Complexity and Uncertainty in Ecological Systems through Nancy Cartwright’s Camellias Example

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Directions: Answer one of the following prompts; do not answer more than one

Length: Do not exceed 6 pages. Use a 12 pt font such as Times New Roman and double-space your work.

Citations: You must give credit where credit is due. When you quote or paraphrase from the course texts, you must provide page numbers (if a reading does not have page numbers, just use PDF page numbers). You may use whichever citation style you prefer, e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago, etc. For information how to use these various styles, see https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/purdue_owl.htmlLinks to an external site. You must include a ‘works cited’ page, even if you only cite the course texts.

Can you use AI tools such as ChatGPT or Bard to complete this assignment? No. AI tools cannot be used for any portion of this assignment.
Prompt 1: W. T. Stace writes:

“The fact is that atoms are not inferences from sensations. No one denies, of course, that a vast amount of perfectly valid inferential reasoning takes place in the physical theory of the atom. But it will not be found to be in any strict logical sense inference from sense-data to atoms. […] That atoms are not inferences from sensations means, of course, that from the existence of sensations we cannot validly infer the existence of atoms. And this means that we cannot have any reason at all to believe that they exist. And that is why I propose to argue that they do not exist — or at any rate that no one could know it if they did, and that we have absolutely no evidence of their existence” (353).

Explain what Stace means in the above quotation. This will require that you understand and explain the importance of sense perception for Stace’s overall position. Then provide your own argument that seeks to establish that atoms do exist. Your argument should be designed to convince Stace in particular; that is, you need to establish that atoms can be known to exist on the basis of what we experience “in the familiar world of perception” (352).

Prompt 1: W. T. Stace writes:

“The fact is that atoms are not inferences from sensations. No one denies, of course, that a vast amount of perfectly valid inferential reasoning takes place in the physical theory of the atom. But it will not be found to be in any strict logical sense inference from sense-data to atoms. […] That atoms are not inferences from sensations means, of course, that from the existence of sensations we cannot validly infer the existence of atoms. And this means that we cannot have any reason at all to believe that they exist. And that is why I propose to argue that they do not exist — or at any rate that no one could know it if they did, and that we have absolutely no evidence of their existence” (353).

Explain what Stace means in the above quotation. This will require that you understand and explain the importance of sense perception for Stace’s overall position. Then provide your own argument that seeks to establish that atoms do exist. Your argument should be designed to convince Stace in particular; that is, you need to establish that atoms can be known to exist on the basis of what we experience “in the familiar world of perception” (352).

In the quoted passage, W. T. Stace asserts that atoms are not inferred directly from sensations. Stace challenges the notion that the existence of atoms can be logically deduced from sense-data, arguing that while valid inferential reasoning occurs in the physical theory of the atom, it does not constitute a strict logical inference from sensations to atoms. Stace contends that since atoms are not inferences from sensations, there is no valid reason to believe in their existence, leading him to propose that they do not exist or, at the very least, that their existence cannot be known.

Stace’s position hinges on the belief that if atoms were to exist, there should be a direct, logically sound inference from sensations to their existence. Since such an inference is lacking, he concludes that there is no reason to believe in the existence of atoms. Stace emphasizes the epistemic limitation, asserting that even if atoms were to exist, their existence cannot be known, and there is no evidence supporting their existence within the framework of sense perception.

To counter Stace’s position, one might argue that the existence of atoms is indeed inferable from the familiar world of perception. The argument could draw on scientific evidence supporting atomic theory, highlighting phenomena such as Brownian motion, spectroscopy, and advancements in microscopy that provide indirect but compelling evidence for the existence of atoms. For instance, the observation of Brownian motion, the random motion of particles in a fluid, aligns with the kinetic theory of gases and offers empirical support for the atomic model.

Additionally, one could argue that the success of atomic theory in explaining and predicting various natural phenomena, from chemical reactions to material properties, serves as a pragmatic validation of the existence of atoms. The continuous refinement of atomic models based on experimental data and technological advancements further strengthens the case for their existence. By demonstrating the practical utility and explanatory power of atomic theory, one could assert that the existence of atoms is not merely a theoretical postulation but is grounded in empirical observations and the tangible outcomes of scientific inquiry.

In summary, while Stace contends that atoms cannot be inferred directly from sensations, an argument in favor of their existence could emphasize the indirect empirical evidence provided by scientific observations and the practical success of atomic theory in explaining and predicting phenomena in the familiar world of perception.

 

Prompt 2: Stephen Toulmin thinks that asking whether electrons exist is like asking whether contours exist (359). Explain the arguments he provides for this view. Then, give your own argument that seeks to establish that Toulmin is wrong; that is, provide an argument that shows that the existence of electrons should not be thought to be analogous to the existence of contours.

Stephen Toulmin argues that questioning the existence of electrons, in a manner analogous to questioning the existence of contours, is justified by the nature of both concepts. In Toulmin’s view, electrons, much like contours, are theoretical constructs employed within specific scientific frameworks to explain and predict observable phenomena. He contends that the existence of electrons is not a question about their concrete reality but rather a question about the efficacy and utility of the theoretical framework in which they are invoked. This perspective aligns with Toulmin’s rejection of the idea that scientific knowledge corresponds directly to an objective reality, emphasizing instead the pragmatic and functional nature of scientific concepts.

However, one could argue against Toulmin’s position by asserting that the analogy between electrons and contours is not entirely apt. While both may be theoretical constructs used to explain phenomena within specific domains, electrons belong to the realm of subatomic particles, governed by the principles of quantum mechanics. Unlike contours, which are perceptible features in visual or tactile experiences, electrons exist within a theoretical framework that combines empirical observations with mathematical abstractions.

Moreover, the predictive and explanatory success of the concept of electrons in scientific models suggests a level of correspondence between the theoretical construct and the underlying reality. The behavior of electrons, as described by quantum mechanics, has been consistently confirmed through empirical experiments and technological applications, bolstering the argument for their objective existence beyond mere theoretical convenience.

In essence, while Toulmin’s analogy underscores the pragmatic and functional aspects of theoretical constructs, one may contend that the specific nature and empirical support for the concept of electrons warrant a departure from the analogy with more perceptual and subjective constructs like contours. The successful application of electron theory in various scientific endeavors suggests a deeper ontological status, beyond mere theoretical convenience, challenging the extent to which the existence of electrons can be equated with concepts like contours within Toulmin’s framework.

 

Prompt 3: In Nancy Cartwright’s camellias example, she writes “[t]he camellias died because they were planted in hot soil. […] This is surely the right explanation to give” (pdf 10-11). Explain why a covering-law model theorist could not reach this same conclusion. Then give your own argument that seeks to establish that Cartwright is wrong to claim that she knows the hot soil was the cause of the plant death. Keep in mind that Cartwright admits that she “cannot be absolutely certain that this explanation is the correct one” (pdf 11).

A covering-law model theorist, adhering to the Hempelian model of scientific explanation, would encounter difficulties in reaching the conclusion that the camellias died because they were planted in hot soil as presented by Nancy Cartwright. The covering-law model asserts that scientific explanations involve subsuming particular events under general laws, providing deterministic predictions. In the context of the camellias example, a covering-law theorist would require a general law connecting hot soil to the death of camellias, and the ability to predict this outcome deterministically. However, Cartwright’s acknowledgment that she “cannot be absolutely certain that this explanation is the correct one” challenges the deterministic nature and universality required by the covering-law model.

Moreover, Cartwright’s skepticism about the certainty of the causal link between hot soil and plant death raises concerns about the validity of her claim. My argument against Cartwright’s assertion centers on the complexity of ecological systems and the potential presence of confounding variables. The death of the camellias could stem from various factors beyond just the soil temperature, such as insufficient watering, soil composition, or the health of the plants at the time of planting. Without a controlled experiment isolating each potential factor, it becomes challenging to establish a direct causal relationship between hot soil and plant death.

In addition, Cartwright’s admission that she “cannot be absolutely certain” implies an awareness of the limitations in establishing a definitive causal link, highlighting the inherent uncertainty in ecological contexts. This uncertainty challenges the covering-law model’s requirement for precise determinism and general laws, suggesting that Cartwright’s assertion may not align with the stringent criteria demanded by this model. In essence, the complexity of ecological systems and the acknowledgment of uncertainty undermine the claim that hot soil was the sole cause of the camellias’ demise, emphasizing the need for a more nuanced and context-dependent approach to causal explanations.

 

Grading criteria:

The individual sentences of your paper must be grammatical.
Your train of thought should be clear; that is, the reader should be able to follow the flow of your ideas.
You should support your ideas with reasons and evidence.

 

What to avoid:

No fluff, filler, or wasted words, e.g., don’t start the paper with: “From the dawn of humanity philosophers have debated the nature of science…” Make your words count.
Don’t make unsupported assertions, e.g., “Science is obviously objective.”
Watch our for repetitive writing as it is often a sign of disorganized thinking.
Writing advice: Do more than one draft of the paper. Revise your work to improve clarity.

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