[hist-analytic] Hume's Fork

Roger Bishop Jones rbj at rbjones.com
Wed Mar 18 18:24:43 EDT 2009

On Sunday 15 March 2009 17:31:03 Jlsperanza at aol.com wrote:

>--- 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.

I think the cutlery analogy, though homely, is not the best.
If we think of a fork in the road, then we think of two
alternatives, and we are straight away in a dilemma
contemplating a dichotomy. The cutlery is too complicated.

>>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".

That fork is for a future monograph, if I can ever get through this one.

>>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.

I didn't intend to say that Locke's philosophy was less important,
just his fork (if we allow him one).

Wasn't Locke a contemporary of Newton, swept up in the revolutionary
fervour that ensued.  Then Hume fell dead from the press.

>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:...

Well, I think there may be _something_ in it for me.
I was thinking of starting right at the begining, and arguing
that our competence to judge elementary entailments is coeval
with descriptive language itself, and Locke's observations about
trifles might possibly be cited as supporting that idea.

Paragraph 8 of Chapter VIII suggests to me that Locke
was more influential on Kant than he was on Hume, and
makes Kant's position even less original than I had
previously suspected.

Here, Locke first, and Kant after him, seem handicapped
by too great a familiarity with the Aristotelian syllogism,
with which Hume does not appear to have been burdened.

The effect is that Locke's trivial propositions and
Kant's analytic are more narrowly conceived than Hume's
"Relations between ideas" (which include mathematics
and geometry), and they both end up with propositions
which are synthetic(/non-trivial) but necessary.

>>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.

I'm not so sure about this take on the "after Hume" bit now.
Though classical scepticism largely dissappears from view
after Hume, who becomes epistemologies bete noir, it is
arguable that the empiricist/rationalist conflict flows
on unabated and without Hume being granted any special status
in this, and I am increasingly impressed by the significance
of the essentialist/nominalist thing, especially if you
take a liberal view of what falls under that heading.

Roger Jones

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