Nature & Plato, etc. 


Perhaps the most difficult challenge for the naturalists is the naturalizing of epistemology.  It appears that epistemology has an irreducibly normative aspect, and although norms can be naturalized to a degree, normativity per se entails an irreducible rationality. 

The deeper worry is that even if naturalized epistemology can account for what makes one normative standard better than another, it provides a model of the human agent that cannot make sense of how there can be responsible active users of norms at all.  It cannot make sense of normativity.  This charge underlies Davidson’s anomalous monism: our practice of thinking and evaluating through the use of propositional attitudes is subject to a ‘constitutive ideal of rationality’ which cannot be fully explained in naturalistic terms.

There is also the slight problem of providing a naturalized epistemology of mathematics.  [Indeed, see the work of Zalta, et al. at the MRL, noted below.] 

Christopher Hookway, the author in question, reports that as of 1990, Quine had converted from his radical epistemic naturalism to Davidson's anomalous monism: 

What does Quine say about this ‘anomalous monism’?  He insists that there are ‘irreducibly mental ways of grouping’ events: ‘grouping a lot of respectably physical perceptions as perceptions that p, and grouping a lot of respectably physical belief instances as the belief that p’. (Quine, 1990, p, 71). Moreover there is ‘no dismissing’ this way of talking since it ‘implements vital communication and harbors indispensable lore about human activity and motivation, past and expected.’


Then we have Laurence BonJour, In Defense of Pure Reason: A Rationalist Account of a Priori Justification (1997, CUP). 

'Although he has been thinking and writing about these issues for many years, the publication of his book is a part of a widespread resurgence of interest in rationalist ideas, from the foundations of logic, through epistemology to moral philosophy, and anyone interested in either the rationalism or the resurgence will need to read In Defense of Pure Reason.'  Times Literary Supplement

Yeah, man, show me s'more a that there resurgence stuff! 

In all of this Internet sleuthing, I would like to think that we are closing in on what will turn out to be the decisive argument in the final defeat of materialism, but we may just be going around in circles like everyone else at this fin de siecle

And then we have a reissued anti-empiricist, coherentist tome: Groundless Belief (1997, 1999 PUP).  Naturally there are idealist excursions herein.  

On a lighter note, you may wish to consider the following: 

Pew Workshop -- The Metaphysics of Human Persons, September 5th - 8th, 2002, Princeton, New Jersey

It does seem that we are turning a rather sharp corner hereabouts in philosophy.  Will the materialists be able to hang on?  Are they just eating dust about now? 

And although this was sponsored by the IDers, it encompassed an impressive diversity: 

THE NATURE OF NATURE: An Interdisciplinary Conference on the Role of Naturalism in Science: April 12-15, 2000

Back to more serious stuff, consider:  Naturalized Platonism vs. Platonized Naturalism (1995).  This is a candidate for the smoking-gun paper.  Have the materialists not been able to refute these claims?  We'd better check. 


Here are Linsky & Zalta: 

In this paper, we argue that our knowledge of abstract objects is consistent with naturalism. Naturalism is the realist ontology that recognizes only those objects required by the explanations of the natural sciences. But some abstract objects, such as mathematical objects and properties, are required for the proper philosophical account of scientific theories and scientific laws. This has led some naturalists to locate properties or sets (or both) in the causal order, and to suggest that philosophical claims about properties and sets are empirical, discovered a posteriori , and subject to revision. We call this view Naturalized Platonism, and in what follows, we contrast it with our own view, which we call Platonized Naturalism. 

Platonized Naturalism is the view that a more traditional kind of Platonism is consistent with naturalism. Traditional Platonism is the realist ontology that recognizes abstract objects, i.e., objects that are non-spatiotemporal and outside the causal order. The more traditional kind of Platonism that we defend, however, is distinguished by general comprehension principles that assert the existence of abstract objects. We shall argue that such comprehension principles are synthetic and are known a priori . Nevertheless, we claim they are consistent with naturalist standards of ontology, knowledge, and reference. 

I just realized that this article is the center piece of the program at the The Metaphysics Research Lab, Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University.  [At this point I had already forgotten about the Computational Epistemology Lab, mentioned earlier.] 

The considerable irony is that this metaphysical smoking gun is being constructed by the computer jocks at Stanford.  It must be a cold day in hell when the materialists are getting it in the behind from these guys.  I always thought that the 'M' in MRL was a joke.  I should have been paying closer attention.  'What the heck does a computer care about metaphysics,' I wondered.  Well, it looks like the joke is on me.  I'm just the last person in the world to realize that materialism was a joke.  I've been taking it much too seriously.  But isn't the last guy out supposed to turn off the lights.  It's so dark in here I can't even see the light switch.  Help, Lord!  

I am finding this quite strange.  Zalta doesn't seem to get the joke.  He just tends to his knitting.  And how is this going to affect the programming of computers, pray tell?   

This article does get very abstract and analytic.  I look at Ed's home page and I see that he may never have laid a hand on a computer.  But these formal ontology projects are strictly for AI type stuff, I thought.  Maybe these computers are smarter than we think.  Should we worry?  

I'm trying to find the publication page again.  Here it is.  I was struck mainly by the conference title: 

"A Common Ground and Some Surprising Connections", Southern Journal of Philosophy, Volume XL, Supplement, 1-25. (Keynote lecture delivered at the Spindel Conference entitled Origins: The Common Sources of the Analytic and Phenomenological Traditions, September 2001, University of Memphis, Philosophy Department) 

No wonder I'm perplexed.  Am I gonna have to read this?  [10/14 -- I have read it without yet determining a relevance.  It is nice to have a formal ontology, but I suspect that the world is not so wont to stand on ceremony.  Formality does not comprehend rationality, and rationality does not comprehend the aesthetic implied in the BPW.  Cosmic love is just bound to be trans-rational.  The world is optimally rational.]  


It looks as though I may have to render some sort of opinion about the competing theories of abstract objects that these latter-day, techno-ontologists love to fret about.  In general I would say that their disagreements may be attributed to an overly analytical approach to ontology.  They each assume that existence is an all or nothing proposition.  This is a major mistake.  They don't want to conceive of existence as relative.  There is a good reason for this.  It's part of our self-preservation instinct.  Each of us wishes to exemplify an absolute existence.  But on a relational perspective there can, at most, be only one absolute.  My more immediate concern is as between the particular and the universal.  I have spoken of cosmic love.  Do we envision that as a universal or a particular?  Do we embody or exemplify that property?  I'll have the answer in one hour, so keep your pants on. 

Yes, this is what I think is going wrong here, Ed is trying to construct a computer friendly ontology.  And he has fallen into the trap of thinking it's not who you know, it's what you know.  Well, this is a trap that is more difficult for an x'ian to fall into, if you catch my drift, not to say that Ed is not such at heart, but that is somewhat beside the point, or is it?  Someone that analytic has got to be just a tad insecure, and one's x'ianity is directly correlated with one's existential security.  It's just that simple.  But I'm no expert, just an amateur. 

And, here's the real catch: to know me is to love me, or, really, vice-versa, and how many of us could ever say that, even about ourselves.  No one said that existence, or really just love, is easy.  The only reason we continue to exist is because of God's continuing love.  Even God is not absolute.  The absolute is the creator-creation love feast, or the hierogamos, to be technical.  Is that a universal or a particular?  Obviously it is more than the sum.  It has got to be the best possible love feast.  Does that mean we are going to die?  No, that means don't ask stupid questions, if you catch my drift.  Does that completely answer your question concerning existence?  I hope so, 'cause that's all I can think of right now.  

And I almost forgot: what about 'holier than thou'?  As a wannabe second comer, am I just looking out for numero uno?  You got it, sister!  Oh yeah, and that's a priori, if you catch my drift for the last time.  And do I know what I'm talking about?  Not really, if you catch........  I'm a lot like you, I just work here, if you........ 

And that segues us right back to Ed & Bernie (Linsky): 

Indeed, from a naturalist perspective, how can there be synthetic a priori truths like the comprehension principle? The answer is that there can be such truths if they are required to make sense of naturalistic theories, that is, if they are required for our very understanding of those naturalistic theories.

....As the final step to our argument, we claim that it follows from this conclusion that the comprehension principle and logic of encoding are required to make sense of any possible scientific theory, i.e., required for our very understanding of any such theory. So our Principled Platonism is consistent with naturalism because it is required by naturalism.

I would also point out that I can think of nothing more universal than gravity.  But is the universality of gravity not essentially Platonic?  And without this Platonism there would be no nature, nay, there would be no naturalists.  Nature is not self-sufficient, not even the Creator is self-sufficient.  Did you ever see a Creator without a Creation?  You could have an ex-creator with an ex-cre(a)tion, but let's not go there! 

The comprehension and identity principles present us with an ordered realm of objects that looks more like a formal garden than a jungle.

Well, guys, there's the mistake.  We didn't promise you a rose garden.  It's just mean streets out here in the BPW. 

A principle asserting the existence of a plenitude of abstracta meets this standard, for a plenitude is not arbitrary.  There is no need to explain why some abstract objects exist while others don't.  A Platonized Naturalist, however, operates in the spirit of this standard by pointing out that for objects outside the causal order, there is no way to discover or explain our connection to them on such a piecemeal basis.  There is no good reason to suppose that abstract objects are sparse.

The plenitude can only be of, by and for cosmic love.  How many more millennia to get this right?  The love is gonna getcha!  (The Ravens just lost, but we're still tied for first in our division.) 

I gather from Bernie & Ed [and see Hookway, above] that Willard Quine was, in effect, the first and last naturalist philosopher.  He was the first self-professed naturalist philosopher, and yet his naturalism was amended with a 'limited Platonism'.  No naturalist since has been able to refute this peculiar epistemic appendix to nature.  A great deal of effort has gone into the attempt to naturalize Plato, but these authors argue effectively that it is a lost cause, and the only recourse is now to Platonize nature.  This is not your grandmother's idea of nature.  

Willard's refutation of the analytic-synthetic distinction has been touted up one wall and down the other, but not so for his refutation of the Cartesian dichotomy of idea & matter.  This is far more significant historically, in my humble opinion.  We have spent about half a century trying to restore nature's conceptual virginity, and now it's time to face this fact of life: 'Do not put asunder that which God hath brought together.'  'Anomalous monism', indeed. 


There are several contemporary philosophical discussions that bear upon our putatively imminent gestalt switch to rational theism.  I have been surveying them in these last few pages. 

Now that we have witnessed the partial rehabilitation of Plato in contemporary philosophy, let us return to the consideration of rationalism

(Just as a sidelight, here is an account of rationalism vs. empiricism in economics: In Defense of Extreme Rationalism- Thoughts on Donald McClosky. The Rhetoric of Economics.) 


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