the view that [in Quine's words] philosophy is 'not ... an a priori propaedeutic or groundwork for science, but [is] ... continuous with science' [...] In the USA it is widely held that with Quine's rejection of 'the' analytic/synthetic distinction, the possibility of philosophical or conceptual analysis collapses, the possibility of resolving philosophical questions by a priori argument and elucidation is foreclosed, and all good philosophers turn out to be closet scientists. (MS p. 2)For the record, Hacker believes that regardless of what Quine's arguments show about "the" analytic/synthetic distinction, the philosophical project of "conceptual analysis" is not threatened:
The thought that if there is no distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions, then philosophy must be 'continuous' with science rests on the false supposition that what was thought to distinguish philosophical propositions from scientific ones was their analyticity. That supposition can be challenged in two ways. First, by showing that characteristic propositions that philosophers have advanced are neither analytic nor empirical [but still a priori]. Secondly, by denying that there are any philosophical propositions at all.Myself, I never thought that the point about "continuity," about which naturalists make so very much, was that helpful. "Continuity" is cheap. Sure philosophy is "continuous" with science; but it's also "continuous" with art, literature, religion, law, politics, and, I don't know, sports. But I am being perverse here. Let me try instead to be not-perverse.
Strikingly, the Manifesto of the Vienna Circle, of which Carnap was both an author and signatory, pronounced that ‘the essence of the new scientific world-conception in contrast with traditional philosophy [is that] no special “philosophic assertions” are established, assertions are merely clarified’. [The Scientific Conception of the World: the Vienna Circle (Reidel, Dordrecht, 1973), p. 18] According to this view, the result of good philosophizing is not the production of analytic propositions peculiar to philosophy. Rather it is the clarification of conceptually problematic propositions and the elimination of pseudo-propositions. (p. 3)
[So instead of being "continuous" with science, Hacker claims, philosophy is] categorially distinct from science, both in its methods and its results. The a priori methods of respectable philosophy are wholly distinct from the experimental and hypothetico-deductive methods of the natural sciences, and the results of philosophy logically antecede the empirical discoveries of science. They cannot licitly conflict with the truth of scientific theories – but they may, and sometimes should, demonstrate their lack of sense. (p. 4)
As previous posts (not just recently but going back to distant 2005) may or may not have made clear, I want 1) to follow Wittgenstein in not only distinguishing philosophy from empirical inquiry (scientific or not), but also seeing it (in some contexts, for certain purposes) as an activity of provoking us into seeing differently what we already knew, by means of (among other things) carefully chosen reminders of same; but at the same time 2) to follow Davidson in pressing Quine to extend and (significantly!) modify the line of thought begun in "Two Dogmas," one which recasts empiricism in a linguistic light and purges it of certain dualisms left over from the positivistic era.
What we've seen so far is that Hacker and Quine are in firm agreement that I can't have it both ways. Either there's a solid "categorical" wall between philosophy and empirical inquiry, or we level that distinction to the ground. It's true that I couldn't have it both of those ways; but I don't want either of 'em. My concern here, as always, is to overcome whatever dualisms are causing confusion; and overcoming a dualism isn't the same thing as obliterating a distinction. In fact, in my terminology, we overcome the dualism only when we can see how the corresponding distinction is still available for use in particular cases (of course, I can reject distinctions as well if I want, for philosophically uncontroversial reasons). So, for example, when Grice & Strawson object to Quine by claiming that the concept of analyticity still has a coherent use, I don't think I need to object. If you want to use the concept to distinguish between "that bachelor is unmarried" and "that bachelor is six feet tall," go right ahead. I just don't think that distinction has the philosophical significance that other people do. In particular, I don't need to use it, or the a priori/a posteriori or necessary/contingent distinctions either, in explaining my own idiosyncratic take on "therapeutic" philosophy. In fact, I find that explanation works better when we follow Davidson in stripping the empiricist platitude (what McDowell calls "minimal empiricism," that it is only through the senses that we obtain knowledge of contingent matters of fact) of its dualistic residue, and meet up again with Wittgenstein on the other side of Quine. (And yes, I used the word "contingent" there – anyone have a problem with that?)
On the other hand, it also seems to me that after the smoke clears and everyone (*cough*) realizes that I am right, each side can make a case that I had been agreeing with that side all along: Hacker can point to the sense in which philosophy on my conception is still a matter of (what he will continue to call) clarifying our concepts, with an eye to dissolving the confusions underlying "metaphysical" questions; while Quine can point to (what he will continue to call) a characteristically "naturalistic" concern (if that naturalism is perhaps more Deweyan than his own) with the overcoming of the conceptual dualisms left over from our Platonic and Cartesian heritage – e.g., those between the related pairs of opposed concepts we have been discussing. Yet it seems to me that neither side can make the sale without giving something up (something important) and thereby approaching what seemed to be its polar opposite.
We've already seen the shape of this idea. On the one side, Hacker's insistence that, as he puts it, "[t]he problems [here, skeptical ones] are purely conceptual ones, and they are to be answered by purely conceptual means" [p. 9, my emphasis]" sabotages the anti-dualist content of the anti-skeptical critique with a dualistic emphasis on the "purity" of its form (itself held in place by a corresponding dualism of form and content). On the other, Quine recoils from the dualism of pure abstract a priori and good old-fashioned getting-your-hands-dirty empirical inquiry by eliminating the former entirely in favor of the latter. This insufficient response to one dualism leads inevitably to another: in Quine's case, this means (as Davidson argues) a dualism between conceptual scheme and empirical content, which ultimately (or even proximately!) proves to be pretty much the same as the dualisms (analytic/synthetic, observational/theoretical) Quine was supposed to be showing us how to discard.
We'll leave Davidson for another time (the interpretation business might take a while, though it does come up below), but as my subject here is the Hacker article, let me continue by discussing an area of agreement with Hacker: his dismissal of Quine's naturalized epistemology. (Yet of course even here I do not draw Hacker's moral, exactly.) No one disputes that there is such a thing as empirical psychology, so in one sense the focus of "naturalized epistemology" on resolutely third-person description of the processes of information acquisition by biological organisms is unobjectionable. The problem comes when this project is taken to amount to or replace philosophical investigation (however conceived) of knowledge and related topics.
I'll just mention two points. First (although Hacker doesn't put quite it this way), Quine's naturalistic aversion to "mentalistic" concepts leads him to assimilate the theoretically dangerous (in this sense) first-person case to the more scientifically tractable third-person case – after all, I'm a human being too, so what works for any arbitrary biological organism should work for me too. This makes the "external world" which is the object of our knowledge something no longer opposed (as in the (overtly) Cartesian case) to something mental, but instead to the world outside our (equally physical) sensory receptors. But now Hacker wonders about the status of our knowledge of our bodies; or of ourselves, for that matter. Quine is left in a dilemma: "Either I posit my own existence, or I know that I exist without positing or assuming it." As a result (see the article for the details) "[i]ncoherence lurks in these Cartesian shadows, and it is not evident how to extricate Quine from them." [p. 6]
This is (given the difference I've already mentioned) remarkably similar to Davidson's criticism of Quine in "Meaning, Truth, and Evidence":
In general, [Quine] contended, ‘It is our understanding, such as it is, of what lies beyond our surfaces, that shows our evidence for that understanding to be limited to our surfaces’ [The Ways of Paradox, p. 216]. But this is mistaken. The stimulation of sensory receptors is not evidence that a person employs in his judgements concerning his extra-somatic environment, let alone in his scientific judgements. My evidence that there was bread on the table is that there are crumbs left there. That there are crumbs on the table is something I see to be so. But that I see the crumbs is not my evidence that there are crumbs there. Since I can see them, I need no evidence for their presence – it is evident to my senses. That the cones and rods of my retinae fired in a certain pattern is not my evidence for anything – neither for my seeing what I see, nor for what I see, since it is not something of which I normally have any knowledge. For that something is so can be someone’s evidence for something else only if he knows it.No, wait, that's Hacker again, from later in the paper (p. 13). Here's Davidson, criticizing as "Cartesian" Quine's "proximal" theory of meaning and evidence:
The only perspicuous concept of evidence is the concept of a relation between sentences or beliefs—the concept of evidential support. Unless some beliefs can be chosen on purely subjective grounds as somehow basic, a concept of evidence as the foundation of meaning or knowledge is therefore not available. [...] The causal relations between the world and our beliefs are crucial to meaning not because they supply a special sort of evidence for the speaker who holds the beliefs, but because they are often apparent to others and so form the basis for communication. [p. 58-9]The relevant stimulus is thus not "the irritation of our sensory surfaces" but instead the rabbit whose appearance prompts the utterance of "gavagai." (See the rest of this key article; it's reprinted in the fifth volume of Davidson's papers, Truth, Language, and History, which I think is now available cheap.) Again, though, this is for reasons concerning the conceptually interconstitutive nature of meaning and belief, not a simple recoil from naturalized epistemology to conceptual analysis. That is, while considering these matters conceptually, as Hacker does, Davidson's argument presents a specific conceptual analysis (if that's what we want to call it) which in its content may be just as fatal to the "purely a priori" as is Quine.
Jumping ahead a bit, we can see on the horizon, even here, a cloud the size of a man's hand. For Davidson's contextually healthy insistence that (as he puts it elsewhere) "only a belief [here, as opposed to sensory stimulations] can be a reason for another belief" can, in other circumstances, manifest itself as a content-threatening coherentism. In "Scheme-content dualism and empiricism" (which I hope we can get to later), McDowell registers puzzlement that Davidson's criticism of Quine is that the latter's conception of empirical content as sensory stimulation (i.e., in its conceptual distance from the "external" world) leads merely to skepticism (not that that's not bad enough!) rather than an even more disastrous loss of the right to be called "content" at all. (At another level, this same consideration tells against Hacker's insistence that "conceptual analysis" are simply matters of language as opposed to matters of fact, i.e., about their referents in the world.)
Hacker too finds Quine's own response to skeptical worries to be nonchalant. In Quine's view, he says, since we are concerned with knowledge acquisition as a scientific question, "we are free to appeal to scientifically established fact (agreed empirical knowledge) without circularity." (Hacker's comment: "That is mistaken.") The philosophical problem of skepticism is not concerned simply with deciding whether or not we have any knowledge, so that it may be dismissed in deciding that, in fact, we do. As Hacker points out, one form of skepticism arises
from the thought that we have no criterion of truth to judge between sensible appearances. Citing a further appearance, even one apparently ratified by ‘science’, i.e. common experience, will not resolve the puzzlement. Similarly, we have no criterion to judge whether we are awake or asleep, since anything we may come up with as a criterion may itself be part of the content of a dream. So the true sceptic holds that we cannot know whether we are awake or asleep. We are called upon to show that he is wrong and where he has gone wrong. To this enterprise neither common sense nor the sciences can contribute anything. [Again, as cited above, Hacker's conclusion, now in context, is that] [t]he problems [skepticism] raises are purely conceptual ones, and they are to be answered by purely conceptual means – by clarification of the relevant elements of our conceptual scheme. This will show what is awry with the sceptical challenge itself. (p. 8-9)There's more in this vein, attacking Quine's offhandedly deflationary conceptions of knowledge ("the best we can do is give up the notion of knowledge as a bad job") and belief (beliefs are "dispositions to behave, and these are physiological states"), and "the so-called identity theory of the mind: mental states are states of the body." Hacker's comment on this last is typical ("This too is mistaken"), and here too I agree. (Nor, since you ask, am I happy with Davidson's early approach to the mind-body problem, i.e., anomalous monism. But let's not talk about that today.)
Still, I can't see that Hacker's more extreme conclusions about the relation of science to philosophy are warranted. It's true that we can maintain that firm boundary by definitional fiat. But it's just not true that "the empirical sciences," if that means empirical scientists doing empirical science, cannot possibly contribute to our understanding of (the concept of) knowledge, or even provide a crucial piece of information which allows us to see things in a new way. After all, that's what the philosopher's "reminders" were trying to do too. And if a philosopher's "invention" of an "intermediate case" (for example) can provide the desired understanding (PI §122), then so too might a scientific discovery. All we need here, to avoid the "scientism" Hacker fears, is the idea that even the latter does not solve problems qua discovery, even if it is one – and that just because the philosopher's reminder might have done the same thing even if invented and not discovered.