To Contemporary Epistemological Philosophy

The evolution of ontological philosophy. There is, however, an alternative. That is shown by the argument presented here. Thus, instead of giving up philosophy and keeping epistemology by doing naturalized epistemology, it is possible to give up epistemology and keep philosophy by doing ontological philosophy. That is, instead of abandoning philosophy, this alternative does philosophy in a new way. And since it is both possible and functional, the evolution of ontological philosophy is inevitable.

Philosophy is a second level argument, that is, an attempt to explain the validity of first level arguments, or rational culture, from the foundation of a deeper cause of their validity. But there are basically two ways of doing this.

The reason there are two ways of doing philosophy is that rational beings have two different ways of understanding causes in the world: naturalistic understanding and reflective understanding. Naturalistic understanding enables them to explain what happens in nature by efficient causes, and reflective understanding enables them to explain how subjects behave by rational causes.

Epistemological philosophy uses reflective understanding to introduce a theory about the nature of reason by which they would explain the validity of arguments of rational level culture. And ontological philosophy uses naturalistic understanding to introduce a theory about the nature of substance by which they would explain the validity of arguments of rational level culture — first, the validity of the efficient-cause explanations of natural science and, then, by way of its implications about the inevitable course of evolution, the validity of the rational-cause explanations of the science of subjects.

One way of putting the difference between then is to say that, whereas epistemological philosophy argues for necessary truths from the wholeness of reason, ontological philosophy argues for necessary truths from the wholeness of the world. That is, epistemological philosophy constructs an argument on a higher level of forensic organization by offering an explanation of the nature of reason that shows how all the kinds of first level arguments are valid. That is to assume that reason has a wholeness that underwrites the validity of all parts of rational level culture. But ontological philosophy constructs such a higher level argument by first explaining how two opposite kinds of basic substances make the world whole. Then, from that foundation, it explains the nature of reason, and its nature and place in the natural world explains the validity of all (valid) first level arguments. But far from explaining the wholeness of reason, ontological philosophy shows that reason, as it is understood by reflective understanding, is not whole, because the arguments of rational culture are divided by at least three basic dichotomies. Thus, instead of trying to explain the wholeness of reason, ontological philosophy makes reason whole.

Though there is another way of doing philosophy, no one is doing it, to judge from what is being published. One would expect naturalists to be trying it out, at least. And if they did, it would be selected, unless these is something seriously wrong with the foregoing, because that would begin the career of ontological philosophy. That ontological philosophy would be inevitable because it is both functional and possible. 

Ontological philosophy is functional, because  it would not only enable naturalists to defend natural science against the skepticism of analytic philosophy, but as we have seen, it would also do what philosophy as aspired to do all along — to overcome the dichotomies of rational culture and explain how all its (valid) first level arguments are valid.

Moreover, ontological philosophy is obviously possible, because, as can be seen from this argument, it is actual. But that does not quite show that it is possible in the relevant sense, because it does not explain how it can be tried out as a random variation on the arguments that are already evolving at the philosophical spiritual stage.

Unless the defenders of natural science are so committed to naturalized epistemology that they prefer abandoning philosophy to doing philosophy in a new way, the reason that ontological philosophy has not evolved must be that something is has been keeping it from being tried out. Natural science has now evolved far enough with mathematics as its tool and capitalism as its sponsor to overcome the limitations encountered by the Pre-Socratic philosophers of ancient Greece, but there are two causes that may be conspiring to keep it from being taken seriously, one having to do with contemporary naturalism, and the other having to do with contemporary natural science.

As defenders of natural science, naturalists assume that whatever can be known about the substances constituting the world must be discovered using the empirical method of natural science. They are scientific realists in the sense that they believe in the existence of the entities (observable and unobservable) mentioned by natural science. By the same token, however, they are skeptics about the existence of anything whose existence does not have to be posited in order to accept the conclusions of natural science as true. Thus, they let the conclusions of science determine their ontology.

Parsimony is a basic tenet of the empirical method of natural science. In making inferences to the best efficient-cause explanations of the natural world, science assumes that the best explanation is the simplest and most complete, and thus, if two theories have the same scope, it must prefer the one that that postulates the fewest and simplest causes.

Contemporary naturalists are skeptical to the point of being contemptuous of any claims about the existence of something not recognized by natural science. Natural scientists have long allied themselves with empiricism, because empiricism seemed to be the vaccine that would protect science from the embarrassingly implausible metaphysical systems of traditional philosophy.

That does not mean that naturalists reject ontology. They recognize that it is necessary to postulate substances as self-subsistent entities in order to explain the natural world as something whose existence does not depend on the individual rational subjects who know about it. But as defenders of natural science, they believe that the only substances they have to postulate are those that are entailed by the truth of the theories of natural science. Naturalists believe, therefore, that they are already doing everything that can be done with ontology as a way of explaining the truth of scientific theories.

Or to put it negatively, naturalists do not believe that ontology can explain the validity of the arguments of natural science, because ontology depends on those very arguments for its beliefs about which substances exist.

Natural science is, however, overlooking one of the two, opposite substances that constitute the world — or else it affirms the existence of a kind of substance along with matter that makes ontology a problem, rather than an explanation. It denies the existence of space as a substance enduring through time, because that would mean that space is absolute, and that is what contemporary physics rejected in accepting the Einsteinian revolution. Instead, contemporary physics affirms the existence of spacetime, if it affirms the existence of any substances at all in addition to matter (that is, in addition to particles and fields). Though Einstein admitted that his discovery of his special theory of relativity was inspired by empiricism (especially Mach), empiricist skepticism was not necessary for its acceptance. Spatiomaterialism would be excluded anyway by the empirical method of science, especially the form it takes in physics because of the importance of mathematics, and there are two steps to the banishment of substantival space from contemporary physics, one having to do with Einstein’s special theory of relativity, and the other having to do with his general theory of relativity.

When Einstein’s special theory of relativity was first accepted, there were, as we have seen, two theories that could explain all the phenomena covered by it: a theory of the kind proposed by Lorentz as well as Einstein’s theory. But the empirical method of science is to infer to the best efficient-cause explanation of what is observable in nature, and in the case of physics, where mathematics had long since become an indispensable tool, that meant making quantitatively precise predictions of measurements. Thus, when confronted with two highly mathematical theories covering the same phenomena, physicists had to prefer the simpler theory, and that was clearly Einstein’s theory. Einstein needed only two assumptions about the empirical equivalence of all inertial frames in order to derive mathematically descriptions of all the reluctant phenomena (namely, the principle of relativity and the constant value of the velocity of light in all inertial frames).

Minkowski recognized that all the measurements made by all inertial observers could be explained by postulating spacetime, instead of space as a substance enduing through time (that is, absolute space), and thus, when Einstein used the notion of spacetime to explain the nature of gravity, its status as a self-subsistent entity mentioned by the basic laws of physics could hardly be denied. Spacetime had to be a substance for its curvature to be the cause of gravitational acceleration.

This seems to leave naturalists who would consider ontological explanations of the world with a choice between a form of materialism that reduces space to the spatial relations of bits of matter (or to particles and fields, denying the vacuum like a contemporary plenum theory), and a form of spacetime substantivalism (or “spatiotemporalism,” as I called it in Spatiomaterialism) that reduces bits of matter to timelines in spacetime and implicitly denies that there is any unique moment in their careers that is present. In either case, ontology is not able to explain the validity of the efficient-cause explanations of natural science. The former, spatial relationism, affirms only the existence of what natural science already mentions, and thus, as scientific realism already postulates the substances needed to explain its theories. And the ontological explanations built into science would cease to be explanatory, if spatiotemporalism were taken seriously as the ontology of physics, because it denies that any substance endures through time.

Indeed, it is hard to see how spacetime would be used as an ontological cause to explain anything that exists in the natural world, since one of the deepest puzzles confronting contemporary physics is understanding how quantum mechanics, its theory of matter, is even related to Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Current attempts to find a single law of nature that would entail both theories lead to the belief that there are eleven or more dimensions to space!

Naturalists understandably make little use of spacetime in their attempts to understand why the arguments of natural science are valid. And it is easy for contemporary naturalists to settle for the believe in a materialism that affirms nothing but particles and fields, because the view that nature is constituted by a single kind of substance goes back to the beginning of modern science, before Newton. It was defended not only by Hobbes, the most famous materialist of the modern era, but also by Cartesians, for they believed in “extension,” or a plenum of substances whose only essential nature was geometrical structure. Though mind-body dualism was an untenable ontology, the belief that body itself consisted of two opposite kinds of substances would make it even more inelegant.

It is, therefore, possible to explain why naturalists do not take ontological philosophy seriously. Indeed, it is an inevitable result of the empirical method used in physics and the deference that philosophers of science pay to physicists. Though mathematics was an offspring of epistemological philosophy (along with its main sponsor, capitalism), the patent failure of traditional philosophy to provide the deeper justification of natural science (and other arguments of rational level culture) makes the decision of defenders of science to abandon philosophy understandable. But in choosing to naturalize epistemology, they are divorcing themselves from traditional philosophy. And they getting a worse settlement than is possible, because philosophy has a secret treasure stored in its early history, before it started down the road of epistemology.

The Pre-Socratic philosophers had another idea about how to do philosophy. They saw the possibility of an explanation of the wholeness of the world, before philosophy came to be seen as seeking just an explanation of the wholeness of reason. The Pre-Socratics saw how the basic nature of what exists in the world, including its categorical features, could be explained by identifying the basic substances that constitute it. Not only did they discover the concept of substance needed for ontology to be explanatory, but they discovered the best ontological explanation of the natural world as well. However, their ontological explanation of the world could not be convincing, as we have seen, without an adequate theory of the detailed nature of the “atoms” contained by the void, for that is  needed to trace the course of evolution, distinguish the various levels of biological and neurological organization, and thereby explain the nature of reason. When philosophers turned to epistemology, the discoveries of pre-Socratic philosophy were forgotten. Though the tool and sponsor needed to discover that detailed explanation were provided by the easier road to philosophy taken by epistemologists, the desperate flight from its failure now threatens to deprive naturalists of what they need to defend natural science.

If, however, the decision of naturalists to take their stand with natural science and stop with scientific realism is caused by the factors mentioned above, then it is possible for ontological philosophy based on spatiomaterialism to be tried out at this point in the evolution of philosophical culture by a random variation on existing arguments. All that is needed is a rediscovery of pre-Socratic philosophy. That would be to take the opposite course from naturalized epistemology. Though it would abandon epistemology, it would be to do philosophy in a new way. But that would give naturalists an ontology that would explain the validity of the arguments of natural science in a way that makes it possible not only to justify the empirical method of science, but also to criticize it. That is, they would have reason to doubt that it is sufficient to infer to the best efficient-cause explanation of what is observed to happen in nature, for they would see that it is possible to infer to the best ontological-cause explanation of what exists in nature as well. This would lead them to consider in a fresh way the possibility of spatiomaterialism, for it is obviously the best ontological explanation of the categorical features of the natural world, including the fact that material objects have spatial relations, that they can change, and that they can change only by motion, not to mention mathematics and the principles of local motion and local action. And that could lead them to acknowledge that spatiomaterialism can explain the truth of both of Einstein’s theory.

Such philosophers of science would then recognize that physicists made a mistake when they rejected Lorentz’s Newtonian explanation in favor of Einstein’s relativistic explanation. They would see that, even though physicists were merely following their empirical method, what physicists gave up for mathematical simplicity was not just the intuitive intelligibility of theories in physics, as if that were a mere subjective bias. What they gave up was a better ontological explanation of the natural phenomena, that is, as we have seen, one that explains more of what is observed in nature with less in the way of substances.

Furthermore, they would recognize that it is possible for spatiomaterialism to explain the truth of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, even though it entails the existence of absolute space. And in the process, they would finally understand how the quantum theory of the other three basic forces of nature are related to gravitation.

If naturalists did that, they would quickly recognize the other consequences that follow from spatiomaterialism, all the necessary truths of ontological philosophy, including the global regularities, the course of evolution, and how it leads up to the discovery of what is represented in the diagram of the wholeness of the world.

Ontological philosophy is, therefore, inevitable. It is possible for such a random variation to be tried out at this point in the evolution of philosophical spiritual animals, and thus, since it is functional, it follows that ontological philosophy based on spatiomaterialism will evolve.

Ontological philosophy will be rationally selected, once it is understood, because as an explanation of the wholeness of the world, it has all possible objections completely surrounded. All the issues currently being disputed in intellectual culture can be located within the structure of its argument, that is, within the diagram of the whole, and ontological philosophy shows how they can all be resolved. When that is recognized, the only issue will be whether ontological philosophy is true, for all those objections to it will stand or fall together.

The evolution of ontological philosophy does not, of course, depend on It would eventually evolve even if there were no such website, because it is a possible random variation on the arguments that have been accumulated as Western culture and, in spiritual animals that are as populous, healthy and powerful as those that exist today, there are enough rational subjects with the love of argument and the respect for rational judgment to try it out. That much is ontologically necessary — and it will happen in the near future, barring some unforeseen catastrophe that derails evolution at this point, like the impact of another giant asteroid like the one that doomed the dinosaurs.

On the other hand, will not fail to convince rational subjects, even if there are mistakes in the details of some of its arguments, because if it is on the right track, that will be obvious and mistakes can be corrected without upsetting the project as a whole. Thus, it is reasonable to expect to be the random variation whose rational selection will be responsible for the evolution of ontological philosophy — though such a contingent detail cannot be ontologically necessary.

The diagram of the wholeness of the world is, therefore, included in the diagram of the wholeness of the world. Ontological philosophy based on spatiomaterialism is itself something that inevitably evolves in the kind of world that it describes, because the sort of evolutionary change that it entails, given the specific nature of space and matter in our spatiomaterial world, includes the evolution of reason and reason evolves toward the natural perfection of understanding how the world is whole. Thus, reason comes to understand itself as an inevitable product of evolution by reproductive causation.

The rational selection of ontological philosophy is, however, just the beginning of its career. The discovery of an argument that explains the validity of all the arguments of rational level culture will make it possible to sort out which arguments are valid and which are not in every area of inquiry, and that will make it possible to discover what is true much more quickly and reliably than currently seems possible. Many of those discoveries are predictable, including those that have been mentioned in this argument to show the possibility of an ontological approach to philosophy.

The discovery of the true is, however, only part of the significance of ontological philosophy. Reason is not just a cognitive machine. It is an animal behavior guidance system, which uses its knowledge of the true to guide behavior. And reason is the most powerful cause in the world, because it guides the behavior of spiritual animals as well as individual rational subjects. What it does will determine the future course of evolution. Not only will reason take control of biological evolution, with rational selection constraining where natural selection works, but reason will create the other forms of natural perfection that comes to exist during the career of ontological philosophy.

The wholeness of the world is not, therefore, just the wholeness of space or how all the aspects of the world are constituted by two basic substances. Nor is its wholeness that those aspects entail an evolutionary change in which the wholeness of the world comes to be understood by rational subjects. Reason is a part of the world, and thus, it has a role to play in the world. As rational subjects recognize reason as the inevitable product of biological evolution, they will recognize that they are responsible for the future of evolution in their planetary system. What reason will do is not something that reason knows by predicting what it will do. It is something that is known by discovering what reason ought to do.

Some of what reason will do is, of course, predictable. Rational beings will continue to pursue most of the same goals they currently pursue, because those goals are good. And they will use their new understanding of what is true to figure out how to solve all the social, economic and political problems that now seem intractable. These goals are predictable, because they are goals that reason already has.

However, not all of the goals pursued by rational beings are predictable even in this way, because some goals of reason are optional. Some goals are good for reason to pursue because they are chosen by reason. And since not only individual rational subjects, but also spiritual animals can have optional goals, there are aspects of the future of evolution that cannot be predicted even in principle.

Finally, as we shall see, there is one kind of goal that reason can have only because practical reason recognizes, as ontological philosophy evolves in philosophical level culture, something that is so absolutely perfect that it is worthy of worship. Though that is necessarily true, if it is true at all, it is a necessary truth that can be discovered only by practical reasoning. 

At this point, therefore, the argument of ontological philosophy must switch from theoretical reason to practical reasons, that is, from arguments about what is to arguments about what ought to be. Knowing the true is only half the way that reason makes the world whole. The other half is how it does what is good.

Ontological philosophy reveals, therefore, that reason is far more important to the world than it supposed, when it assumed that a theory about the nature of reason based on reflection would explain the validity of the arguments of rational level culture. Instead of assuming that reason is whole, ontological philosophy explained how the world itself is whole. That revealed that reason is not whole, but divided by inherent dichotomies. But understanding why rational culture is limited makes reason whole, and as reason recognizes its place in the world, it accepts responsibility for continuing evolutionary progress and making the world itself whole.

To Epistemological Philosophy of Causation