I just realized (thinking about Quine's description of verificationist reductionism in "Two Dogmas") that there does not seem to be any difference between verificationism and idealism.
Er, could you elaborate?
I think I said something foolish. But there is at least a one-way argument.Suppose I want to be an idealist. As an idealist, I think all there is are conscious states, or something like that. Now, what about standard claims by scientists, like that Saturn's rings are made out of ice? I could just say that they are all false. That would be a crazy idealism. The non-crazy idealist wants to be able to talk with the vulgar. So the thing to say is that the claim that Saturn's rings are made out of ice is true in virtue of some complex of conscious states, out of which the iciness of the rings is a construction. But this kind of thing commits me to the second dogma of empiricism--that all truth reduces to observation claims. And this, in turn, is a stronger version of the verificationist theory of meaning. Not only is it necessary for the meaningfulness of p that p could be confirmed or disconfirmed, but what is necessary is that p actually be confirmed or disconfirmed, since every statement that reduces to observation claims is in fact actually confirmed (if the claims are so) or disconfirmed (otherwise).So the idealist is a stronger kind of verificationist. And if the verificationist were to realize that she is not entitled to modals, she would have to become an idealist. So the idealist is the only verificationist who has a hope of being consistent.Or something like that. I did overreach. :-)
I think it's right that if you have a phenomenalist approach to empiricism (so that what is experienced is a mental state, and that putatively non-mental objects are not only evidenced by but constructed from these experienced mental states) then your empiricism is indistinguishable from idealism. That's Berkeley, basically, and I think Ayer and Carnap at at least one point in their careers. If you deny this phenomenalist the use of modal language, then again I agree it gets even worse.
Ayer has a discussion in Language, Truth, and Logic about this. He does accept a modified version of Berkeley's view, but quibbles with some of the details -- and his quibbles get him, he thinks, the denial of the claim that everything is a mental state. So he thinks he avoids idealism even though he accepts a kind of phenomenalism. I recall it sounding to me like Kant's "avoidance" of idealism -- it is really just another sort of idealism than Berkeley's.
I suppose in the vicinity there always lurks the self-defeat worry. What could possibly verify the claim: There is something that isn't a mental state?
Or better: there is something that isn't a mental state or a bearer thereof? For maybe it is undeniable that we are not mental states.
An idealist who thinks that the claim that Saturn's rings are made of ice is true in virtue of some complex of conscious states need not hold that the conscious states involved in verifying the claim are the same states as those that determine the truth conditions of the claim. An idealist, then,is not committed to a verificationist theory of meaning.
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