Must do better

The most popular response to the Carnapian linguistic turn has not been to reject it, as Quine did, but simply to ignore it — as Williamson does, along with Chalmers, HirschEklund, and many others. Some will consider this response entirely appropriate. If the tendency of the Carnapian linguistic turn is not actually to grapple with philosophical problems but to turn away from them and change the subject, as Strawson alleges, then surely those who are interested in such problems have every right to resist the change of subject and remain focussed on the problem they set out to solve?

The problem for Chalmers, Hirsch, and Eklund in adopting such a view is that they appropriate certain pieces of Carnapian conceptual apparatus while ignoring, indeed defying, the larger conception (the Carnapian linguistic turn) that makes sense of those pieces, as I’ve argued in some of the posts linked above. Moreover, these authors share with Williamson an apparent committment to certain standards of rational argument and conceptual rigor loosely associated with the “analytical” tradition in philosophy with which they presumably identify, given their willingness to be associated with Carnap.

Williamson has made these standards remarkably explicit in his dressing-down of the profession, “Must Do Better” Continue reading

“Ontological pluralism”

Various forms of “pluralism” are making the rounds these days.  There is, for instance, the “logical pluralism” of Beall and Restall (among others), the subject of a recent book by Stewart Shapiro, which will be discussed here at some point.  But then there is also something much vaguer and murkier called “ontological pluralism,” which, amazingly, is attributed to Carnap.  Matti Eklund, for instance, considers this question in his paper in the Metametaphysics volume.  What does he mean by it? He considers various formulations, starting with the “quantifier-variance” understanding of Hirsch, in which ontological pluralism requires the quantifiers to take on different interpretations in different languages. But Eklund thinks this is insufficiently precise, as it can seem to amount to “the thesis that a string of symbols can come out true in some languages but false in others, while meaning what it actually means.” The trouble with this, he thinks, is that it “would appear to commit the ontological pluralist to a form of relativism or idealism absent from pluralist writings.” (p. 138) Continue reading

Verbal disputes

A few days ago I argued that Chalmers’s proposed replacement of Carnap’s internal-external distinction (in ESO) bears little resemblance to its Carnapian original.  Today I will go on to claim that this proposed replacement (like other related proposals from the new metaontologists) not only doesn’t resemble that original, but is actually incompatible with it. Continue reading

Hirsch on common sense

Eli Hirsch, in his paper in the Metametaphysics book, says he wants to conjoin a “Carnapian” approach to ontological questions with a “robust realism” (p. 231) and a defense of common sense, which, he claims, “doesn’t seem to be a concern for Carnap” (p. 232). Actually, it was a constant concern of Carnap through all stages of his career.  He saw a continuity, rather than a sharp break, between common sense and science (Schilpp volume, p. 934).  But he also saw them as playing fundamentally different roles; he saw an increasing gap, since perhaps Newton (or Archimedes), between the ordinary language in which we live and act and the technical languages (to which alone sentences could be “internal”) we depend on for knowledge. He thought it simply unfeasible — a kind of category mistake (Huw Price considers the parallel to Ryle) — to rely on the former kind of language in the latter context.

Only the continuing general ignorance about Carnap makes it possible for people to get away with this sort of thing.  Would anyone take you seriously if you said you wanted to combine a Kantian approach to ontological questions with a robust realism and a defense of common sense?  Or Frege’s approach to arithmetic with Mill’s?  But apparently you can still say almost anything you like about Carnap and no one will call you out on it.  More examples to come.