Book Club: Scientific Metaphysics, 1, What is naturalistic metaphysics?
It has been some times since our last book club, so I think it’s time to start another one! I’d like to invite you to read Scientific Metaphysics, a volume edited by my colleagues Don Ross, James Ladyman, and Harold Kincaid and published by Oxford University Press. The jacket description reads in part:
“Scientific Metaphysics collects original essays by some of the world’s leading philosophers of science on the question of whether metaphysics can and should be naturalized — that is, conducted as a part of natural science. Some people will think that the idea of naturalized metaphysics is a contradiction in terms, on the grounds that metaphysics is by definition about matters that transcend the domain of empirical inquiry. Most of the authors here disagree, and hold that if metaphysics is to hold out any prospect of identifying objective truths, it must be continuous with and inspired by science. … At stake, in the end, is the question of whether metaphysics should give way to science and disappear from contemporary inquiry, or continue as an activity that unifies the particular sciences into a single naturalistic worldview.”
I must acknowledge two things at the onset. First, I am broadly sympathetic to (though not entirely on board with) the project laid out by Ross & co.. I have argued before that metaphysics considered as “first philosophy,” meaning an armchair approach to discover new knowledge about the universe, is dead. That was the way of the Presocratics, Aristotle, and many others up to Descartes. That is, before the onset of modern science. Of course, even though it should have gone the way of the dodo, first philosophy keeps coming back as a zombie thanks to the likes of David Chalmers, Philip Goff, and others.
Second, I am somewhat disappointed because the book only delivers partially, and is in a sense a missed opportunity. Too many of the contributors simply respond to each other or to other authors not included in the collection, rather than present a positive program for the discipline. Still, there is plenty of exciting food for thought in the ten chapters that comprise Scientific Metaphysics, and I will endeavor to provide readers with enough highlights to hopefully generate a constructive discussion.
The first chapter, authored by one of the co-editors, Harold Kincaid, attempts to lay out the groundwork for the rest of the book by directly addressing the obvious question…