Eugene Lashchyk, Contingent Scientific Realism and Instrumentalism, 1992

A. A Brief Excursion Into History

1. Ancient and Medieval Period

Announcements of the end of philosophy are nothing new to the field of philosophy. Philosophy began on an optimistic note with the Pre-Socratics and then Plato and Aristotle. Plato couched his questions often in the form "What is x?" where for x he substituted such terms as justice, virtue, and knowledge. There was a belief that there was a unique essence or nature to these concepts and that this nature could be captured in a definition. This optimistic belief persisted through the Middle Ages. Medieval philosophers like St. Thomas Aquinas adopted this optimistic belief in man's capacity to come to know with certainty the essences of things as well as the essences of abstract concepts like justice. Aquinas had the additional task of creating a new philosophical system, a new Weltanschauung, which fused together Christian principles with elements of the Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy. There seems to be little evidence that Aquinas despaired of this task. It is an understatement to say that the Aristotelian-Thomistic synthesis, which included not only all the branches of philosophy but also Christian religion, Ptolemaic astronomy, Aristotelian physics and chemistry, was very successful for the Medieval period.{8} It was so successful that the Catholic Church has found it useful to bring back the Thomistic system in modern garb as Scholasticism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In this tradition philosophy served a useful purpose of providing a metaphysical and epistemological system together with a set of arguments for the justification of Christian beliefs. As in the official Soviet philosophy of dialectical materialism so in Thomism there were believed to be no unsolvable problems and hence no crisis as late as the middle of the twentieth century.{9} Medieval philosophy was, analogous to Kuhn's normal science, in a state of normal philosophy. Optimism reigned high. Signs of a crisis did not appear in Scholastic-Thomism until Vatican II.

2. The Beginning of the End:

After the demise of Ptolemaic astronomy the Ancient Medieval synthesis began to fall apart, for nothing seemed to match the new Copernican heliocentric system. Aristotelian physics, Medieval religion and philosophy all needed to be transformed or possibly even replaced in order for a new synthesis, a new world-view, to be formed.{10} With the creation of Galilean and Newtonian physics the most important part of the new synthesis was in place. Creating a philosophy that matched Newtonian physics proved to be a more formidable task.

3. Modern Philosophy and the Beginning of a Long List of "The End of Philosophy"

Descartes was possibly the first of a long list of philosophers who announced the end of the old philosophy and the end of all previous alleged "knowledge". Claiming to be guided by the principles of clearness and distinctness he created a new physics and a new philosophy but the new physics of vortices did not last more than fifty years. (His physics lingered longer in Russia because Catherine the Great had a strong preference for anything French, and imported physicists from France rather than England.) The rest of the world did not buy the ready-made Cartesian synthesis of science and philosophy. But the rationalistic Cartesian philosophy, including his version of dualism, had a much more lasting influence on modern philosophy. The moderns were fascinated by the Cartesian creation of the world de novo from the perspective of the ego.{11}.

4. Berkeley and The New Principle Esse Est Percipi

The central principle of Bishop Berkeley's philosophy esse est percipi cleared the slate of such Newtonian notions as absolute space and time, as well as of such philosophical notions as matter and essence.{12} Above all Berkeley wanted to put an end to the corpuscular philosophy.

5. The End of Traditional Metaphysics and Epistemology; Hume's and Kant's Versions

It was Hume and Kant who claimed to put an end to traditional metaphysics and epistemology. The view that philosophers can once and for all provide an account of the inner nature or essence of a thing as it is in itself -- noumenon -- was abandoned, at least by the mainstream philosophers. Man is capable of knowing only phenomena things as they appear. Newtonian physics provides man with an account of this phenomenal world. The task of philosophy, for Kant, was to provide a grounding, a justification, of the validity of Newtonian physics. Science provides the advances in knowledge and philosophy provides the justification. Unfortunately, the Kantian strategy proved to be short-lived. Development in the middle of the nineteenth century of alternative geometries (e.g. Rieman, Lobachevski) to the dominant Eucledian geometry, as well as the development at the beginning of the twentieth century of alternative logics to the Aristotelian syllogistic logic (e.g. Russell's symbolic logic, and the many-valued logics of such men as Hugh MacColl (1837-1909), C. S. Peirce (1839-1914) and Nikolai A. Vasil'ev (1880-1940)), seriously undermined Kantian synthetic a priori principles. The whole Kantian program became anachronistic with the development of Einstein's relativistic mechanics, which replaced Newtonian mechanics.

6. Hegel and Marx and Other New Beginnings.

The optimism of traditional metaphysics was revived with the Hegelian maxim that the real is rational and the rational is real. But for Hegel -- and certainly for Marx -- philosophical truth and maybe even all truth had to be historicized and relativized.

Husserl made an attempt to recover the certitude of traditional metaphysics on a new foundation. Part of the strategy of his phenomenology was the epoche, the bracketing of the world and the attempts to describe essences as objects of consciousness.

7. The End of Theoretical Philosophy -- Heideggerian Style.

Heidegger wanted to turn philosophy from theoretical concerns towards the concrete. He wanted to develop a new vocabulary or, more accurately, a return to some "original" one that would enable us to overcome the problematics of philosophy from Plato to Descartes and up to the present. He describes the "ultimate business of philosophy" thus:

. . . to preserve the force of the most elemental words in which Dasein expresses itself, and to keep the common understanding from leveling them off to that unintelligibility which functions in turn as a source of pseudo-problems".{13}

8. "The End of Philosophy" -- Soviet Style: "Science to the Bridge -- Philosophy Overboard"

Among the Soviet Marxists the mechanistic materialists in the early twenties were the most influential. They attacked not only idealist philosophy but all philosophy including dialectical naturalism. Emmanuel Enchmen, the most radical of this group, a follower of the Russian psychologist Pavlov, announced the end of philosophy thus:
World-view is an invention of the exploiters . . . With the arrival of the epoch of the proletarian dictatorship we are against any 'world-view'. We are for the proletariat, the emerging communist, single system of organic reflexes . . . The philosophical world view called dialectical materialism will be reduced to ashes, for thanks to biological training the necessity of logic will disappear; cognition, thought will wither away . . ."{14}

About the same time S. Minin, a follower of Comte, published a couple of articles in the Soviet journal Under the Banner of Marxism which announced the end of philosophy in even more dramatic terms.

PHILOSOPHY IS A PROP OF THE BOURGEOISIE. Not idealist philosophy only, not metaphysical philosophy only, but precisely philosophy in general, philosophy as such . . . In a word the proletariat retains and must retain science, only science, but no kind of philosophy. SCIENCE TO THE BRIDGE -- PHILOSOPHY OVERBOARD!{15}

(It is amazing how closely the writings of Fine and Rorty echo some of these quotations ). These movements were subjected to severe criticism, but an atmosphere of philosophical pluralism flourished until the early thirties, at which time dogmatic versions of dialectical materialism crushed most of the opposition.

9. The Pragmatic Turn in the U.S.

In the United States philosophy was also taking a turn towards the practical, away from the essentialist and foundationalist thinking prevalent on the continent. As William James tells this story, this new style of thinking originated in The Metaphysical Club, a discussion group to which Charles Sanders Peirce and James belonged. Out of the sometimes futile and endless discussions in this group came Peirce's revolutionary proposal for introducing clarity and precision. He said: "consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearing, we conceive the objects of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object." This idea was contained in Peirce's paper from 1878 called "How To Make Our Ideas Clear."{16} William James in a lecture he gave in 1898{17} called the philosophy implicit in Peirce's article "Pragmatism."{18} James said "I verily believe that it would be regarded by everyone as the final word of philosophy." And so it was that American Pragmatism as well as the turn towards the practical in philosophy was launched. William James's rejection of the correspondence theory of truth, and his definition of truth as that which works, helped to undermine further one of the central assumptions of traditional metaphysics (i.e., truth as correspondence with reality). If we add to these pragmatic doctrines Dewey's definition of truth as warranted assertibility we come mighty close to the kind of position that Rorty seems to be comfortable with. It is worth pointing out that neither Peirce nor James nor certainly C. I. Lewis saw philosophy as coming to an end. To the average student of American pragmatism, Rorty's pronouncements that philosophy has come to an end and that this end somehow was prepared by pragmatism comes as a surprise.

10. Wittgenstein and Philosophy As That Which Can Not Be Said

Wittgenstein developed probably the most influential end of philosophy movement of the Twentieth Century. The early Wittgenstein of the Tractatus developed a position that is one the most sweeping denials of philosophy. Here is a sample of such a total denial.

Most propositions and questions that have been written about philosophical matters are not false but senseless.

We cannot, therefore, answer questions of this kind at all but only state their senselessness. Most questions and propositions of the philosophers result from the fact that we do not understand the logic of our language.{19}

An even more shocking statement of the denial of the whole of philosophy can be found in the following passage:

The right method of philosophy would be to say nothing except what can be said, i.e. the propositions of natural science, i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when someone else wished to say something metaphysical to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. The method would be unsatisfying to the other -- he would not have the feeling we were teaching him philosophy -- but it would be the only strictly correct method.{20}

Twenty five years later Wittgenstein developed a less radical position on the nature of philosophy{21} with special emphasis on the analysis of usage within "language games". This work was posthumously published in 1953 under the title Philosophical Investigations.

11. Logical Positivism and Philosophy as the Handmaiden of Science.

There was another reaction to the post-Hegelian and the post-Kantian philosophies prevalent on the Continent -- called Logical Positivism. It attempted to clear the slate once more of the purely speculative concepts in philosophy, particularly in such fields as metaphysics, ethics, esthetics, and to reduce philosophy and science to verifiable claims and observable concepts. A. J. Ayer, the defender of Viennese Logical Positivism during the early period of his philosophy,{22} describes the task of this new philosophy thus:

What confronts the philosopher who finds that our everyday language has been sufficiently analyzed is the task of clarifying the concepts of contemporary science . . . . Philosophy must develop into the logic of science, and by "logic of science" is meant, "the activity of displaying the logical relationships of hypotheses and defining the symbols which exist in them." [Therefore,] it is necessary for the philosopher to become a scientist, in this sense, if he is to make any substantial contribution towards the growth of human knowledge.{23}

Even though no formulation of the verification principle proved to be tenable, Logical Positivism nevertheless gave birth to a new branch of philosophy -- philosophy of science. The goal of this ahistorical and acontextual philosophy was to identify the logical structure of scientific explanation, prediction and confirmation. Philosophers of science identified a plurality of forms of each of these scientific concepts partly as a result of the turn towards a study of actual scientific practice in its historical context. Part of the credit for this is attributable to the influence of Wittgenstein's philosophy, and especially to the influence of his maxim for the analysis of concepts: "Do not look for the meaning, look for the use." The finding of an abundance of forms of such concepts as explanation in actual scientific practice in scientific communities{24} weakened the belief in the formulation of the problems as "the logical form of x". It is not a big jump from such an emphasis on usage and practice to the historical turn in philosophy of science. It is hard to pinpoint the precise origin of this trend, but one could mark, somewhat arbitrarily, the beginning of this historical turn, with the publication in 1962 of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (SSR).{25}

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{8} Aquinas' philosophical system could serve as a paradigm of philosophy which developed an integrated world view. It is a philosophy which shows how it all hangs together. [Back]

{9} Parenthetically, it is interesting to point out that Duhem even at the end of the nineteenth century held the view that Thomlstic metaphvsics is the only philosophy compatible with Newtonian mechanics. [Back]

{10} For a usefull discussion of the Ptolemaic and Copernican system see Thomas Kuhn The Copernican Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957). [Back]

{11} At the turn of the century, Husserl went on to develop, from the perspective of the "ego," a whole philosophy called phenomenology which he developed particularly in his book Cartesian Studies. [Back]

{12} Karl Popper makes a good case for the view that Berkeley's philosophy anticipated and was a good match for Mach's philosophy and science. But what is more surprising is that Berkeley's views come even closer to the position of quantum field theory which claims that "All knowable entities are thus mere properties . . ." Quote is from Bernard d'Espagnat In Search of Reality (New York Springer Verlag, 1983) d'Espagnant puts it thus:

Among the experts concerned, it is generally admitted that the physics in question is basically a theoryof quantum fields . . . . But quantum fields are not beings. In this they differ from the classical fields, which could always be interpreted as such. Their status is nearer to that of observable physical quantities. To the extent that such a gross image can be tolerated, they resemble less the Eiffel Tower than the height, or the size, or the shape of the Eiffel Tower. Or . . . they resemble less an electron of elementary quantum mechanics than they resemble the observable properties "position" or "velocity" of an electron . . . ; Ibid., p. 84. [Back]

{13} Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (Harper & Row, 1962), p. 262. For a useful discussion of Heidegger's program see Rorty "Beyond Realism and Anti-Realism" in Wo steht die Analytische Philosophie heute? ed. Ludwig Nagl and Richard Heinrich (Wien, R.Oldenbourg Verlag, 1986): pp. 103-116. Rorty describes Heidegger's program thus "to construct a new set of philosophical categories which would have nothing to do with science, epistemology, or the Cartesian quest for certainty." Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, p. 5. [Back]

{14} Quoted in David Jarovsky, Soviet Marxism and Natural Science (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961): p. 94. [Back]

{15} Ibid., p. 96. Originally published in the journal Pod Znamenem Marxizma 1922,No. 5-6 pp. 123, 127. [Back]

{16} Charles S. Peirce " How to Make Our Ideas Clear " reprinted in Values in a Universe of Chance: Selected Writings of Charles S. Peirce, ed. Philip P. Wiener (Garden City, New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1958): p. 124. [Back]

{17} William James "Philosophical Conceptions and Practical Results" reprinted in A William James Reader, ed. Gay Wilson Allen (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1971): p. 138. [Back]

{18} James put it thus:

This is the principle of Peirce , the principle of pragmatism. I think myself that it should be expressed more broadly than Mr. Peirce expresses it. The ultimate test for us of what the truth means is indeed the conduct it dictates or inspires . . . . And I should prefer . . . to express Peirce's principle by saying that the effective meaning of any philosophical proposition can always be brought down to some particular consequence, in our future practical experience." Ibid., p. 141. [Back]

{19} Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logicus Philosophicus, trans. C. K. Ogden (1922): #4.003. [Back]

{20} Ibid., #6.53. Anticipating our discussion of Fine it should be obvious that these words might have been written by Fine himself. It would be difficult to see a difference between Fine and the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus. [Back]

{21} For Rorty's discussion of the views of the early as well as the latter Wittgenstein see his Consequences of Pragmatism, Ch. 2 "Keeping Philosophy Pure: An Essay on Wittgenstein." [Back]

{22} When I had Ayer for a course in contemporary philosophy at City College of CUNY in 1962, he no longer subscribed to the verification principle. [Back]

{23} A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic (London, First Edition 1936; Second Edition 1946): p. 53. [Back]

{24} See, for example, the work of Michael Scriven which documents a tremendous variety of kinds of explanations in science. [Back]

{25} Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962; 2nd ed., 1970). Hereafter referred to as SSR. It is worth noting that Kuhn himself acknowledges Wittgenstein as an important influence. [Back]

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