Tim Maudlin on Metaphysics

Quotes from Tim Maudlin, The Metaphysics Within Physics

p. 78 “Kant, for example, maintained that metaphysics must be a body of necessary truths, and that necessary truths must be a priori, so metaphysical claims could not be justified by experience.”

p. 78 “The Kantian strains survives yet in the notion that the proper object of metaphysical study is not the world, but rather our own ‘conceptual system’, particularly insofar as that conceptual system structures our thought about the world. This tack allows metaphysics to remain a priori (on the assumption that we can discover facts about our conceptual system merely by reflection), while depriving it of any pretension to be about the world itself.”

p. 78-79 “Modern physics, i.e. Relativity and quantum theory, annihilates Kant’s theses about the status of space and time and causality: whatever one may think about the world revealed by experience, one cannot think that it must be presented to us as in Newtonian space and time, governed by deterministic laws. Empirical science has produced more astonishing suggestions about the fundamental structure of the world than philosophers have been able to invent, and we must attend to those suggestions. That our physical theories are supported by empirical evidence is no demerit, but rather provides us with grounds for believing that these extravagant accounts of what exists might be correct.”

p. 104 “Metaphysics is ontology. Ontology is the most generic study of what exists. Evidence for what exists, at least in the physical world, is provided solely by empirical research. Hence the proper object of most metaphysics is the careful analysis of our best scientific theories (and especially of fundamental physical theories) with the goal of determining what they imply about the constitution of the physical world.”

p. 106 “I believe there is a fundamental physical state of the world.”

p. 106 “In addition to the physical state of the universe, I believe in fundamental physical laws.”

p. 106 “My philosophical conscience dictates that ultimately the physical state and the fundamental physical laws are all there are in the inanimate realm: all astronomical or chemical or meteorological facts supervene on these. Insofar as counterfactual and causal claims have determinate truth conditions, the ontology that underwrites the truth values of these claims is just the physical state and the fundamental physical laws.”

p. 157-158 “I am realist about laws: I think that there are laws, that their existence is not a function of any human practices. I am also a primitivist about laws: I do not think that what laws there are is determined by any other, distinctly specifiable set of facts, and that in particular it is not determined by the total physical state of the universe.  And I am a physicalist about laws: the only objective primitive laws I believe in are the laws of physics.”

p. 158 “Once the total physical state of the universe and the laws of physics are fixed, every other fact, such as may be, supervenes.”

p. 168 “None of this [causation], of course, is of much interest to physics per se, which can get along quite well with just the laws and without any casual locutions.”

on Mind-Body Problem

p. 106 “I admit that the evident existence of subjective mental states is neither obviously part of, nor reducible to, physical state and physical law. But I do not think that all ontological analysis need be held hostage to this conundrum. In particular, investigation of the physical ontology can proceed so long as the physical world contains plausible de facto correlates of subjective mental states, such as the notorious firing of C-fibers for pain.”

p. 106 “In actual practice, the Newtonian need only derive from the theoretical apparatus states that correspond to what we take to be manifest observable structure of the world: a Newtonian derivation of a parabolic trajectory for a thrown rock can be tested in obvious ways in the lab with no notice of conscious states at all. But a more fastidious Newtonian could, for example, trace a set of interactions between the rock and the firing of neurons in the brains of experimenters that would suffice to underwrite the reliability of the laboratory investigation.”