Date: Mon, 12 Aug 1996 09:11:23 -0600 (MDT) From: Hans Ehrbar <ehrbar-AT-smith.econbus.utah.edu> Subject: rts2-13 3. THE TRANSCENDENTAL ANALYSIS OF EXPERIENCE The empiricist ontology is constituted by the category of experience. What transcendental arguments can be produced to show its inadequacy to science; and, on the other hand, to demonstrate the intransitivity and structured character of the objects of scientific knowledge? Now the occurrence of experience in science would be agreed upon by all three combatants. Moreover, it is generally assumed that, whatever its other inadequacies, empiricism can at least do justice to the role of experience in science. Now I want to argue that the intelligibility of experience in science itself presupposes the intransitive and structured character of the objects to which, in Philosophy and Scientific Realism 31 scientific experience, `access' is obtained. This establishes the inadequacy, in its most favoured case, of the empiricist ontology. Further I want to argue that, in virtue of their shared ontological commitment, neither empiricism nor transcendental idealism can reveal the true significance of experience in science. Scientifically significant experience normally depends upon experimental activity as well as sense-perception; that is, upon the role of men as causal agents as well as perceivers. I will consider the two independently. A. *The Analysis of Perception* The intelligibility of sense-pereeption presupposes the intransitivity of the object perceived. For it is in the independent occurrence or existence of such objects that the meaning of `perception', and the epistemic significanee of perception, lies. Among such objects are events, which must thus be categorically independent of experiences. Many arguments have been and could be deployed to demonstrate this, which there is no space here to rehearse. For our purposes, it is sufficient merely to note that both the possibility of scientific change (or criticism) and the necessity for a scientific training presuppose the intransitivity of some real objects; which, for the empirical realist at least, can only be objects of perception. If changing experience of objects is to be possible, objects must have a distinct being in space and time from the experiences of which they are the objects. For Kepler to see the rim of the earth drop away, while Tycho Brahe watches the sun rise, we must suppose that there is something that they both see (in different ways).8 Similarly when modern sailors refer to what ancient mariners called a sea-serpent as a school of porpoises, we must suppose that there is something which they are describing in different ways.9 The intelligibility of scientific change (and criticism) and scientific education thus presupposes the ontological independence of the objects of experience from the objects of which they are the experiences. Events and momentary states do not of course exhaust the objects of perception. Indeed, I do not think they are even the primary objects of perception, which are probably 8 Cf. N. R Hanson, Patterns of Discovery, Chap. 1. 9 Cf. J. J. C. smart, Philosophy and Scientific Realism, pp. 38-9. 32 A Realist Theory of Science processes and things, from which events and states are then `reconstructed'.10 However I do not wish to argue the point here - as it depends upon a prior resolution of the problems of causality and induction, upon which their status as objects of experience must, at least for the empiricist, depend.11 Events then are categorically independent of experiences. There could be a world of events without experiences. Such events would constitute *actualities* unperceived and, in the absence of men, unperceivable. There is no reason why, given the possibility of a world without perceptions, which is presupposed by the intelligibility of actual scientific perceptions, there should not be events in a world containing perceptions which are unperceived and, given our current or permanent capacities, unperceivable. And of such events theoretical knowledge may or may not be possessed, and may or may not be achievable. Clearly if at some particular time I have no knowledge of an unperceived or unperceivable event, I cannot say that such an event occurred (as a putative piece of substantive knowledge). But that in itself is no reason for saying that such an occurrence is impossible or that its supposition is meaningless (as a piece of philosophy). To do so would be to argue quite illicitly from the current state of knowledge to a philosophical conception of the world. Indeed, we know from the history of science that at any moment of time there are types of events never imagined, of which theoretical, and sometimes empirical, knowledge is eventually achieved. For in the transitive process of science the possibilities of perception, and of theoretical knowledge, are continually being extended. Thus unless it is dogmatically postulated that our present knowledge is complete or these possibilities exhausted, there are good grounds for holding that the class of unknowable events is non-empty, and unperceivable ones non-emptier; and no grounds for supposing that this will ever not be so. Later, I will show how the domain of actualities, whose categorical independence from experiences is presupposed by the intelligibility of sense-perception, may be extended to include things as well as events. 10 Cf. J. J. Gibson, The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems. 11 Cf. M. Hollis, `Reason and Reality', P.A.S. Vol. LXVIII (1967-8), p. 279. Philosophy and Scienctific Realism 33 B. *The Analysis of Experimental Activity* The intelligibility of experimental activity presupposes not just the intransitivity but the structured character of the objects investigated under experimental conditions. Let me once again focus on the empiricist's favourite case, viz. causal laws, leaving aside for the moment such other objects of investigation as structures and atomic constitutions. A causal law is analysed in empiricist ontology as a constant conjunction of events perceived (or perceptions). Now an experiment is necessary precisely to the extent that the pattern of events forthcoming under experimental conditions would not be forthcoming without it. Thus in an experiment we are a causal agent of the sequence of events, but not of the causal law which the sequence of events, because it has been produced under experimental conditions, enables us to identify. Two consequences flow from this. First, the real basis of causal laws cannot be sequences of events; there must be an ontological distinction between them. Secondly, experimental activity can only be given a satisfactory rationale if the causal law it enables us to identify is held to prevail outside the contexts under which the sequence of events is generated. In short, the intelligibility of experimental activity presupposes that a constant conjunction is no more a necessary than a sufficient condition for a causal law. And it implies that causal laws endure and continue to operate in their normal way under conditions, which may be characterized as `open', where no constant conjunction or regular sequence of events is forthcoming. It is worth noting that in general, outside astronomy, closed systems, viz. systems in which constant conjunctions occur, must be experimentally established. Both Anscombe and von Wright have recently made the point that our active interference in nature is normally a condition of empirical regularities.12 But neither have seen that it follows from this that there must be an ontological distinction between the empirical regularity we produce and the causal law it enables us to identify. Although it has yet to be given an adequate philosophical rationale, the distinction between causal laws and patterns of events is consistent with our intuitions. Thus 12 G. E. M. Anscombe, Causality and Determination, p. 22; and G. H. von Wright, Explanation and Understanding, pp. 60-4. 34 A Realist Theory of Science supposing a nuclear explosion were to destroy our planet no-one would hold that it violated, rather than exemplified, Newton's laws of motion;13 just as if something were to affect Mercury's perihelion it would not be regarded as falsifying Einstein's theory of relativity. Similarly it lies within the power of every reasonably intelligent schoolboy or moderately clumsy research worker to upset the results of even the best designed experiment,14 but we do not thereby suppose they have the power to overturn the laws of nature. I can quite easily affect any sequence of events designed to test say Coulomb's or Guy-Lussac's law; but I have no more power over the relationships the laws describe than the men who discovered them had. In short, laws cannot be the regularities that constitute their empirical grounds. Thus the intelligibility of experimental activity presupposes the categorical independence of the causal laws discovered from the patterns of events produced. For, to repeat, in an experiment we produce a pattern of events to identify a causal law, but we do not produce the causal law identified. Once the categorical independence of causal laws and patterns of events is established, then we may readily allow that laws continue to operate in open systems, where no constant conjunctions of events prevail. And the rational explanation of phenomena occurring in such systems becomes possible. In a world without men there would be no experiences and few, if any, constant conjunctions of events, i.e. had they been experienced Humean `causal laws'. For both experiences and invariances (constant conjunctions of events) depend, in general, upon human activity. But causal laws do not. Thus in a world without men the causal laws that science has now as a matter of fact discovered would continue to prevail, though there would be few sequences of events and no experiences with which they were in correspondence. Thus, we can begin to see how the empiricist ontology in fact depends upon a concealed anthropocentricity. The concept of causal laws being or depending upon empirical regularities involves thus a double identification: of events and 13 Cf. G. E. M. Anscombe, op. cit., p. 21. 14 Cf. Ravetz's `4th law of thermo-dynamics': no experiment goes properly the first time. See J. R. Ravetz, op. cit., p. 76. Philosophy and Scientific Realism 35 experiences; and of constant conjunctions (or regular sequences) of events and causal laws. This double identification involves two category mistakes, expressed most succinctly in the concepts of the empirical world and the actuality of causal laws. The latter presupposes the ubiquity of closed systems. Both concepts, I shall argue, are profoundly mistaken and have no place in any philosophy of science. This double identification prevents the empirical realist from examining the important question of the conditions under which experience is in fact significant in science. In general this requires both that the perceiver be theoretically informed15 and that the system in which the events occur be closed.16 Only under such conditions can the experimental scientist come to have access to those underlying causal structures which are the objects of his theory. And not until the categorical independence of causal laws, patterns of events and experiences has been philosophically established and the possibility of their disjuncture thereby posed can we appreciate the enormous effort - in experimental design and scientific training - that is required to make experience epistemically significant in science. The intelligibility of experimental activity presupposes then the intransitive and structured character of the objects of scientific knowledge, at least in so far as these are causal laws. And this presupposes in turn the possibility of a non-human world, i.e. causal laws *without* invariances and experiences, and in particular of a non-empirical world, i.e. causal laws and events without experiences; and the possibility of *open systems*, i.e. causal laws *out of phase* with patterns of events and experiences, and more generally of epistemically insignificant experiences, i.e. experiences out of phase with events and/or causal laws. In saying that the objects of scientific discovery and investigation are `intransitive' I mean to indicate therefore that they exist independently of all human activity; and in saying that they are `structured' that they are distinct from the patterns of events that occur. The causal laws of nature are not empirical statements, i.e. statements about experiences; nor are they statements about events; nor are they synthetic a priori statements. For the moment I merely style them negatively as 15 Cf. F. Dretske, Seeing and Knowing, Chap. 3. 16 Cf. G. H. von Wright, op cit., Chap. 2. 36 A Realist Theory of Science `structured intransitive', postponing a positive analysis of them until Section 5.
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