A video of the event is here; Professor Siegel offers the following remarks about their discussion:
We were asked to discuss the roles of the sciences and the humanities in the study of the mind. Pinker went first. His own approach to studying to social phenomena (such as violence and gender roles) is evolutionary psychology. His intellectual hero is the sociobiologist E.O. Wilson. That comes through in his comments. But his main focus is on the respective roles of the sciences in general and the humanities. You could have guessed it in advance: Pinker chides 'the Humanities' for their 'anti-scientism' and for being insulated from the sciences (he makes an exception for philosophy, which he thinks - wrongly - is thoroughly and heavily informed by psychology), but he seems deaf to huge swathes of research in politics, literature, and social history which isn't and couldn't productively be informed by any 'science of the mind' of the sort he envisions.
My goal in my comments was to exhibit some of these areas of the Humanities. Our main disagreement is about what's continuous and what's discontinuous between the sciences and the humanities.
I find continuity in the modes of inquiry between the sciences and the humanities, because science is more than just confirming hypotheses. It includes the analysis of problems and to some extent (e.g. in certain types of case studies) detailed descriptions of experiences. The discontinuity is in the subject-matter. I identified three examples in my talk. One of them is about evidentialism and beliefs about social inequality. In another example I mention Chris Lebron's work on the long strand of American literature aimed at exposing the 'vast experiential gulf' between Americans. (I'm thankful to Chris for getting me to read Mat Johnson's novel *Pym*.)
Pinker thinks the sciences have superior methods, and that those methods can be applied widely in the humanities. So he thinks there ought to be continuity in the subject matter, and that to the extent that actual modes of inquiry are discontinuous, that's too bad for the humanities. (Philosophy is supposed to be a big hero here. He hasn't met the many non-naturalists that populate the field!)
I chose not to emphasize explicitly my biggest disagreement with Pinker's own political and psychological orientation. In a forum like this, that perspective is best met by exhibiting what it has to leave out. (It'd be different if we were charged with discussing sociobiology per se, in which case the perspective Pinker likes could be the main subject of discussion).
I also chose not to emphasize our biggest agreement, which is that philosophy - especially philosophy of mind, but also epistemology - is indeed often better when not conducted in complete intellectual isolation from the sciences. What would be the point of our spending all our time agreeing about that? It would have made the topic too narrow, and obscured the most important differences.
Final point: When you put together Pinker's own orientation as the intellectual heir to EO Wilson, with his interesting suggestions about reorganizing the university, it's easy to get the impression that he would in an imperialist manner impose sociobiology on the humanities. That is silly. He's serious about exploring other ways for the university to be organized, such as getting rid of disciplines altogether. He's not against fiction or philosophy. (He is after all the husband of the brilliant Rebecca Goldstein, philosopher and novelist). He says he didn't disagree with anything I said, though when push came to shove, he said we don't get any deep general or causal explanation of social phenomena or of the mind from the work in literature or history that I mentioned. He says causal generalizations can't be gotten from 'mere' descriptions. --But here's the part of his suggestion I think is very bad: he suggests selling the Humanities to the highest bidder. He points out in his talk that many donors would fund the Humanities more if there were greater connections to science. That is a poor reason to reorganize the university. You wouldn't select which novels should be taught by consulting the NYTimes best-seller list either.
Six hundred and three people completed a survey measuring perceptions of traditional areas of philosophical inquiry and their relationship to empirical science. The ten areas studied were: aesthetics, epistemology, ethics, history of philosophy, logic, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and political philosophy. For each area, participants rated whether it is currently central to philosophy (centrality), whether its centrality depends on integration with science (dependence), and whether work in the area is sufficiently integrated with science (integration). Centrality judgments tended to be high. Participants viewed nine of the ten areas as central to philosophy (the exception being aesthetics), although they made this judgment more confidently for some areas. Dependence judgments were more varied, ranging from clear disagreement (for logic and history of philosophy) to clear agreement (for philosophies of science, mind, and language). Integration judgments were also varied but exhibited more uncertainty. Some areas whose centrality depended on integration were judged to be well integrated (philosophies of science and mind), but a central tendency for all other areas was ambivalence. Demographic factors had small but statistically significant effects on all three sorts of judgment. Higher age predicted higher centrality judgments and higher integration judgments. Higher socioeconomic status predicted lower dependence judgments and higher integration judgments. Men recorded higher integration judgments.
Horgan: What’s your opinion of the recent philosophy-bashing by Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss and Neil deGrasse Tyson?
Rovelli: Seriously: I think they are stupid in this. I have admiration for them in other things, but here they have gone really wrong. Look: Einstein, Heisenberg, Newton, Bohr…. and many many others of the greatest scientists of all times, much greater than the names you mention, of course, read philosophy, learned from philosophy, and could have never done the great science they did without the input they got from philosophy, as they claimed repeatedly. You see: the scientists that talk philosophy down are simply superficial: they have a philosophy (usually some ill-digested mixture of Popper and Kuhn) and think that this is the “true” philosophy, and do not realize that this has limitations.
Here is an example: theoretical physics has not done great in the last decades. Why? Well, one of the reasons, I think, is that it got trapped in a wrong philosophy: the idea that you can make progress by guessing new theory and disregarding the qualitative content of previous theories. This is the physics of the “why not?” Why not studying this theory, or the other? Why not another dimension, another field, another universe? Science has never advanced in this manner in the past. Science does not advance by guessing. It advances by new data or by a deep investigation of the content and the apparent contradictions of previous empirically successful theories. Quite remarkably, the best piece of physics done by the three people you mention is Hawking’s black-hole radiation, which is exactly this. But most of current theoretical physics is not of this sort. Why? Largely because of the philosophical superficiality of the current bunch of scientists.
Horgan: You have written about the Greek thinker Anaximander. Who was he, and why do you find him interesting?
Rovelli: He is the guy who understood that the Earth is a stone that floats in the middle of the Sky without falling down. He understood that the Sky is not just above out head: it is also under our feet. It surrounds us in every direction. He is the only one in the history of our planet who understood this, and convinced everybody else that this is the case. In fact, he has done much more than this, but this is his greatest achievement. I find him immensely interesting because he represents one of the main steps in the development of scientific thinking. He is a giant.
Eugene Park, a former PhD student in philosophy at Indiana University, Bloomington, recently wrote a piece purporting to explain his departure from academic philosophy in the Huffington Post (thanks to Sarah Stroud for the pointer.) Allowing that the bad job market had something to do with it, he then went on to say:
But, more importantly, as a person of color, I found myself increasingly uncomfortable in my department and within the discipline at large. Granted, a PhD program in any discipline will involve a certain amount of indoctrination, but the particular demands of philosophy were, in my view, beyond unreasonable.
As I discovered over the course of my graduate career, in order to be taken seriously in the discipline, and to have any hope of landing a tenure-track job, one must write a dissertation in one of the "core areas" of philosophy. What are these core areas? Philosophers quibble about how exactly to slice up the philosophical pie, but generally the divisions look something like this:
Metaphysics & Epistemology
Logic & Philosophy of Language
Philosophy of Mind
Such is the menu of choices available to the philosopher-in-training today. (See, for example, the PhD requirements at these prominent philosophy departments: Penn, Berkeley, and Duke.) On the surface, this might look like a wide range of options. But appearances are deceiving. For instance, the subfield of philosophy of mind does not typically engage at all with Indian, East Asian, African, or Native American ideas about the nature of mind. It's as if non-Western thinkers had nothing to say about the matter. Similarly, those who work in the history of philosophy work almost exclusively on the history of Western philosophy -- e.g., Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Russell, Wittgenstein, etc.
So why don't Anglo-American philosophers engage with non-Western philosophical traditions? In my experience, professional philosophers today often perceive non-Western thinkers as inferior. Of course, few would say this explicitly. Rather, philosophers often point to non-Western philosophy's unusual and unfamiliar methodology as the primary reason for the disconnect.
There is much that seems to me strange and a bit dubious about this. Do we have any evidence that Asian-Americans generally expect the fields they study to feature Asian thinkers? And should we really add East Asian philosophers to the curriculum to satisfy the consumer demands of Asian students rather than because these philosophers are interesting and important in their own right? (Mr. Park, oddly, never explains, or even affirms, the merits of these thinkers.)
But what is quite surprising, and unsupported, is the claim that the absence of non-Western thinkers is due to Anglophone philosophers thinking them "inferior." I suppose some think that, but philosophers, who are quite opinionated as a group, no doubt hold every opinion under the sun. (My former colleague Herb Hochberg, about as unabashed an apologist for the most parochial conception of analytic philosophy imaginable, thought Kripke "inferior" to Russell.) My own impression, from having talked to a lot more philosophers than Mr. Park and for a much longer period of time, is that most Anglophone philosophers have no opinion at all about non-Western philosophy because they are simply ignorant of it. Some regret the ignorance, others think it is excusable since there are so many philosophical traditions in the world and one can only master so many, and others just don't think about it at all because it is possible to pursue an academic career in philosophy ignorant of a lot of things, including large swaths of the history of European philosophy (and the further back in the past we go, the more the boundary lines of "what's European, what's not" get harder to draw).
[A] professional acquaintance of mine kindly sent me a link to your blog, where he had spotted the reference to my 1999 analytical article on Elisabeth Lutyens's Wittgenstein Motet. I've noticed a spike in traffic on my Academia.edu site since the reference was posted, and since I've been thinking of revising that article, I thought I would write.
I wrote that article as a grad student at the beginning of my dissertation research, and since then I've been able to make several trips to the Rare Book and Music Room at the British Library where I've uncovered a sketch among Lutyens's papers revealing an essential bit of music-structural information about the piece that I did not have when I wrote the article 15 years ago. As a result, I've been planning a major rewrite. My article showing up on a philosophy blog therefore seems like an opportune occasion to get some constructive feedback from scholars who know far more about Wittgenstein's and Nietzsche's ideas about language than I do, and who could direct me to more current research that might be particularly relevant to my article.
If you think it would be appropriate, I would very much appreciate it if you could post at least some of this message on your blog.
You can reach Dr. Parsons at the University of Victoria e-mail address, above.
With almost 1600 votes, the readership revealed itself (not wholly surprisingly!) to be quite friendly to the history of analytic philosophy: 17% thought it "central, foundational," 28% called it a "major area of research," and 27% deemed it "useful when integrated with issues of contemporary philosophical interest"--so nearly three-quarters chose the most favorable options. An additional 20% deemed it a minor area of research, while only 8% chose the most dismissive option.
Editors: Patrick Grim, Paul Boswell, Daniel Drucker & Sydney Keough
Nominating Editors: Rachel Barney, J.C. Beall, Ned Block, Ben Bradley, Tyler Burge, David Chalmers, Andrew Chignell, David Christensen, Gregory Currie, David Danks, Keith DeRose, Cian Dorr, Lisa Downing, Julia Driver, Adam Elga, Branden Fitelson, Owen Flanagan, Stacie Friend, Tamar Szabo Gendler, Ned Hall, Elizabeth Harman, Verity Harte, Gary Hatfield, Benj Hellie, Christopher Hitchcock, Des Hogan, Brad Inwood, Simon Keller, Tom Kelly, Josh Knobe, Jonathan Kvanvig, Marc Lange, Brian Leiter, Neil Levy, Martin Lin, Peter Ludlow, Ishani Maitra, Shaun Nichols, Paul Noordhof, Derk Pereboom, Jim Pryor, Greg Restall, Geoff Sayre-McCord, Richard Scheines, Mark Schroeder, Laura Schroeter, Ted Sider, Michael Slote, Scott Soames, Roy Sorensen, Peter Spirtes, Johan van Benthem, Mark van Roojen, Peter Vranas, Ted Warfield, Eric Watkins, Sam Wheeler, Jim Woodward, Gideon Yaffe.
[BL comment: I was pleased that two papers I nominated [Neuhouser, Ypi] were chosen! Congratulations to all the philosophers whose work was recognized.]
ADDENDUM: Author affiliations are R.M. Adams (emeritus, UCLA, Yale, and UNC-Chapel Hill; currently part-time at Rutgers); A. Bacon (Southern California); JC Beall (U Conn); M. Caie (Pittsburgh); K. Fine (NYU); M. Kotzen (UNC-Chapel Hill); M. Lange (UNC-Chapel Hill); F. Neuhouser (Barnard/Columbia); I. Phillips (UCL); L. Ypi (LSE).
ANOTHER: This seems a bit myopic; there are many areas underrepresented in the PA, especially relative to their importance in the discipline--history of philosophy, most obviously, though PA has gotten a bit better on that score over time; aesthetics; philosophy of law; and so on. Obviously if you pick just ten articles, you miss a lot. Historically, as I've noted before, PA has a pretty good track record of picking significant articles (look back twenty years, and scroll through the choices), but it is inevitable the picks will be under-inclusive with respect to important articles across multiple fields.
Interesting piece, from the preface to a forthcoming Chinese edition of his 1981 book The Idea of a Critical Theory; an excerpt:
The academic reflection of the massive social and economic changes that took place between 1970 and 1981 could be seen in the gradual marginalization of serious social theory and political philosophy—and of “leftist” thought in particular. The usual story told about the history of “political philosophy” since World War II holds that political philosophy was “dead” until it was revived by John Rawls, whose Theory of Justice appeared in 1971. This seems to me seriously misleading. The Forties, Fifties and Sixties, after all, saw the elaboration of major work by the Frankfurt School (including Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man), a rediscovery of Gramsci, various essays and books by Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty, Debord’s La Société du Spectacle, early pieces by Foucault—all works roughly speaking “on the Left.” Meanwhile, Popper, Hayek, Leo Strauss and Oakeshott (to name only a few) were active “on the Right.” If Anglophones took no notice of this material it was not because serious work in political philosophy failed to exist, but for some other reason. To those engaged (in 1971) in the various and diverse forms of intense political activity which now collectively go under the title of “the Sixties,” Rawls’s Theory of Justice seemed an irrelevance. I completed and defended my doctoral dissertation in the spring of 1971, and I recall my doctoral supervisor, who was a man of the Left but also an established figure and full professor at Columbia University in New York, mentioning to me that there was a new book out by Rawls. In the same breath, he told me that no one would need to read it because it was of merely academic interest—an exercise in trying to mobilize some half-understood fragments of Kant to give a better foundation to American ideology than utilitarianism had been able to provide. Many will think that that was a misjudgment, but I think it was prescient. I cite it in any case to give contemporary readers a sense of the tenor of the 1970s.
Rawls did in fact eventually establish a well-functioning academic industry which was quickly routinized and which preempted much of the space that might have been used for original political thinking. He was one of the forerunners of the great countermovement, proleptically outlining a philosophical version of what came to be known as the “trickle-down” theory. Crudely speaking, this theory eventually takes this form: “Value” is overwhelmingly produced by especially gifted individuals, and the creation of such value benefits society as a whole. Those who are now rich are well-off because they have contributed to the creation of “value” in the past. For the well-off to continue to benefit society, however, they need to be motivated, to be given an incentive. Full egalitarianism will destroy the necessary incentive structure and thus close the taps from which prosperity flows. So inequality can actually be in the interest of the poor because only if the rich are differentially better-off than others will they create value at all—some of which will then “trickle down” or be redistributed to the less well-off. Rawls allows people who observe great inequality in their societies to continue to feel good about themselves, provided that they support some cosmetic forms of redistribution of the crumbs that fall from the tables of the rich and powerful. The apparent gap which many people think exists between the views of Rawls and, say, Ayn Rand is less important than the deep similarity in their basic views. A prison warden may put on a benevolent smile (Rawls) or a grim scowl (Ayn Rand), but that is a mere result of temperament, mood, calculation and the demands of the immediate situation: the fact remains that he is the warden of the prison, and, more importantly, that the prison is a prison. To shift attention from the reality of the prison to the morality, the ideals and the beliefs of the warden is an archetypical instance of an ideological effect. The same holds not just for wardens, but for bankers, politicians, voters, investors, bureaucrats, factory workers, consumers, advisers, social workers, even the unemployed—and, of course, for academics.
Here. If "analytic" philosophers (let alone physicists) knew more about intellectual history, they'd realize this whole "debate" (such as it is) is just a re-play of one in the 19th-century, spearheaded by Ludwig Büchner, the 19th-century apostle of "philosophy is dead, long live science." His Kraft und Stoff is still a very entertaining read, and was, reportedly, the best-selling book in 19th-century Europe after the Bible!
With over 1400 votes cast in our most recent poll on phenomenology, 12% thought it a "central, foundational part of the discipline," 17% deemed it "a major area of research," and 27% agreed it was "useful when integrated with mainstream philosophy of mind and cognitive science"--so a majority chose the most positive options. Another 27% though it a "minor area of research," while 23% went with the dismissive Deleuzian option, deeming it "modern scholasticism" and "pointless attention to trivialities."
Eric Schwitzgebel (UC Riverside) sends along his latest interesting data compilation: most cited authors born after 1900 in SEP. Take note of his methodology before e-mailing him with alleged corrections! It would be interesting to know how SEP articles divide up in terms of coverage, which might explain some of the surprising results. (Eric may undertake that, in which case I'll post a link.)
...meaning the use of empirical methods to test claims about intuitions. With nearly 1900 votes (over the weekend no less!), 42% chose the most dismissive option, while 28% thought it "useful when integrated with traditional philosophical problems and methods." 3% thought it "central, foundational," and 7% deemed it a "major area of research," with another 20% thinking it a "minor area of research." The substantial minority expressing hostility is not surprising: after all, if the X-phil approach is right, then a lot of what many philosophers do is based on a bogus and disreputable methodology. Those fond of that methodology might take some offense!
The chart below summarizes the reader poll conducted over the past month or so--all got between 1200 and 1700 responses, roughly. Readers can scroll through to find the precise wording, but in each case there were five choices: a "central, foundational" part of the discipline; a major area of research; "useful when" either integrated with pertinent sciences (e.g., metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, language, mind) or integrated with contemporary philosophcial questions (e.g.,. logic, history).
Major research area
Philosophy of Language
Philosophy of Mind
Ethics (theoretical, not applied)
History of Philosophy
Judging from hiring patterns, it would seem that top-ranked PhD programs take a different view of what is central and foundational than the readership as a whole--not surprising, given that the readership is much broader than faculty and grad students at top PGR departments. What do readers make of the results? (I'll be running some more polls, on more specialized sub-fields [e.g., X-phil, phenomenology, feminist philosophy etc.] soon.)
Because I am on the road, comments may take awhile to appear--please post them only once.
A curious discussion going on in the bowels of cyberspace apparently launched by an atheist radio personality. I would think the answer is pretty clearly "yes," given that a number of important metaphysical and epistemological issues are raised in the context of philosophy of religion, both contemporary and historical, though it is certainly true that too much of it now functions as Christian apologetics.
It turns out that, mostly, they like it! With over 1400 votes (pretty good for the middle of summer, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere), 34% thought philosophy of mind "a central, foundational part of the discipline," and another 26% described it as "a major area of research." 27% more deemed it "useful when integrated with psychology and the cognitive sciences": so that's 87% with the most favorable options. 4% described it as a "minor area of research," and only 8% chose the most dismissive option.
With over 1600 votes in our latest poll, 51% deemed it a "central, foundational part of the discipline," and another 12% thought it "a major area of research." A further 23% though it "useful" when "integrated with traditional philosophical questions": so fully 86% chose the most favorable options. 5% chose "minor area of research," and only 9% thought it should be banished to the math department.
UPDATE: Philosopher Christy Mag Uidhir (Houston) points out that the favorable opinion of logic is hard to square with the relative paucity of logicians in most philosophy departments. I can imagine some explanations for this state of affairs, but I'm curious what readers think?
I'm uncomfortable with the contrast Brewer draws between "busyness" and "scholia", between thought constrained by lack and want and the need to survive, and thought "that does not take direction from anything alien to itself"; or the contrast between servile and liberal thought. I think that's actually the wrong idea, and it gives obvious ammunition to those on the other side.
Here's how I see it. There is a continuum, from the need to respond immediately to a threat, to a need to apply a skill, to the need to learn a skill, to the need to step back and think about what exactly one is doing, to the possibility of taking the time to get a clear view of what we are doing, and (in yet further stages, but for my purposes finally) the possibility of devoting much or most of one's intellectual energies to something like the pure consideration of the problems involved in getting a clear view: philosophy, mathematics, theoretical physics, basic research in any of the disciplines.
Some business school professors, and some business school students, perhaps dismiss the more abstract stages of this continuum. This is not unlike the scientists who think philosophy is a positive waste of time. It's not. If Alan Turing hadn't been interested in the question of what is computable, we might not have computers. If Hobbes and Locke hadn't been interested in justifying the scope and limits of legitimate government, we might not have our Constitution.
But a lot of business school profs, and a lot of businesses, don't take such a parochial view of the value of forms of intellectual labor. I would be surprised if UVA's business school faculty at the Darden school thought it was obvious that UVA should shift resources to on-line, etc., as fast as Dragas thought they should.
Putting the contrast in terms of activities that are merely instrumentally valuable because they allow you to survive or make money, and activities that are genuinely valuable in themselves, invites crude skepticism about the latter and comments about navel-gazing.
Similarly Brewer's positive recommendation: that the humanities, and our liberal arts institutions, encourage “a form of reflective self-cultivation that can and ought to be a continuous life activity”. There's a way this fits with what I said above: the humanities, and our universities, help people think about (as Douglas Adams put it) life, the universe and everything, in a way not forced by immediate contingencies. You could call that self-cultivation, since as you change your views about the big picture, your view of yourself, and hence you yourself, will change. But if we put it in terms of self-cultivation, again we're inviting the charge of a crude sort of elitism.
Take a hypothetical student. She gets to take the long view at college. This puts her in a position to be an effective innovator in some market today, say some sort of tech or media thing. Should we think of this as a kind of self-cultivation? She's cultivating her response to the world around her, and that is of course cultivating herself. But her focus isn't on herself; it's on the world around her. My hope as a philosopher would be to help her and encourage her to think at all levels of abstraction: how to solve this immediate problem in her business plan, but also to see clearly (to think clearly about, to formulate a clear understanding of) what she's doing in the world, in relation to the markets, to other people, to what she thinks is valuable.
Interesting piece sent along by reader Joe Hatfield--can any of the philosophers of physics (or physicists) out there comment on the adequacy of this presentation and the significance, if any, of all this?
With over 1200 votes cast, we see some definite improvement from the last time, though I think it's still fair to say there isn't as much love for philosophy of language as some of the other areas we have polled. Now 31% (up from 20%) view it as "a central, foundational part of the discipline," with another 21% (down from 29%) calling it a "major area of research" (presumably, per Chalmers's hypothesis, the difference is largely explaiend by folks moving to the most positive option once rewritten). 21% more think it "useful" when suitably integrated with the cognitive sciences and linguistics, while 7% think it only a "minor area of research." A robust, dissenting minority, 21%, chose the most negative option.
With over 1600 votes cast, only 20% chose the most favorable option regarding philosophy of language (a central, foundational part of the discipline), though another 29% did deem it a "major area of research," and another 24% thought it "useful" when suitably integrated with cognitive science and linguistics--so overall, nearly three-quarters were on the positive end of the spectrum. 7% deemed it only a "minor area," while 19% chose the most hostile and dismissive option.
Times have changed since the 1970s!
BL COMMENT: David Chalmers thinks I inadvertently "upped" the ante here for the first category:
The first option in the poll raised the bar by saying that philosophy of language is "first philosophy". That's usually understood as the Dummettian claim that the philosophy of language has priority over all other areas of philosophy. One can reject that claim while still thinking that philosophy of language is a central and foundational part of our discipline. I'm sure that many respondents to the poll, like me, hold that combination of views and chose the second option rather than the first for that reason.
Maybe that's right, though I would have urged him to choose the first option anyway since if you think philosophy of language is "a central, foundational part of the discipline" that's closer to thinking it's "first philosophy" than thinking it's a "major area of research." But I'm curious to hear whether other philosophers of language had this reaction? Comments open, signed comments please.
Here. (Thanks to Rik Hine for the pointer.) An excerpt:
TC: You started your career at one of the high points of English-speaking, analytic, Anglophone philosophy. What’s your view of the state of philosophy at the moment?
JS: I think it’s in terrible shape!
TC: Go on, tell me!
JS: Well, what has happened in the subject I started out with, the philosophy of language, is that, roughly speaking, formal modeling has replaced insight. My own conception is that the formal modeling by itself does not give us any insight into the function of language.
Any account of the philosophy of language ought to stick as closely as possible to the psychology of actual human speakers and hearers. And that doesn’t happen now. What happens now is that many philosophers aim to build a formal model where they can map a puzzling element of language onto the formal model, and people think that gives you an insight. I mean a most famous current example of this is the idea that you will explain counterfactuals – for example, if I had dropped this pen, it would have fallen to the ground – by appealing to possible worlds. And then you have a whole load of technical stuff about how to describe the possible worlds. Well I won’t say that’s a waste of time because very intelligent people do it, but I don’t think it gives us insight. It’s as if I said: Well the way to understand the sentence, ‘All ravens are black’, is that what it really means is that all non-black things are non-ravens. You can get a mapping of one sentence onto other sentences where each side has the same truth conditions, but that is not, in general, the right way to understand the sense of the original sentence. And it’s a philosophical question of why you don’t get the insight.
And this goes back to Russell’s Theory of Descriptions. You see, Russell gets uniqueness of reference by going through a whole domain, but that is logically and psychologically unrealistic. I think the notion of an object already contains the notion of uniqueness. I think this was a fatal move to think that you’ve got to get these intuitive ideas mapped on to a calculus like, in this case, the predicate calculus, which has its own requirements. It is a disastrously inadequate conception of language.
And this is pervading other areas of philosophy. Formal epistemology seems to me so boring. I’m sure there’s some merit in it, but it puts me to sleep. The requirements on formal modeling are that you must have something that’s difficult to do. There must be a right and a wrong way to do it, it must be objective, you must be able to teach it to graduate students, and you have to be able to tell who’s good at it and who isn’t. So those are the four features of formal modeling in philosophy, and I think they lead nowhere. That’s my main objection to contemporary philosophy: they’ve lost sight of the questions. It sounds ridiculous to say this because this was the objection that all the old fogeys made to us when I was a kid in Oxford and we were investigating language. But that is why I’m really out of sympathy. And I’m going to write a book on the philosophy of language in which I will say how I think it ought to be done, and how we really should try to stay very close to the psychological reality of what it is to actually talk about things.
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)