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Re: Putnam's Article

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Posted by Harvey on September 3, 2002 16:08:39 UTC

Hello Luis,

The article by Putnam was very insightful, however I didn't see any clear argument against ontological commitments per se. What Putnam attacked was Platonism by using a modal language (he refers to Hellman and Parsons). I have studied the basics of modal language (e.g., Chihara), and I can assure you that there is ontological commitments in the modal approach to mathematics. What I think Putnam is talking about is ontological commitment to objects. That is, what is so attractive about the modal approach is that one can avoid the Platonic ontology of mathematical objects. Quine was an adamant Platonist with regard to objects, so it is no wonder that he frowned on modal approaches which avoid talk of objects.

Now, if you'd like to discuss modal languages, I'll certainly be willing to discuss the ontological commitments implicit in this approach. Basically, this is a form of logicism and the axioms of modal logic become ontological commitments. These are rule based ontologies versus object based ontologies. Incidentally, this is the form of ontology which I favor since I do think that abstract objects exist. However, Resnick, Maddy, et al. have argued against modal ontology, so the arguments for and against object-based Platonist ontology makes this subject hotly contested. Btw, as far as I know, these are all mainly realist ontologies.

I might also add that Putnam is a theist, so it is perhaps a mistake to read too much into his essay on ontology. It wouldn't make much sense to reject ontology as a theist, would it?

***First of all, though I may charge into these rants with the presence of a freed, stuck bull in Pamplona, I do not promote myself as “absolutely correct.” But what good is it to enter into a debate only partially committed to an argument?***

So what gives you the assurance that you are even partially correct? What are your premises that give you this confidence?

*** Specifically, neurology was initially “about as lame as (you) can imagine,” but later on you chose to say, ”Just doing our best to prevent cognitive phenomena from becoming fixed mental paradigms . . .”. Somehow neurology had become “un-lame” enough for you to shuffle through its lexicon. This is only a complaint because I think the reason you haven’t presented me with a creditable response is that you rush through without giving my presentations (clumsy as they may be) much thought.***

Luis, it was you who said "just doing our best to prevent cognitive phenomena from becoming fixed mental paradigms".

***Well, I’m not exactly a great philosopher, but this seems to be a common ploy of the greatest philosophers. As one fitting example, Putnam presents what he considers to be invalid arguments by Quine (and many others) in his “Ontology: An Obituary” lectures (which you should read).***

Many exceptions. For example, Putnam is clear that he is presenting Quine's argument. He is also providing an overall accurate depiction of the person's argument that he disagrees with. I wish I had known that this wasn't your argument, I wouldn't have taken the time to go through the argument looking for fallacies.

***H: ”True objectivity by a human is not possible”; "I do think there is epistemological-based objectivity” L: I’m still a little shocked you don’t see the paradox here. These truths are compatible to you because you accept that “knowledge” is something greater than the methods through which we achieve and describe this “knowledge” . . . and this is due to your estimation of Epistemology and Ontology as two separate issues. You presume they are both valid, when in fact one is an unfounded glorification of the concern of the other.***

This is not a paradoxial statement. Is it paradoxial to say that I think we evolved from other species, but I do not actually know that beyond every and all possible doubt? Of course not. It is remotely possible that humans were placed here by an alien species, but we consider such possibilities as so remote that we do not consider them viable. Hence, there is an epistemological-based objectivity which rejects this kind of spurious concern.

I do not presume Ontology is valid as a means to actually know as if it is impossible to be wrong. I clarify the term 'knowledge' into differing categories (epistemology and ontology) because it is often that someone supposedly knows something only later to have been wrong. At the same time, people often use the term 'knowledge' as if they really do know something while disparing other people's knowledge because they say that person can't really know what they feel that they also really do know. For example, one famous astronomer had said that the laws of physics exist, but said that knowing the existence of God was not possible for us humans at this time. This famous physicist was misleading people because the fact is that he didn't know that the 'laws of physics' exist anymore than people know any ontological issue. This is why I see a need to clarify these issues, and hence the reason that epistemology and ontology are necessary to clear up any confusion.

You also make the mistake of using knowledge in both contexts without any regard. For example, you cited that QM theory rejects the existence of objects (hence objectivity), and at the same time you reject ontology. This shows a confusion on your part as to what kind of knowledge you are referencing. By combining epistemology and ontology, you are making errors in your statements (e.g., objects do not exist).

***Consider his statement above -- "Central to a rational attack on any problem is that no answers to the problem can be specified as an opening position." What Dick identifies here becomes what you probably deem a "necessary evil." I see no problem with an initial starting point, but I do not consider Ontology as anything more than our way of fooling ourselves into the paradoxical position of "we cannot know objectively, though we somehow know objectivity exists outside of our knowing of it." I.e., all "knowledge" to me is in a way uncertain (even the horrible WTC tragedy).***

I agree that all knowledge is in a way uncertain, but to treat all knowledge as uncertain is to behave in a most ridiculous fashion. If you were teaching biological evolution to a classroom, you wouldn't start the class by saying "this knowledge is very uncertain, so take it as such". If you did, then many in the classroom would reject what you had to say since you do not have enough confidence in biological evolution to say that it is epistemologically certain.

Now, you want to talk only in terms of epistemology. Fine, but then do not make ontological commitments. Embrase your antirealism. Deny the existence of quarks, atoms, laws, theories, math theorems, etc. Deny the success of science as any testimony to our success of uncovering nature. Deny the past as something that actually existed since this is a human conception (which some antirealist philosophers suggest). Deny that there is such a thing as truth. Eventually, you are left with a denial of the very premises which allow you to construct an epistemological-based view of the world. If carried to its logical extreme, post-modernism rushes in and floods your head with ideas that science is just a political establishment where lobbyists within that 'party' are lobbying for their particular version of science. The lobby group with the most 'votes' wins the current scientific paradigm of the day.

Let me ask you, if you reject ontological knowledge as something that we accept based on agreeable epistemological means, then how do you reject post-modernist arguments against science? How do you prevent post-modernism from taking over our scientific and educational establishment?

At some point you must have the courage to say that certain things exist. Evolution happened. WTC disaster happened. We are epistemological certain and this certainty rests on certain ontological commitments that we are literally forced to hold in order to maintain a pragmatically feasible view of the world.

***(1) Bill denies he can make a truly objective judgment.
(2)Bill claims that there is true objectivity.

How is it that Bill finds his own human judgment to be incapable of “objectivity” and then, with this same human limitation, judge that “objectivity outside human perception exists”? The answer is Ontology. It's unnecessary, really.***

No, the answer is that Bill realizes that in order to meet the challenges and necessity of living, that he is forced to say:

(1) Bill denies he can make a truly objective judgment.
(1a) Bill realizes that he must make objective claims to remain consistent with his need to live.
(2) Bill claims that there must be true objectivity in order to make his interaction with the world meaningful to what is happening around him.
(3) Bill's claims have pragmatic value in the way that he pursues science and other endeavors while his contempories struggle with solipsism and other anti-realisms.

***Like I said a number of posts ago, the "truth" is only consistent insofar as we define it. Observations are "true" because they match our descriptions. But, what do you mean by ‘true’? Is this ‘truth’ something you, a human, have inferred? If so, and it is an inference, how can you claim it as something you "know"? If not, and it is a fact, then how did you manage to escape that human limitation you posited thus: "True objectivity by a human is not possible"? And how can we possibly ever “know something as it is versus how we see the thing”? I mean, how could we know something without seeing it how we see it? Are you presuming metaphysical knowledge? If not, then what does "knowing something as it is versus how we see the thing" constitute? If so, then how have you elevated this presumption of metaphysical knowledge to the status of knowledge itself?***

As I said a number of posts ago, our gauge with this world is established via internalist means. We establish a relationship with the world that, even though we do not objectively know, we still forage on with the belief that we can approximately know truth (i.e., our statements that are very close to the way the world really is). We do this because we are forced to do it. No one should deny or lack confidence in the existence of the world around us, and that's because the pragmatic reasons are so powerful that we must accept the existence of external world (i.e., objective existence of the world). Likewise, we accept that 'objects' around us are approximate truths to the way those objects actually are to some extent. We try to improve our means to learn about those objects (epistemological-based sciences), and in so doing we improve our understanding of how those objects actually are. We can make statements about these objects which we can state are approximately true (e.g., these objects are from deep space, these objects were born in a supernova, etc). We are making epistemological statements, but we believe we are also making ontological statements. If we lack this belief, then we harm ourselves in a post-modernist fashion.

***Is this ‘truth’ something you, a human, have inferred?***


***If so, and it is an inference, how can you claim it as something you "know"?***

My claims are based on an internalist explanation as a means to reconcile my internal experience to what I believe must be happening externally. This inference is so strong that I just believe these ontological commitments are a correct ontology.

*** If not, and it is a fact, then how did you manage to escape that human limitation you posited thus: "True objectivity by a human is not possible"?***

I didn't escape it, I just came to realize the importance of faith.

***And how can we possibly ever “know something as it is versus how we see the thing”? I mean, how could we know something without seeing it how we see it?***

This basic faith allows us to extend our minds beyond our senses. With epistemological means in hand, we are able to say we know things like our biological evolution without actually having experienced that evolution on the huge timescales. With other epistemological means in hand, we are able to say we understand the early material universe without having actually experienced it. We have this capability to label 'approximate truth' because of these internalist means of explanation.

***Are you presuming metaphysical knowledge? If not, then what does "knowing something as it is versus how we see the thing" constitute?***

Yes, I am presuming metaphysical knowledge the moment that I accept on faith anything beyond P1'.

*** If so, then how have you elevated this presumption of metaphysical knowledge to the status of knowledge itself?***

I think it is a waste of time to doubt our knowledge in ways that is seemingly unprofitable. Rather, it is rational to base our notions of reality (and ultimate reality) by means of internalist explanation, and from that point accept (on faith) that a great deal our epistemological knowledge is elevated to ontological knowledge.

***but I currently feel that if I “conceded” my point I will have failed to communicate to you the depth of your errors. As the week progresses maybe I’ll find the time (and wit) to put something a little better together for your apoproval.***

I really hope to get your premises without ontological commitments. Thanks for the Putnam article. Unfortunately it raised more questions on what he is/was thinking. Putnam writes a great deal on metaphysical based issues, so like I said, it is very difficult to fully understand what he is saying other than a rejection of Platonism (which I agree with).

Warm regards, Harv

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