Re: MD myths and symbols

Date: Mon Aug 18 2003 - 18:27:25 BST

  • Next message: MATTHEW PAUL KUNDERT: "Re: MD Rorty and Darwin"

    Platt, DMB,

    DMB defending me? God help us all.

    Platt said:
    Show me where Rorty says "intersubjective agreement" means the peer review process of science. Or, are you just pointing to ghosts?

    You got me. Rorty, to my knowledge, extending over most of his widely published corpus, does not equate "intersubjective agreement" with the "peer review process of science."

    But look what I found:

    "...those who wish to reduce objectivity to solidarity -- call them "pragmatists" -- do not require either a metaphysics or an epistemology. They view truth as, in William James' phrase, what is good for _us_ to believe. So they do not need an account of a relation between beliefs and objects called 'correspondence,' nor an account of human cognitive abilities which ensures that our species is capable of entering into that relation. They see the gap between truth and justification not as something to be bridged by isolating a natural and transcultural sort of rationality which can be used to criticize certain cultures and praise others, but simply as the gap between the actual good and the possible better. From a pragmatist point of view, to say that what is raional for us now to believe may not be _true_, is simply to say that somebody may come up with a better idea. It is to say that there is always room for improved belief, since new evidence, or new hypotheses, or a
     whole new vocabulary, may come along."

    In a footnote to the last sentence he says, "This attitude toward truth, in which the consensus of a community rather than a relation to a nonhuman reality is taken as central, is associated not only with the American pragmatic tradition but with the work of Popper and Habermas."

    Okay, that pretty well somes up what Rorty means by "intersubjective agreement," which is for the most part interchangeable with "solidarity." It is important to note that solidarity as "the consensus of a community" is not contrasted with "what an individual thinks all by his lonesome." Platt continually says that Rorty's for this thing called "group truth" and that Platt himself is for "individual truth." I commented a long time ago on what I think about this contrast and how I think Rorty's public/private split accomodates a distinction between what you might call "group" truth and "individual" truth. However, be that as it may, that is not the contrast Rorty is talking about when he describes solidarity and intersubjective agreement. Pragmatists wish to reduce objectivity to solidarity, but "realists" wish to "ground solidarity in objectivity." They wish to "construct a metaphysics which has room for a special relation between beliefs and objects which will differe
    ntiate true from false beliefs" and provide "procedures of justification of belief which are natural and not merely local," "justification which is not merely social but natural, springing from human nature itself, and made possible by a link between that part of nature and the rest of nature." I don't know if that's good enough for Platt, but I think to continue to label Rorty as believing in "group truth" is, well, asanine, to use the word of the day. (This is all from "Solidarity or Objectivity?" in his Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth)

    Now that I've given one way Rorty describes intersubjective agreement, I'll link it to scientists:

    "Pragmatists would like to replace the desire for objectivity -- the desire to be in touch with a reality which is more than some community with which we identify ourselves -- with the desire for solidarity with that community. They think that the habits of relying on persuasion rather than force, of respect for the opinions of colleagues, of curiosity and eagerness for new data and ideas, are the _only_ virtues which scientists have." (from "Science as Solidarity")

    This is also how I respond to Paul when, in response to my interpreting of Pirsig's "socially approved evaluations" as "intersubjectvity," he says:

    "I don't think that interpretation is entirely correct. His words are 'socially approved evaluations'. Broadly, in the west this refers to the scientific method with a general disdain for knowledge gained solely by intuition.


    So the 'evaluation' is performed intellectually (with the inherent quality decisions), but its validity is subject to the approval of methods and the associated authorities. The confused conclusions of pragmatism seem to originate from a lack of discernment between social and intellectual patterns. Once this discernment is made we can discuss the 'web of socially approved [intellectual] evaluations of alternative [explanations]' with more clarity and explanatory power than making a substitution of 'popularity' for 'truth'."

    I think Paul was unduly influenced by Platt's caricature of Rorty's position. Because, given the Rorty quotes I've now furnished, I think it is pretty clear that Rorty does quite clearly and powerfully explain the same thing that Pirsig does. The only difference is that Rorty eschews the title "scientific method" as the name of the moral virtues that scientists and other civilized people have. Scientists don't have a special method they use, they are simply good examples of a community of people that have the moral virtues of openness and curiosity. But other people have these virtues, too. Humanities journals have their own review process, too. The only thing that distinguishes the scientist from other professions is subject material: physicists study particles, literary critics study books.

    Actually, right now I'm sitting in a computer lab in Memorial Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison because I've been without a home phone line all summer. That means I've been without my books while writing all of you for the whole summer. Today, though, I thought it would be nice if I could provide Platt with some Rorty material. So, I ran up to the 6th floor and pulled down one of Rorty's books and checked it out (despite the fact that I already own it). Well, after skimming the two essays where I thought I'd find what I was looking for, and typing them out, I had an interesting thought, or rather, I detected a line that I figure Pirsigians will jump all over. The line, if you haven't already guessed it, is "Pragmatists would like to replace the desire for objectivity -- the desire to be in touch with a reality which is more than some community with which we identify ourselves -- with the desire for solidarity with that community." I'm pretty sure many peop
    le will construe "in touch with a reality" as "in touch with Quality" and take that as further evidence that its pretty, well, asanine to link Pirsig with Rorty.

    Given all the talk about intersubjective agreement in Pirsig lately, and its denials, I thought I should answer this point, because it certainly stood out to me. Pirsig says in LC note 97, "The fundamental reality is not the common sense or the objects and laws approved of by common sense but the approval itself and the quality that leads to it." Quality, Pirsig's fundamental reality, is approval itself. That's what Pirsig just said there. To me, this is wonderful news. Because I see Pirsig acknowledging that our sense of the world is tied up in linguistic practices and that truth in these linguistic practices is determined intersubjectively by a community. Hence, Pirsig isn't grounding solidarity in objectivity by saying that we need to be in touch with Quality, a Quality that is "out there" as opposed to communities of people who are "over here". He's saying exactly what the pragmatists are saying, that we don't need to be in touch with anything outside of "some com
    munity with which we identify ourselves." In saying this, pragmatists like Pirsig and Rorty are not saying that we are dispensing with reality. What they are dispensing with is the uncashable metaphor of "corresponding with reality." Quality is ubiquitous. We couldn't be out of touch with it if we tried.


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