January 22, 2012


The Splintered Skeptic (Eric Schwitzgebel interviewed by Richard Marshall, 3AM Magazine)

Eric Schwitzgebel is a mad dog crazyist philosopher at the University of California, Riverside and argues really cool and smart ideas. He also hosts one of the top philosophy blogs, The Splintered Mind and writes books about his thoughts. He likes to have experiments to back up his philosophy, so he's a kind of experimental philosophy guy like Josh Knobe.

3:AM: You have come to suggest a new philosophical position, 'Crazyism', which is partly motivated by this work but broadens out into the thought that all metaphysical positions have to accept some counter-intuitivism somewhere along the line. Is this right? Can you explain your thinking here and why we should all be crazyists?

ES: Bizarre views are a hazard of metaphysics. If you look across the history of philosophy, all metaphysicians say crazy-seeming things when they talk in depth about such issues as the mind-body relation, personal identity, causation, and the basic ontological structure of the universe. Even philosophers who explicitly prize common sense can't seem to keep true to common sense about such matters. The great "common sense" Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid, for example, attributed immaterial souls to vegetables and said that physical objects can't even cohere into stable shapes without the regular intervention of immaterial souls. So here's the question: Why? Why are there no truly commonsensical metaphysicians? Nietzsche, Leibniz, Schopenhauer, Descartes, David Lewis - all of them say some incredibly bizarre-seeming stuff. Why is metaphysics so uniformly crazy?

My suggestion is this: Common sense is incoherent in matters of metaphysics. There's no way to develop an ambitious, broad-ranging, self-consistent metaphysical system without doing serious violence to common sense somewhere. It's just impossible. Since common sense is an inconsistent system, you can't respect it all. Every metaphysician will have to violate it somewhere.

Common sense is an acceptable guide to everyday practical interactions with the world. But there's no reason to think it would be a good guide to the fundamental structure of the universe. Think about all the weirdness of quantum mechanics, all the weirdness of relativity theory. The more we learn about such things, the more it seems we're forced to leave common sense behind. The same is probably true about metaphysics.

But here's the catch: Without common sense as a guide, metaphysics is hobbled as an enterprise. You can't do an empirical study, for example, to determine whether there really is a material world out there or whether everything is instead just ideas in our minds coordinated by god. You can't do an empirical study to determine whether there really exist an infinite number of universes with different laws of physics, entirely out of causal contact with our own. We're stuck with common sense, plausibility arguments, and theoretical elegance - and none of these should rightly be regarded as decisive on such matters, whenever there are several very different and yet attractive contender positions, as there always are.

This is the turf we defended in the now won Long War.  It all just amounted to the Faith of the Anglosphere vs. the Reason of the continent.

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Posted by at January 22, 2012 7:53 AM

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