[hist-analytic] Steve's and Roger's recent interchange

Danny Frederick danny.frederick at tiscali.co.uk
Sat Aug 1 14:59:52 EDT 2009

Hi Bruce,

I am trying to catch up with emails and just came across one of yours on
which I have something to say.

I deny that the propositions of analytic philosophy are analytic. This is a
simple consequence of my view that there are no analytic propositions, and
thus that there are no propositions that can be shown to be true by some
purely analytic procedure.

There is clearly something in Hume's fork: there is a difference between, on
the one hand, thinking up possible observations or experiments that may
decide between two (or more) theories, and, on the other hand, thinking up
new theories to test or even devising thought experiments to test a theory
imaginatively. But these are just different aspects of thinking; and all
thinking is ultimately empirical if it is anything other than humbug (by
'ultimately empirical' I mean that it is intended eventually to yield
falsifiable conclusions that can be tested against observation statements).

I think this is reasonably clear as regards traditional philosophy. The
ancient atomists' speculations about atoms and the void were metaphysical
but eventually became scientific; Descartes' metaphysical identification of
matter with extension was eventually rejected by science, and similarly for
Kant's transcendental proof of Newtonian mechanics. But it also seems to be
clear with regard to analytic philosophy. For example, contemporary 'virtue
epistemology' seems to be inconsistent with the history of science and with
some of the results of experimental psychology; Moore's claims about
certainty are either false or pure humbug; the so-called 'principle of total
evidence' is either false or humbug depending on how it is interpreted; and
so on.

Incidentally, my rejection of the notion of analytic truths does not derive
from Quine: I have no time for his verificationism, holism, or radical
meaning-scepticism. It derives from the work of Popper, Lakatos and Bartley,
though none of them explicitly rejected the possibility of analytic
propositions. The rejection must, of course, be an empirical conjecture if
it is not to be humbug.

What I mean by 'humbug' is not the positivists' meaninglessness. It is
rather Popper's 'pseudo-science,' that is, perfectly meaningful statements
that are secured from falsification by ad hoc manoeuvres. Whether or not a
statement is humbug depends not on the statement but on the attitude of he
who makes it.



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