Reflections and Replies: Essays on the Philosophy of Tyler Burge
This volume of essays and replies focuses mainly on that part of Burge's work known as 'anti-individualism.' A volume so focused should not be thought narrow, however, as both the roots and branches of these insights are extensive. For example, Calvin Normore's 'Burge, Descartes and Us,' ranges from Descartes's thought experiments, to the picture of natural kind terms emerging from Saul Kripke's Naming and Necessity. Normore ranges broadly to provoke Burge's response to what he sees as a central tension: '[H]ow to preserve the insight that the reference of a thinker's thoughts and words is wholly fixed by relations, usually causal relations, to a world outside the thinker (and so dependent on that world) and at the same time preserve the strong intuition that some concepts and most, perhaps all, perceptual states could misrepresent the very things they represent.' Normore's paper highlights the importance of distinguishing among linguistic terms, concepts, and percepts with respect to their content, causal relations, and representational aspects, when considering arguments for or against anti-individualism, first-person authority, and scepticism.
Burge's response underscores this with subtle explanations of why he rejects several theses sometimes associated with 'externalist' positions, among them that 'mental representation or reference is never representation-as.' Burge's rejection includes a detailed theory of conceptual and perceptual representation and the way representations are both 'perspectival' and necessarily dependent on their external relations for individuation. Burge's reply also includes a reappraisal of Descartes, and those who find themselves teaching Descartes's Meditations with Kripke, Hilary Putnam, and Burge in mind (or vice versa) will find the Normore- Burge exchange clarifying. Also to this end, Keith Donnellan's paper and Burge's reply help to clarify the differences in scope, methodology, and conclusions between Putnam's thought experiments and Burge's. Those interested in the possible role of anti-individualist considerations in a defense against scepticism will find an enlightening exchange of well-considered views in Barry Stroud's contribution and Burge's reply.
Christopher Peacocke's 'Implicit Conceptions, Understanding, and Rationality' introduces the notion of an 'implicit conception' by asking: What goes on when someone reflects on and comes to appreciate an axiom or rule of inference as valid? Peacocke advocates the importance of 'implicit [End Page 319] conceptions' in theories of linguistic understanding, concepts, and rationality. Burge calls for clarification of the notion of 'implicitness,' leading to a detailed analysis of what reflective explication of a concept grasped can involve. He argues that what guides the application of even a sharply grasped concept 'might not be purely an implicit conception or rule, but a combination of rules of thumb, paradigm cases, and a sense of mathematical similarities. That is, incomplete conceptualization of a definite concept that is being thought with may be present at both explicit and implicit levels.' This exchange contains insights on a priority - the psychology and epistemology of logical thought - as well as historical reflections on Leibniz and Frege.
Those who disagree with Burge on central issues will be particularly interested in the contributions of Fred Dretske, B.F. Loar, and Noam Chomsky. Chomsky's 'Internalist Explorations' criticizes 'externalism' and sees progress in the study of mind occurring only through study of the internal states of individuals. He questions the fruitfulness of thought experiments like those employed by Burge and Putnam. Burge's reply corrects Chomsky's impression of the aims and uses of such thought experiments and defends his methodology. He agrees with Chomksy that 'belief-desire-intention psychological explanation of most human action is unsystematic, highly contextual, and at present more the province of common sense than systematic science,' while nonetheless maintaining 'that some recognizable though vast refinement and elaboration of the belief-desire-intention model will find a place in systematic psychology.' Burge's reply to Chomsky is a careful reflection not only on the notions of meaning and content, but also on philosophical methodology by one of the most original, skilful, and subtle employers of that philosophical tool, the thought experiment.
Other contributors include Martin Hahn, James Higginbotham, Joseph Owens, Ned Block, and Bernard Kobes, all interesting and all provoking interesting responses from Burge. The contributions in the volume are well chosen for breadth, and the replies are carefully crafted, range broadly, and mine deeply.
Erin Eaker, Department of Philosophy, University of Western Ontario