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Nature: Its Conceptual Architecture


Louis Caruana

Many philosophers adopt methods that emulate those of the natural sciences. They call such an overall approach naturalism, and consider it indispensable for fruitful philosophical debate in various areas. In spite of this consensus however, little is ever said about how naturalism depends on the underlying idea of nature, which we often endorse unconsciously. If we can determine how naturalism reflects an underlying account of nature, we would be in a better position to distinguish between different kinds of naturalism and to assess the merits of each. This book undertakes a sustained study of the concept of nature to answer this need. It examines in detail how conceptual, historical, and scientific constraints affect the concept of nature in various domains of philosophy, and how, in the opposite sense, these constraints are themselves affected by the concept of nature. In so doing, this book relates the conceptual framework of scientific inquiry back to the lived experience that is proper to everyday self-understanding.
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Chapter 5 – Nature and ordinary language


Chapter 5 Nature and ordinary language

It is commonly believed that science is an extended version of common sense. Albert Einstein put it very clearly: “the whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.”1 In everyday situations, we face innumerable simple problems that oblige us to employ inductive and deductive cognitive procedures, to form simple hypotheses, to evaluate these hypotheses, and determine which ones to accept. Through the last four centuries or so, these simple steps have been identified, studied, refined and enhanced, with the result that now we can manage highly intricate problems and can reach out to areas of inquiry far beyond the realm of ordinary life. This extension of common sense is assumed to be continuous. There is an uninterrupted chain of analogous arguments going all the way from the simple steps of everyday engagement with the immediate world to the very intricate, mathematically formulated, experimental procedures that characterize science. Moreover, it is also commonly believed that the scientific end of this long chain is more important than the other end. In other words, common sense plays second fiddle. Common sense is formulated in propositions containing vague terms, propositions like “fire burns.” Such propositions are often true but are in need of refinement, and such refinement can only come from science. These common-sense propositions can also be false, or they can generate false implications. In this case, science has the role of correcting them. So there is a fundamental asymmetry....

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