Archive for Philosophy of Science

NOA’s Ark- Fine for Idealism, Part I

Posted in Philosophy with tags on December 12, 2012 by taylorvincentroche

Some of my thoughts on philosophy of science, this time regarding realism and antirealism. The two articles this essay responds to are Arthur Fine’s “The Natural Ontological Attitude”, and Alan Musgrave’s response to him “NOA’s Ark- Fine for Realism.” I do not claim to be an expert in philosophy of science, but the articles were quite interesting.


In the year 1984 Dr. Arthur Fine published an article that created a new position in the philosophical and scientific battle between realism and antirealism. His article is titled “The Natural Ontological Attitude”, a title the comes to represent what he understood as a kind of third option in this ongoing debate. In his article Fine directly attacks realism, but does not go so far as to defend antirealism. Rather he advocates what he calls NOA, or Natural Ontological Attitude. Five years later in 1989, Dr. Alan Musgrave published an article in critiquing Fine. Musgrave dismisses Fine’s criticism of realism and posits that Fine’s NOA is actually realism in disguise. This paper will specifically examine Fine’s essay while bearing in mind, and some times referring to, Musgrave’s claims. In addition to this, this essay will examine whether or not it is possible to be an idealist and accept what Fine refers to as the ‘more simple and homely sort of argument’ which begins to form the foundation of Fine’s NOA.

Arthur Fine spends the beginning of his essay examining arguments for realism. Following this he addresses the progress science seemingly makes and how this progress relates to realism. It is after all this that he turns his attention to “Nonrealism”.

Fine states that he believes the realist’s heart is not so different from his own heart. Namely that it is not the abstract philosophical arguments that convince him of realism but a more homely, simple argument that convinces him of realism. According to Fine this argument begins with the statement, “I certainly trust the evidence of my senses, on the whole, with regard to the existence and features of everyday objects.”

Fine believes the realist must have similar confidence in the method of scientific investigation and takes scientists’ claims largely in the same way that he takes the evidence of his senses in regard to everyday senses. Thus Fine concludes that, “it is possible to accept the evidence of one’s senses and to accept, in the same way, the confirmed results of science only for the realist,”.

If this is accurate than what does it mean to accept something as true? Particularly, how does one do this in the same way for both ordinary sense perception and scientific theories? Here Fine distinguishes between truths and truths. Although this may seem confusing, what Fine is really doing is distinguishing between truths central to a person’s life and less central to a person’s life. The centrality of any particular truth may vary on the nature of the person who holds that truth. At this point Fine makes a rather significant move and it is necessary to examine his own words,

Could Bohr, fighting for the sake of science (against Einstein’s realism) have felt compelled either to give up the results of science, or else to assign to its “truths” some category different from the truth’s of everyday life? It seems unlikely…We might well come to question whether there is any necessary connection moving us from accepting the results of science as true to being a realist…Then, it seems to me that both the realist and the antirealist must toe what I have called “the homely line.” That is, they must both accept the certified results of science as on par with more homely and familiarly supported claims.

The acceptance of this results in what Fine terms the ‘core position.’ By which he means accepting scientific results as on par with ordinary sense perception. Now if Fine is correct in this, and both the realist and antirealist can accept this statement, than what is the nature of the difference between the two according to Fine? Fine believes the difference lies in what each is willing to add onto this core position. The realist, in particular, adds on a resounding “Really!” By this Fine means that the realist will argue that scientific statements correspond to reality, that scientific claims speak of how the world really is. As has probably already been guessed, Fine’s proposed third option is the “core position.” For Fine, the core position is the acceptance of scientific theories in the same fashion as one accepts everyday truths. So what does it mean to be true? It means that a statement or theory is true if it the entities and objects referred to in the theory or statement actually refer to actual objects in reality. Thus these statements are true referentially.

He maintains that this position does not favor the realist or the antirealist but rather lies right in the middle, being something that each side can affirm. Fine does much in the way of describing and defending this position through the remainder of his essay. However it is necessary to put Fine on hold for a moment and acknowledge the critique of his theory through the work of Musgrave.

Laws of Nature

Posted in Philosophy with tags on November 30, 2012 by taylorvincentroche

I rarely, and I mean very rarely, write about philosophy of science. This is mostly because I am not at all qualified to talk about science. That said, this is a review of  Fred Dretske’s essay titled “Laws of Nature.” How we think about laws of nature is extremely interesting and if you find my review even mildly entertaining, I strongly suggest finding a copy of Dretske’s article. It is well worth the read.

“It is tempting to identify the laws of nature with a certain class of universal truths.”

So reads the opening sentence of Fred Dretske’s work titled “Laws of Nature.” It is in this article that he sets out to answer the question of what it means to be a law of nature. As can be inferred from the sentence above, he does not believe laws of nature form a certain class of universal truths. This short essay will examine the claim and supporting arguments Dretske offers in his article and also elaborate on the relevance of Dretske’s claim.

Dretske begins his article by asserting that laws are not “simply what universally true statements express, not even universally true statements” with unlimited scope.

He does not seem to think that this is statement is contested. He goes on to state that science seems to follow a certain formula for considering something a law of nature. According to Dreske the formula goes something like, a universal truth plus X, X being a “special function…or role that the universal truth must have.”

Dretske lists five possible “candidates” for X in his article that will not be stated here.

This formula for a law raises the question what is the distinction between and natural law and a universal truth? Dretske claims “Law like statements are singular statements of fact describing a relationship between properties and magnitudes.”

Using the example Drestke uses, the statement “All F’s are G’s” is linked such that F must be G because the properties of F generate G.

In order for this to be a natural law it must be the case that having property F necessitates that there must also be property G. “It is this which explains the power of laws to tell us what would happen if we did such-and-such and what could not happen whatever we did.”

As an argument in support of this claim, Dretske offers the following analogy. He describes how the United States’ government works with its system of checks and balances, each branch maintaining some power while being subject to the other two branches in particular and specific cases. Dretske then points out that there is nothing about the Constitution and these political laws that must necessarily be the way they are. This is to say that they could in fact be different. Rather, “the legal code lays down a set of relationships between various offices of government, and this set of relationships impose legal constraints on the individuals who occupy those offices.”

This is exactly the sense in which Dretske believes natural laws should be thought of. As governing relationships objects occasionally have with each other when they “occupy a certain office.”

Again thinking of this in the way presented in Dretske’s illustration. Namely that natural laws govern objects as a particular person must necessarily follow certain laws if that particular person is President of the United States and that such laws would not have necessarily applied if that particular person never became President. Thus, objects have properties, and there is the potentiality that these properties are connected in certain ways. When these properties connect in a way that is a physical necessity, Dretske claims such a relationship is a natural law.

So what is the significance and importance of Dretske’s claims? Dretske actually answers this directly in his article, “It is this which explains the power of laws to tell us what would happen if we did such-and-such and what could not happen whatever we did.”

Explaining this “power” of natural laws is the goal of all philosophical conversations about what constitutes a natural law. Whether or not Dretske is successful depends on his reader, but nonetheless this is the question he has attempted to answer. It is a relevant article because Dretske offers a he terms an “ontological ascent”, claiming that readers should cease talking about individual “objects and events” and instead talking about “quantities and qualities that these objects exemplify.”

Dretske states, “Instead of talking about green and red things, we talk about the colors green and red.”

This is clearly a very different way of thinking and talking about natural laws. As such its relevancy is based on its very new proposed answer to a very old question.