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Michael Kremer

I have had experience with three graduate departments -- Pittsburgh as a grad student and Notre Dame and Chicago as a faculty member. None had the "standard" philosophy of language based proseminar in my time there. Pitt (80-86) had a series of four "core courses" we all had to take, in Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Science, Metaphysics and Epistemology, and Ethics. The first two were viewed as equally foundational. ND (1986-2002) had a "proseminar" in which individual faculty came in and talked about their work. Chicago has a "first year seminar" but it's content can vary with instructor and is often pretty idiosyncratic, including such figures as Sellars and McDowell. Of course these are three somewhat unusual departments but also all three are top 25 grad programs or better; this is just to say the model you are talking about is not universal.

eric schliesser

Fair! I agree the pro-seminar is not universal, and certainly I would be amazed if the curricula in *even* the ones that treated philosophy of language as dominant core would be identical in departments that do have it. But the proseminar is not the theme of this post. What this post is really about is the intertwined dominance of philosophy of language within analytic (for some time) and canon formation (the proseminar is only an important vehicle in that to some degree), and certain intellectual virtues we associate with analytic. And while I am not suggesting this post is the final word on that, I hope to have started or restarted a discussion about it.


Some thoughts: When I took a proseminar at Penn (in 2001) it was taught by the ...eclectic...philosopher, James Ross. https://philpeople.org/profiles/james-ross Unlike many of the other faculty, Ross liked teaching the proseminar, and so did it fairly regularly, until he was eventually taken off of it for, I think, being a bit erratic. The official texts for the class were CI Lewis's _Mind and the World Order_, Goodman's _Fact, Fiction, and Forecast, McDowell's _Mind and World_ and Brandom's _Articulating Reasons_. (Maybe we also had the Rorty/Brandom edition of _Empricism and the Philosophy of Mind_, but I'm not sure. For some reason I remember spending a bunch of time talking about my favorite paper by Davidson, "The Myth of the Subjective", but that was probably in the context of reading McDowell.) But the weird thing was that we took an unplanned two or three week detour to carefully read and discuss Aristotle's De Anima. To me that was the highlight of the class, and not only because I'd read most of the other texts before (except Lewis), but because Ross clearly liked it a lot more and so had a lot more fun teaching it.

To my mind the standout thing about the Fiegl/Sellars anthology is that, in an interview somewhere, Davidson says that he learned contemporary philosophy by reading that, rather than from what he did in grad school. That was interesting to me.

When I took "Analtyic philosophy" as an undergrad, we used Morris Weitz's anthology, "20Th Century Philosophy: the Analtyic Tradition". This volume gives a good amount of space to Russell and Moore on "realism", and in particular to the problem of universals. This was a sort of fixation with the professor I took the class from, but I think this aspect of early analytic philosophy was ignored for a long time. So, I was very happy when I saw Fraser MacBride's teriffic book, _On the Genealogy of Universals: The Metaphysical Origins of Analytic Philosophy_, and even happier when I learned from him that he'd read the anthology on the problem of universals that my (largely unknown) undergraduate philosophy professor had put together.

Finally, the Linsky volume is great, but it's clear to me that it hasn't been much read for many years, because almost no one I've spoken to know of the papers in it by Goodman and Morton White on the analytic/synthetic distinction, despite their being, in many ways, much clearer and more interesting attacks than Quine's.

Eric Schliesser

Hi Matt,
Thank you for sharing your experience, and your recommendation of MacBride's book (which I look forward to reading). It's pretty clear that by 2001 the hold of philosophy of language as the core topic was well on its way out. (Even at anti-metaphysics Chicago, by then we were reading some David Lewis!)
From my perspective, the Weitz anthology is rather late in the game.
The Linsky volume has other peculiarities (look at the XPHI paper by Naess)! But my claim is not that it was used in proseminmars for fifty years. (The proseminar is not the topic of the post by the way.) Having said that: it did generate surprisingly many citations for an anthology. Rather my claim is that its coupling of semantics, philosophical logic, and philosophy of language with a certain number of key papers/themes is a sign/expression of things to come (perhaps a partial cause or effect--that needs to be explored).
On the fate of White, in particular, within analytic philosophy, it's worth thinking a lot about how narrow the funnel is what is passed on to next generations. I find Two Dogmas fascinating, but it's not a clear paper (and the less one knows about Carnap the more opaque it becomes). And so its displacement of the White paper, especially, is of sociological and historical interest, agreed.


Yes, I agree on the Linsky volume here. (I also really liked his volume _Reference and Modality_ in the Oxford Readings in Philosophy series. I'm not certain, but I _think_ that that series was, in the time when it was otherwise difficult to get a lot of papers together (pre-internet), pretty influential.)

I wonder if White moving to the Institute for Advanced Study (and so not having students at all, being a bit cut off from philosophy, despite still being in, if not exactly "at" Princeton, and developing some unusual interests there) lead to his earlier work being neglected. Probably that could be worked out, at least to a degree.

Eric Schliesser

I assume you are right about the sources of White's neglect. (Is it clear he had no involvement with PHD students at all in the last decades? I really have not looked into this) But Dan Dennett kind of shows having PhD students is not necessary for enduring attention in the field. So, I suspect the story is going to be more complicated, although the centrality of Quine and narratives that situate Kripke, Putnam, Davidson, and Lewis in relationship to Quine probably did not help.

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