The present book by Alan Montefiore, long-time tutor at Balliol College, Oxford, and now president of the Forum for European Philosophy at the London School of Economics, though not an autobiography or memoir in the traditional sense, nonetheless "bears many traces of its autobiographical origins" vii. Specifically, he is interested in whether these two philosophical areas of concern -- which, he notes, generally yield distinct bibliographies in most philosophy programs -- might not be intimately connected.
At the same time, in relation to its quasi-autobiographical elements, Montefiore combines this study with the more personal and possibly even more vexed question of defining Jewish identity.
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And one of the central retrospective elements is his coming to understand his earlier philosophical preoccupations as a conceptually refined mirroring, whether conscious or not, of his real life struggles with this more personal question - as Montefiore puts it, "philosophy may very often start before it knows itself as philosophy" ix. While the book is relatively short, it is multi-faceted, with the material therefore so difficult to contain that Montefiore appends an extended postscript to deal further with some of the philosophical issues bubbling beneath -- sometime overflowing onto -- the surface.
But this is not accidental. It reflects an "anticompartmentalizing view of philosophy" x , a view that emerges fully as the book develops, whereby philosophy is characterized by its "ultimate lack of any sharp boundaries" In a sense this is likely to be at once the book's greatest strength and greatest weakness, depending on the reader's own philosophical sensibility.
Nailing my colors to the flag, Montefiore's general view is one that I share, and thus while the book may strike some as overambitious, I found it to be a fascinatingly nuanced, dignified and, at certain points, even quite moving account of these complex and in the Jewish case often emotive issues. At the most mundane level the "fact" that I am a university professor commits me to, for example, turning up to teach certain classes at certain times.
In this way, facts regarding personal identity can clearly be seen to yield obligations. But we each wear many such hats that bring specific obligations in their wake. Montefiore's question turns on whether any hat "can ever be so tightly attached to a person's head as to make it impossible to conceive of him or her without it" While admitting that it makes no sense to view certain biological facts about us as mere hats of choice, many of our social roles are of precisely this nature: I can decide to take them on, and can equally re-assess such decisions, with all of the attendant consequences.
The central question that is formulated and reformulated, at times a little repetitiously, throughout the chapter and the remainder of the book pertains to how Jewish identity fits into this picture. For while we can decide to step away from a given social role, and to step outside of the forms of social life to which it is attached, Montefiore asks whether it makes "uncontroversially intelligible sense" 30 for a Muslim to unilaterally declare himself a Christian or indeed for Montefiore himself to "determine for myself what my obligations should be to what [the elder generation] understood as the tradition?
While a director of a company can retire or resign and divest himself of the responsibilities associated with the position, surely he cannot divest himself of those responsibilities while still claiming to be the director. To what, then, could the nature of such an identity amount? This is the issue to which Montefiore devotes the three central chapters of the book, which address the issue from a variety of perspectives. Montefiore first discusses this issue regarding the extent to which one can demur to a self-identity from the group identity that is given by others.
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For Jews in the twentieth century this is a particularly emotive issue. Log out of ReadCube. Volume 43 , Issue 1.
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Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, , Zalta, E. Princeton: Princeton University Press, , vii. Putnam regards this move as metaphysical pie in the sky. Conant, James. Cambridge, Mass. Tracing the outlines of these patterns we discern five themes that provide a useful map to help the reader negotiate the relations between Putnam past and Putnam present, and between the technical and the non-technical, and the theoretical and the practical in this complex and wide-ranging field of evolving discussions.
And part of their elusiveness is that Putnam has no single or simple philosophical vision. He is, as we want to put it, a philosophical artisan who, like a highly skilled craftsman e. The Critique of Logical Positivism Logical Positivism, understood broadly to include the writings of Quine,12 was arguably the most important philosophical movement of twentieth century Anglo-American philosophy.
Conant, J. Putnam follows the positivists in rejecting incoherent and irresponsible metaphysics that is, metaphysics with no links to what has weight in our lives but he does not agree with them that this spells the end of metaphysics as such. Far from it! Putnam is the first to insist that the life of philosophy depends on encouraging vigorous metaphysical discussion, which is, of course, consistent with finding some metaphysical disputes relatively fruitless e.
Certain metaphysical issues, such as those raised by critical reflection on contemporary physics e. But for all his sympathy with metaphysical discussion Putnam wants to resist the metaphysical impulse to demand final once-and-for-all answers to such questions. Paradoxically, the deniers of metaphysics often turn out to be unwitting metaphysicians themselves. Putnam was himself a verificationist during his internal realist period, but his notion of verification was never simply taken over from the positivist tradition. One might be forgiven for thinking that Putnam is obsessed about how best to philosophically capture some intuitive idea of a mind-independent reality but that would be to misunderstand his motivations.
To maintain his semantic agnosticism, Devitt is forced to put his faith in an undefined notion of mind-independence that cannot do the work required of it [more on this below]. The moral for Putnam who echoes Frege here is that these issues must be conducted in a semantic key. What this shows is the extent to which Putnam is a post-linguistic-turn philosopher for whom issues of truth, meaning, reference, and understanding or sense are at the heart of, and so put significant constraints on, all philosophical reflection.
The no-miracles argument that Putnam defends in chapter 1 [and of which more below] is a causal argument that does not depend on substantial semantic assumptions De Gaynesford, Maximillian. Hilary Putnam. Durham: Acumen, New York: Columbia University Press, , The moral is: these are not our only options, nor are they our best. This might just seem to raise the question of objectivity all over again: Better or worse for whom? Better or worse in what respect? But this tells us very little unless we know what sense we are to attach to these terms and how to apply them.
This is what we have conceptions of objectivity for.
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In the history of philosophy there have been many conceptions pictures or models of objectivity to provide the ideas of better and worse 19 Putnam, H. The Many Faces of Realism. New York: Columbia University Press, , 14, fn. Some of the more important conceptions include: 1 the account of objectivity in terms of objects e. Much of his efforts have been directed against the object-based account of objectivity in the philosophy of mathematics and ethics, in particular21 but his general lesson is that each of these different conceptions applies well to some, but not to all, aspects of our lives.
Regarding the concept of objectivity, Putnam is trying to get us to see that the core idea of a better or worse that transcends the speaker is presupposed in our everyday practices of adjudicating disputes even if we spell out the notion of better or worse in different ways on different occasions.
This is as true in science and mathematics as in such notoriously problematic areas such as ethics and aesthetics where reasonableness and rational argument do not guarantee agreement. Once again this is an example of the artisanal approach to philosophy at work. Ethics Without Ontology. Anti-essentialism Anti-essentialism about truth is a familiar doctrine from the writings of Rorty as is anti- essentialism about language in the writings of Wittgenstein.
But it is too little appreciated that Putnam has extended this Wittgensteinian and pragmatist move to a range of central philosophical notions including, in addition to truth and language, meaning, reference, knowledge, reason, objectivity, and moral goodness.
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Philosophical Investigations. Another is Cavell, with whom Putnam also shares interesting commonalities of outlook and purpose. See the chapter of this title in the present volume ch. The Uses of Sense. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Put otherwise, the sentence by itself has no single well-defined meaning or truth-condition but an indefinitely extendable range of occasion-sensitive senses or reasonable understandings.
One immediate consequence of this outlook is that the project of giving a theory of meaning, in so far as this assumes a fixed and unified subject-matter which can be considered independently of the messy business of pragmatics, is a fantasy. So, too, for similar reasons, is the project of attempting to analyze the concept of, say, knowledge into necessary and sufficient conditions. See [this vol.
Putnam has recently published works on these themes so there we will only comment briefly on them here. For example, a chair can be usefully and truthfully described in the language of physics, or of carpentry, or of furniture design, or of etiquette, etc. These values are presupposed by reason in the areas of science, epistemology and logic that the metaphysician takes for granted.
But for several decades since then Putnam has been a staunch critic of this kind of scientism and its various expressions such as the project to naturalize reason or intentionality and the Procrustean imposition of scientific or mathematical models of rationality across the board. Liberal naturalism wants to allow for the conceptual possibility of non-scientific understanding and knowledge but from a perspective that still earns the right to the title of naturalism insofar as it rejects all forms of supernaturalism and is centrally concerned to take the sciences 32 Putnam, H.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, Such forms of understanding also make ineliminable reference to a subjective or agential point of view for which there is no plausible scientific account in the offing. Part 2. Hence the appropriateness of our title, Philosophy in the Age of Science.
There are two further motivations for the title. One is the liberal naturalism already canvassed above. Another is the acknowledgement that the greatest challenge to philosophy today is to explain what role philosophy, understood as a relatively distinct discipline of inquiry, can plausibly have in light of the great successes of modern science and the technologically dependent consumer society it has made possible.
Logical positivists held that philosophy is essentially a philosophy of the logic of scientific discourse. Moreover, in addition to its theoretical face, Putnam recognizes a moral face of the subject. But the importance of science to philosophy today can be gleaned from this: that science and reflections upon science still retain a fundamental role in discussions of both our theoretical and practical lives.
The artisanal approach to philosophy sets itself against allegedly all-purpose explanatory tools and ready-made answers e. Sensitivity to the issues at hand and a certain unteachable good judgment learned through experience and practice are required by philosophy at its best, no less than by carpenters or concert pianists.
Philosophical Topics: The Philosophy of Hilary. Critique of Pure Reason. Norman Kemp Smith. Putnam does not attempt to directly answer these questions so much as help to free our responses to them from popular misconceptions such as: skepticism e.