Re: MD A metaphysics

Date: Thu Aug 21 2003 - 22:20:51 BST

  • Next message: MATTHEW PAUL KUNDERT: "Re: MD A metaphysics"


    Scott said:
    What do you make of my claim (no, that's too strong -- call it an experiment in dogmatics) that my dogmata are "better" because they are not understandable? (Example of a non-understandable dogma: form is not other than emptiness, emptiness not other than form.) This notion of mine derives from pragmatism, and also Nietzsche's saying: "It is not a question of having the courage of one's convictions, but of having the courage to *attack* one's convictions." Now I don't think one can actually go that far, at least not all the time, but having non-understandable dogmata seems to me like a possible middle ground. It means that one cannot settle down with them, but can only deal with them in a questioning manner, which leads to self-deconstruction. They can only be approached with the logic of contradictory identity, so one is ceaselessly kept off balance, and one's Imagination (in Coleridge's sense) is exercised.

    I think of this claim in terms of Rorty's use of Davidson's literal/metaphorical division. When something isn't understandable, like "form is not other than emptiness, emptiness not other than form," (which, you're right, makes no immediate sense to me) that means that we don't have an established language game in which it is housed. It is a metaphor, an unintelligible string of marks. However, as we keep using that string of marks it we will eventually create a language game in which to house it and it will become intelligible, it will become literal, a dead metaphor. That's intellectual progress.

    But, just because we say something unintelligible doesn't mean we are saying something that will eventually become literal. The change from metaphor to dead metaphor is a sign of that series of marks' perceived usefulness. If a series of marks never becomes inscribed into a language game, then I'm not sure how useful we should think that series of marks, at least in a wide global sense (for individuals, that's another story). Your proposal is that we always keep things unintelligible, that we keep our final vocabulary from being understandable. I think this is like saying that we should always be shooting in the dark, without ever trying to literalize anything.

    Or, I don't know. The way I'm interpreting this is clearly a consequence of Davidson's thorough-going naturalistic account of language. But I'm not sure what to say about how _good_ it is. The "strong poet," the person who wants to create her own language, creates metaphors, unintelligible strings of marks, that will only make sense of her own life. But her strings of marks are only unintelligible to other people. To her, they at least make partial sense, though probably in a very unexpressible kind of way (that's why she creates a new language, because the old one can't express the way she feels or senses things). What I think you are suggesting is that we not even understand ourselves.

    That doesn't make sense to me. And then you go on to say, "It means that one cannot settle down with [their dogmata], but can only deal with them in a questioning manner," which seems to me a pretty close description of the ironist. What I can't piece together is how the ironist fits with "not understanding your dogmata." The ironist understands her dogmata, she just doesn't think it gets anything Right about the universe, so she's always looking for better dogmata. I don't think self-deconstructing dogmata really means or does anything. What matters for the ironist is finding an alternative to her dogmata, not simply deconstructing her own dogmata. Deconstruction doesn't lead to alternatives, it simply plays on internal inconsistencies. The first two thirds of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature was a deconstruction of (primarily) analytic philosophy. If that had been all that was in PMN, it wouldn't have been nearly as controversial as it was. Those parts of PMN w
    ere basically just recapitulations of deconstructions done by Quine and Sellars (well, of course there was a lot more, but Rorty himself admits the great intellectual debt to Quine and Sellars and that the main deconstruction of analytic philosophy was from Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" and Sellar's "Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind"). What was controversial was the alternative to the mirror metaphor that Rorty offered (a conversation metaphor) and the consequences he drew from it. Most of Rorty's post-PMN writings have revolved around describing his alternative and relieving the tension between his alternative and already established linguistic practices.

    I've never been sure what to make of this "logic of contradictory identity." I'm not sure what it is or what it does. I think of contradictions the way Aquinas did: when you meet a contradiction, make a distinction. The moral is that if you meet two propositions that seem mutually exclusive, contradictory, but that both would appear to be true, you should make a distinction in your central terms to ease the tension between the two propositions. This is making your web of beliefs and desires coherent. Without this coherence, I think a person would tend to get a headache if they reflected on their beliefs as a whole and I'm not sure the headache is better than not having the headache.

    So, I don't know. The way I understand a person's "dogmata," those words in the person's final vocabulary, is that they are very thin and unexplainable in non-circular terms. They are understandable, but the only response a Shklarian liberal can give when an interlocuter asks, "But why should we minimize cruelty?" is an incredulous look and a definitive "Because. That's what we do around here." Unexplainable, but understandable.

    Scott said:
    I have no experience of God (N.b., I am just using "God" as an example). Talking about it with others is no substitute.

    There is, clearly, a difference between talking about God and believing in God. I think that difference can be summed up by the difference between serious and playful. The atheist, who would for all other intents and purposes rather not talk about God, talks about God in a playful, "for the sake of argument" kind of way, whereas the theist takes the conversation seriously because his identity is bound up in that conversation (unless he can convince himself, becaue the atheist isn't taking this particular conversation seriously, to he himself not take this particular conversation seriously). I think the same can be said for other people who take things very seriously, like sports. If your identity is bound up tightly in a particular conversation, then you will take it very seriously and, possibly, be offended if others poke fun at it or think that that particular conversation is optional. For you, the conversation isn't optional, and shouldn't be for anyone. Again, I th
    ink this is a attitudinal difference about conversations, not a difference in kind of conversations.

    Scott said:
    what I hear the materialist saying is that if science can't explain it, then it is not explained (and more radically: it isn't happening)

    But that is certainly not what Rorty is saying.

    Scott said:
    one reason I keep recommending Barfield's "Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry" is that he sheds a lot of light on why the scientific revolution and the materialism that followed happened when it did, why it did, and what's wrong with it (the science is not what's wrong, it is the idolatry -- belief on an independently existing objective reality).

    I'm not sure if I had mentioned it, but I did pick up Barfield at a used bookstore and I'm hoping to get a chance to read it soon (its so small, it should take long). I should simply mention that Rorty is after the same idolatry, what you can call "scientism." The first three essays in Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth are attacks on this idol, more of Rorty's efforts to get rid of God and his doubles.


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