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Putnam (1994) Sense Nonsense Senses

Putnam (1994) Sense Nonsense Senses

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Published by LF619513
Putnam (1994) Sense Nonsense Senses
Putnam (1994) Sense Nonsense Senses

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Published by: LF619513 on Jan 22, 2014
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Journal of Philosophy, Inc.
Sense, Nonsense, and the Senses: An Inquiry into the Powers of the Human MindAuthor(s): Hilary PutnamSource:
The Journal of Philosophy,
Vol. 91, No. 9 (Sep., 1994), pp. 445-517Published by: Journal of Philosophy, Inc.Stable URL:
Accessed: 22/02/2009 03:23
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The Journalof Philosophy.
- _________________
"No theory is kind to us that cheats us of
he besetting sin of philosophers seems to be throwing the
baby out with the bathwater. From the beginning, each "new wave" of philosophers has simply ignored the insights of the previous wave in the course of advancing its own. Today, we stand near the end of a century in which there have been many new insights in philosophy; but at the same time there has been an unprecedented forgetting of the insights of previous centuries and millennia. It would be absurd, however, to make the reactionary move of try- ing to believe what philosophers who lived two hundred or two thou- sand years ago believed. AsJohn Dewey would have told us, they lived under wholly different conditions and faced wholly different prob- lems, and such a return is impossible in any case. And even if it were possible to go back, to do so would be to ignore the correct criticisms of the abandoned positions that were made by later generations of philosophers. But I want to urge that we attempt to understand and, to the extent that it may be humanly possible, to overcome the pat-
* The Dewey Lectures at Columbia University, given March 22, 24, 29, 1994. Warm thanks to James Conant for his painstaking criticism of the successive drafts and helpful suggestions. Among others who assisted with criticisms, suggestions, and information at one point or another are Burton Dreben, Sam Fleischaker, Richard Heck, Ernie Lepore, David Macarthur, Sidney Morgenbesser, Alva Noe, Robert Nozick, Dan O'Connor, and, as always, Ruth Anna Putnam. My apologies to anyone whose help I may have forgotten to acknowledge. I Henty James to Robert Louis Stevenson, anuary 12, 1891, in Henty ames: elected Letters, eon Edel, ed. (Cambridge: Harvard, 987), p. 242. 0022-362X/94/9109/445-517 ? 1994 TheJournal of Philosophy, Inc.
tern of "recoil" that causes philosophy to leap from frying pan to fire, from fire to a different frying pan, from different frying pan to a dif- ferent fire, and so on, apparently without end.2 In these lectures, I shall try to show what such understanding and overcoming might involve by examining the central metaphysical issue of realism. That issue is especially suited to this purpose, because current exam- ples of the "recoil" phenomenon are so plentiful in connection with the topic. Philosophers who recoil from the excesses of various ver- sions of metaphysical realism have recoiled to a variety of very peculiar positions
deconstruction being currently the most famous, but one could also mention Nelson Goodman's "irrealism," or Michael Dummett's "antirealism," as examples of a similar recoil on the part of some analytic philosophers. And philosophers who recoil from what they see as the loss of the world in these antirealisms have embraced such mysterious notions as "identity across metaphysically possible worlds" and "the absolute conception of the world."3 Today, the humanities are polarized as never before, with the majority of the "new wave" thinkers in literature departments celebrating deconstruc- tion
feminism ... and the majority of the analytic philosophers celebrating materialism
cognitive science
the metaphysical mysteries just mentioned. And no issue polarizes the humanities - and, increasingly, the arts as well
as much as realism, described as "logocentricism" by one side and as the "defense of the idea of objective knowledge" by the other. If, as I believe, there is a way to do justice to our sense that knowledge claims are responsible to reality without recoiling into metaphysical fantasy, then it is important that we find that way. For there is, God knows, irresponsibility enough in the world, including irresponsibility masquerading as responsibility, and it belongs to the vocation of the thinker, now as always, to try to teach the difference between the two. I began by saying that we have lost insights as well as gained them in the course of the philosophical debate (indeed, that is an essential part of the phenomenon I am calling "recoil" - when one is domi- nated by the feeling that one must put as much distance as possible between oneself and a particular philosophical stance, one is not like-
The term 'recoil' has been used in this connection by John McDowell in his Mind and World Cambridge: Harvard, 1994). Although I do not wish to hold McDowell responsible for my formulations in the present lectures, I want to acknowledge the pervasive influence of his work, which has reinforced my own interest in natural realism in the theory of perception
an interest which was first reawakened by thinking about the views of WilliamJames. ' Saul Kripke, David Lewis, and Bernard Williams being, perhaps, the most influ- ential producers of these mysterious notions at this time.

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