I'm trying to teach myself philosophy and heads up it's not going well. A philosopher friend of mine gave me the following text (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1oGAQan6iaYNlfPTQvqNHfwpsowg9junV/view?usp=sharing) Hasok Chang ontological principles. Perhaps I am unable to comprehend what he's going on about. He creates a table which I'll modify as:

Epistemic activity Ontological Principle Counter Example
Counting Discreetness Temperature
Testing by overdetermination Single Value Superposition
Prediction Uniform Consequence Noether's Theorem

1: The top four comments of the link show something can be discrete but not countable.

2: Superposition of position of a particle shows a particle can be at 2 places at once.

3: Uniform consequence seems like another name for invariance which is derived from Noether's theorem except we know when it "fails" i.e: when continuity is lost for example the measurement.


All this makes me suspect the relation premise between epistemic activity and ontological principle. Where am I going wrong?

  • What are "ontological principles"? High level principles adopted by some philosopher? like the Principle of Sufficient Reason? The Principle of Continuity? Commented May 20, 2021 at 10:45
  • If so, it seems to me that Hasok Chang's point of view is that every "traditional" metaphysical principle has been rejected by some specific scientific result. Commented May 20, 2021 at 10:50
  • I was under the impression that Hasok Chang was advocating the opposite? Note: I have modified his table. Commented May 20, 2021 at 10:56
  • It seems to me that the gist of Chang's approach is to link epistemic activities to some metaphysical principle that we have to presuppose in roder to meaningfully perform that activity. Example: if we want to count objects we have to presuppose that objects are discrete "things". Does it make sense to you? Commented May 20, 2021 at 13:13
  • In the same way (see Leibniz) if we want to use e.g. scientific theories to make predictions about the behavior of natural processes we have to assume the so-called Principle of Uniformity: under the same circumstances, natural phenomena behave in the same way. Commented May 20, 2021 at 13:15

1 Answer 1


There's an online text here.

Your friend seems mean, or at least keen to throw you in at the deep end. I would describe the ontology-epistemology distinction as very much the helicopter-view, about quite subtle distinctions in the focus of discourses.

Few professional physicists genuinely understand Noether's theorem, so throwing that in, for a beginner at philosophy..! Temperature is only 'not countable' because lumps of matter of a few grams have of the order 10^23 constituents, often with multiple vibrational states. I'd relate overdetermination to consilience, the convergence of evidence, rather than to asserting a set of truth values completely defining 'objective reality' (which for reasons irrelevant here, I think is a canard anyway).

Just don't teach yourself philosophy from there. I mean what do you expect it to do for you, jumping in with abstruse terms about highly abstract debates?

Some quotes from Wittgenstein:

"Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language."

"The philosopher treats a question, like an illness."

"What is your aim in philosophy? — To shew the fly the way out of the bottle."

I think your friend mistakes the power of bewitchment by convoluted terminology and discourses, for the clarity and dispelling of that, which embodies good philosophy.

I'd strongly recommend Vervaeke's lecture series 'Awaking From The Meaning Crisis', not only to anyone new to philosophy, but to anyone interested in philosophy. Vervaeke is part of a modern movement to recover the term 'wisdom' in philosophical discourse, and in that pursuit he links Socrates & Plato's mission to dispell the bewitchments of sophists' rhetoric and poets' literature-devices, which philosophy was originally defined against, to Harry Frankfurt's 'philosophy of bullshit' or self-deception, and resisting the powers of advertising. Vervaeke's framing of salience landscapes seems an advance to me on Wittgenstein's “The work of the philosopher consists in marshalling reminders for a particular purpose” (PI 127).

It's about developing your own toolkit of psychotechnologies: don't get fobbed-off by someone telling you all you need is their approach - and Vervaeke's series is a great introduction in that regard, a history of philosophy as people reacting against what did not work so well in past thinking, as successive thinkers defined their own freedom of thought, for their own modes of life.

So what are your concerns? How do you see society? How do you see yourself? Begin there, and dwell on those questions, and only then can your philosophy begin, and from your own questions, look in the toolbox of philosophy for things to help 'shew you out of the bottle'.

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