Publication 7894

Schwartz R. (1986) I’m going to make you a star. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 11: 427–429. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/7894
Excerpt: The belief that the world is a product of our conceptualizations, that facts are as much made as found, has an air of otherworldliness. And a forceful “But people don’t make stars” is often thought to be the simplest way to bring proponents of such metaphysical foolishness back to their senses. For isn’t it obvious that the stars in the firmament are not of our doing? There were stars long before sentient beings crawled about and longer still before the concept “star” was thought of or explicitly formulated. Indeed, there would have been stars, with all their properties, had there never been organisms with minds. The claim that we make our world is thus untenable. We do create concepts and theories, but not the facts they purport to describe. These are mind-independent, a matter of the world just being as it is. Now the thesis that we participate in making our world would not be worth serious consideration if, for example, the claim were that we physically fashioned stars from earth, air, fire, and water, and, having given them their shape, placed them in the heavens above. Rather, the claim is that in fashioning and shaping theories, we make stars. This latter version of the thesis has the advantage of not being patently false, and the disadvantage of being more puzzling. For if we do not actually take raw material and work on it until it has starlike properties, surely we cannot be said to literally make stars. So at best the thesis of world-making would seem to come to no more than a play on the word ‘make.’ Perhaps so, but plays on words can be revealing. In this case, it may help us appreciate that the alternative picture of a world readymade, of facts waiting out there to be discovered, of objects that are at one and the same time mind-independent and Self-Identifying, is no less a play on words and no easier to spell out. Still, for those who bridle at using the phrase ‘making stars’ in anything but a robust physical crafting sense, we can grant the point and, thus cautioned, go on to explore whether there is some additional construal of ‘making’ that may serve to elucidate the integral role conceptualization plays in constructing our world.
Reprinted in: Schwartz R. (2020) Pragmatic perspectives: Constructivism beyond truth and realism. Routledge Publishers, New York: 69–83.

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