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Edward MacKinnon* - page 46 / 59





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Realism is a many-splendored thing. We will consider the least of its splendors, the use of ‘real’ in ordinary language. A growing child learns the appropriate use of the terms through simple examples. Horses and dogs are real; unicorns, centaurs, and werewolves are not real. Outside of M. I. T., linguistic analysis works from the surface down. Horses are objects, but accepting horses as real does not entail accepting ‘object’ as a fundamental ontological category. It is a categorical presupposition of normal linguistic usage. One need not know, hold, or even recognize ontology to make objective claims in ordinary language. The objectivity of LCP is a systematized extension of ordinary language usage. It need not entail ontological claims over or beyond the normal claims of physics. If someone wishes to construct an ontology and either ordinary language or LCP represents the limits of what can be said coherently, then the categorical presuppositions of the language used may supply a basis for ontological categories.

No matter how far future physics goes beyond present practice it will still involve people doing experiments, communicating results, and discussing their implications. Bohr’s repeated claim that complementarity will remain a permanent part of physics is routinely misinterpreted as a claim that the orthodox interpretation of quantum mechanics is not open to revision. It should be interpreted as claiming   the indispensability of LCP, a point to be argued elsewhere. This inevitably involves treating as objective claims like “The coefficient of linear expansion of aluminum is 26 x 10-6/°C”. This does not involve a metaphysics of reductionism, or an epistemological analysis of physical knowledge. It is the normal functioning of the language of physics.

The second type of objection will probably seem peripheral to most readers. Husserl and Heidegger criticized physics as relying on a misleading sense of objectivity. Few philosopher of science attach any significance to claims that either Husserl or Heidegger makes about the status of physics. That may be sufficient reason to skip the remainder of this article. I am including this for two reasons. First, their appraisals played a significant role in the death-of-philosophy scenario. Second, and more importantly, I believe that Heidegger had a very good grasp of the underlying issues we have been treating and came up with a rather different appraisal of the objectivity and worth of physics. His position is worth considering.

The standard 'death of philosophy scenario' does not accord physics any significant role. The reasons for the omission reflect an appraisal of the significance of physics. To bring this out I will revise the familiar scenario to include the role of physics. The traditional scenario is generally presented more like a medical report of a terminal illness than a consideration of philosophical arguments. The underlying issue is not seen as one of appraising philosophical positions, but the more hermeneutic task of trying to understand what type of conditioning would lead people to take such questions seriously. The revisal is presented in the same spirit.

In the rationalist tradition, philosophy was thought of as supplying an ontological foundation for the sciences. In Descartes famous metaphor first philosophy is the root of the tree of knowledge, physics is the trunk, while the other sciences are the branches. In the empiricist tradition, philosophy was not regarded as supplying an ontological foundation. Locke famously pictured himself and as an under laborer, clearing away some of the rubbish blocking the work of such master builders as the incomparable Mr. Newton. Rather than ontological foundations, the empirical tradition was concerned with epistemological foundations, of showing how all knowledge could be reduced

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