Idealist Alternatives to Materialist Philosophies of Science (ed. Philip MacEwen) makes the case that there are other, and arguably better, ways of understanding science than materialism. Philosophical idealism leads the list of challengers but critical realism and various forms of pluralism are fully articulated as well. To ensure that the incumbent is adequately represented, the volume includes a major defence of materialism/naturalism from Anaxagoras to the present. Contributors include Leslie Armour, John D. Norton, and Fred Wilson with a Foreword by Nicholas Rescher. For anyone interested in whether materialism has a monopoly on science, this volume presents a good case for materialism but a better one for its alternatives.
In Chapter 8, “Bradleyan Idealism and Philosophical Materialism,” K.M. Ziebart argues that the historical polarization between philosophical materialism and idealism is not really helpful, as evidenced by F.H. Bradley’s metaphysics in which the ideal and the material coexist and even overlap. According to Bradley, material and ideal processes are fundamentally embodied, natural phenomena. One way in which this coexistence is manifested is the development of the function of judgment. Judgment may be what distinguishes human beings from other creatures but it has evolved out of other physical processes and thus should not be regarded as a clear or essential dividing line between the two. Judgment is a “late acquisition” of human beings, indicating that the possession of mind is really a matter of degree. Bradley’s analysis of mental development is indicative of his overall metaphysics. Not only is it empirical in method but it regards ideal operations as continuous with the physical without reducing them to it. This careful balancing of the ideal and the material highlights the realism of Bradley’s metaphysics as well. It is both idealist and materialist, Ziebart maintains, since there is nothing that falls outside reality in its idealist and materialist instantiations. Furthermore, the careful balancing of the ideal and the material as jointly constituting reality highlights the realism of Bradley’s metaphysics. Indeed, Bradley’s metaphysics might best be described as empirical in methodology, idealist in development, materialist in embodiment, and realist in totality.
In Chapter 6, “Charles De Koninck, John Leslie, and the Parameters of Science,” Elizabeth Trott shows how De Koninck, a transplanted Belgium philosopher who made his career at Université Laval from 1934 onwards, and John Leslie who immigrated from Canada to England and spent the bulk of his career at the University of Guelph, both devoted their energies to delineating the limits of science with very different, though not incompatible, results. For De Koninck, this project consisted in rethinking the world in terms of the work of Einstein and other major scientists of the 20th century and examining its implications for nature and thought. De Koninck concluded that the new scientific outlook produced a “hollow universe,” both physically and mentally, where scientific research was conducted without the concept of the good. For Leslie, modern science reveals that the worlds of human experience, scientific experience, and divine causal intervention are basically the same world. Using the Platonic Forms as a necessary and eternal realm of abstract truths and the principle of ethical requiredness, Leslie argues that scientists use patterns to study the world. These patterns enable prediction and hence further discovery in science. Patterns and their recognition, however, are peculiar to the minds of persons in which case the existence of patterns requires the existence of beings who can recognize them. From the existence of beings who recognize patterns, Leslie infers the existence of a cosmic or divine mind whose thoughts give existence to the patterns. The divine mind makes comprehensible to our minds abstract and eternal Platonic truths, including the truth that the existence of a good world is undeniably more rationally convincing than the existence of an evil world. Thus, the worlds of scientific experience, human experience, and divine causal intervention are the same world and De Koninck’s “hollow universe” is filled in by a universe whose terms are related by ethical requiredness.
In Chapter 7, “Idealism and Naturalism: A Really Old Story Retold with Variations,” Fred Wilson argues that naturalism cannot accept Socratic forms and necessary connections and the legacy they have bequeathed to later forms of philosophical idealism because they all violate the Principle of Acquaintance. According to this Principle, we may justifiably introduce something into our ontology only if we are acquainted with it in sensible experience or inner awareness (our passions and feelings along with reflecting on what we are acquainted with through sensible experience). Wilson uses this Principle to defend naturalism and critique philosophical idealism from Anaxagoras to Brand Blanshard. The result is a tour de force which should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the history, logic, and ontology of the debate between naturalism and philosophical idealism in the philosophy of science.
In Chapter 3, “Idealism and the Philosophy of Science,” Hugo Meynell argues that philosophical idealism is an enormously important half-truth, significantly improving upon materialism, which makes science impossible, but falling well short of critical realism, the position Meynell endorses, and its standard of true judgments. Philosophical idealism rightly emphasizes the constructive role of intelligence in our apprehension of what we take to be “reality” or “the actual world.” However, it is not the correct position for determining under what conditions, precisely, judgments are true. Critical realism does have such a criterion. Judgments are true insofar as they are well-founded and they are well-founded insofar as they are reached attentively (entertaining the relevant evidence in experience), intelligently (envisaging the possibilities or hypotheses which could explain the case at hand), and reasonably (judging in each case as probable or certain which hypothesis adequately explains the evidence).
In Chapter 5, “Nature, God, and Scientific Method,” Edward L. Schoen challenges a strictly idealist, naturalistic, or any other monolithic approach to science. He argues that scientific methods counsel a tentative, rather open-ended pluralist, stance to the history of their development. After surveying the history of philosophy of science from A.J. Ayer to the present, Schoen concludes that there are only three methodological practices which characterize science typically and persistently: 1) the drive to uncover and identify scientific laws; 2) the empirical nature of science, and 3) the methodological constitution of kinds. Even these do not stem from any distinctively metaphysical commitments about the objects that science studies nor, on the subject side, does any of them preclude the possibility of supernatural agency or divine intervention, contrary to what some philosophers of science like E.O. Wilson have maintained.
In Chapter 4, “Philosophy in Einstein’s Science,” John D. Norton shows how Einstein, who read, wrote, and appreciated philosophy but was not a dogmatic philosopher, nevertheless used philosophy pragmatically to 1) legitimate an extraordinary new physical proposal concerning time in relativity, 2) find what he called an “epistemological defect” in earlier theories which, in turn, motivated him to seek a general theory of relativity, 3) ground his theorizing in principles that distinguish the real from the unreal, 4) adopt a form of mathematical Platonism as the way to find new theories, such as the unified field theory, and 5) portray himself, correctly and unapologetically, as an “unscrupulous opportunist” to the systematic epistemologist by combining realism, idealism, and positivism in order to advance his theorizing.
In Chapter 2, “Science and the Humanities in Hume’s Philosophy of Religion,” Philip MacEwen contends that, unlike our “two-culture” view of science and the humanities, David Hume had a “one-culture” view, treating all human learning under the rubric of “the science of man” which he divided into seven disciplines: mathematics, natural philosophy, natural religion, logic, morals, criticism, and politics. One can still detect a dividing line between the first three disciplines and the last four. According to Hume, the first three are in some measure dependent on the science of man, since they are mediated to a certain extent by human thought and judged accordingly, while the last four are entirely dependent on it. Thus, it is possible to read our two- culture view of science and the humanities into Hume’s one-culture view of the sciences. Applying this insight to Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, MacEwen argues that we can makes sense of two competing strands of thought in it (Philo’s skepticism regarding natural religion and his heartfelt confession that no one has a deeper sense of [natural] religion than he.) and resolve the competition between them. If we put these two strands together, we get Philo’s one-culture verdict at the end of the Dialogues which is remarkable for both its rationality and sensitivity: the causes of the order of the universe probably have some remote analogy to human intelligence, to which the most inquisitive, contemplative, and religious person must admit that the supporting evidence exceeds the contrary.
In Chapter 1, “The Things that Fill the World,” Leslie Armour tries to determine of what “the world,” construed as the amalgam of objects we think we encounter directly and the theoretical entities of physics, consists. He argues that even the objects we think we encounter directly---chickens, works of art, coins, account books, automobiles, etc.—require a good deal of “making” on our part if we are even to perceive them. It takes a lot of concepts and mental activity to see an automobile. As Gilbert Ryle was fond of saying, “seeing” is an achievement verb. In this sense, the things that physicists talk about—electrons, protons, neutrons, quarks, etc.—are not unlike the objects we think we encounter directly since the mental apparatus required to understand both types of objects is considerable.