Monday, November 24, 2014

Reply to two Comments
In 1976, when I delivered the John Locke Lectures at Oxford, I often spent time with Peter Strawson, and one day at lunch he made a remark I have never been able to forget. He said, "Surely half the pleasure of life is sardonic comment on the passing show".  This blog is devoted to comments, not all of them sardonic, on the passing philosophical show.
Hilary Putnam

Reply to a Comment by Sanjit Chakraborty
 You write, "Like you, I also agree that an expert has the comprehensive grasp of meaning (better understanding of the extension of the term) whereas an ordinary person has a partial grasp of meaning (e.g., of the term water)." But that isn't "like me". I deny that an expert has a more comprehensive grasp of the meaning of  water.
Yet I do not deny that an expert (when the science is sufficiently mature) "has a better understanding of the extension of the term".
  The purpose of the post you commented on was to explain why agreeing with you about the latter does not require me to agree with  you about the former. The reason is that understanding the extension of a term is not, in the case of natural kinds, linguistic knowledge at all. It is chemical, or metallurgical, or physical knowledge, but not linguistic knowledge, although the successful division of linguistic labor depends on some individuals possessing it, and other speakers being properly linked to them.

Reply to a Comment by Nathaniel Baird
You write, “I recall you saying in response to Wright that both BIVs (assuming they are referring to computer processes, or whatever) and non-BIVs (when they are speaking about what BIVs refer to) are talking about the same thing, but using different descriptions. 
And so would you say that there is a fundamental problem in attempting to talk strictly about the "extensions," rather than the descriptions?
   My answer is that we can talk about gold and not only about descriptions of gold because we are causally linked to gold in ways that facilitate both perception and cognition. You continue, “Do we avoid skepticism by showing that the skeptic must be assuming he/she can be referring to these extensions? What sense does it make to talk about what-we-refer-to-out-in-the-world?”
And my answer is (1) that if “avoiding skepticism” means giving the skeptic an answer that the skeptic herself must accept, then that is something one shouldn’t try to do. Hume was right about that one. But if it means showing  that the skeptic doesn’t have an argument the non-skeptic must accept, then I believe that can and should be done. (Hume missed that one.) My Brain in A Vat [BIV] argument was part of doing that. And as for “What sense does it make to talk about what-we-refer-to-out-in-the-world?” the answer, I repeat, is that we can talk about gold and not only about descriptions of gold because we are causally linked to gold in ways that facilitate both perception and cognition. And I defend this claim simply by defending scientific realism. (See “On Not Writing Off Scientific Realism” in Philosophy in an Age of Science.)

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