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BOOK REVIEWS 365 Why Does Language Matter to Philosophy? By Ian Hacking. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975. Pp. 200. $13.95) In this book Ian Hacking presents two radical theses, one of which I shall call the Philosophical Thesis, the other, the Historical Thesis. The Philosophical Thesis is that the nature of knowledge has changed; not just what we know but the kind of thing we know has changed during the last three centuries. According to Hacking, people of the seventeenth century knew ideas, whereas people of the twentieth century know sentences. As Hacking puts it, "Knowledge is not what it used to be.... The very nature of knowledge has changed .... Our lore and the lore even of our fathers, is a fabric of sentences. But the lore of our ancestors was not" (p. 160). Hacking assures us that he means his claim literally (p. 161)and goes so far as to deny that Aristotle, Aquinas, or Descartes even had a word for knowledge. One immediately thinks of Latin and Greek synonyms, and Hacking anticipates this objection. He says, "Before the scientific revolution the best words seem to be scientia and episteme. They had to do with knowledge demonstrated from first principles , and they involved knowledge of causes of things derived from acquaintance with essences" (p. 161). But Hacking here contradicts himself: if scientia and episteme have to do with knowledge demonstrated from first principles, then they have to do with knowledge. Hacking attributes the change in the nature of knowledge to evolution and holds that "knowledge itself must be the primary force that drives the transformation from the heyday of ideas to the heyday of sentences" (p. 160). For all its strangeness, Hacking's Philosophical Thesis is not unprecedented. Robert Holkot, O.P., a fourteenth-century Ockhamite, anticipated Hacking's view that sentences are the objects of knowledge (obiectum sciendO. For example, Holkot held that, although God is omniscient, God is able to know more than He knows; He would have known more than He knows if more true sentences had been written; and He would have known less if fewer had been. Further, "God is omniscient" is consistent with "God knows nothing," since it is possible that no sentences exist. But Hacking goes further than Holkot; he thinks that one day we will "dispense with the fiction of a knowing subject," and "discourse itself... [will be] that which constitutes human knowledge" (p. 187). 1 The Philosophical Thesis has the air of absurdity about it, and Hacking does not unveil it until the last thirty pages of his book. To prepare the reader for his astounding Philosophical Thesis, Hacking first develops his Historical Thesis. According to the Historical Thesis, there have been three major philosophical epochs since the seventeenth century. They are, to use Hacking's titles: A. The Heyday of Ideas: the period in which private--that is, mental--language mattered to philosophy and during which there was no theory of meaning; B. The Heyday of Meanings: the period in which public languages mattered and there was a theory of meaning; and C. The Heyday of Sentences: the period in which public languages mattered and there is again no theory of meaning. There is a neatness to this scheme. We notice immediately that according to it, the direction of philosophy has been from the inner to the outer; from the absence of a theory of meaning to its presence; and finally to the expulsion of meaning from the schools of philosophy. We also notice an overlap and a similarity, each of which links the present to the past. B and C overlap in their concern with the nature of public language, and A and C are similar in lacking a concern with the nature of meaning. Hacking, I believe, intends this scheme to be neat; for the purpose of his book is to help those who have acquired "doubts... about philosophical speculation"--in particular, those who have "found themselves dissatisfied with recent linguistic philosophy, and yet know that in some way language has deeply mattered to philosophy" (Preface). And the last thing such people need is ambiguity; what they need is a clear-cut scheme to help them...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 365-368
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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