[hist-analytic] In Defense of an Underdog

Jlsperanza at aol.com Jlsperanza at aol.com
Sun Feb 1 20:05:29 EST 2009

"I started as under-dog and came out top-dog."

"There is an  indefinable expression in his face and figure of having been 
of having succumbed, of having been ‘under-dog’ as the saying is.  

Daily Tel. 30  Apr. 3 1887. 
    underdog: the dog in a fight beaten by the top-dog. 
top dog, lit. the dog uppermost or ‘on top’ in a fight. Oddly, 'top-dog'  
would seem linguistically a retronym. The quote OED registers post-dates  
The most popular argument in favour of the war is that it will make the  
individual Briton top dog in South Africa. 
      Speaker, 28 Apr. 1900
(cf. 1906 P. WHITE Eight Guests (Tauchn.) I. 66 
Marcus had never had a tussle yet without coming out ‘top dog!’ 
1906 Daily Chron. 26 Mar. 6/4, I recall..many in which I started as  
under-dog and came out top-dog.

In a message dated 2/1/2009 5:54:56 P.M. Eastern Standard Time,  
rpsevero at gmail.com writes in "Re: Quine's 'two dogmas':
Quine is
not  rejecting the distinction, but the idea that there is a
distinction which can  do the job Carnap assigned to it (namely:
explaining the justification of a  priori sentences by saying they are
true in virtue of meaning).

----  This is good.
And sometimes we tend to forget, "of empiricism". Two dogmas OF  EMPIRICISM. 
Grice/Strawson, "We'll only be concerned with _one_ dogma [of  empiricism]". 
I'm not too familiar with Carnap's views but Coffa was, and that  may help.

I will revise Grice's ideas in "Life and Opinions", pp. 54ff,  but it seems 
that the focus EMPIRICISM may be the key. Obviously, when G/S  replied to 
Quine, they were not really concerned with what _Quine_ was replying  to. 
Philosophy is like that. You can take someone's rejecting a distinction out  of context 
somehow. I wouldn't call G/S 'empiricists' for one. Who  would?

I mean who would I call 'empiricist'? J. S. Mill and _he_  apparently denied 
the distinction too in that he would claim that _all_ notions  are 
'empirical', or, shall we say, 'synthetical'. Unfortunately, while Mill was  mandatory 
reading in Oxford (I was browing at some old catalogues...) his  position was 
never mainstream! And then you have Ayer in his Gollancz book  _talking_ of the 
analytic-synthetic distinction which _became_ kind of the  'dogma' for the 
'analytic' movement at least as far as Oxford was concerned  (They loved to hate 

From an online essay by A. Sullivan:
"There  do not exist two distinct types of reality in the world  which 
require two  distinct modes of expression. This leads Quine to conclude that the  
analytic-synthetic distinction is a purely logical convention that is  
ontologically unnecessary and empirically superfluous. In this respect, Quine  agrees 
with the radical empiricism of Mill, with its claim that there is no a  priori 
knowledge. The fact that something is the case, or even the fact that  
something seems to be necessarily the case, does not imply the reality of a  priori 
truths. Quine goes so far a to refer to the notion of a priori knowledge  as a 
"metaphysical article of faith."
By 1956, Millian radical  empiricism had become a bit of an underdogma (to 
use R. Grandy's pun) for Grice  (and Strawson) to feel they could be trusted to 
run to its defense.
What surprised me about G/S, is -- how much is G's, how much is S's? I for  
one would not think it was Sir Peter's idea to necessarily defend the underdog. 
 In fact, one of the most hateful passages in philosophy comes from his 
otherwise  delightful "Autobiographical Essay" in "The library of living 
philosophers". He  was I think in Hungary. Someone in the audience says, "But you look 
like a  perfect petit-burgeoise". "Well," he replied, calmly, that's what I am".
When he was in Argentina (brought by Rabossi) many met him. I didn't but my  
teacher would say, "If you want to have an idea of how P. F. Strawson looks  
like, think of the actor playing the older detective in "The professionals"". 
Of  course he was wrong. Sir Peter could be handsomER than that. 


   author of "Let sleeping topdogs sleep"
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