Fishing for First-Rate Philosophy Footnotes


Sought: examples of footnotes or endnotes in philosophical works that should not be missed. Of course, every footnote in everything you’ve written falls into that category, I know, but what about the works of others? Let’s be as broad-minded as possible as to what makes a note noteworthy here. It could be that the note:

  • strangely makes a crucial point that quite clearly should have been in the main text
  • is extraordinarily interesting, perhaps more interesting than anything in the rest of the paper
  • spawned an important work or body of literature
  • is a reference to a very surprising work
  • tells a good story
  • reveals interesting biographical information
  • is just beautifully written
  • makes a good joke
  • …or is in some other way worth reading

If it’s not too much trouble, reproduce the note in the comments. If you want to, withhold the bibliographic information and see if others can guess which work the note is from. (Guessing is different from Googling, folks, but whatever.) If no one guesses after a while, don’t forget to come back and tell us where it’s from!

Asterisk

(Please remember that a social media login or working and accurate email address is required to comment. Your email address will not be published. Real names preferred, pseudonyms allowed, but no “anonymous”es or “anon”s. Thanks.)

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Kolja Keller
Kolja Keller
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
5 years ago

That’s Alastair Norcross in Puppies, Pigs and Marginal Cases in the version of the paper that the cowards at Blackwell were too afraid to publish. No, I didn’t need to google that.Report

Kolja Keller
Kolja Keller
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
5 years ago

My intuitions tell me it would be wrong to accept that.Report

Daniel S
Daniel S
5 years ago

My personal favorite: “Authors are listed in order of degree of belief in the central thesis.” – Clark & Chalmers, “The Extended Mind”Report

Justin S
Justin S
Reply to  Daniel S
5 years ago

Similar: “The second author wishes to make it known that the first author actually did the majority of the work on this paper. (However, the first author wishes to make it known that the second author is just being silly and really ought to stop denigrating his important contributions. [However, the second author wishes to make it known that the first author suffers from occasional delusions about authorship.])” — Knobe & Prinz, “Intuitions about Consciousness”Report

TParent
Reply to  Justin S
5 years ago

This is especially hilarious if you know these two authors. Two of the sweetest, most kindly men in the profession.Report

f
f
5 years ago

“You have a donkey, so have I, and they graze in the same field. The day comes when I conceive a dislike for mine. I go to shoot it, draw a bead on it, fire: the brute falls in its tracks. I inspect the victim, and find to my horror that it is your donkey. I appear on your doorstep with the remains and say what? “I say, old sport, I’m awfully sorry, etc., I’ve shot your donkey by accident ” ? Or “by mistake” ? Then again, I go to shoot my donkey as before, draw a bead on it, fire-but as I do so, the beasts move, and to my horror yours falls. Again the scene on the doorstep-what do I say? ” By mistake ” ? Or ” by accident ” ? “Report

HAN
HAN
Reply to  f
5 years ago

Is this from JL Austin?Report

Graeme Forbes
Graeme Forbes
Reply to  f
5 years ago

One of Austin’s classics, from “A Plea for Excuses”Report

David Banach
David Banach
5 years ago

The classic example is the version of the Refutation of Idealism we get in the note to the B Preface (Bxl) of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.Report

David Dick
5 years ago

This one should be pretty easy, but I still love it. Lightly redacted to not make it a *total* giveaway: “The two main concepts employed in the principle … are “[redacted]” and “[redacted].” To discuss the principle without analyzing either of those concepts may well seem like an attempt at piracy. The reader should take notice that my Jolly Roger is now unfurled.”Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
5 years ago

Nozick’s footnote somewhere (in Philosophical Explanations maybe?) suggesting that Straussians are people who believe the sum total of political wisdom is that only the wise should rule.Report

Ben Bronner
Ben Bronner
5 years ago

“The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or, perhaps, the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”Report

Tom
Tom
Reply to  Ben Bronner
5 years ago

Bentham “Intro into the Principles of Morals & Legislation” obviously. It’s also one of the most misinterpreted and misleading footnotes, given that Bentham (a) regards rights to be nonsense on stilts and (b) writes this in a context, where he defends animal use after all.Report

Crawford
Crawford
5 years ago

One of Strawson’s footnotes at the end of “Freedom and Resentment” remains my all-time favorite:

“The question, then, of the connection between rationality and the adoption of the objective attitude to others is misposed when it is made to seem dependent on the issue of determinism. But there is another question which should be raised, if only to distinguish it from the misposed question. Quite apart from the issue of determinism, might it not be said that we should be nearer to being purely rational creatures in proportion as our relation to others was in fact dominated by the objective attitude? I think this might be said; only it would have to be added, once more, that if such a choice were possible, it would not necessarily be rational to choose to be more purely rational than we are.”Report

Timothy
Timothy
5 years ago

Footnotes, and citations generally, operated differently in the 17th and 18th centuries than today. A few (Anglo-centric) highlights:

Samuel Clarke’s footnotes to his translation of Jacques Rohault’s (Cartesian) physics book were an important introduction to Newton’s physics. They went through many editions, expanded, and may have helped turned the tide toward the acceptance of Newtonian natural philosophy.

A less familiar (and less influential) example of the above phenomenon is Edmund Law’s footnotes to his translation of William King’s On the Origin of Evil (De Origene Mali), which provide his arguments against Clarke’s Newtonian theory of space and “argument a priori” for the existence of God.

Another famous cases of footnotes becoming a thing to themselves: Anyone with a passing familiarity with Bayle’s dictionary would recognize how much more extensive (and often useful) the footnotes are than many of the entries. E.g., what people remember from the Spinoza entry is largely in the footnotes to that entry. (See http://is.gd/9RsnGK )

Hume’s footnotes have prompted a lot of discussion. For instance, in Enquiry 10, he seems to have a different definition of miracles in a footnote than in the main body. He dismisses the distinction between “aliquot” and “proportional” parts in a footnote to Treatise 1.2. Another intriguing footnote is his note to Enquiry 7 where he asks why “our modern metaphysicians” (meaning English-language philosophers, including probably Andrew Baxter) have become occasionalists, when Cudworth, Locke, and Clarke ignore it.Report

Bob Kirkman
Bob Kirkman
Reply to  Timothy
5 years ago

And I can only stand in awe before Note IX in Rousseau’s Second Discourse, a note that upstages everything else in the main text. Report

Matt Leonard
Matt Leonard
5 years ago

Came across this one yesterday and it made me LOL:

“Quine and … Putnam* have contended that it is not possible to provide nominalistically acceptable paraphrases of most physical theories…”

*Before his apostasy. Report

KT
KT
5 years ago

3. “Another image, which I borrow from Simon Blackburn: I am resisting being cast as the hind legs in a pantomime horse called ‘Pittsburgh neo-Hegelianism’.”Report

Kathryn Lindeman
Kathryn Lindeman
Reply to  KT
5 years ago

This is, of course, the amazing John McDowell in “Knowledge and the Internal, Revisited.”Report

Dave Ripley
5 years ago

Not a footnote, but could easily have been:

“This produces a naive component, we think, in the enthusiasm which some modern philosophers have for extensions. While we should hate to accuse any of our distinguished colleagues with being naive, we must confess that the initials W.V.Q. do come to mind. (Ah, blast those use-mention confusions, which ever entrap us relevant logicians; we mean, of course, `W.V.Q.’.) (But see how easily we are trapped anyway; the initials that come to mind are `W’ and `V’ and `Q’, in that order. The interlaced periods, which are not initials, naturally do not come to mind as initials. Moreover, in saying that the initials come to mind, our discourse has itself taken on a mentalistic flavor which is no doubt unclear. So the reader is to be excused completely if he hasn’t the slightest idea who has come to mind.)”

From an endnote to the same paper (Meyer & Routley, “Extensional Reduction I”):

“[(Meyer] wishes to call attention to the fact that he had even less to do with [a paper by Routley, Goddard, and Meyer]. When he inquired how his name turned up on [the paper], thinking it perhaps a printer’s error, Routley said “Oh, you supplied the bad arguments that Goddard and I refuted.” Well, one makes his contribution as he can, one supposes; some day, however, Routley, Goddard, and Meyer are going to write a refutation of [the paper in question]; the reader is invited to guess what Routley’s contribution will be.)”Report

Rutabagas
Rutabagas
5 years ago

From a paper with lots of good footnotes, my personal favorite:

“Cf. YouTube’s ‘‘Drunk History’’ videos, e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipV2u-MxlFc (see
Drunk History n.d.) (Thanks to Brendan Dill for this pointer).”

(pointing this out in class is an excellent way to get students to read the footnotes)Report

Joel Walmsley
Joel Walmsley
5 years ago

I am reading ‘What makes Wheaties the breakfast of champions?’ as asking ‘What about Wheaties makes champions of (some, many, so many) Wheaties eaters?’ rather than ‘What about Wheaties makes (some, many, so many) champions eat them?’ The latter question invites the reasons that champions give for eating Wheaties; and though these may include reference to properties Wheaties have by virtue of which its eaters become champions, they need not do so. Thus a plausible answer to the second question which is not plausibly an answer to the first might be: ‘They taste good.’

I am uncertain which of these questions the Wheaties people have in mind when they ask ‘What makes Wheaties the breakfast of champions?’ rhetorically, as, I believe, they are wont to do. Much of their advertising consists of publicizing statements by champions to the effect that they (the champions) do, in fact, eat Wheaties. If, as may be the case, such statements are offered as arguements for the truth of the presupposition of the question on its first reading (viz., that there is something about Wheaties that makes champions of those who eat them), then it would appear that General Mills has either misued the method of differences, or committed the fallacy of affirming the consequent.

Philosophy can be made out of anything. Or less.Report

Sara L. Uckelman
5 years ago

Footnote 13 of Kirpke’s first lecture in Naming & Necessity which introduces the “Humphrey” objection to counterpart theory: “Strictly speaking, Lewis’s view is not a view of ‘transworld identification’. Rather he thinks that similarities across possible worlds determine a counterpart relation which need be neither symmetric nor transitive. The counterpart of something in another possible world is never identical with the thing itself. Thus if we say ‘Humphrey might have won the election (if only he had done such-and-such), we are not talking about something that might have happened to Humphrey, but to someone else, a “counterpart”. Probably, however, Humphrey could not care less whether someone else, no matter how much resembling him, would have been victorious in another possible world. Thus, Lewis’s view seems to me even more bizarre than the usual notions of transworld identification that it replaces”.Report

Graeme Forbes
Graeme Forbes
Reply to  Sara L. Uckelman
5 years ago

But it’s a fallacy. Lewis doesn’t say “Humphrey might have won” is T because some counterpart of his **might have** won. His proposal is an extensional analysis of “Humphrey might have won” that doesn’t use “might have”: some counterpart of Humphrey wins in some world. Kripke mixes up intensional (“might have”, “would have been”) and extensional (“counterpart”, “in another possible world”) in the same sentences. Lewis’s proposal is analogous to those who hold that the truth of predications of past and future properties of x turns on whether there are thing-stages with those properties at past and future times that x stands in a cross-temporal counterpart relation to.Report

Phil
Phil
Reply to  Graeme Forbes
5 years ago

As far as I can tell, Kripke makes no serious mistake. He says “would have been victorious in another possible world” instead of “is victorious in another possible world”. But this by itself doesn’t seriously undermine his point, does it? (I personally think Kripke could have used a stronger example: In the movie On the Waterfront, the Brando character famously says “I could’ve been a contender.” This fact causes Brando a great deal of emotional pain. But Brando could care less whether there is someone similar to him in another possible world who is a contender.)Report

Nathan Wildman
Reply to  Phil
5 years ago

For what it’s worth, I’ve always thought that the other, logical objection mentioned in that footnote is a much more serious problem for Lewis.Report

Shane Steinert-Threlkeld
5 years ago

The footnote in section 26 of the Transcendental Deduction in the B edition of Kant’s first Critique:

“Space represented as object (as is actually required in geometry)
contains more than the mere form of intuition—namely, [it contains]
the grasping together [Zusammenfassung] of the manifold, given in
accordance with the form of sensibility, in an intuitive representation,
so that the form of intuition gives merely a manifold, but the formal
intuition [also] gives unity of representation. In the Aesthetic I
counted this unity [as belonging] to sensibility, only in order to remark
that it precedes all concepts, although it in fact presupposes a synthesis
that does not belong to the senses but through which all concepts of
space and time first become possible. For, since through it (in that the
understanding determines sensibility) space or time are first given as
intuitions, the unity of this a priori intuition belongs to space and time,
and not to the concept of the understanding (§24). (§ 26, B160-161n)”Report

Led
Led
Reply to  Shane Steinert-Threlkeld
5 years ago

Yes, this one! It made my head explode when I read it for the first time – or rather, when I read it and understood it tolerably well for the first time, which was definitely not during my first read through the Transcendental Deduction… Anyway, talk about putting a bombshell into a footnote.Report

JMM
JMM
5 years ago

Mill’s footnote on the difference between intention and motive in *Utilitarianism*Report

jdkbrown
jdkbrown
5 years ago

My favorite example of “strangely makes a crucial point that quite clearly should have been in the main text”: endnote 102 (!) in Conant’s “Elucidation and Nonsense in Frege and Early Wittgenstein.” I’d include it here, but it’s more than a page long.

Report

Bruno Leipold
Bruno Leipold
5 years ago

‘The question of whether these side constraints are absolute, or whether they may be violated in order to avoid catastrophic moral horror, and if the latter, what the resulting structure might look like, is one I hope largely to avoid.’ Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, p.30n.Report

Fritz
Fritz
5 years ago

I like the ones in Rawls and Nozick where they effectively give back their entire books. The Rawls one about how it doesn’t hurt his theory for one person to lose a penny so someone else gains a million dollars (or whatever) and the Nozick one about how catastrophic moral horror may allow for the violation of rights–but he doesn’t really want to deal with that.Report

Bobby
Bobby
5 years ago

From Harry Frankfurt’s “Alternative Possibilities and Moral Responsibility:”

“1. Two main concepts employed in the principle of alternate possibilities are ‘morally responsible’ and ‘could have done otherwise.’ To discuss the principle without analyzing either of these concepts may seem like an attempt at piracy. The reader should take notice that my Jolly Roger is now unfurled.”Report

David Morrow
David Morrow
5 years ago

This footnote follows a passing reference to chocolate cake in the main text:

For a good recipe, see http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/cHoco- LaTe-mousse-caKe-WITH-cInnamon-cream-14010.Report

Luise
Luise
5 years ago

Rawls discussing utilitarianism and rules in “Two concepts of rules” (1955), and then cracking a joke about Bentham playing baseball in footnote 24: ‘A philosophical joke (in the mouth of Jeremy Bentham): “When I run to the other wicket after my partner has struck a good ball I do so because it is best on the whole.”‘ Classic!Report

CW
CW
5 years ago

“4. Cook 12 cups of dried black-eyed peas in boiling water to which 4 tablespoons of salt have been added. Cook until tender, and immerse in cold water. Combine two diced red peppers, 5 diced green peppers, 2 diced large onions, 3 cups of raisins, and a bunch of chopped cilantro in a dressing made of 1.5 cups of corn oil, 0.75 cup of wine vinegar, 4 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of salt, 4 tablespoons of black pepper, 5 tablespoons of curry powder, and a half-tablespoon of ground cloves. Serve chilled.”Report

Sara L. Uckelman
Reply to  CW
5 years ago

Given the chocolate cake recipe above, I wonder if someone needs to publish the Philosophical Footnote Cookbook.Report

CW
CW
Reply to  Sara L. Uckelman
5 years ago
The Doctor
The Doctor
Reply to  Sara L. Uckelman
5 years ago

We could call it ‘Philosophical Gourmet’Report

Sergio Tenenbaum
5 years ago

The lack of the power of judgment is that which is properly called stupidity, and such a failing is not to be helped. A dull or limited head, which is lacking nothing but the appropriate degree of understanding and its proper concepts, may well be trained through instruction, even to the of becoming learned. But since it would usually still lack the power of judgment (the secunda Petri), it is not at all uncommon to encounter very learned men who in the use of their science frequently give glimpses of that lack, which is never to be ameliorated.
Report

Justin
Reply to  Sergio Tenenbaum
5 years ago

Kant’s Schematism chapter in the Critique of Pure Reason, A133/B172Report

TParent
5 years ago

Lycan, ch. 5, endnote 19, of _Consciousness_: Ned Block, who violently disagrees with me on the present issues, once said (in conversation), “I’ll give you *neurons* and *cells* and so on as functional, but when you come to *hydrogen* and *oxygen*, when you get right down to the level of *chemistry*, there’s just nothing functional or teleological at all!” Oh, no? “Hydro-“*what*?” “Oxy-“*what*?? (The shot is a cheap one but immensely satisfying.)Report

WP
WP
Reply to  TParent
5 years ago

If you are like me and did not understand the joke: “Hydrogen: … stem of hydor “water” (see water (n.1)) + French -gène “producing” (see -gen).”Report

Led
Led
Reply to  WP
5 years ago

Lavoisier and Guyton de Morveau (et al) just turned over in their graves: the “-gen” is from the Greek, too, in accordance with one of the principles of their new system of chemical nomenclature. They argued at some length that the names should come, where possible, from ancient Greek and Latin roots – languages widely known but insulated from the changes to which living languages are subject.Report

Matt
5 years ago

I’ve long been fond of this one, from Camus’ “Summer In Algiers” (it could, I think, but put in a less gendered way and still keep all its force.) “May I take the ridiculous position of saying that I do not like the way Gide exalts the body? He asks it to restrain its desire to make it keener. Thus he comes dangerously near to those who in brothel slang are called involved or brain-workers. Christianity also wants to suspend desire. But, more natural, it sees a mortification in this. My friend Vincent, who is a cooper and junior breast-stroke champion, has an even clearer view. He drinks when he is thirsty, if he desires a woman tries to go to bed with her, and would marry her if he loved her (this hasn’t yet happened.) Afterwards he always says: “I feel better” – and this sums up vigorously any apology that might be made for satiety.” Report

Ross Cameron
Ross Cameron
5 years ago

Footnote 56 in Kripke’s Naming and Necessity, where he attempts a proof of the essentiality of origins. Could easily have been a paper in itself, and has spawned its own little literature.Report

Richard Galvin
5 years ago

From WIlliam Lycan, “Moral Facts and Moral Knowedge,”:
Text:
“If my background epistemology is right”
Note:
“It is.”Report

a phd
a phd
5 years ago

Depending on how loosely one wants to interpret the category of philosophical works, here is one:

“Which only goes to prove the existence of crack back in the early twentieth century.”Report

JCM
JCM
5 years ago

“The ‘disappearance’ of the picture-plane is the reason why, in modern artists who have learnt to accept Cézanne’s principles and to carry their consequences a stage further than he carried them himself, perspective (to the great scandal to the man in the street, who clings to the picture-plane as a drowning man to a spar) has disappeared too. The man in the street thinks that this has happened because those modern fellows can’t draw; which is like thinking that young men of the Royal Air Force career about in the sky because they can’t walk.” –Collingwood, ‘Principles of Art,’ p. 145. I consider Collingwood’s obiter dicta the best of anyone’s; I can’t get enough of them, and always find new depths to them.

Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins has some excellent ones in her ‘Modal Monogamy.’

Not a footnote, but a story about a lack of one. In Parfit’s ‘On What Matters,’ Allen Wood’s response at the beginning of Vol. II makes two main criticisms. First, he has some quibbles about Parfit’s interpretation of Kant. Second, the whole philosophical method underpinning OWM is fundamentally flawed and should be abandoned. Parfit’s response, bizarrely, entirely ignores this second and clearly more momentous criticism. No explanation, no apology, nothing. Now, people may be aware that Parfit thought it would be a good idea not to indicate the points in the main text to which endnotes are appended. Mine is not to reason why, but this occurred to me after some time, and so excitedly I flipped to the endnotes, and found nothing, just a bunch of references. Oh well. Much later I discovered that there are in fact TWO sets of endnotes: one for references, and one for expansions on the main text. (Deep breaths…) Joy! I flipped back again, this time sure that I would find the explanation for this glaring absence. And… well, I don’t have OWM to hand, but the endnote reads, in its entirety, something like “In this response I will respond only to Wood’s concerns about my interpretation of Kant.”Report

Jerry Dworkin
Jerry Dworkin
5 years ago

This falls under the “is a reference to a very surprising work” category. After arguing that a certain point was mistaken, the author ( who shall remain nameless) had the following footnote.
“This error can be found in Gerald Dworkin’s Taking Rights Seriously.” Report

stefan
stefan
5 years ago

Came across this one recently:
“8. For a paradigmatic example of self-reference consult [9], footnote 8.”

You will get the joke only after discovering which paper it is from and what [9] is. This paper is also notable, since it is perhaps the only paper that includes itself in its own bibliography.Report

John Collins
John Collins
5 years ago

My favorite in the ungracious category is Nozick’s, from Philosophical Explanations. When he discusses the fact that Dretske beat him to his own theory of knowledge, he attributes Dretske not getting more attention for it to his great idea being surrounded by a lot of material of lesser quality.Report

Bryan Frances
5 years ago

“I argued for a related thesis in my 2010. That essay had major flaws, including an imprecise argument
and a different thesis. The present essay is perfect.”Report

Trevor
5 years ago

Hilarious and telling: “Those who have recommended the singing of spiritual songs as part of the domestic rites of worship have not considered that by means of such a *noisy* (and precisely for that reason usually pharisaical) form of worship they have imposed a great inconvenience on the public, for they have forced the neighborhood to join in their singing or to give up their own train of thought.” — Kant, *Critique of the Power of Judgment*Report

Will
Will
5 years ago

From footnote 8 of Nagel 1974, What’s it like to be a bat:

My point, however, is not that we cannot know what it is like to be a bat. I am not raising that epis­ temological problem. My point is rather that even to form a conception of what it is like to be a bat (and a fortiori to know what it is like to be a bat) one must take up the bat’s point of view. If one can take it up roughly, or partially, then one’s conception will also be rough or partial. Or so it semse in our present state of under­ standing.Report

Juliette
5 years ago

Footnote 48a of Gödel’s 1931 paper “On formally undecidable propositions of Principia Mathematica and related systems, I”:

“As will be shown in part II of this paper, the true reason for the incompleteness inherent in all formal systems of mathematics is that the formation of ever higher types can be continued into the transfinite (see Hilbert 1926, page 184), while in any formal system at most denumerably many of them are available. For it can be shown that the undecidable propositions constructed here become decidable whenever appropriate higher types are added (for example, the type ω to the system P). An analogous situation prevails for the axiom system of set theory.”

There was never a part II.Report

Jake
Jake
5 years ago

In the text Hume is taking a pop at the view that the “tendency to cause such an error is the first spring or original source of all immorality”, and says that must mean that if someone sees him get it on with hie neighbour’s wife, the source of immorality must be in causing in the spectator the erroneous view that Hume’s getting it on with his own wife:
Footnote: “… if I had used the precaution of shutting the windows, while I indulg’d myself in those liberties with my neighbour’s wife, I should have been guilty of no immorality; and that because my action, being perfectly conceal’d, wou’d have no tendency to produce any false conclusion.”Report

Runar B. Mæland
Runar B. Mæland
5 years ago

This one is pretty astounding, found in a recent paper by a prominent Kant scholar whose voice I trust is instantly recognizable to those familiar with the literature:

‘(1) In this essay, when I speak of “we” and “our” system, I naturally mean only the American (the U.S.) political system (the rest of North and South America can always be safely ignored whenever the name “America” is used). We Americans are accustomed to take for granted that everyone in the world must know and care about our politics, while we are entitled to (and generally do) remain contemptuously ignorant of everyone else’s. This is what we proudly refer to as “American exceptionalism.” We consider ourselves (in the words of Ronald Reagan) the “shining city on the hill, ” the one lone “beacon of freedom” to all peoples of the world. Experience shows that anyone who is less than eager to agree with us about this will sooner or later live to regret it. For we spend more on our military than is spent on all the militaries of all the rest of the world combined, so that our military is mightier than the combined might of all the militaries of all the nations that have ever existed on earth. That’s why we can confidently expect our extravagant self-congratulations never to be contradicted, and our world domination to be accepted with admiration and gratitude by the entire planet—at least until that point in time (perhaps no longer very far off) when our so greatly admired way of life—which we are always exceedingly reluctant to change or reform, unless in a regressive direction—has made this planet uninhabitable for everyone.’Report

Graeme A Forbes
5 years ago

Brian McGuiness (1990) is mentioned in a footnote to A.W. Moore (2012, p.231, n.28):
“McGuiness himself quotes [Tractatus] 4.461: I know nothing about the weather when I know that it is either raining or not raining.’ He then adds a footnote in which he comments laconically, ‘[Wittgenstein] had been out of England for some time when he wrote this’ (Ch.9, n.21)”Report

Gary
Gary
5 years ago

From David Kaplan’s “Transworld Heir Lines,” as reprinted in The Possible and the Actual (ed. Loux). Maybe double points for the content of the footnotes themselves and the fact that in the paper all the footnotes were added after the paper was presented?

Footnote 1: . . . . . The paper was written to be heard, not read, which accounts for its stylistic deviation from the stately prose of my other publications. This version is essentially unaltered except for the addition of the footnotes, all of which are 1978 postscripts. The appearance of the paper at this time may seem anachronistic. It is anachronistic. Most of its truths are now well known, and most of its errors are now rarely repeated. Furthermore, I no longer champion the antihaecceitist viewpoint . . . . Why, then, allow it to appear at this time? Primarily because it has been called a “classic” by the leading modal logician of our time, and I would not wish to be accused of suppressing classical sources. (To be more exact, the paper is described as a “locus classicus” of a certain philosophical mistake. I suppose one must learn to take the bitter with the better.) . . .

Footnote 6: I wish I hadn’t said this.Report

Devon Belcher
Devon Belcher
Reply to  Gary
5 years ago

I have always loved this paper, especially the triple pun in the title. IIRC the main example involves worlds where Bob Dylan is bald – so there’s also a trans world hairline!Report

Devon Belcher
Devon Belcher
5 years ago

In Nozick’s “Philosophical Explanations”, at the end of the chapter “Why there is something rather than nothing”, there is a lengthy footnote about mystics. In it, Nozick discusses mystics who practice hatha yoga, and claim to have mystical experiences answering this question. In a rather roundabout way, he accuses them of blowing themselves (I believe he uses the phrase “auto-fellatio”). Report

Juhani Yli-Vakkuri
5 years ago

David Kaplan’s oeuvre is a great source of great footnotes. Here, for example, is note 33 from “Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice”, in K.J.J. Hintikka et al., eds., Approaches to Natural Language (Dordrect: D. Reidel, 1973), p. 490-518:

“Sam Darwin is the widely acclaimed ontologist and delicatessen operator who once remarked, “Balonies? I don’t believe in them. All there is are slices arranged in different ways. They come arranged in one way; my job is to rearrange them in tastier ways.” The Sam Darwin Fund supports research on the principle of individuation for balonies (what properties of slices determine them as coming from ‘the same baloney’). The Fund reports that a breakthrough may be near based on discoveries made with the help of a recently acquired electron microscope. Related investigations, not sponsored by the Darwin Fund, are reported in Geach (1967b), Perry (1970), Lewis (1971), and Perry (forthcoming).”
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S. T.
S. T.
5 years ago

I can’t help but think that Whitehead’s famous maxim–“The safest general characterization of the philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato”–would have made an ideal footnote.Report

Nathan Wildman
Reply to  S. T.
5 years ago

Came in here to say: ‘everything in philosophy since Plato’, for precisely this reason, but you beat me too it.Report

Edward Teach
Edward Teach
5 years ago

This one from Manuel Vargas made me giggle:
“Van Inwagen has, (I think) tongue-in-cheek, characterized himself as unresponsive in this sort of way, claiming that, for example: “Van Inwagen summed up his thought on free will in his book An Essay on Free Will (1983), and has pretty much
avoided learning anything about the problem since….. I can testify that van Inwagen read several books and articles on free will in the Fall of 1995, as he taught them in a graduate seminar I took from him that term. He had not previously read some of that material and (to my knowledge) he did not seek to avoid teaching that class. Collectively, these facts suggest that van Inwagen didn’t completely avoid learning anything, and what he did learn did not only involve sitting and thinking. So there.”Report

NGK
NGK
5 years ago

[C]onsider the troubled question of abortion. Suppose first that the society in question is well-ordered and that we are dealing with the normal case of mature adult women. It is best to be clear about this idealized case first; for once we are clear about it, we have a guide that helps us to think about other cases, which force us to consider exceptional circumstances. Suppose further that we consider the question in terms of these three important political values: the due respect for human life, the ordered reproduction of political society over time, including the family in some form, and finally the equality of women as equal citizens. (There are, of course, other important political values besides these.) Now I believe any reasonable balance of these three values will give a woman a duly qualified right to decide whether or not to end her pregnancy during the first trimester. The reason for this is that at this early stage of pregnancy the political value of the equality of women is overriding, and this right is required to give it substance and force. Other political values, if tallied in, would not, I think affect this conclusion. A reasonable balance may allow her such a right beyond this, at least in certain circumstances. However, I do not discuss the question in general here, as I simply want to illustrate the point of the text by saying that any comprehensive doctrine that leads to a balance of political values excluding that duly qualified right in the first trimester is to that extent unreasonable; and depending on details of its foundation, it may also be cruel and oppressive; for example, if it denied the right altogether except in the case of rape and incest. Thus, assuming that this question is either a constitutional essential or a matter of basic justice, we would go against the ideal of public reason if we voted from a comprehensive doctrine that denied this right. However, a comprehensive doctrine is not as such unreasonable because it leads to an unreasonable conclusion in one or even in several cases. It may still be reasonable most of the time. (John Rawls, Political Liberalism, 1st edn (Columbia, 1993), 243–4 n. 32.Report

NGK
NGK
5 years ago

More than one friend, reading this book in an earlier version, has asked who this ubiquitous “we” represents. It refers to people in a certain cultural situation, but who is in that situation? Obviously it cannot mean everybody in the world, or everybody in the West. I hope it does not mean only people who already think as I do. The best I can say is that “we” operates not through a previously fixed designation, but through invitation. (The same is true, I believe, of ”we” in much philosophy, and particularly in ethics.) It is not a matter of “I” telling “you” what I and others think, but of my asking you to consider to what extent you and I think some things and perhaps need to think others. (Bernard Williams, Shame and Necessity (Berkeley, 1993), 169 n. 7)Report

NGK
NGK
5 years ago

Paul Grice once observed to me that in Oxford, when someone says “We must have lunch some time,” it means “I don’t care if I never see you again in my life.” (Thomas Nagel, ‘Concealment and Exposure’, Philosophy & Public Affairs, vol. 27 no. 1 (winter 1998), n. 3)
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Alan
Alan
4 years ago

Still relevant? If so, Sigmund Freud has LOADS of striking, philosophical, revealing footnotes. Here’s an example, from The Interpretation Dreams:

“There is at least one spot in every dream at which it is unplumbable–a navel, as it were, that is its point of contact with the unknown.”

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