"Saul Kripke is possibly the only living philosopher who has understood the world of philosophy with unorthodox works in areas such as time, materialism and emotions." The sentence comes from a portrait of Kripke, which New York Times published in 1977. At that time, the American philosopher, who was born in Bay Shore in 1940, had long been considered a genius by his colleagues. At the age of 18 he published his first highly complex essay on a problem of modal logic, as a direct consequence of which hardly any serious logician did not have to write in the first footnote: "I owe hints and corrections to Saul Aaron Kripke." The young man had not yet graduated.
Kripke did not remain a prodigy, but developed into a scholar whose essays influenced analytical philosophy like no one else in the second half of the 20th century. When he gave the renowned John Locke Lectures in Oxford at the age of 33 and held a chair at Princeton University four years later, he was already a living legend.
He accused Kant and phenomenology of having made a grave error of reasoning
In Germany, it was the Munich philosopher Wolfgang Stegmüller who recognized the importance of Kripke's analyzes very early on. In his four-volume standard work "Main Currents in Philosophy" he mentioned Kripke several times. Stegmüller did not introduce the philosophical "technician" Kripke to the German readers, but the expert and critic of the philosophical tradition.
It was Immanuel Kant, and even more so phenomenology, whom Kripke accused of making a serious mistake: they had based their considerations on a confusion of a priori and necessity. The former belongs to epistemology, the latter is a term from metaphysics and thus also a case for it. This had far-reaching consequences, because it also caused difficulties for the empirical sciences. In Kripke's words: "Since the empirical sciences do not attempt to gain any a priori knowledge (i.e. knowledge that is valid before all experience), they cannot provide any essential knowledge if necessary truths are to be equated with a priori truths."
What stuck with it was the audacity in argumentation logic with which Kripke proceeded. But Kant and the phenomenologists, the philosophers of language and the empiricists were not the only ones who had to sort themselves out after Kripke interventions. It was no less difficult for the growing community of Wittgenstein supporters. In 1982, Kripke dedicated a radical interpretation to his late work.
His texts are unparalleled in terms of their stringency and innovative power
From Wittgenstein's "Philosophical Investigations" Kripke extracted what he had called the "following of rules": Rules do not justify practice, but behavior based on rules is always already determined by practice. For decades there has been extremely filigree discussion about how Kripke, who only read the first sentence of paragraph 201 of the "Philosophical Investigations" ("a rule could not determine any course of action, since every course of action must be brought into agreement with the rule") with another dramatic sentence from Paragraph 243 ("A man can encourage himself, command himself, obey, rebuke, punish, put a question and answer it") probably meant exactly that. In the meantime, aesthetic and ethical discussions have long since followed, which resolve Kripke's supposed escapism and lead him back to the question of human nature.
The New York Times' assessment sparked a major debate that continues to this day. Philosophy in the USA had successfully turned away from an apolitical, analytical philosophy with works by John Rawls' "Theory of Justice" (1971) and Robert Nozick's "Anarchy, State, Utopia" (1974), when Kripke came along and apparently pushed them back into the lowlands of a mathematized abstraction that knew all "possible worlds" but had nothing to say beyond that.
Kripke himself left such questions completely untouched. He continued to publish essays that are unparalleled in terms of their stringency, their free and precise reference to the philosophical tradition, and their innovative power. At Suhrkamp and Reclam, the work is cultivated not least thanks to impressive translators such as Ursula Wolf and Uwe Voigt. Saul Aaron Kripke, one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century, died on September 15 at the age of 81.