Re: MD Rorty and Darwin

Date: Mon Aug 18 2003 - 19:10:31 BST

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


    DMB said:
    Who says there is such a thing as a truth tribunal. This is not a joke. I honestly don't know of any such creatures. In my experience, preachers and idiots assert such things, not philosophers. HELP!?

    The Tribunal of Reason image comes from Kant, I believe. Rorty is playing on that image. He is using the image of a Truth Tribunal as a rhetorical tool to make a bit of fun at his philosophical enemies' expense. As Andy says, its a metaphor. I don't think any philosopher uses this image anymore. But, as Andy points out, Thomas Nagel does play towards it with his image of the "View from Nowhere." The view from nowhere is ahistoricality, the opposite of contingency. It is what Putnam calls a "God's eye point of view" and what Daniel Dennett calls the attempt to give us a "skyhook".

    However, he does hit his mark in a slightly different manner if you are thinking he's simply creating a strawman. There are plenty of Kantians and neo-Kantians lying around to use this image. Not only that, but most other contemporary systematic philosophers would be captured by this image because of their fundamental similarities with Kantians because of their reliance on the metaphor of the "mirror of nature." For instance, a debate that has been going on for some time in the philosophy of language is that between realists and anti-realists (as Michael Dummett terms them). The realists trade in the correspondence theory of truth. They believe that our words hook up to particular bits of reality. Words that emanate from in us hook up to things out there. (You can see how the subject/object divide comes directly out of this: "in us" to "out there".) The reason realists are caught by Rorty's metaphor is because our words are made true by the bits of reality they are m
    eant to refer to. If a proposition does a poor job of hooking up to reality, then it is false. Another way of putting it is that Reality judges our propositions and tells us whether they are true or not. That's how they are caught. Rorty's position is that Reality cannot judge, only other people can. The placement of truth or falisity is something that occurs between two people (no doubt if Platt is reading this he will jump all over this, but I'm tired of trying to read between the lines for him).

    Two contemporary realists: John Searle and Thomas Nagel.

    The thing I consider bizarre by this latest line you've taken with me is that it would appear we have the same set of philosophical enemies. To me, your criticism reminds me of Galen Strawson's criticism of Pirsig's creation of the subject-object metaphysics. If I remember correctly, Strawson says, "[Pirsig] keeps attacking something called 'subject-object metaphysics'. But this is a straw man, a position held by no one. And since his own position is partly defined by its contrast with a straw man, it appears equally brittle and insubstantial." But as Andy points out, the appearance/reality distinction is a foundational metaphor, not really explicit in anybody, just as subject/object metaphysics is explicit in nobody (that may not be quite true, I have a couple of leads that I hope to someday ferret out). As Andy says, "it is obvious because we see it everywhere. Just as Scott and you see the mystical everywhere and wonder about the blindness others seem to have [with S
    cott's caveat in mind]." Andy and I have been convinced. It is our job to try and persuade others. I have been trying, in some cases successfully, in some cases not. As I've been saying of late, I'll keep trying if I can think of new ways to persuade, but otherwise I can only shrug. It simply isn't imperative for me to convince everybody at this forum. In fact, the line I've been taking on argumentation pretty much says that I will never convince everyone.

    DMB said:
    Let me try this another way. Let's take Descartes as an example because almost everybody is familiar with him and his most famous idea is discussed in Lila. As I understand it, this frog was famous for coming to the conclusion that the only thing he could really be sure of was his own existence. "I think, therefor I am." It has been asserted here that he is one of many who believe "that if we use the proper methodology we can get closer to the Truth, with a capital "T". Now how do we reconcile this assertion with Descartes' own claim that he could know almost nothing at all, except that exists!? These two positions are so very far away from each other that they are approximately opposite positions. And this is just one of the many reasons why this claim seems so outlandish to me.

    Okay, Descartes. Descartes is one of Rorty's central enemies in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Besides the fact that Descartes made a logical mistake (you can't jump from doubting to "Cogito, Ergo Sum," you can only get to "there is thinking"), Descartes was using his severe skepticism as a heuristic tool. He was using it to find a solid foundation on which to systematically build absolutely certain knowledge. Though in many ways he was one of the first to radically depart from the Greeks, he did carry on the Greek legacy of thinking that if we don't have absolutely certain knowledge, then we have mere opinion.

    He didn't ever actually believe that the only thing he could be certain of was his own thinking. As Andy says, "from this fundamental Truth, he used deduction to reach other fundamental Truths. Such as GOD Exists." How clean his logic was is already suspect (and is, in fact, a little fallacious), but philosophers haven't cared what Descartes said positively about existence. That was all wrecked to pieces inside of a century, and certainly by the time Kant hit the scene. The part of Descartes' argument that people bought into was that we need a method to discern Truth, be it Descartes' severe skepticism or Kant's transcendental deduction. If we can establish a method, then everything else will fall into place. Nobody has been able to agree on a method because there are no criteria for what makes a good, or rather, correct method, but that hasn't stopped philosophers from trying. Descartes tried using the idea of a "clear and distinct idea," but that never panned out t
    hough people continue to use it up to this very day. As Carl L. Becker pointed out, what's clear and distinct changes depending on your climate of opinion. Some philosophers would have it that our ideas are becoming more clear and more distinct. Pragmatists don't see it that way. They read far too much intellectual history to think that.

    DMB said:
    Let me try it this way. ... Andy's most recent attempt didn't help at all, just as he suspected. For example Rorty says, "Only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world on its own - unaided by the describing activities of human beings - cannot." I don't mean to be rude, but isn't that extremely obvious? Of course the world on its own can't be true or false. Again I would ask who ever said otherwise. I don't see how such a claim could have ever made sense. "The world is true. The world is false." These are meaningless statements, no?

    Well, the claim of realists, who I described earlier, is that our descriptions hook up to the world and the world then forces our descriptions to be either true or false. The gist of the correspondence theory of truth is that we must match our descriptions of the world with the way the world wants to be described, that we must act as a mirror and reflect nature. Rorty's point is that the world doesn't have a way it wants to be described. The world doesn't want anything. Its just there. People who like the correspondence theory of truth are people like Russell, Moore, Nagel, and Searle.

    DMB said:
    Andy pointed to Descartes' deductions as an example of it, but that seems lightyears away from any kind all-knowing judge of truth. Its only a kind of logic, not some imaginary divine entity. Like all philosophers, he may have used it to reach some particular conclusions, but is that really the same as claiming to know the absolute or final "Truth" of anything? I don't think so. The whole thing seems like a wild-eyed exaggeration at best.

    Andy said:
    Now I think you are starting to get it. From my understanding, this was exactly what Descartes was claiming. And he did have an "aim of inquiry" while conducting his proofs.

    DMB is already redescribing what Descartes thought he was doing into terms that leaves out notions of absolute Truth. Descartes himself did not claim that he was simply using one logic in many, he thought he was _the_ Logic. Descartes did have an "aim of inquiry," but it wasn't a local one like Galileo's "which ball will fall faster," his aim was at Truth. What Rorty is saying is that Descartes did substitue his method for God, just as Pirsig accused Plato of replacing the True for the Good. Rorty is saying that Descartes' method is quasi-divine. Rorty wants to continue the naturalistic train of thought started by Plato, continued by the Enlightment, and carried on by the Romantics, and end it with the pragmatists by getting rid of "God and his doubles."

    DMB said:
    think how fun it'll be when I am finally forced to admit that I'm all wrong about this.

    The thing I think funny about all this is that Scott agrees with Rorty and Davidson's attack on the mirror of nature metaphor. Scott agrees with me that there is an enemy out there that must be extirpated. The only thing you and I disagree about is the enemy's existence. The fact that I view Pirsig's SOM to be basically the same enemy as Rorty and Davidson's only adds to the hilarity. Or frustrated boredom. Either way.

    DMB said:
    You have to admit, this whole approach, to abandon metaphysics and philosophy, is quite sweeping and extraordinary. As such, it needs extraordinary evidence if we are to be expected to belief it. What you've offered so far is not even ordinary evidence. You've simply asserted it without any evidence at all. It could be that you know what you're talking about, but I suspect you're just taking Rorty's word for it all. And that, my friend, is faith and not philosophy.

    Sweeping? Maybe. Realize, though, that pragmatists aren't abandoning philosophy, just metaphysics and epistemology as they are traditionally concieved.

    Extraordinary? Maybe. Realize, though, that pragmatists have a long line of successors in this whole drop-Platonic-Greek-philosophy thing. Starting back at the beginning, Protagoras and other reviled sophists hold many positions that are easily translated into contemporary, pragmatist terms. "Man is the measure of all things." Sounds like a repudiation of the objective/subjective distinction to me and an affirmation of intersubjective agreement. If I recall, Pirsig likes that phrase, too. And besides, other branches of knowledge have had their stature cut to size before. Theology used to be extremely important. Actually, in the days of the first univerisities it was the only academic subject, everything else was a subset. University students and teachers used to count as clergy in those days.

    Taking Rorty's word for it all? Maybe. Realize, though, that I have read a bunch of philosophy, taken a few courses and all. But philosophy is a dialectic, in the Hegelian sense. You start with one position and start pounding it with other positions and you evolve your position. You don't think I've changed my opinion on a lot of things, Rortyan or otherwise, since I've started reading Rorty? Or that I've changed my opinion of Rorty since reading and talking to other people? Will I end up a Rortyan at the end of my intellectual career? Maybe. Who really knows? But you do have to start with a position. I think it is a farce to think that you can read anything transparently, without prejudice. Like Gadamer, I think the Enlightenment gave us a prejudice against prejudice. The deal is, you can't empty your head out before you use it. You have to start somewhere and you can't understand something else without understanding yourself. My own intellectual years have s
    een me go from typical, amatuer atheist to Pirsigian philosopher to Rortyan philosopher. Will I stay there? Maybe. Only time will tell. I imagine it all depends on who I read (though not entirely so).

    Evidence? I think I've used this quip before, but I'm not teaching a philosophy course this semester on the MD. And I'm not in the habit of writing detailed philosophy and intellectual history essays for the MD. I think it is perfectly acceptable to offer a few sweeping generalizations about the history of philosophy in a forum like this, as long as they are recognizable. And as far as I can tell, they are to most people. I save my detailed argumentation for essays. The forum is for general thoughts and insights. The best I can do is point you to Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, where Rorty offers a plethora of evidence from the beginning of philosophy right down to the contemporary scene.


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