Re: MD Rorty and Darwin

Date: Mon Aug 18 2003 - 21:40:51 BST

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    Andy said:
    Recently I read "Three Roads to Quantum Gravity." A fascinating book and the characters in the book are real modern physicists. Well, I think they are making very amazing discoveries--oops, developing very useful theories. I think they believe in the existence of sub-atomic particles. They even give these little buggers personalities. Well, according to Rorty--and I agree with him--, quantum physics and related fields is a useful theory, but we can't be sure of the existence of sub-atomic particles because they are only properties of our language. We created them to explain phenomenon. The fact that they explain phenomenon very well is not proof of their existence.

    It took me a long time to get what Rorty would say here, but I think I'm beginning to grasp it (I don't have the texts in front, so I can't grab any passages). Rorty is not saying that "we can't be sure of the existence of sub-atomic particles." Language is not simply a heuristic device. That would leave the skeptic a hole within to crawl and burrow around. It would also get us accused of idealism, which pragmatists are not. The point is that language is completely tied up with the way we experience things. We can't untie them. Particles do exist, tables do exist, man-eating tigers do exist (Yeah, yeah. I've been using "tigers" a lot lately. But the Society for Better Examples isn't paying me anything. So, until they start coughing up the cash, I'm all about the man-eating tigers.), and, for some people, God does exist. For some philosophers, the Truth is "out there". As long as we talk in a certain way, these things will exist. Rorty's point is that these ways
    of speaking are all optional. Further, Rorty wants to suggest that some of these ways of speaking (in particular, speaking as if Truth is "out there") are bogging us down, and that it would be best to jettison them.

    The fact that all of these things do exist still, however, doesn't mean we are discovering anything about them. It still means we are coping with them. And though it might be that for scientists and mathmaticians of the past it was very important that they think they were discovering very fundamental things about Nature and Reality, Rorty is betting that, in the future, we can get over that. He's betting that nothing in the actual activity of science will actually change, just as nothing in the actual acitivity of poetry or politics will actually change. Poets can still talk about love eternal. It was always a metaphor before, so it will continue to be one.

    Andy said:
    Where will the great humanist, philosophers, theologins, poets and artists in the future find there inspiration if they don't believe-and I mean really believe-that there is a real way for humans to live and it is their responsibility to discover. I know Rorty says they will have to look to their fellow humans, intersubjective agreement, and so forth. I am just not convinced that this is inspirational enough.

    Granted, you aren't convinced. But take the greatest writer of all time, Shakespeare. Shakespeare, first and foremost, wrote about people. He was the greatest. He didn't have an underlying theory about humanity. He just wrote about the complexities of life as no one had before. Harold Bloom makes a good case for all of our tropes and thoughts about how humans behave are based on Shakespeare, that he created the modern person.


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