Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Cartwright on reductionism in science

In her superb recent book A Philosopher Looks at Science, Nancy Cartwright revisits some of the longstanding themes of her work in the philosophy of science.  In an earlier post, I discussed what she has to say in the first chapter about theory and experiment.  Let’s look now at what she says in her second chapter about reductionism, of which she has long been critical. 

Reductionism does not have quite the same hold in philosophy of science that it once did, having been subjected to powerful attack not only from Cartwright, but from Paul Feyerabend, John Dupré, and many others.  (I discuss the anti-reductionist literature in detail in Aristotle’s Revenge.)  Still, the idea that whatever is real is somehow ultimately nothing more than what can in principle be described in the language of a completed physics exerts a powerful hold on many.  Cartwright cites James Ladyman and Don Ross as adherents of this view, and Alex Rosenberg is another prominent advocate.  As Cartwright notes, in contemporary writing about science, the lure of reductionism is especially evident in discussions of the purported implications of neuroscience for topics like free will.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Thomism and the Nouvelle Théologie

My review of Jon Kirwan and Matthew Minerd’s important new anthology The Thomistic Response to the Nouvelle Théologie appears in the November 2023 issue of First Things.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

A little logic is a dangerous thing

Some famous and lovely lines from Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Criticism” observe:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;

Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.

There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,

And drinking largely sobers us again.

Think of the person who has read one book on a subject and suddenly thinks he knows everything.  Or the beginning student of philosophy whose superficial encounter with skeptical arguments leads him to deny that we can know anything.  A deeper inquiry, if only it were pursued, would in each case yield a more balanced judgement.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Michael F. Flynn (1947-2023)

It is with much sadness that I report that Michael F. Flynn, well-known science fiction writer and longtime friend of this blog, has passed away.  Mike’s daughter made the announcement at his blog yesterday

That Mike will be remembered for his work in science fiction goes without saying.  But it is worth emphasizing too that he was an irreplaceable presence in the blogosphere, who showed the potential of the medium for work of substance and lasting value.  I doubt he ever posted anything that didn’t reward his readers’ attention, with writing that wore lightly Mike’s learning not only in the sciences but also in philosophy, theology, and history.  He was for many years a regular and welcome contributor to the comments section of this blog, raising the tone simply by virtue of his presence.  One of the things I most admired about him was the calm and patient manner with which he would respond to even the most obnoxious and ignorant interlocutors.  He never had to say that he knew what he was talking about, while his opponent didn’t.  He simply showed it by typing up a few sentences.