Error is an important reexamination of the significance of error to the fields of philosophical anthropology, epistemology, ontology, and theology. As Rescher’s study argues, truth and error are inexorably intertwined—one cannot exist without the other. Error is an unavoidable occurrence in the cognitive process—without missteps on the path to truth, truth itself cannot be attained. The risk of error is inherent in the quest for truth.
Nicholas Rescher accompanies the text of the Monadology section-by-section with relevant excerpts from some of Leibniz’s widely scattered discussions of the matters at issue. The result serves a dual purpose of providing a commentary of the Monadology by Leibniz himself, while at the same time supplying an exposition of his philosophy using the Monadology as an outline.
The book contains all of the materials that even the most careful study of this could text could require: a detailed overview of the philosophical background of the work and of its bibliographic ramifications; a presentation of the original French text together with a new, closely faithful English translation; a selection of other relevant Leibniz texts; and a detailed commentary. Rescher also provides a survey of Leibniz’s use of analogies and three separate indices of key terms and expressions, Leibniz’s French terminology, and citations.
Rescher’s edition of the Monadology presents Leibniz’s ideas faithfully, accurately, and accessibly, making it especially valuable to scholars and students alike.
Rescher's overall lesson is that the management of our affairs within a socially, technologically, and cognitively complex environment is plagued with vast management problems and risks of mishap. In primitive societies, failure to understand how things work can endanger a family or, at worst, a clan or tribe. In the modern world, man-made catastrophes on the model of Chernobyl can endanger millions, possibly even risking the totality of human life on our planet. Rescher explains "technological escalation" as a sort of arms race against nature in which scientific progress requires more powerful technology for observation and experimentation, and, conversely, scientific progress requires the continual enhancement of technology. The increasing complexity of science and technology (and, in consequence, of social systems) along with problems growing faster than solutions confront us with major management and decision problems.
This study is the first of its kind. There have been many specialized studies of complexity in physics and computation theory, but no overall analysis of the phenomenon. Although Rescher offers a sobering outlook, he also believes that complexity entails mixed blessings: our imperfect knowledge provides a rationale for putting forth our best efforts. Rescher urges us to gear the conduct of life's practical affairs to the demands of a complex world. This highly readable and accessible volume will be of interest to those interested in philosophy, the philosophy of science, science policy studies, and future studies.
In Luck, one of our most eminent philosophers offers a realistic view of the nature and operation of luck to help us come to sensible terms with life in a chaotic world. Differentiating luck from fate (inexorable destiny) and fortune (mere chance), Nicholas Rescher weaves a colorful tapestry of historical examples, from the use of lots in the Old and New Testaments to Thomas Gataker’s treatise of 1619 on the great English lottery of 1612, from casino gambling to playing the stock market. Because we are creatures of limited knowledge who do and must make decisions in the light of incomplete information, Rescher argues, we are inevitably at the mercy of luck. It behooves us to learn more about it.
Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) as “the most intelligent human being who has
ever lived.” The German philosopher, mathematician, and logician
invented calculus (independently of Sir Isaac Newton), topology,
determinants, binary arithmetic, symbolic logic, rational mechanics, and
much more. His metaphysics bequeathed a set of problems and approaches
that have influenced the course of Western philosophy from Kant in the
eighteenth century until the present day.
On Leibniz examines
many aspects of Leibniz’s work and life. This expanded edition adds new
chapters that explore Leibniz’s revolutionary deciphering machine; his
theoretical interest in cryptography and its ties to algebra; his
thoughts on eternal recurrence theory; his rebuttal of the thesis of
improvability in the world and cosmos; and an overview of American
scholarship on Leibniz.
Other chapters reveal Leibniz as a
substantial contributor to theories of knowledge. Discussions of his
epistemology and methodology, its relationship to John Maynard Keynes
and Talmudic scholarship, broaden the traditional view of Leibniz.
Rescher also views Leibniz’s scholarly development and professional
career in historical context. As a “philosopher courtier” to the
Hanoverian court, Leibniz was associated with the leading intellectuals
and politicians of his era, including Spinoza, Huygens, Newton, Queen
Sophie Charlotte, and Tsar Peter the Great.
the fundamentals of Leibniz’s ontology: the theory of possible worlds,
the world’s contingency, space-time frameworks, and intermonadic
relationships. In conclusion, Rescher positions Leibniz as a
philosophical role model for today’s scholars. He argues that many
current problems can be effectively addressed with principles of process
philosophy inspired by Leibniz’s system of monadology.
In Ignorance, Nicholas Rescher presents a broad-ranging study that examines the manifestations, consequences, and occasional benefits of ignorance in areas of philosophy, scientific endeavor, and ordinary life. Citing philosophers, theologians, and scientists from Socrates to Steven Hawking, Rescher seeks to uncover the factors that hinder our cognition.
Rescher categorizes ignorance as ontologically grounded (rooted in acts of nature-erasure, chaos, and chance-that prevent fact determination), or epistemically grounded (the inadequacy of our information-securing resources). He then defines the basis of ignorance: inaccessible data; statistical fogs; secreted information; past data that have left no trace; future discoveries; future contingencies; vagrant predicates; and superior intelligences. Such impediments set limits to inquiry and mean that while we can always extend our existing knowledge-variability here is infinite-there are things that we will never know.
Cognitive finitude also hinders our ability to assimilate more than a certain number of facts. We may acquire additional information, but lack the facility to interpret it. More information does not always increase knowledge; it may point us further down the path toward an erroneous conclusion. In light of these deficiencies, Rescher looks to the role of computers in solving problems and expanding our knowledge base, but finds limits to their reasoning capacity.
As Rescher's comprehensive study concludes, ignorance itself is a fertile topic for knowledge, and recognizing the boundaries of our comprehension is where wisdom begins.
Rescher gives an overview of the discipline by setting out the general principles for reasoning about such matters as propositional knowledge and interrogative knowledge. Aimed at graduate students and specialists, Epistemic Logic elucidates both Rescher's pragmatic view of knowledge and the field in general.
Taking his discussion down to the level of particular details, and addressing such topics as inductive validation, hypostatization fallacies, and counterfactual reasoning, Rescher abandons abstract generalities in favor of concrete specifics. For example, philosophers usually insist that to reason logically from a counterfactual, we must imagine a possible world in which the statement is fact. But Rescher argues that there's no need to attempt to accept the facts of a world outside our cognition in order to reason from them. He shows us how we can use our own natural system of prioritizing, our own understanding of the fundamental, to resolve the inconsistencies in such statements as, "If the Eiffel Tower were in Manhattan, then it would be in New York State."
In using dozens of real-world examples such as these, and in arguing in his characteristically succinct style, Rescher casts light on a wide variety of concrete issues in the classical theory of knowledge, and reassures us along the way that the inherent limitations on our knowledge are no cause for distress. In pragmatic theory and inquiry, we must accept that the best we can do is good enough, because we only have a certain (albeit large) set of tools and conceptualizations available to us.
A unique synthesis, this endeavor into pragmatic epistemology will be of interest to scholars and students of philosophy and cognitive science.
Nicholas Rescher develops a general theory of prediction that encompasses its fundamental principles, methodology, and practice and gives an overview of its promises and problems. Predicting the Future considers the anthropological and historical background of the predictive enterprise. It also examines the conceptual, epistemic, and ontological principles that set the stage for predictive efforts. In short, Rescher explores the basic features of the predictive situation and considers their broader implications in science, in philosophy, and in the management of our daily affairs.
Relying on the root definition of harmony, a coherent unification of component parts (systemic integrity) in such a way that the final object can successfully accomplish what it was meant to do (evaluative positivity), Rescher discusses the role of harmony in cognitive contexts, the history of cognitive harmony, and the various features it has in producing human knowledge. The book ends on the issue of philosophy and the sort of harmony required of philosophical systems.
The book proposes that while realism is a sensible and tenable position, nevertheless there is something to be said for idealism as well. In the cognitive as in the moral life, perfection is beyond our human grasp and we have no choice but to rest content with the best that we can manage to achieve in practice. This perspective shifts the approach from a cognitive absolutism to a pragmatism that is prepared to come to terms with the limitations inherent in our situations. On this basis Rescher defends a substantive realism that itself rests on a justificatory rationale of a decidedly pragmatic orientation.
Among his many topics, Rescher discusses knowledge and the unattainablity of absolutes, skepticism and its self-defeating nature, the limits of science vs. the limits of cognition, refuting reality as mind-independent, and idealism and divining our role in nature. He considers the universe and intelligence as the product of intelligent design, science and religion as non-conflicting and purposeful pursuits, and determinism and other fallacies surrounding the concept of free will. Rescher views morality in its hierarchal structure, its applicability to human coexistence, and its ontological commitment to the enhancement of value for ourselves and our world. He examines questions of authority and the problem of judging past actions or knowledge by present standards. Overall, he argues for philosophy as an unavoidable tool for rational, cogent responses to large questions.
Rescher's in-depth examination reveals how aporetic inconsistency can be managed through a plausibility analysis that breaks the chain of inconsistency at its weakest link by deploying right-of-way precedence based on considerations of cognitive centrality. Thus while involvement with cognitive conflicts and inconsistencies are pervasive in human thought, aporetic analysis can provide an effective means of damage control.
The unifying insight of this approach is that the natural criterion of merit within any goal-oriented enterprise—be its orientation practical or cognitive—pivots on its contribution to the effective and efficient realization of the aims at issue. The aim of this volume is to describe and illustrate this broadened conception of pragmatism as a far-reaching and many-sided approach to philosophical inquiry. Theoretical considering apart, it offers a variety of case studies to illustrate the range and fertility of this approach.
Nicholas Rescher has published extensively on the history and theory of pragmatism and on its alignment to the sensibilities of contemporary analytic philosophy over the last 30 years.
Metaphilosophy: Philosophy in Philosophical Perspective challenges the static, compartmentalized view of metaphilosophy, providing insight for scholars and students of all areas of philosophy.
The traditional and orthodox emphasis on the epistemological questions How can I convince myself? and How can I be certain? invites us to forget the fundamentally social nature of the ground rules of probative reasoning—their rooting in the issue of how we can go about convincing one another. The dialectic of disputation and controversy provides a useful antidote to such cognitive egocentrism by affording a point of departure in epistemology which blocks any temptation to forget the crucial fact that the buildup of knowledge is a communal enterprise subject to communal standards.
What If? begins by examining the nature of thought experiments. It presents an overview of how thought experiments have figured in natural science and in historical studies, before moving on to examine how they function as an instrument of philosophical inquiry. After examining thought experiments from the pre-Socratics to the present day, Rescher turns from history to analysis, and examines the modes of reasoning involved in the use of speculative hypotheses in philosophical problem solving. He shows the limitations of speculative ontology, showing that thought experimentation can lead readily to paradox in a way that increasingly diminishes its usefulness. The book concludes by arguing and illustrating how and when it becomes pointless to push speculation, or thought experimentation beyond the limits of intelligibility and cogent sense.
Among the principal features of Rescher's book is its elaborate analysis of the appropriate conditions for philosophical thought experimentation. Its cardinal thesis is that there indeed are limits to the appropriateness of this important methodological resource and that transgressing these limits destroys the prospect of drawing any valid lessons for the philosophical enterprise. What If? will be of interest to philosophers, students of philosophy, and theorists of logic and reasoning.
Nicholas Rescher is University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of numerous philosophical works and holds six honorary degrees from universities on three continents. He has served as a president of the American Philosophical Association, the American Metaphilosophical Society, and the American Catholic Philosophical Association.
1. BY THE STANDARDS OF THEIR DAY
2. ON THE IMPORT AND RATIONALE OF VALUE ATTRIBUTION
3. NOMIC HIERACHIES AND PROBLEMS OF RELATIVISM
4. IS REASONING ABOUT VALUES VICIOUSLY CIRCULAR?
5. RATIONAL ECONOMY AND THE EVOLUTIONARY IMPETUS
6. EVALUATION AND THE FALLACY OF RESPECT NEGLECT
7. CREDIT FOR MAKING A DISCOVERY
8. OPTIMALISM AND THE RATIONALITY OF THE REAL (ON THE PROSPECT OF AXIOLOGICAL EXPLANATION)
9. THE REVOLT AGAINST ABSOLUTES IN TWENTIETH CENTURY AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY
An introductory chapter lays the groundwork of the book's deliberations, followed by chapter 2, explaining the basic concepts involved in the abstract logic of questions and answers and sets out the generic fundamentals of the domain. Chapters 3 and 4 expound the theoretical principles that characterize the field of question epistemology in general, clarifying the fundamental themes and theses of the subject. Chapters 5 through 9 then explore the landscape of question epistemology within science. Rescher seeks to show that there are limits-restrictions of basic principle-to our ability to resolve scientific questions. The concluding chapter argues in particular that the grand goal of an ultimate theory, one resolving all explanatory questions, has to be approached with great caution.
Throughout Rescher emphasizes that a question-oriented approach to the process of inquiry serves to highlight the inherent limitations of the cognitive project. Rescher's question-oriented treatment of epistemology proceeds in the tradition of Kant and stands in decided contrast to the dominant knowledge-oriented approach originating with Descartes. He demonstrates that a concern for the issue of plausible question resolution is a necessary component of the epistemological enterprise. Inquiry Dynamics will be of interest to philosophers, scientists, and social scientists.
Nicholas Rescher is University Professor of Philosophy and vice chairman of the Center for Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh. He has written more than seventy books in various areas of philosophy. His most recent books include Complexity: A Philosophical Overview (available from -Transaction), Objectivity: The Obligations of Impersonal Reason, and Predicting the Future.