The final version will be published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing in 2016. draft xi-2
This book is inspired by the assumption that the philosophy of language made before the Second World War was often more powerful than the kind of analytic philosophy that began to be built in the fifties and that is almost hegemonic today. This later Anglo-American philosophy of language has cumulated smart scientist-formalist objections against all kinds of truisms accepted by the old analytic philosophy: against the analytic-synthetic distinction, against the centrality of meaning, against the scrutinizability of reference, against verificationism, against the correspondence theory of truth, against cognitivist internalism, against descriptivist approaches to reference, against the higher-order view of existence… with the result that the descriptive metaphysics, which is a systematic enterprise relying on commonsensical truisms and aiming comprehensiveness turned to be almost impossible. According to this book the stalemate of much of the present philosophy of language results from the authority of these views, which often corrupts philosophy through a formalist inspired positivist-scientist fragmentation of its procedures that steals from its central domains their proper epistemic place. This book aims to show the force of the old views on the one hand by reconfiguring them under new models, on the other by bringing evidence of the ultimately equivocal character of most of the new ideas. If the ideas defended in this book are correct they have some deep implications for the philosophy of language.
Draft XI, 2016/2
TOWARDS A NEW ORTODOXY
Chapter 1: Introduction
Appendix to Chapter 1: How do Proper Names Really Work? (Cutting the Gordian knot)
Chapter 2: Against the Metaphysics of Reference: Aims and Assumptions
Appendix to Chapter 2: Modal Illusions: Against Transepistemic Metaphysical Identities
Chapter 3: Wittgensteinian Semantics
Appendix to Chapter 3: Trope Theory and the Unbeareable Lightness of Being
Chapter 4: An Extravagant Reading of the Fregean Semantics
Appendix to Chapter 4: Frege, Russell, and the Puzzles of Reference
Chapter 5: Verificationism Redeemed
Appendix to Chapter 5: The Key to Solve the Humean Problem of Induction
Chapter 6: Sketch of a Unified Theory of Truth
Appendix to Chapter 6: The Discovery of Wine
Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes, and are irresistibly tempted to ask and answer questions in the way science does. This tendency is the real source of metaphysics, and leads the philosopher into complete darkness.
Once one absurdity is accepted, the rest follows.
We have first raised a dust and then complain we cannot see.
Making empty is the result of making small.
Once fashion comes in, objectivity goes.
D. M. Armstrong
A philosophical tradition which suffers from the vice of horror mundi in an endemic way is condemned to futility.
K. Mulligan, P. Simons, B. Smith
The name of poet was almost forgotten; that of orator was usurped by the sophists. A cloud of critics, of compilers, of commentators, darkened the face of learning, and the decline of genius was soon followed by the corruption of taste.
This world is dying in order to give birth to a new and more beautiful one.
This is a very rough old draft!
Indem die Besinnung auf das Destruktive des Fortschrits seinen Feinden überlassen bleibt, verlieht das blindlings pragmatizierter Denken seinen aufhebenden Charakter, und darum auch die Beziehung auf Wahrheit.
[By leaving consideration of the destructive side of progress to its enemies, thought in its headlong rush into pragmatism is forfeiting its sublating character, and therefore its relation to truth.]
Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer
Science (mainly applied science) goes up while culture (artistic, philosophical) goes down. Whereas culture was once a source of values, today science and technology seem to have made cultural values seemingly superfluous.
The critical theory of society had some explanation for this. Drawing on Max Weber’s basic concept of ‘disenchantment of the world’ (Entsauberung der Welt) it shows that in our modern technological society instrumental reason prevails over valuating reason, promoting mass culture and furthering science and technology at the expense of the old mystical-humanistic culture without being able to fulfill all the gap left in the way.
Under this institutional framework, it is not surprising that a kind of philosophy prevails that may serve interests generated from particular scientific domains. Philosophy seems to be no longer, as in the tradition, an independent conjectural undertaking making balanced use of new scientific information on its own favor. More often it remembers a busy housemaid of science. I am not saying that this attitude must be specious or unfruitful. New subfields were created. The explosion of theories of conscience in the last four decades is maybe the best example of interesting philosophical work made under direct influence of science. But I wish to outline that the same steering of mind can also turn itself into an ideologically motivated endeavor when it exports new knowledge from particular sciences – formal or empirical – in a way that impoverishes more central philosophical questioning. The results of this endeavor are what some have labeled as expansionist scientism: an effort to assimilate the procedures of some domain of philosophy into strategies of thought derived of some more or less established particular science; in order to achieve this the particular (formal or empirical) scientific field must be expanded in order to answer questions belonging to this domain of philosophy by means of some reductionist strategy that underestimate its complexities (e.g. the expansionist use of modal logic in the philosophy of language). The price to be pay for it is that those resilient and distinctive philosophical difficulties that cannot be accommodated within the new particularizing model must be underrated if not quietly swept under the carpet.
A chief inconsistency of scientism comes from the fact that while sciences are particulars, philosophy is on its own right ‘holistic’: As Wittgenstein once claimed, the fundamental problems of philosophy are so interconnected that it is impossible to solve any philosophical problem without having solved all the others; and this is what makes philosophy so complex and multifaceted. This is also what the great systems of classical philosophy – such as those of Aristotle, Kant and Hegel – attempted to do, even if paying for it what we are now more able to see as a high price in terms of aporetic speculation and artificiality. Nonetheless, it would be too easy to conclude that true comprehensiveness isn’t a fundamental desideratum of philosophy anymore (Wittgenstein was well-aware of this when he called for more ‘Übersichtlichkeit’).
A main reason for the lack of comprehensiveness of much of our present linguistic-analytic philosophy can be explained as follows. Anglo-American philosophy – from W. V-O. Quine to Donald Davidson and from Saul Kripke to Hilary Putnan and Timothy Williamson – has challenged all kinds of inherited commonsensical parti-pris, and challenged them in undeniably smart and imaginative ways, although in my view with ultimately unsustainable results. Because of this, much of our theoretical philosophy has more and more lost touch with its intuitive commonsensical grounds in the way things prima facie seem to be and in fact really are. Take, for instance, the concept of meaning: the word ‘meaning’ was challenged by Quine as being too vague a noise to be reasonably investigated. But it is unworkable only from a reductionist-scientist perspective that denies or ignores commonsense certainties, like the obvious fact that meanings exist. However, using this strategy of skeptically questioning all kinds of deep, profound truisms, scientistic philosophers have sawed off the branch they were sitting on, because the result of the adopted strategy couldn’t be other than the replacement of true comprehensiveness (whith its supposed deepness) by a positivist superficializing fragmentation of the philosophical field that plunges it in the so-called ‘age of specialization’ (Scott Soames).
This fragmentation may be one of dividing to conquer; but also of dividing to subjugate; and what is here to be subjugated is the philosophical intellect. Indeed, without the branches of deep commonsensical truisms no descriptive metaphysics remains possible: and it may be that the only path left to originality, after a rigorous training in techniques of argumentation, turns out to be the creation of new formalist pyrotechnics of unknown value. The end effect of this can be to block the ways of inquiry, preventing adequate philosophical analysis and increasing the risk of transforming the philosophical enterprise into a kind of implausible, vacuous intellectual Glasperlenspiel.
It is true that the practitioners of fragmented scientist philosophy sense the problem, but they have found good excuses for this. Some have suggested that any attempt to do comprehensive philosophy would not suffice for the present standards of scholarly adequacy demanded by the philosophical community. But saying this they forget that philosophy cannot be treated with the same strength that the community of ideas treat developed sciences. Philosophy is still a cultural enterprise: it is inherently conjectural and dependent on metaphorical elements involved in its also intrinsic pursuit of comprehensiveness. And the bulk of philosophy remains a broad cultural enterprise with the right to controlled speculation, experimentation and even transgression, as much as a place for an uncommitted search for truth.
Others have written that it is impossible to achieve truly comprehensive philosophy today: this kind of philosophy cannot succeed because of the overpowering amount of necessary information required, putting the task far beyond the cognitive capacity of our individual minds. We are (to use Colin McGinn’s metaphor) cognitively closed to the achievement of decisive solutions for the great traditional problems of philosophy: in our efforts to do ambitious comprehensive philosophy we are like chimps attempting to develop the theory of relativity: we will never succeed! Hence, if we wish to remain reasonable, we should divert our efforts to easier tasks... This, of course, looks suspiciously close to escapism. As Wittgenstein once noted, if we are able to pose a question it is because we are also able to find its answer; chimps would never develop the relativity theory, but they would also never ask themselves what would occur if they could move at the speed of light. Even if the amount of information is daunting, it could be that the amount of crucial information remains limited enough. And very often the science needed to do comprehensive philosophy concerns only its general results. The main difficulty may reside in the circumstances, strategies and authenticity of these attempts; in the limits imposed on the context of discovery more than in its sheer impossibility. The fact is that true comprehensiveness has nearly disappeared in the philosophy of linguistic analysis in recent years; and the main reason is in my view not impossibility, but the lost of the right cultural soil in which comprehensive philosophy could grow.
In this book I will argue that a more fruitful soil can be found if we begin with a better reasoned and more affirmative countenance of our commonsense truisms combined with a more pluralistic approach that does not avoid science. For it seems that it is precisely against the pains represented by the threatening return of a more pluralist approach that the mainstream of our present philosophy of language struggles, what is often obscured by a dense, nearly scholastic scientist atmosphere, so thick that its practitioners barely perceive that they are surrounded by it. This intellectual climate sometimes recalls the Middle Ages, when one was not allowed to argue against religious dogmas. I entertain even the suspection that today advancing a plausible comprehensive philosophy of language against the institutional power of expansionist scientism runs a risk of being ideologically discouraged as a project and silenced as a fact.
Ernst Tugendhat, who (together with Jürgen Habermas) attempted with considerable success to develop comprehensive philosophy in the seventies, recently seemed to give up declaring that the days of philosophy were past. The problem is in my view aggravated by the fact that we are living in a time of widespread cultural indifference, where the development of applied science, though necessary, brings with itself an alienating dimension that strives against more comprehensive attempts to apprehend reality.
In the current book I insist on swimming against the current. My main task here is to set the grounds for a new comprehensive orthodoxy while arguing against a reductionist-scientist approach, helping in this way to restore to the philosophy of language its deserved integrity without contradicting either commonsense or science. It is an attempt to give a balanced, systematic and plausible overview of the mechanisms of reference, using bridges laboriously constructed between some summits of philosophical thought, trying in this way to achieve the old philosophical ambition of a comprehensive synthesis, insofar as it still sounds like a reasonable enterprise.