The Ontological Tyranny

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The Ontological Tyranny

Postby without-music » Mon Jun 27, 2011 1:30 pm

The following is an excerpt from a recent paper of mine on the philosophy of science. In light of a recent discussion between James, Silhouette and I, I think it's rather relevant.

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Elizabeth Lloyd traces the history of the ‘ontological tyranny’ back to seventeenth century science and philosophy. By the eighteenth century, Lloyd observes, the ontological tyranny had become a universal standard for all knowledge claims. In the seventeenth century, many figures – perhaps most notably, John Locke – differentiated between primary and secondary qualities such that primary qualities were given a more ‘real’ status because their existence is independent of all knowers; they are “absolute and constant” and thus objectively measurable – they do not change relative to time, place or person. Secondary qualities, contrarily, arise from our sensory interaction with the world; they are things like taste and colour and are therefore dependent on individual knowers. They are less real because they fluctuate and are relative to persons; they are subjective. Lloyd observes that each philosopher or scientist making the distinction between primary and secondary qualities had “prior ontological commitments that justified their adoption of specific methods for investigating nature”. Moreover, many of these figures were explicit about their prior commitments. Galileo believed that the physical universe was geometrically perfect and existed independent of us, knowable only through the proper mathematical method. He derived this account from his belief in God, and his commitment to Plato’s metaphysical assumption that God is Truth. The case is analogous with Descartes. As such, Galileo and Descartes both derive their distinction between primary and secondary qualities from “an ontology that was fundamentally religious”. By tracing its origins, Lloyd finds that the ontological tyranny comes not only from philosophical views – Plato’s divine equivocation and the mathematic philosophy – instead of scientific discoveries, but also that these philosophical views are predicated on unverifiable religious assumptions (i.e. that God made the world in geometric perfection). The ontological tyranny grounds itself in the “strong claim that the objective reality – the reality converged upon through the application of objective methods – equals all of the Really Real”. Implicit are the assumptions that the Really Real exists independently of human knowers, objective knowledge of this independent reality requires a detached and disinterested reasoning, and that perspective or a non-disinterested point of view will get in the way of our access to independent reality. Last, that this reality is knowable to everyone. Thus, knowledge of the Really Real exists independently of who acquires it, as long as it is acquired through the proper methods. By accepting the ontological tyranny in any of its incarnations, a philosophy is thus committed to the view that good scientific knowledge is mandatorily neutral, non-value-laden and independent of individual knowers.

On this picture of objectivity, we can arrive at scientific knowledge only by reasoning in a detached manner and stripping our inquiries of all values and interests. In verifying a given hypothesis, the scientist amasses a corresponding body of evidence. Each time the hypothesis is able to accommodate a piece of evidence, it grows stronger; if any one piece of evidence is incongruous with the hypothesis, the hypothesis is thrown out. This is the scientific method. By working within this method, we are able to access the Really Real, which is the truth of the world regardless of who, when or where it is accessed. Thus, scientific reasoning is always empirical, value-neutral and disinterested. Its endpoint is objective knowledge, which is a fact of objective reality as it exists independently.
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I think it would be rather productive to engage the topic, the tyranny of ontology in science. Philosophers like Nelson and Anderson propose alternative ways to understand the scientific enterprise: Lynn Nelson and her holistic account of naturalized epistemology counted among my favourites. However, there are still many thinkers taking the light for their science from Plato's fire, to speak with Nietzsche. To begin, then: is it possible to today defend the ontological tyranny, or must it be thrown away out of hand?
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby turtle » Mon Jun 27, 2011 1:51 pm

would you give current examples of ontological tyranny......also an example of really real.....
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby without-music » Mon Jun 27, 2011 1:58 pm

That there is an objective reality "out there" to be gotten at, that it can be accessed through rigorous application of the proper method, regardless of person and context, and that the fruit of such a labour is the Truth, a truth transcending historical context, a metaphysical reality, is nothing more than the ontological tyranny at work in science. The Really Real is Lloyd's term for the object of metaphysical realism: a fact transcending knower, method, horizon (in the Gadamerian sense) and context.
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby turtle » Mon Jun 27, 2011 2:07 pm

without-music wrote:That there is an objective reality "out there" to be gotten at, that it can be accessed through rigorous application of the proper method, regardless of person and context, and that the fruit of such a labour is the Truth, a truth transcending historical context, a metaphysical reality, is nothing more than the ontological tyranny at work in science. The Really Real is Lloyd's term for the object of metaphysical realism: a fact transcending knower, method, horizon (in the Gadamerian sense) and context.

how would you evaluate the information we have about Wallace's Line and its value to us...
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby without-music » Mon Jun 27, 2011 2:32 pm

turtle wrote:how would you evaluate the information we have about Wallace's Line and its value to us...

Can you be a little bit clearer in your question? I'm not quite sure I understand what you're asking.
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby turtle » Mon Jun 27, 2011 2:36 pm

without-music wrote:
turtle wrote:how would you evaluate the information we have about Wallace's Line and its value to us...

Can you be a little bit clearer in your question? I'm not quite sure I understand what you're asking.

sure----the wallace line gave info which partially led to the understanding of evolution and plate tectonics....
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby without-music » Mon Jun 27, 2011 2:45 pm

Right, but I'm still not sure what your question is exactly. If you're inquiring into my understanding of the evaluation of scientific discovery, it is as follows (to summarize): I think any truth-claim is necessarily grounded in an epistemic community and situated within a web of the beliefs and theories of that community and its respective knowers. Such knowledge is always thus contextual with respect to its community. Consequently, knowledge is evaluated socially; we knowers come to know things based on a socially determined set of criteria, inextricable from a given epistemic community. In short: Wallace's Line is valuable within a specific context, and evaluatable only within that same context.
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby Only_Humean » Mon Jun 27, 2011 2:56 pm

without-music wrote:On this picture of objectivity, we can arrive at scientific knowledge only by reasoning in a detached manner and stripping our inquiries of all values and interests. In verifying a given hypothesis, the scientist amasses a corresponding body of evidence. Each time the hypothesis is able to accommodate a piece of evidence, it grows stronger; if any one piece of evidence is incongruous with the hypothesis, the hypothesis is thrown out. This is the scientific method. By working within this method, we are able to access the Really Real, which is the truth of the world regardless of who, when or where it is accessed. Thus, scientific reasoning is always empirical, value-neutral and disinterested. Its endpoint is objective knowledge, which is a fact of objective reality as it exists independently.


This is a very simplified view, I think; even hardline scientists would admit that the direction in which the very great majority of science progresses is fuelled by interests, values, applications and so on. And anyone working in any field of science knows where the money is - behind the values of government and industry. And on a point of procedure, a hypothesis isn't thrown out with the first incongruity; it's maintained until a better hypothesis presents itself.

Excellent post, though. It's true that scientific knowledge can be used oppressively by clever orators, and can and has been used to justify all sorts of things that those of us laden with values would term atrocities, from Unit 731 to Tuskegee.

I'm not sure it's even a point of interest (at least, to me) whether there is an objective reality out there. If I throw a subjective brick through my perception of your window, your subjective window breaks and you have to tidy up the subjective shards. I can look up tide tables and star charts and they work for me and everyone else. The question is whether there is an objective knowledge of the reality, one language that is fundamentally tuned to the state of things as they are, or whether we're looking at contingent models rather than metaphysical truth. Non-realism is not an effective challenge to Realism, to my view, whereas Instrumentalism is.

There's a temptation to argue against such tyranny by taking the reverse view, that all is opinion and prejudice, yet we trust our aeroplanes and cars and medicine and in our daily lives expect them to work. The tyranny comes not from discovering/constructing facts from the world around us, but from hidden values and assumptions that we apply to them, when we use their ontological status as a rhetorical weapon rather than a bare descriptor.
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby turtle » Mon Jun 27, 2011 2:58 pm

without-music wrote:Right, but I'm still not sure what your question is exactly. If you're inquiring into my understanding of the evaluation of scientific discovery, it is as follows (to summarize): I think any truth-claim is necessarily grounded in an epistemic community and situated within a web of the beliefs and theories of that community and its respective knowers. Such knowledge is always thus contextual with respect to its community. Consequently, knowledge is evaluated socially; we knowers come to know things based on a socially determined set of criteria, inextricable from a given epistemic community. In short: Wallace's Line is valuable within a specific context, and evaluatable only within that same context.

what context and who is evaluating....what is the
point you are making.....i dont understand.....does knowing about the wallace line have value to society in general....
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby Only_Humean » Mon Jun 27, 2011 2:59 pm

turtle wrote:what context and who is evaluating....what is the
point you are making.....i dont understand.....does knowing about the wallace line have value to society in general....


Please stay on topic, turtle.
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby turtle » Mon Jun 27, 2011 3:07 pm

Only_Humean wrote:
turtle wrote:what context and who is evaluating....what is the
point you are making.....i dont understand.....does knowing about the wallace line have value to society in general....


Please stay on topic, turtle.

please pay attention to what i am writing and you will see that this is very much on topic....
you are incorrect in your evaluation.....
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby Only_Humean » Mon Jun 27, 2011 3:16 pm

turtle wrote:
Only_Humean wrote:Please stay on topic, turtle.

please pay attention to what i am writing and you will see that this is very much on topic....
you are incorrect in your evaluation.....


I'm paying attention. without_music is writing about scientific ontology and you are asking for his opinion on a particular piece of evidence. You have made no comments about how this relates to the OP, and when he brings it back into the discussion you act as though it's a non sequitur.

This is a thread about scientific ontology. Not to discuss the evidence for evolutionary biology. Natural Science is the forum for discussing opinions of the Wallace line.
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby turtle » Mon Jun 27, 2011 3:24 pm

Only_Humean wrote:
turtle wrote:
Only_Humean wrote:Please stay on topic, turtle.

please pay attention to what i am writing and you will see that this is very much on topic....
you are incorrect in your evaluation.....


I'm paying attention. without_music is writing about scientific ontology and you are asking for his opinion on a particular piece of evidence. You have made no comments about how this relates to the OP, and when he brings it back into the discussion you act as though it's a non sequitur.

This is a thread about scientific ontology. Not to discuss the evidence for evolutionary biology. Natural Science is the forum for discussing opinions of the Wallace line.

again you do not understand.....
my questions are pointed at the op....
i am trying to clarify the terms really real and ontological tyranny....it doesnt matter what example..it doesnt have to be biology or geology..
but it has to be something otherwise what is he talking about....
you would be well to reevaluate by reading and understanding everything here...
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby Only_Humean » Mon Jun 27, 2011 3:33 pm

turtle wrote:again you do not understand.....
my questions are pointed at the op....
i am trying to clarify the terms really real and ontological tyranny....it doesnt matter what example..it doesnt have to be biology or geology..
but it has to be something otherwise what is he talking about....
you would be well to reevaluate by reading and understanding everything here...


Again, I understand. It was clarified here, at which point you wandered off-topic without any reference to the OP or clarification.

If you wish to continue this discussion with me, please do so via PM.
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby without-music » Mon Jun 27, 2011 3:35 pm

Only_Humean wrote:This is a very simplified view, I think; even hardline scientists would admit that the direction in which the very great majority of science progresses is fuelled by interests, values, applications and so on. And anyone working in any field of science knows where the money is - behind the values of government and industry. And on a point of procedure, a hypothesis isn't thrown out with the first incongruity; it's maintained until a better hypothesis presents itself.

Two points. First: you're correct in pointing out my reductionism; it was a paper with a specific word-limit. As I was trying to cover some fairly broad fields (I moved from the ontological tyranny to a contemporary replacement of it), I was forced to simplify in some instances. Second: I agree with you that most scientists see their work as inevitably value-laden; however, I'm more concerned with the philosophers of science, some of which continue to maintain the tyranny.

Only_Humean wrote:The question is whether there is an objective knowledge of the reality, one language that is fundamentally tuned to the state of things as they are, or whether we're looking at contingent models rather than metaphysical truth.

Well said. Refer to my reply to turtle wherein I claimed that knowledge-claims are subject to a socially-determined set of criteria. This criteria often concerns itself primarily with what you identify as Instrumentalism, or how effective a given hypothesis is in helping us navigate the world while accounting for observed phenomena.

Only_Humean wrote:There's a temptation to argue against such tyranny by taking the reverse view, that all is opinion and prejudice [...]

Such a temptation doubtless exists. However, I'm more concerned with displacing the ontological tyranny with a more viable model of how science actually works. In this, I am rather fond of Nelson's empirical holism.

Only_Humean wrote:The tyranny comes not from discovering/constructing facts from the world around us, but from hidden values and assumptions that we apply to them, when we use their ontological status as a rhetorical weapon rather than a bare descriptor.

This is precisely the importance of rooting out instances of the tyranny wherever it occurs. All inquiry is inevitably value-laden; it's when we take certain science for granted that we get things like androcentrism worming its way deep into the collective understanding of how the body operates.
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby phyllo » Mon Jun 27, 2011 3:39 pm

I think that the ontological tyranny is some kind of perfect ideal. It's not attainable in the imperfect world of human scientists. Ego, value judgments and self-interest are part of scientific investigations. Certain scientific fields are more readily influenced by these factors. For example, the softer sciences will be more influenced by value judgments. In all fields, the personalities of the scientists will play a large role. Although I think that scientists are interested in the really real, the human desires for money, status, security, etc. are too strong to overcome.
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby turtle » Mon Jun 27, 2011 6:04 pm

phyllo wrote:I think that the ontological tyranny is some kind of perfect ideal. It's not attainable in the imperfect world of human scientists. Ego, value judgments and self-interest are part of scientific investigations. Certain scientific fields are more readily influenced by these factors. For example, the softer sciences will be more influenced by value judgments. In all fields, the personalities of the scientists will play a large role. Although I think that scientists are interested in the really real, the human desires for money, status, security, etc. are too strong to overcome.

so does music agree that ontological tyranny is a perfect ideal....i would say probably...the really real.....i think it is good that music speaks out aganst this tyranny.....also it seems that the reallyreal stuff has a way of rearing its ugly head
no matter how greedy people can be.
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby without-music » Mon Jun 27, 2011 6:32 pm

turtle wrote:so does music agree that ontological tyranny is a perfect ideal...

Well, that would imply that I hold the way science actually works to be some sort of impoverished, unrealized attempt at that which the ontological tyranny affirms. I do not: such a posit-ion (positing) radically differs from the way we do science. It's not a matter of degree; the concepts are contrary. Why not affirm value-ladenness, why not embrace it! Instead of thinking science to be infected and demeaned by values, why not think it strengthened by them! This is my position, turtle.
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby phyllo » Mon Jun 27, 2011 6:51 pm

Why not affirm value-ladenness, why not embrace it! Instead of thinking science to be infected and demeaned by values, why not think it strengthened by them!

How would that work? The gender of scientists plays a role in evaluating experimental results? The racial views of an author are used to determine whether a paper is published? Could you provide some examples of how embracing value-ladedness would be beneficial.
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby statiktech » Mon Jun 27, 2011 6:54 pm

Great thread.

The tyranny comes not from discovering/constructing facts from the world around us, but from hidden values and assumptions that we apply to them, when we use their ontological status as a rhetorical weapon rather than a bare descriptor.


Excellent response. Very well said, and I think you get right at the root of the issue--

Can an ontilogical status be anything more than a description? As far as I can see, even our best 'explanations' are essentially specialized descriptions. We experience some behavior, or phenomena, and infer causes through observation and description of predictable reactions. That is to say, explanations speak more to predictability than any universal or absolute Truth. Ask "why?" or "how?" enough times and everything becomes an unknown.
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby Amorphos » Mon Jun 27, 2011 7:01 pm

Science describes how things act, not what they are. Problem arises when the actors start saying what the play is, or worse when they deny there is anything bar actors.
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby phyllo » Mon Jun 27, 2011 7:27 pm

Ask "why?" or "how?" enough times and everything becomes an unknown.

That's a philosopher's point of view. A scientist believes that the more you ask, the more you will know.
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby turtle » Mon Jun 27, 2011 7:29 pm

phyllo wrote:
Why not affirm value-ladenness, why not embrace it! Instead of thinking science to be infected and demeaned by values, why not think it strengthened by them!

How would that work? The gender of scientists plays a role in evaluating experimental results? The racial views of an author are used to determine whether a paper is published? Could you provide some examples of how embracing value-ladedness would be beneficial.

yes i also would like to see an example of value-ladenness science.....i hope this is not off-topic...
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby turtle » Mon Jun 27, 2011 7:33 pm

phyllo wrote:
Ask "why?" or "how?" enough times and everything becomes an unknown.

That's a philosopher's point of view. A scientist believes that the more you ask, the more you will know.

actually we need a philosopher-scientist at this point and music may be the man...on the topic of ontology-tyranny....
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Re: The Ontological Tyranny

Postby iambiguous » Mon Jun 27, 2011 7:34 pm

without-music wrote:That there is an objective reality "out there" to be gotten at, that it can be accessed through rigorous application of the proper method, regardless of person and context, and that the fruit of such a labour is the Truth, a truth transcending historical context, a metaphysical reality, is nothing more than the ontological tyranny at work in science. The Really Real is Lloyd's term for the object of metaphysical realism: a fact transcending knower, method, horizon (in the Gadamerian sense) and context.


If, ultimately, there is an objective, ontological reality that expresses and explains everything then would that not also include these speculations about it? And if it does, does that not then infer that human autonomy is an illusion---merely another inherent manifestation of the tyranny?

Thus the world "tyranny" itself would become an anthropomorphism.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

Start here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=176529
Then here: viewtopic.php?f=15&t=185296
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