David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Episteme 1 (1):23-34 (2004)
When Peter Strawson subtitled the most celebrated book in ordinary language philosophy, Individuals, ‘An essay in descriptive metaphysics’, he shocked mainly for having reintroduced ‘metaphysics’ into intellectually respectable English a quarter-century after A.J. Ayer had consigned it to the logical positivists' index of forbidden philosophical words . Few at the time appreciated the import of the modifiers ‘descriptive’ and its opposite, ‘revisionary’. Now, another half century on, philosophers have come around to Bertrand Russell's original view that both the ordinary language philosophy Strawson championed and the ideal scientific language philosophy Ayer championed offer alternative metaphysical visions. The remaining question of philosophical interest is what hangs in the balance between a descriptive and revisionary approach to metaphysics – or, for that matter, any branch of philosophy. This paper critically examines the currently dominant descriptive approach from a revisionary standpoint, initially relying on the terms Strawson uses to frame the distinction, and then moving outward to consider its implications for our understanding of the history of modern philosophy, especially the ‘naturalist’ sensibility that has been especially influential in analytic social epistemology
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