[hist-analytic] Clarity Is Not Enough

steve bayne baynesrb at yahoo.com
Mon Feb 16 20:44:44 EST 2009


Roger (and all others, of course),

If you can find an application for philosophy, that would be very
good. But, generally, in my opinion when it has been used as a
tool for some other interest than itself it has resulted in a great
deal of harm. A lot depends on what you take philosophy to be. 
This area of interest is sometimes called, inappropriately, 
"metaphilosophy." Again, it is only part of my experience and, maybe,
not others that those who are quickest to apply it understand it
least. This isn't always the case, but it more often than not
seems to be the case. It is not an argument against applying 
philosophy that it is usually done by folks who use the name
"philosophy" for reasons of their own interest, but which they
believe everyone else ought to be interested in, even though
it is not, itself,
 philsophical: philosophy as providing a
veneer of respectability for ideas that, typically, lack 
merit. This I think is the history. 

A related point is one I brought up to a young person trained
in physics who was deciding on whether to do philosophy of science,
and here you might think of this as "applied" philosophy in some
sense. I told him that it seemed to me that he might be gifted
at both philosophy and physics, but that he ought not attempt 
to do physics vicariously through philosophy; nor should he
do philosophy by pretending that ideas in physics were, actually,
ideas in philosophy. I am bias here. I think, for example, that
if you can do the basics of, for example, the special and general
theory of relativity, some probability, and a dash of logic, you
can probably do all you need or can do in one lifetime in philosophy
of science. But I, as was Gustav Bergmann, am suspicioius of
 these
philosophies "of": philosophy of science; philosophy of mind;
philosophy of art, etc. But I respect the other point of view.
It's just my own position.

I agree with you on much of what you say about language, with 
the following qualifications. Looking at a linguistic construction
and getting clear on its logical properties can be quite valuable
as well as interesting. I often harp about propositional attitudes
("what a waste; what a waste") but the logical and semantical
issues these construction to be uncovered can be intensely interesting.
(See L. Linsky's last couple of books, all worth reading). But 
the semantics of the attitudes is just one instance. 

Grice's notion of "doubt or denial" in his essay on perception is
very useful; quite ingenious and puts the issue in a different 
framework, as do his remarks on "detachability" and "cancellability."
I can't go into these in an email; but if
 you look carefully, you
will see a lot of interesting things here. Same way with Austin.
Austin's ideas on performatives and constatives; his changing views
on these matters, and his careful dissection of the speech act
has led to some good insights, although Austin is, while most
likely one of the best of the "ordinary language" philosophers
of little interest to me. However, his methodology of looking at
the possibilities of reasonable combination and permutation of
modifiers etc. is rewarding. 

I was quite surprised one day in discussion with Hintikka to find
him more "tolerant" of Derrida than speech act theory. I would
have reacted but preferred continued amusement. Hintikka by the
way is a philosopher of great fecundity, as I've said before.
His views on language and logic are very interesting and besides,
he's a "cool guy."

Making language precise require certain decision, when language
is
 spoken of as Chomsky would say in terms of performance.
With respect to competence, I'm not so sure. But it is 
performance that interests the clarifiers, at least for the
most part and that is why they are not uncommonly speech act
theorists.

I do take exception to what you say about "old usage." New usage?
I'm not sure, actually, what you mean. But anyone, and here I include
the "down the road to the bitter end" speech act theorists (to 
paraphrase Sellars on another topic) that if you want a good
look under the hood of "usage" then take a look at Curme's 
_Syntax_. 1926. Conditionals, counterfactuals, modifiers, are
all treated with great thoroughness. Chomsky is a scientist; 
he is doing something just a bit different, so I pass this
by.

Finally an important point. This is a sociological conjecture,
which I think is true. Those of us who have spent a lot of time
thinking about analytic
 philosophy do not justify our lives
in terms of what we can say about, e.g., the semantics of the
progressive in terms of Montague grammar -just to take one
example (here begin with Cresswell). These very same people would
point you in the general direction of Plato. Whatever else may 
be said about analytical "types," most of us hold the Phaedo
very close to our hearts. Therein lies the hope of philosophy
beyond application or social relevance etc.

Best wishes

Steve


--- On Mon, 2/16/09, Roger Bishop Jones <rbj at rbjones.com> wrote:
From: Roger Bishop Jones <rbj at rbjones.com>
Subject: Re: Clarity Is Not Enough
To: baynesrb at yahoo.com
Cc: hist-analytic at simplelists.co.uk
Date: Monday, February 16, 2009, 5:17 PM

Steve,

On Sunday 15 February 2009 23:41:54 steve bayne wrote:
> I agree with much of what you say, Roger. But I would mention this:
> that since Aristotle, more or less, the idea among philosophers is
> that philosophy, like "the good," is to be pursued for its own
sake.

Actually, when it comes to "clarity is enough" I would be happy
to accept "applications" in philosophy.

I would add however, that making language precise is something
which is most often done with some purpose in mind (i.e. the
purpose of the language in question), that purpose usually
being the advancement of our knowledge of the matters which
the language enables us to talk about.
The evolution of language goes hand in hand with advances
in knowledge.

In this process however, the increase in clarity and precision
does not consist in a better understanding of how the relevant
language works.  It consists in the evolution of language so
that the kinds of thing which one needs to talk about in the
present day research dialogue can be clearly expressed.

It is the exception rather than the rule, that there is merit
in clarification of old rather than of some preferred new usage.

This seems to me to undermine the value of the attitude towards
language which Austin presents.
To understand perception, we need extra-ordinary language.
Austin seemed to me to be standing against such developments
in language for philosophical purposes (at least sofar as
"Sense and Sensibilia" testifies, though Austin did pay
lip service to a more liberal viewpoint elsewhere).

> Where you might agree with these same people is that the supreme
> "application" is in how we live our lives.

This I agree with, but I'm not so sure that the enunciation
of a "philosophical way of life" is the way to go.
I'm also inclined to aknowledge that philosophical contributions
to "how we live" mostly come from philosophical ideas which
don't strictly belong to "analytic" philosophy.

Roger
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