As part of our Semester Three seminars, this week we read Philip Kitcher on “Projecting the Order of Nature”.
This piece by Kitcher is one of my old time favourites on the topic. It shows how contemporary philosophy of science can still engage with Kant’s view on laws and draw from it in helpful ways. On to Kitcher’s view then, and to some questions it raises:
1. Is Kant’s view on laws, causes, and kinds a genuine via media in between the Aristotelian view and the Mach-Duhem empiricist view?
One worry one may have is that by forgoing assumption (E): “Nature is systematically unified”
the Kantian via media is in practice very close to the Duhem-Mach empiricist alternative (with natural kinds being only extensions of concepts that play a unifying role in the ideal systematization of our beliefs). I am personally very sympathetic to this view of natural kinds and laws. The usual worry is:
2. Does it still count as a ‘realist’ view? or at least, does it count as a genuine competitor to both the Aristotelian and the Machian view?
Kitcher’s own reply is ‘yes’ in virtue of his own view of scientific explanation, qua a viable surrogate of the realist’s plea for truth (i.e. truth as the ideal limit of inquiry, defined in term of pursuing certain goals, systematic unification for example).
So, I would be curious to hear what other people might think on these points or any other points of Kitcher’s very interesting piece.
Excellent questions about an excellent article. Related to some of your remarks, I wonder whether Kant is forced to reject not only E but everything else in the neighborhood of E, which, if he really were, would push him very close to the Duhem-Mach position. So what about replacing E with E* “It is (metaphysically) possible that nature is systematically unified.” or E** “It is possible for all we know that nature is systematically unified”? The reason I point to such possibilities is two-fold. a) in the Appendix Kant endorses (repeatedly) the idea that the regulative principles of homogeneity, specificity, and continuity (which, taken together, connect to the unity of nature) have “transcendental” (i.e., transcendent, or metaphysical) presuppositions that might be expressed as E* or E**. (Granted, we cannot know that such propositions are true in the way in which we know that other objects are true, but perhaps we must accept such propositions anyway as demands of reason, esp. if they contain some kind of possibility operator, which keeps them from being too strong.) b) it would seem that some such assumption is needed to keep the principles from being merely heuristic. That is, on Kitcher’s view it isn’t clear why the ideal limit of inquiry isn’t just a heuristic device (and thus indistinguishable from the Duhem-Machian position).
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