Foulkstown, Ballinure, Thurles, Co. Tipperary
July 28 1994
This will be a bit of a supplementary note because I see that I need to say something more about the argument you liked but came to have misgivings about - the one asking what changes in ‘the world’ might make realism false, having been true, &c. You worry about what ‘world’ I am talking about there.
I suppose the short answer is that I don’t myself want to use the expression ‘the world’ at all in any hard sense, in any way that rests weight on it, neither ‘natural world’ nor any other. My own view is that the expression ‘the world’ (of any sort) is a façon de parler, OK for informal indicating, but not capable of sustaining any theoretical weight. It hides traps that won’t spring if we only tread lightly. But that’s not the view of the (would-be) realists. They think that it has a hard sense and real work can be done with it. In particular, they think that the notion is implicated in, and has work to do in understanding, both the notions of reference and of truth. The notion of world at issue would, I guess, be the broadest sense, something like ‘the way things are.’ What I am asking is the Wittgenstinian question -’Does Scientific Realism say anything?’ (or ‘Anti-Realism’ for that matter?)
What I regard myself as doing in my argument is to use that ‘belief’ of theirs that the notion of the world has real content or real reference to undermine itself. Given their views of truth, falsehood and reference, what is the status of their would-be thesis of Realism? What kind of an account can they give of it? Is the notion of proof really applicable at all? If not, what does that tell us?
Again, I don’t want to put this forward as a ‘knock-down’ argument, because I don’t think that that is the way philosophy works. I just want people to mull over that question and hope that mulling may end by reducing the attractiveness of the view. But it will be a hard and long business because of the great network of mutually supporting notions and views that we are up against.
Maybe as Wittgenstein thought in his pessimistic moments, those views will only be cured with the curing of ‘the sickness of a time.’ Still, I think there is work to be done by identifying the sickness, trying to say something about its causes, and by sketching an alternative picture. What else can we do?
Incidentally, my memory of your wife’s remark was: ‘Not another permanent position!’ - which makes the paradox nicer. (Actually, the stress has to fall on another.)
All the best