since handing in my paper for 'metaphor and thought' today, i've been able to finally formulate my own metaphor for the great divide in the philosophy of language that's been bouncing around in my head since i watched that 'elegant universe' documentary.
first there was the newtonian theory of physics, which was fairly over-simplified and deterministic. then (to over-simplify a bit myself), along came albert einstein and came up with a much better theory that explained a lot more phenomena and required a major shift in everyone's thinking about the universe. einstein was pretty smart, but toward the end of his life when people started to talk about quantum mechanics, he couldn't handle it. 'gott würfelt nicht,' he said, meaning, 'god doesn't play dice, the laws of nature aren't based on probabilities.'
this is the same position analytic philosophers are in. (i think it's a nice metaphor for them too... they get to be einstein!). they cannot believe there is not a truth 'out there' in the universe to be discovered (i think a lot of philosophers might consider themselves atheists, but i'm just saying... gott might würfle). Their theories work a lot better than older classical models of language, but just try telling a philosopher that reference isn't deterministic, that language doesn't have to have a strict dependence on the world, that the odds determining how a word is used depend on the odds that another word was used two weeks ago and so on..., that vagueness isn't a problem that needs to be solved. you'll get a funny look and a bad grade.
now imagine a contemporary university physics professor who not only doesn't teach quantum physics, but doesn't believe in it. if you told them that light is both a particle and a wave (a very post-structuralist move, by the way!), they would give you a funny look and a bad grade, but then they also might get fired for being 50 years behind the times (unless they had tenure, in which case they might just be ridiculed in the literature and discussed angrily in the cafeteria and department meetings... i don't know how these things work.)
granted, from my understanding, there are more outlandish theories out there (like string theory) that aren't widely accepted or taught in most physics courses. to continue the analogy, i'm not saying philosophy classes should start teaching all the craziest semiotics they can get their hands on. i'm also not saying there's no value to studying analytic philosophy. it's smart, it's interesting, and it maps out a lot of the territory of philosophy of language and shows where the problems are. i'm just saying that philosophy departments and classes exclude out of hand, for no apparent reason other than the fact that it would force them to rethink 100 years of their own research, a huge branch of thought about the same questions they claim to be asking.
some quest for knowledge, huh?