File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1999/bhaskar.9911, message 6

Date: Sat, 6 Nov 1999 22:02:10 +0000
Subject: Re: BHA: Transcendental argument

Dear Colin (and John, Ruth, and all)

>By this part of RTS I think a lot of the work has already been done, but by
>intelligible here I have always taken him to mean something like
>"understand why it is necessary to engage in". It's not that we make
>expeiments themselves understandable, but the need to conduct them. 

I've always thought the opposite, and need persuading. Let me lay what I
think out like this (to pick up on Ruth's post too):

1). Premise: scientific experimental activity (production of artificial
closure, etc.)

2). Transcendental deduction establishing conditions of possibility of
the premise: given 1, the world must be open, intrasitive, structured

3). Interlocking explanation (reversing the order of the deduction): 2
explains 1, or renders it intelligible. 
And this I think is what Bhaskar always means by 'intelligible' in such

Cf the interesting discussion in DPF 108 where he insists that
transcendental arguments are 'merely *types of the retroductive-
explanatory argument form familiar to science'* - both (and dialectical
arguments too) 'when achieved, are *two-way interlocking arguments*, in
which the order of epistemic discovery - in the new level of ontological
structure... - is reversed in the order of explanation, matching the
ontological order.'

So for Bhaskar, if you like, not only the premises but the form of
argument itself are 'internal' to science.

Now Ruth seems to say that 'intelligibility' is included in the premise,
and I think this is absolutely right: there is an assumption in the
premise that it is *possible* to explain (scientifically) scientific
experiments (not sociologically, but in terms of the way the non-human
world is). If it is then asked why make this assumption, then I would
point people back to the discussion several weeks ago re relativism etc
- Bhaskar is here 'taking his stance with science', there are no
ultimate extra-scientific justifications, one is appealing to history,
'it works', Big Ditch etc.

I've found it a very interesting, thought-provoking discussion. Thanks.


Colin Wight <> writes
>Hi John,
>A quick foray into this then back to lurking. I had thought I had already
>replied to this btw, but since I haven't got my own reply I must be
>dreaming (or should I say was?).
>>If we go back to RB he summarises the argument as "the 
>>intelligibility of experimental activity presupposes then the intransitiv 
>>and structured character of the objects of scientific knowledge, at 
>>least in so far as these are causal laws. " RTS ch2 ss3.
>By this part of RTS I think a lot of the work has already been done, but by
>intelligible here I have always taken him to mean something like
>"understand why it is necessary to engage in". It's not that we make
>expeiments themselves understandable, but the need to conduct them. And the
>need to conduct them, seems to confirm Marx's claim about essence and
>appearance not coinciding. And it is from the necessity of experiments AND
>the success of the knowledge produced in them that one can deduce the
>existence of a non-empirical reality of a certain form.
>>Eg, we could similarly argue that religious activity is only intelligible 
>>if there is a god, but we presumably wouldn't want to. 
>Now your example about religion is a good one not because it provides the
>counter argument, but because it actually confirms RBs. Eg. if there was no
>belief in God then presumably their would be no religion, but there is
>religion, hence we can deduce the reality of the belief in God. Religion is
>only intelligible if there is a belief in God. But note, the existence of
>God is not a necessary condition, only the belief in God. 
>Now, in terms of CR, this is a strong point but has not yet made the case
>for the deduction that there must be a non-empirical reality; for that you
>need to add the transfactual nature of the objects discovered. All we are
>entitled to deduce so far is that scientists believe there is a
>non-empirical reality that they are attempting to make sense of in their
>activities. It is a strong point, however, because we can at least say that
>the implicit philosophy adopted by practicing scientists is depth realist.
>>So, does the argument really rest on the _success_ of scientific 
>>activity? Ie it is not just that it becomes intelligible, but the actual 
>>success of experiments demonstrates an intransitive domain.
>No, it is not the success of the experiments, but that the successes gained
>through experiments can be applied and utilised beyond the experimental
>setting. I.e. that tehse things discovered seem not only to exist in the
>>This seems to me to open up a whole raft of problems and 
>>essentially put us back into traditional philosophy of science 
>Well yes, comfortable terrain for me. I'm not sure what is wrong with being
>back here, I've never considered RB has solved all of the problems (despite
>his claims). For me, he simply provides the best account available. This
>doesn't mean I'm happy.
>>What is it that warrents the success of otherwise of experiments? 
>>What if an experiment fails? 
>Many do, and we can ask why. Does the thing exist? Was the experiment set
>up properly (how would Kant explain a failure btw Ruth?)
>>Does it not bring back induction thru' the back door - ie the 
>>"success" of many particular experiments leads to the general 
>>proposition that science as a whole is successful?
>See above, it is not the success of the experiments as such but that the
>knowledge gained through them is effective beyond them. Hence the logic of
>the arguement is twofold: First, why do scientists do experiments (you
>could even put this simpler and say "attempt to go beyond the
>appearances")?; second, the things that they say they discover seem to
>exist beyond the context of discovery.
>As for Ruth and Kant. Well since Kant basically accepted Hume's ontology
>for his phenomenal world and put Reason and morality in that other never to
>be accessed world, then when we are dealing with Hume we are dealing with
>Kant. It is for this reason that Hegel considered Kant's solution to be an
>act of cowardice.
>Also, crucial in understanding RB's transcendental arguments is what he
>says in PON:
>"Now misunderstandings about the intentions of transcendental arguments
>often stem from the failure to appreciate the contexts in which they are
>developed - against already existing philosophical theories."
>And as he says 
>"the transcendental consideration is not deployed in a philosophical
>vacuum: it is designed to situate, or replace, and existing theory; and may
>of course come, in time to suffer a similar fate." (PON 7)
>Back to lurking.
>Dr. Colin Wight
>Department of International Politics
>University of Wales
>telephone: +44 (0)1970-621769
>fax      : +44 (0)1970-622709
>     --- from list ---

Mervyn Hartwig

     --- from list ---


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