Naturalism

Now, no one has a patent or copyright on the use of the word "naturalism," so anything one says about what it means can be contradicted somewhere in the works of people who call themselves adherents of naturalism. Therefore I am just going to describe a typical view that I have seen out there: "Nothing exists except the sort of things described in the theories of physics." (That exact definition of naturalism is not given in the Wikipedia entry, but I know I have seen it stated: if this were an academic paper, I would go hunt down the exact place I saw it, but this is just a blog post.)

There is a rather obvious incoherence in this idea: One of the things that is very much not described by the theories of physics is.. the theories of physics. (These theories are about quarks and electrons and photons and forces and so on: they never are about theories themselves, or how theories come to exist, or causal relationships between theories, etc.) Therefore, the theories of physics are not real entities in the world. So naturalism, in this version, essentially says, "The only real things are the things in that box over there, which, by the way, does not exist."

This is why when Keshav, for instance, tells me that "But naturalists often believe X," I tell him that this is beside the point: once you have excepted a contradiction at the core of your philosophical thought, all bets are off: you might as well throw in whatever other ideas seem convenient as well, since logic has been tossed out the window.

And I don't for a second think that this is some novel discovery of mine: many, many philosophers have pointed this out previously. I am just doing my small bit to stem the tide of nonsense.

2 comments:

  1. I saw an example of this last night. I was reading Stephen Hawking's *A Briefer History of Time* to my son (which I got him for Christmas) and Hawking was talking about how physicists want a theory that combines general relativity and quantum mechanics in order to "describe everything in the universe."

    I thought that probably this theory wouldn't explain why Ron fought with Hermione so much in *Harry Potter*, or why calculus works for that matter.

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    1. Nor would it explain the theory itself, or how physicists decided the theory was true.

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