THE MANY WORLDS ACCORDING TO GOODMAN
Nelson Goodman claims there are many worlds, which are made and re-made by the perceiver. But then he asks himself, "In just what sense are there many worlds?" and "What distinguishes genuine from spurious worlds?" He is not merely speaking of possible worlds but of "multiple actual worlds." He points out that any description of the world depends on a "frame of reference" or a system of description.
According to one frame of reference, the sun never moves; but according to a different frame, the sun always moves. These two statements about the sun are obviously contradictory, so both cannot be true, assuming that sun and moves mean the same in both sentences. Yet, they both can be true of the same sun under different frames of reference. Not just true according to different points of reference, or different spatial perspectives, but true within different ontological systems having differing base premises and assumptions. And these different systems cannot merely be reduced to one eternally correct or best system. Each maintains an ontological independence from the others. So no one frame or system is foundational to all others.
Goodman is suggesting there are these different valid versions of describing what is commonly called the world. But these are not merely different versions of one real world, according to Goodman, but different actual worlds. Goodman, though, is not making a claim that there are different physical earths, or that the world is just according to how each person sees it. He is embracing a pluralism but not a solipsism. And he is not claiming a new physics or a theory of multiple dimensions of physical reality. What are plural are the multitude of descriptions or world-versions.
Yet, a confusion may arise whether or not there are a multitude of actual worlds or a multitude of descriptive versions. Goodman would not say these are merely different descriptive versions of the same world, since the main reason they are different is because they are actually describing different phenomena or different worlds. And in the finding and describing of these worlds, one is just as much making them. The description becomes a world-made.
One might make the counter-claim that Goodmans worlds are merely descriptive versions of one real world. But if one were to line up all these versions and claim that they are versions of the real world, what real world would that be to compare them ? There is no method of testing versions with the real world they are supposed to describe, because there is no known world independent of some description. An undescribed world is never known.
Of course, there is no justified reason to believe, though, that the undescribed world does not exist - just that it is undescribed. I can accept Goodmans claim that there can be no real world of which to compare these versions, since the comparison would have to be among other descriptions or versions; but I still maintain there to be a real world with real events, such as Kants Noumenal. If someone denies that a car ran over my cat, or that the ozone layer is being depleted, there must either be a misunderstanding of terms and meanings in the question or in the given answer. I think it is confusing common language to call these versions "worlds" , for the "world" is that which is being described, or of which there are many phenomenological "versions". And yet, there may be good reason to speak of many worlds if these versions are actually describing different phenomena or different aspects of the whole reality. I think that Goodmans worlds could better be translated into aspects of reality for the realist or worlds of experience for the phenomenalist.
Still, this all implies some underlying truth or reality, which is the ground for different aspects, or which is the ground of types of experience. But Goodman claims that these world-versions do not just form out of some raw, underlying real world, but necessarily come out of other versions! To some extent he may be right, since no experience is without some kind of frame of perception, or some kind of organization or interpretation ("construction") of "real happenings" or "sense-qualia". But to what extent is of great importance, and I cannot fall into the relativist camp just because my perceptions are not "totally" raw or just because I organize the data of my experience.
Goodman is rejecting the monopolistic materialist position which claims preeminence and all-inclusivity, "such that every other version must eventually be reduced to it or rejected as false or meaningless (4)". He claims "the evidence of such reducibility is negligible (5)." Here, I much agree. He says of reduction that it is rare, usually partial, and seldom if ever unique. The strict materialist or physicalist sees the world with a certain bias and often arrogance, that their descriptions are the true ones and all others are either derivatives sloppy, misinformed, or merely poetic.
The physicalists prejudice is supported by its often usefulness in this materialistic society; yet, its manner of speaking about the world is very limited, or to say another way, its range and kinds of descriptions, and what it attempts to describe, is but a fragment of what is interesting and useful in everyday experience. To know the material make-up or physics of events is not at all what we are usually asking for. I am more interested in sharing our psychological and aesthetic experiences, than our informed knowledge of the mechanics of brain or atomic events. The world is an inter-social happening, as well as a physical flow of energies. The strict physicalist ultimately becomes boring (so does the strict linguist). He is describing the physical world, while the psychologist and the artist are describing the experiential world.
In this sense, then, there are different worlds, such as physical, mental, and social worlds, and there may be use in claiming sub-worlds within these main worlds, but we need to stop somewhere so that not every slightly different version is known as a world. I would suggest there are a small finite number of basic "frames" or kinds of world-versions, of which any version could fall into, or come out of, each of which would have their own peculiar methods of truth-value verification, as well as universal ones. There are different basic ways of description because there are different aspects of world-experience, of living experience [of the world]. The world is not just a material thing but an interaction, or a happening, which necessarily involves experience. So, the fundamental "frames of reference" are, I think, focuses of experience.
In the language of the realist there is but one world with many versions, while in the language of the phenomenalist there are many worlds but these are really worlds of experience. The realist would claim the existence of one underlying world of events, independent of any perception, while the phenomenalist can only claim a skepticism about any real world independent of perception, since there is no means of verifying an unperceptible world. Both agree, though, that the mind necessarily organizes experience, or empirical data, within the knowing process, and that there are different ways of description.
As Goodman says, "worlds are as much made as found, so also knowing is as much remaking as reporting (22)." The realist would probably hesitantly agree. But she would not agree that all different ways of description are valid. Yet, Goodman does not make this extreme relativist claim. He suggests certain fundamental tests of truth within each system, and a basic pragmatic test for rightness or right fit. He says, "That right versions and actual worlds are many does not obliterate the distinction between right and wrong versions... and does not imply that all right alternatives are equally good for every or indeed any purpose (20-21)." Goodman is a pragmatist more than a relativist.
The physical realist might claim, though, that all versions or descriptions of reality can be (or even should be) reduced to one ultimate physicalist description. Here is where Goodman definitely parts way from realism. He believes such a task is necessarily impossible, because the criteria for such a reduction is not on neutral ground, since there is no possibility for contrasting versions with a versionless reality, and no one version could possibly describe all that needs description. He points out that even the attempts at reduction within the physicalist camp have proven unsatisfactory and unpragmatic.
In a larger picture, there is no ultimate right or unique reduction, since the reduction of physicalism to phenomenalism is just as reasonable and useful as the reduction of phenomenalism to physicalism. Both are equally valid types of world-versions, depending on the question or pragmatic interest at-hand. On the one hand, both are caught in their unique webs of theory and presuppositions, and, on the other hand, both include their own standards and tests for truth-value.
So, there is no valid preeminence for reducing all descriptions to physicalist descriptions or validating all versions by correspondence to physical atomic facts. One kind of version or description cannot hold priority over another, since none can be proven as the ultimate ground of truth, except by its own particular presuppositions and systems of validation. And there is no real world known, apart from various descriptions, to contrast any one system or frame of description. As Putnam says, "there is no neutral place to stand."
Still, there must some general methods of truth verification. And since truth of a version cannot be found by way of contrasting it with other truth statements, or other kinds of organizing experience, the main validation is in not offending any of the systemic assumptions or precepts of which any statement is founded upon. In other words, a statement is true only if it is coherent within its particular "frame of reference" or system of description. But then, is there any necessary coherent relationship to other frames or systems? Here, Goodman suggests that there be no offense to general "unyielding beliefs". Does this mean beliefs of those who disagree or those who perceive within that system? He seems to be speaking of credibility within the general social and scientific community. Is this just a pragmatic test as to how far one can go into being a minority opinion, or as to how offensive of a relativist one can be?
But the physical realist would question Goodman as to How rigorous are the tests within each system. Science has concerned itself with such tests. But what are the tests of truth-value within the artistic community or in folk psychology? When we leave strict physicalism we seem to swim in an ocean of human experience without definite landmarks or maps of which all can agree. Since psychology and art are so much grounded upon individual experiences, which cannot be so easily measured or objectively quantified, there is a much greater philosophical problem of subjectivity leaking together with objectivity. Even though physical science has its own leaks, they are not so structurally immanent within the subject matter, as are these other mind-dependent worlds.
Goodmans final and ultimate test, though, appears to be how well or right a version fits or is useful in life. Goodman is ultimately a pragmatist concerning the rightness of versions. What is right depends on the question or interest at-hand. So, rightness of description is a virtue for Goodman. There is no pragmatic virtue in being overburdened with unnecessary or trivial information, and science itself does not prescribe such unwarranted detail but instead seeks simplification. As well, the virtue of description depends upon the need-at-hand, so any description should correspond to the specific aspect of reality in question. This implies, even for science, that descriptive truth-statements be variable according to that particular aspect of experience in question, which corresponds, I believe (significantly!), to what Goodman calls the "frame of reference".
And since there are many different kinds of questions and interests, not all physical or scientific, there should be many (but not infinite) different kinds of versions or worlds, each justified by their pragmatic value in our sharing of experience and the enriching of the understanding of our life and culture on this one planet. As Putnam points out in his interpretation and defense of Goodman, having scientific versions which are simple and universal, and being technologically useful for human flourishing, is an end in itself, but art also serves human flourishing by enlarging our perceptual and conceptual skills. I shall note also that psychological and artistic-metaphorical world-versions add to life understanding and make life more interesting by contributing multiple perspectives to life, the world, or whatever you call this living experience of inter-relationships, of which I am a part, and of which I inquire about. Even though, not all versions, scientific or artistic, have equal truth-value, nor have equal aesthetic or ethical significance.