File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1998/bhaskar.9802, message 54


Date: Fri, 27 Feb 1998 14:27:58 -0800 (PST)
Subject: BHA: rts chapter 3, section 5


 
 
Hans -- Can you post s5 of Chap 3 of RTS, "Objections to the
Account of Natural Necessity Proposed"
 
Chapt 3, section 5 of RTS is a defense of the idea of natural
necessity and natural kinds against Humean objections.  Pursuing
it, we are led straight into the heart of critical realism's
essentialism.  There are also more than a few curious assertions,
e.g. at footnote 79:
 
"It is of course inconceivable that a fundamental entity or
entities should act inconsistently with its (their) nature. 
Hence in the last (...) instance everything is as it must be." 
(RTS 208).
 
Considering my own life I wonder whether this is another lonely
example of a last instance which never comes.
 
But actually I could be a believer on that one.  This at RTS 211,
I have a harder time with:
 
". . . just because the word 'copper' in science has a history,
and at any moment of time a use, the nominal essence of copper
cannot suddenly be designated by the use of 'reppoc' or 'tin'. 
Nominal definitions in science cannot therefore be conceived as
stipulative, arbitrary or matters of convention.  Although there
is a sense in which any other symbol could have been used to
refer to copper; given this usage and that history 'copper'
cannot be replaced by bronze or [the symbol for female] or for no
reason at all.  Changes in the definitions of words in ongoing
social activities require justification."
 
But the whole point of a sign in any field is to reflect
something other than itself, and the relationship between the
sign in which meaning is embodied and the thing to which it
refers is in all but a handful of cases arbitrary.  Sure history
constrains the kinds of changes possible, but even in science I
would guess definitions which change in use do not always get
justification.  I can't imagine that "charm" and the like are
written in concrete.  
 
Anyway, maybe I'm missing the point.  The meaning of copper is
not a matter of convention; that much is a proposition of
realism.  But what sign we use to designate the substance we now
call copper it seems to me is arbitrary and could be changed by
convention.  Is this wrong?
 
* * * 
 
In any event these are quibbles.  The basic argument of the
section runs as follows:  How can we show that unless there were
necessary connections between things and events, science would be
impossible.  The argument in other words is transcendental: 
natural necessity is a condition of the possibility of science.  
 
First of all, RB reminds us, there is a difference between
natural necessity and our knowledge of it.  In fact, "to analyze
the necessity of the connection in terms of our knowledge of the
necessity of the connection would be to commit the epistemic
fallacy."  RB continues (RTS 200):
 
"There is a real difference, quite independent of men, between
the fact that when I heat the kettle of water it boils and the
fact that it boils when the time is half-past two or the colour
of my socks is blue."  
 
Now as it happens as I read this sentence the whistle on my tea
kettle went off and I had to get up to pour tea.  The point, I
thought, is that there is nothing intrinsic to my reading of the
sentence, given what the sentence is and what water is, which
makes the water boil.  But there is to heating water.  The
molecules start moving faster, etc.
 
So does it follow, as RB asserts, that "if experimental science
is to be possible, there must be necessary connections between
some but not other events"?  Why is this?  RB continues using a
phrase which presumably has a philosophical meaning I am not
familiar with, "principle of indifference".
 
"This implies a dynamic principle of indifference:  to the effect
that mechanisms not only endure but are transfactually active. 
Neither their enduring nor their transfactual activity is in need
of explanation."
 
Now this goes back to the idea developed in chapter 1 (e.g. p51)
that mechanisms can be active, but in an unmanifest way -- their
consequences can be overridden by the effect of other mechanisms. 
Mechanism A is really 'phi'ing, whether or not the effects are
counteracted.  So this is not a counterfactual, but a
transfactual.
 
Notice that mechanisms are "enduring" and "active."  This comes
back later as "the principles of substance and causality are
interdependent and "complementary." (RTS 205
 
Anyway the point, RB insists (RTS 202) is that natural mechanisms
are nothing other than the powers or ways of acting of things.
 
Now, as a social scientist, the point I would like to insist on
is that a robust naturalism requires us to think of social
mechanisms as nothing other than the powers or ways of acting of
social things, ie relations.
 
RB goes on:  "Thus if science is to be possible, there must be a
relationship of natural necessity between what a thing is and
what it can do . . . The deducibility of a tendency from a nature
thus constitues a criterion for our knowledge of natural
necessity."  (202)
 
Is anything more said here than that this just is what natural
necessity is?  
 
The idea is that water that didn't boil wouldn't be water, litmus
paper that didn't turn red in acid wouldn't be litmus paper, and
copper that didn't conduct electricity wouldn't be copper:
 
"Things must satisfy cetain criteria for them to be (correctly
identified as) the kinds of things they are.  By far the most
important of such criteria are those that depend on their powers
to affect other bodies. . . . " (203).
 
Causal criteria.  But as a material cause also or an efficient
cause only?  This crystalline structure is brittle and will
shatter if hit.  Is that a power to affect other bodies?
 
Back to water boiling at the moment I read the sentence about
water boiling:  "If there is a real reason, located in the nature
of the stuff. . . water *must* tend to boil when it is heated. .
. The stratification of nature thus provides science with its own
internal inductive warrant. (RTS 204) . . . "A stuff remains
water only so long as its nature (or real essence) remains
unchanged." (RTS 205)
 
That is, RB explains, "our capacity to identify particulars
presupposes the extended or dynamic principle of substance," that
is, "that things persist and continue to act unless acted upon,
and hence in this way it presupposes the existence of necessary
connections of fact." (RTS 207)  Or, as he elaborates in a very
interesting passage:
 
"It is of course possible that the nature of some particular will
be transformed:  in which event, scientists will search both for
an underlying substance or quasi-substance which preserves
material continuity through change (e.g. a gene pool through
species change, an atom in chemical reactions, energy in
microphysics) and for an agent or mechanism which brought about
the change.  The principles of substance and causality are
interdependent and complementary.  Things persist (and continue
to act in their normal way) unless acted upon; and their changes
are explained in terms of the action of persisting (and
transfactually active) things.  If science is to be possible
changes must be transformations, not replacements; and
transformations must be effected by the actions of causes (causal
agents).  Things cannot pass clean out of existence or events
happen for no reason at all.  These are ideals of reason.  But if
science is to be possible our world must be such that they hold. 
This entails that it must be a world of enduring and continually
acting things."
 
There is one final point to the argument.  It may be that we are
wrong in our explanation.  RB's answer to this is as follows:
"But this is a general condition of all knowledge; it does not
bear on . . . the special difficulty of knowledge of necessary
connections between matters of fact."  (RTS 207)
 
* * * 
 
Now if the explanation depends on the connection between what
things are and how they tend to behave, then there is a
"dialectic between taxonomic and explanatory knowledge; between
knowledge of what kinds of things there are and knowledge of how
the things there are behave."  (RTS 211)  Making this explicit:
 
"The dialectic of explanatory and taxonomic knowledge must thus
be formulated as follows:  science is concerned with the
behaviour of things only in as much as it casts light upon their
reasons for action and hence upon what kinds of things there are;
and science is only concerned with things of a particular kind
[science is not concerned with just anything, HE], in as much as
they constitute the reason for some pattern of normic behaviour
and thus themselves become an appropriate object of inquiry.  The
importance of taxa in science may be expressed by saying that
what is non-accidentally true of a thing is true of a thing in
virtue of its essential nature.  A thing acts, or at least tends
to act, the way it is." (RTS 212).
 
* * *
 
Now notice in regards to the above:  
 
.    When we speak of a substance which preserves material
continuity through change and of an agent or mechanism which
brought about the change such that possible changes must be
transformations (not replacements) effected by the actions of
causes, then we are on our way to, what we call in PON, the
transformational model of social activity.  Social structures or
relations are the substances which preserve continuity through
change and are transformed; individual persons are the agents
which bring about the changes, but not, note bene, as they wish,
but in accordance with the dynamic constraints of the substance
and whatever tendential laws govern a substance's enduring
efficacy.  
 
.    Meaning is an example of some such social substance
transformed but preserving continuity through change.
 
.    An underlying substance which preserves material continuity
through change is what Aristotle would have referred to as a
"material cause."
 
.    The agent or mechanism which brought about change is what
Aristotle would have referred to as an "efficient cause."
 
.    The essential nature of a thing, its real essence, its
intrinsic structure, the feature of a thing which explains what
it is and which accounts for how it tends to behave (e.g. the
atomic constitution of nickel, RTS 210), is what Aristotle would
have referred to as a "formal cause."
 
.    And if we take into account the intentional nature of
ourselves as causal agents, as persons who project a purpose into
the future to bring into being out of absence, we have also the
presence, at least in the human sciences, of an element which
Aristotle would have characterized as a "final cause."
 
Howard
 
 
"What is there just now you lack"  Hakuin
 
Howard Engelskirchen


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