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Pragmatism and the possibility of (no) naturalistic metaphysics

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Pragmatism is often seen as an anti-metaphysical philosophy and/or as aiming consistently at so being. In this talk I will discuss in what ways and to what extent pragmatism can, should and/or does avoid metaphysics, in some significant sense. I gradually narrow my focus to the kind of naturalistic pragmatism defended by Huw Price with his theory of global expressivism, and to the possibility of (no) naturalistic metaphysics. Though suggestive, Price’s arguments against ‘placement’ or ‘serious’ metaphysics don’t, I claim, show that such questions cannot coherently and maybe should be asked by pragmatists. I go on to outline a ‘disunified’ picture of science, as defended by John Dupré and Nancy Cartwright, which might seem a natural one for a pragmatist to adopt, and on which such questions would again seem to lapse; but then immediately take up an alternative non-reductionist view of science, defended by James Ladyman and Donald Ross (et al.) on which the idea of science investigating a unified reality is upheld but which would also appear pragmatically kosher. I then explore the possibility of the latter in fact providing something like a metaphysical picture for global expressivism, but conclude that the marriage would end up being too ‘seriously’ metaphysical in its implications for Price’s liking. I end by suggesting that an alternative form of naturalistic pragmatism to global expressivism, albeit closely related, can embrace the Ladyman & Ross picture of physical reality without falling into serious metaphysics, and indeed that this holds out the promise of being a position which can truly be deemed non-metaphysical.

This talk is part of the CamPoS (Cambridge Philosophy of Science) seminar series.

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