Fodor on Kripke

by Chris Bertram on October 13, 2004

Why does no-one read analytical philosophy (except for analytical philosophers) and what was the revolution wrought by Saul Kripke? Jerry Fodor explains , over at the LRB.

{ 32 comments }

1

des von bladet 10.13.04 at 10:10 am

While I certainly admire Fodor’s ability dispense with any testimony from those whose behaviour he alleges himself to be explaining, I don’t read neo-scholastique (“Analytique”) philosophy because the logiciste program in philosophy of mind/epistemology – after shamefully ducking the share of the blame for the collapse of classical AI it so richly deserved – degenerated into the worst kind of applied mathematics – no one agrees on the models to start from and no one believes in the kind of logical homunculus with which they replace the subject.

I’m ranting, of course, but so is Fodor and this is another unappetising property of neo-scholasticisme – the endless self-admiration of its practicioners for their own Clarity and Rigour is very often made to serve as an ideological foundation for rudeness – “If I am clear and rigorous”, Generic Philosophe X clearly thinks, “and you disagree, then you must be a fool.”

I’ve been unpacking my books in the last couple of days, and I’ve shelved Barking John Searle’s The Mysteries of Consciousness next to Dangerous Dan Dennett’s Consciousness Explained so that they can fight it out between them – with, no doubt, a degree of clarity and rigour I cannot even aspire to imagining – and I’ll read the winner when I’ve finished with De la grammatologie.

2

Chris Bertram 10.13.04 at 10:45 am

You should come along to “some of our seminars”:http://www.bris.ac.uk/Depts/Philosophy/Events/2004-5_Research_Seminars.html Des! I don’t recognise much we do from your description. You might change your mind and we could have that beer afterwards….

3

Simstim 10.13.04 at 10:47 am

I’m not sure from reading this that Fodor knows that Foucault is dead?

4

des von bladet 10.13.04 at 11:27 am

Chris: I can’t make the Schopenhauer one this week, sadly, but you’re on for the 22nd.

I’d ask how much of what you (lot) do Fodor can explain the widespread public indifference to, but it looks like I’ll find out first hand. Meanwhile, your fellow Timb’rite, Brian Wetherspoon, has thoughtfully volunteered to anthologise exemplifications of the sort of thing I take Fodor and especially myself to be referring to.

5

Mike Huben 10.13.04 at 11:56 am

Having had one introductary class in philosophy, I must be qualified to make a comment. :-)

As soon as I got to the “no possible worlds can have 2+2=5”, I wondered if “no possible worlds could can have parallel lines converge.” Before Einstein (and subsequent observation of gravitational lensing), philosophers likely would have said “of course”. But now we know better. So it seems plain to me that we lack a test of whether we can really make any judgements of what the sorts of possible worlds are. We’re just smuggling in our favorite gut-feeling assumptions with one more level of indirection.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the vast majority of philosophy consists of the subtle smuggling of fallacies. The vast majority of philosophy is mutually irreconcilable, so only a tiny fraction could possibly be correct at once. The rest must be fallacious.

6

Mike S 10.13.04 at 12:25 pm

I am not an analytical philosopher but I read analytical philosophy. I no longer read scholastic or continental philosophy. I may not be smart enough to be an analytic philosopher but I am smart enough to know obfuscatory nonsense when I read it.

7

Matt 10.13.04 at 12:52 pm

_”I’m not sure from reading this that Fodor knows that Foucault is dead?”_
Well, if you read Fodor’s review of the Rice/John version of Aida, you’ll see him claim to not know who either Elton John or Tim Rice are, so maybe he doesn’t know Foucault is dead, either.

8

LowLife 10.13.04 at 12:56 pm

And to stretch Mike Huben point (as I understand it) a little farther, we can conceive of another world, in another universe, where Planck’s constant is slightly different, the weak and strong forces slightly different, the speed of light slightly different and the sum of all the the physical characteristics of the place are such that xyz shows all the characteristics of water and H2O taste like Pepsi.

What do I know? (Wittgenstein replies, “nothing”.) I’m not too good with the meaning of words. But the concept of water was developed long before we understood its chemical symbology so we developed the chemical symbology to match the concept. If xyz were just like water it wouldn’t be distinquished from H2O and chemistry would have developed differently and we would have to come up with more letters for our hypothetical.

All this suggest to me that philosophy is bunk, though a compelling counter argument is all practitioners of philosophy (in the professional sense) I know to be smarter than I am. Though Quine and Wittgenstein seem to argue with me of philosophy’s uselessness I still envy a philosopher’s ability to make an argument and, harder still, understand someone else’s. The thing to be done is what Chris suggests and join together for argument and beer and hope that you look good to your spouse or significant other or insignificant someone after.

9

asg 10.13.04 at 1:40 pm

Great link!

10

Zizka 10.13.04 at 2:57 pm

Seriously, who’s Tim Rice?

This is something I wish I could respond to at length, and I am starting a new site to do that kind of thing. Sometime, but not yet.

“Why did I quit reading analytic philosophy” — my question.

For some of the reasons Fodor says: e.g. risible, weird hypotheticals. Some of the problem comes from the logicist habit of solving particular, meaningful cases of a question by the device of solving every possible case, including the most farfetched. Great if it works, but usually it just leads to endless refinements.

Second, analysis with not enough synthesis. So significant question A is divided into questions a1 and a2, and then a1 is divided into questions a1-alpha and a1-beta, and then a1-alpha is again divided, and so on. This is fine, but the other movement is much weaker, so most analytic argument seems stuck far out in the branchings with the connection to the trunk long forgotten. And hypothetically to boot.

Next, a tendency to simply ignore or misrepresent non-analytic philosophers. This is usually done by translation, “Before I begin, let me give what I think is a fair summary of what X’s view is”. In my experience it’s never a fair summary, and the discussion is always entirely directed to the summary without further reference to the supposed original target. Often this narrow framing of questions is self-serving, begging important questions.

Next, a strong tendency to positivism which I think is erroneous. Science is a particular intellectual activity, and not the standard for every activity.

Next, just narrowness. Right or wrong, Foucault, Dewey, Whitehead, and various others discuss questions that analytic philosophers just ignore. I am especially thinking of what I’ve seen called “thick” concepts, which are multi-leveled and don’t survive analysis. One which I’ve been working on recently is “reciprocity”, which appears all over the place in different forms, and which is most interesting in its complexity.

Everything I see of analytic philosophy looks like either logicist (and positivist) philosophy of science, philosophy of mind (now being absorbed by AI and evolutionary psychology, per my reading of Dennett), and Roty-Nozick political theory. The last is most interesting to me, but from the point of view of my reading of history and street-level politics, it seems blind to a lot of significant factors.

So anyway, that’s my short answer.

Causally speaking, Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature was why I quit. Rorty seems to have recanted somewhat later, but I think that that was because he rtealized he would be having lunch with analytic philosophers for the rest of hist life.

BTW, except for part of Foucault I don’t like postmodernism or whatever you call it much either. I’m not being perverse — these two tendencies do not exhaust the possibilities.

So that’s my short answer.

11

Zizka 10.13.04 at 2:59 pm

Seriously, who’s Tim Rice?

This is something I wish I could respond to at length, and I am starting a new site to do that kind of thing. Sometime, but not yet.

“Why did I quit reading analytic philosophy” — my question.

For some of the reasons Fodor says: e.g. risible, weird hypotheticals. Some of the problem comes from the logicist habit of solving particular, meaningful cases of a question by the device of solving every possible case, including the most farfetched. Great if it works, but usually it just leads to endless refinements.

Second, analysis with not enough synthesis. So significant question A is divided into questions a1 and a2, and then a1 is divided into questions a1-alpha and a1-beta, and then a1-alpha is again divided, and so on. This is fine, but the other movement is much weaker, so most analytic argument seems stuck far out in the branchings with the connection to the trunk long forgotten. And hypothetically to boot.

Next, a tendency to simply ignore or misrepresent non-analytic philosophers. This is usually done by translation, “Before I begin, let me give what I think is a fair summary of what X’s view is”. In my experience it’s never a fair summary, and the discussion is always entirely directed to the summary without further reference to the supposed original target. Often this narrow framing of questions is self-serving, begging important questions.

Next, a strong tendency to positivism which I think is erroneous. Science is a particular intellectual activity, and not the standard for every activity.

Next, just narrowness. Right or wrong, Foucault, Dewey, Whitehead, and various others discuss questions that analytic philosophers just ignore. I am especially thinking of what I’ve seen called “thick” concepts, which are multi-leveled and don’t survive analysis. One which I’ve been working on recently is “reciprocity”, which appears all over the place in different forms, and which is most interesting in its complexity.

Everything I see of analytic philosophy looks like either logicist (and positivist) philosophy of science, philosophy of mind (now being absorbed by AI and evolutionary psychology, per my reading of Dennett), and Roty-Nozick political theory. The last is most interesting to me, but from the point of view of my reading of history and street-level politics, it seems blind to a lot of significant factors.

So anyway, that’s my short answer.

Causally speaking, Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature was why I quit. Rorty seems to have recanted somewhat later, but I think that that was because he rtealized he would be having lunch with analytic philosophers for the rest of hist life.

BTW, except for part of Foucault I don’t like postmodernism or whatever you call it much either. I’m not being perverse — these two tendencies do not exhaust the possibilities.

So that’s my short answer.

12

Zizka 10.13.04 at 3:04 pm

Sorry. When the screen goes white, one often wrongly assumes that the post failed.

13

harry 10.13.04 at 3:19 pm

zizka,
I couldn’t tell whether your new site will address the questions you discuss in your comment, or the question of who Tim Rice is. This is typical of the obscurantist tendencies of people who lean toward the non-analytical approach, in my experience. :)

Seriously, I found the Fodor piece interesting and useful.

Here’s the problem with analytical philosophy: some of it is good, and lots of it is bad. It is just like all other areas of philosophy, and all other disciplines. If you are a practicaing analytical philosopher (like me) you tend to read the good rather than the bad, and, not only that, you tend to get the good out of the good, and filter out the bad that’s in the good. If you are not, it’s much harder to find the good, and to find the good in the good.

I’ve been reading work in educational studies for quite a while now. Most of it is, frankly, drivel. And for a long time it was very hard for me to get to the good stuff. But I have been doing it a long time, and found good guides, and I now don’t read much that is bad, because I can identify it pretty readily from the first para or page. What is really annoying about educational studies is that there is a lot of good stuff that lacks the presentational virtues of good philosophy or good sociology. I’ve been able to figure that out too, but life is short, and I’ve done it because I’ve made a conscious decision to become a sort-of-expert in certain policy areas.

I agreed with a lot of what zizka wrote, but feel that even all together it is not sufficient reason to give up reading analytical philosophy, even as a non-practitioner. The additional reason has to be that you have better tings to do with your time than invest the time it would take to find the good stuff efficiently.

14

Matt McGrattan 10.13.04 at 3:32 pm

The Fodor paper is pretty interesting but his conclusions at the end are not new. Alan Sidelle’s excellent book ‘Necessity, Essence and Individuation’ makes most of the same points — that (to quote Fodor):

“In short, if K is the concept of a material kind, and if every actual thing that K applies to is made of n-stuff, then it’s necessary that every thing that K (would) apply to is made of n-stuff.”

Sidelle then argues that these principles of individuation are analytic (and true by convention). Which renders Kripke’s whole ‘modal’ project pretty uninteresting.

Fodor’s right though — those questions [about the ‘truthmakers’ for our modal intuitions] don’t get asked very often.

In my experience saying that you don’t buy into the Kripkean essentialist project gets you incredulous stares at philosophy seminars. It’s like claiming to be an unreconstructed logical positivst, or that you are pursuing cutting edge research in the enumeration of angels on pinheads, or something.

15

Matthew B. 10.13.04 at 3:55 pm

Mike Huben: You’re confusing two different issues. Mathematicians knew well before the time of Einstein that some geometries (e.g., Euclidean) have parallel lines, and some (e.g., Riemannian) don’t; it’s just a matter of the starting axioms you pick. Einstein showed that Riemannian geometry is a better model for the physical universe, but that doesn’t mean that the Euclidean axioms suddenly stopped producing parallel lines.

When Fodor writes that “there is no (possible) world in which 2+2=5” there’s an unspoken tag: “(under the standard axioms for arithmetic).” It’s easy to come up with nonstandard axioms by which 2+2=5, and hence 0=1, and some of these arithmetic systems might even have useful physical-world applications, but that’s not really what we’re talking about.

Fodor’s writing about truths that we arrive at strictly by logical deduction from definitions, not by observation of the physical world. You might argue that this is an artificial distinction — many have — but you’ll have your work cut out for you if you try.

16

Simstim 10.13.04 at 4:00 pm

[Nods head in agreement to much of what Zizka said]

What I found amusing from Fodor’s article is that those analytical philosophers who often bash other disciplines/types of philosophy for mysticism are, if they’re following Kripke (as presented by Fodor), basing their discipline on intuition!

17

Steve Esser 10.13.04 at 4:33 pm

I am a lay person who reads some philosophy. For what it’s worth, the types of philosophy which seem more inward-turned, focusing on concepts and language, seem less relevant to life outside the academy. From an evolutionary standpoint, reflective self-consciousness and language are late on the scene. Our nature is one of doing and surviving, and philosophy which is stresses our active integration into the natural world seems to connect better with my interests.

18

des von bladet 10.13.04 at 4:41 pm

Matthew B: It is fun to watch the neo-Kantians go general relativity, ouch ouch ouch! (see §3.2)

(And pedantic geometers tend to insist that GR is semi-Riemannian, on account of the metric.)

19

aphrael 10.13.04 at 6:35 pm

Tim Rice wrote the libretto for Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcout; for many years he was Andrew LLoyd Webber’s less famous sidekick.

20

aphrael 10.13.04 at 6:36 pm

Tim Rice wrote the libretto for Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcout; for many years he was Andrew LLoyd Webber’s less famous sidekick.

21

Zizka 10.13.04 at 7:40 pm

Much of my animus against analytic philosophy derives from the way it has come to dominate philosophy departments, and the way that analytic philosophers dismiss and ignore other schools — which they are safe in doing because of their monopoly in hiring. I have what I think of as philosophical interests, but at 90% of American universities it would be out of the question for me to hope to follow these interests in the philosophy dept.

Since reading Rorty, Toulmin’s “Cosmopolis” and Michel Meyer’s “Rhetoric, Language, and Reason” provide the best explanations of what I don’t like about AP and what I think the alternative might be.

Some of Wittgenstein’s students went on to do very interesting things, usually in areas outside philosophy such as Asian Studies, Anthropology, and Sociology.

22

degustibus 10.13.04 at 9:26 pm

I was waiting for mention of “ordinary language”

And

“What kind of language game is being played?”

23

Adam Kotsko 10.13.04 at 10:45 pm

I’d love to read analytic philosophy, but I’m a stupid person, incapable of truly rigorous thought, so I settle for pseudo-philosophical hacks like Derrida, Heidegger, or Hegel.

24

Mike Huben 10.14.04 at 12:51 am

Thanks, Matthew B, you are correct that I misunderstood.

However, this different understanding makes me think of another set of objections having to do with the foundations of mathematics and its subbranch logic.

“2+2=5 cannot be true under the standard axioms of arithmetic in any possible world” presumes that mathematics and logic hold up across all possible worlds, as if they are independent of all possible worlds. I gather that’s been a subject of serious debate.

In addition, the connection between models such as arithmetic and any possible world is another can of worms: there doesn’t seem to be any convincing explanation for why the world coresponds closely to these models, not even for our own universe.

I get the feeling these are all foundations of sand.

25

Robin Green 10.14.04 at 2:25 am

presumes that mathematics and logic hold up across all possible worlds, as if they are independent of all possible worlds. I gather that’s been a subject of serious debate.

Woah! That’s whacked. How could anyone dispute that logic is independent of everything?

And I really do mean “how”. As in, “how could you construct an argument to get down to a ‘more fundamental level’ at which logic would be relative?” Sounds quite impossible to me.

That reminds me. I have a book called “Social Constructivism as a Philosophy of Mathematics” or something similar, lying around somewhere. I must get around to reading it.

26

Dan S 10.14.04 at 6:04 am

As a recent undergrad philosophy student, I can’t resist mentioning why I am particularly interested in analytic philosophy.

The charges of triviality that I see in the posts, even in Fodor, can’t really be rebutted. You either care about the questions or you don’t. And its true that there has been no obvious recent progress made towards a solution to any of the key problems. Not that anyone ever has.

The reason that I am engaged by analytic philosophy is that when I sit down to read an article, I want to know that the author is going to make an argument that I can follow. It doesn’t have to easy to follow, and it doesn’t have to be right, but I want to know that the author is trying in good faith to make an argument and be understood.

While this sounds a lot like a viewpoint that was criticized more than once in the comments above, I don’t think it can be dismissed as simple chauvenism. I don’t mean to be dismissing other fields of philosophy, even if I was qualified to. I know that I am missing things by not reading some of the people I don’t read. But I am utterly intolerant of deliberate obfuscation in philosophy, its my pet peeve, and analytic philosophy seems to have the least of it. Bad writing is one thing, but I am a lazy reader, and I get very annoyed when reading philosophy is any harder than it has to be.

27

John Quiggin 10.14.04 at 11:30 am

harry, I was just wondering about the general badness of educational studies, which seems to be a significant policy problem in education, when I read your comment.

I’d love to see a post looking at:
(i) what is the good stuff in educational studies?
(ii) if (as it seems to me) most of the stuff taught in education degrees is bad, how can we respond to this in policy terms?

28

Jack 10.14.04 at 1:15 pm

A pedantic geometer writes:
Parallel lines converging probably best refers to the Hyperbolic Geometry of Gauss, Lobachevsky, Bolyai and probably others. This demonstrated a system that replaced one of the Euclidean postulates with one of its opposites. Since Euclidean geometry was regarded as a law of thought in much the same way that logic is today this was quite exciting stuff and Gauss delayed publication for fear of embarassment.

Riemannian geometry includes models of Euclidean and Hyperbolic geometry but its introduction was more a revolution in terms of physical interpretation of geometry. Before Riemann distance around a curved object such as the Earth was imaigned as a constrained optimisation in a Euclidean space. After Riemann it was clear that there could be distances that were intrinsic properties of the space without there being some embedding in Euclidean space. This looks like a technicality but it is the theoretical foundation of general relativity.

General Relativity uses the technical framework built on the work of Riemann but usually deals with space-times where in Riemannian terms some directions are negatively far away but are more easily accepted as distinguishing time and space. These are distinguished from Riemannian spaces where all distances are positive by terms like Semi Riemannian. Physicists and Mathematicians also frquently deal with imaginary time which has the effect of making space-times into Riemannian spaces which makes a lot of things work more easily.

29

Matthew S. Mullins 10.15.04 at 3:12 am

”’2+2=5 cannot be true under the standard axioms of arithmetic in any possible world’ presumes that mathematics and logic hold up across all possible worlds, as if they are independent of all possible worlds. I gather that’s been a subject of serious debate.”

I think Frege’s reply to such an idea was call it a “hitherto unknown kind of madness.”

30

Phersu 10.15.04 at 6:07 pm

As a non-philosopher, I am a little surprised by the arguments Fodor uses against Modal Intuitions, Metaphysics and Thought Experiments.

I remember reading an old paper around 1990 called “A Modal Argument for Narrow Content” by one Fodor, which used exactly the same kind of “tricks” before he changed his mind about content and analyticity.

But Fodor is a relapsed Neo-Quinean and must now think that naturalized psychology will suffice (maybe he will become a true Quinean behaviorist when he is older… :)).

Oh, BTW, Fodor does not explain why nobody reads analytic philosophy. Nobody reads conceptual analysis but nobody reads naturalized epistemology or millikanian “meaning empiricism” either.

On the other hand, Chalmers’book (which is filled with Obscure Metaphysics and Modal Intuitions) was a success, I think.

People buy Dennett’s books because they are well-written, entertaining, full of stories and optimist, not because of their lack of abstruse metaphysics.

31

harry 10.15.04 at 10:15 pm

John — I’ll try to figure out a way of writing such a post that won’t get me into trouble…. Its a BIG issue for funders, as well as policy-makers.

32

Neel Krishnaswami 10.16.04 at 5:44 pm

I can confirm that computer scientists pay very close attention to analytic philosophy — in fact, it’s fair to say that the research program for my group (the principles of programming group at CMU) is to invent practical applications for analytic philosophy and mathematical logic.

For example, a guy a couple of floors down from me used modal logic to make sharing programs on networks work better. The idea is that each computer represents a possible world, and that each program has a type, which is a logical proposition. The Kripkean idea that propositions at situated at worlds corresponds exactly to the idea that each program lives on a computer. Then a program with a box type is a program that you can safely send across the network, because its type is true at any possible world — that is, it can run correctly on any other accessible computer. It’s really beautiful stuff.

Robin wrote: Woah! That’s whacked. How could anyone dispute that logic is independent of everything?

Remarkably easily. One way of formalizing logic is to turn it into a set of syntactic rules — for example, you can have a rule that says construct “a proof of A and B” by combining “a proof of A” and “a proof of B”. Once you see logic as a set of rules, a natural question to ask is whether you can make up different sets of rules. And the answer is yes, you can — there’s a veritable zoo of logics you can work with. There’s modal logic, linear logic, the logic bunched implications, dependent types, and classical and intuitionistic versions of all of these. At this point, it’s fair to wonder whether logic is really as fundamental as Aristotle might have wanted.

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