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Philosophical Topics

Volume 44, Issue 1, Spring 2016

Essays on the Philosophy of Frederick Stoutland

Lars Hertzberg
Pages 287-298

Stoutland vs. Metaphysics

In his essay “Analytic Philosophy and Metaphysics,” Frederick Stoutland argues that an unspoken metaphysical spirit underlies much of twentieth-century analytic philosophy, in spite of the fact that the word “metaphysics” has had a pejorative ring. The metaphysical habit of mind results in an activity which at best is an unproductive diversion, at worst a dialectical illusion, making claims which only appear to be truth-evaluable. I agree with Stoutland’s diagnosis, which is inspired by Wittgenstein, Georg Henrik von Wright, and Cora Diamond, but argue that there is a bifurcation in the metaphysical temptation which Stoutland overlooks. One form is the assumption that questions of meaning can be raised outside the context of meaningful use of an expression, the other is the urge to impose a scientific form of inquiry onto philosophy, the aims of which are quite different from those of science. The former temptation is the deeper one, running through the history of philosophy, while the attempt to model philosophical inquiry onto scientific explanation is the contemporary form taken by this temptation. As an example of the metaphysical spirit Stoutland criticizes Marion David’s defense of the correspondence theory of truth. I argue that David’s progress could have been cut off at an earlier stage, by pointing out that the examples of truth claims David uses as his starting points are themselves bewildering and far removed from anything that would intelligibly be said in the course of a normal conversation.