Last weekend a friend of mine surprised me by confessing to have an interest in philosophy (which surprised me, I thought all he was interested in was traveling and fly-fishing) and recommended a book, Philosophy of Language , by Scott Soames. I am wondering, what do folks here think of Soames and of his book, Philosophy of Language?
Epistemology and the philosophy of science are my main philosophical interests, but I have read Kripke’s Naming and Necessity (at Ali’s urging) several years ago (LOVED it!) and am ready for another book on the general subject of philosophy of language and (because another friend of mine recommended it) I was about to purchase Soames’ book, but thought to pass it by y’all first just to make sure (if I can) that it is a good choice.
If anyone has a better “one book read” suggestion on the philosophy of language, please let me know.
I’d ask what he means by ‘philosophy’.
Soams seems a little advanced for the common reader. I’d recommend Durant’s Story Of Philosophy.
Furthermore, I think it’s also assumptive, since the entire anglo-analytical framework is a branch of logic, and is currently under significant attack, as either simply tautologically descriptive, or a as a deductive toolset. And as non-advisory and non-predictive, it’s questionable whether it has ethical content – meaning it’s questionable wither it can be used to determine action on it’s own, or whether it is a branch of logic to assist one in criticizing ethical action oriented statements in the face of a future about which one has insufficient knowledge. The counter proposition is best covered by Brand Blanchard (Yale) in Reason and Analysis, which is one of the best criticisms of the movement.
Axis A) The historical Position is covered by Aristotle, Toynbee, Durant, Quigley, Gibbon, Braudel, Spengler, McNeil and, to add some depth Pomeranz, Mokyr, and Armstrong. The historians represent each of their cultural biases (french, english, american and german) but as a set are useful. To some degree weber belongs here to as he compared religions worldwide.
Axis B) The ethical position is covered best by Marx and his disciples on the one end of the triangle (the peasantry), or Popper, Hayek, mises, rothbard, and perhaps Sowell and Parsons on the second (the middle class), and aristotle, machiavelli, sorel, michels, burnham, pareto, and weber on the third (nobility). The problem of the social sciences is stated by hume, but originates in the christian scholastics. He calls it induction. But that is an insufficient explanation of the problem which has distracted minds for centuries now. The technical solution to the social sciences was recommended by weber, and unfortunately the tool being used is largely quantitative economics – ie:trade, despite the fact that the status economy, the differences in IQ distribution among the classes, the power struggle between class elites, and the knowledge economy are as important as the monetary and trade economies.
Axis C) In understanding ethics and politics it may be useful to understand that equality and the attempt to obtain power by claims for equality are the primary source of distraction in ethics. There are only three coercive technologies available to man, and that they are best exploited by different classes: inclusion/ostracization and access to opportunity and insurance or what we call moral coercion (talking), as practiced by the poorest classes. Remunerative coercion (money) as practiced by the moneyed and merchant classes. And violent coercion (law, violence, contract, and military action) as practiced by the managerial classes. The elites in each class use their own form of coercion and the three hierarchies constantly compete with one another to get their elites into power. This is perhaps the most easily applied means of analyzing human collective behavior.
Contemporary philosophy as a discipline, is a tool for making one fit, but not for accomplishing anything alone. However, utility and wisdom in life’s actions are derived from a comparative study of history, wherein we discover what men actually do with the scribblings of philosophers. As Will Durant said after writing his history of philosophy: “I was interested in philosophy, but after my research, realized that there were no answers there. The answers are in history: the record of what men do.”
I came to a similar conclusion and found that human sensation, perception, and reason is so limited that we have had to construct a number of terribly complex technologies that allow us to categorize, remember and compare those complexities that our hunter-gatherer biology was insufficient to sense, perceive, compare and calculate on it’s own. These tools include various complex contents of language, the narrative causal explanation, counting numbers, arithmetic, mathematics, accounting, and the iterative research program tools that we call the scientific method. POlitically we have invented various devices: ethics, morals, property, religious scripture, rhetorical debate, logic and it’s branches. Beyond the limits of perception and comparison of rhetoric, debate and politics, where we have exceeded the limits of those tools of consent, we have invented tools of cooperation in the extended order of others that we cannot sense or perceive, but must cooperate with none the less: the means of cooperating with entirely abstract perceptions: money, banking, prices, interest, contract, and abstract rule of law, and abstract property rights and options. We have invented all these technologies, mostly by accident, in order to solve the problems of coordinating our activities in a vast and complex division of knowledge and labor – because we must coordinate in that vast complex division of labor, because w are not wealthier than our cave men ancestors in the only human asset ‘time’ – we are simply vastly more productive, and have made everything vastly less expensive. The extent of that division is so vast that it is incomprehensible to the human mind. We have invented forms of ‘calculation’ (in the wider sense) in all fields of knowledge, and ‘the scientific method’ is little more than an accounting system and accounting principles for different branches of human inquiry such as Law, religious doctrine, physical science, history, and even music and the arts: any venture where the past must be categorized and compared to the current circumstance, so that it may be used to either make choices in, or to forecast the future. Linguistic philosophy is but one tool in that arsenal, and to view it as more than an epistemic device for the analysis and criticism of our accounting method is an act of intellectual egoism or myopia that borders on immoral and unethical.
The fundamental problem of human existence is ethics – actions. Ethics is the underlying problem of the social sciences. So far, we have succeeded in our efforts to understand the physical sciences – the act of discovery, more than we have succeeded in our social sciences – the act of invention. To some degree the physical sciences are no longer a ‘problem’ but simply work. The social sciences, or the act of invention, is on the other hand, fraught with difficulty. Largely because we knew only the tools of the much more simplistic physical sciences, and it’s perception extending technology of calculus, and for a century or more have been erroneously attempting to apply the methods of the physical sciences to the social sciences, without the understanding that those tools are far too limited to assist us in the process of cooperation and invention. And the stress created upon our societies by this divergent progress, has left our social orders in conflict as our breeding rates and opportunities expand faster than our wisdom and our tools of sensation, perception, calculation and ethical decision making, as well as our tools of politics and political systems, commerce, contract, property and trade.
As such, the question of philosophy has been lost in academic philosophy’s attempt to apply the principles of discovery to the process of invention, largely so that the field may find academic (ie:social status) legitimacy among the new harder physical sciences, rather than be relegated to the ‘arts’. And for that reason, philosophy has been lost for almost a century – in a futile attempt to legitimize itself as a methodology rather than as a practical tool for solving meaningful human problems. And as such it has become either a puzzle (as is much of higher mathematics) a form of self-referential entertainment, or a religion which to hide oneself like brahmins and buddhists, from material reality. All religions often need a reformation. And contemporary philosophy is one of them. (as can be easily discerned by reading a random sampling of papers.)
One reason that ethical and political philosophers seek to find absolute statements in philosophical content is best seen in the contrast between western natural law (political), eastern natural law (familial), and everyone else’s ‘law’ which is more doctrinal (tribal). Most philosophical doctrines simply attempt to rationalize cultural preferences. For example, despite all our academic emphasis, it turns out that the german model of social order is better than the anglo-american model of social order, despite losing two wars, the german emphasis on mastery in the working class is the most effective social model – the upper classes take care of themselves. Anglo emphasis on the middle class, and everyone else’s emphasis on the peasantry, turn out to be less effective in maintaining competitive advantage and are driven by social status sentiments rather than reason. Therefore, as an ethical statement, the only measure of a philosophy is the economic status of its adherents.
The number of ideas I’ve posited here are too large, perhaps, but it’s only by such positioning that it’s possible to justify the recommendation that no book on philosophy is terribly helpful. While the problem of human social cooperation and individual fulfillment is ancient, and while we have made great progress int eh social sciences, we have been distracted by a significant number of philosophical errors: ie: we have incorrectly either defined the problem, or applied the wrong tools or both. The fundamental problem of philosophy is action, and action requires categorization, calculation, forecast, and cooperation in vast numbers. And most philosophical doctrines attempt to simplify the number of axis in order to fit the limits available to the craft. Because the craft has not made use of tools that will allow it to extend its perception. Language in particular is somewhat interesting because all language constructs are analogies to perception, and as such are limited by perception.
Hopefully there is something interesting for you to work with in this posting.
PS: again,thanks to all here who have helped me.