Re: MD Mysticism and the appearance/reality distinction

From: Scott R (
Date: Fri Apr 04 2003 - 07:05:14 BST

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    > Scott has been accusing Rorty of adhering to a materialist
    > metaphysics. This puts Rorty in an awkward position because Rorty wants
    > get rid of metaphysics. I find the notion that Rorty is operating under
    > any kind of metaphysics to beg the question. Scott does not. I don't
    > what else to say.

    I accuse him of espousing Darwinism and the mind-brain identity hypothesis.
    These are hallmarks of materialism, and non-materialists deny them. Since
    there is no convincing scientific evidence for either, and reasons to doubt
    both (and reasons to affirm both), why is this espousal not metaphysical?

    > To say that Rorty spends "a considerable amount of Philosophy and the
    > Mirror of Nature trying to to [sic] show that the appearance of a
    > non-spatial somewhat (our minds) is 'really' no more than neural activity
    > (the mind-brain identity hypothesis)" is a misconstrual. Rorty spends
    > of his time attempting to show that we could have just as easily spoken a
    > language that spoke of "neural processes" rather than "mind." He
    > constructs a hypothetical race called the Antipodeans and suggests that,
    > even though they speak only of neural processes rather than mind,
    > "C-fibers" rather than pain, and "G-14 quivers" rather than wonder, they
    > can both say and do the same things we do when we speak of mind, pain, and
    > wonder. Rorty says, "the materialist should stop reacting to stories such
    > as that about the Antipodeans by saying metaphysical things, and confine
    > himself to such claims as 'No predictive or explanatory or descriptive
    > power would be lost if we had spoken Antipodean all our lives.'" (PMN, p.
    > 120) Rorty calls himself a materialist, but this is misleading if it is
    > thought of as a metaphysical position. "Only a philosopher with a lot
    > invested in the notion of 'ontological status' would need to worry about
    > whether a corrigibly reportable pain was 'really' a pain or rather a
    > stimulated C-fiber."

    But note that for Rorty's story to be relevant, it is assumed that the
    Antipodeans, for whom "[n]eurology and biochemistry had been the disciplines
    in which technological breakthroughs had been achieved, and a large part of
    the conversation concerned the state of their nerves." will then talk of
    "stimulated C-fibers" and not "feeling pain". That is, Rorty assumes that
    thorough knowledge of neural activity will show that our mental vocabulary
    is replacable by a physical vocabulary. This is a metaphysical assumption.
    What if a thorough knowledge of neural activity showed that neural activity
    by itself could *not* account for feeling pain? Rorty doesn't consider that

    > I take the moral of PMN and his post-PMN non-use of the word "materialism"
    > to be that Rorty takes the attempt to say that one way of describing
    > reality is _really_ the vocabulary Reality wants to be described as is
    > pointless and uninteresting and that he really doesn't want to get caught
    > up in it.

    I agree with this sentiment, and I think that the appearance/reality
    distinction does need to be questioned. But why does he assume that the
    Antipodean tale is somehow escaping this "pointless and uninteresting"
    vocabulary, since it requires a mind-brain identity assumption, which goes
    beyond the appearances? It would appear that he feels that *his*
    assumptions, or if you like, narratives, are more useful than, say, mine. I
    say mine are more useful. Our difference is a metaphysical one, in that we
    both assume a *different* reality behind the appearance of mind/body

      So I don't think Rorty is guilty of falling into an
    > appearance/reality distinction. Only if you construe all Darwinisms as
    > falling into a metaphysical materialism, does he fall on that count and I
    > think that is a misconstrual, too. Rorty states on many occasions that he
    > sees "natural science in general, and Darwin in particular, as simply one
    > more image of the world to be placed alongside others, rather than as
    > offering the _one_ image that corresponds to reality." ("Dewey Between
    > Hegel and Darwin") He considers Darwinism to be a narrative in which to
    > contextualize human development, not a piercing beyond the veil of
    > appearance to True Reality.

    I'm not sure what you mean by "all Darwinisms". I take Darwinism to be the
    assumption that species come into existence through a mechanical means,
    namely chance mutations and natural selection. The appearance is evolution.
    The Reality that Rorty adds to that is the idea that Darwinism explains
    evolution. Intelligent Designers add a different Reality to explain
    evolution. It is true that Rorty is theoretically open to the notion that
    Darwinism could some day be seen as a bad narrative, that is, that any
    narrative can and likely will be replaced. My point though is that right
    now, the Darwinist narrative is one that is part of metaphysical view that
    the world is "really" just material, not material and mental. It requires
    metaphysics to deny that apparent duality.

    - Scott

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