[Paleopsych] R.A. Sharpe: Philosophical Pluralism

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Philosophical Pluralism*
Review Discussion
R.A. Sharpe University of Wales, Lampeter
Inquiry 42: 129-41 (prob. 1989)

* Avrum Stroll, Sketches of Landscapes: PhilosophybyExample (Cambridge, 
MA/London: Bradford Books, MIT Press, 1998), xiv + 282 pp., ISBN 0­262­19391­4, 

Avrum Stroll’ s new book is pluralist. He repudiates overarchingtheory or the 
single conceptual model in favour of the description of what he sees as a 
varied, un­uni® ed landscape of concepts, and in his perambulations through 
this countryside he touches on topics as varied as scepticism, reference in 
fiction and reference to natural kinds, Platonism and more, discussions unified 
more by a common outlook than by any single theme. The common perspective is 
that he repudiates the `master­key’ approach. He is struck by the diversity of 
philosophical problems and the diversity of the answers to them and in this his 
approach is somewhat Wittgensteinian. He calls it `piecemeal’ .

The opening discussion is a fairly lengthy examination of scepticism. Professor 
Stroll applies the diallelus or `wheel’ argument widely. The gist of the 
diallelus is this. Ifwe are to know how things really are as opposedto how they 
appear to us, we need a criterion to distinguishthe apparent from the real. But 
of any criterion which may be offered we can ask `Does this criterion succeed 
in distinguishing the apparent from the real?’ To know that it succeeds is 
already to be able to distinguish and this assumes we are in prior possession 
of a criterion for distinguishing seeming from reality. The search for criteria 
looks to be viciously circular. Stroll extends this argument to beliefs as well 
as to appearances; then the same objection applies; any criterion for 
distinguishing true beliefs from false assumes that we already have a means of 
detecting which beliefs are true and which not, so we need to be already in 
possession of the criterion we seek.

Stroll links the discussion of criteria for beliefs with the use of criteria in 
grading. The suggestion that we might be able to grade beliefs as we grade, 
say, fruit goes back at least as far as Descartes’ s introduction, in his 
objections and replies on Meditation One, of the apple barrel metaphor. 
Remember that the idea was that we should sort through beliefs casting out 
those which did not come up to scratch. Stroll does not challenge the analogy. 
However, there are reasons for supposing the apple barrel an ill­judged 

First, what sense does it make to speak of beliefs as good or bad? Stroll seems 
to think there are no problems, but it is clear that we do not ordinarily speak 
this way. The very idea of sorting through beliefs, dividing them into good and 
bad beliefs, is bizarre. For to identify a belief as a bad belief (assuming 
this is an epistemological matter) is already to make it impossible to believe 
it. If I see that it lacks evidential support etc. then I willnot believe it. 
(ceteris paribus). (Ifthe badness of a belief is a moralmatter rather than an 
epistemological one, then, I suppose, we may think a belief to have morally 
objectionable implications but still believe it because we think it true; a 
racist might think another race both intellectually and morally inferior, 
recognize that this view has regrettable consequences as far as their treatment 
is concerned but, with a sigh, register it as a sad but unavoidable fact. In 
such a case the proposition might be both taken to be bad and believable.) The 
second reason why this model is unhelpful is that the holism of beliefs makes 
it impossible to weed out beliefs one at a time. Of course, in one respect, the 
apple barrel metaphor is not so inapposite; it suggests that one bad belief 
infects the others; and it is true that if I have one wrong belief I will have 
others and that the removal of this false belief has knock­on effects. (Though 
in as much as the metaphor suggests this is a temporal process it is 
misleading.) If I come to believe that the computer model for the mind is 
mistaken, then all sorts of things follow. I do not just relinquish this 
belief, I will also cease to believe in the claims of `cognitive science’ about 
many other matters. Still the analogy fails in as much as I do not scrutinize 
these connected beliefs separately.(It is doubtfulas to whether Descartes 
thought ofthe matter in this way;wrongly, he thoughtof beliefs as items which 
can be separately scrutinized, which suggests he had some other view of the 
infecting process.)

So, given that the criterion for relinquishing a belief is that you now either 
have reason to believe that it is false or you see that there is no reason to 
believe it true, the analogywithapples does not run through. For the content of 
the belief is intimately connected with the change. In the first, stronger 
case, you see that the propositional content of the belief is false. So the 
grounds for rejecting it are necessarily connected with your belief. Once you 
see that it is false, necessarily you cannot believe it (barring irrationality 
and double­think etc.)It ceases to be a proposition you believe.It is, then, no 
longer one of your beliefs. What you believe changes from it to its contrary or 
As we see, in the centralsense of `belief’ , beliefs are no longer in existence 
if they are not believed. But the criteria for goodness in an apple, firmness, 
texture, andtaste, are independent ofthe fact that it is an apple. If it fails 
these criteria it does not cease to be an apple; it is merely a bad apple and 
it might, unfortunately, be your apple. The dissimilarities go further, of 
course. I have spoken of `mybeliefs’±with the implication that this ceases to 
be one of my beliefs once I see it to be false or groundless. But others might 
continue to believe this proposition ± even where I try to dissuade them. The 
purchase of an apple precludes its purchase by somebody else.

Why should the analogy with apples have seemed a good parallel to anybody? 
Perhaps the fact that `belief’is sometimes taken to be equivalent to 
`proposition’ lends Descartes’ s argument an unmerited degree of plausibility. 
For propositions continue to exist when they are not being entertained and, if 
beliefs are taken in that sense the objection that, normally, negative grading 
produces extinction, will not apply.

To return to the diallelus, the assumption is that criteria needto be 
justified. But there seems no more reason to believe this than to assume that 
justifications in general have themselves to be always justified ± a move which 
is evidently regressive. As Wittgenstein famously observed, `justifications 
have to stop somewhere’(the precise reverse of an equally famous dictum of 
Charles Sanders Peirce). There is reason for supposing Wittgenstein right; 
criteria do not generally invite the regressive move; primarily there is the 
observation that if the criterion of a good apple is that it is crispand has a 
strongslightlyacidic ¯ avour, we seem under no pressure to answer the question, 
`But how do you know that this criterion is a rightone or
a good one?’ It just is the one commonly used ± or at the very least, the one 
used by the speaker. If pushed, I would invite people to taste certain apples, 
but then, if they did not agree I might conclude that they had defective taste 
buds or whatever. The moves are familiar in aesthetics. In as much as the 
judgment of an apple ultimately depends upon preference, there is no case for 
supposing it potentially regressive in the way that epistemic notions are, 
rightly or wrongly, imagined to be.
A point to notice is that there are people who are more or less competent in 
grading. A sommelier might reject a wine for reasons not obvious to me. But it 
would be odd, and perhaps implausible for me to question the criteria used. 
Doubts about his judgment would not usually present themselves as invitations 
to him to `justify his criteria’ .For what more could be required than the 
recognition that he is qualified in this area. David Hume memorably summarized 
the requirements for a good judge in his `Of the standard of taste’ ; `strong 
sense, united to delicate sentiment, improved by practice, perfected by 
comparison and cleared of all prejudice.’ This does not, of course, preclude 
the assessor making a bad judgment say in making a judgment which is rejected 
by all his peers, and a number of misjudgments will lead us to conclude that he 
is not an expert.
Let’ s return to the analogy between apples and beliefs. There are experts in 
grading apples. Are there also experts in settling beliefs? Part of the history 
of epistemologyhas been premised on the assumption that people could improve 
their capacities in this in a general sort of way, mainlyby a trainingin logic. 
I am somewhat sceptical. The fact is that the imprudent acquiescence in a 
belief is usually a result of unfamiliarity with the area and not a general 
failing. It is not usually an inability to employ modus ponens that is the 
problem. A man who has a symptom which he knows to be one of the symptoms of 
something serious like cancer may jump to the conclusion that he has that 
disease, where an expert, aware of the fact that any one symptom can indicate 
any one of a number of conditions or nothing very serious at all, will be far 
more cautious. If my car fails to start I may leap to the conclusion that it 
must be the coil because it was that which caused it to fail to start 
previously;but a mechanic, aware of the various factors which prevent a car 
from starting, mightcarryout further tests. Itwould be consistent with Stroll’ 
s general position to acknowledge this. The dissimilarity between grading 
apples and grading beliefs is this. There are experts in grading apples but 
there are no experts in grading beliefs. There are experts in grading beliefs 
according to their implausibility or plausibility in various areas. There are 
experts on oncology, car mechanics, the history of music, performance practice, 
the history of philosophy etc., but there are no experts on beliefs per se and 
the idea that philosophy might produce these is absurd. For to be good in any 
of these areas is to be aware of the range of pros and cons. If a philosophy 
teacher marks an essay on his special field, he can do so because he is aware 
of the arguments which are available against even the most plausible seeming 
position, the thesis which seems innocuous to the student. But in this respect 
he does not differ from the historian of the industrial revolution who also 
knows that what looks obvious has been questioned. Those of us who teach a 
subject like aesthetics know how ready teachers of Englishare to propounda 
theory unaware that the theoryitself has a history of defence and refutation. 
Stroll is not, I think, either Wittgensteinian enough or pluralist enough both 
here, and as I shall argue, elsewhere.
Neither does Stroll seem to have considered that a justification is essentially 
context­bound. We ask for justifications in situations where the claims made 
seem controvertible. This connects with a more basic and perhaps more 
significant mistake. The error is to think of `criteria for belief’ as though 
this is a matter to be settled at a general level. It is not even clear that 
such a notion makes any sense. Ofcourse, one might present the anodyne, 
`Believe what you have good evidence for’ , as a maxim but this manages to be 
both boring and dangerous. Not only does it not register the way beliefs 
connect with loyalties and commitments but observing it, were it possible, 
would be destructive. Do I trust my friends only as far as the evidence 
supports that trust? In such cases the interconnection between my belief that 
my friend is reliable and my moral commitment to him makes the matter of my 
assessment of any evidence that he is untrustworthy a much more complex matter 
than merely looking at evidence. Evidence that I would take at face value if he 
were somebody else, I may not accept because he is my friend. Imaylook for 
other and more generous explanations of his behaviour.
Stroll is well aware of cases where no justification for a belief claim is 
required. His examples of what we might know but cannot justify are cases like 
somebody with perfect pitch identifying a note, or an idiot savant coming up 
withthe square root of 1,973. Consider some other cases. I know what my name 
is, straight off; admittedly, there might be contexts in which I might be 
called upon to produce evidence; I might be called on to produce evidence if 
fraud is a possibility, as when Iam gettinga new passport or openinga bank 
account. A hospital doctor might ask me for evidence that I am whom I am if I 
am being admittedto casualty because of a bang on the head. Evidence would not 
be normally called for when introducing myself at a party. The requirement to 
produce evidence there suggests that your host is a maniac or a joker, or a 
philosophy undergraduate, or that this is a party where unwelcome gate­crashers 
are expected. The point is, surely, that context rules, and I am not sure that 
Stroll makes enough of it. I might be required to produce evidence that the 
earth has existed for millions of years in the Bible Belt whereas this is not a 
challenge I would normally expect.
This connects with the discussion of Wittgenstein and Moore on certainty. 
Strollconsiders G. E. Moore’ s attack on scepticism.Unexpectedly, he takes 
Moore to be asserting what he calls a `private statement’ in claiming that he 
knows that the world existed long before he was born. The claim is initially 
puzzling. Does Stroll have in mind a case like a sense­datum judgment where 
privileged access means that I, and only I, am the authority for the claim; 
this looks the obvious model for a `private statement’ should one exist. But 
this is quite unlike the examples offered by Moore. Stroll goes on to say that 
rather than a justification being `silent’ , there seems no place for one at 
all in this case. (This he takes to be the gist of Wittgenstein’ s remarks at 
On Certainty 84). A silent or private justification is impossible because of 
the publicityof the notion of justification (p. 21); on the basis of this he 
goes on to argue that there cannot be relevant evidence for the judgment if it 
is private. Stroll certainly misunderstands Wittgenstein here because 
Wittgenstein would not have levelled that objection at Moore, as Stroll seems 
to think. The context I think makes it clear that, when Wittgenstein says that 
it is of no interest what particular things Moore knows but how these are 
known, it is not the question of justification to which Wittgenstein alludes to 
so much as the fact, as he goes on to stress, that these are things we all know 
but cannot say how. The issue is a general one. In one of those rhetorical 
questions which needs to be taken as an assertion, Wittgenstein goes on to 
saythat this is a truism which is never called into question (OC 87); it is 
part of our `frame of reference’ (OC 83). The presentation suggests that Stroll 
thinks that this has something to do withthe private­language argument (p. 
21)but, if he does, he is wrong. Note, as well, that this example is different 
from the sorts of example which Stroll himself uses, that I see straight off 
that one shade is darker than another. Stroll is correct in what he says about 
this but it is not the sort of example Wittgenstein discusses in this passage. 
Wittgenstein is concerned with judgments which form a sort of bed rock, such as 
the earth is round or that it has existed for a verylongtime, but these beliefs 
mightnot be shared by other cultures.
The second part of the discussion of scepticism attempts to unpin the Cartesian 
dream argument. Stroll begins withthe observation that Descartes’ s 
presentation assumes that he knows, on occasion, that he is not asleep (p. 28); 
Stroll thinks this undermines the argument. For the argument proceeds from the 
premise that sometimes I have been asleep and dreamt that I was awake to the 
conclusion that, at any time, I might be dreaming, unbeknown to myself.
Stroll’ s is what Curley called the `procedural argument’ ± that if the 
conclusion is true Descartes could not assert its premise, and it is a very 
familiar objection to the Cartesian argument from dreaming. But, as Curley 
argues, it surely is enough cause for concern that the conclusion of the dream 
argument proceeds validly from premises we believed on re¯ ection to be true. 
Descartes is concerned with the possibility that he thinks that he is awake but 
is in fact asleep (something he later discovers). At any point he may think he 
is awake but not be. The scepticalthrust is unblunted and it preserves its 
point in the face of Stroll’ s argument that `dwellingcarefully’ , whichwe are 
called on to do, is not something which can intelligiblybe done whilst asleep 
(p. 30). Certainly if I do this, as opposed to dreaming that I do it, I am not 
asleep, but the possibility that I dream that I dwell carefully is not ruled 
out. This is a close relative of the familiar point that I cannot assert whilst 
I am asleep, which does not, of course, rule out the possibility that I dream 
that I assert. So Bernard Williams’ s objection that Descartes seems to think 
that in dreaming
we make rational judgments but on the wrong basis identifies a mistake in 
Descartes’ s presentation but not one which has any purchase on the sceptical 
force of it. If I dream that Imake rational judgments rather than make rational 
judgments on the basis of what I dream, the sceptical argument can still carry 
The problem with Stroll’ s presentation is that he seems not to grasp the 
sceptical method Descartes uses; it is, like so many forms of scepticism, a 
matter of beginning with the assumption that we know and then, showing, by 
argument, that our confidence is misplaced. It is an assemblage of familiar 
considerations which leads to scepticism. The argument is a reductio. I know 
that I am awake but, since I have sometimes been mistaken about this, I have to 
allow the possibility that I am now asleep and that the judgments I now make 
are not judgments or assertions at all. Rather that I dream that I judge that 
Iam awake. What mistake Descartes makes is concealed in the thesis that there 
are no certain signs that I am awake rather than dreaming. For the situation is 
not symmetrical. Awake, I know I am not dreaming and there are tests I can 
apply, such as pinching myself. Kenny said that in a lecture J. L. Austin 
claimed there were fifty such indications. One of these is described by 
Descartes himself, the continuity of waking life as opposed to the 
discontinuity of dreaming. There are, then, tests which establish that I am 
awake, providing one does not demand, as Descartes presumably would, 
unreasonably high standards for `certain’ . There are no tests which I can 
apply which establish that I am asleep for, in sleep, I can make no judgments.
There follows a pair of essays critical of Putnam and Kripke’ s well­known 
account of the meaning of natural­kind terms. Stroll’ s counters are so 
ingenuous that it is hard to understand why they have not been considered 
before. (Perhaps they have, but Stroll does not cite any previous sources and 
the criticisms are certainly new to me.) The thesis that water is identical 
with H2O and that `water’ both means H2O and meant H2O before that fact was 
discovered is open to the following objections.
1. Firstofall, water is not identicalwith H2O. There are various isotopes of 
water. Pure water is a mixture of molecules other than H2O such as D2O, HDO and 
T2O which have different boiling points and masses. One of them, `heavy 
water’is familiar by name to the general public.
2.By thetransitivity of identity,if water =H2O and H2O =icethen water = ice, 
which is false. He concludes that neither identity is true.
(These mistakes are notconfinedto Putnam and Kripke;theyare also found in
J. J. C. Smart.)
3. There are substances known as isomers whose constituents are the same but 
since the arrangements of atoms and molecules are different, the substances 
differ. Ethyl alcohol (C2H5OH) and methyl ether (CH3OCH3) are each composed of 
two carbon, six hydrogen and one oxygen atom but the structure in each case 
Well, we can all have horse laughs at the expense of Putnam and Kripke who, for 
all their kowtowing to the natural sciences, were apparently ignorant of some 
very elementary high­school chemistry and apparently did not bother to check. 
(In my case, I feel embarrassed at repeating these errors to generations of 
students, and puzzled why none of them told me.) But what does all this show? 
Putnam and Kripke will simply replace their initial statement of identity with 
a more complex form which might be disjunctive.
Still, a few knockabout arguments are fun and the discomforture of the mightyis 
always agreeable. The positive thesis of Stroll, that the phenomenal character 
of water is the basis for its meaning and takes precedence over the 
microphysical is independent of these particular swipes. Children, he says, 
could not otherwise learn the meaning of `water’ since they cannot perceive the 
microstructure (pp. 56±57, 60). At this point Stroll, exhilarated by the chase, 
will pick up anything to hurl at the retreating figures of Putnam and Kripke. 
No!, the child cannot see the microstructure. But it is no skin off Putnam and 
Kripke’ s noses to allow that children learn the use of water through its 
phenomenal properties and then be corrected if the sample of water failed to 
have the usual microstructural properties. This happens with a distinction like 
that between gold and fool’ s gold. I cannot tell the difference any more than 
I can between 18 and 9 carat gold, or between grades of diamond. Ofcourse, even 
ifwe need instruments to check, the distinction is ultimately phenomenal in 
that we can, eventually, learn how to use the right instruments to check and 
see for ourselves; for all I know, there may be simple tests to be done on the 
spot which show the difference between gold and iron pyrites. This is only an 
extension of something familiar. I am not very good at picking out different 
sorts of trees or birds where other people are very good at it. There is a role 
for the expert or the knowledgeable here. I know this is a bird but don’ t know 
that it is a willow warbler though I do know that a willow warbler is a bird. 
(My books on ornithology make it clear that it is very hard to tell members of 
the warbler family apart. For example, the Marsh Warbler is described as `very 
like the Reed Warbler in appearance but less common’ .)
Stroll neglects the intuitively correct and important notion ofthe linguistic 
division of labour. The important question is surely whether or not we speak of 
the meaning of water having changed as more precise criteria become available. 
Itcertainly strikes me as implausible to suppose that medieval man, unbeknown 
to himself, operated with a concept of water that was microstructural before 
chemical analysis was practised or even thought about. Linguistic competence 
cannot be like that, surely. The point ought to be that knowingwhat water means 
is not easily distinguished from knowing the facts about water, and some of 
these facts may be more or less arcane. The fact­language gap is surely a 
philosophical miscalculation and we owe to Quine the realization that the 
matter of what a word means shades imperceptibly into general facts about those 
things to which it applies.
In the next chapter, Stroll introduces a functional element in the definition 
ofsome natural kindwords such as `jade’ or `water’ ;this plays at least some 
role in the definition though it is less prominent than in the case of words 
for artefacts like `table’ or `knife’ . Such natural kind words have been 
labelled `rigid designators’ . Ifwater is a rigid designator, Strollreasons, 
then it follows that if `water’vanished from the face ofthe earth, we would 
lose the meaning of `water’ . We would not, hence `water’ is not a rigid 
designator. But the theory of rigid designation does not carry this 
consequence. It applies also to proper names where it at least succeeds in 
accountingfor the fact that we refer to Homer without even knowing whether the 
one thing traditionally attributed to him, the authorship of the Iliad, is 
true. And Homer is no longer with us. In the event of water disappearing, 
`water’ would act more like a proper name.
Naturally enough, the discussion progresses to the matter of fictional 
statements via some consideration of Kripke’ s notion of rigid designators ± or 
`tagging’ , as we should perhaps call it in deference to Ruth Barcan Marcus. 
What do we do about the names offictionalcharacters andobjects? Go for a 
fictional operator allowing that fictive objects `exist in fiction’ and 
therefore can be tagged, presumably, in another possible world? Abandon the 
idea that proper names are rigid designators because here nothing designated 
exists? Abandon the reference theory for fictional objects in favour of the 
Russellian account for fictional names, that in fiction a proper name may equal 
a description? Hold that fictional names are secondary or derivative?
Stroll is convincedthat the intuitive view is that these are proper names and 
that this common­sense view is right. He argues for this via a discussion of 
Strawson’ s `On Referring’ , whose contribution to the topic he believes is 
undulyneglected. Strawson denies thatfictionalsentences are either false or 
nonsensical. Rather these sentences are used to make statements that are 
neither true nor false (their truth or falsity `does not arise’ ). Strawson is 
obviously wrong here and Stroll obviously right.Thus it is true to say that 
Lady Dedlock was the mother of Esther Summerson and false to saythat Mrs 
Jellyby was childless. The principle that you cannot refer to what is 
non­existent is either trivial or false. On the ordinary understanding of 
`refer’ we regularly refer to fictional objects. To make the trivial point that 
fictional people and places do not exist by means of the observation `Fictional 
names do not refer’merely adjusts the sense of `refer’in a tendentious way.That 
wonderfulfilm byTruffaut, Fahrenheit 451, crystalizes the role played on our 
lives byfiction. To say that we cannot so refer trivializes the question byan 
arbitrary redefinition of `refer’ . So far Stroll seems to me to have hit the 
bull’ s­eye; but his general remarks on fictional statements are less well 
judged. The strength of Strawson’ s analysis, he thinks, is the suggestion that 
works of fiction deal with `make­believe’ (p. 74) and that, in making this 
move, Strawson had shifted the centre of interest from the question of ontology 
to the question of the nature offictional discourse.(He does not mention 
Kendall Walton in this connection, the philosopher most closely associated with 
the idea of `make­believe’ ).
What work does `make­believe’ do here? My absorption in the narrative of a 
story is not preceded by any act of making­believe on my part. There is no such 
intention and `make­believe’ , unlike being deceived, is something 
consciouslydone. Ifindthat, once I `get into’ a story, Isimplyfollow it. When I 
saythat Icannot do this, what I mean is that the storydoes not grip, it seems 
artificial and preposterous, but this is pretty rare. I follow even a bad film. 
So `make­believe’ , as an account of how we followfictionalnarratives and as a 
basis for fictional reference, is either trivial or false for precisely the 
same reasons as the original thesis that we cannot refer to fictional objects. 
On the ordinary understanding of `make­believe’ this is not what we do when we 
watch a film or a play. On a revised definition, we have something made 
trivially true through the definition.
In an original discussion of natural languages (English, of course), Stroll 
touches on a topic which has broader resonances still, for it links with the 
programme of analysis which has dominated philosophy for so much of this 
century. In Plato’ s handling of participation and mimesis, the two concepts 
which articulate different versions of the theory of Forms, Plato assumes that 
universals are not identical with particulars because they are of a higher type 
(pp. 66±67). In a lengthy and somewhat Austinian taxonomic discussion, Stroll 
distinguishes three major groupings in natural languages, `clusters’ , `chains’ 
, and `rings’ . Imagine a word association procedure motivated by linguistic 
interests in synonymy and partial synonymy rather than by psycho­analytic 
theories and you will get the picture. In some cases you will be led back to 
the word with which you began or a synonym of it. This is what he calls a 
`chain’ . In some cases the two terms, though differing in sound, are 
interdefinable.These constitute a `ring’ .Chainshave rules which determine 
membership. The clarification of these ideas considers concepts like `example’ 
, `instance’ , `model’ , `copy’ , `reproduction’ etc. and leads Stroll to 
conclude that Plato con¯ ates a number of different usages (p. 141). To give 
just one or two of his examples, a copy is a copy of some particular thing and 
a copy is made by man; it follows that the only particulars which could be 
copies of forms would be artefacts and, furthermore, that the Forms themselves, 
if copied, must be particulars. Now there some objections to this general 
thesis which Stroll does not consider. The upshot is that usage is even more 
variegated than Stroll’ s particularism seems to comprehend. For the thesis 
carries the implication that if I copy Beethoven’ s `Les Adieux’ sonata then I 
copy this printed or manuscript token but not the sonata itself, which seems to 
me counter­intuitive; at the very least, I find myself under no pressure to say 
the one rather than the other. I am equally comfortable saying I copied the 
sonata or copied this particular token. Again, Stroll suggests that it cannot 
follow that a copy must be of a `different order’from the original.Quite the 
reverse, he thinks; a duplicate key is also a key. But here again, the arts 
provide counter­examples; amongst aestheticians Stuart Hampshire’ s point is 
often recapitulated; in general, a copy of a work of art is not itself a work 
of art. Copy a work of art and you do not have something which is, in the 
important respect, of the same order as the original. Secondly Stroll argues 
that samples and examples differ, not in ontology but in the uses to which they 
are put. (Stroll says `logic’ but `ontology’ better captures the thought.) Thus 
a piece ofcloth can be an example ofcloth (if the person to whom it is being 
shown does not know what cloth is) or a sample (if he wants to see a swatch of 
this particular weave). Stroll draws the powerfully anti­Platonist conclusion 
that if you do not know what x is, an example will show you; you will not be 
helped by being referred to a universal which cannot be inspected.
This might look like a mere restatement of empiricism but empiricism is placed 
in a new light by this approach. However we might be troubled by two thoughts. 
First, why should we think Plato would be concerned with departures from the 
logic of ordinary talk? Certainly he ought to be fazed by the last point, but I 
am not sure he would be. His reaction would almost certainly be `so much the 
worse for ordinary distinctions’ ; secondly, he would presumably argue that 
something like intellectual intuition accounts for mathematical knowledge. 
Other forms of knowledge are inferior and ought not to be privileged in 
philosophical enterprises. He could certainly have adopted a revisionist 
approach and would have done so had the objection been put to him. Finally, to 
assume that such conceptual entanglements carry through from English into Greek 
is probably already to concede some sort of realism, because it can only be on 
the basis that facts dictate our conceptual ordering that this is likely to be 
so. Otherwise, if they do correspond, it is a mere accident that they 
Lastly, why should we trust these classifications into chains, rings etc.? They 
are based, as Stroll says, on the use of a decent dictionary like Websters. But 
what authority has Websters that it should be used in this way? The 
classification of words is, after all, not like the classification of natural 
kinds. That, too, can go drastically wrongbut there are principled ways of 
correcting it through our grasp of natural kinds and our understanding of the 
causal order which puts whales in a differentclade fromfish. (Which is not to 
disregardthe fact that the taxonomy of living species is the occasion of more 
ill­tempered controversies than most ± puzzling when you consider that these 
disagree­ments seem in principle settleable.) But there are no parallel 
principled ways in which we can be reasonably confident that a cluster or a 
ring contains all the relevant words.
As I remarked at the beginning, Stroll favours a piecemeal approach to 
concepts. That a particularist descriptive approach to philosophy is the 
correct one suggests that our concepts may not, generally, be systematic. By 
this I mean that there will, for most of our concepts, be no clear boundaries 
within which they apply and beyond which they do not. This is particularly so 
with concepts like knowledge, belief, justification, human identity, art, right 
action, ± indeed pretty well all the concepts in which philosophers are 
especially interested. Borderline cases usually require a decision and, though 
there may be grounds for that decision, those grounds may also con¯ ict and the 
decision may be arbitrary.
Stroll has no theory to account for his piecemeal, Wittgensteinish, 
example­based approach. Should he? Well, of course, in one way even a higher 
level picture of why we have our concepts of reference, knowledge, universals 
etc. runs counter to his avowedly descriptivist approach and he may shy away 
from any justification of it.
But I think something can be said ± though not by an echt­Wittgensteinian. The 
dedicated followers of Wittgenstein eschew any attempt at generalization at all 
and in making some tentative suggestions I adulterate the pure milk of the 
doctrine. I am going to suggest that a justification for Stroll’ s approach can 
be found in the theory of action. Austin pointed the way towards making the 
theory of action primitive in philosophical explanation by making it basic to 
what this century has regarded as the fundamental philosophical discipline, the 
philosophy of language. (There is an interesting book to be written on the way 
that different branches of philosophy have been, in turn, privileged; 
philosophy of religion, epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of 
mind, perhaps aesthetics for a short period in German romanticism.) For Austin, 
through the idea of speech­acts, elaborated the Wittgensteinian idea that `in 
the beginning is the deed’ . Such a picture does not, of itself, imply that our 
concepts outrun our capacity to determine them in a formal way, but it is easy 
to see why such a theory should suggest itself. A fundamental distinction in 
philosophy of action is between what we consciously intend and what we do, 
either foreseeing it and not intending, or do as the unforeseen consequence of 
our actions. The words we use determine the concepts we possess in a 
straightforward way. Our concept of a planet consists in a number of features 
of planets which trivially follow from the use of the word together with some 
general truths which might or might not be part of the meaning. (There is no 
way of clearly distinguishing questions of fact and language where the matters 
of fact are pretty well universally known.) What is the domain of a concept 
like the concept of a planet? In this case it seems likely to be determinate. 
But there are many concepts whose domain is notoriously indeterminate, such as 
that of a tort or, paradigma­tically, a work of art. If a previously 
unencountered artefact is declared a work of art, of course it might be 
unequivocally, and with universal consent, declared thus even though nobody has 
considered the case before. The case is unforeseen but it happens that the 
lines of the concept have been drawn by implication from previous usages. But 
then again there will be cases where previous usage is no guide to what we 
should say about this case. Then we make a decision (or some one individual 
decides); there may be a preponderance of reasons in favour of counting this an 
instance of the concept in question or there may not. The degree of fiat in the 
decision will vary. My point is that there is no reason to suppose our concepts 
to be more articulated than we currently require, nor that they have any more 
consistency than is required for us to acquire the language which determines 
these concepts. (And the amount of time wasted in philosophical analysis over 
the last half century in an endeavour to show that this case counts as 
knowledge and that case counts as mere belief ± to take just one example ± 
shows how much the Platonism which underlies the programme of philosophical 
analysis has corrupted the discipline.)
I ought not to conclude without saying that this well­produced book is a 
pleasure to read. Stroll writes in an elegant and civilized manner. It is a 
pleasing fact about contemporary philosophythat the books which one enjoys and 
to which one returns are often written by thinkers who are not usually ranked 
amongst the so­called superstars. Stroll is consistently thought­provoking. The 
standard of argument varies but there is a freshness and individuality about 
his approach which is very attractive. Stroll’ s heart is in the right place 
even if too often it beats to the rhythm of his opponents.
1 SeeJ.O.Urmson’ s classicpaper `OnGrading’ , inA.G.N.Flew(ed.), Logic and
Language, second series (Oxford: Blackwell, 1959). 2 E.M.Curley, Descartes 
against the Sceptics (Oxford: Blackwell, 1978), p.48. 3 Bernard Williams, 
Descartes; the Project of Pure Enquiry (Harmondsworth: Pelican
Books, 1978), App.
Received 30 October 1998
R. A. Sharpe, Department of Philosophy, University of Wales Lampeter, Lampeter, 
Ceredigion SA48 7ED, UK.E­mail: R.A.Sharpe at Lamp.ac.UK

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