The Epistemic/Ontic Divide


(So here's the next topical list: epistemic & ontic (980 hits).)

The first hit is on the Islamic Finance Net: The Epistemic-Ontic Circular Causation and Continuity Model of Unified Reality -- Dr. Masudul Alam Choudhury (1994).  My reputation must have preceded me: Masudul is not allowing me to copy anything.  Please, someone, try to understand this essay and explain it to us.  Only skilled typists need apply! 

But I refuse to let Masudul shame me.  My very next opportunity to cut & paste comes from B. G. Montero -- The Epistemic/Ontic Divide (2002).  I must be incorrigible.  Bless you, Barbara Gail!  But, oh dear, even amongst us C&Pers there is honor.  We will not copy w/o cutting, but in this case that may not be possible.  If so, this would be a first.  What greater testimonial?  ....  It turns out that I am spending considerable time with Barbara's essays on various aspects of the mind-body problem.  If she has a definite position on the matter, it is too subtle for me to pick out; however, her characterizations of the physicalists and naturalists as either vacuous or self-contradictory are as cogent as any I've seen.  Her sympathies are certainly not with the dualists.  I gather that she regards the mental as something primordial with the world and not separable from the rest of the world.  Indirectly, then, her arguments count against the Divide.  The essay referred to above considers how the alleged epistemic and ontic gaps figure together in the mind-body debates. 

One place where the epistemic and ontic seem necessarily inseparable is in the close relation between conceivability and possibility.  This fusion, if not confusion, comes out in the arguments over the possibility of zombies.  With this in mind I should once again attempt to comprehend Chalmers' papers on modality.  Last time I got lost in the intricacies of two-dimensionalism.  What will I do when we go to three-dimensions?  A similar lack of separation appears in the 'ontological' proofs of God, and in understanding the import of Aristotle's conceptualism.  

Don't let me forget the Quantum domain, where the entanglement between what there is and what we know remains unresolved.  The ontic status of the collapse of the wave function is the crucial issue.  Associated with the quantum problem is the ontic status of probabilities in general.  

Then we have complexity theory and emergence.  The whole issue of scientific realism hinges on the ontic/epistemic divide with respect to reduction, bringing us back to the mind-body problem.  Further complicating the reductionism issue is the question of direct vs. indirect realism.  

With the ascendance of information theory, once again we are confronted by where to place the divide. Semiotics is a further elaboration, or perhaps a survival course on how to live without the separation. 

And then there was Quine: Philosophical Dictionary

analytic / synthetic

Distinction between judgments or propositions. A judgment is analytic if the concept of its predicate is already contained in that of its subject; if the concepts of its subject and predicate are independent, it is synthetic. Alternatively, a proposition is analytic if it is true merely by virtue of the meaning of its terms or tautologous; otherwise, it is synthetic. For example:

"Golden retrievers are dogs." is analytic.

"Dogs enjoy chasing squirrels." is synthetic.

Empiricists generally suppose that this distinction coincides with the a priori / a posteriori and necessary / contingent distinctions, while Kant held that synthetic a priori judgments are possible. Quine has argued that no strict distinction can be maintained, since the analyticity of any proposition can be denied, with suitable revisions of the entire system of language in which it is expressed. 

The Analytic-Synthetic Distinction- A Critique and an Alternative Hypothesis -- Diana Hsieh (1997). 

Through all of Kant's philosophy, his most enduring legacy has surely been the analytic-synthetic distinction. Disputes over what particular statements are analytic or synthetic aside, most philosophers today accept the distinction, in some form or other, as legitimate. Quine's influential attack on the distinction in "The Two Dogmas of Empiricism" has reportedly had little impact on Kant scholars. Regardless of present-day philosophers' acceptance of the analytic-synthetic distinction, it is clear that it lies at the heart of Kant's transcendental idealism. Without it, his attempt to ground metaphysics in synthetic, a priori principles becomes a meaningless project. But more importantly, criticism of the analytic-synthetic distinction brings Kant's basic views about the nature of concepts and relations between them into question. This examination could be far more devastating, or illuminating, to Kantianism than a simple elimination of the analytic-synthetic distinction.

Remind me to follow up on this. 


Between Chance and Choice -- Edited by Harald Atmanspacher and Robert Bishop (2002): 

Atmanspacher in his contribution distinguishes between determinism and determinability using a distinction between ontic and epistemic states in physical descriptions. Lombardi, using this same distinction, addresses Putnam’s notion of internal realism in the context of physics, arguing that there is no single, pre-given ontology because the questions we ask, both theoretical and experimental, “cut into” reality in a way determining much of the chosen ontology. What is ontic and what is epistemic depends on the questions scientists ask.

Iceberg Epistemology -- David Henderson and Terence Horgan (c. 2000): 

We suggest thinking of the epistemologically relevant cognitive processes in terms of the metaphor of an iceberg -- the accessible and articulable states that have been the exclusive focus of much epistemology must comprise only a proper subset of epistemologically relevant processing, even as only a part of an iceberg is exposed to view. When one focuses on the interaction of accessible states and articulable information, the structure of epistemic justification looks rather like what has been called structural contextualism.  It might also be called quasi-foundationalist.  Yet, given the sort of creatures we are, in attending to our epistemological tasks we must rely on processing that is sensitive to information that we could not articulate, that is not accessible in the standard internalist sense.  When one focuses on the full range of epistemologically important processes, the structure of what makes for justification may be rather more like that envisioned by some coherentists


If the separation between the ontic and the epistemic is too great, we fall into skepticism and irrealism.  If the separation is too small we fall into idealism.  Philosophers in the West generally manage to stick to the middle ground, but more than a few, particularly in the East, have strayed into the depths of skepticism and idealism. 

With postmodernism, the middle ground has been widened, under the aegis of a consensual ethos of pragmatic pluralism.  

[However, it is in the nature of pragmatic consensi to be ephemeral.  Under stress, perhaps due to the clash of cultures, there is a tendency toward polarization.  Such forces could not fail to impact metaphysics.  Neutral ground becomes scarce, being replaced by a slippery slope.  In the case of our metaphysical divide there would be a slippery slope from idealism to skepticism.]  This may be true, but it sounds more like a threat than a promise.  Let us stick to the positive.  

Frankly, I expected to find more useful material on the epistemic-ontic list, but the first 200 hits have been pretty sparse.  

How about: mind independent reality (700 hits)?  Noumenal produces 6,300 hits. 



I will be using the Kant & noumenal list:  

Kant's error by Titus Rivas

The author shows that there is a common epistemological basis for Kant's rejection of rational psychology and contemporary identity theory in the philosophy of mind. He shows that Kant was mistaken about his claim that the distinction between noumenal and phenomenal reality would also apply to the con­scious mind.  This implies that the identity theory can no longer be upheld, since it rests precisely on such a mistaken Kantian distinction.  The only viable ontologies for contemporary philosophy of mind thereby turn out to be dualism and idealism

There's a thought.  Perhaps, more than any, Kant and Descartes are the culprits of modernity, bless them.  Descartes turned rationality against coherence by setting up his mind-matter dichotomy.  Kant then turned against rationality by multiplying the dichotomies to include the analytic-synthetic distinction and the epistemic-ontic divide.  These further dichotomies are alleged to follow from his various 'antinomies of pure reason'.  Rationality never recovered.  Modernity is the triumph of unreason and incoherence.  We have only to look around us to see the Kantian imprint.  If the parousia takes the form of a Platonic 'philosopher king', then Kant would be high on the list of antichrists.  Kant, almost single-handedly, killed philosophy.  It was damnation with his Germanically ponderous, faint praise.  His work may go down in history as the pinnacle of the art of obscurantism.  Most of the ills and excesses of the modern intellect may be laid upon his obfuscation of reason.  Philosophy since his time has run rampant with pettifoggers who rush to hide behind the ample Kantian skirts whenever reason or coherence have attempted to reassert themselves.  Postmodernity is Kant's last hurrah.  And, of course, it was also Kant who wrecked theology.  But without his antichrist as the foil, there could have been no parousia.  It is a small price to pay.  Hegel made a brave, but historically premature, effort to extricate himself from the Kantian morass, and half of his struggle was with that same oppressive language.  I'm surely biased; however, the German language lacked the singular genius of Shakespeare.  The fact that these words can be written and understood universally is owed almost entirely to that one incisively brilliant wit.  In contrast, Mozart was a mere consolation prize.  Billy was God's answer to Babel.  It all went down at the Globe. 

OK, Manny, what the heck did you do with our Imago Dei?  Cough it up, please.  There's a boy! 

Kant's intellectual blow torch, directed against reason, cleared the way for modern atomism.  All we have to do now is pick up the pieces.  

One of the main lessons Kant wants to teach his readers is that, contrary to common metaphysical doctrines, we have absolutely no knowledge of noumenal reality. For example, we don't know if anything noumenal corresponds to the phenomenon of matter. And if there is indeed something which corresponds to it, we have no way whatsoever to find out what it is. Similarly, what phenomenally appears as mind, might in noumenal reality be something entirely different. 

I hope that the epistemological correspondence between this Kantian position and the modern position about the ontology of mind called identity theory, is clear immediately.  Both Kantian and modern identity theory distinguish between mind as it appears to us, from a "first person perspective" ("by acquaintance"), and mind as it is in in itself. Mind can be considered both subjectively and objectively according to both positions. It is hardly surprising therefore if Karl Popper (1977) traces the identity theory back to Kant via Schopenhauer, Clifford, Schlick, Feigl and Russell. 

However, there is an important difference which should not be overlooked. Kant clearly states that one can never know the true nature of mind, only mind as it appears to us. On the other hand, identity theory usually is certain that the true nature of mind is material, that mind seen from an objective ("third person") perspective is precisely the brain or part of it. Kant would doubtlessly characterize the identity theory position as a groundless metaphysical claim of rational psychology. 

Still, the identity theory would be nowhere if Kant could be shown to be wrong in his general rejection of rational psychology. There is something paradoxical about this, because if Kant is right about rational psychology, identity theory would be a form of groundless speculation, as any other type of philosophy of mind would. However, if Kant is wrong about rational psychology, that would mean that we do directly know something about mind as it is, from our private first person perspectives, so that the distinction between phenomenal and noumenal underlying identity theory would collapse. Either way, within the context of an evaluation of the Kantian critique on rational psychology, immediately it becomes surprisingly clear that identity theory isn't viable. 

Philosophy letters- Margaret (4) -- Geoffrey Klempner: 

On Kant's 'Refutation of Idealism': The important thing here is that, despite what he says, Kant is not arguing against Berkeleian immaterialism. (Don't be surprised that Kant misunderstood Berkeley: misunderstanding each other is something that philosophers do all the time, and the 'great' philosophers do most frequently.) 'Dogmatic idealism' the target of his attack is the theory I call naive or 'unrefined' subjectivism; a far cry from Berkeley. The naive subjectivist makes the fundamental error of thinking that one could have a coherent notion of a 'subject' or 'self' without a correlative notion of 'world'. If there is nothing to judge or say but how things subjectively are, then there is nothing to judge or say, period. You can't piece together a self that makes judgments without the notion of correct/ incorrect memory. But the notion of correct or incorrect memory presupposes an account of personal identity or continuity, which in turn presupposes a theory of a world within which the continuing self is located.

The theory of phenomena and noumena is a very different kind of 'rejection of idealism'. Here Kant is rejecting Berkeley, but his reason for doing so is that while Berkeley rightly recognises the necessity of a distinction between our perceptions and what those perceptions are ultimately of (for Berkeley, the mental 'archetypes' or blueprint in the mind of God) where Berkeley goes wrong is in supposing that we can have positive knowledge of such 'things in themselves'. For Kant, noumena are not 'material' or 'mental': we cannot know what they are (or what it is: as Schopenhauer later pointed out, even talk of number is unjustified here).

The difficulty reading the Critique of Pure Reason is partly accounted for by the fact that it was patched together in six months, then hastily revised for the second edition. Apparently, German philosophy students prefer the English translation by N.K. Smith to the German original, with its page long sentences!

Tony Bellotti- Essay 3

The characteristics that Kant placed on noumena leads ultimately to the question of how we can justify a belief in them. Kant argued that they must exist because phenomena are appearances, thus they must be appearances of something, and that something must be noumena. But surely we are not justified in calling them appearances a priori. [....] There is no essential property of phenomena which make them appearances. Ultimately, Kant's noumena are unknowable and, as Russell pointed out, 'the "thing-in-itself" was an awkward element in Kant's philosophy, and was abandoned by his immediate successors'. 

Kant was aware that the external world was limited by our understanding, and noumena are introduced partly as proof of this (i.e. noumena are the limits of human understanding). It is the noumena that play the role of independent existences beyond the thinking subject. They have ontological objectivity (in contrast, for Kant we do not stand in any relation to them, as the very notion of a relation cannot be applied to them). As such it is noumena that Kant needs to defend against charges of idealism, in addition to empirical reality. As they are 'unknowable', it is difficult to know how this defence can be made.

Essay 4

Since "intuition and concepts constitute the elements of all our knowledge" [2; B74], it follows that if object is in neither of these, it must fall outside knowledge. If the object is outside knowledge, then Kant possibly intended it to be the thing-in-itself. So, when I look at my chair, what I am seeing in sensation and conceiving in my mind is mere representation of the chair, which as an object is beyond this representation, and exists as a chair-in-itself. According to Kant, however, beyond our knowledge of the world there is no form or structure, since space and time are properties of mind used in understanding the world. Thus, any thing-in-itself must lack such form and structure. The very idea of a chair-in-itself is nonsense following this reasoning. In general, by "object" we mean some individual thing that exists spatially and temporally in relation to all other objects. So Kant's notion of object cannot be the thing-in-itself after all. As it is not representation and not outside representation, Kant's object seems to be in a kind of limbo.

On Peirce's Four Incapacities of Man -- John F. Sowa: 

So it is best to read the paper on the "Four Incapacities" as a rejection of some of Kant's basic assumptions. One of Kant's distinctions was between the observable phenomena and the "things in themselves", which Kant called the "noumena". Kant claimed that the only things that could be known were phenomena, and the noumena were absolutely unknowable. Peirce called that claim Kant's greatest mistake. His rejection of the "absolutely unknowable" should be viewed as a rejection of Kant's concept of noumena, which Peirce believed is a useless appendage to Kant's theory. In short, it has no explanatory value whatever.

Is there anyone out there defending noumena?  I have yet to encounter such a one. 

Gardening the numinous

noumenon (pl noumena) ‘Thing-in-itself’, contrasted with appearance or phenomenon in the philosophy of Kant. Noumena are the external source of experience but are not themselves knowable and can only be inferred from experience of phenomena. Although inaccessible to speculative reason, the noumenal world of God, freedom, and immortality is apprehended through man’s capacity for acting as a moral agent.
[Pan (1979) Dictionary of Philosophy]

Hyponoetics - Glossary:

The intelligible world of noumena is known by pure reason, which gives us knowledge of things as they are. Things in the sensible world (phenomena) are known through our senses and known only as they appear. To know noumena we must abstract from and exclude sensible concepts such as space and time.
(Ted Honderich: The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Oxford University Press 1995)

Philosophical Critiques- Why Kant is Wrong

Is it not strange that a man of Kant's undoubted intellectual gifts did not notice here an absurd contradiction? Why, he has just finished explaining to us, in great detail, the whole nature of the human mind; and now he concludes that we cannot know the nature of anything!

We merely mention the "antinomies" because we discern in them an element of materialism in the heart of an idealistic theory. This materialism was to appear in full form in later philosophies which took inspiration, at least in part, from the doctrines of Immanuel Kant.

Kant's philosophy is fundamentally wrong and is one of the major contributors to the intellectual insanity which we see today.

I sincerely apologize to anyone who came here thinking they would have an opportunity to personally beat up on Manny K.  You will just have to take a number and wait your turn.  Patience is in order.  


Down through the ages philosophers proposed many ways to carve up the world.  Descartes and Kant were the outstanding exemplars of this tradition which culminated in the analytical movement that dominated the first half of the last century.  Analysis finally reached its limit with Quine's holistic thesis.  No division of the world remains credible today.  

A moderate panpsychism or neutral monism is the least radical successor to the analytic, reductionist worldview.  Such a view provides the only common basis for a postmodern, pragmatic pluralism.  

Even a minimal panpsychism is not compatible with naturalism.  Naturalism is an ill-defined, ad hoc position.  It is not unfair to characterize it as incoherent.  I am aware of no detailed definition or comprehensive defense of it.  It is simply a label being deployed to cast a positive light upon what could otherwise only be seen as a disorderly retreat of ex-materialists.  

The label of 'naturalism' conveniently points to what may be the final barrier to be broken: that between the natural and the 'unnatural'(?).  Let me think.....'sub-natural', 'extra-natural', 'quasi-natural', preternatural?  We need a word with more of a ring to it.  Any suggestions?  Why does a certain word stick in our throats?  

What will happen when we finally summon the courage to pronounce this word?  Will the sky fall on our heads?  Will lightning strike?  There is only going to be one way to find out.  After you, Alphonse! 



My contention is that the failure of analysis leads to the breakdown of all metaphysical barriers and distinctions.  The crucial, and nearly direct consequence of this failure is panpsychism.  This is simply because, with the failure of the analytic movement founded by Descartes and Kant, Kant's notion of a mind independent reality is no longer logically supportable.  That leaves us with panpsychism.  With the advent of panpsychism, naturalism goes by the boards, leaving us to contend with supernaturalism.  

The postmoderns succeed in ignoring this logical consequence of the breakdown of the analytic dichotomies.  How they manage to do so, so blithely, is the mystery that goes with their territory.  It is the skeleton in their family closet.  It is mainly Kant's anti-metaphysical skepticism that is preventing the neo-rationalists from spreading their gospel of coherentism.  From our last Google list it appears that Kant's unwarranted, anti-rational skepticism is serving as a rallying point for a spectrum of rationalists.  How many of these are rational theists remains to be seen, but unless I am badly mistaken it is a very slippery slope from an unadorned anti-skepticism to theism and beyond.  Once people start sliding down this slope, the pace of metaphysics will pick up rapidly.  It is ironic that Kant, in all his negativity, may end up as the point of departure for a cooperative constructive venture.  Being able to see this historical departure in real-time is no small privilege.  The idea of possibly participating in such a venture is not easy to assimilate. 



I am still using the Kant & noumenal list. 

Kant and the Question of Noumenal Ontology: A Critical Assessment of Kant's Antithetic of Pure Reason in View of his Denial of a Metaphysical Proof for the Existence of God by Mario Derksen

Nothing is more repulsive to a scholastic spirit than an antinomy of pure reason. Throughout the middle ages, philosophers inspired by the Platonic and Aristotelian traditions were convinced that the proper use of reason could lead the intellect to the attainment of the highest and profoundest metaphysical truths. With the advent of the 18th-century British skeptic David Hume, however, this position seemed no longer able to be justified. A radical empiricist, Hume proposed to demonstrate that non-trivial knowledge is in fact impossible. Intimidated by the devastating epistemological conclusions of Hume’s seemingly air-tight logic, the critical idealist Immanuel Kant saw only one way out to save knowledge from utter destruction—by limiting it immensely, basing it on a revolutionary hypothesis, which proved to have a fatal outcome as far as the most important kind of philosophical study—metaphysics—was concerned: it made metaphysics, at least as it had been traditionally understood, impossible, reducing it to mere unverifiable and therefore meaningless speculation.

This forlorn outcome of Kant’s critical philosophy was, though originally unintended, a slap in the face for those metaphysicians who immediately preceded Kant, such as Wolff, Locke, and Leibniz, but it also would have met with serious criticism in the ancient and medieval days of Aquinas, Averroës, Aristotle, and Plato. In fact, throughout the middle ages, metaphysics was considered the “Queen of all the sciences,” and to hurl against it, as Kant did, the charge that it yields only paradoxical conclusions and therefore mere nonsense—at least as far as true knowledge is concerned—would have been the height of impudence for the great scholastics, most notably St. Thomas Aquinas.

It shall be the purpose of this paper to examine Kant’s accusations against traditional metaphysics in light of two of his four “antinomies of pure reason” to see how they, if valid, nullify pre-Kantian metaphysical claims. I shall also attempt to offer a possible neo-scholastic critique of Kant’s antinomies to show a way to rehabilitate the pre-Kantian conceptions of metaphysics at least to a limited extent.

Though Kant himself asserted that he “found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith,” it is important to emphasize that the Christian scholastics would have seen his “faith” as a pure fideism, a distortion of faith, and radically different from that faith which has to rely on divine revelation to come to the knowledge of those truths which reason alone cannot attain, e.g. that God is a Trinity.

Henceforth, science was to be the only path to indisputable knowledge.  However, the postmodern turn would not leave science exempt from a similar skepticism.  This latest development forces us to either capitulate to nihilism or to undertake a complete reassessment of epistemology and ontology.  The only move against nihilism is to shift to a coherence theory of truth, and one that does not exclude teleology, as no complete system can.  There is still ample room for the play of faith, but metaphysical skepticism is no longer ceded the pole position in our quest for truth.  

There are really only two ways to demolish Aquinas’ teleological argument: (1) by claiming that design doesn’t need a designer but could be the result of chance; or (2) by claiming, as Kant did, that there is no design in the world, that it is something merely imposed by the mind.

When the first moon rocket took off from Cape Canaveral, two U.S. scientists stood watching it, side by side. One was a believer, the other an unbeliever. The believer said, “Isn’t it wonderful that our rocket is going to hit the moon by chance?” The unbeliever objected, “What do you mean, chance? We put millions of man-hours of design into that rocket.” “Oh,” said the believer, “you don’t think chance is a good explanation for the rocket [hitting the moon]? Then why do you think it’s a good explanation for the universe? . . ."

[...] Kant asks us to think about how reality might be while at the same time insisting that the only way in which we can think about reality is in terms of transcendentally imposed order and design—which, a priori, eliminates the very possibility of thinking of reality as undesigned and chaotic.



Let us conclude with Mario: 

However, an attack on Kant’s antinomies is not the only nor perhaps even the best way to critique him, of course. Catholic phenomenologist Dietrich von Hildebrand points out that Kant’s entire epistemology is problematic from the bottom up:

Kant dissolves the authentic meaning of knowledge as the grasping of a being such as it is objectively . . . by replacing it with the notion of the construction of the object. We must stress again and again that this implies an immanent contradiction . . . in the interpretation of knowledge. . . . In claiming to reveal to us the real nature of knowledge, Kant presupposes the notion of knowledge which he denies in the content of his thesis.

Why is it, then, one may wonder, that Kant’s Copernican revolution has found such wide appeal? Why was it so influential? I believe the answer to this is simply that most people thought and continue to think that the only way out of Hume’s dilemma is through Kant, which, however, is not true at all. The true answer to Hume has always laid in the abandoned scholasticism, which seemed obsolete and dry to the moderns, and which, for that reason, they never deigned to look upon or search through in order to find answers. Now it is up to them and to their successors to deal with the Kantian legacy.

I would give Kant a bit more credit.  Metaphysics cannot be the same after him.  There was much room for improvement in the medieval scholasticism.  Hume and Kant force us now to make those emendations. 


Here are some significant dates: Descartes: Discourse (1637); Leibniz: Monadology (1714); Hume: A Treatise of Human Nature (1740); Kant: Critique of Pure Reason (1781).  [Hegel: The Phenomenology of Mind (1807); Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling (1843).] 


Significant portions of Aristotle and Leibniz will turn out to be our main legacy from the traditional Western metaphysics.  There is a neo-Thomist, Catholic community which is an important cultural artifact, but which is too conservative to contribute to speculative metaphysics.  Otherwise we are faced with a Protestantism that has never been open to philosophy, and, partly as a result, is now mired in controversies over fundamentalism.  Speculative metaphysics is left practically devoid of concerted theological input.  Individuals are free to pursue metaphysics, with very little institutional competition or concern.  By their nature, institutions cannot foresee radical alternatives to the status quo.  

Any sort of intellectual revolution requires an individual charismatic vision.  This is the only manner in which the prophetic tradition has ever been able to renew itself.  This is the singular dynamic element of the West.  Renewal in the East has usually been indirect: Buddhism being the significant exception.  Even with Buddhism, there has been a remarkable lack of coherence in the vision.  Coherence of vision is necessarily a call to action.  It is necessarily evangelical.  Buddhism remained on the contemplative side of metaphysics, mainly by its rather arbitrary renunciation of theism.  I'm not aware of any concerted effort to explain this renunciation.  It was almost surely related to the greater social stratification in the East, but any causal relation is unclear.  

The prophetic phenomenon logically can be universal only in its final phase.  Up until that point, the coverage will be spotty.  We find ourselves on the verge of that final phase.  Many people seem to sense the imminence of some such development, but, of course, the vision awaits the visionary. 



I am wondering about reductionism in relation to math, logic, computer programs, or even individual integers.  An article of possible relevance is: 

Subject Reduction of Logic Programs as Proof-Theoretic Property -- Pierre Deransart and Jan Georg Smausy -- February 6, 2002

It is surprising that this question (of ultra-simple reduction) is not more frequently discussed, or has not already been settled.  There may be a definitional problem for 'reduction'.  Such a problem would constitute a self-refutation: Is the term 'reduction' itself reducible?  Probably not.  There is a continuing philosophical debate as to its meaning.  What is the distinction between ontic and epistemic reduction? 

Is '12' reducible, and, if so, to what?  Pretty obviously it is not.  Certainly 'pi' and sqrt(2) are not reducible.  A configuration of two atoms is not reducible to singletons, because the new relational facts (relative position, velocity, etc.) have to be included. 

- (-1) is not completely reducible to +1.  Is it?  There is some extra semantic (operational?) content to the former expression.  There would even be a semantic distinction between +1 and plain '1', depending on various contextual considerations.  This brings us back to the problem of holism, the problem of the semantic horizon, and even the (impossible?) distinction between syntax and semantics.  Is there such a thing as a purely syntactical system, and what does that mean?  

Are algebraic expressions reducible, or only simplifiable.  There is much difference.  The same distinction holds for formal or functional expressions, programs, models, proofs, types, orders, etc., etc.  There is no question of reduction, per se.  The broader the horizon, the greater or deeper is the potential, irreducible semantic content. 

Considerations such as these should make us wonder that the analytical movement was simply ill-conceived.  Do we understand the real motivation.  It may have been just a filibuster against the inevitable rise of idealism.  Darwin may have been the principle inspiration.  

An analysis of any given expression presupposes what, and is supposed to result in what?  Analysis may turn out to have been a kind of aesthetics: ultimately very subjective in form.  It should be amazing that ecology came as a surprise to most of us.  

How can there be learning without conceptualizing, or conceptualizing without real, irreducible concepts? 

How close did Kant, with his semi-constructivist synthetic a priori, come to Aristotle's Platonic version of conceptualism?  The notion, deriving from Kant, of mind independence is either vague in the extreme, or is simply incoherent.  The recognition of this Kantian failure signals the end of the ontic-epistemic divide, and, concomitantly, the end of naturalism.  

It's all gone, folks.  Three centuries of intellectual effort to eliminate metaphysics has ended by demonstrating its essential, irreducible nature. 

The only remaining question is whether there is any logical or practical alternative to a thorough going coherentism.  The practical implementation of a coherentist initiative ought to be self-organizing, if it is not to be self-refuting.  However, this initiative does seem to be slow in starting.  This hesitation may well reflect the implicit messianic quality of any such initiative.  Once that signal is given and received, there can be no turning back. 


The reductionism of choice is physicalism.  How may we apply the above points in this case?  Physicalism implies exactness and formality.  Otherwise it is self-contradictory.  

[1/7 --  I was struggling to say something here.  In as much as Physics is formal, it is unnatural, i.e. it is mathematical and conceptual.  However, if it is treated as informal or natural, then it remains open to vitalist influences due to its natural(?) imprecision.  This natural informality of physics overlaps to some degree with the probabilistic quantum realm.  The Quantum is a metaphysically strained attempt to formalize the natural informality of physics.  There is the formal, conceptual or epistemic 'Physics', and then there is the informal, natural or ontic 'physics'.  Non-reductive 'naturalists' are concerned with 'physics'.  Physicalists are concerned with 'Physics'.  Physicalists like to think that Physics is monotonically converging upon physics, but I would suggest that this convergence is only in the manner, that we now see was pure artifice, that the Ptolemaic epicycles were once thought to be so converging.  That was before the Copernican revolution.  We are overdue for an encore.  These pages attempt to outline and expedite that encore.]

[1/7 (cont.) -- Between Physics and physics there is somewhat the distinction as between phenomenon and noumenon.  Kant with his constructivism and conceptualism was struggling with approximately this same problem.  His anti-scholastic politics prevented his taking up the rational coherence proposed herein.  His sophistic anti-rationalism quickly lead to every form of nihilism under the Sun.  That was our darkest hour.  Kierkegaard's Lutheran based anti-rationalism was no small part of this trend.]

Arguments against Reductionism, Materialism and Epiphenomenalism -- Sean Robsville.  This provides some good summaries.  It is written from the point of view of Kadampa(?) Buddhism.  

I am following physicalism and presently re-reading PHYSICALISM, EMERGENCE AND DOWNWARD CAUSATION -- Richard J. Campbell (and here) and Mark H. Bickhard. 

In effect, Kim has identified a reductio ad absurdum of physicalist metaphysics in general. Clearly grasping why physicalism is untenable, however, opens the logical space for a fecund notion of genuine emergence

Mark has an interesting list of publications focusing mainly on emergence.  



My objection to Richard and Mark's paper is that they are putting too many eggs in the quantum basket.  I see the quantum as merely symptomatic of immaterialism, but the implication of their focus on it is to make it the basis for a dualistic ontology.  Elsewhere I refer to this as 'quantum dualism' (also here), an important stepping stone toward a robust coherence. 

[See insert above.] 

Why Physicalism and Constructivism Will Never be Able to Understand the Mind -- Riccardo Manzotti (2002): Commentary on Principles of Cognition, Language and Action: Essays on the Foundations of a Science of Psychology -- Nini Praetorius (2001).  (a

The book is a sort of epistemological version of the 'naked king' fable. The role of the king is played by the problem of the nature of mind (and therefore of language, meaning, truth). Current scientific or objective epistemology correspond to the esteemed burghers of the city pretending that the naked king was dressed in all his regal finery. Professor Nini Praetorius doesn't share all this admiration and develops an impressive attack on the principal strongholds and tenets of the current theories of mind, semantics and language. First she argues that the old division between materialism and idealism is still alive albeit disguised under the clothes of physicalism (naturalism) and constructivism. Yet, as she claims, even if "we had a much more detailed picture of the intermediate stages of the processes than Locke, we are still struggling with the problems which for Descartes' and Locke's critics were the stumbling block, namely how physico-chemical processes in the organism, no matter of what type, can possibly give rise to the experiences of the every-day world of objects which occur in our consciousness.

[...]  Praetorius looks for a starting point. She finds it in what she defines the principle of the general correctness of cognition and language, called the "Correctness Principle". She claims that we have to presuppose, that we have knowledge of reality and a language which may be used to say something about reality - or of whatever we talk - which is true or correct. If we did not so presuppose, we would not know what we were talking about when we talk about reality, nor about description or propositions about reality which may be true or false. After all, this is a reasonable claim that corresponds to the classic reply against solipsism. If we could say nothing true about reality and ourselves, nor determine the correctness of what we say or know about reality and ourselves, we cannot say anything more, not even about what we do not know.

I am spending time with Riccardo's other publications, hoping to find a convenient summary.  

Intentionalizing Nature -- Abstract for Tucson 2000 (deadline 15 October 1999)

In this paper an attempt to found reality on intentionality is presented. Instead of trying to naturalize intentionality we try to intentionalize nature. That is to develop a framework in which intentionality is the most elementary component of reality and nature derives from it.

Several solutions have been proposed to fill the void left by the mind (emergent properties, functional states, linguistic entities, information processing, and material objects among the others). Unfortunately, it can be shown that it is impossible to define such entities without falling into some kind of dualism or without adding new ontological ‘realms’ (as Frege did). Besides, these entities require conscious observers in order of being meaningful. As a result, the separation between the ontological and the epistemological problem has been one of the main sources of controversies by producing several apparently unsolvable problems, including the mind-body problem and the related problem of how it is possible to naturalize intrinsic intentionality, and inasmuch, to explain representation (in the sense of Kantian phenomenon) in a purely extensional world.

Given these premises, we argue that, although it is impossible to naturalize intentionality, the solution is to intentionalize nature (equal to reality). Reality, as it is experienced, is the result of what we are and of what we are in relation with. Nothing can be said of being without being in relation with something . . . To represent this fundamental reality, a new unifying principle called intentional relation, capable of being the foundation of epistemological and ontological framework, is introduced.

By using the intentional relation it is possible to produce a constitutive theory of the self by reconsidering fundamental concepts like reference, meaning, causation, subjective experience, objective knowledge. Because mind is, at the same time, a ‘piece’ of reality and a representation of reality, mind is the natural place in which the question about what there is and about how we know what there is must converge.

Being an event is a condition of existence. It is impossible to be, in any meaningful sense, without being an event too. It is impossible to divide the property of being from the property of being an event, which is something that provokes effects on the rest of the world.  Things are thus derived from events. Further, these last considerations bring us to the natural conclusion that being is being in relation with.  

If this is true in a strong sense, there must be some kind of basic relation between events that must precede any possible attempt of description in terms of objective entities (which should be entities belonging to the ontological dimension limited to those entities describable by the objective side of the epistemological dimension). Besides, if all that matters about the true being of something is its being in relation with, the power of this copula is strengthened to its maximum. It would mean that being is identical with being in relation with. A natural consequence is the introduction of a label to identify this elementary relation. We call it the intentional relation, ...

In other words, causation is the perceived intentional relation between two basic events.

This is simply relationalism.  I find it difficult to distinguish relationalism from idealism, and I'm not aware of anyone who so claims, aside from the Platonic tendency to treat ideas atomistically, which is incoherent.  Riccardo's attempt to discover a universal elementary relation seems ill-conceived.  Relations are not likely to be compositional in any useful sense. 

I see that Riccardo does not conceive of a primordial self.  The self is alleged to be derivative.  It will be useful to understand his rationale for the avoidance of the logical primacy of the self. 

Papineau, David, Thinking about Consciousness, (OUP 2002}, previously mentioned here.  Another of his books: Philosophical Naturalism (1993). 



As I continue to peruse the physicalism list I am struck mainly by the fragmentation.  It seems to be a case of dog eat dog in the metaphysical arena of mind vs. matter.  There are barely any identifiable research programs.  Even the same authors reserve the right to frequently change their minds on basic issues.  If there is some combination of ideas that has not been touted by someone, it is not for the lack of trying.  

Is this just the perennial disarray of philosophy or are we witnessing a significant interregnum?  I opt for the latter.  A little bit of coherence could go a long way amidst the rampant incoherence.  

Physicalism and Its Discontents, eds. Lower & Gillett (CUP 2001) (reviewed here by Bernard Linsky), gives as coherent an account of the current scene as any.  Its title accurately captures the ambient malaise.  Here's Bernie: 

One prominent variant is to argue that while mental properties are distinct from physical properties, they nevertheless supervene on them. This might be because the physical properties are the “realizers” of the proper functional role or in some other way constitute the higher level states. The greatest number of the articles in this book criticize these alternatives, claiming that supervenience is somehow untenable, or that in fact it is [in?]compatible with physicalism. The less popular alternative to physicalism is to argue that there is simply no contact between mental properties, attributed by psychological theorizing, or “folk psychology”, and the properties of physical theory. The other part of the defense of physicalism, then, is to attack this view. These defenses of physicalism are generally sweeping, handling several sorts of resistance at one time, lumping them together a bit more than one would like. 

Part II, titled “Physicalist Discontents”, contains defensive replies to physicalist arguments, insisting that functional or other higher level properties might well enter into causal relations and be legitimate parts of the physical world, without having to be seen as reduced or reducible to lower level physical properties. There are no Cartesian dualists, and indeed only the faintest hint of epiphenomenalism. Everyone in this section pays some lip service to physicalism, yet still resists. Perhaps the book would better be titled Reductive Physicalism and Its Discontents.

There is a tone of battling programs here rather than detailed argument and reply.

The physicalists continue to gerrymander physics into impossible contortions in attempting to force it through the burning hoop that is the mind.  They would much rather reside in this frying pan than leap into the fire of immaterialism.  

But now let's get back to David for a moment.  He has two theses: the historical inevitability of physicalism, and his message to its army of in-house critics: 'get over it.'  There is the not very subtle sub-text: 'It's Us or Rust.'  Yes, there is much to be discontented with in physicalism, but this is where history has brought us, and you will not undo physicalism without overturning history.  This is rather in keeping with the eschatological tenor of rational theism, wouldn't you say? 

David is pleading for an end to the debate: not on any rational grounds, but purely out of respect for the sweeping course of history.  This has indeed been a long march into materialism.  David only covers 300 years of it.  This sojourn could as well be projected right back to the dawn of history.  

If there is any light in the spirit, then surely we look for a new dawning.  For what does David look?  He is simply marking the territory that is the end of reason, and, perforce, the end of history.  There is no pot of gold at the end of his rainbow.  Is there one at ours?  Well, either faith and hope are God given, or they are not.  According to David, les jeux sont fait.  



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