Could anyone possibly show me simply what is the concept of the bold part? Or, if you can paraphrase the following so that I can get its idea more simply? I couldn't find any article or source as to the following.

Boudry et al. -2010- distinguish two versions of methodological naturalism, which they call intrinsic MN and provisional MN. The distinction turns on whether MN is thought to be a presupposition of science(intrinsic), or simply a strategy that has proven to have good results(provisional). Boudry et al. object vehemently to intrinsic MN, claiming that it undermines the cause of naturalism:it lays defenders of MN open to the accusation of dogmatically excluding the supernatural from science. In contrast, provisional MN is supposed to be warranted in the same way that other scientific hypotheses are warrante--viz.

2 Answers 2


wikipedia has a good article on this:

Naturalism is the philosophical doctrine that only natural phenomena are the proper object of study.

It divides into two, metaphysical (your intrinsic), and methodological, (your provisional).

The metaphysical version insists that there can be no non-natural phenomena.

The methodological version suggests that when the working scientist comes across phenomena that can't be explained in the categories that have worked so far, he may need to find new categories or concepts to address it.

Thus, consider a possible world where there are ghosts; and one evening when Richard Feynman is working late in a lab, he sees a ghost; being a methodological naturalist, he does not immediately exclude it as a possible object of study - but says, or rather thinks to himself, excitedly "this is a strange and new phenomena that needs investigating"; and looks for a new method by which this can be done.

A naturalistic metaphysician like Dennett will suppose otherwise; he might say drily to no-one in particular "I've seen an illusion" or perhaps "I'm hallucinating"; or even "some-one is playing a prank"; for there can be no non-natural things in the world; and all natural things have been accounted for.

  • First off thanks. Would you please give me a vivid example as to this? provisional MN is supposed to be warranted in the same way that other scientific hypotheses are warrante-
    – nima
    Sep 12, 2015 at 17:20
  • @nima: I suggest you use a possible world argument like I did above to allow supernatural phenomena (where so far in this world there has been none); and then use the usual arguments to justify investigating it as one would for any other phenomena; if you've found the answer useful, it's usual to vote the answer up or accept it. Sep 12, 2015 at 19:16
  • The quote is explicit on the fact that these are two versions of methodological naturalism, not a distinction between metaphysical and methodological naturalism. Intrinsic MN is still methodological: it says that MN is intrinsic to the scientific method, not that the supernatural doesn't exist. Sep 12, 2015 at 21:49
  • @quen_tin: it does say that, but it also quotes Boudry on that intrinsic MN 'dogmatically excludes the supernatural'; and in your answer 'naturalism is essential' - which is why I supposed it closer to metaphysical MN; however I accept your distinctions. Sep 12, 2015 at 22:05
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    As in 'undermines the cause of naturalism'? There 'cause' is not being used in a technical sense, but in a conventional sense that one finds in a dictionary: ie aim Sep 13, 2015 at 12:20

Methodological naturalism (MN) is the view that naturalism is a working method of science. Science will attempt to find natural explanations to all phenomena it studies. That doesn't necessarily mean that the supernatural doesn't exist (which would be metaphysical naturalism), since science is not necessarily complete.

As far as I understand the citation, provisional and intrinsic are two variants of MN (they're not metaphysical naturalism).

According to provisional MN, naturalism is a working method of science, but that could well change in the future. It's just that no supernatural explanations are needed so far, and MN works very well until now. The method is used in science because it works, just as theories are used because they work. However if some kind of phenomena happened to find no natural explanation then science could change its method and revise MN. It would still be science.

According to intrinsic MN, naturalism is an essential component of the scientific method. If we revoke MN, then we're not doing science anymore. If some kind of phenomena finds no natural explanation, then it finds no scientific explanation: that would show that science has its limits.

This boils down to a debate over what defines science, and whether methodological naturalism is a core aspect of it, i.e. one of its defining characteristic, or merely a contingent one that happens to be succesful.

  • I just need to know two vivd examples as to these:1. intrinsic.2. provisional.
    – nima
    Sep 13, 2015 at 16:12
  • What do you mean examples? They're philosophical positions. Sep 13, 2015 at 16:47
  • I maintain there should be some examples or at least some hypotheses to clarify what they probably could mean
    – nima
    Sep 13, 2015 at 17:19
  • Example of what? Sep 13, 2015 at 18:16
  • @nima Could you clarify your request? To me it's as if I explained to you the difference between catholicism and orthodoxy and then you asked me for vivid examples of each... Examples of what? (Of persons, practices, beliefs, statements, sub-doctrines?) I really don't know what you mean. Sep 15, 2015 at 9:19

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