Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Reductive ambitions (Part 1)

Right, been a while since I last posted on account of having to prepare for my upgrade meeting (or as the folk here at Leeds (for some reason) call it, a 'transfer').  This is my excuse anyway, and I'm sticking to it.  Anyway, it was a really cool meeting and got me thinking about some stuff, and since this is where I go when I've been thinking about stuff (as you can tell by the prodigious amount of posts), I thought I'd do a bit of blogging.

So anyway, I've been thinking about reductive ambitions.  This is something that's been on my mind a bit lately, and some of my thoughts have been crystallised somewhat by the upgrade meeting.  First some background.

I used to be well up for any project that aimed to do a bit of reductive analysis, being primarily a modal metaphysician, the big daddy goal was to explain away all this necessity who-ha.  Back then modality seemed to be a thoroughly weird and mysterious notion, and a theory that could do away with it in terms of less weird and mysterious things would be thoroughly welcome.  When I first encountered Lewisian modal realism I was impressed by its reductive ambition but not convinced by the whole possible worlds ontology.  Non-Lewisian realisms weren't much more convincing, still having ontology that gave me the willys and requiring primitive modality just seemed like the worst of both worlds.  From this position, when I encountered Fine's work on essence I was pretty excited.  The prospect of reducing modality to facts about ontology without possible worlds looked pretty enticing.  Thus I chose a thesis topic.
Now however I find myself less enthusiastic about such a reductive program.  Maybe I've just been 'in' modality for too long, but now the notions of possibility and necessity etc. don't seem that weird to me.  At least no more weird than existence itself.  It just seems to me like the kind of thing that makes a great primitive.  Now, I know that many people like reduction solely on grounds of parsimony.  I guess the idea is just that the less stuff there is in your ontology and ideology the more likely you are to be right.  This just seems rubbish to me.  When people use parsimony like this I wonder what the alleged advantage actually is... and don't even get me started on considerations of simplicity, that kinda thing just makes me grumpy.

Don't get me wrong, I get that this isn't what parsimony is really about, but it certainly seems that in considerations of parsimony people often lose sight of why they're citing it as a good thing.  The kind of parsimony that I have strong sympathy for is the eradication of weird stuff from your ontology or ideology.  I don't know if this is really a parsimony concern, or if it's really just a 'I don't like weird things' concern.
Anyway, so I got less interested in reductions of modality, but I'm still interested in grounding.  Establishing just what makes modal truths the case still seems like a good endeavour.  This was conveniently timed to coincide with the realisation that realist accounts of essence probably can't provide a reduction of modality, but may well be able to ground it.  Having had this change of heart I decided to focus on that.  This was how I proceeded up until (and including) my work on developing a conventionalist account of essentialist truth.  

Having built up to it and given the background I'm going to go have a cup of tea.  See the next post for my actual concern.

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