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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Reductionist Materialism Is Obviously Wrong, and...

non-reductionist materialism tends to wind up being not materialism:
The question is whether they can reject reductionism consistent with maintaining a position that can in any interesting sense be called “naturalistic.” In particular, non-reductionistic versions of materialism have a tendency to collapse into either property dualism -- the sort of view defended by Chalmers -- or a quasi-Aristotelian commitment to formal and final causes -- which (as I noted in my own review of Nagel) is essentially what Nagel is defending. So, if one rejects both Chalmers’ and Nagel’s views (as, of course, Dupré does) it is no good to note that most naturalists are no longer reductionists, and leave it at that. One needs to show that this anti-reductionism doesn’t effectively put these naturalists precisely into either Chalmers’ camp or Nagel’s; and Dupré does nothing to show this.
Note: This is Feser's response to John Dupré's complaint that Nagel shouldn't be addressing reductionism, because, Dupré says, no one in the philosophy of science takes reductionism seriously anymore. So any reductionist citing Dupré and claiming "See, here's a prominent philosopher who agrees with my rejection of Nagel," is taking an odd stance since, in fact, Dupré criticizes Nagel for writing a book rejecting your position because, he says, essentially everyone in the philosophy of science now rejects your position, so what's the point of criticizing something so obviously wrong?

Therefore, what is going on here is we have two atheist philosophers both agreeing that of course reductionism is wrong, but arguing as to whether that leaves us a materialist option or not. That such an argument is taking place offers little comfort to reductionists.

And Brad DeLong is as far from understanding what is actually under dispute here as is a Amazonian tribesman from comprehending a dispute between two aeronautical engineers as to what actually creates lift in an aircraft. Instead he stands in the jungle in a loincloth shaking a spear and shouting the name of his god, "Darwin!" as their helicopters fly by, way over his head.

6 comments:

  1. "no one in the philosophy of science takes reductionism seriously anymore"

    Mebbe so. Scientists do. And when I read Churchland she seemed pretty reductionist. Sam Harris is 100% reductionist. OOPS I forgot he actually knows the science. Pardon my smuggling his name in!

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    1. "Mebbe so. Scientists do."

      FALSE!!! It was partially the stubborn refusal of scientists to reduce chemistry to physics, molecular biology to chemistry, genetics to molecular biology, physiology to molecular biology, and so on that convinced philosophers that reductionism is false!

      "Sam Harris is 100% reductionist."

      Hilarious!! He's a neuroscientist: a science that has refused to be reduced to a lower level!

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    2. You're using some mistaken notion of reduction then Gene. No-one for instance denies that chemistry is reducible to physics. All the properties of bonds and atoms derive ultimately from the quantum equations. That's a reduction. Reductionism does not mean doing away with a level of discourse.
      Genetics is discussed and conducted in terms of information and energetics. But the mechanisms of those are indeed explicated and identified with molecular events. That does not mean we don't need to talk information to talk genes. It means we only need chemistry not life force or information essence to talk information. Etc.

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    3. Ken, this is mere hand waving.

      "No-one for instance denies that chemistry is reducible to physics."

      Rubbish. I've just noted several people who deny it.

      If you can't do away with the level of discourse, then, as I noted, this "reductionism" is just a declaration of faith.

      Which it is.

      You might try reading, say, "1953 and all that." And actually know the science.

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  2. I think that most of this argument is a lack of clarity between whether materialist reductionism is ontologically accurate and whether it is useful.

    One, some scientists and most philosophers of science think materialist reductionism is probably not an effective means for humans to accumulate knowledge. Modeling problems are often intractable(Navier-Stokes, PvNP, observing initial microstates and isolating systems is damned difficult). The hierarchal view of hard to soft sciences is probably not useful. (e.g. Information in chemistry is hard to reduce to physics, and non-reductive methods can provide more accurate answers to chemistry questions with greater ease than attempting to reduce to underlying physics.)

    Two, most scientists and some philosophers of science think that materialist reductionism is an ontologically accurate description of the universe. Ontologically accurate in the sense that any change on a macroscopic level requires a change on the microscopic level and that emergent properties are psychological phenomena.(e.g. color is a contingent property of our brain chemistry, but if I see a different color, something changed in my brain)

    If one may only prove the statements above using the methods of analytic philosophy (a priori deduction), then they're open questions and, right now, essentially articles of faith. If you permit empirical methods, then both statements are quite likely to be correct. If you don't think that there is sufficient evidence to explain the statements above or you disagree on more fundamental grounds, please explain.

    Otherwise, I think that the issue can be closed.

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    1. "One, some scientists and most philosophers of science think materialist reductionism is probably not an effective means for humans to accumulate knowledge. Modeling problems are often intractable(Navier-Stokes, PvNP, observing initial microstates and isolating systems is damned difficult). The hierarchal view of hard to soft sciences is probably not useful. (e.g. Information in chemistry is hard to reduce to physics, and non-reductive methods can provide more accurate answers to chemistry questions with greater ease than attempting to reduce to underlying physics.)"

      So, empirically speaking, all the evidence is against you: chemistry hasn't been successfully reduced to physics, biology hasn't been successfully reduced to chemistry, etc. Reductive materialism is merely blind faith.

      "emergent properties are psychological phenomena."

      Now we are faced with a statement equivalent to "The world rests on the back of a turtle, and that rests on a turtle." Since, you know, psychology itself is supposed to be one of those emergent properties.

      "If you permit empirical methods..."

      Reductionism appears to be a huge failure.

      Here is an empirical prediction: this actual fact will not shake your faith in the least.

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