Eugene Lashchyk, Contingent Scientific Realism and Instrumentalism, 1992

D. The Tasks of Philosophy for Post-Foundationalist Times

But what if anything positive can be learned about the nature of the philosophical enterprise from this brief excursion into history? Let me venture some tentative proposals:

1. The "End of Philosophy" Without An End.

Announcements of the end of some branch of philosophy or of a certain kind of philosophy is a recurring theme in the history of philosophy. Philosophy has refused to die in spite of such pronouncements. Paraphraising Mark Twain one could say that the announcement of the death of philosophy is greatly exagerated. It is instructive here to look at the history of science. History shows us that theories in physics, for example, come and go but physics remains. Why not the same for philosophy?

2. Not the End of Philosophy But Philosophical Pluralism

The best way to specify a philosophical position is to contrast it with those philosophical positions that are opposed or even incommensurable to it as well as to exhibit those positions that come closest to it. Past philosophical positions provide the language for describing ones stand at the present juncture in life, in science, and in society. One can easily see how past philosophical positions function as the language of current positions by taking even a cursorv look at the writings of Rortv, Margolis or d'Espagnat. But for this process to be most useful one has to encourage philosophers to develop novel philosophical positions which are incompatible with some dominant position. This proposal echoes Feyerabend's proposals of theoretical pluralism for science.

3. The Critical Function Of Philosophy

One way to determine the strengths and weaknesses of a philosophical or scientific theory is to see how well it holds up against a well developed philosophical position. Having an epistemological or metaphysical position is the best launching pad for a critique of some concepts within a philosophical or scientific theory. See below for a discussion of how Hume's and Mach's philosophy enabled Einstein to question the notions of absolute space and time in Newtonian physics. Einstein's requirements for an adequate theory in science initiated a research program and a search for a scientific theory that would replace the probabilistic laws of quantum mechanics. Most scientists have now abandoned the search for such a theory and the hidden variables and have, some reluctantly, settled for quantum mechanics. But this does not invalidate the positive function that such ideals of a world order can have on the future developments of science. Here philosophy has the function of a heuristic for the development of imaginative new theories in science. See below for a discussion of the role of Dialectical Materialism in the search of alternative theories in science.

4. The Task Of Philosophy Is To Show How It All Hangs Together

I have already discussed above how Thomistic philosophy and theology integrated Aristotelian physics and philosophy, Ptolemaic Astronomy, and Christian religion. The Thomistic synthesis could serve as a paradigm of a philosophy that showed how it all hung together. When I studied Thomism in colleqe in the late fifties I felt that it still had the power to show how it all hanged together. Descartes, Kant, Hegel, and Marx (to name only a few) each created a philosophy that provided a new synthesis and thereby showed how it all hangs together. Loren Graham argues in his new book that dialectical materialism is a philosophy that seems best suited for the twentieth century in showing how it all is integrated. One has to see whether the new strange features or really such as "superposition", "indefiniteness", "entanglements" can he adequately handled by dialectical materialism.{72} The prospects are dim.

5. Philosophy as the Search for Transcendental Arquments

There has recently been a revival of a revised notion of transcendental arguments in philosophy. Some, like Margolis, take such arguments to provide a task for philosophy in its post-foundationalist period. According to Margolis transcendental arguments are attempts at exploring "the best conjecture regarding the necessary conditions of knowledge and experience".{73} Or in another place he says "Transcendental arguments do not "legitimate" knowledge claims but legitimate only the conceptual plausibility of viewing our internalist (e) claims as having externalist (o) import.{74}

Since this proposal is so new let me provide in full Margolis' 10 conditions of transcendental arguments:

A transcendental argument is:
  1. a sui generis empirical argument;
  2. internal (o) and internal (e);
  3. not formulable as deductive or inductive or canonically fixed.
  4. second order;
  5. concerned with the necessary conditions for some range of human experience or knowledge or capacity to act in a cognitively informed way;
  6. construed as providing external (external o) conditions for the conceptual possibility of such experience or knowledge or capacity;
  7. (hence) unavoidably rhetorical in some measure, logically informal, open to plural nonconverging, even incompatible (or relativistic) alternatives;
  8. persuasive in accord with the argumentative practices in a historical and historically minded society;
  9. extended and disciplined analogically, from salient exemplars drawn from actual, pertinent practices; and
  10. (therefore) incapable of being totalized, inherently provisional, and formulated (in that sense) only as an inference to the best explanation.

Naturally, these brief remarks, which need much more exploration, only whet our appetite concerning these new types of arguments, but they do provide a prima facie plausible new task for philosophy and a response to Rorty's end of philosophy pronouncements.

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{72} For a definition of these and other strange properties of the new reality, see Shimony's 1988 article. [Back]

{73} Margolis, Praqmatism Without Foundations. p. 303 [Back]

{74} Ibid., p. 302. [Back]

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