Sunday, February 17, 2008

Not John Gielgud

I was preparing a post on the analytic/synthetic business we have been discussing (okay, so far it's other people, here, here, and here), and (curious as ever) I followed a trail of links to Wikipedia's article on "Two Dogmas," which I basically just glanced at (looks okay), but there's an interesting bit at the end which no-one has said anything about yet:
In his book Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century, Volume 1 : The Dawn of Analysis Scott Soames (pp 360-361) has pointed out that Quine's circularity argument needs two of the logical positivists' central theses to be effective:
All necessary (and all a priori) truths are analytic.

Analyticity is needed to explain and legitimate necessity.
It is only when these two theses are accepted that Quine's argument holds. It is not a problem that the notion of necessity is presupposed by the notion of analyticity if necessity can be explained without analyticity. According to Soames, both theses were accepted by most philosophers when Quine published Two Dogmas. Today however, Soames holds both statements to be antiquated.
Upon reading this, I had two thoughts in quick succession, and wouldn't you know, they're in tension with each other. The first one was: I hardly think the defenders of analyticity (that is, those who, like our friend N. N., see Quine's attack as threatening the philosophical project of conceptual analysis, whether or not they see the latter as constitutive of philosophy itself), or anyone else unimpressed by Kripke for that matter, should welcome criticism of Quine's argument along these lines. I can't see any such philosopher saying: "see, you can too have analyticity – all you have to do is explain it in terms of an independently established notion of metaphysical necessity!" Surely the whole point of "conceptual analysis" was to put "metaphysics" out of business. So, no help there, right?

The second thought I had was this. Of course the contemporary naturalist/empiricist line of thought, in which "Two Dogmas" was an important early move, is also determined to put metaphysics out of business. But in so doing, it seems to assimilate philosophy into the empirical sciences, not as itself an empirical discipline, but as concerned solely with making sure that science dots the i's and crosses the t's in the proper way (once out of the lab and writing up the results). So if you put all of your anti-metaphysical eggs into the naturalist basket, by rejecting the distinction underlying the competing strategy of conceptual analysis, that means that when the naturalists (if not the empiricists) then turn around and reinstate metaphysics, you have no recourse.

Naturally they'll put a doily on that monstrosity by calling it a "scientific" metaphysics (whatever that means); but when it's accompanied, even justified, by a swipe at "linguistic philosophy" for neglecting metaphysics – well, that's going to be pretty galling. The reason my two thoughts are in (mild) tension with each other is that while the first implies that Soames's criticism of the argument of "Two Dogmas" is of no help to the linguistic analyst, the second thought leads to a different conclusion. For now that philosopher can resist the naturalistic line of thought right at the beginning: if the point of "Two Dogmas" was to deprive metaphysical pseudo-inquiry of the purely non-empirical conceptual space in which it was supposed to operate, well then the naturalistic revival of metaphysics shows that it failed to follow through on its promises. This means that (given the original choice between naturalism and conceptual analysis) as far as unmasking metaphysics as nonsense is concerned, the linguistic strategy is the only game in town after all.

These (quick) thoughts, you will notice, elided two complications, which I should at least mention. First, I exempted properly empiricist naturalism from the accusation of reversion to metaphysics. But it's not clear to me that they will be able to fend off such accusations when coming from fellow naturalists. (My own objections to these positions are of another order entirely, so when naturalists trade accusations of "reversion to/neglect of metaphysics," I don't need to take sides.) For the second elision, let's return to Wikipedia's article:
In "'Two Dogmas' revisited", Hilary Putnam argues that Quine is attacking two different notions. Analytic truth defined as a true statement derivable from a tautology by putting synonyms for synonyms [is] near Kant's account of analytic truth as a truth whose negation is a contradistinction. Analytic truth defined as a truth confirmed no matter what[,] however, is closer to one of the traditional accounts of a prioricity. While the first four sections of Quine's paper concern analyticity, the last two concern a priority. Putnam considers the argument in the two last sections as independent of the first four, and at the same time as Putnam criticizes Quine, he also emphasizes his historical importance as the first top rank philosopher to both reject the notion of apriority and sketch a methodology without it.
It does seem that the a priori, rather than analyticity, is the key notion here, and perhaps the defenders of Grice and Strawson would like to argue that the way to debunk the former (as I think we may construe their project) is to keep the latter rather than running the two together and discarding both.


N. N. said...

Interesting thoughts. I'll have to think the matter over a bit before I can say anything with confidence.

It's been a while since I read Naming and Necessity, but I remember disagreeing with Kripke's account of the relations between analyticity, necessity, and a priority (a prioricity?). In particular, I remember thinking that criticism of PI §50 is confused.

I've read that Soames thinks Kripke is the key figure in the history of analytic philosopy. Perhaps we'll have to get straight on his contribution before we can properly deal with "Two Dogmas."

Daniel Lindquist said...

Soames's two-volume Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century left me with the impression that Kripke is unlikely to be worth looking at. This was surely not Soames's intent; I suspect I may just have reacted poorly to his hagiography.

Somewhat-related aside: In the "Cambridge Companion to Kant & Modern Philosophy", Philip Kitcher has an article on the a priori in Kant, arguing that Kant failed to distinguish between analyticity, necessity, and a priority in the fashion Kripke has shown is necessary. But Kitcher constantly overlooks what I took to be obvious: Kant argues for the identities of these three! What is necessary (for Kant) is so IFF also a priori, because both are attributed to the formal activities of the mind, which are independent of sensation (and so of experience). For Kant, nothing "necessary" is ever given in experience, the matter of sensation always being contingently given; anything concerning necessity is thus an a priori matter. And change is possible as an object of our knowledge only because of the unity of the 'I', hence anything a priori (anything due to the formal actions of this 'I' which constitute its unity) cannot change, and so is necessary. Kant divides all judgements into a priori/a posterori and then into analytic/synthetic; that there might be a posteriori analytic judgements is ruled out on the grounds that if such judgements involve no synthesis of anything new into a concept, then a fortiori nothing new from experience can be involved. So all analytic judgements are a priori. And then analytic judgements are necessary just because a priori. So anything analytic is also necessary and a priori; anything necessary is also a priori (but can be either analytic or synthetic); anything a priori (either analytic or synthetic) is necessary. Kitcher goes the entire article without paying attention to these arguments; he just looks at various arguments in Kant that such-and-such is a priori/necessary and then notes that Kant later on (without argument) shifts to speaking of it as necessary/a priori. In none of the cases Kitcher looks at is it plausible that we have a case of the contingent a priori (such as Kripke's "I exist") or the necessary a posteriori (the "rigid designator" stuff). It was a disappointing article, and probably put off my Kripke reading a good few months all by itself.

On the second Wiki quote: I don't see how analyticity can survive without the a priori/a posteriori dichotomy, so I'm not sure how Putnam's argument (as summarized on a free user-edited internet encyclopedia) is supposed to work. If Strawson & Grice wanted to argue that analyticity & a priority can come apart, this did not come through in their article.

I'm not sure if I understand your second thought. How does the naturalism of "empiricism without the dogmas" leave one without resources for attacking "scientific metaphysics"? If there is something useful in what was formerly called "conceptual analysis", then it can't have depended on the (imaginary) distinction between the analytic & the synthetic, since depending on an imaginary distinction would rather vitiate its usefulness, and so the "naturalist" can very well pick it up and run with it. Quine's narrow scientism does not, I think, follow from "Two Dogmas", and so there is no reason that following Quine in rejecting the first two empiricist dogmas will necessitate having to try to argue (with Quine) that the toys "scientific metaphysicians" use are without warrant because physics doesn't need anything like them, or whatever.

BLK said...

"Soames's two-volume Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century left me with the impression that Kripke is unlikely to be worth looking at."

Soame's two-volume Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century left me with the impression that every philosopher he wrote about would not be worth looking at. Why? Because Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century is a steaming pile of garbage.

That being said, if a person were interested in Frege's philosophical writings on language and mind, or anyone who has been influenced by Frege's philosophical writings on language and mind (say, John McDowell or Tyler Burge or Logicians or Michael Dummett or Bertrand Russell or Donald Davidson or Michael Thompson or Charles Travis or WVO Quine or H. Paul Grice or Gareth Evans or All Linguistic Semanticists or Ludwig Wittgenstein or Robert Brandom or...) then (IMHO) it would be worthwhile for this person to have a look at Kripke.

Duck said...

Daniel -

Oh dear, I have once again been unclear. My (second) thought was meant to capture the view from the perspective of (say) Grice and Strawson, looking dubiously at the first step on the path leading (as they see it) toward "naturalism." Naturalism sells itself as anti-metaphysical; but if in order to get there I have to give up what I see as my own anti-metaphysical weapons, I (G & S) want to be darn sure I won't need them. So when I see metaphysics being revived in the heart of the naturalist camp, I shrink back from the path that leads there, because by that time it'll be too late to fight metaphysics the way I do now: with conceptual analysis, which depends on the distinction Quine would have me give up here at the beginning of my journey, before the anti-metaphysical nature of our destination has been revealed.

So when I say, in the post, that "that philosopher can resist the naturalistic line of thought right at the beginning," I wasn't using "resist" as a success-word, meaning that one *should* do so. I just wanted to say how it can look like a good option.

Quine's narrow scientism does not, I think, follow from "Two Dogmas"

Now you know I agree with this. The road to Davidsonia goes through Quineland, diverging only later on. That's why the "third dogma" is so called (plus the "fourth"). So rather than getting into Kripke to try to evaluate "Two Dogmas" on its own terms, we should understand the article instead in terms of where it allows us to go. Again, that was why I brought Quine up in the first place, as an apparent obstacle between the Hackensteinian and Baker/Cavell/McDowell etc. readings of Wittgenstein. So, I would say Kripke is "worth looking at" if you want to understand what some people (including K. himself) are on about, but not for us, given our concerns here. N. N. is right to see Quine on radical translation as our next subject (and then on to Davidson).

I may also have been too hasty in suggesting that the defenders of analyticity are concerned to (defend it in order to) reject the a priori. I'm not actually sure what they want to say about the a priori. To me that dualism is just as much a problem as the others (even if they're not exactly the same), so Putnam's criticism doesn't affect my reading. I think.

Let me see if I still have any points left over for another post....

Rick -

I agree that Kripke is important in the sense that he changed the landscape of philosophy, but I also find that I learn more from thinking about how he gets things wrong (as with Wittgenstein) than how he gets things right. I haven't read Soames; I take it you think he gets Kripke (among others) badly wrong?

Daniel Lindquist said...

"Soame's two-volume Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century left me with the impression that every philosopher he wrote about would not be worth looking at. Why? Because Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century is a steaming pile of garbage."
I found it to be at least decent when summarizing other philosophers, and generally lousy when criticizing them. If nothing else, I found the sections Soames chose to quote from Quine, Davidson, Strawson, Austin etc. generally helpful; just bringing all the good bits together in one place is a lot of what I want from a history-of-philosophy book. If Soames's commentaries on the extracts weren't very helpful, well, then they are still useful extracts, and Soames is basically the only game in town for a book like "PAitTC". The awful criticisms sometimes helped to "sell" the philosophers being criticized, too: "This is the best criticism he can come up with for On The Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme? I guess it really is as good as it seems, if he can't offer a better response 30 years later."

Also, I laughed at "Logicians".

Duck: Right, I do know this. Which is part of why this post seemed strange. I didn't catch that you were sliding between your own voice and S&G's position. Your comment makes this a good bit clearer than the post did.

Anonymous said...

If the a priori cannot really be proven or defended then analyticity's called into question too (except as a sort of stipulation). Quine is a naturalist, anyway, and denying analytical a priori not inconsistent with a naturalist position (and calling TDOE "holistic" rather misses the point). It's not some "holism" in some metaphysical sense, either: it means the scope of verification was expanded.

The philosophy frauds continually duck the issue of the a priori (and at the same time don't really understand Frege's defense of it in regards to the greeks, etc.), because the game depends on that old ghost. Take the a priori away (which can be done quite easily) and the philosophaster becomes a sort of bad psychologist, or perhaps sophisticated-nurse (ala Dennett), yet usually the philosopher-nurses don't know DNA from Darwin.