Re: MD Begging the Question, Moral Intuitions, and Answering the Nazi, Part III

From: Platt Holden (
Date: Sun Oct 19 2003 - 19:57:52 BST

  • Next message: David Buchanan: "RE: MD Begging the Question, Moral Intuitions, and Answering the Nazi, Part III"


    > I'm not concerned with political correctness crap on college campuses
    > or with Clinton's moral failings. I am concerned that you are grossly
    > misrepresenting what Rorty has said. Here's the opening of Consequences
    > of Pragmatism:
    > "The essays in this book are attempts to draw consequences from a
    > pragmatist theory about truth. This theory says that truth is not the
    > sort of thing one should expect to have a philosophically interesting
    > theory about. For pragmatists, "truth" is just the name of a property
    > which all true statements share. It is what is common to "Bacon did not
    > write Shakespeare", "It rained yesterday," "E equals mc[squared]," "Love
    > is better than hate," "_The Allegory of Painting_ was Vermeer's best
    > work," "2 plus 2 is 4," and "There are nondenumerable infinities."
    > Pragmatists doubt that there is much to be said for this common feature.
    > They doubt this for the same reason they doubt that there is much to be
    > said about the common feature shared by such morally praiseworthy
    > actions as Susan leaving her husband, America joining the war against
    > the Nazis, Roger picking up litter from the trail, and the suicide of
    > the Jews at Masada. They see certain acts as good ones to perform, under
    > the circumstances, but doubt that there is anything general and useful
    > to say about what makes them all good."
    > So clearly Rorty thinks that some statements are true, and that some
    > actions are better than others. I asked why you think that he thinks
    > that "truth doesn't exist", and you reply with:
    > > A quote from an article by Simon Blackburn entitled "Richard Rorty"
    > > answers your inquiry: (Simon Blackburn is a professor of philosophy at
    > > University of Cambridge.)
    > >
    > > "Non-philosophers who dip into his (Rorty's) writings may come away
    > > intoxicated by the scale, but also astonished by the message. How
    > > could anyone, for example, seriously hold, as Rorty has, that 'truth
    > > is what your contemporaries let you get away with,' or that 'no area
    > > of culture, and no period of history, gets Reality more right than any
    > > other.'? Is it really possible to hold that only 'old-fashioned
    > > metaphysical prigs' talk unblushingly of truth any more?"
    > So you have indirectly found a quote that does not say that "truth
    > doesn't exist" but says "truth is what your contemporaries let you get
    > away with". I don't know the context from which that quote was taken (do
    > you?), but let's consider it as given here.

    Good. I'm glad you accept the quote as a given. Here is another quote,
    this time from Roger Kimball:

    "In brief, Rorty wants a philosophy . . . which 'aims at continuing
    the conversation rather than at discovering truth.' He can manage to
    abide by 'truths' with a small t (like in your Rorty quote above) and
    in the plural: truths that we don't take to seriously and wouldn't
    dream of foisting upon others; truths in other words that are true
    merely be linguistic conventions: truths, that is to say, that are not
    true." What he cannot bear--and cannot bear to have us bear--is the
    idea of Truth that is somehow more than that."

    So permit to amend my remark about Rorty not believing truth exists to
    to his belief that "Truth (with a capital T) doesn't exist." As for
    some things being better than others, I think you'll agree that in his
    quote above, Rorty's acceptance of "morally praiseworthy actions" is
    half-hearted at best.

    > Two of the statements that Rorty considers true are mathematical. They
    > are true because they are deducible from explicit definitions and
    > axioms, that is, assumptions. One of them (that there are nondenumerable
    > infinities) uses axioms that not all philosophers of mathematics accept
    > (they do not assume that the law of the excluded middle applies to
    > infinite sets). So if contempory mathematicians _on the whole_ agreed
    > with those philosophers (currently they do not), then that statement
    > would no longer be something that is considered true.
    > My point being that even in mathematics, "what is true" can change (the
    > famous example being Euclid's fifth postulate). So what do you have in
    > mind concerning truths that have some justification beyond "what your
    > contemporaries let you get away with?" And what assumptions do you bring
    > to bear to provide that justification? That is, what is your
    > "philosophically interesting theory about truth"?
    > Now if you have one, the odds are that Rorty will not find it
    > philosophically interesting. In that case, when you and Rorty argue you
    > are mutually begging the question that that hypothetical theory of yours
    > *is* philosophically interesting. That is all that Matt is trying to
    > say.

    Regardless of what theory of truth I might have, there's no point in
    stating it because Matt, Rorty (and I presume you) you will
    automatically "not find it philosophically interesting." Fine. If
    that's all Rorty and Matt are trying to say, that's what I say too. I
    find Rorty's theory of truth (what you can get away with) not only
    philosophically uninteresting but more than that, socially dangerous.
    > > Likewise, what I find so ludicrous in Rorty's and the postmodernists'
    > > position is their determination to advance their own concepts of truth
    > > while simultaneously denying there is such a thing. They assert
    > > general truths while claiming in the same breath that general truths
    > > don't exist. Example: "We know it to be absolutely true that truth is
    > > provisional."
    > See the initial quote. Rorty does not deny that there are true
    > statements. And "Love is better than hate" sounds pretty general to me.
    > So this claim of yours that Rorty denies that he has a concept of truth
    > is simply false, and so your accusation of illogicality is bogus.

    Refer to the difference between truth and Truth. Rorty denies he has a
    concept of Truth.

    > Apparently you think that if one does not have a philosophically
    > interesting theory of truth, then one must think that the word "true"
    > has no meaning. Since the vast majority of people have no interest in
    > philosophy at all, yet all use the word 'true', it should be obvious
    > that one does not need such a theory.
    Agree. People don't need a theory of truth any more than they need a
    theory of value. Just as they have a sense of value, they have a sense
    of truth.

    > > I consider Rorty and his fellow travelers dangerous to a free society
    > > because without confidence in the concept of truth (and it's
    > > companion, logic), the public is disarmed against lies. ("I did not
    > > have sex with that woman . . ." is still being defended by many as a
    > > statement of fact.)
    > Are you also one who blames Nietzsche for the Nazis? What -- in Rorty,
    > not in his "fellow travellers" -- do you find illogical?

    His denial of Truth.

    > > Rorty wants to rid society of the idea of objective truth independent
    > > of our wishes and whims, substituting the idea of communal
    > > justification for belief, i.e., if everybody (defined as the power
    > > elite in charge at the moment) says diversity is good, then it must be
    > > true that diversity is good.
    > Here you are rhetorically twisting what Rorty says ("Wishes and whims",
    > for example). Rorty's position is not "think whatever you like to be
    > true", but that he doubts that one can find some method for deciding in
    > all cases what is true. So does Pirsig, with respect to finding in all
    > cases what is moral. If everybody says diversity is good, then Rorty's
    > conclusion from that is that everybody says diversity is good, not that
    > it is good in some absolute sense. If everybody finds diversity is bad,
    > then everybody finds diversity is bad. Many people now find diversity is
    > good. Many people now find diversity is bad. Do you have access to God's
    > opinion on the matter? If not, what is your method for determining
    > whether it is good or bad -- and what assumptions to you bring to bear
    > to make that determination? Can you distinguish between those (like
    > Rorty) who say diversity is good in that we can learn from other
    > cultures, and hence increase the dynamic in our lives, versus those
    > (unlike Rorty) who say that all cultures are equally good?

    Does Rorty offer any evidence that we can "increase the dynamic in our
    lives" (whatever that means) by what we can learn from other cultures?

    > On the "power elite" business. The same people who speak political
    > correctness were by and large against the war in Iraq. They were unable
    > to stop the war. So how powerful are they?

    Not as powerful as they'd like to be. To you deny they seek political

    > > Naturally the individual voice that's
    > > raised against such "conventional wisdom" is pilloried.
    > As it always has been. Used to be the individual who disagreed with
    > conventional wisdom was burned at the stake, in part because the
    > "conventional wisdom" was not thought to be such, but thought to be the
    > word of God. Do you find that preferable?

    Is that a serious question?

    > It's no mystery
    > > why college campuses today have strict, politically correct speech
    > > codes. It's the predictable consequence of Rorty's "intersubjective
    > > agreement" which is a simply a not-so-subtle disguise for raw, power
    > > politics.
    > A slippery-slope argument. Having strict, politically correct speech
    > codes is a form of censorship. Rorty is against censorship. You are
    > blaming Rorty for something that he is against.

    If he is against speech codes on campus I stand corrected. Have you a
    quote on that? Is he leading the charge to eliminate such speech codes?
    (I thought you weren't concerned with political correctness "crap.")

    > > To put it simply, Rorty's views are abhorrent to anyone who puts a
    > > high premium on intellectual freedom and integrity.
    > That is your opinion, it is not mine. In fact, I see Rorty as one who
    > puts a high premium on intellectual freedom and integrity, while what I
    > see in your comments is
    > a) a case of mistaking the ideas of supposed "fellow travellers" for
    > those of Rorty, and b) distorting Rorty's views to make spurious claims
    > of illogicality.
    Fine. Life would be awfully dull if we agreed on everything. You have
    your views, I have mine. But let's both fight to make certain we are
    always free to express them, no matter how dumb, spurious, distorting
    or illogical we may consider the other's views to be. Can we at least
    agree on that?

    > Do you know of some absolute standard by which one can determine whose
    > opinion is closer to the truth?

    My standards are the same as Pirsig's:

    "The tests of truth are logical consistency, agreement with experience,
    and economy of explanation."

    The absolute arbiter of those tests is me.

    What are your tests of truth?


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