I have been
reading much philosophy of late, mostly philosophy of science and of history, in
addition, some philosophy of archaeology. All offer great insights to
archaeology (my profession).However, one
of the disappointing things about such literature is that after thousands of
years of debate there are not any conclusions to basic questions, such as the difference
between right and wrong or what it means to be human.I am stuck with concluding that such answers
are likely contextual, cultural and perhaps idiosyncratic.If such things had universal and/or absolute answers,
why would anyone continue debating them after such a long time?
to observable and unobservable phenomena, at best, the philosophy of science
gives archaeologists a simple partisan choice: choose between realism and anti-realism.Apparently, they are incompatible.
From the Random
House Webster's College Dictionary, 2010 we get:
1. interest in or concern for the
actual or real, as distinguished from the abstract, speculative, etc.
2. the tendency to view or represent
things as they really are.
3. a style of painting and sculpture
developed about the mid-19th century in which figures and scenes are depicted
as they are or might be experienced in everyday life.
4. a style or theory of literature in
which familiar aspects of life are represented in a straightforward or plain
places, we are told that materialism and naturalism are types of realism.Both are common in archaeology.
course, it is hard to find a dictionary that defines anti-realism.So, from Princeton.edu we get:
“In analytic philosophy, the term anti-realism
is used to describe any position involving either the denial of an objectivereality of entities of a
certain type or the denial that
verification-transcendent statements about a type of entity are either true or
false.”Thus, conceptualism, idealism,
and nominalism are types of anti-realism.
I also like
the concept of pragmatism because I consider myself practical and well
grounded. One formulation is “An approach to philosophy,
primarily held by American philosophers,
which holds that the truth or meaning of a statement is to be measured by its
practical (i.e., pragmatic) consequences. “("pragmatism." The American Heritage® New Dictionary of
Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. 20 Oct.
Most people consider pragmatism
to be a version of realism but I am not very friendly to that notion because
realism/anti-realism is a horrible fiction. If the realism/anti-realism debate
has been around since the ancient Greeks then we are all insane for perpetuating
it (remembering Einstein’s definition of insanity).The solution must be contextual and
cultural.In other words, I refuse to
play with this contrived choice.
It is very
likely that both positions are true for inverse reasons.I am certain that grizzly bears exist because
I have seen them and been scarred of them.It is a visceral thing.Is the
fear innate? I have no idea. Thinking about grizz in other ways sparks no
fear.The visceral creature is one thing
but what about the unobservable grizz?I
know that the mascot for the University of Montana is the Grizz.Do I also imagine a bear hovering over campus
protecting it? No, it is a metaphor enshrined in public discourse and behavior.
If there is
a “bear raid” on Wall Street, do I envision grizzlies slashing stockbrokers? If
the value of my portfolio goes down then I know the raid happened. When it comes
to my portfolio, I am a realist because it is easy to verify the existence of a
bear raid. When unobservables are close in time and space to us, especially if
they are personal to us, then realism is appropriate.Our ability to verify and judge is strong, or is at least self convincing.
one has ever seen an atom or the process of evolution.We infer their existence by analyzing data.To me they are remote and, honestly,
uninteresting.I am anti-realist towards
them because they have little meaning in my life.Anything that I have no good knowledge of I
will remain skeptical of.
Thus, I believe
in some but not all unobservables, and, I refuse to play the absolutist’s game
of “choose one or the other”.
that physicists need to believe in atoms; it would likely be difficult for them
to be productive if they were non-believers.
especially in America, basically are required to believe in evolution.To be a biologist and not believe in
evolution is a sin.Evolution is the
sacred cow of (American) biology. As a theory, it also seems useful.
God is an
unobservable.True believers can provide
all the evidence they want. I will remain a anti-realist.