How is Metaphysics of Science possible?

Project leader:
Prof. Dr. Oliver Scholz (Münster)
& Prof. Dr. Markus Schrenk (Düsseldorf)

Postdoctoral Fellow:
Julia Göhner, M.A.

Traditionally, metaphysics has been seen as the enquiry into what comes before our experiences or what lies behind the experienced, yet, which nonetheless concerns the fundamental structure of reality. However, because metaphysical claims seem not to be empirically testable the meaningfulness of metaphysics has been contested ever since the classical empiricists. The critique culminates in science focussed 20th century logical empiricism which denounced metaphysics as nonsensical altogether.

Logical empiricism is also one of the founding fathers of modern philosophy of science, yet, ironically, some present day philosophers of science have again turned emphatically towards metaphysical reasoning and propose grand (speculative) systems in order to answer questions like what is a law of nature, what are natural kinds, what is causation, etc. Dispositional essentialism might serve as an example of a metaphysically charged theory.

However, in the last decade analytic metaphysics has come under fire again and is critically evaluated. Philosophers have again started to debate which kind of metaphysics is and is not allowed.

Our research group, as a whole, is engaged with first order metaphysics of science and also believes that this is a fruitful endeavor. With this subproject, however, we wish to reflect our own meta-metaphysical assumptions.
One step in our research is to collect and critically evaluate sources, methods, and guidelines that were proposed as being acceptable for metaphysics in the recent literature. There is, for example, a suspicious consensus amongst philosophers when it comes to the request for coherence, simplicity, clarity, and depth of metaphysical theories. This agreement, however, extends to no more than minimal rational requirements, for who would ask of any theory to be incoherent, knotty, opaque, and shallow?

More meaty and therefore also controversial guidelines or sources for metaphysical insights to be found in the literature are: (i) intuitions, probably of modal kind, and either gained from everyday or scientific (linguistic) practice; (ii) inferences to the best (available) explanation; (iii) scientific realism as (necessary) presupposition for scientific metaphysics; (iv) being in tune with today’s most advanced scientific theories and practice; (v) the demand that as few as possible non-empirical hypotheses shall be postulated; (vi) reduction and unification requests, partially inspired by Ockham’s razor; (vii) posits within the metaphysics of science shall be illuminating also in other areas of philosophy as, for example, in mental causation, free will, etc.

One of the project’s working hypotheses is that a tamed pluralism of metaphysical theory building is tenable. A pluralism which is akin to Carnap’s tolerance principle for empirical theories: as long as you make explicit which of (i)-(vii) you reject or endorse we can, neutrally, evaluate how well you succeed (here the general criteria of coherence, simplicity, clarity, and depth can indeed be decisive). Metaphysical theories that are based on radically different emphasis of (i)-(vii) can, as above, be equally well evaluated internally but they cannot externally be compared to theories that praise radically different entries.

The results shall be made gainful for the projects that work across disciplines and thus presuppose that metaphysics of science is possible and meaningful (subproject “Causality and Explanation”, subproject “Ceteris-paribus Laws and Causality”, subproject “Dispositions and Causality and subproject “The Concept of Mechanism in the Life Science).