[hist-analytic] Putnam and Russell

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Wed Dec 8 16:50:07 EST 2010

Hilary Putnam in his _The Threefold Cord: mind, body, and world_. Columbia, 1994 discusses the sense data theory, unsympathetically. This was to be expected. Putnam sometimes speaks like a scientist interested in philosophy and at other time the other way around. As I read this I am struck by his failure to understand the sense data theories of Russell in particular. 

Russell did not, as he strongly implies (p. 190), abandon neutral monism by the time he wrote Our Knowledgeo of the External World. Just about everyone knows this. Now he may mean that Russell's "neutral monism" where actions are mental but the data are neutral; but his account of this, IF this is his view, is not neutral monism nor was it neutral during the period Putnam discusses, at least in any identied or identifiable sense. Putnam's failure to understand sense data theory is, probably, owing to his embrace of Austin. This, I think, is a matter of convenience. Putnam doesn't discuss either Austin or Ayer or Russell etc. in any detail. Mostly wave of the hand arguments with the added momentum of authority. If he had understood Russell, given his preoccupation with the inverted spectrum in connection with functionalism and sense data theory, he would have noticed that for the Russell of the relevant period physical objects are analyzed in terms of what Leibniz would call "aspects." These aspects are real. They "radiate" from a center and exist from a perspective as far as the perceiver is concerned. Thus there CANNOT for Russell be so much as the possibility of an inverted spectrum without a change in objects. Putnam does see, and as I have pointed out elsewhere, that there is a connection to Wittgenstein's private language argument, an argument completely misconstrued as directed against Descartes. 

It continues to amaze me how naive Putnam and others appear to be as to what, exactly, the sense data theory was for Russell and others. Part of the problem is that the only explanations Putnam allows himself to countenance is scientific explanation. If so, why do philosophy? Putnam is a good philosopher, but like so many under the influence of Carnap, he is clueless as to the actual content of his metaphysically inclined predecessors. 


STeve Bayne 
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