Appiah, X-Phi, and a Kripkean intuition

I have found Kwame Anthony Appiah's work on experimental philosophy insightful and sensible, and I have learned a great deal from it. I find most of his claims very plausible, but one empirical assertion stood out as questionable: there is a diversity of intuitions among Anglophone philosophers about the Schmidt-Gödel thought-experiment.

"When Eduoard Machery and colleagues posed a famous thought experiment of Kripke’s to students, they found that those from Hong Kong had quite a different pattern of response than those from New Jersey. But my guess is that in most cases, the results would shore up the intuition it was meant to pump; and that, where it did not, philosophers, too, have already been left divided." (2007 APA Presidential Address, section IX)

"Here’s the thing about the theory of reference: Versions of both views — Kripke’s and the one he was challenging — have plentiful adherents among philosophers. Both intuitions have their advocates."("The New New Philosophy," NYT Magazine, Dec 9 2007)

(Emphases mine, in both quotations.) It's certainly true that there is nothing close to unanimity among Anglophone philosophers on the correct theory of reference. However, I do have the impression that, sociologically speaking, philosophers do overwhelmingly have the intuition that "Gödel" does not refer to Schmidt in Kripke's thought experiment. People with descriptivist proclivities accept the intuition, but then try to accommodate (or explain away?) that intuition within a broadly descriptivist framework. Or am I wrong about this sociological pattern?


Edouard Machery said...

I share this impression too. In fact, to my knowledge, no philosopher has rejected thus intuition in print. Rather descriptivists such as Jackson have explainedbhow their views are consistent with this intuition. In addition some philosophers even deny that one could have the opposite intuition!

Going beyond impressions, I surveyed whether philosophers of language have the kripkean intuition. Unsurprisingly, about 90% of them do. ( hard to know what was going on with the 10 remaining %!).


Harris H. said...

Searle in his book 'Intentionality' (pp. 251-2) questions the Kripkean intuition in the Godel / Schmidt case.
I agree with him: the example could be read either way, depending on the context. E.g., in asking ‘What initiated Gödel’s thinking that produced the incompleteness proof?’ it seems to me that I refer to the man who did prove the theorem, even if that man was in fact Schmidt and not Gödel.

Harris H.

Greg Frost-Arnold said...

Thanks, Edouard and Harris. Both of those are helpful. I should look at that bit of Searle; it looks quite interesting.

james (midcan5) said...

You may want to check out the following book. It confuses the issue in an interesting fashion.

'The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why' Richard Nisbett

Greg Frost-Arnold said...

Hi James --

Many of the people who did the original cross-cultural x-phi work (in the first half of the 2000s) got the idea for their projects precisely from reading Nisbett, and wondering whether his hypotheses would hold up for philosophical thought-experiments. So I've been meaning to read more Nisbett; thanks for the particular reading recommendation.