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05 November 2011


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Jon Cogburn

Don't forget Gustav Bergmann, I think the first person referred to as "the last positivist" (Quine, Rorty, and now Brandom have all since born the sobriquet). The group of people around him at Iowa, including Herbert Hochberg and Edwin Allaire, were all doing metaphysics independently of Quine and prior to Kripke. Check out the amazon page for Bergmann .

A fine anthology of metaphysics including some of the early canonical work surrounding Bergmann is Classics of Analytical Metaphysics- . Unfortunately it seems to be out of print, even though it was widely taught back in the day.

If you take these essays into account, you get a radically different story from Soames about the re-emergence of metaphysics post Logical Positivism. I haven't read Soames yet (hope to teach it in the next few years), but reviews say that his story is that the bad guy positivists crapped on metaphysics, but then Quine on analyticity and Kripke on necessity saved the day.

It is very strange, because people still teach Max Black on two spheres, and Hochberg and Allaire on bundle theory versus bare particulars, and Hochberg on Platonism. But these guys were almost uniformly hostile to Quine and also writing pre-Kripke. Moreover, Bergman thought of himself as a positivist.

Finally, there is an untold story here about where exactly Quine's "to be is to be the value of a bound variable" comes from. Bergmann himself encouraged something roughly similar under the label "ideal language philosophy" which I think had influential adherents prior to Quine getting influential adherents for his vision. But I have no idea in which direction the influence happened. Quine's citational habits are so horrible, that there's probably no way to determine (unless Bergmann got it from Quine, in which case he would have cited it).

I think there's probably just a common prehistory though. Kotarbinski was doing something similar (though differing in conclusions) in Poland before WWII with his "Reism." Quine actually had coffee with people around Kotarbinski (and, if I remember right, Kotarbinski himself) between the two wars. But like everything else in his execrably written "Time of My Life" he omits any of the details readers might care about, such as what he actually discussed with these people.

Dan Kervick

Bergmann has a book, if a I recall, that also makes the point that even the positivists had a metaphysics. I would be inclined argue that there was never a time in the history of analytic philosophy when people were not doing metaphysics of some kind or other.

D. Des Chene

I just want to second Jon’s advancing the “other” ontological tradition of Bergmann et al.—a Midwestern group distinct from and somewhat at odds with the East Coast strongholds at Harvard and Princeton.

Eric: “epitaph” should be “epigraph”. And I know you like to promote “secret histories”, but Bernardete really is obscure, even in comparison to Bergmann, and certainly in comparison to Strawson. At a rough estimate Individuals has gotten a hundred times as many citations as Infinity. Of course that doesn’t address the question of who Lewis was attending to, but you are making a claim not only about his work, but about “our history”.

Why isn’t it enough to say that Infinity is a wonderful book that every metaphysician, or every philosopher, ought to read? You seem to want the history of philosophy to be (re)written so that justice will turn out to have been done in the real, and not just the ideal, world—a history in which the books you find wonderful had the influence they deserved to have.

To some extent that is what happens as the histories of periods are rewritten. Diderot has lately been promoted at the expense even of Voltaire, and Hamann and Lichtenberg at the expense of Baumgarten and all those other professors who survive mostly as footnotes to Kant. There’s an uneasy compromise between doing the history of a period as a story about the works of highest quality produced in that period (a history which in that respect is “just”) and as a story about the hurly-burly and confusion of intellectual life (from the standpoint of the other history) as it was lived by its participants.

Because intellectual life, as it occurs, is not just, and does not accord to every work the degree of attention it deserves, the two histories must diverge. (Not always are the Waynflete Professor and his counterparts elsewhere the best philosophers of their time…) Clearly we want both. But only the second kind of history can explain—because it does not presuppose—the preferences upon which the "works of highest quality” that the first sets up as its objects of study come to be regarded thus.

Mark Lance

I don't really understand this appropriation of Quine to the metaphysics team. Is the idea just that by dumping on the A/S distinction, he blocked a particular positivist move in turning metaphysical questions into verbal ones? If so, that seems rather weak to me. First, there are plenty of ways to develop that general strategy that don't rely on any version of the A/S that Quine has arguments against. Wittgenstein and Sellars among many others pursue such strategies. (eg "A semantic solution to the mind-body problem"). Second, insofar as Quine blocked those arguments, it was in favor of scientific quietism. Nothing could be more explicit than his rejection of metaphysics as something separate from science.

And just for the record, Hawthorne's metaphysical turn was influenced far more by Van Inwagen than Bennett or Alston, or even Benardete. John's work in his dissertation - with Jonathan and me - made use of Jonanthans Linguistic Behaviorism, not the metaphysics at all. And the outgrowth of that work was decidedly anti-metaphysical - in the analytic philosophy sense of that term - so much so that in our book we had to insist that we were not arguing explicitly that all metaphysical questions were nonsense.

But beyond quibbling about him, I think there is here a really important extra source for the late-20th c rise of analytic metaphysics - namely the analytic Christians - PvI, Plantinga, and their followers. I very much doubt that the current status would ever have been obtained without the"Notre Dame school", which is a very serious source for all that is going on at Rutgers, etc.

Eric Schliesser

Mark, I thought that with mentioning "Alston" and (more obscurely) "Rochester" I was nodding to Van Inwagen and the rise of analytic Christians. You are right, these are going to be a central part of the story.
I did not appropriate Quine to the metaphysics team (but maybe you are responding to Jon here); I claim he made the return of metaphysics possible.

Mark Lance

Eric: fair enough on the Christians, though I think Bill was much less central to the metaphysics part of it that PvI, Plantinga, and others.

I was sort of replying to both of you. But I guess I think even saying he made it possible is too strong. I think it would have happened just fine without "Two Dogmas" and in every other way he tried to hold back the tide.

Eric Schliesser

I will post about the silliness of focusing narrowly on citations separately (with a related example).
Oops on "epitaph!"
I did not claim that Benardete was influential on Lewis. Rather, I claim he has a non-trivial role in our post-Lewisian amalgam, which I claim is also shaped by the atmosphere at Rochester and Syracuse in the 70s (and thereafter). These departments play a non-trivial role in the way metaphysics became practiced. If that's right, then Benardete should be less obscure than he is.

Eric Schliesser

Jon, there is no doubt Bergman was widely read. (I found his books in many second hand bookstores in college towns during my travels across the States in the early 90s.) He has certainly been rediscovered upon the return of metaphysics. I also suspect that his 54 book was significant historically. But I find it hard to discern how exactly he fits into our story. He has But that doesn't mean we shouldn't tell it!
Yes, I overlooked Black's piece! Thank you. (Black fits nicely in my Upstate New York story, of course.)

Christopher Hitchcock

I think at least part of the story involves the influence of the Australian realists, John Anderson, David Armstrong, and others. This was a philosophical tradition that, like positivism, emphasized empirical science as a source of knowledge. But unlike positivism, it never saw a rejection of metaphysics as a consequence of that commitment to science. D.K. Lewis was essentially an adopted son of Australia, and was strongly influenced by Australian philosophers.

Jon Cogburn

I might be missing what the story is supposed to be.

Bergmann explicitly took himself to be doing metaphysics as the youngest positivist. To do this he invented what he termed "ideal language philosophy" and reconfigured classic metaphysical debates in terms of what an ideal language would be committed to (shades of Carnap's Empricism, Semantics, and Ontology as well as the way people later used Quine's criterion; I think Bergmann on this came before Carnap and Quine and that everybody cribbed it from Polish metaphysicians, but I'm not sure). He built one of the strongest philosophy department in the country with five or so people doing metaphysics in his style, and all them are widely cited in classic metaphysics literature on issues such as bare particular/bundle theory, platonism, and modality (cf. Loux or Lowe's excellent contemporary introductions).

I thought the story was the falsity of what is currently the null hypothesis in history of analytic philosophy: positivism slaying metaphysics by getting rid of synthetic/a priori, and then Quine blocking this with his critique of analyticity, followed by Quine's criterion of ontological commitment and Kripke's musings about necessity ushering in a golden age.

But the golden age of analytic metaphysics started independently of Quine and Kripke, and in fact no-one would have read Quine as helping out metaphysics if really good people hadn't been doing it all along, centrally in Iowa during their golden period. And again, both the Australians and Iowans were on the whole hostile to Quine, and also getting their groove on prior to Kripke as well.

Am I mistaken about what the story was supposed to be?

Carl Sachs

Recently I've been reading Bergson's The Creative Mind, where he adopts an attitude strikingly reminiscent of Carnap's in the following respect: both of them think there's something deeply amiss with the irresolvable plurality of metaphysical systems. Both Bergson and Carnap hold that (a) there's a plurality of metaphysical systems; (b) there's no way to determine which system is correct; (c) the inability to determine which system is correct is a problem for metaphysics.

The responses taken to this "problem" are quite different -- Bergson thinks that the problem arises because philosophers have lacked the right method for doing metaphysics (up until his own discoveries, at any rate), whereas Carnap takes a 'pox on both your houses' approach to, say, the conflict between realism and idealism.

I can't say much, but I'd conjecture that the problem of pluralism also influences the search for a correct method in Husserl and maybe also Heidegger. I'd like for others to take up that point.

Now, perhaps, we can tell a certain story about the rise and fall of the analytic/Continental distinction, according to which both 'schools' or 'movements' (whatever) are grounded in the attitude that irresolvable pluralism is problematic or worrisome -- and that if we had the right method, we'd be able to handle metaphysical quarrels in a decisive fashion. (By returning to the life-worldly ground of metaphysics, by showing why metaphysics problems are just pseudo-problems, take your pick.)

One thing that strikes me in the rise of analytic metaphysics is that pluralism no longer seems problematic. There's a "let a thousand flowers bloom" attitude (such it seems to me -- I know nothing about analytic metaphysics) that's very different from the anxieties about pluralism that animated Bergson, Carnap, and (I'd wager) Husserl. Or am I way off base here?

Dan Kervick

Consider a book like Nelson Goodman's The Structure of Appearance. Isn't that book a treatise on a branch of metaphysics? How about The Philosophy of Logical Atomism (1919, I believe)? There is a lot of metaphysics there, as there was in earlier Russell forays such as Our Knowledge of the External World and Principia. The work of Moore and Frege are also filled with metaphysical forays.

Even work arguing for negative ontological conclusions - say that existence is not a "predicate" or that the reality of supposed moral or axiological properties should be denied because they are "queer", are metaphysical claims that are advanced in the context of background claims about what kinds of predicates or properties are real.

The tradition of radical empiricism or positivism is an extremely important stream in the analytic tradition. But it was never the whole of that tradition. And while I have no objection to regarding even that sub-tradition as anti-metaphysical, we shouldn't take that to mean that these authors advanced no substantive metaphysical claims.

Eric Schliesser

Agreed, on the Australians. (I did not mean to offer an exhaustive history.) Anderson is indeed very important, but Armstrong also points to C.B. 'Charlie' Martin as a crucial figure who got things going in Australia:

Eric Schliesser

Nobody denies, I think, there was a lot of tacit and explicit metaphysics in early analytic philosophy.

Michael Kremer

(A bit late here): Wilfrid Sellars explicitly did metaphysics from quite early on, some of it historically based and some of it in response to contemporaries including Bergmann. That his metaphysical views included nominalism and scientific realism (and eventually "a metaphysics of pure process") does not make them less metaphysical.

Eric Schliesser

Carl, I think you raise some very important issues here. Let me focus on two: (1) So-called scientific philosophers at the start of the 20th century did express anxiety over the lack of unanimity in philosophy (of the sort they associated with physics). This shows up in lots of places (including the social sciences, I might add). I will try to blog about this soon. (Feel free to pester me.) (2) Bergson is a very important figure (I'll let our in-house Deleuzians say more about him as well as your claim about 'Continental') because he engaged with Einstein over the metaphysics of time. This instantiates, as Yoram Hazoney reminded me recently, a very important episode in what I call "Newton's Challenge to Philosophy" <>

David Gordon

Bernardete was the brother of the classicist Seth Bernardete, who was one of Leo Strauss's leading students and, on some accounts, his favorite student.

David Gordon

Sorry for the misspelling-- I meant "Benardete"

Eric Schliesser

There is a third brother, Diego <>, a mathematician and quite sophisticated philosophical mind. (He also has been influenced by Straussian views.) His moving autobiography is here: <>

Erik Curiel

We also should not forget Whitehead, when we look to find the most recent common ancestors of contemporary analytic metaphysics. That he was a logician of renown and fluent in the best, most cutting-edge physics of his day---both of which he took advantage of in even his whackiest work---lends him an air of scientific respectability for those looking for such in pedigrees.

Jeff Bell

Good points Carl. I do think there is probably something to the notion that the plurality of metaphysical systems was in some sense a problem for metaphysics. As I've read some of the developments of 20th century thought I've seen this more as a continuation of the traditional problem of the one and the many. William James, for example, notes that a key obstacle to his development of radical empiricism, which he also calls pluralism, was to account for how many consciousnesses "can be at the same time one consciousness." It was when he read Bergson, James claims, and in particular when he adopted from Bergson the concept of multiplicity, a multiplicity that is irreducible to the logic of the one or the many, that James was then off and running with his revised methodology. This concept of multiplicity will become central to Deleuze's work as well, and Deleuze will also consider himself a pluralist (a la James). With the concept of multiplicity, however, there are other problems that become the focus of attention, such as how can a multiplicity become a stable, self-identical system (a problem I find in Hume as well), and the problem of the plurality of metaphysical systems, or even the correct metaphysical systems, pretty much falls out of play; or I'd say there's the "let a thousand flowers bloom" attitude regarding metaphysical systems within certain strains of the continental tradition as well.

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