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Saturday, June 20, 2020


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"I will tell you," said I, "what seems to me; for philosophy is, in fact, the greatest possession, and most honourable before God, to whom it leads us and alone commends us; and these are truly holy men who have bestowed attention on philosophy. What philosophy is, however, and the reason why it has been sent down to men, have escaped the observation of most; for there would be neither Platonists, nor Stoics, nor Peripatetics, nor Theoretics, nor Pythagoreans, this knowledge being one. I wish to tell you why it has become many-headed. It has happened that those who first handled it, and who were therefore esteemed illustrious men, were succeeded by those who made no investigations concerning truth, but only admired the perseverance and self-discipline of the former, as well as the novelty of the doctrines; and each thought that to be true which he learned from his teacher: then, moreover, those latter persons handed down to their successors such things, and others similar to them; and this system was called by the name of him who was styled the father of the doctrine...."

St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho.

I have seen Dummett's statement before, and although it seems straightforward I have never understood it. What is a "philosophical account of thought"? What exactly is the question such an account is trying to answer?


Are you the same person who asked about possible worlds a while back?

I refer you to ch. 13 of Origins of Analytic Philosophy to get a sense of what a philosophical account of thought is.

Frege and Husserl are fiercely anti-psychologistic, and Dummett is on board with that. So a philosophical account of thought cannot be a psychological account. Dummett speaks of the "extrusion of thoughts from the mind." Now if analysis of thought cannot proceed by way of psychology, then "the only route to the analysis of thought goes through the analysis of language." (128). Dummett calls this "the fundamental axiom of analytical philosophy." (128)

You asked what the question is. Dummett answers,

>>The philosophy of thought concerns itself with the question what it is to have a thought, and with the structure of thoughts and their components: what it is for a thought to be about an object of one or another kind, what it is to grasp a concept and how a concept can be a component of a thought.<<

I am the same guy.

The quotation from Dummett in the post seems to suggest that other schools of philosophy are also very interested in providing a philosophical account of thought, but do so in some way other than through an account of language. I will have to reflect on the Dummett quote in your response to see if I follow this. (Do Continental thinkers care very much about what it is for a thought to be about an object or what it is to grasp a concept, or are they interested in other questions? And Dummett's questions appear, superficially, to cover a only small part of the issues that analytical philosophers care about.)

In any case your answer is very helpful, thanks.


The book I cite above is short and not as demanding as most of what Dummett writes. So you might want to spring for it.

I myself hold to the primacy of the intentional over the linguistic. See: https://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher_stri/2019/01/the-primacy-of-the-intentional-over-the-linguistic-revisited.html

>>Do Continental thinkers care very much about what it is for a thought to be about an object or what it is to grasp a concept<<

Absolutely. See the article cited above.

>>And Dummett's questions appear, superficially, to cover a only small part of the issues that analytical philosophers care about<< That's right. He is using 'analytic' too narrowly in my opinion.

I had read your article and assumed it was about what I would have called "the primacy of the mental over the physical in an account of intentionality". I thought it was about whether one could provide a physicalist explanation of reference and the like. Can this really be what Dummett means by "a philosophical account of language"? If he really is saying that physicalism (on this subject, but if you're going to insist on it here why not everywhere) is the fundamental axiom of analytical philosophy, then "intolerably stipulative" seems charitable.

Well, this is getting to be too much of a distraction from the main point of your post, which was not about Dummett.
Thank you for the clarification.

My point was that linguistic reference is parasitic upon mental reference. That, I think, is what Dummett is denying, or one of rhe things he is denying.

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