Philosophy Word of the Day — Critical Realism

“Critical realism affirms that objects exist independently of our thoughts about them (realism) and asserts that human knowledge of reality is a progressive dialogue between knower and known (critical).  Critical realists argue that in human perception some qualities or properties accurately represent external objects while some sensory data do not accurately represent reality.  Thus critical realists locate their position between direct realism, which takes the immediate objects of perception to be external objects, and antirealism, which denies that the human mind can know anything external to itself.

In philosophy of science, critical realism upholds the real existence of the entities and processes that are investigated and endorses scientific method as a form of rationality that is appropriate for confirming theories (and thus generating knowledge) about a real world that exists independently of the human mind.” [. . . ]

— Michael L. Peterson in A Science and Religion Primer, 73.



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Dallas Willard on Science

“ ‘Science,’ as now generally understood, actually combines appeals to all three sources [of knowledge: authority, reason, and experience], but in undigested and incoherent ways that permit it to be manipulated in the public arena, where policy issues are in question, for numerous unscientific and political purposes.  Indeed, nothing would be more helpful in the midst of today’s confusions than a thorough understanding of the nature and limitations of “science” itself.

“But the sciences themselves cannot provide such an understanding, because each one is limited to its peculiar subject matter (which certainly is not “science”), and so the necessary work cannot be done in any way that is “scientific” under current understandings.  That reveals the impasse of modern life.  Science is the presumed authority on knowledge, but it cannot provide scientific knowledge of science.

“. . . No science is omnicompetent, nor, very likely, is any [particular] “scientifically minded” person.  But given the present confusions in the world of intellect, this seems to be a point easily missed.  Actually, what we see here are the influences of an unsupported worldview.”

— Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today, 60-61.



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Philosophy Word of the Day — Pierre Duhem

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“Pierre Duhem (1861–1916) was a French physicist and historian and philosopher of science. As a physicist, he championed “energetics,” holding generalized thermodynamics as foundational for physical theory, that is, thinking that all of chemistry and physics, including mechanics, electricity, and magnetism, should be derivable from thermodynamic first principles.

“In philosophy of science, he is best known for his work on the relation between theory and experiment, arguing that hypotheses are not straightforwardly refuted by experiment and that there are no crucial experiments in science. In history of science, he produced massive groundbreaking work in medieval science and defended a thesis of continuity between medieval and early modern science.” (continue article)

— Roger Ariew in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Natural Philosophy

“The study of nature or of the spatiotemporal world.  This was regarded as a task for philosophy before the emergence of modern science, especially physics and astronomy, and the term is now only used with reference to premodern times.  Philosophical questions about nature still remain, e.g., whether materialism is true, but they would usually be placed in metaphysics or in a branch of it that may be called philosophy of nature.

“Natural philosophy is not to be confused with metaphysical naturalism, which is the metaphysical view (no part of science itself) that all there is is the spatiotemporal world and that the only way to study it is that of the empirical sciences.  It is also not to be confused with natural theology, which also may be considered part of metaphysics.”

— Panayot Butchvarov in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed., 600.

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Willard Van Orman Quine (1908–2000)

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Willard Van Orman Quine (1908–2000) worked in theoretical philosophy and in logic. (In practical philosophy, ethics and political philosophy, his contributions are negligible.) He is perhaps best known for his arguments against Logical Empiricism (in particular, its use of the analytic-synthetic distinction). This argument, however, should be seen as part of a comprehensive world-view which makes no sharp distinction between philosophy and empirical science and thus requires a wholesale reorientation of the subject. . . .

Quine’s philosophical thought is remarkably consistent over the course of his long working life. There are, of course, developments, as he comes to appreciate difficulties in his view, or its implications, or distinctions that need to be made. Outright changes of mind, however, are relatively rare and mostly on relatively minor points. We can, for the most part, treat him as holding a single philosophical view; what he calls naturalism is fundamental to that view. This is not to say that his naturalism was self-conscious and explicit from the start. It was, rather, something that he became clearer about over the years. . . .

At one point, Quine describes naturalism as “the recognition that it is within science itself, and not in some prior philosophy, that reality is to be identified and described” (1981, 21). . . .

Many philosophers would no doubt accept that the methods and techniques of science are the best way to find out about the world. . . .  The distinctiveness of Quine’s naturalism begins to emerge if we ask what justifies this naturalistic claim: what reason do we have to believe that the methods and techniques of science are the best way to find out about the world? Quine would insist that this claim too must be based on natural science. (If this is circular, he simply accepts the circularity.) This is the revolutionary step, naturalism self-applied. There is no foundation for Quine’s naturalism: it not based on anything else. (Continue article)

– Peter Hylton in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Update:  The following information on an upcoming conference on W. V.  Quine was helpfully provided by Douglas Quine:

The young researchers’ group APhEx (Analytical and Philosophical Explanation) has organized an international conference on W. V. Quine at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”: “Word and Object” 50 years later: Colloquium in Celebration of W.V.O. Quine May 28-29, 2010. Department of Philosophical and Epistemological Studies
Faculty of Philosophy, University of Rome “La Sapienza”, Via Carlo Fea, 2 – Villa Mirafiori, Rome, Italy. Details are available at the W. V. Quine website:

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Quotable – J. P. Moreland on Philosophy and Science

“Philosophy undergirds science by providing its presuppositions:  Science (at least as most scientists and philosophers understand it) assumes that the universe is intelligible and not capricious, that the mind and senses inform us about reality, that mathematics and language can be applied to the world, that knowledge is possible, that there is a uniformity in nature that justifies inductive inferences from the past to the future and form examined cases of, say, electrons, to unexamined cases, and so forth.  These and other presuppositions of science . . . are philosophical in nature.”

J. P. Moreland, Christianity and the Nature of Science (Baker, 1989, p. 45)

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Aristotle’s Natural Philosophy

Aristotle had a lifelong interest in the study of nature. He investigated a variety of different topics, ranging from general issues like motion, causation, place and time, to systematic explorations and explanations of natural phenomena across different kinds of natural entities. These different inquiries are integrated into the framework of a single overarching enterprise describing the domain of natural entities. Aristotle provides the general theoretical framework for this enterprise in his Physics, a treatise which divides into two main parts, the first an inquiry into nature (books 1-4) and the second a treatment of motion (books 5-8).

In this work, Aristotle sets out the conceptual apparatus for his analysis, provides definitions of his fundamental concepts, and argues for specific theses about motion, causation, place and time, and establishes in bk. 8 the existence of the unmoved mover of the universe, a supra-physical entity, without which the physical domain could not remain in existence. He takes up problems of special interest to physics (such as the problem of generation and perishing) in a series of further physical treatises, some of which are devoted to particular physical domains: the De generatione et corruptione (On Generation and Perishing), the De caelo (On the Heavens), and the Meteorology, which lead up to the treatises on biology and psychology. (Continue article)

(Via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996)

In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the most influential book in modern philosophy of science, Kuhn argues that scientists work within and against the background of an unquestioned theory or set of beliefs, something he characterizes as a ‘paradigm.’

Sometimes, however, a paradigm seems to come unstuck, and it is necessary that a new one be provided.  What makes Kuhn’s positions stimulating and controversial is the central claim that there can be no strictly logical reason for the change of a paradigm.  As in political revolutions, partisans argue in a circular fashion from within their own camps.

Expectedly, this claim was anathema to old-fashioned rationalists like Karl Popper, for whom science is the apotheosis of sound and logical defensible thought.  Paradoxically, however, Kuhn and Popper are both evolutionary epistemologists, seeing essential analogies between their (very different) views of scientific change and the evolution of organisms.”

Michael Ruse in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (1995)

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An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design

Philosopher Bradley Monton’s new book Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design is now available.  The publisher’s website gives this description:

The doctrine of intelligent design is often the subject of acrimonious debate. Seeking God in Science cuts through the rhetoric that distorts the debates between religious and secular camps. Bradley Monton, a philosopher of science and an atheist, carefully considers the arguments for intelligent design and argues that intelligent design deserves serious consideration as a scientific theory.

Monton also gives a lucid account of the debate surrounding the inclusion of intelligent design in public schools and presents reason why students’ science education could benefit from a careful consideration of the arguments for and against it.

Douglas Groothuis provides an endorsement:

“Seeking God in Science is a refreshing and fair-minded exploration of intelligent design arguments. Unlike the many ideologically-driven detractors of intelligent design, Monton refuses to set up a straw man, poison the well, or dismiss it as unscientific. Bradley Monton writes as “a friendly atheist”—one who seriously and honestly considers claims that challenge atheism. As such, this book is a welcome breakthrough.”– Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy, Denver Seminary

Dr. Monton was the moderator of the recent Craig-Ayala debate, available to download here (MP3).


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Philosophy Word of the Day – Knowledge and Science

“Science systematically corrects the errors of common sense.  Thus, from science we learned that, contrary to first appearances, the sun does not go round the earth each day.  But what happens when science seems to undermine not particular beliefs, but whole tracts of experience?  Can science really tell us that, say, the world is not in itself coloured or that the famous solid, unmoving table of Eddington’s physicist is mostly empty space thinly populated with rapidly moving particles?

Too radical a correction of common sense by science runs the danger of depriving scientific theories of the ultimately commonsensical evidential basis on which they depend.  It would be safer to regard the theories of science as a whole as offering highly generalized and effective abstractions from the richness of what there is, rather than as the only or the whole truth.”

Anthony O’Hear in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (1995)

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