Two Notes on Metaphysics and Philosophy of Science

– What if instead of a fundamental metaphysical principle, the act/potency theory is just a folk-physics theory? If that’s true, then it wouldn’t serve too much purpose beyond the folk-physics level, since we would be ascribing aspects of our interactions with ‘medium-sized dry goods’ (Austin) to a fundamental metaphysical principle – and how fundamental can a theory be if it only describes our most basic interaction with the world? In other words, if act/potency is a folk-theory about how we interact with objects, then it seems incorrect to incorporate that into a fundamental theory

– I suspect that for the empirical sciences to be possible a version of modal realism must be true, so that the structure of the world must be such that counterfactual can be true or false. Thus, modal realism would be transcendental

2 thoughts on “Two Notes on Metaphysics and Philosophy of Science

  1. Kantian Naturalist August 23, 2015 / 3:49 pm

    I definitely agree with the second point you make here: empirical science requires that the world have enough modal structure to support counterfactuals. A world without any modal structure — a world of pure “is-ness”? — would not be a world in which empirical inquiry was possible.

    I’m inclined to agree with the first part — at any rate, I share the worry that the act/potency distinction (and also the substance/property distinction) belong to what Sellars calls “the manifest image”. And given Aristotle’s method, how could they not?

    However, just because these distinctions have their origin in the manifest image, it doesn’t follow that they don’t also have some place in the scientific image. Whether or not the act/potency and substance/property have some role to play in the scientific image depends on whether or not they are used in constructing well-confirmed scientific theories. We’d have to look at the theories themselves to answer that question — it can’t be done simply by noting that these are originally manifest-image concepts.

    That said, some philosophers of physics might say that these distinctions don’t work out at the level of fundamental physics. (Ladyman and Ross’s Every Thing Must Go can be read as making this claim, though they don’t do so explicitly.) But although these Aristotelian distinctions might be useless in quantum mechanics, they seem pretty much indispensable in biology or psychology.

    One would have to be in the grip of a demanding (and, I think, insupportable) reductionism in order to argue that these distinctions ought to be eliminated from biology or psychology just because they have no place in fundamental physics.


    • whitefrozen August 23, 2015 / 5:20 pm

      Thanks for the comment! I’m not sure how far I’d want to press the manifest/scientific image doctrine, since it seems a bit too close to a two-world Kantianism as well as a fact/value distinction (more in spirit than in actual fact, as far as the fact/value distinction goes). It’s been some time since I read Sellars classic paper, though, so take that with a grain of salt – this is definitely something I’m open to correction on! Having said that, I’d agree that we’d have to look at theories to really decide just how much of a role such concepts would play in, say, physics.


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