Friday, February 20, 2009

Some Thoughts on Hard Naturalism

I define hard naturalism as the thesis that only physical entities describable by the natural sciences exist and secondly that in principle descriptions, even if philosophical, must be brought into line with what the natural sciences describe as real. Hard naturalism has the effect of either taking a hard-driven reductionism in which complex notions regarded as irreducible can either be eliminated in explanation by reference to natural parts, or a commitment to pluralism of posited objects. The former is more orthodox, and the latter is more controversial since it fails to explain why there is overlap between scientific theorizing of the various disciplines. Pluralism might be more plausible to its adherents that feel that unifying grounds of explanation in science are moribund. The scientific disciplines have become so thematic, specific and independent that this obsoleteness is not a product of the social organization of knowledge seeking, but revelatory of the phenomena studied. Reality is, after all, complex.

In the following post, I detail how it is that hard naturalism is mistaken. There are some problems it encounters. First, I will deal with hard naturalism qua reductionism. Reductionist naturalism is itself an ideation of the intuition that reality is organized into causal interactions of parts and wholes. They would pretend this is only a generalization of specific cases of the “doings of science”. However, even in generalizations you run into the same problem. Generalizations and ideations require the regulative function of ideals. These ideals are universalizing the specific cases, and generalizing is just a locution to pretend that the generalizations aren’t universal. In order to perform any reduction of explanation, it has to hold that reality is organized into parts and wholes, which of course is a peculiar relationship that cannot be explained away by reference to a smaller part. In this way, logical truths necessary to express generalizing and universal features of explanation, as well as the intuitions, like ‘reality is organized into causal interactions of parts and wholes’, necessitate the irreducibility of the objective categories.

The second form of my brief excursion into naturalism is more problematic. Hard naturalism qua pluralism posits objects as needed in explanation. Such pluralism, I imagine, might be mitigated to Ockham’s razor so that positing would not “get out of hand.” Pluralism will foster the natural attitude that what is posited is real, and corresponds to reality when actually it is our best model up to date. However, most scientists require that explanations are revisable in some fashion. A good pluralist would be a good reviser, making changes where needed. Yet, pluralistic naturalism still ignores the central role that consciousness plays in our knowledge of the world. We can only posit objects as needed because we are conscious of the very need to posit. For the phenomenologist understands rightly that knowledge is a subjective accomplishment, an accomplishment of a particular knower. If the pluralism is open to the phenomenological, then such openness would no longer serve as a problem for the naturalistic pluralism.

On the first account, hard naturalism is defeated since it cannot ignore the very idealism it seeks to eliminate. On the second account, positing is a particular achievement of a subject, and positing cannot be taken to be what the natural attitude would pass over as a third-person feature of explanations themselves. Pluralism can be opened to phenomenology by making the move to incorporate the phenomenological as another level of complexity. On my end, it would be hard to ignore.

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