The Science of Thought Vol. 1


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The rise of computational models of the mind, and functionalism, is nowhere in evidence. Kuhn is absent, as is the revolution in philosophy of science brought about by The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. And on and on. Fitting any of these developments into Soames's story would not only have lengthened his already long books, it would have interrupted the flow of his narrative.

Yet all these developments remain influential and important in the fragmented and specialized world of twenty-first century analytic philosophy. It is only from the point of view of one of contemporary philosophy's many balkanized fiefdoms that the story which ends with Kripke can appear as the story of twentieth-century philosophy. Soames tells us that "this history grew out of two lecture courses given at Princeton University. Offering a unified, linear narrative of progress makes a good deal of pedagogical sense.

A survey of the history of analytic philosophy often serves as an introduction to the field. In such a context it is natural to emphasize strands in the history leading up to one's own interests and preoccupations. Thus, it is unsurprising that Soames's culminating chapters on Kripke are as much about Soames's own works as about Naming and Necessity.

Soames concentrates on careful analysis and criticism of specific primary sources.

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This method, common and successful in the classroom, allows him to develop some compelling arguments, deserving careful study. Among others, his critique of Quine on indeterminacy of translation, and his honest and thorough treatment of difficulties with Kripke's arguments for the necessary a posteriori and the contingent a priori, are worthy of special mention.

Nonetheless, Soames's method does not always translate well from the lecture hall to the printed page. The books are uneven in many ways, reflecting Soames's varying level of expertise. This comes out in the lists of suggested additional readings appended to the twelve major parts of the two volumes. For example, the suggestions for Volume 1, Part Three, "Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus ," consist of one book and three articles.

While the one book, by Robert Fogelin, is a standard secondary source, the other pieces all discuss a fine point concerning the expressive capacity of Wittgenstein's logic -- an issue first raised in Fogelin's book. In contrast, the list of additional readings for Volume 2, Part Seven, "Saul Kripke on Naming and Necessity," includes 9 books and 36 articles.

The difference between these lists does not reflect the relative sizes of the two literatures, or the quality of the work. One is left to suppose that it reflects the state of Soames's own expertise. The introductory paragraphs of Soames's chapters exhibit another form of unevenness. Sometimes, Soames supplies a thumbnail biography of a philosopher "George Edward Moore was born the son of a doctor, in …" -- Vol. However, he includes such information for only about half of the authors he takes up.

Thus the reader learns, for example, that W.


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Ross was Provost of Oriel College Vol. This disparity can distort the reader's perception of a philosopher's relative importance: as far as one can gather from Soames, Strawson might have been a minor figure who co-authored a response to Quine and wrote a confused paper on truth.

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These are minor quibbles, however. More significant concerns also stem, in part, from the origin of these volumes in lectures. Soames sometimes engages in deliberate oversimplification of the sort that often helps to get across a point in a classroom. He presents "standard" interpretations without considering recent scholarship that casts them into doubt.

By focusing on his selected texts, he ignores other works by the same authors that might affect his interpretations. Finally, his desire to construct a narrative leading up to Kripke's culminating achievement sometimes blinds him to valuable insights of the philosophers he is discussing. All these faults are understandable given the constraints of a lecture course; but they are not so easily excused in a published history. I will illustrate these problems with Soames's discussions of four figures: Russell, Wittgenstein, Ryle, and Kripke.

He discusses Russell's theory of descriptions, his acquaintance-based epistemology, his reduction of mathematics to logic, his logical construction program, and his logical atomism. This is all very clearly written, and Soames makes pointed criticisms of Russell's applications of the theory of descriptions and of his use of logical constructions to account for knowledge of the external world. There is only one problem.

Much of what Soames says is just wrong. He acknowledges that he has oversimplified and modernized Russell's logic, presumably in an effort to make complex matters more accessible to the uninitiated. But his acknowledgments are inadequate and easy to miss, and the reader may easily come away with false beliefs about Russell's logic and his philosophy.

Soames's discussion of the theory of descriptions opens with a passage from The Principles of Mathematics in which Russell argues that it is either false or meaningless to deny existence -- to assert that A does not exist. Soames treats the problem of negative existentials as the motivation for the theory of descriptions, asserting that this theory allowed Russell to reject his earlier extreme realism. Although Russell did apply the theory of descriptions to negative existentials, his earlier theory of denoting concepts, found in Principles , was also capable of accounting for the meaningfulness and truth of denials of existence, as Russell realized prior to "On Denoting.

The opening and closing paragraphs of "On Denoting" make clear that, for Russell, the primary interest of the theory of descriptions lies in its ability to account for knowledge about things with which we are not directly acquainted. The problem of negative existentials motivates at most that part of "On Denoting" which covers definite descriptions. But Russell provides an account of all "denoting phrases," a class which includes indefinite descriptions "a horse" , and universal phrases "every doctor".

The latter are of particular interest to Russell since they involve our ability to think of all members of infinite totalities, even though we can't have acquaintance with every member of such classes. Before formally presenting the theory of descriptions, Soames introduces "Russell's Formal Language and Its Interpretation. Soames admits that "the truth conditions given here for propositions expressed by existential and universal generalizations, though Russellian in spirit, are more specific than any given by Russell himself. They employ ideas first explicitly developed by Alfred Tarski in the s.

One has to look to later logicians for this, not only for the treatment of the quantifiers. Moreover, Russell's logical language was never first-order logic with identity.

Description

Russell allowed higher-order quantification, and in Principia Mathematica identity is not a primitive predicate but is defined. Furthermore, although earlier Russell believed that sentences express non-linguistic propositions, from Principia through the rest of the period that Soames discusses, he rejected such theories.

Russell's difficulty, never mentioned by Soames, was in understanding how a non-linguistic proposition could be false. According to Soames, a relational proposition aRb is a complex consisting of the relation R and the objects a and b.

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Russell, consequently, replaced the theory of non-linguistic propositions with his "multiple-relation theory of judgment. He treated propositional attitudes not as two-place relations between a subject and a proposition, but as multigrade relations between a subject and the entities judged about. This theory, which appears in the Lectures on Logical Atomism , is not mentioned by Soames. He skirts the issue by referring only obscurely to Russell's attempts to deal with propositional attitudes: "Russell needed a new category of fact corresponding to … true propositional-attitude sentences … I will not present Russell's analysis of these sentences, and the facts corresponding to them.

Although it is quite interesting, it is also complicated. Russell himself had doubts about it, and never really completed his line of thought. Later, Soames boggles at skepticism about propositions -- yet here he has not given voice to the first proponent of such skepticism in the analytic tradition, Russell himself. Soames's falsification of Russell's views continues in his chapter on logicism. Soames first provides a formal language and theory of arithmetic. The theory consists of the five Peano axioms in their first-order form, with the induction postulate given as a schema.

Russell, however, used higher-order quantification and so could write the induction postulate as a single axiom. Soames goes on to present "Russell's System of Logic" to which arithmetic is to be reduced. Soames admits that while "the system I have described is close to the system that Russell actually used … it differs from it in important respects. However, Soames seriously underestimates his departures from Principia , in which both comprehension and extensionality are theorems , not axioms, and comprehension, like induction, can be expressed in a single axiom.

Thus Soames treats Russell's defined signs as primitive, and Russell's theorems as axioms. These errors reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of Russell's philosophy of logic. Soames sees the infinity axiom as "guaranteeing the existence of a sufficient number of logical objects" with which to identify the numbers. For Russell there are no logical objects : there are no numbers and there are no classes to identify them with. He provides a contextual definition of classes, modeled on the theory of descriptions. Through this definition, talk of classes is reduced to quantification over "propositional functions" -- roughly, to talk of properties.

This enables Russell to define class membership and to prove comprehension and extensionality. But the key point that Soames misses is that Russell's reduction of arithmetic to logic involves an ontological reduction of classes. Since this reduction was the prototype for the method of logical constructions employed in Russell's external-world program, Soames also misses an opportunity to shed light on that program, by falsifying Russell's view of classes.

Soames's misrepresentation of Russell is completed with his account of the theory of types. Hence what he presents is Ramsey's simple theory of types: we have a basic type of individuals, and then types of sets of individuals, sets of sets of individuals, and so on. Russell, however, came to see his paradox as part of a broader family of self-referential antinomies including such paradoxes as the Liar.

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