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Critical Discussions Ways of Worldmaking, by Nelson Goodman; xii & 142 pp. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1978, $9.95. Discussed by Paul Ricoeur The seven chapters which compose Goodman's new book will be no surprise for readers of Fact, Fiction, and Forecast and Languages of Art. But these readers will be confronted by the most radical and the most condensed exposition of the author's philosophy (plus some internal excursions, if I dare say so, which add the pleasure of discovery to that of recognition). The thesis is simple, rigorous and uncompromising. For the sake of didactic clarity, I analyze it in three partial theses: 1. We "make" the world by construing symbolic systems (in a sense of the word symbol akin to Cassirer's use of the term) which are numerous and equally legitimate: descriptive theories, perceptions, novels, paintings, musical scores, etc. (Thesis I) In order to help the reader to exercise the thesis, the author starts with a familiar example which implies only statements, but whose truth-claims are at odds with each other: "The sun always moves," "The sun never moves." We are ready to rewrite the two statements in such a way that the emphasis is shifted from what is described to systems of description: "Under frame of reference A, the sun always moves, and under frame of reference B, the sun never moves." A more difficult step is taken when we juxtapose and conjoin two pictures, say a Van Gogh and a Canaletto, or a picture and a statement. All of them are equally versions or visions (I shall return in my critical part to this duplication of terms) of the world. This first phase of the theory recalls Cassirer, but more strikingly radicalizes him. In the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, linguistic forms, 107 108Philosophy and Literature mythical and aesthetical forms, and scientific forms were indeed held as distinct and irreducible (in a cultural rather than transcendental sense of the term "form"), but Cassirer's pluralism was still a mixed one to the extent that symbolic forms taken together constitute a teleological development ruled by the mind's thrust toward objectivity, i.e., scientific knowledge. In that sense the system of symbolic forms remains a hierarchical system. Unlike Cassirer, Goodman sees no such hierarchy obtaining between versions and visions. "Just this, I think: that many different world-versions are of independent interest and importance, without any requirement or presumption of reducibility to a single base" (p. 4). In that sense, his pluralism is a radical pluralism. 2.Each of these ways of world making is a world-version rather than a version of the world, in the sense that there is no world in itself before or beneath these versions. (Thesis II) This thesis is supported by the lack of any test that could allow us to compare a version to a world which would be neither described, nor perceived, nor depicted. Here too, Goodman radicalizes a thesis that Cassirer had developed in Function and Substance, before writing his Philosophy of Symbolic Forms: by dissolving substance into function, Cassirer had completed the demolition of the thing in itself, insofar as the priority of the category of substance over that of causality among the triadic set of Kant's categories of relation could still offer a basis for reinstating the thing in itself. The same negative argument may be put in the following terms: there is no way of showing that two versions are of the same world, because the question "same or not the same?" must be complemented by the addition of "same what?". Then the use of the term same is always relative to a homogeneous kind. We may only say that versions differ in that not everything belonging to one belongs to the other, or that there is no more a unique world of worlds than there is a unique world (p. 17). Therefore we must drop the idea that versions are versions of one and the same neutral and underlying world. As a corollary to this second stage of the thesis, we have to say that no version is the basic one and the others derivative, as physicalism does say of the physical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 107-120
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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