Wednesday, March 30, 2005

DVD Alert: La Jetée/Sans Soleil

Chris Marker's La Jetée (1962) is one of my fave movies (okay, at 29 minutes I guess it's a "film"), and I've always thought it would make a great DVD paired with another fab Marker film, Sans Soleil. And lo, with one qualification, this has come to pass! That qualification is: it's a DVD-R, and may not play on every machine (and may not last as long either). It's put out by DbD Video, whatever that is; I assume it's a legitimate release, but who knows? The packaging is low-rent but professional-enough-looking, and the transfer looks fine. Oh, and if you care (some claim to), both are narrated in English, not the original French; but the narrators are good, and it's nice not to have subtitles block the picture. The message board at says the French version of La Jetée is available too, but there was some concern about the picture quality. Also, an English version (I hesitate to call it "dubbed," as it's only a narration) has been available for a while on a disc of short films.

If you haven't seen La Jetée, it may help to know that it was the "inspiration" for Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys, which I did like (actually I saw it first, so maybe that's why), but La Jetée is much much much better, utterly unique, a true classic. Sans Soleil (1982) is pretty great too; it's described here as a "nonlinear essay film," if that helps, which I can't imagine it would. Check the review at - I think she liked it!

Monday, March 28, 2005

Does Wittgenstein advance "theses"?

At TAR recently, Brian Weatherson asked for advice in explaining (to his History of Analytic Philosophy class) Wittgenstein's conception of philosophy, as discussed in §§109-133 of Philosophical Investigations. In particular, he expressed his perplexity at Wittgenstein's insistence, at PI §128, that "If one tried to advance theses in philosophy, it would never be possible to debate them, because everyone would agree to them." These sections are the heart of Wittgenstein's thought, and without understanding them it is impossible to see what the book, and his later philosophy in general, is trying to do. I won't be able to straighten it all out in time to be of any help to anyone struggling with this this semester, but since it is one of the main things I want to discuss here, I might as well get started. (See also the comments at TAR.)

PI §128 is a tricky one; it keeps going in and out of focus for me. My general advice is to key on the sections (i.e. in the neighborhood of §§109-133) that you understand and read the others in that context (I guess that's obvious, isn't it?). For example, look at 128's immediate neighbors:

127: The work of the philosopher consists in assembling reminders for a particular purpose.

129: The aspects [Aspekte] of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something—because it is always before one's eyes.) [...]: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and powerful.

So when the philosopher says "[P]", this is to be taken as a reminder of something we already know, not a thesis to be proved in the face of ignorance or doubt. We already know it, so an argument for it would be out of place, as this would make it look like its truth, rather than its significance in the context, is what we are unclear on. We would say "Well, duh! But so what?", asking for a further, substantive claim instead of looking for the "hidden" aspect of [P] which was the real philosophical point. Compare §126, in which he says that "since everything lies open to view, there is nothing [for philosophy] to explain. For what is hidden, for example, is of no interest to us." There are no hidden philosophical truths; instead, philosophy deals with the "hidden" significance (to the one suffering from philosophical confusion) of truths which are not hidden at all, and thus do not need "philosophers" to unearth them, but instead lie open to view. What is "hidden" here is hidden in plain sight.

All this is pretty straightforward itself, as an interpretation. But what does it mean? Remember the joke about the plumber: when he bangs the pipe with his wrench and the water flows again, he bills you $505 – $5 for banging, and $500 for knowing where to bang. Here too, one can hardly be effective as a philosopher by pointing out obvious facts at random. It is for a particular purpose that these "reminders" are "assembled." Our next question is: what is that purpose? We already know the answer – it is to dispel philosophical illusion, of the sort that makes it seem as if a philosophical doctrine is required to unravel an apparent mystery.

But let's leave that for later. Right now I'll close with a few paragraphs from a recent collection on the topic, Wittgenstein at Work: Method in the Philosophical Investigations, edited by E. Ammereller and E. Fischer (Routledge, 2004). This is from Anthony Kenny's contribution, "'Philosophy only states what everyone admits'" (the quotation is from PI §599). Here (pp. 175-6) Kenny is asking the natural question – to what extent does Wittgenstein's own procedure in PI match fit his description of philosophy, in particular his rejection, in these sections, of the advancing of "theses"?

A reason why one might think that there is room for argument even in Wittgensteinian therapy is that the philosophical treatment of a problem may well involve the use of words like 'so,' 'therefore,' and 'because' which are characteristic of genuine inference. But that is due to the demands of the therapeutic procedure. The misguided philosopher believes that his dogma is a genuine proposition. To cure him of that illusion we have to humour him: we have to take his pseudo-proposition seriously by treating it as if it was a genuine proposition and drawing consequences from it. Of course these consequences will themselves be pseudo-propositions and only pseudo-consequences.

The purpose of this operation is not to lead the patient to a conclusion that he will recognize as false, so that he will have to give up his premise. It is, rather, to bring him to realize the illusory nature of his original claim, and thus make him cease to wish to persevere with it. It is literally a reductio ad absurdum, not the reduction to self-contradiction that goes by that name in logic textbooks.

The therapeutic procedure is not, however, a mere incantation. It must obey the laws of logic. What 'follows from' the pseudo-proposition must be what would really follow from it if it were a genuine proposition. To the non-Wittgensteinian philosopher – and in particular to the philosopher whose intellectual malaise is being treated – it does, indeed, appear to be an argument. A commentator, therefore, who uses expressions such as 'the private language argument' need not necessarily be in error about Wittgenstein's therapeutic conception of philosophy.

However, Kenny ends the article by telling us that he does "not believe that it is, in the end, possible to reconcile Wittgenstein's account of philosophy with the entirety of his philosophical activity in the Investigations" (p. 181). I don't either – I think he's taking a hard line in sections like 128 in order to keep us from misunderstanding his intentions (all too easy to do even so), where his, and our, actual procedure is more nuanced (versatile, pluralistic, continuous with the philosophical tradition, etc.). Ultimately, it is we, his patients, who must decide what we will do – use philosophical arguments, or abjure their use, as needed – which is how it should be, even, as I will argue, on Wittgensteinian grounds.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Movie Time

As you may have noticed, it's not just philosophy 24/7 here at DuckRabbit. We both like the movies: I'll watch anything except the most noxious Hollywood crap, while Rabbit has long outgrown his artsy phase and now prefers cinema in which, as the saying goes, stuff blows up real good. Kind of like Wittgenstein in that regard, if I'm not mistaken. Point to Rabbit.

Today's film is Days of Wine and Roses, from 1962. It depicts a hot threesome which ends badly (don't they all), among Jack Lemmon, Lee Remick, and the Bottle. I find Jack Lemmon's shtick (with the double takes) tiresome at the best of times, and here it's downright painful to watch. I know alcoholism is no fun, but this plays like a parodic mashup of Reefer Madness (Brandy Alexander Madness?), Cruel Story of Youth, and, I don't know, Shock Corridor. Plus an AA promo spot: there's a scene where an impossibly young Jack Klugman introduces our boy at an AA meeting -- and they both give their full names. Guys! What part of AA don't you understand? (The second part, I guess.) Oscar noms for the leads, and it won for ... Best Song. (Wak!)

Another thing: the DVD cover is misleading (could that have been the promo poster??). The top picture ("From the days of wine and roses") is fine, but the bottom one ("finally comes a night like this.") is a composite of two different scenes. In the movie, this shot shows Lee Remick lurching into a room and looking over at her sleeping father on the bed; but instead of Dad, the picture on the cover shows Jack Lemmon on his belly, reaching toward the camera -- a shot lifted from the previous scene, in which he's crawling around in the greenhouse (don't ask).

Lee Remick looks great though -- wow. On this tip check out also Wild River; there's a scene with her and Montgomery Clift in the car -- they're getting gas or something -- in which she lights up a smile that must be seen to be believed.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Maxwell's Demon

Forget information. I would have thought that it would take a fair amount of energy just to get the damn door open and shut. That door is part of the system. Without it, no sorting can take place.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Important matters in the blogosphere

Today, in lieu of a post of my own, I send you elsewhere. Here we find evidence of a like-minded sensibility; well posted sir!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Labyrinth pt. 3

Philippa Foot - Virtues and Vices (Oxford 2002 (first ed 1978)).

Remember when that blowhard William Bennett was telling us (correctly, actually, but in a fatuous way) that moral character was what counted in a president, and wrote a lot of books with "Virtue" in the title? I don't care a fig about his gambling habit -- what really bugs me about that guy is his basically claiming that Aristotle, for whom virtue is indeed the central ethical concept, was on his side. Aristotle's conception of virtue is based on the "doctrine of the mean" -- that what virtuous people do is (in particular respects) to "avoid excess and defect" in their actions. Courageous people, for example, aren't (essentially, that is) those who overcome their fear -- they're those who act appropriately in the face of danger. They indeed avoid defect (cowardice) by not running away – but they also avoid excess (foolhardiness) by not simply ignoring danger and getting killed for no reason. What counts as "appropriate" varies from case to case (including person to person) and cannot even be captured (exhaustively described), let alone constituted, by rules that can be taught. One learns to act appropriately the way one learns a skill, through practice and experience. One becomes accustomed to one's own capacities, and learns to improvise in new situations rather than following a rule book.

All this is uncontroversial (that is, uncontroversially attributable to Aristotle) and entirely explicit in the Nicomachean Ethics. But for moralists like Bennett, it turns out that "virtue" equals "character" equals "obeying authority" equals "following the rules", where the "rules" have the form of Thou Shalt Not Even Think About It and get their ultimate authority from divine command as quite literally carved in stone. Whatever else may be said about this position, it ain't Aristotle. At best, Aristotle supports teaching rules to children as a kind of moral training wheels, to keep them from vice until they can manage on their own. (On the other hand, at times he also refers obscurely to an "underlying logos" which supposedly grounds virtue somehow, lest it seem arbitrary and subjective. Depending on what this means, this might be used to read Aristotle against himself in support of a deontologist position. Anyway.) There are only two reasons Bennett brings in Aristotle at all: first, the word "virtue"; and second, Bennett wants to come down on the Great Books side of the multiculturalism/canon wars, so he gets to make both points at once by saying "let's go back to Aristotle." This is neat rhetoric -- if you want to teach anything other than The Classics then you're abandoning the teaching of virtue and thus essentially a degenerate and a barbarian -- but if we really did "go back to Aristotle" what Bennett really wants goes right out the window. Actually, I like Great Books just as much as Bennett does; in fact I've actually read some of them. (Okay, that's harsh, but you get the point.)

Philippa Foot is a real moral philosopher and this is a collection of 14 of her essays, the first of which (the title essay) is billed by the blurb as arguing explicitly for an "ethic of virtue." Virtue ethics strikes me as more promising than either of the other two normative-ethical theories, deontology and consequentialism, but no theory will seal the deal until I hear a good account of how it relates to the rest of philosophy (rationality, normativity, agency, etc.). Most of the book seems to be about meta-ethics though -- 8 essays are billed as showing Foot's "growing disenchantment with emotivism and prescriptivism and their account of moral arguments." Depending on what exactly "prescriptivism" means, I would echo that disenchantment as well. Onto the shelf with you!

Another one for the shelf is:

S. Lovibond and S. G. Williams, eds. - Identity, Truth, and Value: Essays for David Wiggins (Blackwell 1996)

Wiggins is a big name in British philosophy who writes on, well, identity, truth, and value. This is a Festschrift with some familiar names (Williamson, McDowell) and 66 pages of replies. Here's an almost random sentence from Harold Noonan's contribution, "Absolute and Relative Identity," concerning the famous "cat on the mat" debate in metaphysics: "But it is only if 'some cat is F' is equivalent to 'something is a cat and is F' and 'every cat is F' is equivalent to 'everything, if it is a cat, is F' that these quantifying expressions must be taken to range over everything which qualifies as a cat." The "crucial point at issue," he says farther on, is "whether 'is a cat', understood as a syntactically simple predicate in which the 'is' is merely the 'is' of predication – a mere fragment of a predicate which expresses no property or relation by itself, applies univocally both to Tibbles [the kitty in question, washing himself in blithe ignorance of the surrounding swarms of quasi-kitties which are almost identical to him] and to (at least one of) the entities present in the situation described which are distinct from Tibbles" [p. 22, emphasis in original]. He concludes, however, that "how this issue might be decided, and even whether there is any fact of the matter to be decided, is, I suggest, wholly unclear." So what he's saying is that it depends on what the meaning of "is" is. How about that? Now it may seem that I am making fun of this (and it is funny), but actually it seems like he ends up in the right place (especially the part about it being wholly unclear what to say). There'll always be an England. Btw, for you (fellow) McDowellheads out there, the McDowell essay here ("Incontinence and Practical Wisdom in Aristotle") is not available in Mind, Value, and Reality.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Page 123 redux

If I had disobeyed the instructions of that little game and looked around for a "cooler" book than the one which was actually to hand, I might have checked out this one, which was in the pile on the floor, hoping for a sentence like:

Animal fury and orgiastic licence here whipped themselves to daemoniac heights by howls and squawking ecstasies that tore and reverberated through those nighted woods like pestilential tempests from the gulfs of hell.

Yow! Or how about the subsequent sentence, which tells us (if the first didn't provide enough clues!) what this is:

Now and then the less organised ululation would cease, and from what seemed a well-drilled chorus of hoarse voices would rise in sing-song chant that hideous phrase or ritual: "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn".

"Sing-song chant", my eye -- sounds more like gargling to me. This choice mouthful comes of course from H. P. Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu." Unfortunately, in this volume (Tales, in a handsome Library of America edition), it comes toward the bottom of page 179. The actual fifth sentence on p. 123 reads:

I scraped further, and saw that it had form.

Disappointing; but that's the point of the game, I guess. Incidentally, this is the climax of "The Shunned House." You can guess what's going on here from sentence eight:

Still more I scraped, and then abruptly I leaped out of the hole and away from the filthy thing; frantically unstopping and tilting the heavy carboys, and precipitating their corrosive contents one after another down that charnel gulf and upon the unthinkable abnormality whose titan elbow I had seen.

Hmm; not grammatical, that one. (carboy, n. [Per. qaraba, a large bottle.] a large bottle of green glass, enclosed in basketwork or securely boxed for protection: used especially for carrying corrosive liquids, as sulfuric acid.) Come to think of it, sentence five is growing on me -- in a way it's actually creepier, when taken out of context like that.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Leiter on Nietzsche

I mentioned the other day that I was reading (and writing on) Brian Leiter's book on Nietzsche. (We looked at p. 123.) Let me say more about that. Leiter's basic take on Nietzsche is that far from being a relativistic proto-postmodernist critic of science (truth, knowledge, Republicans, etc.) as merely a "regime of power" (that's Foucault, right?), Nietzsche is best described as a naturalistic critic of morality, as dedicated as any scientist to the ideals of objectivity and rigor, as befits not only his early enthusiasm for the materialist movement in Germany, but also his formal training as a classical philologist, which stressed careful, rigorous interpretive procedure, not playful, creative misreadings. Postmodern readings of Nietzsche (that is, readings of N. as a p.m.), Leiter says, depend either on tendentious, facile readings of canonic passages, or on dubious fragments from the Nachlass, usually The Will to Power, which, as everyone knows, is not an authentic publication by Nietzsche himself but instead a collection from his notebooks, spuriously arranged by his proto-Nazi sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, to appear to be the master's magnum opus (Nietzsche had indeed planned a book by this title, as outlined in several fragments presented prominently in WTP) in order to capitalize on the invalid's growing popularity.

I first ran across Leiter in 1998, when I read a brief article ("One Health, One Earth, One Sun: Nietzsche's Respect for Natural Science") in the Times Literary Supplement. I didn't read it carefully, probably because I was primed to agree with him: of course Nietzsche was neither a postmodern relativist nor a "science critic" in the contemporary sense; he was a perspectivist, and that's not the same thing at all. We do indeed have knowledge of the world (so perspectivism ≠ skepticism), and we can indeed make mistakes about it (so it ≠ relativism either). Not only is this fairly straightforward (I had thought, naively), I had just read (Maudemarie) Clark's book making these same points, so I just filed Leiter, who cites Clark approvingly himself, away with Clark in the sanely anti-relativist (or "cognitivist," as K. Westphal says) Nietzsche-interpreter file. Still with me?

Many months pass. I forget what brought me back to this stuff – maybe it was the publication of Richardson & Leiter's 2001 Oxford collection (Nietzsche, which is a good collection if you don't already have most of it elsewhere), which has more Leiter in it. Or maybe I was just defending perspectivism against the typical charges of relativism – and the inevitable, increasingly tiresome, triumphant accusation of self-refutation – from realists. Anyway, I read Leiter's article on perspectivism in the Schacht collection on the Genealogy (Nietzsche, Genealogy, Morality; also a good collection), and looked more closely at the TLS piece, whereupon I was chagrined to discover that Leiter's "perspectivist" Nietzsche is nothing of the kind by my lights, but instead a sort of Quinean scientific realist. Not only that, what had seemed on casual reading to be straightforward refutations of the idea that Nietzsche rejected science turned out to be the much stronger claim that Nietzsche "repeatedly endorsed a scientific perspective as the correct or true one," with the implication that it is this and this only that keeps "perspectivism" from falling into postmodern relativism cum skepticism. Wak!

According to Leiter, although Nietzsche is not himself a materialist (that is, a proponent of physicalist metaphysics, which Leiter puts in the category of "Substantive Naturalism," as opposed to the "Methodological Naturalism" Nietzsche endorses), his rejection of "metaphysics" is limited solely to a scientific (ie naturalistic) rejection of non-empirical pseudo-inquiry, whether that take the form of theological dogmas about supernatural entities or philosophical speculation about Platonic essences. Instead, the only inquiry worth the name is rigorous empirical inquiry into the objective world as revealed by science. Similarly, his "perspectivism" rejects the idea of a "view from nowhere" only in the sense that our views of the world must be "human" perspectives of the empirical world, not mystical communion with Reality behind the Veil. Some perspectives distort (our view of) the objective world, which is why the scientific perspective is the "correct or true" one, in that its objectivity and rigor allows us to avoid the subjective distortion of reality which would otherwise lead to error. In this sense we attain an "objective view", but not in the goofy metaphysical sense.

Now, like the pomos, only differently, I had been reading Nietzsche as an ally in the fight against platonism and Cartesianism; but Leiter's Nietzsche seems more concerned with Schopenhauer than Descartes. Is Nietzsche still my friend?? Or is he just another scientific realist, essentially a fair-weather friend (an ally against "metaphysics," but then a backslider into realism)?? Tune in again, in the indeterminate future, for another exciting chapter!!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Why don't we stay here for now

I've been quacking about migrating to another host, and I even checked it out, but since a) I don't want to learn another system/tweak another template just now; b) we don't have enough comments here for it to be worthwhile anyway, and c) Blogger seems only to have hiccuped rather than blown a fuse, I guess we'll stay here for now.

Of course one reason for (b) is (d): I, we, haven't been posting (heh heh). Of course we're busy, but that's no excuse really. I've been hanging out and commenting on other blogs (Right Reason is really hopping), but when visiting someone else's domain I feel I should really stay on point rather than stretching out (on the other hand I encourage any visitors here to stretch out all they like!), so maybe I'll repost stuff here, or link to it, and then really go to town. It could get ugly (in a good way though!)

We'll also have sneak peeks at my article in progress! So stay tuned!

Monday, March 14, 2005

Migration update

I'm still feathering our new nest (give me some time, I'm an HTML naif), so I haven't been posting here; but I have provided the text of the First Amendment in a comment to the relevant post below. Enjoy!

Friday, March 11, 2005

Oh dear

I just heard about, and have now confirmed, certain difficulties with the comments feature. Also, since I hope to have some rousing discussions here, with lots of comment from the peanut gallery, a list of recent comments, as some blogs have, seems essential. Unfortunately, Blogger doesn't have that feature. Oh well. Thus, we may have to move to another host. I'll look into it.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

In which it is revealed that Duck is an exceptionally well-informed citizen of our nation

There was a column in the paper today which cited another one of those dreary polls telling us how little everyone knows about the stuff you're supposed to learn in grade school. Now this was everyone, not just students, and it turns out that fewer than one in ten could name all four freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. I suppose that's not so surprising: I imagine the reason people couldn't remember the fourth one is that it never makes the news, because (unlike free speech, the one everyone knows) the government never challenges it and people take it for granted. So that's good, right?

Actually, I first came up with five, not four, but having taken a peek at the text, I guess the last two, which I thought of separately, are actually one (although separated by a comma and the word "and"). In any case that's the boring one.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Free Willy-Nilly

Reading your notes viz. to free will inspired me to dig out a few of my own scribblings on the subject. My negligible reading on this turf hasn't induced me to follow up on any particular line of argument. The result is a rather flimsy, somewhat Kantian, doctrine on my own, though surely I'm not the first to articulate it this way. ...and cut and paste is hardly the way to structure a coherent essay. Any suggestions to make this a tad more coherent?

oTo make a prediction, some sort of a determined universe is implied. To take advantage of those predictions, to act upon them, to act at all, implies a free will. One assumes the first in order to capitalize on the second.

If we try to study ourselves or our fellows as free beings in a determined universe, we must specify where their freedom ends and the universe takes over. I've yet to encounter any remotely satisfying answer to this dictate. Descartes famously halts the universe at the doorstep of the pineal grand (as a way to escape the goring bulls of scarlet capped cardinals.

But now we find it hard to forbid the scientific inquiry from any corner of experience. If we study, we study man as a determined being.

But when we act out our lives with our neighbors, we (are best to) grant them the dignity of their own free wills.

oThe science of Bohr, Heisenberg, etc. topples any mechanistic conception of a determined universe. But it does so as a price paid for increasing the predictability of the universe (or, more exactly, our ability to predict the universe).
Random appears to have a rightful place in a determined universe.

Free will is not generally associated with random, but it is associated with unpredictability.

We are allowed no real evidence for either free will or a determined universe. What evidence could there be? Man is a creature that maps patterns of his experiences. Some patterns yield ì exacting predictability. We describe such patterns with elegant (and sometimes not so elegant) formulae, (not only with Newtonian classics, but quantum mechanics.)

But a pattern is just that: a pattern. We're left short of proof for causality. The correlation may be endless, but to conclusively demarcate the necessary and sufficient conditions for any event remains beyond our grasp.

Cause is a relationship of predictability within a closed system of description.

We are predictable not because we are determined, but because we assume a determined universe into which we paste the patterns of our chosen observations. And into which we paste ourselves.

oSo off I go, positing man with a determined will; not because it IS so, but because from our perspective-the perspective of investigation we have adopted-it is impossible to see (detect) a free will.

But free will is not a physiological fact. Its the name of where you place responsibility.

More from Labyrinth

Technical difficulties (damn you, Internet Explorer!) have prevented Rabbit from joining us for the nonce. An upgrade to OS X, and Firefox, may be the answer. In the meantime, here's more about my Labyrinth shipment of the other day. I like the idea of talking about books - Rabbit reads like a maniac and gets huge shipments from Labyrinth. He must have a dozen of those tote bags you get with a $100 order (I've got a few myself).

Peter J. McCormick, ed. - Starmaking: Realism, Anti-Realism, and Irrealism (MIT 1996)

Nelson Goodman was a big name in philosophy once. He's best known for contributing to the debate (with Hempel and Popper et al) about confirmation, induction, and semantic projectibility, in Fact, Fiction, and Forecast (you know, the stuff about "grue" emeralds). Now I happen to know that this stuff drives Rabbit crazy - he was an undergraduate philosophy major until he got fed up and fled to communications (this is at Penn in the early 80's, right Rabbit? Tell us about that. When you can.) After that, Goodman seemed to many to go around the bend, telling us in Ways of Worldmaking that we each literally live in different worlds, which we ourselves make. Of course this sounds like the rankest idealism (constructivism), and he was roundly criticized (or summarily dismissed). Now it's been a while since I read WW, so I'm not sure, but from where I sit this isn't any worse than realism. (Unfortunately it isn't any better either.) In fact it looks pretty much like the same thing, only flipped over. It leaves the subjective/objective dualism in place and rejects objectivity entirely in place of holding it up as an ideal (that is, an Ideal). That's no help - instead, we should keep objectivity and give up the dualism (the trick is what that means and how to do it). On the other hand, by failing in the way it does, that sort of idealist position (like Berkeley's) can help to bring out what I just said. Plus at least it's not realism.

Anyway, this book is a collection of stuff about WW: two chapters from it, plus attacks by Hilary Putnam and Israel Scheffler, Goodman's replies, and their replies, and so on. It looks good, but watch out: the three Putnam selections are all previously published, two in books. It's good to have it all in one place though.

In a different vein, we have:

Bruce Kucklick - A History of Philosophy in America: 1720-2000 (Oxford, 1995)

Just kidding, the date is 2001. Kucklick is an American philosophy scholar (duh). I thought he was at Carbondale (a.k.a. Dewey Central), but it says Penn (History dept). I read an article ("Does American Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?") by him in that mid-80's Cambridge collection called American Philosophy - that's a good collection, btw - in which he bemoans the fact that everyone thinks American philosophy is just Emerson, Thoreau, pragmatists, and the present, while in fact for a long time it was dominated by a battle between several distinct schools of theologically oriented thought. Fair enough, but I still think Emerson and Thoreau (and of course the prags) are more important for us now philosophically speaking than, I don't know [checks article], Horace Bushnell or Nathaniel William Taylor. So here's this book which presumably elaborates that thought, at least in the first part - the second part starts the pragmatist story, and the third brings us up to the present. The last chapter is 23 pp. long and covers the distance between 1962 (Kuhn) and 1999 (Rorty). Looks interesting, but for now: onto the shelf with you!

Phew - still have six more books to go.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Another fun internet thing (may be old by now)

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
5. Don’t search around and look for the “coolest” book you can find. Do what’s actually next to you.

I love these things! This is the first I've seen of it - I should check around. (I saw it at Siris, whose sentence comes, not surprisingly, from Malebranche.) Mine doesn't come from Wittgenstein, but it is a good one, and yes, it was too sitting right next to me (I'm writing on it):

"For, ultimately, Nietzsche admired creative individuals the most: in art, literature, music, and philosophy – 'the men of great creativity, the really great men according to my understanding' (WP: 957)."

Brian Leiter, Nietzsche on Morality (Routledge, 2002), p. 123.

How about you, Rabbit?

Friday, March 04, 2005

Rorty on Soames

The other day Brian Weatherson linked to this review by Richard Rorty of Scott Soames's new 900-page history of analytic philosophy (Frege to the present). Soames is a big name in analytic logic/semantics/metaphysics, and a big fan of Kripke, and apparently the story he tells here is just what you'd expect: we are all in Kripke's debt for bringing realism, essentialism, and serious attention to modal metaphysics and semantics back on the table after the dark days of Quine and his rejection of necessity as outdated (i.e. unscientific) metaphysics. Naturally, Rorty disagrees with this story and tells us that in 2105 things may look very different (as other narratives compete with this one in utility, etc: imagine typical such Rorty-talk here).

True to form, Rorty presents the issue as being one between realism/essentialism (bad) and nominalism/pragmatism (good), with non-analytic philosophers looking on and rooting for the good side: "Heideggerians treat talk of real essences as part of the discredited onto-theological tradition, and Derrideans [treat it] as a distressing symptom of phallogocentrism." That's the choice: Kripkeans believe in real essences and metaphysical necessity; nominalists reject such delusions. In this conception of the range of our options, Rorty agrees with realists like Timothy Williamson, whom he quotes as arguing (in Vagueness) "against the ‘nominalist’ suggestion that ‘properties, relations and states of affairs are mere projections onto the world of our forms of speech,’ and conclud[ing] that ‘our contact with the world is as direct in vague thought as it is in any thought.’ " Both are agreed: our linguistic categories are either "mere projection" (nominalism) or reflect actual "contact with the [metaphysically real] world."

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: it's this disjunction, this forced choice between the two opposed positions so construed, which must be rejected. For my money, it is only when presented in its negative aspect that either position has any appeal. Metaphysically real essences vs. rejection of same as metaphysical fantasy? I'll take the latter, even if it does put me on the same side of the fence as Derrida – there's plenty of room (actually, there's some disagreement about Derrida's view in this context – see Christopher Norris for example, who paints him as more or less a fellow "critical realist"); but when it's "mere projections" vs. "actual contact," again the latter is the more appealing choice. Now of course to make it so I had to leave out the part about the "metaphysically real world" being what it is that we contact, but on the other hand I had had to put it into the quote in the first place to bring out the decidedly realistic tone of the view in question (Williamson's), which would indeed be okay if it were merely the virtuous rejection of nominalism as insufficient – but it isn't (when realists say "the world" they just mean "the metaphysically real world"). And it's particularly galling that Rorty appropriates the term "pragmatism" for his version of nominalism – I was going to use that word for the correct position, and because he got there first, each time I use it I have to explain it ("not the anti-realist kind, the non-realist/nonanti-realist kind"). Hmph!

It's ironic that Soames presents the moral of Kripke's lesson as being that we should respect pre-philosophical intuition (here, the realistic essentialism that Quineans reject), given that Williamson's application of that lesson results in his insistence that, no matter what we may ordinarily believe (Rorty quoting Soames here, about Williamson's view), "vague predicates are in fact perfectly precise – in the sense that there are sharp and precise lines dividing objects to which they truly apply from objects to which they truly do not – but it is impossible for us ever to know where these lines are." In other words, philosophy has discovered that what looked to the uneducated eye to be a paradox is explained by the following fact: there really is a particular point at which a collection of grains of sand becomes a heap by the addition of a single grain, but that we cannot know what that point is (and the same goes for "bald" and "rich" and all the other vague terms). Paradox solved; realist intuitions vindicated. Naturally, this looks ridiculous to the non-philosopher – how could a heap and a non-heap be separated by a single grain, or a bald and a non-bald man by a single hair? – but apparently pre-philosophical intuitions are only worth anything when they are realistic.

It's also ironic that Soames's example of a philosopher who fails to see the weighty metaphysical significance of the sorites paradox, responding to it instead (in Rorty's words – not clear if these words are also Soames's) "in the spirit of Wittgenstein" is ... Crispin Wright, who certainly discusses Wittgenstein more than most people believe to be healthy (viz. his book Rails to Infinity) but who, as far as people like me are concerned – if I may be blunt (or what's a blog for) – well, seems not to have understood the basic point of Philosophical Investigations. Here's Rorty quoting Soames on Wright, who says that "the rules governing ordinary vague predicates simply do not allow for sharp and precise lines dividing objects to which the predicates apply from objects of any other sort." Now if this is being used to replace Williamson's ontological fantasy with a properly deflationary view of the sorites, then that's fine, and even Wittgensteinian as far as it goes, but as we know from elsewhere, Wright's actual views depend on a particular post-Dummettian anti-realist (not-particularly-Wittgensteinian-as-far-as-I'm-concerned) conception of the concept of "rule," which is what's actually doing the work here for him. Maybe in polite philosophical discourse Wright passes for "Wittgensteinian" – after all he goes so far as to discuss him, which is more than a lot of people do – but poke him a little bit and he shows his real nature (!) soon enough. (See his exchanges with McDowell, or his stuff on skepticism, where he sounds more like Stroud than anyone else.) As far as his conception of philosophy is concerned – Wittgenstein's main obsession – Wright and Williamson are peas in an entirely unWittgensteinian pod.

And to compound the irony, Williamson also defends his view (if I remember correctly – I had a course on vagueness at about the time Vagueness came out), by appealing (although I think without invoking the name) to a "Wittgensteinian" "doctrine": that "meaning is [determined by] use". As in Wright, all the appeal does here is to defend realism by denying the sort of pure Platonism which makes realism look bad (and which of course Wittgenstein does indeed oppose). It's still realism though.

I guess that's all for now, but I do have a few more things to say about this.