Philosophy of Science Archives

More Generally: Philosophy (497)
More Specifically: Instrumentalism (1) Mechanism (2)

June 28, 2017

Newton and Berkeley on the Scope of Natural Philosophy

In the first two editions of the Principia, Newton makes two pronouncements about the scope of natural philosophy that appear to be in tension with one another. In the first (1687) edition Preface to the Reader, Newton writes, "the basic problem of [natural] philosophy seems to be to discover the forces of nature from the phenomena of motions and then to demonstrate the other phenomena from these forces" (Janiak 60). In the famous General Scholium added to the second (1713) edition, Newton writes, "to treat of God from the phenomena is certainly a part of natural philosophy" (Janiak 113). We...
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June 27, 2017

Newton's Rationalism

One of the problems for the traditional 'Rationalists and Empiricists' story of early modern philosophy is that it is surprisingly difficult to define 'rationalism' and 'empiricism' appropriately (see here for a previous discussion). One traditional way of drawing the distinction, derived from Locke, is over the existence of innate ideas. This distinction, however, does not capture what is of importance to many other early modern philosophers, and oddly excludes Malebranche and his followers from the rationalist camp. (Since Malebranche holds that no ideas are ever in the human mind—they are all in God—he holds that no ideas are innate to...
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May 3, 2016

Two Definitions of 'Empiricism'

In traditional tellings of the history of early modern philosophy, the school of British empiricists - the Locke-Berkeley-Hume triumvirate - is seen as according foundational status to the Aristotelian principle, "nothing in the intellect which was not first in the senses." This is, of course, given new formulations in terms of the modern 'Way of Ideas'. Their philosophical systems, so the story goes, are built on this foundation. However, there is another meaning of 'empiricism' that is more common in the early modern period. This notion goes back to the ancient 'empirics,' a school of physicians who eschewed theorizing in...
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April 30, 2016

Quote of the Day: Mechanical Observations? Yum!

Hydrophilus. Mechanical Observations (said you Pyrophilus?) yea that's your Diana, you and the world of late so much admire: your Bacon and your Boyle, or your Bacon well boil'd is so much in fashion with you, that scarce any other Dish (although never so good) prepared after an old fashion, will go down with you. - W. Simpson, Philosophical Dialogues Concerning the Principles of Natural Bodies: Wherein the Principles of the Old and New Philosophy are Stated, and the New Demonstrated, More Agreeable to Reason, From Mechanical Experiments and its Usefulness to the Benefit of Man-kind (1677), 5 I was...
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April 29, 2016

Quote of the Day: The Tale of the Aristotelian Clock-Mender

I will not undertake to compare the new Philosophy with the old, but instead thereof will tell you a tale. There was a certain Husbandman who occupied a Farme with an antient mansion-house standing in the fields remote from any Town, where there was an old iron Clock in a large wooden frame, which had been a long while out of kelter, and because he was much troubled to know how the time passed, that he might order his business accordingly, he resolved to get his Clock repaired, and while he was considering where to finde a man able...
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March 26, 2014

March 4, 2014

Maitzen on the Explanatory Power of Penguins

In his contribution to The Puzzle of Existence, Stephen Maitzen defends the surprising claim that penguins hold the answer to the deep mysteries of the universe. Well, that's not exactly what he says. Maitzen's position is that the only interpretation of 'why is there something rather than nothing?' on which that sentence expresses a legitimate, well-formed question is one on which it is not a deep mystery at all, but a trivial empirical question to which 'because there are penguins' is a perfectly adequate answer. It is interesting to note that Maitzen's article is, in a way, just the reverse...
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March 1, 2014

Lange on the Natural Necessity of Something

Marc Lange's contribution to The Puzzle of Existence, begins with this remark: I read recently about a baby who was trapped during the night of February 26, 2011, in a locked bank vault in Conyers, Georgia. Naturally, I wondered why that had happened (235). In the article which follows this fantastic opening, Lange appeals to the theory of necessity and laws of nature from his 2009 book, Laws and Lawmakers, to argue that one can explain why there is something rather than nothing only by showing that something exists as a matter of natural necessity (or, in a qualification he...
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December 15, 2013

Kleinschmidt on the Principle of Sufficient Reason

Philosophers have perhaps more often assumed the Principle of Sufficient Reason than argued for it. Furthermore, this assumption has, in recent years, fallen out of favor due to the PSR's allegedly unacceptable consequences. Recently, however, the PSR has been defended by Alexander Pruss and Michael Della Rocca. Pruss and Della Rocca both argue that (a version of) the PSR is a presupposition of reason. Pruss defends a version of the PSR restricted to contingent truths and consistent with libertarian free will and indeterminism is physics as a presupposition of our scientific and 'commonsense' explanatory practices. Della Rocca argues that the...
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September 9, 2013

"Berkeley's Meta-Ontology: Bodies, Forces, and the Semantics of 'Exists'"

I've posted a new draft to my (recently reorganized) writings page, "Berkeley's Meta-Ontology: Bodies, Forces, and the Semantics of 'Exists'." This paper defends, in a relatively short space, some of the central conclusions which I defend at much greater length in my dissertation, Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World. Here is the abstract of the paper: To the great puzzlement of his readers, Berkeley begins by arguing that nothing exists other than minds and ideas, but concludes by claiming to have defended the existence of bodies. How can Berkeley's idealism amount to such a defense? I introduce resources from...
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September 12, 2012

Carroll on God and Physics

Sean Carroll has a great article on God, physics, and explanation up on his web-site. I've posted some comments regarding it over at Prosblogion.
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November 2, 2010

Leibniz Against Fine-Tuning

It appears that I'm going to be getting a bit behind on my Sobel series due to other commitments. Here is some Leibniz to make up for it. One of the problems with those forms of teleological (design) arguments that posit necessary 'gaps' in naturalistic explanation is that they are revisionary with respect to scientific practice: that is, it is a principle of scientific methodology to keep looking for naturalistic explanations no matter what. Now, most philosophers think that taking a revisionary attitude toward scientific practice is bad since the track record of science, on its current methodology, is stellar...
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October 8, 2010

Modern Cosmology and Theology

At the end of his discussion of fine-tuning arguments, Sobel briefly, and somewhat indirectly, discusses issues arising from attempts to combine theism with modern cosmology (pp. 285-287). In particular, many cosmologists now believe that the fundamental constants of nature were set by quantum fluctuations in the early universe. Stephen Hawking has suggested that such fluctuations might be very likely to produce a world like ours. If correct, the thought goes, this would undermine the fine-tuning argument. However, it would also do something more: if the laws of nature make it very likely, but not certain, that a world like ours,...
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March 19, 2010

Locke and Leibniz on Armchair Teleology

[I]f we may conclude that God hath done for men all that men shall judge is best for them, because it is suitable to his goodness so to do, it will prove not only that God has imprinted on the minds of men an idea of himself, but that he hath plainly stamped there, in fair characters, all that men ought to know or believe of him, all that they ought to do in obedience to his will, and that he hath given them a will and affections conformable to it. This, no doubt, everyone will think it better for...
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June 21, 2009

Intelligent Design and Scientific Instrumentalism

John Beaudoin's recent paper "Sober on Intelligent Design Theory and the Intelligent Designer" contains the following fascinating remark in a footnote: [William] Dembski has suggested that the designer referred to in ID theory need not be real: it could in principle be treated by design theorists as a mere useful fiction, if that should better fit with a particular design theorist's philosophy of science. Beaudoin cites Dembski's No Free Lunch, p. 15, and The Design Revolution, p. 65. I haven't bothered to read too much on the whole ID thing because it is not closely related to my main philosophical interests and from a theological/religious perspective seems like a mere distraction. Furthermore, most ID types seem to me to exaggerate the problems of 'orthodox' evolutionary biology...
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February 16, 2008

Quote of the Day: Schopenhauer on the Absurdity of Materialism

The objective method [i.e. the method of philosophy which starts from the object and proceeds to the subject] can be developed most consistently and carried farthest when it appears as materialism proper. It regards matter, and with it time and space, as existing absolutely, and passes over the relation to the subject in which alone all this exists. Further, it lays hold of the law of causality as the guiding line on which it tries to progress, taking it to be a self-existing order or arrangement of things, veritas aeterna, and consequently passing over the understanding, in which and for...
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January 19, 2008

A Brief Argument for Descriptivism About Laws of Nature

Isaac Newton believed that F=ma was a law of nature. Leave aside for the moment the question of whether he was right - some philosophers might think that, although it turned out simply to be an approximation that worked well for matters of ordinary experience, it still counts as a legitimate law. That's not what I'm concerned with right now. What I'm concerned with is what it means to claim that F=ma is a law of nature. Because of this, I may sloppily speak of F=ma as having a referent when, according to some theories I will be considering, it...
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June 26, 2007

Theological Implications and "Scientificness"

It is popularly believed that if a theory has theological implications, then the theory is somehow "unscientific." A post (NOTE: MovableType won't let me link directly to this post because the URL contains an unescaped ' contrary to the HTTP spec so the above link goes to the daily archive) at the Florida Student Philosophy Blog challenges this claim. I think the article is unnecessarily long and involved, but I'm quite impressed with the insight. The argument is a reductio that works more or less like this...
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April 9, 2007

Libertarian Compatibilism?

In metaphysics, libertarianism is the view that human beings (and other free beings) are free because they can do otherwise. Determinism is the view that the conjunction of the laws of nature with all the facts about the configuration of the world at some time t entail all the facts about the configuration of the world at all times. Compatibilism is the view that free will and determinism are logically compatible, and incompatibilism is the view that they are not. Libertarianism is generally taken to entail incompatibilism, and is contrasted with compatibilist theories of free will. However, in her recent...
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March 26, 2007

The Conjunction of the Armstrong-Laws is God

D. M. Armstrong is the best known proponent of a currently quite popular understanding of natural laws. Laws so understood are, as a result, called Armstrong-Laws, or A-Laws for short. These are distinguished from L-Laws, named for David Lewis. L-laws are identical to regularities in events (but not all regularities are laws). Unlike L-Laws, A-Laws are actual metaphysical entities, which exist independently of their instances. That is, according to this theory, the Law of Universal Gravitation is a thing out there in the universe (not in the mind) which actually makes massive objects move toward one another. The attraction (no...
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March 12, 2007

A Note on Middle Knowledge and Berkeleian Philosophy of Science

A thought occurred to me just now as I was reading the end of Sydney Shoemaker's "Causality and Properties" and thinking, as usual, of a Berkeleian response. What, we ask, are the truth-conditions or truth-makers for statements about natural laws and causality? Shoemaker has a story about properties being defined in terms of dispositions to act a certain way in the presence of certain other properties, and he thinks we can flesh out these statements in this way. For Berkeley, of course, the properties of physical objects can have no causal efficacy. Instead, Berkeley takes these statements to be simple...
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