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Reductionism as the Favored Form of Naturalism

Reductionism as the Favored Form of Naturalism

(p.47) Chapter 2 Reductionism as the Favored Form of Naturalism
The Philosophy Scare
John McCumber
University of Chicago Press

This chapter begins by sketching the approaches present in American philosophy, and at UCLA, as the Cold War began: idealism, pragmatism, materialism, and logical positivism/empiricism. Idealism and pragmatism shared the project of “edification,” of showing students how to integrate with a larger moral order. For the idealists, who were older, this order had been divine; for the pragmatists, it was social. Pragmatism, materialism and logical positivism were all naturalistic, and so open to the political pressures identified in Chapter One; this was especially true for the pragmatists, whose project of edification required them to argue for naturalism in public forums. For the logical positivists, by contrast, open statements of naturalism could be indefinitely deferred. They viewed nature as stratified into levels (physical, chemical, biological, etc.) so that naturalism meant the “reduction” of each level to the lower ones; the stratification of nature, a metaphysical thesis, was thus displaced onto the hierarchy of the sciences but never really went away. Since true reduction was clearly far in the future, open defenses of naturalism could be indefinitely deferred. The chapter examines the stratification of nature with respect to Hans Reichenbach and to later (1958) work by Hans Oppenheim and Hilary Putnam.

Keywords:   idealism, pragmatism, materialism, logical positivism, edification, reductionism, Hans Reichenbach, stratification of nature, hierarchy of sciences, empiricism

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