Re-engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings: Piecewise Approximations to Reality

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Harvard University Press, 2007 - Philosophy - 450 pages

Analytic philosophers once pantomimed physics: they tried to understand the world by breaking it down into the smallest possible bits. Thinkers from the Darwinian sciences now pose alternatives to this simplistic reductionism.

In this intellectual tour--essays spanning thirty years--William Wimsatt argues that scientists seek to atomize phenomena only when necessary in the search to understand how entities, events, and processes articulate at different levels. Evolution forms the natural world not as Laplace's all-seeing demon but as a backwoods mechanic fixing and re-fashioning machines out of whatever is at hand. W. V. Quine's lost search for a "desert ontology" leads instead to Wimsatt's walk through a tropical rain forest.

This book offers a philosophy for error-prone humans trying to understand messy systems in the real world. Against eliminative reductionism, Wimsatt pits new perspectives to deal with emerging natural and social complexities. He argues that our philosophy should be rooted in heuristics and models that work in practice, not only in principle. He demonstrates how to do this with an analysis of the strengths, the limits, and a recalibration of our reductionistic and analytic methodologies. Our aims are changed and our philosophy is transfigured in the process.

 

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Contents

Myths of LaPlacean Omniscience
3
Normative Idealizations versus the Metabolism
15
Toward a Philosophy for Limited Beings
26
ProblemSolving Strategies for Complex Systems
37
Heuristics and the Study of Human Behavior
75
False Models as Means to Truer Theories
94
How the Contingent
133
Lewontins Evidence That There Isnt Any
146
Levels
193
A Functional Account
241
Reductionisms
274
Engineering an Evolutionary View of Science
313
On the Softening of the Hard Sciences
319
Appendix A Important Properties of Heuristics
345
Glossary of Key Concepts and Assumptions
353
A Panoply of LaPlacean
361

False Models as Means to Truer Theories
152
Reductionisms in Practice
159
Complexity and Organization
179
Bibliography
405
Credits
430
Copyright

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About the author (2007)

William Wimsatt is Professor of Philosophy and of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago.

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