ontology and political commitment (+)

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Tue Jun 27 08:13:40 MDT 1995


I am somewhat puzzled by your remarks on Quine, the supposed foil for
Bhaskar. Quine certainly does not take scientific progress to evidence of
the "validity" of sciuence, if that means our justification in quantifying
over the entities and rekations (positing their existence) in a scientific
theory. And far from advocating a conventional "empirico-deductive account
of scientific theory," his work is the basis for powerful criticism of the
sort of classical logical empiricist approach (E. Nagel, etc.) usually
taught in political science and international relations. (I'm a Michigan
philosophy-political science Ph.D.) For a popular account of Quine on
scientific theory, sewe his an Ullians introductory The Web of Belief.
Quine's positive view is that "to be is to be the value of a variable." We
are entitled to say that what exists is what our best theories say exists,
Our best theories are those which account best for the empirical
evidence--equally good theories are empirically equivalewnt and
essentially the same in content (Q is a sort of holisti verfificationist).
There are no metaphilosophical reeasons for accepting a scientific theory
(such as pointing to the progress of the history of science, or science
working, or any such thing) beyond the actual evidence for it--the raeson
we think atoms exist, e.g.,, is Brownian motion, etc. Quine is in general
pretty deflationist. Asked, does a realw orld, structured and
differentialed, exist beyond our thought? he'd say, what are you talking
about? Asked: are there atoms, he'd say, of course.

I am not sure taht any of this actually has political implications,
contrary to the Marxist orthodoxy on the subject. It's interesting and
fun, but it's possible to be a Marxist and an an "empiriocritic: like
Bogdanoiv, or a logical positivist (if a deviant one) like Neurath, or a
pragmatic antirealist, like Gramsci, or....Good Marxists have occupied
every point on the range of positions.

I'm not sure this stuff relates the the levels of analysis debate at all.
That debate isn't about what's really real or what exists but what is the
appropriate level of explanation for a phenomenon under a description. Of
course you can rule out as appropriate some proposed explanation by saying
taht the explanadandum doesn't exist, but that's just a move in the game.

--Justin Schwartz




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