Friday, January 7, 2011

Gregory M Browne's Necessary Factual Truths

This blog is named for Dr. Gregory M. Browne's work bridging metaphysics and epistemology.  In the Introduction to Necessary Factual Truths, Browne explains that his work was inspired by Leonard Peikoff's essay, "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy."  This book goes further to uniting inductive and deductive truths.  Inductive truths are factual (empirical; evidentiary), while deductive truths are necessary (logical, rational).  As an Objectivist, Browne expects that there is no dichotomy between the factual and the necessary, the empirical and the rational. 


According to Browne, the historical difficulty derives from the fact that not everything essential to identification and definition is immediately perceptible.  He delineates "shallow" truths from "deep" truths.  Mathematics and logic are "shallow" because everything you need to know is immediately provided.  On the other hand, the internal structures of atoms and stars, the mechanisms of life, and the panorama of human history are "deep" because they are less tractable.  They do have natures. Existence is identity: to be is to be something.  However, we just have not always known -- and may not yet know -- much about these more complicated entities.  When such things are first discovered, we know that they are, but we do not know what they are.  Eventually, we learn more.  According to Dr. Browne, historically, Aristotle followed a unified inductive-deductive methodology.  Over the centuries, philosophers narrowed their certainties, eventually abandoning the empirical, evidentiary, experimental, realistic aspects of knowledge for those that could be argued like geometry.
"...I say that some kinds are such that a description that is logically equivalent to the name - which would be a definition by necessary and sufficient conditions - is not always available. ... This is because some some kinds have attributes which are unknown when they are first discovered, as we shall see, and so it takes work to discover the attributes, and thus come up with a definition by necessary and sufficient attributes, and at any given time we may not have discovered them all." (168-169) 
Browne opens his treatise by discussing why philosophers denied necessary factual truths and created dichotomies.  He then goes on to define categories, classes and kinds, necessity and causality, explaining extension (breadth and narrowness of definition) and intension (depth and shallowness of meaning).  The book argues for three broad claims. First, "some admittedly factual truths - including truths in chemistry and biology - are indeed necessary..."  He achieves this by his explanation of Deep Kinds, entities whose nature is complex and not entirely known.  He ties this to other side of the equation by investigating Narrow Classes and the necessary truths about individuals.  His second claim is that certain factual truths - such as Newton's Three Laws of Motion - are necessary.  Finally, Browne demonstrates why the necessary truths are more than conventions, but factual: they are true because of how the world is.


Gregory M. Browne completed a dual major in political philosophy and political science at Michigan State University's James Madison College in 1979.  Continuing his studies at the University of Michigan in history and philosophy, he returned to MSU, completing a master's degree in political science in 1984 and another in philosophy in 1988 before earning a doctorate in philosophy in 1994.  He taught at Yorktown University in Denver and at community colleges in Michigan before coming to Eastern Michigan University.  In the fall semester 2007, waiting for a class in police operations, I was walking the halls and heard him lecturing about Ayn Rand. His essay on reference and neccesity (in reply to Roderick Long) appeared in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies Vol 8, No 1.

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