metaphysics of science
an AHRC funded research project
Markus Schrenk (Research Description)
My research within the AHRC Metaphysics of Science Project targeted the areas of necessity, causation, dispositions and the laws of nature.
While some anti-Humeans (cf., for example, proponents of the increasingly popular view dispositional essentialism, esp. Bird 2007) tacitly assume that metaphysical necessity can be used for all sorts of anti-Humean desires—metaphysical necessity is thought to stick together whatever would be loose and separate in a Hume world, as if it were a kind of universal superglue—I have argued during the past three years that this is not feasible. I have published my research findings in a series of articles (Schrenk forthcoming in Noûs, de Gruyter 2010, Routlegde 2010).
Inspired by Mumford’s work (Mumford 2004: 168ff), I have defended the hypothesis that while metaphysical necessity might connect synchronically co-existent properties, kinds and their essential features, for example, it is difficult to see how it could also serve as the binding force for successions of events. That is, metaphysical necessity seems not to be fit for diachronic, causal affairs in which causal laws, causation, or dispositions are involved. If any, a different anti-Humean connection in nature which is less than necessity but more than mere regular correlation has to do that job. (I find metaphysical necessity dubious also for other reasons but this is not central here.) I have been putting forward arguments that such a novel connection can successfully be characterised and its existence be postulated.
Anti-Humean instincts stem, I argued, by and large, from the experiences we have when facing the world’s resistance against our intentional actions, including also the experiences of forces and pressure on our body. That our concept or idea of a connection in nature (partially) originates here is fairly uncontroversial and can be found already in Hume. Sadly, however, these origins have not been regarded highly by Humeans and anti-Humeans alike. They have been rejected by both as an anthropocentric, unreliable, and non-veridical resource.
Yet, I have been arguing that the reasons for this dismissal are misplaced. First, the said experiences of a connection in nature have falsely been taken for experiences of necessity. The opponents would be right if this were the claim: necessity is indeed not perceivable. If, however, an anti-Humean connection in nature which is less than orthodox necessity but more than mere regular correlation—a push or force in a certain direction of events—is conceivable (as advertised above) then, so I argued, the following claim can be defended: not only are these experiences responsible for the belief acquisition that there are anti-Humean links, these experiences are, indeed, veridical perceptions of an anti-Humean connection and thus evidence and justification to hold that belief.
In my future research based on my work in the past three years within the AHRC project I will try to show that the second source for being skeptical about connections in nature (here in particular to dismiss experiences of the world’s resistance against our intentional, willful actions as experiences of a link in nature) originates in the fact that the question of a link in nature has been asked in isolation from the question of the existence of a mind independent external world. I wish to show that the world’s resistance against our actions is not in isolation a window onto a link in nature but that it is, at the same time, an integral part of our reasons to believe in the existence of mind-independent objects. Causal realism and external world realism, so the claim to be defended, are inseparable.
- An anti-Humean connection in nature exists.
- This connection is weaker than (metaphysical) necessity but more than mere correlation.
- The connection is perceivable and, derivatively, causation is.
- However, its observability—as experiences of the world’s resistance against our intentional, willful actions—stands and falls with our direct phenomenal access to the mind-independence of the world.
For more about Markus and his research visit his website.