What is language? What is the meaning of words? Is a private language possible? Do words such as mind, consciousness, and even pure logic and mathematics have any existential meaning? Basic history and discussion from the working class perspective of issues in philosophy of language, science, existentialism, and pragmatism. The emphasis is on how dominant philosophies have and do affect the working classes throughout history because this is the group of people who suffer the worst and adverse affects of whatever are the dominant philosophical ideals of any given age and who usually are the least knowledgeable about the nature of the ideals and why they are dominant. Theology is studied as a branch of philosophy and not as religious theology.
My Parisian wife and mother-in-law
Quine’s eloquent description:
The totality of our so-called knowledge or beliefs, from the most casual matters of geography and history to the profoundest laws of atomic physics or even of pure mathematics and logic, is a man-made fabric which impinges on experience only along the edges. Or, to change the figure, total science is like a field of force whose boundary conditions are experience. A conflict with experience at the periphery occasions readjustments in the interior of the field. Truth values have to be redistributed over some of our statements. Re-evaluation of some statements entails re-evaluation of others, because of their logical interconnections; the logical laws being in turn simply certain further statements of the system, certain further elements of the field. Having re-evaluated one statement we must re-evaluate some others, whether they be statements logically connected with the first or whether they be the statements of logical connections themselves. But the total field is so undetermined by its boundary conditions, experience, that there is much latitude of choice as to what statements to re-evaluate in the light of any single contrary experience. No particular experiences are linked with any particular statements in the interior of the field, except indirectly through considerations of equilibrium affecting the field as a whole.
If this view is right, it is misleading to speak of the empirical content of an individual statement, especially if it be a statement at all remote from the experiential periphery of the field. Furthermore it becomes folly to seek a boundary between synthetic statements, which hold contingently on experience, and analytic statements which hold come what may. Any statement can be held true come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system. Even a statement very close to the periphery can be held true in the face of recalcitrant experience by pleading hallucination or by amending certain statements of the kind called logical laws. Conversely, by the same token, no statement is immune to revision. Revision even of the logical law of the excluded middle has been proposed as a means of simplifying quantum mechanics; and what difference is there in principle between such a shift and the shift whereby Kepler superseded Ptolemy, or Einstein Newton, or Darwin Aristotle?
The Rule-Following Paradox (“RFP”)
The philosopher Saul Kripke created the following mathematical example of the RFP:
Suppose that you have never added numbers greater than 50 before. Further, suppose that you are asked to perform the computation 68 + 57. Our inclination is that one will apply the addition function and calculate the correct answer as 125. But now imagine that a skeptic comes along and argues:
- There is no fact about your past usage of the addition function that determines ‘125’ as the right answer.
- Nothing justifies you in giving this answer rather than another.
After all, the skeptic reasons, by hypothesis you have never added numbers greater than 50 before. It is perfectly consistent with your previous use of ‘plus’ that it and the acts resulting from it meant and mean the ‘quus’ function, defined as:
The skeptic argues there is no fact about known reality that determines one ought to answer ‘125’ rather than ‘5’. Your past usage of the addition function is susceptible to an infinite number of different quus-like interpretations. It appears that every new application of ‘plus’, rather than being governed by a strict, unambiguous rule, is actually a leap in the dark.
“Sand Pebbles” music courtesy the film, Sand Pebbles, music by Jerry Goldsmith.