Friday, April 18, 2014

Summary of the third chapter of my dissertation

The Project 
I will explore and flesh out in further detail the epistemic connections between metaphysics and science. By "epistemic connection," I mean the following sorts of relations:

x epistemically justifies, or raises the justification of y.
x defeats justification for, or lowers the justification for y.

If you replace x and y with propositions commonly associated with science and metaphysics, then under what conditions will the above propositions be true or false? I will develop an account that clarifies this epistemic relationship between science and metaphysics. I will show when, if ever, propositions in science appropriately raise or lower the epistemic justification of beliefs in propositions in metaphysics, and also vice versa.

The Motivation 
Imagine the hottest nightclub in town, i.e. the kind of long lines, velvet ropes, beefcake bouncers, and $20 Cosmopolitans. Let's call this place "Club Knowledge." Now, suppose we have a fellow named "Metaphysics." Metaphysics, with his faux hawk, popped collars, and Affliction jeans, has been trying to get into Club Knowledge for months now. People have hotly debated whether or not Metaphysics should be admitted to Club Knowledge. Now suppose we have a lady named Science. Science is queen of Club Knowledge. She is admitted immediately to her own VIP area and rolls with her entourage of sycophants. Metaphysics thinks to himself, "Maybe I can friendly with Science, and she'll put me on the guest list." Will this plan work? Will Science include Metaphysics in her ever growing entourage? Will Metaphysics have to do anything or make any changes in order to gain the favor of Science? Does Metaphysics even need Science to get in the club? What happens if Science disses Metaphysics? Stay tuned for more!

The Plan 
Here's how the paper breaks down.

First, I'll clarify what I mean about the lowering and raising of epistemic justification. In formal epistemology, you might hear talk of credence. Credence is more or less the strength of belief that an agent has with respect to a proposition p. Credence takes on values from 0 to 1, where 0 is certainty that p is false, 1 is certainty that p is true, and 0.5 is agnosticism about p. You might think of epistemic justification as a sort of "normative" credence, i.e. the degree of credence that you should have given the justifiers present. My interest here is in determining which sorts of propositions serve as appropriate justifiers for a particular belief, and why. Armed with this knowledge, I'll move on to talk about science and metaphysics.

Once I've clarified the mechanics behind changes in epistemic justification in light of the evidence, I'll next clarify on the notions of science and metaphysics. The goal here is to more or less determine which propositions fall under science, which fall under metaphysics, and why these sorts of propositions are categorized the way they are. How does the subject matter of science relate to the subject matter of metaphysics? There are several possibilities here. The two subjects could be disjoint. One could be subsumed in the other. They might overlap to some degree, or they might be coextensive. What's the correct way to view the relationship between the subject of these two disciplines and why? Understanding the relationship between subject matter will help us further understand how the two are epistemically related. For instance, if the two are disjoint, that might go some way to explaining why there is little to no epistemic relation between the two.

Apart from subject matter, academic disciplines can also be differentiated by their methodology. What is the methodology of science and of metaphysics? How are they related? Like subject matter, the methodology of these two disciplines will help to shed light on the epistemic connections between these two disciplines. For instance, if the methodology science was completely empirical, and if the methodology of metaphysics was completely a priori, then it would seem that there is no epistemic connection between the two. Clearly things aren't actually so cut and dry, so further exploration will be needed.

Now that I've got my all my conceptual pieces, it's time to put them together to form a coherent theory about how claims in science are epistemically related to claims in metaphysics, and vice versa. This section will lean heavily on the work that I've done clarifying the concepts that are mentioned above. What I hope to show is that if there are connections between science and metaphysics, what precisely those connections are how they work, given my understanding of the above concepts. I hope to clear up some confusion and to clean up some ambiguities in current discussion involving the two disciplines. I'll also do some case studies. One popular example of the purported connection between science and metaphysics is the special theory of relativity in physics and presentism in metaphysics. Does the former defeat justification for the latter? If so, how? Armed with the theory given in this paper, we'll see what's really going in these sorts of discussions.

The Context 
This paper will be a chapter in my dissertation, which is about the epistemology of metaphysics. Of course, I'll be trying to get as much mileage out of this paper as possible, and thus preparing it for conference presentation and hopefully publication.

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