[hist-analytic] Philosophical 'Solecisms': Hypercategorial?

Danny Frederick danny.frederick at tiscali.co.uk
Wed Jul 15 10:23:09 EDT 2009

Blimey, JL, you call that 'brief'!

I am not entirely sure what you are saying. But it seems to imply that a
concept is categorial only if it has instances (and perhaps is also
fundamental in some way). And behind this lies a picture: ontological
categories (which exist out there in the real world) cause perceptions and
perceptions cause concepts which reflect the ontological categories.

I work with a different picture: inherited theories contain categories which
shape perceptions and structure the world as experienced. Further, inherited
theories can be criticised, modified or abandoned (so long as something is
put in their place). Consequently, whether the categories of any theory have
(real) instances is something we can never know.

The picture you suggest is Aristotelian: forms migrate from things into our
sense organs. My picture is Popperian; that is, it is Kantian insofar as the
forms are contributed by the subject, but it is fallibilist in that the
forms can lead us astray but can be modified by us. The Popperian picture
was developed to take account, initially, of scientific practice, and,
later, of the discoveries since Aristotle's time, in empirical psychology,
neuroscience and the history of science.

What was the point of Strawson's 'descriptive metaphysics'? He was exploring
a conceptual scheme, viz., that of Oxford-educated common sense, that had
already been shown to be primitive and mistaken by advances in the sciences,
particularly physics. Surely, he would have produced something more relevant
to contemporary thought if he had tried to examine the challenges to that
scheme posed by scientific developments. But he just takes it for granted
that the scheme he is describing is permanent and unhchangeable
('Individuals,' p.10). I am not saying his book is worthless. It is not: I
have read it several times and learned a lot from it. But it is curiously
detached from the common human enterprise of knowledge. He is like the loner
sitting in a side room while the party goes on in the main room next door.

Needless to say, it would take me a lot of time and work to defend what I
just said! But I may return to it later.

Best wishes,


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