Sunday, January 4, 2015

Husserl thought of Twin Earth! 
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

Dagfinn Føllesdal informs me that Husserl had the Twin Earth thought experiment in mind in 1911!

Husserl wrote,
“But how is it, if on two celestial bodies two people in surroundings that seem to be totally similar, conceive of “the same” objects and adjust their utterances accordingly? Does not the “this” in these two cases have a different meaning?
It is some comfort, however, that I could not have know this in 1972, the year in which I wrote the first complete draft of “The Meaning of ‘Meaning’”, for, as Føllesdal writes[1],
Husserl’s manuscript was printed in 1987, long after Putnam had put forth his twin earth example.  Before then it was known only to a few Husserl specialists, and the examples had never been mentioned in the philosophical discussion.  So Putnam got the idea independently.

[1] Dagfinn Føllesdal, “Husserl and Putnam on Twin Earth”, forthcoming in Themes from Putnam, Michael Frauchiger (ed.), Ontos.


  1. I first encountered that very passage from Husserl in a paper by Christian Beyer entitled "Husserl's Weak Internalism about Singular Empirical Belief," which he read to a workshop at Corpus Christi College in Oxford in 1997 for which I was the commentator. The workshop was organized by Martin Davies and if I remember correctly it was a joint venture between Hamburg and Oxford and the participants were graduate students of Davies and Wolfgang Künne. I remember being amazed at the time when I read the quotation from Husserl in Beyer's paper. I don't know whether the paper (or the part on Husserl and the celestial bodies) was ever published.

  2. Sean, this may not be exactly the paper, but it is by Christian Beyer, in the same general area, and published in 1997: