Nature, Culture, and Persons

Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 170)

One cannot, pursuing in a disciplined way any aspect of the comparison of cultures, fail to sense a certain uneasiness about the prospects and appeal of the unity of science. In the Anglo-American philosophical tradition, the program of unity has been almost hopelessly linked with the fortunes of a defeated positivism and the striking lack of success of all forms of reductive materialism.1 In the Continental tradition, notably in the efforts of philosophical hermeneutics, the contrast between Naturwissenschaften and Geisteswissenschaften has, almost since Dilthey's original speculations, conveyed a strongly dualistic conviction.2 Still, the need for a unity of science is conceptually irresistible. It serves as the methodological counterpart of the abiding intuition of the integrity and conceptual coherence of human existence. For contingent reasons, its actual pursuit is taken as flat evidence of a reductive intent. One sees this, for example, symptomatically, in the appearance of a new, explicit dualism within analytic philosophy of science — as in the most recent speculations of Karl Popper regarding what he calls World 3.3 Roughly speaking, the conceptual requirements entailed in reconciling our picture of physical nature and human culture, at the present stage of philosophical work, cannot but reflect the continued repudiation of ontic dualism and the recognition of the inadequacy, even within the physical sciences, of the explanatory models that inevitably favored reductionism.4

What we need, short of a completely reformulated unity, is a proper grasp of the details of a generous philosophical strategy by which the extremes of dualism and reductionism can be effectively avoided — at the same time the admitted distinctions of the Geisteswissenschaften are preserved. In that sense, the program required is both ontological and methodological. What I mean is simply that we need to understand what must be included in a theory of persons and in a theory of explanation in order to make the best sense of such an effort as that of comparing distinct civilizations. In order to vindicate the rigor and validity of our empirical studies, therefore, we must at some point step back to reflect on their conceptual underpinnings. At the present time, the most promising ontological orientation can only be what may be called nonreductive materialism.


Causal Explanation Human Person Attribute Dualism Linguistic Ability Reductive Materialism 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

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