Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2007-06-30
  • Publisher: Harvard Univ Pr

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Analytic philosophers once pantomimed physics: they tried to understand the world by breaking it down into the smallest possible bits. Thinkers from the Darwinian sciences now pose alternatives to this simplistic reductionism. In this intellectual tour--essays spanning thirty years--William Wimsatt argues that scientists seek to atomize phenomena only when necessary in the search to understand how entities, events, and processes articulate at different levels. Evolution forms the natural world not as Laplace's all-seeing demon but as a backwoods mechanic fixing and re-fashioning machines out of whatever is at hand. W. V. Quine's lost search for a "desert ontology" leads instead to Wimsatt's walk through a tropical rain forest. This book offers a philosophy for error-prone humans trying to understand messy systems in the real world. Against eliminative reductionism, Wimsatt pits new perspectives to deal with emerging natural and social complexities. He argues that our philosophy should be rooted in heuristics and models that work in practice, not only in principle. He demonstrates how to do this with an analysis of the strengths, the limits, and a recalibration of our reductionistic and analytic methodologies. Our aims are changed and our philosophy is transfigured in the process.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
Myths of LaPlacean Omnisciencep. 3
Realism for Limited Beings in a Rich, Messy Worldp. 5
Social Naturesp. 7
Heuristics as Adaptations for the Real Worldp. 8
Nature as Backwoods Mechanic and Used-Parts Dealerp. 9
Error and Changep. 11
Organization and Aims of This Bookp. 12
Normative Idealizations versus the Metabolism of Errorp. 15
Inadequacies of Our Normative Idealizationsp. 15
Satisficing, Heuristics, and Possible Behavior for Real Agentsp. 19
The Productive Use of Error-Prone Proceduresp. 21
Toward a Philosophy for Limited Beingsp. 26
The Stance and Outlook of a Scientifically Informed Philosophy of Sciencep. 26
Ceteris Paribus, Complexity, and Philosophical Methodp. 28
Our Present and Future Naturalistic Philosophical Methodsp. 32
Problem-Solving Strategies for Complex Systemsp. 37
Robustness, Reliability, and Overdeterminationp. 43
Common Features of Concepts of Robustnessp. 44
Robustness and the Structure of Theoriesp. 46
Robustness, Testability, and the Nature of Theoretical Termsp. 52
Robustness, Redundancy, and Discoveryp. 56
Robustness, Objectification, and Realismp. 60
Robustness and Levels of Organizationp. 63
Heuristics and Robustnessp. 67
Robustness, Independence, and Pseudo-Robustness: A Case Studyp. 71
Heuristics and the Study of Human Behaviorp. 75
Heuristicsp. 76
Reductionist Research Strategies and Their Biasesp. 80
An Example of Reductionist Biases: Models of Group Selectionp. 84
Heuristics Can Hide Their Tracksp. 86
Two Strategies for Correcting Reductionist Biasesp. 89
The Importance of Heuristics in the Study of Human Behaviorp. 90
False Models as Means to Truer Theoriesp. 94
Even the Best Models Have Biasesp. 95
The Concept of a Neutral Modelp. 97
How Models Can Misrepresentp. 100
Twelve Things to Do with False Modelsp. 103
Background of the Debate over Linkage Mapping in Geneticsp. 106
Castle's Attack on the Linear Linkage Modelp. 114
Muller's Data and the Haldane Mapping Functionp. 117
Muller's Two-Dimensional Arguments against Castlep. 121
Multiply-Counterfactual Uses of False Modelsp. 123
False Models Can Provide New Predictive Tests Highlighting Features of a Preferred Modelp. 126
False Models and Adaptive Design Argumentsp. 128
Robustness and Entrenchment: How the Contingent Becomes Necessaryp. 133
Generative Entrenchment and the Architecture of Adaptive Designp. 133
Generative Systems Come to Dominate in Evolutionary Processesp. 135
Resistance to Foundational Revisionsp. 137
Bootstrapping Feedbacks: Differential Dependencies and Stable Generatorsp. 139
Implications of Generative Entrenchmentp. 140
Generative Entrenchment and Robustnessp. 141
Lewontin's Evidence (That There Isn't Any)p. 146
Is Evidence Impotent, or Just Inconstant?p. 148
False Models as Means to Truer Theoriesp. 152
Narrative Accounts and Theory as Montagep. 154
Reductionism(s) in Practicep. 159
Complexity and Organizationp. 179
Reductionism and the Analysis of Complex Systemsp. 179
Complexityp. 181
Evolution, Complexity, and Organizationp. 186
Complexity and the Localization of Functionp. 190
The Ontology of Complex Systems: Levels of Organization, Perspectives, and Causal Thicketsp. 193
Robustness and Realityp. 195
Levels of Organizationp. 201
Perspectives: A Preliminary Characterizationp. 227
Causal Thicketsp. 237
Reductive Explanation: A Functional Accountp. 241
Two Kinds of Rational Reconstructionp. 243
Successional versus Inter-Level Reductionsp. 245
Levels of Organization and the Co-Evolution and Development of Inter-Level Theoriesp. 249
Two Views of Explanation: Major Factors and Mechanisms versus Laws and Deductive Completenessp. 255
Levels of Organization and Explanatory Costs and Benefitsp. 258
Identificatory Hypotheses as Tools in the Search for Explanationsp. 266
Modifications Appropriate to a Cost-Benefit Version of Salmon's Account of Explanationp. 270
Emergence as Non-Aggregativity and the Biases of Reductionismsp. 274
Reduction and Emergencep. 274
Aggregativityp. 277
Perspectival, Contextual, and Representational Complexities; or, "It Ain't Quite So Simple as That!"p. 287
Adaptation to Fine- and Coarse-Grained Environments: Derivational Paradoxes for a Formal Account of Aggregativityp. 296
Aggregativity and Dimensionalityp. 301
Aggregativity as a Heuristic for Evaluating Decompositions, and Our Concepts of Natural Kindsp. 303
Reductionisms and Biases Revisitedp. 308
Engineering an Evolutionary View of Sciencep. 313
Epilogue: On the Softening of the Hard Sciencesp. 319
From Straw-Man Reductionist to Lover of Complexityp. 322
Messiness in State-of-the-Art Theoretical Physicsp. 324
Hidden Elegance and Revelations in Run-of-the-Mill Applied Sciencep. 327
"Pure" versus Applied Science, and What Difference Should It Make?p. 335
Hortatory Closurep. 339
Important Properties of Heuristicsp. 345
Common Reductionistic Heuristicsp. 347
Glossary of Key Concepts and Assumptionsp. 353
A Panoply of LaPlacean and Leibnizian Demonsp. 161
Notesp. 364
Bibliographyp. 405
Creditsp. 430
Indexp. 433
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