Hilary Putnam's latest book collects two series of his lectures with two chapters of 'afterwords'. Subsidiary topics go by faster than my eye was able to follow, but the main concerns are: 'representational' theories of perception, and 'identity' theories of the mind/body relation.
The treatment of the mind/body issues, though the dialectic is often intricate, is quite summary: neither philosophical claims for mind/body identity, nor the denials of such claims, are 'intelligible'. That's because 'the notion of identity has not been given any sense in this context' (sic). I'm not going to discuss this part of Putnam's book because, truly, I haven't a clue what it is to give a sense to a notion; the notion of giving a sense to a notion hasn't been given a sense, either in this context or, as far as I know, in any other. (I've been told that senses are sometimes given to concepts at Oxford after the gates close to visitors; but that may be a leg-pull.) Nor am I clear what you're supposed to do with a notion once a sense has been given it. There used to be a story according to which empirical inquiry works by first giving senses to notions, and then scouting around for something for the notions to apply to. It was a sort of sophisticated version of Nanny's advice always to start by defining one's terms. But I wouldn't have thought that anybody believes that story any more; indeed, lots of us learned not to believe it from Putnam. What a strange business philosophy is.
LRB 20 July 2000 | PDF Download