Destructive realism : metaphysics as the foundation of natural science
This thesis has two philosophical positions as its targets. The first is 'scientific realism' of the form defended by Boyd, (the early) Putnam, and most recently Psillos. The second is empiricism in the vein of Mill, Mach, Ayer, Carnap, and Van Fraassen. My objections to both have a rather Popperian flavour. For I argue that 'confirmation' is a misnomer, that so-called 'ampliative inferences' are heuristics at best, and that naturalism and subjectivism are regressive doctrines. At the heart of genuine realism, I argue, is a stance on the issues of perception and conception. In particular, I hold that to be a realist is to reject the notion that there are representations which have some sort of epistemic priority. And along related lines, I maintain that the closely aligned doctrine of physicalism cannot simply be presupposed. What this amounts to is that the search for some sort of 'solid foundation' for knowledge' is a futile enterprise. Such a foundation would be unimportant, even if there were to be one, and we ought to be free to critically examine any claim we like. So rather than sapere aude, I would have 'dare to err', and place an intersubjective emphasis on inquiry. And this goes for metaphysics, logic, and mathematics, as well as for natural science. Yet I also advocate the view that we ought to be optimistic about our ability to find the truth, ceteris paribus. And to this end, I argue that we should accept that our faculty of conception is sufficient to allow us to connect with the possibilities of being, whereas our faculty of sense is sufficient to allow us to connect with that which is actual; this, given considerable critical struggle on our parts, both individually and collectively. I urge that it is methodologically advisable to behave as if this is so, if we are not to асһieve only the self-paralysis of the Pyrrhonist. In a nutshell, destructive realism says that natural science progresses by ruling out possibilities, in particular by ruling out possible worlds as candidates for the actual world, but that this is a two-stage process, involving both an a priori (metaphysical) and an a posteriori (observational) component. The aim of natural science is to eliminate false theories. Its aspiration is truth.