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RS69 - James Ladyman on Metaphysics

Release date: September 9, 2012

Compared to other fields of philosophy, "metaphysics" doesn't get a great rap -- it's both dauntingly obtuse and often derided as nonsense. In this episode of Rationally Speaking, Massimo and Julia chat with James Ladyman, Professor of philosophy at the University of Bristol and the author of Every Thing Must Go. The conversation covers: what is metaphysics, exactly, and where (in Ladyman's opinion) has it gone off the rails? Where does traditional science err in its classification of the "building blocks" of physics? What would a new, improved, metaphysics look like -- and what implications does that have for age-old questions like "What is causality?" and "Is the world real?"

James's pick: "The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe"

"Understanding Philosophy of Science"

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Reader Comments (10)

Metaphysics is bullox. Actually I haven't listened to this yet, but I'm the perfect target for this episode because I don't hold metaphysics in very high esteem. I am open to changing my mind though, Ladyman! Good luck! *starts listening*

September 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChance

When did Noel Galagher join Korn?

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMax

I had to listen twice (and I may listen a third time) to follow everything James Ladyman was saying, but it was well worth it. For those who've yet to listen, Ladyman defines his use of the term metaphysics early in the podcast (and I'll transcribe what he says): "We have a definition of metaphysics in the book, which is the attempt to unify the sciences, to say something about the world in the light of all the sciences that we have." There is a good discussion, or at least one I found helpful, about reductive physicalism vs non-reductive physicalism later in the podcast. In the course of the podcast Ladyman makes it clear what the title, "Every Thing Must Go" means - that "things" or individual objects (e.g., individual atoms, individual humans, individual tables, etc.) only exist at certain levels of description while they do not exist at other levels, and therefore, the picture of the world as existing of self-subsistent things or individual objects "must go." There is also a good discussion of causation and whether causation exists (e.g., as a metaphysical law or merely as a useful conceptual tool). I'm sure I will listen a third time, and I want to read the book, the first sentence of the first chapter of which is, "The aim of this book is to defend a radically naturalistic metaphysics." I'm all for that.

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEurydice

Yay, my new favourite episode! Thanks guys. I like the way that the question of entity-ness is dissolved by making the notion of individuality scale-relative, but doesn't that also dissolve all of ontology, since all descriptions are now dependent on the scaleS chosen by (or physically available to) the observer, making them subjective and epistemic?

September 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCraig

I am biased against Penrose because The Empreror's New Mind was absolutely awful. His thesis of "non-algorithmic" is ultimately indistinguishable from woo.

September 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJL

Now I'm confused. Is this a podcast or isn't it?

September 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAllan Rosenberg

Thank-you so much for this poscast. I have ordered Ladyman's book. I hope I can read it. The concepts explored in the podcast bring into focus in much better and more precise language my own 'homebrew' understanding of ontology as configuration through time.

October 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGraham Robinson

Excellent podcast. Thank you for taking these ideas seriously enough to explain them to people who have a limited understanding of physics and philosophy. Very helpful. I particularly enjoyed James' comment that philosophy should be practiced and communicated in the actual lived world and not be reduced to inside baseball conversations among other philosophers. I don't have much time to read and, more important, have difficulty appreciating and understanding these concepts in isolation, so these podcasts are awesome. Keep them coming!

October 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterECS

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March 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterYatin
Perhaps we just have to always maintain an awareness of the scale of description we use in any particular scientific analysis, and also always consider what smaller and larger scale analysis would mean for any particular event or object.
January 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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