Book I Page 2

Thesis III: Ontological relativity

Heisenberg imitated Einstein’s practice of ontological relativity for making his version of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics. 

Heisenberg is a realist.  In his Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science (1958) he says that the transition from the possible to the actual that takes place with the act of observation involves the inter­action of the electron with the measuring device and applies to the physical and not to the psychological act of observation.  Thus contrary to 1963 Nobel-laureate physicist Eugene Wigner (1902-1995) Heisenberg affirms that quantum theory does not contain “genu­ine subjective features” in the sense that it introduces the mind of the physicist as a part of the atomic event.  Heisenberg also disliked Bohr’s view that the equations of quantum theory must be viewed instrumentally, i.e., that they do not describe reality.  All such denials of realism are merely mystifications and are not physics.

Heisenberg practiced ontological relativity. In his discussions about Einstein’s special theory of relativity in Physics and Philosophy and in Across the Frontiers (1974) he describes the “decisive step” in the development of special relativity. That step was Einstein’s rejection of 1902 Nobel-laureate Hendrik Lorentz’s (1853-1928) distinction between “apparent time” and “actual time” in the Lorentz-Fitzgerald contraction. Lorentz took the Newtonian concepts to describe real space and time. But in his relativity theory Einstein took Lorentz’s “apparent time” as physically real time, while altogether rejecting the Newtonian concept of absolute time as real time.  In other words, the “decisive step” in Einstein’s special theory of relativity consisted of Einstein’s taking the relativity theory realistically, thus letting his relativity theory characterize the physically real, i.e., physical ontology. 

In “History of Quantum Theory” in his Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science Heisenberg describes his use of Einstein in his discovery experience for quantum theory. There he states that his development of the indeterminacy relations involved turning around a question: instead of asking himself how one can express in the Newtonian mathematical scheme a given experimental situation, he asked whether only such experimental situations can arise in nature as can be described in the formalism of his quantum mechanics. The new question is an ontological question with the answer supplied by his quantum theory.

Again in “Remarks on the Origin of the Relations of Uncertainty” in The Uncertainty Principle and Foundations of Quantum Mechanics (1977) Heisenberg explicitly states that a Newtonian path of the electron in the cloud chamber does not exist.  And still again in “The Development of the Interpretation of the Quantum Theory” in 1945 Nobel-laureate Wolfgang Pauli’s Niels Bohr and the Development of Physics (1955) Heisenberg says that he inverted the question of how to pass from an experimentally given situation to its mathematical represen­tation. There he concludes that only those states that can be represented as vectors in Hilbert space can exist in nature and be realized experimentally. And he immediately adds that this conclusion has its prototype in Einstein’s special theory of relativity, when Einstein had removed the difficulties of electrodynamics by saying that the apparent time of the Lorentz transformation is real time. 

Like Heisenberg in 1926, the contemporary realistic neopragmatist philosophers today let the scientist rather than the philosopher decide ontological questions.  And the scientist decides on the basis of empirical adequacy demonstrated in his empirically tested explanations. Many years later in his Ontological Relativity (1970) Quine called this thesis “ontological relativity”, as it is known today.

Ontological relativity did not begin with Heisenberg much less with Quine.  Copernicus (1473-1543) and Galileo practiced it when they both interpreted heliocentrism realistically thus accepting the ontology it describes – to the fateful chagrin of Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644), whose moral violence coerced Galileo to recant realism. Heisenberg’s Copenhagen interpretation still prevails in physics today.  The contemporary realistic neopragmatist concepts of the four functional topics may now be summarized as follows:

Aim of science

For the realistic neopragmatist the successful outcome (and thus the aim) of basic-science research is explanations made by developing theories that satisfy critically empirical tests, and that are thereby made scientific laws, which can function in scientific explanations and test designs.

Wherever possible the explanation should enable prediction of either future events or evidence of past events, since laws make universal claims. And it is pragmatically beneficial furthermore for the explanation to enable control of explained nonlinguistic reality by applied science thus enabling applications such as new engineering technologies, new medical therapies and new social policies.


Discovery is the construction of new and empirically more adequate theories.  The semantics of such newly constructed theories reveal new perspectives and new ontologies.

A mechanized discovery system produces a transition from language in an input-language state description containing currently available information to an output-language state description containing generated and tested new theories.

Contemporary realistic neopragmatism is consistent with computerized discovery systems, which aim to proceduralize and then to mechanize new theory construction, in order to advance contemporary science.   The computerized discovery system is not a psychological theory, but rather is a generative grammar that is a dynamic diachronic linguistic procedure, a rational reconstruction, because it is procedural.

In the “Introduction” to his magisterial Patterns of Discovery, Hanson wrote that earlier philosophers of science like the positivists had mistakenly regarded as paradigms of inquiry finished systems like Newton’s planetary mechanics instead of the unsettled, dynamic research sciences like contemporary microphysics. Hanson explains that the finished systems are no longer research sciences, although they were at one time.  He states that distinctions applying to the finished systems ought to be suspect when transferred to research disciplines, and that such transferred distinctions afford an artificial account of the activities in which Kepler, Galileo and Newton were actually engaged. He thus maintains that ideas such as “theory”, “hypothesis”, “law”, “causality” and “principle” if drawn from what he calls the finished “catalogue-sciences” found in undergraduate textbooks will ill prepare one for research science.

While both romantics and positivists define “theory” semantically, contemporary realistic neopragmatists define “theory” pragmatically, i.e., by its function in basic-research science.  Contemporary realistic neopragmatists also define observation language pragmatically instead of semantically; the pragmatics of both theory and observation language in basic science is empirical testing.       

For realistic neopragmatists “theory” is universally quantified language that is proposed for testing, and “test-design” is universally quantified language that is presumed for testing.           For realistic neopragmatists scientific laws are former theories that have been tested with nonfalsifying test outcomes.

Realistic neopragmatists identify theory language pragmatically as universally quantified statements proposed for testing, but they individuate theories semantically.  Two theory expressions are different theories either (1) if the expressions have different test designs so they address different subjects, or (2) if the expressions make contrary claims about the same subject as defined by the same test design.


Criticism pertains to the criteria for the acceptance or rejection of theories.

The only criterion for scientific criticism acknowledged by the contemporary realistic neopragmatist is the empirical criterion operative in an empirical test. 

On the realistic neopragmatist theses of relativized semantics and ontological relativity, semantics and ontologies can never trump the empirical criterion for criticism, because acceptance of ontologies in science is based upon empirical adequacy of a theory especially as demonstrated by repeatable nonfalsifying empirical test outcomes. Thus like romantics, realistic neopragmatists permit description of intersubjective mental states in social-science theories and explanations, but unlike many sociologists and economists realistic neopragmatists never require or employ such description as a criterion for criticism.  

Syntactical transformations generating the nontruth-functional hypothetical-conditional logical form exhibit the deep structure of the language of the test. It explicitly displays its empirical contingency and the logic of its testing, while preserving the semantics of the surface structure. The deep structure of the language of an empirical test is a modus tollens logical deduction from a set of one or several logically related universally quantified theory statements expressible in a nontruth-functional hypothetical-conditional deep structure, together with a particularly quantified antecedent description of the initial test conditions as defined in a test design, that jointly conclude to a consequent particularly quantified description of a produced (predicted) test-outcome event that is compared with the observed test-outcome description. Unlike the logical positivists, realistic neopragmatists do not recognize the truth-functional conditional logic for scientific criticism, because the logic of empirical testing is not truth-functional.

Test-designs are universally quantified statements that are presumed for testing.  Test designs characterize the subject of the test, and describe procedures for execution of the test. They are expressed as universal statements that are semantical rules for the test-outcome statements, which are asserted with particular quantification, when the test design is executed and the test outcome is produced and observed.

Observation language is particularly quantified test-design and test-outcome statements with their semantics defined in the universally quantified test-design language including the test outcome language. 

Unlike positivists, realistic neopragmatists do not recognize any natural observation semantics. For believers in a theory, the theory language may also contribute to the observational semantics, but that semantical contribution cannot operate in reporting the test outcome without violating the test’s contingency.  Unlike tests designs theories are not true by definition.


Explanation describes the occurrence of individual events and conditions as caused by the occurrence of other described events and conditions related in law statements.

Syntactical transformations of surface structures of explanations produce the nontruth-functional hypothetical-conditional logical argument form that exhibit the deep structure of the language of the explanation thereby explicitly displaying the expression of empirical contingency in the constituent laws and the logic of the explanation, while preserving the semantics of the surface structure.  The deep structure of a scientific explanation consists of a modus ponens logical deduction from a set of one or several universally quantified law statements expressible in a nontruth-functional hypothetical-conditional schema, together with a particularly quantified antecedent description of realized initial conditions that jointly conclude to a consequent particularly quantified description of the explained outcome.

In some cases laws may be said to be “explained” in the sense that a set of laws may be arranged into a deductive system with some laws derived from other laws. 


Chapter 3.  Philosophy of Language

Basic scientific research produces language such as theories, test designs, observation reports, laws and explanations.  Therefore many and probably most of the central concepts and issues in philosophy of science involve philosophy of language. Accordingly the following selected elements of contemporary realistic neopragmatist philosophy of language are here discussed in relation to philosophy of science.

3.01 Synchronic and Diachronic Analyses

To borrow some terminology from Ferdinand de Saussure’s (1857-1913) classic Course in General Linguistics (1959) language analyses may be either synchronic or diachronic. 

The synchronic view is static, because it exhibits in a semantical state description the state of a language at a point in time like a photograph. 

To borrow some terminology from Carnap’s Meaning and Necessity (1947), the semantics of the language for a specific scientific problem is displayed synchronically for the believers in a theory in a “semantical state description”.  But Carnap’s semantical state description contains the Russellian symbolic logic, which is of no use for either science or philosophy of science.   However, the concept can be made serviceable for realistic neopragmatist computational philosophy of science, if the semantical state description consists of universally quantified statements including mathematical equations for both law language and theory language, which together function as a set of semantical rules describing the meanings of their constituent descriptive terms.

The diachronic view exhibits two chronologically successive state descriptions of the language for the same problem as defined by a single test design, and it shows semantical change over the interim period. Then the view is a comparative-static semantical analysis like “before” and “after” photographs. 

And if a transitional process between the two successive language state descriptions is also described, as in the computer code for an artificial intelligence discovery system, then the diachronic view is dynamic like a motion picture film.

For more about Carnap the reader is referred to BOOK III at the free web site or in the e-book Twentieth-Century Philosophy of Science: A History, which is available at Internet booksellers through hyperlinks in the web site.

3.02 Object Language and Metalanguage

Following Tarski in his Logic, Semantics, and Metamathematics (1956) many philosophers of science such as Carnap in his Logical Syntax of Language (1937) distinguish two levels of language, object language and metalanguage.

Object language is used to describe the nonlinguistic real world.

Metalanguage is used to describe language, either object language or metalanguage.

The language of science is typically expressed in the object-language perspective, while much of the discourse in philosophy of science is in the metalinguistic perspective.  Terms such as “theory”, “law" and “explanation” are examples of expressions in metalanguage.

3.03 Dimensions of Language

The metalinguistic perspective includes what Carnap called “dimensions” of language, which serve well as an organizing framework for philosophy of language. Four dimensions may be distinguished for realistic neopragmatist philosophy of language.  They are A. syntax, B. semantics, C. ontology and D. pragmatics.

In summary syntax is the structure of language, semantics is the meanings associated with syntax, ontology is the real world as described by semantics, and pragmatics is the uses of semantically interpreted syntax.

Most philosophers of science ignore the linguists’ phonetic and phonemic dimensions. And most linguists ignore the philosophers’ ontological dimension.


3.04 Syntactical Dimension

Syntax is the system of linguistic symbols considered in abstraction from their associated meanings.

Syntax is the most obvious part of language. It is residual after abstraction from pragmatics, ontology, and semantics. And it consists only of the forms of expressions, so it is often said to be “formal”. Since meanings are excluded from the syntactical dimension, the expressions are said to be “semantically uninterpreted”. And since much of the language of science is usually written, the syntax of interest consists of visible marks on paper or more recently linguistic source-code and discovery-system output displays on paper and computer monitor display screens. The syntax of expressions is also sometimes called “inscriptions”. Examples of syntax include the sentence structures of colloquial discourse, the formulas of pure or formal mathematics, and computer source codes such as FORTRAN or LISP.

3.05 Syntactical Rules

Syntax is a system of symbols. Therefore in addition to the syntactical symbols and structures, there are also rules for the system called “syntactical rules”. These rules are of two types: formation rules and transformation rules.

Syntactical formation rules are procedures described in metalanguage that regulate the construction of grammatical expressions out of more elementary symbols, usually terms.

A generative grammar applies formation rules to produce grammatical expressions from inputs consisting of terms.

A mechanized generative grammar is a computer system that implements a generative grammar.

A discovery system is a mechanized generative grammar that constructs and usually also empirically tests new scientific theories as its output.

Formation rules order such syntactical elements as mathematical variables and operator signs, descriptive (categorematic) and syncategorematic terms in logic, and the user-defined variable names and reserved words in computer source codes. Expressions constructed from these symbols in compliance with the formation rules for a language are called “grammatical” sentences or “well formed formulas” (or “wffs”), and include the computer instructions called “compiler-acceptable” and “interpreter-acceptable” source codeWhen there exists an explicit and adequate set of syntactical formation rules, it is possible to develop a type of computer program called a “mechanized generative grammar”.  The mechanized generative-grammar computer programs input, process, and output object language, while the source-code instructions constituting the computer system are therefore metalinguistic expressions.  When a mechanized generative grammar is used to produce new scientific theories in the object language of a science, the computer system is what Simon called a “discovery system”.  Typically the system also contains an empirical test criterion using measurement data to select for output a subset of the deluge of theories generated.

Syntactical transformation rules are procedures described in meta-language that regulate the change of grammatical sentences into other grammatical sentences. 

Syntactical transformation rules are used in logical and mathematical deductions.  But logic and mathematical rules are intended not only to produce new grammatical expressions but also to guarantee truth transferability from one set of expressions to another to generate theorems, usually by the transformation rule of substitution that makes mathematics and logic extensional.  In 1956 Simon developed a computer system named LOGIC THEORIST, which operated with his “heuristic-search” discovery system design.  This system developed deductive proofs of theorems in Whitehead and Russell’s Principia Mathematica. The symbolic-logic formulas are object language for this system.  Simon correctly denies that the Russellian symbolic logic is an effective metalanguage for the design of discovery systems.

One use for syntactical transformation rules in philosophy of science is to exhibit the deep structure underlying the various surface structures in theories and laws. To borrow a concept from Noam Chomsky’s (1928) Syntactical Structures (1957) the “deep structure” of a linguistic expression is a linguistic construct or a rational reconstruction that is produced by application of transformation rules that re-expresses linguistic structures called “surface structures” while preserving their semantics.   The surface structures are the expressions that the scientist actually uses to express a theory or law, and the deep structure is the nontruth-functional hypothetical-conditional expression that explicitly exhibits for the philosopher the contingency in the theory or law and its logic.  The syntactical transformation rules that produce the deep structure vary with the syntax of the surface expression (including where applicable the type of mathematics). But the result is always the basically simple nontruth-functional hypothetical-conditional form of expression and its modus ponens logic of explanation and modus tollens logic of empirical testing.

3.06 Mathematical Language

The syntactical dimension of mathematical language includes mathematical symbols and the formation and transformation rules of the various branches of mathematics. Mathematics applied in science functions as object language for which the syntax is supplied by the mathematical formalism.  Often the object language of science is mathematical rather than colloquial, because measurement values for descriptive variables enable the scientist to quantify the error in his theory after estimates are made for the range of inevitable measurement error estimated where possible by repeated execution of the measurement procedure.

3.07 Logical Quantification in Mathematics

Mathematical expressions in science are universally quantified logically when descriptive variables have no associated numerical values, and are particularly quantified logically when numeric values are associated with the expression’s descriptive variables either by measurement or by calculation.

Like categorical statements, mathematical equations are explicitly quantified logically as either universal or particular, even though the explicit indication is not by means of the syncategorematic logical quantifiers “every”, “some” or “no”. An equation in science is universally quantified logically when none of its descriptive variables are assigned numeric values. Universally quantified equations may also contain mathematical descriptive constants as in some theories or laws.  An equation is particularly quantified logically by associating measurement values with any of its descriptive variables. A variable may then be said to describe an individual measurement instance. 

When a numeric value is associated with a descriptive variable by computation with measurement values associated with other descriptive variables in the same mathematical expression, then the variable’s calculated value may be said to describe an individual empirical instance. In this case the referenced instance has not been measured but depends on measurements associated with other variables in the same equation.

Individual empirical instances are calculated when an equation is used to make a numerical prediction. The individual empirical instance is the predicted value, which makes an empirical claim.  In a test the individual empirical instance is compared with an individual measurement instance, which is the test-outcome value made for the same variable.  The individual empirical instance made by the predicting equation is not said to be empirical because the predicting equation is known to be correct or accurate, but rather because the predicting theory makes an empirical claim that may be falsified by the empirical test.  Falsification occurs when the predicted empirical instance falls outside the range of estimated measurement error in the individual measurement instance for the test-outcome value for the same variable.


3.08 Semantical Dimension

Semantics is the meanings associated with syntactical symbols.

Semantics is the second of the four dimensions, and it includes the syntactical dimension.  Language viewed in the semantical metalinguistic perspective is said to be “semantically interpreted syntax”, which is merely to say that the syntactical symbols have meanings associated with them.

3.09 Nominalist vs. Conceptualist Semantics

Both nominalism and conceptualism are represented in contemporary realistic neopragmatism, but nominalism is the minority view. Contemporary nominalist philosophers advocate a two-level semantics, which in written language consists only of syntactical structures and the ontologies that are referenced by the structures, or as Quine says “word and object”. The two-level semantics is also called a referential thesis of semantics, because it excludes any mid-level mental representations variously called ideas, meanings, significations, concepts or propositions. Therefore on the nominalist view language purporting to reference nonexistent fictional entities is semantically nonsignificant, which is to say it is literally meaningless.

On the alternative three-level semantical view terms symbolize universal meanings, which in turn signify such ontological aspects of extramental reality as attributes, and reference ontologies that include individual entities.  When we are exposed to the extramental realities, they are distinguishable by the senses in perceived stimuli, which in turn are synthesized by the brain, and may then be registered in memory. The sense stimuli deliver information revealing similarities and differences in reality.  The signified attributes have similarities found by perception, and the referenced entities manifesting the attributes are recognized by invariant continuities found in perceived change. The signification is always more or less vague, and the reference is therefore always more or less indeterminate, or as Quine says “inscrutable”. The three-level view is often called a conceptualist thesis of semantics.

The philosophy of nominalism was common among many positivists, although some like the logical positivist Carnap maintained a three-level semantics.  In Carnap’s three-level semantics descriptive terms symbolize what he called “intensions”, which are concepts or meanings effectively viewed as in simple supposition (See below, Section 3.26).  The intensions in turn signify attributes and thereby reference in personal supposition what Carnap called “extensions”, which are the individual entities manifesting the signified attributes.

While the contemporary realistic neopragmatism emerged as a critique of neopositivism, some philosophers carried the positivists’ nominalism into contemporary realistic neopragmatism.  A few realistic neopragmatist philosophers such as Quine opted for nominalism. He rejected concepts, ideas, meanings, propositions and all other mentalistic views of knowledge due to his acceptance of the nominalist notational conventions of the Russellian first-order predicate calculus, a logic that Quine liked to call “canonical”.  However, in his book Word and Object (1960) Quine also uses a phrase “stimulus meaning”, which he defines as a “disposition” by a native speaker of a language to assent or dissent from a sentence in response to present stimuli. And he added that the stimulus is not just a singular event, but rather is a “universal”, which he defined as a “repeatable event form”.

Nominalism is by no means essential to or characteristic of contemporary realistic neopragmatism, and most contemporary realistic neopragmatist philosophers of science such as Hanson, Feyerabend and Thomas S. Kuhn (1922-1996), and most linguists except the behaviorists have opted for the three-level semantics, which is also assumed herein. Behaviorism is positivism in the behavioral sciences. Also, computational philosophers of science such as Simon, Langley and Thagard, who advocate the cognitive-psychology interpretation of discovery systems instead of the linguistic-analysis interpretation, also reject both nominalism and behaviorism (See below, Section 3.34).

Cognitive scientists recognize the three-level semantics, and furthermore believe that they can model the mental level with computer systems.  Thus in his book Mind: Introduction to Cognitive Science (1996) Thagard states that the central hypothesis of cognitive science is that the human mind has mental representations analogous to data structures and cognitive processes analogous to algorithms. Cognitive psychologists claim that their computer systems using data structures and algorithms applied to the data structures can model both the mind’s concepts and its cognitive processes with the concepts.

3.10 Naturalistic vs. Artifactual Semantics

The artifactual thesis of the semantics of language is that the meanings of descriptive terms are determined by their relation to their linguistic context consisting of universally quantified statements believed to be true.

The contemporary realistic neopragmatist philosophy of science is distinguished by a post-positivist philosophy of language, which has replaced the traditional naturalistic thesis with the artifactual thesis of semantics.  The artifactual thesis implies that ontology, semantics and belief are mutually determining.

 The naturalistic thesis affirms an absolutist semantics according to which the semantics of descriptive terms is passively acquired ostensively, and is fully determined by perceived reality and by the processes of perception.

Thus on the naturalistic view descriptive terms function essentially as names or labels, a view that Quine ridicules with his phrases “myth of the museum” and “gallery of ideas”. Then after the meanings for descriptive terms are acquired ostensively, the truth of statements constructed with the descriptive terms is ascertained empirically. 

On the artifactual semantical thesis sense stimuli reveal mind-independent reality as semantically signified ontology. Sense stimuli are conceptualized as the semantics that is formed by linguistic context consisting of a set of beliefs that by virtue of the set’s belief status has a defining rôle for the semantics.  When the beliefs that are laws function as test-design statements for a theory, the tests may occasion falsification of the proposed theory.

The artifactual relativized semantical thesis together with the ontological relativity thesis revolutionized philosophy of science by relating both semantics and ontology to belief, especially empirically warranted belief. The outcome of this new linguistic philosophy is that ontology, semantics and belief are all mutually determining and thus reciprocally interdependent.

3.11 Romantic Semantics

For romantics the semantics for social sciences explaining human action must include description of the culturally shared intersubjective meanings and consequent motivations that human action have for the members of a social group.

On the romantic view the positivist semantics may be acceptable for the natural sciences, but it is deemed inadequate for understanding “human action” in the sociocultural sciences. “Human action” considered in the romantic cultural sciences has intersubjective meaning for the members of a group or society, and it is purposeful and motivating for the members’ social interactions. 

Romantics call the resulting intersubjective semantics “interpretative understanding”.  The social member’s voluntary actions are controlled by this interpretative understanding, i.e., by the motivating views and values that are internalized and shared among the members of a social group by the social-psychological “mechanism” of socialization, and are reinforced by the social- psychological “mechanism” of social control. 

This interpretative understanding is accessed by the social scientist in the process of his research.  And if the researcher is a member of the society or group he is investigating, the validity of his empathetically based and vicariously imputed interpretative understanding is deemed enhanced by his personal experiences as a participant in the group or society’s life.

3.12 Positivist Semantics

For positivists the semantics of observation language is causally determined by nature and acquired ostensively by perception. Positivists maintain the naturalistic philosophy of semantics, and the semantics for descriptive terms used for reporting observations are deemed primitive and simple. 

Typically positivists maintain a naturalistic philosophy of semantics.  These meanings are variously called “sensations”, “sense impressions”, “sense perceptions”, “sense data” or “phenomena” by different positivists.  For these positivists sense perceptions are the object of knowledge rather than constituting knowledge thus making positivism solipsistic.

Positivists maintain three characteristic theses about semantics:

- Meaning invariance.

- Analytic-synthetic dichotomy.

- Observation-theory dichotomy.

3.13 Positivist Thesis of Meaning Invariance

The positivists’ naturalistic semantics thesis is that the semantics of a univocal descriptive term used to report observations is invariant through time and is independent of different linguistic contexts in which the term may occur.

Positivists viewed meaning invariance as the foundation for objectivity in science.

What is fundamental to the naturalistic philosophy of semantics is the thesis that the semantics of observation terms is fully determined by the ostensive awareness that is perception, such that the resulting observational semantics is primitive and simple.  Different languages are conventional in their vocabulary symbols and in their syntactical structures and grammatical rules. But according to the naturalistic philosophy of semantics nature makes the semantics of observation terms the same for all persons who have received the same perceptual stimuli that occasioned their having acquired their semantics in the same circumstances by explicit ostension.

3.14 Positivist Analytic
-Synthetic Dichotomy

In addition to the descriptive observation terms that have primitive and simple semantics acquired ostensively, the positivist philosophers also recognized the existence of certain terms that acquire their meanings contextually and that have complex semantics. An early distinction between simple and complex ideas can be found in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) by the British empiricist philosopher John Locke (1632-1704). The positivist recognized compositional meanings for terms occurring in three types of statements: the definition, the analytic sentence and the theory:

The first type of term having complex semantics that the positivists recognized occurs in the definition.  The defined subject term or definiendum has a compositional semantics that is exhibited by the structured meaning complex associated with the several words in the defining predicate or definiens. For example “Every bachelor is a never-married man” is a definition, so the component parts of the word “bachelor” are “never-married” and “man”.

The second type occurs in the analytic sentence, which is an a priori or self-evident truth, a truth known by reflection on the interdependence of the meanings of its constituent terms.  Analytic sentences contrast with synthetic sentences, which are a posteriori, i.e., empirical and have independent meanings for their terms. The positivists view the analytic-synthetic distinction as a fundamental dichotomy between two types of statements. A similar distinction between “relations of ideas” and “matters of fact” can be found in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748) by the British empiricist philosopher David Hume.

An example of an analytic sentence is “Every bachelor is unmarried”. The semantics of the term “bachelor” is compositional and is determined contextually, because the idea of never having been married is by definition included as a component part of the meaning of “bachelor” thus making the phrase “unmarried bachelor” redundant.   Contemporary realistic neopragmatists such as Quine in his “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” (1952) reject the positivist thesis of a priori truth. Quine, who is a realistic neopragmatist, maintains that all sentences are actually empirical.

3.15 Positivist Observation
-Theory Dichotomy

Positivists alleged the existence of “observation terms”, which are terms that reference observable entities or phenomena. Observation terms are deemed to have simple, elementary and primitive semantics and to receive their semantics ostensively and passively. Positivists furthermore called the particularly quantified sentences containing only such terms “observation sentences”, if stated on the occasion of observing.  For example the sentence “That crow is black” uttered while the speaker of the sentence is viewing a present crow, is an observation sentence.

In contrast to observation terms there is a third type of term having complex semantics that the positivists called the “theoretical term”. The term “electron” is a favorite paradigm for the positivists’ theoretical term. The positivists considered theoretical entities such as electrons to be postulated entities as opposed to observed entities like elephants.  And they defined “theory” as universally quantified sentences containing any theoretical terms. Many positivists view the semantics of the meaningful theoretical term to be simple like the observation term even though its semantics is not acquired by observation but rather contextually.  Carnap was a more sophisticated positivist. He said that the definition determines the whole meaning of a defined term, while the theory determines only part of the meaning of a theoretical term, such that the theoretical term can acquire more meaning as the science containing the theory is developed.

Nominalists furthermore believe that theoretical terms are meaningless, unless these terms logically derive their semantics from observation terms.  On the nominalists’ view terms purporting either unobservable entities or phenomena not known observationally to exist have no known referents and therefore no semantical significance or meaning. For example the phrase “tooth fairy” is literally meaningless, since tooth fairies are deemed mythical and thus never to have been observed. For nominalists theoretical terms in science receive their semantics by logical connection to observation language by “correspondence rules”, a.k.a. “bridge principles”, a connection that enables what positivists called “logical reduction to an observation-language reduction base”. Without such connection the theory is deemed to be meaningless and objectionably “metaphysical”.

Both the post-positivist Popper and later the formerly logical positivist Carl Hempel (1905-1997) have noted that the problem of the logical reduction of theories to observation language is a problem that the positivists have never solved, because positivists cannot exclude what they considered to be metaphysical and thus meaningless discourse from the scientific theories currently accepted by the neopositivists as well as by contemporary scientists.  This unsolvable problem made the positivists’ observation/theory dichotomy futile.

In summary the positivists recognized the definition, the analytical sentence and the theory sentence as exhibiting composition in the semantics of their constituent subject terms.

3.16 Contemporary Pragmatist Semantics

Heisenberg’s reflection on the development of quantum physics anticipated development of the contemporary realistic neopragmatist philosophy thus initiating realistic neopragmatism.  

A fundamental postulate in the contemporary realistic neopragmatist philosophy of language is the rejection of the naturalistic thesis of the semantics of language and its replacement with the artifactual thesis that relativizes both semantics and ontology to linguistic context consisting of universally quantified beliefs.

The rejection of the naturalistic semantical thesis is not new in linguistics, but it is fundamentally opposed to the positivism that preceded contemporary realistic neopragmatism.

3.17 Pragmatist Semantics Illustrated

Consider the following analogy illustrating relativized semantics. Our linguistic system can be viewed as analogous to a mathematical simultaneous-equation system. The equations of the system are a constraining context that determines the variables’ numerical values constituting a solution set for the equation system.  If there is not a sufficient number of constraining equations, the system is mathematically underdetermined such that there is an indefinitely large number of possible numerical solution sets.

In pure mathematics, mathematical underdetermination can be eliminated and the system can be made uniquely determinate by adding related independent equations, until there are just as many equations as there are variables. Then there is one uniquely determined solution set of numerical values for the equation system.

When applying such a mathematically uniquely determined equation system to reality as in basic science or in engineering, the pure mathematics functions as the syntax for a descriptive language, when the numerical values of the descriptive variables are measurements.  But the measurement values make the mathematically uniquely determined equation system empirically underdetermined due to measurement errors, which can be reduced indefinitely but never completely eliminated.  Then even for a mathematically uniquely determined equation system admitting only one solution set of numerical values, there are still an indefinitely large number of possible measurement values falling within even a narrow range of empirical underdetermination due to inevitable measurement errors.

When the simultaneous system of equations expresses an empirical theory in a test, and if its uniquely determined solution-set numerical values fall within the estimated range of measurement error in the corresponding measurement values produced in a test, then the theory is deemed not falsified. But if any of the uniquely determined solution-set numerical values are outside the estimated range of measurement error in the measurement values, then the theory is deemed to have been falsified by all who accept the falsifying test design and its execution.

Our descriptive language system is like a mathematically underdetermined system of equations having an indefinitely large number of solution sets for the system. A set of logically consistent beliefs constituting a system of universally quantified related statements is a constraining context that determines the semantics of the descriptive terms in the belief system. This is most evident in but not unique to an axiomatized deductive system. Like the equation system’s numerical values the language system’s semantics for any “semantical solution set”, as it were, are relativized to one another by the system’s universally quantified beliefs that have contextually definitional force. But the semantics conceptualizing sense stimuli always contains residual vagueness. Due to this vagueness the linguistic system is empirically underdetermined and admits to an indefinitely large number of relativized semantical solution sets for the system.  Unlike pure mathematics there never exists a uniquely determinate belief system of concepts.

This vagueness does not routinely manifest itself or cause communication problems and is deceptively obscured, so long as we encounter expected or familiar experiences for which our conventionalized beliefs are prepared. But the language user may on occasion encounter a new situation, which the existing relevant conventional beliefs cannot take into account. In such new situations the language user must make some decisions about the applicability of one or several of the problematic terms in his existing beliefs, and then add some new clarifying beliefs, if the decision about applicability is not simply ad hocThis is true even of terms describing quantized objects.

Adding more universally quantified statements to the belief system reduces this empirical underdetermination by adding clarifying information, but the residual vagueness can never be completely eliminated.  Our semantics captures determinate mind-independent reality, but the cognitive capture with our semantics can never be exhaustive. There is always residual vagueness in our semantics. Vagueness and measurement error are both manifestations of empirical underdetermination.  And increased clarity reduces semantical vagueness as increased accuracy reduces measurement error.

Relativized semantics also has implications for ontology. Mind-independent recalcitrant reality imposes the empirical constraint that makes our belief systems contingent, and in due course falsifies the beliefs. Our access to mind-independent reality is by language-dependent relativized semantics, which signifies a corresponding ontology. Ontology is the cognitively apprehended aspects or facets of the fathomless plenitude that is mind-independent reality as described by the relativized perspectivist semantics. Thus there are no referentially absolute or fixed terms. Instead descriptive terms are always referentially fuzzy, or as Quine says “inscrutable”, because their semantics is always empirically underdetermined.

For the realistic neopragmatist there are three noteworthy consequences of the artifactual thesis of relativized semantics:

-Rejection of the positivist observation-theory dichotomy.

-Rejection of the positivist thesis of meaning invariance.

-Rejection of the positivist analytic-synthetic dichotomy.

3.18 Rejection of the Observation-Theory Dichotomy

All descriptive terms are empirically underdetermined, such that per Quine what the positivists called “theoretical terms” are simply descriptive terms that are more empirically underdetermined than what the positivists called “observation terms”.

One of the motivations for the positivists’ accepting the observation-theory dichotomy is the survival of the ancient belief that science in one respect or another has some permanent and incorrigible foundation that distinguishes it as true knowledge as opposed to mere speculation or opinion.  In the positivists’ foundational agenda observational description is presumed to deliver this certitude, while theory language is subject to revision, which is sometimes revolutionary in scope. The positivists were among the last to believe in any such eternal verities as the defining characteristic of truly scientific knowledge.

More than a quarter of a century after Einstein told Heisenberg that the theory decides what the physicist can observe, and after Heisenberg said he could observe the electron in the cloud chamber, philosophers of science began to reconsider the concept of observation, a concept that had previously seemed inherently obvious.  On the contemporary realistic neopragmatist view there are no observation terms that receive isolated meanings merely by simple ostension, and there is no distinctive or natural semantics for identifying language used for observational reporting.  Instead every descriptive term is embedded in an interconnected system of beliefs, which Quine calls the “web of belief”. A small relevant subset of the totality of beliefs constitutes a context for determining any given descriptive term’s meaning, and a unilingual dictionary’s relevant lexical entries are a minimal listing of a subset of relevant beliefs for each univocal term.  Thus the positivists’ thesis of “observation terms” is rejected by realistic neopragmatists.

All descriptive terms lie on a spectrum of greater or lesser empirical underdetermination. Contemporary realistic neopragmatists view the positivist problem of the reduction of theoretical terms to observation terms as a pseudo problem, or what Heisenberg called a “false question”, and they view both observation terms and theoretical terms as positivist fabrications.


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NOTE: Pages do not corresponds with the actual pages from the book