The blank and the die: Some dilemmas of post-empiricism

This article examines various dilemmas (or, as I suggest, pseudo-dilemmas) that have dogged epistemology and philosophy of language since the 1940s heyday of logical empiricism. These have to do chiefly with the problem those thinkers faced in overcoming the various dichotomies imposed by their Humean insistence on maintaining a sharp distinction between logical 'truths of reason' and empirical 'matters of fact'. I trace this problem back to Kant's failure to offer any plausible, explanatorily adequate account of the process whereby 'sensuous intuitions' were brought under 'concepts of understanding' through the joint (somewhat mysterious) agency of 'judgement' and 'imagination'. The argument then proceeds, via Quine's (on the face of it) radically anti-dualist critique of logical empiricism, to more recent attempts - by Davidson and McDowell - to locate the residual dualism in Quine (that of scheme and content), and thus to bring philosophy out on the far side of all these vexing dilemmas. I maintain that the problem goes much deeper and re-emerges with full force both in Davidson's coupling of a formalized (Tarskian) truth-theoretic approach with a strain of radical empiricism and likewise in McDowell's revisionist, supposedly 'naturalized', but none the less dualist reading of Kant on the twin powers of 'spontaneity' and 'receptivity'. Its ultimate source - I suggest - is the normative deficit, i.e., the lack of rational and justificatory values that has typified empiricist thinking from Hume to Quine, along with its attendant sceptical outlook as regards the existence of causal powers or the status and validity of causal explanations. My paper concludes by indicating briefly some alternative resources that might point a way beyond this longstanding impasse.
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DOI 10.1080/09672550600647608
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