Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Kripke Tripke

Just as Augie March went to Mexico to visit Trotsky, and generations of Amises have made Pilgrimages to the House of Bellow, I travelled to the CUNY graduate center in New York yesterday along with world-renowned cartoonist Eric Shansby to see Saul Kripke give his first completely open public lecture in God knows how long. (For those in the dark, Kripke is the man who revolutionized virtually every sub-field of theoretical philosophy in about a decade from the mid-60s to the mid-70s, and then proceeded to enter a kind of Salinger-esque hibernation, characterized by cutting off all access to his unpublished writings and all transcripts and recordings of his lectures, and according to some rumors, jumping out of bushes in order to startle unsuspecting [female] passersby.)

The Kripke canon is small enough that anybody who wanted a capsulized presentation of what analytic philosophy can be at its best might as well just get into the whole thing. He has four principle achievements: 1) providing (as a teenager!) a plausible framework for modal logic; 2) Naming and Necessity, later a book, originally a series of lectures he gave without notes, essentially off the top of his head, in which he managed to overturn centuries-old assumptions in metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of language [this is the book to read if you can only ever read one book of analytic philosophy]; 3) a collection of published papers, primarily "A Puzzle About Belief" and "Speaker's Reference and Semantic Reference," which had similar results to those of N&N; 4) a book about "Wittgenstein" that isn't really about Wittgenstein at all, but some imagined philosopher whom some people call "Kripkenstein."

As for yesterday's lecture, it was about as good as I'd expect a new book from J.D. Salinger to be. The argument seemed to be something along the lines of, mind-body dualism must be true on the basis of a theory of the reference of the term "I" according to which (a) we do successfully refer by using "I" and (b) necessarily, the referent of "I" is something like a Cartesian res cogitans. Don't ask me, I don't understand the theory. OTOH, I do now have a signed copy of N&N.

What made the lecture worthwhile, however, were Kripke's anecdotes, the best of which is that he unwittingly managed to train one of the founders and leaders of the Intelligent Design Movement [it's got to be Dembski, right?--ed.] in mathematical logic. Kripke's remark to the effect that anytime a fundamentalist begins a sentence with the phrase "Scripture says that....", unless whatever comes after is in ancient Hebrew or coinic Greek, the sentence is simply false.

Apropos of that sort of objection, I re-read "A Puzzle About Belief" tonight to discover that Kripke had claimed "'Holland'='the Netherlands'" to be the sort of cognitively problematic true identity statement that generates Frege's puzzle (viz., assuming for the sake of argument that the meaning of a name is a function of its reference, how can the sentences "Mark Twain=Mark Twain" and "Mark Twain=Samuel Clemens" differ in cognitive significance, which they must, since the first is a paradigmatic a priori and the second is a paradigmatic a posteriori). Of course, however, "Holland" and "the Netherlands" are not co-referential; Holland is a region of the Netherlands.


At 10:43 AM, Blogger Evan said...

"generations of Amises have made Pilgrimages to the House of Bellow"

Goodness, I hate to nitpick. Actually, unless any of Martin's brood dropped by chez Saul before the old fellow passed on, this is untrue. Kingsley disliked Bellow's writing, along with almost all of his son's other literary heroes. It was Robert Graves that first father, then son dropped in upon, generally uninvited. For Robert Graves, it was Thomas Hardy. I wonder if Martin gets any trespassers?

At 12:07 AM, Anonymous Michael Zeleny said...

I cannot believe the attribution to Saul Kripke, of the notion that propositional complements of the form “X says that p” call for a verbatim rendering of the literal expression. Sentential models of propositional content have been fatally undermined at least since Alonzo Church published his objections to Rudolf Carnap in Analysis 10 (1950). These objections have been generally taken as decisive. In a nutshell, construing content in terms of its actual or possible form of linguistic expression involves spurious consideration of syntax in its explanation. Thus to say that
(•) Seneca wrote that man is a rational animal,
may be taken by the nominalist as synonymous with saying one of the following sentences:
1. Seneca wrote the words “Man is a rational animal”;
2. Seneca wrote the words “Rationale enim animal est homo”;
3. Seneca wrote words whose translation from Latin into English is “Man is a rational animal”;
4. Seneca wrote words whose translation from some language S' into English is “Man is a rational animal”;
5. There is a language S' such that Seneca wrote as sentence of S' whose translation from S' into English is “Man is a rational animal.”
Of these putative analyses of (•), (1) fails for want of agreement in truth value. The remaining candidates fail at conveying the same information as (•). Thus (•) expresses the content of what Seneca wrote without revealing his actual words. By contrast (2) reproduces Seneca’s actual words without spelling out what meaning was attached to them. Whereas (3)-(5) rely crucially on the item of factual information, not contained in (1), and not subsumable thereto on pain of circularity, namely that “Man is a rational animal” means in English that man is a rational animal.
More arguments along these lines can be found in Church’s classic 1951 article on the need for abstract entities in semantic analysis, available online.


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