[hist-analytic] Hume's Fork

Jlsperanza at aol.com Jlsperanza at aol.com
Sun Mar 15 13:31:03 EDT 2009

In a message dated 3/11/2009 1:13:20 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,  
rbj at rbjones.com writes:
A while back J.L. Speranza questioned whether "the  fork"
really was Hume's.
--- Right. He was possible 'smooth'. Not hirsute, too. And it seems  
instruments used in philosophy are meant to 'cut'. "Hume's Knife" would be  nicer, 
perhaps, or his "Spoon". Quine famously said that Occam (Actually Ockham,  a town 
in Surrey!) used his 'razor' to cut Plato's beards. Now 'razor' is  difficult 
to trace to the Classical Languages. Ditto for 'fork'. I proposed  bifurca, 
which is really a bi-fork. This also in view of R. Bishop Jones's  
consideration of the triple dichotomy and how it can become a bi-fork. 
R. Jones writes:
>I don't know whether [A. G. N.] Flew 
     the creator of analytic philosophy in the  Midlands, incidentally,
     when he settled in Keele. 
[in ch. iii, "Hume's Fork" of his book on Hume] 
>intended to attribute the fork to Hume
>or not, he could just  have been writing about Hume and thought a
>name for this central feature  of his philosophy would be a good
>idea whether or not it originated with  Hume.

Right. I wouldn't think it originated with Hume. And I haven't checked for  
'figurative' uses of 'bifurca' (the Latin term) to see if it has been used in  
general for dichotomies. Plato was very much into 'dichotomies', since he  
thought 'division' has to be indeed 'in two' (otherwise, trivision, tetravision,  
etc.). A relic of this is found in Porphyrii Arbor. 


>Anyway, since I propose to make "Hume's Fork" into a  fulcrum
>around which the historical part of my monograph  will
>turn, I thought it might be a good idea to say why I  think
>Hume's account of the dichotomies is important enough to
>be  given prime place (in my historical narrative).

>The short version of this explanations is  that:
>1.  I think Hume was the first to get it  right.
>2.  It seems to be more important in  Hume's
>    philosophy than it is anywhere else I know  of.
>    Hume's philosophy seems to me to hang around the  dichotomy.
>    Especially if you accept Hume's view of  what was most
>    important in his philosophy when he came  up with the "Enquiry".
>   (though the fork is not a central  thesis, it is a starting
>   point rather than a  conclusion)

Good. Ditto for the is-ought question, so-called. Indeed, to make it part  of 
the conclusion would be pretty _otiose_ and would deprive a J. R. Searle of  
his manual, "How to derive an ought from an is in five easy steps". 
>By contrast, for example, Locke is an empiricist and  the
>analytic side for him is trivial, so the fork not so  important.

Right. But _trust_ R. Hall, or others, who have dwelt with the Master of  
All-Time English Philosphy Will Disagree! I have studied Locke's philosophy at  
some detail, and find that it is historically much more important than Hume --  
in Oxford! -- There's Digby, of St. John's, I think, who tried to generalise  
Locke's theses. And of course he was firmly established in the Christ Church  
establishment of Oxford. So his 'empiricism' should be prepared to deal with 
the  development of 'mathematical' sciences. True that, as they say, Oxford 
_science_  does not exist (even if you look at it). You have to travel to 
Cantab. county,  Cambridge to start getting a _gleam_ of it. 
Since I'm basically interested in the development of philosophy _in Oxford_  
I wouldn't know! But surely a pro-Oxonian could make a big thesis out of Locke 
 on 'trifle'. I quote from R. B. Jones's own pages:
I refer to ch. VIII of Bk. IV -- of Knowledge, entitled, "Of trifling  
propositions". Some excerpts:
"Some propositions bring no increase to our knowledge."
--- Yes, you'd say that "He is an occulist -- i.e. an eye doctor" brings  one 
increase to our knowledge, or the child's rather. 
"[T]here are universal propositions, which, though they be certainly true,  
yet they add no 
light to our understanding".
"[T]hough in such kind of propositions this great and magnified maxim,  
boasted to be the foundation of demonstration
          [Aristotle's  principle of non-contradiction, that is.
                  a = a -- see below for R. B. Jones on Aristotle]
may be and often is made use of to confirm them, yet all it proves amounts  
to no more than this, That the same word may with great certainty be affirmed 
of  itself, without any doubt of the truth of any such proposition; and let me 
add,  also, without any real knowledge."
"It is but like a monkey shifting his oyster from one hand to the other: 
and had he but words, might no doubt have said, "Oyster in right hand is  
and oyster in left hand is predicate"."
"Popositions in which a part of any complex idea is predicated of the  whole. 
Another sort of trifling propositions is, when a part of the complex idea  is 
predicated of the name of the whole; a part of the definition of the word  
defined. Such are all propositions wherein the genus is predicated of the  
species, or more comprehensive of less comprehensive terms. For what  information, 
what knowledge, carries this proposition in it, viz. 
           "Lead is a  metal" 
                      [Carnap's good old meaning postulate!]
to a man who knows the complex idea the name lead stands for? All the  simple 
ideas that go to the complex one signified by the term metal, being  nothing 
but what he before comprehended and signified by the name lead."
"Indeed, to a man that knows the signification of 'metal', and not of  
'lead,' it is a shorter way to explain the signification of 'lead,' by saying it  is 
a metal, which at once expresses several of its simple ideas, than to  
enumerate them one by one, telling him it is a body very 
            heavy,  fusible, and malleable."
"As part of the definition of the term defined. Alike trifling it is to  
predicate any other part of the definition of the term defined, or to affirm any  
one of the simple ideas of a complex one of the name of the whole complex 
idea;  as, 
                "All gold is fusible." 
--- [or 'glass is breakable' -- and Carnap's problem with  counterfactuals!]
"For fusibility being one of the simple ideas that goes to the making up  the 
complex one the sound gold stands for, what can it be but playing with  
sounds, to affirm that of the name gold, which is comprehended in its received  
signification? It would be thought little better than ridiculous to affirm  
gravely, as a truth of moment, that gold is yellow; and I see not how it is any  
jot more material to say it is fusible, unless that quality be left out of the  
complex idea, of which the sound gold is the mark in ordinary speech. What  
instruction can it carry with it, to tell one that which he hath been told  
already, or he is supposed to know before?"
"For I am supposed to know the signification of the word another uses to  me, 
or else he is to tell me. And if I know that 'gold' stands for this complex  
idea of body, yellow, heavy, fusible, malleable, it will not much instruct me 
to  put it solemnly afterwards in a proposition, and gravely say, all gold is  
fusible. Such propositions can only serve to show the disingenuity of one who 
 will go from the definition of his own terms, by reminding him sometimes of 
it;  but carry no knowledge with them, but of the signification of words, 
however  certain they be. 
"Instance, man and palfrey. 
           "Every man is  an animal, or living body," 
is as certain a proposition as can be; but no more conducing to the  
knowledge of things than to say, 
            a  palfrey is an ambling horse, or a neighing, ambling animal, 
both being only about the signification of words, and make me know but  this- 
That body, sense, and motion, or power of sensation and moving, are three  of 
those ideas that I always comprehend and signify by 'man': and where they are 
 not to be found together, the name man belongs not to that thing: and so of 
the  other- That body, sense, and a certain way of going, with a certain kind 
of  voice, are some of those ideas which I always comprehend and signify by 
the word  palfrey; and when they are not to be found together, the name palfrey 
belongs  not to that thing. It is just the same, and to the same purpose, when 
any term  standing for any one or more of the simple ideas, that altogether 
make up that  complex idea which is called man, is affirmed of the term man:- 
v.g. suppose a  Roman signified by  
all these distinct ideas united in one subject, 
              corporietas, sensibilitas, potentia se movendi rationalitas, 
he might, no doubt, with great certainty, universally affirm one, more, or  
all of these together of the word homo, but did no more than say that 'homo', 
in  his country, comprehended in its signification all these ideas. Much like a 
 romance knight, who by the word palfrey signified these ideas:- body of a  
certain figure, four-legged, with sense, motion, ambling, neighing, white, used 
 to have a woman on his back- might with the same certainty universally 
affirm  also any or all of these of the word palfrey: but did thereby teach no 
more, but  that the word palfrey, in his or romance language, stood for all these, 
and was  not to be applied to anything where any of these was wanting. But he 
that shall  tell me, that in whatever thing sense, motion, reason, and 
laughter, were  united, that thing had actually a notion of God, or would be cast 
into a sleep  by opium, made indeed an instructive proposition: because neither 
having the  notion of God, nor being cast into sleep by opium, being contained 
in the idea  signified by the word man, we are by such propositions taught 
something more  than barely what the word man stands for: and therefore the 
knowledge contained  in it is more than verbal. 
"Therefore he trifles with words who makes such a proposition, which, when  
it is made, contains no more than one of the terms does, and which a man was  
supposed to know before: v.g. 
           a triangle  hath three sides, or 
           saffron is  yellow. 
"And this is no further tolerable than where a man goes to explain his  terms 
to one who is supposed or declares himself not to understand him; and then  
it teaches only the signification of that word, and the use of that sign."

"[T]hose trifling propositions which have a certainty in them, but it  is 
only a verbal certainty, but not instructive."
----- Next, Locke makes a distinction which may do, regarding a 'necessary  
consequence' that follows from a complex idea but is "_not_ contained_ in it"  
(my emphasis. JLS). In Hume's fork this would still be 'analytic', I would  
"And, secondly, we can know the truth, and so may be certain in  
propositions, which affirm something of another, which is A NECESSARY  CONSEQUENCE of its 
precise complex idea, but *NOT CONTAINED* IN IT: as  that"
           the external  angle of all triangles is bigger than either of the 
opposite internal angles. 
"Which relation of the outward angle to either of the opposite internal  
angles, making no part of the complex idea signified by the name triangle, this  
is a real truth, and conveys with it instructive real knowledge."
"One may make demonstrations and undoubted propositions in words, and yet  
thereby advance not one jot in the knowledge of the truth of things: v.g. he  
that having learnt these following words, with their ordinary mutual relative  
acceptations annexed to them: v.g. 
may make several undoubted propositions about the soul, without knowing at  
all what the soul really is: and of this sort, a man may find an infinite 
number  of propositions, reasonings, and conclusions, in books of metaphysics,  
school-divinity, and some sort of natural philosophy: and, after all, know as  
little of God, spirits, or bodies, as he did before he set out." 
"[N]o more increases in his own knowledge than he does his riches, who,  
taking a bag of counters, calls one in a certain place 
            a pound, 
another in another place 
                 a shilling, 
and a third in a third place 
                      a penny; 
and so proceeding, may undoubtedly reckon right, and cast up a great sum,  
according to his counters so placed, and standing for more or less as he  
pleases, without being one jot the richer, or 
          without even knowing  how much a pound, shilling, or penny is, 
but only that one is contained in the other twenty times, and contains the  
other twelve: which a man may also do in the signification of words, by making  
them, in respect of one another, more or less, or equally comprehensive."
"Should any one say that 
             parsimony is frugality, that 
                    gratitude is justice, 
that this or that action is or is not temperate: however specious these and  
the like propositions may at first sight seem, yet when we come to press them, 
 and examine nicely what they contain, we shall find that it all amounts to  
nothing but the signification of those terms." 
"All propositions wherein a part of the complex idea which any term stands  
for is predicated of that term, are only verbal: v.g. to say that 
              gold is a metal, or heavy. 
And thus all propositions wherein more comprehensive words, called genera,  
are affirmed of subordinate or less comprehensive, called species, or  
individuals, are barely verbal."
When by these two rules we have examined the propositions that make up the  
discourses we ordinarily meet with, both in and out of books, we shall perhaps  
find that a greater part of them than is usually suspected are purely about 
the  signification of words, and contain nothing in them but the use and 
application  of these signs."
------------ end of Lockean interlude.
>The reference back to Aristotle may be closer to the mark,  and
>we find Aristotle in pole position in Hume's account,
>where  the analytic side is:
> "every affirmation which is either  intuitively
>   or demonstratively certain"
>which is  Aristotelian terminology.
>However, in Aristotle, the notion of  "intuitively certain"
>is the point at which his essentialism operates (we  intuit
>the essential properties of things), whereas Hume  has
>already edged towards a conventionalist position by  describing
>the subject matter as "Relations of Ideas", making  the
>dichotomy semantic in character rather than metaphysical.

I see. Or 'epistemic'. I'm never sure if by 'certain', the Greeks are using  
a metaphysical or an epistemic claim. By defining 'episteme' as 'justified 
true  'doxa'' or belief, they may be making both.
It's interesting that Aristotle narrows it down to 'affirmation'  
(kataphasis). For surely some 'negations' (apophasis) look intuitively or  
demonstraitvely certainly _false_: 'no man is an island' (Donne).
It's true that also Aristotle's scheme needs a presupposition of what a  
'proof' is, his own syllogistic, and the idea of 'analysis' itself. As I recall,  
his use of 'analutika' refers to 'arkhai' or pinciples _of_ demonstration.
>The characterisation of the dichotomy in terms of its
>subject  matter may remind us of Plato's distinction
>between that true knowledge  which we may have of Platonic
>forms, and the unreliable opinions which we  may have
>of the shadowy sensible world. But again the  Platonic
>view is metaphysical, for Plato thinks the world  of
>Platonic forms is the true reality, not just a place
>to play  with ideas.

True. No, I don't think Plato's topos ouranos (that 'celestial place')  is 
the place to look for analyticity -- A few Greeks followed his rambling  
seriously though. I. M. Thomas, in his two-volume edition of Greek Mathematics  (for 
the Loeb Classical Library) discusses the seriousness by which  mathematicians 
of his day would follow Platonic maxims as to how to understand  certain 
'limits' of 'ideal' concepts (e.g. 'circle' for example). Colin McLarty  has 
studied the philosophy of mathematics that springs from Platonism, as not  
necessarily _that_ naive. 
>Most ideas, when you look closely, can be traced back a
>very  long way, and this is true of the dichotomies, but
>it is nevertheless  sometimes helpful to distinguish the
>evolution of ideas from that of  "precursors".

Right. "Ideengeschichte", the Germans call it. Indeed, Isaiah Berlin was  
professor in Oxford, of, if you believe this, "The History of Ideas". Boringly,  
he never considered 'Analyticity' but "Freedom" and such! --. 
>One relevant place where this happens is in  Kolakowski's
>"Positivist Philosophy" in which he choses Hume as  the
>first true positivist (despite Comte having coined the
I see. Comte, I think, also coined 'sociology', which should be enough of a  
barbarism! Only joking.
>Possibly the single most important feature of
>this conception of  positivism is its anti-essentialism,
>and this is manifest in Hume's  sensational
>call for the burning of metaphysical texts.
>Before  Hume we see pre-cursors of the (fundamental
>triple) dichotomy, after Hume  we see controversy about
>and refinement of it.

Very good point made and taken. 

>The slightly longer story that I hope to develop in  the
>monograph involves making the "triple-dichotomy" a
>resolution  of three long standing historical dialectics:
>1.   That between  scepticism and dogmatism
>2.   That between rationalism and  empiricism
>3.   That between essentialism and  nominalism
>All of which can be traced back close to the  beginnings
>of philosophy.  

Very good. 

>The first two are resolved by Hume in the synthesis
>embodied  in the triple-dichotomy.
>The dialectic between sceptics who claim that  nothing
>can be known, and dogmatists who know all, is  synthesised
>by Hume into the distinction between those things  which
>can and those which cannot be known with certainty.

Very good. I found Sextus Empiricus, "Against the dogmatics" (Loeb  Classical 
Library) very useful here. And it is true that Kant (originally spelt,  
"Cant", a Scots surname) indeed was awaken from his 'Dogmatic Slumber" by non  
other than Mr. Home (originally spelling of "Hume"). 

>The dialectic between rationalists who believe that
>all  knowledge comes from reason (or trivialise that
>obtainable through the  senses) and empiricists who
>believe that all knowledge comes through the  senses
>(or trivialise that obtainable by reason) is synthesised
>by  Hume into a second aspect of the same dichotomy,
>the division between  those things which can be known
>by deductive reason, and those things of  which the
>senses alone provide evidence, however inconclusive.

Excellent. And if you think of it, with Kant, we seem like his attempt to  
extend the realm of 'deductive' reason to the practical sphere. But I'm never  
convinced. If he thought that practical reason was 'pure', why not call it so,  

>In these two Hume finds a middle ground marked by
>a line  which I believe to be fundamental and objective,
>and the subsequent  history may be seen as transformed
>by Hume into a dialectic between those  who dislike
>the narrow scope which he allows for reason
>and seek  to dismantle his synthesis, (Kant, Kripke)
>and those who defend and  refine his position (Frege, Carnap).

Very good.

>In the last dialectic, Hume does not find a  moderating
>synthesis.  His fork takes him straight to the  dismissal
>of metaphysics, the anti-essentialist view that  all
>necessity lies in language (in relations between ideas).
>There  is here no middle ground.
>So, in this longer story, the history of the  dichotomy
>falls into two phases, before and after Hume.
>Before  Hume we have a dialectic leading to Hume's
>After Hume  that synthesis is dominant and is a mainstay
>of posivism, the dialectic  being between those
>who re-affirm and refine his position
>and  those who challenge it.
>Is this a plausible story or a fantasy?
Nay. It's very plausible. And I applaud it. 

I always love the time lines, 'before and after ...'. And Hume and his  
cutlery (fork, spoon, knife) seems an excellent one. It would be good how  explicit 
one can make the connection to Hume all over, but that's not  impossible. 
Whitehead says that all metaphysics is 'but footnotes to Plato', so we  could 
say, analogously, that all philosophically table manners (or the use of  the 
fork) are footnotes to Hume.
J. L. Speranza
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