Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

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Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby Mr Reasonable » Thu Sep 02, 2010 5:54 pm

Ok guys.

Last year a university in my area hosted a philosophy conference with the same title as this thread.

The list of speakers was as follows:
J.T. Ismael, University of Arizona, "Freedom, Natural Law, and the Humanization of Physics"
Michael Friedman, Stanford University, "Wandering Significance and the Dynamics of Reason"
Mark Wilson, University of Pittsburgh, "What Can Contemporary Philosophy Learn from Our "Scientific Philosophy" Heritage?"
James Ladyman, University of Bristol, and Don Ross, UAB, "Before and After Science (With Apologies to B. Eno)"
Paul Humphreys, University of Virginia, "Metaphysics for Metahumans"
Daniel Dennett, "Kinds of Things"
Andrew Melnyk, University of Missouri, "Summary and Going Forward"


I have been charged with the task of fleshing out and then condensing this information into something consumable by undergraduate philosophy students, and with taking the technical aspects of the arguments and pointing out the ethical implications of them to create a class that relates the elements of this debate specifically to ethics.

Now the first part is easy. Determine what's necessary for each position in the debate, take note of the relevant points of each argument, then remove the jargon and replace with plain language, seal it, put a price on it and traffic it in the philosophy department to unsuspecting students who thought they were just going to get to argue about abortion and racism and the death penalty, thus startling them into the world of philosophy.

The second part may be a bit more fun, (because I hardly, in my own opinion see a connection between a conception of metaphysics which is immutable and one that's necessarily connected to morality and ethics).

Conveniently enough....these lectures were recorded and posted on youtube.

So....if anyone has any interest in this particular subject, feel free to use this thread as a place to disseminate your ideas, and possibly I might gain some insight that would make the job I do better.

Here are the lectures as I promised: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_q ... llmer&aq=f

Thanks to all who participate in advance.


And to get this started, I'll throw out one possible answer to the question of whether or not science can dispense w/ metaphysics. Here we go....

Scientific naturalism, like most sciences, has a system of proofs which relies heavily on mathematics.
Mathematics doesn't seem to function very well without assuming some kind of identity theory as a most basic axiom.
Even if two objects in the physical world share the maximum number of properties, it is impossible for them to share the property of spatiotemporal location.
Because there is no 100% identity in the physical world. Mathematics must postulate identities in order to be able to process data at all.
Postulating non-physical entities, (like identities), is what you do when you're doing metaphysics.
Science therefore cannot dispense with metaphysics.

Now I'm not saying that you can't push metaphysics into a corner, or redefine it so narrowly that it's hardly relevant, I'm just saying you can't properly dispense of it.

That may or may not be my actual view. I'm interested in hearing yours.

Thoughts? Comments?
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby uglypeoplefucking » Fri Sep 03, 2010 1:05 am

identity is something entities posess once we label them as entities - everything we know has an identity - i would argue that where there is the trait of being an entity there is also the trait of having an identity - so there's no sense treating the two as ontologically distinct things - they share a common semiotic origin . . . or something.

in any case i second the OP with regards to whether or not scientific naturalism excludes metaphysics. it doesn't - the two merely talk past each other. metaphysics isn't a branch of science, but we can still understand things from a metaphysical perspective without offense to science.
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby Mr Reasonable » Fri Sep 03, 2010 4:42 am

Churro the Viscous wrote:
Smears wrote:Postulating non-physical entities, (like identities), is what you do when you're doing metaphysics.

I'm not quite convinced that referring to an identity as an entity in itself is accurate.

Entity:
1.
something that has a real existence; thing: corporeal entities.
2.
being or existence, esp. when considered as distinct, independent, or self-contained

Now, clearly identity is not corporeal.
Can it be considered distinct, independent, or self-contained?
I would suggest that it can't.
I could be wrong.
I'd be grateful if you proved me wrong.
(I'd be a little more grateful if you proved me right, but in either case, I'd be grateful for the truth)


Ok I think you attacked the particular term I chose to use rather than the point I was trying to make but that's fine. I could equally say, "the postulation of mathematical structures which themselves are not physical onto the physical world by way of quantification".

But that's not actually the point I'm trying to make. It was more of a hairbrained example I pulled out just to guide the understanding of the material.

The more pressing matter, and the purpose for this thread was to assimilate some of the philosophical arguments in the videos into an ethical framework, or to go from the abstract to the concrete by way of analogous arguments. I'd like to come up with examples of why Darwinism means that we should act a certain way, or why the variances in levels of empirical proof in different kinds of sciences effect our overall reasoning and how that trickles down into the way people live their lives, (not the scientific evidence, but the variances in proof which seem to give rise to different epistemological camps like the science vs. religion thing).
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby brevel_monkey » Fri Sep 03, 2010 4:49 am

Scientific naturalism, like most sciences, has a system of proofs which relies heavily on mathematics.
Mathematics doesn't seem to function very well without assuming some kind of identity theory as a most basic axiom.
Even if two objects in the physical world share the maximum number of properties, it is impossible for them to share the property of spatiotemporal location.
Because there is no 100% identity in the physical world. Mathematics must postulate identities in order to be able to process data at all.
Postulating non-physical entities, (like identities), is what you do when you're doing metaphysics.
Science therefore cannot dispense with metaphysics.

Now I'm not saying that you can't push metaphysics into a corner, or redefine it so narrowly that it's hardly relevant, I'm just saying you can't properly dispense of it.


The whole maths/indentities thing is beyond me. I'll just have to take your word for it that you need them for maths.

Anyway, what I wonder is, what does 'science can dispense w/ metaphysics' entail? I think it can mean two things. First would be the weak conclusion that science can operate without metephysics, second would be the strong conclusion that science negates the need for metaphysics altogether. I, for one, don't believe that proving the first entails the second.

Metaphysics, by and large, is the study of concepts in language more than it is the study of physical realiaties. For example, the question of whether indentities are 'entities' really is a question of whether we can successfully construct a coherent concept of non-physical entities or not. And questions about reality don't so much dig in to what can be disvoered in the physical world, but how what is discovered is to be framed conceptually. I asking and answering these questions can have its own value, apart from science. To highlight this, imagine a point at which science has given us a final theory. Even then, there will probably still be questions about whether 'identities' exist or not. Science may not need metaphysics, but that doesn't mean that it is going to answer all the questions that mp is trying to answer.

If though, the question is purely 'can science operate without metaphysics', then I guess you are looking for a more narrow set of arguments such as the one you gave. In that case, all I'd say is that I agree that the narrowness of these examples doesn't 'push metaphysics in to a corner'.

I guess many metphysicians might have a problem with my view of them as investigators of language and concepts. I think a lot of metaphysicians want what they are doing to be something more similar to actual investigative science than it actually is, and I think this is a mistake.

And sorry, I really don't have the time to watch all of those lectures, or even a good few of them! But maybe one day, as they look interesting.
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby Mr Reasonable » Fri Sep 03, 2010 5:40 am

Thanks Brevel.

If you were only gonna watch one, I'd say check out either the Dennet ones, or the Ross ones. Everyone knows Dennet, plus he's a funny guy, and Ross is actually one of the smartest people I've ever met, and smokes alot of cigarettes.
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby Diekon » Fri Sep 03, 2010 6:09 am

Smears wrote:Postulating non-physical entities, (like identities), is what you do when you're doing metaphysics.
Science therefore cannot dispense with metaphysics.

Now I'm not saying that you can't push metaphysics into a corner, or redefine it so narrowly that it's hardly relevant, I'm just saying you can't properly dispense of it.


I would narrow it down, because this is a very wide definition of metaphysics, one that would include allmost all language unless you stick exclusively to particulars. A merchand selling apples would be doing metaphysics.

Maybe it's metaphysics only when you think non-physical entities are real, and (non-metaphysical) abstraction if you're just using them because it's convenient, or something like that.
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby Mr Reasonable » Fri Sep 03, 2010 6:14 am

So assume that I think a guy selling apples IS doing metaphysics. What's wrong w/ that?
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby Diekon » Fri Sep 03, 2010 6:25 am

Smears wrote:The more pressing matter, and the purpose for this thread was to assimilate some of the philosophical arguments in the videos into an ethical framework, or to go from the abstract to the concrete by way of analogous arguments. I'd like to come up with examples of why Darwinism means that we should act a certain way, or why the variances in levels of empirical proof in different kinds of sciences effect our overall reasoning and how that trickles down into the way people live their lives, (not the scientific evidence, but the variances in proof which seem to give rise to different epistemological camps like the science vs. religion thing).


If ethics have something to do with actions and their consequences. And if scientific theories, like for example darwinism, have some predictive value, and could inform us better as to what the consequences of certain actions will be, they would influence ethical reasoning...
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby Diekon » Fri Sep 03, 2010 6:29 am

Smears wrote:So assume that I think a guy selling apples IS doing metaphysics. What's wrong w/ that?


Nothing whatsoever, it's just a matter of definition.

Or maybe the wider your concept the less useful it becomes?

Like, everthing is cool, you know.
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby Mr Reasonable » Fri Sep 03, 2010 6:41 am

Diekon wrote:
Smears wrote:The more pressing matter, and the purpose for this thread was to assimilate some of the philosophical arguments in the videos into an ethical framework, or to go from the abstract to the concrete by way of analogous arguments. I'd like to come up with examples of why Darwinism means that we should act a certain way, or why the variances in levels of empirical proof in different kinds of sciences effect our overall reasoning and how that trickles down into the way people live their lives, (not the scientific evidence, but the variances in proof which seem to give rise to different epistemological camps like the science vs. religion thing).


If ethics have something to do with actions and their consequences. And if scientific theories, like for example darwinism, have some predictive value, and could inform us better as to what the consequences of certain actions will be, they would influence ethical reasoning...



Good observation. I'll be thinking about predictive values. Maybe something along the lines of: "inasmuch as the predictive theories are aligned with common sense, people should be held responsible for not taking into account things they should have been able to predict given the type of reasoning that they commonly employ"
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby finishedman » Fri Sep 03, 2010 7:27 am

There may be an all-or-nothing fallacy here. Do I have to accept all aspects of the social reality in order to survive and function in it? What does it mean to "accept" any aspect of this social reality at all? Is the loony-bin the only alternative to accepting the status quo as it is imposed on us? Will not this acceptance encourage society to become more and more totalitarian?

We have to remember that society will only tolerate dissent up to a certain point. We also have to acknowledge the necessity of surviving in society as we find it. We can talk about alternative societies, fantasize about ideal societies, and speculate endlessly about the future. But we have to survive in this society here and now. This can be conceded. The problem is that there are many things about society as it is that also endanger one's prospects of survival. If I live in a neighborhood threatened by gang wars, I have to do something about it or get the community to do something about it. Otherwise I risk being shot at the next time. Accepting society as it is may be problematic. Such acceptance could end up strengthening the very mechanism of maintaining the status quo.
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby Mr Reasonable » Sat Sep 04, 2010 1:49 am

Anyone out there??
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby The Bearded Lady » Sat Sep 04, 2010 1:52 am

I "think" so!
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby Mr Reasonable » Sat Sep 04, 2010 1:57 am

I think so too bearded lady.

Lemme ask you something.

Let's say that scientists somehow proved that everything in the world, as in, the WHOLE FRIKKIN WORLD UNIVERSE AND ALL, was governable by the laws of matter.

Would that change or alter your ethical point of view?
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby Mr Reasonable » Mon Sep 06, 2010 10:57 pm

bump
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby felix dakat » Tue Sep 07, 2010 7:57 pm

What the hell is metaphysics? Postulating a non-physical entity? You mean like the mind you are thinking with? Or purpose or will, or something seeming like something? Could scientific naturalism be a metaphysical position?
The purpose of my life would seem to be to express the truth as I discover it, but in such a manner that it is completely devoid of authority. By having no authority, by being seen by all as utterly unreliable, I express the truth and put everyone in a contradictory position where they can only save themselves by making the truth their own.
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby gib » Tue Sep 07, 2010 8:16 pm

smears wrote:Scientific naturalism, like most sciences, has a system of proofs which relies heavily on mathematics.
Mathematics doesn't seem to function very well without assuming some kind of identity theory as a most basic axiom.
Even if two objects in the physical world share the maximum number of properties, it is impossible for them to share the property of spatiotemporal location.
Because there is no 100% identity in the physical world. Mathematics must postulate identities in order to be able to process data at all.
Postulating non-physical entities, (like identities), is what you do when you're doing metaphysics.
Science therefore cannot dispense with metaphysics.


Metaphysics in the service of science... interesting.

What would it take for metaphysics to replace science? A claim to truth? I think so. But certainly metaphysics may be used as a tool, and as with all tools, its use can vary from one application to another. Though some might argue that metaphysics isn't really metaphysics unless it stakes a claim to truth.

Now what do you mean by this part?

smears wrote:The second part may be a bit more fun, (because I hardly, in my own opinion see a connection between a conception of metaphysics which is immutable and one that's necessarily connected to morality and ethics).


Isn't morality and metaphysics intertwined like nothing else? I suppose it might have something to do with what you mean by 'immutable'. Please clarify.
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby Xunzian » Wed Sep 08, 2010 1:50 am

I'll have time to check out the arguments after Wednesday.

But my uninformed position is: I don't see why it would exclude metaphysics. The epistemology of SN is basically a metaphysical appeal -- to me it reads like a sort of Logical Positivism, or at least it falls into a similar trap. Why ought we limit our explanations to natural causes and events? It uses a metaphysical assertion to reject other metaphysical assertions.

The only way I could see an argument being made that it excludes metaphysics is by a sort of "subtraction on both sides" where all additional metaphysical propositions fall out of the equation due to irrelevance -- but, again, why ought they be excluded absent some broader statement that is either tied to values (and excluding metaphysics from those is damned hard) or the metaphysical assertion that the phenomenal world is, indeed, the only plane of consequence.

And that is without going into the relationship between observed phenomena and the theories describing them!
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby Mr Reasonable » Wed Sep 08, 2010 5:07 pm

felix dakat wrote:What the hell is metaphysics? Postulating a non-physical entity? You mean like the mind you are thinking with? Or purpose or will, or something seeming like something? Could scientific naturalism be a metaphysical position?



Yes, assuming there's a mind/body distinction, then yes. In the same category as mind, I place things like identities, in the form of x=x, because no two physical objects can be 100% identical. Personally, I think all positions, including naturalism, are beneath the esoteric, completely metaphysical.
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby Mr Reasonable » Wed Sep 08, 2010 5:09 pm

gib wrote:
smears wrote:Scientific naturalism, like most sciences, has a system of proofs which relies heavily on mathematics.
Mathematics doesn't seem to function very well without assuming some kind of identity theory as a most basic axiom.
Even if two objects in the physical world share the maximum number of properties, it is impossible for them to share the property of spatiotemporal location.
Because there is no 100% identity in the physical world. Mathematics must postulate identities in order to be able to process data at all.
Postulating non-physical entities, (like identities), is what you do when you're doing metaphysics.
Science therefore cannot dispense with metaphysics.


Metaphysics in the service of science... interesting.

What would it take for metaphysics to replace science? A claim to truth? I think so. But certainly metaphysics may be used as a tool, and as with all tools, its use can vary from one application to another. Though some might argue that metaphysics isn't really metaphysics unless it stakes a claim to truth.

Now what do you mean by this part?

smears wrote:The second part may be a bit more fun, (because I hardly, in my own opinion see a connection between a conception of metaphysics which is immutable and one that's necessarily connected to morality and ethics).


Isn't morality and metaphysics intertwined like nothing else? I suppose it might have something to do with what you mean by 'immutable'. Please clarify.


I wouldn't say it's in the service of science, but that it's a prerequisite of any kind of measurement of a physical object or phenomenon. I mean, science can't do anything w/ out measurements, so to say it's in the service of it confuses me a bit. I might agree that it's necessary and essential to science, and that it couldn't function w/ out it. While it may provide a "service" to science, science needs metaphysics more than metaphysics needs science.

By immutable, I just mean a model of metaphysics which can't be dispensed with. I think that morality and metaphysics are necessarily intertwined if we talk specifically about religious metaphysics, but I want to establish a connection, or understand the apparent one between metaphysics per se and people's chosen paths of action.
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby Mr Reasonable » Wed Sep 08, 2010 5:16 pm

Xunzian wrote:I'll have time to check out the arguments after Wednesday.

But my uninformed position is: I don't see why it would exclude metaphysics. The epistemology of SN is basically a metaphysical appeal -- to me it reads like a sort of Logical Positivism, or at least it falls into a similar trap. Why ought we limit our explanations to natural causes and events? It uses a metaphysical assertion to reject other metaphysical assertions.

The only way I could see an argument being made that it excludes metaphysics is by a sort of "subtraction on both sides" where all additional metaphysical propositions fall out of the equation due to irrelevance -- but, again, why ought they be excluded absent some broader statement that is either tied to values (and excluding metaphysics from those is damned hard) or the metaphysical assertion that the phenomenal world is, indeed, the only plane of consequence.

And that is without going into the relationship between observed phenomena and the theories describing them!



Exactly. The scientists want to contruct a toe, or gut or whatever you wanna call it. Yet some in particular feel the need to limit themselves my ignoring metaphysics, and in doing so eliminate the possibility of forming a complete, descriptive model of all phenomenon. I mean, limiting yourself to the observable kind of cuts out a whole lot of the universe.
I read a paper once by a guy who did something called, "a subtraction argument". Can't remember the title to save my life.

I agree you can't refute metaphysics while employing it, and that virtues themselves are metaphysical entities beyond the esoteric behavioral manifestations. Thanks for bringing ethics back into the mix.
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby gib » Wed Sep 08, 2010 8:55 pm

smears wrote:I wouldn't say it's in the service of science, but that it's a prerequisite of any kind of measurement of a physical object or phenomenon. I mean, science can't do anything w/ out measurements, so to say it's in the service of it confuses me a bit. I might agree that it's necessary and essential to science, and that it couldn't function w/ out it. While it may provide a "service" to science, science needs metaphysics more than metaphysics needs science.


Same dif as far as I'm concerned :D

So are the identities that mathematics postulates in the numbers themselves or in the units appended to them (like 1 bacterium, or 2 molecules). I can see the latter being a interesting example of the use of metaphysics in science. When one takes a measure of some compound and detects, say, a billion and a half molecules of a specific type, what is this thing he calls a "molecule"? Is there even such a thing? Or is it an ideal, a useful one, that so happens to match the phenomenon closely enough so that we can get on with our business? Could science get on with business without such ideals?

In the former case, where the identities in question are just the numbers themselves, I'm less persuaded. I wouldn't exactly say it's "doing metaphysics" to count a number of objects and arrive at, say, 5 of them. That's just a plain fact. There are 5 objects - right there in full view. We aren't saying there is this intangible immaterial entity called "a 5" that hovers around or embodies the object. So I think the case you make hinges on which of these two interpretation one takes to heart.

smears wrote:By immutable, I just mean a model of metaphysics which can't be dispensed with. I think that morality and metaphysics are necessarily intertwined if we talk specifically about religious metaphysics, but I want to establish a connection, or understand the apparent one between metaphysics per se and people's chosen paths of action.


Well, there needn't be any - so metaphysics wouldn't be 'immutable' in this case. People can choose courses of action without even thinking, let alone bring metaphysical considerations to bear on them. Obviously, however, metaphysics can be brought to the table (as your example of religious morality evinces) and so I suppose an answer to your question, or at least starting point, would be that a connection can be made but isn't necessary (though this would probably change the kind of morality we get in the end).
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby Fred » Thu Sep 09, 2010 6:30 pm

smears: Mathematics must postulate identities in order to be able to process data at all. Postulating non-physical entities, (like identities), is what you do when you're doing metaphysics. Science therefore cannot dispense with metaphysics.


Generalizing that a bit (I think), how can one mix theory and real-world without confusion unless one investigates the difference at the meta-level?
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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby Mr Reasonable » Fri Sep 10, 2010 12:37 am

Fred wrote:
smears: Mathematics must postulate identities in order to be able to process data at all. Postulating non-physical entities, (like identities), is what you do when you're doing metaphysics. Science therefore cannot dispense with metaphysics.


Generalizing that a bit (I think), how can one mix theory and real-world without confusion unless one investigates the difference at the meta-level?


Interesting question Fred. It's also one to which I have no direct answer. Help me out a bit and elaborate. I think this is in the direction I want to go. I've been thinking alot lately in terms on the de dicto and de se distinction, and how in practice it can often be impossible, (seemingly), do fully distinguish objects without a gesture of some kind, (meaning particular objects rathen than kinds).
You see...a pimp's love is very different from that of a square.


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Re: Does Scientific Naturalism Exclude Metaphysics?

Postby ReleventBullshitLust » Fri Sep 10, 2010 1:14 am

At the risk of sounding arrogant (and perhaps a bit paradoxical) I'm going to just go ahead and state the surreptitiously obvious ( :wink: ).......


Science presupposes metaphysics.

(And yes I know I'm being broad and perhaps a little naive sounding but please indulge me).


Scientific reasoning has (over the years) been transmogrified from a useful (but not impervious) technique for establishing epistemological foundations, into a brutal war machine--rigidly enshrined as the God of knowledge and worshiped devoutly by voracious academics and numerous others diligently seeking existential enlightenment...or at least attempting to avoid ridicule.

You question it only at your own peril. For the fate of those who dare defy its eternal concreteness is mockery....endless mockery.

But the scientific method presupposes what? The causal principle..antecedence..so on and so forth...

But if the causal method is all encompassing then you must also allow for this:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The Universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the Universe had a cause.

I'm sure you've all seen it but you may say "The universe doesn't have to be caused you ignoramus! It could be infinite! or "causation can have exceptions it doesn't have to conform to your standards"...well if this is the case and causation has an exception then science is based on a faulty presupposition and every observation, every theory and every law must be subjected to intense philosophical scrutiny and debate...which would have to be metaphysical in nature because the institution of science would become impotent to resolve itself.

On the other hand if you accept the cosmological argument and case for first mover the foundation of science would be strictly metaphysical and sadly...unscientific.


In relation to mathematics, it is a human institution (no one denies it works) but it works within a framework of our own construction and is therefore subject to metaphysical interpretation...In an separate universe with separate laws and a foreign set of objects would it not collapse?

fire away.
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