Re: MD When is a metaphysics not a metaphysics?

Date: Tue Nov 18 2003 - 03:00:53 GMT

  • Next message: Richard Loggins: "Re: MD Dead is dead ?"


    Paul said:
    More questions. Please keep going, it's getting interesting :-)

    Certainly is, I find this to be a relaxing and pleasurable exchange. Thank you for that. Its quite a respite from the usual.

    Matt said:
    Fundamental causal relationships. I don't get it. The pragmatist's "general statements about fundamental causal relationships" aren't really philosophical in the way that metaphysicians want our general statements to be. They are supposed to look like facile common sense for a reason.

    Paul said:
    But here on this forum, "common sense" is the very thing we are disputing, among other things.

    Granted, but that's not really my point. I'm not saying that common sense, by virtue of being common sense, is a good thing. I think the pragmatist point is that if common sense is not causing us any difficulties, particularly conceptual difficulties, why not continue on with it. So, implied in my appeal to common sense is that, yes, I don't think there is anything wrong with regular, day-to-day reference to cause-and-effect or the use of causation by scientists. I think Pirsig more or less agrees with this,
    too. I take Pirsig's point of his redescription of causation to be that we _can_ do it if we want to, showing how we can take advantage of redescribing certain problematic sections of our web of beliefs, such as the existence of something called "substance". My justification for this particular line of common sense is my attack on representationalism and scientism. After science has been purified of its Kantian, Enlightenment pretensions, I don't think there's any
    thing wrong with it.

    Paul said:
    Using statements like "We have no problem with saying that a real tiger caused us to have a belief in the tiger" in a philosophy discussion group because it is common sense is a bit like arguing with a string theorist that "of course there are only three dimensions, that's just common sense." It just kills the process of inquiry. I suppose you would rather we just talked about politics? :-)

    That's not only funny, but hits a good mark. The caveat is that, like I said above, I'm not arguing that we should believe it _because_ its common sense, but I'm making a stand and saying that common sense, on this particular point, is good enough. Because the pragmatist does think that it would be more useful to talk about politics than the ontological status of causation (though, at least this pragmatist is _not_ suggesting that we talk about politics in this discussion group). There are certain topics in
    philosophy he thinks pretty inane, like ontology or the debate between determinism and free will. His participation in, say, philosophy discussion groups is to dissuade people from taking some subjects seriously and pointing them in other directions instead, directions he thinks far more interesting.

    Paul said:
    What if a metaphysics states that the evaluation of "handiness" that selects your assumptions is primary empirical reality?

    Matt said:
    I'd say that the metaphysics is still brokering on the appearance/reality distinction for some sort of philosophical legitimacy...

    Paul interupted:
    If value is reality and everything is either static value or Dynamic value then everything is real, thus the appearance/reality distinction disappears.

    Matt continued:
    ...and that it should just drop the notion of a "primary empirical reality," and therefore of metaphysics, so that it would no longer have what is common to both Plato and Kant.

    Paul finished:
    To what benefit? Democritus and Stephen Hawking both talk about "atoms" but this does not reduce Hawking's physics to that of Democritus.

    This raises the question of how useful the term "metaphysics" is. I've discoursed at length with Wim on this (about a year ago now), but since I have new thoughts on this (and it was so long ago), I'm actually glad it came up.

    Typically, when I read the word "metaphysics," I read "appearance/reality distinction." That's because all metaphysics, from the time Socrates did it anachronistically to the time John Searle and Thomas Nagel did it while thinking they didn't, has brokered on the appearance/reality distinction. As usually read, the word "metaphysics" is shorthand for "appearance/reality distinction." Etymologically, "metaphysics" means "beyond physics," i.e. physics is appearance and meta-physics is reality. But Wim, for
    one, wants to rehabilitate the word "metaphysics" by basically redefining it as "a systematic arrangement of your beliefs."

    I'm certainly not against redefinitions per se. But we judge by usefulness, and I have no use for it because I already have a term that refers to the same thing: vocabulary. But there's good reason to think that Pirsig uses "metaphysics" in this nonrepresentational manner. However, I also think there's good reason to think that he waffles on how he uses it and floats back to the old way.

    I haven't read the texts in a while, but here's how I'm currently disposed to reading Pirsig. First, ask these three questions:

    Is reality everything?
    Is Quality reality?
    Is Quality experience?

    Easy questions for a Pirsigian to answer, which ends with the conclusion: everything is experience. If everything is experience, doesn't that mean that "metaphysics" is part of our experience, therefore real, therefore a legitimate enterprise? Sure does, is the reply I will hear from everyone who wants to rehabilitate the word and discipline of metaphysics. Okay, so what does this metaphysics _do_? Well, it doesn't make pretensions for leaping out of experience, like evil Kantian SOMic metaphysics, it just
    organizes our experience into useful categories, categories we can use to interpret experience (thus forming a hermeneutical circle in which our use of the categories engenders revisions of the categories in an endless cycle).

    Good, so we've rehabilitated, along perfectly pragmatist lines, what metaphysics is: organization.

    So, by substitution: Metaphysics of Quality is Organization of Experience. Makes perfect sense, even semantic sense.

    What causes me to pause is Pirsig's assertion that the Metaphysics of Quality is a contradiction in terms, that the other substituted title of the MoQ is Definition of Undefined. Organization of Experience isn't a contradiction, though, so why should the MoQ be? Doesn't quite make sense to me, makes me think there's something else going on and I haven't quite puzzled it all out. I can't quite make out whether the mysticism Pirsig espouses has an appearance/reality spin and whether I should be concerned by
    Pirsig's invocation of Aristotle's "Metaphysics is First Philosophy." For pragmatists, there is no first philosophy. I can't figure out whether the MoQ-as-contradiction takes the traditional view of metaphysics from Kant (that metaphysics is supposed to get at essence (of which we now realize there is none)) and that he oscillates between that and his second view of the MoQ-as-filing-system, suitably purified of Kantian pretensions. The issue revolves around whether w
    e take "undefined" to mean "no essence". This I'm not sure of. I have a feeling it doesn't for Pirsig, though this is usually what I take it to mean. MoQ-as-contradiction might have to do with the expressibility of the essence, Quality. So, words are for expression, but they aren't up for the task of Quality. This is okay, except I have no idea why an unexpressable essence is important. Why call it an essence? Not sure yet.

    So, anyways, when I come to your use of metaphysics, I have to make a choice: which way are you using it? I chose the old, representational way because you also said, "primary empirical reality." Pragmatists like myself go, "Primary to what?" Doesn't make any sense when you drop the appearance/reality distinction, nothing's primary to anything in any interesting philosophical sense. And you follow in that line of reasoning when you say, "If value is reality and everything is either static value or Dynamic
    value then everything is real, thus the appearance/reality distinction disappears." I agree, but then why say "primary empirical reality"?

    So, aside from my bad guess, I think I'll leave it at: I don't use "metaphysics" to mean "a system of belief" or "the creation of a system of belief" because I already have words for those, "vocabulary" and "philosophy" respectively. We use words according to the communities we were brought up in, and I was taught to use those words in that manner. As an added bonus to my way, it has less chance of confusing academic philosophers who currently also interpret the word as being continuous with the projects of
    Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant. This isn't to say that I require everyone to use the words as I do. Not at all. The _only_ reason I don't simply translate the word upon reading it at this disscussion group is because I detect some people still muddling it, as when they say "primary empirical reality." So, in answer to your reframing of the thread, "When is a metaphysics not a metaphysics?" "When it simply designates a system of belief, rather than a power pl
    ay in the endless cycle of assertions of reality over appearance."

    Matt said:
    What the pragmatist does is clear away the conceptual debris that would lead us to such an absurd view. He suggests that we think of language as a tool with which to cope with things like the tiger. With this image, its no problem to think that language only hooks up with language, just as our arm only hooks up with us.

    Paul said:
    Except that I can grasp specific things with my hands, and the things I can grasp are constrained by the size of my hands. Isn't that a perfect analogy to language hooking up with specific perceptions? Also, I thought nothing constrained the use of language.

    Sure, you can hijack my analogy, but I won't follow you in it.

    Languange is open, but the contraint on it is summed up by Rorty in the balance between your collegues opinions and the stubbornness of nature. Just because language is open doesn't mean you can say any damn fool thing you want and expect people to agree with you.

    Paul said earlier:
    So you're saying that language alters perception about as much as limbs do?

    Matt said:
    That's a good question. No, the pragmatist agrees with the representationalist that our language changes the way we perceive the world. But because of the metaphor the reprsentationalist is using, he gets the idea that we can peel off our language and see the way the world really is. Instead, pragmatists insist that there is no way to peel off the human from the inhuman.

    Paul replied:
    Agreed, but "human" does not equate to "language." We are born with limbs but we are not born talking. There was a period of our lives when we had no language yet we still perceived, do pragmatists think this is permanently lost as soon as we begin to speak? This is where the immediately apprehended aesthetic reality of the orient comes in and where Dynamic Quality comes into the MOQ.

    "The human serpent coils around everything" (or whatever it was James said) is a slogan that means, no, we can't peel off language from our perceptions. Pragmatists don't think of it as "losing" anything when we acquire language, we think of it as gaining something. Pragmatists think of perception as a tool to cope with our environment and language as an amazing innovation on it. As soon as you perceive something you are thinking about it and for neo-pragmatists, thinking is thinking-in-a-language. Pirsig
    talks about a time lag, but I think that's a pretty flimsy (though supposedly empirical) way to make room for the "immediately apprehended aesthetic reality". I think Pirsig's notion of a preconceptual awareness is his biggest Kantian faux pas. So, we have this preconceptual awareness, right? So what does it do? Well, we can't know what it does, because to know something we have to talk about it and you can't introspect and meditate on it because as soon as a percep
    tion comes to mind, as soon as it registers, its already crossed into the conceptual, the linguistic. I don't know, the mystics here can rail me if they want, but I think there are better,less Kantian, ways to be a mystic than this.

    Matt said:
    The representationalist says that the language we use is like a pair of tinted glasses--what we see changes depending on what tint we use. Well, the pragmatist says the same thing, except that the metaphor becomes the language we use is like a tool we use to eat our steak--what we do changes depending on what tool we use.

    Paul said:
    Previously you wrote: "Pragmatists think that instead of thinking of language as analogized to a glass that we look through, like a tinted lens that colors and helps constitute what we see, we think of language as analogized to an arm or leg"

    But now you say you do see language as a tinted pair of glasses except we can also do the linguistic equivalent of eating steaks with it. Reversing the analogy, knives and forks don't seem to me to mediate perception; at least, to the extent that they do, I can easily put knives and forks down when I don't want them.

    Whoa, what the hell was that? That's quite a mangling of an analogy. I'm saying that the pragmatist _does_ toss in his glasses, and instead picks up his fork and knife. What I was trying to say is that both analogies agree on one issue: that depending on what kind of glasses/utensil you use, you will see/do something different. Now, your stumble ("knives and forks don't seem to me to mediate perception") punches up the fact that you are still thinking of perception (and language) on the analogy of _sight_.
    Pragmatists are dispensing with this analogy, despite our eyes importance to perception. We do this because perception is already wrapped up in language too much to pull them apart. What we say is that our use of words affects the way we deal with things. As an example, Latin and French did not have a term called "knowledge" that is analogous to what we think of now as knowledge--they only had scientia. But scientia means absolutely certain knowledge, and the only
     contrast with that was opinio, which was based entirely on authority. Descartes' entire project comes out of severe attacks on both the legitamacy of scientia _and_ opinio. It wasn't just the so-called "skeptical crisis" that had Descartes fretting, it was the fact that it appeared we couldn't rest on opinion. So, Descartes comes up with foundationalism as a counter to its dialectial opposite, the radical skeptic, thus setting up absolutely certain knowledge. But, nowadays we don't really have any
    pretentions for absolutely certain knowledge. Knowledge to us is simply justified belief. So, the question antifoundationalists ask is, "Why should we answer the skeptic, then, if he only appeared as a foil to scientia?" That's a specifically philosophical example of the way our language has changed the way we handle things.

    Paul said:
    Apologies if you've defined this before, but what is non-reductive physicalism? I thought "physicalism" was defined by being "reductive."

    Nah, not anymore. The claim of non-reductive physicalism is that we can have science's pioneering efforts in neurology, figuring out where all the neurons fit and such, but we can also have the folk psychologist's explanation of things, references to beliefs and desires rather than to brain synapses. Neither reduces to the other, they are simply two different vocabularies in which we cope with the world depending on what our purpose is.

    Paul said:
    Is it fair to say that pragmatism avoids being a metaphysics by simply referring to common sense for its basic assumptions about the world? If so, didn't the core of western common sense (substance, matter) begin with Plato and Aristotle?

    No, it avoids metaphysics by refusing to assert one vocabulary as primary to another, one vocabulary as getting the way things really are. Rorty talks about the difference between an ironist and a metaphysician by reference to their use of common sense. An ironist (which is roughly a pragmatist) sees common sense as simply our starting point, the contingent set of beliefs and desires that we've inherited. The ironist then sets out to change our common sense by finding new ways of doing things. The
    metaphysician, on the other hand, thinks that there is a correct set of beliefs and desires and that either common sense more or less gets it right or that inquiry will someday find that correct set. The difference between metaphysicians and ironists is their relation to common sense: one sees it as merely a starting point, the other as something to get right.

    ------- End of forwarded message -------

    MOQ.ORG -
    Mail Archives:
    Aug '98 - Oct '02 -
    Nov '02 Onward -
    MD Queries -

    To unsubscribe from moq_discuss follow the instructions at:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Tue Nov 18 2003 - 03:48:14 GMT