Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Grated Romano

A recent post by Brian Leiter eviscerates Carlin Romano for his recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education noting Richard Rorty's passing. (The whole chunk of Romano is behind a sub wall, but in addition to Leiter's quotes, it's excerpted here and (differently) here.) Romano is mainly known as a book reviewer (for the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Nation, and other periodicals), but I'm pretty sure he has a Ph. D. in philosophy, and has definitely taught in philosophy departments (he had an adjunct position, and even his own office, at Penn when I was there). I wouldn't be surprised if Leiter knew this, but rhetorically at least, the post slams "Mr. Romano" as an empty-headed journalistic dilettant; the post's actual subtitle is "Total Ignorance of Philosophy is No Obstacle to Opining about Richard Rorty." Yikes!

Leiter's points against the poor man are generally correct, as Professor Romano has indeed tended (needlessly carelessly, in my view) to sacrifice accuracy (and often cogency) to his florid narrative agenda. But let's take a look. The issue about the usual practices concerning Festschrifte we may put to one side, as no one cares (for the record, I think of Rorty and his Critics as, well, a "... and his critics" volume more than as a Festschrift); but the next bone of contention is more serious. Here's the contested sentence:
The big chill began with [Rorty's] 1970s apostasy from positivistic analytic philosophy.
Leiter jumps on this slip like the wolf on the fold:
What in the world is "positivistic analyic philosophy"? Logical positivism was moribund by the 1970s, and Princeton in the 1970s was the fertile ground for new metaphysical theorizing, launched by Kripke and Lewis, which would have been anathema to positivists. The make-believe label "positivistic analytic philosophy" is the first clear giveaway that Mr. Romano has no idea what he is talking about.
At the very least, this is a giveaway that our author is writing for non-philosophers. Now of course this is no sin in itself; and a couple of posts ago I allowed as how non-philosophers might indeed, in a quick-and-dirty way, see many or even most philosophers as having failed to grasp something that, when stated as a philosophical thesis, looks trivial or false or both, or in any case not that helpful even if true (in that case, it was that the answers to Is there a world out there? and If so, do the differences and similarities we see in it come from it, from us, or both? are "yes" and "both" respectively). Here too, non-philosophers often do refer very generally to a certain philosophical tendency typical of those analytic philosophers who were Rorty's targets, even when we within philosophy see them (i.e. as well) as differing significantly from and indeed as opposed to each other. The confusion is compounded – again, unnecessarily, as Romano might very well have taken the opportunity to clear it up – when the term used to denote this tendency is "positivist." For Leiter is right that no analytic philosopher called his own view "positivist" for 50 years; the term functions within philosophy as labeling a tendency which everyone takes to have been overcome. Accusing fellow Princetonians Kripke and Lewis of being "positivist" is precisely what Rorty did not do, and rightly so.

Yet I have suggested that the terminological muddle conceals a similar point. For we should indeed see metaphysicians like Kripke and Lewis as targeted by Rorty in much the same way he (with Davidson) targets the residual positivism in Quinean empiricism (but see below for his ambivalence on this matter). How so? What, if not "positivism," do these philosophers have in common, which we would fail to see if we accepted Leiter's point at face value? Here Romano has a chance to save himself; but he boots it. For what he accuses analytic philosophers of (as an implicit explanation of the "positivist" jab) is a lack of interest in history:
Princeton philosophy professors and grad students at that time liked to act as if any work not mimeographed within the past three years, and circulated exclusively in the department, was probably too passé to be worth studying.
But of course this leaves Leiter with the obvious comeback:
Really? This would certainly come as news to [a whole list of historians of philosophy at Princeton in the 70's].
and allows him to make a valid, if delimited, version of Romano's (and Rorty's) point himself:
What is unfortunate about Mr. Romano's mindless polemic is that there is a real point that could be made here, namely, that some Anglophone philosophers really were (and are) indifferent to the history of philosophy, and that includes some of those at Princeton: but it is just a falsfication of the history to saddle the Princeton Department in toto with that attitude.
Maybe a look at Rorty's key break with the tradition, in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, will help. Here's Romano:
In the shrinking Fach of academic philosophy — its territory truncated by psychology, invaded by literature, long ago reduced by natural science — Rorty challenged the theory of knowledge, the last remaining crop philosophy professors could sell to overlord deans and presidents, and declared it practically carcinogenic.
As Leiter points out in rhetorical puzzlement ("did Mr. Romano actually read the book, one wonders?"), this can't be right. Philosophy in 1980 was much more than epistemology. So what was Rorty's project in PMN? Leiter fills us in, turning to one of his two favorite contemporary reviews of the book, this by Jaegwon Kim (the other, equally dismissive, is Ernest Sosa's). According to Kim,
the argument of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature is directed [not against epistemology specifically, but instead] against three very general doctrines, none of which are peculiar to (or even distinctive of) English-speaking philosophy in the 20th-century. Kim identified them (again, correctly) as [quoting Kim now]:

(1) The Platonic doctrine concerning truth and knowledge, according to which truth is correspondence with nature, and knowledge is a matter of possessing accurate representations.

(2) The Cartesian doctrine of the mind as the private inner stage, "the Inner Mirror," in which cognitive action takes place. The Platonic doctrine of knowledge as representation was transformed into the idea of knowledge as inner representation of outer reality. The Cartesian contribution was to mentalize the Platonic doctrine.

(3) The conception of Philosophy according to which it is the business of philosophy to investigate the "foundations" of the sciences, the arts, culture and morality, and adjudicate the cognitive claims of these areas. Philosophy, as epistemology, must set universal standards of rationality and objectivity for all actual and possible claims of knowledge.
Rorty does indeed attack these very general doctrines in PMN, and again Leiter's riposte is a natural one: that these doctrines (as the terms "Platonic" and "Cartesian" suggest, as does Rorty's explicit blaming of Kant for (3)) are not particularly "analytic":
Romano's polemic gives the wholly false impression that Rorty was simply overcoming a "recent" blip in the history of philosophy ("analytic" philosophy) in order to return the discipline to its "traditional" concerns. In fact, the opposite is the case: Rorty, like Marx (though for different reasons), would have us give up two thousand years of philosophical inquiry in order to do something else. He pitched part of that case as being against "analytic" philosophy, though the latter was far more continuous with the philosophical tradition than Rorty's (hard to pin down) alternative.
Leiter segues into his next point with another dismissive swipe at Romano ("Romano, however, has no actual interest in or knowledge of philosophy, even of Rorty's critique of it, so he moves right along"), but in fact his disagreement with Romano's Rorty is getting tangled up with his rejection of Rorty himself, which tends to dilute the former somewhat. If Rorty did "[pitch] that part of the case as being against 'analytic' philosophy," which he certainly did, then it is hardly "wholly false" to speak in terms of "overcoming a 'recent' blip in the history of philosophy ("analytic" philosophy)", even if the ultimate destination is not after all the status quo ante. If there is a mistake here, it is just as much Rorty's (as accurately portrayed by Romano) as Romano's own. (I smiled here at Leiter's characteristic tic, a substitution for argument, on points to win which it would require more than a vitriolic wielding of proof-texts or obvious counterexamples, of attribution of obscurity, a tactic which Leiter often deploys against McDowell, an "unclear" writer. Still, he's not exactly wrong here, that Rorty's positive views are "hard to pin down." Indeed, on certain important points he flat-out equivocates.)

The next quotation features another gratuitous use of "positivistic," as well as a reference to Rorty as "a red-white-and-blue Nietzsche," the latter of which Leiter surprisingly lets pass without comment. Later, though, Leiter objects when Romano suggests that analytic philosophers were threatened by Rorty's endorsement of such controversial thinkers as Wittgenstein and Heidegger. He sidesteps the point about Heidegger, pointing to other, less radical appropriators of his thought (Dreyfus et al.); but even if we hadn't seen it before we could surely predict Leiter's riposte w/r/t the other guy:
Wittgenstein is, of course, part of the philosophical canon throughout the Anglophone world, even if opinion is divided about the import and sometimes the meaning of his ideas.
Here again is the familiar "heads I win, tails you lose" attitude towards Wittgenstein's reception in contemporary philosophy. Do analytic philosophers ignore Wittgenstein? Heavens no, he's one of us! Russell's student, patron saint of the Vienna Circle, influence on Kripke and Dennett and Searle and Stroud! Don't you know anything?? Oh, it's your version of Wittgenstein you mean – well, opinions differ, you know – hard to say what he really meant, what with that obscure style of his.... But you "literary" types like that sort of thing, don't you....

We'll get back to this, as well as another look at the idea that "epistemology" is the target of PMN. Let's continue with Leiter's post first. What happens next is that both Romano and Leiter, in turn, take both opposing positions on whether Rorty was "marginalized." Romano: he was marginalized by the profession ... but he was discussed and honored the world over. Leiter: he marginalized himself by not responding to criticism ... and other philosophers besides Rorty were also discussed and honored the world over, so he's not that special. [Huh?] Leiter just falls down here; the idea that Rorty didn't respond to criticism is absurd. He didn't respond to the stupid criticism (duh, realism is so true, you, you relativist you), but not only are there detailed replies to essays in at least two books of criticism (the Brandom book and Saatkamp, ed., Rorty & Pragmatism: The Philosopher Responds to His Critics), many essays are entirely dedicated to responding to criticism (okay, some implicitly, but still, he engages the issues, or at least tries to): see Truth and Progress, which replies to Taylor, Dennett, Putnam, Brandom, McDowell, Davidson, and Michael Williams, among others. Plus there are a number of interviews and other things. Would that other people had done as well with him as he did with others (modulo, that is, the limitations in his view inherent in, well [heh heh], not saying about these matters what I would ...). Naturally the main issue here is that Romano writes as if Rorty had in fact won the day and rightly so (referring, in a phrase which Leiter naturally mocks, to "Rorty's devastating exposure [my emphasis – DM] of positivistic [there's that word again] philosophy's ahistorical, pocket-full-of-examples approach to knowledge"), while Leiter seems at one point to imply that Rorty as well as Romano falls into the category of non-philosopher (that is, non-actual philosopher). If Romano had characterized Rorty's views in exactly the same way, yet taken (mutatis mutandis) a negative view of them, I don't think Leiter would even have bothered to correct what are after all mostly minor and typically journalistic infelicities.

Let's get back to Mirror of Nature. It's certainly true that the three theses Kim mentions (above) are all targets in that book. But why does Romano say that Rorty thought that 1) all that was left of philosophy (analytic or otherwise) was epistemology, and 2) that he was set to deliver the death blow to it and thus to philosophy (or analytic philosophy) as a whole? Without going into great detail, we can look at Rorty's project in PMN like this (so this is my paraphrase, not Rorty's). At the time, the philosophy associated with the scientific revolution of the 17th century looked like (in the words of 1066 And All That) a Good Thing. The cure for metaphysics was a healthy empiricism. Descartes, however, bought the independence of the material world from (the need for) metaphysics at the unacceptably high price of substance dualism. This allowed the immaterial mind itself to remain a subject (no pun intended) for metaphysical speculation. Viewed from the empiricist angle, though, the salient thing about the mind is not its metaphysical constitution but the nature of its epistemic access to the external world. We are presented in experience with sensory data: how do we get from there – i.e., all we are entitled to, epistemically speaking – to knowledge? This is not metaphysics but epistemology.

Indeed, even today most people identify the Cartesian picture of the mind with substance dualism, and take empiricism (say in its Humean form) as the proper antidote, justifying a form of materialism to replace dualism. (This is why people like Searle can present themselves as "anti-Cartesian," i.e. materialists about the mind.) But Rorty sees the empiricist picture, which he naturally traces to Lockean foundationalism, and the epistemological problem of how to justify our knowledge (i.e., as an accurate representation of an external world our only connection to which passes through the senses, from which we must build said representation) as no improvement on Descartes. (Indeed, in the form of the skeptical problem it is Descartes.) So the supposedly "anti-Cartesian" movement from metaphysics to epistemology merely moves the bump in the rug from one place to another. A natural way of continuing the thought might then be that if (as Kim says) Cartesianism "mentalizes" Platonism, and empiricism "epistemologizes" Cartesianism, then if we can dissolve the empiricist problematic we may be able to achieve a final victory against Platonic metaphysics – the novelty in this thought being, again, that it was empiricist materialism which billed itself as the natural opponent, indeed the undertaker, of metaphysics. In this context, one in which it is qua metaphysics that epistemology is to be criticized, it makes sense to see contemporary metaphysicians like Kripke and Lewis as subject as well to Rorty's critique of what we might call the metaphysical realism-epistemological skepticism axis (especially given what he then goes on to say about "capital-P Philosophy" as what we must leave behind in order to usher in the pragmatist utopia). Again, though, calling this "positivism," as Romano does, is just odd.

I myself sing a version of this song (except for the part about the "pragmatist utopia," for which I substitute a Wittgensteinian acknowledgment of the ineradicable stain of original philosophical sin), although I have come to hear Rorty's own rendition as being importantly off-key in several ways. Ironically, given Romano's bizarre application of the "positivist" label to Rorty's target, one of the things holding Rorty back is his own ambivalence about his positivist heritage. The problem is not, I hasten to add, that he was ambivalent: we see an analogous ambivalence in Quine (Carnap's student and critic), and pragmatists cannot deny the positivist elements in their (our) own doctrine (Carnap, for example, sounds very pragmatist in spots – though not enough, for most people, to count as one himself). As an example of his own positivist sympathies, consider Rorty's near-pathological resistance to talk of (say) "believing the truth about how things are" in favor of consensus or "coping" or whatever – as well as, of course, the rank eliminativism on display in chapter 2 of PMN ("People Without Minds").

The other main problem (not counting his use of Davidson, about which I am myself ambivalent) was Rorty's attitude toward Kant. Kant figures in PMN, and Rorty's philosophy generally, as the poster child for a pernicious unpragmatic foundationalism. In bringing out the point about epistemology above, I elided Rorty's connection of the epistemic foundationalism of Lockean empiricism with the methodological foundationalism Rorty finds in Kant (philosophy as the "queen of the sciences" and all that). Leiter pounces on this as well, pointing out that for naturalists like Quine (i.e. an "analytic" philosopher if anyone is) philosophy is no queen but instead merely a "handmaiden" to natural science. (While true, this seems more like a point against Romano's sloppy summary than against Rorty himself; but let's not get into it here.) This use of Kant gives a superficially attractive symmetry to Kim's three theses above: Plato founds the discipline looking into Eternal Questions; Descartes mentalizes the Platonic picture, throwing the ball to epistemology; Kant rescues the tradition by cementing philosophy as the ground of intellectual culture generally (i.e., as the universal arbiter of intelligibility). I agree, although I guess not everyone does, that everyone telling this sort of world-historical story has to make narrative sense of the Plato-Descartes-Kant sequence. But if you do not bring out how Kant was just as much an anti-Cartesian as he was Cartesian, in the relevant senses, you make hash of the subsequent reaction to and development of that powerful anti-dualist force ("anti-dualist" in the most general sense). As only one example: why would Dewey want to "naturalize Hegel" if Hegel thought of his own task as that of finishing the Kantian project?

Plus you get Kant wrong. Leiter ends his post with a compound slam at Romano and Rorty, attacking Rorty for his, and I quote, "'bad' or 'fraudulent' scholarship" and Romano for his defense of it. This is an important issue (to tip my hand, I do think Rorty was too careless, and Romano says far too little to explain Rorty's practices), but let me provide the traditional ending for my post by promising to get back to that some other time.

15 comments:

Fake Cow said...

"The other main problem (not counting his use of Davidson, about which I am myself ambivalent) was Rorty's attitude toward Kant. Kant figures in PMN, and Rorty's philosophy generally, as the poster child for a pernicious unpragmatic foundationalism."

I too feel ambivalent about Rorty's reading of Davidson. On the one hand, Rorty appreciated Davidson in exactly the way that I think he should be appreciated--as one of the three major thinkers of the 20th century (the other two being Wittgenstein and Sellars). On the other hand, it has never been clear to me exactly *why* Rorty appreciated him, seeing as how he seems to get Davidson completely wrong quite often.

I think the first appendix to Mind and World is a very damning indictment of Rorty and his reading of Davidson. I certainly haven't been able to look at Rorty in the same light after reading McDowell's criticism. Put it this way. Jerry Fodor and Ernie Lepore are dead to *everyone* who has a *modicum* of appreciation for Davidson (which is sad, because Lepore--in his own way I guess--doesn't deserve to be completely excommunicated. I see him as more of a tragic figure in all of this).

Now, in what way does `Is Radical Interpretation Possible?' fail more spectacularly than 'The World Well Lost' or `Davidson, Pragmatism, and Truth'?

One might say, and they might mean it in the most literal way possible, that the first essay says nothing (zero, zilch, empty set) of truth or interest about Donald Davidson, while the latter two at least have a certain "truthiness" to them.

One might say that the first paper acts as a seething black hole of ignorance that actually makes its readers less intelligent every time they read it, while the last two essays don't quite have the same effect.

Of course *I'm* not saying such mean things about the most *distinguished* of all living philosophers and his trusty side-kick, our Batman and his Robin, but if someone *were* to say such things, I would (as Chris Rock says wrt to O.J) understand.

***************************

This all relates to your comment about Kant, since I think one of the two really great things I've ever read about Davidson (the other being Mind and World) was the Rovane paper in Truth and Interpretation when she tries to cast Davidson's project as making many of the same moves, broadly speaking, as Kant did.

Now, I'm really ignorant of Rorty (I've never actually read Mirror) so it is puzzling to me that he could esteem Davidson and Sellars so highly while being so hostile to Kant. Davidson's Kantianism (in one sense of the term) seems clear, and everyone knows how important Kant was for Sellars (and for the other two famous people who really really really really like Sellars besides Rorty, Brandom and McDowell). So where is the disconnect here with Rorty?

Seriously. Tell me so I can start liking him again.

Fake Cow said...

In the interest of complete clarity, I think I should clearly say that when I wrote

"On the one hand, Rorty appreciated Davidson in exactly the way that I think he should be appreciated--as one of the three major thinkers of the 20th century (the other two being Wittgenstein and Sellars)."

I should have said that *I* think of Davidson, Wittgenstein, and Sellars (qua "philosophers") in this way, and that Rorty holds Davidson in similarly high regard. I'm sure that he thought Derrida and Heidegger, or some other suitably foreign people, were equally as important (perhaps I would think this too if I ever get around to reading suitably foreign people...)

Daniel said...

Treating the non-cow's comments in LIFO order: I am pretty sure Rorty claimed (in one of his Heidegger essays) that Wittgenstein and Heidegger were the two greatest philosophers of the 20th century. I suspect that Sellars and Davidson don't get that title for the reason that they were alive for too much of Rorty's career; it's unseemly to praise the living in world-historical terms. Of course, no one would argue that Rorty is less than worshipful of Davidson and Sellars, though in both cases he wants to go further than they did. "Left-wing Sellarsians" and all that.

I think Rorty's antipathy for Kant is easier to grasp when you look at how Rorty treats Hegel. Hegel is almost never mentioned in a negative light. Rorty holds Kant and Hegel firmly apart from one another. This is something that Sellars, McDowell, and Brandom explicitly do not do: Kant is a proto-Hegel, and Hegel is "Kant Deluxe." The two run together. This is related to the fact that all three are enthusiastic about Kant, but have no time for "transcendental idealism". The Kant they like is a Hegelianized Kant. (I think something similar holds for Davidson, but it's harder to say since Davidson's Kantianism is almost entirely subterranean.)

There's also the matter of the "third dogma" charge Rorty lobs at Kant in "Philosophy & The Mirror of Nature": A good chunk of the book's discussion of Kant is spent attacking Kant's intuition-concept distinction (a distinction Hegel also attacked, incidentally). Rorty treats it as yet another instance of the dualism of scheme and content (as Davidson did, offhandedly, in "On The Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme"). Here, Kant comes out looking a lot like Locke. (He comes out the same way in one of Hegel's discussions of Kant in his "Encyclopedia" -- Kant is in the same section as Locke, almost as a footnote.) McDowell and Sellars read Kant very, very differently here; McDowell's treatment of the intuition-concept distinction in the first lecture of "Mind and World" is of course to point, and Sellars held that the form of a Kantian intuition was something like "There is a red cube here now". Whereas Rorty takes an intuition to be "(sound of a blunt impact, smacking against the wall of the mind)". Again, McDowell and Sellars read Kant as much closer to Hegel than Rorty does. (Or than Hegel himself did; whenever "the Kantian philosophy" is mentioned in Hegel's encyclopedia, it's to damn it, generally with faint praise, but sometimes wihout any praise at all. Which is not to say that Hegel is not deeply Kantian; he simply doesn't project himself as being such.)

(McDowell is misreading Kant in that first lecture, incidentally, but it's a good way to misread him. Kant would have done well to not want to draw our attention to "empty" concepts.)

Fake Cow said...

wrt the second paragraph:


That seems like a good way of looking at it. I'm curious to see what Brandom's Hegel book turns out to actually be about; as in, will it be about Hegel, proto-Hegel, deluxe-Kant, or maybe the Kant-Hegel value meal with cheese? And will there be any theorems proved, or perhaps some chapters about finite state automatons and the Chomsky heirarchy?

wrt the third:

As I said, now anytime I see Rorty invoking Davidson I get nervous, so Rorty using the Third-Dogma Club to beat Kant about the neck and shoulders doesn't do much for me. Also, it seems to me (being only mildly aware of Kant and (especially) Locke) that one would have to be a deft rhetor to make them come out looking the same. Do you think Rorty's criticisms hold any water?

Duck said...

Thanks for your comments, FC and D. I should really go back to the relevant texts before saying anything, but let me just shoot from the hip here.

1. Rorty is pretty promiscuous in his compliments, so I wouldn't take any one listing of Greatest too seriously. In PMN he groups together Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Dewey as Great Ones trying to overcome the Philosophical tradition (rather than continuing it). Quine, Sellars, and Davidson are Great contemporary allies (if sometimes not entirely willing ones).

2. The various interpretations of and attitudes toward Kant and Hegel by contemporary post-analytics (if I dare use that term) is quite confusing. I have the luxury of not knowing either of them very well, so that lends my own readings a certain, shall we say, plasticity. (Obviously there is a downside to this.) For example, I see my ignorance of Hegel is showing here. I'm not sure where I got the idea that Hegel *himself* thought of what he was doing as "completing the Kantian project" (maybe just interpretive charity?). While the guiding thought of M & W is obviously Kantian cum Hegelian, I really think McDowell could have done much better in enlisting Kant. I should write an article called "Who's Afraid of Transcendental Idealism?" If you spin it right (and have Hegel do the cleaning up), that doctrine turns out to be just as much an attack on the scheme/content dualism as a defense. I'm in the minority here, I know. (Later.) For interesting squeals of protest from Kantians (which I mostly agree with), see Graham Bird's review of Mind and World. (I forget the reference; I'll look it up.) In response I think McDowell admits some infelicity (strong words given his seeming inability to admit error of any kind – I think Wright refers somewhere to having received from McD a "typically unbending response" (though of course in *that* case I'm sure it was appropriate!)). In any case Kant isn't perfect; but neither is Hegel. If you *want* to use them for targets rather than allies, either of them, then you can.

3. The first appendix to MW is indeed an excellent response to Rorty's Davidson. Even there, though, McDowell's criticism is that Rorty's position (and his use of Davidson) is not working by Rorty's own lights, leaving in place the idea that those lights could be good ones. Indeed, sometimes we sympathetic critics see Rorty not as a dangerous radical but as an inspiring pioneer – with a puzzling propensity to shoot himself in the foot. The shell of Rorty's view – an uncompromising rejection of the Cartesian picture in all its forms, including metaphilosophical – is fine by me; but even after Rorty correctly pegs the scheme-content business as the key issue (which he had done as early as "The World Well Lost"), the way he unpacks it is just weird. It's not just that his use of Davidson is neither accurate nor useful; it's that there's a much better version of Davidson available for that very purpose. Admittedly, it emerges mostly in the later Davidson (and is somewhat implicit even there – he said, trying desperately to justify his own "creative" readings). If only Rorty didn't have such an antipathy toward "truth"! This is all better approached from the other direction: get Davidson right (that is, for this purpose) and then see how Rorty couldn't see *that* as a possibility for him.

4. Fake Cow (what, you live in a Fake Barn or something?), your comparison of Rorty with Fodor and LePore is hilarious (and I love the idea of LePore as a "tragic figure"!). One might indeed say just those things.

5. You should *definitely* read Mirror. The other key Rorty is Consequences of Pragmatism, esp. the long preface. Things start to go south fairly quickly after that, starting with the stuff about "solidarity" in Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth. It's all over by Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, when the cultural stuff starts taking over. Still, he remained relevant, which is more than I can say for some people. Lots of Truth and Progress is almost sort of right. When you take the Rorty factor into account.

Daniel said...

I don't think Kant's Critical views are entirely coherent, and one way of making sense of them is to bracket out the ways in which he differs from Locke as aberrational. "Intuitions" are then understood as sense-data; the "constitutive syntheses of the understanding" are ways in which the mind combines sense data to form its ideas of objects. The a priori nature of the categories and of space and time is attributed to the brute fact that we tend to combine sense data in these ways, and only these ways (other ways being held, on this view of Kant, to be unimaginable by us, though logically possible); the restriction of our knowledge to appearances is given the same root, since the categories are not general principles of objects in themselves but only rules for how we must consider objects to be.

I think this view is able to make sense of many of the things Kant says, but it's clearly making Kant into a Cartesian, when Kant is clearly opposed to the Cartesian picture of the mind: "Inner sense in general is dependent on outer sense in general." It has a definite advantage in making it easy to see how Kant could think of himself as an "idealist" and of our knowledge as limited to something called "appearances". I think a better understanding of Kant makes it appear that Kant just exercised poor judgement when he held onto the "idealist" label (Kant admits in the Prolegomena that "transcendental idealism" is a terrible name, and wishes he'd called it "critical idealism" instead, since this doesn't make it sound like a "higher or general idealism"), and especially when he called the objects of our knowledge "appearances". (Which he never confuses with illusions -- the two are always distinguished, when illusions are mentioned at all. But the two terms are roughly synonymous in ordinary use, and so one wishes the Kantian term was something else.)

I suspect Brandom's Hegel book will be about Brandom. That seems to be Brandom's preferred topic when he writes about historical figures. From McDowell's review of Brandom's "Some Pragmatist Themes in Hegel's Idealism":
"I take Hegel to have been a perceptive reader of Kant, but Brandom's Hegel's readings of Kant seem inept."

Duck said...

Yes, Kant's terminology is crazy-making. I wonder what an alternative history would look like if he had said virtually the same thing but used different terms for everything. Probably a lot different.

That's funny about Brandom. I have to admit I don't get him. It looks like a huge effort designed to vindicate Rorty's view that our obligations in inquiry go sideways to our fellow inquirers than out to the world. What's the point of that?? I must be missing a few somethings.

Daniel said...

Hegel did think of himself as completing the project of German Idealism, and so in that sense was self-consciously "doing the Kant thing". He just thought that Kant was hugely, hugely inferior to Fichte and Schelling (and Hegel) here. And again, I think it's clear that Hegel picks up a lot of Kantian ideas; he just doesn't treat them as being Kant's. I suppose that they were probably common currency at the time.

An example to show what I mean, from ss47 of the Encyclopedia Logic:

"By his polemic against the metaphysic of the past Kant discarded those predicates [of simplicity, unity etc.] from the soul or mind. He did well; but when he came to state his reasons, his failure is apparent."

This is the closer of a subsection devoted almost entirely to attacking Kant's arguments in the paralogisms -- arguments with whose conclusions Hegel is emphatically in agreement, and which conclusions are credited to Kant as being a novel and important contribution to philosophy. The entire "second position of thought towards objectivity" in the Logic is basically an attack on Kant, though it's also a portrayal of Kant as one of the most important thinkers in the entire history of philosophy. That he is so important is shown by the fact that he comes under criticism for such an extended length of the book; less important figures play minor roles.

I always feel like I'm missing something in Lepore. He was friends with Davidson. He delivered his eulogy, I believe; in any case he wrote a rather nice eulogy for Davidson. But whenever he writes about Davidson's philosophy, he seems to make an ass of himself. consistently. I would've thought that if he really was as wrong as I think he is, that he would have made progress at some point (simply because he couldn't get any worse, and one expects to see positions shift over time). But he just keeps cranking out misses.

Duck said...

I have a good story about LePore. Some ambitious undergraduate started a Philosophy Club, and got money from the university, and so one day they got LePore to come up to give a talk at one of the meetings. Pathetically, there were only a few of us there, including two grad students. EL seemed undaunted, and launched into an interesting and effective defense of Davidson's account of indirect discourse (I think it was) – at one point during which he said something like: "With a lot of Davidson's doctrines, I argue for them because I'm officially a Davidsonian, but this one I can really get behind on my own behalf as well." At which we two grad student exchanged boggled looks.

I think his story is just that he was seduced by the dark side, and ended up as (as Fake Cow suggested) Robin to the Batman from Hell. I got waiting-listed at Rutgers myself, and I shudder to think what would have happened had I gone there. Perhaps when we look at LePore I should think "there but for the grace of God ...".

Fake Cow said...

To Duck's 3.

I agree that the major thrust of appendix one is that Rorty fails by his own lights. But another thing that I really took away from it, mostly because I couldn't believe that Rorty actually thought this, was that the radical interpreter uses a notion of truth unconnected with normativity (McDowell also makes this point in that video series "Donald Davidson: In Conversation", and he also lumps Bjorn Ramberg in with Rorty on this issue).

But anyways, I agree with your inspirational pioneer who shoots himself in the foot comment as well. It is almost as if Rorty is the guy who saw Hendrix performing in some dingy club in Seattle 3 years before he made it big, told everyone he knew about how great of a guitarist this guy was, but when asked to elaborate as to why, mostly just talked about how cool it was that he burned his guitar after his performances and did a lot of LSD.

To Duck's 4.

Yeah, I think Lepore tried to make atonements by trying to cast Davidson's thought into the form of a whole bunch of flagged "theses" and numbered "arguments". We all know how this turned out...

wrt Brandom:


You guys should try and track down Brandom's paper "Kantian Lessons about Mind Meaning and Rationality". I remember being able to locate an mp3 on the net of him presenting this paper somewhere. I have no idea whether its accurate Kant scholarship, but it made Brandom seem cooler to me after I listening to it. Also, the first hundred pages or so of his latest book "Tales of the Mighty Dead" is a place where he lays out his approach to historical work. Interesting reading.

Fake Cow said...

If you wan't a good laugh, google Dennett, find his online publications (you have to link to the tuft's cog sci homepage), and then find one of the more recent papers that is about something batman from hell wrote about Darwin. I really think Dennett and Batman from hell might actually fist fight each other if they ever turn up at the same conference.

Fake Cow said...

Hmmm... Akeel Bilgrami or Jerry Fodor.... Carol Rovane or Jason Stanley...such tough choices

Daniel said...

"Kantian Lessons" was indeed one of Brandom's cooler bits. The mp3 is here: http://www.usyd.edu.au/time/conferences/Brandom-2005.htm

As far as Kant scholarship goes, I recall it not being too bad, actually. Especially for Brandom. It was basically a defense of Kant as being one of the first (and most resolute) anti-Cartesians.

Also, as a bonus, the linked site has a lecture on Hegel and the law of noncontradiction. With an audience including several of Graham Priest's grad students. That was... interesting. As I recall, there were two wildly different views ready-to-hand as to what, exactly, Hegel's view of paraconsistent logic was. I'm inclined to say that both sides were wrong about Hegel (see the essays by Pippin and Hanna in John Stewart's "The Hegel Myths and Legends" -- Hegel wasn't as revolutionary as he's often thought to be); "everything is a contradiction" wasn't an early form of Graham Priest's project anymore than "everything is a syllogism" was a statement about grammar. I doubt Hegel ever imagined that anyone would seriously try to rework logic such that "A & ~A" was allowed to stand. Still, that lecture was worth the lost hour.

Duck said...

Thanks for the links and reading suggestions. I'll put 'em on the pile.

Malfeasancio said...

Actually Descartes rules in a sense: if you want to preserve logic, mathematical foundations, the a priori, even ethics and integrity to some extent. Descartes rules--but that doesn't mean one preserves the Cartesian ghost......or Osiris forbid catholicism. That is what Searle was about when criticizing behaviorists and empiricists, methinx. People generally believes they exist in some sense, and that life is important. Shelley is more important that Britney Spears, etc. Criminals should be held accountable for their actions--it's not mere conditioning, or determinism.

But the problem is that many philosopher types (or psychologists, whatever) associate any sort of cognitive Cartesianism with catholics, if not imperialism, or some type of tyranny.

Really Descartes rather more powerful than Kant or about any subsequent "philosopher." The cogito has problems but fundamentally sound. I wager Frege sort of thought so..............