RE: MD Intersubjective agreement

From: Paul Turner (
Date: Mon Aug 18 2003 - 21:03:54 BST

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

    Hi Matt

    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

    "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


    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.

    I would argue that scientists do have methods particular to their study,
    and I think it's a little asinine (you won't receive any paychecks until
    you spell it right ;-)) to say that "The only thing that distinguishes
    the scientist from other professions is subject material: physicists
    study particles, literary critics study books."

    However, I completely agree that "knowledge" arrived at from
    "non-scientific" study can be and is valuable, that is, it can have
    intellectual quality. Which brings me to this:

    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.

    It seems to me that this definition of "intersubjective agreement", on
    its own, is not enough because it fails to account for what provides the
    basis for the agreement, the "factor" which brings people to agree and
    approve of anything. If intersubjective agreement is seen as the
    approval process itself, it must be asked, what directs the process?
    What do they intersubjectively see in a theory that they agree on?

    It seems that Rorty thinks that "...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."

    To that, the MOQ adds, a "sense of intellectual quality", an aesthetic
    appreciation of an elegant theory, and that makes all the difference.
    Without the identification of Quality that leads the approval, what is
    the pragmatist left with?

    So, an MOQ slogan could be "Quality, not objectivity".

    That said, you have clarified Rorty's intention with the phrase
    "intersubjective agreement" and it brings pragmatism closer to Pirsig
    than I previously imagined. Is that your intention? Are you missing the
    priesthood? ;-)



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