Re: MD Practical Nightmares

From: Matt the Enraged Endorphin (
Date: Sun Feb 09 2003 - 21:26:25 GMT

  • Next message: "Re: MD NAZIs and Pragmatism"

    Rick, DMB,

    Sorry I've been missing at this key stage in the conversation, but you know
    how it goes.

    First, I want to say that Rick's commentary and comparison of Pirsig and
    James on the squirrels is very insightful, timely, and useful. The kind of
    thing intellectual historians need to do. But, on the other hand, I don't
    think it's best to read James as entering into a metaphysical dispute.
    Pirsig's reading of the squirrel anecdote is one that is commensurate with
    Nietzsche's perspectivalism, i.e. whomever's perspective is the most useful
    is the one we use. I read James as saying the same thing when he says,
    "The pragmatic method in such cases is to try to interpret each notion by
    tracing its respective practical consequences," but we shouldn't read this
    as doing metaphysics, but as dissolving metaphysics.

    The second thing I should say is on "pragmatic method." It is true, the
    notion of pragmatism I have been developing is mostly from Rorty, not the
    old-school pragmatists like Peirce and James. They did talk much about
    methods, but that was part of the parlance of their times. When all the
    chips are cashed, I don't think James' "method" really comes out to be
    anything other than muddling about with deciding which things are
    practical, which choices are the most useful. So, I follow Rorty in
    eschewing "method," but I don't think that really hampers our reading of
    James. James himself may have thought he was developing a method, but
    Rorty would say that a further 80 years of reflection on this has suggested
    that maybe we should drop the notion of a "pragmatic method." It's why
    Rorty called one of his collections of essays "Consequences of Pragmatism."
     He tried to draw out the philosophical consequences of pragmatism, which
    sometimes does not coincide with what the founders thought.

    So when Rick asserts that pragmatism isn't a philosophical position, but
    only a method, what I think this cashes out to is that pragmatism's
    philosophical point is merely negative: it tells us what we should eschew
    (e.g. metaphysics, epistemology, foundations, metanarratives). What we put
    in metaphysics and epistemology's place is not gleaned from pragmatism, but
    from other considerations. Dewey and Rorty would like us to stick politics
    in philosophy's place. That's what I mean when I say that pragmatists
    can't tell the Nazi that he's wrong, only Americans can.

    So, I think DMB is right when he says, "pragmatism doesn't have a moral pot
    to piss in." Part of pragmatism's point is that we shouldn't view
    philosophy as the guide to where our moral pots are coming from. So while
    pragmatists may not have a moral pot to piss in, Americans do and that's
    all the pot we need. We don't need philosophy to step in and ground out
    our American moral pot, to provide foundations for our liberalism (in the
    wide classical sense of liberalism, Platt).


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