In Conquest of Abundance Paul Feyerabend recounts some stages in the development of Western culture. He focuses, in particular, on the trend toward an increased us of abstractions and stereotypes, and a consequent disregard for particular and peculiar details. I recognized the following as underlying ideas and elements of Feyerabend’s story about this trend.
Crude dichotomies are unsuited to express subtle ontologies. The dichotomy reality/illusion is too crude to classify the range of phenomena that are important in our lives. Each person and culture experiences various degrees of reality, but the ontologies differ among persons and cultures. Similarly the dichotomies knowledge/opinion, righteous/sinful, etc., are too crude compared to human experience.
Our perception is shaped by language and stereotypes. The concepts and stereotypes in our minds mold our perceptions by isolating and amplifying those aspects that fit them and other aspects to oblivion. Our experienced reality is shaped by our minds. Stereotypes are limited sets of standardized interpretations of natural phenomena, human traits, art forms, etc. Perception uses stereotypes to make recognition possible., i.e., to create order out of chaos.
Ambiguity assures the potential for change. No concept or stereotype can ever be fully nailed down. New situations arise and reveal the ambiguities in them, new interpretations become possible, new definitions are made, new phenomena are subsumed under an existing concept, and so on. It is this very ambiguity that makes possible both personal and cultural change. We speak of cultural change when stereotype shifts exhibit and overall pattern, like the trend toward abstraction in ancient Greece (the “rise of rationality”).
Abstract theory cannot possibly express ultimate reality. Theories or models compare projections (i.e. stereotypical perceptions stripped of many peculiar aspects) to projections (i.e., streamlined inferences of consequences from the theories or models). The match between them is an artificial construction, often made to fit using ad hoc interpretations. The belief that high theory represents ultimate reality is not justified. At most, high theory is a summary of some aspects of the response of Being to one specific and artificial approach.
Logic is a special form of storytelling. Logic is valid when the meanings of the terms that enter deductions are stabilized. But concepts shift in meaning from person to person and from generation to generation. It is an inherent result of the preference for mathematically and logically formulated questions and theories that scientists obtained the story of a material, “frozen” universe, uninhabited by Gods. Parmenides tells this story very concisely.
Being responds to some approaches, but not to all. Being is a partly yielding, partly resisting entity of unknown properties. People “create” a particular reality by developing a practice of interaction with Being (actions and perceptions_ and the associated language and concepts (mental operations between actions and perceptions). Not all practices of interaction are successful, but certainly more than one exist and give meaning to the lives of the people who develop them.
While I was reading this volume, the ingredients of Feyeraebend’s story that I just mentioned coalesced for me into a sort of “worldview.” In place of a “frozen,” material universe, I could perceive and open and changeable reality, and I become able to see, and I was liberated from, all sorts of fixed ideas about “the way things are.”
Bert Terpstra, April 1999
They were breathless with interest. he stood with his hand on his holster and watched the brown intent patient eyes: it was for these he was fighting. He would eliminate from their childhood everything which had made them miserable, all that was poor, superstitious and corrupt. They deserved nothing less than the truth - a vacant universe and a cooling world, the right to be happy in a way they choose. He was quite prepared to make a massacre for their sakes - first the church and then the foreigner and then the politician - even his own chief would have to go. He wanted to begin the world again with them, in a desert.
Graham Green, The Power and the Glory
Abstractions remove the particulars that distinguish an object from another, together with some general properties such as color and smell. Experiments further remove or try to remove the links that tie every process to its surroundings - the create an artificial and somewhat impoverished environment and explore its peculiarities. In both cases, things are being taken away or “blocked off” from the totality that surrounds us. Interesting enough, the remains are called “real” ….
The defenders objectivity, on the other hand, could quote neither facts, nor products, nor a “prodigious power of performance” in their favor; they had to find support elsewhere and they did find it - in theology. It is fascinating to see how many modern ideas emerged from detailed and rather sophisticated theological debates. What made their debate so influential?
Monod realized that empiricism cannot explain the origin of modern science. In this he was ahead of many of his contemporaries. Value-free knowledge, he says is the result not of evidence, but of a choice which precedes the collection of evidence and the arrival of performance.
The scientific ethic of knowledge, says Monod, “does not obtrude itself upon man; on the contrary, it is he who prescribes it to himself.” But where in the scientific enterprise of today are the agents who freely choose one form of knowledge over another, or to use Monod’s terminology, who freely make the ethics of objectivism “the axiomatic condition of authenticity for all discourse and all action “(orig. italics)? What we find, with few exceptions, are intellectual leaders repeating slogans which they cannot explain and which they often violate, anxious slaves following in their footsteps and institutions offering or withdrawing money in accordance with the fashions of the day. Besides, who would have thought that a mere decision, a committee report of sorts, can destroy worldviews, create anxiety, and yet prevail? And who were the agents that made the decision, what prompted them to take such an extradoridanary step and what powers did they use to make it stick? Monod gives no answer.
Western scientists and philosophers not only made this assumption more specific, they also formulated different versions of it. The version I would like to discuss is contained in the following three statemetns:
1. important ingredients of the world are concealed;
2a. the concealed ingredients for a coherent universe whose elements and motions underlie some phenomena, while other phenomena are our products entirely
2b. because of 2a, a truthful account of this universe and of reality must be coherent and uniform;
3. human beings play an ephemeral role; they are not directly linked to reality and they cannot change it.
There is no escape: understanding a subject means transforming it, lifting it out of a natural habitat and inserting it into a model or a theory or a poetic account of it.
This was a most amazing assertion. We may grant that the new ways, being adapted to new and rather abstract procedures, had considerable merit: money increased trade, international collaboration encouraged the transfer of material and intellectual discoveries, democracy brought new strata into the political process. however, the details did not therefore cease to exist, just as people don’t cease to have a nose when being weighed. Yet this was exactly what some philosophers asserted: the details, they said (or implied) were not just irrelevant for this or that purpose, they were unreal (or “subjective,” to use a later term) - period - and should be disregarded. Like the rulers of Orwell’s 1984 they declared less to be more, and more to be nonexistent. This was the most brazed denial of abundance yet proposed.
In book 9 of the Illiad, Aias, Odysseus, and Phoenix, acting as messengers, ask Achilles to return to the Achaens and to aid Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks; he had withdrawn and the situation had deteriorated. now Agamemnon offers an enormous present and the hand of his daughter in marriage (114 ff.) For the messengers this is suitable compensation; they urge Achilles to relent. Achilles whines and splutters - and refuses. In a long speech he explains the reasons for his attitude. “Equal fate,” he says “befalls the negligent and the valiant fighter; equal honor got to the worthless and the virtuous.” Striving after honor no longer makes any sense.
At this the messengers “f[a]ll silint, dismayed at his word, for he had resisted in a stunning way”(430f.) - but they soon start arguing again. Phoenix points out that the God’s, whose power far exceed those of humans, can be reconciled by gifts and sacrifice. (497ff.); Aias adds that even the murder of a brother or of a son has its blood price (632f.). This is how conflicts were resolved in the past and this is how Achilles should act now. Aias ascribes Achilles’ resistance to his cruelty (632). Achilles remains adamant.
Returning to the camp, Odysseus reports what has happened. Again the Greeks “f[a]ll silent, for he had spoken in a stunning way” (639f.). They explain Achilles’ attitude by his anger (679) and his pride (700). Then Diomedes suggests forgetting about Achilles and fighting without him 697ff.).
What we have here is a rather familiar clash of attitudes - contrariness and persistent anger on one side, surprise and a plea to be reasonable on the other. The parties try to justify their attitudes. The messengers seem to be close to commonsense while Achilles sounds a little strange.
The episode is problematic in a familiar and annoying but manageable way. The episode becomes profound and paradoxical when lifted out of its natural habitat and inserted into a model or a theory. One theory that has become rather popular assumes that languages, cultures, stages in the development of a profession, a tribe, or a nation are closed in the sense that certain events transcend their capacities. Languages, for example, are restrained by rules. Those who violate the rules of a language do not enter new territory; they leave the domain of meaningful discourse. Even facts in these circumstances dissolve, because they are shaped by the language and subjected to its limitations. Looking at the exchange in Iliad 9 with such ideas in mind, some scholars have turned it into a rather sinister affair.
“words … become impoverished in content, they .. become one-sided and empty formulae.” New discipline, epistemology especially, tried to connect, in theory and with insufficient means, what had become separated in practice: the “Discovery of Mind,” the rise of Western science and philosophy, the associated reflections on the nature of knowledge, the impoverishment of thought and language -- all these processes were part of one and the same overall development. The development announces itself in Achilles’ response to his visitors and underlies the later separation of appearance and reality.
Achilles is not reassured. Extending the conflict beyond its suggested resolution he perceives a lasting clash between honor and its rewards: honor and the actions that establish and/or acknowledge its presence always diverge.
Nowwhere in this process do we find the breaks, the lacunae, the unbridgeable chasms suggested by the idea of closed domains of discourse.
Divine appearances once were real - they are mere fantasies today. Where shall we, who examine the phenomenon, set the boundary? Note that I am inquiring about and old episode, not about a modern belief. Many “educated citizens” take it for granted that reality is what scientists say it is and that other opinions may be recorded, but need not be taken seriously. But science offers not one story, it offers many; the stories clash and their relation to a story-independent “reality” is as problematic as the relation of the Homeric epics to an alleged “Homeric world.”
According to Benjamin Lee Whorf languages shape ideas, their grammar contains worldviews and linguistic change is accompanied by a change of facts. More recent authors concur. According to Michael Baxandall, ”[A]ny language, not only humanist Latin, [the language Baxandall is concentrating on] is a conspiracy against experience in the sense of being a collective attempt to simplify and arrange experience into manageable parcels. To exercise a language regularly on some area of experience or activity, however odd one’s motives may be, [therefore] overlays the field after a time with a certain structure; the structure is that implied by the categories, the lexical and grammatical components of the language.
The task is difficult, but not impossible. The agencies that shape a form of life leave their traces not only in language but also in artworks, buildings, customs, learned treatises. Thus, if the features (additively, lack of coherent whole, etc. ) I described in the previous section can also be found in statuary and in painting; if the Gods, nature, and humans had analogous properties in popular sayings as well as in common law; if powerful ideas such as the ideas of courage, wisdom, justice, piety (which occurred no only in Homer but turned up in public speeches and were analyzed in philosophical writings, mocked in comedy, referred to on funeral stones and other inscriptions) had Homeric and not, say, Platonic characteristics; if religion was opportunistic rather than exclusive, permitting alien Gods to enter at the drop of a hat; if the Gods were not merely revered and talked about but perceived, and perceived not just by unbalanced outsiders but by the most levelheaded representatives of the culture; if different explanations of startling were used side by side without any feeling of discomfort; if a narrator (e.g. Herodotus) assembled but did not unify, told stories but did not use a single style; if some thinkers called the resulting information polymathi’e, i.e. plentiful but scattered pieces of knowledge, and tried to replace those scattered pieces by a single coherent story; if people were in the habit of answering what-is questions with lists, not with definitions, and if philosophers tried to correct that habit - then we can assume that we are dealing with an influential and relatively uniform way of life and we may expect that people involved n it temporarily lived in a world of the kind expressed in their poems, tales, sayings, and pictures.
But now the problem alluded to by A. Parry arises with renewed force: given this world - how did people ever get out of it? How did they manage to forget or overcome the order that constituted their lives and gave it meaning? Was the Homeric-geometric world simply destroyed so that chaos temporarily raised its head or was it gradually transformed? And, if the latter, was it transformed by arbitrary and senseless (in the sense of this world) processes such as boredom or forgetfulness or by entering existing but as yet unused paths? Was the transformation unconscious, rising to consciousness only after major steps had been taken, or was it carried out in the full awareness of the changes implied? Can we agree with Nietzsche, who wrote, in his usual bombastic style: “No fashion helped them [the philosophers - according to Nietzsche it was they who effected the transition] and paved their way. Thus they formed what Schopenhauer, in opposition to a republic of scholars called a republic of men of genius: one giant calls out to another across the desolate intervals of time and the lofty exchange between minds continues undisturbed by the noisy doings of the midgets [Gezwerge] that crawl beneath them.” Or with Plato who spoke more calmly of “the ancient battle between philosophy and poetry” (Republic 607b6f.), implying an overt fight between two professions, not a gradual and perhaps subterranean development? Should we accept the claim of early philosophers such as Xenophanes, Parmenides, and Heraclitus and of their modern admirers that they single-handedly overcame the errors of tradition, just using the power of their amazing minds?
It is clear tha these questions and paradoxes depend on the assumption, stated in section I, that languages and, with them, worlds and worldviews are closed in the sense that they admit, even constitute, some actions, thoughts, perceptions, while others are not merely excluded but rendered nonexistent. Given this assumptions the change of worldviews will indeed cause major upheavals.
… “If God had not crated yellow honey, they would believe that figs are much sweeter.”
According to this fragment, properties “they” assign to an object depend on circumstances (availability of other objects, their effect on our sense organs, our judgment, etc.) that have nothing to do with the object, and so the properties that we ascribe to it are therefore not intrinsic properties of the object. In other words, the argument suggests that we distinguish between what an object is, independently of our contact with it, and what we ascribe to it on the basis of the usual ways of gaining information.
There are some interesting similarities between a proof and a tragedy as interpreted by Aristotle, Corneille, and Lessing. The end of a tradegy, says Aristotle (De poetica 7.5) “is that which is inevitably, or as a rule the natural result of something else” which implies (8.4) that “the incidents [of the plot] must be so arranged that if one of them be transposed or removed, the unity of the whole is dislocated and destroyed. “ Omit “or as a rule” in the first quotation, and you have the relation of the things proved to what goes on before.
Now consider the following story, which is found in in the essay On Melissus, Xenophanes, and Gorgias 977aI4 ff., which is a product of the Aristotelian school (my paraphrase):
Assume God came into being.
Then either from like, or from unlike.
If from like, then he was already there.
If from unlike, then either from the stronger or from the weaker.
If from the weaker, then the extra strength comes from nothing - but
nothing comes from nothing.
If from the stronger, then it is not God.
God did not come into being.
Having made Being his basic substance, Parmenides considered the consequences. They are that Being is (estin) and that not-Being is not. What happens on the basic level? Nothing. The only possible change of Being is into not-Being, not-Being does not exist, hence there is no change. What is the structure of Being? It is full continuous, without subdivisions. Any subdivision would be between Being and something else, the only something else on the basic level is not-Being, not Being does not exist, hence there are nos subdivisions. But is it not true that we traditionally assume and personally experience change and difference? Yes, we do. Which shows, according to Parmenides, that neither tradition nor experience provides reliable knowledge. This was the so far clearest and most radical seperation of the domains which later on were called “reality” and “appearance.” It was also the first and the most concise theory of knowledge. Theories of knowledge try to explain how familiarity with one domain (perception, for example) leads to knowledge about another that is independent of it (reality). Parmenides answers that this never happens, that Being must be approached directly, that the one agency that can approach it directly is reason, that revelation taught him, Parmenides, how to use reason, and that he is now capable of explaining this to others.
Max Planc recognized the problem but did not solve it. His essay “Positvismus und reale Aussenwelt,” which he first read in 1930 contains the following passage:
The two statements, “There exists a real external world which is independent of us” and “This world cannot be known immediately” together form the basis of all physics. However, they are in conflict to a certain extent and thereby reveal the irrational element inherent in physics and in every other science, which is responsible for the fact that a science can never solve its task completely. …
Moreover, the “immediate sense impressions” which Plank, Einstein, and other empiricists regard as a fountain of knowledge are not part of our experience (which is an experience of objects in space) but theoretical constructs that have to be unearthed by special methods (reduction screen, etc.). thus we have here a view in which a hidden reality thoroughly independent of human events is said to be based on hidden processes extremely dependent on them. One cannot say that thing shave improved since Parmenides. And it is perhaps not entirely useless to return to him and to examine the reasons he gives for his positions.
Plat uses the word antilogike in various places. Its meaning “tend to be whatever Plato thinks of as bad method at the moment.”
A point of view, Socrates implies, must be permitted to transform beliefs and linguistic habits and should be criticised only after the needed changes have been carried out. how does Socrates argue with such a principle before him?
To start with, he introduces an interesting ambiguity. Knowledge and perception seemed to be clear and definite entities and so seemed the thesis that identified the two. But the identification led to conflict. If we still want to maintain the thesis as Socrates advises us to do then we must change either one entity, or the other, or both. We must change them - but without ceasing to examine the thesis, i.e. without ceasing to look for obstacles. What obstacles? The obstacles that arise after the key terms have received a new content. Socrates provides a new sense for “perception” - the quantum mechanics analogon mentioned above - but not for “knowledge.” Does he stop arguing? he does not - he only changes direction. For example he points out (I8bI8 ff.) that Protagoras leaves no stability and makes knowledge impossible. The remark assumes that knowledge does not participate in the processes Socrates introduced when explicating perception (153d3 ff.) The assumption makes definite what seemed to have become vague, but as part of the criticism, not independently of it: the criticism determines what is being criticized.
We see here very clearly the relation between a (Platonic) argument and the things it proves. As setup by Socrates the argument (against the thesis that knowledge is perception) lacks an important ingredient; the content of one of its key terms is still undetermined. Yet Socrates argues as if the term had already been defined and comes to a clear and unambiguous conclusion. Thus it was not the argument that produced the conclusion (i.e., the rejection of Theaetetus;s thesis that knowledge is perception) but the conclusion (the rejection) produced the argument.
Danny - Great exampe:
A trivial example which I have chosen because of its transparency is the reply to Lactantius’s argument against the spherical shape of the earth. The earth, says Lactantius, cannot be spherical because the antipodes would fall down. Her the background is a cylindrical universe. “Up” means a direction parallel to its axis, “down” the opposite direction. Socrates’ advice prompts us to replace the cylindrical universe by a central symmetrical one and only now to look for trouble: examining a new idea we first change the world so that it can accomodate the idea. The question if the new orld is a possible one comes afterwards. We want to save the spherical shape of the earth. The spherical shape is given - what modifications are needed to reatin it in the face of Lactantius’ observations? The answer is well-known. We define “up” as “away from the earth,” “down” as “toward the center” and get what we want. Rejecting the criticism we redefine its premises.
But worldview discussion is not different from other kinds of discussion, which means that we can no longer assume discussion-independent and in that sense “objective” arbiters of a debate. This applies even to such apparently trivial cases as “all ravens are black” - the favorite example of naive falsificationists.
The statement, our logic books explain, is “refuted” by the discovery of a single “objectively” white raven.
Now a raven that has been painted white is white, and even “objectively” and “reproducibly” so - but nobody would regard it as a refuting instance. What we want is “intrinsic” whiteness.
A raven that lost its color in the course of a prolonged sickness is “intrinsically” white - the whiteness came from the inside, not form the outside - but still somehwat problematic. What we want is “normal” color, not exceptions.
Note that the comments made so far have an empirical and a normative component: we assume (empirical component) that there are properties that “belong” to an object and are not “imported”; we also assume (second empirical component) that among them some are “normal,” i.e., agree with a criterion that plays an important part in our everyday lives while others do not. We then decide (explicitly, or simply following tradition) to use only ravens which exhibit such properties as counterexamples (this is the normative component). Note also that the statement is not refuted (or confirmed) after these matter shave been settled but that settling the matters is part of the process of refutation. This becomes especially clear when we analyze less familiar cases.
Thus consider ravens that became white as a result of evolutionary pressures, or as a result of externally induced genetic changes. The “fundamental dogma” of molecular biology excludes second case, but how would we deal with it if it occurred? And how shall we deal with the first case? Perhaps by letting color take a backseat compared with criteria and distinctions that are more closely connected with some easily identifiable molecular-biological structures? Again there is an empirical component (close connection) and a nomrative component (use as counterexamples). At any rate it is now clear (a) that the term “black” in “all ravens are black,” though intuitively clear, is ambiguous in the sense that its future use is largely unknown; (b) that it loses some of its ambiguity in the presence of “ absurd” counterexamples: as in the case of Achilles a contested view becomes clear only after it has been left behind (clarity, as early anatomists knew, is a property of corpses, not of living things); (c) that what is a counterexample and what not depends on (often unconscious) decisions or rearrangements of thought which are caused by unforeseen developments (defining the content of a statement in advance means separating it from the processes which guarantee its continued importance); (d) that the relevant impulses often come from areas outside language (increasing authority of molecular biology and thus decreasing importance of colors as species identifies); and (e) that for all these reasons “refutation” is a complex process whose result may determine its ingredients rather than the other way around. Again it is not possible to draw a clear and lasting line between the “objective” and the allegedly “subjective” ingredients of the process of knowledge acquisition and of knowledge itself.
This result leads at once to the assertions made toward the end of the first chapter. Thinking and speaking a language we, continuously adapt to the situations we encounter and we change our ideas accordingly. The idea of love we had as children differs from the adolescent idea, which in turn differs from the idea of a great-great-grandmother looking back on a rich rewarding life w with variety of husbands, lovers, children, and grand-children, and dogs. The changes may be abrupt - most of the time they are continuous and hardly noticeable. They are also unforeseen, for nobody can know what events s/he will encounter an dhow s/he will react to them. Moreover, they grow from the ideas of the moment, which will appear precise and well define only as long as life is stable and fairly routine: as in the case of anatomy, clarity is a property of corpses.
I Conclude (1) that completely closed cultures (conceptual systems) do not exist; (2) that the openness of cultures is connected with an inherent ambiguity of thought, perception, and action: concepts, for example, are not well-defined entities but much more like forebodings; (3) that the ambiguity can be mobilized by feelings, visions, social pressures, and other nonlinguistic agencies; (4) that these agencies have structure, they can “pressure us to conform with them”(chapter 1 note 18 and text), just as language does and in this way keep linguistic changes meaningful; (5) that argument has power only insofar as it conforms to nonargumentative pressures; (6) that a reality that is accessible to humans is as open and as ambiguous as the surrounding culture and becomes well defined only when the culture fossilizes; also it is only partly determined by research; the basic moves that establish it consist in asserting a certain form of life. I add (7) that the points just made are misleading because they are expressed in terms of dichotomies which suggest a much harder and much more easily manageable subject matter. I shall therefore make them again, this time using a different medium for my arguments.
The case changes character when it is lifted out of its natural habitat and judged by ideas from a different background. Being confronted with the (occasionally paradoxical) results of such a judgment we, i.e., the distant commentators, can do a variety of things, the following three among them. (1) We accept the judgment; in the special case discussed above we would then agree that Achilles was indeed talking nonsense and we would have to explain how nonsense can anticipate later, and historically identifiable, sense. (2) We change the ideas that lead to the judgment so that Achilles’ utterances become meaningful. (3) We draw a distinction between judgments which can be easily incorporated into the practice they comment upon and outside judgements (which seem irrelevant and incomprehensible to those engaged in the practice) and reject the latter.
Thus accepting a certain view concerning the nature of factual knowledge or an epistemology, some writers discovered that information produced by their contemporaries did not fit the view and either called it unscientific (Descartes on Galileo), or declared it to be a matter of faith (Whitehead on Newtonian science). This corresponds to the first approach. Others felt (second approach) that the sciences were essentially sound but wondered “how scientific knowledge was possible” (Kant). To obtain an answer they adapted their philosophy to scientific practice and “rationally reconstructed” the latter. Still other denounced all philosophical interpretations whether critical or supportive and suggested (third approach) “to see science on its own terms” (Arthur Fine).
Confronted with such a variety most philosophers try to establish one approach to the exclusion of all others. As far as they are concerned there can only be on true way - and they want to find it. Thus normative philosophers argue that knowledge is a result of the application of certain rules, they propose rules which in their opinion constitute knowledge and reject what clashes with them. Pragmatists and the later Wittgenstein, on the other hand, point to the complexity of scientific or, more generally, epistemic practice and invite us to “look, not to think.” The remaining Kantians, finally, try to get beyond appearances as a machinery that is simple and explains the nature of even the most idiosyncratic event. Who is right? The case of Achilles shows that this is a rather simpleminded question. Thus Wittgenstein’s invitation assumes that events, which can be identified by inspection, will be missed or misrepresented by abstract thought. But thought changes looks - which undercuts the advice. Besides, looking is not a simple matter. The conditions under which Achilles delivers his report (the tension between his situation and social requirements; his disappointment) make familiar divisions operate in unexpected places; they have implications a Wittgensteinian might ascribe to thought. The remark that Achilles should have looked without passion to another - that is all we can say when we try to “look, not to think.”
Normative rules, on the other hand, may not only fial to find a pint of attack in the practice they try to regulation (how do you falsify when there are never any unambiguous falsifying instances?), they may destroy the practice (and perhaps all practices instead of reforming it. The problem, therefore, is not how to establish a particular approach, the problem is how to use manifest or incipient tendencies to one’s own advantage. And even where the choice is not as simple as is suggested by what I have just said. Even an excessively reflective agent is never fully in control. She is already sailing along with one of the tendencies, which means that her choice will appear to her not as a choice but simply as a step on the road to truth. Achilles saw what he saw because he was angry. His anger was not an instrument for exploration which eh could apply or drop, according to his inclinations. It was part of his life, therefor part of the tradition to which he belonged, it resonated with potentially divergent strand of this tradition, recognized it, gave it shape, and thus, it gave it “reality”.
Danny: quick summary of approach:
In dealing with Achilles I chose the second approach. I tried to retrace the way in which Achilles supported his assertions, thus making it clear that and why Achilles made sense. And I used “outside” notions such as “language” (in the modern sense), “culture”, “worldview”, “structure”, “ambiguity” to present my findings. The entire essay, from the examples to the final summing up, is written in this manner. One must keep this in mind when reading assertions such as the following: cultures contain ingredients which may seem well defined but have much in common with chimeras; they contain open pathways, unknown to anyone; the domains joined by these pathways are often connected like the parts of an Escher landscape; a cultural change that is not the result of plagues, wars, disintegration is started by an impulse, mediated by one of the many conflicting (or Escher-connected) structures the culture contains and comprehended via analogies inherent in the starting point; and so on. ...
According to Riegl the actions and perceptions of artists are “internally connected” with the block of ideas, institutions, habits that constitute the ideology and with it the worldview of a culture. An artist expresses visually what is generally thought to be the nature of things; real is what is assumed, thought, and therefore seen to be real at a certain time.
Note 8. The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci … Leonardo knew what the “correct” projection of a sphere is in most cases an ellipse.
Th objects were projected, the resulting aspects compared and found to be identical. If we want to say that Brunelleschi imitated reality then we have to add that this reality was manufactured, not given. It was “objective” in the sense that, like a statue, its material ingredients existed independently of observations (though not independently of human interference). It was also “subjective”, for human experience was an essential part of the arrangement. The best way to describe the situation is by saying that Brunelleschi built an enormous stage, containing a preexisting structure (the Baptisterium), a man-made object (the painting), and special arrangements for viewing or projecting both. The reality he tried to represent was produced by the stage set, the process of representation itself was part of the stage action, it did not reach beyond it. Brunelleschi’s expertise in the building of stage machinery and in the handling of phenomena such as the phenomenon of personal identity (for details see note 9, above) makes this an adequate description also form his own point of view.
Finally, the model of the stage can be readily transferred to the sciences. Like Brunelleschi’s setup every scientific experiment involves two series of transformations and a comparison. Nature is transformed to obtain special events, these events are further transformed by data processing devices, scanners, etc. to turn them into evidence which is then compared with outcome of a transformation of high theory through calculations, computer approximations, phenomenology, etc.
The task of the artist now is this: to create a physical structure which, when approached, or “projected” in the customary manner, produces an aspect similar to one of the familiar aspects of the things represented. I shall call projects which are part of a tradition natural projections, the aspects they create natural aspects, and the structures the artist puts on canvas to produce them stereotypes. Again “reality” is part of a stage set, not a set-independent entity, and again the stage set includes nonmental elements. The difference betwene Brunelleschi and tradition is that while Brunelleschi controlled the set, traditional artists are largely controlled by it.
To sum up: artistic imitation (and artistic production in general) occurs in a sometimes well-defined, but often very loose context, it takes place on a “stage.” The stage contains the artwork, the methods of imitation, projective devices for creating the aspects to be imitiated, as well as these aspects themselves.
The elements of the stage are physical bodies, institutions, customs, powerful beliefs, economic relations, physical processes such as light and sound, physiological processes such as color vision, the mechanisms creating the perception of sound and musical harmony and many other events.
Stages are either newly built, or they are part of a tradition.
It is this (unavoidable and very powerful) impression of immediacy and easy access that underlies naive realism (cf. my comments on the “inside view” made in connection with Achilles’ complaint). The impression dissolves once alternative ways of creating order gain the upper hand. They make manifest what has been hidden before, activate its inherent ambiguity, and use it to effect change: comprehensive stages that were built into customs and beliefs and were therefore removed from awareness become explicit frameworks within other stages which now lack definition. The history of perspective contains many examples of this development.
Again I have to point out that in speaking of “stages,” “projections,” aspects” I made things far more definite than they are. The terminology seems appropriate when applied to Brunelleschi’s procedure, for here we have indeed something that is best described as the “setting up of a stage.” It imposes rather than reveals a pattern when extended to traditions whose development is largely unplanned. It is quite correct to observe that these traditions may have had their own ideas of the function of art and that even where imitation reigned supreme the aim may not have been to imitate the surfaces of relaxed individuals but to show their social position. Given certain turning points, the observation may be exact. But we go too far when inferring a “system” and, after that, a general relativity of artistic efforts. For the exactness we may on occasion encounter is part of a process that overcomes it and replaces it with an entirely different arrangement. It was not there before the process started, it does not survive its termination. This means, of course, that the real situation that existed when the process started was open, indefinite, and capable of modification. Trying to catch it by a “system” and then inferring a general relativism would be as sensible as trying to define the shape of a body of water by the shape it assumes when frozen and inferring a radical difference between water, ice, and steam.
Achilles: the “inside view” indeed confronted him with a new and as yet unrealized reality. Scientific realists do the same. Starting on their journey of exploration they “project.” Finding coherence in their projections they combine them into a world. Disregarding the projecting mechanism which by now have become second nature, they assert the objective existence of this world. This is naive realism all over again - only tied to special and relatively unfamiliar stage sets. How can such a procedure deny the reality of the forces emanating from figure 2?
LET Me REPEAT THE CONTEXT of the question. I am not yet asking which of the many things we know are real and which are not. I assume that the world is being approached, or “projected,” in a special way, that its representations (stories, diagrams, pictures, perceptions, theories) receive an analogous treatment, and that aspects arise in this manner. The notion of an aspect is ontologically neutral -- it simply means that the result of a procedure without any implications as to its (degree of) reality. I add that projections may become a habit, may even be built into our constitution and thus remain unnoticed. For example, we “project” when looking at the world in a wide-awake state, with our senses in good order, and in “normal” lighting conditions -but we are not aware of this fact. Special aspects such as perspective, or the images seen in a microscope, which initially crate difficulties can be learned and stabilized. All this is a triviality for evolutionary epistemologists, neurophysiologists, linguists, artists, even for some physicists (complementarity). Having stated my assumption I point out that aspects which emerge from different stages occasionally clash and thus cannot be simultaneous pats of one and the same stage independent reality. It is still possible to say, and many realists, both in the arts and in the sciences, do say, that the aspects that emerge from some stages are “real” while the aspects of others are not. for example, scientifically inclined realists will say that stars conceived as complicated material systems with a long history are real while Gods, though important ingredients of historically identifiable states, are not. They are not “out there” - they are nothing but productions of our projecting mechanisms. And asked for their rationale they give the two kinds of reasons already mentioned: results and ideology. Do these reasons decide the matter?
They decide the matter for people who value the results and accept the ideology. But now the problem returns. Every tradition that survived major difficulties and affects large groups of people has “results” which are important to its members and a worldview (ideology) that unites the details, explains and “justifies” them. Realism as just describe cannot reduce this variety except in an arbitrary dogmatic and, let us admit rather naive way. Relativisim takes it at its face value. Which view shall we adopt?
THE QUESTION ASSUMES THAT relativism and realism are clear alternatives; on of them is correct, the other is not. But relativism and realism share an important assumption: the traditions (stages, means of projection) which relativists regard as equally truthful messengers of reality which realists devalue to enthrone their favorite stereotypes are conceived as being well defined and clearly separated. They are different worlds (or sham worlds, for the realist), they develop according to their own inner dynamics, judge the matters according to their own well-defined standards, and do not get entangled with each other. If this assumption fails, then both (naive) realism and relativism cease to be acceptable.
Concepts such as justice, or beauty, even the concept of number are constantly being changed in this way.
One scientist who was aware of the complex nature of explanatory talk and who used its elements with superb skill was Galileo. Like Achilles, Galileo gave new meanings to old familiar words; like Achilles he presented his results as parts of a framework that was shared and understood by all ( I am now speaking of his change of basic kinematic and dynamic notions); unlike Achilles he knew what he was doing and he tried to conceal the lacunae that remained and the nonsemantic elements he needed to carry out the change. he succeeded beyond expectation; by creating the impression that his moves occurred on a well-defined stage with stable projecting mechanisms and well-defined concepts, he deceived everybody, and perhaps even himself.
But the epistemic power ascribed to areas of research does not conform to this principle. Artisans at all times possessed detailed information about the properties of materials and of their behavior under the most varied of circumstances, whereas theories of matter from Democritus to Dalton were considerably less specific and their connections with the evidence much more tenuous. Yet questions of reality and of suitable methods of discovery were often formulated in their terms, not in artisan terms.
If one still insists that the bits and pieces of science that are flying around today are superior by far to the analogous collections of a past age - a live nature, whimsical Gods, etc. - then I must refer back to what I said earlier: the superiority is the result of having followed a path of least resistance. Gods cannot be captured by experiment, matter can. This point, incidentally, plays a role also within the sciences. “The great success of Cartesian method and the Cartesian view of nature, “ write R. Levins and R. C. Lewontin commenting on the significance of the recent advances in molecular biology,
is in part a result of a historical path of least resistance. Those problems that yield to the attack are pursued most vigorously, precisely because the method works there. Other problems and other phenomena are left behind, walled off from understanding by the commitment to Cartesianism. The hard problems are not tackled, if for no other reason than that brilliant scientific careers are not built on persistent failure. So the problems of understanding embryonic and psychic development and the structure and function of the central nervous system remain in much the same unsatisfactory state they were fifty years ago, while molecular biologist go from triumph to triumph in describing and manipulating genes.
These and similar examples show that science contains different trends with different research philosophies. One trend requires that scientists stick closely to the facts, design experiments that clearly establish the one or the other of two conflicting alternatives, and avoid far reaching speculations. One might call it the Aristotelian trend. Another trend encourages speculation and is ready to accept theories that are related to the facts in an indirect and highly complex way. Let us call this the Platonic trend.
Aristotelian assume that humans are in harmony with the Universe; observation and truth are closely related. For Platonists humans are deceived in many ways. It needs abstract thought to get in touch with reality. Adding empirical success to these and other trends we arrive at the results that science contains many different and yet empirically acceptable worldviews, each one containing its own metaphysical background.
Expressing it differently we may say that the assumption of a single coherent worldview that underlies all of science is either a metaphysical hypothesis trying to anticipate a future unity, or a pedagogical fake; or it is an attempt to show, by judicious up- and downgrading of disciplines, that a synthesis has already been achieved. This is how fans of uniformity proceeded in the past. (cf. Plato’s list of subjects in chapter seven of his Republic), these are the ways that are still being used today. A more realistic account, however, would point out that
[t]here is no simple “scientific” map of reality - or if there were it would be much too complicated and unwieldy to be grasped or used by anyone. But there are many different maps of reality, from a variety of scientific viewpoints.
Parmenides then pointed out that Being was still more fundamental (water is, fire is, apeiron is - they are all forms of Being). What can be said about Being? That it is and that not-Being is not. Note that the statement BEING IS (estin in the Greek o Parmenides) was the first explicit conservation principle of the West: it asserted the conservation of Being. Accepting this argument we can infer that there is no change: the only possible change is into not-Being, not-Being does not exist, hence there is no change. What about difference?The only possible difference is between Being and not-Being, not-Being does not exist, hence Being is everywhere the same. But don’t we perceive change and difference? Yes, we do, which shows that change and difference are appearances, chimeras. Reality does not change. This was the first and most radical (Western) theory of knowledge. It is not entirely ridiculous: nineteenth century science up to and including Einstein also devalued change. Herman Weyl writes:
The relativistic world simply is, it does not happen. Only to the gaze of my consciousness, crawling upward along the lifeline of my body, does a section of this world come to life as a fleeting image in space which continuously changes in time.
The question of truth, finally remains unresolved. Love of Truth is one of the strongest motives for replacing what really happens by a streamlined account or, to express it in a less polite manner - love of truth is one of the strongest motives for deceiving oneself and others.
It shows fear, indecision, a yearning for authority, and a disregard for the new opportunities that now exist: we can build worldviews on the basis of a personal choice and thus unite, for ourselves and our friends, what was separated by the chauvinism of special groups.
In 1854 Commander Perry, using force, opened the ports of Hakodate and Shimoda to American ships for supply and trade. This event demonstrated the military inferiority of Japan. The members of the Japanese enlightenment of the early 1870s, Fukuzawa among them, no reasoned as follows: Japan can keep its independence only if it becomes stronger. It can become stronger only with the help of science. It will use science effectively only if it does not just practice science but also believes in the underlying ideology. To many traditional Japanese this ideology - “the” scientific worldview - was barbaric. But, so the followers of Fukuzawa argued, it was necessary to adopt barbaric ways, to regard them as advanced, to introduce a whole of Western civilization in order to survive. Having been thus prepared, Japanese scientists soon branched out as their Western colleagues had done before and falsified the uniform ideology that hard started the development. The lesson I draw from this sequence of events is that a uniform “scientific view of the world” may be useful for people doing science - it gives them motivation without tying them down. It is like a flag. Though presenting a single pattern it makes people do many different things. However, it is a disaster for outsiders (philosophers, fly-by-night mystics, prophets of a New Age, the “educated public”), who, being undisturbed by the complexities of research, are liable to fall for the most simpleminded and most vapid tale.
BEING CONSTITUTED IN THIS MANNER worldviews have tremendous strength. They prevail despite the most obvious contrary evidence and they increase in vigor when meeting obstacles. Cruel wars, deadly epidemics that killed people indiscriminately, natural catastrophes, floods, earthquakes, widespread famines could not overcome the belief in an all-powerful, just, and even benign creator god. Altogether it seems that peole who are guided by worldviews are incapable of learning from experience.
For enlightened people this apparent irrationality is one o fthe strongest arguments against all forms of religion. Wat they fail to realize is that the rise of the sciences depend on a blindness, or obstinacy, of exactly the same kind. Surrounded by comets, new stars, plagues, strange geological shapes, unknown illnesses, irrational wars, biological malformations, meteors, oddities of weather, the leaders of Western science asserted the universal, “inexorable and immutable” character of the basic laws of Nature. Early Chinese thinkers had taken the empirical variety at face value. They had favored diversification and had collected anomalies instead of trying to explain them away. Aristotelians had emphasized the local character of regularities and insisted on a classification by multiple substances and corresponding accidents. Natural is what happens always, or almost always, said Aristotle.
THERE IS A WIDESPREAD RUMOR that realism - the idea that the world as laid out in space and time is independent of human perception, thought, and action - has been refuted by delicate but conceptually robust experiments.
Now if what I have said about worldviews (remember my definition at the end of section 1!) is correct, then the “realism” of the rumor cannot possibly be a worldview. There is no fact, no series of facts, no highly confirmed theory that can dislocate the assumption, made by Einstein, that the events of our lives, experiments included, are nothing but illusions. And even this statement is not adequate. Being tied to individuals and groups a worldview cannot be “Platonized” - it cannot be presented as a person-independent entity that enters into relations with other person-independent entities such as facts and/ or theories; it has to be related to the individuals and the communities that are affected by it. And a community holding realism as a worldview simply cannot be shaken by contrary facts. If it is shaken then this means that it is already breaking up or that the facts presented are part of a powerful rival worldview.
In a way he even wrote for fighters like Frantz Fanon who was an intellectual and a psychiatrist and who objected to a purely mechanical revival of traditions.
Such a revival can only give us mummified fragments which because they are static are in fact symbols of negation and outworn contrivances. Culture [a worldview] has never the translucidity of custom [established ideology]; it abhors all simplification. In its essence it is opposed to custom because custom is always the deterioration of culture. The desire to attach oneself to tradition or to bring abandoned traditions to life again does not only mean going against the current of history but also opposing one’s own people.
Fanon criticized African intellectuals who were fascinated by Western ways (forms of poetry, for example), who felt guilty, thought they had to do something for their own culture, and started wearing traditional clothes and reviving old customs.
Such actions, says Fanon, do not give us a culture or, as we might say, they do not give us a worldview, something we can live with. They “not only go against the current of history, they also oppose the people one wants to inform.”
But they adumbrate them, which means that Achilles’ speech also contains an element of invention. it is still discovery, for it reveals the outlines of a slowly rising structure. It deals with “objective” facts because it is substantiated by a process that is nourished from many sources; it is “subjective” because it is part of the process, not independent confirmation of it.
Rather, we have to say that the structures that preceded the “rise of rationalism” were “open” in the sense that they could be modified without being destroyed. They contained the paths Achilles was about to enter, though in a vague and unfinished way. They were also “closed,” for it needed a stimulus to reveal ambiguities and alternative structures to reset them. Without the stimulus, words, phrases, rules, patterns of behavior would have seemed clear and unproblematic (clarity is the result of routine, not of special insight); without an (existing, or slowly developing) alternative structure, the possibilities implicit in Achilles’ language would have lacked in definition. Thus entities such as “geometric perception” or “the archaic form of life” are to a certain extent chimeras; they seem clear when indulged in without much thought; they dissolve when approached from a new direction. The expression “dissolves,” too, is somewhat fictitious - the transition often remains unnoticed and amazes and annoys only a thinker who looks at the process from the safe distance of a library, or a book-studded office. As always we must be careful not to interpret fault lines in our theories (recent example from physics: the “fault line” that separates classical terms and quantum terms) as fault lines in the world (molecules do not consist of classical parts, and, separated from them, quantum parts). Ambiguity, however, turns out to be an essential companion of change.
But is it not true that we traditionally assume and personally experience change and difference? Yes, we do. Which shows, accoriding to Parmenides, that neither tradition ( … “habit, born of much experience”...) nor experience (“the aimless eye, the echoing ear …) is a reliable guide to knowledge. This was the first, the clearest and most radical separation of domains which later were called reality and appearance and, with it, the first and most radical defense of a realist position. It was also the first theory of knowledge.
The more philosophically inclined practitioners of nineteenth-century physics posited a “real” world without colors, smells, etc., and with a minimum of change; all that happens is that certain configurations move reversibly from one moment to another. In a relativistic world even these vents are laid out in advance. Here the world
simply is, does not happen. Only to the gaze of my consciousness, crawling upward along the lifeline of my body, does a section of this world come to life as a fleeting image in space which continuously changes in time ..
“For us, who are convinced physicists, “ wrote Einstein
the distinction between past, present, and future has no other meaning than that of an illusion, though a tenacious one. …
Irreversibility, accordingly, was ascribed to the observer, not to nature herself. And so on. None of the scientists who supported the dichotomy could offer arguments that were as simple, clear, and compelling as those of Parmenides.
Thus we can say that at the time in question (fifth to fourth century B.C) there existed at least three different ways of establishing what is real: one could “follow the argument”; one could “follow experience”; and one could choose what played an important role in the kind of life one wanted to lead. Correspondingly there existed three notions of reality which differed not so much because there were different ideas as to what constituted research.
Following his arguments Parmenides established a reality that was “objective” in the sense that it as untouched by human idiosyncrasy. Following his different approach, Aristotle introduced a reality that depended on the nature , on the achievements, and , especially, on the interests of humans. Leucippus, Democritus, and others had an intermediate position; they moved toward common sense but stopped early on the way. Still, their results clashed with established subject such as medicine.
I am at a loss to understand how those who maintain the other [more theoretical] view and abandon the old method [of direct inspection] in order to rest the techne on a postulate [i.e., who introduce abstract principles such as the elements of Empedocles] treat their patients on the lines of this postulate. For they have not discovered,I think, an absolute cold and hot, dry and moist that particiipates in other form. On the contrary, they have at their disposal the same foods and the same drinks we all use, and to the one they add the attribute of being hot, to another, cold, to another, dry, to another, moist, since it would be futile to order patients to take something hot, as he would at once ask “what hot thing?” So they must either talk nonsense [i.e. speak in terms of their theories], or have recourse to one of the known substances [i.e. add their descriptions in an ad hoc manner to common practice].
“THAT IS QUITE UNDERSTANDABLE,” the modern reader will reply. “What you are describing is a period before the rise of modern science. But modern science is (1) based on a uniform approach, has (2) led to a coherent body of results which (3) force us to make science not just a measure, but the of reality.” Neither (1) nor (2) nor (3) is correct.
As I have argued elsewhere, scientists form different areas use different procedures and construct their theories in different ways; in other words - they, too, have different conceptions of reality. However, they not only speculate, they also test their conceptions and they often succeed: the different conceptions of reality that occur in the sciences have empirical backing. This is a historical fact, not a philosophical position and it can be supported by a closer look at scientific practice. here we find scientists (Luria in molecular-biology, Heber Curtis, Victor Ambarzumian, Halton Arp, and Margaret Geller in astrophysics and cosmology, L. Prandtl in hydrodynamics, etc. ) who want to tie research to events permitting “strong inferences,” “predictions that will be strongly supported and sharply rejected by clear- cut experimental step” (S.E. Luria, A slot Machine, a Broken Test Tube [New York: Harper and Row, 1985, 115]) and who show a considerable “lack of enthusiasm in the ‘big problems’ of the Universe or of the early earth or in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the upper atmosphere,” all subjects that are “loaded with weak inferences” (Luria, 119). In a way these scientists are continuing the Aristotelian approach, which demands close contact with experience and objects rather than following a plausible idea to the bitter end.
However, this was precisely the procedure adopted by Einstein (Browning motion, general relativity); by the researches in celestial mechanics between Newton and Poincare (stability of the planetary system); by the proponents of the atomic theory in antiquity and later, down to the nineteenth century; by Heisenberg during the initial stages of matrix mechanics (when it seemed to clash with the existence of well defined particle tracks); and by almost all cosmologists. “Is it not strange,” asks Einstein (letter to Max Born, in The Born-Einstein Letters [London:Macmillan, 1971], 192) ,
that human beings are normally deaf to the strongest argument while they are inclined to overestimate measuring activities?
- but just such an “overestimating of measuring accuracies” is the rule in epidemiology, demography, genetics, spectroscopy, and other subjects.
I repeat that all the subjects I just mentioned have been successful, thus confirming the notions of reality implicit in their theories. Even outlandish conjectures that ran counter to physical common sense were confirmed. An early example is Maxwell’s calculation of the viscosity of gases. For Maxwell this was an excercise in theoretical mechanics, an extension of his work on the rings of Saturn. Neither he nor his contemporaries believed the result - that viscosity remains constant over a wide range of density - and there was contrary evidence. Yet more precise measurements turned the apparent failure into a striking success. It pays to “follow the argument.”
The separation of subject and object or, more generally of appearance and reality arose (in the West), between 900 and 600 B.C. as part of a general movement toward abstractness and monotony. Money replaced gift giving and an exchange of goods, local gods merged, gained in power but lost in concreteness and humanity, abstract laws, not family relations, defined the role of citizens in a democracy, wars were increasingly fought by professional soldiers - and so on. Language changed accordingly. The rich vocabularies that had described the relation between humans and their surroundings shrunk, some terms disappeared, others converged in meaning. All this just occurred, without any explicit and clearly planned contribution form individuals and special groups. The new habits, the older and more idiosyncratic ways of doing things, and the features implied by both were all equally real - they were not dreams or apparitions. However, they were not equally important. Special groups, soon to be called philosophers, turned importance and universality into measures of existence -...
A first and rather immediate consequence is that the boundary between reality and appearance cannot be established by scientific research; it contains a normative or, if you will, an “existential” component.
This explains, second, why so many different processes (visions, immediate experience, dreams, and religious fantasies) have been declared to be real and why discussions about reality produce so much heat. After all, they are debates about the right way to live or, in more narrow domains, about the right way to live or, in more narrow domains, about the right way of doing research. They deal with the weight to be given to reason, experience, emotion, faith, fascination, and further entities which in some views are strictly separated while they merge in others.
Third, different ways of life entail different interpretations of expert knowledge or, more recently, of scientific knowledge. Theologians like like Saint Thomas and philosophers like Descartes and Leibnitz regarded natural laws as the work of a stable and reliable divine being, of a genuine rationalist. Statements expressing such laws were therefore objective and necessarily true. Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, both critics of Saint Thomas, emphasized the immense power and the unfathomable will of God, which manifest themselves in individual events. One can observe these events, one can summarize the observations in general statements, but one cannot go further. Natural laws, accordingly, are about observations and about nothing else. Which view is correct? That depends. If the world, whether divine or material, is a described by Ockham, then there are no objective laws and instrumentalism is correct. But is it not the task of science to decide the question and to establish one interpretation to the exclusion of all others?
It is not, because, fourth, science contains different traditions (atomism and more phenomonological approaches are examples form the past) and, besides, it is not the only source of knowledge. People arranging their existence around nonscientific phenomenal and declaring them to be real did not end in disaster - at least not all of them did. They developed detailed and effective cultures. Appplying Aristotle’s principle to each and every one of these cultures, we arrive at a form of relativism: there is more than one way of living and, therefore, more than one type of reality. However, while traditional relativists infer truth and reality from the mere existence of criteria, perceptions, procedures beliefs, Aristotle’s principle invites us to add success and to explain it by assuming a deeper lying stratum that responds positively to many different endeavors.
It follows, fifth, that the sciences are incomplete and fragmentary. One see this in a more direct way when considering the large areas of experience and human action that constitute the lives of past and present generations but are regarded as unscientific, subjective, and irrational. In these circumstances it makes no sense to look for “the” correct interpretation of, say, quantum mechanics. And, indeed there exists a great variety of interpretations, corresponding to different worldviews.
Inhabitants of a particular manifest world often identify it with Being. They thereby turn local problems into cosmic disasters. But the manifest worlds themselves demonstrate their fragmentary character; they harbor events which should not be there and which are classified away with some embarrassment (example: the separation of the arts and the sciences). The transition from one manifest world to another cannot be described in either except by excising large regions originally thought to be real - a good case for applying the notion of complementarity. Bell’s request that a fundamental theory should not contain any reference to observation is satisfied, but trivially so. Being as it is, independently of any kind of approach, can never be known, which means that really fundamental theories don’t exist.
For Jason and Medea have two different and subtly articulated worldviews, the worldviews clash, and disaster is the result. Or, describing realities rather than views about it (cf. Aristotle, De poetica, chap. 9) we have two ways of living, acting, perceiving, and understanding - the heroic way of life and a woman’s view (objectivized by the chorus) - and they clash. Conflicts of this kind had been described before, for example in Aeschylus’s Oresteia. Here the clash between traditional laws and the new law of Zeus and Apollo leads to a paradox: there exist actions which imply impossible results whether or not they are carried out - an early and rather interesting application of reductio ad absurdum. The paradox is removed by the divinely supervised vote of an assembly of Athenian citizens, i.e., by consulting opinions. But after that the power of Athena enforces the New Order, lifting it from the domain of opinions into the domain of objective social constraints or, as one might say, of reality.
In his Anayse de Empfindungen (Jena: Fisher, 1904, 3 n. 1) Earnst Mach desribes the following phenomenon:
As a young man I once saw in the street a face in profile which I found highly disturbing and repulsive. I was shocked when I discovered that it was my own face which I had perceived by way of two mutually inclined mirror. On a later occasion I was rather tired after a strenuous nocturnal journey on a train. Entering a bus I saw another person entering from the opposite side. “What a dilapidated schoolmaster!” I thought. Again it was I, for I had faced a large mirror.
How shall wee interpret this phenomenon? Shall we say that, being unprejudiced, the first impression gives us the real character of Ernst Mach? Or shall we prefer the second impression, which is the result of a lifetime of observations?
I conclude that there are large areas where the question of what is real and what is not (and, therefore, of what is true and what is not) not only lacks an answer but cannot be answered from the nature of the case. Those who believe in a uniform world and who do not want to break the connection with experience must therefore regard the phenomena I described as confused appearances of reality that can be never known.
This solution can be connected with and supported by a variety of points of view. One is the point of view that emerged from quantum mechanics: properties once believed to be “in the world” depend on the approach chosen, and instrument connecting the results of the various approaches, the wave function has only a “symbolic” function (Bhor in his Como lecture). Physical objects are symbolic in an even stronger sense. They appear as ingredients of a coherent, objective world. For classical physics and the parts of common sense associated with it this was also their nature. Now, however, they only indicate what happens under particular and precisely restricted circumstances. Combining these two features Wolfgang Pauli envisaged a reality that cannot be directly described but can only be conveyed in an oblique and picturesque way. “Quantum theory,” writes Heisenberg on this matter …
is … a wonderful example of this situation that one can clearly understand a state of affairs and yet know that one can describe it only in images and similes.
… the cathedral of Sain Denis, which anticipated the Gothic style, was built with his ideas in mind. According to Pseudo-Dionysius, God (or, using the terms of this paper, Iltimate Reality, or Being) is ineffable. Concentrating our entire strength on UIltimate Reality we face nothingness, a void, no positive response (Ultimate Being, says Hegel, “ist in der Tat Nichts, und nicht mehr noch weniger als Nichts”). But we an describe and explain our interaction with certain emanations of God or, to express it in a less theological manner, we have access to the ways in which Ultimate Reality reacts to our approach. Ultimate Reality, if such an entity can be postulated, is ineffable. What we do know are the various forms of manifest reality, i.e., the complex ways in which Ultimate Reality acts in the domain (the “onotological niche”) of human life.
I just spoke of an “ontological pluralism”; like most people I, too, am liable to summarize complex stories by using simple, though learned-looking, terms. I therefore have no right to complain when other import the term “relativism” and call me a relativist. But I can still correct them, in the following manner.
To start with, not all approaches to “reality” are successful. Like unfit mutations, some approaches linger for a while - their agents suffer, many die - and then disappear. Thus the mere existence of a society with certain ways of behaving and certain criteria of judging what has been achieved is not sufficient for establishing a manifest reality; what is also needed is that God, or Being, or Basic Reality reacts in a positive way. Whatever relaivism seems to occur in this paper is therefore not philosophical position; it is an empirical fact supported by the multiplicity of approaches and results within and outside the sciences.
This is a most interesting procedure. Aristotle neither examines the arguments of the theoreticians (he did that, too, but in a different context) nor does he confront it with some theorizing of his own. He rejects the whole approach. The task of thought, he seems to say, is to comprehend and perhaps to improve what we perceive and do when engaged in our ordinary everyday affairs; it is not to wander off into a no-man’s-land of abstract and empirically inaccessible concepts.
… However we approach the matter we find that we can learn a lot from Aristotle about knowledge, research, and the social implications of both. Today, when more than 30 percent of all scientists work on war-related projects, when it is taken for granted that research on recondite matters should be financed by the public, and when human existence and human nature are degraded to make them fit the most recent scientific fashions, his view that the interpretation an the use of science are a political matter is more topical than ever.
Intellectual generalizations around “art,” “nature,” or “science” are simplifying devices that can help us order the abundance that surrounds us. They should be understood as such -- opportunistic tools, not final statements on the objective reality of the world.
A second exmaple makes the situation even clearer. Simon Stevin, a Dutch scientist of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, wanted to prove that a chain put around a wedge will be in equilibrium if and only if the weights of the sections lying over the sides of the wedge are related to each other as are the lengths of these sides. Assuming the chain is closed and that its weights of the sections lying over the sides of the wedge are related to each other as are the lengths of these sides. Assuming that the chain is closed and that its weight is equally distributed over all its sections, he argued as follows: if the chain moves, then it must move forever, for every position is equivalent to every other position; if on the other hand, it is without motion, then it will also remain without motion, i.e., it will be in equilibrium. The first possibility can be excluded - there are no perpetual motions. In the second case we can remove the lower part of the chain, because of its symmetry - and the result becomes obvious.
how did Stevin know that the chain would remain at rest and that perpetual motion was impossible? Was he creative? did he creatively suggest a bold hypothesis? Earnst Mach, who analyzed the case, denies this. Stevin, he says, had adaptd to his surroundings and moved in his imagination as the surroundings moved in reality. It would have been most surprising to see a chain that suddenly starts moving. Why? Because a plethora of data had turned into an instinct, which from then on guided the thinker. It is the nature of this instinct or, in other words, it is nature as it manifests itself in a particular person that shows the way, not a mysterious “creativity.” Mach applied the lesson to our knowledge of numbers. “It is often the cas,” he wrote in Erkenntnis und Irrtum …
that numbers are called “free creations of the human mind. “ The admiration for the human mind which is expressed by these words is quite natural when we look at the finished, imposing edifice of arithmetic. Our understannding of these crations is, hoever, furthered much more when we try to trace their instinctive beginnings and consider the circumstances which produce the need for such crations. Perhaps we shall then realize that the first structures that belong to this domain were unconscious biological structures which were wrested from us by material circumstances and that their value could be recognized only after they had appeared.
then painters rejected what had given them substance, art critics started emphasizing the uniqueness of individual works of art, and some artists pretended to live by creativity and/or accident alone. That changed not only the philosophical evaluation of the arts, but also their content: there is hardly an y connection between Raphael and Jackson Pollock. General distinctions between the arts and the sciences existed since antiquity, but the reasons differed and so did the distribution of subjects among the two categories. Thus some seventeenth-century writers asserted that, while ancient science had been overcome by the science of Galileo and Descartes, the ancient arts, poetry especially, still reigned supreme and were therefore different in nature from scientific products.
What is true of the arts is true of the sciences. Twentieth-century philosophy of science for a long time identified science with physics and physics with relativity and elementary particle physics; space, time, and matter, after all, are the basic ingredients of everything. A uniform conception of knowledge separated SCIENCE from other enterprises and gave it substance. A look at scientific practice tells a different story.
For here we have scientists such as S. Luria who tie research to events permitting “strong inferences” and favor “predictions that will be strongly supported and sharply rejecteed by a clear-cut experimental step.” According to Luria, decisive experiments in a phage research had precisely this character. Scientists of Lurias bent show a considerable “lack of enthusiasm in the ‘big problems’ of the Universe or of the early Earth, or in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the upper atmosphere,” all subjects :loaded with weak inferences.” In a way they are continuing the Aristotelian approach, which demands to remain in close contact with experience and objects rather than following plausible ideas to the bitter end.
However, this was precisely the procedure adopted by Einstein, by students of the stability of the planetary system between Newton and Poincare, by the early proponents of the kinetic theory, and by almost all cosmologists. Einstein’s first cosmological paper was a purely theoretical exercise containing not a single astronomical constant. The subject of cosmology itself for a long time found little respect among physicists. Hubble, the empiricist, was praised - the rest had a hard time..
We can go further and assert that both scientists and artists (artisans) learn by creating artifacts. ...
Yet some leading Western theoreticians, Descartes, Galileo, and Leibnitz among them, disregarded phenomena and postulated “universal and inexorable laws.”
Simplifying matters, we may say that they changed existing knowledge in two ways. They emphasized experiment over observation and they considerably extended the use of mathematical formalisms. In both cases they replaced natural processes by artifacts.
Besides, experiments do not just interfere, they interfere in a special way. They eliminate disturbances, create strong effects and enable us to watch the underlying machinery of nature undistorted and enlarged.
science is not one thing, it is many; and its plurality is not coherent, it is full of conflict. Even special subjects are divided into schools. I added that most of the conflicting approaches with their widely different methods, myths, models, expectations, dogmas have results. They find facts that conform to their categories (and are therefore incommensurable with the facts that emerge from different approaches) and laws that bring order to assemblies of facts of this kind. But this means that being approached in a different ways Nature gives different responses and that projecting one response onto it as describing its true shape is wishful thinking, not science.
… First way: the procedures (experiments, ideas, models, etc. ) that are part of the program and that strongly interfere with Nature reveal how Nature is independently of the interference. Second way: they reveal how Nature responds to the interference.
… Taking all this into consideration, I conclude that the second thesis makes lots of sense: nature as described by our scientists is indeed an artifact built in collaboration with a Being sufficiently complex to mock and, perhaps, punish materialists by responding to them in a crudely materialistic way.
The point is that there is not only one successful culture, there are many, and that their success is a master of empirical record, not of philosophical definitions: an enormous amount of concrete findings accompanies the slow and painful transition from intrusion to collaboration in the fied of development. Relativism, on the other hand, believes that it can deal with cultures on the basis of philosophical fiat: define a suitable context (form of life) with criteria etc. of its own and anything that happens in this context can be made to confirm it. As opposed to this, real cultures change when attempting to solve major problems and not all of them survive attempts at stabilization. The “principles: of real cultures are therefore ambiguous and there is a good sense in saying that every culture can in principle be any culture.
… Objectivism certainly is not the only problem. There are the rising nationalisms, the greed, stupidity, and uncaring attitude of many so-called world leaders, in politics, religion, philosophy, the sciences, all this accompanied by a general thoughtlessness that seems satisfied and even pleased with the repetition of tepid generalities.
It is true that allowing abundance to take over would be the end of life and existence as we know it - abundance and chaos are different aspects of one and the same world. We need simplifications (e.g., we need bodies with restricted motions and brains with restricted modes of perception). But there are many such simplifications, not just one, and they can be changed to remove the elitism which so far has dominated Western civilization.
Ideas of humanity change. Is it inhumane to save the life of an enemy? Yes, if it means that he will soon be able to do what he does best - rape women and kill children. right now all these matters do not concern me. What concerns me is a point of view that is shared by Fang, by some of his followers, and by many Western admirers of the monster “science.” This point of view contains a totalitarian element. It is good to know this, even if one should decide, for tactical reasons, to retain it for a few more years.
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Metaphysics also affects the matter of universality. We can assume that for Fang the universality of a principle means that it corresponds to universal features of an observer- and history-independent world. But such a correspondence is not obvious. What the evidence tells us is that having approached the world or, to use a more general term, Being, with concepts, instruments, interpretations which were the often highly accidental outcome of complex, idiosyncratic, and rather opaque historical developments, Western scientists and their philosophical, political, and financial supporters got a finely structured response containing quarks, leptons, space-time frames, and so on. The evidence leaves it open if the response is the way in which Being reacted to the approach, so that it reflects both Being and the approach, or if it belongs to Being independently of any approach. Realism assumes the latter; it assumes that a particular phenomenon - the modern scientific universe and the evidence for it - can be cut from the development that led up to it and can be presented as the true and history-independent nature of Being. The assumption is very implausible, to say the least.
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… Realists can be tough customers indeed - but there is no reason to be afraid of them.
For what gives them credence is not the power of phenomena but the power of norms evaluating phenomena. We mus not be misled by the fact that some phenomena seem to form a coherent whole; if reality were required to produce coherent effects, then shy birds, people who are easily bored, and entities defined by statistical laws would be very unreal indeed. The predicate “real,” on the other hand, i s only apparently descriptive. Reflecting a preference for forms of coherence that can be managed without too much effort, it contains evaluations, though implicit ones. Now wherever there is a preference there can be, and perhaps should be, a counterpreference. For example, we may emphasize human freedom over easy manageability. This means, of course, that ethics (in the general sense of a discipline that guides our choices between forms of life) affects ontology. It already affected it, in connection with the sciences, but surreptitiously, and without debate. To start the debate we must insert our preferences at precisely those points that seem to support a scientific worldview; we must insert them at the division between what is real and what does not count. And as this division constitutes what is true in science and what is not; we can say that ethics, having once been a secrete measure of scientific truth, can now become its overt judge.
… In other words: “real” is what plays an important role in the kind of life one wants to live.
As you many now, Parmenides held that Being does not change and has no parts. this was the first conservation principle of Western science - it asserted the conservation of Being. Parmenides also provided some arguments for his view. they were powerful arguments and quite convincing. Parmenides was, of course, aware of change - but he regarded it as secondary and subjective. Aristotle criticized Parmenides in two ways. He analyzed the arguments and tried to show that they were invalid. We may call this logical criticism. But he also pointed out that Parmenides’ result would inhibit practical life and political action. This is the kind of criticism that I am talking about: a way of life is made the measure of reality.
The members of the European Community, those standard bearers of Civilization and the Free World, want to bring “backward” regions like Portugal, Greece, and the south of Italy up to their own high level of existence. How do they determine backwardness? By notions such as “gross national product,” “life expectancy,” “literacy rate,” and son. This is their “reality.” “Raising the level of existence” means raising the gross national product and the other indicators. Action follows, as in Fang: monocultures replace local production (example: eucalyptus trees in Portugal), dams are built where people lived before (Greece), and so on. Entire communities are displaced, their ways of life destroyed just as they were in Ceausescu’s Romania, they are unhappy, they protest, even revolt - but this does not count. It is not “real” as are the facts projected by an “objective” economic science. Is it no wise to be afraid of such a civilization? And is it not advisable to reverse a way of arguing that encourages the trends I have just described? According to Fang we argue from scientific reality to ethics and human rights. This is a dangerous movement. It does use norms, but hides them behind factual statements; it blunts our choices and imposes laws in stead of letting them grow from the lives of those who are supposed to benefit from them. I suggest that we argue the other way around, from the “subjective,” “irrational,” idiosyncratic kind of life we are in sympathy with, to what is to be regarded as real. The inversion has many advantages. It is in agreement with human rights. It sensitizes us to the fact that Fang’s “reality” is the result of a choice and can be modified: we are not stuck with “progress” and “universality.”
The inversion is not motivated by a contempt for science but by the wish to subject it, this product of relatively free agents, to the judgement of other free agents instead of being frightened by a petrified version of it. Finally, we learn that even a great and committed humanitarian may be inspired by a dangerous philosophy. Good and Evil are close neighbors. Ww better watch out!
… Thus Peter Medawar writes:
As science advances, particular facts are comprehended within, and therefore in a sense annihilated by, general statements of steadily increasing explanatory power and compass whereupon the facts need no longer be known explicitly. In all sciences we are being progressively relieved of the burden of singular instances, the tyranny of the particular. (The Art of the Soluble [London: Methuen and Co., 1967, 114)
… An agent effecting change reveals the ambiguity of the status quo. He uses the ambiguity to introduce new elements which he then clarifies by confronting them with a well-defined past. Having been constrained in this manner a way of life may indeed start looking like a “system of thought.” It is such a “system,” such an artifact, and not its unreflected source which I am going to compare with the ways of the philosophers.
And justifying something does not mean relating it to an abstract entity such as “experience,” “experiment,” a principle of reason or an ingredient of Husserl’s “Lebenswelt”; it means telling a story that includes a personal guarantee. (It seems that Protagora’s “man is the measure of all things” was meant precisely in this way.)
Similar developments occurred in the domains of law and economics, and here especially after coins, which were in themselves worthless, had replaced barter and the exchange of gifts. Like the method of Theaetetus, such coins assemble objects with different individual properties under a single abstract concept, their “monetary value.” Question (a) now becomes very important. For the abstract monetary “value” of an object was not something that had existed at the time of barter but had been discovered only recently; it was part of a process that had destroyed old social ties and replaced them with different and more abstract connections.
… Old ways of living are being destroyed and replaced by factories, highways, and monocultures which turn the science-based principles of experts (economists, agronomists, engineers, etc.) into tyrants without paying attention to local wishes and values.
… The intention is to bring these countries “up to the level” of the rest of the Europe. But “coming up to the level of the rest of Europe” (Italy, for example, or Germany) does not mean that individuals are now going to be happier and are going to lead a more fulfilling life - it means an increase of abstract entities such as the “gross national product,” the “growth rate,” and so on.
… Relativism, too, insofar as it is not simply a call to tolerance opposes objectivism within philosophy; it has lost its connection with the worldviews it tries to defend.)
But can we live without universals? Is it possible to increase our knowledge and yet to preserve its looseness?And does the suppresio of what is genuinely subjective not already start in personal relations and then even more so in the realm of politics, which cannot exist without something that is shared by all? “Speaking with understanding they must hold fast to what is shared by all, as a city holds to its laws, and even more firmly,” writes Heraclitus (fragment 114, trans Charles H. Kahn). Agreed. But all depends on how “what is shared” is reached and how it rules once accepted.
Today a rather concrete idea of freedom and humanity influences actions in Western and Eastern Europe, and, though as yet unsuccessfully, in the Far East; it guides revolutionaries, business enterprises, and to some extent even the actions of more conservative bodies. This is very much to be welcomed. What is not so welcome is the attempt to again tie a process that is in flux to transhistorical agencies or to freeze the principles that push it along; what is not to be welcomed is the attempt to turn words and concepts that mediate between people into Platonic monsters that rebuild them in their image. (Paradoxically, intellectual fighters for freedom and enlightenment at all ages - with very few exceptions -tried to do just that.) What is not to be welcomed is a universality that is enforced, either by education, or by power play, or by “development,” this most subtle form of conquest. But is not science universally true in the sense I am trying to criticize and does it not show that Platonic universality has come to stay? My answer is the same as before: assume that science is universally accepted (which it is not, and cannot be, for “science” as a single uniform entity is a metaphysical monster, not a historical fact) - then this would be a historical accident, not proof of the adequacy of Platonic universals - and one might try to change it.
The appeal calls philosophy “an eternally effective elixir of life.” It the very opposite. Philosophy is not a single Good Thing that is bound to enrich human existence; it is a witches’ brew, containing some rather deadly ingredients. Numerous assaults on life, liberty, and happiness have had a strong philosophical backing. The rise of philosophy in the West or “the long-lasting battle between philosophy and poetry” (Plato, Republic 607b) is the oldest and most influential assault of this kind.
According to Parmenides, human beings, or “the many” as he calls them somewhat contemptuously, “drift along, deaf as well as blind, disturbed and undecided,” guided by the “habit based on much experience” (Diels-Kranz, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker [Zurich: Weidmann, 1985], fragments B6.7, B7.3, and B6.6 ff.). Their fears and joys, their political actions, the affection they have for their friends and children, the attempts they make to improve their own lives and the lives of others, and their views about the nature of such improvements are chimeras. According to Plato, most traditional instruments for the presentation and examination of knowledge - the epic, tragedy, lyrical poetry, the anecdote, the scientific treatise (including the many data collected in the Hippocratic writings) - are either deficient or deceptive: they must be changed. medical practice for example, must be guided by theory, which can overrule the obtained knowledge of practicing physicians. The arts have no place in an orderly society (Republic ,bk. 10). …
The recent appeal to “all parliaments and governments of the world” (etc.) has similar drawbacks. It envisages “the creation of new categories to overcome existing contradictions and to be able to direct humanity on the path of goodness.” This may sound reasonable to the ears of intellectuals accustomed to replacing real-world relations by relations between conceptual artifacts. But note what is implied. The categories are not being offered to “humanity”; “humanity” is not invited to consider, perhaps to change or even reject them; the categories are to “direct” humanity as a policeman directs traffic.
Now it is clear that “categories,” taken by themselves, cannot “direct” anything unless they have power, i.e., unless they are imposed by an influential worldly agency. To obtain the power, Plato consorted with tyrants. The appeal asks “all parliaments and governments of the world to introduce, support, and underwrite with full force the study of philosophy” - i.e., education or, considering the nature of government-directed education, brainwashing is supposed to do the trick. What will be the effect of an education based on the “new categories”?
The categories are supposed to “overcome existing contradictions” - the many ways in which people have arranged their lives wil be trimmed to fit the categories. Not case-by-case negotiations between the members of various societies, which might preserve some of the richness of world culture, but an overall system, concocted by academic specialists and supported “wit full force” by parliaments and governments, is supposed to eliminate the conflict. That is the colonial spirit again, but concealed, as some earlier forms of colonialism were, by treacly humanitarian phrases.