Ideas of Hilary Putnam, by Theme

[American, 1926 - 2016, Taught at Princeton, then MIT, then Professor at Harvard University.]

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1. Philosophy / A. Wisdom / 1. Nature of Wisdom
For ancient Greeks being wise was an ethical value
     Full Idea: An ancient Greek would have said that being wise is an ethical value.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981], Ch.6)
     A reaction: This is instantly appealing, but since the Enlightenment we are under an obligation to attempt to justify absolutely everything, including the value of wisdom. I'm thinking that it only has value if it leads to eudaimonia.
1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 5. Aims of Philosophy / a. Philosophy as worldly
The job of the philosopher is to distinguish facts about the world from conventions
     Full Idea: It is the job of the philosopher to distinguish what is fact and what is convention in our theorising about the world.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], §7 p.112)
     A reaction: This may well be the entire truth about philosophy. It begins with the Nomos-Physis debate in ancient Athens, and it turns out to be the key issue in almost every area of metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics and morality.
1. Philosophy / G. Scientific Philosophy / 1. Aims of Science
Realism is the only philosophy of science that doesn't make the success of science a miracle
     Full Idea: Realism….is the only philosophy science which does not make the success of science a miracle.
     From: Hilary Putnam (works [1980]), quoted by Alexander Bird - Philosophy of Science Ch.4
     A reaction: This was from his earlier work; he became more pragmatist and anti-realist later. Personally I approve of the remark. The philosophy of science must certainly offer an explanation for its success. Truth seems the obvious explanation.
1. Philosophy / G. Scientific Philosophy / 3. Scientism
A culture needs to admit that knowledge is more extensive than just 'science'
     Full Idea: The acknowledgement that the sphere of knowledge is wider than the sphere of 'science' seems to me to be a cultural necessity if we are to arrive at a sane and human view of ourselves or of science.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Intro)
     A reaction: A very nice remark, with which I intuitively agree, but then you are left with the problem of explaining how something can qualify as knowledge when it can't pass the stringent tests of science. How wide to we spread, and why?
'True' and 'refers' cannot be made scientically precise, but are fundamental to science
     Full Idea: Some non-scientific knowledge is presupposed by science; for example, I have been arguing that 'refers' and 'true' cannot be made scientifically precise; yet truth is a fundamental term in logic - a precise science.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Lec VI)
     A reaction: We might ask whether we 'know' what 'true' and 'refers' mean, as opposed to being able to use them. If their usage doesn't count as knowledge, then we could still end up with all actual knowledge being somehow 'scientific'.
3. Truth / A. Truth Problems / 1. Truth
'The rug is green' might be warrantedly assertible even though the rug is not green
     Full Idea: 'The rug is green' might be warrantedly assertible even though the rug is not green.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Pt Three)
     A reaction: The word 'warranted' seems to be ambiguous in modern philosophy. See Idea 6150. There seem to be internalist and externalist versions. It seems clear to say that a belief could be well-justified and yet false.
Putnam's epistemic notion of truth replaces the realism of correspondence with ontological relativism
     Full Idea: Putnam replaces a correspondence theory of truth with an epistemic notion of truth - truth is idealized rational acceptability. The correspondence theory is committed to realism, but his allows ontological relativism.
     From: report of Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981]) by Paul O'Grady - Relativism Ch.3
     A reaction: This seems to be part of a slide by Putnam away from realism towards pragmatism. As a robust and defiant realist, this always strikes me as the road to hell.
3. Truth / C. Correspondence Truth / 1. Correspondence Truth
We need the correspondence theory of truth to understand language and science
     Full Idea: A correspondence theory of truth is needed to understand how language works, and how science works.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Intro)
     A reaction: Putnam retreated from this position to a more pragmatic one later on, but all my sympathies are with the present view, despite being repeatedly told by modern philosophers that I am wrong. See McGinn (Idea 6085) and Searle (Idea 3508).
Before Kant, all philosophers had a correspondence theory of truth
     Full Idea: Before Kant it is impossible to find any philosopher who did not have a correspondence theory of truth.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981], Ch.3)
     A reaction: I don't believe this is true of Descartes. See ideas 2266 and 4298. Truth is 'clear and distinct' conceptions, but if you enlarge (and maybe socialise) 'clear' you get coherent. Descartes firmly avoids correspondence, because he can't trust 'facts'.
3. Truth / C. Correspondence Truth / 3. Correspondence Truth critique
Correspondence between concepts and unconceptualised reality is impossible
     Full Idea: The great nineteenth century argument against the correspondence theory of truth was that one cannot think of truth as correspondence to facts (or 'reality') because one would need to compare concepts directly with unconceptualised reality.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Pt Three)
     A reaction: Presumably the criticism was offered by idealists, who preferred a coherence theory. The defence is to say that there is a confusion here between a concept and the contents of a concept. The contents of a concept are designed to be facts.
The correspondence theory is wrong, because there is no one correspondence between reality and fact
     Full Idea: Putnam argues that theory does not correspond to reality, because there are myriad correspondences possible, and we cannot single out "the" relation of correspondence.
     From: report of Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981]) by Paul O'Grady - Relativism Ch.3
     A reaction: This obviously depends on views about reference and meaning. I don't see the problem in simple cases, which is all the correspondence theory needs. Complex cases, like chemistry, may well have ambiguities, but so what?
3. Truth / E. Pragmatic Truth / 1. Pragmatic Truth
Truth is rational acceptability
     Full Idea: Truth, in the only sense in which we have a vital and working notion of it, is rational acceptability.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Why Reason Can't be Naturalized [1981])
     A reaction: I smell a circularity somewhere in there, probably in 'rational', though it could be in 'acceptable'. Putnams's views on truth tend to shift a lot. He denies that evolutionary survival is a criterion.
Truth is an idealisation of rational acceptability
     Full Idea: Truth is an idealisation of rational acceptability; we speak as if there were such things as epistemically ideal conditions, and we call a statement 'true' if it would be justified under such conditions.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981], Ch.3)
     A reaction: The second part makes human beings sound stupid (which they are not), but the first part is right, and incredibly important. Peirce is behind Putnam's thought. Truth is the target of belief. It isn't a nonsense just because we can't be infallible.
3. Truth / F. Semantic Truth / 1. Tarski's Truth / a. Tarski's truth definition
For scientific purposes there is a precise concept of 'true-in-L', using set theory
     Full Idea: For a language L there is a predicate 'true-in-L' which one can employ for all scientific purposes in place of intuitive truth, and this predicate admits of a precise definition using only the vocabulary of L itself plus set theory.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Philosophy of Logic [1971], Ch.2)
     A reaction: He refers, of course, to Tarski's theory. I'm unclear of the division between 'scientific purposes' and the rest of life (which is why some people embrace 'minimal' theories of ordinary truth). I'm struck by set theory being a necessary feature.
3. Truth / F. Semantic Truth / 2. Semantic Truth
In Tarski's definition, you understand 'true' if you accept the notions of the object language
     Full Idea: Anyone who accepts the notions of whatever object language is in question - and this can be chosen arbitrarily - can also understand 'true' as defined by Tarski for that object language.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Intro)
     A reaction: Thus if we say "'snow is white' is true iff snow is white", then if you 'accept the notion' that snow is white in English, you understand what 'true' means. This seems to leave you with the meaning of 'snow is white' being its truth conditions.
Tarski has given a correct account of the formal logic of 'true', but there is more to the concept
     Full Idea: What Tarski has done is to give us a perfectly correct account of the formal logic of the concept 'true', but the formal logic of the concept is not all there is to the notion of truth.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Intro)
     A reaction: I find this refreshing. A lot of modern philosophers seem to think that truth is no longer an interesting philosophical topic, because deflationary accounts have sidelined it, but I take the concept to be at the heart of metaphysics.
Only Tarski has found a way to define 'true'
     Full Idea: There is only one way anyone knows how to define 'true' and that is Tarski's way.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Lec II.5)
     A reaction: However, Davidson wrote a paper called 'On the Folly of Trying to Define Truth', which seems to reject even Tarski. Also bear in mind Putnam's earlier remark (Idea 6265) that there is more to truth than Tarski's definition. Just take 'true' as primitive.
Semantic notions do not occur in Tarski's definitions, but assessing their correctness involves translation
     Full Idea: Although no semantic notions are used in Tarski's truth definitions themselves, they are used in deciding when such a definition is correct, namely the notion of translation.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], §4 p.66)
3. Truth / H. Deflationary Truth / 1. Redundant Truth
Asserting the truth of an indexical statement is not the same as uttering the statement
     Full Idea: If you say "I am going to drive this car", and I say "That's true", that is very different from my saying "I am going to drive this car".
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], §4 p.68)
4. Formal Logic / A. Syllogistic Logic / 1. Aristotelian Logic
Modern notation frees us from Aristotle's restriction of only using two class-names in premises
     Full Idea: In modern notation we can consider potential logical principles that Aristotle never considered because of his general practice of looking at inferences each of whose premises involved exactly two class-names.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Philosophy of Logic [1971], Ch.3)
     A reaction: Presumably you can build up complex inferences from a pair of terms, just as you do with pairs in set theory.
4. Formal Logic / A. Syllogistic Logic / 2. Syllogistic Logic
The universal syllogism is now expressed as the transitivity of subclasses
     Full Idea: On its modern interpretation, the validity of the inference 'All S are M; All M are P; so All S are P' just expresses the transitivity of the relation 'subclass of'.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Philosophy of Logic [1971], Ch.1)
     A reaction: A simple point I've never quite grasped. Since lots of syllogisms can be expressed as Venn Diagrams, in which the circles are just sets, it's kind of obvious really. So why does Sommers go back to 'terms'? See 'Term Logic'.
4. Formal Logic / C. Predicate Calculus PC / 2. Tools of Predicate Calculus / a. Symbols of PC
'⊃' ('if...then') is used with the definition 'Px ⊃ Qx' is short for '¬(Px & ¬Qx)'
     Full Idea: The symbol '⊃' (read 'if...then') is used with the definition 'Px ⊃ Qx' ('if Px then Qx') is short for '¬(Px & ¬Qx)'.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Philosophy of Logic [1971], Ch.3)
     A reaction: So ⊃ and → are just abbreviations, and not really a proper part of the language. Notoriously, though, this is quite a long way from what 'if...then' means in ordinary English, and it leads to paradoxical oddities.
4. Formal Logic / F. Set Theory ST / 3. Types of Set / a. Types of set
In type theory, 'x ∈ y' is well defined only if x and y are of the appropriate type
     Full Idea: In the theory of types, 'x ∈ y' is well defined only if x and y are of the appropriate type, where individuals count as the zero type, sets of individuals as type one, sets of sets of individuals as type two.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Philosophy of Logic [1971], Ch.6)
4. Formal Logic / F. Set Theory ST / 3. Types of Set / d. Infinite Sets
We understand some statements about all sets
     Full Idea: We seem to understand some statements about all sets (e.g. 'for every set x and every set y, there is a set z which is the union of x and y').
     From: Hilary Putnam (Mathematics without Foundations [1967], p.308)
     A reaction: His example is the Axiom of Choice. Presumably this is why the collection of all sets must be referred to as a 'class', since we can talk about it, but cannot define it.
4. Formal Logic / F. Set Theory ST / 4. Axioms for Sets / o. Axiom of Constructibility V = L
V = L just says all sets are constructible
     Full Idea: V = L just says all sets are constructible. L is the class of all constructible sets, and V is the universe of all sets.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Models and Reality [1977], p.425)
The Löwenheim-Skolem theorems show that whether all sets are constructible is indeterminate
     Full Idea: Putnam claims that the Löwenheim-Skolem theorems indicate that there is no 'fact of the matter' whether all sets are constructible.
     From: report of Hilary Putnam (Models and Reality [1977]) by Stewart Shapiro - Foundations without Foundationalism
     A reaction: [He refers to the 4th and 5th pages of Putnam's article] Shapiro offers (p.109) a critique of Putnam's proposal.
5. Theory of Logic / A. Overview of Logic / 2. History of Logic
Before the late 19th century logic was trivialised by not dealing with relations
     Full Idea: It was essentially the failure to develop a logic of relations that trivialised the logic studied before the end of the nineteenth century.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Philosophy of Logic [1971], Ch.3)
     A reaction: De Morgan, Peirce and Frege were, I believe, the people who put this right.
5. Theory of Logic / A. Overview of Logic / 5. First-Order Logic
Asserting first-order validity implicitly involves second-order reference to classes
     Full Idea: The natural understanding of first-order logic is that in writing down first-order schemata we are implicitly asserting their validity, that is, making second-order assertions. ...Thus even quantification theory involves reference to classes.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Philosophy of Logic [1971], Ch.3)
     A reaction: If, as a nominalist, you totally rejected classes, presumably you would get by in first-order logic somehow. To say 'there are no classes so there is no logical validity' sounds bonkers.
5. Theory of Logic / C. Ontology of Logic / 1. Ontology of Logic
Unfashionably, I think logic has an empirical foundation
     Full Idea: Today, the tendency among philosophers is to assume that in no sense does logic itself have an empirical foundation. I believe this tendency is wrong.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Philosophy of Logic [1971], Ch.9)
     A reaction: I agree, not on the basis of indispensability to science, but on the basis of psychological processes that lead from experience to logic. Russell and Quine are Putnam's allies here, and Frege is his opponent. Putnam developed a quantum logic.
5. Theory of Logic / C. Ontology of Logic / 3. If-Thenism
Putnam coined the term 'if-thenism'
     Full Idea: Putnam coined the term 'if-thenism'.
     From: report of Hilary Putnam (The Thesis that Mathematics is Logic [1967]) by Alan Musgrave - Logicism Revisited §5 n
5. Theory of Logic / E. Structures of Logic / 5. Functions in Logic
We can identify functions with certain sets - or identify sets with certain functions
     Full Idea: Instead of identifying functions with certain sets, I might have identified sets with certain functions.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Philosophy of Logic [1971], Ch.9)
5. Theory of Logic / F. Referring in Logic / 1. Naming / a. Names
Using proper names properly doesn't involve necessary and sufficient conditions
     Full Idea: The important thing about proper names is that it would be ridiculous to think that having linguistic competence can be equated in their case with knowledge of a necessary and sufficient condition.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Explanation and Reference [1973], II B)
5. Theory of Logic / I. Semantics of Logic / 3. Logical Truth
Having a valid form doesn't ensure truth, as it may be meaningless
     Full Idea: I don't think all substitution-instances of a valid schema are 'true'; some are clearly meaningless, such as 'If all boojums are snarks and all snarks are egglehumphs, then all boojums are egglehumphs'.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Philosophy of Logic [1971], Ch.3)
     A reaction: This seems like a very good challenge to Quine's claim that it is only form which produces a logical truth. Keep deductive and semantic consequence separate, with two different types of 'logical truth'.
5. Theory of Logic / I. Semantics of Logic / 6. Intensionalism
Intension is not meaning, as 'cube' and 'square-faced polyhedron' are intensionally the same
     Full Idea: Intension cannot be identified with meaning. ..'Cube' and 'regular polyhedron with six square faces' are logically equivalent predicates. The intension is the same (the function giving the cubes in any possible world) but there is a difference of meaning.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981], Ch.2)
5. Theory of Logic / J. Model Theory in Logic / 2. Isomorphisms
If cats equal cherries, model theory allows reinterpretation of the whole language preserving truth
     Full Idea: If the number of cats happens to equal the cherries, then it follows from the theory of models that there is a reinterpretation of the entire language that leaves all sentences unchanged in truth value while permuting the extensions of 'cat' and 'cherry'.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981], Ch.2)
     A reaction: This horrifying result seems to come simply from the fact that there is an isomorphism between two models, which in turn seems to rest largely on the cardinality of the models. There seems to be something wrong with model theory here (?).
5. Theory of Logic / J. Model Theory in Logic / 3. Löwenheim-Skolem Theorems
The Löwenheim-Skolem Theorem is close to an antinomy in philosophy of language
     Full Idea: The Löwenheim-Skolem Theorem says that a satisfiable first-order theory (in a countable language) has a countable model. ..I argue that this is not a logical antinomy, but close to one in philosophy of language.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Models and Reality [1977], p.421)
     A reaction: See the rest of this paper for where he takes us on this.
6. Mathematics / A. Nature of Mathematics / 5. The Infinite / f. Uncountable infinities
Sets larger than the continuum should be studied in an 'if-then' spirit
     Full Idea: Sets of a very high type or very high cardinality (higher than the continuum, for example) should today be investigated in an 'if-then' spirit.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Philosophy of Logic [1971], Ch.7)
     A reaction: This attitude goes back to Hilbert, but it fits with Quine's view of what is indispensable for science. It is hard to see a reason for the cut-off, just looking at the logic of expanding sets.
6. Mathematics / A. Nature of Mathematics / 5. The Infinite / i. Cardinal infinity
Very large sets should be studied in an 'if-then' spirit
     Full Idea: Sets of a very high type or very high cardinality (higher than the continuum, for example), should today be investigated in an 'if-then' spirit.
     From: Hilary Putnam (The Philosophy of Logic [1971], p.347), quoted by Penelope Maddy - Naturalism in Mathematics
     A reaction: Quine says the large sets should be regarded as 'uninterpreted'.
6. Mathematics / B. Foundations for Mathematics / 1. Foundations for Mathematics
I do not believe mathematics either has or needs 'foundations'
     Full Idea: I do not believe mathematics either has or needs 'foundations'.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Mathematics without Foundations [1967])
     A reaction: Agreed that mathematics can function well without foundations (given that the enterprise got started with no thought for such things), the ontology of the subject still strikes me as a major question, though maybe not for mathematicians.
6. Mathematics / B. Foundations for Mathematics / 4. Axioms for Number / a. Axioms for numbers
It is conceivable that the axioms of arithmetic or propositional logic might be changed
     Full Idea: I believe that under certain circumstances revisions in the axioms of arithmetic, or even of the propositional calculus (e.g. the adoption of a modular logic as a way out of the difficulties in quantum mechanics), is fully conceivable.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Mathematics without Foundations [1967], p.303)
     A reaction: One can change the axioms of a system without necessarily changing the system (by swapping an axiom and a theorem). Especially if platonism is true, since the eternal objects reside calmly above our attempts to axiomatise them!
6. Mathematics / C. Sources of Mathematics / 1. Mathematical Platonism / b. Against mathematical platonism
How can you contemplate Platonic entities without causal transactions with them?
     Full Idea: Platonism has the attendant problem of how we can succeed in thinking about and referring to entities we can have no causal transactions with.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Phil of Mathematics: why nothing works [1979], Modalism)
6. Mathematics / C. Sources of Mathematics / 4. Mathematical Empiricism / a. Mathematical empiricism
Maybe mathematics is empirical in that we could try to change it
     Full Idea: Mathematics might be 'empirical' in the sense that one is allowed to try to put alternatives into the field.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Mathematics without Foundations [1967], p.303)
     A reaction: He admits that change is highly unlikely. It take hardcore Millian arithmetic to be only changeable if pebbles start behaving very differently with regard to their quantities, which appears to be almost inconceivable.
It is unfashionable, but most mathematical intuitions come from nature
     Full Idea: Experience with nature is undoubtedly the source of our most basic 'mathematical intuitions', even if it is unfashionable to say so.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Models and Reality [1977], p.424)
     A reaction: Correct. I find it quite bewildering how Frege has managed to so discredit all empirical and psychological approaches to mathematics that it has become a heresy to say such things.
6. Mathematics / C. Sources of Mathematics / 4. Mathematical Empiricism / b. Indispensability of mathematics
Science requires more than consistency of mathematics
     Full Idea: Science demands much more of a mathematical theory than that it should merely be consistent, as the example of the various alternative systems of geometry dramatizes.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Mathematics without Foundations [1967])
     A reaction: Well said. I don't agree with Putnam's Indispensability claims, but if an apparent system of numbers or lines has no application to the world then I don't consider it to be mathematics. It is a new game, like chess.
Indispensability strongly supports predicative sets, and somewhat supports impredicative sets
     Full Idea: We may say that indispensability is a pretty strong argument for the existence of at least predicative sets, and a pretty strong, but not as strong, argument for the existence of impredicative sets.
     From: Hilary Putnam (The Philosophy of Logic [1971], p.346), quoted by Penelope Maddy - Naturalism in Mathematics II.2
We must quantify over numbers for science; but that commits us to their existence
     Full Idea: Quantification over mathematical entities is indispensable for science..., therefore we should accept such quantification; but this commits us to accepting the existence of the mathematical entities in question.
     From: Hilary Putnam (The Philosophy of Logic [1971], p.57), quoted by Stephen Yablo - Apriority and Existence
     A reaction: I'm not surprised that Hartry Field launched his Fictionalist view of mathematics in response to such a counterintuitive claim. I take it we use numbers to slice up reality the way we use latitude to slice up the globe. No commitment to lines!
7. Existence / D. Theories of Reality / 1. Realism
Realism is a theory, which explains the convergence of science and the success of language
     Full Idea: Realism is an empirical theory; it explains the convergence of scientific theories, where earlier theories are often limiting cases of later theories (which is why theoretical terms preserve their reference); and it explains the success of language.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Pt Four)
     A reaction: I agree. Personally, I think of Plato's Theory of Forms and all religions as empirical theories. The response from anti-realists is generally to undermine confidence in the evidence which these 'empirical theories' are said to explain.
Metaphysical realism is committed to there being one ultimate true theory
     Full Idea: What makes the metaphysical realist a 'metaphysical' realist is his belief that there is somewhere 'one true theory' (two theories which are true and complete descriptions of the world would be mere notational variants of each other).
     From: Hilary Putnam (Why there isn't a ready-made world [1981], 'Causation')
     A reaction: This is wrong!!!!! Commitment to one reality doesn't imply that only one comprehensive theory is possible. Theory-making (at least in any human language, or in mathematics) is an inherently limited activity.
Realists believe truth is correspondence, independent of humans, is bivalent, and is unique
     Full Idea: Metaphysical realism about truth is a bundle of ideas: that it is a matter of Correspondence, that it exhibits Independence (of humans), Bivalence, and Uniqueness (there is only one ultimate truth).
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], §7 p.107)
7. Existence / D. Theories of Reality / 3. Anti-realism
You can't deny a hypothesis a truth-value simply because we may never know it!
     Full Idea: Surely the mere fact that we may never know whether the continuum hypothesis is true or false is by itself just no reason to think that it doesn't have a truth value!
     From: Hilary Putnam (Mathematics without Foundations [1967])
     A reaction: This is Putnam in 1967. Things changed later. Personally I am with the younger man all they way, but I reserve the right to totally change my mind.
Putnam says anti-realism is a bad explanation of accurate predictions
     Full Idea: Putnam's 'no miracle' argument says that being an anti-realist is akin to believing in miracles (because of the accurate predictons). …It is a plausibility argument - an inference to the best explanation.
     From: report of Hilary Putnam (works [1980]) by Samir Okasha - Philosophy of Science: Very Short Intro (2nd ed) 4
     A reaction: [not sure of ref] Putnam later backs off from this argument, but my personal realism rests on best explanation. Does anyone want to prefer an inferior explanation? The objection is that successful theories can turn out to be false. Phlogiston, ether.
If we try to cure the abundance of theories with causal links, this is 'just more theory'
     Full Idea: If we try to base determinate reference on natural causal connection, Putnam says this is just more theory, as subject as any theory to overabundant, conflicting intended interpretations.
     From: report of Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981]) by David Lewis - Putnam's Paradox 'Why Are'
     A reaction: This is the 1981 Putnam, moving away from the realism that was implicit in the original causal theory of reference developed by himself and Kripke. His 'just more theory' is the slogan of Putnam's later anti-realism.
The sentence 'A cat is on a mat' remains always true when 'cat' means cherry and 'mat' means tree
     Full Idea: The sentence 'A cat is on a mat' can be reinterpreted so that in the actual world 'cat' refers to cherries and 'mat' refers to trees, without affecting the truth-value of the sentence in any possible world.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981], Ch.2)
     A reaction: This simple suggestion is the basis of a notorious argument in favour of anti-realism. See D.Lewis's 'Putnam's Paradox'. It tracks back to Skolem's doubts about whether infinitary mathematics is possible. Putnam's conclusion sounds daft.
It is an illusion to think there could be one good scientific theory of reality
     Full Idea: The idea of a coherent theory of the noumena; consistent, systematic, and arrived at by 'the scientific method' seems to me to be chimerical.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Why there isn't a ready-made world [1981], 'Failure')
     A reaction: I sort of agree with this, but it definitely doesn't make me an anti-realist.
7. Existence / D. Theories of Reality / 7. Facts / a. Facts
A fact is simply what it is rational to accept
     Full Idea: I propose that the only criterion for what is a fact is what it is rational to accept.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981], Pref)
     A reaction: An epistemological-ontological confusion here. The concept of a fact is of something which is the case quite independently of our criteria for believing it. There are facts which are unknowable for humans. It is, of course, rational to accept facts.
8. Modes of Existence / B. Properties / 12. Denial of Properties
Very nominalistic philosophers deny properties, though scientists accept them
     Full Idea: Some philosophers are so nominalistic that they would deny the existence of such entities as 'properties' altogether; but science itself does not hesitate to talk freely of properties.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981], Ch.3)
     A reaction: Maybe scientists aren't very good at ontology? They talk about forces and energy, but don't seem to know what they are. I am inclined to think that we must include properties in the working ontology of humans, but not into strict physics.
8. Modes of Existence / E. Nominalism / 1. Nominalism / a. Nominalism
Nominalism only makes sense if it is materialist
     Full Idea: Nominalists must at heart be materialists, or so it seems to me: otherwise their scruples are unintelligible.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Philosophy of Logic [1971], Ch.5)
     A reaction: This is modern nominalism - the rejection of abstract objects. I largely plead guilty to both charges.
9. Objects / A. Existence of Objects / 1. Physical Objects
Aristotle says an object (e.g. a lamp) has identity if its parts stay together when it is moved
     Full Idea: The parts of a lamp stay together when it is moved (which is one of Aristotle's criteria for objecthood).
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], §7 p.110)
     A reaction: Metaphysics 1052a26 (just after the cross-reference) says a thing may be unified 'if its movement is single'.
9. Objects / A. Existence of Objects / 2. Abstract Objects / b. Need for abstracta
Physics is full of non-physical entities, such as space-vectors
     Full Idea: Physics is full of references to such 'non-physical' entities as state-vectors, Hamiltonians, Hilbert space etc.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Philosophy of Logic [1971], Ch.2)
     A reaction: I take these to be concepts which are 'abstracted' from the physical facts, and so they don't strike me as being much of an ontological problem, or an objection to nominalism (which Putnam takes them to be).
9. Objects / B. Unity of Objects / 3. Unity Problems / c. Statue and clay
Shape is essential relative to 'statue', but not essential relative to 'clay'
     Full Idea: Relative to the description 'that statue', a certain shape is an essential property of the object; relative to the description 'that piece of clay', the shape not an essential property (but being clay is).
     From: Hilary Putnam (Why there isn't a ready-made world [1981], 'Intro')
     A reaction: Relative to the description 'that loathsome object', is the statue essentially loathsome? Asserting the essence of an object is a response to the object, not a response to a description of it. This is not the solution to the statue problem.
9. Objects / D. Essence of Objects / 5. Essence as Kind
Putnam bases essences on 'same kind', but same kinds may not share properties
     Full Idea: The only place for essentialism to come from in Putnam's semantic account is out of the 'same kind' relation. But if the same kind relation can be cashed out in terms that do not involve sharing properties (apart from 'being water') there is a gap.
     From: comment on Hilary Putnam (Explanation and Reference [1973]) by Penelope Mackie - How Things Might Have Been 10.4
     A reaction: [This is the criticism of Salmon and Mellor] See Mackie's discussion for details. I would always have thought that relations result from essences, so could never be used to define them.
9. Objects / D. Essence of Objects / 15. Against Essentialism
Putnam smuggles essentialism about liquids into his proof that water must be H2O
     Full Idea: In the full exposition of Putnam's mechanism for generating the necessary truth that water is H2O, we find that the mechanism employs a certain nontrivial general principle of essentialism concerning liquid substances as a crucial premise.
     From: comment on Hilary Putnam (The Meaning of 'Meaning' [1975]) by Nathan Salmon - Reference and Essence (1st edn) 6.23.1
     A reaction: This charge, that Kripke and Putnam smuggle the essentialism into their semantics, rather than deriving it, is the nub of Salmon's criticism of them. It seems to me that a new world view emerged while those two where revising the semantics.
10. Modality / A. Necessity / 11. Denial of Necessity
If necessity is always relative to a description in a language, then there is only 'de dicto' necessity
     Full Idea: Putnam endorses the view that necessity is relative to a description, so there is only necessity 'de dicto': relative to language, not to reality.
     From: report of Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981]) by Paul O'Grady - Relativism Ch.3
     A reaction: Even a realist must take this proposal seriously. The facts may contain de re necessities, but we could be very sceptical about our capacity to know them. Personally I enjoy speculating about de re necessities. They can't stop you.
10. Modality / B. Possibility / 1. Possibility
Mathematics eliminates possibility, as being simultaneous actuality in sets
     Full Idea: Mathematics has got rid of possibility by simply assuming that, up to isomorphism anyway, all possibilities are simultaneous actual - actual, that is, in the universe of 'sets'.
     From: Hilary Putnam (What is Mathematical Truth? [1975], p.70), quoted by Stewart Shapiro - Philosophy of Mathematics 7.5
10. Modality / D. Knowledge of Modality / 1. A Priori Necessary
A statement can be metaphysically necessary and epistemologically contingent
     Full Idea: A statement can be (metaphysically) necessary and epistemologically contingent. Human intuition has no privileged access to metaphysical necessity.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and Reference [1973], p.160)
     A reaction: The terminology here is dangerously confusing. 'Contingent' is a term which (as Kripke insists) refers to reality, not to our epistemological abilities. The locution of adding the phrase "for all I know" seems to handle the problem better.
10. Modality / D. Knowledge of Modality / 4. Conceivable as Possible / a. Conceivable as possible
Conceivability is no proof of possibility
     Full Idea: Conceivability is no proof of possibility.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and Reference [1973], p.159)
     A reaction: This strikes me as a really basic truth which all novice philosophers should digest. It led many philosophers, especially rationalists, into all sorts of ill-founded claims about what is possible or necessary. Zombies, for instance…
12. Knowledge Sources / A. A Priori Knowledge / 8. A Priori as Analytic
If a tautology is immune from revision, why would that make it true?
     Full Idea: If we held, say, 'All unmarried men are unmarried' as absolutely immune from revision, why would this make it true?
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Pt Four)
     A reaction: A very nice question. Like most American philosophers, Putnam accepts Quine's attack on the unrevisability of analytic truths. His point here is that defenders of analytic truths are probably desperate to preserve basic truths, but it won't work.
12. Knowledge Sources / B. Perception / 4. Sense Data / b. Nature of sense-data
The old view that sense data are independent of mind is quite dotty
     Full Idea: Moore and Russell held the strange view that 'sensibilia' (sense data) are mind-independent entities: a view so dotty, on the face of it, that few analytic philosophers like to be reminded that this is how analytic philosophy started.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Why there isn't a ready-made world [1981], 'Intro')
     A reaction: I suspect the view was influenced by the anti-psychologism of Frege, and his idea that all the other concepts are mind-independent, living by their own rules in a 'third realm'. Personally I think analytic philosophy needs more psychology, not less.
13. Knowledge Criteria / C. External Justification / 7. Testimony
Knowledge depends on believing others, which must be innate, as inferences are not strong enough
     Full Idea: Our ability to picture how people are likely to respond may well be innate; indeed, our disposition to believe what other people tell us (which is fundamental to knowledge) could hardly be an inference, as that isn’t good enough for knowledge.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Lec VI)
     A reaction: An interesting claim. There could be an intermediate situation, which is a hard-wired non-conscious inference. When dismantled, the 'innate' brain circuits for assessing testimony could turn out to work on logic and evidence.
Empathy may not give knowledge, but it can give plausibility or right opinion
     Full Idea: Empathy with others may give less than 'Knowledge', but it gives more than mere logical or physical possibility; it gives plausibility, or (to revive Platonic terminology) it provides 'right opinion'.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Lec VI)
     A reaction: See Ideas 174 and 2140 for Plato. Putnam is exploring areas of knowledge outside the limits of strict science. Behind this claim seems to lie the Principle of Charity (3971), but a gang of systematic liars (e.g. evil students) would be a problem case.
13. Knowledge Criteria / E. Relativism / 6. Relativism Critique
Some kind of objective 'rightness' is a presupposition of thought itself
     Full Idea: What the relativist fails to see is that it is a presupposition of thought itself that some kind of objective 'rightness' exists.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981], Ch.5)
     A reaction: This may be the key objection to relativism. If you have a frame of reference, is it a good one? If you have a new perspective, is it better than your old one? Is the culture you live in confused or clear-thinking? Jokes and metaphors rely on truth.
14. Science / A. Basis of Science / 4. Prediction
Most predictions are uninteresting, and are only sought in order to confirm a theory
     Full Idea: Scientists want successful predictions in order to confirm their theories; they do not want theories in order to obtain the predictions, which are in some cases of not the slightest interest in themselves.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Philosophy of Logic [1971], Ch.8)
     A reaction: Equally, we might only care about the prediction, and have no interest at all in the theory. Farmers want weather predictions, not a PhD in meteorology.
14. Science / B. Scientific Theories / 2. Aim of Science
Science aims at truth, not at 'simplicity'
     Full Idea: Scientists are not trying to maximise some formal property of 'simplicity'; they are trying to maximise truth.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Explanation and Reference [1973], III B)
     A reaction: This seems to be aimed at the Mill-Ramsey-Lewis account of laws of nature, as the simplest axioms of experience. I'm with Putnam (as he was at this date).
14. Science / B. Scientific Theories / 3. Instrumentalism
Naïve operationalism would have meanings change every time the tests change
     Full Idea: On a naïve operationalist account every time a new way of testing whether a substance is really gold is discovered, the meaning and reference of 'gold' undergoes a change.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981], Ch.2)
14. Science / D. Explanation / 4. Explanation Doubts / a. Explanation as pragmatic
You can't decide which explanations are good if you don't attend to the interest-relative aspects
     Full Idea: Explanation is an interest-relative notion …explanation has to be partly a pragmatic concept. To regard the 'pragmatics' of explanation as no part of the concept is to abdicate the job of figuring out what makes an explanation good.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], p. 41-2), quoted by David-Hillel Ruben - Explaining Explanation Ch 1
     A reaction: I suppose this is just obvious, depending on how far you want to take the 'interest-relative' bit. If a fool is fobbed off with a trivial explanation, there must be some non-relative criterion for assessing that.
15. Nature of Minds / B. Features of Minds / 5. Qualia / b. Qualia and intentionality
The Twin Earth theory suggests that intentionality is independent of qualia
     Full Idea: Putnam's Twin Earth thought experiment suggests that two thinkers can have identical qualia, despite intending different objects on Earth and Twin Earth, and hence that qualia and intentionality must be logically independent of one another.
     From: comment on Hilary Putnam (The Meaning of 'Meaning' [1975]) by Dale Jacquette - Ontology Ch.10
     A reaction: [See Idea 4099, Idea 3208, Idea 7612 for Twin Earth]. Presumably my thought of 'the smallest prime number above 10000' would be a bit thin on qualia too. Does that make them 'logically' independent? Depends what we reduce qualia or intentionality to.
17. Mind and Body / B. Behaviourism / 2. Potential Behaviour
Dispositions need mental terms to define them
     Full Idea: The chief difficulty with the behaviour-disposition account is the virtual impossibility of specifying a disposition except as a 'disposition of x to behave as though x were in pain'.
     From: Hilary Putnam (The Nature of Mental States [1968], p.57)
     A reaction: This has become the best-known objection to behaviourism - that you can't specify a piece of behaviour clearly unless you mention the mental state which it is expressing. The defence is to go on endlessly mentioning further behaviour.
17. Mind and Body / B. Behaviourism / 4. Behaviourism Critique
Superactors and superspartans count against behaviourism
     Full Idea: Putnam proposed the superactor/superspartan objection to behaviourism.
     From: report of Hilary Putnam (Brains and Behaviour [1963]) by John Searle - The Rediscovery of the Mind Ch. 2.II
     A reaction: This is a beautiful compression of the obvious counterexamples, which are behaviour-wth-no-experience, and experience-with-no-behaviour. Presumably, though, Spartans are disposed to go 'aagh!' when they get home, and there are no 'super' actors.
Total paralysis would mean that there were mental states but no behaviour at all
     Full Idea: Two animals with all motor nerves cut will have the same actual and potential behaviour (i.e. none), but if only one has uncut pain fibres, it will feel pain where the other won't.
     From: Hilary Putnam (The Nature of Mental States [1968], p.57)
     A reaction: This is a splendidly literal and practical argument against behaviourism - if you prevent all the behaviour, you don't thereby prevent the experience. Clearly we have to say something about what is inside the 'black box' of the mind.
17. Mind and Body / C. Functionalism / 1. Functionalism
Is pain a functional state of a complete organism?
     Full Idea: I propose the hypothesis that pain, or the state of being in pain, is a functional state of a whole organism.
     From: Hilary Putnam (The Nature of Mental States [1968], p.54)
     A reaction: This sounds wrong right from the start. Pain hurts. The fact that it leads to avoidance behaviour etc. seems much more like a by-product of pain than its essence.
Functional states correlate with AND explain pain behaviour
     Full Idea: The presence of a certain functional state is not merely 'correlated with' but actually explains the pain behaviour on the part of the organism.
     From: Hilary Putnam (The Nature of Mental States [1968], p.58)
     A reaction: Does it offer any further explanation beyond saying that it is the brain state that causes the behaviour? The pain is just a link between damage and avoidance. I wish that is all that pain was.
Functionalism is compatible with dualism, as pure mind could perform the functions
     Full Idea: The functional-state hypothesis is not incompatible with dualism, as a system consisting of a body and a soul could meet the required conditions.
     From: Hilary Putnam (The Nature of Mental States [1968], p.55)
     A reaction: He doesn't really believe this, of course. This claim led to all the weak objections to functionalism involving silly implementations of minds. A brain is the only plausible way to implement our mental functions.
17. Mind and Body / C. Functionalism / 2. Machine Functionalism
Instances of pain are physical tokens, but the nature of pain is more abstract
     Full Idea: In machine functionalism, pain tokens (individual instances of pain) are identical with particular neurophysiological states, but pain itself, the kind, universal, or 'type', can be identified only with something more abstract.
     From: report of Hilary Putnam (The Mental Life of Some Machines [1967]) by William Lycan - Introduction - Ontology p.6
     A reaction: This is where the "what is it like?" question seems important. Pain doesn't seem like a physical object, or an abstract idea. Personally I think the former is more likely to be correct than the latter. Causation by pain is not like causation by gravity.
Functionalism says robots and people are the same at one level of abstraction
     Full Idea: My "functionalism" insisted that a robot, a human being, a silicon creature and a disembodied spirit could all work much the same way when described at the relevant level of abstraction, and it is wrong to think the essence of mind is hardware.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], Int p.xii)
     A reaction: This is the key point about the theory - that it is an abstract theory of mind, saying nothing about substances. It drew, however, some misguided criticisms suggesting silly implementations.
17. Mind and Body / C. Functionalism / 8. Functionalism critique
Is there just one computational state for each specific belief?
     Full Idea: The idea that there is one computational state that every being who believes that there are lots of cats in the neighbourhood is in must be false.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], §5 p.84)
     A reaction: It is tempting to say that the mental states of such people must have SOMETHING in common, until you realise that all you can specify is that all their states are about cats.
Functionalism can't explain reference and truth, which are needed for logic
     Full Idea: Functionalism has as much trouble with physical accounts of reference as of meaning. Reference is the main tool used in formal theories of truth. But 'truth' isn't folk psychology, it is central to logic, which everyone wants.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], Int p.xiv)
     A reaction: All logic is defined in terms of truth and falsehood resulting from reasoning, but it could be that 'true' and 'false' have no more content that 1 and 0 in binary electronics. They are distinct, but empty.
If concepts have external meaning, computational states won't explain psychology
     Full Idea: Computational models of the brain/mind will not suffice for cognitive psychology. We cannot individuate concepts and beliefs without reference to the environment. Meanings aren't "in the head".
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], p.73)
     A reaction: Mr Functionalism quits!
17. Mind and Body / D. Property Dualism / 3. Property Dualism
Temperature is mean molecular kinetic energy, but they are two different concepts
     Full Idea: The concept of temperature is not the same as the concept of mean molecular kinetic energy. But temperature is mean molecular kinetic energy.
     From: Hilary Putnam (The Nature of Mental States [1968], p.52)
     A reaction: This is the standard analogy for mind-brain identity, and it seems fair enough to me. The mind is the activity of the brain. It is rather unhelpful to think of weather in terms of chemistry, but it is actions of chemicals.
17. Mind and Body / E. Mind as Physical / 3. Eliminativism
If we are going to eliminate folk psychology, we must also eliminate folk logic
     Full Idea: Why don't the eliminationists speak of "folk logic" as well as "folk psychology"?
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], §4 p.60)
     A reaction: I think Putnam considers that if you can prove 'truth' to be a necessary feature of mental life, that connects mind and world, but marking a sentence as 'T' doesn't make any connections.
17. Mind and Body / E. Mind as Physical / 7. Anti-Physicalism / b. Multiple realisability
Neuroscience does not support multiple realisability, and tends to support identity
     Full Idea: Putnam was too quick to assert neuroscientific support for multiple realizability; current evidence does not reveal it, and there is some reason to think the enterprises of neuroscience are premised on the hypothesis of brain-state identity.
     From: comment on Hilary Putnam (The Nature of Mental States [1968]) by Thomas W. Polger - Natural Minds Ch.1.4
     A reaction: I have always been suspicious of the glib claim that mental states were multiply realisable. I see no reason to think that octupi see colours as we do, or experience fear as we do, even though their behaviour has to be similar, for survival.
If humans and molluscs both feel pain, it can't be a single biological state
     Full Idea: Mental states have vastly diverse physical/biological realizations in different species and structures (e.g. pain in humans and in molluscs), so no mental state can be identified with any single physical/biological state.
     From: report of Hilary Putnam (The Nature of Mental States [1968]) by Jaegwon Kim - Mind in a Physical World n p.120
     A reaction: But maybe mollusc and human nervous systems ARE the same in the respects that matter. We don't know enough about pain to deny that possibility.
18. Thought / A. Modes of Thought / 4. Folk Psychology
Can we give a scientific, computational account of folk psychology?
     Full Idea: The desire that grips Fodor, as it once gripped me, is the desire to make belief-desire psychology "scientific" by simply identifying it outright with computational psychology.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], p.7)
     A reaction: An "outright" identification looks very implausible. It seems that we should accept that belief-desire psychology is a very good guide to normal brain events, but a bad guide to unusual brain events. See Ideas 2987 and 7519.
18. Thought / A. Modes of Thought / 5. Rationality
Rationality is one part of our conception of human flourishing
     Full Idea: Our notion of rationality is, at bottom, just one part of our conception of human flourishing, our idea of the good.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981], Pref)
     A reaction: This looks like the beginnings of virtue epistemology, since rationality will have criteria, which would seem to be virtues. I find this idea appealing, both as a view of rationality, and as a view of the human good.
18. Thought / B. Mechanics of Thought / 4. Language of Thought
If everything uses mentalese, ALL concepts must be innate!
     Full Idea: Fodor concludes that every predicate that a brain could learn to use must have a translation into the computer language of that brain. So no "new" concepts can be acquired: all concepts are innate!
     From: Hilary Putnam (What is innate and why [1980], p.407)
     A reaction: Some misunderstanding, surely? No one could be so daft as to think that everyone has an innate idea of an iPod. More basic innate building blocks for thought are quite plausible.
No machine language can express generalisations
     Full Idea: Computers have a built-in language, but not a language that contains quantifiers (that is, the words "all" and "some"). …So generalizations (containing "all") cannot ever be stated in machine language.
     From: Hilary Putnam (What is innate and why [1980], p.408)
     A reaction: Computers are too sophisticated to need quantification (which is crude). Computers can work with very precise and complex specifications of the domain of a given variable.
18. Thought / C. Content / 5. Twin Earth
If Twins talking about 'water' and 'XYZ' have different thoughts but identical heads, then thoughts aren't in the head
     Full Idea: Putnam claims that the Twins have different thoughts even though their heads are the same, so their thoughts (about 'water' or 'XYZ') cannot be in their heads.
     From: report of Hilary Putnam (The Meaning of 'Meaning' [1975]) by Tim Crane - Elements of Mind 4.37
     A reaction: Is Putnam guilty of a simple confusion of de re and de dicto reference?
We say ice and steam are different forms of water, but not that they are different forms of H2O
     Full Idea: Putnam presumes it is correct to say that ice and steam are forms of water, rather than that ice, water and steam are three forms of H2O. If we allow the latter, then 'water is H2O' is not an identity, but elliptical for 'water is H2O in liquid state'.
     From: comment on Hilary Putnam (The Meaning of 'Meaning' [1975]) by Graeme Forbes - The Metaphysics of Modality 8.2
     A reaction: This nice observation seems to reveal that the word 'water' is ambiguous. I presume the ambiguity preceded the discovery of its chemical construction. Shakespeare would have hesitated over whether to say 'water is ice'. Context would matter.
Does 'water' mean a particular substance that was 'dubbed'?
     Full Idea: Putnam argued that "water" refers to H2O by virtue of causal chains extending from present use back to early dubbing uses of it that were in fact dubbings of the substance H2O (although, of course, the original users of the word didn't know this).
     From: report of Hilary Putnam (The Meaning of 'Meaning' [1975]) by Georges Rey - Contemporary Philosophy of Mind 9.2.1
     A reaction: This is the basic idea of the Causal Theory of Reference. Nice conclusion: most of us don't know what we are talking about. Maybe the experts on H2O are also wrong...
'Water' on Twin Earth doesn't refer to water, but no mental difference can account for this
     Full Idea: The word 'water' used on Twin Earth refers not to water but to this other liquid (XYZ). Yet there is no relevant difference in the mental state of Twin Earth speakers and speakers on Earth (in 1750) to account for this difference of reference.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981], Ch.2)
     A reaction: In this world, if you and I separately meet twins, and I think about this twin while you think about that one, our mental states are different even if they are indistinguishable. I know I'm thinking about my twin, not yours. Indexicals.
Reference may be different while mental representation is the same
     Full Idea: The 'mental representations' of Earth speakers and Twin Earth speakers were not in any way different; the reference was different because the substances were different. Reference is fixed by the environment itself.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], §2 p.32)
     A reaction: There seems to be an elementary distinction here between what you think you are referring to, and what you are in fact referring to. "That man is the Prince of Wales" (pointing at the butler).
18. Thought / C. Content / 6. Broad Content
I can't distinguish elm trees, but I mean by 'elm' the same set of trees as everybody else
     Full Idea: My concept of an elm tree is exactly the same as my concept of a beech tree (I blush to confess). ..We still say that the extension of 'elm' in my idiolect is the same as the extension of 'elm' in anyone else's, viz. the set of all elm trees.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and Reference [1973], p.154)
     A reaction: This example is clearer and less open to hair-splitting than his water/XYZ example. You could, with Putnam, say that his meaning of 'elm' is outside his head, but you could also say that he doesn't understand the word very well.
'Water' has an unnoticed indexical component, referring to stuff around here
     Full Idea: Our theory can be summarized as saying that words like 'water' have an unnoticed indexical component: "water" is stuff that bears a certain similarity relation to the water around here.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and Reference [1973], p.160)
     A reaction: This is the causal theory of reference, which leads to externalism about concepts, which leads to an externalist view of thought, which undermines internal accounts of the mind like functionalism, and leaves little room for scepticism… Etc.
Reference is social not individual, because we defer to experts when referring to elm trees
     Full Idea: My concept of an elm tree is exactly the same as my concept of a beech tree (I blush to confess), which shows that the determination of reference is social and not individual - both you and I defer to experts who can tell elms from beeches.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981], Ch.1)
     A reaction: If I said 'that tree looks nice' I wouldn't be deferring to experts. Nor if I said 'that tree, which I take to be an elm, looks nice'. If I am an expert I don't defer to experts.
18. Thought / D. Concepts / 3. Ontology of Concepts / b. Concepts as abilities
Concepts are (at least in part) abilities and not occurrences
     Full Idea: Concepts are (at least in part) abilities and not occurrences.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981], Ch.1)
     A reaction: This seems to be building on the idea that meaning is use, and also arises from a background of pragmatism. Perhaps a concept is an acquaintance with a node in platonic space? Lots of abilities aren't concepts, so what distinguishes the concepts?
19. Language / A. Nature of Meaning / 1. Meaning
Theory of meaning presupposes theory of understanding and reference
     Full Idea: Theory of meaning presupposes theory of understanding and reference.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Pt Four)
     A reaction: How can you have a theory of understanding without a meaning that requires to be understood? Personally I think about the minds of small animals when pondering this, and that seems to put reference and truth at the front of the queue.
Meaning and translation (which are needed to define truth) both presuppose the notion of reference
     Full Idea: The notion of meaning, and hence of translation (needed to define truth), presupposes the notion of reference.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], §4 p.67)
     A reaction: It is plausible to see reference as the fundamental notion of language. With no anchors in reality, language would be 'private', in LW's sense.
19. Language / A. Nature of Meaning / 4. Meaning as Truth-Conditions
Truth conditions can't explain understanding a sentence, because that in turn needs explanation
     Full Idea: You can't treat understanding a sentence as knowing its truth conditions, because it then becomes unintelligible what that knowledge in turn consists in.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Pt Four)
     A reaction: The implication, I take it, is circularity; how can you specify truth conditions if you don't understand sentences? Putnam here agrees with Dummett that verification must be involved. Something has to be taken as axiomatic in all this.
We should reject the view that truth is prior to meaning
     Full Idea: I am suggesting that we reject the view that truth (based on the semantic theory) is prior to meaning.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Pt Three)
     A reaction: It is a nice question which of truth or meaning has logical priority. One might start by speculating about how and why animals think. A moth attracted to flame is probably working on truth without much that could be called 'meaning'.
19. Language / A. Nature of Meaning / 6. Meaning as Use
"Meaning is use" is not a definition of meaning
     Full Idea: "Meaning is use" is not a definition of meaning.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], §7 p.119)
     A reaction: I agree. It probably fails to define meaning because it is false. A corkscrew is not the action of opening a wine bottle.
19. Language / A. Nature of Meaning / 7. Meaning Holism / b. Language holism
Meaning holism tried to show that you can't get fixed meanings built out of observation terms
     Full Idea: The doctrine of Quine called "meaning holism" offered arguments refuting logical positivist attempts to show that every term we can understand can be defined using a limited group of "observation terms".
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], §1 p.08)
     A reaction: To seems a rather large jump from saying that sentences come in groups to full-blown 'holism' (involving every sentence).
Understanding a sentence involves background knowledge and can't be done in isolation
     Full Idea: If I say "Hawks fly", I do not intend my hearer to deduce that a hawk with a broken wing will fly. What we expect depends on the whole network of belief. Language describes experience as a network, not sentence by sentence.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], §1 p.09)
     A reaction: The shortcut through this is 'exactly what did you mean when you said "Hawks fly"?'. That is, get me closer to your proposition.
Holism seems to make fixed definition more or less impossible
     Full Idea: Holism immediately suggests that most terms cannot be defined, at least not in a way that is fixed once and for all.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], §1 p.09)
     A reaction: Perhaps there exists a single perfect definition for each holistic system, only graspable by a transcendent intellect. Or why can't there be a matching holistic system of definitions?
19. Language / B. Reference / 1. Reference theories
How reference is specified is not what reference is
     Full Idea: A theory of how reference is specified isn't a theory of what reference is.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Lec V)
     A reaction: A simple and important point. We may achieve reference by naming, describing, grunting or pointing, but the question is, what have we achieved when we get there?
19. Language / B. Reference / 3. Direct Reference / a. Direct reference
We should separate how the reference of 'gold' is fixed from its conceptual content
     Full Idea: The effect of my account, as of Kripke's, is to separate the question of how the reference of terms such as 'gold' is fixed from the question of their conceptual content.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], §2 p.38)
     A reaction: Too simple. 'Gold' isn't a proper name, like 'Hilary', which needs no more content than a serial number. Baptising a gold sample needs much more information than baptising a person.
Like names, natural kind terms have their meaning fixed by extension and reference
     Full Idea: It seems that the dominant "component" of natural kind words is the extension. The referential factor does almost all the work, and natural kind terms resemble names.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], §3 p.49)
     A reaction: My concept of 'tiger' does not mainly consist of the tigers. Does the concept contract as the tiger population dwindles? Prototypes, exemplars etc. See 'Concepts'
19. Language / B. Reference / 3. Direct Reference / b. Causal reference
I now think reference by the tests of experts is a special case of being causally connected
     Full Idea: In previous papers I suggested that the reference is fixed by a test known to experts; it now seems to me that this is just a special case of my use being causally connected to an introducing event.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Explanation and Reference [1973], II C)
     A reaction: I think he was probably right the first time, and has now wandered off course.
19. Language / B. Reference / 3. Direct Reference / c. Social reference
We need to recognise the contribution of society and of the world in determining reference
     Full Idea: Traditional semantic theory leaves out two contributions to the determination of reference - the contribution of society and the contribution of the real world; a better semantic theory must encompass both.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and Reference [1973], p.161)
     A reaction: I strongly agree that there is a social aspect to reference-fixing, but I am much more dubious about the world 'determining' anything. The whole of his Twin Earth point could be mopped up by a social account, with 'experts' as the key idea.
Maybe the total mental state of a language community fixes the reference of a term
     Full Idea: One might concede that the reference of a person's term isn't fixed by his individual mental state, but insist that the total mental state of all the members of the language community fixes the reference of the term.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981], Ch.2)
     A reaction: I like this reading of the problem, though Putnam himself prefers to say that things fix the reference. I take reference to be a human action, not a natural causal relation. Animals connecting thought to object may not count as reference at all.
Neither individual nor community mental states fix reference
     Full Idea: Mental state (in either the individualistic or the collective sense) does not fix reference.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981], Ch.2)
     A reaction: The idea that communities fix reference seems to me plausible. See Tyler Burge on this.
Aristotle implies that we have the complete concepts of a language in our heads, but we don't
     Full Idea: What is wrong with the Aristotelian picture (of meaning and reference based on concepts) is that it suggest that everything that is necessary for the use of language is stored in each individual mind, but no individual language works this way.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], §2 p.25)
     A reaction: Languages must partly work that way. You can't talk without a conceptual storehouse. In a small society I would expect every adult to know the full vocabulary.
Reference (say to 'elms') is a social phenomenon which we can leave to experts
     Full Idea: Reference is a social phenomenon. Individual speakers do not have to know how to distinguish robins, or elms, or aluminium. They can always rely on experts to do this for them.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], §2 p.22)
     A reaction: It can't just be a social phenomenon. The experts don't just enquire about standard usage, or defer to Hilary Putnam.
19. Language / B. Reference / 4. Descriptive Reference / a. Sense and reference
Often reference determines sense, and not (as Frege thought) vice versa
     Full Idea: Putnam argues that, Frege notwithstanding, it is often the case that reference determines sense, and not vice versa.
     From: report of Hilary Putnam (The Meaning of 'Meaning' [1975]) by Roger Scruton - Modern Philosophy:introduction and survey 19.6
     A reaction: Does this say anything more than that once you have established a reference, you can begin to collect information about the referent?
19. Language / B. Reference / 4. Descriptive Reference / b. Reference by description
The claim that scientific terms are incommensurable can be blocked if scientific terms are not descriptions
     Full Idea: The line of reasoning of Kuhn and Feyerabend can be blocked by arguing (as I have in various places, and as Saul Kripke has) that scientific terms are not synonymous with descriptions.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Lec II.2)
     A reaction: A nice clear statement of the motivation for creating the causal theory of reference. See Idea 6162. We could still go back and ask whether we could block scientific relativism by rethinking how descriptions work, instead of abandoning them.
19. Language / F. Communication / 4. Private Language
Language is more like a cooperative steamship than an individual hammer
     Full Idea: There are tools like a hammer used by one person, and there are tools like a steamship which require cooperative activity; words have been thought of too much on the model of the first sort of tool.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and Reference [1973], p.156)
     A reaction: This clear thought strikes me as the most fruitful and sensible consequence of Wittgenstein's later ideas (as opposed to the relativistic 'language game' ideas). I am unconvinced that a private language is logically impossible, but it would be feeble.
A private language could work with reference and beliefs, and wouldn't need meaning
     Full Idea: A language made up and used by a being who belonged to no community would have no need for such a concept as the 'meaning' of a term. To state the reference of each term and what the language speaker believes is to tell the whole story.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Pt Three)
     A reaction: A subtle response to Wittgenstein's claim (e.g. Ideas 4152,4158), but I am not sure what Putnam means. I would have thought that beliefs had to be embodied in propositions. They may not need 'meaning' quite as urgently as sentences, but still…
19. Language / F. Communication / 6. Interpreting Language / b. Indeterminate translation
The correct translation is the one that explains the speaker's behaviour
     Full Idea: What it is to be a correct translation is to be the translation that best explains the behaviour of the speaker.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Lec III)
     A reaction: This seems fairly close to Quine, but rather puzzlingly uses the word 'correct'. If our criteria of translation are purely behavioural, there is no way we can be correct after one word ('gavagai'), so at what point does it become 'correct'?
Language maps the world in many ways (because it maps onto other languages in many ways)
     Full Idea: We could say that the language has more than one correct way of being mapped onto the world (it must, since it has more than one way of being correctly mapped onto a language which is itself correctly mapped onto the world).
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Pt Four)
     A reaction: This spells out nicely the significance of Quine's 'indeterminacy of translation'. Others have pointed out that the fact that language maps onto world in many ways need not be anti-realist; the world is endless, and language is limited.
There are infinitely many interpretations of a sentence which can all seem to be 'correct'
     Full Idea: There are always infinitely many different interpretations of the predicates of a language which assign 'correct' truth-values to the sentences in all possible worlds, no matter how those 'correct' truth-values are singled out.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981], Ch.2)
     A reaction: Putnam says that he is using this argument from model theory to endorse the scepticism about 'gavagai' that Quine expressed in 1960. It is based on the ideas of Skolem, who was a renegade philosopher of mathematics. See Tim Button.
19. Language / F. Communication / 6. Interpreting Language / c. Principle of charity
You can't say 'most speaker's beliefs are true'; in some areas this is not so, and you can't count beliefs
     Full Idea: The maxim that 'most of a speaker's beliefs are true' as an a priori principle governing radical translation seems to me to go too far; first, I don't know how to count beliefs; second, most people's beliefs on some topics (philosophy) are probably false.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and the Moral Sciences [1978], Pt Three)
     A reaction: Putnam prefers a pragmatic view, where charity is applicable if behaviour is involved. Philosophy is too purely theoretical. The extent to which Charity should apply in philosophy seminars is a nice question, which all students should test in practice.
22. Metaethics / A. Value / 1. Nature of Value / b. Fact and value
The word 'inconsiderate' nicely shows the blurring of facts and values
     Full Idea: The use of the word 'inconsiderate' seems to me a very fine example of the way in which the fact/value distinction is hopelessly fuzzy in the real world and in the real language.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Reason, Truth and History [1981])
     A reaction: Interesting, but not much of an argument. What would Nietzsche say? Was Agamemnon morally deficient because we might think him 'inconsiderate'?
26. Natural Theory / B. Natural Kinds / 4. Source of Kinds
The hidden structure of a natural kind determines membership in all possible worlds
     Full Idea: If there is a hidden structure, then generally it determines what it is to be a member of the natural kind, all possible worlds. Put another way, it determines what we can and cannot counterfactually suppose about the natural kind.
     From: Hilary Putnam (The Meaning of 'Meaning' [1975], p.241)
     A reaction: This is the arrival of the bold new view of natural kinds (which is actually the original view - see Idea 8153). One must be careful of the necessity here. There is causal context, vagueness etc.
26. Natural Theory / B. Natural Kinds / 5. Reference to Natural Kinds
Natural kind stereotypes are 'strong' (obvious, like tiger) or 'weak' (obscure, like molybdenum)
     Full Idea: Natural kinds can be associated with 'strong' stereotypes (giving a strong picture of a typical member, like a tiger), or with 'weak' stereotypes (with no idea of a sufficient condition, such as molybdenum or elm).
     From: Hilary Putnam (Explanation and Reference [1973], II C)
Express natural kinds as a posteriori predicate connections, not as singular terms
     Full Idea: Putnam implies dispensing with the designation of natural kinds by singular terms in favour of the postulation of necessary but a posteriori connections between predicates. ...We might call this 'predicate essentialism', but not 'de re essentialism'.
     From: report of Hilary Putnam (Explanation and Reference [1973]) by Penelope Mackie - How Things Might Have Been 10.1
     A reaction: It is characteristic of modern discussion that the logical form of natural kind statements is held to be crucial, rather than an account of nature in any old ways that do the job. So do I prefer singular terms, or predicate-connections. Hm.
"Water" is a natural kind term, but "H2O" is a description
     Full Idea: "Water" functions as a natural kind term, but "H2O" is a description, synonymous with an account of its atoms.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Representation and Reality [1988], §3 p.50)
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 8. Particular Causation / d. Selecting the cause
An alien might think oxygen was the main cause of a forest fire
     Full Idea: Imagine a Venusian lands on Earth and observes a forest fire, and says 'I know what caused that - the atmosphere is saturated with oxygen!'. Thus one man's 'background condition' can easily be another man's 'cause'.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Why there isn't a ready-made world [1981], 'Causation')
     A reaction: You can't sweep 'the' cause of a fire away so easily. There is always oxygen on Earth, but only occasional forest fires. The oxygen doesn't 'trigger' the fire (i.e. it isn't the proximate cause).
26. Natural Theory / D. Laws of Nature / 8. Scientific Essentialism / a. Scientific essentialism
If causes are the essence of diseases, then disease is an example of a relational essence
     Full Idea: Putnam takes causes to be the essence of disease kinds, and they are distinct from the diseases they cause, both in identity and in proper parthood. These are relational properties, so Putnam gives examples of natural kinds with relational essences.
     From: report of Hilary Putnam (The Meaning of 'Meaning' [1975]) by Neil E. Williams - Putnam's Traditional Neo-Essentialism §4
     A reaction: This seems to be a nice point, since scientific essentialism invariable takes itself to be pursuing instrinsic properties when it unravels the essences of natural kinds. Probably the best response is the Putnam has got muddled.
Archimedes meant by 'gold' the hidden structure or essence of the stuff
     Full Idea: When Archimedes asserted that something was gold, he was not just saying that it had the superficial characteristics of gold; he was saying that it had the same general hidden structure (the same 'essence', so to speak) as any normal piece of local gold.
     From: Hilary Putnam (The Meaning of 'Meaning' [1975], p.235)
     A reaction: This is one of the key announcements of the new scientific essentialism, and seems to me to be totally correct. Obviously Archimedes could say 'this is really gold, even if it no way appears to be gold'.
26. Natural Theory / D. Laws of Nature / 8. Scientific Essentialism / b. Scientific necessity
If water is H2O in the actual world, there is no possible world where it isn't H2O
     Full Idea: Once we have discovered that water (in the actual world) is H2O, nothing counts as a possible world in which water isn't H2O.
     From: Hilary Putnam (Meaning and Reference [1973], p.159)
     A reaction: Presumably there could be a possible world in which water is a bit cloudy, so the fact that it is H2O is being judged as essential. Presumably the scientists in the possible world might discover that we are wrong about the chemistry of water?