Archives For Quine

How do we naturalize the normative?

A normative claim is a claim that one is justified in doing something. Normative claims are evaluative rather than factual. Naturalism emphasizes the empirical. When we talk about a normative aim, we need to justify that this aim is worthy of being pursued. Simply ‘making sense’ (coherent) is not enough – truth conducive.

How can an evaluative claim be derived from an empirical one?

Quine’s naturalized epistemology is characterized as placing itself in the school of psychology; that is, to describe a physical human subject – how humans produce beliefs. Epistemology then becomes a science. It addresses the questions of how justified belief works, ignoring completely justification itself as a central epistemological question. It’s the ‘technology of truth-seeking’.

Kornblith sees epistemology as normative. Despite his naturalism he thinks there is such a thing as epistemic justification. However, normativity is not the topic of the book, this is just a background context for the aims of the book (see chpt 1 notes – Inductive Inference and its Natural Ground) The stated focus of the book is investigating the reliability of our inductive inferences, and their relationship to the causal structure of the world. However, if our inductive inferences are reliable, then this reliability leads to a normative philosophy i.e. we should use this reliable method of inductive inference. So should not the source of normativity (a response to Quine) be part of the focus of the book?

If Kornblith assumes that truth is valued, that the goal of inductive inferences is to seek truths about the world, then he is positing a normative philosophy, just without a comprehensive establishment of what it is that inductive inference is reliable with regards to. Epistemic norms are a means to an end.


Quine – Natural Kinds

October 25, 2012 — 4 Comments

Notes on Quine’s famous paper: Natural Kinds

Quine, Willard Van Orman. 1969. Natural Kinds. in Ontological Relativity and Other Essays: Columbia Univ. Press.

The paper starts with a problem for induction: “What tends to confirm an induction?” He relates Hempel’s puzzle of the non-black non-ravens and Goodman’s puzzle of the grue emeralds to an innate sense we have for similarity and sorting into kinds. First of all, we need to understand projection. The grue problem: this has been difficult for me to get my head around and it seems to have some complex logic problems, not to mention much discussion across the net around its implications and predicates. All emeralds studied before 2013 are green, so induction would suggest that all emeralds are green. Simple enough. However, at time t all emeralds turn blue but we do not know this yet. An emerald that has turned from green to blue is grue. So all emeralds studied after time t in 2013 will be grue and hence blue. The predicate green is projectable, the predicate grue is not, as who is to know that the emeralds are going to change color? Some discussions on this have broadened the context to suggest other precious stones change color in the same fashion creating a precedent and likelihood that emeralds will change color, therefore can you use induction to conclude that all emeralds are grue?

A projectable predicate counts towards the confirmation of all x‘s are z‘s. Quine uses projectability to solve the black raven, non-black non-raven problem. ‘Black’ and ‘raven’ are projectable, though ‘non-black’ and ‘non-raven’ are not. Hence, the raven problem is not an induction problem as induction only runs in the same direction as projectability. However, the proposition ‘all non-black things are non-ravens‘ is still lawlike, as it is logically equivalent to ‘all x are y‘.

“A projectable predicate is one that is true of all and only the things of a kind. What makes Goodman’s example a puzzle, however, is the dubious scientific standing of a general notion of similarity, or of kind.” (p116)

Quine then turns his attention from projectability to the problem of determining a ‘property’ as we need to sort kinds via their common properties. The point of projectability was to first outline how we might have confidence in our inductions about kinds in a temporal setting. He then illustrates how fundamental the notion of similarity or kind is to our thinking, yet how alien it is to logic and set theory. The non-logical roots of similarity and kind are important.

“One part of the problem of induction, the part that asks why there should be regularities in nature at all, can, I think, be dismissed. That there are or have been regularities, for whatever reason, is an established fact of science; and we cannot ask better than that. Why there have been regularities is an obscure question, for it is hard to see what would count as an answer. What does make clear sense is this other part of the problem of induction: why does our innate subjective spacing of qualities accord so well with the functionally relevant groupings in nature as to make our inductions tend to come out right? Why should our subjective spacing of qualities have a special purchase on nature and a lien on the future?” (p126)

Quine turns to Darwin and suggests that people’s innate spacing of qualities is a gene-linked trait, and that successful inductions will have become predominate through natural selection. He asserts that he is not generalising or creating a priori arguments. He wants to demonstrate that the ‘innateness’ he is describing is not an argument against empiricism. Rather than innate ideas (rationalists – continental) he is describing innate capacities (empirical – Darwin). He sees philosophy as continuous with science, with no external vantage point (no foundationalism – Quinean holism). Therefore all scientific findings that are at present plausible can be used a specificity in philosophy as elsewhere.

Important: Kornblith departs from Quine on this point. He asserts that we can survive without our cognitive capacities being accurate; see chpt 1.

He next acknowledges inductions conspicuous failures. He uses the sense-input data we have as humans as an example, primarily color. We are well aware of our sense data limitations, yet in spite of an array of inductive errors made in such a context we have still been successful. This boils down to the human condition whereby our limitations have helped us survive on one hand, i.e. color is helpful at the food gathering level, but on the other are insignificant to such activities as broader theoretical science. So there is a dynamic existence and use of sense data and innate similarity biases. Essentially, it is the achievement of the species to have risen above, using inductive inference, his sensory limitations and sensory space. Induction has allowed a trial and error process of theorizing and therefore has a definite temporal quality/factor that needs to be included in any justification discussion of induction:

“A crude example is the modification of the notion of fish by excluding whales and porpoises. Another taxonomic example is the grouping of kangaroos, opossums, and marsupial mice in a single kind, marsupials, while excluding ordinary mice. By primitive standards the marsupial mouse is more similar to the ordinary mouse than to the kangaroo; by theoretical standards the reverse is true.” (p128)

Notes from Inductive Inference and It’s Natural Ground by Hilary Kornblith

Kornblith immediately establishes this book as a response to Quinean naturalised epistemology. He establishes that whilst Quine had set in motion an evolution of a naturalist epistemology, he could not be held directly responsible for presentations of naturalism in the contemporary context. Never-the-less, naturalism is referred to as the ‘Quinean project’.

“For me then the problem of induction is a problem about the world: a problem of how we, as we now are (by our present scientific lights), in a world we never made, should stand better than random or coin-tossing chances of coming out right when we predict by inductions which are based on our innate, scientifically unjustified similarity standard.” (Quine, Ontological Relativity and Other Essays)

note: think out what is meant exactly by similarity standard.

1.1 Epistemology as a Part of Natural Standard

Epistemology in general, and Quinean epistemology in particular, addresses two questions: “(1) What is the world that we may know it?; and (2) What are we that we may know the world?” (Kornblith, p2)

“Quine has argued that knowledge of the world is possible, in part, because the world is divided by nature into kinds. At the same time, our psychological processes are so shaped by evolutiion as to be sensitive to those very natural kinds.” (Kornblith, p2)

Inductive inference is framed, via evolutionary psychological dispositions, as dovetailing with our scientific account of the structure of nature. Therefore, our ‘native processes of belief acquisition are well adapted to revealing the structure of the world.’ (p2) Kornblith seeks to elaborate on and doubt this argument. He notes that Quine himself was spare in this argument.

“Evolutionary processes do not optimize for their environments, and, in many cases, processes which produce false beliefs will have tremendous survival value.” (p3) See also Stephen Stich

Kornblith still seeks to make the argument that our psychological processes (inductive inference) dovetail with the causal structure of the world. This fit between our psychological processes and the world is the mission of the descriptive philosophical approach of this book. Thus, inference will be comfirmed as a justified form of belief. This fit will be explained as a product of an evolutionary process. However, evolution is invoked as an after-thought to explain how the fit came about, rather than the fact that the fit is good. The fit itself is established independently of evolution.

For Quine, epistemology falls into place as a ‘chapter of psychology and hence of natural science.’ (Quine, Ontological Relativity and Other Essays) So what of the normative dimension of epistemological inquiry? Kornblith asserts that Quine’s approach is not at odds with normativity. Normative questions themselves fit into empirical inquiry. Kornblith refers to Goldman (1986) and divides the inquiry into two parts.

1) the account we provide of the conditions which a process of belief acquisition must meet if it is to account as normatively correct (independent of psychological inquiry)

2) the account of which processes meet these conditions

Kornblith portrays this approach as not sufficiently naturalistic enough for Quine, and chooses to side with Quine. He relates the question of our psychological processes to the holistic character of confirmation:

“Our account of the processes we ought to reason by thus cannot float free of our account of the range of processes which are in fact open to us. But this is just to say that our normative account must itself be influenced by the results of empirical investigation. We may not insulate any part of epistemology from empirical work.” (Kornblith, p5)

Quine, followed by Kornblith, propose an a posteriori account of epistemology. Kornblith asserts that foundationalism and the coherence theory do not provide any useful or accurate epistemic advise. These theories do not put us in any more accurate contact with the world. Hence, the Quinean project of naturalised epistemology promises to change this via the all-important dovetail between our best current theories of the nature of the world, and our best current psychological theories.

1.2 The Importance of Natural Kinds

“How then does the existence of natural kinds help to explain what it is about the world that makes inductive knowledge of it possible? The existence of natural kinds brings with it a certain causal structure. Only certain combinations of properties may be found together in a single individual, for not all combinations are causally possible or causally stable. Natural kinds involve causally stable combinations of properties residing together in an intimate relationship.” (Kornblith, p7)

If kinds are shown to be accurate descriptions of the world, then inferences made based on probability of properties across/within kinds are proven to be reliable.

“The causal structure of the world as exhibited in natural kinds thus provides the natural ground of inductive inference.” (Kornblith, p7)

It is also noted that Quine did not consider natural kinds as substantive enough to provide a proof, to be scientifically acceptable.

1.3 Our Psychological Constitution

What are we that we may know the world?

To follow the line of reasoning that our psychological character of inductive inference is a violation of the canons of good statistical inference (as is suggested by numerous studies highlighted by Kornblith) is to arrive a skeptical account of knowledge. The entire scientific project takes on deep contradictions. When science is turned on the world it gives us an accurate account of its features. When turned on us, it should then explain how we arrive at such an account. However, a feedback loop emerges as we tell ourselves that our cognitive equipment is not well suited to providing us with accuracy. How then can we confirm the reliability of any statement? One ‘escape route’ is to suggest an elite intellectual class, comprised mainly of scientists (which is now a defunct escape route given the fallibility of science after the ideological corruption of environmentalism). This also suggests a discontinuity between ordinary and scientific inference, which according to Kornblith, has not been proven to exist (this would be an interesting argument to take to historical events in scientific development; to what extent does ordinary inference provide the foundations for the advance of science since the enlightenment?)

Essentially Kornblith is optimistic. He seeks to confirm the existence of natural kinds, the reliability of ordinary inductive inference, and its grounding in the advance of science. Kornbliths picture also accounts for fallibility, allowing for errors, and a pattern to the errors of our inductive inferences. This is a descriptive account of inductive knowledge. The account sets up a standard by which its success or failure can be measured, thereby providing also a normative element to naturalised epistemology.

Quinean Holism

August 15, 2012 — 1 Comment

Quine: “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” From a Logical Point of View, p42

“The totality of our so called knowledge or beliefs, from the most causal matters of geography and history to the profoundest laws of atomic physics or even pure mathematics and logic, is a man made fabric which impinges on experience only along the edges. Or, to change the figure, total science is like a field of force whose boundary conditions are experience. A conflict with experience at the periphery occasions readjustments in the interior of the field. Truth values have to be redistributed over some of our statements. Reevaluation of some statements entails reevaluation of others, because of their logical interconnections – the logical laws being in turn simply further statements of the system, certain further elements of the field. Having reevaluated one statement we must reevaluate some others, which may be statements logically connected with the first or may be the statements of logical connections themselves. But the total field is so undetermined by its boundary conditions, experience, that there is much latitude of choice as to what statements to reevaluate in the light of any single contrary experience. No particular experiences are linked with any particular statements in the interior of the field, except indirectly through considerations of equilibrium affecting the field as a whole.”