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What can be done

P.F. Strawson

18 February 1982
Theories and Things 
by W.V. Quine.
Harvard, 219 pp., £8.75, November 1981, 0 674 87925 2
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... In earlier essays, not reproduced in this volume, Quine wrote, ‘Philosophy, or what appeals to me under that head, is continuous with science’; and, more bluntly: ‘Philosophy of science is philosophy enough.’ There are pages in the present collection of 26 papers which seem to invite a still narrower construction of these apparently restrictive remarks: to invite one, in a word, to gloss ‘science’ as ‘physics ...

Master’s Voice

Stuart Hampshire

19 June 1986
The Time of My Life: An Autobiography 
by W.V. Quine.
MIT, 499 pp., £21.50, September 1985, 0 262 17003 5
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... has been as widely and deeply respected as any English-speaking philosopher now alive. Professor Quine is enjoying a vigorous and productive retirement after many years’ teaching at Harvard. His tone here is jaunty, and he expresses steady enjoyment of almost everything that has happened to him along the way. In the age of P.G. Wodehouse there used to be ...

Weak Wills

Colin McGinn

5 September 1985
Essays on Davidson: Actions and Events 
edited by Bruce Vermazen and Merrill Hintikka.
Oxford, 257 pp., £20, January 1985, 0 19 824749 4
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... Professor at Oxford: only the second philosopher to hold the august position (the first being W.V. Quine, a teacher of Davidson’s at Harvard and his greatest philosophical influence). This honour reflects his present stature in the academic world. Last year he was the subject of a massive conference held in New Jersey, organised by the ...
15 October 1981
Philosophical Subjects: Essays Presented to P.F. Strawson 
edited by Zak van Straaten.
Oxford, 302 pp., £12.50, November 1980, 9780198246039
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... can be as pig-headed as anyone else: indeed, ingenuity can sustain perversity. Strawson, however, displays a wholly admirable grace; he is more than willing to change his mind when he is presented with a good reason for doing so. Thus, since sustained dialectical exchange is the medium of real philosophical work, one can get a sense of what it is like ...
31 October 1996
Wittgenstein’s Place in 20th-Century Analytic Philosophy 
by P.M.S. Hacker.
Blackwell, 368 pp., £50, October 1996, 0 631 20098 3
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Wittgenstein: Mind and Will, Vol. IV of an Analytical Commentary on the ‘Philosophical Investigations’ 
by P.M.S. Hacker.
Blackwell, 742 pp., £90, August 1996, 0 631 18739 1
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... first-class minds could safely ignore it and get on with the job in hand. Such an attitude, however, could only survive so long as there existed a rough consensus as to what the job in hand was. In the Fifties, the heyday of British analytic philosophy, this was expressed in a series of books with titles such as The Revolution in Philosophy, in which the ...

Misling

Hilary Putnam

21 April 1988
Quiddities: An Intermittently Philosophical Dictionary 
by W.V. Quine.
Harvard, 249 pp., £15.95, November 1987, 0 674 74351 2
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Quine 
by Christopher Hookway.
Polity, 227 pp., £25, March 1988, 0 07 456175 8
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... most distinguished and influential of living philosophers’ (Strawson’s description of Quine, on the dust-jacket) to produce a collection of loosely-connected essays on topics of his choice in a format inspired by Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary – and the result is a remarkable addition to English literature. ...

Locke rules

Ian Hacking

21 November 1991
Locke. Vol. I: Epistemology 
by Michael Ayers.
Routledge, 341 pp., £90, September 1991, 0 415 06406 6
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Locke. Vol. II: Ontology 
by Michael Ayers.
Routledge, 341 pp., £90, September 1991, 0 415 06407 4
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... French idéologues, but after the Revolution Locke faded from sight across the Channel. At home, however his fortunes may have gone up or down, the topics that he discussed came to constitute philosophy. Locke was no sceptic, in the philosopher’s sense of that word, but he surely was sceptical. English-language philosophy has been sceptical ever since. Locke ...

Why are we here?

W.G. Runciman: The Biology of Belief

7 February 2002
Religion Explained: The Human Instincts that Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors 
by Pascal Boyer.
Heinemann, 430 pp., £20, September 2001, 0 434 00843 5
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... and agencies.’ He doesn’t appear to have in mind things like gravity or magnetism or radio waves. But much of science is about non-observable causal powers, quite apart from the powers invoked by sorcerers, magicians, faith-healers, fortune-tellers and witch-doctors. One of Boyer’s examples is the belief of the Fang people of Cameroon in the ...
21 October 2004
Kripke: Names, Necessity and Identity 
by Christopher Hughes.
Oxford, 247 pp., £35, January 2004, 0 19 824107 0
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... that analytic philosophers have explained to one another what it is that they’re up to. It is, however, less historical than mythopoetic. The details aren’t awfully reliable, but maybe the moral will edify. Stage one: conceptual analysis. A revisionist account of the philosophical enterprise came into fashion just after World War Two. Whereas it used to be ...

Wasp in a Bottle

John Sturrock

10 February 1994
Charles Sanders Peirce 
by Joseph Brent.
Indiana, 388 pp., £28.50, January 1993, 0 253 31267 1
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The Esssential Peirce: Vol. I 
edited by Nathan Houser and Christian Koesel.
Indiana, 399 pp., £17.99, November 1992, 0 253 20721 5
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... than his to modernise; others were too exalted or too obscure. This isn’t enough on its own, however, to explain why he should have ended by being a marginal figure, in crying need of posterity to grant him his due. Largely, he had himself to blame, because with his genius of mind there went an untameable insolence of behaviour. Henry James met the ...

It’s good to be alive

Gideon Lewis-Kraus: Science does ethics

9 February 2012
Sex, Murder and the Meaning of Life: A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition and Complexity Are Revolutionising Our View of Human Nature 
by Douglas Kenrick.
Basic, 238 pp., £18.99, May 2011, 978 0 465 02044 7
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Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values 
by Sam Harris.
Bantam, 291 pp., £20, April 2011, 978 0 593 06486 3
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The Fair Society: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice 
by Peter Corning.
Chicago, 237 pp., $27.50, April 2011, 978 0 226 11627 3
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... off – as a species and as individuals – when we co-operate. Before Kenrick gets to this, however, he tells us that all human behaviour – whatever our proximate justifications for it – can be understood in terms of reproductive ambition and the aggression this instils. This is what drives a man’s interest in Playboy, or a woman’s in a ...

Real Naturalism

Galen Strawson

26 September 2013
... the same thing as physicalism as I’ve just defined it (I’m putting ethics aside). There are, however, important questions to be raised about what this amounts to. They’re old questions, but they haven’t received enough attention recently. One result of this is that many – probably most – philosophers who call themselves naturalists are in fact ...

Bendy Rulers

Glen Newey: Amartya Sen

28 January 2010
TheIdea of Justice 
by Amartya Sen.
Allen Lane, 468 pp., £25, July 2009, 978 1 84614 147 8
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... Z, and at least one person does better, Y is preferred to Z. This seems plausible. Sen showed, however, that it runs afoul of the minimum demands of liberty, taken as the claim that each person should be decisive over at least one matter, such as deciding what books one can look at. In Sen’s celebrated example, Lewd wants to read a pornographic book and ...

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