In the early twentieth century an apparently obscure philosophical debate took place between F. H. Bradley and Bertrand Russell. The historical outcome was momentous: the demise of the movement known as British Idealism, and its eventual replacement by the various forms of analytic philosophy. Since then, a conception of this debate and its rights and wrongs has become entrenched in English-language philosophy. Stewart Candlish examines afresh the events of this formative period in twentieth-century thought and comes to some surprising conclusions.
is true, there is a truth-maker (e.g., a fact) with which it is identical and the truth of the former consists in its identity with the latter. The theory is best understood as a reaction to the correspondence theory, according to which the relation of truth-bearer to truth-maker is correspondence. A correspondence theory is vulnerable to the nagging suspicion that if the best we can do is make statements that merely correspond to the truth, then we inevitably fail to capture (...) the reality they are about and thus fall short of the truth we aim at. An identity theory is designed to overcome this suspicion. (shrink)
‘The Unity of the Proposition’ is a label for a problem which has intermittently intrigued philosophers but which for much of the last century lay neglected in the sad, lightless room under the stairs of philosophical progress, along with other casualties and bugaboos of early analytic philosophy such as the doctrine of internal relations, the identity theory of truth, and Harold Joachim. Yet it was while struggling with this problem (among others), that Bertrand Russell built one of the first steps (...) on the staircase by creating what came later to be called the theory of descriptions.1 According to that theory, statements containing definite descriptions are true only if there exists a unique thing satisfying the description. So nothing one says about ‘The Problem of the Unity of the Proposition’, for example, can be true unless there is one and only one such problem. Yet, as we shall explain below (§1), on the one hand it is unclear that there is any such problem at all, while, on the other, if there is a problem, there seem to be several. One might conclude, then, that everything we say in this paper is likely to be false. But perhaps the paper could be, in the context, appropriately treated as a ladder, to be kicked away after climbing. For Wittgenstein, too, was concerned with the problem: ‘At the centre of Wittgenstein’s project was the task of explaining the unity of the proposition’, says Michael Potter, for example.2 Wittgenstein had inherited the task from two of his philosophical mentors, Russell and Frege. Yet while Russell’s series of failed accounts of propositions, and then judgments, each of which was meant to resolve the problem, seemed ultimately to serve only as a sort of negative inspiration for him,3 Frege’s response to the problem proved a deep influence. We will outline Frege’s position as a backdrop to Wittgenstein’s below (§§2 and 3). As we will argue, one of the most important ways in which Wittgenstein’s position resembles Frege’s is precisely that his (Wittgenstein’s) solution to the problem of unity required treating his own book as an attempt to say the unsayable.. (shrink)
Most recent discussions of truth ignore the fact that a few philosophers, past and present, have flirted with and sometimes openly subscribed to an identity theory, according to which a proposition's being true consists in its identity with the reality it is supposedly about. This neglect is probably due to the theory's counter-intuitiveness: it faces obvious and fundamental objections. The aim of this paper is to consider these objections and decide if there is a version of the theory which can (...) escape them, thereby becoming an at least initially plausible candidate for an account of truth. In this way the metaphysical price exacted by commitment to an identity theory can be assessed. (shrink)
When Donald Davidson published his influential article ‘Actions, Reasons and Causes’ , many of his contemporaries were convinced that reasons for action could not be causes of anything, so that even an explanation such as ‘Gilbert knelt because he had decided to propose to Gertrude’ did not work by citing Gilbert’s decision as a cause of his kneeling. Davidson was mainly responsible for demolishing that consensus and reinstating causalism—the thesis that psychological or rationalizing explanations of human behaviour are a species (...) of event-causal explanation—as the dominant view in the philosophy of action, so that it is now often regarded as an obvious truth. (shrink)
Although its use is not universal, there is a map of the logical space of theories of truth that is widely applied. According to this map, the most foundational divide amongst theories of truth is that between deflationary and inflationary theories, where, roughly, the former hold that truth is an insubstantial, logical property of little philosophical interest and the latter that it is a substantial property suitable for philosophical attention. Amongst the inflationary theories, there are other fundamental divisions. For example, (...) on the one hand, correspondence theorists hold that the truth of a proposition is a matter of the proposition’s standing in a relation to something else which is not a proposition, such as a fact. On the other hand, coherence theorists hold that the truth of a proposition is a matter of its relations to other propositions. And again, pragmatists hold that the truth of a proposition is a matter of its being useful to believe. Throughout the twentieth century, philosophers used one or other version of this map to orient themselves and their students in the often complex and confusing debates about truth, even while acknowledging that the map may be incomplete in crucial respects (it does not include functionalist and pluralist views, for example). Our objection to the map is not that it is incomplete—although it obviously is—, but that it needs to be radically redrawn. In particular, the familiar division between coherence theories and correspondence theories needs to be rethought. The coherence theory is so often glibly dismissed as absurd that labelling someone as a coherence theorist is often seen as reason enough to ignore them.1 While none of the philosophers usually so labelled should be ignored, we shall argue (§3) that none of them actually held this view anyway. The difficulty—perhaps impossibility—of finding a genuine coherence theorist of truth strikes us as more than just an indication that this is a rare animal. Rather, it suggests the possibility of something significant, namely, that the only occupant of this position in historical space is a set of slogans; this would give us some reason to suppose that the logical space of theories is just as empty at this point.. (shrink)
This is a response to Jennifer Hornsby's Presidential Address to the Aristotelian Society in 1996 (published 1997) and to Julian Dodd's defences of an identity theory. Both authors explain their versions of the theory through its rejection of a correspondence theory and its insistence on the indefinability of truth. I ask what more there is to the identity theory to justify its title and argue that the investigation of this matter reveals difficulties which neither author resolves.
cannot understand the language.” This is not intended to cover (easily imaginable) cases of recording one's experiences in a personal code, for such a code, however obscure in fact, could in principle be deciphered. What Wittgenstein had in mind is a language conceived as necessarily comprehensible only to its single originator because the things which define its vocabulary are necessarily inaccessible to others.
One of the most notorious — and dismissive — passages in Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations is Part II section xiv, which begins like this: The confusion and barrenness of psychology is not to be explained by calling it a “young science”; its state is not comparable with that of physics, for instance, in its beginnings. (Rather with that of certain branches of mathematics. Set theory.) For in psychology there are experimental methods and conceptual confusion. (As in the other case conceptual confusion (...) and methods of proof.) The existence of the experimental method makes us think we have the means of solving the problems which trouble us; though problem and method pass one another by. Strong words. But we know that at one stage in his life Wittgenstein’s interest in psychology was sufficient for him to have done some experimental research, and that he was well acquainted with the work of at least some of the prominent psychologists active in his own lifetime. That is, his quoted remarks were not made from ignorance; and we should accordingly take them seriously enough to consider why he made them, what he had in mind, and to what extent — if any — they may have been (and, though this was all a long time ago, may still be) justified. (shrink)
It verges on the platitudinous to say that Wittgenstein's own treatment of the question of a private language has been almost lost to view under mountains of commentary in the last twenty years—so much so, that no one with a concern for his own health would try to arrive at a verdict on the question by first mastering the available discussion. But a general acquaintance with the commentaries indicates that opinion on the matter can be roughly divided into two categories: (...) that of the Old Orthodoxy , most recently represented by Robert Fogelin in his book Wittgenstein ; and that of what may be termed the New Guardians of the Wittgenstein Tradition, apparently based in Oxford and headed by Anthony Kenny, who in his book Wittgenstein has proposed a new account of the argument of Philosophical Investigations §§256–271. The important difference between the old and new orthodoxies will be considered later. (shrink)
James Bradley (ed.), Philosophy after F. H. Bradley . Thoemmes Press Idealism Series, 1996, Bristol, Thoemmes Press; pp. 368 plus x. Hb. 1-85506-484-7 ( 48.00), pb. 1-85506-485-5 ( 16.95). W. J. Mander (ed.), Perspectives on the Logic and Metaphysics of F. H. Bradley . Thoemmes Press Idealism Series, 1996, Bristol, Thoemmes Press; pp. 290 plus xxvii. Hb. 1-85506-433-2 ( 45.00), pb. 1-85506-432-4 ( 14.95).