Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Evolutionary arguments do go astray (sometimes)

Norton (Why thought experiments do not transcend empiricism. In Hitchcock, C., editor, Contemporary Debates in the Philosophy of Science, pages 44–66, Blackwell) when talking about developing non-classical logics to model certain aspects of thought experiments gives the following, as he calls it, evolutionary argument:
I think there are some reasons to believe that no new, exotic logic is called for. In outlining the general notion of logic above, I recalled the evolutionary character of the logic literature in recent times. New inferential practices create new niches and new logics evolve to fill them. Now the activity of thought experimenting in science was identified and discussed prominently a century ago by Mach (1906) and thought experiments have been used in science actively for many centuries more. So logicians and philosophers interested in science have had ample opportunity to identify any new logic that may be introduced by thought experimentation in science. So my presumption is that any such logic has already been identified, in so far as it would be of use in the generation and justification of scientific results. I do not expect thought experiments to require logics not already in the standard repertoire. This is, of course, not a decisive argument. Perhaps the logicians have just been lazy or blind. It does suggest, however, that it will prove difficult to extract a new logic from thought experiments of relevance to their scientific outcomes – else it would already have been done! (pp. 54-55)

To gains some perspective on this argument, consider the following “evolutionary” argument. Norton, among other things, works on the philosophy of relativity. Now, relativity theory has been around, pretty much, since the same time when Mach wrote about thought experiments. So philosophers interested in science have had ample opportunity to identify and solve any philosophical issue that may be introduced by relativity theory. So, in this field, any philosophically interesting claim has already been made and any philosophically argument has been given, and Norton’s work in philosophy or relativity is redundant. Unless, of course, philosophers of science since the discovery of relativity theory have just been lazy or blind.

No comments: