Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 368
In his first book, The Structure of Appearance (1951), Nelson Goodman puts forward his conviction that there can be no one right way of describing the world, remarking in the introduction that equally correct systems of logical philosophy may be founded on different bases and constructed in different ways. In Ways of Worldmaking, he develops in a less technical and formal manner the thesis that there are multiple worlds, constructed differently according to the categories used by a given observer, and examines the implications of this radical relativism for philosophical discourse as well as for what would traditionally have been considered purely objective discourses, including experimental psychology and scientific theory. Even the most careful observation necessarily entails a creative ignoring of some features and highlighting of others (the whole truth could never be manageably formulated or addressed), and even the most constrained scientific hypothesis inherently demands inductive generalization beyond the observed data. Thus art and science are better imagined as overlapping segments of a continuum rather than rigidly distinguished on such bases as fictionality versus factuality. This does not, however, mean that anything goes. Goodman offers a relativism with restraints that enables him to chart a course between nihilism and absolutism.
As Goodman notes, Ways of Worldmaking does not run a straight course from beginning to end but instead presents a series of variations on recurrent themes, working through the same topics from different approaches or applying a particular approach to different topics rather than pursuing consecutive steps in an argument. The central focus of the book is Goodman’s fullest and most accessible exposition of his controversial model of “a radical relativism under rigorous restraints, that eventuates in something akin to irrealism.” Goodman’s irrealism does not hold everything or even anything to be unreal but finds that worlds and versions of worlds are inextricably melted into each other. Goodman is interested in exploring the ways in which it is profitable to talk about many worlds rather than one, and his chosen path of investigation is by means of an analytic study of the types and functions of symbols and symbol systems. His model can best be discussed by his own preferred methodology: the use of concrete examples.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 602
One of the key illustrations in Ways of Worldmaking, returned to at several points throughout the book, is taken from astronomy. Consider the statements “The earth rotates clockwise” and “The earth rotates counterclockwise.” Both of these conflicting statements are equally true from different points of view, depending on whether one imagines looking at Earth from the South or the North Pole. Consider then these two equally conflicting statements: “The earth rotates, while the sun is motionless,” and “The earth is motionless, while the sun revolves around it.” Although one might reconcile these statements by arguing that they amount to “The spatial relationships between the earth and the sun vary with time according to formula f ,” Goodman notes that this fifth and final statement—the only one of the series that might be considered technically “true” by an astronomer—is entirely compatible with not only both the third and fourth “false” statements but also with the statement that the earth rotates for a time and then stops while the sun moves around it. The true statement is essentially useless for most purposes, including the astronomer’s. One is severely handicapped if rather than saying whether or how an object moves, one is restricted to describing changes in...
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