Pretext: Philosophers talking about reality should first have studied natural sciences where the difference between reality and perception is obvious.

Alternate pretext: Scientists talking about reality should first have studied epistemology, where the distinctions between what we know and what we believe are made explicit.

But perhaps they do not speak of quite the same thing ?

The way the pretext phrase is put, I get the feeling that the contradictor means that science has a "better" vision of reality than philosophy. Even if it is the case, then why ?

Has science signed a covenant with God, so as she can speak of reality much better than other approaches ?

Contradictor says :

(1) "difference between reality and perception is obvious"

(2) "natural sciences show that 1"

(3) "philosophers do not see that 1"

(4) "from 3, it follows that philosophy should submit to natural sciences"

Neither of these four theses is true. Just considering the first one (and in some sense, this suffices, as the others lean on it, - even if the others are also false for other reasons), how can anyone say that there is an obvious difference between reality and perception ?

Once something is scrutinized, there is no such difference (of course, in most of everydaylife actions, one can make as if there were one, but this is not the point).

The only way to achieve such a difference is to use a methodology that makes it clear and obvious, that is : the scientific methodology. Distinguish "sets" and "elements", "objects" and "subjects", "measures" and "observers", and so on.

But then, we get a sharp difference between reality and perception as the result of a prior methodology which is intended to yield, precisely, such a difference. Isn't this a vicious circle, or, at least, un unaccounted implicit ?

There are other approaches than the scientific one, in which reality is not separated from perception. They do not have less value, for either value cannot be defined, either it can be defined - by the quantity of happiness or wisdom provided, for instance - and then the comparison holds.

Therefore, I do not find that the assertion Philosophers talking about reality should first have studied natural sciences where the difference between reality and perception is obvious is conclusive. – NicolasMontessuit

I neither meant to offend philosophers (their job is hard in a field beyond science) nor to state that scientists have a unique access point to "truth". The sentence you cited is not meant as a judgment of quality. This is not to attack philosophers, I feel like a philosopher myself.

About "science says 1, philosophy says not-1" … this situation shouldn't occur. Someone has left his field of competence. With respect to the "difference between reality and perception" I'd say that science has overwhelming proves (thousands) that this difference does exist and this is in the field of science, not philosophy. I'm not aware that any philosophy is able to hold a different opinion. Philosophy can align with science in this respect, any other position makes little sense.

Of course one can always redefine the word "reality" and take the constructivist view of "any person has his own reality". But then you have to use a different word for the "objective aspects of reality" (that kind of reality science deals with) that are independent from individual perception. Then we are in a language game.

Science has created knowledge that's beyond our senses. We can't see or feel x-rays but they can hurt us and also help to cure us ("obvious difference between reality and perception"). Science has found ways to deal with some invisible things and make them predictable. At the same time, physical or chemical models can fail every day. It is clear that models are just simplified abstractions from reality that do not talk about truth, only about usefulness for purpose. So I think natural science has (at least most scientist have) a realistic relationship to the physical reality they deal with. Of course some scientists overdo this in "only what we can measure is real" but this is childish because there are so many things like dreams or love (or thoughts) that exist without being measurable.

Agreed. Yet we could indulge in a funny S-F game. We imagine that humankind has followed another historical path than the one we know. For instance, Carthago won over Rome, civilsation became centered on Africa, there was a big raise of mithraicism instead of christianism, people became gnostics, occidental science never developed, but instead, people believed in magic, in spiritism, in chamanism, and made it such a coherent system that now (in 2004) it regents all aspects of their lives, and has led them to discover kinds of "technologies" we have no equivalent.

Of course, we know that spirits and gods do not really exist, but the point is that, if everybody thinks the phenomenon X is due to the god Y, there is a social pressure, myth construction, autorealizing prophecies, such that in practice effectively god Y made the X.

The question is : regarded from our occidental-science viewpoint, this civilisation bases itself on delusions, – delusions that just prove to be efficient. We can say they are delusions because, by using our rationalist tools, we find inconsistencies in it, and because we explain better the things.

But now, look : From their point of view, it is exactly the same. They think that our civilisation bases itself on delusions – that just prove efficient. With their shamanic tools, they find inconsistencies in it, and they explain better the things.

The question is that, you cannot give an "extra-rationalist" justification of rationalism, because according to reason there is nothing outside reason (or there are things that concern not philosophers). – NicolasMontessuit

Rather than interrupt here with my own thoughts, I'd like to first introduce a lecture/paper by Richard Rorty called Analytic Philosophy and Transformative Philosophy. I don't necessarily suggest reading it in its entirety (though it is worthy of the effort), rather at least the first five or six paragraphs. I'm in very strong agreement with Rorty, having spent the last few years researching within a field decidedly confused by misunderstandings of the distinctions discussed in the paper. I think this would provide some good background for this page from one of the foremost of contemporary philosophers. – Murray

Really interesting. And I had underestimated the state of philosophy in US+UK. – esc

Marray, the paper is interesting, but also depressing. It is absurd that philosophers - independent thinkers - should have to conform to a certain school of thought to get jobs and chances in academic life.

Nicolas, sorry, it is too difficult for me to talk part in the S-F game. I think that logic and reason peacefully co-exist with not-logic and not-reason at all times and all societies. The ancient Chinese and Egyptians were really good at certain types of science, like astronomy. And we, in the western societies, seem to have our gods, myths and satans too, that are beyond reason. – Helmut

Helmut, I don't find it particularly depressing, but I otherwise agree with your analysis. My own ideas didn't fit with those of one of my Ph.D. advisors, so he's no longer my advisor. I didn't conform to his school of thought. If you look back in the history of any field you find that people that don't fit in with the status quo are often ostracized, or at least not included from the community's ongoing conversation. This doesn't make them wrong, and indeed, historically we've found they were often correct in their views, just "ahead of their time." This seems more like an issue with human nature and culture than one of academia per se.

Huh, may I ask you what was the matter you studied, Murray? By the way? This interests me. – NicolasMontessuit

Nicholas, basically I started my Ph.D. upon a premise: that the field of Knowledge Representation had some practical application outside of the world of pure logic and mathematics, that KR could provide some direct benefit to ordinary people in various tasks. Most KR/AI applications are used only by knowledge engineers, or at least in consultation with them. My particular application area is in assisting in the organization of research materials and design of narrative structures based upon those materials. I've spent the last few years developing a Topic Map-based software tool called Ceryle, which is designed to assist writers, particularly fiction writers. [I'll also be using it to organize my thesis. Ceryle will eventually be released in open source. I have a blog at Ceryle blog but I've not spent much time on it (just too busy working) but I expect to write more regularly once Ceryle is released. I'll also be putting up a wiki at some point, as I hope to support an online community of interest where writers can discuss their usage experience, ideas, tips, problems, share authoring ontologies, etc.]

At the beginning of my research, I was making a distinction between "formal" and "informal" knowledge representation (in the form of computer-based ontologies). I've since modified that view to differentiate my entire approach (i.e., epistemology) to ontology towards the kinds of distinctions Rorty talks about in the above-cited paper. In the introduction to his book "Articulating Reasons", Robert Brandom discusses various fundamental decisions he makes in placing his views within the greater field of philosophical inquiry, e.g., "Atomism or Holism?", "Bottom-up or Top-down Semantic Explanation?", and the one that I tend to focus on, "Representation or Expression"?, which I think expresses the fundamental break between Descartes' concept of representation and the contemporary emphasis (following the later Wittgenstein) of emphasizing ontology as a form of human expression or communication rather than the explication of some God-given ultimate categories. Following Brandom, I'd be placing myself among the linguistic pragmatists.

In Rorty's paper, I was quite excited to find that his views were remarkably similar to my own – that I wasn't some hack who just didn't understand as I was led to believe – and that the entire enterprise of modern KR has in some senses been an enormous failure. The western platonic view of the world has led us down a garden path, religiously believing in the ability of science to correctly ascertain the basis of reality, leading to a belief in being able to model any and all of reality within mathematics and logic (e.g., given enough computing power we could model anything correctly), universal field theories, behaviourism, etc. The number of western scientists who have this faith is quite remarkable, indeed, it seems to permeate almost all of western culture. I think this lies behind things like manifest destiny, the colonial destruction of native peoples, and of course leads in reaction (if one is following this train of thought) smack dab into Hegel, Marx, and Lenin's Imperialism. Or maybe we've come full circle.

In any case, I now find myself trying to work within a field that runs decidedly counter to my own epistemological views, and I've not yet been able to figure out how to resolve this issue; whether I should simply try to finish my Ph.D. and move on with life, or address these issues within my thesis and open myself up to charges of heresy. Of course the advice I've been given is that a Ph.D. is not the place to challenge the authorities, it is a place to demonstrate one understands the status quo in the field and then contributing within it. One approach I'm now taking is to place a much greater emphasis on what were previously secondary fields, e.g., narratology, HCI, authoring and writing practices, and comp sci/engineering. If I get through this tunnel I'll be a bit surprised.

This sounds really interesting. I faced a similar problem, and resolved it by renouncing my PhD. I could not accept, neither to make "diplomacy" in my thesis and be forced to do "politics" all the rest of my life, nor to play the role of an heretic on the margins. In either case, it would have been prostituting my intellect. I am now looking for a good old stupid job in informatics (I may have found one yesterday), just to be the proletarian I am bound to be, but fierce to be such a prole provided I have not to render count of my heresies…

And thus, I have with myself 10 years of study of mathematics, linguistics and cognitive science, plus all my autodidact interest of philosophy, plus several theory (two on algebra, one on holistic grammars, …). There is material, I will say 200 pages concerning the linguistic theory, and I have not all put it down yet. But I wonder how I will publish it, since I won't use the regular university circuit… Maybe the Internet… I don't care, I don't search approbation of the public, but I wish our society was not such mediatically closed…

Anyway, if you need some arguments concerning "Atomism or Holism?", "Bottom-up or Top-down Semantic Explanation?", and the development of predicate-based reductionism prior to our occidental trend (which I study by invoking "logicisme" and "primat de l'information"), those are precisely the points I stick to. I can show you some of my work, I'm just so sorry most are in french… :(NicolasMontessuit


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