[hist-analytic] Eddington's Two Tables

Jlsperanza at aol.com Jlsperanza at aol.com
Tue Feb 3 19:13:31 EST 2009

-- and its place in the history of analytic philosophy. "Forty Years On"  
(hardly [just] forty, but that's the title of a play by Bennett, I believe). 
In a message dated 2/3/2009 5:16:25 P.M. Eastern Standard Time,  
baynesrb at yahoo.com writes:
In preparing my thoughts, I thought I would  
"share with you" (".od" I hate the expression)
two items I've added to  Hist-Analytic. [...] 
The other is Eddington's statement on 
"Two Tables."  it can be had  at:


Thanks.  I'll try to retrieve Grice's commentary on this, a commentary in 
passing, as it  were, in "Actions and Events" (Pacific Philosophical Quarterly). 
Some brief (I  hope) commentary on Eddington's way of putting things (I note a 
pdf. document by  R. E. Grandy refers to Eddington's 'regret' as well).

Eddington writes  (as he prepares to _write_ his Gifford -- I'm surprised how 
these Brits  unashamedly _say_ they _write_ things. I for one was _never_ 
able to _read_ as I  delivered a _lecture_. Indeed, the idea of 'lecture' seems 
mediaeval to  me!)

Eddington writes:

>[I] have drawn up my chairs to  
>my two tables. Two tables! 

So, he _is_ expecting to surprise.  There is a blogger, out there, who 
thinks, rightly, that Eddington's 'intuition'  is dated: this blogger _never_ grew 
to get used to the idea of a 'substantial'  table. I would _love_ to agree, but 
my nanny _was_ possibly more old-fashioned.  

>Yes; there are duplicates of every object about me 
>- two  tables.

I see there is an online article also with the sarcastically  aimed at 
wittiness, "Can Eddington's two tables be _identical_?" I for one would  think _so_, 
but I'm unamused by Eddington's talk of 'object', which to me is so  Kantian 
it _hurts_. "Thing" is the word!


>whenever  I begin to scratch the first thing 
>I strike is my two tables. 

This is a good 'equative', I think linguists call them. "What I love  about 
Mendoza (a region in Argentina) is the wines". Shouldn't that be "_are_  the 
wines"? Consider Eddington's possible rephrasings, all  ungrammatical:

(b) The first TWO thingS I  strike
_are_ my two tables.

Or consider the symmetry of "=", to get:

(c) My two tables IS
the first thing I strike.

A feature of English, no doubt. 

Eddington continues:
>One of them has been familiar to me from  earliest years. It is a 
>commonplace object of that environment 
--- Not to be pedantic, but isn't 'commonplace' more like a literary thing,  
'topos koinos', locus communis. How can an "object" but commonplace?
Eddington gets more seriously Kantian when he slips from 'objekt' to  
>It [sc. the table] is a thing.
He goes on in a possibly anti-Aristotelian manner:
>I do not think substantiality can be described better 
>than by saying that it is the kind of nature exemplified by 
>an ordinary table. 
I wish the Ancient Greeks _had_ tables. It seems to me (and my Aristotle is  
totally pervaded by having it through Code's code) that for Aristotle the 
prote  ousia is a _person_? In any case, 'sub-stantia' is possibly what I call a 
'bad  Ciceronianism'. This man, Cicero, thought that the Romans were _lacking_ 
in  philosophical terminology and spoiled the language (the Latin language) 
for us!  There are the Greeks with their "hupokheimenon" and "hupousia", but 
that's  _their_ problem!
>you will be confident that you 
>understand the nature of an ordinary table. 
Personally, I think that bringing in _natura_ (Gk. phusis) can only  confuse. 
But then, I _had_ been previously confused by Aristotle's  "hulo-morphismos"! 
(Oddly than in the Romance languages, Latin _materia_ gave  'wood'). 
>Table No. 2 is my scientific table. It is a more recent  acquaintance.
Of course this is jocular. "Table" does not figure in the language of  
_science_ at all. It's a, to use D. Frederick's inspiration here, a functioneme:  a 
word used to describe something that serves for something: e.g. put things on  
it. Latin 'tabula'. 
>My scientific table is mostly emptiness. Sparsely scattered 
>in that emptiness are numerous electric charges rushing 
>about with great speed; 
>but their combined bulk amounts to less than a billionth of 
>the bulk of the table itself. 
So why not call it the 'decompressed' versus the 'compressed' table? As a  
pedantic scholastic, I'm not sure I would use _vacuum_ (nihilo) here  
>If the house catches fire my scientific table will 
>dissolve quite naturally into scientific smoke, whereas my 
>familiar table undergoes a metamorphosis of its 
>substantial nature which I can only regard as miraculous. 

I'm slightly confused here, but I should blame George Myro and his 'ship'  
example (in PGRICE). If the wooden table burns it becomes nothing to me via  
"miraculous" metamorphosis. It's just the same chemical element, after some  
chemical reaction: combustion. And it wouldn't be _just_ scientific smoke: it  
would be _scientific_ ashes too. As every schoolboy knows, there's nothing  
magical (although there is perhaps something alchemic) about chemistry but  that's 
what keeps it fun.
>There is nothing substantial about my second table. 
>It is nearly all empty space - space pervaded, it is true, 
>by fields of force, but these are assigned to the category of 
>"influences", not of "things". 
So, in Aristotelian parlance it would be ...? qualia? Don't think so. It  
looks to me like any old 'ousia'. 
>The whole trend of modern scientific views is to break 
>down the separate categories of "things", "influences", "forms", etc., 
>and to substitute a common background of all experience. 
-- which is ...? what I call "lab" (as when we say, "We have physics class  
in the lab today"). 
>Whether we are studying a material object, a magnetic field, 
>a geometrical figure, or a duration of time, our scientific information 
>is summed up in measures ... 
I note here the collocation, for the record, 'material object'. My _second_  
paper on meaning (my first was on Grice on Kratyl) was on Grice on Sextus  
Empiricus (using, again the Loeb). Sextus wants to argue that there are two  
operators, which I called "n" for noumenal (but I would today call 'thingy') and  
'ph' for 'phenomenal.
For some philosophers, including Grice (not in his best days), 'noumenal'  or 
'thing'-level is material-object level; phenomenalist language we all know  
what it is, though. 

To me, as a Kantian scholar of sorts, the phrase 'material object'  _pains_ 
(or aches me) -- no doubt because it pained my teacher when he caught us  
unawares using it!
Eddington goes on that "by delicate test" one should rest 'assured' that  
"Table No. 2" is
>the only one which is really there - wherever "there" may be. 
--- Must say I liked this. So English. I don't think it would translate to  
_German_ ('es gibt')! 
Eddington waxes truly philosophical at a later stage:
>the process by which the external world ... is transformed 
>into a world of familiar acquaintance in human 
>consciousness is outside the scope of physics. 
This reminds me so much of "Philosophy 4", a short story I read while in  
Harvard (only visiting!). The text is available online, and it's a gem, in that  
includes how Philosophy was viewed way back then. I particularly liked the  
I reproduce it for the sake of it, as they say, and to focus on the 'more  
difficult' questions, which do mention, I believe 'consciousness' or at least  
>1. Thales, Zeno, Parmenides, Heracleitos, Anaxagoras. State briefly the  
doctrine of each. 
>2. Phenomenon, noumenon. Discuss these terms. Name their modern  
>3. Thought=Being. Assuming this, state the difference, if any, between  (1) 
memory and anticipation; (2) sleep and waking. 
>4. Democritus, Pythagoras, Bacon. State the relation between them. In  what 
terms must the objective world ultimately be stated? Why? 
>5. Experience is the result of time and space being included in the  nature 
of mind. Discuss this. 
>6. Nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensibus. Whose  
doctrine? Discuss it. 
>7. What is the inherent limitation in all ancient philosophy? Who first  
removed it? 
>8. Mind is expressed through what? Matter through what? Is speech the  
result or the cause of thought? 
>9. Discuss the nature of the ego. 
>10. According to Plato, Locke, Berkeley, where would the sweetness of a  
honeycomb reside? Where would its shape? its weight? Where do you think these  
properties reside? 
---- end of quote. 
Eddington continues, and, amusingly (in a good way) uses 'material'  
metaphorically. The scientist he says has as 
>his raw materials 
>aether, electrons, quanta, potentials, 
>Hamiltonian functions, etc., 
--- this is _not_ Mill's tutor!
>there is no familiar electron, 
>quantum or potential parallel to the 
>scientific electron, quantum or potential. 
>We do not even desire to manufacture a familiar counterpart to 
>these things or, as we should commonly say, to "explain" the electron. 
This reminds me, jocularly, of the wedge, and the squidgly and the  horseshoe 
of ... Strawson! He'd caricature the 'formal' logician thus:
   There _should_ not be a
   a familiar 'and', 'or', 'if'
    _parallel_ ['isomorphic' is the word
    I heard] to the logician's
    dot, wedge and horseshoe.
    We do not even desire to _think_
    a vernacular counterpart to
    these 'things' [clause connectives!]
    or to 'explain' validity!
Ah, for the old Wykehamites!
(And back to 'and', I believe Grice was on top mighty right in retrieving  
Cook Wilson: we "do" need a vernacular counterpart to explain "&". Famously,  we 
need 'and' not so much to conjoin things, but to be able to _negate_ a  
conjoined clause: "That's not true". "What isn't?" "That it is raining and that  it 
is cold"). 
>After the physicist has quite finished his world-building a linkage or  
>is allowed; but premature attempts at linkage have been found to be  
entirely mischievous. 
So full of "metaphysical excrescences" to echo Grice, mutatis mutandis, in  
his first three minutes of "Logic and Conversation" (the lecture-talk). 
Eddington then indulges in some 'phonetic' talk. I'm not sure if David  Jones 
had 'isolated' the 'phoneme' by then, but what Eddington says about /a/ is  
not precisely what I call "nominalist" (cfr. O'Connor, _Phonetics_,  Penguin):

>The letters [e.g. for the sound-type /a/] are 
But "Table No. 2" is _not_ abstract in that _sense_, is it?
A good passage of prose, I find, becomes at the end:
>their restless agitation [of electrons] 
           'the warmth of  summer'; 
>the octave of aethereal vibrations 
            'a  gorgeous rainbow'.
Strawson, Subject and Predicate in Logic and Grammar, take notice!
A further passage evokes Grice on the vernacular/formal counterpart  debate:
>unless we confine ourselves altogether 
        mathematical symbolism 
>it is hard to avoid dressing our symbols 
>in deceitful clothing. 
so perhaps Quine _should_ be condones he chose Department of Matemathics  
rather than Philosophy to graduate from! (Oddly, where I come from,  
"Mathematical Logic" is taught in the Department of Mathematics _and_ Physics!) 
>But I should be untrue to 
>science if I did not insist that its study is an end in itself. The  path of 
science must be pursued for its own sake, irrespective of the views it  may 
afford of a >wider landscape...
Logician's landscape -- familiar anyone? Desert versus rosebushes and  
>in this spirit we must follow the path whether it leads to the hill of  
vision or the tunnel of obscurity. 
>Therefore till the last stage of the course is reached you must be  content 
>follow with me the beaten track of science, nor scold me too severely  for 
loitering among its 
>wayside flowers. That is to be the understanding between us. Shall we  set 
Odd the mention of flowers and 'the tunnel'. E. Sabato, PhD in Physics has  a 
novel, "The Tunnel" which seems to express some of the deepest  
Eddingtonianisms into the shadow's shadow that Eddington thought science would  prosper!
(Oddly, he was a Quaker -- and it's very good to recall that the Gifford  
were _so_, well, religious --. No surprise Ayer, in his _own_ Gifford basically  
resumes Eddinton's 'two' tables argument!

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