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Issue 34
May 2015


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Deduction and Imagination in Aristotle and Ernan McMullin
By Golfo Maggini

Christos A. Pechlivanidis, Aristotle & Ernan McMullin. Ihnilatontas tes katavoles tu sighronou epistemoniku realismu (in Greek) [Tracing the roots of modern scientific realism], Thessaloniki: Ziti Publications, 2013, 303 pages, ISBN: 978-960-456-374-6.

Christos Pechlivanidis’ book offers an interesting perspective on and insight into the world of Modern Greek epistemology since the intention is to set out and critically assess the epistemology of Ernan McMullin. The author’s goal is not so much to re-construct a realistic epistemological theory with a pragmatic feel to it, like McMullin’s one, but to show the debt it owes to Aristotelian philosophy, and to explore the limits of that debt.

According to Pechlivanidis, from a methodological but, more so, from an ontological viewpoint, McMullin does not accept the match between cognitive functions -and especially not imagination as presented by Aristotle- and modern theoretical approaches to imagination in the context of science, as a field of ‘second imagination’. On the contrary, for the author Aristotle has a much greater epistemological and –above all- ontological relevance than the one McMullin is willing to accept; something he attempts to show in chapter 3 of his book which is of vital importance, by addressing the subject of cognitive complex of reasoning, induction, mind and imagination in Aristotle, both in the source texts and in a diverse series of modern, frequently conflicting interpretative approaches. Pechlivanidis insists more than McMullin on the way in which Aristotelian epistemology can be used by a realist epistemology with ontological aspects to it which addresses the non-observable, which has become the subject matter of research by modern science.

In addition to that, the book attempts to tie the philosophy of science into the history of scientific ideas, mainly in the field of the natural sciences, and to open a demanding dialogue within the modern philosophy of science between various proponents of realism (J. J. Smart, H. Putnam, S. Psyllos, R. Boyd), realism and antirealism (R. Carnap) and scientific empiricism and realism (B. van Frassen). By widening in this way McMullin’s concern with deduction (whose roots in the realism of C.S. Pierce are explored in detail in the book (p. 132 et seq.)), the author seeks to set forth the nature and numerous roles of theory in the world of science, stressing the primary importance of its hypothetical-heuristic role. In that context, Pechlivanidis’ analyses relating to the use of imagination in the explicative success of scientific theories, from the viewpoint of the deduction problem (p. 197 et seq.) are of particular importance.

The author frequently stresses that this issue is not merely methodological but primarily ontological and therefore, as such, must be addressed in the context of modern epistemological debates. A set of central epistemological issues such as the relationship between induction, production and deduction, the logic in formulating scientific hypotheses, the modalities of scientific discovery, and the role of imagination and intuition in it, the establishment and use of models in the sciences, and finally the relationship between the explicative power and success of scientific theories, are presented by Pechlivanidis in his study starting from (a) McMullin’ realism and (b) the Aristotelian corpus per se.

The demanding, two-sided approach taken in the book -timeless and yet modern, systematic and yet historical- is based around the study and critique of a central epistemological issue with ontological aspects, more specifically the issue of the explicative power of the sciences, which is viewed in three lights: predictive science, evidentiary science and theoretical science. In that specific context, the author raises issues such as the conflict between metaphor, structural explanation and imagination in McMullin, and a series of other critical issues, such as the nature and function of the ontological foundations of scientific observation, the types of scientific proof, the relationship between truth and explicative power, the status of scientific justification, and its relationship with scientific research structures which expand its content.

In conclusion, it is important to stress that two difficulties which the author satisfactorily deals with have to do with (a) the fact that McMullin’s epistemological theory is not systematically set out anywhere, except in the book The Inference that Makes Science (1992) and (b) the plethora of interpretative approaches to the Aristotelian corpus, which Christos Pechlivanidis presents in detail without omitting critical comparisons whenever that is deemed necessary. The author addresses a series of epistemological and gnosiotheoretical realist and antirealist views and polemics in a quite clear way, which demonstrates the degree of assimilation of the arguments of the philosophers discussed, and their use in the specific epistemological concerns addressed in the book.

(Golfo Maggini is Associate Professor of Modern and Contemporary Philosophy in the Philosophy School of the University of Ioannina)

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