RE: MD Gardner on Pragmatism

From: Matt the Enraged Endorphin (
Date: Sun Feb 02 2003 - 18:23:14 GMT

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    Pirsig said:
    The idea that satisfaction alone is the test of anything is very dangerous,
    according to the MOQ. There are different kinds of satisfaction and some of
    them are moral nightmres. The Holocaust produced a satisfaction among Nazis.
    That was quality for them. They considered it to be practical. But it was a
    quality dictated by low level static social and biological patterns whose
    overall purpose was to retard the evolution of truth and DQ. James would
    probably have been horrified to find that Nazis could use his pragmatism
    just as freely as anyone else, but Phaedrus didn't see anything that would
    prevent it. But he thought that the MOQ's classification of static patterns
    of good prevents this kind of debasement.

    DMB said:
    Whad'ya think, Matt? Does your friend RR address this issue? Does he somehow
    escape Pirsig's point that practicality is only a social good?

    Rorty's reply to accusations that his philosophical enterprise can be taken
    over by the Nazis, and others cannot, is that he has no idea why these
    other philosophical enterprises cannot be so subverted by the Nazis. Rorty
    has no idea what a knock-down argument against a thoroughly convinced Nazi
    would look like. There is simply no way to rationally converse with them.
    We can convince ourselves that Nazism is bad, but then again, we already
    think so.

    What Pirsig thinks he's able to do is give us a proof-positive way of never
    falling into Nazism. And I agree, if we all agree on how to interpret the
    levels and it's done in a way that avoids Nazism, then none of us will fall
    into Nazism. The problem is the Nazi. The Nazi wouldn't distort the MoQ.
    He wouldn't think he was distorting the MoQ, only we might. He would say
    that Pirsig had gotten wrong. Only we might disagree. He would say that
    Jews are no better then animals and that, as biological patterns, they
    should be eradicated to make room for us blue-eyed intellectual-level
    people. Like a germ being killed in favor of a patient. The Nazi will
    say, "Europe is sick. We must cure it." Only we who already don't agree
    with Nazism will say that their interpretation is wrong. The Nazis aren't
    distorting the MoQ, they're interpreting it the same way we are: in the way
    that makes the most sense to them. I imagine a man in the Nazi party
    (which there was one, though I can't remember his name) mirroring the
    Communist man referred to in this passage by Rorty:

    "When you read books like Kolakowski's history of Marxism, you understand
    why the Party theoretician, the man responsible for the 'correct
    ideological line,' has always been, apart from the maximum leader himself,
    the most feared and hated member of the Central Committee."

    If the MoQ regime ever comes about, it turns for the worst, it will turn by
    someone gaining power and then interpreting the MoQ to his advantage and I
    don't see anything harder about doing it with Pirsig then with Rorty. But
    this isn't a strike against Pirsig. Rorty says further after the last
    passage, "This may remind you that Guzman, the leader of the quasi-Maoist
    Sendero Luminoso movement in Peru, wrote his dissertation on Kant." Kant
    was one of the Enlightenment's fiercest defenders of liberalism, but to
    blame Kant for Guzman seems a bit of a far stretch.

    Rorty takes on your charge when he asks the rhetorical questions, "isn't
    there something terribly dangerous about the notion that truth can only be
    characterized as 'the outcome of doing more of what we are doing now'?
    What if the 'we' is the Orwellian state? When tyrants employ Lenin's
    blood-curdling sense of 'objective' to describe their lies as 'objectively
    true,' what is to prevent them from citing Peirce in Lenin's defence?

    Rorty says that our first line of defense is the notion of "undistorted
    communication," but to explicate that notion we shan't give principles, but
    concrete historical examples: "'undistorted' means employing _our_ criteria
    of relevance, where _we_ are the people who have read and pondered Plato,
    Newton, Kant, Marx, Darwin, Freud, Dewey, etc. Milton's 'free and open
    encounter,' in which truth is bound to prevail, must itself be described in
    terms of examples rather than principles--it is to be more like the
    Athenian market-place than the council-chamber of the Great King, more like
    the twentieth century than the twelfth, more like the Prussian Academy in
    1925 than in 1935. The pragmatist must avoid saying, with Peirce, that
    truth is _fated_ to win. ... This is not because he knows some 'necessary
    truths' and cites these examples as a result of this knowledge. It is
    simply that the pragmatist knows no better way to explain his convictions
    than to remind his interlocutor of the position they both are in, the
    contingent starting point they both share, the floating, ungrounded
    conversations of which they are both members. This means that the
    pragmatist cannot answer the question 'What is so special about Europe?'
    save by saying 'Do you have anything non-European to suggest which meets
    _our_ European purposes better?' He cannot answer the question 'What is so
    good about the Socratic virtues, about Miltonic free encounters, about
    undistorted communication?' save by saying 'What else would better fulfill
    the purposes _we_ share with Socrates, Milton, and Habermas?'"

    This blantantly Eurocentric outlook is part of the point. Rorty says that
    the East has the same starting point as we do: their own contingent past.
    They've chosen, in some cases, to adopt some Western platitudes. Rorty is
    suggesting that they did so, not because our platitudes are somehow closer
    to the truth, but because it fit _their_ purposes better then the tools
    they themselves had created. In some cases, they may have adopted our
    purposes and goals, but it's not because European goals will get them
    closer to the Good, but because our goals seemed to be better then the ones
    they dropped.

    The point of all this is to say that the pragmatist isn't very impressed by
    Pirsig's "philosophical justification" for certain Western attitudes.
    Pragmatists don't think our attitudes need philosophical justification.
    The best politically-orientated philosophy can do is sum up some of our
    platitudes, put them in an outline so maybe we can gain some insight into
    them that way. But to say that our attitudes and platitudes need some
    neutral, "objective" philosophical justification is to take on a Platonic,
    Kantian, and, as I would argue, SOMic quest. A quest that the pragmatists
    are suggesting we forgoe in favor of concrete comparisons of alternate
    attitudes and platitudes. The reason why it looks as though the MoQ needs
    distortion to be turned to Nazi ends and that pragmatism doesn't is because
    the MoQ plays into the Platonic quest for a knock-down argument against
    Nazis, the Cartesian quest for the perfect foundation in which no evil can
    be done from. The pragmatist, on the other hand, eschews that quest. The
    MoQ offers us philosophical "back-up" for the moral sentiments we already
    have, while pragmatism simply points out that our moral sentiments are
    gained by our contingent circumstances. Pragmatism doesn't encourage
    Nazism. Only politics can do that. And pragmatists suggest that, when
    arguing about public policy, we not worry about our philosophical
    foundations, but instead worry about politics.


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