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Williamson's defensive note in his Preface bespeaks the sort of question-begging you point out: "By any normal scientific standard, it is intelligible to say that there are things that would have dissolved if they had been put in water, and correspondingly intelligible to say that there are things that could have dissolved in water. To condemn such statements as unintelligible by some special philosophical standard is bad science and bad philosophy. Books on modality have no more obligation to spend their readers’ time on defences of the intelligibility of modal discourse than books on the mind have to spend it on defences of the intelligibility of mentalistic discourse." Bad philosophy? Perhaps. But bad science? Science has generally left disputes of intelligibility to philosophy, as well as questions around the riddle of induction. The "scientific standard" being invoked here seems to be Williamson's own alone. A similar move occurs in his critique of Quine's attack on Carnap on modal intensions. "On Carnap's view, coincidence in intension, not just extension, is always required to support intersubstitutability in modal contexts, irrespective of what sort of entity the extension happens to involve. Thus Quine’s objections fail to refute Carnap’s claim to have given a workable semantics for quantified modal logic." This defense only works if one has a readymade science of intensions, which is precisely what Williamson is trying to lay the ground for. (Quine and Geach did go on to point out the problems with the very idea of "coincidence in intension," which Williamson does not mention as far as I can see.)
The Vienna wall seems awfully porous to me. I think there are strictures applying in every case. I don't see *anyone* defending Tuskegee or Mengele's experiements as justified in the name of science. (See You may say I'm invoking Godwin's Law here, but if this is not a counterexample to the claim that scientific research is positioned outside of everyday ethical judgment, I don't know what is. If the claim is that *methods* may be subject to ethical judgment but *avenues of investigation* may not be, I would argue against that delineation, since investigation requires a method and thus the method must be put under the scope of everyday ethics. Nonetheless, there seem to be grave reservations about research into human cloning and nanotech even if the methods are taken to be wholly ethical. Not everyone agrees, but I can't conclude from this that this is a defect in the underlying ethical formulation. At least from where I stand today, researchers are *more* answerable to their communities than police and politicians. I live in New York, after all. "Are you genuinely telling me that you don't think GE Moore and similar ethical directions explored in the early twentieth century were influenced by Quine, Carnap et al?" I'm not sure what question you're asking here--did you mean that Moore influenced Quine and Carnap? If that's the question, my view is that Quine never wrote on ethics and was a Burkean conservative, and Carnap was a utopian socialist. I see no evidence for Moore's influence on either, honestly. Neither made any mention of intuition/emotion in ethics. On Ryle and Austin, moreso, but here we are far out of any territory that has anything to do with science as a vocation. The ethical landscape of *science*, in my opinion, is predominantly that of the world at large, which is to say it has little to do with philosophy over the last 100 years. The two dominant ideologies I see in scientists and engineers today are democratic socialism and libertarianism, neither of which have much to do with Moore or positivism, and which owe far more to Kant and Enlightenment ethics in general. Outside of philosophy, Bertrand Russell is a far more influential *ethical* figure than Moore, but it's because of his politics and not because of his vague semi-Moorean ethics, which mostly go unread. "Why I Am Not a Christian" has influenced far more scientists than Principia Ethica. I STRONGLY recommend Schneewind since it's just so germane to these issues and SO damn good. He argues that Pufendorf is a crucial figure that's mostly ignored today, and I think he makes a pretty good case. It's long, but highly readable.
Toggle Commented Sep 26, 2012 on Positivist Mythology at Only a Game
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I have no problem saying that there's something unique about the scientific defense--indeed, it's quite distinctive. Of course, there is *something* unique about all defenses, but science is rather sui generis for all sorts of reasons. They're certainly not *our* values, but the Heroic ethic was a morality, and the epics reflected the ethical positions of their day. This is my point. That's fair to say, but then I don't think you can deny that science has an implicit morality as well--as any set of prescriptive norms will then have a moral component. Reading the non-technical writings of many famous scientists will immediately show moral concerns to be extremely present. For the nuclear bomb, I would cite Bainbridge's words, "Now we are all sons of bitches," just as Jonathan Blow did at the end of Braid. Hardly the words of someone indifferent to moral concerns. I think there's a confusion here between morality in the post-Enlightenment sense, a particular deontological conception that one could argue does not bear directly on scientific investigation (though the point is debatable), vs the more general conception of prescriptions of "good" human behavior that is present by definition in all human activity, including science. Let's call Enlightenment ethics, those that Macintyre criticizes, EE, to separate it from the concept of *a* morality. What is the difference between a morality I find repulsive and the purported "amorality" of science? I would argue none: they are both about conduct of human behavior. The supposed "amorality" of science is an accusation of it separating itself off from EE. Likewise, Macintyre's criticism is leveled at the Kantian conception of morality, not at the Vienna circle. So the problem is not with positivism per se but with modernity in toto and its focus on liberal values rather than behavior. Whether one accepts Macintyre's critique or not (I think he has points but he doesn't have a solution), the issue is too widespread to pin on positivism. And the Arendt quote seems nothing more than question-begging to me. In order to show that scientists qua scientists ignore ethics, she says that scientists who did not hesitate to split the atom...were behaving as scientists qua scientists. It's a circular definition. I should say that I do not rate Arendt highly: the Origins of Totalitarianism is an aggressively ahistorical book that makes all sorts of claims utterly unsupported by the facts, such as this one: Wealth without visible function is that much more intolerable than aristocratic power because no one can understand why it should be tolerated....Antisemitism reached its climax when Jews had similarly lost their public functions and their influence, and were left with nothing but their wealth. When Hitler came to power, the German banks were already almost judenrein (and it was here that Jews had held key positions for more than a hundred years) and German Jewry as a whole, after a long steady growth in social status and numbers, was declining so rapidly that statisticians predicted its disappearance in a few decades. Statistics, it is true, do not necessarily point to real historical processes; yet it is noteworthy that to a statistician Nazi persecution and extermination could look like a senseless acceleration of a process which would probably have come about in any case. This is simply not true. The facts aren't there to support it, and as an explanation for antisemitism it is at best misguided. Worse, it links up to a certain blame-the-victim mentality that I find deeply irritating in Arendt: However much the Jewish pariah might be, from the historical viewpoint, the product of an unjust dispensation . . . politically speaking, every pariah who refused to be a rebel was partly responsible for his own position and therewith for the blot on mankind which it represented. From such shame there was no escape. Which is simply preposterous. One can and should debate whether developing a nuclear bomb in the time of Hitler and Hirohito was justified or not, but Arendt is in no position to be casting stones so glibly. Have you read Schneewind's The Invention of Autonomy? For me, it revealed many of these issues to be far more complicated than they are presented in accounts like MacIntyre's (though After Virtue was a significant book for me and really influenced my thinking). I highly recommend it, at any rate.
Toggle Commented Sep 21, 2012 on Positivist Mythology at Only a Game
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ps--Loved Discworld Noir! Some fascinating narrative mechanisms that deserve more attention. And Rob Brydon was brilliant.
Toggle Commented Sep 19, 2012 on Positivist Mythology at Only a Game
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Fascinating post. I agree with you on a lot of the points. (I won't reiterate here, but a lot of it is in my article on Hans Blumenberg and his Myth-Science Arkestra.) A few points of contention though. Before I start, I should say I am very glad these issues are brought up and I wouldn't argue against points if I didn't think these issues needed serious treatment. It's a refreshing change from Zizek, e.g. One striking difference between positivist mythologies and their religious predecessors is a lack of overt moral content. Conventional mythic stories have always highlighted ethical considerations – consider the implications of the Epic of Gilgamesh or The Iliad, to give just two ancient examples. Do you really mean overt, or implied, since you say "implications" in the next sentence? This is important because a lot of what happens in those works and many others would not fall under the rubric of "ethical" in our sense of the term. While there are certainly values in the Iliad, they are far from what we would consider "ethical": glory-seeking, inequality and deference to one's betters, knowing one's place (hello Thersites), and letting people die over petty grudges. Homer's views are certainly ambiguous, but nonetheless far from overt moral content. And one could say that similar values ARE built into the scientific world-view: a promotion of curiosity, ambition, mastery, skepticism, experimentation, etc. To split these off from any "moral" standpoint is to beg the question by assuming the division you're trying to establish. Which is ultimately to say that the mythological structure is indeed similar and that the "unique mental defence against mythic self-realisation" is not in fact unique but absolutely typical. Historically, scientific thinking has shown itself to be less stable than other mythic modes, which I'd say is to its credit, though hardly unproblematic. Consequently, I think the strawmen of the positivist and the "neutral researcher" are both highly problematic: the contemporary split between a science that was supposedly wholly factual and value-free, and a moral philosophy which was then inevitably left with next to nothing once the divorce was finalised. This caricature of the Vienna Circle is just not accurate, and the evidence I first cite is that, as you say, most of them were devoted pacifists and socialists and had far more respectable politics than most of the continentals who have since attacked them. Nor do they share much in common with Comte's particular *social* universalism. See these passages from Carnap, for example, who wanted to restrict science to so small a domain that he was attacked by Popper. So most were acutely aware of the *insufficiency* of raw logic but held out hope for its influence in "the riddles of life," but NOT its exclusive dominance. Who is a logical positivist today? No one, as far as I can tell--people on all sides have thrown out the ideology as being unworkable. I think the more germane question is what remnants of an idealistic scientific viewpoint remain with us and unquestioned, and what nefarious influences they may have. The mythology of genetic medicine, for instance, presupposes the moral acceptability of its actual research outcomes – or at least, it did until stem cell research collided this issue with contrasting stories. The unstated yet overriding myth of the researcher has always been ‘my research is neutral, and I am blameless for what society does with it’s outcomes’. As Hannah Arendt complained in respect of the nuclear bomb, such indifference to consequences does not paint scientists in a very appealing light. Here I really don't see the truth of this generalization. In these cases at least, there seems to have been grave moral concern on the part of the researchers in both fields, even Oppenheimer. And hardly an indifference to consequences. I think you really need to cite more evidence here before painting with such a broad and condemnatory brush. Many people are rotten and amoral, but this is hardly specific to scientists. Whatever Arendt said, I don't see how she can put them on a lower ethical level with regard to the consequences of their actions than, say, Heidegger. I would cite as better examples Social Darwinism and race science, as well as things like Tuskegee and icepick lobotomies, where the underlying ideology involved social issues considerably more imminent and thus less defensible from a contemporary moral standpoint. That, I think, is where the danger of scientific ideology is most evident and incontestable.
Toggle Commented Sep 19, 2012 on Positivist Mythology at Only a Game
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