Ethics without Ontology

Ethics without Ontology

Hilary Putnam

Language: English

Pages: 176

ISBN: 0674018516

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In this brief book one of the most distinguished living American philosophers takes up the question of whether ethical judgments can properly be considered objective--a question that has vexed philosophers over the past century. Looking at the efforts of philosophers from the Enlightenment through the twentieth century, Putnam traces the ways in which ethical problems arise in a historical context. Hilary Putnam's central concern is ontology--indeed, the very idea of ontology as the division of philosophy concerned with what (ultimately) exists. Reviewing what he deems the disastrous consequences of ontology's influence on analytic philosophy--in particular, the contortions it imposes upon debates about the objective of ethical judgments--Putnam proposes abandoning the very idea of ontology. He argues persuasively that the attempt to provide an ontological explanation of the objectivity of either mathematics or ethics is, in fact, an attempt to provide justifications that are extraneous to mathematics and ethics--and is thus deeply misguided.

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AT I V I T Y 37 parks, etc., and thus Somerset County is not a member (“⑀”) of this latter set, although it belongs to the former set; so it cannot be that the sets are identical with the corresponding mereological sums. In fact, the mereological sums have very good spatial locations (their spatial location is precisely the spatial location of Massachusetts), whereas the two sets consisting of the elements of two different partitionings of Massachusetts have no spatial location. In several of

to the Aristotelian Society about the later Wittgenstein’s philosophy of mathematics,8 one which was itself an abridgment of a much longer paper that has since appeared,9 but I shall be less technical than I was in that longer paper. Objectivity without Objects: The Case of Logic “Still,” one may wonder, “how can there be such a thing as a truth which is not a description of some object or objects?” Actually, however, examples of statements which are uncontroversially true, but which cannot

assumed, that is, that questions of fact are, by their very nature, such that we can come to agreement about them (and perhaps such that we even tend to come into agreement about them). This idea was, famously, made the centerpiece of C. S. Peirce’s version of pragmatism. This idea is, I think, quite unwarranted, as is the idea that all ethical questions are, by their very nature, controversial. First of all, there are ethical issues about which people who stand within the ethical life at all do

poststructuralists, positivists, and “a host of others,” I wanted to make clear that I am a believer in progress, though not in the nineteenth-century sense of inevitable advance in ethics or in social life. What I believe in is the possibility of progress. To use a phrase of Habermas’s of which Dewey would have approved, I believe that there have been learning processes in history, and that there can be further learning in the future. I wish now to consider certain reasons that have been

giving a vindicatory 124 E N L I G H T E N M E N T A N D P R AG M AT I S M history of scientiªc discovery, expressed a couple of pages earlier:21 There is of course a real question of what it is for a history to be a history of discovery. One condition of its being so lies in a familiar idea, which I would put like this: the later theory, or (more generally) outlook, makes sense of itself, and of the earlier outlook, and of the transition from the earlier to the later, in such terms that both

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