Re: MD Mysticism and the appearance/reality distinction

From: Matt the Enraged Endorphin (
Date: Tue Apr 08 2003 - 19:16:25 BST

  • Next message: Scott R: "Re: MD Mysticism and the appearance/reality distinction"


    I think you make a very good point given the material you are using. I've
    admitted before (I think) that I'm fairly unfamiliar with Philosophy and
    the Mirror of Nature. I haven't read the whole thing, only bits and
    pieces. What I have read are his post-PMN writings and, since Rorty is
    more than willing to admit that his first opus is now a little outdated and
    in some cases wrongheaded (I can cite at least one place off the top of my
    head where he admits this), I don't want to convince anybody that "PMN
    Rorty" is anti-reductionist (though it is possible). However, just as we
    are given to periodize other thinkers (the pertinent one coming to mine
    being Pirsig) I would like to convince people that "post-PMN Rorty" is. My
    main source for this view (for anyone keeping score) is his piece in
    Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, "Non-Reductive Physicalism" (all
    citations will be to ORT). This essay is one of many expositions Rorty has
    written about the philosopher Donald Davidson, so Rorty attributes this
    position to Davidson and, in so doing, co-opts for his own.

    This is mainly going to one big quote from Rorty, so people who don't care
    about Rorty can tune out now if you haven't already.

    A "physicalist" is "someone who is prepared to say that every event can be
    described in micro-structural terms, a description which mentions only
    elementary particles" (114) in addition to macro-structural terms. In
    terms of mind and brain, physicalists hope that physiology may someday
    describe our actions in micro-structural terms. For macro-structural
    terms, we already have "folk psychology," "an explanation which predicts my
    action on the basis of my newly-acquired belief, taken together with the
    rest of my beliefs and desires." (114) The physicalist suggests "that we
    see these two explanations as two descriptions of the same process, and the
    'mental' and the 'physical' events as the same events under two
    descriptions. The difference between mind and body ... is thus no more
    mysterious than, e.g., the relation between a macro-structural and a
    micro-structural description of a table." (114)

    To say that Rorty is a "non-reductive" physicalist, is to say that "he
    combines this claim [about physicalism] with the doctrine that 'reduction'
    is a relation merely between linguistic items, not among ontological
    categories." (114-5) A reduction of the language of X's to the language of
    Y's, does not show that "X's are _nothing but_ Y's". (115) "For most
    interesting examples of X and Y (e.g., minds and bodies, tables and
    particles) there are lots of true sentences about X's in which 'Y' cannot
    be substituted for 'X' while preserving truth. The only way to show that
    'there are no X's' would be to show that there are no such sentences. That
    would amount to showing that 'X' and 'Y' were merely, so to speak,
    stylistic variations of one another." (115)

    Rorty continues to say that it is very rare to be able to "show that a
    given language-game which has been played for some time is, in fact,
    dispensable. This is because any tool which has been used for some time is
    likely to continue to have a use. The cases in which a tool _can_ be
    discarded will be recognized as such only after a new tool has been devised
    and has been employed for some time." (115) In the cases where, for
    instance, we move from a Aristotelian vocabulary to a Newtonian one,
    "X-talk just fades away, not because someone has made a philosophical or
    scientific discovery that there are no X's, but because nobody any longer
    has a use for this sort of talk." It is perfectly compatible to be
    non-reductive physicalist and say "we shall probably continue to talk about
    mental entities -- beliefs, desires, and the like -- forever. Such talk is
    not metaphorical, does not need to be bracketed, does not need to be made
    more precise or scientific, does not need philosophical
    clarification. Further, it would be wrong to suggest that talk about minds
    is necessary for convenience but is not to be taken as 'the truth about the
    way the world is'. To say that we shall always be talking about beliefs
    and desires is to say that folk psychology will probably remain the best
    way of predicting what our friends and acquaintances will do next. That is
    all that one could possibly mean by saying 'There really are mental
    entities'. Similarly, the best way to predict the behavior of tables will
    probably remain to talk about them qua tables rather than as collections of
    particles or as fuzzy replicas of the Platonic archetypal Table. That is
    all that one could possibly mean by saying 'There really are tables'." (115)

    I have to go, so I don't have time to gloss anything or answer what I think
    will be one of your first objections (Rorty's nominalism), but I think most
    of this stands by itself. My hope is that this answers the scholastic
    question of whether Rorty's a reductionist or not.


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