Ideas of Scott Soames, by Theme

[American, fl. 1987, Professor at Princeton University, then University of Southern California.]

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1. Philosophy / C. History of Philosophy / 5. Modern Philosophy / c. Modern philosophy mid-period
Analytic philosophy loved the necessary a priori analytic, linguistic modality, and rigour
     Full Idea: The golden age of analytic philosophy (mid 20th c) was when necessary, a priori and analytic were one, all possibility was linguistic possibility, and the linguistic turn gave philosophy a respectable subject matter (language), and precision and rigour.
     From: Scott Soames (Significance of the Kripkean Nec A Posteriori [2006], p.166)
     A reaction: Gently sarcastic, because Soames is part of the team who have put a bomb under this view, and quite right too. Personally I think the biggest enemy in all of this lot is not 'language' but 'rigour'. A will-o-the-wisp philosophers dream of.
1. Philosophy / F. Analytic Philosophy / 5. Linguistic Analysis
If philosophy is analysis of meaning, available to all competent speakers, what's left for philosophers?
     Full Idea: If all of philosophy is the analysis of meaning, and meaning is fundamentally transparent to competent speakers, there is little room for philosophically significant explanations and theories, since they will be necessary or a priori, or both.
     From: Scott Soames (Significance of the Kripkean Nec A Posteriori [2006], p.186)
     A reaction: He cites the later Wittgenstein as having fallen into this trap. I suppose any area of life can have its specialists, but I take Shakespeare to be a greater master of English than any philosopher I have ever read.
4. Formal Logic / D. Modal Logic ML / 1. Modal Logic
The interest of quantified modal logic is its metaphysical necessity and essentialism
     Full Idea: The chief philosophical interest in quantified modal logic lies with metaphysical necessity, essentialism, and the nontrivial modal de re.
     From: Scott Soames (Philosophy of Language [2010], 3.1)
5. Theory of Logic / F. Referring in Logic / 2. Descriptions / a. Descriptions
Indefinite descriptions are quantificational in subject position, but not in predicate position
     Full Idea: The indefinite description in 'A man will meet you' is naturally treated as quantificational, but an occurrence in predicative position, in 'Jones is not a philosopher', doesn't have a natural quantificational counterpart.
     From: Scott Soames (Philosophy of Language [2010], 1.23)
5. Theory of Logic / F. Referring in Logic / 2. Descriptions / c. Theory of definite descriptions
Recognising the definite description 'the man' as a quantifier phrase, not a singular term, is a real insight
     Full Idea: Recognising the definite description 'the man' as a quantifier phrase, rather than a singular term, is a real insight.
     From: Scott Soames (Philosophy of Language [2010], 1.22)
     A reaction: 'Would the man who threw the stone come forward' seems like a different usage from 'would the man in the black hat come forward'.
5. Theory of Logic / G. Quantification / 7. Unorthodox Quantification
The universal and existential quantifiers were chosen to suit mathematics
     Full Idea: Since Frege and Russell were mainly interested in formalizing mathematics, the only quantifiers they needed were the universal and existential one.
     From: Scott Soames (Philosophy of Language [2010], 1.22)
9. Objects / D. Essence of Objects / 7. Essence and Necessity / a. Essence as necessary properties
Kripkean essential properties and relations are necessary, in all genuinely possible worlds
     Full Idea: By (Kripkean) 'essential' properties and relations I mean simply properties and relations that hold necessarily of objects (in all genuinely possible world-states in which the objects exist).
     From: Scott Soames (Significance of the Kripkean Nec A Posteriori [2006], p.168 n5)
     A reaction: This is the standard modern view of essences which I find so unsatisfactory. Kit Fine has helped to take us back to the proper Aristotelian view, where 'necessary' and 'essential' actually have different meanings. Note the inclusion of relations.
10. Modality / A. Necessity / 5. Metaphysical Necessity
We understand metaphysical necessity intuitively, from ordinary life
     Full Idea: Our understanding of metaphysical necessity is intuitive - drawn from our ordinary thought and talk.
     From: Scott Soames (Philosophy of Language [2010], 3.1)
     A reaction: This, of course, is a good reason for analytic philosophers to dislike metaphysical necessity.
There are more metaphysically than logically necessary truths
     Full Idea: The set of metaphysically necessary truths is larger than the set of logically necessary truths.
     From: Scott Soames (Philosophy of Language [2010], 3.1)
     A reaction: Likewise, the set of logically possible truths is much larger than the set of metaphysically possible truths. If a truth is logically necessary, it will clearly be metaphysically necessary. Er, unless it is necessitated by daft logic...
10. Modality / C. Sources of Modality / 3. Necessity by Convention
A key achievement of Kripke is showing that important modalities are not linguistic in source
     Full Idea: None of Kripke's many achievements is more important than his breaking the spell of the linguistic as the source of philosophically important modalities.
     From: Scott Soames (Significance of the Kripkean Nec A Posteriori [2006], p.186)
     A reaction: Put like that, Kripke may have had the single most important thought of modern times. I take good philosophy to be exactly the same as good scientific theorising, in that it all arises out of the nature of reality (and I include logic in that).
10. Modality / E. Possible worlds / 2. Nature of Possible Worlds / a. Nature of possible worlds
Kripkean possible worlds are abstract maximal states in which the real world could have been
     Full Idea: For the Kripkean possible states of the world are not alternate concrete universes, but abstract objects. Metaphysically possible world-states are maximally complete ways the real concrete universe could have been.
     From: Scott Soames (Significance of the Kripkean Nec A Posteriori [2006], p.167)
     A reaction: This is probably clearer about the Kripkean view than Kripke ever is, but then that is part of Soames's mission. It sounds like the right way to conceive possible worlds. At least there is some commitment there, rather than instrumentalism about them.
19. Language / A. Nature of Meaning / 4. Meaning as Truth-Conditions
To study meaning, study truth conditions, on the basis of syntax, and representation by the parts
     Full Idea: The systematic study of meaning requires a framework for specifying the truth conditions of sentences on the basis of their syntactic structure, and the representational contents of their parts.
     From: Scott Soames (Philosophy of Language [2010], Intro)
     A reaction: Soames presents this as common sense, on the first page of his book, and it is hard to disagree. Representation will shade off into studying the workings of the mind. Fodor seems a good person to start with.
Tarski's account of truth-conditions is too weak to determine meanings
     Full Idea: The truth conditions provided by Tarski's theories (based on references of subsentential constituents) are too weak to determine meanings, because they lacked context-sensitivity and various forms of intensionality.
     From: Scott Soames (Philosophy of Language [2010], Intro)
     A reaction: Interesting. This suggests that stronger modern axiomatic theories of truth might give a sufficient basis for a truth conditions theory of meaning. Soames says possible worlds semantics was an attempt to improve things.
19. Language / C. Assigning Meanings / 2. Semantics
Semantics as theory of meaning and semantics as truth-based logical consequence are very different
     Full Idea: There are two senses of 'semantic' - as theory of meaning or as truth-based theory of logical consequence, and they are very different.
     From: Scott Soames (Why Propositions Aren't Truth-Supporting Circumstance [2008], p.78)
     A reaction: This subtle point is significant in considering the role of logic in philosophy. The logicians' semantics (based on logical consequence) is in danger of ousting the broader and more elusive notion of meaning in natural language.
19. Language / C. Assigning Meanings / 6. Truth-Conditions Semantics
Semantic content is a proposition made of sentence constituents (not some set of circumstances)
     Full Idea: The semantic content of a sentence is not the set of circumstances supporting its truth. It is rather the semantic content of a structured proposition the constituents of which are the semantic contents of the constituents of the sentence.
     From: Scott Soames (Why Propositions Aren't Truth-Supporting Circumstance [2008], p.74)
     A reaction: I'm not sure I get this, but while I like the truth-conditions view, I am suspicious of any proposal that the semantic content of something is some actual physical ingredients of the world. Meanings aren't sticks and stones.
19. Language / C. Assigning Meanings / 10. Two-Dimensional Semantics
Two-dimensionalism reinstates descriptivism, and reconnects necessity and apriority to analyticity
     Full Idea: Two-dimensionalism is a fundamentally anti-Kripkean attempt to reinstate descriptivism about names and natural kind terms, to reconnect necessity and apriority to analyticity, and return philosophy to analytic paradigms of its golden age.
     From: Scott Soames (Significance of the Kripkean Nec A Posteriori [2006], p.183)
     A reaction: I presume this is right, and it is so frustrating that you need Soames to spell it out, when Chalmers is much more low-key. Philosophers hate telling you what their real game is. Why is that?
19. Language / D. Propositions / 4. Mental Propositions
We should use cognitive states to explain representational propositions, not vice versa
     Full Idea: Instead of explaining the representationality of sentences and cognitive states in terms of propositions, we must explain the representationality of propositions in terms of the representationality of the relevant cognitive states.
     From: Scott Soames (Philosophy of Language [2010], Intro)
     A reaction: Music to my ears. I am bewildered by this Russellian notion of a 'proposition' as some abstract entity floating around in the world waiting to be expressed. The vaguer word 'facts' (and false facts?) will cover that. It's Frege's fault.