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The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy and Other Essays [Paperback]

Hilary Putnam
2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

2 April 2004
Although it is on occasion important and useful to distinguish between factual claims and value judgments, the distinction becomes, Hilary Putnam argues, positively harmful when identified with a dichotomy between the objective and the purely "subjective." Lively, concise, and wise, his book prepares the way for a renewed mutual fruition of philosophy and the social sciences.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; New Ed edition (2 April 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674013808
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674013803
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 13.9 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 492,919 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Hume's and much 20th-century moral philosophy contrasted moral with factual judgments and led people to conclude that the former, unlike the latter, are subjective in the sense of not being rationally supportable. Putnam...believes that the contrast is ill conceived and that the conclusion is both unwarranted and false. He acknowledges the usefulness of the fact/ value distinction but denies that anything metaphysical follows from it...Putnam covers such matters as imperative logic, economics vis-a-vis ethics, and preference theory and such thinkers as V. Walsh, L. Robbins, and R. M. Hare. A fine philosophical workout. -- Robert Hoffman Library Journal 20021201

About the Author

Hilary Putnam is Cogan University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University.

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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Putnam's path to Hell 23 Oct 2012
Suppose we're playing poker. Two different games are going on simultaneously. One is about the cards that have been dealt. The other is about reading 'tells' or strategically simulating such signals. Still, after the game ends, we could go through a video of it and construct two totally different narratives- one about probabilities which has to do only with the cards, and another which has nothing to do with probability but has everything to do with reading facial expressions and deducing psychological motivations.
Is there any reason not to believe 'Facts' and 'Values' aren't similarly decomposable in any actual Economic policy debate? Couldn't we run back the Video of it and perform just such a decomposition? True it would be difficult. We'd have to look at a whole classes of similar videos before we got a sense of what we were actually discussing. We'd also need models, simulations- i.e videos shot on possible worlds, or aesthetically important impossible worlds- and so on before we had finally got an idea about what our different claims actually amounted to. From then on there is no reason why the game should not be decomposable with 'Values' turning into Ontological propositions about possible worlds and 'Facts' representing stuff which which can be measured or for which a measurable proxy obtains.

Putnam, however, thinks facts and values are hopelessly entangled. One reason for this is that he wants a logic free of metaphysics- including talk of possible worlds- as the 'form of coherent thought'. The problem here is that real world thinking and arguing isn't coherent, it is dynamic, dis-continuous, it somersaults, it contradicts itself. Putnam himself has changed his mind more than once- proof he is a genuine Philosopher not a dogmatic pedant.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly Putnam's most important book? 30 Sep 2003
By Andrew V. Jeffery - Published on Amazon.com
The fact/value dichotomy remains a standing dogma of contemporary empiricism. One sees it assumed without question in numerous works intended both for students and professional philosophers. (It is taken for granted, for instance, in Peter Singer's recent A Darwinian Left.) Yet Putnam shows that the original dichotomy, usually attributed to David Hume, was based (1) on a metaphysics of fact that nobody has seriously entertained since the early days of Logical Positivism, and (2) on an argument formally identical to Hume's argument against causality, the latter being an argument virtually nobody now accepts as cogent. Putnam argues that we must now accept the embeddedness of values virtually all theoretical and even factual statements. This does not, however, drop us into a morass of post-modern relativism, but allows us to think more clearly about the value-assumptions we make in all forms of discourse.
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Entanglement of the Fact/Value Distinction 21 Jan 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
If there is one point that sticks out in my mind after reading Hilary Putnam's "Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy," it is his suggestion that there is an "entanglement" of facts and values, which effectually preserves a distinction between the two without positing a metaphysically dichotomous relationship vis-a-vis facts and values. According to Putnam, logic itself presupposes certain values (e.g., coherence, validity, soundness) and so does science with its talk of "elegant" or "parsimonious" theories. Values permeate all aspects of academic study and human life. No human being reasons on "facts" without simultaneously having axiological concerns. Putnam demonstrates this point analytically, though most of the book is fairly accessible to continental philosophers and even those who are philosophically challenged (n.b., the two aforementioned classes of persons are not to be confused with one another or epistemically conflated). The only portion of the book that I found somewhat challenging was his discussion of economics and Amartya Sen. That chapter notwithstanding, I find myself forced to accept Putnam's pragmatist mantra with some reservations: "knowledge of facts presupposes knowledge of values."
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deconstruction of A Philosophical Bugbear 25 Oct 2010
By A Certain Bibliophile - Published on Amazon.com
The first essay establishes that the fact/value distinction (a later incarnation of Hume's "you cannot derive an "is" from an "ought" thesis) rests on a dubious positivist definition of "fact" that derives from sense impression. In the second, Putnam explains that the values that science assumes aren't necessarily moral or ethical ones, but epistemic ones. Epistemic values like "coherence" and "simplicity" are assumed in the scientific pursuit, yet science continues to be thought of as wholly objective. John Mackie argued that words like "cruel" and "just" were simply words that described "natural facts," instead of realizing that they cannot be used intelligibly without employing some kind of evaluative judgment.

The third essay transposes this debate into the world of classical economic theory. This same debate found itself transposed into the field of economics ensconced within the framework of a Benthamist moral calculus, but were removed by the empiricist is/ought distinction (later, the work of the positivists.) Amartya Sen's project is to reintroduce ethical concepts and norms (once so lauded by Adam Smith, but since having been forgotten) back into the discourse on classical economics without losing any of its original rigor. Sen realizes that people are motivated by non-self-interested motives, as well. In its place, Sen posits a capabilities approach which emphasizes a plurality of human rights, freedoms, and goals, instead of the poverty of utilitarian ethical monism.

Throughout the three lectures, Putnam carefully picks apart one of the most enduring shibboleths of modern philosophy. Like Rorty, with whom he shares many intellectual affinities, he has an explicit, self-conscious relationship with the analytic tradition. Unlike Rorty, however, he has not wholly eschewed that tradition. While he disagrees with many of its conclusions, he is able to use some of its assumptions and to break outside of the box of morally bankrupt positivism.

The last part of the book contains five essays of in tangential relation to the three main lectures. "On the Rationality of Preferences," one of the essays included in the collection, but not one of the three original lectures, is Putnam's answer to an interlocutor who made a curious criticism of the paper that he presented. Putnam's presentation considered a person who had two choices before them, A and B, neither of which the chooser preferred. Would it matter, he asks, if, instead of the chooser making the decision simply tosses a coin or gets a random person to make the decision for him? After all, they don't have a preference, right? Most classically trained economists would assert that it didn't matter who made the decision. In fact, that's what the interlocutor pointed out. However, this essay, Putnam's response, is a brilliant response defending the idea that, even though one might not prefer A to B, the ability to choose one's own option engenders a kind of "dignity of the self" which economists have heretofore ignored.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A biased opinion 11 Sep 2007
By Sunbeer - Published on Amazon.com
As a former student of Hilary's, I can't claim my review is free of bias. Nonetheless, in my view the simple insight that the fact/value distinction can be--has been--turned into a dangerous dichotomy is priceless.

Of course, there are many other things to like about this book. For one, I've gone back to Sen and to Walsh. For another, it's clarified (for me) many problems (or puzzles) in philosophy and economics.
7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entanglement not Collapse 12 Oct 2004
By W. Jamison - Published on Amazon.com
The fact/value dichotomy of the Logical Positivists "was not based on a serious examination of the nature of values and valuation at all." p. 29 Things are much more entangled than that and this is a serious study aimed at evaluating that entanglement. This issue seems clearly at the forefront of an examination of narratives and values, and their relationship to the Wittgensteinian "forms of life" -- how much value is a result of human creativity, or is all human creativity traceable to facts in the Humean sense?

This is a serious argument and I am rereading.
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