Philosophy on the middle ground

Thu 22 Sep 2011 09:35 AM

Thinking about 'natural kinds' in the 19th-century has me reading obscure criticisms of Mill. In an 1859 review, James Martineau writes:

The great mass of Mr. Mill's labour has been devoted to what may be termed the middle ground of human thought, below the primary data which reason must assume, and short of the applied science which has practice for its end. At the upper limit shunning the original postulates of all knowledge, and at the lower its concrete results, he has addressed himself to its intermediary processes, and determined the methods for working out derivative but still general truths.

Over the subsequent pages, Martineau sharpens this into the complaint that Mill's work fails as philosophy. He's wrong about that. I like his description of the middle ground, though, and it seems like a fair thing to say about Mill.

It also gestures at what I think general philosophy of science can do well, where it is most successful and most satisfying. There are parallels to be drawn to Robert Merton's conception of the middle range. I will leave such broader musings for some point in the future, when I feel confident enough to draw those threads together.