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and then proceeded to enter a kind of Salinger-esque hibernation, characterized by cutting off all access to his unpublished writings and all transcripts and recordings of his lectures, and according to some rumors, jumping out of bushes in order to startle unsuspecting [female]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.