[SydPhil] University of Sydney Philosophy Seminar Series: A. C. Grayling

Ryan Cox ryan.cox at sydney.edu.au
Mon Nov 20 10:00:05 AEDT 2023

Hi everyone,

This week’s speaker in the University of Sydney Philosophy Seminar Series is Professor A. C. Grayling (Northeastern University London).

Professor Grayling will be presenting material from an extract of his forthcoming book The Metaphysics of Experience entitled “Truth and Assertion”. Professor Grayling has provided the following preliminary note:

The following is an extract from a book in preparation, The Metaphysics of Experience, which argues that truth, reference and constraints on practices of enquiry are discourse-relative matters, that discourses project ontologies (an adaptation of the ‘natural language ontology’ approach), but that this does not entail a relativistic form of antirealism about ‘reality’ but reshapes questions about the choice of ontology to be identified as explanatorily and causally privileged as ‘ultimate’ (i.e. such that all explanatory and causal reductions terminate in it); that in a technical sense of deferment defined in the book the question of ontological ultimacy has to be ‘deferred’, but that commitment to reality’s being independent of thought and experience is both well-motivated and undischargeable and that therefore, in the primary sense of proof in contingent cases, proved. One of the key points in this project is to demonstrate that to show that the relations between discourses and the domains over which they range are internal ones is not the same as a denial of realism about scientific entities or the empirical targets of perceptual experience; the conflation of these projects – the semantic and the metaphysical – has distorted the debate, and obscured the fact that the ontologies of discourses are semantic constructs while the question of the relations between discourses (intertranslatability and incommensurability) and the question of the reductive relations between their ontologies (for a notable example: addressing the problem of expressing such quantum theoretical notions as superposition, duality, entanglement etc. in classical terms) is rendered more difficult thereby. So the real question in the metaphysical project is which discourse is (to be) ontologically privileged, and why; and in what sense such a privileging is anyway possible given the constraints imposed by the starting point of enquiry at its proximal end.
A corollary of the deferment claim is that although what naïve realism nominates as the touchstone of the real – the entangled domains of the environment of perceptual experience and the social realities which superpose upon it – does not satisfy the conditions of ‘ultimacy’ sought in ontology, nevertheless its nomination as such is far from arbitrary, and shares the status of undischargeability of the concept of the real in general.
                Points to note: ‘truth’ is analysed in this thesis as a discourse-relative property – a property of ‘positive epistemic evaluation’ individuated by discourse, and therefore fully describable in a theory of assertion – but ascriptions of the property are heavily constrained by the canons of enquiry in each discourse, hence it is far from an ‘anything goes’ view as implied by versions of relativism, and it is therefore pertinent also to the question of which ontology to treat as fundamental.
A final point: in the book cases are made for choices about what to think of reference, the role of descriptions, natural kinds, canons of enquiry, reductionism, the modalities, universal grammatical categories, and meaning, as all bearing on the target question: ‘What is to be said about ultimate reality/the concept of ‘ultimate reality’?’

A copy of the extract “Truth and Assertion” is available on request (email: ryan.cox at sydney.edu.au<mailto:ryan.cox at sydney.edu.au>). Professor Grayling has also made an introductory chapter available on request.

The talk will take place on Wednesday November 22nd at 3:30 p.m. in the Philosophy Seminar Room (N494) in the Quadrangle and will be simulcast via Zoom: https://uni-sydney.zoom.us/j/88699564848

Enquiries about the seminar series can be directed to ryan.cox at sydney.edu.au<mailto:ryan.cox at sydney.edu.au>

Ryan Cox
Associate Lecturer in Philosophy
Discipline of Philosophy
School of Humanities
University of Sydney

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