The essays that James Conant has selected for the present volume have been mainly written in the last four years; in this respect this volume differs from its companion volume Realism with a Hurnan Face (Harvard University Press, 1990), which consisted largely of papers written in the early 1980s. Yet there is a continuity between the two volumes. The preface to Realism with a Human Face explained that the view of truth I put forward in Reason, Truth, and History (1981)—the view that a statement is true if and only if acceptance of the statement would be justified were epistemic conditions good enough—was not “emphasized” in the papers in that volume, although metaphysical realism—the view that truth involves a fixed correspondence (a correspondence relation which is one and the same no matter what sort of statement is under consideration) to a fixed set of “objects” and “properties”—was repeatedly attacked. That much might be said to be even more true of the papers in this volume, since I no longer defend that theory of truth at all, while, as in the earlier volume, I continue to argue that metaphysical realism is not the friend of common-sense realism that it claims to be, and that, in many ways, metaphysical realism and the fashionable antirealisms stand in a symbiotic relation; philosophical illusions require one another for sustenance. Indeed, all the ideas listed in the last paragraph of the preface to Realism with a Human Face are as central to this volume as they were to the earlier volume (these were «that the fact/value dichotomy is untenable, that the fact/convention dichotomy is also untenable, that truth and justification of ideas are closely connected, that the alternative to metaphysical realism is not any form of skepticism, that philosophy is an attempt to achieve the good”). I also remarked that these ideas «have been long associated with the American pragmatist tradition” and that both James Conant and I want that tradition “to be more widely understood in all its manifold expressions”; the essays in Part III of the present volume continue the effort to realize that goal.
Nevertheless, there are significant differences, some of which will be evident from a glance at the table of contents, starting with the fact that the previous volume had only one historical section, while the present volume begins with three consecutive such sections. More significant, in my own view at least, are two other facts about these essays. One is the fact that the essays on “ethics and aesthetics” in the earlier volume were primarily attacks on the fact/value dichotomy, whereas the essays in Part III (“The Inheritance of Pragmatism”) of the present volume, while continuing the criticism of that dichotomy, go on to develop a positive view of the nature of social/ethical problems which I (together with Ruth Anna Putnam, the co-author of two of these papers) find in the writings of John Dewey. I say “social/ethical” rather than simply “ethical” because, as I remark in Chapter 8 (“Pragmatism and Moral Objectivity”), it is a feature of Dewey’s approach to blur the distinction: when we have solved a problem in our communal life, we may not know—or care—whether it was an “ethical” problem or not, and also because I would be the last person to claim that the social ethics that I so much admire in Dewey is all there is to ethics. The other fact is that many of the papers in the present volume (for example, those in Part VI, “Mind and Language,” as well as Chapters 14 and 15, “Realism without Absolutes” and “The Question of Realism”) attack illusions associated with the rhetoric of “cognitive science.” Indeed, even the papers in Part I (“The Return of Aristotle”) are concerned to attack the idea that intentionality, the directedness of thought to objects, is either to be reduced to facts of physics or to be “eliminated” as an illusion, and readers of the papers in Part I may want to look ahead at Chapter 24 (“Why Functionalism Didn’t Work”) as they read those papers. If there is a single unifying theme in this volume, it may well be the attack on a certain set of prejudices—prejudices which pretend to be “scientific,” but which confuse respect for science with uncritical acceptance of a materialist ideology.
I should like to say a word here about the reason for the “historical sections.” I am convinced that the history of philosophy is not only a history of gaining insights—and I do think philosophers gain insights—but also a history of neglecting, and even actively repressing, previously gained insights. It will be clear to the reader, I believe, how that view informs Part I (“The Return of Aristotle”) and-Part III (“The Inheritance of Pragmatism”). But what in the world, some may ask, is Part II (“The Legacy of Logical Positivism”) doing here? Am I saying that there were, after all, real insights in logical positivism? Was not logical positivism the chief expression in this century of the very scientism that I am concerned to attack?
To those questions my answers are, respectively, “yes” and “no.” There were real insights in logical positivism. Some of those insights are to be found in the course of Hans Reichenbach’s profound examination of the question “In precisely what sense is relativistic physics a refutation of the Kantian view that Euclidean geometry is synthetic a priori?” in Relativity Theory and Apriori Knowledge. And even if the attempts of some positivists to deductively “vindicate” induction failed, the investigations that resulted from those attempts represent the beginnings of modern formal learning theory, as I point out in Chapter 7 of the present volume, “Reichenbach’s and the Limits of Vindication.”
More important, some of the crude philosophical ideas that are rampant today—claims that neurobiology has solved the problem of intentionality, for example, or that the computer model of the mind has enabled us to answer metaphysical and epistemological questions—are more extreme (and cruder) versions of scientism than logical positivism ever was. Many philosophers think that because they have “refuted” a straw man version of logical positivism—refuted a doctrine that never actually existed in the form they describe—they cannot themselves possibly be guilty of the charge of scientism. (The real logical positivists, for example, did not need Thomas Kuhn to tail them that observation terms are “theory laden”—they had been saying that, in those very terms, since the early 1930s. And—see Chapter 6, “Reichenbach’s and the Myth of the Given”—far from accepting the idea of the given, they were its keenest critics.)
In saying there were real insights in logical positivism, I am not defending the verifiability theory of meaning, or the identification of cognitive value with predictive value, or the sharp fact/value dichotomy that characterized that tendency. But it is important to see why logical positivism really failed, for example, to see that positivism has a deep problem in refuting the charge of solipsism (this is the gravamen of Chapter 4, “Logical Positivism and Intentionality”); that some philosophers have failed to see this is evidenced, I believe, by the current revival of the “disquotational theory of truth”—that is, of a redundancy theory of truth coupled with an “assertibility conditions” account of understanding. (See Chapter 13, “Does the Disquotational Theory of Truth Solve All Philosophical Problems?” as well as Chapters 16 and 17, “On Truth” and “A Comparison of Something with Something Else,” for an explanation of this remark.)
Finally, I want to say a word about the fourth and the seventh parts of this volume. Part IV is not exactly “historical” although it does try to rescue Wittgenstein from persistent misinterpretations; rather it consists of papers in which I believe I have learned from Wittgenstein, though not from the stock Wittgenstein who has a “use theory of meaning” and a “disquotational theory of truth.” Indeed, the first paper in the section, Chapter 12 (“Rethinking Mathematical Necessity”), simultaneously corrects the way I myself misread Wittgenstein’s philosophy of mathematics in the past (for example, in “Philosophy of Mathematics: Why Nothing Works,” Chapter 28 of this volume), and presents a way of thinking about the issue that I find attractive; similarly, Chapters 14 and 15(“Realism without Absolutes” and «The Question of Realism”) correct the commonplace idea that Wittgenstein was an “antirealist” and begin to work out a way of thinking that I intend to follow up in the coming years. Finally, the papers in Part VII, although grouped together because in one way or another they all have to do with science and the impact of the idea of science on philosophy, also continue the antireductionist and broadly pluralistic themes of the preceding parts of the book.