There are two mutually reinforcing founding myths in analytical philosophy: the one centered on Cambridge, England, tells the story of how G.E. Moore and Russell liberated us from the unintelligibility and inflated metaphysical pretensions of British Idealism by the application of common sense and conceptual decomposition aided by Frege's new mathematical logic that the young were using to dismantle the cowwebs of intellectual dinosaurs (like Bradley). The other is centered on Vienna, where in the aftermath of Einstein's overthrowing of Newtonian physics, it was understood that Kantian philosophy (with outdated commitments on space, time, causation, etc.) was untenable and (with help from Wittgenstein) forged a powerful program that mixed logical acumen, again indebted to Frege, and respect for the sciences, even Enlightenment values. From the vantage point of these two narratives, the ongoing attractiveness of transcendental philosophy and species of idealism within Continental philosophy is a kind of intellectual embarrassment--hadn't they heard the news -- one might ask paraphrasing Nietzsche -- of the death of Kantianism?*
Yes, such myth(s) is no history, but during the last few months, in reflecting on the inexorable march of (knee-jerk realist) metaphysics within analytical philosophy, and the hardening of attitudes toward anyone willing to doubt the solidity of Moorean facts (despite the existence of widespread semantic and pschological illusions discovered by way of the sciences), I have started to wonder about the following question:
What happened to the antinomies in the rise of analytical philosophy?
For, the antinomies, diagnosed by Kant, do not go away just because Kant got physics wrong. In fact, while the new logic is a fantastic tool, it also gave rise to new logical antinomies (starting with Russell's paradox and rediscovery of very old ones, e.g., The Liar).
Of course, the logical antinomies stimulated extraordinary fertile, ongoing attempts to develop logic(s) in ways that circumvent even clarify these antinomies. So, rather than ignoring the antinomies they can present research opportunities either by acting as known constraints or as obstacles to be overcome. Reflecting on this history made me see analytical philosophy in a different light.**
For, one can understand the methods of analytical as responsive to the threat the antinomies pose. Here's a rough and ready taxonomy:
The first, and dominant, approach is to espouse a systematic caution that expresses itself in various ways within the analytic tradition: by this I do not just mean the obsession with rigor and clarity, nor a certain ponderousness about the mundane (e.g., ordinary language philosophy) but also a certain self-limitation on what can be expressed.+ In Carnap, this is exhibited in a fondness for precise, engineered languages, or frameworks, and a suspicion of questions that are external (or optative) to these frameworks. In Quine, it entails deference to a suitably regimented language that collects the findings of science. In both there is, despite the best efforts of Stebbing, also a mistrust of metaphysics as such.
Of course, in Lewis the caution is methodological in that any philosophical system has to find some optimal cost-benefit equilibrium between common sense intuitions and theoretical desiderata and is to be expressed in some final-physics language (for a more careful presentation of the conservativism in Lewis's program see here). To this day, some analytical metaphysicians discuss their projects in terms of the ontological/ideological features of a hypothetical, ideal language at the end of the progress of science.
These examples of systematic caution all respect the challenge the antinomies pose without having to address them and even without having to be aware of them. (If it turns out that my historical speculations cannot be substantiated in the record, I can always say that I am putting my finger on -- to borrow a phrase of Dennett's --free-floating rationales without representation.) Such systematic caution connects with another familiar fact of analytical philosophy: its focus on puzzle-solving rather than systematizing. (Analytical philosophy has always rewarded specialization rather than breadth [recall].) The advantage of this kind specialization and precision is not just enhanced focus and skill at puzzle-solving, but one also avoids bumping up against antinomies that would reveal themselves if one were forced to systematize. (As an aside, this may help explain some of the status-hierarchies within philosophy: a flatter hierarchy among areas of specialization runs the risk of accidentally generating the kind of systematicity that would generate awareness of antinomies.)
Of course, while the Kantianism in Carnap, even Kuhn, is now well-established, a second approach is to be found in other analytical philosophers, who explicitly reverted back to structural features of Kant’s philosophy most notably Strawson at Oxford. Strawson's ‘descriptive metaphysics’ is a metaphysics of what (that other important Kantian), Sellars at Pittsburgh, would call the ‘manifest image’ of ordinary life not fundamental reality. The widespread interest in normativity reminds us of the enduring vitality of this approach.
The third method is to treat philosophical systems as (revisable) inferences to the best explanation in which one appeals to theory-world fit in light of a variety of scientific virtues. In principle, this approach need not respect the threat of the antinomies (despite its origin in Pierce's philosophy), if it remains focused on relatively isolated topics. Those that advance it also advocate the disciplining (Williamson's term) of philosophy by constraining it in light of the demands of, say, some formal system. This piggy-backs on the ways in which the logical antinomies have been deflected and tamed. The downside of this approach is that one's philosophical commitments get blackboxed in one's formal apparatus.
So, here's a prediction: as analytical philosophers are emboldened to get ever more systematic and to bring the problems of cosmology, consciousness, and axiology, including politics, into their collective orbits, the antinomies will reappear in modern guise, especially if they are using inference to the best explanation in each individual area or topic.++