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Philosophy Book Club

Eric B.
ejbman
Denver, CO
Post #: 663
I don't think Dennett has moved a millimeter from the assorted materialisms of the 1940s.

Not sure if this is true, but if it were, why would this be a problem?

The basic reason for this is that he doesn't even try. That is, he doesn't clearly see where the problem lies.


I'm not sure you have enlightened us here - where exactly do you think the problem lies?

In the end, his strategy has consisted mainly of trying to find plausible alternative translations for terminology that is enmeshed in intentionality. And, in the end, that strategy hasn't worked, because intentionality isn't essentially verbal/terminological.

You assert this, but you do not show it is true. Also, you are locked into the error of essentialism - you seem to think that there is, at base, some sort of essence we can approximate to a greater or lesser degree. I challenge you to discover that essence scientifically. Since I already know that you cannot, it can ONLY BE verbal/terminological.

It is, rather, a brute empirical reality.

Then show me the 'intention' particles. You cannot. It is not brute empirical reality, it is pure metaphor!

(The closest I've seen him come to admitting that is when he confesses that he can't explain away the redness of red. The truth is, he's never explained away any aspect of intentionality; and that means his project has, predictably, failed.)

You keep asserting this without showing it. As a matter of fact, he pointed out that the redness of red is utterly irrelevant. The only thing we need to care about is whether we can functionally distinguish between red and green. If your red is my green and my green is your red ... so what? If we both stop at stop signs and wax on about the blood-like shade of the sunset (all of your green associations will be the same as my red ones) then it becomes pointless to care about the difference.

The root cause of his failure is due to the poverty of his ontology, and his acceptance of a model of causation that is exclusively "bottom up". But individual neurons aren't conscious.

And individual water molecules are not a tsuami wave. I think you have an overweening glut in your ontology, because you have filled it with metaphors that you think are objects. Individuals neurons participate in consciousness, just like individual water molecules participate in being a tsunami wave. Or to put another way, individual electrons are not Microsoft Word, but individual electrons participate in being Microsoft Word. Bottom up is all we have.

We might say that their individual consciousness is equal to zero. And, as we all know, we can keep adding zeroes together forever without ever getting to one.

The value of an individual computer bit might be equal to zero, but that makes all the difference when it sits next to a one. It is the (functional) relationship between the bits that constitutes Microsoft Word, and it is the (functional) relationship between neurons that constitutes consciousness.

Dennett's strategy amounts to denying that one exists.


Nope. You've mischaracterized and misunderstood it.

To move beyond this absurdity, we have to think about how the whole can greater than the sum of the parts -- or perhaps how the parts can be something other than what we think they are.

We already know this - we have micro- and macro-structures galore. As mentioned, we have waves and we have software. Those are the only comparable models we need.

We've supposedly been building conscious machines for a long time now.

Really? Where? I mean, considering that consciousness is a matter of degree and not kind (if it is anything at all), then I suppose it could be true.

However, to date, these efforts have failed. I think they're likely to continue to fail for the foreseeable future.


You say this so blithely but I'm not sure how you can. How would you measure the 'success' of 'consciousness'?

I suspect that's partly because consciousness has an electrochemical substrate, not merely an electrical one. If we ever were to build an electrochemical brain of some sort on a purely empirical basis that simply replicated what we find in nature, we'd find that it had emergent properties that Dennett's project wouldn't tell us anything about.

Interesting speculation, but I'm not sure it has any useful application to the present discussion. If you look at the video I posted, you can see that we already know all the inputs and outputs of neurons, and we can reproduce them electronically. Once we get enough of them going, there's no reason why we can't run Person 2.0 on it. No wetware needed.

We need to rethink/enrich our basic ontological/causational concepts before we can make any headway in philosophy of mind. (Including out thinking concerning issues of free will -- where we are again crippled by primitive ontology and models of causation that are exclusively bottom-up.)

Again you make these baseless assertions. I think it might behoove you to dessicate your ontology of some of its wet gloopiness and its extra-strength metaphors posing as empirical objects! You this claim that 'bottom-up' is somehow a faulty way to look at things, but fail to provide a better alternative besides trying to force metaphors into empirical existence like Pinnochio trying to become a real boy. Wishing harder just isn't going to make it happen - but you have to realize that this is exactly what religious people do!
A former member
Post #: 40
Eric:

There are big and controversial issues here that are resistant to treatment in a forum of this nature (and I am therefore reluctant to undertake a response here -- not unique to you, as I was also reluctant to respond to our other correspondent as well -- but, as was the case with him, it wouldn't be fair to come this far and just shut everything down). I'll take a stab at it as opportunity permits.

I'll just say briefly, for now, that there are no baseless assertions here -- merely assertions that I haven't supplied the basis for, as it would take significant time and effort to do so.

There is no wet gloopiness here, nor are there metaphors posing as empirical objects, nor is there any wishing at all. If you'd like to get a head start on all of this, you can read the wikipedia entry on "emergentism" (most of which I wrote).

Best,
Ken
Eric B.
ejbman
Denver, CO
Post #: 664
Eric:

There are big and controversial issues here that are resistant to treatment in a forum of this nature (and I am therefore reluctant to undertake a response here -- not unique to you, as I was also reluctant to respond to our other correspondent as well -- but, as was the case with him, it wouldn't be fair to come this far and just shut everything down). I'll take a stab at it as opportunity permits.

I'll just say briefly, for now, that there are no baseless assertions here -- merely assertions that I haven't supplied the basis for, as it would take significant time and effort to do so.

There is no wet gloopiness here, nor are there metaphors posing as empirical objects, nor is there any wishing at all. If you'd like to get a head start on all of this, you can read the wikipedia entry on "emergentism" (most of which I wrote).

Best,
Ken

Ken,

I accept that we all have limited time and energy to discuss things in this forum. Do your best...

Meanwhile, I'm curious if you can highlight the basic differences between "emergentism" and "magic".

I note that both of them are claimed to be "fundamentally inexplicable", responsible for enormous amounts of work that nobody wants to explain any other way, must assume a metaphysics that cannot be actually demonstrated, and are utterly unfalsifiable (thereby failing the 'empiricism' test).

I don't deny that certain properties 'emerge', but I explain their 'emergence' in terms of their sudden usefulness for us to notice - not some fundamentally new metaphysical or empirical (ontological) property.

It's like defining a chair. What can be a chair? It depends entirely on the context and motives. A thimble, scaled properly, can be a chair, or a bucket, or shot glass, or a nose cone, or a fuse, or ... a thimble. Are these other uses 'emergent' properties of the thimble? They would fit entirely into the definition of 'emergentism', which means that emergentism is meaningless...

To wit: The property "to be used as a chair" of composite object "thimble" is emergent if it is metaphysically possible for another thimble to lack the property of being used as a chair, even if that thimble is composed of parts with intrinsic properties identical to those in another thimble, and has those parts in identical configuration.

So what?

-Eric

A former member
Post #: 41
Hi Ken!

Hi yourself, Eric.

I wish you could have been part of our discussion last night.

I do as well. My wife has some serious health issues, and these tend to control my spare time.

You would have gotten a lot out of it, I think.


It's hard not to get at least a little something out of any well-intended discussion of philosophy.

I recommend reading Rorty's work.

Thank you. I know that you think well of him, but I can't share your appreciation. I've read a bit of his work, and found him symptomatic, and indeed causative, of what I view as the decline in contemporary philosophy. Should you be interested, Rorty's view are subjected to devastating cross-examination in "The Philosophy of Brand Blanshard'. His primary mentor, John Dewey, and Pragmatism more generally, are subjected to similar searching criticism in Blanshard's "Nature of Thought". I would judge Pragmatism to be irretrievably comatose conceptually, if not quite yet in academia.

I believe a strong case could be made that Rorty was actually an English major who happened to like to read philosophers more than, say, Hemingway.

I've got some responses to your points. I've got some disagreements with your perspective (some of which are newly informed by Rorty).

Or, perhaps, newly misinformed. :-) (Sorry.) One must be on one's guard against these seductive fellows. Professional philosophers tend to have, in common with criminal lawyers, a gift for making the outlandish seem plausible.

In any case, you quote me as saying:

So atheism is only a sort of starting point, if one difficult enough of achievement in itself, for the reasons of profound disorientation that Smith rightly notes.

Again, it falls to Humanistic philosophers to effect the synthesis; more specifically, to offer Humanism as an alternative way of life, complete with its own set of values. To provide a substitute for religion -- or perhaps, rather, its true fruition. To fulfill the moral and emotional needs of man; and to provide a morality, and positive values.

To fulfill a program of that nature, three specific things are needed: 1) a morality; 2) a theory of life purpose; and, 3) an ideal of human character in which these find their proper place.

And you go on to comment:

The problem I have with this perspective is that it is still significantly locked into the framework of the past.

Another perspective would be that Rorty's is the framework of the past. He is indebted primarily to Dewey, who in turn was indebted to the pre-Socratic Protagoras, and that's about as far back as one can go in the canon of Western philosophy before one starts encountering Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons.

More seriously, I don't regard "oldness" (or "newness") as having any bearing on a given philosophical position. I'm much more interested in knowing whether a given viewpoint is coherent or not.

Your vision of what happened in the 20th century seems to describe a confusion, and you suggest that it requires synthesis.

Well, I think the 20th century turned in very mixed results. We had a few of the best-ever, say, Husserl and Blanshard. But then we also had some of the worst-ever (or perhaps simply mis-employed English majors) such as Rorty and Derrida.

I deny this entirely. I think that what happened instead was a blossoming of diversity, finally achieved - whereas prior to that, institutional value systems attempted to impose a unified view. This blossoming of diversity is desirable, and any synthesis would represent a retreat.

Yes, I hear Rorty's case here. I don't think it's a very good one. Let's begin with diversity.

Diversity can be, and often is, a good thing, particularly in the case of cultural diversity. (I don't plan to give up my sushi, and I'm married to a Chinese woman.) In philosophy, however, diversity, in itself, and purely for its own sake, is of little value. In the main, philosophy, and philosophers, have aspired for more than 2,000 years to veritas . The term "philosophy" itself means something like "love of wisdom" -- not "love of diversity". (Even for English majors, I think, "diversity" isn't the proper objective.)

If we look aside at the other two primary divisions of rationalism, mathematics and science, we can see how irrelevant diversity really is to their mission statement: we don't study math to increase our appreciation of diversity, we study it to improve our understanding of the quantitative. We don't study science for the sake of encountering diverse views, we study it to learn something of the nature of the physical universe. Similarly, we don't (properly) study philosophy primarily to become aware of wide divergences of opinion. Most of us go to that particular well to acquire a broad understanding of life and our place in the universe.

Atheism is just one tiny beachhead, one tiny example of where you can go when you explode the old order.

The old (there's that word again) order of theism isn't the same thing as the order of, say, Aristotle and Spinoza. Well, I'm out of time and room. More later.
A former member
Post #: 42
Okay, a few more minutes available, Eric. Onward and upward.

You commented:


The problem I have with this perspective is that it is still significantly locked into the framework of the past. Your vision of what happened in the 20th century seems to describe a confusion, and you suggest that it requires synthesis. I deny this entirely. I think that what happened instead was a blossoming of diversity, finally achieved - whereas prior to that, institutional value systems attempted to impose a unified view. This blossoming of diversity is desirable, and any synthesis would represent a retreat.

I noted earlier that the primary objectives of the three primary branches of rationalism, mathematics, science, and philosophy, have never been diversity, and rightly so. Rather, mathematicians have sought mathematical truth, scientists have sought scientific truth, and philosophers have sought philosophical truth. All that's left if we throw these out the window are ignorance and/or error.

In addition to the foregoing, I think Rorty tilts at a straw man when he lashes out at "institutional value systems". These can indeed be dangerous in police states like Mao's China, or Stalin's Russia -- but these are the polar opposite of states where rationalism has most flourished. It is, indeed, rationalism that provides the primary bulkhead that insulates us from institutional value systems. It's no accident that Hitler persecuted Husserl (and replaced him with Heidegger, who was of much the same mind as Rorty).

Rorty wrote in the US, where the only institutional value systems in sight were those of Christianity. In philosophy, by contrast, diversity has usually been alive and well (excepting, say, Salem, Massachusetts and the McCarthy era -- both the polar opposite of what rationalists would call for); and it has also been alive and well in France, where the likes of Derrida and Lyotard were given a respectful (perhaps far too respectful) hearing.

Okay, well enough of that. Continuing now with atheism and rationalism:

Atheism is just one tiny beachhead, one tiny example of where you can go when you explode the old order.

I noted previously that the "old" order of theism isn't the principal order that Rorty spent his career attacking. So just who, then, did Rorty attack? In science he disliked anyone who claimed that we can distinguish between scientific fact and fiction. In mathematics he hated anyone who held that 2+2=4, now and forever. In philosophy he hated the rationalists, who have had the temerity to maintain that it makes sense to speak of positive knowledge, and consequently of truth and falsehood. He never met a metaphysician he could like: he must have been full of horror at the notion of physical reality. In short, Rorty stood for a bright, pink play-doh sort of view of things. Comforting, perhaps. Foolish? It simply doesn't get more foolish than that. I'm afraid that reality is what reality is.

Moving along . . . .

It's a great example of the effectiveness of the universal antibody for overweening ideologies: skepticism. No matter what synthesis is attempted now or in the future, it will always be dissolved into a blossoming of diversity by skepticism.

Probably not.

Atheism was given its first great impetus during the Enlightenment (particularly in France), which was saturated with -- well -- rationalism. All atheists maintain the truth of atheism; and few, if any, are tolerant of diversity of theological opinion. The upshot of this is that no atheist can afford to be seen within a thousand miles of Rorty: after all, atheists want to maintain that atheism is true and that theism is false, and Rorty simply won't stand for that.

What blossoms with unadulterated skepticism is the death of truth (including the truth of atheism), together with massive confusion, disorientation, endless and futile bickering, and intellectual and cultural decay, as skepticism offers no positive or constructive doctrine of any sort whatsoever, only a universal sniff (and typically a sniff of superiority, at that). Whence the value of skepticism? The skeptic is embarrassed to have to admit that he can't say: skepticism itself, after all, being the very essence of an overweening ideology.

Okay, out of time and space again.

Best,
ken
A former member
Post #: 43
And a little more.

You point out that:

Rorty [says] that we should abandon our addiction to Platonic essences. In Platonism, Christian neo-Platonism and other traditions, we have had this notion that 'The Truth' is something outside of us which can be discovered. The tradition of European Romantics, like Nietzsche, simply inverted this notion, and decided that 'The Truth' came, somehow, from inside our deepest selves. However, both of these views divinize different things, and rely on the idea that there are essences which we can approximate to a better or worse degree.

Here comes the bright, pink play-doh.

There aren't a lot of folks around advocating for Platonism or Christian neo-Platonism anymore. So if all that Rorty was attacking here were those schools of thought, he was definitely altogether too wound up. Those weren't his real targets, I think: he comes closer to the truth when he speaks of the sort of truth that concerns things outside of us that can be discovered. Here, what he's really attacking is "foundationalism" -- the notion that our understanding of ourselves and the universe can be to a reasonable degree objective.

So, again, I think it inaccurate to say that much of anyone is addicted to Platonic essences, except, perhaps, in the discipline of mathematics, where that concept isn't too much worse than anything else put forward so far.

What we of the rationalistic order have suggested as an ideal is truth founded on observation and logic. The father figure of rationalistic science is Galileo -- who wasn't much enamored of Plato (nor was Bacon, nor was Newton). His great contribution was the insistence that if we want to know something about the nature of physical reality, we do well to go and have a careful look at it. And if we all go and look at it and see pretty much the same thing, well, then, we've secured a bit of truth concerning something outside of ourselves.

So, again, no Platonic essences. Is there any divination there? If so, I don't see it. Are we looking for the truth in our deepest selves? Again, this seems misconstrued to me.

So the two characterizations of rationalism here that I think are at all accurate are:

1) The notion of successive approximation -- except that that approximation is to the truth. And, of course,
2) The idea that rationalists do want to know something about the universe external to themselves, for which I offer no apology.

This notion is bankrupt, and has been disproved repeatedly, not only by philosophy but also science. Goedel's Incompleteness Theorem is a great example of this, as is the work of Kuhn on scientific paradigm shifts.

Let's start by noting that Godel wasn't interested in Platonic essences, nor was Kuhn. So we can't invoke either of them in an attack upon essences -- what they did have something to do with was "foundationalism."

Well, "this notion" that Rorty alludes to supplies the foundation of modern science, that of modern mathematics, and that of the sort of philosophy that aspires to see things "steadily and whole." So to claim that it is bankrupt is a very large and implausible claim indeed. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it's both dismaying and embarrassing. Or perhaps the word I'm really groping for here is "ridiculous." Or maybe "outrageous."

But before we can really substantiate the use of those words, we should take a closer look.

What about Godel's two theorems? Well, in general, they stand in about the same relationship to many gaseous philosophical claims that quantum theory does. That is, Godel was indeed up to something important, but what exactly that was is very, very poorly understood by the public at large, and rash generalizations supposedly anchored in it accordingly abound.

Broadly speaking, Godel was concerned with trying to determine what sort of foundations mathematics ought to have. Once sort of claim about those foundations was that a set of axioms could (eventually) be found that would underlie all of mathematics.

The very first thing to notice about this is that we are concerned here with a problem in the foundation of mathematics that has nothing whatsoever to do with science or with philosophy. We will therefore want to be very, very careful about generalizing from anything Godel had to say to much of anything else. And, here I must add, even most mathematicians aren't very conversant with this particular area of study, so that it is rather difficult to assess the implications of what Godel had to say even within mathematics itself.

What we can confidently say, though, is that Godel didn't wake up one day and prove that 2+2 doesn't equal 4. More generally, nothing at all in the mathematics with which the average individual, or even the average mathematician, is familiar was touched at all by Godel. Differential and integral equations remain as valuable, and as descriptive, in physics as ever they were.

Are Godel's insights secure even within mathematics? Many think so. Yet the very first problem that we encounter with Godel (and with the issue of the grounding of mathematics in general) is that we don't yet know what would constitute "all of mathematics".

We also lack a good characterization of mathematics: what sort of thing is it, really? What does, say, arithmetic have to do with, topology?

So perhaps we should begin by being at least a bit suspicious about any answer to a question that is vague at the very outset. When our questions are vague we're apt to offer vague answers.

More later.

Best,
Ken
A former member
Post #: 44
So we've been discussing Rorty, and his epistemological relativism. And he cites Godel (a mathematician) and Kuhn (trained as a physicist, but best known as an historian of science) in his defense.

My contention is that he might as well have hidden behind a bush, as neither will carry any water for him (or anyone else) when it comes to epistemological relativism.

As you summarize Rorty (on Godel and Kuhn), but alluding to two forms of Platonism (of all things):

However, both of these views divinize different things, and rely on the idea that there are essences which we can approximate to a better or worse degree. This notion is bankrupt, and has been disproved repeatedly, not only by philosophy but also science. Goedel's Incompleteness Theorem is a great example of this, as is the work of Kuhn on scientific paradigm shifts.

The general nature of the deficiency of these two thinkers in this context is that neither Godel or Kuhn knew anything about epistemology.

More specifically, with respect to Godel, his two "incompleteness" theorems are situated in a sort of philosophical no-man's land.

Russell and Whitehead had argued (in Principia Mathematica) for the view that all of mathematics can be reduced to logic. A big part of their attempt had to do with trying to reduce numbers to sets. Godel then showed, essentially, that if (and only if) we accept that mathematics has nothing to do with quantity (and is only about logic, and, perhaps, pattern), then there are problems with the idea that we can boil mathematics down into a handful of axioms.

I think we should resist the notion that mathematics has nothing to do with quantity (and is instead concerned only with pattern and logic). I would argue, instead, is that while math is related to logic, there is nevertheless a related discipline that has mainly to do with pattern that is rather different from mathematics.

If that's right, then Godel dies on the vine. I can't go much deeper than this high-level presentation here. (I'm not even sure anybody is reading this thread.)

Again, the bottom line here is that nothing that Godel had to say invalidates the mathematics that most people are familiar with.

What about Kuhn?

Well, his thinking is strangely gassy for someone who has been widely influential. It's true, of course, that there have been scientific paradigm shifts. (It's also true that there have been changes in the scientific worldview as a consequence of the accumulation of data. Darwin, for example, put forward his theory of evolution after amassing a huge body of naturalistic observations -- and only then effected a paradigm shift.)

But nothing of real philosophical import follows from scientific paradigm shifts. They are very much to be expected as our evidentiary basis concerning physical reality advances. And, I think, that's just about all there is to say about them.

So if we are not in the business of discovering essences, then what are we doing?

Galileo's great insight was that if we want to learn anything about the nature of physical reality, we had better go make careful observations. I'd say that's a big part of the business of science. Now, it's true that we can make scientific generalizations about those observations, but are those really "essences"? I'd say "no," but if someone was to insist, then I'd have to say "so what?"

As you point out, though, Rorty has a different thought, right out of the playbook of Dewey's Pragmatism:

We are doing what we always do - toolmaking. We place a problem before ourselves and we try to invent tools that will help us resolve the problem. What is a tool? Interestingly, a tool can be anything that we think can solve a problem - just like the old saying, "When you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."

True, some interesting analogies can be drawn between concepts and tools. Certainly, we can use concepts to solve various problems. But analogies of this nature can only carry us so far. We can see this a little more clearly when we consider the differences between science and engineering. Science is all about discovering scientific truth in the abstract. Engineering is about taking the insights developed by science and applying them to the development of technologies. What Dewey (and Rorty following Dewey) are doing is the equivalent of confusing science with engineering.

Finally, you conclude:

So the program for the 21st century is not so much to try to solve the problems of prior centuries using their same old tools, but having de-divinized "The Truth" to realize that our language, our selves and our culture are in a constant state of evolution, their definition and their values always moving and changing, because they are constantly trying to adapt to the current environment.

It's true that logic is an old (there's that word, yet again) tool. Somehow I don't think that's much of an argument against its value. It's also true that empirical science is now a couple of centuries old. But, again, I don't think that matters.

The constant state of evolution, and constant change, are only meaningful if grounded in insights that are true. Otherwise they amount to nothing but noise.

The only real 'challenge' in this, is to grow up psychologically - to stop being whiney babies who demand that the universe give us comforting absolutes. Instead, we have to bolster our fragile little egos, and train ourselves to accept that everything will always be in flux.


I don't think that the generalized ad hominem attack here carries any weight against the notion of objective truth. Indeed, it presupposes both the existence of logic (because it tries to make use of it) and a science that is constantly making new discoveries -- that we believe to be true (if incomplete).

Best,
Ken
Eric B.
ejbman
Denver, CO
Post #: 665
Hello again Ken!

Well, you've spent a lot of virtual ink making bold assertions, but I haven't seen any substantive refutations of my points, so I'm going to have to conclude that I'm on the right track.

I'll respond to your points, but maybe not all in one go...

Thank you. I know that you think well of him, but I can't share your appreciation. I've read a bit of his work, and found him symptomatic, and indeed causative, of what I view as the decline in contemporary philosophy.


One of the things I think you must have failed to get in Rorty's">Rorty's">Rorty'­s">Rorty's work (among others) is the fact that he neatly undercuts such criticisms by pointing at you, jester like, laughing and saying "There goes another one of those [insert Freudianism here] dolts who hasn't matured enough to cope with the changes."

While not wanting to be merely so offensive myself, I'm not sure he's entirely in the wrong here. I think it is terribly hard to counteract the observation that the brittle tree breaks in the wind.


Should you be interested, Rorty's">Rorty's">Rorty'­s">Rorty's view are subjected to devastating cross-examination in "The Philosophy of Brand Blanshard'. His primary mentor, John Dewey, and Pragmatism more generally, are subjected to similar searching criticism in Blanshard's">Blanshard's">­Blanshard's">Blanshard's "Nature of Thought". I would judge Pragmatism to be irretrievably comatose conceptually, if not quite yet in academia.


I'm willing to read Blanshard, but I suspect I will have to stifle a lot of guffaws.

I believe a strong case could be made that Rorty was actually an English major who happened to like to read philosophers more than, say, Hemingway.


That's a pretty funny observation! I'd possibly support that view, without supporting the implication that this makes him any less accurate (if not precise) in his notions. Actually, I would probably have characterized Rorty as an advanced reader of philosophy, capable of doing marvelous synthesis and analysis of other's work, without offering a huge amount of original material himself. He's definitely very literary, and, I think, has Nietzschean pretensions.

But isn't that style so amazingly well adapted to our climate? Look at our most famous musicians. They spend a significant percentage of their lyrics on pure self promotion and self aggrandizement. We, as a culture, are apparently deeply amused by this.

Or, perhaps, newly misinformed. :-) (Sorry.) One must be on one's guard against these seductive fellows. Professional philosophers tend to have, in common with criminal lawyers, a gift for making the outlandish seem plausible.


A witty turn of phrase, but I'm sure this is at as applicable to your favorites (Blanchard?) as to anyone else.

Another perspective would be that Rorty's">Rorty's">Rorty'­s">Rorty's is the framework of the past. He is indebted primarily to Dewey, who in turn was indebted to the pre-Socratic Protagoras, and that's about as far back as one can go in the canon of Western philosophy before one starts encountering Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons.

More seriously, I don't regard "oldness" (or "newness") as having any bearing on a given philosophical position. I'm much more interested in knowing whether a given viewpoint is coherent or not.


You misunderstand my point. I don't mean 'old' as in simply 'out of fashion'. I mean 'old' as in 'no longer effectively extant' like a troglodyte or a woolly mammoth. We certainly maintain the fossils of these ideas, in all their glorious coherence, but they simply are not relevant. We've moved on, even though there is a long and pernicious trailing edge to the trends.

Well, I think the 20th century turned in very mixed results. We had a few of the best-ever, say, Husserl and Blanshard. But then we also had some of the worst-ever (or perhaps simply mis-employed English majors) such as Rorty and Derrida.


Ha ha. Witty value judgment. But really, you are using a corroded ruler to measure your 'mixed results'. As with the news of cancer, the numbers are much, much higher today because many more cases are reported. The sames goes for philosophy, science, and the arts. We get a much greater diversity of thought, and with it, comes a much greater proliferation of spam. The noise-to-signal ratio gets higher, but for those with enough savvy, there is much more signal available inside the noise. Having said that, considering Rorty and Derrida part of the 'noise' is unfair at best. It's kind of non-sense, really. You have to utterly misunderstand Derrida to dismiss him so readily; or else he just pisses you off because deep down, you know he's got a point.

Diversity can be, and often is, a good thing, particularly in the case of cultural diversity. (I don't plan to give up my sushi, and I'm married to a Chinese woman.) In philosophy, however, diversity, in itself, and purely for its own sake, is of little value. In the main, philosophy, and philosophers, have aspired for more than 2,000 years to veritas . The term "philosophy" itself means something like "love of wisdom" -- not "love of diversity". (Even for English majors, I think, "diversity" isn't the proper objective.)


You cannot isolate philosophy from the rest of culture and claim that diversity does not enrich as much as your sushi and your contact with people from across the globe. Your attempt to do so clearly falls prey to the kind of misguided cultural conservatism that religious believers use to such great detriment, and for such powerful but inadvertant self-destruction. Hearkening back to the fossilized definitions of words as their 'true' meaning? Come on! Next you'll try to convince me that true definition of a 'killer app' is a weapon, and I should therefore shun software for handheld devices. This is just silly and you know it.

And by the way, the fact that there is a long tradition behind something does not recommend it. Astrologers have aspired for much longer that 2,000 years to ... whatever astrologers hope to gain. It wasn't until part of it evolved into astronomy that it gained any value (beyond the kind P.T. Barnum would appreciate). The fact that there are still aspirants to astrological insight does not give it value.

(cont'd)
Eric B.
ejbman
Denver, CO
Post #: 666
(cont'd from prior post)

If we look aside at the other two primary divisions of rationalism, mathematics and science, we can see how irrelevant diversity really is to their mission statement: we don't study math to increase our appreciation of diversity, we study it to improve our understanding of the quantitative.


That is truly funny! Tell that to the guys who invented chaos math. They were just playing around with aesthetically pleasing symbolic games and were as surprised as anyone that there was a practical application. I think they were disappointed, actually, according to a biographical piece I read some 20 years ago. In fact, the word that best describes most mathematical and scientific 'discoveries' is serendipity. It is both ironic and obvious that serendipity is also responsible for most great art and philosophy. What Kuhn and others have recognized is that we accidentally come up with something, and then recognize its value after the fact. Machine models of creativity take advantage of this to a great degree. It wasn't until the machine model was broken into the 'random generator' subsystem and the 'pattern recognizer' subsystem, that really great machine creativity was possible. I can't recall the citation, but I recall the story of the computer Bach-emulator that fooled musicologists into thinking a lost work had been found.

We don't study science for the sake of encountering diverse views, we study it to learn something of the nature of the physical universe.


Not really. Talk to most scientists and they will say that they study science for the pure, unadulterated joy of exploration and the thrill of the hunt. If they also find something useful, well that's just a bonus.

Your statements are showing me that by remaining stuck in a rationalist framework, you're forced to try fitting every blob into a tesseract. It just doesn't work that way. Life is much, much messier that you wish it were. Human beings are decidedly NOT working systematically towards a greater union with Platonic forms. We are shuffling and stumbling around an ever-changing chaotic miasma and claiming traction when we pick a shape out of the clouds.

Similarly, we don't (properly) study philosophy primarily to become aware of wide divergences of opinion.


Well we sure didn't used to! And that's my gripe. As mentioned, when there were only 5 channels of television to choose from, content providers had to make them count. Now, there are 500 and 90% of them don't apply to any one of us -- but compared to before, that means we each have 10 times more of what we wanted, even though that means we have to wade through acres of garbage that isn't targeted to our particular demographic (but is somebody else's treasured media). You really need to read "The Long Tail" by Chris Anderson. It's more of a business book, but it applies to so many phenomena in nature and culture, it's scary. Although he doesn't cover it - look at the way medicine is going. Once we get better at understanding the proteome, a lot of medicines will be specific to a particular individual. Quite literally, one person's cure will be another person's poison. The same goes for medicine, TV shows and philosophical worldviews. If I may personify so blithlely: evolution seems to love diversity (at least as much as you love sushi, etc.).

Most of us go to that particular well to acquire a broad understanding of life and our place in the universe.

Again, I am forced to guffaw. I think most of us go there because of all the hot philosophy chicks (kidding). More seriously, having hosted a public discussion forum for over five years, I have heard every possible motivation for coming to philosophy, and those motives are precisely as diverse as each and every individual.

Eric B.
ejbman
Denver, CO
Post #: 667
I noted earlier that the primary objectives of the three primary branches of rationalism, mathematics, science, and philosophy, have never been diversity, and rightly so. Rather, mathematicians have sought mathematical truth, scientists have sought scientific truth, and philosophers have sought philosophical truth. All that's left if we throw these out the window are ignorance and/or error.

You can only say this if you are locked into the Platonic notion that "The Truth" is a metaphysical essence that is out there to be found. There is NO EVIDENCE of this, not to mention NO REASON for it. Your assertion about 'what is left' is a desperation move. What is left when we throw out "The Truth" is something more like 'the contingently heuristic'. And again - look at Heisenberg and tell me that physical models don't support that kind of metaphor at the most fundamental level. Indeed, it is most likely the culture's exposure to (collision with) invention/discoveries like Heisenberg's that spawned such metaphors, and paved the way for the Derridas of the world. Suddenly, we as a culture had to cope with Uncertainty in a big way. To stay locked into rationalism is to stay locked in the philosophical equivalent of a billiard-ball universe.

In addition to the foregoing, I think Rorty tilts at a straw man when he lashes out at "institutional value systems"...

You are reading him much too literally. He means something more like 'mainstream' or 'status quo' when he says 'institutional'. Think of Kuhn here. We're talking about the old paradigm, not the actual bureaucratic forms that were signed in triplicate. The old paradigm is the institution.

I noted previously that the "old" order of theism isn't the principal order that Rorty spent his career attacking. So just who, then, did Rorty attack? In science he disliked anyone who claimed that we can distinguish between scientific fact and fiction. In mathematics he hated anyone who held that 2+2=4, now and forever.


No, you are ascribing too much vehemence to what was really a matter of redirecting the focus of the attention. Rorty accepts that 2+2=4, but might ask: "So what?" He might go on to say that it's just a trivial fact that we need not dwell upon; it does nothing to enlighten us about our human condition. Trying to built up something like, say, a moral system on the basis of such trivialities, on the strength of some supposed metaphysics underlying it, is a fool's errand. Especially when you recognize that math is just one huge puzzle game that is exactly as fuzzy, unclear and as contingently heuristic at its boundaries as any other system of thought. The fact that it demands rigorous internal consistency is only as significant as the fact that Prussian hotels demanded rigorous internal cleanliness - and it is just as psychologically suspect (read: anal retentive, ala Freud). Its own demands for internal consistency need not impress us overmuch.

In philosophy he hated the rationalists, who have had the temerity to maintain that it makes sense to speak of positive knowledge, and consequently of truth and falsehood.


Good for him. Bravo!

He never met a metaphysician he could like: he must have been full of horror at the notion of physical reality. In short, Rorty stood for a bright, pink play-doh sort of view of things. Comforting, perhaps. Foolish? It simply doesn't get more foolish than that. I'm afraid that reality is what reality is.

No. This is simply a mis-read on your part, and a fundamental misunderstanding of reality. In fact, the rationalist view is much, much more comforting and pink play-doh. Or more aptly, billiard-ball. Hard and masculine. Firm and definite. Authoritative and patriarchal. Solid objects clicking solidly against one another and falling definitively into their corner pockets. Utterly unlike what reality turns out to be at the most fundamental level, which is: contingent and ironic (just ask Heisenberg - or even Einstein, who was so pissed off that 'God plays dice' with the universe). That is much, much harder to accept and requires a much higher degree of maturity. Read any psychology text on scales of maturity, and you will find acceptance of ambiguity at the top of the scorecard. There's a reason for that: reality is messy, and is rarely what it seems - even at its most fundamental levels.

(cont'd)
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