From foundations to spirals
The final stage of the puzzle will therefore be to answer the following question: if as Feyerabend says, knowledge is now ‘without founda- tions’, does that therefore also entail the epistemic anarchy which Feyerabend advocates, or is it possible to salvage the rather more ordered construction which is theological science?
Enlightenment foundationalism and reductionism
Logical positivism represented the most systematic formulation of enlightenment (and empiricist) foundationalism,1 and Feyerabend’s correct critique (theory ladenness/determinedness of observations) of this particular form of foundationalism is over-stretched to rather shaky conclusions (theoretical pluralism, counter-inductivism, relativ- ism, voluntarism), not shared by other more moderate critics of logical positivism. Torrance for instance, like most theologians, rejects logical positivism, welcoming a renewed ‘dynamic integration’2 between the theoretic and empirical components of modern physics. It is not obvious, at least from a developmental psychological or cog- nitive point of view, why foundationalism provides an ideal metaphor for knowledge or the methods of its acquisition. The two features of foundationalism which were attractive to enlightenment thought were
1 See Oberdan in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, “The Vienna Circle’s ‘anti-foundationalism’ ”. Vol. 49/2, p. 297–308, for a ‘traditional’ account of Schlick’s work as foundational against the ‘anti-foundational’ interpretation of Uebel. For another anti-foundationalist account of logical positivism see M. Friedman, Reconsidering logical positivism, CUP, Cambridge, 1999. Here we have adopted a more conventional account of logical positivism, firstly because it is beyond the scope of this book to weigh arguments within the philosophy of science regarding traditional and revisionist accounts of logical positivism – but more importantly because our major players Feyerabend, in particular, Torrance, McGrath (e.g. 2002, p. 32, Pannenberg: “empiricist positivism take experience of more accurately, sense perception, as the ulti- mate fact upon which all knowledge builds,” 1976, p. 29) are all working with a ‘tradi- tional’ foundationalist understanding of logical positivism. 2 Torrance, 2001, p. 77. from foundations to spirals 221 the possibilities of progressiveness and reductiveness – the degree to which these qualities were present in any particular formulation of foundationalism was a function of the degree of separation between the floors or levels of the foundational structure. Thus logical positiv- ism promised a high degree of both, since it sought to place a hermetic seal between the levels of observation and theoretical, to the extent that the reductiveness of the system was in fact liable to collapse the building by denying the theoretic level any ontological purchase. The risk was that in terms of ontology, natural science was in danger of being reduced to a very long list of observations. If the upper layers of the superstructure can be reduced to merely an orderly summation of what lies in the empirical and self-evident foundations, then they begin to look ontically superfluous. The failure of higher levels to attain ontological reference means that they subsist at the level of inductive or deductive corollaries of the foundation. However if they are granted a degree of ontological auton- omy which transcends reduction, therefore permitting a degree of osmotic interpretive activity between the levels, then the orderliness and progressiveness of the levels is threatened, as we can no longer build assuming the soundness of our foundations. That this represents a more faithful account of how natural scientists actually behave has not gone unnoticed3 – they are constantly going back to the data, re- examining and scrutinising it, developing sometimes rather specula- tive extensions to the theory which in turn are submitted to empirical testing. It is therefore too simplistic and not true to life to describe natural science as a series of theories built upon observational data. Not only, however, does this form of foundationalism seek to offer an account of the structure of natural science as being a set of theories build upon self-evidency and sense-data / empirical observation, but it also must account for the variety of objects and concepts which are sometimes shared and sometimes not between different sciences. So for instance physics talks of particles and fields, chemistry of molecules and reactions, and biology of cells and organisms – yet all three interrelate. A pressing question for ontology is – whilst each dis- cipline might utilize findings and terms from the other, and therefore respect the independence and competency of the other to rule on such entities – are the possibilities and actualities of higher level objects
3 Ritchie, 1948, p. 22; Feyerabend, FTR, p. 190.