New Frontiers: A Collection of Tales About the Past, the Present, and the Future

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Thus, the liar paradox. Kripke outlined another example: Bertrand Russell once asked his eminent colleague G.

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Moore if Moore always told the truth. When Moore said no, Russell replied that Moore's answer was the only lie he had ever told. This celebrated exchange between the philosophers can easily be paradoxical: If Moore's life had been an unbroken string of true statements, then his denial would be his first lie and his admission of the lie would simultaneously be another truth. Kripke toyed briefly with the implications of the paradox and then showed that it is not merely a trivial loop in semantics. An unfavorable set of facts can generate paradox and make it impossible to specify conditions for assessing the truth of almost any sentence.

His mental gymnastics were spellbinding, as though he were waving sparklers in the dark spots of the brain. All this—the crowd, excitement and audience reaction—was unprecedented for a philosophical gathering in America. Kripke was special, and he was bridging great gaps in the field. His paper would have been of little use to Pontius Pilate. But Kripke captivated the nontechnical philosophers, too, with his liveliness and passion. He darted about the stage like a nervous entertainer, jerky and somewhat awkward of body.

His presence was a mixture of boyish enthusiasm and formidable confidence.

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His heard showed sprouts of gray, but his longish hair gave him the look of a hippie prophet. He was dressed like a schoolboy in slacks and open shirt with heavy brogans, in contrast to the more formally attired elders who pay him homage. The audience generously granted him such affectations, which, in Kripke's case, carry the mark of something special—a runaway mind being chased by character.

He did not obscure the intuitive sense of his argument behind a cloud of jargon arid Greek symbols. Kripke communicates with large numbers of people without excluding any of them unnecessarily. He was well into his lecture before the untrained had to take things on faith and the technical philosophers got their due. Then he sketched his theory of. Kripke took the linguistic philosophers through several mathematical somersaults, to their joy, while the others could only admire the grandeur of the venture.

New Frontiers: A Collection of Tales About the Past, the Present, and the Future by Ben Bova

David Kaplan, chairman of the philosophy department at U. Not long after the truth lecture, president Frederick Seitz took steps to abolish his entire philosophy program at Rockefeller University, where Kripke had worked since Seitz notified Kripke and the three other tenured philosophy professors that they would do well to seek employment elsewhere. The philosophers accepted a generous settlement, swallowed their pride and moved on. Rockefeller's trustees announced that they were paring the university down to a core group of the life sciences, but the philosophy group was the only one to be removed en masse the logic group was slowly dissolved.

He went to Princeton, where he spent the past academic year. Saul Kripke found himself, in effect, fired. He had been celebrated and written about in , when he became the youngest philosopher to give the John Locke lectures at Oxford, but at home he held less than a special place. His treatment brought a rude shock to philosophy — what observers elsewhere might feel if some credit agency were to dump Jimmy Carter and his belongings out on Pennsylvania Avenue. It was not that philosophers have no heritage of controversy. From Socrates to the free thinkers, they have had their martyrs — not counting all those who still die in the name of one philosopher or another, such as Marx.

Other philosphers have been fired. Cambridge fired Bertrand Russell in for his pacifistic views on World War I; two years later, Russell served six months in jail for insulting the United States, Britain's wartime ally. It was in fact the absence of controversy that was surprising, and humiliating to the profession.

The Rockefeller philosophers were eased out quietly, there was no outcry, and university spokesmen defended the action as an economy move. Neither crude national pride nor reverence for the heirs of Aristotle protected Kripke and his colleagues.


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Times have changed since John Dewey was such a national fixture that it is hard to imagine his being quietly fired under any circumstances. The beam of philosophy, which illuminated the Western mind in ancient Greece and which provided guiding light for science and progress in Europe. Certainly the profession is now held in low esteem. Norman Bowie, executive secretary of the American Philosophical Association, says that philosophy has been singled out for special abuse during the current fiscal crunch in American academia.

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Elsewhere, philosophy courses have been gobbled up by political scientists, logicians and even English professors. College administrators have grown accustomed to picking on the philosophers. Bowie estimates that there are more than 2, unemployed philosophers in the country. Every year, eight new philosophers compete for each job opening. At a recent convention, a caucus of unemployed philosophers debated a series of desperate proposals.

One graduate student shouted that the profession would never get on its feet until philosophers realized that they are oppressed as part of the working class. Then a nattily dressed and securely employed professor read a formal paper urging his listeners to take comfort from the fact that unemployment in philosophy is not real. The philosophical mode lives on even in the midst of hardship. It has always been my ambition. Marcus of Yale that sympathetic embarrassment for the man wafted through the room.

Philosophical debates often resemble two people racing up ladders of air to reach the superior height, from which position the loser can be dismissed out of hand. At a rarefied seminar in England, a philosopher of language once presented a formal lecture in which he announced that a double negative is known to mean a negative in some languages and a positive in others but that no natural language had yet been discovered in which a double positive means a negative.

He would suffer afterward from the philosophical equivalent of the Ralph Branca syndrome. Morgenbesser is a feared counterexample man. The cycle of assertion and riposte never ends. This in itself can be reassuring — like taking a drive out of the city and finding that the earth is still being plowed — but the philosophers always seem to wind up back at ground zero.

Such journeys, forever circular, give rise to the stereotype of the philosopher as someone who, when pushed, has nothing more to offer about life than an honest shrug of the shoulders. Because such a stereotype prevails, ordinary philosophers get fired and pushed around on campuses, and the genius of a philosopher like Saul Kripke is neglected outside the profession. In a metaphorical tribute to their supremacy, the language philosophers and the Association of Symbolic Logic were assigned to the Hilton's Sky Top Room at the New York convention, while the Marxists, the radicals and the caucus of the unemployed were relegated to a basement room called the Play Penn.

They also prize the mathematician's inspiration which partially accounts for their awe of Kripke. Then you solve it and you're thrilled. For me, it's like parachuting. The same pure oxygen can motivate the study of language. You see all kinds of colors and tangles and shapes—things growing every conceivable way. He sees a structure to all the plants, an order to them. It seems like an amazing thing to me that there can be a science of botany—that there can be an order to it —but there is.

People said the same thing about natural language, and about the possibility of it science and making it all logical.

There's a lot of order. It's complex but it's not a jungle. Analytic philosophy is an adventure that promises to free the discipline from its nomadic wanderings and vast cosmological speculations, to give it a home of solid doctrine at last. Even if some philosopher were to conjure up a magnificent new world view, it would last only until the next counterexample washed it away.


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  • Besides, social philosophy often seems incompatible with philosophical reason and dispassion. Philosophers who step out into contemporary affairs have a habit of making fools of themselves, or worse. His international tribunal, which convicted Lyndon Johnson of war crimes in Vietnam, was widely considered a laughingstock, expecially within the profession, although many of its factual allegations were subsequently proved true. And many in the profession wince at the memory of a band of Harvard philosophers who went out and joined the Progressive Labor Party in the 's.

    Analytic philosophers may have their own ethical views, but it seems wise to divorce them from the task of building a scientific foundation for the discipline. Such is the position of the establishment, and dissenters of many stripes inveigh against it. In the past 10 years, philosophical hippies burst into American Philosophical Association conventions and placed copulating dogs in the midst of the astonished professors to show them how far the profession has removed itself from the rhythms of life.

    Some veteran philosophers, in a less urgent way, have criticized the dominant strain in the profession for being dull.


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    • Arthur Danto of Columbia. Saul Kripke, from the apex of analytic philosophy, inspires those around him who are committed to the partnership between philosophy and mathematics. Surprisingly, Kripke himself thinks this partnership has been overblown. Once again philosophy is crowded out. Kripke is equally skeptical of any claim that analytic philosophy has thorough scientific objectivity —a claim that enables them to dismiss the desire for a more traditional philosophy as emotional and therefore unscientific. Kripke believes that philosophers do not escape their desires entirely; they only suppress them.

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      Quine of Harvard, the senior eminence of American logic]. I think parts of his views are a kind of materialism or physicalism in which everything is physical and behavioristic — there are only physical causes of behavior. And with that view comes the view that philosophy should be a scientific enterprise, continuous with science. And that's a view in his work that's almost not even argued for, hut assumed at the beginning. And I should think that's highly personal, in a way. The notion that philosophy should be conii units with science can itself he sort of a religion.

      Among analytic philosophers. They say philosophy Was always too difficult for anyone but the specialist. Intellectuals only pretended to comprehend quality work. Some philosophers, such as Hilary Putnam of Harvard. Kripke stops short of this Vince Lombardi standard of philosophical fitness. There are archscientists in philosophy who would like to see the linguistic and logical tools polished to perfection, however long it takes, before tackling the old stumpers again.