Friday, February 22, 2008

Hacker on Quine

As I mentioned in my last post, this one is about Hacker's paper "Passing By the Naturalistic Turn: On Quine's Cul-de-sac" (which is, again, available on his website). In this paper, unlike (say) Grice & Strawson's defenses of analyticity, Hacker's criticism of Quine takes a particularly broad form. As the title indicates, his subject is "the naturalistic turn," as pointedly opposed to "the a priori methods of traditional philosophy". The paper discusses three aspects of Quinean naturalism: naturalized epistemology, "ontological" naturalism, and, most broadly, "philosophical" naturalism. Hacker defines this last as
the view that [in Quine's words] philosophy is 'not ... an a priori propaedeutic or groundwork for science, but [is] ... continuous with science' [...] In the USA it is widely held that with Quine's rejection of 'the' analytic/synthetic distinction, the possibility of philosophical or conceptual analysis collapses, the possibility of resolving philosophical questions by a priori argument and elucidation is foreclosed, and all good philosophers turn out to be closet scientists. (MS p. 2)
For the record, Hacker believes that regardless of what Quine's arguments show about "the" analytic/synthetic distinction, the philosophical project of "conceptual analysis" is not threatened:
The thought that if there is no distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions, then philosophy must be 'continuous' with science rests on the false supposition that what was thought to distinguish philosophical propositions from scientific ones was their analyticity. That supposition can be challenged in two ways. First, by showing that characteristic propositions that philosophers have advanced are neither analytic nor empirical [but still a priori]. Secondly, by denying that there are any philosophical propositions at all.

Strikingly, the Manifesto of the Vienna Circle, of which Carnap was both an author and signatory, pronounced that ‘the essence of the new scientific world-conception in contrast with traditional philosophy [is that] no special “philosophic assertions” are established, assertions are merely clarified’. [The Scientific Conception of the World: the Vienna Circle (Reidel, Dordrecht, 1973), p. 18] According to this view, the result of good philosophizing is not the production of analytic propositions peculiar to philosophy. Rather it is the clarification of conceptually problematic propositions and the elimination of pseudo-propositions. (p. 3)

[So instead of being "continuous" with science, Hacker claims, philosophy is] categorially distinct from science, both in its methods and its results. The a priori methods of respectable philosophy are wholly distinct from the experimental and hypothetico-deductive methods of the natural sciences, and the results of philosophy logically antecede the empirical discoveries of science. They cannot licitly conflict with the truth of scientific theories – but they may, and sometimes should, demonstrate their lack of sense. (p. 4)
Myself, I never thought that the point about "continuity," about which naturalists make so very much, was that helpful. "Continuity" is cheap. Sure philosophy is "continuous" with science; but it's also "continuous" with art, literature, religion, law, politics, and, I don't know, sports. But I am being perverse here. Let me try instead to be not-perverse.

As previous posts (not just recently but going back to distant 2005) may or may not have made clear, I want 1) to follow Wittgenstein in not only distinguishing philosophy from empirical inquiry (scientific or not), but also seeing it (in some contexts, for certain purposes) as an activity of provoking us into seeing differently what we already knew, by means of (among other things) carefully chosen reminders of same; but at the same time 2) to follow Davidson in pressing Quine to extend and (significantly!) modify the line of thought begun in "Two Dogmas," one which recasts empiricism in a linguistic light and purges it of certain dualisms left over from the positivistic era.

What we've seen so far is that Hacker and Quine are in firm agreement that I can't have it both ways. Either there's a solid "categorical" wall between philosophy and empirical inquiry, or we level that distinction to the ground. It's true that I couldn't have it both of those ways; but I don't want either of 'em. My concern here, as always, is to overcome whatever dualisms are causing confusion; and overcoming a dualism isn't the same thing as obliterating a distinction. In fact, in my terminology, we overcome the dualism only when we can see how the corresponding distinction is still available for use in particular cases (of course, I can reject distinctions as well if I want, for philosophically uncontroversial reasons). So, for example, when Grice & Strawson object to Quine by claiming that the concept of analyticity still has a coherent use, I don't think I need to object. If you want to use the concept to distinguish between "that bachelor is unmarried" and "that bachelor is six feet tall," go right ahead. I just don't think that distinction has the philosophical significance that other people do. In particular, I don't need to use it, or the a priori/a posteriori or necessary/contingent distinctions either, in explaining my own idiosyncratic take on "therapeutic" philosophy. In fact, I find that explanation works better when we follow Davidson in stripping the empiricist platitude (what McDowell calls "minimal empiricism," that it is only through the senses that we obtain knowledge of contingent matters of fact) of its dualistic residue, and meet up again with Wittgenstein on the other side of Quine. (And yes, I used the word "contingent" there – anyone have a problem with that?)

On the other hand, it also seems to me that after the smoke clears and everyone (*cough*) realizes that I am right, each side can make a case that I had been agreeing with that side all along: Hacker can point to the sense in which philosophy on my conception is still a matter of (what he will continue to call) clarifying our concepts, with an eye to dissolving the confusions underlying "metaphysical" questions; while Quine can point to (what he will continue to call) a characteristically "naturalistic" concern (if that naturalism is perhaps more Deweyan than his own) with the overcoming of the conceptual dualisms left over from our Platonic and Cartesian heritage – e.g., those between the related pairs of opposed concepts we have been discussing. Yet it seems to me that neither side can make the sale without giving something up (something important) and thereby approaching what seemed to be its polar opposite.

We've already seen the shape of this idea. On the one side, Hacker's insistence that, as he puts it, "[t]he problems [here, skeptical ones] are purely conceptual ones, and they are to be answered by purely conceptual means" [p. 9, my emphasis]" sabotages the anti-dualist content of the anti-skeptical critique with a dualistic emphasis on the "purity" of its form (itself held in place by a corresponding dualism of form and content). On the other, Quine recoils from the dualism of pure abstract a priori and good old-fashioned getting-your-hands-dirty empirical inquiry by eliminating the former entirely in favor of the latter. This insufficient response to one dualism leads inevitably to another: in Quine's case, this means (as Davidson argues) a dualism between conceptual scheme and empirical content, which ultimately (or even proximately!) proves to be pretty much the same as the dualisms (analytic/synthetic, observational/theoretical) Quine was supposed to be showing us how to discard.

We'll leave Davidson for another time (the interpretation business might take a while, though it does come up below), but as my subject here is the Hacker article, let me continue by discussing an area of agreement with Hacker: his dismissal of Quine's naturalized epistemology. (Yet of course even here I do not draw Hacker's moral, exactly.) No one disputes that there is such a thing as empirical psychology, so in one sense the focus of "naturalized epistemology" on resolutely third-person description of the processes of information acquisition by biological organisms is unobjectionable. The problem comes when this project is taken to amount to or replace philosophical investigation (however conceived) of knowledge and related topics.

I'll just mention two points. First (although Hacker doesn't put quite it this way), Quine's naturalistic aversion to "mentalistic" concepts leads him to assimilate the theoretically dangerous (in this sense) first-person case to the more scientifically tractable third-person case – after all, I'm a human being too, so what works for any arbitrary biological organism should work for me too. This makes the "external world" which is the object of our knowledge something no longer opposed (as in the (overtly) Cartesian case) to something mental, but instead to the world outside our (equally physical) sensory receptors. But now Hacker wonders about the status of our knowledge of our bodies; or of ourselves, for that matter. Quine is left in a dilemma: "Either I posit my own existence, or I know that I exist without positing or assuming it." As a result (see the article for the details) "[i]ncoherence lurks in these Cartesian shadows, and it is not evident how to extricate Quine from them." [p. 6]

This is (given the difference I've already mentioned) remarkably similar to Davidson's criticism of Quine in "Meaning, Truth, and Evidence":
In general, [Quine] contended, ‘It is our understanding, such as it is, of what lies beyond our surfaces, that shows our evidence for that understanding to be limited to our surfaces’ [The Ways of Paradox, p. 216]. But this is mistaken. The stimulation of sensory receptors is not evidence that a person employs in his judgements concerning his extra-somatic environment, let alone in his scientific judgements. My evidence that there was bread on the table is that there are crumbs left there. That there are crumbs on the table is something I see to be so. But that I see the crumbs is not my evidence that there are crumbs there. Since I can see them, I need no evidence for their presence – it is evident to my senses. That the cones and rods of my retinae fired in a certain pattern is not my evidence for anything – neither for my seeing what I see, nor for what I see, since it is not something of which I normally have any knowledge. For that something is so can be someone’s evidence for something else only if he knows it.
No, wait, that's Hacker again, from later in the paper (p. 13). Here's Davidson, criticizing as "Cartesian" Quine's "proximal" theory of meaning and evidence:
The only perspicuous concept of evidence is the concept of a relation between sentences or beliefs—the concept of evidential support. Unless some beliefs can be chosen on purely subjective grounds as somehow basic, a concept of evidence as the foundation of meaning or knowledge is therefore not available. [...] The causal relations between the world and our beliefs are crucial to meaning not because they supply a special sort of evidence for the speaker who holds the beliefs, but because they are often apparent to others and so form the basis for communication. [p. 58-9]
The relevant stimulus is thus not "the irritation of our sensory surfaces" but instead the rabbit whose appearance prompts the utterance of "gavagai." (See the rest of this key article; it's reprinted in the fifth volume of Davidson's papers, Truth, Language, and History, which I think is now available cheap.) Again, though, this is for reasons concerning the conceptually interconstitutive nature of meaning and belief, not a simple recoil from naturalized epistemology to conceptual analysis. That is, while considering these matters conceptually, as Hacker does, Davidson's argument presents a specific conceptual analysis (if that's what we want to call it) which in its content may be just as fatal to the "purely a priori" as is Quine.

Jumping ahead a bit, we can see on the horizon, even here, a cloud the size of a man's hand. For Davidson's contextually healthy insistence that (as he puts it elsewhere) "only a belief [here, as opposed to sensory stimulations] can be a reason for another belief" can, in other circumstances, manifest itself as a content-threatening coherentism. In "Scheme-content dualism and empiricism" (which I hope we can get to later), McDowell registers puzzlement that Davidson's criticism of Quine is that the latter's conception of empirical content as sensory stimulation (i.e., in its conceptual distance from the "external" world) leads merely to skepticism (not that that's not bad enough!) rather than an even more disastrous loss of the right to be called "content" at all. (At another level, this same consideration tells against Hacker's insistence that "conceptual analysis" are simply matters of language as opposed to matters of fact, i.e., about their referents in the world.)

Hacker too finds Quine's own response to skeptical worries to be nonchalant. In Quine's view, he says, since we are concerned with knowledge acquisition as a scientific question, "we are free to appeal to scientifically established fact (agreed empirical knowledge) without circularity." (Hacker's comment: "That is mistaken.") The philosophical problem of skepticism is not concerned simply with deciding whether or not we have any knowledge, so that it may be dismissed in deciding that, in fact, we do. As Hacker points out, one form of skepticism arises
from the thought that we have no criterion of truth to judge between sensible appearances. Citing a further appearance, even one apparently ratified by ‘science’, i.e. common experience, will not resolve the puzzlement. Similarly, we have no criterion to judge whether we are awake or asleep, since anything we may come up with as a criterion may itself be part of the content of a dream. So the true sceptic holds that we cannot know whether we are awake or asleep. We are called upon to show that he is wrong and where he has gone wrong. To this enterprise neither common sense nor the sciences can contribute anything. [Again, as cited above, Hacker's conclusion, now in context, is that] [t]he problems [skepticism] raises are purely conceptual ones, and they are to be answered by purely conceptual means – by clarification of the relevant elements of our conceptual scheme. This will show what is awry with the sceptical challenge itself. (p. 8-9)
There's more in this vein, attacking Quine's offhandedly deflationary conceptions of knowledge ("the best we can do is give up the notion of knowledge as a bad job") and belief (beliefs are "dispositions to behave, and these are physiological states"), and "the so-called identity theory of the mind: mental states are states of the body." Hacker's comment on this last is typical ("This too is mistaken"), and here too I agree. (Nor, since you ask, am I happy with Davidson's early approach to the mind-body problem, i.e., anomalous monism. But let's not talk about that today.)

Still, I can't see that Hacker's more extreme conclusions about the relation of science to philosophy are warranted. It's true that we can maintain that firm boundary by definitional fiat. But it's just not true that "the empirical sciences," if that means empirical scientists doing empirical science, cannot possibly contribute to our understanding of (the concept of) knowledge, or even provide a crucial piece of information which allows us to see things in a new way. After all, that's what the philosopher's "reminders" were trying to do too. And if a philosopher's "invention" of an "intermediate case" (for example) can provide the desired understanding (PI §122), then so too might a scientific discovery. All we need here, to avoid the "scientism" Hacker fears, is the idea that even the latter does not solve problems qua discovery, even if it is one – and that just because the philosopher's reminder might have done the same thing even if invented and not discovered.

15 comments:

Daniel Lindquist said...

"(what McDowell calls "minimal empiricism," that it is only through the senses that we obtain knowledge of contingent matters of fact) ....(And yes, I used the word "contingent" there – anyone have a problem with that?)"

Well, since you asked....

Does McDowell actually speak of "contingency" here? I didn't think so, and it doesn't seem to me that he should want to. Natural laws (F=MA and pals) are often taken as paradigms of necessity, in that they don't change with time. But surely experience is needed to learn of them. (I don't think McDowell speaks of natural laws as "necessary", nor do I feel compelled to thus speak, but I don't think McDowell's purposes are served by coming down one way or the other on this issue.)

McDowell also doesn't need "contingency" to make his point against "Davidsonian coherentism"; coherentism seems dangerous not (merely) because it does not allow that the world determines our contingent beliefs (when it does, as through veridical perception), but because it seems to have our beliefs floating free of the world generally. (In interpretation, I can take as the content of certain of others' beliefs those objects which I take to cause them. But in this case the worry that my own beliefs lack content is bracketed out, and it is this latter worry that coherentism is prone to -- that the world may be "lost" entirely, as Rorty urged us to lose it. I think that making sense of the Davidsonian maxim that the causes of a belief are often the content of that belief requires help of the sort McDowell provides -- the ironic reminder to Davidson that causes can be reasons.)

Basically, I don't know that you want "contingent" where you put it -- not because you want "necessary", but because I don't think you want an adjective where you placed that one.

Again, I don't want to slight "contingency" generally. It's a fine word. Plenty of good ways to use it. But I'm not sure this is one of them.

Daniel Lindquist said...

Also, on perversity: I don't see that being non-perverse is the right move here. "Continuity" is cheap, and it comes with a side-order of helping to fell any attempt to build strict demarcations between philosophy and those other things. I'm not much worried about naturalists "making so much" of the continuity, either, since being continuous with science hardly means philosophy is a sort of science. The latter claim, if it is to have the force the naturalists want it to have, actually seems to require denying the continuity of philosophy with science, or else it's trivialized. (There's a reason that naturalists don't tend to trumpet the continuity of philosophy with literature, which I regard as equally (trivially) true as the science continuity.) If your point was merely that being perverse was unlikely to be helpful in this particular discussion, for fear of appearing to agree with Quine's scientism, this is is fine and this comment doesn't really serve much of a purpose. But I liek commenting. So there.v

Duck said...

You're right, I shouldn't have used the word "contingent" there. I did so first, to show that I can (which you acknowledge), and second, because this is the traditional way of explaining why the empiricist insight is platitudinous: while I may know "without looking" that Joe the bachelor is unmarried, I have to use my senses to see (or hear by testimony) that he is six feet tall.

But neither of these things is worth it, given the downside you mention. Good call.

On perversity, I did indeed mean that "being perverse was unlikely to be helpful in this particular discussion," but not only because it may look like a hand-waving agreement with Quine's point, but also that it could just as well seem like a hand-waving dismissal of it as well. It was just an aside.

When I wrote of naturalists "making so much" of "continuity," I'm thinking of Leiter and his overt scientism (a word worth using here despite its vagueness, if only to annoy him). If it were to be understood in the way I waved at in my aside, I'd be perfectly okay with "making much" of it, as to understand the real nature of such continuity would – well, I think it would help a lot.

Feel free to make quibbling comments if you like (seriously, the first one helps). I'll just take that to mean nothing worse is wrong with what I said!

Plus I see you have your own post. I'll go read it now.

N. N. said...

If you want to use the concept to distinguish between "that bachelor is unmarried" and "that bachelor is six feet tall," go right ahead. I just don't think that distinction has the philosophical significance that other people do.

Are you saying that there is a difference in kind between these two sentences corresponding to, say, Carnap's distinction between analytic and synthetic statements, but that such a distinction is not philosophically significant?

Yet it seems to me that neither side can make the sale without giving something up (something important) and thereby approaching what seemed to be its polar opposite.

What will each side have to give up?

Jumping ahead a bit, we can see on the horizon, even here, a cloud the size of a man's hand. For Davidson's contextually healthy insistence that (as he puts it elsewhere) "only a belief [here, as opposed to sensory stimulations] can be a reason for another belief" can, in other circumstances, manifest itself as a content-threatening coherentism. In "Scheme-content dualism and empiricism" (which I hope we can get to later), McDowell registers puzzlement that Davidson's criticism of Quine is that the latter's conception of empirical content as sensory stimulation (i.e., in its conceptual distance from the "external" world) leads merely to skepticism (not that that's not bad enough!) rather than an even more disastrous loss of the right to be called "content" at all. (At another level, this same consideration tells against Hacker's insistence that "conceptual analysis" are simply matters of language as opposed to matters of fact, i.e., about their referents in the world.)

This paragraph seems to be important for your reply to Quine and Hacker (why else would you allude to the Old Testament), but you're point is eluding me. Could you spell out McDowell's puzzlement a bit more and how it bears on Hacker?

But it's just not true that "the empirical sciences," if that means empirical scientists doing empirical science, cannot possibly contribute to our understanding of (the concept of) knowledge, or even provide a crucial piece of information which allows us to see things in a new way. After all, that's what the philosopher's "reminders" were trying to do too. And if a philosopher's "invention" of an "intermediate case" (for example) can provide the desired understanding (PI §122), then so too might a scientific discovery. All we need here, to avoid the "scientism" Hacker fears, is the idea that even the latter does not solve problems qua discovery, even if it is one – and that just because the philosopher's reminder might have done the same thing even if invented and not discovered.

I don't think it's obvious that empirical science can contribute to our understanding of the concept of knowledge. That's because I think it's obvious that empirical science can contribute to our understanding of any of our (pre-theoretical) concepts. As for philosophical reminders, the 'new' way of seeing things is actually a newly remembered old way of seeing things. Otherwise it wouldn't be a reminder. If a scientific discovery were used in an analogical way to remind us of some grammatical rule we already know (but have forgotten), I suppose that would be fine.

N. N. said...

By the way, while I don't think that Hacker is a brilliant writer (he's good, but not on a par with Quine, for example), he does have flashes of brilliance:

To the updated variant of dream-scepticism that one may be a brain in a vat, Quine responded: 'I would
think in terms of naturalistic plausibility. What we know, or what we believe ... is that it would really be an implausible achievement, at this stage anyway, to rig up such a brain. And so I don’t think I am one.' I don’t think that Quine quite understood the point. Scepticism is not a challenge to one of the planks in Neurath’s boat. It is a challenge to the logical possibility of seafaring. And it cannot be answered by invoking 'scientific' facts or common sense, or by pointing out that boats do actually go to sea.

PMS Kracker said...

no it's a weighing of inferences. a real cartesian skeptic starts by cutting off an arm. if it really really hurts, he was most likely mistaken, and indeed provides some evidence that external objects (an axe, like) exist and have a causal relation to perceptions. ;)

Duck said...

Are you saying that there is a difference in kind between these two sentences corresponding to, say, Carnap's distinction between analytic and synthetic statements, but that such a distinction is not philosophically significant?

I'm saying that if someone wants to make such a distinction, I don't have to object (demanding ahead of time that no such distinction "gets things right") until they put more weight on it than it can support. It's like saying that there's an "objective" world, "independent of us." Just because a lot of the time people say things like this en route to defending an incoherent (non-)position doesn't mean I have to dispute it while it could still just amount to a truism, i.e., that (as I would rather put it) that someone believes something doesn't mean that it is true. Here too, depending on what we're talking about, the distinction could perfectly well be innocuous. Often the trick in philosophy is to hold your fire until the right moment (or even completely if you can).

What will each side have to give up?

Well, we're jumping ahead here. This is a characteristic pattern in the context of dualism-fighting, which I should say more about. [I actually started here, but let me put it off for now.] The general idea is that each side will see (in that decidedly counterfactual scenario in which everyone sees, as I put it in the post, that I am right) that, well, their scruples (empiricist or apriorist) were misunderstandings – that each route *can* lead to where we want to go if we aren't in such a hurry to rule out the other one (as pointing in the "wrong" direction).

McDowell's concern is a main topic of Mind and World, esp. chapters 1 & 2 (and the first Afterword), which I assume you have not read. As I think I've mentioned here, I got hit with this bad boy in my first semester in grad school, when it was still the unpublished Locke Lectures, and (as I lacked much of the necessary background, esp. in Davidson and Sellars) which went directly over my head without leaving a trace. Very briefly, the worry is that unless *some* vestige of "empiricism" is retained – the idea that our beliefs have *some* normative relation to the world, as in Quine's idea of the "tribunal of experience" – then it is hard to see them as contentful ("world-directed") at all (i.e., a seemingly more drastic loss of contact with the world than their (merely!) being vulnerable to skeptical doubt), and this dire situation is what McDowell thinks Davidson's coherentism threatens to lead to (but again, see the first Afterword to MW). I think something analogous may be true of Hacker's scrupulous insistence on "purely" a priori methods – too great a distance from empirical inquiry, and we lose the connection to the world that makes our concepts contentful at all. (Obviously, I didn't give an argument for that here, just noted a possible parallel.)

As for the last point, while I do think we may be reaching a bit too far into the realm of imagery and metaphor for me to say anything helpful here, I will say that if something jolts us out of our ("aspect-dogmatic"?) complacency in the way that (Bakerian?) perspicuous representations do, then I don't care where they come from: whether they're literal reminders, or philosophical "intuition pumps" (Dennett's term, but it applies to Wittgenstein's inventions too), or actually observed phenomena like those I mentioned in one or another Dennett thread: blindsight, blindness denial, illusion of control, or any number of other Oliver Sacks-y things. The ("scientistic"?) mistake from which we must be careful not to recoil too sharply is that the only things that can point us to the right path are (must be) scientific discoveries (or, for that matter, philosophical ones).

N. N. said...

McDowell's concern is a main topic of Mind and World, esp. chapters 1 & 2 (and the first Afterword), which I assume you have not read.

I havn't. It's on my list, but I think I should get to Davidson first. Of course, as preparation for that I've been rereading Tarski and Quine, and I need to get to Sellars, and I've been meaning to read Rorty's Mirror of Nature.... So I've got a lot to read. It's interesting what different paths we've taken. My philosophical ancestors are Wittgenstein, Ryle and Austin on to Grice, Strawson, Anscombe, etc. The furthest I've gotten in your family tree is Quine.

Very briefly, the worry is that unless some vestige of "empiricism" is retained – the idea that our beliefs have some normative relation to the world, as in Quine's idea of the "tribunal of experience" – then it is hard to see them as contentful ("world-directed") at all (i.e., a seemingly more drastic loss of contact with the world than their (merely!) being vulnerable to skeptical doubt), and this dire situation is what McDowell thinks Davidson's coherentism threatens to lead to.... I think something analogous may be true of Hacker's scrupulous insistence on "purely" a priori methods – too great a distance from empirical inquiry, and we lose the connection to the world that makes our concepts contentful at all.

I see now. That's very interesting. It reminds me (somewhat) of the worries about the later Wittgenstein's views concerning the autonomy of grammar. If grammar is not answerable to the world at all, and if everything necessary for sense (including ostensive definition) is internal to grammar, then what does language have to do with 'the world'? What relation, if any, do our concepts have to 'the world'? I think in bringing McDowell's criticism of Davidson to bear on Hacker, we might end up discussing such questions.

Daniel Lindquist said...

"This paragraph seems to be important for your reply to Quine and Hacker (why else would you allude to the Old Testament)"
I re-read Duck's paragraph several times, trying to figure out where the Tractatus reference I was missing was. Oops. You meant the other Old Testament.

"As I think I've mentioned here, I got hit with this bad boy in my first semester in grad school, when it was still the unpublished Locke Lectures, and (as I lacked much of the necessary background, esp. in Davidson and Sellars) which went directly over my head without leaving a trace."
I actually don't recall hearing about the timing before. I hadn't read Sellars until after I'd read quite a bit of McDowell (and still all I've read is Empiricism and Philosophy of Mind), though I'd picked up the gist of his critique of the "Myth of the Given" somewhere or other. I suspect that just going from Davidson to McDowell without knowing anything at all of Sellars would be pretty doable, since McDowell claims that the "Myth of the Given" and the "dualism of conceptual scheme and empirical content" are the same mistake.

I had read "Reading McDowell: On Mind and World" and most of "Rorty and His Critics", along with at least the Davidson stuff that kept coming up in "Rorty and His Critics" ("On The Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme", "A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs", and "A Coherence Theory of Truth and Knowledge") before getting past chapter 1 of M&W, so M&W itself was pretty painless. (After that sort of preparation, it better have been.) I actually think that background lead me to read it more charitably than I ought to have, which is why I had such a hard time figuring out what McDowell was revising in "Avoiding the Myth of the Given".

I've actually not gotten around to looking at Tarski himself; Davidson's "Tarski-type theories of truth" always struck me as pretty well explained by Davidson's own articles, so I've just not bothered. "On The Folly of Trying to Define Truth", "The Structure and Content of Truth" etc. didn't exactly leave me with a felt need to hunt down the Wahrheitsbegriff to figure out what I was missing. (Though I am curious why Tarski never came around on the notion that natural languages could be handled in the way he'd handled formal languages.) Is there actually a big pay-off to reading Tarski himself?

Duck said...

N. N.:

Mirror of Nature is worth reading eventually, but if you're new to Rorty, there's better stuff to read. The introduction to Consequences of Pragmatism, and "Pragmatism, Relativism, and Irrationalism" from that collection; the four papers in part II of Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth; and Rorty and his Critics. Ramberg's book is the best intro to Davidson, though Evnine was helpful too, as I recall. I still don't know much about Sellars (so I'm still not sure why McDowell makes such a big deal about him), though I did read most of "Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind". McDowell explains the Myth of the Given well enough for the use he makes of it.

I think in bringing McDowell's criticism of Davidson to bear on Hacker, we might end up discussing such questions.

Count on it. 8-) Btw, I noticed that if you try, as I do, to combine (or hebe auf) the opposition between empiricism and "linguistic analysis", you might deserve the name [... wait for it ...] Quacker. Hah!

Daniel:

I suspect that just going from Davidson to McDowell without knowing anything at all of Sellars would be pretty doable

That's what I did (although Rorty also rehashes Sellarsian themes, so I probably picked up some of that too). The caveat, again, is that I did not get McDowell's Woodbridge Lectures at all. (I was in the audience, and I can still hear him saying "above the line" [gesturing] and "below the line.")

I didn't exactly read Tarski, but my first semester logic teacher spent the entire semester rigorously deriving Tarski's definitions of satisfaction and truth for first-order logic w/quantifiers, which set up that memorable day in, I guess it would have been December, when I went directly from Tarski's definition of truth-in-L in logic class to Davidson's adaptation of it in language class. That was pretty cool!

Daniel Lindquist said...

"The caveat, again, is that I did not get McDowell's Woodbridge Lectures at all. (I was in the audience, and I can still hear him saying "above the line" [gesturing] and "below the line.")"
Between "Reading McDowell" and the lecture-text itself, I don't remember finding it all that hard to follow along with "Having The World In View". I could see it being harder to follow ex audo though.

Actually, I think I probably had read some criticism of McDowell from Sellarsians, since I was reading a lot of responses to McDowell from Kantians & Hegelians at the time, and Sellars is a nice way to approach that. Considering this would've been a few years after the Woodbridge lectures, I probably didn't read "Having The World In View" until I'd seen it summarized & discussed a few times. Understanding things is so much easier when you can do it backwards.

Also, seconding the "Consequences of Pragmatism" recommendation, especially the introduction. "Rorty and His Critics" is fantastic -- Davidson, McDowell, Brandom, Ramberg, Bilgrami and Putnam are all good times. Dennett's essay in that collection is totally off-theme and I hate it ("Let's discuss your articles from the 60s!"), but it sets up a nice response from Rorty. Oh hey I forgot there was a Conant article in here -- I skipped it when I read the book because I figured he was some lit-crit guy. (See, because the article's about Orwell, and I knew Rorty was criticized "from both sides", and there was only Habermas and Bouveresse on his left otherwise....)

Duck said...

I haven't gone back to the Woodbridge Lectures – I was putting it off until I read more Sellars, and I haven't done that either. Maybe I should.

I got about half-way through Conant's article (about par the course for me, with him), and it (the part I read) is worth checking out. As for Habermas and Bouveresse, they may be to his political left, but I'd say they were to his *metaphysical* "right," if that makes any sense.

Daniel Lindquist said...

I was using left/right as a shorthand for continental/analytic, roughly; I suspected Conant must be some "Theory" guy I'd never heard of, to help balance out the analytic/continental tilt of the book a bit. I have no idea where a lot of the contributors to "Rorty and His Critics" fall politically -- I only know anything about Dennett, Putnam, and Habermas there, and the three Americans seem to be generally in agreement about politics, as far as I can tell. (I may be misrecalling Dennett's stance on religion in public life -- I know he's not a fan, but I can't recall if he dislikes it in the way Dawkins dislikes it or the way Rorty dislikes it.)

Saying Habermas is to Rorty's "metaphysical right" sounds about right; I don't know Bouveresse outside of the one article.

I just skimmed through the Woodbridge lectures' footnotes to confirm my suspicion: "Empiricism and Philosophy of Mind" gets more attention than everything else Sellarsian combined. Other Sellars texts (especially "Science & Metaphysics") are referenced just to illuminate E&PoM.

Especially this sentence from a footnote, which struck me as utterly insane when I first read it, and as utterly out-of-place with the rest of the essay: "Speaking as a philosopher, I am quite prepared to say that the common-sense world of physical objects in Space and Time is unreal-that is, that there are no such things." The Woodbridge Lectures seemed to me largely determined to show that my initial reaction was totally right -- Sellars' "Scientific Realism" is untenable, and causes some serious problems for his magnum opus, E&PoM, if allowed to stand. (Mirabile dictu, Sellars falls for the Myth of the Given with his "below the line" stuff. I suppose it's only fitting -- Sellars falls for the Myth of the Given, and Davidson forgets that causes can be reasons. M&W is then an effort to be a better Sellarsian than Sellars and a better Davidsonian than Davidson.)

So, just getting a bit more familiar with E&PoM is probably plenty of "background Sellars" for hitting the Woodbridge lectures. (Or just reading the whole essay through, if you haven't gotten around to that yet. I know I gave up after a few pages several times over a period of months; it took taking "Science, Perception, and Reality" as my only book on a weekend trip to actually force myself to get all the way through without giving up again. But once I had several hours with literally nothing to do but read Sellars or stare at cornfields, the text started to slowly open up.)

01001010 said...

Ooo go knee-pads-Dan! What two miserable sacks of shieete: incapable of even understanding the implications of Quinean pragmatist-naturalism (or the possible mistakes thereof). Hint: it's called a "brain."

00100101 said...

In particular, I don't need to use it, or the a priori/a posteriori or necessary/contingent distinctions either, in explaining my own idiosyncratic take on "therapeutic" philosophy.


Or, in other words, you can't provide any necessary or even cogent arguments for any of these concepts.

(while TDOE might have drawbacks, Hacker does not really offer PROOF of an a priori, or even why it is necessary for tautologies. Instead he insists on "it", in a nearly Thomistic fashion). Moreover while analyticity concerns meaning, there is no clear cleavage between a priority and necessity: most writers would say a priori knowledge (i.e. logical form), if it is really "a priori", is necessary (and distinguished from a posteriori knowledge from experience). Even early Witt. argues that.

The rationalist might assert that that the empiricist (even the upgraded Quinean empiricist) cannot really justify how supposed a priori knowledge (like, what sensation shows a conjunction?) comes about via sensation and experience. That does not imply, however, that a rationalist or platonic alternative works either (tho' many naive philo-clowns, especially of the religious variety, insist that is the case). It implies they don't know jack about cognition and perception.

Duck, as in duck the issue.