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Snowdon - Naturalism and Metaphysics

(Text as at 20/06/2010 14:05:17)

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  1. Paul Snowdon provided no hand-out, so this is all we’ve got ... I’ve embedded my own comments as “Note”.
  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 naturalism.
    • Note: this seems a bit quick. Presumably what’s intended by “spookiness” is thinks 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).
  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 intent. Here are the first couple of paragraphs of that brief book (sample pages filched from the web).
    • The term "naturalism" is elastic in its use. The fact that it has been applied to the work of philosophers having as little in common as Hume and Spinoza is enough to suggest that there is a distinction to be drawn between varieties of naturalism. In later chapters, I shall myself draw a distinction between two main varieties, within which there are sub-varieties. Of the two main varieties, one might be called strict or reductive naturalism (or, perhaps, hard naturalism). The other might be called catholic or liberal naturalism (or, perhaps, soft naturalism). …
    • Each of these two general varieties of naturalism will be seen by its critics as liable to lead its adherents into intellectual aberration. The exponent of some sub-varieties of strict or reductive naturalism is liable to be accused of what is pejoratively known as scientism, and of denying evident truths and realities. The soft or catholic naturalist, on the other hand, is liable to be accused of fostering illusions or propagating myths. I do not want to suggest that a kind of intellectual cold war between the two is inevitable. There is, perhaps, a possibility of compromise or détente, even of reconciliation. The soft or catholic naturalist, as his name suggests, will be the readier with proposals for peaceful coexistence.
  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 exists.
    • Note: But, what about Universals, Numbers, etc.? Snowdon isn’t a Platonist, so where are they? He comes on to this later.
  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 strike!
    • Note: I seem to have missed the point at issue here, and my notes are defective.



Live Version of this Archived Note

Date Length Title
18/12/2010 19:58:05 6778 Snowdon - Naturalism and Metaphysics


Table of the 4 Earlier Versions of this Note

Date Length Title
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


Table of the 3 Later 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



This version updated Reading List for this Topic Parent Topic
20/06/2010 14:05:17 None available Heythrop - Religion and Naturalism Conference






Summary of Note Links to this Page

Ward - Naturalism and Metaphysics, 2        

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