Papers on Common Sense and Scientific Realism
Barry Smith and Roberto Casati, “Naive Physics: An Essay in Ontology”, Philosophical Psychology, 7/2 (1994), 225–244.
The project of a naive physics has been the subject of attention in recent years above all in the artificial intelligence field, in connection with work on common-sense reasoning, perceptual representation and robotics. The idea of a theory of the common-sense world is however much older than this, having its roots not least in the work of phenomenologists and Gestalt psychologists such as Kohler, Husserl, Schapp and Gibson. This paper seeks to show how contemporary naive physicists can profit from a knowledge of these historical roots of their discipline, which are shown to imply above all a critique of the set-theory-based models of reality typically presupposed by contemporary work in common-sense ontology.
Barry Smith, “Formal Ontology, Common Sense, and Cognitive Science”, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 43 (1995), 641–667.
Common sense is on the one hand a certain set of processes of natural cognition – of speaking, reasoning, seeing, and so on. On the other hand common sense is a system of beliefs (of folk physics, folk psychology and so on). Over against both of these is the world of common sense, the world of objects to which the processes of natural cognition and the corresponding belief-contents standardly relate. What are the structures of this world? How does the scientific treatment of this world relate to traditional and contemporary metaphysics and formal ontology? Can we embrace a thesis of common-sense realism to the effect that the world of common sense exists uniquely? Or must we adopt instead a position of cultural relativism which would assign distinct worlds of common sense to each group and epoch? The present paper draws on recent work in computer science (especially in the fields of naive and qualitative physics), in perceptual and developmental psychology, and in cognitive anthropology, in order to consider in a new light these and related questions and to draw conclusions for the methodology and philosophical foundations of the cognitive sciences.
Barry Smith, “The Structures of the Commonsense World”, Acta Philosophica Fennica, 58 (1995), 290–317.
The paper seeks to show how the world of everyday human cognition might be treated as an object of ontological investigation in its own right. The paper is influenced by work on affordances and prototypicality of psychologists such as Gibson and Rosch, by work on cognitive universals of the anthropologist Robin Horton, and by work of Patrick Hayes and others on ‘naive’ or ‘qualitative physics’. It defends a thesis to the effect that there is, at the heart of common sense, a theoretical core of true propositions pertaining to mesoscopic objects, and that the latter are to be understood as relating mereologically to the objects studied by physical science.
Barry Smith, “Common Sense”, in Barry Smith and David W. Smith (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Husserl, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995, 394–436.
Can there be a theory-free experience? And what would be the object of such an experience. Drawing on ideas set out by Husserl in the “Crisis” and in the second book of his “Ideas”, the paper presents answers to these questions in such a way as to provide a systematic survey of the content and ontology of common sense. In the second part of the paper Husserl’s ideas on the relationship between the common-sense world (what he called the ‘life-world’) and the world of physical theory are subjected to a critical evaluation. The relation of Husserl’s ideas to current work in folk psychology and naive physics and to the direct realism of J. J. Gibson are also treated.
Barry Smith, “Towards an Ontology of Common Sense”, in Jaakko Hintikka and Klaus Puhl (eds.), The British Tradition in Twentieth-Century Philosophy, Vienna: Hölder-Pichler-Tempsky, 1995, 300–309.h
Just as some have argued that the folk-psychological ontology of beliefs, desires, etc. provides the basis for the best explanation we can have of the order of cognitive phenomena conceived from the perspective of first-person experience, so we argue here that (1) the commonsensical ontology of folk physics yields the best explanation we can have of our externally directed cognitive experience and that (2) an ontology of mesoscopic things, events and processes must play a role, in particular, in our best scientific theory of human action.
Barry Smith, “Objects and Their Environments: From Aristotle to Ecological Psychology”, in Andrew Frank, Jonathan Raper and Jean-Paul Cheylan (eds.), The Life and Motion of Socio-Economic Units (GISDATA 8), London: Taylor and Francis, 2001, 79–97.
The essay is divided into four main parts: the first sketches basic dichotomy of substances (objects, things, persons), on the one hand, and accidents (events, qualities, actions) at the heart of Aristotelian ontology. The second outlines some of the subtypes falling under these two headings. The third concerns the Aristotelian ontology of what is extended in space, including in particular a sketch of Aristotle’s theory of places. The fourth and final part then goes beyond Aristotle to give an account of the ontology of the environments which constitute the everyday world of human action.