Chasing Reality

Chasing Reality: Strife over Realism

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Chasing Reality
    Book Description:

    Chasing Realitydeals with the controversies over the reality of the external world. Distinguished philosopher Mario Bunge offers an extended defence of realism, a critique of various forms of contemporary anti-realism, and a sketch of his own version of realism, namely hylorealism. Bunge examines the main varieties of antirealism - Berkeley's, Hume's, and Kant's; positivism, phenomenology, and constructivism - and argues that all of these in fact hinder scientific research.

    Bunge's realist contention is that genuine explanations in the sciences appeal to causal laws and mechanisms that are not directly observable, rather than simply to empirical generalisations. Genuine science, in his view, is objective even when it deals with subjective phenomena such as feelings of fear. This work defends a realist view of universals, kinds, possibilities, and dispositions, while rejecting contemporary accounts of these that are couched in terms of modal logic and 'possible worlds.'

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7285-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-8)

    The central theme of this book, namely, the search for reality, may be introduced through three short stories. The first is this. The Sun sunk beyond the horizon, and all animal life seemed to come to a standstill. The little girl asked: Did the Sun really sink, and did all the animals die? Teacher: No, it just looked that way. What really happened was that the Earth spun eastward until we were no longer facing the Sun. It also happened that, because of the ensuing darkness, the diurnal animals went to sleep. In sum, sundown, just like sunrise, are only...

  5. 1 Reality and Hylorealism
    (pp. 9-33)

    We deal with facts all the time, yet there is no consensus on the meaning of the very word ‘fact,’ particularly since in ordinary language it is often confused with either ‘datum’ or ‘truth.’ This confusion is likely to stem from Sanskrit, whose wordsatyameans both “existent” and “true.” So, there is room for puzzling. Are laws and rules facts? Are there general facts? Are social constructions, such as legal codes, facts? Is it a fact that 2 + 2 = 4? How do propositions relate to facts in the external world? And what did Wittgenstein (1922: 1.13) mean...

  6. 2 Phenomena, Phenomenalism, and Science
    (pp. 34-55)

    The distinction between subject and object, or explorer and territory, is commonsensical. This distinction is enshrined in naive realism, the tacit epistemology of nearly everyone. Moreover, that distinction would seem to be essential to animal life: just think of the chances a gazelle would stand if did not instinctively acknowledge the real existence of lions in its outer world. Yet, a famous Harvard philosopher (Putnam 1990: 122) once announced that “the idea of discourse-independent objects ... has crumbled under philosophical critique” – in particular that of Wittgenstein, Carnap, and Quine. So, don’t worry, gazelle, the lion is only in your mind;...

  7. 3 Antirealism Today: Positivism, Phenomenology, Constructivism
    (pp. 56-87)

    The standard histories of philosophy suggest that Kant’s line died out with the now forgotten neo-Kantian philosophers, such as Lange, Vaihinger, Natorp, Cohen, Windelband, Rickert (Weber’s philosophical mentor), Cassirer, and Bauch – Carnap’s thesis supervisor. I submit that Kant’s subjectivism was also a major source of several other schools, some of which have been far more influential than orthodox neo-Kantianism. Those schools are the radical subjectivisms of Fichte and Schopenhauer; the classical positivist doctrines of Comte and Mill; Nietzsche’s combination of pragmatism and relativism; pragmatism (or instrumentalism) from William James (but not Charles S. Peirce) and John Dewey onwards; Vaihinger’s fictionism;...

  8. 4 Causation and Chance: Apparent or Real?
    (pp. 88-118)

    Appearances do not exhibit causal connections: all we perceive are events – simultaneous or successive, contiguous or distanced, external or internal, real or illusory. For instance, we hear a clap of thunder after seeing a flash of lightning, but we do not perceive the causal connection between the two events: we only conjecture that the latter caused the former. This is why phenomenalists, from David Hume (1888 [1734]) to David Lewis (1998), have had no use for the notion of objective causation–even though, presumably, they took part in myriad causal chains. And this, in turn, is why the word ‘causation’...

  9. 5 Behind Screens: Mechanisms
    (pp. 119-144)

    Scientists and technologists endeavour to find out how things work, that is, what their mechanisms ormodi operandiare. This is how they advance from appearance to reality, and from description to explanation. By contrast, the superstitious do not look for mechanisms. For example, some parapsychologists believe in the possibility of moving things by sheer mental power (psychokinesis). If they were to inquire into the way psychokinesis works, or rather does not, they would realize that it is impossible if only because it involves the creation of energy.

    A similar reasoning is used in evaluating inventions: no patent is ever...

  10. 6 From Z to A: Inverse Problems
    (pp. 145-164)

    It is well known that engaging in research of any kind is to tackle cognitive problems. This is why a well-written paper starts by stating the problem(s) it tackles, and ends up by listing some open problems. The general concept of a problem should therefore be central to the study of knowledge. Yet the philosophical literature about problems in general – their logic, semantics, epistemology, and methodology – is scandalously poor. In particular, nearly all philosophers, social scientists, and policy-makers have ignored the very existence of inverse (or backward) problems. The exception has been the so-called problem of induction (Data ➝ Hypothesis),...

  11. 7 Bridging Fact and Theory
    (pp. 165-187)

    In this chapter we will carry on the investigation of inverse problems begun in the previous chapter. But here we will concentrate on the dual problems of how to go from facts to hypothesis or theory and how to subject the latter to reality checks. In other words, we will study the problems of how to move from “the given” to the far wider and deeper sought-for and how to force a theory to face facts. We shall also tackle the converse problem: How does one go down from high-level theories that make no direct reference to any data to...

  12. 8 To Reality through Fiction
    (pp. 188-217)

    At first sight, materialists cannot countenance abstract objects, such as theories and myths, because these are immaterial; and realists could not admit them either because they are not out there. In fact, the medieval nominalists, who were at once materialists and realists (in the modern sense of this term), admitted only one kind of entity, the concrete individual – in addition to God and the angels. In particular, Buridan conflated propositions with sentences, and identified these with single utterances or inscriptions, believing that these are just physical objects (see Scott 1966).

    This is why the modern nominalists use the expressions ‘sentential...

  13. 9 Transcendentals Are Of This World
    (pp. 218-249)

    Anything not encountered in experience is usually called ‘transcendental.’ Like all negative definitions, this one is ambiguous. Indeed, according to it, intuitions and a priori ideas, along with universals and theological items, qualify as transcendental. For example, the idealist philosophies of Plato, Leibniz, Hegel, Fichte, Bolzano, and Husserl are transcendental because they do not rely on experience. By contrast, Berkeley’s, Hume’s, Comte’s, Mill’s, and Mach’s philosophies are not transcendental because of their empiricism. And Kant’s philosophy is only semi-transcendental because, though aprioristic and intuitionist, it is also semi-empiricist on account of its phenomenalism.

    From a practical viewpoint, transcendental items, or...

  14. 10 From Plato’s Cave to Galileo’s Hill: Realism Vindicated
    (pp. 250-282)

    Although philosophical realism is practised by all sane people, antirealism flares up once in a while, even in such unexpected quarters as marketing and management. In particular, realism is one of thebêtes noiresof postmodernism, that bulldozer of everything that is good about modernity – in particular, trust in reason and the search for the true, the good, and the right. Hence, if we wish to stop that bulldozer, we must defend philosophical realism among other things.

    The philosophical realism I advocate is a comprehensive doctrine. Indeed, it is a system with seven components: ontological, epistemological, semantic, methodological, axiological (or...

  15. Appendix Fact and Pattern
    (pp. 283-302)
  16. References
    (pp. 303-326)
  17. Index of Names
    (pp. 327-334)
  18. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 335-342)