Re: MD Irrationality

From: Platt Holden (
Date: Tue Sep 24 2002 - 15:03:28 BST

Hi All: Matt attempted to post this twice without success so he asked
me to post it for him. He has no idea why it didn't get through except
that maybe Horse doesn't like Rorty. (-: Platt

> Hi Platt,
> >I'm having trouble reconciling two statements of yours. In a post to
> >Squonk on 19 Sep you wrote:
> >
> >[Matt:] "He (Rorty) would, however, protect or individual private right
> towards
> >self-perfection, be it religion or philosophy or something in between. Our
> > final vocabulary is our own; our route to self-perfection is our own."
> >
> >This ringing endorsement of private rights and individual freedom
> >appears directly opposed to the following statement you made in a post to
> >me on the same day:
> >
> >[Matt:] "Validity is not measured against objectivity, but against
> >solidarity,
> >intersubjective agreement."
> >
> >In the first statement, establishing truth appears to be a personal,
> >private matter, like Pirsig's choosing paintings in an art gallery that
> >are of highest value to the individual viewer. In the second statement,
> >establishing truth seems to be a matter of group opinion. I cannot be
> >right if my social group disagrees with me. I must test what I think is
> >true against what others think.
> This cuts straight to the heart of Rorty's practical distinction between
> the public and private spheres. There are, of course, many who would abhor
> such a distinction including Ancient Greeks (Sallust, Socrates, Plato,
> Aristotle), Ancient Romans (Seneca, Cicero), Rousseau, Marx, and Hannah
> Arendt (on the side of public emphasis) and Hume, Hobbes, Montesquieu, Adam
> Smith, Isaiah Berlin, and Friedrich Hayek (on the side of private
> emphasis). As you can probably tell, there is a quite obvious political
> (and particularly economic) split between the two sides. You can probably
> also tell that the "private emphasis" side has in fact argued for a
> public/private distinction as the basis for individual autonomy. However,
> the "public emphasis" side argues that the public/private distinction that
> Hume and Hayek urge for has the effect of reducing the public into the
> private, the practical effect of de-politicizing the people. The
> Sallust-Arendt continuum then argue that the private must be reduced into
> the public so that virtue and equality can be retained. Smith to Berlin
> argue that for equality we must have freedom. Plato to Rousseau argue that
> for freedom we must have equality. We've all heard this debate before.
> What Rorty adds to the debate (as Alexis de Tocqueville added to the debate
> between aristocracy and democracy in the 19th C.) is a sympathy and desire
> for both. Rorty wants both equality and freedom and thinks that the best
> way to achieve a balance between individual autonomy and social equality is
> to intensify the distinction between public and private.
> Enter this narrative to contextualize the discrepancy you have (quite
> rightly) pointed out in how I have been using truth. Simply put, in the
> private realm, the individual holds authority over "truth;" in the public
> realm, intersubjective agreement does. But, quite obviously, it is a bit
> more complicated and sophisticated than this, and I plead for your
> indulgence.
> The only way to move forward the public project of the minimization of
> cruelty and the protection of autonomous freedom is to reach
> intersubjective agreement on issues of public policy. When addressing
> fellow individuals in the public realm (such as when at the market when
> buying some bread), we must draw from a communal pool of traditions and
> vocabulary so that we may communicate. Here, truths can be said to be
> reached intersubjectively, by recourse to the communal pool. When
> formulating your own personal relation to the world and your own individual
> drive towards self-perfection, you may draw on a continually changing
> vocabulary that has no recourse but to be self-justifying (the
> incorrigibility of your final vocabulary). The truths you reach in
> self-perfection can be said to be reached individually.
> Hall adds these (hopefully) helpful remarks:
> "Rorty addresses the problem of the appropriate balance between the private
> and the public spheres, in a rather oblique manner, by noting the purposes
> served by intellectual activities such as the reading of books. One reads
> books in order to extend and develop the stable, widely used vocabulary
> associated with both private and public purposes. Secondly, one may read
> in order to work out some new vocabulary relevant either to the private or
> public sphere. A private vocabulary provides answers to questions of
> self-creation and self-articulation; a public vocabulary answers questions
> about one's sensitivities and responses to other human beings. Though
> those who find their own perfection in service to others may combine the
> two, most of us require separate private and public vocabularies."
> This last sentence points up the practicality of Rorty's distinction. To
> help augment this section, Hall adds this later:
> "Rorty characterizes the postmodernist bourgeois liberal ironist as a
> lonely provincial beset by doubts about her own final vocabulary, that set
> of words and propositions which evoke the sentential attitudes comprising
> the self. This vocabulary contains both a private and public element. The
> private may be well refined and even idiosyncratic, while the public side
> can be unsophisticated and relatively simple-minded. The focus of the
> private vocabulary is sublimity, while the private supports the aim of
> decency."
> Leaving aside for now what "postmodernist bourgeois liberal ironist" and
> "lonely provincial" means to Rorty, these two sections point out that the
> private vocabulary stresses the creation of new vocabularies, but is first
> contingent upon the historical, communal tradition of language one gains
> from the culture you're born into. The public vocabulary stresses the
> extension and development of a stable, communal vocabulary, but to best
> sensitize us to the pain of others, it is sometimes helpful to create new
> metaphors.
> Like I've said, there is a balance to be struck. I hope while you've read
> this you've noticed similarities between Rorty's vocabulary and Pirsig's.
> Pirsig wants to strike a balance between Dynamic and static quality. Rorty
> wants to strike a balance between a stable, communal vocabulary and a
> ever-changing, idiosyncratic vocabulary. And as you quote Pirsig, "A tribe
> can change its values only person by person and someone has to be first."
> This is completely harmonious with the Rortyan position. Someone has to be
> first and someone has to convince everyone else.
> I would like to say this about Pirsig, however. There are two ways in
> which you can read ZMM. The effort of ZMM is an effort in dissolving
> dualities, the explicit ones being classic/romantic, subject/object: this
> is continuous. One sensitive reading of ZMM would lead one to believe that
> Pirsig would fit in the Hume-Hayek continuum I outlined earlier.
> Particularly in this passage, "My personal feeling is that this is how any
> further improvement of the world will be done: by individuals making
> Quality decisions and that's all." This invokes the Zuni passage from Lila
> that Platt pointed out. It invokes the Hume desire that, once a nation
> becomes commercially dependent on other nations, those nations' people will
> become sophisticated, and that in becoming sophisticated they will turn
> from low-minded pleasures to high-minded ones. They will, in effect,
> become quite moral by individuals doing it themselves.
> Another sensitive reading of ZMM, however, might lead one to believe that
> Pirsig would better fit in the Sallust-Arendt continuum. Take the
> importance of Ancient Greek arete, excellence. This is their virtue and it
> is this virtue that Rousseau and Arendt feel will be lost by emphasis being
> placed on the private sphere. People will become de-politicized and only
> care about whatever pleases them. They argue that they will not turn to
> high-minded pleasures that will moralize them, as Hume argues. Pirsig's
> emphasis on the old, Greek arete implies a dissolution into the public
> mode. To follow Quality is to follow their lead into the importance of
> being a good citizen.
> I find both of these readings of ZMM equally persuasive. I think that the
> tension between the two readings provides convenient space for a Rortyan
> practical solution. I think in Lila that the underlying public/private
> tension is carried forward. Rorty would agree with the Dynamic/static
> dialectic as a good description of how good change occurs (though he would
> disagree with it being a metaphysical split). Rorty would only add that a
> practical split between the public and private spheres would help relieve
> the two tensions in Pirsig (tensions that I think have helped breed
> capitalist interpretations and socialist interpretations of his books).
> In closing, I would return for a moment to the descrepancy in truth that
> Platt helpfully pointed out. In doing that I think it continues to point
> out the pragmatist attempts to repudiate the Platonic tradition. There is
> nothing philosophically interesting about the notion of truth. Following
> James, truth is simply that which is useful in believing. The "fuzzying"
> between two seemingly hard, distinct versions of truth that Platt pointed
> out is simply the consequence of this pragmatist outlook on the Platonic
> tradition. They can, however, be pratically mediated between by the type
> of public/private split that Rorty endorses (or, at least, this is the
> promise).
> Matt

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