Thursday, January 06, 2005

An Aussie Curmudgeon John Ray Should Get to Know

I am speaking of David Stove. I hereby introduce Dr. Ray to Dr. Stove, assuming one can introduce the living to the dead. What follows is a delightful passage from Stove that puts me in mind of Ray’s recent remark that the doctrine of the Trinity is "a most awful load of codswallop":

That the world is, or embodies, or is ruled by, or was created by, a sentence-like entity, a ‘logos’, is an idea almost as old as Western philosophy itself. Where the Bible says ‘The Word was made flesh’, biblical scholars safely conclude at once that some philosopher [Stove’s emphasis] has meddled with the text (and not so as to improve it). Talking-To-Itself is what Hegel thought the universe is doing, or rather, is. In my own hearing, Professor John Anderson maintained, while awake, what with G. E. Moore was no more than a nightmare he once had, that tables and chairs and all the rest are propositions. So it has always gone on. In fact St John’s Gospel, when it says’In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’, sums up pretty accurately one of the most perennial, as well as most lunatic, strands in philosophy. (The passage is also of interest as proving that two statements can be consistent without either being intelligible.) (From The Plato Cult and Other Philosophical Follies, Basil Blackwell 1991, p. 32.)

A few comments are in order.

1. Let’s start with the parenthetical claim at the end. To say that two statements are (logically) consistent is to say that they (logically) can both be true, that there is a (logically) possible world in which both are true. But a statement cannot be true or false unless it possesses meaning: meaningfulness is a necessary (though not sufficient) condition of having a truth-value.
Now to be meaningful and to be intelligible are the same. It follows that Stove is wrong and that it is not the case that two statements can be consistent without either being intelligible. Consistency is defined in terms of truth, and truth requires intelligibility.

2. Are The Word was with God and The Word was God unintelligible? Not unless you are a positivist who ties intelligibility to empirical verifiability. But the principle of cognitive significance that positivists employ (according to which every cognitively meaningful statement is either logical/analytic or else empirically verifiable in principle) is itself empirically unverifiable. And since it is not a truth of logic or an analytic truth, it is itself meaningless by its own criterion. Stove is hoist by his own petard, or cooked by his own stove.

3. To say or imply that no concrete thing in the world could have a proposition-like structure, and that anyone who thinks this is a lunatic, is itself a lunatic thing to say. I maintain that the world’s basic particulars are concrete facts and thus have a proposition-like structure, and I am no lunatic. (See my A Paradigm Theory of Existence, Kluwer 2002). Closer to Australia, atheist David Armstrong, no slouch of a philosopher, and sane as far as I can tell, argues, quite sensibly, that contingent truths require truth-makers and that the latter are states of affairs, proposition-like entities. Stove’s suggestion that a view like this is insane shows that there is something deeply wrong with Stove. 'I am seated’ is true in virtue of the fact of my being seated. Insanity? Or common sense?

4. The trouble with Stove is that he is a positivist, an anti-philosopher, someone with no inkling of what philosophy is about. He is very intelligent, witty, erudite, a pleasure to read, and I am sure it would have been great fun to have a beer with him. But he is what I call a philosophistine. A philistine is someone with no appreciation of the fine arts; a philosophistine is one with no appreciation of philosophy. People like Stove and Paul Edwards and Rudolf Carnap just lack the faculty for philsophy, a faculty that is distinct from logical acumen. I pound on Stove further, here. Edwards gets smoked, here.