Tag Archives: Contextualism

Six world hypotheses or how we explain eyerything and anything

I recently came across this blog post by Christopher Peterson and was immediately drawn into the work of Stephen Pepper and using Google books access tried to read as much as I could of his print-on-demand book ‘World Hypotheses‘.

It is a philosophical work of how people reason about their world and ‘carve nature at the joints’ but despite being a philosophical work and thus being dense and obtuse to a degree, it is surprisingly lucidly written and in my opinion is an important work that needs to be highlighted.

As per Pepper, we have four valid and mature world hypothesis that are adequate in scope (explain everything) and precision (explain uniquely and not vaguely) and two immature world hypothesis that fail the test of scope/precision in their adequacy. I do not make that distinction and will be treating all six world hypothesis on equal footing. For the record, the inadequate world hypothesis are animism and spiritualism.

A world hypothesis is a way to explain everything in the world and relies on root metaphors to explain thus. Each hypothesis has a pet root metaphor which is sued to illustrate and explain phenomenon or categories, and their relationships.

To met the six world hypothesis follow a stage pattern and it would be my contention that as one matures one may discard one world hypothesis lower down the ladder in favor of the other more developed and mature.

With that let us introduce the world hypothesis. Also taking the lead from Peterson, I’ll be taking an example of my neighbor playing loud music at 2:00 in the night to illustrate different ways of explaining the same event according to the different hypothesis and different root metaphors (and will be lifting from the Peterson article the examples he gave there).

The first hypothesis is that of Formism (realism/ platonic Idealism) i.e. everything is explainable because they belong to a particular category/ form and have characteristic qualities. The root metaphor is that of analogy or similarity. Formism explains in terms of placing whatever we are trying to explain into a category (form). Why did my neighbor play his music loudly at 2:00 AM? Because he is an a**hole!
This theory belongs to the first stage where one is more concerned with Describing things and concerned with traits.

The second hypothesis is that of Animism i.e. everything (even inanimate things like weather) has an underlying spirit that explains the way it behaves. The root metaphor is that of spirit and agency. Animism explains by associating everything we are trying to explain with an underlying spirit that has agency . Why did my neighbor play his music loudly at 2:00 AM? Because he was suddenly possessed by the Michael Jackson spirit!
This theory belongs to the second stage trying to Explain the phenomenon and concerned with impulses and agency.

The third hypothesis is that of Mechanism (most common amongst reductionist scientists) i.e. everything is a machine following laws of cause and effect. If something happens, it happens because of a well defined and unavoidable cause. The root metaphor is that of machine. Mechanism explains in terms of causes: events that regularly precede whatever we are trying to explain. Why did my neighbor play his music loudly at 2:00 AM? Because he passed all of his final exams and that is what people do when they pass exams!

This theory belongs to the third stage that tries to predict and is centered around observable behavior and causal chains.

The fourth hypothesis is that of Contextualism (pragmatism) i.e. everything can be explained in terms of the context or surround in which the figure/event takes place. this is most popular with historians who are used to see events as uniquely determined by the historical and cultural milieu. The root metaphor is that of a historic event. Contextualism explains in terms of the interplay between whatever we are trying to explain and its larger context. Why did my neighbor play his music loudly at 2:00 AM? Because it was Saturday night, and this is a college town!
This theory is properly of the fourth stage focused on how society / larger context can influence and control the phenomenon and is most concerned with social influences.

The fifth hypothesis is that of Organicism (absolute Idealism)i.e. everything is an organic complex whole. The theory is still determinate but as compared to Mechanism is ‘life’ oriented. The root metaphor is that of coherence. Facts are sparse at present and as they emerge and become more complex one reaches in the limits the absolute truth. Organicism explains in terms of the unfolding of the inherent nature of whatever we are trying to explain. Why did my neighbor play his music loudly at 2:00 AM? Because he is a young man who just moved into his own apartment!
the fifth theory is at the fifth stage concerned with integration/ individuation etc and is concerned with emergent properties.

The sixth hypothesis is that if Spiritualism i.e everything is not what it seems and can only be really grasped through the spiritual experience. The root metaphor is that of the spritual experience. All said and done, there is no substitute for experience. the metaphor is also that of Love and can be only felt inter-personally. Only Love is Real. Why did my neighbor play his music loudly at 2:00 AM? Because he loves music and felt at oneness with the world and forgot about time as he got absorbed in the music.
This is clearly a jump from previous stages and belongs to stage 6 dealing with transecdence and interpersonal concerns.

Of course there are bound to be higher (7 & 8) stage theories equally and perhaps better explain the world, and I woudl be glad if readers can point me to those world hypothesis, no matter how inadequate/mystic they may appear at first appearance.

I’m hooked to Pepper, what about you?

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