September 5, 2011

I'M ORTHODOX, WHATEVER MY PEERS DETERMINE THAT ORTHODOXY TO ENTAIL:

What Is Naturalism? (TIMOTHY WILLIAMSON, 9/05/11, NY Times)

Many contemporary philosophers describe themselves as naturalists. They mean that they believe something like this: there is only the natural world, and the best way to find out about it is by the scientific method. I am sometimes described as a naturalist. Why do I resist the description? Not for any religious scruple: I am an atheist of the most straightforward kind. But accepting the naturalist slogan without looking beneath the slick packaging is an unscientific way to form one's beliefs about the world, not something naturalists should recommend.

What, for a start, is the natural world? If we say it is the world of matter, or the world of atoms, we are left behind by modern physics, which characterizes the world in far more abstract terms. Anyway, the best current scientific theories will probably be superseded by future scientific developments. We might therefore define the natural world as whatever the scientific method eventually discovers.


What an exquisitely unthinking quality such belief requires.

MORE:
Putting Man Before Descartes: Human knowledge is personal and participant--placing us at the center of the universe (John Lukacs, American Scholar)

Knowledge, which is neither objective nor subjective, is always personal. Not individual: personal. The concept of the individual has been one of the essential misconceptions of political liberalism. Every human being is unique, but he does not exist alone. He is dependent on others (a human baby for much longer than the offspring of other animals); his existence is inseparable from his relations with other human beings.

But there is more to that. Our knowledge is not only personal; it is also participant. There is--yet there cannot be--a separation of the knower from the known. We must see further than this. It is not enough to recognize the impossibility (perhaps even the absurdity) of the ideal of their antiseptic, objective separation. What concerns--or should concern--us is something more than the inseparability; it is the involvement of the knower with the known. That this is so when it comes to the reading, researching, writing, and thinking of history should be rather obvious. Detachment from one's passions and memories is often commendable. But detachment, too, is something different from separation; it involves the ability (issuing from one's willingness) to achieve a stance of a longer or higher perspective. The choice for such a stance does not necessarily mean a reduction of one's personal interest, of participation--perhaps even the contrary.

This inevitable involvement of the knower with the known exists not only in the relations of human beings with other human beings, but also in what we call "science," man's knowledge of physical things, of nature, of matter. I shall come to this later. Before that, a few words about the relationship of mind and matter. Did--does--matter exist independent of the human mind? It did and it does; but, without the human mind, matter's existence is meaningless--indeed, without the human mind, we cannot think of its existence at all. In this sense it may even be argued that mind preceded and may precede matter (or what we see and then call "matter").

In any case, the relations of mind and matter are not simple; they are not mechanical.

What matters is the necessary and historic recognition that the human mind intrudes into causality, into the relation of causes and effects.

Causality--the how and why--has varied forms and meanings (Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas listed four); but for centuries the terms of mechanical causality have dominated our world and our categories of thinking. All of the practical applications of science, everything that is technical, inevitably depend on the three conditions of mechanical causality: (1) the same causes must have the same effects; (2) there must be an equivalence of causes and effects; (3) the causes must precede their effects. None of this necessarily applies to human beings, to the functioning of their minds, to their lives, and especially to their history.


Posted by at September 5, 2011 7:15 AM
  

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