In this essay, I consider whether the alleged demise of metaphysical realism does actually provide a better way for defending the cognitive status of ethical judgments. I argue that the rejection of a realist ontology and epistemology does not help to establish the claim that ethical knowledge is possible. More specifically, I argue that Hilary Putnam's argument does not succeed in making a case for ethical knowledge. In fact, his account of the procedures by which our valuations are warranted—the criteria of idealized inquiry—ultimately begs the question in a number of crucial ways. Moreover, it prejudices the moral and political discussion in certain ideological respects. Finally, though Putnam has apparently modified to some extent his approach to the issue of realism in recent years, I will point out that these modifications are not fundamental and do not help to advance the case for ethical knowledge. I note also that Martha C. Nussbaum's appeal to Putnam’s argument actually works against her attempt to make a case for an Aristotelian conception of human flourishing. Ultimately, I conclude that metaphysical realism is vital for ethical knowledge.
1 I have the following works in mind: Annas Julia, The Morality of Happiness (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Den Uyl Douglas J., The Virtue of Prudence (New York: Peter Lang, 1991); Foot Philippa, Natural Goodness (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001); Hursthouse Rosalind, On Virtue Ethics (Oxford; Oxford University Press, 1999); Lisska Anthony, Aquinas's Theory of Natural Law: An Analytic Reconstruction (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996); Thompson Michael, “The Representation of Life,” in Hursthouse Rosalind, Lawrence Gavin, and Quinn Warren, eds., Virtues and Reasons: Philippa Foot and Moral Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 247–96; and Quinn Warren, Morality and Action (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), esp. chap. 11.
2 Natural teleology holds that for at least some class of entities, usually living ones, the natures of those entities are also those entities' ends or functions. Though natural teleology is often thought of as requiring a worldview in which the natures of things are seen as reflecting the will of a deity, this need not be so. As Michael Thompson notes, “I think we are very far from the category of intention or psychical teleology…. Natural-teleological judgements may … be said to organize the elements of a natural history: they articulate the relations of dependence among the various elements and aspects and phases of a given kind of life…. [E]ven if the Divine Mind were to bring a certain life-form into being ‘with a view to’ securing an abundance of pink fur along the shores of the Monongahela, this would have no effect on the natural-teleological description of that form of life.” Thompson, “The Representation of Life,” 293–94. See also Rasmussen Douglas B., “Human Flourishing and the Appeal to Human Nature,” Social Philosophy and Policy 16, no. 1 (1999): 1–43, esp. Section V.
3 In its most general sense, essentialism holds that to be is to be something, and thus that there is something about a thing without which that thing would neither exist nor be that thing. See the works cited in notes 115 and 121 below.
4 Ontological realism holds that there are beings that exist and are what they are independent of and apart from our cognition; epistemological realism holds that we can come to know, though not without great difficulty, both the existence and nature of these beings. See Trigg Roger, Reality at Risk: A Defense of Realism in Philosophy and the Sciences (Sussex: Harvester Press; and Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble Books, 1980), for a discussion of these views.
5 Nussbaum Martha C., “Human Functioning and Social Justice: In Defense of Aristotelian Essentialism,” Political Theory 20, no. 2 (May 1992): 202–46. Nussbaum claims that her rejection of ontological and epistemological realism has its origins in Aristotle's understanding of “appearances.” She claims that “we can have truth only inside the circle of the appearances, because only there can we communicate, even refer, at all.” Nussbaum Martha C., The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 257. Christopher Long notes, however, that Nussbaum fails to do justice to Aristotle's view: “Aristotle operates with a naturalistic conception of the relationship between being and language that allows him to recognize that our very speaking about beings reveals something of the nature of these beings themselves.” Long, “Saving Ta Legomena: Aristotle and the History of Philosophy,” The Review of Metaphysics 60, no. 2 (December 2006): 251–52.
6 Nussbaum, “Human Functioning and Social Justice,” 206.
8 Ibid., 207–8.
9 Ibid., 206.
10 Ibid., 207.
11 Ibid., 212.
12 Ibid., 212–13.
13 Nussbaum also mentions Donald Davidson, W. V. O. Quine, and Nelson Goodman as critics of metaphysical realism. I will not be considering these thinkers because, for the most part, they have not used their criticisms of metaphysical realism as a basis upon which to build an account of ethical knowledge.
14 Nussbaum, “Human Functioning and Social Justice,” 213–14.
15 In part 1 (“Sense, Nonsense, and the Senses: An Inquiry into the Powers of the Human Mind”) of Putnam Hilary, The Threefold Cord: Mind, Body, and World (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), Putnam discusses his earlier mistakes regarding realism, but he still maintains his rejection of metaphysical realism. Part 1 first appeared in The Journal of Philosophy 91, no. 9 (September 1994): 445–517.
16 Putnam Hilary, “The Question of Realism,” in Conant James, ed., Words and Life (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 1994), 300.
17 Ibid., 302.
18 Ibid., 297.
19 Ibid., 303.
21 Putnam Hilary, “A Defense of Internal Realism,” in Conant James, ed., Realism with a Human Face (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 1990), 41 (emphasis added).
22 Putnam has more recently qualified this picture. He no longer defines truth as warranted assertibility. Rather, he does not think that a definition of truth is necessary, though he claims that he can examine the concept of truth in relation to other semantic and epistemological concepts. See Putnam, The Threefold Cord, part 1, and Putnam, “Are Values Made or Discovered?” in Putnam, The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy and Other Essays (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 2002), 107.
23 Contrary to some deconstructionists, Putnam does not see his view as threatened by some regress of interpretation, because he thinks, with Wittgenstein, that we can follow a rule without first having an interpretation attached to it. See Putnam Hilary, “Skepticism about Enlightenment,” in Putnam, Ethics without Ontology (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 2004), 120.
24 This example does not note some of the qualifications Putnam usually makes, but this does not affect its usefulness here. See Hilary Putnam, “A Defense of Conceptual Relativity,” in Putnam, Ethics without Ontology, 38–40.
25 This also involves the issue of conceptual pluralism. Putnam notes: “The whole idea that the world dictates a unique ‘true’ way of dividing the world into objects, situations, properties, etc. is a piece of philosophical parochialism. But just that parochialism is and always has been behind the subject called Ontology.” Ibid., 51.
26 Putnam Hilary, Reason, Truth, and History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 52 (emphasis in original).
27 Putnam Hilary, The Many Faces of Realism: The Paul Carus Lectures (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1987), 16.
28 Hilary Putnam, “Aristotle after Wittgenstein,” in Conant, ed., Words and Life, 63.
29 Putnam, Reason, Truth, and History, 51.
30 For an examination of this claim, see Rasmussen Douglas B., “Realism, Intentionality, and the Nature of Logical Relations,” Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 66 (1992): 267–77. See also Addis Laird, Natural Signs: A Theory of Intentionality (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1989), 87–94.
31 Putnam, The Many Faces of Realism, 34.
32 Ibid., 35–36 (emphasis in original).
33 Putnam also notes that there is “the common philosophical error of supposing that the term reality must refer to a single superthing instead of looking at the ways in which we endlessly negotiate—and are forced to renegotiate—our notion of reality as our language and our life develop.” Putnam, “Sense, Nonsense, and the Senses,” 9 (emphasis in original).
34 Putnam, “The Question of Realism,” 306. See Rorty Richard, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979).
35 Putnam initially described this form of realism as “internal realism,” but he has more recently described it as “pragmatic realism” or “realism with a small ‘r.’ ” See his “Reply to Gary Ebbs,” in The Philosophy of Hilary Putnam, Philosophical Topics 20, no. 1 (Spring 1992): 353.
36 Putnam, “Realism without Absolutes,” in Conant, ed., Words and Life, 284.
37 Putnam states that there is “common-sense realism: the realism that says that mountains and stars are not created by language and thought, and yet can be described by language and thought…. [The] metaphysical kind of realism is ‘incoherent.’ ” Putnam, “The Question of Realism,” 303.
38 Putnam, “Are Values Made or Discovered?” 101.
39 Putnam, “The Question of Realism,” 300. He also references Wisdom John, “Metaphysics and Verification,” Mind 47, no. 188 (October 1938): 452–98.
40 Putnam, “A Defense of Conceptual Relativity,” 43 (emphasis in original).
41 Ibid., 45.
42 Putnam, “The Question of Realism,” 309.
43 Hilary Putnam, “The Craving for Objectivity,” in Conant, ed., Realism with a Human Face, 122 (emphasis in original).
44 Quine W. V. O., “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” in Quine, From a Logical Point of View (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961), 20–46.
45 Hilary Putnam, “The Entanglement of Fact and Value,” in Putnam, The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy, 31; and Putnam, “Pragmatism and Moral Objectivity,” in Conant, ed., Words and Life, 154.
46 Hilary Putnam, “Beyond the Fact/Value Dichotomy,” in Conant, ed., Realism with a Human Face, 139 (emphasis in original).
47 Putnam does not deny that one can distinguish between facts and values; rather, he denies that there is some metaphysical divide between them. See Putnam, “The Empiricist Background,” in Putnam, The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy, 19. Further, he states: “I … find it convenient to use the term valuings as a general term for value judgments of every sort…. [M]y position isn't simply that ‘valuings are not descriptions’; my position is that some valuings, in fact, some ethical valuings, are descriptions (though not of anything ‘nonnatural’), and some valuings are not descriptions. Valuings do not contrast simply with descriptions; there is an overlap, in my view, between the class of descriptions and the class of valuings.” Putnam, “‘Ontology’: An Obituary,” in Putnam, Ethics without Ontology, 74 (emphasis in original).
48 Putnam, “The Entanglement of Fact and Value,” 33 (emphasis in original).
49 Putnam, “Pragmatism and Moral Objectivity,” 153.
50 Ibid., 154. Putnam does qualify this claim, however. He notes that the emphasis on practice does not mean that we should “get rid of metaphysics once and for all.” In fact, he states that “revisionary metaphysics is not always bad.” Ibid., 159–60. I will discuss the importance of this qualification in Sections III and IV. Yet it is important to realize that, for Putnam, “revisionary metaphysics” includes not only those metaphysical views that would overturn or replace our everyday practices and common-sense views, but also those metaphysical views that seek to explain such practices and views—that is, metaphysical views that attempt to offer something more primary than practice.
51 Putnam, “The Entanglement of Fact and Value,” 33 (emphasis in original).
52 Hilary Putnam, “The Three Enlightenments,” in Putnam, Ethics without Ontology, 96.
53 Ibid., 107 (emphasis in original).
54 Putnam, “The Entanglement of Fact and Value,” 38.
55 Ibid., 39–40.
56 Putnam, “Are Values Made or Discovered?” 97.
57 Ibid., 103.
59 Ibid. (emphasis in original).
60 Ibid., 103–6.
61 Putnam would not want the “sea” in this analogy to be interpreted as a reality that exists apart from our conceptual practices—not even a Kantian “noumenal reality.” The sort of Kantianism that Putnam endorses considers metaphysical realism, even as a noumenal reality, unintelligible. See Putnam, “Model Theory and the ‘Factuality’ of Semantics,” in Conant, ed., Words and Life, 361–62. The ship analogy originates with Otto Neurath. See Neurath Otto, “Protocol Sentences” (trans. Schick George), in Ayer A. J., ed., Logical Positivism (New York: The Free Press, 1959), 201. This essay first appeared in German as “Protokollsätze,” Erkenntnis 3 (1932/1933).
62 Problems, for Putnam, are part of the practices in which we are engaged.
63 See Putnam, “The Three Enlightenments,” 89–108.
64 Putnam, “Pragmatism and Moral Objectivity,” 170–77.
65 Ibid. See Habermas Jürgen, “Discourse Ethics: Notes on a Program of Philosophical Justification,” in Habermas, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, trans. Lenhardt Christian and Weber Nicholson Shierry (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1990), 43–115.
66 Putnam, “Are Values Made or Discovered?” 106–9.
67 Hilary Putnam, “Values and Norms,” in Putnam, The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy, 124.
68 Putnam, “Are Values Made or Discovered?” 107 (emphasis added).
69 Ibid., 108.
70 Ibid., 108–9 (emphasis in original).
71 Putnam, “Values and Norms,” 134.
72 Ibid., 118.
73 Ibid., 119 (emphasis in original).
74 For a criticism of Habermas from a point of view that is more or less Aristotelian but does not assume the primacy of practice, see Rasmussen Douglas B., “Political Legitimacy and Discourse Ethics,” International Philosophical Quarterly 32 (March 1992): 17–34.
75 Putnam Hilary, “A Reconsideration of Deweyan Democracy,” The Southern California Law Review 63 (1990): 1671.
76 Such direct participation does not require, however, that they refrain from calling upon experts to assist them in their decision-making.
77 Putnam, “The Three Enlightenments,” 105.
78 Putnam, “A Reconsideration of Deweyan Democracy,” 1696. Dewey also states: “Since actual, that is effective [as opposed to original or native or ‘natural’], rights and demands are products of interactions, and are not found in the original and isolated constitution of human nature, whether moral or psychological, mere elimination of obstructions is not enough. The latter merely liberate force and ability as that happens to be distributed by past accidents of history.” Ibid. The quotation is drawn from Dewey John, “Philosophies of Freedom,” in Kallen H. M., ed., Freedom in the Modern World (New York: Coward-McCann, 1928), 249–50.
79 Putnam, “Are Values Made or Discovered?” 97.
80 Nozick Robert, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974), 30–31.
81 Ibid., 172 (emphasis in original).
82 Putnam, “Values and Norms,” 115. Putnam lists respect for autonomy among the criteria of idealized inquiry; see Putnam, “Pragmatism and Moral Objectivity,” 173.
83 Hilary Putnam, “How Not to Solve Ethical Problems,” in Conant, ed., Realism with a Human Face, 180.
85 Ibid., 181–83.
86 Ibid., 180.
87 Ibid., 183. Interestingly enough, Putnam never really explains how the process of idealized inquiry concludes that slavery, racism, and male chauvinism are wrong. We know we believe they are wrong, but why should we think that our belief conforms to the result of idealized inquiry? For additional concerns regarding Putnam's account of democratic inquiry, see Festenstein Matthew, “Putnam, Pragmatism, and Democratic Theory,” The Review of Politics 57, no. 4 (Fall 1995): 693–721.
88 Putnam, “How Not to Solve Ethical Problems,” 184 (emphasis in original).
89 Putnam, “Pragmatism and Moral Objectivity,” 160.
90 Hayek F. A., “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” American Economic Review 35, no. 4 (September 1945): 519–30.
91 Practical reason is the intellectual faculty employed in guiding conduct, and practical wisdom is the excellent use of practical reason. Practical wisdom is more than mere cleverness or means-end reasoning. It is the ability of an individual at the time of action to discern, in particular and contingent circumstances, what is morally required. It involves the intelligent management of one's life so that all the necessary goods and virtues are coherently achieved, maintained, and enjoyed in a manner that is appropriate for the individual human being. It is the intellectual virtue of a neo-Aristotelian conception of human flourishing. See Miller Fred D. Jr., “Rationality and Freedom in Aristotle and Hayek,” Reason Papers, no. 9 (Winter 1983): 29–36. See also Rasmussen Douglas B., “Capitalism and Morality: The Role of Practical Reason,” in McGee Robert W., ed., Business Ethics: Social Responsibility in Business (New York: Quorum Books, 1992), 31–44.
92 Putnam, “Values and Norms,” 115.
93 Ibid. Putnam regards Kant's great achievement in moral philosophy to be the Categorical Imperative. He understands by this “the idea that ethics is universal, that insofar as ethics is concerned with the alleviation of suffering, it is concerned with everyone's suffering, or if it is concerned with positive well-being, it is with everybody's positive well-being.” Hilary Putnam, “Ethics without Metaphysics,” in Putnam, Ethics without Ontology, 25. For a critique of this type of reasoning, see Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas J. Den Uyl, “In Search of Universal Political Principles: Avoiding Some of Modernity's Pitfalls and Discovering the Importance of Liberal Political Order,” in Elkin Stephen and Simon Stephen, eds., Seeking Common Principles of Justice: The Prospects, Challenges, and Risks of Universalism in a Divided World (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008).
94 Putnam, “Values and Norms,” 114.
95 Rand Ayn, “The Objectivist Ethics,” in Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism (New York: New American Library, 1964), 27.
96 I hasten to add that these theories need not be understood as necessarily egoistic, at least in the usual sense of that term, for it is quite possible for the welfare of other persons, though not every person, to be an essential feature of, and not a mere means to, one's own flourishing. Moreover, an ethics of human flourishing or self-perfection neither denies the profoundly social character of human life nor assumes an atomistic perspective. See Rasmussen Douglas B. and Den Uyl Douglas J., Norms of Liberty: A Perfectionist Basis for Non-Perfectionist Politics (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005), 127–43; and Den Uyl Douglas J. and Rasmussen Douglas B., “The Myth of Atomism,” The Review of Metaphysics 59, no. 4 (June 2006): 841–68.
97 He also uses the term “symmetric reciprocity.”
98 Den Uyl, The Virtue of Prudence, 27. See also Mack Eric, “Moral Individualism: Agent Relativity and Deontic Restraints,” Social Philosophy and Policy 7, no. 1 (1989): 81–111.
99 However, agent-relativity alone does not require that P1 be an ethical egoist, for it is perfectly possible for P1's morally salient values, reasons, or rankings to be agent-relative and entirely altruistic. Yet this possibility does not show that these values, reasons, and rankings are agent-neutral, because benefiting others must still be a value, reason, or ranking for P1, and not necessarily for P2–Pn. Further, there is still the question of whether it is desirable for P1 to be entirely altruistic. See Rasmussen and Den Uyl, Norms of Liberty, 134–36; and Rasmussen, “Human Flourishing and the Appeal to Human Nature.”
100 Putnam makes this point in many places, but see Ethics without Ontology, 3, 29, and 102.
101 Ethical noncognitivism holds that moral claims are not knowledge claims.
102 See the following works by Nussbaum Martha C.: Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006); Women and Human Development: The Capability Approach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); “Non-Relative Virtues: An Aristotelian Approach,” in Martha C. Nussbaum and Amartya Sen, eds., The Quality of Life (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 242–69; “Human Functioning and Social Justice”; and “Aristotelian Social Democracy,” in R. Bruce Douglass, Gerald Mara, and Henry Richardson, eds., Liberalism and the Good (New York: Routledge, 1990), 203–52. See the following works by Sen Amartya: Development as Freedom (New York: Anchor Books, 2000); “Capability and Well-Being,” in Nussbaum and Sen, eds., The Quality of Life, 30–53; Inequality Reexamined (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992); and Ethics and Economics (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987).
103 Putnam, “The Three Enlightenments,” 107.
104 The point here is not that a political conversation is separate from an ethical one, or from any other one for that matter. Rather, the point is that there is a distinction—a difference in the issue that is being addressed.
105 MacIntyre Alasdair, Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues (Chicago and La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1999), 99–118.
106 The reason we label it so is that liberalism has been, largely, the only political tradition to recognize the fundamentality and importance of this problem. Yet this does not mean that liberalism has always done so coherently. See Rasmussen and Den Uyl, Norms of Liberty, chap. 3.
107 Ibid., 271 (emphasis in original).
108 Human flourishing involves an essential reference to the individual for whom it is good as part of its description. Further, it is not merely achieved and enjoyed by individuals. It is itself individualized. See Rasmussen and Den Uyl, Norms of Liberty, 132–38.
109 There are two related points here. First, to hold that human flourishing is “objective” does not mean (or require) that it amounts to the same activity for each person in practice. Human flourishing is not one-size-fits-all. Thus, it is not sufficient either for determining the aim of the political/legal order or for developing a standard for welfare economics. (On its insufficiency for welfare economics, see David Gordon's review of Putnam's book The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy, “The Facts of Economic Life,” The Mises Review [Winter 2002], http://www.mises.org/misesreview_detail.asp?control=217&sortorder=auth.) Second, structural neutrality is a function of recognizing real diversity. Ethical impersonalism is a function of dismissing or flattening real diversity.
110 Real people are engaged in a quest for answers and solutions. This means that what they say or conclude is often less important than the basis for their conclusions. This brings us back to the idea that there is something more than human practices when it comes to finding answers and solutions.
111 Nussbaum, “Human Functioning and Social Justice,” 214.
112 It might be replied that Putnam's decision not to define truth as warranted assertibility under ideal conditions is based on understanding that the contingent relationship between truth and warranted assertibility is deeply imbedded in the worldviews and practices of both science and common sense. Thus, Putnam seeks to take advantage of metaphysical realism's view of truth while at the same time maintaining the primacy of practice. I discuss the problems with this maneuver in Section IV.
113 Putnam, “How Not to Solve Ethical Problems,” 185. See also Putnam, “The Three Enlightenments,” 101–4.
114 Furthermore, how is “we” idealized? Why idealize along the lines of educated cosmopolitans rather than middle-class folks with mediocre educations, or the uneducated, or those who have to live with the results, and so on? It is never clear how this is done, except, of course, to assume simply that universality and consistency are the standards. Yet why must these values be the standards? Why must science and the values of modernity be our guide? Obviously, these questions are not just theoretical any longer, if they ever were.
115 See Rasmussen Douglas B., “Quine and Aristotelian Essentialism,” The New Scholasticism 58 (Summer 1984): 316–35; and Rasmussen Douglas B., “The Significance for Cognitive Realism of the Thought of John Poinsot,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 68 (Summer 1994): 409–24. See also O'Callaghan John P., Thomistic Realism and the Linguistic Turn (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), 194–98 and 257–74; and Boghossian Paul A., Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006), 35–38.
116 I cannot discuss this in detail here. For some important insights regarding the “moderate realist” approach to abstraction, see Owens Joseph, Cognition: An Epistemological Inquiry (Houston, TX: Center for Thomistic Studies, 1992), 139–65; and Owens, “Common Nature: A Point of Comparison between Thomistic and Scotistic Metaphysics,” Mediaeval Studies 19 (1957): 1–14. See also Aquinas Thomas, On Being and Essence, 2d rev. ed., trans. Maurer Armand, C.S.B. (Toronto: The Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1968).
117 Of course, the natures of many things have been shaped by human purposes. See Rasmussen, “The Significance for Cognitive Realism of the Thought of John Poinsot,” 411 n. 6.
118 See the following works by Kenny Sir Anthony: The Legacy of Wittgenstein (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984), chap. 5; The Metaphysics of Mind (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989); The Unknown God: Agnostic Essays (London and New York: Continuum, 2004), chap. 11; and Wittgenstein, rev. ed. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), chap. 10. John McDowell seems to share this view of Wittgenstein as well, because he suggests that Wittgenstein's private language argument should not be understood as upholding the primacy of interpretive practices. Instead, it should be understood as providing reasons for abandoning the “master thesis”—that is, the view that whatever one has in one's mind when one knows just “stands there” and needs some interpretation to relate it to the world. See McDowell John, “Meaning and Intentionality in Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 17 (1992): 40–52.
119 Obviously, a crucial issue is whether sense perception only becomes intelligible by having form imposed on it by our conceptual schemes or whether sense perception becomes intelligible by having the form it implicitly carries discovered by our conceptual tools. For an important defense of the latter view, see Russman Thomas A., A Prospectus for the Triumph of Realism (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1987).
120 Austin J. L., “Other Minds,” in Austin, Philosophical Papers, 2d ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), 98.
121 For a few contemporary examples, see Brody Baruch, Identity and Essence (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980); Machan Tibor R., “Epistemology and Moral Knowledge,” The Review of Metaphysics 36, no. 1 (September 1984): 23–49; Pols Edward, Radical Realism: Direct Knowing in Science and Philosophy (Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1992); and Veatch Henry B., Two Logics: The Conflict between Classical and Neo-Analytic Philosophy (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1969).
122 Putnam, “Sense, Nonsense, and the Senses,” 22–24.
123 It might be replied that this argument works only if we cannot imagine two different conversations—one which is the explanandum and one which is the explanans. If so, then maybe another way of putting the same objection is to say that for any conversation C, if practice is primary, then there is no way in principle to tell whether this conversation is an explanandum or an explanans. I owe this point to Douglas J. Den Uyl.
124 Putnam would object, of course, that I have now asked one question too many. But why? The reason seems to be this: When it comes to explaining linguistic significance, a crucial premise behind the thesis that practice is primary is the claim that all other proposed explanations actually presuppose what they are supposed to explain. That is, they presuppose our linguistic practices. Putnam (at least, the “early” Putnam) believes this to be a particularly devastating objection to any account of linguistic significance that would have a role for concepts or mental powers to play. Indeed, this is how he interprets Wittgenstein. See the works cited in notes 28 and 29. Yet what one finds in Wittgenstein is not an objection to concepts or mental powers per se but an objection to a certain conception of them: namely, one in which they are treated as “intermediaries” or “third things” that somehow occupy mental space and are the basis for some “private language.” As I noted earlier, there are really no good reasons to adopt such a view of concepts or mental powers, and no good reasons for thinking that the thesis that practice is primary follows from a rejection of a “third thing” view of concepts or mental powers. See also notes 30, 115, and 118, and Rasmussen Douglas B., “Rorty, Wittgenstein, and the Nature of Intentionality,” Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 57 (1983): 152–62.
125 Putnam, “Sense, Nonsense, and the Senses,” 5–6 (emphasis in original).
126 Ibid., 6.
127 See McGinn Colin, “Can You Believe It?” The New York Review of Books 48, no. 6 (April 12, 2001): 71–75.
128 Putnam, “Sense, Nonsense, and the Senses,” 6.
129 Ibid., 7.
130 Aquinas also states: “[I]t ought to be said that it is not necessary to assume diversity in natural things from the diversity of intelligible characters or logical intentions which follow upon our manner of understanding, since the intelligible character of one and the same thing may be apprehended in diverse ways.” Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I. 76.3, ad 4.
131 Putnam, “Sense, Nonsense, and the Senses,” 9.
132 As I have already noted, Putnam states that “we have no access to ‘unconceptualized’ reality.” Yet this statement is followed shortly by this remark: “But it doesn't follow that language and thought do not describe something outside themselves, even if that something can only be described by describing it (that is by employing language and thought); and, as Rorty ought to have seen, the belief that they do plays an essential role within language and thought themselves and, more importantly, within our lives.” Putnam, “The Question of Realism,” 297 (emphasis in original). Two things should be noted here: (1) Putnam does not say that whatever language and thought describe outside themselves has a character or nature apart from the describing; and (2) he explains the belief that there is something outside language and thought that they do describe as a belief that comes from within language and human practices. Finally, Putnam has more recently remarked that he finds the explanatory value of appealing to the form of something to be either “tautological or nonsensical.” Hilary Putnam, “Comments on John Haldane's Paper,” in Conant James and Zeglen Urszula M., eds., Hilary Putnam: Pragmatism and Realism (London and New York: Routledge, 2001), 108.
133 Putnam, “Sense, Nonsense, and the Senses,” 15. David Macarthur argues that natural realism is not merely common sense and that its success hinges on its ability to provide a more satisfying account of perception that can withstand skeptical threats motivated by the traditional realist/antirealist dispute. See Macarthur David, “Putnam's Natural Realism and the Question of a Perceptual Interface,” Philosophical Explorations 7, no. 2 (June 2004): 167–81.
134 Putnam does not clearly distinguish between (1) those metaphysical views that would overturn or replace our everyday practices and common-sense views and (2) those metaphysical views that seek to explain more deeply such practices and views. As a result, he does not fully appreciate that it is not necessary to reject metaphysics in order to show that realism needs no defense. Moreover, he does not fully realize that it is only by engaging in metaphysics of this latter sort and showing the errors of those who think that they can either deny or escape realism that a “second naïveté” can be achieved. As John Haldane has noted, “Realism with a human face requires the support of a metaphysical skull” (Haldane, “Realism with a Metaphysical Skull,” in Conant and Zeglen, eds., Hilary Putnam: Pragmatism and Realism, 97). Indeed, it has not been for lack of metaphysical investigation that philosophers in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition have argued that realism is perennial. As Etienne Gilson states: “The first step on the path of realism is to perceive that one has always been realistic; the second is to perceive that, whatever one does to become otherwise, one will never succeed; the third is to ascertain that those who do pretend to think otherwise, think in realistic terms as soon as they forget to act their part.” Gilson, “Vade Mecum of a Young Realist,” in Houde Roland and Mullally Joseph P., eds., Philosophy of Knowledge: Selected Readings (Chicago, Philadelphia, New York: J. B. Lippincott, 1960), 386.
This essay has benefited from the helpful suggestions of Douglas J. Den Uyl, Harry Dolan, David Gordon, Fred D. Miller, Jr., Ellen Paul, Tibor R. Machan, Jan Narveson, and the other contributors to this volume.
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