Nicholas Rescher

Nicholas
Rescher
1928

German-born American Philosopher at the University of Pittsburgh

Author Quotes

Philosophizing is not a matter of transiently all-embracing styles but of ever-recurrent doctrines? Overall, what we have in philosophy is not the evolution of consensus but continuing controversy.

Pretty well anything we humans do can be mismanaged. We can make mistakes in computation, mis-remember events, succumb to optical illusions, feel pain in missing limbs. And similarly we can be mistaken in judgments of freedom and err in deeming free various things done under the influence of hypnosis, conditioning, or the like. But in no sphere does the fact that we are sometimes mistaken carry over to systemic erroneousness. The possession of a capacity to will freely is not annihilated by the fact that we sometimes make mistakes in the matter. Here as elsewhere generalizing from tendentiously pre-selected instances is a very questionable practice.

The ability to act, and to act spontaneously on one?s own motivating account, is a crucial aspect of the autonomy that makes an intelligent agent into an authentic person. Acting freely via deliberation may not be something that we would want to do all of the time ? any more than we would ideally want to engage in reasoning all of the time. But both are things we would certainly want to do some of the time. The loss of freedom, like the loss of reason itself, would be fatal to our status as the sort of beings we are ? or at any rate see ourselves as being.

The circumstances of life being what they are, the scope of our free agency is all too often distinctly limited. But it is very rarely reduced to a set of one ? a single option. Crucial to the conception of freedom of the will is the idea that in most options of life we face situations where several alternatives move before us, and where the choice among them involves a decision on our part with respect to authenticity available optimism, situations where it is up to us to decide matters one way or another. And the core of the concept of free will is that this prospect of decision by deliberative choice is often possible and sometimes mandatory for us.

The inherent unpredictability of future scientific developments?the fact that no secure inference can be drawn from one state of science to another?has important implications for the issue of the limits of science. It means that present-day science cannot speak for future science: it is in principle impossible to make any secure inferences from the substance of science at one time about its substance at a significantly different time. The prospect of future scientific revolutions can never be precluded. We cannot say with unblinking confidence what sorts of resources and conceptions the science of the future will or will not use. Given that it is effectively impossible to predict the details of what future science will accomplish, it is no less impossible to predict in detail what future science will not accomplish. We can never confidently put this or that range of issues outside 'the limits of science', because we cannot discern the shape and substance of future science with sufficient clarity to be able to say with any assurance what it can and cannot do. Any attempt to set 'limits' to science?any advance specification of what science can and cannot do by way of handling problems and solving questions?is destined to come to grief.

The realm of truth is unified, and its components are interlinked. Change your mind regarding one fact about the real, and you cannot leave all the rest unaffected. To qualify as adequate, one's account of things must be a systemic whole whose components are interrelated by relation of systemic interaction or feedback. In the final analysis, philosophy is a system, because it is concerned to indicate, or at least to estimate, the truth about things, and 'the truth about reality' is a system.

The world's complexity is such that we are never able to achieve a perfect fit here, because the world's phenomena are so complex and variegated that there will always be problem cases that just do not fit smoothly into the concepts and patterns that characterize the general run of things. And so, in their striving for maximum generality the generalizations of philosophy are virtually always overgeneralizations involving a certain amount of oversimplification.

Determination of human actions can certainly be self-supplied and not be the fruit of an externally emanating imposition along the lines of constraint, coercism, and compulsion. And such determination would not automatically be at odds with freedom. On the contrary, determination of one?s decisions and choices via one?s own motives is the very quintessence of freedom of the will. To make a decision in the light of one?s motives is not a matter of being compelled against one?s will ? it is itself what willing is all about.

In one important respect, chance and choice are in the same boat: both are indispensably bound up with the idea that matters could have eventuated differently. In this regard the free will theorist does not stand alone ? the quantum physicist is very much on his side, given his contention that the uranium atom which disintegrated after ten hours of observation could have done otherwise.

In philosophy there is an ever-renewed need for further refinements and extensions. We arrive at the fundamental law of philosophical development: Any given philosophical position, at any particular stage in its development, will, if developed further, encounter inconsistencies. The aim of the enterprise is to resolve in a convincing way our big questions regarding reality and our place within it. And ? [these principles'] requirements reflect conditions under which alone the aims of the philosophical enterprise can be realized in an efficient and effective way. It is this serviceability for the very goal structure of the enterprise that endows those philosophical principles with their unconditional cogency.

It does not remove our sense of its vileness to reflect that he was acting according to his nature. That is a part of why we are indignant at him. We intend to make him feel that his nature is in that respect evil and its expression insufferable. We intend to interfere with the expression of his nature. That what he did proceeded from it is not a disturbing and praise-giving consideration in the midst of our conduct, but the entire basis of it. [Considering the act of a sociopath]

It is interesting in a rather ironic way that when the matter of free will is posed as an issue whose resolution is to be secured on the basis of rational deliberation with respect to evidence and reasons, this approach to the issue already comes too late. For even to seek reasons for or against the freedom of the will is already to presume in ourselves a will free to effect decisions in matters of deliberations. Undertaking such an inquiry only makes sense in the context of the assumption that acceptance or rejection of the contention at issue is a free option that can and should be settled through thought on the basis of reasons ? that resolving the matter by weighing considerations pro and con is an available prospect, itself freed from predetermination by factors or forces outside the range of autonomously concluded deliberations.

It is thus only sensible to view free will, along with the emergence of intelligence, as one of evolution?s crowning glories. For the reality of it is that free agency is an optimally useful evolutionary resource for intelligent agents, and did this arrangement not already exist in the world, evolutionary pressures would militate for its emergence.

Mapping the realm of what is knowable as such is something that inevitably is beyond our powers. And for this reason any questions about the cognitive completeness of our present knowledge are and will remain inexorably unresolvable.

No one likes to think that their mind is so small and simple that one can predict its ideas. That is the real reason why people react in such cases against predicting their conduct, for if present human knowledge, which is known to be so limited, can foresee their conduct, it must be more na‹ve and stereotypic than they like to think it. [But] it is no reflection upon the human mind or its freedom to say that one who knew it [completely] through and through (a human impossibility) could foreknow its preferences and its spontaneous choices.

One can? become a skeptic, and walk away from the entire issue, or else one can settle down to the work of problem solving, trying to salvage what one can by way of cognitive damage controlOne cannot properly appreciate the human realities so long as one labors under the adolescent delusion that people get the fates they deserve.

The inherent unpredictability of future scientific developments—the fact that no secure inference can be drawn from one state of science to another—has important implications for the issue of the limits of science. It means that present-day science cannot speak for future science: it is in principle impossible to make any secure inferences from the substance of science at one time about its substance at a significantly different time. The prospect of future scientific revolutions can never be precluded. We cannot say with unblinking confidence what sorts of resources and conceptions the science of the future will or will not use. Given that it is effectively impossible to predict the details of what future science will accomplish, it is no less impossible to predict in detail what future science will not accomplish. We can never confidently put this or that range of issues outside 'the limits of science', because we cannot discern the shape and substance of future science with sufficient clarity to be able to say with any assurance what it can and cannot do. Any attempt to set 'limits' to science—any advance specification of what science can and cannot do by way of handling problems and solving questions—is destined to come to grief.

Reason itself... demands that we recognize the limited place of the virtues of cognition, inquiry, and the cerebral side of life. An adequate account of rationality must rightly stress its importance and primacy while recognizing that the intellectual virtues are only limited components of the good life.

One cannot properly appreciate the human realities so long as one labors under the adolescent delusion that people get the fates they deserve.

Author Picture
First Name
Nicholas
Last Name
Rescher
Birth Date
1928
Bio

German-born American Philosopher at the University of Pittsburgh