I just saw Michael Kremer’s review of Soames’ two-volume work on the history of analytic philosophy, noticing especially the strong role he assigns to G.E. Moore in showing how pre-philosophical thinking is relevant to philosophical theorizing (“the recognition that philosophical speculation must be grounded in pre-philosophical thought”). Kremer is distressed by the rather extensive lacunae in the story of the book, but doesn’t give an alternative story that is more inclusive. Soames’ story is teleological, culminating in Kripke’s Naming and Necessity, but it strikes me as myopic to see that as the story of analytic philosophy. The heart of the story involves Moore, but not simply through the Moorean methodology that requires the grounding of philosophical speculation in pre-philosophical thought. So here’s what I think is more the truth of the matter.
The problem that requires resolution within this tradition is the problem of econciling three separate, and not obviously consistent, threads: the rejection of idealism found in Moore and Russell, the power Fregean philosophy of logic and language, and the impressive empirical achievements of contemporary science. The rejection of idealism involves a commitment to common sense philosophy and leads quite naturally to ordinary language philosophy, but this strand conflicts with the kind of respect one develops upon seeing the empirical successes of contemporary science, which incline the tradition toward positivism and phenomenalism (which are both decidedly non-realist and not in keeping with the pronouncements of common sense). In addition, those primarily impressed by the empirical character of the achievements of contemporary science will find the Fregean reliance on mysterious metaphysical items such as senses troubling.
What takes center stage in this story is the fact of the impressiveness of science, and the result is that the story of resolving the tensions noted above focuses primarily on questions concerning the plausibility and natures of naturalism and physicalism. Kripke’s work is central to this story, but not uniquely so, and certainly it is not the telos that gives narrative purpose to the story. Instead, it is important because it opens up the possibility of doing serious metaphysics again, in the face of the empiricistic inclinations that are easily developed in acquiring familiarity with the phenomenal successes of empirical science. Rather than having to sneak metaphysical thought in the back door in the form of philosophy of language or semantics, Kripke’s work opens up the possibility that the empiricist framework cannot explain the things that it was designed to explain. In this way, Kripke’s work is not so much that of setting a research program for the future (though it did that as well), but of rendering respectable again the kinds of research interests found in the great figures in the history of philosophy: Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, Kant, etc. The result is another challenge, besides those in the Moorean tradition, to the idea that philosophy of science is philosophy enough–where the latter slogan is understood as a question about the plausibility of naturalistic – materialistic – physicalistic conceptions of reality. This question is played out in the realism/antirealism debates in metaphysics; in the central debates in the philosophy of mind; in the issues in the philosophy of language and logic concerning the theory of truth and the semantic devices needed for understanding simple first-order theories and various segments of natural language, the respectability of intensional logics, the commitment to possible worlds and the nature of such, and the singular importance of the issue of vagueness in recent thought (tied, as it is, to the defensibility of important versions of realism); as well as in the naturalism/normativity debates in epistemology and ethics.
To return to the Moorean influence here, and the nature of this blog, the story cannot be told properly with seeing the role of Moore in the new direction for epistemology provided by Chisholm through his particularist methodology and his generalization of C.I. Lewis’s views on memorial knowledge motivated by his rather devastating criticisms of Lewis’s phenomenalistic program. Chisholm’s beautiful (and underappreciated) piece “The Problem of Empiricism” is central to this story, and the more recent search for an acceptable naturalism in epistemology is a story of trying to break out of the Chisholmian circle of normativity in order to specify a naturalistic supervenience base as well as the desire to avoid the scatter problem inherent in the Chisholmian approach of settling for multiplying epistemic principles whenever a new one is called for by the particularist methodology.
There are still important elements left out in this story, but not nearly so much as is left out in Soames’ rendition. Compare what is included in the above story with the items singled out by Kremer as being left out of Soames’ story:
Soames nowhere discusses American philosophy prior to Quine. Pragmatism, Peirce, James, and Dewey are not mentioned. Neither is the Vienna Circle — logical positivism is represented by Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic and reduced to conventionalism about the a priori and verificationism about meaning. Shadowy figures called “the early positivists” appear occasionally, but the names “Schlick” and “Neurath” occur only in a footnote. Missing are the program of unified science, debates over scientific method and the structure of scientific theories, theories of confirmation and probability. Carnap’s philosophy is barely touched upon. Wilfrid Sellars, whose “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind” was among the most influential works of the twentieth century, does not appear at all. Discussion of Sellars would have been very helpful in conjunction with Soames’s analysis of Ryle’s The Concept of Mind and Austin’s Sense and Sensibilia. The rise of computational models of the mind, and functionalism, is nowhere in evidence. Kuhn is absent, as is the revolution in philosophy of science brought about by The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. And on and on.
Nothing on this list needs to be left out of the above story, though some items will of course be emphasized more than others. I’m inclined to think the flaw that Kremer is noticing is the flaw of trying to account for a segment of the history of philosophy in terms of the history of the problems one finds most important and intriguing, but I await informed responses from others who spend much more time thinking about history than I…