Toward a Pragmatic Ontology of Scientific Concepts
Robus, Olin Matthew
MetadataShow full item record
I argue that current projects in 'naturalized metaphysics' fail to be properly naturalistic, and thereby fail in their stated aim to take one's metaphysics from science. I argue that naturalism must involve the idea of taking science seriously, and that this can only be spelled out in terms of taking not only the theories of science seriously, but also its practice and its socio-linguistic situatedness seriously as well. This accords with naturalism because not doing so draws an artificial (non-natural) distinction between the epistemic products of science as essence, and its socio-linguistic and practical features as accidents. The picture of naturalism which falls out of this is a form of pragmatism. Once this is spelled out, the question becomes, what is the appropriate attitude for the pragmatist/naturalist to have toward ontology? It is not the same as that of traditional metaphysics, since such an attitude (that metaphysical theorizing can make positive epistemic contributions) requires a priori commitments which themselves are (1) not subject to empirical review, and (2) are anthropocentric and so potentially distorted. But the pragmatist/naturalist will not go the opposite way, and say that metaphysics is meaningless either, since (true to their pragmatic commitments) ontology does things for the scientist and the layperson. It is a mistake to reject it wholesale, since the task of asserting what there is, exposing such an ontology to criticism, both empirical and logical, and revising it, has both small-scale and large-scale consequences. On the small-scale, ontologies are a guide for thinking---scientists, engineers, and lay people can and do use models of existence to navigate occurent problems in their day-to-day lives. Whether this is posing research hypotheses, developing protocols for generating new materials, or cooling off a cup of coffee, ontology plays a role. Large-scale consequences are more weighty, and more difficult to see. These large-scale consequences have to do with the aims and values which individuals and societies possess, and their interrelation with ontology. This certainly was at the forefront of the earliest ontologies---the Epicureans and Stoics built their moral philosophy on the basis of what ontology they thought was correct. This sort of practice goes on, unabated, today, though with virtually no overt acknowledgement of this important interdependency. How, for the pragmatist, do we make sense of ontological talk, if we are to eschew traditional metaphysics? Ontology---the naturalist/pragmatist declares---is a tool. Ontology helps us do things, whether it be predict behavior, understand phenomena, blame or forgive someone, and hope or despair about a life after this one (for example). Building an ontology is about building our own concepts, and this, in turn is a negotiation between our beliefs, experiences, and commitments, and the beliefs, experiences, and commitments of with whom we're discursively engaged.
- Philosophy