Michael Townsen Hicks (University of Birmingham)
4:30 – 6:30 EST, Wednesday, Nov 17th
Title: A Practitioner’s Guide to Pragmatic Humeanism
Abstract: All Humeans hold, roughly, that laws are informative summaries of nonlawful matters of fact. Pragmatic Humeans go further: for them, what makes these summaries the laws is their usefulness to agents like us. By adding elements of our specific epistemic interests and constraints, pragmatists contend, we can arrive at satisfying explanations of otherwise surprising features of our actual laws and our actual scientific practice. But the pragmatic shift is not without problems. The more elements of our particular psychology we add to our nomic formula, the more susceptible we are to idealistic ratbaggery. Intuitively, what must happen does not depend on our particular cognitive architecture: we cannot change the laws by changing us. My aim here is to clarify the role or pragmatic constraints, and thereby respond to this challenge from creeping idealism. My strategy has three parts. First, I argue that pragmatic constraints determine the laws only indirectly, but generating a nomic formula that has no connection to agents. Second, I discuss what sorts of agents are agents like us. I argue that pragmatists should appeal to a particular sort of idealized agent, one whose specific limitations and interests have been idealized away. I conclude with an attempt to draw together to strains of pragmatic Humeanism. For a range of Humeans, including Loewer (2007), Loew and Jaag (2020), Schrenk (2006), Cohen and Callender (2009), have argued that the concepts that we use to generate the best system are determined pragmatically, rather than by the world’s objective metaphysical structure. I argue that the sort of idealized agent-based approach I favour clarifies the way in which these concepts are chosen.
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Note: The talk was originally annouced for Nov 15th by mistake. If you have added this talk to your calendar, please correct it!