Being That Can Be
Understood Is Language
In a book called Reason in the Age of Science, Hans-Georg Gadamer asked the question: Can “philosophy” refer to anything nowadays except the theory of science? 1 His own answer to this question is affirmative. It may seem that the so-called “analytic” tradition in philosophy—the tradition that goes back to Frege and Russell and whose most prominent living representatives are Quine, Davidson, Dummett, and Putnam—must return a negative answer. For that tradition is often thought of as a sort of public relations agency for the natural sciences.
Those who think of analytic philosophy in this way often describe Gadamer's own work as a sort of apologia for the humanities. In this view of the matter, each of what C. P. Snow called “the two cultures” has its own philosophical claque. Those who accept Snow's picture of the intellectual scene think of the quarrel over science versus religion that divided the intellectuals of the nineteenth century as having evolved into the contemporary quarrel between the kinds of people whom we Californians call the “techies” and the “fuzzies. ”
This crude and oversimplified picture of the tension within contemporary philosophy is not altogether wrong. But a more detailed account of the history of philosophy in the twentieth century would distinguish between a first, scientistic phase of analytic philosophy and a second, anti-scientistic phase. Between 1900 and 1960 most admirers of Frege would have agreed with Quine's dictum that “philosophy of science is philosophy enough. ” But a change came over analytic philosophy around the time that philosophers began reading Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations side by side with Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Since then, more and more analytic philosophers have come to agree with Putnam that part of the problem with present-day philosophy is a scientism inherited from the nineteenth century.