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