Putnam asserted that there is no such dichotomy between facts and values and that they are the same thing, i.e., simplicity, beauty, coherence, usefulness, kindness, goodness, and other value judgments are all intrinsically the same to Putnam.
He goes on to say that without values (which are also facts) we would have no world to think about or talk about. However, he makes it clear that he is not a cultural relativist as he does not think that scientific knowledge can be shaped by human opinions about it. But, in a way, he is making the case that facts are shaped by what humans value. If we didn't value coherence over incoherence then science and logical thinking would progress in one direction instead of the other. But really, that's an absurd statement. How can science or logic progress in any way if we choose the incoherent over the coherent? I strongly believe, as much as Putnam makes good points here, and unless I've misunderstood his claims (which is quite possible), that he is wrong about that. Valuing incoherence over coherence is completely incoherent in itself, and that's reductio ad absurdum. We should discard his argument as meaningless in that sense.
Since we don't have a choice in shaping how the universe is revealed to us, shouldn't we still hold on to some semblance of scientific or empirical objectivity?
For those things that we do have a choice in how we approach the subject matter, and there is clearly a strong subjective component or "thick ethical" component", such as ethics and metaphysical claims to religious entities, etc., then it's still certainly acceptable to argue in favor of subjectivism and relativism strongly.
Very interesting essay by Putnam here regarding his thoughts about this
So far, what I have said could be summarized by saying that if “values” seem a bit suspect from a narrowly scientific point of view, they have, at the very least, a lot of “companions of guilt”: justification, coherence, simplicity, reference, truth, and so on, all exhibit the same problems that goodness and kindness do, from an epistemological point of view. None of them is reducible to physical notions: none of them is governed by syntactically precise rules. Rather than give them up all of them (which would be to abandon the ideas of thinking and talking), and rather than do what we are doing, which is to reject some—the ones which do not fit in with a narrow instrumentalist conception of rationality which itself lacks all intellectual justification—we should recognize that all values, including the cognitive ones, derive their authority from our idea of human flourishing and our idea of reason. These two ideas are interconnected: our image of an ideal theoretical intelligence is simply a part of our ideal of total human flourishing, as Plato and Aristotle saw.
In sum, I don't doubt that the universe of physics is, in some respects, a “machine,” and that it is not “caring” (although describing it as “uncaring” is more than a little misleading). But—as Kant saw—what the universe of physics leaves out is the very thing that makes the universe possible for us, or that makes it possible for us to construct that universe from our “sensory stimulations”—the intentional, valuational, referential work of “synthesis.” I claim, in short, that without values we would not have a world . Instrumentalism, although it denies it, is itself a value system, albeit a sick one.
And a relevant discussion of scientific realism the SEP which delineates the different points of view about these questions:
One criticism given is that our values allow us to obtain what the facts are and achieve human flourishing (which is no doubt a value judgment). However, this seems to be simply a restatement of terms as there are no absolute entities known as facts in a world devoid of humans.
What I think is the case (this is just my position but I don't think it is new, pretty sure it originated with Aristotle's Laws of Thought) is that we have no choice in that matter whether we "value" coherence. We can't
I would be interested to know where the conversation has moved since Putnam wrote this essay Beyond the Fact/Dichotomy in 1982. Is the question still largely unresolved?
I've seen that there are a few groups that still approach these questions in the same way with respect to scientific realism.
- Scientific Realists. I think this would include epistemological foundationalists.
- Epistemological Pragmatists or Instrumentalists. I think this would include epistemological coherentists but there could be overlap between the relativist position.
- Relativists (Scientific and Cultural)
I'm most interested how a scientific realist would respond to Putnam's claims.
The main point is that there is a universe 'out there' that we, as humans, can't determine what it is just by using language in certain ways. Whether anything is coherent outside of human cognition is a very Kantian view. We can't know what this would be, therefore, again it's a meaningless question.
Even stating that rationality itself is a value judgment seems completely counterintuitive, and if I speak honestly, wrong.
If we can't say something is what it is, such as the Law of Identity, where A=A, what is left? The universe becomes incoherent. And what about the mathematical universe? Sure, it's not empirical but it's a form of knowledge. One that is based on axiomatic statements that lead to proofs that are necessarily true because of this. Yes, deductive reasoning is a separate case of inductive reasoning but following Putnam's reasoning here, if we were to value incoherence over coherence then we could shape the fact that 1+1=2. This is repugnant to me to put it extremely harshly. Mainly because it makes little sense to me (again, perhaps I've misrepresented his position).
Coherence is our default mode of thinking. There is no such thing as a view of the universe that values incoherence over coherence. The question itself doesn't make any sense. And this is a very different question to asking whether one scientific theory or proof is more simple or elegant than another. That matters little as to whether it is true or not or approximately true with respect to empirical knowledge. Elegance and simplicity are certainly value judgments. You could have two theories that are both true or representative of empirical reality, one could be extremely more complex than the other, but deductively they both reach the same conclusions. This has zero, absolutely zero, bearing on the truth of the conclusions of these theories, models, or proofs. Incoherence, on the other hand, leads to us not being able to state anything. Similar to the extreme skeptical point of view, which is also a paradox, where you can doubt everything is true all at once.
My view is that the universe exists independent of human minds. It is not in a constant state of flux where simultaneously everything and nothing about is true and not true or is and not is at the same time (see: Heraclitus). Therefore, it must be the case that there is something that is constitutive of the universe. And that something has at least one property. We access this reality through our cognition because we have reasoning faculties, which can harness logical thought. The basis of any coherence at all. That's my biggest point of disagreement with Putnam. We can't choose incoherent reasoning. That would be what psychiatrists call an "insane person". Granted, many people are simply wrong about what they believe is true or is the case. If somebody is wrong about a mathematical proof, for example, we just say they are wrong. As long as we accept that a fundamental property of human cognition is coherence, then we can say that they are wrong if and only if they accept the axioms such a proof is constructed from. For empirical knowledge, sure, it's never 100% certain (or at least we can't know with 100% certainty) but this has little, actually no impact, on whether we can perceive the universe in a coherent way because the universe is not something that is forever in flux. There must be at least one thing, and it must have a least some property about it. The counter-argument is contradictory and paradoxical, clearly.
Perhaps there is nothing outside of human ideas and cognition, but I don't believe that. If humans weren't around to perceive the world, I can't be certain, but the things we know about science would most likely (in fact very, very probably) still be true; insofar as we can access what the ultimate reality of nature is (Again, Kant's Noumenon real: things-in-themselves — but some philosophers have argued that even Kant's Noumena is incoherent and I'll attempt to explain why).
Overall, I accept that our values of coherence shape the path of human flourishing and scientific and epistemological discovery but we have no choice in discarding the property of human cognition that is coherence (unless you are an insane person). Very Kantian again, and in the same vein that our perception of true reality is constrained by the categories of perception (space, time, relation, etc.) that are intrinsic to human cognition. But you could argue that this realm devoid of human perception is simply unintelligible to us. See the Paradox of Knowability which states there cannot be truths we know about, yet can't know anything about (which is what the Noumenal realm is, by necessity). This is absolutely incoherent. I put it in the same basket as people who argue that round squares exist, something is red and blue at the same time, something is a triangle and square simultaneously (see: Meinong's Jungle), or make arguments that result in infinite regresses, etc.
This is also related to the Liar's paradox and Gödel's incompleteness theorems and Tarskian theories of truth which attempt to deal with these paradoxes.