coining concepts

Eric Schliesser has a nice post up at the New Apps blog about the importance of creating concepts. What came as a surprise to me in this post was the relevance of creating concepts to the analytic tradition. As Schliesser puts it, with respect to analytic philosophy we tend to think of Frege as the father of the tradition, but actually, Schliesser claims, “Frege’s logic would be the tool” of this tradition, “but it is Schlick that developed the program of the free play in conceptual invention.” This reminds me of the distinction Deleuze makes in the essay “Mediators” between “inventors” and “imitators.” The former produce the innovations while the later provide the tools and efficiencies to carry through on the promise of these inventions, often outdoing the inventor themselves in the process. Deleuze had sports in mind here and referred to McEnroe as an inventor, but one who can get ‘beaten by a quantitative champion’, namely an imitator or technician (Deleuze likely had Ivan Lendl in mind here, although he does not say). Now I’m not implying that Frege is an imitator. Far from it. However, within the history of analytic philosophy, if I understand Schliesser’s point correctly, Frege’s logic has become the technical tool that has enabled analytic philosophers to carry through on the promise Schlick’s conceptual inventions made possible. I am actually at work on a project about conceptual invention and Schlick was nowhere on my radar screen, while Frege was. In graduate school I wrote a paper on Carnap and may have looked through Schlick’s General Theory of Knowledge at the time while studying the Vienna Circle, but if I did I don’t remember. I’ll be interested to learn more about this ‘program of the free play in conceptual invention.’ Schliesser, by the way, has done some great work on Hume, especially on Hume’s critical stance toward Newton, disabusing those who may be tempted by the very common notion that Hume’s attempt, as he put it in the subtitle to his Treatise, ‘to introduce the experimental method of reasoning into moral subjects’ was simply the application of Newton’s experimental method. Schliesser argues that it would be more accurate to see Hume as following in the footsteps of Boyle. Schliesser also kindly refers to Martin Bell’s very nice Hume Studies review of my Deleuze’s Hume book.


2 responses to “coining concepts

  • Eric Schliesser

    Jeff, two small points: First, I am not to claim that Schlick really made any fruitful conceptual inventions. Rather, he articulated the porgram for the new turn in philosophy — a “scientific philosophy” — in which the distinctly philosophical contribution to the division of labor was conceptual discovery/invention/coinage.
    Second, I have some misgivings about seeing Hume as following in the footsteps of Boyle, but I can see why you would take my essay as claiming that. (In part, the dialectic is complicated because Hume uses Boyle as a kind of set-up of intelligible philosophy in order to challenge the authority of Newton [and Boyle].) I have a follow up essay, in a Spanish journal, on Hume on Copernicanism where I try to make matters more precise.

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