Meaning, Hummus Masabacha, and Def Leppard

By Daniel A. Kaufman


Bernard Williams is one of the top 5 greatest post WWII philosophers.  Here is a new website devoted to collecting everything available by and about him.

Rare and very high quality live footage of Def Leppard, from 1983, when they were still a hard-rocking NWOBHM band. (Concert split into two parts)

A classic paper by Hilary Putnam and one of several important efforts within analytic philosophy to show that linguistic meaning should not be understood in terms of mental representation.

Pat Buchanan may be horrible, but he is politically savvy.  A keen take on how Trump has played the Democrats again.  Will my party ever learn?

Eddie Murphy was a comedy genius.  One of his greatest SNL sketches.

Israeli-Style Hummus Masabacha (Hummus in which the chick peas are left whole, rather than blended with the tehina) and Israeli Tehina


74 responses to “Meaning, Hummus Masabacha, and Def Leppard”

  1. As a political conservative living in the all-important state of Florida (and before that, having lived in Texas), I find it amusing that Democrats are even remotely animated about this election. It’s already baked. No moderate (i.e. Biden) is going to win the Democratic primary. That means the Democratic nominee will be someone who has already endorsed decriminalizing border crossings and possibly putting tens of millions of non-citizens in health care entitlement programs that are already headed toward insolvency. Florida is getting 1,000 new residents a day, most of whom are retirees who (1) want to live in a posh, safe retirement community with brunch and croquet everyday, (2) hate taxes more than a hip replacement. The “squad” drama and all the others like it may move the vote in smaller swing states, but it’s almost irrelevant. All Trump has to do is get up and say “unlike my opponent, I think turning Florida and Texas and Arizona into Honduras is an idiotic idea,” and he’s set. The fact that the left has become allergic to economics is gravy. Winning elections is not like being popular on Twitter. You have to build a broad geographical consensus. If Democrats want to survive, they should stop listening to folks in media and in postsecondary education who are aggressively online, being driven to ever more toxic and ridiculous algorithm-produced content, having very public breaks from reality, and go talk to real people in swing states. The moment a former cabinet member in the Obama administration said in a nationally televised debate that he loved abortion so much that he supported the government funding abortions for transgender women should have been a moment of clarity that the party is certifiably insane. Trump has so thoroughly broken Democrats’ brains that they can’t see that the person they brand as a madman on an hourly basis actually has more coherent and reasoned policy opinions than they do.

  2. Peter DO Smith

    Trump is driving a wedge right through the Democratic Party, between its moderate and militant wings.

    I would read this differently. The radical left have cracked the party down its natural fault lines. Trump has astutely driven the wedge in at the fault line opened up by the radical left.

  3. Yes, I think this is right.

  4. Recently downloaded a James Brown live performance at the Newport Jazz fest 69 which I listen to while running to and from work. That Eddie Murphy skit is especially hilarious with Brown’s ‘Popcorn’ lodged so prominently in my current memory store.

  5. Two things: (1) though I doubt that a moderate will win the Dem nomination, I think the person who does win the nomination will change their tune about what they endorsed during the primaries. Harris is already doing this, albeit not very adroitly. (2) I didn’t think there was a chance in hell that Trump would win the nomination, let alone the presidency, given the things he routinely said. But he won both (although he just barely won the presidency). It could be that ideas that I and many others think would be electoral suicide (changing illegal border crossing to a civil offense, abolishing ICE, instituting Medicare for all, etc.) would be shockingly popular with the electorate.

    I recently listened to an interview by Ezra Klein of George Will, and Will pointed out that one thing almost every elected official of both parties seem to agree upon now is that the debt doesn’t matter. If that’s right, and it seems to be, then I wouldn’t be surprised if the electorate agrees with it too.

  6. I predicted Trump would win months before the election and made bets with a number of people, which earned me a nice spot of cash.

  7. Ten dollars, Dan, says that the Democrat wins the White House 2020. It might be a squeaker, thanks to the Electoral College, but I think Trump has offended people who might say they’d vote for him, then change their minds at the polling booth.

    The problem is that the Repubs are desperate to stuff judicial seats, esp. the SCOTUS, but only a complete dullard would not at least privately admit that this is already openly the most corrupt Administration in more than a hundred years, and that Trump is a devastatingly bad example to parade before children, as to how mature adults ought to behave. Not to mention his bizarre foreign policy, based apparently on whether he can build a hotel on foreign soil.

    Repubs still don’t quite grasp that Trump is not a conservative, but an opportunist playing to the Far Right. If he sets traps Dems walk into – and he does – it’s because we’re all still trying to normalize him as a ‘legitimate’ political figure, and because he makes ‘good copy’ for the media. But the fact remains that he continues, almost on a daily basis, to tear down social and political norms in efforts to fire his fanbase and grab ‘ratings’ – as he has called news headlines and sheer amount of attention he receives through them. And his inability to work with Congress has left him effectively ruling by Executive Order and Proclamation – dangerously close to dictatorial authoritarianism.

    Because the word ‘fascist’ has long been drained of its original reference to Mussolini and other authoritarians like him, it is now difficult to use the term in a meaningful way and have anyone pay attention. But fascism finds its expression in a manner culturally relative: Franco was not Mussolini, Peron was not Franco; none the less, the three shared a belief that a strong leader could determine the fate of the nation with proper cooperation with the business classes and with labor. I fear Trump is what American fascism really looks like, not, say, Joe McCarthy. Because American capitalism is opportunistic by nature, it makes sense that such a ‘strong leader’ would be a cynical opportunist rather than an ideologue.

    At any rate, I think – or at least hope – that such ideas will at last dawn on the majority of the electorate by November 2020. While the media is as fascinated with the ‘twitter left’ as they are with Trump’s melt-downs, I think the real conversations occur locally, and are largely more about allocation of resources and working together. If not, then this is no longer the country I was born and raised in, and I would happy to go back to where I came from if I could turn back the hands of time.

    As for Democratic primaries – actually, I’m feeling less pessimistic now (despite the ridiculous first ‘debates’ – what mutton-head agreed to that format?), since it is becoming obvious that the field will narrow to Biden, Sanders, Warren, Harris fairly soon – the polls say that, the money says that. Bot Biden and Harris can make a case for the center, and both Warren and Sanders can articulate economics. Most of the wild stuff we’re hearing about today will drift back to the margins, or be relabeled and moderated by the final election cycle.

    If I’m wrong – well, I’ll owe you a sawbuck. If I may already have pretty much lost the country I was raised in, 10 dollars is a small price for such a lesson. (If it’s too little, make a counter offer. Everything’s about ‘the deal’ these days, apparently.)

  8. I’ll take the bet and hope to god you are right.

  9. It doesn’t matter if they try to change their tune. They have a bona fide brand now and that’s far more enduring than a gaffe someone will forget next week. Creating brands is the political magic of Trump. There were so many made-for-oppo moments during the last debate alone, like where the moderators flat-out asked candidates to raise their hands if they support issues that the far-left moderators loved, but most Americans absolutely hate. That stuff is not going to be flattering played in an endless loop and turned into hilarious, viral memes. (It’s not just a brand with Republicans and Independents either. My die-hard Democrat in-laws, who have voted Democrat their entire lives and are good friends with Jimmy Carter, turned off the first debate 20 minutes in because they were so disgusted and refused to even talk about the second. That’s what they think of the new left. They can’t stand Trump personally but say they don’t want his economy to end. What are the odds they will vote for someone like Warren or Harris? I don’t know.)

    Harris is pretty much the only one who might attempt to evolve, but she’s an objectively bad candidate. She prosecuted hundreds of people with data from a corrupt crime lab and she didn’t even care about it. That’s genuinely monstrous, and it’s not a he-said she-said issue. She gets weepy defending busing of all things. Republicans haven’t even gotten started caricaturing her, and when they do, they will have a lot of material to work with (compared to Trump, who has been the object of non-stop hysterical media attacks for several years now; nothing new can be said about him).

    Warren, in addition to being a highly unlikable scold and school marm who posed as a minority for decades, has a well-established and belligerent record on hot issues. She can’t evolve any more than Bernie Sanders, the man she copycats.

    Trump has successfully made Democrats synonymous with three things: (1) absolutely insane identity politics, (2) socialist policy ideas that cost literally in the trillions of dollars, with no clear way to pay for them except blah blah blah rich people, (3) bringing in millions of people, who both Democrats and Republicans agree will likely be dependent on the government for survival. And Democrats are cheering these things on while on video, in op-eds, all over social media all day every day now. It really is something to behold.

    The one thing folks on the left cannot process is that Trump is a political moderate. He is exactly what leftists are not. He supports constituencies that Republicans have not traditionally supported. He single-handedly stole the entire labor movement from Democrats and turned them into a cult following that Democrats will never convert. He understands the electorate and is willing to compromise. He understands the failures of identity politics are that these groups are not monolithic entities that all think the same things and hop in line and many of them legitimately resent being characterized as victims (dignity, what a concept). My Hispanic friends love to talk about how Democrats characterize them as all having a family member that is waiting to swim the Rio Grande and who have a deep resentment of the immigration system. I have spoken to many Muslims who are more alienated by the social positions of Democrats, like Drag Queen Story Hour and Shout Your Abortion, than anything Trump says about failed states in the Middle East (which they are also concerned about – how have Democrats never asked how many Muslims think the Iran deal was awesome?). Ditto for Hispanics, many of whom are Catholic. As a homeschooler, I have gotten to know many African-American families who support conservatives for no other reason than they want school choice. All of these people think Democrats are deluded for thinking they speak for their families. While Democrats obsess over their matrices of suffering and entitlement, Trump groks diverse opinions and that makes him highly persuasive to people from many different walks of life. And that’s how he builds a geographically broad consensus when Democrats can’t.

  10. saucysandpiper,
    Donald Trump is about Donald Trump. He has no policies, he has no interest in serving the nation, he has no interest in the Constitution, he has no political savvy, he has no understanding of history. He doesn’t understand people – he uses them. I’m afraid you’ve misread him, and I’m afraid you – like the leftists you scorn, but effectively mimic – are simply angry. I’m afraid that anger is all Trump has, and I think George Will is right that Americans are getting tired of it – from the Right as well as the Left.

    I think you are misreading the leading Democrats as well, and how they will evolve and what their appeal will be. I hope that they reach positions that appeal broadly to the American public – but in any case four more years of a president who will not put the national interest first will spell disaster for the country – because his present term already has.

    By the way, the economy is due in large part to developments under, and efforts by, the Obama Administration. Unfortunately, given the cyclic nature of capitalism, these developments may be passing their prime. Certainly we can’t use a Trump in the White House if recession threatens – in his previous career he initiated too many bankruptcies, barely saving himself with foreign monies (American banks having given up on him long ago) and his Reality TV host income.

    That is easily researched, BTW. Whereas many of your claims are simply wrong. And the hyperbolics you are near to using here, are simply evidence why reasonable disagreement and discourse is so difficult in the era of the most divisive president in history.

  11. Simply as a matter of historical facts, I don’t think he is more divisive than Nixon was. But that has as much to do with the times as it does the two men.

  12. I think Nixon’s legacy as divisive, but the times back then were divided pretty badly by ’68; and he did make some gestures toward inclusivity.

    I think that a real politician with any real savvy would try to find some way to broaden the base and reach out inclusively – even W. Bush did that. And given a healthy economy, as we already had by 2016, with Clinton to run against, even a half smart professional Republican who did reach out would have surfed easily over four years and into a second term. But Trump is satisfied with his fans, and unfortunately his fans are satisfied with division. The question is whether his fans remain as widely scattered throughout the Electoral College terrain as they were in 2016. I hope not.

    And I hope the Dems listen to the real conservatives (many having left the Repub party) and hew to a middle course. I’m an old New Deal liberal, even a Deweyan social democrat; but the Democrats really need to win this election.

    Anyway, I’ve 10 bucks riding on it now, so I guess it’s door to door for me!

  13. Max

    Minor rant: What is it with the constant linking to amazon? Everyone agrees that amazon is an evil company run by an evil man, so why do all philoshophers with the exception of the 3 a.m. guy link to it? At least provide another link like bookdepository.

  14. Minor rant: Why do almost all philosophers link to amazon as the bookseller? We all know that amazon is an evil company. Why not provide at least an alternative like bookdepository?

  15. I am not misreading Trump on the economy. I work in finance and economics, and have since 2002, when I left a PhD program in philosophy to work at one of the world’s most prestigious investment banks. Obama had a miserable economic record, and spent most of his time in office trying to convince the world that sub-2% economic growth was the “new normal.” What pitiful growth was achieved under Obama had literally nothing to do with Obama, but with the (politically independent) Federal Reserve taking unprecedented steps to support the economy, which eventually included printing money to buy paper assets in the open market to the tune of trillions of dollars and other central banks doing the same. The fact that Trump has presided over a booming economy and 16 months of unemployment below 4% during a period where the Federal Reserve has been **removing** accommodative monetary policy is astounding. And only a lunatic would argue that tax reform has not stimulated domestic investment.

    Beyond that, many workers were stuck under Obama with wages holding steady at 1990s levels. (This is why you have Trump.) Only under Trump did wages start to increase, and they are increasing the fastest at the lower end of the spectrum, which is effectively reducing economic inequality. (This is why labor loves Trump and he packs stadiums in blue collar areas.) This again goes back to stimulating domestic investment and enacting tax policy that discourages corporations from stashing money abroad. Pretty simple stuff, really, but it’s surprising how many professional academics would fail econ 101.

    But good luck to Democrats trying to argue these points in 2020. You may love parroting what you hear from the glorified English majors about economics on MSNBC who think Marxism is chic, but ordinary Americans know a good economy when they see one. And this is a damn good economy, built by Trump and a truly brilliant Treasury secretary.

  16. I was just joking with my husband that this is the first time in history that we have socialists who hate labor and labor that loves capitalists. Instead of “workers of the world, unite!” we have “underemployed student borrowers of the world, living in your parents’ basement, unite!” People who went into trades are actually doing pretty well these days. The real economy is finally recovering, and politics is getting profoundly absurd. Thanks in no small part to the people whose livelihoods depend on young folks taking out obscene amounts of debt.

  17. BTW, speaking about James Brown (as Eddie Murphy clearly is), I just read James McBride’s “Kill ‘Em and Leave” gonzo journalist study on Brown’s back story. I was disappointed that McBride (himself a musician) has little to say about the music (although a lot to say about the music biz, nothing good), Brown was a remarkable artist, even if he was crazy in his private life. McBride’s story is largely about ‘the Black Experience,’ which is important, but better writers have told it. McBride is actually a good writer, but he needed an editor – too much repetition and redundancy. Nonetheless, I recommend the book as a casual read, because there are passages worth keeping, and as illumination into the private life (and cultural phenomenon) of one of the most important performers in pop music generally, and Black music particularly.

    We are need to work our way out of the stain that slavery put upon this nation. How we do that, I know not. But denying it hasn’t worked.

  18. So are you deleting my comments on economic policy on Trump vs Obama? What’s the matter, you can’t handle a woman explaining to you how the Federal Reserve and monetary policy works? This is the sort of intellectual wimpiness that explains why universities are directing all resources away from the humanities and toward STEM.

  19. I didn’t link to Amazon. Also, I don’t think they are evil.

  20. Your criticisms of Harris and Warren are apt, but I think similarly damning, and possibly more damning, criticisms of Trump’s character can be made.

    I don’t deny for a second what Hispanics, Muslims, and African-Americans of your acquaintance have told you. As Ben Domenech recently pointed out in a podcast interview with Michael Malice, immigration is not the most important issue for most Hispanics.

    But at the end of the day, that’s just anecdote (though I wouldn’t be surprised if polling data backs up what you say as well — indeed, I expect it would); people change once things are actually put on the table in front of them. When it’s actually time to pick between Trump and Warren or Harris (I think they’re the two most likely Dem nominees; I think Mayor Pete’s biggest weakness is his age and height), I have no idea what they do, because most of the electorate, especially the undecided electorate, votes based on what the economy was like in the six months preceding the vote up until the vote, and on things like personal affinity for the candidates. Should I vote for the carny businessman or the person who made up her Native American ancestry to get an easier time of it? If that’s the choice, Trump would probably win. But the corrupt businessman vs. the corrupt prosecutor? Harder to say.

  21. Don’t be an ass. I am on vacation with my wife and trying to login as much as I can to approve comments. You might want to think a little bit before running off with your favorite least charitable interpretation. Jeez.

  22. Dan,
    started reading Meaning of ;meaning;’ having problems with the twin earth experiment. Are there critical discussions that surface difficulties with this issue? (such as, if XYZ water has precisely the same effects in use as H2O water, eg when drinking it, what point is the distinction for the visitor between the two earth? And if XYZ water has exactly the same properties as H2O water – as it must in order to function with the same effect in two exactly identical environments – then how do we distinguish XYZ from H2O at all?), (One of the problems I have with thought experiments – if they aren’t so concrete as to be truly reproducible, they almost always violate Occam’s razor.)

  23. The point is to demonstrate that the following two things cannot both be true, as Frege thought they were: (a) that the meanings of words and expressions are mentally “grasped” contents; (b) that meaning determines reference. The thought experiment is designed to demonstrate this and more.

  24. The linked site about Bernard Williams links to amazon and that is what i was referring to. As for amazon, the way they treat their employees and spy on people makes them in my mind a very evil company. You might want to look it up.

  25. I think the Bernard Williams site is a great resource. Sorry you don’t like it.

  26. To me, Putnam’s argument always seemed wrong.

    The problem, as I see it, is that the argument is really about reference. But it claims to be about meaning. And I see meaning and reference as clearly distinct.

    If I am buying a gold watch (or a gold something), then I might indeed need to consult a gold expert. But that has to do with reference.

    If I am telling a child the story of King Midas and the Golden Touch, then I am dealing with meaning rather than with reference. And I can tell that story without any need to call in a gold expert.

    Or, we can look at the Twin Earth argument. But I would like to change it a little. I imagine that I am transported to Twin Earth in a Star Trek style transporter. And I suppose that I am having a conversation with a Twin-Earther. So, yes, I will use “water” to refer to the local liquid. But I am probably saying to myself: I’ll call it “water” because that will be understood, but “water” doesn’t really mean this local stuff.” So I would be using “water” for reference while disagreeing with the application of the meaning of “water”. And I can be pretty sure this is how I would react, because I grew up in Australia and came to USA as a grad student. And that’s exactly how I reacted to the change in meaning (between Australia and USA) of a number of common words.

    So maybe reference is not in the head and is a shared community property. But meaning is private and subjective.

  27. They are inseparable and always have been.

  28. eightieshair

    Random off topic question. The current image at the top of the page is also the photo on the cover of the book White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of Race. Did you get the image from that book, or is just a coincidence?

  29. The banner image is of the Bad Brains live. Bad Brains were one of the godfathers of hardcore punk.

  30. Ok, think I’m beginning to get it.
    There’s a lecture by Putnam on Science and Externalism at, in which he – if I understand correctly – replaces the original Twin Earth experiment with one concerning a Twin Earth substance that has all the properties of Earth water except that it can’t quench thirst unless mixed with water. (I suppose this at least suggests that, although still called ‘water,’ it is really 50% XYZ + 50% H2O, and the Twin Earthers “need to drink twice as much.”) This may weaken the argument from one perspective, but clarifies it for me, since, per my second question, if XYZ has all the content and properties and effects of H2O, it would seem, logically, that they are identical – which would suggest that something would be lacking in the science of Earth or Twin Earth, insofar as the identity has not yet been discovered.

    But – Pressing on; if I’m still having a problem with this, please let me know.

  31. Joe Smith

    As if real people don’t inhabit twitter. I can assure you that most people on social media are every bit as “real” as the ones you want Democrats to talk to. Funny how all the major progressive policy planks i.e. medicare for all, free college, taxing the 1%, ending the wars, regulating Wall St, and getting money out of politics, are all the most popular policies in poll after poll, even among many Trump supporters. So I don’t know know how that squares with Democrats being “allergic to economics”. I also don’t know what Trump’s “coherent and reasoned policy opinions” are supposed to be. Would those include things like more trade wars, more tax cuts for the rich, more deregulation of banks and businesses, ending net neutrality, starting wars with Iran and Venezuela, setting up more concentration camps to kill more refugees, banning abortions, etc? Those “coherent and reasonable policy opinions”? And for every crazy comment made by a democrat, I can easily find ten even crazier ones made by a Republican.

    I would agree with you on one thing, no moderate centrist is going to win the Democratic primary. We already tried that with Hillary, and it was a disaster. Just like Biden has proven to be. Most people are hungry for bold policy initiatives, like the ones above, that actually help ordinary Americans, and they are tired of being sold down the river on false ‘hope and change’ platitudes by spineless, establishment, corporate Democrats.

  32. Joe Smith

    “Trump has successfully made Democrats synonymous with three things: (1) absolutely insane identity politics, (2) socialist policy ideas that cost literally in the trillions of dollars, with no clear way to pay for them except blah blah blah rich people, (3) bringing in millions of people, who both Democrats and Republicans agree will likely be dependent on the government for survival. And Democrats are cheering these things on while on video, in op-eds, all over social media all day every day now. It really is something to behold.”

    Maybe these things seem true in your mind, but good thing you don’t speak for most people. Why is it that the white identity politics of Trump (and Bannon) are not considered “insane” by you? Why is it that when Trump spends trillions on the military and tax cuts for the rich, these are not considered “socialist” policies that we can’t pay for? And where are these “millions” (your word) that are being “brought in”?

  33. TheDudeDiogenes

    I’m starting to lean in the opposite direction. Perhaps Prof. Wolff’s brooding has got me down, but I don’t think it’s just affective sympathy. I am deeply concerned about our future – ‘our’ here meaning not just the US, but also humanity at large.

  34. Peter DO Smith

    Bernard Williams is one of the top 5 greatest post WWII philosopher

    Who are these top five and how do you arrive at this list?

  35. DW

    Serious Eats is a great site for both recipes and techniques. I particularly like some of their “Food Lab” articles. I was planning on making this very tahini sauce tomorrow for shawarma, but my blender just stripped out so I’ll have to try something else. I do find that the garlic-blended-in-lemon juice is good not only for tahini but also for other sauces made with seeds, nuts, or yogurt.

    I like hummus but have never been much of a fan of whole chickpeas, so hummus masabacha is going in the wrong direction for me. When I mentioned being so-so about chickpeas, somebody suggested that instead of regular falafel, I should make taameyya which is an Egyptian version made with fava beans and is green on the inside because it has lots of parsley and coriander leaves in it. I think it is a nice step up and very tasty.

  36. Kripkensteinsmonster303

    I think you’re right that his position is flawed. He wants to say that meaning is determined by the natural kinds that are picked out by our acts of naming. While this article isn’t about twin earth itself, it addresses the problems with that conception on page 7, under the subheading of ‘substances conceived as natural kinds.’
    If I were to try to put my finger on where the thought experiment misleads, I would say that it is misleading, because when we think about whether xyz is really water, it is natural to just impose our modern usage, which incorporates chemical composition into the definition. So instead of thinking whether anything in the past usage of ‘water’ by a prescientific person who ends up on twin earth would render it wrong to call xyz ‘water’, which is what is really at issue, we think ‘well, xyz isn’t really water, so they would be wrong to call it that.’ But this is to reify our linguistic conventions into some kind of language-independent essence that makes demands on language, even if we never know about them, such that had the chemical composition of water on earth never been discovered, and twin earth been colonised, its inhabitants would have been in perpetual ignorance that what they call ‘water’ does not deserve the name.

  37. Trump may have pushed his wedge too far with this recent rally. For the first time, I’m thinking he might lose, which is a relief. Not sure though. Need to see how this latest thing plays out.

  38. Peter DO Smith

    In 1996 Martin Hollis said that Williams had “a good claim to be the leading British philosopher of his day,” but that, although he had a “lovely eye for the central questions,” he had none of the answers.[13]

    Moral choices require an answer.

    he argued that moral theories can never reflect the complexities of life, particularly given the radical pluralism of modern societies.[76]

    That gives everyone a convenient escape clause.

    Learning to be yourself, to be authentic and to act with integrity, rather than conforming to any external moral system, is arguably the fundamental motif of Williams’s work,

    I shudder when anyone uses those ‘new age” phrases such as “be yourself” and “be authentic”. This can license any form of behaviour. And it has. What self-serving rubbish.

    All quotes from Wikipedia.

  39. I agree with him entirely. And i think it is hubris to think one has the answers to moral questions.

  40. Peter DO Smith

    I agree with him entirely.

    Yes, I knew that, which is why I composed my comment so provocatively. I have been enjoying a sundowner with a grin on my face as I wondered about your reaction. Cheers!

  41. Since I was asked. Greatest philosophers since WWII. (In no particular order)

    W.V.O. Quine
    Donald Davidson
    Wilfrid Sellars
    Elizabeth Anscombe
    Bernard Williams

    Honorable mentions:

    Nelson Goodman
    Saul Kripke
    Stanley Cavell

    ***The list is based on a combination of quality of thought/writing and significance within the discipline.

  42. Peter DO Smith

    I wonder what a list based on citations would look like?

  43. Peter DO Smith

    it is hubris to think one has the answers

    That consideration has seldom inhibited the pronouncements of philosophers.

  44. Gosh, I have no idea.

  45. Peter DO Smith

    As it happens, I think that philosophy is not about answers, that is the domain of science. It is rather a style of thinking that allows each person to best determine the answers that fit his circumstances.

  46. Science with respect to empirical questions and theology with respect to metaphysical and normative questions. In the absence of theology, in my view, one’s ethics can ultimately only be prudential.

  47. Kripkensteinsmonster303

    ‘Moral choices require an answer.’

    This is certainly the assumption of Kantians and utilitarians, but it’s not obvious that a virtue ethicist has to believe that there is a right answer to every moral question. And it’s not intuitively true, which is inescapable moral dilemmas are part of our moral common sense, which Williams beautifully illustrates with the story of Jim and the Indians, and of George the chemist. Moreover, even if you think that morality cannot tolerate this sort of ambiguity, then perhaps that’s a reason for replacing the concept of morality with a broader notion of ethics, which is precisely what Williams proposed.

    ‘That gives everyone a convenient escape clause.’ ‘This can license any form of behaviour. And it has. What sef-serving rubbish.’

    The fact that people will use a moral view to justify bad behaviour isn’t in general an objection to it. People can just as easily use rigid theories like utilitarianism to justify horrible behaviour, and one can plausibly argue that they are more corrupting because they force us to ignore salient features of particular situations, because taking them into account would mess up our rational decision procedure, and this strips the humanity from moral decisions. Living an authentic human life is difficult, and so it’s no surprise that so many make a mess of it, but that doesn’t mean we should just give up and surrender ourselves to abstract theory.

  48. Kripkensteinsmonster303

    Why would theology make it any less prudential? What it adds is commands, and heaven and hell, and I don’t see how that is anything but prudential.
    Also, I’m curious, what does your view mean for metaethics? Are moral claims objectively true hypothetical imperatives, or expressions of our emotions and attitudes, or what?

  49. I was talking about normative ethics. And my view is essentially Anscombe’s . I don’t think you get moral oughts with actual force in the absence of divine commands. And since I don’t believe in the divine, such commands only have a kind of practical force.

  50. Kripkensteinsmonster303

    Fair enough. I guess I don’t see what the ‘actual force’ is supposed to be in the theological case. If you are motivated by divine commands independently of the sanctions that come with disobedience in the hereafter, that’s just a matter of your having an attitude towards God, one which one can be coherently supposed not to share, as with the figure of Satan.
    To say that a judgment has ‘force’ is to characterise it as having a certain motivating, or reason giving character. But that just is something practical, so I don’t get what the distinction between ‘actual’ and merely ‘practical’ force amounts to.

  51. Kripkensteinsmonster303

    Yeah, I get that you’re talking about normative ethics, but I think metaethics is relevant. If you think that moral judgments express hypothetical imperatives, then they have no inherent force, unless one cares about the antecedent. But if you think moral judgments have something like an expressive function, then moral judgments do have force, since my own emotions by definition have force for me.

  52. Read my essay, “Prescription, Reason, and Force.” I talk about those issues there.

  53. If you believe in God you think his commands have real force. You don’t understand this because you don’t believe it.

  54. Kripkensteinsmonster303

    Thanks, I’ll have a read. And yes, I agree that religious believers take the force of divine prescriptions to be more than our human motivation to follow them, but I’ve never seen one articulate clearly what that something more is. Okay, for Anscombe that I have an obligation is just a fact about what God has commanded, whether or not I care. But if the meaning of ‘force’ is detached from motivation, then we can just well ask ‘well, who cares about force?’

  55. You are thinking about this like a secular person. The “who cares?” question doesn’t move the very religious people I know. Their view is that obedience to God is constitutive of our being. To be in rebellion against God is existential.

  56. To clarify: I wrote “if XYZ has all the content and properties and effects of H2O” – obviously, according to Putnam, the content of Twin Earth ‘water’ and Earth water are different, the one being XYZ and the other being H2O. So why my misstep?

    If all of the properties and all of the effects of the two are completely identical, then their contents must be identical.

    Let’s talk about drinking in a different way than mere quenching of thirst: “Fluid balance is an aspect of the homeostasis of organisms in which the amount of water in the organism needs to be controlled, via osmoregulation and behavior, such that the concentrations of electrolytes (salts in solution) in the various body fluids are kept within healthy ranges. The core principle of fluid balance is that the amount of water lost from the body must equal the amount of water taken in; for example, in humans, the output (via respiration, perspiration, urination, defecation, and expectoration) must equal the input (via eating and drinking, or by parenteral intake). Euvolemia is the state of normal body fluid volume, including blood volume, interstitial fluid volume, and intracellular fluid volume; hypovolemia and hypervolemia are imbalances. Water is necessary for all life on Earth.”

    Assuming Twin Earth humans perfect replicas of Earth humans, they must have the same physiology. If all they have to drink is XYZ water, XYZ water must have the same physiological effects as H2O water. It does so because (we already know as given) it has all the same properties as H2O water. It thus follows that these properties are the manifest result of the same contents, or contents the differences between which are so minuscule (and I mean, really, at the level of the quanta) as to be wholly irrelevant except in research of quantum physics.

    I’m now half-way through Putnam, and I think he knows he has this problem, there’s considerable dancing around it. For instance “An interesting case is the case of jade.” The term ‘jade refers to two different minerals, Jadeite and nephrite, which have differing chemical compositions. But the use of the example suggests that in all other ways they have identical properties. This is not the case: “Nephrite’s luster is slightly more greasy to resinous, while jadeite’s is more vitreous. Nephrite is softer than jadeite, and it may also be distinguished by its lower density (although it is more compact in structure, nephrite’s specific gravity ranges from 2.90 to 3.03, while jadeite’s ranges from 3.30 to 3.38).” And this difference seems to have had an effect on how people have handled the differing jades’ over the centuries.

    “And instead of saying that ‘the stuff on Twin Earth turned out not to really be water,’ we would have to say ‘it turned out to be XYZ kind of water.’” To invoke Putnam’s own ‘division of labor argument: not until quantum physicists can make the proper distinctions for us. And then we have a problem – ‘kind’ distinctions made in quantum physics are almost never invoked in ordinary language because they aren’t particularly useful outside the domain of specialists – where some of them are still up for debate.

    I think the big misstep here is that Putnam commits himself to Kripke’s theory of rigid designators – a theory that is utterly convincing when addressed to the issue of ‘proper names’ – Dan Kaufman, ejwinner – but smells an awful lot like Plato when addressed to natural kinds. And although committed to a scientific realism, I don’t think Putnam wants to go all the way to Plato. (About which I’m not sure Kripke cares if it leads there or not.)

    Also, I’m not sure his main point, “to demonstrate that the following two things cannot both be true, as Frege thought they were: (a) that the meanings of words and expressions are mentally “grasped” contents; (b) that meaning determines reference,” really needs this commitment, and his revised Twin Earth example in the lecture I linked to just makes better sense to me.

  57. Kripkensteinsmonster303

    Okay, I’ve read the piece, and I think I have a better idea of where you’re coming from. I agree that the language of prescription is often used fruitlessly manipulatively. However, I think there could still be room for it, within the context of discussions with people who have a substantial shared background of moral attitudes, in addition to the contexts in which we are seriously prepared to punish people. So I’m still not as down on moral obligation as Anscombe is.

  58. If there’s that much shared background, there’s hardly need for prescription.

  59. Kripkensteinsmonster303

    I agree that religious people don’t find that convincing, but then again most secular people probably won’t find Anscombe convincing. I just don’t think religious people have a good argument for why categorical oughts are something that God uniquely allows us to talk about. Their conviction to the contrary is simply rooted in their own pious attitude towards God, as far as I can tell.

  60. The requirement for arguments “all the way down” is an eccentricity of philosophy, No one else thinks that way, and I see no reason why they should.

  61. It is a great site. Sorry, if my criticism came across as too harsh. I just wonder why even a site about a moral philosopher does not provide a link to another more ethical bookseller. Keep up the good work!

  62. Fair enough. I probably would have linked to the actual publisher’s page.

  63. Kripkensteinsmonster303

    Okay, the why can’t a Kantian also reject the demand for arguments all the way down? Religious people can believe what they like, but if the claim is that moral prescriptions are their private property, then I would like to see an explanation of why, which makes moves not equally available to a secular deontologist. And even if justification is not in order, I think elucidation certainly is, because I don’t know what is meant by ‘force’ if the concept is divorced from motivation and concern.

  64. Anscombe explains why the Kantian notion of self legislation is incoherent in “Modern Moral Philosophy”. I’d have to go back to it to remember precisely how it goes, but I remember finding it persuasive

  65. Zac


    While Putnam and Kripke independently came up with their accounts of reference at the same time, and there is overlap between them, Kripke ultimately has a much more metaphysical project than Putnam. Kripke is much more concerned with metaphysical conditions of identity (which seems to be what irks you), while Putnam is concerned with the terrestrial questions of how to characterize our empirical practices and intuitions. Don’t let the sci-fi stuff mislead you.

    Consider the much more humble example he gives in the same paper of elms and beeches. Putnam doesn’t know trees, so the picture he has in his head and the definitions he’d give of them (i.e. the Fregean senses) aren’t any different. But he insists that this sense does not determine the reference of the terms. These are just pale versions of the more fulsome senses on offer by knowledgeable laymen and experts, themselves open to revision based off our subsequent experiences of the stuff referred to. Putnam and the expert are referring to the same stuff — Putnam just knows less about it. This is because the senses he’s talking about are guideposts, stereotypes helping us to pick out and characterize stuff in the real world, but ultimately not determinative of what that stuff is, since it can always exceed our concepts. Whatever term we apply to this stuff, we can learn new things about it, believe new things about it, and still retain the term while accepting continuity between its new and old uses. We don’t end up in different Kuhnian “worlds” with no sensible, commensurable reference between them.

  66. Peter DO Smith

    in my view, one’s ethics can ultimately only be prudential.

    IMHO that is very much open to debate. But then a theist would say that! However I think a non-theist defence of moral reasons is eminently reasonable.

    To repeat what I have said before, I would be most happy if you would do an essay on Prudential reasons vs moral reasons.

    I know this lies at the heart of much of your thinking so think the issue is well worth exploring.

  67. Peter, what I was trying to get at is that theists have access to a kind of warrant, re: morality, that atheists do not. But yes, I need to write about this more.

  68. Peter DO Smith

    what I was trying to get at is that theists have access to a kind of warrant, re: morality, that atheists do not

    Yes, I agree. But then we need to think about what we mean by ‘a kind of warrant‘. What kind of warrant could non-theists have? Prudential reasoning appeals to an internal, self-regarding warrant. The weakness of this is that each person becomes his own moral compass, with the needle swinging widely according to his own vagaries, whims and desires. And then there is the no small matter of how we align the multitude of moral compasses when each appeals to his own self-interest as his primary warrant. The fundamental problem is that of aligning individual compasses to the benefit of society.

    Deep down, at the very base, we all use prudential reasoning, but we vary in the extent by which that is informed or guided by either an internal warrant such as an ‘ethical instinct’ or external warrants such as theist, social, legal or pragmatic(consequentialism, for example). An atheist could argue that the theist warrant is nothing more than an elaborate social warrant clothed in a form that gives it greater motivating force.

    My argument is that it is a very rare person who engages in pure prudential reasoning(a psychopath perhaps?) because most are always guided by ethical instincts, social warrants and legal warrants. Fundamentally it comes down to this choice – do I obey the warrant because it is in my interest to do so(prudential reasoning)? Or do I obey the warrant because I think it is intrinsically right to do so, for whatever reasons(moral reasoning). Every day this debate plays out in our minds, with varying results.

    These are just my naive,unformed thoughts. I look forward to reading a proper, systematic explanation by you. And I always delight in the references that you supply.

  69. I think prudential reasoning take into consideration situations, which includes taken into consideration the interests of others.

  70. Peter DO Smith

    which includes taken into consideration the interests of others.

    Yes, but do you take into consideration the interests of others because they ‘matter‘ (moral reasoning), or do you take them into consideration because it is in your own best interest(prudential reasoning)?

    A while ago, two young Coloured vagrants, well known to me, were walking down the road in front of my house. The man started viciously assaulting his female companion, who screamed piteously. Outraged, I grabbed a club and chased him down the road while his ‘girlfriend’ ran the other way. It was a very foolish thing for me to do(as my friends kept reminding me) because they usually carry knives and have no hesitation in using them. He later came back to my house and tried to assault me. He was looking for his ‘girlfriend’.

    What should I have done?
    1) Nothing and be an idle spectator to a vicious assault? That certainly was the prudent course urged by my friends and, given our violent society, would be the outcome of prudential reasoning.
    2) Call the police? Fat chance. They only come much later to collect the bodies. They can’t even cope with the open gang warfare.
    3) Intervene at great personal risk because I believe that young woman’s safety truly matters? That would be moral reasoning in defiance of prudential reasoning.

    We are such strange animals. There is no other species on the planet that will risk itself to protect a stranger. But we do it, though not nearly often enough. But even stranger still, we will even risk ourselves to protect members of another species.

    This strange thing, this ethical instinct, that will even lead us to sacrifice ourselves for others, is evidence that we are motivated by much more than mere prudential reasoning. In this we find nobility.

    As you might have gathered by now, I live in a moral laboratory, designed to test all moral responses 🙂

  71. Peter DO Smith

    You might say in reply, that deep down I was still exercising prudential reasoning. Because my own self esteem required that I act courageously to defend the weak and that if I had failed to do so I would have been beset by feelings of self loathing. Therefore my act was self regarding, or prudential reasoning.

    Perhaps that comes into play. And yet my own memories of the event were not of self regarding reasoning, but rather a powerful surge of compassion for the victim, outrage at a painful injustice and an unthinking determination to end the injustice. All of this on behalf of a stranger.

    This is the intuitive expression of moral reasoning and I think it is a natural part of our species that sets us apart from all other species.

  72. marc levesque

    “The weakness of this is that each person becomes his own moral compass, with the needle swinging widely according to his own vagaries, whims and desires.”

    To a certain degree but being a social species I think we start out with a lot of common ground, including culture, traditions, history, and education that guides us, while reasoning permits us to build on that, refine and adapt to new situations .