The Pluralism Wars Return: Towards a Diplomatic Ontology of Organism

I was wondering how long the cease fire would last… The pluralism wars flared up again this afternoon over on FaceBook (this link may not work for everyone). Misunderstandings abound, or so it seems to me. My position–which is greatly indebted to thinkers like James and Whitehead, and more recently, Bruno Latour–is that of ontological pluralism. What is finally real in such an ontology has nothing to do with a mind-independent objective nature; rather, what is real are the value-experiences of a multiscaled and creatively evolving ecology of organisms.

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Ontological pluralism is not equivalent to the rather banal thesis that human individuals and collectives have different world views. Of course they do. Call this “world view pluralism” or “multiculturalism.” Many of us don’t like it, but it doesn’t matter: it’s still a plain fact about the sociopolitical environs modern people inhabit. The idea here is that human subjectivity provides for a whole multitude of cultural, psychological, and/or symbolic ways of relating to the world. The Modern constitution has it that each way of relating to reality should be tolerated, even respected, but on the other hand we are also all obliged to agree that there is finally just one pre-existent true reality out there somewhere. This is the incoherence of Modernity’s bifurcation of nature. Depending on whether we’re dealing with a theistic or scientistic fundamentalist, this “one true reality” could be a natural world made of matter that Science/Reason is the only objective, culture-free way of accessing, or a supernatural world made of spirit that Religion/Revelation is the only objective, culture-free way of accessing. This all too Modern settlement is rooted in the bifurcation of nature that Whitehead spent the last 25 years of his life protesting against:

What I am essentially protesting against is the bifurcation of nature into two systems of reality, which, in so far as they are real, are real in different senses. One reality would be the entities such as electrons which are the study of speculative physics. This would be the reality which is there for knowledge; although on this theory it is never known. For what is known is the other sort of reality, which is the byplay of the mind. Thus there would be two natures, one is the conjecture and the other is the dream. –The Concept of Nature, p. 31

Scientific materialism, in other words, has come to oppose our subjective experience of nature (the dream) to an abstract model of nature theorized to be the objective cause of that experience (the conjecture). Latour recently delivered a lecture to an audience of anthropologists that continued Whitehead’s protestation against bifurcation: “What Is the Recommended Dose of Ontological Pluralism for a Safe Anthropological Diplomacy?” It is worth a listen… 

Latour and Whitehead both protest against scientific materialism, but they don’t do so as beautiful souls trying to defend the subjective meanings of consciousness from reduction to the materiality of the nature known to science. As Latour makes clear in the lecture above, his project is an attempt to account for the variety of materials known to the sciences more adequately. Similarly, Whitehead was driven into metaphysics precisely because of his deep appreciation for and desire to defend the scientific process. He was as shocked as everyone else who lived through the demolition of classical physics in the early part of the 20th century. He realized that a quantum, relativistic physics, to continue being rational and offering elucidating descriptions of reality, was going to need new metaphysical justification. His process-relational ontology (aka, ontology of organism) takes materiality very seriously, but it no longer considers “matter” to be the objective half of a bifurcated universe. Rather, enduring materials are understood to be always already hybrid subject-objects. Everything physical is understood to be mixed up with everything conceptual and affective. The universe is awash in flows of feeling, flows composed not just of actualized histories and present appreciations, but of anticipated future trajectories. Energy carries physical as well as emotional force.

All that said, what, then, is ontological pluralism? Unlike the banal form of pluralist multiculturalism that everyone already accepts, ontological pluralism is the more radical thesis that no unified underlying material reality exists that might referee the plurality of organismic (human and nonhuman) value-experiences that contest, cooperate, or metamorphose with one another in order to secure their continued existence. The universe is an evolving ecosystem of organisms. It is eros and ares all the way down, equal parts symbiogenic orgy and struggle for existence from top to bottom. Whitehead (Science and the Modern World) offers a concrete example of how this plays out in the physical world:

“Thus just as the members of the same species mutually favor each other, so do members of associated species. We find the rudimentary fact of association in the existence of the two species, electrons and hydrogen nuclei. The simplicity of the dual association, and the apparent absence of competition from other antagonistic species accounts for the massive endurance which we find among them.”

In the image of the cosmos constructed by the philosophy of organism, evolution comes to refer not only to the process of biological speciation in the earthly mesocosm, but also to wider micro- and macrocosmic ecologies of individualizing energetic activity. Evolution, in its most general outlines, is a theory relevant to the entire scope of cosmic history.

The sciences are generally quite good at producing objectivity, but they do so by forging robust alliances with a multitude of still evolving agencies, not by laying bare the supposed material substratum of all things. As a result, their knowledges and their truths, are always in-the-making (just as the cosmic ecology itself is always in-the-making). Science is a process of inquiry, not a storehouse of produced knowledge.

Latour’s ontological diplomacy is an effort to avoid marshaling “Scientific Facts” as though they might bring a final end to all contestation. Such facts will remain as important as ever even in a non-modern ecological epoch. They deserve to be defended. But the question is, just how is the scientific process best defended from its relativist critics? By claiming that it somehow transcends culture, politics, society, practice, embodiment, subjectivity, etc., and speaks unambiguously on behalf of an objective and pre-existent “Nature”? No, I don’t think this does the reality of the often anarchic and surprising scientific process justice. Latour shows how if such a defense of science via purification were successful, it would only succeed in rendering science entirely unequipped to produce any of the knowledge we’ve come to expect of it.

I’m no relativist, though I am a relationalist. We have plenty of tools to determine which facts are more secure and which more fragile. The clearest evidence we can produce of a well-constructed fact is to trace the network of relationships it has been able to forge between the agencies constituting it. The more tightly and widely networked, the more serious we ought to take it as a fact. So for example, when it comes to the issue of climate change, I’m way more inclined to trust the worldwide scientific community of climatologists–with their well-funded labs, peer-reviewed journals, satellites, thermometers, weather balloons, etc.–than I am a PR rep from the oil industry or the Heritage Foundation. Unfortunately, the PR industry has its own way of forging networks that work tirelessly to undermine the public’s trust in the scientific process. Here, we can and should distinguish between the political and the scientific mode of existence: the Heritage Foundation thinks it is doing climatology, but really it is doing politics. Its networks are not productive of experts, but rather of ideologues. Not that there is anything wrong with politics! The point is just that a more diplomatic effort to sort out these ontological confusions might help us do politics and science more effectively amid the plurality of fragile things composing this open-ended universe.

Ontological pluralism, then, is the thesis that reality is multiple and open-ended (not just that humans have a multitude of world views). It’s not just that our scientific knowledge of the universe is incomplete, its that the universe itself is incomplete. Ontological pluralism does not entail that we ought not to disagree with human collectives whose values differ from our own. We can and must enter into such disagreements! We cannot rely on some transcendent Scientific God’s eye view to settle our scruples for us. Instead, we should weigh the merits of different human values and world views on less otherworldly (ethical and aesthetic) grounds.

For the pluralism of an ontology of organism like that I’ve tried to articulate, the question about whose subjective symbolic or cultural or psychological world view is true and whose is mistaken just doesn’t arise. It is a dumb question once you’ve accepted the conceptual consequences of this path for thinking. If what is finally real are the value-experiences of a multiscaled and creatively evolving ecology of organisms, then the question isn’t “whose view is correct?” (“correct” in the scientific sense of objectively true regarding an external material world), but whose view is more powerful? Being is power, as Whitehead said, following Plato in The Sophist. 

Ontological pluralism is not a thesis about the relativity or objectivity of truth. It concerns the truth of relativity–the truth suggested by post-classical physics, systems biology, and post-colonial anthropology–that the universe is full of agencies at all levels (physical, chemical, biological, psychological, …) and is ontologically incomplete/open-ended/processual. 

The “…” is important for process-oriented pluralists. It signifies that which cannot finally be signified. Call it “Creativity” if you think that’s less cagey.

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24 Comments Add yours

  1. noir-realism says:

    First I harken back to Paul Feyerabend who tried to head all this confusion off ages ago. In a little read essay ‘Cultural Pluralism or Brave New Monopoly?’ he saw the whole affair of debates among the monoculturalists and multiculturalists of his own era as a no brainer. For him monoculturalists like the first world globalists ( he typified this as the U.S. ) were trying to impose their epistemic Western views and technologies upon the third world. He also pointed out the simple fact that cultural exchange need not imply shared values, shared language or a shared philosophy. He also defended a variety of cachophony across the board as the state of things. And he finally came down to the difference between a philosopher and a scientist saying: “Philosophers insist on stability of meaning throughout an argument while scientists, being aware that ‘speaking a language or explaining a situation means both following rules and changing them’, are experts in the art of arguing across lines which philosophers regard as insuperable boundaries of discourse.”

    But with that said I still have issues with some of your foundational statements.

    First you say:

    “Ontological pluralism is not equivalent to the rather banal thesis that human individuals and collectives have different world views. Of course they do. Call this “world view pluralism” or “multiculturalism.” Many of us don’t like it, but it doesn’t matter: it’s still a plain fact about the sociopolitical environs modern people inhabit. The idea here is that human subjectivity provides for a whole multitude of cultural, psychological, and/or symbolic ways of relating to the world.”

    Second you define it as “ontological pluralism is the more radical thesis that no unified underlying material reality exists that might referee the plurality of organismic (human and nonhuman) value-experiences that contest, cooperate, or metamorphose with one another in order to secure their continued existence.”

    It seems you are merging or confusing epistemic pluralism with ontology when you state that “human subjectivity provides for a whole multitude of cultural, psychological, and/or symbolic ways of relating to the world” to underpin your argument for ‘ontological pluralism’. I mean from the beginning of the Enlightenment project epistemology was at the forefront in such choices as the ethos of tolerance, etc. But that had nothing to do with the notion of multiple realities, which is what is required for an ontological pluralism. I can agree with the need for a continuing epistemic pluralism which is what we seem to have across the planet without any such ontological pluralism.

    Then you try to marshal an argument against a strawman ontology that doesn’t exist in any specific philosopher when you state “that no unified underlying material reality exists that might referee the plurality of organismic (human and nonhuman) value-experiences…” Please point to one ontological argument that tries to ground epistemic or experiential value judgments in ontology or the res extensa external or underlying material reality. Even this notion of materialism is and has been contested for a long while now within materialists discourse. I mean if you’re using the older 1930’s Physicalist notions as your strawman, then that is already a slam dunk: it no longer even viable within the sciences which for the most part have moved beyond such reductive / objective notions for a more heuristic approach.

    Materialism is no longer in the sciences some monolithic physicalist fixed set of objective facts to be contested, but is rather an ongoing process of heuristic questioning through process and testing, revisable, updated, qualified, contested at every turn. So many of the arguments of even certain scientists are as you probably see on Facebook are just plain off the mark now.

    But I’ll still agree to disagree with this notion of some kind of ontological relativism. Reality, whatever it ultimately is – in both scientific and metaphysical terms, is one, but our views of it are localized by our epistemologies which impose different cultural, linguistic, and what Sellars would term folk psychological mental flavors upon this cacophony of the Real. Science unlike philosophy understands this epistemic pluralism with ontological monism as a dual view that causes much conflict for philosophers, while less so for the pragmatic working scientists who opt for the ‘Scientific Image’ rather than the confusion of misapplied categories of thought and behavior.

    1. terenceblake says:

      I cannot agree with this angelic view of science. When Feyerabend talks about the “way of the scientist” he is talking about a small few philosophically-cultivated freely exploring bold new speculative conjectures. The vast majority of scientists he considered to be “human ants”: “As opposed to its immediate predecessor, late 20th-century science has given up all philosophical pretensions and has become a powerful business that shapes the mentality of its practitioners. Good payment, good standing with the boss and the colleagues in their ‘unit’ are the chief aims of these human ants who excel in the solution of tiny problems but who can not make any sense of anything transcending their domain of competence. Humanitarian considerations are at a minimum and so is any form of progressiveness that goes beyond local improvements”.

      For Feyerabend there is no such thing as the “scientific image”, and common sense (or so-called “folklore”) is for him often much richer than the pale abstractions one tries to replace it with on the basis of a handful of one-sided cherry-picked ill-analysed results that one has taken from one or other of the scientific paradigms enjoying scholarly approval at the moment.

      Feyerabend was a process-philosopher, although this is often not noticed. He drew his process thought from a combination of Hegel and Kierkegaard, whom he did not see as opposed on this point. He pluralised Hegel by means of Mach and Mill, and kept to this sense of processual pluralism that he found in the work of David Bohm, Niels Bohr, and Wolfgang Pauli. His idea was that there is not just one scientific image but many, and that this plurality is not just a sign of the uncompleted state of our research, but indicative of the nature of reality itself. Such a view makes the epistemology/ontology distinction largely irrelevant to understanding the heuristic nature of science, representing a superficial scholasticism that would shackle research in poorly analysed binary oppositions.

      Ontological plurality goes deeper and wider than such naive logic chopping can take us. It goes deepes because there is no way that one can simply dogmatically posit that “Reality is one”. That too is an assertion that is to be answered by research. Research implies necessarily the exploration of alternative views, so the hypothesis that reality is multiple must not be ruled out of court in advance. It’s no use loudly proclaiming that you are in favour of heuristics and then proceeding to dogmatize, and to assert that Science is on your side.

      Every ontology involves value judgements in terms of (1) the very types of concepts it mobilises, (2) the image of research it projects and conforms to (3) the communities that pursue and promote that ontology. A good example is precisely the difference between diachronic and synchronic ontologies. This is made very clear by Deleuze in his explication of why Spinoza’s fundamental ontological treatise was not called “Being” but “Ethics”. Feyerabend agrees and tries to protect us not only from arrogant conformist philosophers but from their equivalents in the sciences.

      1. noir-realism says:

        Where did I ever capitalize the notion of a unified Science: ” It’s no use loudly proclaiming that you are in favour of heuristics and then proceeding to dogmatize, and to assert that Science is on your side.” I’ve never asserted such notions.

        Wrong: “Every ontology involves value judgements ..” the moment you imply value judgements you’ve entered normative territory, ergo. you’ve entered the slippery slope of epistemological not ontological considerations.

      2. noir-realism says:

        In Against Method he was arguing against methodological monism, or the reductionist vision of sciences the notion that there can be a single methodology can produce scientific progress. I’m in agreement with this!

        Sciences in plural, not some unification of the sciences under the banner of an older form of methodological monism or in the ant-man’s Consilience sense is passé, and has been for some time now. Your arguing against straw dogs that I do not support as usual Terrence.

      3. noir-realism says:

        His methodological pluralism was not based on any notion of ontology whatsoever but on epistemological anarchism which holds that there are no useful and exception-free methodological rules governing the progress of science or the growth of knowledge. It holds that the idea that science can or should operate according to universal and fixed rules is unrealistic, pernicious, and detrimental to science itself.

      4. noir-realism says:

        As for the ‘Scientific Image’: “Unanimity of opinion may be fitting for a church, for the frightened or greedy victims of some (ancient, or modern) myth, or for the weak and willing followers of some tyrant. Variety of opinion is necessary for objective knowledge. And a method that encourages variety is also the only method that is comparable with a humanitarian outlook.” If methodological and epistemic anarchy of heuristics is not as he describes method above then what else is it. This is the scientific image as Sellers presented it in many forms as well. Sellers never tried to reduce reality to some monistic view of things, but felt the sciences worked through the use of a multitude of heuristic devices.

    2. Noir,

      I am indeed merging epistemology and ontology. The two cannot neatly separated in a process-relational/panexperiential account of reality. Whitney Bauman’s discussion of “epistem-ontology” in his latest book on religion and ecology is relevant here: “This term is grounded in the work of thinkers such as Donna Haraway, Deleuze and Guattari, and the pragmatists. The idea is that there is never a separation between knowing (or what we can know) and being (or reality as it exists). This means that what we will always influence the way in which the world is made. Moving beyond mere humanity, the idea is that there is no clear direction toward which life should evolve, but all organisms determine the direction in which life moves; to be sure teleodynamics, or goal-directed processes, emerge, but this does not mean they were inherent to the structure of the universe at the time of the big bang. Thus, there is no clean cut between human knowing and the way in which the world becomes. Knowledge (whether genetic repetition or chemical reactions or consciousness) shapes the way that life evolves, but not in any sort of direction that was predetermined for all times and all places.”

      So each “way of knowing” brings forth a “way of being.” I wouldn’t go so far as to attribute an explicit epistemology to every individual or collective, however: it doesn’t count as epistemological to ground one’s claim that homosexuality is a sin by pointing to a passage in Leviticus. Epistemology implies some second-order reflection which most people untrained in philosophy or critical thinking just don’t find themselves doing. By merging epistemology with ontology, I want to suggest that such reflection inevitably draws one into questions of ontology. We cannot ask how we know without already presupposing what sort of things there are to know (nor can we ask what sort of things there are without already presupposing a means of accessing them).

      Regarding my supposed straw-man version of materialism, I agree that contemporary physics has no use for the concept of “matter” anymore. The position I’m trying to recreate there is my best attempt to understand Levi Bryant’s position. I’ll admit his position regarding the impossibility of ontological pluralism is difficult for me to track, and that he knows better than to employ some 18th century concept of matter. But when he repeatedly falls back into arguing from the perspective of the old Modern settlement (as Latour calls it), where there are many cultural perspectives on one underling nature, the truth of which is accessible only to Science, I feel like he ends up stuffing his shirt with straw.

      1. noir-realism says:

        Okay, we agree that you’re merging epistemology with ontology, therefore these terms in actuality no long hold any definite meaning in the sense that philosophers, at least up to now, have used these terms in theory and practice. That’s fine, but now what you need to do is make that explicit: to create some new concept that will replace those rather than confusing the two in some mixed discourse as the Whitney Bauman seems to be doing (and, I must admit, I have not read Bauman so cannot comment on this).

        As for Levi he uses the notion of structural openness and operational closure: the sense of studying not how humans perceive the world, but how non-human players, actors, entities encounter the world. As he describes it in “second-order observation” we are not observing how an entity is presented to us, but rather are seeking to observe how the world is presented to another entity (Onto-Cartograph, 62). He combines this notion of second-order observation from both Niklas Luhmann and Jakob von Uexkull.

        Also the sciences no longer seek an ” underling nature, the truth of which is accessible only to Science” – this is, again, passé; what the sciences do is probe, test, update, refine, challenge, and datafy through a myriad of heuristic procedures and apparatuses the processes and objects of their work. The notion of an “underling nature, the truth of which is accessible only to Science” is the strawman notion of science as it was known during the age of the physicalists reductionism. This no longer exists in the pragmatic world of most working scientists.

      2. “Also the sciences no longer seek an ” underling nature, the truth of which is accessible only to Science” – this is, again, passé; what the sciences do is probe, test, update, refine, challenge, and datafy through a myriad of heuristic procedures and apparatuses the processes and objects of their work… This no longer exists in the pragmatic world of most working scientists.”

        Pragmatically, no, and it is doubtful that it ever did exist in that sense – I think Latour and other ANT researchers have shown this. But at the level of discourse about science – the philosophical reflections of scientists, policy makers, and some philosophers about their practices – I think it is pervasive. I work with scientists regularly who make normative and political claims based on just this assumption, and it has significant implications in terms of policy and practice, effectively rejecting or refusing alternative knowledges and knowledge-making practices. I’m not suggesting that that’s what others in this discussion intend, just that it is what happens when science moves out of the lab and into the world of policy. It’s something to be attentive to.

      3. Jeremy,

        This distinction between how the sciences are actually practiced vs how Science usually gets theorized is crucial.

        Based on Craig’s response (and Levi’s before him over on FB), I get the sense that I’m not being clear in my post about which position I’m attacking and which I’m defending.

      4. noir-realism says:

        Yea, I’ll agree that many policy makers who may also be scientists are in fact still ‘physicalists’ of the old school. So yea in that sense these people are dinosaurs who have yet to die off and let new truths rise up. Hell that happens across the board in academia and the sciences on that score. People get entrenched in their power. If they had to admit their ideas were wrong they’d feel a sense of the abyss opening up. It’s a defense mechanism that sets in with these creatures.

        I guess I was arguing more from the newer breed of scientist on the rise. But you’re right we have to remember those who have the power ideologically at the moment and control the purse strings.

  2. terenceblake says:

    You make two objections:
    1) That you do not unify and dogmatize. However,n your conclusion you state: “Science unlike philosophy understands this epistemic pluralism with ontological monism as a dual view that causes much conflict for philosophers, while less so for the pragmatic working scientists who opt for the ‘Scientific Image’ rather than the confusion of misapplied categories of thought and behavior”.

    2) “Wrong”. That’s it, that’s your argument. Which you merely window-dress with a reiteration of what you have already said.

    More generally, you quote approvingly from Feyerabend’s praise of “experts in the art of arguing across lines which philosophers regard as insuperable boundaries of discourse.” Yet you put up supposedly insuperable boundaries between epistemology and ontology that not even Spinoza respected, much less Hegel or Nietzsche, or Heidegger, or Deleuze, nor even Quine.

    1. terenceblake says:

      I have already given a more complete characterisation of Feyerabend’s views above. For more details one can read: https://www.academia.edu/1955628/IS_ONTOLOGY_MAKING_US_STUPID.

      1. noir-realism says:

        I put no barrier when I describe a dual view… for whatever reason you seem to want to reduce the notion of a ‘dual view’ to some binary are fenced off separation when it is actually a dialectical interplay and interactive mixture of the two domains without reducing the one to the other.

  3. terenceblake says:

    The “scientific image” for Sellars is the idealized convergence constructed out of the diverse particular scientific images. That is, he still presupposes a monistic principle of convergence. The scientific image is not a methodological notion prioritising heuristics as you claim, i.e. it is not an image of thought in the Deleuzian sense. Rather, it is a substantive image in Heidegger’s sense of a world view, or a specific understanding of Being.

    Are you posing binary oppositions that would block real research, including Matt’s conceptual research? The oppositions you posit between philosophers and scientists (which you take rather literalistically), between epistemology and ontology, between the scientific image and the manifest image are rather non-dialectical ones.

    You use the same argument against me as against Matt, that of straw-manning: “Then you try to marshal an argument against a strawman ontology that doesn’t exist in any specific philosopher”. Where you see straw-men and simple mistakes that can be corrected by your own brash assertions (this is all you have in way of argument), I see a very interesting well-read conceptually coherent argument.

    Your description of Feyerabend’s views corresponds to what he says in AGAINST METHOD up to around Chapter 16, when he begins to consider not just intra-scientific comparison, but comparison between scientific tradtions and other traditions. Here he claims we need “cosmological” (i.e. what he will in later books call “ontological”) criticism.

    1. noir-realism says:

      This is from the horses mouth (Sellers):

      In “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man” [PSIM], Sellars lays out his view of philosophy and its current situation. “The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term” (PSIM, in SPR:1; in ISR: 369). “To achieve success in philosophy would be, to use a contemporary turn of phrase, to ‘know one’s way around’ … , not in that unreflective way in which the centipede of the story knew its way around before it faced the question, ‘how do I walk?’, but in that reflective way which means that no intellectual holds are barred” (loc. cit.). Thus, philosophy is a reflectively conducted higher-order inquiry that is continuous with but distinguishable from any of the special disciplines, and the understanding it aims at must have practical force, guiding our activities, both theoretical and practical.

      Sellars characterizes the manifest image as “the framework in terms of which man came to be aware of himself as man-in-the-world” (PSIM, in SPR: 6; in ISR: 374), but it is, more broadly, the framework in terms of which we ordinarily observe and explain our world. The fundamental objects of the manifest image are persons and things. There is a particular emphasis on persons, which puts normativity and reason at center stage. In the manifest image, people think and they do things for reasons, and both of these “can occur only within a framework of conceptual thinking in terms of which [they] can be criticized, supported, refuted, in short, evaluated” (PSIM, in SPR: 6; in ISR: 374). In the manifest image persons are very different from mere things; how and why normative assessments apply to things is an important and contentious question within the framework.

      This is epistemology with no sense of convergence of monistic reduction as you interpret it. Feyerbend would have no problem with Sellers notion of “no intellectual holds are barred”. Again you seem to think you know what in fact you do not know. Not sure where you got the interpretation of Sellar’s that you offer, but it is sheer nonsense. The scientific image is a ‘framework’ a heuristic device, an explanatory device. In fact Sellars never disputed the fact of the manifest image either. He knew that most of us live with it in our day to day lives, too. Maybe some of his disciples have tended to try to do away with the one, but Sellar’s himself saw its uses for our ethical dilemmas and normative decision making processes. The scientific image was a specific framework to be used for specific theoretical and practical considerations. Nothing more.

      1. noir-realism says:

        I assume you are qualifying it where Sellars claims that “the scientific image presents itself as a rival image. From its point of view the manifest image on which it rests is an ‘inadequate’ but pragmatically useful likeness of a reality which first finds its adequate (in principle) likeness in the scientific image” (PSIM, in SPR: 20; in ISR: 388).

        That’s usually where critics hang their hat. Yet, this notion of rival image, implies a plurality of images vying with each other rather than some monolithic system imposing its law upon the rest.

    2. noir-realism says:

      Are you posing binary oppositions that would block real research, including Matt’s conceptual research?

      No, of course not. Again that would reduce my argument to idiocy.

      AGAINST METHOD – claims we need “cosmological” (i.e. what he will in later books call “ontological”) criticism.

      Actually that wasn’t the spot. I mean even in The Tyranny of Science his central complaint is that a particular abstract, theoretical, ‘objectivist’ kind of science, together with an associated kind of thinking about science, now dominate our thinking, excluding more human modes of thought. Scientism, the belief that science has the answer to all meaningful questions, is also a target.

      I agree with this in principle, but current sciences are no longer guided by such objectivist notions but have through those kinds of critiques in the 90’s come a long way toward a more open and multidisciplinary approach free of those older dogmas.

    3. noir-realism says:

      Another is that Feyerabend’s ontology was realist to the core. Feyerabend defended a realism according to which “the interpretation of a scientific theory depends upon nothing but the state of affairs it describes” (Philosophical Papers, Volume 1, p. 42). At the same time he claimed to find in Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations a contextual theory of meaning according to which the meaning of terms is determined not by their use, nor by their connection with experience, but by the role they play in the wider context of a theory or explanation. Thesis I, the key proposition of Feyerabend’s early work, is supposed to encapsulate both the contextual theory of meaning and scientific realism. Only realism, by insisting on interpreting theories in their most vulnerable form as universally-quantified statements which strive for truth, leads to scientific progress instead of stagnation, he argued. Only realism allows us to live up to the highest intellectual ideals of critical attitude, honesty, and testability.

  4. terenceblake says:

    This is what I say: “The “scientific image” for Sellars is the idealized convergence constructed out of the diverse particular scientific images. That is, he still presupposes a monistic principle of convergence. The scientific image is not a methodological notion prioritising heuristics as you claim, i.e. it is not an image of thought in the Deleuzian sense. Rather, it is a substantive image in Heidegger’s sense of a world view, or a specific understanding of Being”.

    This is what Sellars says:
    “Thus the conception of the scientific or postulational image is an idealization in the sense that it is a conception of an integration of a manifold of images, each of which is the application to man of a framework of concepts which have a certain autonomy. For each scientific theory is, from the standpoint of methodology, a structure which is built at a different ‘place’ and by different procedures within the intersubjectively accessible world of perceptible things. Thus ‘the’ scientific image is a construct from a number of images, each of which is supported by the manifest world”.

    It is clear that for Sellars the scientific image is
    1) an idealized “construct”
    2) out of the convergence or “integration” of diverse scientific images
    3) on the substantive level, a unified “framework of concepts”, rather than a meta-level methodology.

    1. noir-realism says:

      Okay, I’ll try once again: a heuristic device is an abstract concept or model or construct useful for thinking about social and physical phenomena.

      This does not imply some monistic convergence in my mind: “…a conception of an integration of a manifold of images, each of which is the application to man of a framework of concepts which have a certain autonomy.” It implies an integration which is not a monistic reduction of these but an organization hanging together in his sense of “the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term”.

      Sellars ontology is a realistic naturalism and nominalistic to the core. In ordinary language we often talk about meanings, properties, propositions, etc., thus apparently committing ourselves to the existence of such abstracta. Sellars disarms such talk by analyzing it as material mode metalinguistic speech about the functional role of expression-kinds. Similarly, he disarms fact-talk by treating it as material mode metalinguistic speech about truths. The only things we are committed to ontologically by such speech are expression tokens that participate in complex causal systems involving normatively assessable interactions between language users and the world. Most important, talk of abstract entities is shown not to have any explanatory force, given Sellars’s reconstruction of it.

      1. noir-realism says:

        Either way, it’s been a great discussion on both parts, but I think we should end it here or with a last statement by you, Terrence. 🙂

        I don’t want to fill up Matthew’s blog with more of this chatter 🙂

        sorry Matt…

  5. terenceblake says:

    You claim: “His methodological pluralism was not based on any notion of ontology whatsoever but on epistemological anarchism”. I give you reason to think otherwise and you reply “That’s not the spot”. I am not talking about “spots” but giving a coherent account of Feyerabend’s philosophical development.

    I sketch out this development in quite a few places, for example:
    http://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/pluralists-progress-1-feyerabend-and-latour/ and
    http://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/pluralism-historicity-and-realism-the-case-of-paul-feyerabend/

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