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Notes and Discussions TEXTUAL VS. CONCEPTUAL ANALYSIS IN THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY Exegeses in philosophy must avoid the twin dangers of merely repeating the language of the author and of translating his language into distortion. The fine line of explication which is (to use some Lockean terms) instructive and not just trifling is rarely achieved. The appearance of Dr. Woo]house's book1 provides a suitable occasion for examining this exegetical or explicative problem again, since, while I hope to show that he misses Locke's sense and intention on a number of issues, Woo]house is nevertheless a careful expositor with a scholar's touch. When he strays from Locke's text, he does not do so with any disdain for the historical document he seeks to explain, but from a sincere and serious commitment to a view of philosophy. I The metaphilosophy at work in Woo]house's book is that there are right and wrong answers to philosophical issues in terms of which historical figures can be evaluated. Woo]house can tell us when Locke has gone wrong (or occasionally right) (p. 54, 70, 105, 110), when he has been misguided (p. 72) or unclear (p. 34), when he is incoherent (pp. 26, 28, 143-150), when he dimly or half sees the correct answers (p. 8, 10), and when Locke was just confused (pp. 6, 7, 9, 43, 136--149). None of these characterisations of Locke seem to Woo]house to be extravagant or presumptuous, since he is convinced that there are correct answers to questions about definition, conceptual analysis, the nature of substantival concepts, of natural laws, of our knowledge of substances, etc. I do not think that issues in philosophy are quite as clear-cut as Woo]house believes they are, or that they can be so confidently evaluated independently of the context in which they arose. Frequently, the judgment he makes misses what Locke has said. Woo]house of course does not think that what he says about definition, instructive propositions, classification, etc., is just his own view: he is convinced that we today have discovered the correct analyses of these topics. Nevertheless, it is precisely this conviction which forces Locke into uncongenial molds and postures and which results in a misreading. Another troublesome feature of Woo]house's method is his habit of typifying answers with labels. He admits in his Preface that he does not "set much store by" general classifications of philosophical stances, but he then says that he has "found it convenient to classify certain views about natural laws by means of the terms 'rationalist' and 'empiricist '" (p. x). Moreover, problems are labelled with the definite article: the problem of generality, the problem of classification, and the problem of explanation (chap. V). Inside these typified problems we find the answers or positions also labelled: nominalism , realism, conceptualism; essentialism, relativism; essentialism, transcendentism, descriptivism . We all do tend to use the labels of our profession, but I think there are serious historiographical problems raised by their use. In Woo]house's case, not only does the exegesis of Locke become sidetracked while Woo]house lays out the positions named by the labels, the labels also lead hhn away from Locke's sense and intention. 1 RogerWoolhouse,Locke's Philosophy of Science and Knowledge. A consideration of some aspects of An EssayConcerning Human Understanding (Oxford: Blackwell, 1971). [505] 506 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY These historiographical problems are of course neither new nor recently found only in Woolhouse's book. Jonathan Bennett can title a book, Locke, Berkeley and Hume while openly admitting that he is making no historical judgment about the topics of meaning, causality, and objectivity as dealt with by the three philosophers named in his title.2 Bennett hopes to contribute to the understanding of these philosophers "by making it easier to get a firm hold on the logic of some of what they wrote" (Preface). Philosophical topics and problems for Bennett are context-free. In most cases, however, the logic of some view turns out to be Bennett's own analysis of what is right or wrong, seen through his particular philosophical persuasions. He too is quick to tell us...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 505-512
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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