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Old 19th-April-2011, 06:31 PM   Da Blob's time 19th-April-2011, 12:31 PM    #1
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Default A heuristic methodology for philosophy

http://philosophy.uchicago.edu/facul...ductionism.pdf

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Heuristic methods permeate and constitute the vast majority of methods that we have. It is time that we make a central place for them in our philosophy
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For most of the last century, formalist and foundationalist ideas have substantially influenced our own conceptions of what we are doing as philosophers, under the aegis of logical empiricism and analytic philosophy more broadly. This influence has persisted in less obvious ways even after their hegemonies have ebbed.
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Given the revolutionary
progress that appeared in physics and logic about 100 years ago, this is not
surprising. But the last third of the century has belonged to biology, and particularly to evolutionary and genetic perspectives on nature. If we look at organic design we see quite different principles operating (Wimsatt, 1981, 2007)—with robustness and error tolerance secured using designs that are contingent, and contextually (rather than generally) sensible and cost-effective. There is every reason to think they should apply also to our faculties of reason and our constructions of all sorts. Heuristics are a species of cognitive adaptations, and the study of heuristics both suggests and calls
for an entirely different viewpoint in constructing philosophical methodology.33 This needn’t replace the current broader philosophical inspiration by various logical and more formalistic paradigms, but seems an appropriate complement to it that should give us broader reach and more appropriate tools for a whole class of problems where variations may be familial rather than accidental. These problems should be expected
to crop up for products of evolutionary processes.


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This may sound uninterestingly narrow, but I include in this scope the three great designed systems of philosophical
inquiry: body, mind, and society.

The heuristics I propose for this class of problems
would include;
• Instead of looking for inexorable arguments, we look for robust tendencies; and for conditions under which those tendencies are more likely to be realized.

• Instead of looking for truths, we study errors, and how they are made.

• Instead of looking for context-free inferences, we study commonly used but context-sensitive ones.

• Instead of classifying them as invalid because content or context specific, we calibrate them to determine the conditions under which they work, or are “locally valid”.

• We may look for argument schemata, but look for broad conditions where they are likely to work [like looking for the range of validity of a model], rather than trying to demonstrate their universal validity. In this way, we can espouse the use of formal methods, but as a tool for appropriate problems, not as architectonic principles.

• Counterexamples become revealing sources of information about limitations of a model, or suggestions for probing its depths; in either case, a tool to refine the model, not an argument for trashing the system, or something to be swept under the rug.

• It is often as important to try to refine, extend and generalize counterexamples as it is to do this directly for the original model. This may better illuminate the structure of failures of the original model, and thus point to a deeper way to construct a new one.

• For heuristics, we are looking at the adaptive structure of our cognition, or specific features of our social organization, or specific characteristics of the problem domain, for either strengths or weaknesses, and the conditions under which these are realized. Thus there is (or we can often extract) a reference context that contains more useful information about the method. This then recognizes methodologically the importance of context-dependence

• Rather than looking for universal theories or principles which are foundational to all other elements of a given domain, look for the conjoint application of robust principles whichmay be heterogeneous in application, but complement each other to give a broader and richer fit to the details of the situation.

• Look for generative ways in which empirical results, constraints, and conditions may have broad application to extend or support philosophical viewpoints, looking for the kinds of support that come from the above principles rather than entailments or similarly tight linkages. This should include studies of concept and meaning creation, change, and stabilization.

Heuristic methods permeate and constitute the vast majority of methods that we have. It is time that we make a central place for them in our philosophy.
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We take it for granted that human activity, including science, is purposive. Yet we
have ignored this fact in our analysis of reductionistic activities.
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Methodological reductionists practice ‘wannabe reductionism’. They claim that one should pursue reductionism, but never propose how.

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Successive reductions to the most fundamental theory or lowest compositional level supposedly indicated the derivative character and in principle dispensibility of the things reduced—or so earlier philosophical accounts claimed. In principle claims in an empirical area should invite suspicion: whatever else they accomplish, they reliably indicate that it hasn’t (yet?) been done in practice. And how are in principle claims established—outside of logic or mathematics? We often hear in the same breath talk of the “computational” world view (e.g., Dennett, 1995),
We know what it means to be computable—in basic operations mappable onto the natural numbers. But what can this mean in the empirical sciences? Can we specify the alternative possible states of matter in any well-ordered and denumerable way that also maps productively onto our theories at different levels? (Dennett sketches the first—a DNA sequence analogue to Borghes labyrinth/library, but gives no hint as to how to do the second: how the relevant similarity classes realizing higher level properties and regularities are to be found.)3 Do scientists use in principle claims? If so, how? If not, what else do they do? “Methodological” reductionists, paradoxically, seldom discuss methods—no actual reductionistic problem-solving heuristics, or anything from the supposedly irrelevant “context of discovery”. These are bothersome lacunae: if a scientist is reductionistic, shouldn’t this affect their practice? If meaning reflects use, then practice should be key.
There have been innumerable threads and post on this forum concerning the Philosophies of Science, Determinism versus Will and Reductionism versus Holism. Wimsatt has presented a modern POV on the whole debate.

I think that, in particular, the change of focus from Truth to Error is a particular useful idea. Jean Piaget created the field of Child Psychology by examining patterns of errors made by children taking the first versions of the IQ test in Alfred Binet's laboratory...
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Old 19th-April-2011, 06:38 PM   walfin's time 20th-April-2011, 02:38 AM    #2
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Default Re: A heuristic methodology for philosophy

Hm interesting.

I always had this visualisation of an electromagnetic field whenever I thought of liberalism (because of the harm principle and the varying degrees to which a person's actions would affect others).

Then the law would simply be the isomers joining the lowest potentials.

I guess that's not exactly what you're talking about, though, but it seems like a similar idea (though more in the applied form).
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Old 20th-April-2011, 03:43 PM   Da Blob's time 20th-April-2011, 09:43 AM    #3
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Default Re: A heuristic methodology for philosophy

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Hm interesting.

I always had this visualisation of an electromagnetic field whenever I thought of liberalism (because of the harm principle and the varying degrees to which a person's actions would affect others).

Then the law would simply be the isomers joining the lowest potentials.

I guess that's not exactly what you're talking about, though, but it seems like a similar idea (though more in the applied form).
Actually that is not too far off. I believe that Wimsatt is suggesting that interdisciplinary thoughts, structures and analogies are valid. So that the field theory of electromagnetism and the field theory of Kurt Lewin do have common 'properties".
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Field_theory


The divisions between Physics and Chemistry, Chemistry and Organic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry and Cell Physiology, etc. and etc. are rather arbitrary and perhaps fictional, created for convenience sake.

If so, then the organization of organs (so to speak) is an organ in itself. That is to say, all of the "free-standing" sciences are actually derivatives of something greater, a dynamic system.

I think that he suggests, that the process of reduction is one of diminishment of this dynamic system that provides derivatives that can be isolated and studied. I believe that his hypothesis of the utility of heuristics in philosophy rests upon the failure and fallacies of classical reductionism as the philosophy of science.
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Old 20th-April-2011, 04:31 PM   a detached retina's time 20th-April-2011, 11:31 AM    #4
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Default Re: A heuristic methodology for philosophy

Maybe I misunderstand the word heuristic.

Scientific heuristics seek to find a theory that can describe and even predict behavior of part of the real world. Right?

Wouldn't philosophical heuristics be the practice of searching for theories that describe and clarify some aspects of the real world?

isn't philosophy primarily just that? I sense from the article that current philosophical paradigms (something which I know absolutely nothing about) seek to produce extremely general, even universally sound arguments about why something cannot be true. What this article is arguing is that they should follow science's lead and look at why specific things ARE true, and then generalize from there to make a model of truth.

Did I get this all wrong? I find it difficult to comprehend these philosophical articles.
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Old 20th-April-2011, 04:37 PM   a detached retina's time 20th-April-2011, 11:37 AM    #5
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Default Re: A heuristic methodology for philosophy

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Originally Posted by Da Blob View Post


The divisions between Physics and Chemistry, Chemistry and Organic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry and Cell Physiology, etc. and etc. are rather arbitrary and perhaps fictional, created for convenience sake.

If so, then the organization of organs (so to speak) is an organ in itself. That is to say, all of the "free-standing" sciences are actually derivatives of something greater, a dynamic system.
Yes I would say that these divisions are absolutely and without debate fictional though not arbitrary. They are there for convenience sake.

So with the organization of organs bit I still don't see how you're escaping the reductionism/holism axis. You seem to be saying that the sum of the parts is a dynamic system.
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Old 20th-April-2011, 08:05 PM   Agent Intellect's time 20th-April-2011, 03:05 PM    #6
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Default Re: A heuristic methodology for philosophy

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Originally Posted by a detached retina View Post
Maybe I misunderstand the word heuristic.

Scientific heuristics seek to find a theory that can describe and even predict behavior of part of the real world. Right?

Wouldn't philosophical heuristics be the practice of searching for theories that describe and clarify some aspects of the real world?
Heuristic is, to put it simply, a "short-cut" method, often in the sense of using only available information (representativeness heuristic) or trial and error.

Heuristics in science is best for formulating hypotheses and building models, but in strict scientific terms is not an accurate representation of reality.

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Originally Posted by a detached retina View Post
isn't philosophy primarily just that? I sense from the article that current philosophical paradigms (something which I know absolutely nothing about) seek to produce extremely general, even universally sound arguments about why something cannot be true. What this article is arguing is that they should follow science's lead and look at why specific things ARE true, and then generalize from there to make a model of truth.

Did I get this all wrong? I find it difficult to comprehend these philosophical articles.
The current paradigm of western philosophy is mostly analytic philosophy, of which I consider people like Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein to be the major founders. This type of philosophy tends to have a lot of emphasis on precision, clarity, and the semantics of language (how things are said is almost more important than what is being said). Analysis, almost by definition, is reductionist in nature, breaking a subject down into it's predicates and determining the truth of the whole based on the soundness and precision of the pieces held in isolation.

This raises problems, which is what the OP seems to be addressing. First, the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. By reducing a thing to it's constituent parts, or a concept to it's axioms/predicates, the truth of the system is reduced. The nature of a subatomic particle without the rest of an atom/molecule/compound will be very different; the predicates of a concept without the whole picture may be absurd if not taken in the context of the whole.

By the very nature of a whole system/concept, new and unpredictable emergent properties may manifest that cannot be reduced or studied in isolation, so the precision that science and analytical philosophy requires may be impossible to achieve.
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Old 20th-April-2011, 08:13 PM   a detached retina's time 20th-April-2011, 03:13 PM    #7
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Default Re: A heuristic methodology for philosophy

If philosophical arguments should be valued by the truth of their whole and not so much on the truth of their parts, wouldn't philosophy then become just literature, art, and other humanities?
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Old 20th-April-2011, 11:18 PM   Jah's time 21st-April-2011, 12:18 AM    #8
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Default Re: A heuristic methodology for philosophy

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If philosophical arguments should be valued by the truth of their whole and not so much on the truth of their parts, wouldn't philosophy then become just literature, art, and other humanities?

Isn't it ?

I mean, historically philosophy was an integrated part of natural sciences, but as I see it it those two have split over the years. Much because of the specialization necessary to keep up with either seems more and more like a full time dedication.



Forgive me if this is silly; but how do you test your ideas in Philosophy ?
How do you verify or falsify your theories about metaphysics ?
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Old 20th-April-2011, 11:38 PM   a detached retina's time 20th-April-2011, 06:39 PM    #9
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Default Re: A heuristic methodology for philosophy

Yes I realized how silly my post was after I posted it.
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Old 21st-April-2011, 02:16 AM   Da Blob's time 20th-April-2011, 08:16 PM    #10
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Default Re: A heuristic methodology for philosophy

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If philosophical arguments should be valued by the truth of their whole and not so much on the truth of their parts, wouldn't philosophy then become just literature, art, and other humanities?
What do you mean.. "Just"?

The interesting aspect of philosophy is that it could be called the School of Beliefs and Attitudes. Philosophy can be defined as the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence and its origins as a word are 'Love of Wisdom' in the Greek.

fundamental > foundational. Every other School of thought in the Humanities or the Sciences is based on a different Philosophy (or two) and operates from a different belief system generated by that philosophy. So in reality, philosophy could never be limited to 'just' the Humanities.

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Maybe I misunderstand the word heuristic.
adjective
enabling a person to discover or learn something for themselves : a “hands-on” or interactive heuristic approach to learning.
• Computing proceeding to a solution by trial and error or by rules that are only loosely defined. (re: shortcut)

" For heuristics, we are looking at the adaptive structure of our cognition, or specific features of our social organization, or specific characteristics of the problem domain"


EDIT: A. I. - an excellent, concise explanation of the issue. One needs to look both directions before crossing a street, for there may be vehicles traveling to and from Analysis and/or Emergence.
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