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Factual <i>states of affairs</i> – uniting diverging philosophical orientations and setting them apart: illuminating the impact of a non-reductionist ontology

Daniël FM Strauss


‘Facts have no independent existence in science, or in any human endeavor; theories grant differing weights, values, and descriptions, even to the most empirical and undeniable of observations’ (Gould 2002: p. 759). All academic disciplines have access to undeniable states of affairs that require meaningful and constructive accounts of them. Oftentimes such an account reflect diverging theoretical views of reality. Wittgenstein’s view ‘that only connexions that are subject to law are thinkable’ paves the way for a discussion of the state of affairs that theoretical thinking is characterised by a ‘special abstraction’, namely ‘aspect-abstraction’ resulting in ‘aspect-disciplines’. As an example of diverging ontological commitments Cantor’s famous diagonal proof of the non-denumerability of the real numbers is briefly discussed. Another example is given by means of a brief analysis of the wave-particle duality, focused on distinguishing different modes of explanation, designated as representations. Occam’s razor (the principle of thought-economy) provides a further example of a state of affairs shared by different philosophical orientations, albeit that some ascribe a purely logical nature to it while someone else may discern in it an analogical link between the logical-analytical aspect and the economic aspects of ontic reality. The problem of persistence and change and the state of affairs that change can only be detected on the basis of constancy permeated the history of philosophy and the various academic disciplines, including the discipline of paleontology. The dominant pattern of the paleontological record, namely stasis, poses empirical and theoretical limits to the definition of evolution as ‘continuous change’. Apart from showing that special science (aspect-disciplines) always operate on the basis of philosophical assumptions, the underlying aim is to advance a non-reductionist approach to undeniable states of affairs.

South African Journal of Philosophy 2014, 33(2): 235–245

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eISSN: 0258-0136