudo-problems, to be blunt. Again, this business of trying to reduce, to reduce, to reduce, to fit into a world view authorized by one of the sciences and the realities that it’s discovered. That’s not the broad naturalist project. That’s viewed as a dead end. Paradoxically, it’s by taking the sciences in their widest, pluralistic scope that we have the best hope for fitting how we do morality and what morality is into this broad naturalistic world view, rather than worrying about one science doing all of the heavy lifting, again.

So take, for example, social psychology, and a broadly cultural story about why human beings, we’ve come to use moral norms as opposed to just commands, prescriptions, coercion, other ways to get people to behave. And there’s lots of ways to get people to behave as you want them to do. Some of them are just simply commands or coercive threats or enticements, operant conditioning.

Some of them, on the other hand, involve the internalization of moral norms, and psychology and the brain sciences are telling a clear story about how that happens during indoctrination in youth. Morality seems to depend on the internalization of these things, and so the sciences can help us tell a story about why and how human beings would internalize and use moral norms.

Now, once you have a natural story about how human beings would be busily doing this to each other–that is to say creating societies where people, for the most part, are habituated into internalized obedience to moral norms, they’re enforcing it on each other–they now have, right, a sense of oughts, a general sense of oughts that doesn’t violate the is-ought problem, because you’ve told a natural story about how the ises, the human beings, do the practice of oughts.

You’re not reducing the oughts to is. You’re not figuring out that the truths of the oughts reduce to the truths of the ises. You’re not reducing the validity of moral norms to the operations of neurons, much less subatomic particles. Rather, you’re telling a story about how moral oughts would emerge in human beings more or less like us.

So you’re using lots of the sciences. You’re not worry about reducing truth conditions or realities. This is another way of saying reality is an autonomous practice, apart from other cultural practices such as art or science. But nevertheless, you can tell a coherent story about how morality can fit into the natural world.

Take, for example, a specific moral problem, like responsible agency. Well, here again, the broad naturalist would try to tell a story about how human beings raise children and hold them to certain norms of behavior where they’re supposed to reflect on what they do before they go ahead and do it. This is all perfectly natural. Indeed, it’s compatible with determinism, regardless of whether or not determinism is the truth about the world. It’s compatible with determinism.

It doesn’t require the introduction of any spooky spiritual unnatural agents. It’s doesn’t require the introduction of any great space time continuum or violations of the laws of conversation of energy.

So with the help of the life sciences, which seems to be the most appropriate place for explaining something like how we do morality, broad naturalists can tell a story about how human beings would come to view certain moral norms as objectively valid, ruling over their behavior. And in that sense true. This business of worrying where moral fit into a natural world dictated by physical truth is, of course, a pseudo problem on this board naturalistic perspective.

LUKE: So let’s get back to Dewey and let’s talk about his epistemology really briefly. Also, since Descartes, a major, very popular view in epistemology was that we need to start with things that we know for sure, for absolute certainty, and then we can build up from those to larger truths or more general truths by certain very careful inferences. And this is the foundationalists project. What was Dewey’s approach to how we can know things about the world?

JOHN: Dewey tried again to tell a broadly naturalistic story about how the refined techniques of scientific reasoning and experimental justification grew out of the simpler tools of ordinary human practices that our species has been doing for a very long time. So he viewed ordinary practices that we do to live – construction of shelter, design of clothing, cooking, agriculture, and these sorts of things – refined into the technologies of engineering, which than in turn gave rise to the opportunity of human beings to refine experiments upon experiments.

This is in fact a new meta level that imaginative human beings were able to go to. So they literary invented a new technology of just playfully experimenting upon the techniques of dealing with nature, irrespective for the time being of any practical application.

So this gave rise to the idea of the sciences as opposed to mere engineering, trying to investigate exactly the operations of nature. Essentially a sort of what we now recognize as a callable story. If we manipulate nature in this carefully controlled way, what consequences should we reliably expect to see next?

In this way, science becomes a rather sort of like an immense recipe box. If you want to accomplish ‘x’ and you only have at your disposal these various means ‘y, ‘ do ‘v’ in order to turn, right, your available ingredients into the things that you actually want. It’s a story of genesis in essence. It’s sometimes said that we have to destroy things in order to learn how they work.

In destruction: Taking things apart, smashing atoms together in super colliders. That can tell us a lot of information. But really, the payoff, the reason why human beings do this, is of course we want to be able to reverse the process. We want to be able to tell a genesis story. We want to be able to say, “Well, the things that we currently observe now ongoing, probably came to be because of the story of genesis. These prior things caused it to come into existence.”

So that’s what I mean by a certain recipe box. As for the scientific method itself, that, since we emerged creatively, it was invented right along with the story of science itself. What we don’t want to think as philosophers is that we have a job of telling some separate story of how reason evolved, how reason can be grounded, what justifies reason, what’s really apart from all these other cultural and scientific practices that I was just elaborating a minute ago.

We don’t again want to think that, as philosophers, we’re responsible for ultimately grounding the justification and truth of what the sciences are doing. We don’t want to take on the project of separately learning and refining the pure reason, the logic, the mathematics apart from it.

On the broad naturalist story of science as a cultural project, reason, logic, mathematics–these are just refined linguistic tools that have evolved right along with the refinement of engineering and scientific practice. They didn’t have some separate foundation, separate origin, or separate philosophical justification.

And this fits, again, very nicely, not just with, of course, what Dewey was trying to do. Quine can be viewed as part of this same project. Again, there is no first philosophy. Reason, logic, these things are refined linguistic tools that emerged right along with all the rest of our cognitive capacities. And, indeed, on this story, it can very nicely explain why mathematics, why logic would change, adapt, get redesigned, refashioned, reinvented for use in the sciences. In and of themselves, they’re projects of the imagination. But, insofar as they actually do anything, they were evolved right along with the rest of scientific practice.

LUKE: So, John, moving forward in the history of 20th-century philosophical naturalism, another figure that we’ve mentioned a couple times already is Willard Van Orman Quine. Could you explain what was philosophical naturalism for Quine? And I guess the best place to start is where he agrees with Dewey.

JOHN: Well, there’s large stretches of agreement, a couple of sharp points of disagreement, and that’s added some flavor to the rest of 20th-century naturalism and down to the present. The large areas of agreement should sound very familiar. There is no first philosophy, apart from our best cognitive practices, especially science.

There should be no philosophical project of discovering or elaborating or grounding pure reason, pure logic, pure mathematics so that then they have the legitimacy to be useful in science .Quine notoriously agreed with Dewey, that our best understanding of correct, valid, logical inferences may be, in the very long run, integral to the empirical adequacy of our scientific projects.

So, both Dewey and Quine were in the project of eroding away the aloofness of the analytic, of the operari , of such a thing as pure reason, and instead, incorporating it into how science does its work, how human beings use these things, and hence, in the broad sense, naturalizing them.

Now, they had different specific recipes for how to do the rest of the work in naturalizing epistemology. You can detect some daylight between Dewey and Quine, on some particular issues. For example, Dewey was much more socially oriented in his psychology; Quine tended to be much more individualistically oriented in his behaviorism, and later philosophers, such as Donald Davidson, inherited these sorts of problems. And Hillary Putnam, likewise.

They worried about the role of language in science: is it more individualistic, is it more community, and I won’t go into those byways, but that really added a lot of flavor to late 20th-century naturalism. They both had no difficulty letting all of the several sciences, from the social sciences, and behavioral and brain sciences, to the physical sciences, do their own proper work.

Quine sometimes talked like a reductivist, talked like an eliminavist , but I don’t know Quine actually ever intended to say anything too narrowly physicalist. A point of evidence of that is that some of Quine’s greatest students, who went on to become major philosophical naturalists in their own rights, tended to be what became known as non-reductive naturalists, or non-reductive physicalists.

They tended to think that there were several broad, autonomous areas of human effort, aims, and inquiries, and were really worrying about whether there were lots of bridge laws, or whether there were lots of linguistic reductions, or normalogical reductions. Probably doesn’t too much time and effort. It’s better to just have a sort of broad, pluralistic naturalism.

So, Quine, I think, lent much of the flavor to later non-reductive naturalism.

LUKE: And then, what are some of those sharp disagreements that you talked about between a Deweyan naturalist and a Quinean naturalist, or at least between Dewey and Quine themselves?

JOHN: We probably shouldn’t go into too much philosophy of language, but this business of naturalizing epistemology might illustrate where they disagree. Quine was powerfully influenced by behaviorism. But behaviorism and the social sciences, right around World War II and after, had a strongly individualistic flavor.

That is to say, if we want to understand how an individual does something, you study that individual’s behavioral interactions with the environment, but you just study that lone individual’s interactions with the environment. In other words, you enormously simplify your problem if you keep all other human beings away from contact with the human being under study.

Well, this makes sense when you’re studying lab rats, perhaps, rats not being the most social of creatures, certainly not anywhere near as social as humans. But humans are intensely social. For Dewey, all psychology is social, all epistemology is social. Quine didn’t talk that way.

Quine talked about how scientists, cognitive sciences, behavioral sciences, would eventually tell a story about how the environment produces sensory impacts upon the lone, organic individual, arousing the nervous system to try to process this information in an adequate way, to produce some sort of adequate response to the environment.

Now, at least this picture is far more intelligible than old empiricisms. Indeed, human knowledge is all about adequate cognitive response to what is going on in the environment. That’s a pragmatist view. And, indeed, Quine, in that broad sense, was a pragmatist.

The problem, though, from the broad naturalist perspective, is you’re omitting the sociality of human beings, which becomes very important for higher cognitive faculties. And really, for anything really, truly worthy of the name of human knowledge, you’re forgetting the fact that, really, it’s social groups that produce knowledge.

A lone human being is highly unlikely to produce anything like reliable knowledge of the environment, for the very simple reason that we’re a species not really equipped to do that thing on our own. Babies are intensely socialized in how to monitor and take stock of their environment, what’s relevant, what isn’t, what’s worth playing with, what’s not worth playing with. Children are very quickly indoctrinated and incorporated into group community projects of knowledge acquisition and knowledge use.

So, again, these higher technologies of human cognition are THOROUGHLY social in nature. Human beings literally have to, through societies, learn how to be individuals. The category of being an individual is a social category.

So, Quine isn’t so good at reflecting these uniquely human situations, and so perhaps his naturalization of epistemology is distorted or perhaps a bit dead-end in various ways, where a social psychologist, a cognitive scientist, who take seriously the way that we learn in groups best, would probably have more success accounting for some of our more sophisticated cognitive abilities of gaining knowledge of the external world.

LUKE: Now, Quine is also very famous for his holism in epistemology.

JOHN: Oh, yes.

LUKE: What do you think might be some differences between Dewey and Quine when we get very specific like that about their epistemologies?

JOHN: Very little daylight between the two. Dewey, in his own way, was a thoroughgoing epistemological holist. Dewey believed that theory and practice are thoroughly entwined. Dewey believed that theory and observation are thoroughly entwined.

LUKE: Now, John, you have a page called Naturalism and Science at, what is it, naturalisms.org?

JOHN: Yes. The fine website, naturalism.org. That’s a terrific website. But it was already taken, the domain name, so I put up a much smaller and less ambitious website called naturalisms.org. It’s where a bit of what we’ve discussed could be found. But really, it’s sort of preparatory to a book that I’m writing about broad naturalism, and pragmatic naturalism in particular.

LUKE: Yeah. And on that website, you have a wonderful page where you offer a fairly systematic taxonomy of different naturalistic views. And if that’s what your book is about, I’m very excited to hear that you’re writing that so that I can read it one day. So, in philosophy, there are these many different types of naturalism, and naturalists argue amongst each other. Could you explain, in addition to Deweyan naturalism and Quinean naturalism, what are some of the other varieties of naturalism that are out there today?

JOHN: OK. Well, for the benefit of our listeners, so far we’ve talked about Quinean non-reductive naturalism, but Quinean non-reductive naturalism displays a great deal of skepticism towards things like objective moral truths. It probably should be called non-reductive physicalism, perhaps, if that’s not a contradiction in terms.

But the basic idea is that, really, in the end, in the long term of scientific investigation, the physical sciences really are going to be the ones deciding what the furniture of the world consists of, in some sort of basic sense. But, while the physical sciences are helpfully supplying explanations, it’s one thing to supply an explanation for something; It’s quite another to reduce that thing down to the terminology, categories, and laws of the science.

Let me give you an example. Take another easy problem that philosophers deal with once in a while: consciousness. Well, I’m being ironic of course. Consciousness is one of the hard problems. How can consciousness be naturalized? Well, the reductive physicalist, let’s say the elimitavist or of that stripe, they’re not happy with consciousness unless they can take everything about consciousness and re-describe it in terms of the activities of the real things that the physical science authorizes.

JOHN: Mm-hmm.

LUKE: And anything about consciousness that can’t be ontologically reduced in that way must somehow be literally illusion. It has to be some sort of mass hallucination or some figment of bad grammar if you’re of the Constinian, right? You just simply need to stop talking about it.

Take for example, when people speak of the qualia of consciousness, the law qualities, the colors say, or tones, the perceptual experience. If in the end it just doesn’t look like these things can fit into descriptions of neuron activity at the chemical or physical level, then they just aren’t real. You think you’re seeing them, but you’re not. There is literally no “there” there for the reductive physicalist.

Now the non-reductive physicalist says “No, no, no, that’s too high a standard to set for naturalism.” Rather the idea can the several sciences, especially the physical sciences, help tell a sort of functional story about what consciousness does.

JOHN: Mm-hmm.

LUKE: See they’ve turned consciousness into a verb, into an activity, things the biological organisms do, and it turns out that there are many, many, many functional equivalents, parallels, correspondences almost, between higher order cognitive thinking that we do and the activities of the nervous system.

Let me rattle off a few stunning examples. All thought happens in time as a connective process, rolling on, absorbing the new and gradually fading out the old, but that’s actually a fair description of neuron activity as studied by brain scientists. All brain processes occur in time. It’s thoroughly interrelated. It has sort of this rolling cumulative effect, as new information is incorporated into the current state, while some of the older stuff gradually fades out from relevance and the neurons move on to do other things. So they sort of sent the rolling phases.

Another example is, conscious experience is intensely oriented towards dealing with the environment. Well, the nervous system is intensely oriented towards dealing with the environment.

So, at any rate, you get the flavor of it. You can see how the several sciences could find functional equivalence, a great deal of commonality between consciousness and brain processes, without reducing them. You’re still using different terms. You’re finding common functioning, common aim, general common features, and enough that that gives you a reliance that consciousness is part of the natural world. It just doesn’t necessarily look like it from physics.

But then again, when you’re a non-reductive naturalist, you’re not worried that all language has to conform to the things that physics describes, right? You just need a general picture of the world that sort of hangs together in a coherent way.

Now, Dewey is sort of on the far side of non-reductive physicalism. He’s so pluralistic that he’s quite comfortable with autonomous cultural practices that don’t even necessarily have to hang so tightly together according to the categories of the physical sciences. And I’ve already spoken at length so much about the Deweyan perception, of how the several cultural practices hang together in a coherent, natural way, that I shouldn’t continue on.

But at any rate, so far, I’ve outlined three major naturalistic world views. And I think they are “the” three. They’re the three major competing varieties of naturalism, and there really isn’t a fourth.

The three, again, would be the reductive physical ism, demanding that all reality and truth conditions be reducible to how the physical sciences do their work, particularly, I guess, physics itself; non-reductive physicalism, which is perfectly happy to let the many several sciences do their relatively autonomous work, as long as you get these functional, integrative stories about how you could sort of see how it all hangs together in a similar way; and then what we might call pluralistic or perspectival naturalism of the.

Deweyan sort, which really relies on broad cultural stories of practices to do most of the heavy lifting about how this all works together rather than just narrow scientific methodology, although scientific methodology remains at the core of any broad naturalism.

LUKE: And then, another variety of naturalism we might talk about is on one kind of extreme where it’s not clear whether or not it qualifies as naturalism. I don’t know. On the story of consciousness, maybe somebody like David Chalmers, in kind of a property dualism, but still talking about how consciousness is very lawful, and so it’s not anything like Cartesian dualism that still is going to be subject to completely separate ontology from the natural world. Or maybe somebody who accepts something like a non-physical, anyway, existence of abstract objects or mathematical objects…

JOHN: Right.

LUKE: Somewhere in there, we’re just going to say, well, we’re going to not call that naturalism, because then we’re clouding up our language too much and making the term “naturalism” not as useful. But what are some of the views over on that kind of edge of naturalism?

JOHN: Oh, right, right. Now largely a minority view, so I didn’t credit it with being one of the major three varieties of naturalism. But you’re right. On the far side of Dewey, and if you really take pluralism all the way out, if you take the separate categories of experience, right, our contact with the environment and our inner life, rationality, of course, the inference engine, and science, and you become very pluralistic about these things,you can end up with what I call synoptic pluralism, rather than perspectivalism.

Perspective means, boy, that one thing can look very different from two perspectives. So, for example, Dewey would say the activities of the brain look very differently if you’re examining neuron by neuron or if you’re talking to that brain, having a conversation, but still, really, it’s nervous activity that’s doing the work. On the other hand, synoptic pluralism would be very comfortable with consciousness sort of floating almost freely from the more easily understandable natural or physical things of the world, likewise with reasoning, or you also mentioned aesthetic contemplation.

I can just rattle off a few major philosophers to give our listeners some clues, if they want to pick up on it, or perhaps they’ve already heard of these folks. Some major synoptic pluralists, there are not so many of them anymore. Chalmers is trying to be one, and there’s a couple others.

But some major figures that have lent it respectability include Charles Peirce, with his theory of firstness, secondness, and thirdness. William James, in many ways, was a synoptic pluralist, with his radical empiricism. George Santayana postulated four realms of being that were seemingly autonomous and yet somehow still all connected in some mysterious way to the material world.

Alfred North Whitehead, his process philosophy is another one of these synoptic pluralisms. Nelson Goodman sort of fits into this. I think Richard Laurie fits into this synoptic pluralism. Is it still a naturalism? Well, right? We’re in that gray area, because synoptic pluralism, taken too far, ends up in full-blown pluralism, outright dualism, either of the Cartesian sort or perhaps the Kantian sort, perhaps the supernaturalist sort. So synoptic pluralism really flirts with going over into outright non-naturalism.

LUKE: I think the list of names that you gave for synoptic pluralism will probably be pretty helpful for people who want to look up specific types of views. I wonder if you might be able to do that for the other three types of naturalism that we’ve been talking about? I’m not sure if you can do that off the top of your head.

JOHN: Oh, well, joining Dewey are most of the rest of the pragmatic naturalists. For folks interested in that, I can mention just a couple more-recent major figures who do this sort of perspectival pluralistic naturalism. Nicholas Rescher, the philosopher of science at Pittsburgh. I’ve been in conversations with Ronald Giere, the prominent University of Minnesota philosopher of science, who’s come around to agreeing with this sort of pragmatic perspectival pluralism in his recent writings.

As for the non-reductive physicalism, well, there’s so many of Quine’s children, as it were. Most of the naturalists you’re apt to meet in philosophy departments would probably fall into this category. They’re not confident about reduction, either ontological or nomological.

Donald Davidson has had a tremendous influence in his phenomenalist nomism, falls into this non-reductive category. Folks like Daniel Dennett is another version of this sort of non-reductive, somewhat perspectival physicalism. And, in fact, some have argued that if you take what Dan Dennett has said very carefully and closely, one can almost see a sort of Deweyan pragmatic pluralistic naturalism.

And, let’s see, for the reductive physicalists, well, the Churchlands speak like this. Dennett is sometimes mistaken as a hard reductive physicalist, but I think in his better moments he really doesn’t intend to say those sorts of things. Clarence Nagel sometimes sounded that way.

LUKE: I’m thinking, maybe, David Papineau, Andrew Melnyk.

JOHN: Oh, sure. Right. Now, another figure that belongs in this conversation, but we can only mention him here, is Wilfrid Sellars. Wilfrid Sellars, of course, represents an enormous effort to try to narrow down physicalism fairly tightly and to make sure that, really, the hard physical sciences are going to be doing the heavy lifting of explaining and describing reality. Wilfrid Sellars has had an enormous amount of influence.

LUKE: He’s a slightly older naturalist, more of the generation between Dewey and Quine.

JOHN: Mm-hmm.

LUKE: So, great. That gives us a wonderful overview of some varieties of naturalism and where the debate is between these different fields. I think it’s been clear through our conversation that you are pretty partial to the Deweyan sort of naturalism. Do you think that’s because the other types just have bigger problems than any problems that might be faced by the Deweyan naturalist?

JOHN: Oh, yeah, problems. But problems have a way of being solved by the sciences themselves. And any naturalist really has to let the several sciences, really, provide our best clues, our best warranted conclusions about what’s really going on. So it may be that if you just continue to watch the operations of the several sciences, one or another variety of naturalism can prove to be the better story.

Promises that all of the sciences would somehow reduce, ontologically or nomologically, down into the hard sciences and then, one by one, down into physics or subatomic physics–I mean, there’s been huge promises made about these sorts of reductions. And there’s been no follow-through, right? Notoriously. The Unity of Science movement is dead. The promised reductions never came. The few examples that are often trotted out are precisely that: few examples. Right? The several sciences seem to be doing a great job of simply proceeding on their own.

Now, on the other hand, this presents enormous challenge because, in order to maintain a coherent world view, you need coherence. You need a way to see that, for example, the biological study of human beings is consistent with the sociological view.

And again, this sort of production of coherence, this sort of production of translation manuals, to make sure that our ontologies aren’t getting out of control, to make sure that scientists can still be confident that they’re more or less talking about the same things from multiple perspectives, that’s a huge amount of work. And, indeed, that’s good philosophical work. You don’t want the sciences themselves wasting their time on this. You want the sciences producing knowledge of the particular feature of nature that they’re studying. So, rather, it’s good philosophical work to keep things in perspective, to try to make sure we can continue to tell a coherent story without having to constantly produce reductions.

But that’s precisely, of course, the work, as I have described it, of this broad or perspectival pluralistic naturalism. If there are going to be serious reductions of the social sciences down into the physical sciences, if categories like the teleological, if categories like human agency and human responsibility are going to be eliminated or reduced down in some deterministic fashion, then maybe they will.

I look forward to seeing what science is going to tell us next. That puts us philosophers sort of in a waiting game. We have to wait and see how the sciences proceed. But in the meantime, it’s our job to produce a coherent world view.

And the argument, really, now is not even so much between naturalists. We’re waiting on the sciences, and we’re trying to be helpful. The game really is between the naturalists and those who think that the naturalism project, in a broad way, is either dead or dying.

And so the big philosophical debates now, you have a triad. You have the naturalist family that we’ve been talking about, versus what I’ll just call the rationalists. They think that there are certain things that humans do that are so heavily dependent on a priori truths, fundamentally grounded principles of reason, they can’t see at all how these things could be naturalized.

So these rationalists continue to talk about transcendental conditions for human understanding or a priori grounds for the possibility of logic and so forth. These can lead to Platonisms and these sorts of things. So that’s the rationalist family. And then, of course, there are supernaturalisms, thinkers who look to religion to try to explain things that they think naturalists can’t.

So this triad now is bequeathed on to the 21st century. But my confidence is, really, the serious philosophical work of advancing human knowledge and human understanding is going to be done by the family of naturalists.

LUKE: You know, John, in the popular debate right now, the debate between naturalisms and supernaturalisms is all the rage, with the recent best sellers by the new atheists. But, to me, I often find the debate between these different varieties of naturalism a lot more interesting and productive than arguing about something that in a way I think is pretty trivial, like whether or not there are divine beings that are ruling the universe. I think that’s kind of like…

JOHN: Mm-hmm.

LUKE: Maybe in a few centuries that will be seen as a question like whether there are or are not fairies.

JOHN: Right!

LUKE: It’s like really? That’s what we’re spending all our time debating?

JOHN: Sure.

LUKE: When we could be debating more important questions, like how does science work and which sciences can we trust more than others, or how can we go about knowing how the world works or how can we understand ourselves as part of nature. Those seem to be more productive debates to be having.

JOHN: I think so. And in fact, looked at it from another perspective-to use a phrase I’ve been pushing-it is the case that family squabbles among the naturalists still nevertheless have a huge impact on the grander project of keeping rationalisms and supernaturalisms at bay. For example a common, common supernaturalist argumentative trick is to say, “Well, you know, these naturalists! They promise to reduce consciousness to nothing but activities of physical particles. How ridiculous!”

In other words, they take naturalism to be just one of the cousins in the naturalist family, complain that the promised reduction isn’t seemingly at hand, and therefore quickly jump to the conclusion that consciousness must be spookily or spiritually unnatural.

LUKE: Uh-huh.

JOHN: Now, from the perspective of the cousins of naturalism, we might be saying to each other, “Hey, you know, we’re kind of lending encouragement where we shouldn’t be. Maybe we’ve over-promised on this business of consciousness. Maybe the right way to do naturalism isn’t to over-promise what the sciences either shouldn’t or couldn’t ever deliver.

Let’s make sure that we have a naturalism that tells a reasonable, plausible story about how much the sciences are going to accomplish rather than over-promise. Because if we over-promise and fail to deliver, we know the rationalisms and the supernaturalisms are just waiting to pounce.”

Maybe it’s just not smart to promise that the truths of reason are going to be reduced to the truths of physics. Or that what exists in our perceptual consciousness is going to be sharply ontologically reduced to just subatomic particles.

In other words, here, I think, the pluralistic broad naturalist has a real big argumentative advantage over rationalisms and supernaturalisms because they’re telling what they take to be an accurate story about what the sciences can deliver and what they can’t, what naturalism promises, what it doesn’t promise, and it really, I think, tells a very plausible story about how rationality can be rationalized without being ontologically physicalized.

Broad, pluralistic naturalism may, for example, do a better job of explaining the phenomenon of religion itself. If we need many, many, many sciences-from the social sciences to the brain sciences to the hard sciences-to explain how religion gets its grip on us, that can be a very effective tool in taking down supernaturalism.

LUKE: Now John, of course, you and I have been engaging in a bit of the debate between different varieties of naturalism, but I’ve become very suspicious while we’ve been talking that maybe we aren’t actually disagreeing at all, and the disagreement is a figment of language. And it’s really hard for me to see where you and I might actually be disagreeing on a matter of fact.

JOHN: Well, two philosophers and maybe a couple of beers cancel all sorts of disagreement.

LUKE: Well, John, this has been a wonderful overview of some of the varieties of philosophical naturalism that are out there, and I very much look forward to your book on the topic. Thanks for coming back on the show.

JOHN: Oh, Luke, it’s been a pleasure as always. I’m very pleased to have this very important discussion.: Well, John, this has been a wonderful overview of some of the varieties of philosophical naturalism that are out there, and I very much look forward to your book on the topic. Thanks for coming back on the show.

JOHN: Oh, Luke, it’s been a pleasure as always. I’m very pleased to have this very important discussion.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Ralphie September 14, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Oh, shit!

CPBD is back!

Thank you, Luke!!! :D

Any hints as to future guests? :)

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Bret September 14, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Awesome! Keep em coming. Thanks Luke.

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mojo.rhythm September 14, 2011 at 11:15 pm

CPBD is back from the dead!

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mojo.rhythm September 14, 2011 at 11:18 pm

Luke, what bit-rate is this? If it is HQ, are you able to offer a lower quality one?

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Luke Muehlhauser September 15, 2011 at 4:23 am

It’s V0.

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cl September 15, 2011 at 4:36 pm

What’s it cost to have one of these things transcribed? If these are about an hour, I suppose anywhere from $60-$150 depending on how fast you want it done?

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muto September 15, 2011 at 5:19 pm

finally it is back

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Zeb September 15, 2011 at 6:22 pm

I had a hard time understanding what exactly the difference between broad naturalism and physicalism is supposed to be. If he was making a distinction about ontology, that broad naturalists don’t necessarily believe all things really do reduce to particles and forces, etc, then saying that it is naturalistic for different sciences and different human endeavors to have different truths and rules seems like hand-waving away the problems that dualists, idealists, etc seek to address. And if he is saying that while on naturalism everything must ultimately reduce to the physical, but broad naturalists accept that we don’t always need to know how while physicalists insist that for anything that we don’t know how it reduces, it either does not exist or it disproves physicalism – that seems like a straw man of physicalism. I doubt John Shook would either blatantly hand wave or blatantly create a straw man, so did anyone else understand how he was differentiating?

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Adito September 15, 2011 at 6:24 pm

This is an interesting episode. It seems a bit arbitrary how he labels some things as “spooky” and others natural. To me there are just things that are likely to exist given the state of the observable world and things that are not. Lots of things that get called spooky or supernatural tend to fit in the second category but there’s no sharp distinction between them. Quantum phenomenon are very spooky but we have plenty of reason to think they actually happen.

If we can’t make a coherent distinction between supernatural and and natural things then I’m not sure how a materialist view could make sense without also being physicalist. Physical phenomenon give us a base to work with in making probability judgements for all the other things human beings refer to with language. Things like art and morality for example. If the findings of physics makes it very unlikely that certain standards of morality or artistic merit exist then I think we have much less reason to think they exist.

There can be only one reality out there so accepting many basic standards of truth and evidence seems counter productive. But if I heard right then this is exactly the approach Shook described. Since the physical sciences have had such incredible inductive success compared to every other supposed basic standard of truth I think it’s obvious that we should go with that.

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Dan Dennett's beard September 16, 2011 at 3:54 pm

you spelled Dan Dennett wrong.

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Luke Muehlhauser September 17, 2011 at 2:16 am

I’ve been using CastingWords, which is $1 per minute with a 1-2 week turnaround time.

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Luke Muehlhauser September 17, 2011 at 2:17 am

Dan Dennett’s beard,

Thanks, fixed.

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Nige September 18, 2011 at 3:52 am

Very glad that CPBD is back. It is easily the best philosophical interview based podcast on the net, but I had the misfortune of discovering it just before you took a `hiatus` in order to concentrate on other things – still, I had plenty of past episodes to listen to!

Please keep these podcasts coming Luke. They are hugely thought provoking and educational, and there is nothing else available quite like them. Thanks for the time and effort that you put into them.

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Zeb September 18, 2011 at 8:55 am

Has CSA linked to the New Books In Philosophy podcast? http://newbooksinphilosophy.com/
Since each interview is an hour or so discussing one new book with its author it tends to get deeper than CPBD or Philosophy Bites.

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Atheological November 8, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Suggestion for future guest: Michael Tooley

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