Re: MD food for thought

From: Matt the Enraged Endorphin (
Date: Mon Sep 16 2002 - 04:54:11 BST

Hi Platt:

My honest apologies Platt. We were having a very profitable discussion, and
when I become comfortable, I fall into the highly idiosyncratic vocabulary that
I've picked up from Rorty. I also unfairly assumed you had read some of the
posts from earlier (like the "Confessions" postings) where I'd gone into some
of the terminology I threw at you. But in a continued effort at elucidation
rather than obfuscation, I'll try and redescribe.

>> Yeah, on irrationality, I think we are just using two different definitions
>> and, like good Rortyans, we're sincere in our incorrigibility.
>I haven't the faintest idea of what "sincere in our incorrigibility" means.

Incorrigibility is something I discussed in the original "Confessions" post.
In the context of a discussion about argumentation I said:

>Rorty feels that the centerless web of beliefs and desires that we label
>the self is changed, not rationally, but causally. This means that
>arguments are of little practical use because a persons final vocabulary
>is self-justifying. Its the end of the road and, for all practical
>purposes, final. Arguments proceed by common ground, but if common ground
>is not had, then logical argumentation is superfluous. If an argument does
>work, it is not because it was rational or logical, but because it
>was persuasive. At root, people have a fundamental incorrigibility of their
>final vocabulary, so, in Rorty's words, we must "tempt the rising
>generation with our words."

>My uneasiness with argumentation stems from two things: 1) the feeling that
>people need to reach their own conclusions, work through their own
>problems, think it through themselves, etc. This philosophical
>individualism finds voice in the incorrigibility of a persons final
>vocabulary. If a person cannot be forced by Reason into a new belief, then
>they must be persuaded to think it through themselves. 2) The results of
>most dialectical arguments are as so: two people each defend a separate
>position, they argue, one person forces the other into a position of
>weakness through a series of dialectical gambits, the loser invokes her
>incorrigibility ("We, I'm still right" or "I'm still not convinced" or
>"You're a big doo-doo head"), and the winner, having already supposedly
>won the encounter, resorts to rhetorical measures of labeling which have no
>logical, dialectical bearing ("Well, you're not being rational" or "You're
>being dogmatic" or "You're an insane freak"). Either way, the rational,
>logical, undistorted dialectical match is ended rhetorically. Hence, the
>primacy of tempting people with your words, rather than with argumentation.

Sincerity comes from Rorty's principle of sincerity whereby people have the
right to insist "that the beliefs and desires they hold most dear should come
first in the order of discussion. That is not arbitrariness but sincerity."
("The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy") In this case, I was merely
quipping that both of us are holding on to our descriptions of irrationality
(definitions contained in our final vocabularies) with neither of us budging,
something that both of us have the right to do.

>> However, in
>> one last attempt to dissolve the difference, I would never describe
>> irrationality as unintelligent. I distaste the word intelligence and think
>> it is a facile representation of an amorphous collection of skills.
>Pirsig uses "intelligence" quite often in LILA, using the everyday
>meaning of the word as the "capacity for reasoning and understanding."
>So I don't think he shares your "distaste" for the word, nor do I.

I certainly wasn't trying to convince you not to use intelligence. I was just
trying to explain why I prefer not to.

>> So,
>> when I describe postmodernism, along with the MoQ, as celebrating
>> irrationality, if you don't like my ad hoc definition of the MoQ as
>> irrational, don't be so quick to continue to follow the description of
>> postmodernism as celebrating irrationality, the two are biconditional in my
>> phrasing.
>I don't know what you mean by "ad hoc definition." Does it mean you
>can define words or philosophies any way you wish? Nor do I
>understand what you mean by "biconditional in my phrasing." In your
>zest to invent new vocabulary, you are leaving me in the dark.

Ad hoc meaning "for this very moment" and that's certainly how I meant it. The
reason I said it is because, in a normal description of the MoQ or of
postmodernism that I would give, I wouldn't describe them as irrational. The
issue of irrationality would never come up (see below). However, you can
define words and philosophies any way you wish, the difficulty is getting
people to agree to them. In a post from long ago, I described Rorty's
nominalism (with apologies to Scott, who already objected to Rorty's

> Rortyan nominalism, a nominalism
> reflected by Pirsig when he describes the "analytic knife" in ZMM (Ch 7).
> The world can be split up any number of ways and none of these ways
> reflects anything real or essential. Each is ad hoc. The fact that
> Western civilization, for instance, makes a splicing between the religious
> and the secular doesn't reflect an essential difference, so much as it
> reflects the habit of our vocabulary.

This is what happens when you discard Truth and definitions as being real or
essential. Definitions are simply the way in which we cope with things.

The biconditional thing isn't even a Rorty thing, its a formal logic thing. A
"conditional statement" is the usual "if, then" kind of proposition. If I'm a
cat, then I'm not a dog. If P, then Q. Biconditional simply means that the
"if, then" goes both ways. If P, then Q and if Q, then P. As I said after

>>If pomo does, then so does the MoQ. If not, then not. And vice
>> versa. In fact, Hall (the same as below) puts the issue like this: "the
>> contrast rational/irrational is applicable only within a given language
>> game and therefore cannot be used to explain movements among language games
>> or the more radical changes in linguistic behavior associated with paradigm
>> shifts." This summarizes in much clear language what I hope to get across.
>That summary is pure gibberish to me.

What Hall is saying is that within a language game (i.e. an historically
contingent cultural way of speaking) we can can contrast between rational and
irrational, but its not fair to contrast that way between language games or
after paradigm shifts (bare with me, I'm still breaking down the language).
Okay, one example of a contingent language game is Euclidean geometry. In
Euclidean geometry parrallel lines never meet, but in Reimannian geometry (I
think that's what its called) parrallel lines do meet. Now, if someone who had
only ever been taught Euclidean geometry ever met someone who'd only ever been
taught Reimannian geometry, the Euclidean would say that the Reimannian is
irrational for allowing parrallel lines to meet and the Reimannian would say
the opposite. Now, Hall and Rorty are saying that its unfair for either the
Euclidean or the Reimannian to explain the other's geometrical behavior by
reference to irrationality.

A paradigm shift references Kuhn's poeticization and historicization of
science. For Kuhn, science did not progress positively, like the accumulation
of knowledge as a growing mountain. It was simply a puzzle-solving activity
that sometimes changes games. The games are, essentially, but to varying
degrees, incommensurate. For instance, the change from Aristolellian-Ptolemaic
astronomy to Copernican astronomy was a paradigm shift. It shifted the way
people see things. A paradim shift can also referred to as a Gestalt switch.

>> With beauty as an organizing principle, I think there is some truth.
>Truth? I thought you said a post-philosphical culture believes a
>discussion of truth isn't "profitable."

See now, Platt, you're still trying to tie me into a contradiction and get me
in a dialectical headlock. I've sworn off such things;-) So, one more time:
I can hold some things to be true and some things to be false and still hold
that a discussion of truth is unprofitable, all without contradiction.

>> David
>> L. Hall, in his wonderful book on Rorty (Richard Rorty: Prophet and Poet on
>> the New Pragmatism), does an excellent job in drawing up the American
>> tradition of aesthetic pluralism and places Rorty within it.
>I have no idea what you mean by the "American tradition of aesthetic

Well, actually, I didn't expect you to and it wasn't vitally important that you
did (maybe I shoulda' put "an" instead of "the" before "American tradition of
aesthetic pluralism"). But I'll explain it a little more. The "aesthetic
axis" of American philosophy based "upon a problematic deeply embedded in the
American experience: the fact and consequences of plurality in its
psychological, social, and political forms." (Hall) The gist is that, the
greater the plurality, the greater the diversity, the greater the beauty. Hall
describes that, in reading Edwards' theology "one is constantly confronted by
the word 'beauty in places on would expect to see 'goodness' or 'truth.'"
(something I think you would appreciate, Platt) The aesthetic axis presupposes
the value of diversity. They are people who promote the value of individual
freedom, self-reliance, and autonomy.

>> Hall briefly
>> sketches the tradition through Jonathon Edwards, Emerson, Peirce, James,
>> Dewey, and an adopted American, Whitehead. For Rorty desires a poetized
>> culture, a literary culture, a culture whose vocabulary "revolves around
>> the notions of metaphor and self-creation rather than around notions of
>> truth, rationality, and moral obligation." (Contingency, Irony, and
>> Solidarity)
>Well, if that's really what Rorty wants, count me out. Notions of truth,
>rationality, and especially morality is what Pirsig's world is all about.

Well, as long as you remember that when Rorty eschews truth, rationality, and
morality he's casting off universal, ahistorical Truth, Reason, and Morality.
All of those terms, de-capitalized, can still mean something in a historical,
cultural context.

>>Indeed, the notion of Rorty's causal transformation of beliefs
>> is aesthetic. If you like what you hear, as opposed to what you already
>> believe, you change what you believe. So, while I don't think Rorty would
>> desire any kind of organizing principle, outside of any thing we propose
>> and follow ourselves, contingently, he definitely has an aesthetic tilt to
>> his thinking.
>What does "causal transformation of beliefs" mean? Can you give some
>specific examples? It appears you and Rorty follow the principle, "If it
>feels good, do it."

The causal transformation of beliefs is explained above in the long reprinted
section of the "Confessions" post. Like I said there, it simply means that our
beliefs are not changed rationally, they are changed causally. Either there's
a change or there is not and it has nothing to do with the degree to which
someone's being "rational."

It's interesting that you should level the "If it feels good, do it" charge
against myself and Rorty, considering the history of that charge being leveled
against Pirsig and this forum. My defense is simply that, once again, things
like truth, rationality and morality have a voice within a cultural context.
Pragmatists can still say that "Hitler is bad and just 'cuz it felt good for
him to kill Jews doesn't mean it's okay." What pragmatists hold is that things
like truth, rationality, and morality aren't philosophically interesting
because they are not ahistorical.

>> >I would make an important addendum to your breakdown of Pirsig's
>> >thesis, namely, "Everything makes choices, and some choices are
>> >better than others." Without the notion of "betterness" the MOQ is
>> >neutered.
>> The only reason I hesitate to add "and some choices are better than others"
>> is because that implies an absolute "betterness" which I don't think there
>> is room for in Rorty or an historicized Pirsig.
>In the MOQ there is indeed absolute betterness, like it's better to kill a
>germ than be killed by one. Please explain an "historicized" Pirsig.

I would, once again, hesitate to call the betterness of killing a germ than
being killed by one an absolute. It doesn't make sense, even for Pirsig,
unless you contextualize it: its better for us to kill a germ because we've
evolved futher than the germ. Its a historically contingent fact that the germ
is a threat to things we identify with (i.e. other people) and that the
tradtion of our "duty towards others" (i.e. solidarity) demands that we help
them if they are sick.

A historicized Pirsig is one that never makes reference to absolutes like
Reason or Morality or Truth. It's one that comes out more in ZMM than in
Lila. I discussed this at length with Bo in the "Confessions" thread (much of
which I think is still in the working part of the archives). It's the Pirsig I
want to emphasize, rather than the Pirsig that can be interpreted as calling
for absolutes.

>>The notion of "betterness"
>> for an historicist comes out of the contingent choices that have already
>> been made.
>I have no idea what you mean.

A static pattern of value is a set of contingent choices that have already been
made. So when a thing follows that static pattern it is performing better than
when its not in that particular context. For instance, in the MoQ rendering of
the laws of physics, a rock falls because of the static pattern of value known
as gravity. If it somehow broke this law, that would be bad from the static
pattern's point of view.

>> A Dynamic choice would then be a deviation from past choices
>> because you now believe that, in this present context, to choose
>> uniformally with the past would not be better. So I think inherent in
>> "making a choice" is the presumption that one is better than the other,
>> without accidently encapsulating that "betterness" (like Plato did with the
>> Good).
>Further confusion. I read it again and again and it still makes no sense,
>probably because "without accidentally encapsulating that 'betterness' "
>means "without accidentally placing betterness in a capsule."

In ZMM, talking about why Plato and Socrates would have destroyed arete, Pirsig
says: "Why destroy arete? And no sooner had he asked the question than the
answer came to him. Plato hadn't tried to destroy arete. He had encapsulated
it; made a permanent, fixed Idea out of it; had converted it to a rigid,
immobile Immortal Truth. He made arete the Good, the highest form, the highest
Idea of all. It was subordinate only to Truth itself, in a synthesis of all
that had gone before." (Ch 29, italics Pirsig's)

This is the historicist Pirsig at his best, eschewing the Platonic tradition.

>> And, like I said, I think Rorty could only agree that some things are
>> better than others (from an ethnocentric, historicist position). I know
>> for a fact that Rorty does think some things are better than others. Who
>> doesn't? A fortiori, who could not help but to?
>A fortiori, it's obvious Rorty thinks his philosophy or whatever you call it
>is better than anyone's, from an ethnocentric, historicist position of
>course. (-:

Lol. Now that's funny. And something I hope you agree to for yourself. 'Cuz
you're quip does punch up the incorrigibility point from earlier.

>> >But the basic "the world is moral order" assumption that carries
>> >the MOQ is something I suspect Rorty would cast aside as being "not
>> >philosophically interesting" just as he considers the correspondence
>> >theory of truth to be passe. Am I right?
>> I think you're right, insofar as "the world is a moral order" implies
>> metaphysical baggage. If it doesn't, and it simply means that we can order
>> up the world into a catalog, ticking off who's being cruel to others and
>> who isn't, who's creating new metaphors and who isn't, then I think he
>> might agree.
>What has Rorty got against metaphysics? Why is it always described
>with the pejorative, "baggage." And incidentally, do you agree that you
>sometimes must be cruel to be kind? Does "tough love" strike you as

Oh, boy. This is pretty basic to Rorty's entire enterprise: the Platonic
tradition of Philosophy attempts at reaching Truth and Morality via Reason. It
seeks ahistoricalness and universality. Rorty repudiates all this.
Metaphysics is the systematic fleshing out of all this.
Metaphysics attempts to lay a foundation for knowledge and morals. Rorty
contends that we cannot find a foundation, the Platonic tradition has been a
failed exercise in finding one, nor do we even need one. All we need is
solidarity. The agreement of people in a culture on ways of speaking and
acting. Rorty moves from metaphysics, logical argumentation, and systematic
philosophy to narratives, recontexualization, and edifying philosophy. If you
would like more, I've convered this fairly extensively in my conversations with
Bo (and others). Or ask me again later, this is already turning out to be
really long.

As for tough love, that does pose any interesting quandry. Rorty is, however,
a bit of a utilitarian and any act of cruelty that can be recontextualized
convincingly enough to be considered an act of kindness probably evades the
possible conflict of interests.

>> Here's something I have not said yet, but probably needs to be said. As a
>> private route towards self-perfection, Rorty would have nothing bad to say
>> about the MoQ. If it strays into the public realm with metaphysical
>> baggage that provides an illusory, unneeded foundation for an absolute
>> vocabulary, then Rorty might not look not fondly upon it. Can the MoQ, as
>> a private project, accidently provide useful stratagies for the public
>> realm? Quite possibly. In fact, that is what many good liberals' private
>> projects are channeled towards: useful stratagies for the public realm.
>Please explain some "useful strategies for the public realm."
>Redistribution of income perhaps?

You keep thinking I'm a communist in disguise, don't you Platt? ;-) Useful
strategies for the public realm could possibly include the redistribution of
income, but not necessarily. The gist of the message is that Rorty doesn't
want sweeping change and theoretical planning. He wants reforms for the
current system. He wants strategies for helping people, piecemeal nudges. He
doesn't want "a sort of continual self-correction of theory, with no
conceivable relation to practice" that Marxists in the thirties were in the
habit of doing. ("Philosophy as Science, as Metaphor, and as Politics")

I'm not going to get into a political exchange of the sort where we argue the
relative merits of various strategies, I simply want to clear the theoretical
ground of debris (a task Rorty finds suitable for philosophy).

>I'm all in favor of "creative" language, Matt. But when it beclouds and
>obfuscates rather than shedding clarity and light, it fails its primary
>function to bring about a meeting of minds. And we were doing so well
>there for awhile. (-: Please humor me with some plain English. Thanks.

Again, my sincerist apologies. I do want a meeting of minds. In particular,
in the past I've seen you use postmodernism in a facile way that reminds me of
a strawman. Though Rorty doesn't himself consider himself a postmodernist, its
mainly because he doesn't think anyone has been able to define it well enough
to make it a useful enough category (hence, why it looks like a strawman half
the time). The most I would want out of this exchange is for you, Platt, to at
least have a fleshed out enemy, concrete criticisms of postmodernism, or, even
better, criticisms of labels that are easier to agree on definitions of
(historicism, pragmatism, nominalism);-)


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