Re: MD food for thought

From: Matt the Enraged Endorphin (
Date: Thu Sep 12 2002 - 04:17:34 BST

Hi Platt:

I like your responses, mainly because they offer a good, concrete foil for how
Rorty has responded to almost all of these charges (irrationality, socialism,
impingment of natural rights, etc.) already.


In continuing to tempt me into answering that the pragmatic view of truth is
true, Platt said:

> Is it true that a discussion of truth cannot be profitable? Again, the
> sweet smell of self-contradiction arises.

Of course it is true that a discussion of truth cannot be profitable. However,
there's nothing philosophically interesting about this statement outside of my
statements about a post-Philosophical, literary culture. Like I said before,
"truth" is a property of sentences (side note: As far as Andre's suggestion
that "sentences without interpreters are meaningless," I wholeheartedly agree,
but think that "truth is a property of sentences" is simply shorthand for
"truth is a property of sentences that arises out of interpretation.") and
saying that "a pragmatic view of truth is true" is simply pointing out that the
only way I (or anyone else) can justify their views is with their own final
vocabulary. In other words, either sides' argument starts to beg the
question. At some point, one must stop running in circles to move the
conversation forward.

At this point, responding to my circumvention of the question, you said:

> Rather, the question is whether a post-Philosophical culture will duck
> questions of truth or falsity and instead celebrate irrationality.

In answer to this question, yes, a post-Philosophical culture will duck
questions into the nature of Truth or Falsity. However, as to the charge of
irrationality, I don't think this is necessarily so. The charge of
irrationality is usually leveled at historicists who don't bow down to an
ahistorical, universal Reason. The Platonic tradition, with its call for
universal Reason, aims at stopping the conversation. The aim is to solve a
problem by finding its universal Truth, thereby stopping the conversation. The
historicist, however, recongnizes that the conversation the Platonic tradition
is involved in has been going on for quite some time and has given no signs of
letting up. The pragmatic historicist then decides that this conversation is
probably best avoided so more profitable topics can be discussed. It is
unclear how this issue can be resolved, however. As I suggested in the first
"Confessions" post, the Platonic, universal Reason position and the Rortyan,
recontextualizing historicist position are unable to engage in a way that
resolves any issues for one or the other. After the historicist refuses to
argue about universal Reason, he gets branded as an irrationalist (or,
sometimes, relativist). The historicist, on the other hand, adds this dispute
on top of the pile as another example of the futility of arguing over universal
Reason. As Rorty says,

"To decide whether this obviously circular response is enough is to decide
whether Hegel or Plato had the proper picture of the progress of thought.
Pragmatists follow Hegel in saying that 'philosophy is its time grasped in
thought.' Anti-pragmatists follow Plato in striving for an escape from
conversation to something atemporal which lies in the background of all
possible conversations. I do not think one can decide between Hegel and Plato
save by meditating on the past efforts of the philosophical tradition to escape
from time and history. One can see these efforts as worthwhile, getting
better, worth continuing. Or one can see them as doomed and perverse. ... So
I think that the decision has to be made simply by reading the history of
philosophy and drawing a moral." ("Pragmatism, Relativism, and Irrationalism")


On the topic of a post-Philosophical culture, Platt gave pause to the "liberal
goal of the minimization of cruelty." He called it the "old-fashioned
socialist agenda." Now, I'm afraid at what Platt would have America strive
for, if not in some sense the minimization of cruelty. I know Platt has spoken
like a conservative in the past and it should be realized that Rorty grew up a
Trotskyite. However, I do believe there are several points of agreement
between the two. For instance, without trying to guess at whatever political
agenda is behind the statement, I hope you would agree that the minimization of
cruelty is a good thing and possibly one that should be striven for. Remember,
I'm not trying to get a dialectical hold on you, I'm just trying to find some
common ground for conversation, common ground that should be built into our
shared culture. (Admittedly, though, common ground is difficult to tell from a
dialectical hold.)

With that fairly uncontroversial thing being said, Rorty's position is that of
John Stuart Mill's from On Liberty i.e. that of classical liberalism. Rorty
wishes for "a world in which nothing remains sacred save the freedom to lead
your life by your own lights, and nothing is forbidden which does not interfere
with the freedom of others." ("Pragmatism, Pluralism, and Postmodernism") This
calls for the minimization of cruelty in the public realm and the protection of
the private realm so that we may pursue our own projects of self-realization
and perfection.

This is the vision that is desired and one, sharing the same cultural heritage,
I hope we agree on. That being said, we can still, certainly, disagree on the
specific practical institutional demands needed to realize this vision. One
specific practical institutional innovation put forward with the intention of
realizing this vision was socialism. Now, Rorty would be the first testify to
the failure of applied socialism. As such, he believes that the best
institutional alternative as of this date is still liberal (in the sense of
Mill's liberalism) democracy. So goes the epithet of "socialist."

Natural Rights

Platt, continuing with the problems he has with a proposed post-Philosophical
culture, said, "What's truly frightening is knowing that the culture you would
like to see in place will freely impinge on human "natural" rights, presumably
for the greater good." Now this indictment I believe is confused because it is
in response to a post-Philosophical culture's not caring about "whether we are
corresponding to Reality, whether we are impinging on someone's natural
God-given rights, or whether we are following our ahistorical,
true-for-all-time duty to humankind." The rights that are implied are
"natural," "God-given," ahistorical, universal rights that simply, in the
pragmatic historicist post-Philosophical outlook, are not worth arguing about
because the arguments done on their behalf in the past 2,000 years have done
nothing to prove their actual existence. And we still get along fine without
that proof. What will be worried about, instead, are historically contingent
rights, including the right to be left alone in private when pursuing your own
version of self-perfection. We have no universal, Kantian duty to our fellow
human beings, but that doesn't, and shouldn't, stop us from embracing our
ethnocentric demand for the alleviation of cruelty to our fellow human beings.

So far, this discussion has been pretty much Pirsig-less. So, in effort to
keep this conversation applicable to the needs of this website, I would like to
say a few things about how I see the responses I've given as fitting and
reinforcing Pirsig's position.

On irrationality, I think Pirsig would feel comfortable with the defense I've
given. The static/Dynamic division of Quality gives reality (i.e. history), as
I've noted before, a distincly Oedipal flavor. The progress of the MoQ (and
history) is from static to Dynamic. And as Pirsig said in ZMM, "To go outside
the mythos is to become insane...." (Ch 28) In Lila translation, it means to
go outside the static patterns of your culture i.e. to be Dynamic. Indeed,
Pirsig says in Lila, "When an insane person--or a hypnotized person or a person
from a primitive culture--advances some explanation of the universe that is
completely at odds with current scientific reality, we do not have to believe
he has jumped off the end of the empirical world. He is just a person who is
valuing intellectual patterns that, because they are outside the range of our
own culture, we perceive to have very low quality." (Ch 26) Metaphors, as
breaking the literal meaning of static cultural patterns, are a form of
insanity. Irrationality is a charge leveled at those who are following Dynamic
Quality. The post-Philosophical culture is a culture that attempts to foster
Dynamic Quality.

On socialism, Pirsig has cast his hat in the same ring as Rorty. Pirsig says
that socialism is more moral than capitalism from a static point of view. (Ch
17) The goal of socialism is extremely moral. The problem is that the
practical application of socialism was extremely debilitating on the spirit, on
people's ability to search for new vocabularies, on people's ability to strive
for self-perfection: in Pirsig's words, on people's ability to be Dynamic.

On natural human rights, I think Pirsig would once again favor Rortyan
historicism. Static patterns change and morality follows the highest static
patterns and Dynamic Quality. Human rights are relative to the historical
context you are working from. Rights aren't relative as in "Any right is as
good as any other," but, rather relative in the sense of 20th C. BCE Sumerians
have a different notion of human rights than 20th C. CE Americans. (I couldn't
actually think of any times Pirsig mentions rights off the top of my head, so
if anyone knows of any, I'd be curious to know what he says.)

So, once again, thank you again Platt. Your challenges afforded an excellent
opportunity to provide an exposition on Rorty's tools. I hope they prove to be
useful in relation to Pirsig (for somebody at least, if not you, Platt;-).


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