Dividing Reality: Preface
Hirsch (Eli)
Source: Hirsch - Dividing Reality, 1993, Preface
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Preface (Full Text)

  1. This book deals with a certain philosophical question that I call the division problem. Roughly, the question is why it seems reasonable for us to have words that classify and individuate in ordinary ways rather than other ways. The question may be viewed as Kantian in its general orientation but, in its specific content, I venture to suggest at the end of chapter 1 that the division problem is in a sense a "new problem." This is a somewhat awkward remark for an author to make. I make it because I have often found in the past that people react to the division problem by confusing it with a number of other problems that have been widely discussed in the literature, such as the problem of projectibility, or various issues of ontology. I am therefore obliged to state forthrightly that the problem I am trying to get at is distinct from these. If any other author has seriously addressed the division problem, I am not aware of it. The reader must judge, of course, whether this problem has the significance I assign to it.
  2. I can try to give a prefatory inkling of what I think is the essential novelty of the division problem. The problem is about the rational basis for the ordinary classificatory and individuative functions of general words. In an important sense I am asking a question about (part of) the lexicon of languages, about the rational basis for having certain kinds of general words (or morphemes) rather than others. I am asking, for instance, whether there is any reason why we ought to have a word for green things rather than a word for things that are either green or circular. Philosophers from Aristotle to Locke to Kripke and Putnam have said many things about the standard functions of general words in a language — about the standard classificatory and individuative roles of words — but have scarcely addressed the question whether there are any good reasons why a language ought to have words that function in those standard ways. Why have philosophers generally not concerned themselves with this question?
  3. My impression is that there are two perplexingly contradictory impulses at work here. On the one hand, some philosophers may immediately assume, prior to any serious examination of the matter, that there can be no philosophically important constraints on the lexical features of languages, that these features are either arbitrary or at best reflect some trivial pragmatic facts of little philosophical interest. I think that this assumption will seem intuitively plausible only insofar as one ignores central cases, as if one ignores the air we breathe and concludes that gases are not important to us. Of course, there are many peripheral features of a language's lexicon which do seem arbitrary and unimportant, but the most central features seem to reflect fundamental constraints on the structure of language and thought. That seems, at any rate, to be the intuitive judgment when one considers the sorts of examples that I will introduce in the first chapter. Intuitively, it is plausible to suppose that the range of permissible lexicons is severely restricted by important philosophical considerations.
  4. But there may be an opposite impulse at work in rendering the division problem inconspicuous to philosophers. It may be felt that, at least with respect to the most central lexical features of languages, the relevant constraints are indeed important but are so obvious and so compelling that there is no need to belabor them. I am confident, however, that this book will show, if nothing else, that there is nothing obvious to be said on this topic. The nature of the constraints on lexicons is a fundamental question for philosophy.
  5. The general structure of the book is as follows;
    • In chapter 1, I introduce the division problem and try to give a preliminary idea of some of its implications.
    • Chapter 2 relates the problem to certain questions about projectibility, similarity, and ostensive definitions.
    • In chapters 3 and 4, two kinds of "reality's joints" are discussed: "natural properties" in the former chapter and "natural things" in the latter. Chapter 3 also explores certain connections between the division problem and the nature of explanation, and chapter 4 connects the problem to questions about semantic compositionality and the inscrutability of reference.
    • In chapter 5, I formulate and criticize a number of pragmatist reactions to the problem. Readers who, after completing chapter 1, are thoroughly convinced that the only sensible response to the division problem is pragmatic might want to jump directly to chapter 5, most of which is independent of the intermediary chapters, and afterward return to chapter 2. (But, other things being equal, it would be preferable to read the book straight through.)
    • Chapter 6 presents a certain theory of propositional structure and relates this to claims that some concepts necessarily depend on others. I take the material in this chapter to provide the basis for the most serious response to the division problem.
    • This response is explored further in chapter 7, which also relates the division problem to issues of ontology.
    • The three appendices contain somewhat more technical or narrowly focused material related, respectively, to chapters 2, 3, and 6.
  6. No one who writes a philosophy book can be consciously aware of more than a small minority of the major presuppositions that shape the work, but it may be worth trying to state one or two that are especially important. Throughout this book I presuppose the intelligibility of the notions of a priority and (metaphysical) necessity. In this respect, I presuppose at least the most general epistemological and metaphysical framework of "Kripke (Saul) - Naming and Necessity" (1980). At the very outset I formulate the division problem in terms of the notion of a priori necessary equivalence, and in all that follows I make frequent use of the notions of a priority and necessity. Nowhere in the book are these notions challenged or even carefully explained. This may be viewed as a limitation of the book but should not be viewed as a mistake or oversight. Even in philosophy, there must be some division of labor. I presuppose here a framework that has been widely influential and that I regard as correct. Of course, this framework ought to be critically evaluated, but not by me in this book. I have sometimes considered whether the issues discussed here could be reframed, say, by substituting some Quinean notion of paraphrase for a priori necessary equivalence. I think this could be done at least to a significant extent, but I have not attempted to pursue it. It should be understood that while the Kripkean notions of a priority and necessity are what I require to pose the division problem, later chapters in the book may perhaps imply that, in order to solve the problem, other traditional notions are required, such as prepositional structure or synonymy.
  7. A second presupposition is of a methodological sort, something roughly to the following effect: Philosophical problems and questions are valuable in their own right, even if no definite solution to them seems forthcoming. Let me explain why I am saying this. The division problem exemplifies a pattern that is quite common in philosophy. We start out with an intuitive judgment and then find that this judgment is hard to clarify and defend. If the judgment is about something of philosophical significance, we have a philosophical problem. The problem of the external world and the problem of induction can readily be seen as exemplifying this pattern. The relevant intuitive judgment in the case of the division problem is that there are rational constraints on how the words of a language ought to classify and individuate. That this is our strong intuition can be brought out by reflecting on the kinds of examples that I present throughout chapter I. It seems obvious that the intuition concerns something of philosophical importance. And we will find that it is hard to clarify or defend the intuition. So we have here a philosophical problem, the division problem. Any problem of this general sort admits of two kinds of responses: A "straight" solution attempts to clarify and defend the relevant intuition; a "skeptical" solution rejects the intuition. ("Kripke (Saul) - Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language", 1982, pp. 66-67.) Someone who adopts a skeptical solution to the division problem is called a "relativist" in this book.
  8. Many of the sections in this book do not deal directly with the division problem but deal with various ancillary issues, such as natural properties and things, the inscrutability of reference, the structure of propositions, the nature of ontology, and the projectibility of terms. With regard to these matters I often attempt to defend a definite position or theory. But as regards the division problem itself, I wind up taking no definite stand. To a large extent my discussions are negative, attempting to show that various tempting answers to the problem are unsatisfactory. In the final two chapters (and in the third appendix) I develop, as far as I am able, a theory which I regard as the only real hope for a straight solution to the problem. But, for the reasons given in the last chapter, I do not see how to work out this theory successfully. Nevertheless, the strength of the initial intuitions about the problem, especially when buttressed by considerations that come out of the last two chapters, make the skeptical, relativist response to the problem seem unacceptable to me.
  9. This book, therefore, does not offer a definite answer to the central question it raises. It strikes me that a mathematician who spent ten years working on an intuitive theorem but could neither prove it nor disprove it would probably not write a book on the topic. I assume, however, that finding out and highlighting what we do not understand has been an essential part of philosophy going back to Socrates. I accept Thomas Nagel's judgment that in philosophy "one should trust problems over solutions," and the best one can do is "try to maintain a desire for answers, a tolerance for long periods without any" and "an unwillingness to brush aside unexplained intuitions" ("Nagel (Thomas) - Mortal Questions: Preface", 1979, pp. x, xi.) I would be content if this book succeeds in both presenting the division problem and discouraging quick or glib responses to it.
  10. It scarcely needs saying that, even if the problem I am here addressing is in some ways novel, virtually all of the ideas that I apply to it are derived in one way or another from other people.
  11. Several philosophers commented on drafts of this book, and I want to express my debt to them. George Bealer, Georges Dicker, and Jerry Samet gave me extensive comments on various portions of the book, which led to fundamental revisions. I thank James van Cleve for commenting on almost all of the penultimate draft. I am also grateful for help with particular chapters provided by Alan Berger, Peter Unger, and David Wong.

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