Philosophie und Geschichtswissenschaften
Laws and skills : an inferential diagnosis and defense
- Philosophy is essentially dialectical. One gets into a dialectic by a puzzle, an aporia in thought and understanding. The point of philosophizing is not (necessarily) to get hold of the ultimate, objective, and immutably correct answers. The point is rather to come to be able to see one’s way out of the aporia, and to understand how one got into it in the first place.
The essay that follows – which I am submitting as my dissertation – is dialectical in two senses. As a piece of philosophizing, the essay is guided by a problem, the problem of understanding how laws of nature are possible, and how it is possible for us to know them. The movement of thought generated by attempts to get out of the problem then yields some ideas that do not stay in the original context in which the problem was felt to exist. Two important ones are, first, perceptual experience is not the only ultimate source of warrant we have for empirical knowledge claims, and second, perceptual experience is not the only epistemically significant experience we can have. Both are consequences of the idea that the mastery of skills is a form of interaction with nature that provides epistemic warrant for nomological claims. I shall leave it to the epilogue to examine how this view of skills contrasts with the ways skills are ordinarily thought of in philosophy and the implication of it for empiricism.
The other sense in which the essay is dialectical is more interesting, and it has to do with the way in which I approach the problem that got me into started, namely, by paying special attention to the dialectic exchange between the realists and the antirealists about the laws of nature. Antirealism about the lawfulness of nature has experienced something like a post-Humean revival since the publication of van Fraassen’s The Scientific Image. Most, including me, have strong realist intuitions about nomological “connections” in nature. Philosophical positions that are strongly counterintuitive have mostly not ended well in history. So it becomes something of a puzzle why antirealism about laws of nature manages to enjoy popularity every now and then.