Philosophy of Language and Epistemology: The Tale of Two Anthologies

Not too long ago, I received a copy of the new 5th edition of A.P. Martinich’s (ed.) Philosophy of Language anthology, which I understand is fairly widely used. (And if you Google “philosophy of language” martinich spring and/or “philosophy of language” martinich fall, you’ll turn up lots of on-line syllabi for courses that use this very popular book–though these will be older editions, since this new one is just coming out.) In the book’s table of contents, it lists the year in which a selection was published right next to the title of each selection. I was quite surprised by how old the selections tend to be, and how few of them are from the last twenty years – only 4 of the 45 selections are dated later than 1987. I wondered if that said something about the area of philosophy of language in particular (as opposed to other areas of philosophy where anthologies might feature more recent articles, or perhaps where an anthology wouldn’t get to be so widely used if it contained so little recent material), the general nature of anthologies, or just the idiosyncrasies of this particular anthology?

For comparison purposes, I reached for my handy Sosa & Kim Epistemology anthology – a quite widely used book, expecting a marked difference. And I did find a very substantial difference: 22 of the 43 selections (or of the 41 selections, if you count the various small bits of Moore’s famous essays as one selection) are from later than 1987. And S&K is 7 years old now. The fairer comparison would involve how many of the S&K selections were less than 20 years old when the anthology came out (later than 1980), in which case the count is 27 out of 43 (or out of 41).

But whether this reveals something about the areas, or just about these particular anthologies, I don’t know.

(Topics and dates from the anthologies are below the fold.)

A.P. Martinich, ed., The Philosophy of Language, 5th ed., 2008
I Truth and Meaning
1918
1950
1951
1944
1957
1967
II Speech Acts
1961
1969
1979
1975
1975
1978
III Reference and Descriptions
1892
1905
1919
1950
1957
1966
IV Names and Demonstratives
1881
1972
1973
1973
1983
1970
1978
1979
V Propositional Attitudes
1956
1968
1968
1981
1979
1987
VI Metaphor and Pretense
1978
1984
1998
2004
VII Interpretation and Translation
1960
1974
1985
1987
VIII The Nature of Language
1690
1982
1990
1975
1988

Ernest Sosa and Jaegwon Kim, ed. Epistemology, 2000
I Skepticism
1984
1962*, 1962*, 1962*
1985
1974
II Defining Knowledge
1963
1971
1973
1981
III Contemporary Foundationalism and Coherentism
1964
1956
1975
1980
1989
IV Epistemic Justification
1985
1990
1986
1999
V The Pyrrhonian Problematic
1979
1978
1997
VI Epistemology Naturalized
1969
1988
1983
1993
VII Epistemic Externalism
1976
1995
1998
1990
1995
1995
1995
VIII Virtue Epistemology and Proper Cognitive Functioning
1992
1993
1996
1993
IX Epistemic Contextualism
1995
1996
1998
X Relativism
1991
1993
1988

*these are excepts from some of G.E. Moore’s famous essays that were collected in his 1962 Philosophical Papers; the essays themselves are considerably older


Comments

Philosophy of Language and Epistemology: The Tale of Two Anthologies — 3 Comments

  1. Here’s a slightly paradoxical suggestion: the Martinich anthology has more older selections because the questions it considers are younger. The oldest selections are Frege and Mill, which you’re not likely to read in your history of modern classes and which perhaps present the beginning of a lot of the problems that are discussed in philosophy of language.* Whereas, a lot of problems that epistemologists discuss go back to Descartes and Hume (and there’s Pyrrho in part V of the anthology) — which you will get in your history of modern classes (not Pyrrho).

    Put another way, it may make sense to make a choice that your epistemology anthology will focus on relatively contemporary stuff, because there’s an alternative — do contemporary and historical stuff. Whereas a contemporary and historical language anthology would have to go to greater lengths to connect up the historical and contemporary stuff. At least that’s the impression I get.

    *Well, some of the things Locke talks about are probably relevant, but I don’t think contemporary philosophers of language talk about Locke as such in the way that contemporary epistemologists talk about Descartes — I don’t see people talking about the Lockean this and that in the way we talk about Cartesian skepticism (and in the way that philosophers of language talk about Millian, Fregean, and Russellian views).

  2. Some updated stats on the new edition of the Blackwell Epistemology Anthology, currently at the press: of the now 60 selections in the anthology (58, if you count the three short Moore pieces as one), 10 were published in the last 5 years, 11 in the last 10 (but not the last 5), and 18 in the last 20 (but not the last 10). So, in the new edition, 39 out of 60 came out in the last 20 years.

    Some of the newest pieces are in an expanded section on knowledge and context. There is also a new section on testimony, memory, and perception that has some recent work.

  3. As someone who just completed instructing my first course in the Philosophy of Language (using Martinich), and will design a new course in Epistemology next Spring, I think the answer to Keith’s questions might lie on the pedagogical side.

    I had to choose between teaching two kinds of Philosophy of Language courses. The first is a lot like the course I took as an undergraduate, in which you proceed through the problems historically from Frege to Kripke, introduce the notions of logical form, truth-conditions, compositionality and the like by way of the classical problems of proper names, definite descriptions, and propositional attitudes ascriptions and their metaphysical and epistemological upshots. The second was a more topic-oriented approach, in which we would cover present-day theories of definite descriptions one week, proper names the next, demonstratives the next, conditionals the next, vagueness the next, and so forth. I decided on the former purely for pedagogical reasons: I felt that a first course in the Philosophy Language would work better as a survey of the classical debates that led to where we are in the field today. I also felt that any students desiring to pursue more advanced studies in the area needed to know their Frege, Russell, Strawson, Grice, and Kripke before the more recent work. I would imagine that a lot of instructors think the way I did when designing their Philosophy of Language courses, which explains the popularity of Martinich.

    I think that if a good anthology appeared that would lead to a very natural syllabus for the second kind of course I mentioned, one that was not too technical for a first course in Philosophy of Language, it could rival Martinich in popularity. I can easily foresee enough instructors, especially of the newer generation, liking the second kind of course.

    Epistemology, on the other hand, is an area in which the basic problems are already interesting and familiar to students. The best contemporary articles are neither too technical nor require too much presupposing of a previous generation of literature on the topic. Finally, from a pedagogical perspective, each separate topic in epistemology very naturally tie together when viewed in the context of responses to skepticism about knowledge, justification, or induction. The topics “definite descriptions” and “gradable adjectives” do not fit as well, especially when one also has to do “truth-conditional” versus “use-conditional” semantics and the like.

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