Some Remarks on Mach’s Philosophical Doctrines
In his general philosophical remarks, scattered across different oeuvres, Mach subscribed to a number of doctrines. First, the thesis of the economy of science: The primary, perhaps the only legitimate goal of scientific theories is to achieve the economy of thought. Instead of recording many facts, science codifies them under the heading of laws. Instead of attending to individual diverse sensations, science postulates the existence of bodies. Then we have evolutionism: Human activities must ultimately be understood in terms of Darwin’s theory. A man is a biological product of evolutionary development. But only human activities: history of knowledge, ideas, thoughts is only intelligible by the lights of evolutionary theory. Finally, phenomenalism: Sensations are denizens of the world, whereas bodies (material substances) are symbols constructed in thought, chiefly to serve the purposes of economy. Are these views jointly consistent? I argue that the role of naturalism, prominent in the endorsement of the evolutionary theory, creates an unresolved tension among those views. Phenomenalism in particular is deeply revisionary. It appears to be a remnant of empiricist metaphysics casting doubt on pretty much every area of scientific discourse. The adoption of full-fledged philosophical naturalism should be able to resolve the tension without ruling out the possibility of a methodological critique of scientific theories.
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