Thursday, December 28, 2023

Melnyk on naturalism

 Here's a quote by materialist Andrew Melnyk. 

“Naturalism claims that nothing has a fundamentally purposeful explanation…Naturalism says that whenever an occurrence has a purposeful explanation, it has that explanation in virtue of certain nonpurposeful (e.g. merely causal) facts.”

Do you concur with this statement, or not? Do you think a materialist can, or should, reject this?


StardustyPsyche said...

"Naturalism claims that nothing has a fundamentally purposeful explanation"
I suggest we be as clear as we can about the meanings of the words and therefore the actual claims being made.

"Nothing has".
I think this means "not any thing has" as opposed to the philosophical condition of nothingness.

So ultimately, or at base, or as a terminus to a regression.

Having a purpose, a reason.

Again, a reason, a set of causes, a mechanism.

What are some of the features of a reason, a meaning, an explanation?
They are all relative terms.
One thing has meaning in relation to something else.
A brick could be the reason for broken glass, or as part of a wall, or an anvil to smash nuts on. The meaning or purpose or explanation of the brick is relative to all the other stuff in the process being considered.

Fundamentally means ultimately, that is, in comparison to the cosmos as a whole.
Ordinary meanings are not fundamental, not ultimate, rather, one thing has meaning in relation to something else in the cosmos.

So, the search for fundamental meaning is a search for meaning relative to all that exists.

There can be no meaning to all that exists because there is nothing outside all that exists for all that exists to have meaning relative to.

That is true even on the speculation of god.
What is the fundamental meaning of god, in that case?
God cannot have fundamental meaning, in that case, because there is nothing more fundamental than god for god to have meaning in relation to.

"Naturalism says that whenever an occurrence has a purposeful explanation, it has that explanation in virtue of certain nonpurposeful (e.g. merely causal) facts."

What else could there be?
What would fundamental purpose even mean?
Define "fundamental".
Define "purpose".

Joined together "fundamental" and "purpose" form an incoherent utterance.

Even on god, in that case, god can have no "fundamental" "purpose".
What is the purpose of god?
If god truly is the primordial necessary being from which all other things arise then what is the fundamental purpose of god?

Makes no sense.
To assert a fundamental purpose is to assert something more fundamental than the most fundamental thing.
Yes, you can write those words in a single sentence, or even a single term, but only incoherently.

There can be no fundamental purpose in any case, because a fundamental purpose would require the existence of something more fundamental than the most fundamental thing that exists.

The answer, then, is inescapable as it is obvious, existence simply is the case, neither good or bad, right or wrong, having a good purpose or a bad purpose or any purpose at all.

The sense of purpose we commonly feel is a human emotion, a personal sensibility, a feeling qualia. The perception of fundamental purpose or ultimate purpose is an attempt to extend localized relationships to some notion of an infinite regression or progression.

Agent Detection

Human beings have a strong propensity to presume purposeful intervention where there is none. This is an evolved psychological trait.

Victor Reppert said...

Any attempt to describe science must perforce portray it as a purpose laden enterprise, and tehe purpose, we are told, is the discovery of truth. But how is this possible in a purposeless universe?

David Brightly said...

Can't purposes be explanatory elements within the manifest image not present in the scientific image? Like causation, perhaps?

We should distinguish between science as a human activity, explainable as such in human terms such as truth and purpose, and the contents of science as a system of hypothetical propositions and their consequences. I'd say that science at this level aims not so much at truth, but rather at explanatory power.

bmiller said...


I have a passing understanding of the Wilfred Sellar's idea of the manifest vs the scientific image but does he really propose that one deals with truth and the other doesn't? What exactly is "explanatory power" other than than an explanation that is closer to the truth than another explanation?

David Brightly said...

Happy New Year, BM. Good questions. I don't know Sellars's view on truth in the SI. My take is that we understand truth well enough for utterances about the everyday world of objects and properties. It starts to fray a bit at the edges when we move on to mental states, aesthetic, moral, and political judgements and so on. As for 'scientific truth', I am trying to accommodate some of the scepticism of the past half century. We can't say that Newtonian gravitation is true in just the same sense as 'the cat is on the mat' is true, I think. That's stretching the notion of truth too far. What we can say is that we can get a great deal of as yet unfalsified explanatory power out of hypotheses small enough to fit on a tee shirt. But can we say that this is the final word, as it were? How could we ever know? Surely we can't. At least not in the plain and simple way that we can know if the cat is on the mat or not, just by looking.

StardustyPsyche said...

"Any attempt to describe science must perforce portray it as a purpose laden enterprise, and tehe purpose, we are told, is the discovery of truth. But how is this possible in a purposeless universe?"
1.Human purposes are emotions, ideas, abstractions of relationships between things.

2.There is no ultimate purpose to all that exists.

The lack of conflict between 1 and 2 is pretty simple. How do you not understand this? I suppose if you were a freshman just starting out maybe you would be asking in this way. How does a published PhD continue to not understand this very simple set of facts?

Science does not do proof. Scientists have long understood this fact. One interesting discussion of this came up with Stephen J Gould in Evolution as Fact and Theory.

For example human beings do a lot for love. Many seek true love. That does not mean love is an existential feature of the cosmos, or that somehow there really must be an ultimate love intrinsic to the structure of the cosmos.

There is no self contradiction in materialism, at least my materialism.

All assertions on offer of self contradiction in materialism are just these sort of superficial word mixups as you have provided in 1 and 2.

bmiller said...

Happy New Year to you too David.

As we've seen there are going to be those that will question the idea of there actually being such things as cats and mats in the first place. So the idea we are going to get everyone to agree about what the truth is or if there is even such a thing as truth itself are different questions than "does science seek to discover truth?".

Certainly there are different ways of finding out the truth. Seeing the cat is one. Using a heat sensing device through the wall is another. Knowing where the cat isn't can also lead to the truth. Even someone telling you the cat is on the mat allows you to know the truth. Science is only one such method, but I don't think anyone will argue that it does not seek the truth. And so, to Victors point if one understands that science is an activity that is seeking truth, then science itself is purposeful and so one would be holding mutually contradictory beliefs is one also held that the universe is purposeless.

StardustyPsyche said...

"How could we ever know (with certainty)? Surely we can't."
Right. Science does not arrive at absolute certainty.

The purpose of science is up to each individual. There is no god of science. There is no ultimate purpose to science just as there is no ultimate purpose to anything.

Now, it may be that some individuals have claimed to arrive at absolute truth, or claim to be able to tell you what you certainly should do. Individuals are subject to make indefensible claims.

Materialism per se has no self contradictions.

Certain individuals may have done a poor job of expressing materialism, on the value judgement that expressing self contradictions are to be considered lesser or lower or inferior to expressions absent self contradiction.

Here are a few potential sources for an asserted self contradiction in materialism.
1.A scientist who is not a very good philosopher and issues statements in absolute terms that cannot be rationally defended on careful examination.
2.Quote mining or vague conflations by the aspiring anti materialist (the OP is an example).
3.Disjointed and laughably baseless claims in a so-called "argument" made by the anti materialist (EAAN by Plantinga is an example).

When materialism is expressed by a person careful to exclude self contradictions then there is no problem expressing a non self contradictory materialism.

For example, WRT the OP.
Each scientist has a personal emotion of the purpose for pursuing science.
Likely that individual feels that scientific work gets us closer to some ultimate truth of how the cosmos is structured.
There need not be any ultimate purpose to the cosmos or human ability to be absolutely certain of truth for an individual to feel as though there is personal purpose and scientific work gets us closer to that ultimate truth.

Kevin said...

And so, to Victors point if one understands that science is an activity that is seeking truth, then science itself is purposeful and so one would be holding mutually contradictory beliefs is one also held that the universe is purposeless.

Not necessarily, because they can argue the sort of "purpose" that could apply to the universe itself - in other words, the sort of "purpose" one uses to describe a hammer or fork, that could lead one to belief in God or a creator of some form - is different than the "purpose" found within living beings who have desires or urges and seek to fulfill them. If the English language accommodated it easily, they would likely use a different word for each scenario.

To that end, science would simply be a framework of tools and behaviors that has been found useful to engineer approximate descriptions of what we observe around us. But ultimately, the things we observe and we ourselves exist just because, mere accidental features of an accidental universe, and not due to a larger purpose for why the universe exists and why it has the properties it has.

bmiller said...


Not necessarily,....

But in that case, they would have acknowledged that there is indeed "purpose" in the universe of at least that sort. But additionally, it is the regularity of the behavior of nature that allows us to study it in the first place. If things didn't behave always or for the most part in the same ways under the same circumstances then we couldn't make a science of studying nature in the first place. So it is the regularity and predictability of nature itself that provides us with the object of that purposeful study.

Purpose is an end or goal to be attained and so all natural processes demonstrate purpose. Otherwise there would be no way to predict if a natural process would result in this, or that or nothing at all. No purpose, no predictability.

SteveK said...

I agree with bmiller. Science observes natural law and natural law entails natural ends. They are 2 sides of the same metaphysical coin.

StardustyPsyche said...

"And so, to Victors point if one understands that science is an activity that is seeking truth, then science itself is purposeful and so one would be holding mutually contradictory beliefs is one also held that the universe is purposeless."
Vaguely defined terms kind of nudged around to give a superficial appearance of materialist self contradiction.

Science might be intended to seek getting closer to truth.

"Then science itself is purposeful".
Confusing the description for the thing itself.

No, just because some individual finds personal purpose in an activity does not make that activity intrinsically purposeful with respect to the cosmos as a whole.

"one would be holding mutually contradictory beliefs is one also held that the universe is purposeless."
I often wonder if such squishy nonsense is done for trolling purposes, or is this material really so very difficult for you and Victor to understand?

Science is a human activity, not a generalized pervasive process of the cosmos.
People do science.
People are a tiny part of the cosmos.
People experience the emotion of purpose, the sense of doing something for some reason, to attain some goal.

How do you get from that, therefore there must be an ultimate purpose? Makes no sense.

There must be an ontological truth, reality.
There can be only 1 true reality, the cosmos as it really exists.

That reality simply is.

For we tiny little bits of the cosmos to try to get a little closer to understanding what that great truth is in no way suggests, much less requires, that there is a fundamental purpose to that reality we are seeking to discover.

I mean, guys, what, is this how you enjoy spending your time, making nonsensical assertions in some weird game of pull the leg of the atheist?

Or is this really so hard for you to grasp these basic ideas, even after all your education and years of study, you just have some sort of mental block here?

No, materialism is not self contradictory, about purpose or anything else.
All assertions on offer that materialism is somehow self contradictory always break down into this sort of fuzzy muddled confusion.

No, there is no implication of self contradiction between feeling a purpose to pursue getting closer to truth, in conjunction with there being no fundamental purpose to the cosmos.

No contradiction there whatsoever.

David Brightly said...

I suspect that Victor's argument is that the claim that science reveals a world without purpose contradicts the observation that the human pursuit of science is a purpose-laden activity, regardless of whether that purpose is the pursuit of truth or something else. But this seeming contradiction is just another example of the tension between the manifest and scientific modes of thought. It need be no more a contradiction than the paradigmatic example of Eddington's table: manifestly solid but scientifically mostly empty space.

StardustyPsyche said...

"Science observes natural law and natural law entails natural ends."
Is that what is meant by "fundamental purpose"?

Deterministic states?

Consider an old fashioned geared clockwork.

So, in this sense the "purpose" of the gear positions at 1pm is to set the conditions for the gear positions at 2pm, for example, and for every other time after 1pm?

On a clockwork cosmos then you would say that the "purpose" of the present state is to facilitate all future states? Well, that seems to be a rather incidental use of the word "purpose".

So, a sort of naturalistic ends deterministic teleology in which one attributes "purpose" to each deterministic state?

Thus, it is somehow the goal or desire or intent of the cosmos as a whole to be in the state that it is in so that all future states may realize their deterministic natural ends?

If that is all the case, then it seems you are suffering from Agent Detection.

bmiller said...


This may interest you since you brought up Eddington's table

Scientists abstract what they need from reality to carry out their mission. That abstraction is not reality. I think some people end up thinking that the abstraction is an alternate reality when instead it is just a useful way to model things to get answers to a very narrow set of questions. Just like the "entertainment world" is not a real "world".

David Brightly said...

Morning BM. What I think you are missing, and what Feser omits from that piece, is that the scientific image plays a significant role in explaining aspects of the manifest image. There are manifest phenomena that are grounded by scientific principles. Lacking a grounding these phenomena have otherwise to be taken as mere givens. Interestingly, there is a different kind of grounding that operates from the MI to the SI. Scientific principles are the invention of the human mind, constrained only by empirical observations. There is a two-way flow. To see the 'world of physics' in much the same light as the 'world of poultry' or the 'world of entertainment'---just another description of some bit of the world---is to miss the fundamental aspects that distinguish the manifest and the scientific.

bmiller said...

Hi David,

I agree that scientific models play a role in explaining aspects of everyday life.

That is why the models were invented in the first place. The models make it easier to work with the type of information the scientist is interested in while not being distracted by unhelpful facts. Whether the particular science is physics, economics or music we can recognize certain patterns, how they come about and attempt to manipulate them to produce a desired result. Entertaining movies have certain successful formulas that have been studied in the "entertainment world". They explain why people find some movies good and some bad and so in this respect, the "Entertainment Image" can be said to play a role in explaining aspects of the "Manifest Image".

So, while I have a technical background, I don't see the SI as being different in principle from the other particular "worlds" we create to concentrate our studies to that particular discipline. I'm betting I know more about physics than Taylor Swift, yet people find her way more valuable than me. So it looks like the Manifest Image values the "entertainment world" more than the "physics world" ;-)

SteveK said...

I know more about physics than Taylor Swift, yet people find her way more valuable than me

I think "bmillerpede" would have been a better choice, but that's just one man's opinion.

bmiller said...

Not sure how to take being compared to a millipede in conjunction with Taylor Swift. But hey even bad publicity is better than no publicity. I'll take it!

David Brightly said...

I suppose a movie that does badly at the box office would be a refutation of the entertainment world theory of psychology. Oh dear...

Don't know about her physics but her
maths is good. Well, quite good.

bmiller said...

Bad movies are due to bad writers. Just like not everyone doing math is at the Taylor Swift level.

I always wondered who the Taylor Series was named after!

David Brightly said...

Right, but then movie writing is hardly a science, No?

bmiller said...

Screenwriters think it is.

Coming from a hard science background, I used to sniff at the "soft sciences". Could we call them science at all? But if you think about it, there are regularities and predictable outcomes and so those aspects of reality can be studied too. And so I concluded that yes, they can be called sciences. They may not be as predictable as physics but so what?

David Brightly said...

This is 'Baconian' science. The accummulation of regularities. It can be done within the resources of the Manifest Image. What makes Sellars's Scientific Image such a philosophical challenge is that it postulates unseen entities whose existence and properties cannot be empirically verified in the way that objects of the MI can. They are outside the domain of truth as we understand it through the Manifest Image. But it is not a question of confusing abstraction with reality. The manifest image contains abstractions like the concept dog. We have no problem with these.

bmiller said...

GM David,

I'm not as well read on Sellars as you are. Is math considered as being in the MI or SI?

Math postulates unseen entities that cannot be empirically verified but it has been part of mankind's thought and study since the beginning.

David Brightly said...

I've read only Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man. He mentions maths only in passing. My guess is that he sees maths as a tool of thought applicable equally to the entities of the MI and SI. Counting them, locating them, measuring them, and so on. You can read PSIM here.

David Brightly said...

There is also this lecture fragment from Dan Bonevac but the sound quality is poor.

bmiller said...

Thanks David.

BTW. Is 'Baconian' science not science?

David Brightly said...

I think Bacon's emphasis on induction leads us astray. I'm an unreformed Popperian. His 'hypothetico-deductive' characterisation is much better.

bmiller said...

I see. I didn't mean to imply that the soft sciences do not attempt to explore ways to falsify their theories, only that since there are regularities present in the object of their studies, they can be studied at all. Sociologists and biologists don't use particle accelerators in their field of study but that doesn't mean their studies don't results in knowledge (the original meaning of the word science).

Regardless it seems that today we have as many bad scientists as bad screenwriters. Last I heard 80% or more of scientific papers published have results that can't be duplicated.

David Brightly said...

Ah yes, the replication crisis. It varies across the disciplines. An unfortunate consequence of the expansion of the universities and the academic career models they impose.

bmiller said...

Probably too many movies being made too now that there are tons of television and internet channels.

bmiller said...

OK. I did a first pass at Sellars essay and I think I get the gist.

It seems he's defined the "Scientific Image" as all/most the philosophical assumptions starting with the Early Moderns and the "Manifest Image" as all/most philosophical assumptions before that. Starting with the assumption that the Early Moderns and successors were basically correct and everything before was basically wrong, we now have the conundrum of the mind-body problem to deal with.

Since he has concluded that the "Scientific Image" is real and we really are only purposeless matter in motion that seems to leave no room for morality. But morality is nice. So we should ignore what we really are and be nice.

Did I get his message correctly?

bmiller said...

Maybe I'm wrong. He mentioned the MI as being The Perrenial Philosophy. That only started in the Renaissance and was a revival of Neo-Platonism. More or less "New Ageism"

So is it really New Age Image vs Science Image?

David Brightly said...

I think you may be reading into Sellars some lines of thought of your own. The two images are not philosophical systems, opposed or otherwise, so we cannot identify the MI with pre-modern thought and the SI with modern. The MI is the conceptual framework through which we deal with the world and ourselves which we absorb as we learn our native language. It's as old as language itself and evolves slowly. The SI is an alternative conceptual framework that has emerged rapidly over the past few hundred years. Individually, we can acquire the SI only as a supplement to the MI. The word 'image' here is a good choice, I think. Ways of 'picturing' the world. Everyone operates with the MI and many with the SI too, for certain purposes.

In section IV, first para, he says, I argued that the perennial tradition must be construed to include not only the Platonic tradition in its broadest sense, but philosophies of 'common sense' and 'ordinary usage'. I argued what is common to all these philosophies is an acceptance of the manifest image as the real. I take that as characterising the perennial philosophy.

bmiller said...

I'm not seeing too sharp of a distinction between what I wrote and what you wrote.

Your second paragraph refers to a common component of the "perennial tradition" with that tradition being a set of pre-modern philosophical systems. What that is being contrasted with is a common component of the early modern philosophical systems and their successors.

I see that he lists and meets objections to certain aspects of the SI by noting that the objections only make sense within the system he considers as having lost the competition as the superior view of reality. Couldn't the "perennialist" make a similar argument?

David Brightly said...

I didn't understand what you meant by 'New Ageism'! Could you point me to the listed objections to the primacy of the SI and his counterarguments? On the face of it the asymmetry of the images would seem to rule out similar counters from the other side.

bmiller said...


From the link I provided on Perennial philosophy:

New Age
Main articles: New Age and New Age Movement
The idea of a perennial philosophy is central to the New Age Movement. The New Age movement is a Western spiritual movement that developed in the second half of the 20th century.

Could you point me to the listed objections to the primacy of the SI and his counterarguments?

It is in section V.THE CLASH OF THE IMAGES

An example is where he discusses the 3 lines of thought that "seemed to be open".

You can search for this snippet:

This alternative, (3), however, is open to an objection which is ordinarily directed not against the alternative itself, but against an imperceptive formulation of it as the thesis that the perceptible things around us 'really have no colour'.

If you assume things have color as in the MI, then it is a problem. But if you assume things don't have color as in the SI the problem goes away. Sounds like special pleading to me.

At the beginning of section VI he says:
Is the manifest image, subject, of course, to continual empirical and categorial refinements, the measure of what there really is? I do not think so.

The MI has lost to its rival the SI according to Sellars. The MI is not even salvageable.

David Brightly said...

Hi BM, re para beginning This alternative, (3), however, is open to an objection... in section V. He goes on to reiterate his preferred formulation of (3), that the very objects themselves are appearances to perceivers of systems of imperceptible particles. Later he says, It [the SI] is not the denial of a belief within a framework, but a challenge to the framework. In other words, it's not saying that this tree is colourless, that tree is colourless, indeed all trees and all objects generally are colourless. This is clearly false. It's saying that the colours we see are artifacts of the human visual sensory system. They are not properties of the systems of imperceptible particles that the SI says 'underlie' the objects of the MI. This is not so far from the Kantian ideas that we discussed last year. The SI presents a challenge to perennialists who think the MI is real. For suppose human beings had been dichromats originally. Then the colour gamut of the MI would have been less diverse than it is. Now suppose that a genetic variation produces a trichromat and this variation spreads through the human population resulting in the present colour gamut. Is this to be understood as the real colours in the objects changing?

This is not to say that the idea of the reality of the SI is without problems. We can think of Sellars as founding a research program within philosophy to solve these problems.

bmiller said...

Hi David,

Right. Kant said that we can't know things as they really are. So the colors we think we see are not in the things themselves. This is just the Cartesian view which both Sellars and Kant accept as the correct framework. Sellars doesn't tell us the SI just presents a challenge to the MI he tells us the MI has lost that challenge.

I don't follow the point you are making regarding human perception of color. There are already people who are color blind but according to Sellars it doesn't matter what the human population thinks it sees. There is nothing there to see in the first place. We are now aware the light spectrum extends beyond what normal humans can normally see. Does he think there actually ever existed philosophers who thought the only things that existed were those things that we could sense?

I'm not sure what he is even saying the MI is. His use of the term "perennial philosophy" had been in use since the 15th century for a syncretic blend of everything mystical. If he meant something different he should have made that distinction. But it seems he does mean that from his mythical descriptions of its beginning.

I only spent a bit of time reading the essay but I found this article in which the author found the same problems as I did. Much more actually.

David Brightly said...

Morning BM. First, please don't get hung up on Sellars's use of 'perennial'. He intends just the common small 'p' meaning of 'been around forever'. Until I read that WP article you cited I had no idea there was something called big 'p' Perennialism. I had heard of Guenon and Schuon and Traditionalism as a syncretic view in the phil of religion, but I'm certain S is not referring to anything like that, though it's quite possible that Traditionalists are perennialists in S's sense. So try to put all that to one side. Also, don't give too much weight to S's musings on how man saw the world before the emergence of the MI. Ordinary objects animated by spirits just like men were, and so on. Think of the MI as how you saw the world aged five, minus perhaps any religious ideas you might have absorbed by then. It really is as plain and unsophisticated as that!

Regarding colour, S doesn't say that there is nothing to see in the first place, nor that it doesn't matter what we humans think we see. Quite the contrary. We use the conceptual framework of the MI to navigate the world (which is not nothing!) and we do it quite successfully. Similarly shaped things made of different stuff may present as differently coloured. This usefully allows us to distinguish them as of different kinds.

Yes, S does think that the SI has primacy over the MI. He has arguments for this. The objective of his research program is to derive the MI from the SI, somewhat as a theorem from axioms. Does that make sense?

Van Fraassen is a respected philosopher of science. Somewhere on the antirealist wing. Not sure exactly where. In contrast, S is clearly taking a realist view of what science finds. Perhaps too realist even for me! He is saying that if the world is as the SI says it is then creatures like us will come to see it as the MI says it is. Something like that. Will look into the vanF.

bmiller said...


Think of the MI as how you saw the world aged five, minus perhaps any religious ideas you might have absorbed by then. It really is as plain and unsophisticated as that!

I'm not so certain that Sellars doesn't actually intend to say that pre-moderns were superstitious through and through. It was only modern science that rescued humanity from the realms of mystic fog. That is the Enlightenment creation myth after all and I don't see anything that Sellars wrote to give evidence he disagrees with it.

At the age of 5 I did not have the rational capabilities that I acquired later. I came to know Euclidian geometry, the Pythagorean theorem, Archimedes principle, formal logic, etc after that. Since these subjects originated in the pre-modern era and were precursors to modern science it seems incredible to think the pre-moderns were uninterested in how things "really are". It was a popular myth that has been debunked.

Regarding colour, S doesn't say that there is nothing to see in the first place, nor that it doesn't matter what we humans think we see.

He says there is no color really present in the objects we see regardless of whether we think they are colored or not. Do you agree with my restatement? It is what is asserted by those following the Cartesian tradition and denied by what he calls the perrenialists that came before. His argument is that the Cartesians are correct because the perrenialists are using the wrong framework. Such an easy solution!

Yes Sellars has put forth arguments. Arguments that both I and Van Fraassen find fault with. It shouldn't matter that Van Fraassen is an anti-realist when evaluating his criticism of Sellars' essay. I am not an anti-realist and I see the same problems.

David Brightly said...

Sorry, but where does he talk about pre-moderns? He mentions superstition once in the context of the emergence of the manifold image from what he calls the original image: When primitive man ceased to think of what we called trees as persons, the change was more radical than a change in belief; it was a change in category. That is, a change in framework, not a change in belief within a fixed framework. And what is 'the Enlightenment creation myth'? I've never heard of that.

Again, Sellars is not suggesting that pre-moderns were uninterested in how things "really are". Nor am I. If philosophy is a concern with how things really are then that has been going for thousands of years. Sellars's claim is that there has been a framework of concepts by which people have navigated the world for much longer than that, and it is still ongoing. Perhaps it's hard to recognise because we swim in it all the time, having learned it with our mother's milk. But it's there nevertheless. There is nothing fancy or sophisticated about it. Everybody possesses it. Hence my suggestion to think back to your five year old self.

From what part of the paper do you draw the conclusion that Sellars argues that the Cartesians are correct because the perennialists are using the wrong framework? The word 'cartesian' appears just twice. In section V he does say, A more sophisticated argument [for the reality of the MI] would be to the effect that we successfully find our way around in life by using the conceptual framework of coloured physical objects in space and time, therefore, this framework represents things as they really are. This argument has force, but is vulnerable to the reply that the success of living, thinking, and acting in terms of the manifest framework can be accounted for by the framework which proposes to replace it, by showing that there are sufficient structural similarities between manifest objects and their scientific counterparts to account for this success. Obviously his research program is to bring these similarities into the light.

More on van Fraassen later perhaps. There is a lot of misunderstanding to clear up here, I think.

bmiller said...

Hi David,

I agree that I'm not understanding.

Are you saying that a 5-year-old thinks he is living not in "the original image" but the "manifest image"? Did primitive 5-year-olds think they were living in "the original image" or were they too living in MI? What does the age of the person has to do with the way he sees the world other than he becomes more or less educated?

I used "Cartesians" since Des Cartes is popularly known as one of the founders of "modern" science which I assume Sellars is telling us was the beginning of the SI. Just as I used the phrase "perennialists" to distinguish those who came before. In context they must have been the ones with the MI, right? So THE CLASH OF THE IMAGES started then, as I read Sellars.

If your quoted section says that one "framework" says objects are colored and the other "framework" says objects are not colored, it is basically saying that some outcomes of both systems are underdetermined although the systems contradict each other. But I seriously doubt that if people "really" thought and acted like they thought "red" stop signs were only "red" in their minds (and so maybe not "really" red) they would have successful lives.

Also this:

It simply disappears once it is recognized that, properly understood, the claim that physical objects do not really have perceptible qualities is not analogous to the claim that something generally believed to be true about a certain kind of thing is actually false. It is not the denial of a belief within a framework, but a challenge to the framework. It is the claim that although the framework of perceptible objects, the manifest framework of everyday life, is adequate for the everyday purposes of life, it is ultimately inadequate and should not be accepted as an account of what there is all things considered.

So false things can be true within a false framework. But since the framework is false, it is not "really" true. Like van Fraassen, I wonder from within what framework he is making this judgement? More importantly I disagree that a "false" thing can be "true" regardless of a framework. I can agree that some false beliefs may not result in failure in an endeavor but that is not the same thing.

David Brightly said...

Morning BM. Perhaps bringing up 5 year olds wasn't a good idea! I wanted to explain that as children we absorb a conceptual framework in the course of learning a mother tongue. This would include relations between concepts. So a dog is a kind of animal, but a tree is not a kind of person, at least in the contemporary framework it's not, though perhaps in some ancient framework a tree was a kind of person. I put the limit at five years, maybe a bit too early, because I wanted to exclude hypothetical imperceptible elements like atoms that we would start to pick up from exposure to the scientific image in now universal education.

I want to avoid bringing in historical philosophical movements because these tend to involve reflection on conceptual frameworks. Most people operate with one framework, now the manifest image, and don't bother with worrying themselves about its reality. It simply is reality for them. I guess Sellars could have talked about religious frameworks too, but it seems he didn't. But he does identify the scientific framework, inklings of which appear with the ancient atomists, perhaps, and which explodes in the modern era.

I find that, outside of philosophising, I think of red things as 'really' red'. But I can step back as it were, and think of redness as some effect in me produced by things ordinarily regarded as red. I can do this with sounds, textures, smells, and so on.

My reading of Sellars is that he would not want to talk of frameworks as true or false. Truth would be relative to a framework. So an original man could truthfully say 'a tree is a person' but a manifest man would be speaking falsely if he said that. The idea here is that no thought lives outside a conceptual framework. There can be no absolute truth, as it were. What we can say is that one framework 'supports' (my term) another in that it can explain what is held to be true in the other. So Sellars issues a promissory note to the effect that the scientific image supports the manifest. I guess this would be shown by maths and logic whose conceptual frameworks are of abstract objects not concrete ones, but this is speculation on my part. We are getting deeply into the nature of language and how it grasps the world.

bmiller said...

Hi David,

OK. I agree that children are indoctrinated by their teachers.

I want to avoid bringing in historical philosophical movements because these tend to involve reflection on conceptual frameworks.

I don't know how Sellars can talk about the SI image without referring to the fact that it came about as a rival to the dominate philosophy of that time. Isn't he reflecting on conceptual frameworks in this article?

But he does identify the scientific framework, inklings of which appear with the ancient atomists, perhaps, and which explodes in the modern era.

Ancient atomic theory was one of several rival philosophies in the ancient world. It lost out to its ancient rivals back then. It became popular during the early modern era. Referring to it as "the scientific framework" or the foundation of science must mean its ancient philosophical rivals were "unscientific" by comparison then no? If I referred to Aristotleanism as "the scientific framework" would that make atomism "unscientific"? So it seems a lot depends on what is defined "science" and woe to the scheme that is not "scientific" because it is untrue by default. That is how we "post-moderns" think.

I find that, outside of philosophising, I think of red things as 'really' red'. But I can step back as it were, and think of redness as some effect in me produced by things ordinarily regarded as red. I can do this with sounds, textures, smells, and so on.

Because the particular philosophy you use while philosophising commits you to regarding your senses as not providing you with an accurate view of reality. This results in some sort or idealism or eliminativism that give us all sorts of other problems. There are alternatives but they would be "unscientific" since "science" has defined objects as not "really" not having color. So "science" has defined any rivals as untrue if it must do away with some ancient atomist assumptions.

Sellars talks about his pink ice cube. It can't actually be pink, because we can crush it finally into tiny parts (destroying the original ice cube) and the parts are colorless. This apparently cannot be explained unless you accept atomism? Why would colorless atoms combine to make a colored ice cube in the first place. And if the color is all in my head, why do I perceive the parts as colorless if I'm using my same apparatus? The conundrum is merely an artefact of Des Cartes' dualism. The mind-body problem goes away outside of Cartesian dualism.

Regarding your discussion of truth. To know if you are right that something can be true only within a framework, you yourself would have to transcend all frameworks and also know you are not operating within a framework yourself. It seems incoherent or at least impossible. That is one of the complaints Van Fraassen has with Sellars' essay.

David Brightly said...

Sellars is certainly reflecting on conceptual frameworks. But surely he can describe their content without reference to their history? This was how I was taught mathematics. It's a common criticism of science education that it is ahistorical. But don't get hung up on the name 'scientific image'. For Sellars its defining characteristic, in contrast to the manifest image, is its willingness to postulate unperceived elements. We don't want to get into a rabbit hole about how the term 'science' can be used to give an aura of respectability, now do we :-)

I don't see that I'm committed in any way to a position that the senses do not provide an accurate view of reality. It seems a reasonable philosophical question. A kind of scepticism. Can one get by without an assumption of sensory accuracy? And what would this even mean? Anyway, what's this animus you've got against science (with or without scare quotes) which keeps figuring in your comments? Science hasn't 'defined' anything. It certainly has no control over philosophical inquiry or theorising. But it does push some of us in a certain direction (about which we may be entirely misled!)

Actually, I'm not sure Sellars gets the physics of dyed ice cubes right! Physics says that the interaction of light with free particles like electrons and nuclei is but slowly changing with wavelength. But with a bound system of a nucleus and electrons there is the possibility of resonances, as with sound waves and nearly closed volumes of air, in which the interaction abruptly strengthens around specific wavelengths. So such systems absorb and emit strongly at specific wavelengths. That is, parts with non-specific wavelength dependence when free can exhibit specific wavelength phenomena when assembled into wholes. That colourlessness begets colour seems built in to the physical world. Or at any rate, the possibility of colour.

Part of what makes 'the cat is on the mat' true when the cat is indeed on the mat is that 'cat' is the right word for such felines and 'mat' is the right word for such rugs. This 'rightness' is a framework-relative business.

bmiller said...

Hi David,

I don't see how I can avoid talking about science when the topic is the "scientific image". I'm open to suggestions. If the difference between it and the "manifest image" is just its willingness to postulate unperceived elements then as Van Fraassen points out, there is no difference at all. I agree that the term "scientific" should not automatically bestow the crown of victory on the one who claims it first.

I agree that Sellars' example is bad. But the way you (correctly) related how physicists describe what is actually happening is in the object, not in the mind of the observer. So color is a property of the object regardless of the opinion of Des Cartes and company. The reason it was discarded as a "primary" property in the first place was because there was no "mechanical" explanation (could not be measured )of it at that time so it was relegated to the "secondary" properties, those being merely appearances in the mind. It's been a long time since we know what frequency the color red (or pink) is. Yet for some reason some philosophers are stuck in the.....what should I call it?....the "pre-modern image" ;-)

This 'rightness' is a framework-relative business.

Yes, it is the universal framework that is intelligible to all humans. The SI is a framework that tells us that there are no such things as cats and mats at all. After all, we humans, using our reason came to the conclusion within our intelligible framework that our intelligible framework was not intelligible after all. I see a problem with this line of reasoning.

bmiller said...


BTW. Thank you for your challenging, intellectually stimulating dialog, humor, and graciousness. You are a true gentleman. Happy New Year.

David Brightly said...

Thank you BM, that's very kind of you. It's good to have a conversation from rather different standpoints without any ranting. A Happy New Year to you and yours too.

Van Fraassen says that Sellars's Manifest Image contains postulational elements, making it indistinct from the Scientific Image. But he gives no examples as far as I can see. Can you provide one?

The physics account of colour would suggest that the colour space is linear, one dimensional. But the subjective colour space is better described as two-dimensional and contains non-spectral colours. Why is this?

After all, we humans, using our reason came to the conclusion within our intelligible framework that our intelligible framework was not intelligible after all. I'm not sure that Sellars would put it that way. It's not that the MI becomes unintelligible, surely? It remains the way most of us, most of the time, navigate the world. So it still has a lot going for it! It's just that there is a new contender on the block, still wet behind the ears.

bmiller said...

Hi David,

What do you think Sellars mean by postulational elements? Maybe that is the proper starting point. If you don't see something that Van Fraassen does then there is apparently a disagreement about definitions.

I'm not sure what you are calling "colour space". Why do you say it is one dimensional in one instance and two dimensional in another? If I see a colored ball, I see a 3 dimensional colored object. I see it because photons of a certain frequency are emitted by the ball in 3 dimensional space. Just like I can judge the size of a 3 dimensional object by seeing is next to a ruler. In both cases I sense the photons emitted from a 3 dimensional object but according to Sellars only the spatial extension of the object is really a property of the object. Why aren't both either real or not real?

It's not that the MI becomes unintelligible, surely?

You're right. Unintelligible is probably the wrong word. Maybe "wrong" is the right word ;-)
When I was taking a lower level physics course one lab was to measure the collisions using an air sled like this one. When I looked over my measurement results and started my analysis I discovered that momentum was not just conserved but actually increased. Two things occurred to me. The first was that I had disproven the theory of conservation of momentum. The second was that I had made as mistake somewhere. I reasoned that since I was operating within a framework from within conservation of momentum was factual that I must have made a mistake somewhere. So I spent my time looking for the mistake rather than positing the framework I was operating under was wrong. It turned out I found a mistake in my calculations. Or did I really pass up a chance at discovering a completely new and fascinating framework that just needed a little more time to work out the kinks? It's a funny story, but if we think our experiences are not real and only a result of social convention or "image", then someday people will start to conclude that science and math are racist. Surely that could never happen. Right? ;-)

David Brightly said...

In section II para 5 he says, There is, however, one type of scientific reasoning which it [the MI], by stipulation, does not include, namely that which involves the postulation of imperceptible entities, and principles pertaining to them, to explain the behaviour of perceptible things. Interesting that here he says by stipulation. So vF's position would seem incoherent.

See here. Nearly all subjective colour sensations can be produced by mixing three ideally widely separated monochromatic sources in various proportions of intensity. So colour space would seem to be three dimensional. Except that the proportions must be normalised to add up to one, say, so that total intensity is fixed. So we lose one degree of freedom and end up with a two dimensional colour space. Note the spectral colours running round the edge annotated by wavelength in nanometres.

I share your concern. If we lose sight of the real, of the true, because of some daft misguided philosophy or ideology, as indeed is happening now in the West amongst the young (and some not so young, who should know better) then God knows where we might end up. It will not be pretty. I would have to say the the scientific image is not ideology (the woke will say it is!). It's tied down to reality empirically. Unlike their postmodernist blather.

bmiller said...

So vF's position would seem incoherent.

Not necessarily. Who is agreeing with this stipulation? It seems vF is not a party to this agreement.

I'm not following how the color argument means that colors do not exist in external reality. The article indicates they are sensed by the eyes, not originating in the mind. Distance is similarly sensed by the eyes. Why does Sellars think one is a real aspect of external reality and the other is not? I assume Sellars subscribes to the primary and secondary property theory.

I'm afraid the problem is that the early modern turn in philosophy untethered the empirical from reality. We've discussed Kant before, but he didn't start it. He merely accepted some original assumptions (that I think are bad assumptions)and tried to stitch them together with contrary assumptions (perhaps what Sellars is calling the MI) and ended up telling us what we see and experience is not reality.

This article on "wokeism" traces the history of philosophical ideas that led to it, according to the author. I'm interested in how we came to know or believe what we do now. How could the "woke" come to think that science is "colonialism"? Are they just crazy or is there some philosophical reasoning behind the movement.

BTW, it seems to me that since you are a UK resident and I am a resident of your former colonies and that you are trying to convince me that the SI is how reality works, you are oppressing me. Where do I apply for reparations? !!!!

StardustyPsyche said...

"I'm not following how the color argument means that colors do not exist in external reality."
Colors are internal constructions of your brain.

Colors are hallucinatory qualia first person experiences.

Colors do not exist outside the brain.

Objects do not have the property of being some particular color.

Objects have the aggregate property of reflecting various wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation and absorbing various wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation or emitting various wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation.

An animal might have only 1 sort of light sensor, which leads to all reflections and emissions being sensed as shades of a single color. We cannot assume that color is shades of gray, perhaps it is shades of violet, or green, or sepia, or some other hallucinatory qualia experience we cannot understand because we have never experienced it.

Other animals have as many as 16 different color receptors. Some can see ultraviolet or infrared.

The first person hallucinatory qualia experience of color in an animal with other numbers of color receptors (other than the 3 of the typical human being) is unknowable to us.

Your sleeping sensory experiences are hallucinations, although they can seem very vivid and real at the time.

There is not much difference between the first person qualia experiences in a dream versus the first person qualia experiences while awake.

Are the colors in your dreams the same sorts of colors as you experience while awake?

David Brightly said...

Hello BM, Surely Sellars is entitled to define the manifest image however he likes? Such as 'all those concepts we have of perceptible things'. The question would be, Does his characterisation of the MI---and we can agree with vF that he is not completely clear on this---rule out conceptions of imperceptibles? If not, then I'd like to see a counter example.

Are 'sensed by the eyes' and 'originating in the mind' mutually exclusive? Can't both be involved? This need not mean that the mind is at liberty to originate 'anything it wants'. Going back to the colour space, if the colours corresponding to monochromatic light are found round the boundary of the colour space how do the colours in the interior of the colour space arise?

Ah, the excellent Bishop Barron. This is the best short presentation of the nature and genealogy of wokeism that I have yet to come across. I have long thought that the best philosophy has to tread a narrow and difficult path between broad and inviting valleys on either side. Being woke is just far, far too easy.

bmiller said...

Hi David,

Of course you're right. It's the duty of the person who wants to communicate an idea to define and convey that idea so people he hopes to communicate will understand. Has Sellars done that? If he had done that then what is vF going on about?

Here is how vF interprets Sellars definition of the MI excluding postulation:

6.1 What is this thing called the Manifest Image?
The Manifest Image is the way the world appears to us; it is also the world as described by the
'systematizing' perennial philosophy, and it is the image to whose evolution and development all
postulation remains forever foreign. There is nothing that fits this description. The philosophy in
question engages freely in reification and postulation of all sorts.(9) Putative entities like conceptions,
conceptual frames, images, and worldviews are indeed introduced within the perennial philosophy,
through the reification of the language forms we create in such easy profusion -- but that is exactly what
disqualifies the perennial philosophy from describing something to which postulation is foreign

Are 'sensed by the eyes' and 'originating in the mind' mutually exclusive? Can't both be involved?

Regarding color again. Both the perception of an object as occupying a 3-dimensional space and that objects color involve sight. Why does Sellars consider one a primary, and thus real property of an external object and the other merely a secondary and mental property of the mind. Do you think he does not make this distinction? Does he think both are real properties or both are mental properties?

It may be an interesting (and profitable)project for engineers to simulate how the human eye/mind constructs how things really are from data received from the eye, but how exactly does that mean that the photons sensed by the eye are not real?

I agree that Bishop Barron's presentation was excellent. I took a different lesson away though.
If you make an early mistake in an assumption of a theory you are coming up with (mathematical or otherwise) then that assumption will propagate beyond the problem you wanted to address originally and create worse problems when followed to their logical conclusions.

SteveK said...

Isn't it interesting that medical science says color blindness is a problem involving the eyes, not the mind?

David Brightly said...

I can only think that for Sellars concepts etc are, well, concepts, by which we think within frameworks, so are in some sense prior to frameworks. Perhaps as we said maths might be prior too. And he also distinguishes frameworks from philosophies. Just as there is philosophy of the scientific framework there is philosophy of the manifest framework. On the whole science and contemporary life get by without philosophy. We use the pictures we are given without thinking about them. We just think with them, as it were. He talks about perennial philosophy refining and endorsing the manifest image (II para 8). So maybe it's the perennial philosophy that introduces imperceptibles rather than the manifest image itself.

Why does Sellars consider one a primary, and thus real property of an external object and the other merely a secondary and mental property of the mind. Again, I can only think that this is the direction in which the results of inquiry are pushing him. That goes for me too, of course. Talk of photons has to be within the scientific image. So if one takes a realist view of science talk then one is taking photons as real. But is it right to say that the eye senses photons? If it is then we should be able to say what a photon looks like. But I've no idea. We don't see them as such. We see objects with or via them according to the SI.

The trick is to develop a feeling for when a theory is too easy or self-indulgent to be true.

bmiller said...

Talk of photons has to be within the scientific image.

Could be. But it seems the only thing that is clear is that Sellars is not clear, so we really can't know.

bmiller said...

As I mentioned, I am interested in not just what people think, but the pedigree of their "world-view". I put that in scare quotes since we've noticed that words like this are vague.

Since the discussion has been about color and then to color-space I wondered what was thought about this historically.

It seems that an Englishman (and also a bishop)conducted research into color-space in the 13th century. He used variations of angle, raindrop sizes and solar illumination of rainbows to find his 3 basic qualities that the authors say they mapped into the 3 primary colors sensed.

I don't think people have ever been uninterested in how nature works. Religion does not hinder science. People have always challenged the status quo. Technological advances usually lead to philosophical theories, not the other way around.

bmiller said...

Sorry. I miss-typed the embedded link to the article.

Here you go:

David Brightly said...

Well, maybe his ideas a bit vague around the edges---whose are not?---but it's clear as daylight to me that 'photon' is a scientific image term for him.

Had heard of Grosseteste but knew next to nothing about him. Thanks for that. I agree about religion.

I have just looked back to where Sellars came into this. Victor had said, Any attempt to describe science must perforce portray it as a purpose laden enterprise, and the purpose, we are told, is the discovery of truth. But how is this possible in a purposeless universe? Victor is highlighting a seeming contradiction in Melnyk. But only from within a 'single-framed' epistemology. If we adopt Sellars's 'dual-framed' epistemology the contradiction loses its logical bite, at least to some extent. For naturalism can be seen as the project of developing the scientific image to the point where it can account for human purposefulness.

bmiller said...

I suppose he does think that a photon only exists in his SI and not in his MI. But it does not exist in the worlds of accounting, entertainment or food preparation either. It seems to me that they are all artificial constructions designed to investigate areas of specific focus. And it seems Sellars has just created one more. The world of competing frameworks. Unlike the others though, this one doesn't seem to serve any practical purpose.

If we adopt Sellars's 'dual-framed' epistemology the contradiction loses its logical bite, at least to some extent. For naturalism can be seen as the project of developing the scientific image to the point where it can account for human purposefulness.

I don't follow. Its logical bite just is that the 2 frameworks contradict each other. In order for the SI to change to allow for purpose it would have to abandon purposelessness but once it has done that it is no longer the SI. Its like spending time trying to devise a scheme to turn a square into a circle while maintaining that the circle is still a square.

David Brightly said...

I think you are using 'world' in a looser sense than S intends. He would say that the concepts associated with accounting, entertainment, etc, are in the manifest image. They do not introduce imperceptible entities as far as I can see.

It's not so much that the Images contradict one another, it's the taking them as the real. So if the MI is the real then there are purposes. But if there are no purposes in the SI and it is the real then we would seem to have the contradiction that Victor seeks. Sellars's project is to bring the two images into registration---he uses the metaphor of stereoscopic vision. This would mean finding somehow an adequate account of purposes within the conceptual framework of the SI.

bmiller said...

Right. Assets = Liabilities + Equity is the basic formula of accounting. The components of the formula are not sensible yet can be treated as entities. Just like the categories of comedy and tragedy are concepts that are not sensible. Treating the perceived problem in this way resolves the problem without introducing contradictions.

So it seems we have been discussing a topic introduced by Sellars that was too vague for us to make any sort of determination about what belongs in either of his 2 categories if we even knew exactly what his categories were. It would seem only Sellars himself could settle it but I doubt he could do it coherently but in any case he is not likely to send a clarifying email. Take care David.

bmiller said...

Sorry. My first paragraph was worded poorly. What I meant to convey is that if we look at the SI and MI as ways of looking at the world not as competing for the same thing but instead just looking at different aspects of the world from different perspectives and ignoring those things that don't pertain to the particular perspective we are interested in at the moment we don't have a problem. We can see that we we've always approached various branches of studies in this manner so perhaps this conundrum is another of those passing phases in philosophy, like logical positivism. AJ Ayers admitted after many years of being an advocate for it that yes, it was based on an assumption that undercut its own argument. People outside of it could see it easily and it was a clear as the nose on his face, but sometimes that's the most difficult thing to see.

bmiller said...

A J Ayer. What were the defects of logical positivism?

StardustyPsyche said...

Logical Positivism
"Authoritarian governments like the communists and the Nazis banned it"

David Brightly said...

This is what I mean by falling from the narrow path into a broad, alluring, self-serving valley. The young positivists wanted to upturn philosophy---to show the emperor's nakedness---but seized on a slogan that managed to undermine itself. I don't see anything like that with Sellars. He gives us two competing pictures of man in the world, one still a work in progress, and basically says, Look, we have a problem. Which of these gets things right? Can they both be right? There are good reasons for thinking so. But how? So he embarks on a research program, still influential, I believe, to investigate this. How indeed do things hang together? I happen to think he's right that there is a problem, and I take it as central to philosophy. But other's mileage may vary, as they say.

What I loved about the video was Ayer's exuberance. The gestures, the facial expressions, the humour. And the honesty. He was about 67 at the time.

bmiller said...

He had many intellectual achievements but unlike some others he valued honesty. How many other intellectuals would admit they were wrong about a project they spent a large part of their life defending?

bmiller said...

Jaap van Brakel has an article on the MI/SI that is related and looks at the question in a variety of different ways. You might find it interesting.

StardustyPsyche said...

"How many other intellectuals would admit they were wrong about a project they spent a large part of their life defending?"
Quite a few.

Wittgenstein with respect to the Tractatus, for example.

I was watching a recent podcast with the author of the Mary's room thought experiment who has come around to materialism.

Plus there are the religious advocates who later realize all the arguments for the existence of god are specious at best.