Monday, August 17, 2015

Philosophy and The "Homeric Struggle"

It it vital to have a positive defense of meaning. This is because it provides the substantive foundation for normative claims. This is reflected in the 'Homeric struggle' currently underway in contemporary philosophy of language between neo-Cartesians and neo-Pragmatists.

The description comes from Peter Strawson, a participant in this struggle. The struggle refers to different takes on contemporary approaches to mind and language. “One central battlefront” Jeremy Wanderer writes, “concerns the potential autonomy of semantics from pragmatics.” Wanderer continues, outlining the stakes
"To say that semantics is potentially autonomous from pragmatics is to allow that there can be a semantic theory that makes no potential contribution to pragmatic theory. Neo-Cartesians affirm, whilst neo-Pragmatists deny, the potential autonomy of semantics from pragmatics."
A ‘Homeric struggle calls for heroes’; heroes in the neo-Pragmatist camp are said to include Dummett, Brandom, Rorty, McDowell, Davidson and (possibly) Sellars, whilst heroes in the neo-Cartesian camp are said to include Dretske, Fodor and Lepore. Here we have a basic divide in contemporary philosophy of language, one that John Macfarlane has dubbed as ‘perhaps the most significant divide of all’.

In dispute between these different views of analysis, is as Scott Soames (2005) writes, more than standard methodological concerns (the appropriate object of analysis, what is a successful analysis, what are the benefits of this type of investigation and so on.) Rather, disagreements serve as a proxy terrain for larger stake intellectual confrontation, such as
"the nature of philosophy, the sources of philosophical knowledge, the role of language in thought, the relationship between language and the world, and the nature of meaning—as well to more focused questions about necessary and apriori [sic] truth."
At stake in the semantic-pragmatic interface debate Soames (2010) writes is “whether the traditional conception of the relationship between meaning and use can survive.” The traditional conception holds that the “semantic content of a sentence in context is always a proposition … [which] … is both asserted by utterances of the sentence in the context, and itself the source of whatever subsidiary assertions may result.

See Wanderer, J. (2010) Inhabiting the Space of Reasoning, Analysis, 70(2) pp367-378, Strawson, P. F. (2004) Logico-linguistic Papers. Aldershot: Ashgate, Soames, S. (2010) Philosophy of Language, Princeton: Princeton University Press, p3-4, Soames, S., (2005), Philosophical Analysis, in Borchert, D.M. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 1, 2nd ed., Detroit: Thomson Gale, p144