Afterwords (2009)

Closer to the New Unity
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 170)

All the arguments arrayed here against the classic unity of science program present their briefs without ceremony, somewhat in the spirit of Dante's phrase “in the middle of the journey” — except for the fact that they finally close (in the first edition) with a list of 25 claims that any suitably transformed unity doctrine would have to accommodate to be viable at all. Yet, in spite of the fact that positivism utterly failed almost at its inception, and the unity-of-science never rightly anticipated what an intractable motley the interlocking inquiries of the principal sciences would prove to be,1 scientism recovered a scaled-down echo of its original confidence and courage in the carefully crafted proposals of its “second wave” launched, at about mid-century, in good part as a result of the reception of W. V. Quine's uniquely strategic essay, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism.”2 With that, its center of gravity shifted philosophically as well as geographically.

What Quine managed to do in a very light-fingered way was separate the physicalist and extensionalist objectives of the original Carnapian version of sci-entism so that they remained uncontested and fully operative, as much through ideology as through philosophically compelling demonstration. Although Quine did show, somewhat obliquely, by way of the supremely important specimen of the “Two Dogmas” paper, that the positivists were indeed wrong (Carnap, preeminently) to have supposed that there was even in principle a formalizable distinction between the analytic and the synthetic. He also managed to reassure those still committed to the noble vision that they could always improvise, ad hoc, benign behavioral strategies for regularizing our empiric reliance on meaning and truth without any need to demonstrate the validity of any actual theories (of meaning and truth) of the sort the positivists were obviously unable to deliver; and he persuaded those prepared to continue, to accept the entire clutter of the familiar world, proceeding as best we might, so that they need never bother their heads about attempting to complete the reductionism wanted, once they understood what such a program would require and why, despite the intractable complexity of the encountered world, the main lines of the original vision remained our best guess about how to orient our philosophies congruently with the best work of our sciences.


Modern Philosophy Cultural World Cultural Discipline Cultural Entity Modern Mind 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

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