Monday, August 14, 2006


It is often said that there is no one philosophical methodology. Kant said in the first critique that philosophers were foolish to treat their arguments as if they had mathematical rigor. I'm not sure if this has the same force now that it did then since the methods of mathematics and philosophy have changed somewhat. Both have become a bit more rigorous, although I am not familiar with the gritty details of pre-19th century mathematics.

Quine and Davidson argued that there are three dogmas of empiricism: the analytic-synthetic distinction, verificationism, and the scheme-content distinction. For a time, it was considered a knock down criticism of an idea to show that it presupposed the analytic-synthetic distinction. I'm not sure that it was ever that damning to show that something was verificationist. While in some areas, such as semantics or confirmation theory, verificiationism is untenable, there are some areas that seem to get along pretty well with it, i.e. intuitionistic logic and its ilk. Are there areas in which the scheme-content distinction is employed in this way? Davidson used it against Quine, but I think Quine changed his stance on some things afterwards. McDowell uses it some in Mind and World. Would it be a viable program to investigate what doctrines either presuppose one (or more) of the dogmas or entail one (or more) of them? I am thinking of something analogous to recursion theory. In recursion theory, there is something of a method to showing that some particular problem is not computable: show that a solution to that problem would yield a solution to the halting problem. Another, related method is to show that there is a diagonalizaiton argument applicable to the given problem which shows it to be uncomputable. While showing that a given doctrine presuppoes or entails a dogma wouldn't be as final a conclusion as the results in recursion theory, I think it would be illuminating. It also depends on how persuasive one thinks the arguments against the dogmas are. One example of a doctrine about which I wonder if it presupposes a dogma is situation semantics and the scheme-content distinction. There is some talk in situation semantics about categorizing a metaphysical heap (so to speak) with concepts, which sounds like scheme and content.

Another idea is to see what theses are equivalent to the dogmas, in roughly the same vein as one shows equivalences between various forms of the axiom of choice in set theory. For example, Quine argued that the analytic-synthetic distinction was equivalent to Carnap's language-internal/-external problem distinction. Some things Davidson said made it sound like the scheme-content distinction is equivalent to the myth of the given. Again, this might prove illuminating.

One problem with this idea is that if one does not have some allegiance to empiricism, it might not hold much water as criticism. For example, rationalists were probably not terribly moved by Quine's arguments against the analytic-synthetic distinction. At least, Sellars holds one version of the distinction and Brandom uses it without pause. Even so, I think there's something worth looking into with this idea.

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