Dogmas of Empiricism

Term: Spring 2011

Subject Code: GPHI

Course Number: 6638

This seminar is an in-depth introduction to the last half-century of analytic philosophy. It is structured around the emergence of a distinctive genre of critique within analytic philosophy, one with recognizably Kantian and Hegelian origins. This genre is constituted by a series of moments in which analytic philosophers have critiqued their contemporaries on the grounds that they are committed to problematic tenets of traditional empiricism: that is, that their contemporaries are dogmatic empiricists. The moments that make up this genre include Quine's criticisms of the analytic/synthetic distinction and reductionism; Geach's criticism of abstractionism; Strawson's and Evans's criticism of the idea that a conception of an objective world can be derived merely from the observation of brute regularities in experience; Sellars's criticisms of foundationalism and the Myth of the Given; Austin's criticism of sense data; Davidson's criticism of scheme/content dualism; Rorty's criticism of the absolute conception of the world; Putnam's criticism of individualism; Brandom's criticism of the idea that perceptual experience plays an explanatory role in making sense of judgments based on observation; and McDowell's criticism of the idea that causality must have a nomological structure. With these criticisms in view, we will be well-positioned to consider the larger question that they raise: namely, whether they show that empiricism, as such, should be rejected (as Davidson, Rorty, and Brandom argue), or whether the rejection of these dogmas is precisely what shows us how to articulate a defensible form of empiricism (as Quine, Evans, and McDowell argue).

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