Philosophy Colloquium: "A Dereliction of Data," Ray Jennings

Speaker: Ray Jennings, SFU

Introductory philosophy students have recently been exposed to the false conceit that the history of philosophy is the history of some great conversation. Until the early 19th century, philosophy was an intellectual parliament representing many diverse approaches to explaining the physical universe. Primitive science thrived in Ancient Greece among researchers who still groped for a theoretical idiom in which to couch their attempts. We can understand their efforts in the light of later developments that their conclusions did not prefigure, since later thinkers did not see what followed from them. In the case of Heraclitus’s dictum ‘Everything flows’ we can discern what Wittgenstein and other philosophers did not: that the world is the totality of change, not of facts. If everything changes, then change changes and the manner of its changing changes, and so on through indefinitely many derivatives. The hierarchy of the sciences from mathematics through physics to biology reflects the correctness of the observation. Quantum biological explanations are biological explanations. It’s not a matter of reducibility but of increased resolving power. Descartes’ Meditations were dry rot to the foundations of unified science, because he failed to see even the obvious consequence of his sentence ‘I think’. He thought of it as a premise, when he could have seen it as a datum. From his formulation of the premise, it follows that he was linguistic, and being linguistic is an evolutionary-biological property of humans that requires physical explanation. Language retains its own biology. Understanding the structure of the subject matter of biology is key to seeing that this so.