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07/15/2012

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Marcus Arvan

Moti: I'm pretty sympathetic to your overall point, as I think there are probably quite a few just-so stories in philosophy that lack any good argument in their favor. But is this really any different than in science? And is it a problem? Not sure. One sometimes one must lay out a theory before one can defend it. One cannot do everything at once. Indeed, this is how it is done in science. One draws up hypotheses about why certain things occur, and *then* one tests the hypotheses against observations. Why not think something similar is going on in philosophy. One takes certain observations (about mind, free will, etc.) as given -- all observation is theory laden -- and then one constructs a theory to explain those observations. So far, so good. *Then* it becomes a question whether the theory in fact makes successful predictions (something which we do in philosophy by engaging in argument about the theory *after* it is presented). Again, I don't think science is much different. Consider string theory in physics. String theorists spend the past few decades generating just-so stories of what the micro physical world is like. Those theories make predictions. Those predictions are now, finally, being tested in the Large Hadron Collider. Generating lots of theories and *then* testing them is standard practice in science. Why should it be any different in philosophy?

(note: sorry this comment is a rambling mess -- hard to organize one's thoughts on an iPhone!)

Moti Mizrahi

Hi Marcus,

Thanks very much for your comment.

I think you are probably right that, at least sometimes, scientists come up with hypotheses and then test them. But that is how science is done “in the field,” as it were. That is, hypotheses by themselves do not get published in science journals. I am talking about journal articles. So my claim is that journal articles are worth publishing only if they make a clear and concise argument. Now, I think one would be hard-pressed to find articles in science journals that do not meet this condition.

As for your example of string theory, even if the theory didn’t have much going for it in terms of testable predictions until now, that doesn’t mean that there was no evidence whatsoever in its favor. Physicists and mathematicians who work on this theory take its theoretical properties, such as elegance and unification, for instance, to be evidence in its favor. (Whether that’s actually evidence in its favor is a different story.) So that’s what you will probably find in journal articles about string theory.

But suppose that I am wrong, and hypotheses without any evidence at all get published in science journals. So what? The fact that scientists are doing things a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the right way.

Kyle Whyte

What would be the appropriate venues for "given an account" papers? Scientific journals usually have plenty of different venues for short papers of this kind.

Moti Mizrahi

The Journal of Uncorroborated Results (following in the great tradition of The Journal of Irreproducible Results: http://www.jir.com/).

Seriously, though, I think that there is no room for explanations without arguments in journal articles. Perhaps books are the appropriate venue.

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