Ideas of Alexander Bird, by Theme

[British, b.1964, At the University of Edinburgh, then Professor at Bristol University.]

green numbers give full details    |    back to list of philosophers    |     expand these ideas
1. Philosophy / G. Scientific Philosophy / 1. Aims of Science
Instrumentalists say distinctions between observation and theory vanish with ostensive definition
4. Formal Logic / D. Modal Logic ML / 7. Barcan Formula
The plausible Barcan formula implies modality in the actual world
7. Existence / A. Nature of Existence / 6. Criterion for Existence
If all existents are causally active, that excludes abstracta and causally isolated objects
7. Existence / C. Structure of Existence / 5. Supervenience / c. Significance of supervenience
If naturalism refers to supervenience, that leaves necessary entities untouched
7. Existence / D. Theories of Reality / 4. Anti-realism
Anti-realism is more plausible about laws than about entities and theories
8. Modes of Existence / B. Properties / 3. Types of Properties
There might be just one fundamental natural property
8. Modes of Existence / B. Properties / 6. Categorical Properties
Categorical properties are not modally fixed, but change across possible worlds
The categoricalist idea is that a property is only individuated by being itself
If we abstractly define a property, that doesn't mean some object could possess it
Categoricalists take properties to be quiddities, with no essential difference between them
8. Modes of Existence / B. Properties / 10. Properties as Predicates
To name an abundant property is either a Fregean concept, or a simple predicate
8. Modes of Existence / C. Powers and Dispositions / 2. Powers as Basic
Only real powers are fundamental [Mumford/Anjum]
8. Modes of Existence / C. Powers and Dispositions / 3. Powers as Derived
If all properties are potencies, and stimuli and manifestation characterise them, there is a regress
The essence of a potency involves relations, e.g. mass, to impressed force and acceleration
8. Modes of Existence / C. Powers and Dispositions / 6. Dispositions / c. Dispositions as conditional
A disposition is finkish if a time delay might mean the manifestation fizzles out
A robust pot attached to a sensitive bomb is not fragile, but if struck it will easily break
8. Modes of Existence / C. Powers and Dispositions / 6. Dispositions / d. Dispositions as occurrent
Megarian actualists deny unmanifested dispositions
8. Modes of Existence / D. Universals / 3. Instantiated Universals
Why should a universal's existence depend on instantiation in an existing particular?
8. Modes of Existence / E. Nominalism / 2. Resemblance Nominalism
Resemblance itself needs explanation, presumably in terms of something held in common
10. Modality / A. Necessity / 3. Types of Necessity
If the laws necessarily imply p, that doesn't give a new 'nomological' necessity
10. Modality / A. Necessity / 6. Logical Necessity
Logical necessitation is not a kind of necessity; George Orwell not being Eric Blair is not a real possibility
10. Modality / B. Possibility / 6. Probability
Subjective probability measures personal beliefs; objective probability measures the chance of an event happening
Objective probability of tails measures the bias of the coin, not our beliefs about it
10. Modality / D. Knowledge of Modality / 4. Conceivable as Possible / a. Conceivable as possible
Empiricist saw imaginability and possibility as close, but now they seem remote
10. Modality / E. Possible worlds / 3. Transworld Objects / d. Haecceitism
Haecceitism says identity is independent of qualities and without essence
13. Knowledge Criteria / A. Justification Problems / 1. Justification / b. Need for justification
Many philosophers rate justification as a more important concept than knowledge
13. Knowledge Criteria / B. Internal Justification / 5. Coherentism / b. Pro-coherentism
As science investigates more phenomena, the theories it needs decreases
14. Science / A. Basis of Science / 1. Observation
If theories need observation, and observations need theories, how do we start?
14. Science / A. Basis of Science / 4. Prediction
Explanation predicts after the event; prediction explains before the event
14. Science / B. Scientific Theories / 1. Scientific Theory
Realists say their theories involve truth and the existence of their phenomena
There is no agreement on scientific method - because there is no such thing
Relativity ousted Newtonian mechanics despite a loss of simplicity
14. Science / B. Scientific Theories / 3. Instrumentalism
Instrumentalists regard theories as tools for prediction, with truth being irrelevant
14. Science / C. Induction / 2. Aims of Induction
Induction is inference to the best explanation, where the explanation is a law
14. Science / C. Induction / 3. Limits of Induction
If Hume is right about induction, there is no scientific knowledge
Anything justifying inferences from observed to unobserved must itself do that
14. Science / C. Induction / 5. Paradoxes of Induction / a. Grue problem
Any conclusion can be drawn from an induction, if we use grue-like predicates
Several months of observing beech trees supports the deciduous and evergreen hypotheses
We normally learn natural kinds from laws, but Goodman shows laws require prior natural kinds
14. Science / C. Induction / 6. Bayes's Theorem
Bayesianism claims to find rationality and truth in induction, and show how science works
14. Science / D. Explanation / 1. Explanation / a. Explanation
We talk both of 'people' explaining things, and of 'facts' explaining things
The objective component of explanations is the things that must exist for the explanation
14. Science / D. Explanation / 1. Explanation / b. Aims of explanation
We can't reject all explanations because of a regress; inexplicable A can still explain B
14. Science / D. Explanation / 2. Types of Explanation / a. Types of explanation
Explanations are causal, nomic, psychological, psychoanalytic, Darwinian or functional
14. Science / D. Explanation / 2. Types of Explanation / b. Contrastive explanations
Contrastive explanations say why one thing happened but not another
14. Science / D. Explanation / 2. Types of Explanation / e. Lawlike explanations
'Covering law' explanations only work if no other explanations are to be found
Livers always accompany hearts, but they don't explain hearts
14. Science / D. Explanation / 2. Types of Explanation / l. Probabilistic explanations
Probabilistic-statistical explanations don't entail the explanandum, but makes it more likely
An operation might reduce the probability of death, yet explain a death
14. Science / D. Explanation / 3. Best Explanation / a. Best explanation
Inference to the Best Explanation is done with facts, so it has to be realist
14. Science / D. Explanation / 3. Best Explanation / c. Against best explanation
Maybe bad explanations are the true ones, in this messy world
Which explanation is 'best' is bound to be subjective, and no guide to truth
14. Science / D. Explanation / 4. Explanation Doubts / a. Explanation as pragmatic
Maybe explanation is so subjective that it cannot be a part of science
15. Nature of Minds / C. Capacities of Minds / 9. Perceiving Causation
Causation seems to be an innate concept (or acquired very early)
26. Natural Theory / B. Natural Kinds / 1. Natural Kinds
Natural kinds are those that we use in induction
Rubies and sapphires are both corundum, with traces of metals varying their colours
Tin is not one natural kind, but appears to be 21, depending on isotope
Natural kinds may overlap, or be sub-kinds of one another
Membership of a purely random collection cannot be used as an explanation
26. Natural Theory / B. Natural Kinds / 2. Defining Kinds
If F is a universal appearing in a natural law, then Fs form a natural kind
26. Natural Theory / B. Natural Kinds / 3. Knowing Kinds
In the Kripke-Putnam view only nuclear physicists can know natural kinds
Darwinism suggests that we should have a native ability to detect natural kinds
26. Natural Theory / B. Natural Kinds / 5. Reference to Natural Kinds
Jadeite and nephrite are superficially identical, but have different composition
Reference to scientific terms is by explanatory role, not by descriptions
Nominal essence of a natural kind is the features that make it fit its name
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 2. Types of cause
The dispositional account explains causation, as stimulation and manifestation of dispositions
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 4. Naturalised causation
We should explain causation by powers, not powers by causation
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 9. General Causation / b. Nomological causation
Laws are more fundamental in science than causes, and laws will explain causes
Singularism about causes is wrong, as the universals involved imply laws
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 9. General Causation / c. Counterfactual causation
The counterfactual approach makes no distinction between cause and pre-condition
26. Natural Theory / D. Laws of Nature / 1. Laws of Nature
Newton's laws cannot be confirmed individually, but only in combinations
Parapsychology is mere speculation, because it offers no mechanisms for its working
Existence requires laws, as inertia or gravity are needed for mass or matter
Laws are explanatory relationships of things, which supervene on their essences
26. Natural Theory / D. Laws of Nature / 2. Types of Laws
Laws are either disposition regularities, or relations between properties
26. Natural Theory / D. Laws of Nature / 4. Regularities / a. Regularity theory
There may be many laws, each with only a few instances
'All uranium lumps are small' is a law, but 'all gold lumps are small' is not
There can be remarkable uniformities in nature that are purely coincidental
A law might have no instances, if it was about things that only exist momentarily
If laws are just instances, the law should either have gaps, or join the instances arbitrarily
Where is the regularity in a law predicting nuclear decay?
Laws cannot explain instances if they are regularities, as something can't explain itself
We can only infer a true regularity if something binds the instances together
Similar appearance of siblings is a regularity, but shared parents is what links them
If we only infer laws from regularities among observations, we can't infer unobservable entities.
Accidental regularities are not laws, and an apparent regularity may not be actual
Dispositional essentialism says laws (and laws about laws) are guaranteed regularities
That other diamonds are hard does not explain why this one is
26. Natural Theory / D. Laws of Nature / 4. Regularities / b. Best system theory
A regularity is only a law if it is part of a complete system which is simple and strong
With strange enough predicates, anything could be made out to be a regularity
26. Natural Theory / D. Laws of Nature / 5. Laws from Universals
Laws cannot offer unified explanations if they don't involve universals
If the universals for laws must be instantiated, a vanishing particular could destroy a law
26. Natural Theory / D. Laws of Nature / 8. Scientific Essentialism / b. Scientific necessity
Salt necessarily dissolves in water, because of the law which makes the existence of salt possible
26. Natural Theory / D. Laws of Nature / 8. Scientific Essentialism / c. Essence and laws
Most laws supervene on fundamental laws, which are explained by basic powers [Friend/Kimpton-Nye]
26. Natural Theory / D. Laws of Nature / 8. Scientific Essentialism / d. Knowing essences
If flame colour is characteristic of a metal, that is an empirical claim needing justification
26. Natural Theory / D. Laws of Nature / 9. Counterfactual Claims
Essentialism can't use conditionals to explain regularities, because of possible interventions
27. Natural Reality / B. Modern Physics / 4. Standard Model / d. Mass
In Newton mass is conserved, but in Einstein it can convert into energy
27. Natural Reality / D. Time / 1. Nature of Time / b. Relative time
The relational view of space-time doesn't cover times and places where things could be