Fodor on Analysis

Fodor's review of Christopher Hughes's new book on Kripke in LRB is a must-read for practitioners and consumers of analytic philosophy. Straight to the end:

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 think this is quite right. Analytic philosophy as a coherent methodological program rests on a number of extremely dubious epistemic theses. Once you give up on the idea that we have privileged access to the contents of our own concepts, then you give up on conceptual analysis. Once you give up on the idea that our modal intuitions reliably track any independent modal facts of the matter, then post-Kripkean metaphysics is in trouble. It took years, but at some point in the recent past, Quine finally sank in, and I found myself thinking that philosophy is proto-science, or an adjunct of science, if it's anything at all. The legacy of the analytic tradition, as I see it, is a fund of useful and clarifying critical and dialectical habits that can be applied with profit to any number of topics.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

9 thoughts

  1. How would it be not legitimate? Vis a vis the U.S. government today, what does it do that compares to the list of grievances given against the British government in 1776.

  2. Fin: You know, after all these years, DC’s license plates still say “Taxation Without Representation.” But hey, what’s one city?

  3. So, that’s like one thing out of a long list of grievances for one tiny section of the country . I don’t think there’d have been a revolution if the Crown had levied taxes on Rhode Island alone.

  4. He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
    He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither,
    He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
    He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
    For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
    For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
    For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
    [Remembering that in each case these were plausible but not unassailable descriptions of what had gone on, subject to being nitpicked but in totalevincing a design, etc…]

  5. But if you think [the American Revolution] was [legitimate], then you’re pretty clearly committed to the proposition that a violent overthrow of the American government this afternoon would be legitimate.

    If the people of the federal polity, either by a direct vote, by the vote of a convention specially elected for the purpose of deciding such a question or by some other overwhelmingly obvious display of rebuke, were to decide to alter or abolish the federal government, and the officers of the federal government refused to comply, then, yes, the violent overthrow of the government would be legitimate. I am uncertain what could cause such a series of events today — in practical terms the political sentiments of the American people make the amendment procedure of the federal constitution is a much lower bar to cross.
    Alternately, were some territory of United States comprising a polity distinct from and non-coterminous with the federal polity to demand self rule and the US refuse, that territory would be justified in violent separation. My understanding is that such polities have not encountered this resistance, and it has instead been the reverse — for instance, I believe Palau chose to remain dependent until it could negotiate a favorable terms as an Associated State.
    So, no, barring something quite unexpected, believing the American Revolution was legitimate does not logically mandate that revolution this afternoon would be legitimate.

  6. Three words: Taxation without representation. When you aren’t getting representation, revolution is legitimate. When you are, revolution is illegitimate. We are getting it, so revolution tomorrow would be illegitimate.

  7. The Declaration conspicuously does *not* elevate taxation without representation above the other justifications for independence. It was the core of the original dispute, but Britain’s subsequent steps in its attempt to bring the colonies to heel are more prominent in the list of complaints by 1776. Birmingham and Manchester, like Virginia and Massachusetts, were taxed without representation– but only the Americans were subject to courts of admiralty, trials out of their jurisdiction, and all the rest.

  8. teageegeepea – If you're willing to do a little legwork you can probably find out who I really am, and then be disappointed when you find I'm nobody.
    TGGP says:

    Didn’t Edmund Burke discuss in his Reflections how we should not take a deviation (in his case the Glorious Revolution, here the War of Independence) for the rule? I do take the Caplanian position on it though, as I mention here.

Comments are closed.