Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Your questions about my “Husserl and Twin Earth” Post
In 1976, when I delivered the John Locke Lectures at Oxford, I often spent time with Peter Strawson, and one day at lunch he made a remark I have never been able to forget. He said, "Surely half the pleasure of life is sardonic comment on the passing show".  This blog is devoted to comments, not all of them sardonic, on the passing philosophical show.
Hilary Putnam

In my previous post, I reported that Dagfinn Føllesdal informed me that Husserl had the Twin Earth thought experiment in mind in 1911.
Several comments have come in, including requests for more detail about what Husserl had in mind. Dagfinn’s analysis of Husserl’s thoughts about this will appear in Dagfinn Føllesdal, “Husserl and Putnam on Twin Earth”, in Themes from Putnam, Lauener Library of Analytical Philosophy, ed. M. Frauchiger (Berlin: Ontos). I don’t want to comment on the Husserl passage myself until after his paper appears.


  1. Glad to know that the Twin Earth Thought Experiment idea was once in Hussrell mind. Great!
    Thanks to Follesdal for admitting that Putnam independently invented the thesis.
    Putnam's twin earth argument shows that what words mean is more than what is in our head. So being psychologically identical does not follow that two agents might refer same object by using same word. For Putnam the identification of thought that expressed in words depend on the objects and events that are causally related with physical world. To follow Putnam's twin earth argument we can say that the truth value of a term like 'water' rests on the planet or environment where the speaker uttered the sentence. So the notion of truth become fallible. The reason is that in such a case, the sceptical doubt will play its dice and so the authoritativeness will be threatened. There is a possibility to be self deceptive as one may be unaware about the fact that he/she is in twin earth where water is not H2O rather then XYZ. This sort of deception has taken place because of objects and environment, not by psychological verb. So there is a possibility that we found in twin earth argument that shows the unauthoritativeness of the self ascription rather then its falsity. Actually, the problem is that the causal external relation cannot be determined by subject's mind. So subject in no way is authoritative about his or her self ascription. It seems to me that in this way, as an externalist Putnam challenged mentalise approach of self knowledge and first person authority. I firmly believe that this sort of idea was not in Husserl's mind. Hilary Putnam is the pioneer and the inventor of this argument.

  2. Although, it could of course be said that any 'parallel Earth' experiment goes back to 'Swedenborg versus Kant'.

  3. FWIW, it seems as if Husserl is concerned with the semantics of the term "this", which is (as it were) indexical on tis face. That is, the paradigm uses of the term have to accompanied by a physical act of pointing to secure their referents, and the two people in Husserl's example are obviously pointing at different things. The same obvious remark could be made about other token-reflective terms like "I" and "now" and "here".

    I always though the novelty of Twin Earth was to point out a hidden sort of indexicality in terms like "water" that were traditionally treated quite differently, and do not wear this semantic feature on their face (i.e. you don't literally point when using the term). It that is right, then Husserl was not yet to Twin Earth.

    1. That seems right, Tim. But I suppose the fun of the finding is that Husserl made his point about 'this' via an example involving two celestial bodies that are superficially similar, just like Earth and Twin Earth. So although he didn't put it to exactly the same use as Putnam, he nevertheless came up with the same case.

  4. I suggest that in order to work out the relationship between Edmund Husserl's and Hilary Putnam's thoughts, we need to embed Husserl's remark in his general approach (and also refer to the original German text). No doubt the forthcoming piece by Dagfinn Føllesdal does both of these things, and gives references to all the literature, but for those who cannot wait, one thing to look at is an article by Chritian Beyer that links Husserl and John Searle, available here:


  5. Was Hussrl suggesting that the two celestial bodies were ONLY superficially msimilar and that, more deeply they were quite dissimilar? The QUOTE doesn't seem to indicate that. By contrast, insofar as it is coherent, Putnam's planets were meant to be, more deeply, dissimilar. (The qualification is owing to the idea that though I comprise very many H2O molecules, my counterpart comprises none at all, kind of making the example something like a Deeply hopeless mess, IMHO.) From Husserl, I know next to nothing.