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Charles Travis

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780199230334

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199230334.001.0001

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On Constraints of Generality

On Constraints of Generality

(p.271) 12 On Constraints of Generality

Charles Travis (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Gareth Evans proposed, as a constraint on thought, that anyone, to entertain any given thought, must be able to entertain a particular (thinker-relative) system of them. This chapter argues that our thinking is not constrained by the generality constraint. So there is no legitimate philosophical work that constraint can do. The constraint seems plausible only when an over-simple picture of which capacities are in play in grasp of a thought is given. Insofar as our grasp of a particular thought to the effect that a is F involves grasp of what it is for a thing to be F, it also requires exercise of a further sort of capacity which Evans ignores, and which may be present with respect to a given thought to the effect that a is F, while missing for another thought to the effect that b is F (where a and b may, or may not, be distinct). The chapter then considers Wittgenstein's idea about systems. For Wittgenstein, a system of thoughts has certain roles to play in conferring the content they have on each of its members. It may well be that systems are needed to play such roles, and hence that any thought must be understood in terms of some system of thoughts to which it belongs. If the plausibility of the generality constraint derives in part from that of Wittgenstein's idea, it is important that the two ideas are not the same.

Keywords:   Wittgenstein, Gareth Evans, constraint on thought, generality constraint, thinking

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