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Ontological Reduction

Author(s): Dale Gottlieb

Source: The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 73, No. 3 (Feb. 12, 1976), pp. 57-76

Published by: Journal of Philosophy, Inc.

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2025896

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THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

VOLUME LXXIII, NO. 3, FEBRUARY I2, I976

4- * _+

ONTOLOGICAL REDUCTION *

many ways. The simplest is just to stop asserting the ex-

istence of entities we wish to eliminate, as in the cases of

witches and of spontaneously generated insects. A method which is

not so simple is to banish from our vocabulary all terms purporting

to refer to the undesirables, as in the cases of facts, numbers, proposi-

tions, physical objects, infinitesimals, etc. A consequence of the

second method is that sentences we have relied upon in formulating

our theories about the world are no longer part of the language.

Unless those sentences had no legitimate role to play in those

theories, we cannot view their loss with equanimity: they must be

replaced. This may be accomplished in two ways: (a) the problem-

atic sentences can be replaced by new sentences which, although not

referring to the same entities, "play the same role" in the theory that

the old sentences did, as in the case of infinitesimals; (b) the prob-

lematic sentences can be replaced by sentences that "play the same

theoretical roles"; moreover, the replacement is accomplished via a

translation of their primitive predicates by open sentences so that the

translation preserves logical form, as in the reduction of numbers

to sets. My concern is with reform of type b, which I shall label

ontological reduction. Since the medium of ontological reduction is

translation, I shall speak both of reducing (one group of) entities

to (another group of) entities and of reducing one theory to another.

This paper is a prolegomenon to the formulation of a criterion for

ontological reduction and an account of ontological reduction which

exhibits its justification.

* This researchwas supportedby the National ScienceFoundation. I am grateful

to Peter Achinstein, Stephen Barker, Robert Cummins, Larry Davis, Gilbert

Harman, and W. V. Quine for their comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

57

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58 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

Although the most widely discussed instances of ontological reduc-

tion are mathematical, the method extends deeply into traditional

philosophical concerns. Idealists and phenomenalists have attempted

to reduce physical objects to sensa. Some versions of the mind-body

identity thesis are attempts to reduce mental episodes to bodily

events. Some would reduce events to "constructions" of objects,

properties, and times. In fact, what is referred to as "constructive

philosophy" is the attempt to reduce one type of entity to another

in the service of some philosophical program. Thus the problem of

finding a criterion for ontological reduction is a natural outgrowth

of the constructive systems of Russell, Carnap, Goodman, and

others.1 What is wanted is a condition on translations of type b

which justifies their use in paring down our vocabulary so as to

avoid the unwanted ontological commitments. That this is the func-

tion of a criterion of ontological reduction has not always been

obvious, as we shall now see.

1 Bertrand Russell, in "The Philosophy of Logical Atomism" (1918) in Robert

C. Marsh, ed., Logic and Knowledge (New York: Macmillan, 1956), writes:

In that way [i.e. by showing how sentences about physical objects are trans-

latable into sentences about sense-data] all the ordinary objects of daily life

are extruded from the world of what there is, and in their place as what there

is you find a number of passing particulars of the kind that one is immediately

conscious of in sense. I want to make it clear that I am not denying the

existence of anything; I am only refusing to affirm it (273/4).

In other words, if the program of "translation" is successful, we need no longer

affirm the existence of the objects referred to by the sentences that are translated

into the phenomenal language. Rudolf Carnap, in The Logical Structure of the

TW1orld (Berkeley: U of California Press, 1967), anticipating the success of his

constructions, concluded:

Thus, each object which is not one of my experiences, is a quasi-object; I

use its name as a convenient abbreviation in order to speak about my experi-

ences. In fact, within construction theory, and thus within rational science,

its name is nothing but an abbreviation. Whether, in addition, it also designates

something which "exists by itself" is a question of metaphysics which has no

place in science (255)

Structure of Appearance (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 2d ed., 1966):

What he [i.e. the phenomenalist who constructs less-than-observable regions

out of observable regions] is doing, rather, is proving that for the purposes at

hand we need not assume that the less-than-observable region is anything

other than the class of observable regions in question . . . In other words,

the reductive force of a constructional system consists not in showing that a

given entity is identical with a complex of other entities but in showing that

no commitment to the contrary is necessary (28/9)

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ONTOLOGICAL REDUCTION 59

the adequacy of a constructional definition (sec. 35). Goodman

criticized this choice on the grounds that there are clearly acceptable

constructions that violate the requirement (8/9). In fact, the ex-

istence of constructions of the same elements out of different bases

guarantees that the requirement will be violated. But it is important

to see that, in addition, there is a significant gap between the cri-

terion and the ontological impact attributed to construction. If 'The

United States of America', 'the tallest spy', and 'the first observed

molecule' are to be shown by construction to be nothing but ab-

breviations with which I speak about my experiences, so that no

commitment to entities other than my experiences (and classes of

them) is necessary, then it will be self-defeating to require extensional

equivalence of their definientia. As Goodman emphasizes, the con-

struction does not reveal to us that one entity is identical with a

complex of others. Rather we remain cognizant throughout that the

entity to be reduced is quite different in many respects from our

construction. The construction shows only that, from the point of

view of our total theory, the primitive predicates referring to that

entity can be replaced by open sentences that do not so refer.

Carnap's criterion sabotages this effort, since it guarantees that no

change whatsoever will take place in our ontological commitments.

Criteria avoiding Goodman's counterexample were propounded by

both Goodman and Quine. Goodman chose extensional isomorphism

(El): "the set of all the definientia of a system must be extensionally

isomorphic to the set of all the definienda" (13). For his part, Quine

suggested that T' is an ontological reduction of T iff

(R) There is an effective mapping of the primitive predicates of T

on open sentences of T' such that the result of replacingall primi-

tive predicates in a sentence of T with the correlated open

sentences of T' has the same truth value as the original.2

Now although (El) and (R) clearly avoid Goodman's early criti-

cisms, it is not so clear that they fare as well with respect to justifying

the ontologicalclaims of reduction. Let us suppose that we can provide

for the set of primitive predicates of our physical language an ex-

tensionally isomorphic set of open sentences of a phenomenal lan-

guage. How does this show that no commitment to physical objects

is necessary? All we know is that the intended model of our primitive

physical predicates is isomorphic to the intended model of certain

2 (R) is paraphrased from Quine's "Ontological Reduction and the World of

Numbers," in The W/ays of Paradox (New York: Random House, 1966), pp.

199-207, p. 203.

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6o THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

tical structure justify the expulsion of the physical predicates from

the vocabulary of our theory? And the same questions can be asked

of (R): how does the existence of a translation preserving truth and

logical form prove that the objects referred to by T do not (or may

be assumed not to) exist? Lacking answers to these questions, we

may suspect that (El) and (R) are too weak. Our suspicions deepen

when we find it alleged that "blanket Pythagoreanism"-i.e., the

existence of a reduction of any (consistent) theory to a theory refer-

ring only to numbers-is a consequence of both.3 It seems clear that

this consequence is fatal to any criterion for ontological commitment.

But is the allegation true? Does (R) [the case of (El) is essentially

the same] imply that there is an acceptable translation of any

theory into a purely numerical theory? It does, we are told, by

virtue of the L6wenheim-Skolem (L-S) theorem. Now the L-S

theorem says merely that any consistent set S of first-order sen-

tences has a numerical model. That is, there exist sets of natural

numbers which, when assigned as extensions to the primitive

predicates of the members of S, make the members of S true. This

does not provide a translation of S's members into a purely numerical

theory. The latter requires (at least; cf. the next paragraph) the

existence of predicateswhose extensions are subsets of Nn (for some n)

which can be substituted for the primitive predicates of the members

of S and make them all true. Furthermore, we require in addition

an effective procedure for finding such predicates; a mere platonistic

assurance of their existence is not enough. For, in order for us to

escape our unwanted ontological commitments, we need a way to

replace the sentences that have the unwanted commitments, and

this means we need to be told how to find ontologically superior re-

placements for them. The key to ontological reduction is a transla-

tion of the theory with the unwanted commitments into a more

congenial theory, which translation is to be accomplished via a set

of constructional definitions. A dictionary in Plato's Heaven will not

help us wield Occam's razor.4

3 In Quine, ibid., and Richard Grandy, "On What There Need Not Be," this

JOURNAL, LXVI, 22 (Nov. 20, 1969): 807-811.

4 Some will object: "Why isn't the possibility of translationin principleenough?

Surely we don't have actually to give a complete translationof physical language

into phenomenallanguage to support the reduction of physical objects to sensa.

To show that thereis such a translationestablishes the philosophicallyinteresting

point, which is that we do not haveto refer to physical objects." Reply: no one

wants to requirethat the dictionary be written out. Suppose the existence of the

wanted translation is shown by actually carrying it through for a few paradigm

cases, or suppose we are given directions,even of the rough and ready kind, which

determine the translation for us. I am preparedto admit that this is all that is

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ONTOLOGICAL REDUCTION 6i

primitive predicates of any consistent set S of first-order sentences

to predicates whose extensions are purely numerical and which will

make the members of S true? No, it does not. But it might be

thought that this is accomplished by a strengthened form of L-S

which derives from the arithmetization of the completeness theorem.

It can be shown that any irrefutable first-order sentence F has a

numerical model that assigns recursively enumerable (r.e.) or com-

plement-recursively enumerable (co-r.e.) extensions to all F's

primitive predicates. Since, for every r.e. or co-r.e. set, there is a

predicate whose extension that set is, we know that there are purely

numerical predicates making F true. Furthermore, the proof pro-

vides an effective procedure for finding such predicates. And finally,

analysis of the proof reveals that the construction is independent of

the restriction to a single first-order sentence: the same holds for any

consistent set of first-order sentences. And so we have:

L-S* There is an effective mapping M such that if S is any

consistent set of first-order sentences whose primitive predicates

are P1, ..., P., then, for all i, M(Pi) is a predicate whose extension

is a subset of Nn, and the substitution of M(P1), ..., M(Pn) for

Pi, ...,I P, respectively, throughout S results in a set of true

sentences.5

This is on a par with explaininghow to contextually defineour talk of infinitesimals

or our use of singular terms, and then using that language freely-subject to the

prior understanding. But suppose we have no instructions for actually giving

constructionaldefinitions.Rather, we are told that the right open sentences exist,

but there is no way in general to obtain them. Then we are forced to continue to

use the same language with its problematiccommitmentsif we are to continue to

formulatetheoriesand acquireknowledge.We are forcedto referto the old entities

if the business of science is to carry on. Well then, we can't avoid those

commitments.

5 Here is an outline of the structure of the proof; for details see S. C. Kleene,

Introductionto Metamathematics(Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand, 1952), pp.

389-398, esp. 394-395. We put F in prenex form and then define the class F* of

Herbrandexpansionsof F. So F* is an infinite class of truth-functionalcompounds

of atomic wffs, where each atomic wff is a primitive predicate plus an n-tuple of

numerals. For a primitive predicate Pi of F we want M(Pi) to be true of

(a,, ..., a.) iff deducible from F*, for then the completenesstheorem assures us

that (M(PO), ..., M(Pi)) will make F true. Since the relation of deducibility is

arithmetizableand theset F* is recursive,we can expressthe condition on M(Pi) in

numbertheory. Indeed, as long as the set F* is arithmeticallydefinable,the con-

struction provides a definition for M(Pi) in number theory. But once the set F*

is not arithmetic, this is no longer so, as is obvious from the sketch of the con-

struction. Now the set of Herbrandexpansions of a single sentence is recursive,

and for an arithmetic set of sentences it is arithmetic; however, for a nonarith-

metic set of sentences it is not arithmetic. For any set S of sentences, the set S* of

the Herbrandexpansionsof the membersof S is arithmetic in S. Consider, then,

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62 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

And yet, despite L-S*, the proof of Pythagoreanism fails. To see the

flaw, we must carefully distinguish between predicates (i) which

have purely numerical extensions, and (ii) which require commit-

ment only to numbers. As an example of a predicate satisfying (i)

but not (ii), consider '(ny) (x is y's height in inches)'. This predicate

has a purely numerical extension, but its extension is nonempty only

if there are things with heights in inches. Thus it commits us to the

existence of nonnumbers (if we assert that its extension is non-

empty), even though its extension is a subset of N. Thus we must

tighten up our requirement for translation: the effective procedure

must deliver predicates that not only have purely numerical ex-

tensions but also require commitment only to numbers. And this

L-S* cannot in general do. If S is arithmetically definable, L-S*

works fine; otherwise it requires the use of predicates that require

commitment to precisely the same objects we were trying to avoid.5

And since the set of true sentences of our over-all theory of the

world is not arithmetical, L-S* will not provide a numerical transla-

tion of that set.6

Of course, we could provide a translation for the set of our beliefs

about the world, and even for its logical closure.7 And it might be

thought that this is enough. After all, it seems that we are committed

only to whatever must exist for our beliefs to be true. But this is a

mistake. Consider the case of number theory. Imagine that, as a

response to incompleteness, a search is instituted for new axioms.

From time to time new axioms are added. Now L-S* gives us a

method of translating number theory into set theory based upon the

current choice of axioms. As that choice changes the translation

changes, but we will never be at a loss to translate (assuming we

never adopt a set of axioms that is not effectively enumerable). Is

the set T of true sentences of our total theory of the world. T is not arithmetic

(since, if it were, the set of truths of arithmetic, which is arithmetic in T, would

also be arithmetic, and Tarski's theorem refutes that), and so neither is T*.

Now even if T* is not arithmetic, the predicates M(Pi) will have extensions in

Nn, as the construction shows. However, they will require commitment to what-

ever we quantify over in specifying T*. Since T* is arithmetic in T, this reduces

to the problem of specifying T, i.e., the set of true sentences of our total theory.

How de we specify that? Well, if we take as primitive the predicate 'x is a true

sentence of our total theory', it's easy, but then our predicates M(Pi) will contain

primitive semantic terms. So we Tarski-ize truth; but that requires the use of all

the primitive predicates of our total theory, and hence we are committed to all

the objects we sought to avoid.

I am very much indebted to Charles Parsons' patient correspondence, which

enabled me to get straight on the status of L-S*.

6Thanks are due to Timothy McCarthy for very helpful discussion.

7Assuming we believe only a finite number of sentences, the logical closure of our

set of beliefs is finitely axiomatizable and so comes under Kleene's theorem 38.

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ONTOLOGICAL REDUCTION 63

The reason is that, although at each stage we can translate our

"numerical" beliefs into set theory salva veritate, we must continue to

speak the old numerical language to continue our research. If the

numerical language with its commitment to numbers is still a

permanent feature of the knowledge-gathering enterprise, we are

still committed to numbers. The same is equally true of the proposed

translation of the rest of our beliefs into numerical language. When

new beliefs are added, the new corpus can be translated-but only

with a new dictionary. Thus new beliefs and new knowledge can

be acquired only by a two-stage process: acquire evidence and justifi-

cation in the old language and then translate. Thus a complete ac-

count of the justification we have for our beliefs in the numerical

language will rely upon evidence gathered in the old language: we

are left as dependent as before upon the original ontology.

But Pythagoras's revenge may not be dependent upon the fate of

L-S-inspired translations. Assume that we have reduced our material

ontology to volumes of space-time, in addition to the numbers

needed for mathematics. Gilbert Harman argues that, if we are

given the axes of a coordinate system for space-time, each such

volume is identifiable with a set of quadruples of real numbers.8

Thus our material ontology may be replaced with an ontology com-

posed solely of numbers and sets, and from there it is a short step

to eliminate the numbers and be left with a universe containing only

sets. And since it is possible to specify the open sentences with which

the physical predicates are to be replaced, the defense mustered

above will not apply. In this case, the "translation" is actually

provided so that we can replace our talk of regions of space-time

with talk of sets. Since even the strongest interpretation of (R) is

thus satisfied by Harman's reduction, (R) is seen to be inadequate

if Harman's reduction is inadequate. But what exactly is wrong with

Harman's reduction? Is it really on a par with the L-S type of

trivialization? One might argue: a procedure for reducing to numbers

any theory's commitments seems to show that we cannot need any

entities other than numbers, no matter what the truth about the

universe turns out to be; and this is paradoxical. But Harman is

merely remarking that our theory as it is requires only numbers.

Unless we have some proof that the universe must contain non-

numbers, it seems we must admit that we could discover that

Pythagoras was right; can't we interpret Harman's reduction as such

a discovery?

8 "Quine on Meaning and Existence," Review of Metaphysics, XXI, 1, 2 (Septem-

ber, December 1967): 124-151; 343-367, esp. pp. 356-367.

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64 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

of the problem. Not only are we in search of an adequate criterion

for ontological reduction, but we are unclear concerning cases. We

have lost our grasp of what ontological reductions are supposed to

accomplish, and how they are to be justified. Thus the skepticism

expressed earlier with respect to (EI) and (R)-that they provided

no justification for reduction, even if they could not be faulted on

cases-is confirmed. To get an account of ontology-reducing transla-

tion between theories, we must start over, almost from the beginning.

II. (R)'S FAILURE AND ITS DIAGNOSIS

(R) has survived the attack of blanket Pythagoreanism. Neverthe-

less, its inability to provide a justification of the supposed ontological

consequences of the translations it sanctions leaves us suspicious.

What is its intuitive basis? (R) guarantees that in trading sentences

of T for those in T' via the translation induced by C, we will preserve

the truth value of each sentence of T. We also preserve the predicate

structure of the sentences of T, and hence their logical relations with

one another will be unaltered. Also, the proxy function shows us

which objects of the universe T' are being used as proxies for which

objects of T. These three links between T and T' are the common

property of all the ontological reductions that are universally ac-

cepted, and it is intuitively appealing that at least truth value and

predicate structure should be preserved. For the idea of reduction

that (R) seeks to capture is automatic: T' reduces T by showing

that the work done by T can be done as well by T'. If a sentence of

T is mapped onto a sentence of T' which differs from it in truth

value, then T' is not filling the place of T. This holds for predicate

structure as well, since it is that structure which determines logical

relations. But now we may well wonder: is the cognitive role of a

theory exhausted by its assignment of truth values to sentences and

the logical relations among them ?' If not, that is, if a theory is more

than a set of sentences having first-order form and determinate truth

value, then a criterion that guarantees that only this will be pre-

9 Consider, for example, the standard explanation of Skolem's "paradox." A

wff of formal set theory "asserts" the existence of an uncountable set, and yet

the formal theory in which that wff is a theorem has a countable model. To those

who are puzzled by this state of affairs we explain: the wff per se asserts nothing.

Given an interpretation it asserts whatever content the interpretation assigns it.

In particular, the domain the interpretation assigns to quantifiers will affect

what the wff asserts in that interpretation. But now let us reflect upon the fact

that both the naive interpretation whose domain includes "all sets" and the

countable sub-interpretation provided by the L-S theorem assign identical truth

values to all the sentences of set theory, and of course do not alter their logical

form. And it is precisely in this case that we insist that there is all the difference

in the world between the theories.

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ONTOLOGICAL REDUCTION 65

translations. This is the case not only with (R), but with any cri-

terion such that:

(*) The definiens of a constructional definition satisfying the cri-

terion may be replaced by any known extensionalequivalent without

loss of satisfaction.

For a criterion with this feature will tell us, for example, that, since

any progression of entities of the order type of the natural numbers

will do for the reduction of the natural numbers, it makes no differ-

ence how we refer to the elements of the progression-as long as we

know we are so referring. But in fact it makes a great difference, as

the following example will show.

Consider the theory S of zero and successor, whose primitives are

'Zx' and 'Sxy' and whose axioms are:

(x) (y) (Zx D -Syx)

(x) (y) (z) (Sxy& Sxz Dy =z)

(x) (y) (z) (Syx & Szx D y = z)

(3x) Zx

(x) (3y) (Sxy)

The ordinary interpretation of the primitives is: 'x is zero' and 'x

immediately precedes y'. One set-theoretical reduction (Dl) would

have us interpret the primitives as: 'x is the null set' and 'y = {x}',

which then gives us X, 44 ((44)}, ..., as proxies for the natural

numbers. Now here is another set-theoretical reduction (D2): in-

terpret 'Zx' as before and 'Sxy' as '(y = x & (3x) (x is a unicorn)) v

y = {x)'. We know that the definientia of (D2) are extensionally

equivalent to those of (Dl). Nevertheless, (D2) is a totally unac-

ceptable reduction. For consider so uncontroversial a sentence as

(1) Nothing is its own successor.

On (D2), (1) will be translated as

(2) (x) ((x = x & (3x) (x is a unicorn)) v x = {x))

The trouble with (2) as a translation of (1) is made apparent if we

compare their relations to

(3) (x is a unicorn)

O(3x)

(1) has no interesting relation to (3). (2), by contrast, logically im-

plies (3). This is a problem, because the logical relations of the

theory we are reducing will be grossly misrepresented by the reducing

theory. Elementary truths of arithmetic do not logically imply the

nonexistence of unicorns. Any reduction that proposes sentences

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66 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

clearly unacceptable.

We now have a sharpened objection to (R) and a tentative

diagnosis. Unacceptable reductions such as (D2) are sanctioned by

(R), and in fact by any criterion satisfying (*). The culprit it seems,

is (*): an adequate criterion for ontological reduction cannot be

extensional. How then shall we characterize the successful onto-

logical reductions and explain their efficacy?

III. THE EPISTEMIC STRUCTURE OF THEORIES

The reduction of the ontology of a theory T to that of a theory T' is

effected by a translation of the former theory into the latter. This

translation is supposed to show us how to do without T altogether;

thus, ontological reduction is a species of theoretical reduction. We

expect to be shown how all of T's legitimate functions as a cognitive

tool can be handled by T'. It will not do to replace T by T' if the

replacement bars the way to knowledge that T provides, or makes

inexplicable knowledge that T renders apparent. For example, it

will not do to "solve" the problem of abstract entities by simply

dropping all predicates that refer to them from our vocabulary, since

this will deprive us of mathematics. Likewise, if the logical relations

in T' are such that some belief that is justifiable in T has a transla-

tion that is not justifiable in T', or the nature of its justification

undergoes radical alteration in going from T to T', the replacement

of T by T' will mangle the structure of our knowledge. This is what

has happened with (D2) above. Imagine replacing arithmetical

sentences throughout the corpus of our knowledge by their (D2)

translations. (1) is then replaced by (2), and so in order to know the

translation of 'O s 1, we will have to know that there are no uni-

corns. Those who have their doubts about unicorns will thus be

unable to use (D2)'s version of elementary arithmetic with confi-

dence. Furthermore, even those of us who are sure that the universe

is devoid of unicorns can use (D2) arithmetic with no more confi-

dence than that surety possesses-which is a good deal less than we

ordinarily accord to arithmetic. It begins to emerge from these

reflections that, in order to preserve the cognitive usefulness of T,

the reduction to T' will have to do more than preserve truth value

and internal logical relations: the logical relations of T's sentences to

sentences outside T are of equal concern. If the latter are greatly

altered by the reduction we may expect cognitive anomalies as a

result.

Just as deductive relations do not exhaust the relations of rational

support that make knowledge possible, so they do not provide the

sole type of cognitive anomaly which may plague an ontological

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ONTOLOGICAL REDUCTION 67

damaging. For example, if we characterize molecules in the familiar

way and assume that gases are collections of molecules, we get the

dynamic explanation of the gas laws. If, however, we characterize

molecules as the units of chemical combination, the explanation is

not forthcoming. Likewise, if we identify Jones's pain at t with some

neural event in Jones's body at t, we may get an explanation of

Jones's pain behavior shortly after t-if we refer to the brain event

in neurophysiological terms. If we refer to that event merely as

"the brain event that was Jones's pain at t" the explanation will be

lost. Thus we can have two reductions that employ coextensive

definientia only one of which preserves relations of explanation.

The general point these examples illustrate is that the cognitive

role of a theory is (at least in part) determined by its epistemic struc-

ture, i.e., the relations of rational support which hold among the

sentences of the theory. Epistemic structure thus includes relations

of (i) deductive implication, (ii) confirmation, (iii) explanation, (iv)

so-called "analytic" implications or meaning relations, and so on.

In general, any relation R among sentences will contribute to

epistemic structure if a belief in S may be at least partially de-

fended by citing a justified belief in S' and the fact that S'RS.

What the examples of unsuccessful reduction show is that epistemic

structure may not be seriously altered with impunity. This suggests

that we should require the following as a necessary condition of

ontological reduction:

(Cl) An ontological reductionof T to T' must preservethe epistemic

structure of the language of our most comprehensivetheory.

And at the very least we must put firmly behind us the model-

theoretic approaches to ontological reductions We are never able to

specify a set of sentences and say: the theoretical role of the Fs is

to make these sentences true; therefore any model of that set of

sentences will do in place of the Fs for theory's sake. Reproduction

of epistemic structure cannot be explicated in terms of which entities

are referred to, in abstraction from the particular predicates doing

the referring.

10 It is the assumption that the model-theoreticapproach is appropriatewhich

led Leslie Tharp to remark: "nowhere . . . is it arguedwhy this general concept

of ontological reduction should not be trivialized, that is, why the reductions

given by the L6wenheim-Skolemconstruction are less satisfactory than others.

Likewiseit is not demonstratedthat the existenceof a proxyfunction is a necessary

or sufficientcondition for a reduction to fall under some independentlyexplained

concept of ontologicalreduction"["OntologicalReduction,"this JOURNAL, LXVIII,

6 (March 25, 1971): 151-164, p. 156].

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68 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

mic structure is unfortunately impossible. And since there are suc-

cessful reductions, it follows that it cannot be necessary. Let us see

why this is so. The standard Zermelo reduction of the natural num-

bers [(Dl) of the last section] is a successful reduction. Now the

axioms and definitionsof Zermeloset theory do not logically imply

'0 e 1', but they do logically imply the (DI)-translation of that

sentence. Thus deductive relations are not preservedby the trans-

lation. In fact, it is easy to see that any translation, by replacing

predicateswith open sentences that are not logically equivalent to

those predicates,will alter the deductive relations of T's sentences

with sentences outside T. Let 'Fx' be translated by 'ox'. '(3x)Fx'

will not logically imply '(3x)+x', but its translationwill. Thus (Cl)

is wrong.

One may protest that the failure of (Cl) with respect to (Dl)

concernsonly sentences that are of no account. '0 e 1' is regardedas

false or truth-valueless,according to taste; but we all agree that

what its truth status and logical relationsare is of no cognitive im-

portance. If this were typical of (Cl)'s mistakes, we could tighten

it up by requiring preservation of epistemic structure only for

cognitively nontrivial sentences. But the more general observation

with which the previousparagraphends shows that this will not do.

'(3x) (x = 0)' and '(3x) (x = 0)' are deductively unrelated,but, since

the (Dl)-translation of the formeris the latter, we see that (Dl)

affects the logical relations of cognitively important sentences as

well. How then shall we describe the differencebetween (Dl) and

(D2)? Why is it that the deductive relations altered by (D2)

destroy its usefulness whereas those altered by (Dl) do not? The

answeris that only the formeradverselyaffects the kind of justifica-

tion we have for certain parts of our knowledge and in so doing

destroys their cognitive role.

In order to understandthis answer, consider proof theory for a

moment. Supposewe have a nonconstructiveproof of a sentence S.

Even those who do not feel bound to constructivismmathematically

or philosophicallyrecognizean advance when a constructive proof

of S is found. Similarly, when Quine shows us how to define the

natural numbers and prove induction without assuming the ex-

istence of any infinite sets,1"this is consideredan improvementon

the standard treatment. By contrast, there is little epistemic in-

terest in the differencesbetweenGentzen'sand Schutte'sconsistency

proofs for arithmetic. Both use the same controversialprinciple

induction up to eo-and differ only in the details of the formal

11Set Theory and Its Logic (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard, 1969), ch. 4.

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ONTOLOGICAL REDUCTION 69

observed outside proof theory. Imagine someone arguing as follows:

"I know that all nonblack things are noncrows. Hence, by the

principle 'P D (Q D P)' of sentential logic, I know that if all crows

are black then all nonblack things are noncrows." If he knows the

premise he knows the conclusion as well, but only as the conclusion

of that argument, and hence only with the certainty that its premise

possesses. Furthermore, the kinds of observation and investigation

that we could suggest as relevant tests for the premise will be, for

him, relevant tests for the conclusion. Suppose we now point out to

him that, as an instance of the law of the contrapositive, the con-

clusion of the argument is logically valid. The result is a radical

change in the kind of justification, and hence in the kind of knowl-

edge, which he has for the conclusion. The epistemic role of his belief

in the conclusion is radically transformed. Now we may put the

difference between (DI) and (D2) as follows: the cognitive useful-

ness of arithmetic depends upon certain features of its epistemic role.

In this case, the fact that arithmetic sentences are not open to

refutation by simple observation is central. (Dl) preserves this

feature, but (D2) destroys it.

It is easy to generalize this description of the difference between

(DI) and (D2) into a successor for (Cl). The sentences of our

theories stand to one another in the various relations that constitute

epistemic structure. Those relations determine the epistemic role of

a sentence-the kinds of justification and knowledge of which each

sentence is susceptible. Certain features of a sentence's epistemic role

are essential to its cognitive function. And so:

(C2) An ontological reduction of T to T' must preservethe essential

features of the epistemic roles of the sentences of T.

clude the following: (i) it distinguishes (Dl) and (D2) in a way

which shows why the former is acceptable and not the latter; (ii) it

is not trivialized by the appeal to "essential" features: the non-

observationality of arithmetical sentences can be defended as es-

sential without considering the possibility of ontological reductions;

and (iii) the kinds of epistemological investigation which are needed

to give clear content to (C2) are needed urgently for their own sake

as well. For the result of abandoning the analytic/synthetic distinc-

tion is not a homogeneous picture of our knowledge, but rather a

recognition of the need for a myriad of subtler distinctions which will

do justice to the differences in epistemic role among logic, mathe-

matics, deep theory, projectible regularities, observations, etc.

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70 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

which we started, namely, that ontological reduction is a species of

theoretical reduction whose justification requires a guarantee that

the cognitive usefulness of the theory to be reduced not be destroyed

by the reduction. The strongest reservation concerning (C2) is one

of applicability: if we must have a completely adequate epistemology

before its content is clear, of what use is it now? Well, let's test it on

a difficult and controversial case: Pythagoreanism.

IV. BLANKET PYTHAGOREANISM

Two questions must be distinguished: Is Harman's reduction ac-

ceptable? Can any Pythagorean reduction be acceptable? I will

argue that the answer to both questions is "No" for the same reason:

violation of (C2). Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that the

two questions are of unequal scope. The former concerns a particular

reduction-a particular translation-which can be evaluated on its

merits. To establish the more general point that all purely numerical

universes are illegitimate requires showing that no purely numerical

translation can be adequate. In the light of the fact that (C2) appeals

to nonextensional features of predicates, an extensional result such

as this is unexpected and striking.

First, let me fill in the Quinean background. Once upon a time,

Quine would have given short shrift to our problem. He wrote:

Unless we change meaningsin midstream,the familiarbodies around

us are as real as can be; and it smacks of a contradictionin terms to

conclude otherwise. . . . Common-sense bodies . . are concep-

tually fundamental: it is by referenceto them that the very notions

of reality and evidence are acquired (The Wraysof Paradox, 238/9).

Thus a purely numerical universe is ruled out since it would exclude

physical bodies, which are the "paradigm cases" of reality. Later,12

however, Quine's position took a subtler turn:

In particularwe shall find, as we get on with organizing and ad-

justing various of the turns of phase that participate in what pass

for affirmations of existence, that certain of these take on key

significance in the increasingly systematic structure; and then, re-

acting in a manner typical of scientific behavior, we shall come to

favor these idioms as the existence affirmations"strictly so-called."

One could even end up, though we ourselvesshall not, by findingthat

the smoothest and most adequate overall account of the world does

not after all accord existence to ordinary physical things, in that

refinedsense of existence (Wordand Object,4).

In other words, physical bodies are genetically primary-it is through

12 Wordand Object(Cambridge,Mass.: MIT Press, 1960).

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ONTOLOGICAL REDUCTION 71

gradual evolution of scientific language moves existence locutions

into a theoretical niche far from its roots. From that vantage point

it could conceivably cut its roots and tolerate the banishment of

physical bodies from reality. In the name of what ideals? Those of

scientific method, of course: "being guided by sensory stimuli, a

taste for simplicity in some sense, and a taste for old things (ibid.,

23)." The same considerations that lead us to posit molecules, fields,

and even numbers for the sake of a more satisfactory over-all

theory, even though these entities stray far from the paradigms of

reality, can lead us to repudiate those paradigms as well. Thus

Quine's later thoughts, with which I concur, assure us that our

worry over purely numerical ontologies is not idle. So I shall start

by examining Harman's reduction.

First of all, it is not so clear how his reduction is supposed to

work.'3 Although he claims that predicates can readily be provided

with which regions of space-time are reduced to sets of quadruples

of (sets representing) numbers, he does not specify those predicates.

I imagine the procedure roughly as follows. First there is the assign-

ment of a quadruple of numbers to each point-instant of space-time,

described by Quine thus:

We pick five particle-events a, b, c, d, e, not quite at random. (The

requirementis merely that they mark the vertices of a full-fledged

four-dimensional"hypersolid,"rather than all lying in a plane or a

three-dimensionalsolid.) . . . Now every point (or point-instant) in

space-time is uniquely determined once we specify its "distance"

. . . from each of the five (Wordand Object,255).

Next, a region of space-time is just a set of point-instants, and so is

identified with a set of quadruples of numbers, under the given cor-

relation. Finally, a predicate of regions of space-time is replaced by

a predicate that is true of exactly those sets of quadruples which are

correlated with regions of space-time of which the first predicate

was true. For example, 'red' might be replaced by 'set-of-quadruples-

correlated-with-a-red-region-of-space-time'. By virtue of the dashes

the latter is a monadic predicate that makes no reference to regions

of space-time; only sets of quadruples of set-numbers are mentioned.

If each of our primitive physical predicates is replaced in like fashion,

we can see how we will be left with a theory that refers only to

13 For an independent critique of a Harman-type

reduction, cf. John Myhill,

"Remarks on the Language of Physics," Philosophy of Science, xxx, 4 (October

1963): 305/6. Myhill objects that a reductionvia numericalcoordinatescommits

us to a specific subset of Euclidean four-space as the geometry of space-time,

despite the fact that the true geometry of space-time is unknown.

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72 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

even direct reference to objects can be numerically interpreted as

deferred ostension. If by pointing to a brick I can refer to its color,

I can equally well refer to its code number (or set of quadruples).

Before we consider the status of the reduction induced by the

proposed translation, it will have to be modified in order to preserve

even truth.'4 For, if 'red' is translated as above, then '(ax) (x is

red)' will be translated '(3x) (x is-a-set-of-quadruples-correlated-

'

is some set uncorrelated with anything, whetheror not there are red

regions of space time. That is, as long as the correlation mapping

is not one-one with respect to the full domain of the reducing set

theory, every sentence of the form '(3x) Fx' will be translated as

'

(sets of) quadruples that come under the correlation. For any

plausible correlation, this is easily done within the language of set

theory. '(3x) Fx' is then rendered '(3x) (x is-correlated-with-

something & (x is-correlated-with-an-F))' which is true just in

case there are non-Fs, as desired.

Now, does this reduction satisfy (C2) ? No. To see this, consider

the sentence (A) (Ox)(x is a crow & x is black). Sam can come to

know (A) by "merely taking a look." The scare-quotes indicate that

coming to know via taking a look may be heavily dependent upon

background knowledge; accordingly, we are to assume that Sam

has that knowledge (Sam is good at identifying crows by sight and

can recognize black). Now the translation of this sentence is

(B) (3x) (x is-correlated-with-something& x is-correlated-with-a-

crow & - (x is-correlated-with-something-black))

Can Sam come to know (B) by taking a look? No. The reason is that

the truth of (B) depends upon certain features of the correlation

which may very well not be in Sam's background knowledge. Sup-

pose the correlation is not one-one. In particular, suppose that every

quadruple is correlated to some point-instant in some black thing,

in addition to being correlated to the point-instant assigned it by

the "distance" relation of the paragraph before last. Then (B) will

be false even though (A) is true. Now you and I, having studied the

proposed correlation, know that it is one-one. And so you and I

know that it does in fact preserve truth value, and so, since (A) is

true, (B) is also true. But what is at stake here is not preservation of

truth value, but preservation of epistemic role. (A) has the status

14 Discussion with Dave Flaxman eradicated a serious error at this

point in the

penultimate draft.

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ONTOLOGICAL REDUCTION 73

of an observation sentence for Sam, but (B) does not. And the

difference between (A) and (B) does not turn on Sam's ignorance

of the fact that the correlation is one-one. For to know that the

correlation is one-one, Sam needs to know that the five particle-

events with which we started "mark the vertices of a full-fledged

four-dimensional hypersolid." Depending upon what particle events

are chosen, it may require observation, instrument theory, deep

physical theory, high-powered mathematics, etc. to certify that

choice. Even if Sam has this information, the fact that it is needed

in order to come to know (B) gives (B) an epistemic status far

removed from that of (A). It leaves (B) open to avenues of dis-

confirmation which are irrelevant to (A). A visual report of a non-

black crow can be challenged by appeal to lighting conditions and

the like; (B) can be challenged in addition by a critique of instru-

ment theory, etc.

The warp of epistemic status engendered by the need for the

knowledge that the correlation is one-one is not restricted to observa-

tion sentences. To know the translation of any sentence of the form

'(3x) , Fx' will require knowing that the correlation is one-one. If

knowledge of the original sentence does not require the relevant

science, its epistemic status will shift in translation by the need for

that science. Thus there will be sentences at many levels of our

knowledge-sentences known by observation, the projection of ob-

served regularities, so-called "analytic" truths-whose epistemic

status will be lost in translation. The result is that (C2) is violated

throughout our theory of the world.

Another instance in which epistemic status will be affected by

Harman's reduction is explanation; in particular, microreductions

will be lost. If the sentences that provide microreductions are robbed

of their ordinary referents, the explanation will normally be de-

stroyed. Take the molecular theory of gases as an example. When it

is coupled with the kinetic theory of heat, we get the familiar ex-

planation of the gas laws. Indeed, it is the fact that the molecular

theory of gases provides an explanation of the gas laws, instead of

merely having the gas laws as deductive consequences, that gives

such strong support to that theory. Many (I am among them)

believe that the explanatory power of this theory is due to its

enabling us to predict how gases will behave via a theory of the mate-

rial constituents of the gas. This is not to say that all microreductions

-i.e., all cases of deducing the behavior of an entity from the be-

havior of its parts-explain. (Think of explaining the flight of a

baseball into the stands by appeal to the flight of its elementary

particles to the same place.) Rather, it is held that in some cases and

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74 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

tion depends essentially upon microreduction.15

Now imagine such an explanation numericalized. We have sets of

quadruples correlated-with-gaseous-portions-of-space-time, corre-

lated-with-molecule-portions-of-space-time, etc. The hyphens warn

us to read these predicates monadically: the universe contains

classes and nothing else. Thus, in translation, there is no microre-

duction; nothing is asserted to be composed of anything else. The

only significant tie between the explanation and the laws to be ex-

plained is deduction, and so we lose our account of the source of

support for the theory. Thus, if we continue to attribute the same

support to the molecular theory in translation, we are doing so only

by illicitly reading the numerical predicates as if the hyphens were

removed. If explanatory power and inductive support are due es-

sentially to microreduction in this case, we cannot maintain the

support in translation unless we read the translation as a case of

microreduction as well. Since there can be no literal microreduction

in a numerical universe, it is the illicit reference to the material

bodies correlated with the sets of quadruples which gives the illusion

of microreduction. If the translated theory is read literally, there is

no microreduction and, hence, little or no inductive support, and

again epistemic structure suffers in translation. The result is a second

clear violation of (C2): an essential feature of the epistemic role of

the molecular theory-namely, its ability to provide an explanation-

cum-microreduction of the gas laws-will not survive Harman's

reduction.

Although examination of other features of epistemic structure is

desirable, enough has been done to show the illegitimacy of

Harman's neo-pythagoreanism. The violations of (C2), resulting in

the destruction of the cognitive usefulness of the reduced theory,

explain its failure. Furthermore, we see that (C2) is clear enough to

15 For one analysis with affinities to my point of view, cf. Robert Causey,

"Uniform Microreductions,"Synthese, xxv, 1/2 (November/December 1972):

176-218, esp. sec. vi. I would hope to avoid the appeal to attributes in explicating

microreduction,but the notion of identifying two domains seems to me to be

essential. Thus I applaud the statement of Noam Chomsky and Jerrold Katz,

"What the Linguist Is Talking About," this JOURNAL, LXXI, 12 (June 27, 1974):

347-367: "to explain observableeffects like the changeof the color of water when

dye is put in it in terms of the migrationof dye moleculesinto the spaces between

the water molecules commits scientists to the reality of the unobserved causal

conditions, since such explanations make sense only if we adopt the realistic as-

sumption that the theoretical terms in which they are couched actually refer to

things in nature. If one were to say that the term 'molecule' in the foregoing

explanationis a merefalon de parler,that it denotes nothing real, the 'explanation'

would become nonsense" (365).

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ONTOLOGICAL REDUCTION 75

be applied to proposed reductions of considerable interest, in spite

of its dependence upon unresolved problems of epistemology for its

ultimate clarification. In addition, the case of lost explanation pro-

vides a starting point for the rejection of any Pythagorean reduction.

Recall that the violation of (C2) by the translation of the molecular

theory followed from (i) the necessity of interpreting the explanation

provided by that theory as a case of microreduction, and (ii) the

fact that in a numerical universe there are no microreductions. (i)

and (ii) together constitute a quite general argument against any

translation of physical theory into a theory whose ontology is purely

numerical or set-theoretical.

V. TOWARD A CRITERION FOR ONTOLOGICAL REDUCTION

Let's stop a moment to take stock. We have seen that (i) the criteria

for ontological reduction advocated by Goodman and Quine do not

succumb to blanket Pythagoreanism, but nevertheless (ii) they are

incorrect, sanctioning as they do the unicorn-reduction of numbers

to sets. Furthermore, (iii) their failure is shared by any extensional

criterion, since (iv) (C2) is a necessary condition for the acceptability

of a reduction, and (C2) appeals to nonextensional features. Having

thus cleared the field of the errors of our forebears, what can be done

toward providing an acceptable criterion-i.e., a condition which is

both necessary and sufficient and which will integrate into an ac-

count of the ontological consequences of the successful reductions?

We already have (C2) as a necessary condition; so it is a natural first

step to try it out as sufficient as well. Unfortunately, some sticky

questions immediately appear whose treatment I can only hint at

in the briefest way.

First, we must decide what feature of ontological reductions we

want (C2) to be sufficient for. We must be careful not to confuse the

legitimacy of a reduction with its over-all desirability. We may admit

the legitimacy of various set-theoretical reductions of number

theory, and yet reject them because set theory is more poorly under-

stood than number theory. We may admit the legitimacy of a re-

duction of events to objects, properties, and times, and yet reject

the reduction because we abhor properties. The legitimacy of a

reduction of Fs to Gs is what entitles us to claim that "for the

purposes at hand . . . no commitment to [EFsbeing different from

Gs] is necessary." To conclude that we ought, all things considered,

to drop the Fs in favor of their G-counterparts requires in addition a

careful consideration of "all things" i.e., the impact this would

have on the simplicity, unity, explanatory power, etc. of our total

theory. Obviously, (C2) is not a sufficient condition for the over-all

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76 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

legitimacy?

It may seem so. For existence of a reduction of T to T' satisfying

(C2) reveals the epistemic equivalence of those two theories taken

as wholes. From the point of view of our total theory of the world,

T and T' play the same role in providing rational support for our

beliefs. Hence our total theory is redundant, and, if larger methodo-

logical concerns are served by so doing, T may be dropped. Its

elimination can result in no cognitive loss; this is what the satis-

faction of (C2) guarantees. Here we have the germ of our two de-

siderata: an argument for the sufficiency of (C2) and a justification

for ontological reductions.

However, the need for the qualification "From the point of view

of our total theory" should give us pause. We are viewing the sen-

tences of T as providers of rational support for the rest of the sen-

tences we know, and we declare T redundant because T' does this job

well; is this really sufficient to justify T's elimination? Is the sole

function of a theory to provide cognitive lubrication for the rest of

our knowledge? We have to claim that when we drop T the result

is no cognitive loss; why isn't the loss of T itself a cognitive loss?

There are two responses to these questions.

(1) Capitulation: there is no reason to accord T this purely

functional status with respect to the rest of our knowledge. (C2) is

not sufficient even for the legitimacy of a reduction. We require in

addition that T be the kind of theory which functions in the indi-

cated manner. How this is to be established in particular cases be-

comes the focus of our search for a complete criterion and account

of ontological reduction.

(2) Rejoinder: we accept the seemingly counterintuitive conse-

quence that the cognitive function of any theory is specifiable

exhaustively in terms of its contribution to our total theory.

Our inability to answer the pointed questions of three paragraphs

back seems to ram capitulation down our throats. But try to think

of an example of a theory whose reduction is not legitimized by (C2).

Not only does (C2) work for mathematical and deep physical

theories, but it seems equally suited to reductions of physical objects

to sense data, and of events to objects, properties, and times. Until

we have an example of a theory that satisfies (C2) and yet whose

elimination could not be sanctioned on grounds of over-all theoretical

methodology, we must take (2) seriously. A complete account of

ontological reduction waits on the exploration of these alternatives.

DALE GOTTLIEB

The Johns Hopkins University

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