Sunday, December 17, 2006


Russell on asking the folk

I actually still don't really feel I have anything to post about, mostly because I'm trying to begin to put together all the pieces for an essay I want to write over the coming semester. I've also set myself a stupidly ambitious reading schedule for break:

Dummett - Thought and Reality
Coffa - The Semantic Tradition from Kant to Carnap
Quine - Word and Object
Dummett - The Logical Basis of Metaphysics
Tennant - The Taming of the True

We'll see how much of that I actually manage to get through. So far I've finished the first Dummett, and I'm currently about a quarter of the way through re-reading Coffa's wonderful book. Anyway, Coffa cites a great passage from Russell's response in Mind 1906 to Joachim's The Nature of Truth, and I thought it was a lot of fun, especially given the current debates over experimental philosophy, and more generally the role of folk-judgments and the like:

'Mr. Joachim alleges that the plain man is on his side. I have been tempted to ask some plain man what he thought greenness was, but have been restrained by the fear of being thought insane. Mr. Joachim, however, appears to have been bolder. Considering the difficulty of finding a really plain man nowadays, I presume he asked his scout, who apparently replied: "Well, sir, greenness is to me the name of a complex fact, the factors of which essentially and reciprocally determine one another. And if you, sir, choose to select one factor out of the complex, and to call it greenness, I will not dispute about the term, for I know my place, sir; but as thus isolated, your greenness is an abstraction, which emphatically, in itself and as such, is not there or anywhere.'
(Coffa: 96)


That is quite the ambitious reading list. The Coffa book is quite good. I read it without much knowledge of Kant, so that part of it is definitely a blur. I should reread it and see if it meshes with the ideas I currently have about Kant. I think I'm on board with the semantic tradition.

Speaking of Russell and Coffa, have you read Coffa's dialogue feature Russell? It is a dialogue with three characters, all Russell at different stages of his philosophical development: early (mysticism?) Russell, slightly pre-"On Denoting" Russell, and "On Denoting" Russell. They discuss various views they've held over time until the "On Denoting" Russell treats the others to knock-down objections of some sort. Good reading. Also very good Russell interpretation.

Are you planning on reading all of Word and Object? I've never made it past chapter 2. In chapter 1 he says a lot of things that sound like Davidsonian triangulation. Chapter 2 is where a lot of the action happens, but I don't have any idea about after that.

Is there an overarching philosophical theme to these books or are they all just good things to read? I've been trying to get my hands on Dummett's Logical Basis for a while, but none of the libraries in town have had it in. Instead I checked out Seas of Language.
I haven't read the Russell paper - there's a gap in UT's online access to Synthese, and sadly that paper falls in the hole.

There is some kind of logic behind these choices. My main interest is still these Dummettian debates, but most of the really useful stuff on that topic I've been reading recently has linked those issues back to the cluster of issues that were discussed during the Davidsonic boom in Oxford in the 70s and 80s (exploring the links between meaning, truth, understanding and interpretation, and the like). So in Spring, I'm working through that literature with Mark Sainsbury - we're reading some more Davidson, Wiggins, McDowell, and some of the papers from 'The Seas of Language'. I figured it would be useful to read Quine as background, though the chances are I won't get any further than chapter 2 either.

I decided to reread Coffa first though since positivism's so firmly in the background for Quine, and also for Dummett. So I figured I'd better do something to reacquaint myself with what was going on during that period.

Oddly, I couldn't get a hold of 'LBM' either - I've had to borrow it from someone.
Nice list. The Tennant book is on my list as well. If you get around to it, I would love to see some comments.
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