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Animadversions

Snowdon - Naturalism and Metaphysics

(Text as at 18/12/2010 19:58:05)

(For earlier versions of this Note, see the table at the end)


  1. Paul Snowdon provided no hand-out, so this is all we’ve got ... any footnotes are my own comments.
  2. Is the naturalistic worldview OK? The assumption – a “natural one” – is that naturalism excludes religion – that they are in opposition.
  3. So, what is naturalism?
    • It’s an “ism”. There are lots of “Ism’s” in philosophy. It’s useful to have a name, but we need a shared understanding.
    • Platonism appeared last – and the most despised – on Snowdon’s list of “isms”.
    • Naturalism (according to the “motivating blurb”) involves:-
      1). Rejection of the supernatural,
      2). Rejection of the spooky,
      3). The over-extension of the scope of science, going beyond science’s proper place.
  4. Spookiness: doesn't help. Many aspects of the physical world are spooky. Matthew Platt - it's a queer world. Mackie’s argument from queerness (against ethical realism; see "Mackie (J.L.) - The Subjectivity of Values") fails because the world is queer. Naturalism picks out all the things there are and doesn’t rule out spooky things. Supernaturalism isn’t necessarily spooky, so the rejection of spookiness isn’t part of naturalism1.
  5. Science: Is human activity aiming at the truth of certain things. It is not the only way of pursuing truth – alternatives are observation, history, mathematics, philosophy, ... So, we can’t say that science is the measure of all things. The method of science is secondary – it has to start from data obtained prior to science, so is not independent. There’s no reason to think that all truth is discoverable by science – hence other disciplines exist.
  6. So, does naturalism imply that all that exists is available for scientific investigation? This is probably correct, and there is no reason to claim that this is an over-extension in advance; this turns on there exist objects that science cannot investigate.
  7. While it’s true that naturalism opposes the supernatural, this is tautological and doesn’t help explain naturailism.
  8. Another irrelevance is the opposition between the natural and the artificial. Computers exist!
  9. Snowdon mentioned Snowdon (Peter) - Skepticism and Naturalism: Some Varieties, though I don't know with what intent2.
  10. Human beings have a nature, but this is too narrow for use here.
  11. So, Naturalism ( T-Naturalism; the T-World: where “T” stands for “Traditional”) is Space, Time and the things in Space and Time. This is an ontological / metaphysical thesis: this is all that exists3.
  12. But, this doesn’t tell you what things are in Space and Time – this is a matter for investigation. Nor does it mean that we know the nature of Space and Time – this is also for investigation, though we need an understanding. Space and Time are Natural Kind categories (just as Gold and Water are Natural Kind categories, whose natures are to be investigated).
  13. Worries: T-Naturalism doesn’t need to be the best account of naturalism. If arguments don’t work against T-Naturalism, they can be set aside. Arguments against T-Naturalism are all metaphysical.
  14. There is an Epistemological Asymmetry. There is no problem about the existence of the T-Natural world – it’s an epistemological “given”. If you want to extend whatever exists beyond the T-Natural world, you need arguments - so, the onus is on those who want to go beyond T-Naturalism. It is not up to T-Naturalism to prove that there is “nothing else”.
  15. This isn’t a verificationist intelligibility claim. Snowdon is happy that (some) things that go beyond T-Naturalism can be understood. Not that everything makes sense, but there’s no prohibition about going beyond T-Naturalism.
  16. Arguments against T-Naturalism: aren’t there elements of human discourse that commit us to going beyond T-Naturalism? Values, numbers, necessities ..? Those raising such difficulties have to block avoidance manoeuvres on the part of the T-Naturalist along the lines of “suppose it is true that such discourse is unacceptable without going beyond T-Naturalism, then so much the worse for such discourse”. We might decide that or commitment to T-Naturalism exceeds that to the discourse, so abandon the discourse (about values, numbers, …).
  17. The response of the T-Naturalist – other than abandoning the discourse, is to try to locate the truth-makers, or grounds, of this discourse in the natural world. This leads to ethical, modal or mathematical Naturalism.
  18. Re-interpretative … looks as if it has ontological / truth and … morality etc. “expressivists”. Religious people can adopt this approach … it undermines the naturalist / supernaturalist distinction … a pre-emptive strike4!



In-Page Footnotes:

Footnote 1: This seems a bit quick. Presumably what’s intended by “spookiness” is things like – well – spooks, which are paradigmatically supernatural. But they aren’t part of classical theism. Nothing could be less spooky than the traditional concept of an omnipotent, good deity … though some aspects (omniscience and omnipresence might seem a bit spooky)

Footnote 2: Here are the first couple of paragraphs of that brief book (sample pages filched from the web):- Footnote 3: But, what about Universals, Numbers, etc.? Snowdon isn’t a Platonist, so where are they? He comes on to this later

Footnote 4: I seem to have missed the point at issue here, and my notes are defective


Printable Versions:



Table of the Previous 8 Versions of this Note:

Date Length Title
21/06/2010 09:37:26 5035 Snowdon - Naturalism and Metaphysics
20/06/2010 23:57:07 5023 Snowdon - Naturalism and Metaphysics
20/06/2010 22:13:26 4933 Snowdon - Naturalism and Metaphysics
20/06/2010 14:05:17 6848 Snowdon - Naturalism and Metaphysics
19/06/2010 21:56:10 4103 Snowdon - Naturalism and Metaphysics
18/06/2010 19:59:31 1537 Snowdon - Naturalism and Metaphysics
18/06/2010 19:24:58 711 Snowdon - Naturalism and Metaphysics
18/06/2010 14:54:14 16 Snowdon - Naturalism and Metaphysics



Note last updated Reading List for this Topic Parent Topic
18/12/2010 19:58:05 None available Heythrop - Religion and Naturalism Conference



Summary of Note Links to this Page

Heythrop - Religion and Naturalism Conference Snowdon & Ward - Naturalism and Metaphysics - Q&As Universals Ward - Naturalism and Metaphysics  

To access information, click on one of the links in the table above.




Authors, Books & Papers Citing this Note

Author Title Medium Extra Links Read?
Todman (Theo) Thesis - Universals Paper Medium Quality Abstract   Yes



References & Reading List

Author Title Medium Source Read?
Mackie (J.L.) Ethics - Inventing Right and Wrong Book - Cited (via Paper Cited) Medium Quality Abstract Bibliographical details to be supplied No
Mackie (J.L.) The Subjectivity of Values Paper - Cited High Quality Abstract Mackie - Ethics - Inventing Right and Wrong Yes



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