Saul Kripke resigned yesterday from his position as Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center. While similar allegations have been circulating in unpublished form for years, a team of philosophers from Oxford University has just released a damning report claiming that they were systematically unable to reproduce the results of thought experiments reported by Kripke in his groundbreaking Naming and Necessity. The team, led by Timothy Williamson, first became suspicious of Naming and Necessity after preliminary results raised questions about related work by Hilary Putnam. While the group was initially unable to confirm that water is H2O on Twin Earth, the results turned out to be due to contaminated research materials—one of the researchers’ minds had been contaminated by Chomskyan internalist semantics.
The inability to replicate Kripke’s results could not be similarly explained away, however, as the researcher in question was excluded from the analysis of Naming and Necessity. The report, forthcoming in Philosophical Studies, claims that 74% of the book’s thought-experimental results could not be reproduced using the standard philosophical criteria for inter-researcher agreement. A second version of the analysis, employing a generous application of the principle of charity, still left 52% of the results unverified.
Some of Kripke’s erroneous results may be due to improper data storage. When they asked Kripke for full documentation of his thought experiments, Williamson’s group received only an unorganized batch of desultory lecture notes along with an assurance from Kripke that “the real results” are “up top, where it counts.”
Unfortunately, not all of the noted discrepancies can be explained by negligence, says Williamson. He offers the example of Kripke’s discussion of Elizabeth II. “How could a person originating from different parents, from a totally different sperm and egg, be this very woman?” Kripke asks. ”It seems to me that anything coming from a different origin would not be this object.” (113) Williamson responds that we have no choice but to acknowledge that a man as brilliant as Kripke must be aware that the precise genetic makeup of Elizabeth II could in principle have resulted from the fusing of different sperm and egg, as all of the genes of Elizabeth II—or mutations thereof—are floating around elsewhere in the population. “It simply cannot be true,” Williamson concludes, “that it seems to Kripke, as he claims, that Elizabeth II could not be born of different parents.”
Asked how data fabrication in such a high-profile work could go undetected for so long, Williamson cites the plausibility of Kripke’s results. “If all you do is think about it, it seems obvious that—for example—even if Schmidt produced the incompleteness theorems, ‘Gödel’ doesn’t refer to Schmidt. When we actually did the thought experiment, however, the results were surprising.”
Asked whether his team will now turn their sights on other philosophers, Williamson hints that they might adopt a more historical orientation. “Our—ahem—philosophical troubles aren’t limited to thought experiments,” Williamson says with a wry smile. ”Take Kant’s three formulations of the categorical imperative. While Kant claims that they’re equivalent, that’s clearly not the case.” This kind of inconsistency, Williamson claims, “constitutes a red flag.” At this point, an argument broke out between this reporter and Williamson as to whether inconsistency constitutes a red flag or whether being a red flag supervenes on inconsistency without being constituted by it, and it was clear that the interview was over.