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Publisher: Journals Gateway
Perspectives on Science (2017) 25 (3): 324–354.
Published: 01 May 2017
AbstractView article PDF
This paper traces the emergence of “why” questions in modern cosmology and the responding proliferation of multiverse discourse in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Critics who see speculative theorizing as delving into the metaphysical are not hard to find. George Ellis’ concern that we are entering a new era of ‘cosmological myth’ resonates with the 1937 debate regarding “cosmythology” and the shifting boundary between physics and metaphysics. However, the charge that multiverse proposals are nothing but speculative metaphysics can be considered in terms other than criteria relating to empirical testability. A historicist reading of what metaphysics represents in this context is presented in order to emphasize that “metaphysical” as a pejorative term in science discourse is a fluid and historically contingent concept. It appears that proposals are being considered metaphysical precisely when there is no consensus on what constitutes empirical testability. Drawing on the work of Nicholas Jardine, Hans-Jörg Rheinberger and Christopher Hookway, I argue that in cosmology during this period, particularly in relation to multiverse proposals, there appears a well-defined “scene of response”, rather than of fully-fledged inquiry. Thus, intelligible questions may be considered metaphysical, but not timelessly so.