THE DEFINITION OF THE THING: With Some Notes on Language by John William Miller

THE DEFINITION OF THE THING: With Some Notes on Language

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A neatly written, tightly argued endeavor to set philosophy on a new foundation; but it fails, and the late Professor Miller, unfortunately, can now neither improve on his system nor contest his critics. Miller begins with a distinctly old-fashioned demand for a logically necessary Archimedean point to operate from. Philosophy for him must be neither poetry nor ""bad science,"" i.e., unlicensed poaching in the realm of particular realities, which are always subject to one or more empirical disciplines. Nor should philosophy wander about in the otherworldly mists of religion and the supernatural. Its true vocation is rather to investigate the structure of ""the most general fact,"" the thing. All the sciences presuppose the existence of things (the term includes psychic entities such as thoughts and dreams), and so to define the thing is to ""touch that unconditioned of which all particulars are cases."" What Miller means by definition is not some sort of cold taxonomic specification, but a fluid and versatile phenonomenology which, as far as it goes, is admirable. Definition, he maintains, is ""dialectical, revisory, additive."" It has no substantial core to or from which Aristotelian accidents can be added or subtracted. The thing is a supreme and irreducible genus, but no things exist in total isolation, indeed the ""universal connectedness"" of things is a sine qua non condition for meaningful communication. These are the bare logical bones on which Miller proceeds to put a good deal of analytical meat and muscle. But none of that redeems the fatal narrowness of his position. In Miller's orderly little world, philosophy ""has no hypotheses,"" and any philosopher who says otherwise will presumably be drummed out of the fraternity. Dense, difficult, technically impressive, but not at all convincing.

Pub Date: Sept. 22nd, 1980
Publisher: Norton