Explication, Description and Enlightenment

in History of Philosophy & Logical Analysis
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  • 1 University of Reading
  • 2 University of Reading

In the first chapter of his book Logical Foundations of Probability, Rudolf Carnap introduced and endorsed a philosophical methodology which he called the method of ‘explication’. P.F. Strawson took issue with this methodology, but it is currently undergoing a revival. In a series of articles, Patrick Maher has recently argued that explication is an appropriate method for ‘formal epistemology’, has defended it against Strawson’s objection, and has himself put it to work in the philosophy of science in further clarification of the very concepts on which Carnap originally used it (degree of confirmation, and probability), as well as some concepts to which Carnap did not apply it (such as justified degree of belief).

We shall outline Carnap’s original idea, plus Maher’s recent application of such a methodology, and then seek to show that the problem Strawson raised for it has not been dealt with. The method is indeed, we argue, problematic and therefore not obviously superior to the ‘descriptive’ method associated with Strawson. Our targets will not only be Carnapians, though, for what we shall say also bears negatively on a project that Paul Horwich has pursued under the name ‘therapeutic’, or ‘Wittgensteinian’ Bayesianism. Finally, explication, as we shall suggest and as Carnap recognised, is not the only route to philosophical enlightenment.

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