[hist-analytic] Descriptive Metaphysics and Analyticity

Roger Bishop Jones rbj at rbjones.com
Sat Jan 29 09:57:09 EST 2011

On Saturday 29 Jan 2011 10:20, Danny Frederick wrote:

> <<I don't see that it follows from the possibility of
> alternatives that the metaphyscal claims are not
> analytic>>
> If an analytic truth is a necessary one, then any
> proposition inconsistent with it will be itself
> inconsistent. Since revisionary metaphysical schemes are
> not inconsistent, descriptive metaphysics cannot be
> analytic.

But this argument assumes no change in usage.
If the revisionary metaphysicist adopts a different usage, or 
if he disagrees with the analysis of the descriptive 
metaphysicist, then a revisionary metaphysics could differ 
from descriptive metaphysics even thought the latter is 
thought to be, or even actually is, analytic.

I would have thought it quite common that to understand 
different revisionary metaphysicians you have to get a grip 
on substantive differences in the way they use language, 
which is probably never much like ordinary language.
Not that I have done much of that myself.

> I suspect the position is somewhat as JL
> indicated. Strawson was fond of Kantian-style
> transcendental arguments, so he might have thought of
> descriptive metaphysics as synthetic a priori, without
> actually putting it that way.

That sounds to me as if it would be more relevant to his 
revisionary metaphysics, or his Kantian exegesis than 
to his descriptive metaphysics.  I am guessing that 
"transcendental arguments" are not the kind of thing
he would count as analysis.

> I think 'Individuals' would be worth a careful read to
> elicit Strawson's position, but I do not have the time
> to do that myself at the moment. Strawson can be very
> cagey, though, so it is possible that one could go
> through his text with a fine-tooth comb and still not
> get an answer. (Have you already done this?

No, its not the kind of thing I am capable of doing.
I can only read very small quantities of other peoples 
philosophy and then rather badly (from the point of view of 
scholarship at least).

> Was that why you asked the question?

No I mostly ask questions to discover things I have little 
hope of discovering for myself.

There are some philosophers (quite a lot actually) which I 
can't read at all, even when I try quite hard.
I have had "Individuals" on my bookshelf for close on 40 
years now, but I doubt that I have ever read more than a few 
The only bits of Strawson that I recall reading are his 
paper with Grice responding to "Two Dogmas", and quite 
recently most of his chapter on the syllogism in his Intro 
to logical theory (which is very nice but, it appears, 

> ) Strawson's approach to
> philosophy, it seems to me, is governed by taboos. There
> are some things one must not say, but one never explains
> why, and there are some subjects one must not discuss,
> even though they cry out for discussion given what is
> being discussed.

It would be interesting to hear of some examples.

> <<The alternatives might be derived from alternative
> usages which constitute a change in meaning of the
> language>>
> But they all talk about the same world and imply
> statements about that world which contradict each other.

The point is that if the meaning has changed then an 
apparent contradiction might not be real.
If you change language then you may end up talking to cross 

> <<In any case, a revisionary metaphysicist probably pays
> little attention to descriptive metaphysics and devises
> a new metaphysic as an improvement on the efforts of
> previous metaphysicians and without reference to
> ordinary usage>>
> Einstein was a revisionary metaphysicist; but he
> developed his view in opposition to the Newtonian
> metaphysics of space and time (in response to problems
> that had developed in Newtonian theory). Einstein's
> metaphysical speculations about space and time turned
> out to be empirically testable. By the same token, so
> did Newton's - but only after Einstein's work.

Einstein is usually regarded as a physicist, and the claim 
is then that he put forward a theory about space time which 
was empirically testable.
However, the empirical confirmation of general relativity 
does not in fact prove the underlying metaphysics.
To do that you would also have to show that no empirically 
indistinguishable theory could be formulated using some 
other conception of space-time.

I will pass over the reasons for doubting that general 
relativity has in fact been empirically confirmed, and 
mention the more solid point that physicists in Cambridge 
have more recently reformulated general relativity in terms 
of Euclidean space-time.
I don't know that the adoption of non-euclidean space time 
ever looked like more than a theoretical convenience anyway, 
and it is a theoretical convenience which I think is 
probably very inconvenient when it comes to practical 

> <<It might be useful to compare with Kripke, who I
> understand as taking the position that there is a
> metaphysical notion of necessity which is distinct both
> from logical necessity, and from analyticity>>
> Please excuse me if I am wrong, but I thought Kripke
> identified metaphysical necessity with 'broadly logical
> necessity.' Others on the list should be able to confirm
> or infirm.

Oh, well that's interesting.
I thought one of the main points of his "meaning and 
necessity" bombshell was to tease apart all three pieces of 
what I call the triple dichotomy.

Isn't Kripkean metaphysics all about necessity de re which 
is surely the same thing as metaphysical but not (even 
broadly) logical necessity.

If not, and all metaphysical necessity is broadly logical, 
then it is also analytic (for surely analyticity is the 
broadest notion of logical necessity around), and if all 
metaphysics is analytic, it must also be all a priori and 
there will be no necessity a posteriori.
(which is of course, where Carnap and I stand)

> <<do we know whether Strawson would place himself and
> where?>>
> Probably not: I suspect that metaphysical necessity was
> one of Strawson's taboos.

A descriptive and revisionary metaphysician who did not 
consider metaphysical truths necessary???

But presumably you are saying that he didn't go into this.

Roger Jones

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