Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ave, Malcolm!

Malcolm offers an interesting short on why Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is "catnip for postmodernists." Postmodernists believe that Kuhn, in talking about paradigm shifts in science, was arguing against objectivity. This delights the PoMo camp.

Kuhn himself seems to have bought into this notion. By way of rebuttal, Malcolm links to this article by Steven Weinberg, which critiques Kuhn's position and concludes this way:

Kuhn's view of scientific progress would leave us with a mystery: Why does anyone bother? If one scientific theory is only better than another in its ability to solve the problems that happen to be on our minds today, then why not save ourselves a lot of trouble by putting these problems out of our minds? We don't study elementary particles because they are intrinsically interesting, like people. They are not--if you have seen one electron, you've seen them all. What drives us onward in the work of science is precisely the sense that there are truths out there to be discovered, truths that once discovered will form a permanent part of human knowledge.

I couldn't help noticing the difference between Weinberg's contention and the philosophical project, in which insights do not so much build on one another as coexist in a state of jumbled incommensurability. As I noted a while back, the basic philosophical problems remain unresolved. Does no one else find this disturbing?

I'll make an assertion: there is an objective reality. I don't deny that we approach this reality from different perspectives, with different interpretive filters, but there is nevertheless only one such reality. Even if we were to posit the existence of multiple universes, our awareness of such universes indicates that they all reside within an even larger, singular metacontext-- i.e., one reality, just as many eggs are boxed in a single carton. No matter how many universes you posit, there is always an overarching metacontext in which they exist.

One particular school of thought, called critical realism in the West, matches how I view the world. The basic contention is much as I laid out in the previous paragraph: there is an objective reality, but we approach it from our own perspective.



Anonymous said...

There is an important distinction to be made between objective reality (about which I mostly agree with you*) and objective truth, truth being a relationship between a belief and that objective reality. It is a distinction neither logical positivists nor postmodernists particularly care to make, but I think a lot of clarity could be injected into otherwise muddy waters if people were careful and consistent in making it.

*When it comes to personal and social reality, "objectivity" becomes a much less clear concept.

Kevin Kim said...

Indeed. There's a distinction between truth and reality, and I was careful not to conflate the two in my post. In fact, one chapter in my book makes mention of the truth/reality distinction (alas, I don't do much with it).

Speaking of the book-- as you know, it's almost ready to go. I'm waiting for my copies to arrive and keeping my fingers crossed that they're problem-free.


Anonymous said...

While your post did address only objective reality, I guess I thought my comment was relevant re: post modernists, who were the subject of the other posts you referred to. I think post modernists spout an unfortunate amount of BS in part because they fail to be clear about the distinction between reality and truth (as do logical positivists, though it's a different kind of BS). I say "unfortunate" because I think PMs have some important insights to offer, but those insights are so tangled up in the BS that I doubt they'll ever make it out into the mainstream, at least from post-modernism as a source. (As an aside--it occurs to me that it's interesting that post-mdernists tend to be found in the humanities and the social sciences--and it is much harder to be clear about what "objective reality" might be when considering an individual consciousness or social/cultural phenomena than when considering only physical reality or physical phenomena. Not that that excuses them from trying to be clear about what they are talking about--indeed, it places even more weight on clarity I would argue.)

I did see the announcement about the book--congratulations (I hope). I shall await your announcement that it is trouble-free before I order one (though I'm not sure why--I always highlight and scribble notes in margins, so it's not like I need a pristine product.)