25 March 2012

"Unclear statements don't get a bit clearer by being repeated!"

Wittgenstein's crack about Principia Ethica came to mind while reading this interview with Kit Fine:

Part of the problem here is that terms like ‘exists’ and ‘real’ are used in many different ways, especially in philosophy. For me, the fundamental question of ontology is not ‘what is there?’ but ‘what is real?’. But what do I mean by ‘real’?

As a first stab, I would say that what is real is what one must make reference to in giving a description of reality. Thus suppose you were a platonist and thought that reality included facts about numbers, such as that 2 + 2 = 4. Then numbers for you would be real. This is to explain the real in terms of reality. But what is reality? Here perhaps the best I can do is to explain the role of reality in metaphysical thinking.

Reality is what accounts, in the most perfect way possible, for everything that is the case. Suppose, for example, that I thought that the existence of a chair consisted in nothing more than certain atoms arranged in the shape of a chair. Then this would strongly suggest that reality did not include the existence of a chairs, since I could account for their existence in other terms.
I am impressed by how resolutely unclear this is: Every sentence seems like it might be the worst of the bunch.

3AM's interviews are odd. I don't know what determines their selection of subjects. The Setiya and Teichmann interviews were both pretty good, though.


Duck said...

When I was in grad school I went to a lecture by Fine. He spoke without notes, just lectured about what he was thinking about at the time. Earlier that week I had expressed to a visiting professor my frustration with traditional and/or analytic approaches to philosophy, and after Fine's talk he said to me:

Him: I bet that just about made your head explode [or something like that]
Me: You have no idea.

The talk was actually helpful in that way: I was sitting there thinking "either a) this guy is doing philosophy very, very poorly, or b) this is not philosophy at all, or c) this is simply a very different kind of thing than what I do, but may still (1) count as philosophy and (2) be done well." I'm still not sure about the answer, but that was the first time that that sort of thing had struck me as so utterly alien as to render a judgment on (a) (or (c2) for that matter) impossible. He remains my poster child for that syndrome to this day.

Ben W said...

I still haven't read the Setiya interview; the link to it on Leiter mentioned that in it he talks about Anscombe, and I find reading him on her just incredibly aggravating for various reasons. But it was good, huh.

Daniel Lindquist said...

It was a low-level aggravation for me. Just enough of an irritant to give a pleasing frisson.