There's a splendid essay in the London Review of Books by my favorite contemporary Anglophone philosopher taking on some Kripkean orthodoxies, and striking another blow for naturalism. Here's the conclusion (but you should read the whole thing):
"It's past time to draw the moral, which I take to be that a plethora of claims to the contrary notwithstanding, you can't escape Quine's web just by opting for a metaphysical notion of necessity. Not, anyhow, if the latter is grounded in intuitions about what possible worlds there are. That's because some story is needed about what makes such intuitions true (or false) and, as far as I can see, the only candidates are facts about concepts. It's 'water' being a material kind concept that vindicates the intuition that water is necessarily H2O. Well, but if Quine is right and there aren't any such facts about concepts, then there is nothing to vindicate modal intuitions. Accordingly, if the methodology of analytic philosophy lacked a rationale pre-Kripke, it continues to do so."
I was curious about the passing references to "analytic philosophy" in Fodor's essay. As longtime readers know, I don't think anyone knows what "analytic philosophy" is, but if anyone does, it should be Jerry Fodor! So I e-mailed Jerry as follows:
"I enjoyed (as I always do) your most recent essay in LRB, but I have a question for you: namely, what in the world is 'analytic' philosophy these days? My sense is you're uncertain too, hence the modifier 'Anglophone' that you employ (i.e., it's the kind of philosophy, whatever it is, that most English-speaking philosophers do). But Frank Jackson thinks analyzing concepts is worthwhile, you and Quine don't. Are all of you analytic philosophers? You write clearly, and Christopher Peacocke and John McDowell do not. Are all of you analytic philosophers? (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer all write much better than those Dummett offspring.) There's plainly no substantive program, metaphysical or epistemological, shared by 'analytic' philosophers anymore. So what in the world is 'analytic' philosophy these days? I don't think anyone actually knows, but maybe I'm wrong. You'll tell me."
Fodor kindly replied, and gave me permission to post his interesting remarks:
"OK, fair enough; it's never really so that one size fits all. On the other hand, I do think that there are a couple of theses that major US and UK philosophers have more or less agreed about (mostly implicitly, to be sure) over the last fifty years or so, and that have largely shaped the landscape of philosophical discussions. Since I think both theses are wrong, I feel strongly about getting them out in the open where they can be jumped up and down on.
"The first is semantic pragmatism: the idea that intensional content is to be explicated as some sort of `know how' , hence in epistemic terms. The typical avatar of this view is the thesis that concept possession is something like knowing how to evaluate inferences whose validity turns on the concept, and/or knowing how to sort things that the concept applies to. Peacocke is perhaps the current paradigm, but it's hard to think of anyone since Wittgenstein (indeed, since Dewey) who doesn't hold it. In my view, it's entirely misguided. To have the concept C is to be able to think about Cs as such. Confusing epistemology with semantics has damned near ruined the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of language for as long as I can remember. (I have gone on about this in an article called `Having concepts, a brief refutation of the 20th Century,' in a recent issue of MIND AND LANGUAGE. I expect I'll still be going on about it for the foreseeable future.
"The second is the methodological doctrine that philosophy does (or should) procede by the method of `semantic ascent'; that is by translating metaphysical questions (eg. how does perception work) into questions of conceptual analysis (`how do we use the word `see'; or `what is the concept of seeing'. The translation is supposed to underwrite the (putative) a priority of philosohical theses, and the (putative) fact that philosophy is a game that anyone can play (`you don't need to be a psychologist to understand how seeing works; we ALL have the concept SEE (and/or we ALL know how to use the world)). In fact, I doubt that typical interesting philosophical claims should (or even can) be treated as theses about the analysis of concepts. I am deeply moved by the reflection that no concept has ever been analyzed by any analytic philosopher, however hard analytic philosophers have tried. This does suggest that their methodological assumptions are due for reconsideration.
"To be sure, the scene isn't as clear as I've been making out. In the UK, you get these views in their pristine condition (Dummett is the parade case); in the US, they are often combined with a strong commitment to naturalism. Quine's a case; he's a self-anounced semantic pragmatist, so he really ought to believe in conceptual analysis. But he's a naturalist, so he's dubious about the a priori. The dialectical fix was to speak (not of analysis but) of canonical representation (representation in a canoncial notation) and then procede to do just the kind of philosophy that everybody else did. A similar story could be told about Davidson, but to hell with it.
"Who among the living counts as an analytic philosopher by these jaundiced criteria? Not me, for sure. But practically everybody in Australia; Peacocke (see above), McDowell, Brandom, Travis (when he isn't being simply a nihilist), everybody in cognitive science without exception. And so forth. You needn't aim; just pull the trigger and you'll hit one.
"Your question deserves a fuller answer than this; but that would be an article; or a book; or a lifetime; and I'm depressed enough already. To say nothing of too old."
I then wrote back to Fodor:
"Very interesting, thanks. So analytic philosophy is not a matter of style (clarity, a certain kind of argumentation), but two distinctive doctrines, one of which ('semantic ascent') keeps alive the analysis of concepts as the core philosophical activity. And on this view, it turns out that Jerry Fodor isn't an analytic philosopher to boot! Surely our friends in English Departments will think this a paradox worthy of the late Professor Derrida.
"I would have thought there were more dissenters from semantic pragmatism than you seem to allow--isn't the causal theory of content industry, for example, out of sync with semantic pragmatism?"
To which Fodor replied:
"Oh, well, there's an uninteresting notion of `analytic philosopher' which just means `philosopher who tries to argue for his claims.' I am, or at least hope some day to be, an analytic philosopher in THAT sense.
"BTW: causal theories of INTENSIONAL CONTENT are quite compatible with pragmatic theories of CONCEPT POSSESSION. Part of the confusion in analytical philosophy come from the (unargued) claim that a theory of concept possession just is a theory of intensional content and vice versa. (Dummett is pretty explicit about requiring this; it is, he says, part of what 'philosophers want' from a theory of meaning. Didn't somebody once say 'you can't always get what you want?')"
And in a PS, he added: "as far as I can recall, I don't have any friends in English Departments."
My parting observation: "Thanks for the clarification on semantic pragmatism and causal theories of content. Hegel, of course, not to mention Husserl and Habermas, are analytic philosophers, in the sense of 'philosopher who tries to argue for his claims.' Hegel and Heidegger (with some help from Brandom) are also semantic pragmatists. And so it goes..."
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