Re: MD A metaphysics

From: Scott R (
Date: Sun Aug 24 2003 - 04:10:36 BST

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    Well, I haven't seen how Davidson uses 'metaphor', but I don't think it is
    one, and I don't think it fits on either side of a literal/metaphorical
    division. In any case, "Emptiness is not other..." comes from the Heart
    Sutra, so it actually has been a part of a community for about 2000 years (a
    subset of Buddhist philosopher/practitioners). If it ever did become
    intelligible, it would lose its usefulness.

    So, you may be asking, how does that community find it useful. Aside from
    practice (meditating on it), it also is a vital piece of a philosophical
    approach that is neither Philosophy nor philosophy, as Rorty defines them in
    the intro to "Consequences of Pragmatism". Being neither, of course it will
    not be attractive to either camp. Nevertheless, I figure it is worth laying
    it out, since, though Rorty would probably see it as Philosophy, none of his
    pragmatic objections apply to it, though his secular ones would.

    The (subset of) Buddhist philosophy holds that there are two truths, the
    conventional and the absolute. The conventional defnition of truth is
    identical to the pragmatic one, as the name implies. It's all language
    games, or narratives, or however you want to put it. However, what one
    cannot do at the conventional level is say anything that corresponds to the
    reality of the absolute level, except note its existence (with 'existence'
    X-ed out, or as the Buddhist tetralemma puts it "One cannot say it exists,
    it doesn't exist, it both exists and doesn't exist, it neither exists nor
    doesn't exist"). But, of course, as Rorty puts it, there is a lot of effing
    of the ineffable. The trick is to restrict this effing to statements using
    the logic of contradictory identity. Because they speak of
    self-contradictory identity, they lose their ability to correspond with
    anything. In fact, one can't build a coherent truth out of them either.

    The phrase "The logic of contradictory identity" comes, as I've mentioned,
    from Nishida Kitaro, but I think it is the same as Coleridge's Law of
    Polarity, and of Derrida's differance (though he probably wouldn't approve
    of this use of it). It is also present, though not perhaps as starkly, in
    the Western tradition of negative theology (Pseudo-Dionysius, Scotus
    Erigena, Nicholas of Cusa, others). (Where Hegel fits I'm not sure.) And, as
    I see it, it is the only way to "discuss" the relation between DQ and SQ
    without reifying them. There's more than a tension between them. There is
    contradictory identity.

    Lastly, I'll remark that it is also the only way, in my opinion, to approach
    awareness, which is what my argument that you don't see the problem in is
    getting at. Another version of it is that we are aware of time as successive
    (events following each other) and as durational (something enduring). The
    (strict spatio-temporal) materialist viewpoint can only encompass the
    successive, and can only wave its arms at the durational (or more likely,
    ignore it). Yet without the durational one cannot be aware of the
    successive, and without the successive one cannot be aware of the
    durational. Anyway, my conclusion is that to relate duration and succession
    requires the logic of contradictory identity: though they are opposites,
    they require each other and constitute each other.

    - Scott

    ----- Original Message -----

    > 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.
    > Matt:
    > 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
    > 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.
    > Matt:
    > 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)
    > Matt:
    > 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).
    > Matt:
    > 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.
    > Matt

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