Friday, April 29, 2005

Politics? Here?

Dada head, a self-described moonbat (what's a moonbat? It's a wingnut, only on the left), tells us, in response to some suggestions to the contrary, that he does not, repeat not, support the ass*ss*n*t**n of President Bush. No moonbat myself, I would go further and move that negation closer in: that is, I do support not ass*ss*n*t*ng the President. Not only for the obvious reasons (like that it's not ethical, for one); we must also consider the consequences. Here's the next day's headline:

President Ass*ss*n*ted! Wingnuts Devastated! Moonbats Secretly Exultant!

Okay, everybody's thought that far ahead, right? But now here's the next day's headline:

From Undisclosed Location, President Cheney Declares Martial Law; Moonbats Suddenly Uneasy

Now who's laughing, eh?

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Must be a David Lewis fan

I've been going through my stuff recently (spring cleaning), and I ran across a NYT Magazine with an article about animal rights I'm never going to read (into the recycling with you!). As you may know, the Magazine has a feature called "What They Were Thinking," with a picture and some text by the subject explaining, well, what they were thinking. So this one has a young footballer exulting with his teammates, and among his thoughts, he tells us, were these (emphasis added):
I don't know if I want to play Division I football [in college]. [...] I love football, don't get me wrong, but I'm not sure having it be my No. 1 priority is really my thing. I'm not going to sit down and read some book of philosophy somebody wrote 100 years ago. But I do care about my education.

Within reasonable limits, that is.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Hegel vs. Hegel

I was roaming the blogosphere a while back when I ran across a post [the link isn't working for some reason] which tells of the author's interest in the relation between Deleuze and Hegel. Now these two score very highly on a certain scale, where the ranking is determined by: [my interest] divided by [my knowledge], so this caught my eye. One thing I do know is that Deleuze hates Hegel, whom he regards as the quintessentially systematic-in-the-bad-sense philosopher. But I like Deleuze for the same reason I like Hegel (that is, to the extent that I have any business claiming to know enough about either to "like" them): they both seem anti-Cartesian and anti-dualist to the core. Me too! Naturally I want my friends to get along; but given that (as it appears) one has made opposition to the other central to his account of things, this could be tough.

The poster is surely correct to suggest that when Deleuze slags "Hegel" he is less concerned with the real Hegel than with a particular tendency in philosophy that he wants to reject (maybe "systematicity," or teleology?). In this sense it might be helpful to compare Kierkegaard's similar rejection of "Hegel." Now I started 2004 off by reading 150pp. or so (= 25%) of Concluding Unscientific Postscript, and I was surprised to find Climacus's supposedly anti-Hegelian polemic not only fairly congenial (to me, that is) but also entirely compatible with (what I take from) Hegel himself: a rejection of the conceptual dualism of subject and object (as inherited from Descartes, and something which can remain even after substance dualism is given up). Of course, Climacus doesn't put it that way, instead saying things like "truth is subjectivity"; but his target here is the idea, found of course not only in Descartes but in the platonic tradition before that, that, metaphysically speaking, objectivity transcends "mere" subjectivity (which might be okay by itself, depending on what it means) and (here's the important part) can be thought (of) independently of it. Jon Stewart (no, not that Jon Stewart – the Kierkegaard and Hegel scholar) says SK is probably using "Hegel" (or unambiguous references to Hegel, like "the system") as a stand-in for the local Danish "Hegelians" of the time, i.e. the 1840's, when Hegel was a philosophical fad in Europe – so it wouldn't be surprising if they had him wrong, and were saying things like The System will answer all of your questions when it's done, i.e. Real Soon Now. In fact if Kierkegaard has a single dominating positive philosophical influence it's clearly Hegel (e.g. see how Climacus uses "dialectical thinking" as a compliment, apparently (mostly) unironically). On the other hand Climacus never says anything like "these supposed 'Hegelians' have Hegel wrong." My point is that if Deleuze can use his own wacky versions of Spinoza, Nietzsche, Bergson, Hume, etc. as his mouthpieces, then he could just as well use his own version of Hegel as a whipping boy. In either case it seems to me that there might be room to make the relevant "anti-Hegelian" points in Hegelian language.

Now as I said, w/r/t these guys I don't really know what I'm talking about (yet). But listen to this story and see what you think. Richard Pinhas is a student of Deleuze and runs a neat Deleuze website, which has transcriptions and translations of Deleuze's lectures and other stuff (check it out). He's also a musical hero of mine from way back; in fact that's where I first heard of Deleuze – he's credited with vocals (actually they're found vocals – not like he came to the studio or anything) on a Pinhas disc, L'Ethique I think. Anyway, a few years ago RP and writer Maurice Dantec were touring the US: RP played synth guitar and loops, and MD read texts by Deleuze through electronic processing. Actually I didn't like the show that much – you couldn't understand what he was saying, and my guess is that this was true even for French speakers (I have some French), given the processing – his voice was just this harsh digital noise messing up the music, which got tiresome pretty quickly. As Frank Zappa put it, shut up and play yer guitar! But the point is that at the Philly show I got to talk to Dantec a little bit (after getting my Pinhas autograph), and what I said to him was this:

Here's what I like about Hegel. He has the right attitude toward dualisms: instead of leaving the dualistic opposition as is (like Cartesians do) and worrying about how to get from one side to another, or showing one to be real and the other illusory, or whatever the problem seemed to be, we should overcome the opposition itself (through what Hegel calls Aufhebung and what everyone else, except Hegel scholars, who deplore the term, calls "synthesis"). So far so good (let's say); but what it can seem that Hegel does next is to take the newly formed "synthesis," consider it as a single thing (a new "thesis"), and look around for its own opposite to pair up with it in a new dualistic opposition, in order to perform a further Aufhebung, and so on, in order ultimately to arrive at an ideal state (or State!) in which the Absolute Idea achieves self-consciousness or whatever. This is a fairly simplistic picture, and no doubt it is this that Hegel scholars are resisting when they complain about the spurious "thesis-antithesis-synthesis" summary of Hegel's thought. On the other hand Hegel says plenty of things that encourage this reading or something like it in the relevant sense (let's not get into it).

In any case that's not what I want (heck, I don't even know what it means). The point of performing the Aufhebung in the first place was to overcome that particular dualism. If that's been done properly, and the problems the dualism was causing have been fixed, or gone away, then we're finished. That's why some Hegelian arguments are still good – they're detachable from any larger structure and applied to dualisms which are, unfortunately, still with us. We're finished, that is, until we run into new problems. But we shouldn't go looking for trouble! Wait for it to come up! If we don't wait, but try instead to pre-empt problematic dualisms all at once (by taking the new "thesis" and scaring up an "antithesis," and so on), we may not really even know how to perform the new Aufhebung, which after all is not simply a matter of applying an algorithm (what would it be?), but instead (if I may slip into Wittgensteinian idiom for a moment) of [overcoming philosophical dualisms by] "bringing words back to their ordinary use" (from "metaphysical" distortion), of finding our way around (given that this is the form of philosophical problems (PI §123)). This is something we can do only after problems have arisen, and we see (what James would call) the "particular go of it." That's why solving them is a form of progress after all (even if non-teleological), rather than, as it may seem on the Wittgensteinian model, merely a return to the status quo ante screwup.

It just looks like (this version of) Hegel is so taken with his clever dualism-smashing technique that he's like the little boy with a hammer who suddenly sees everything as needing hammering. Instead of trying to string them together (and I grant that something like this might need to be done to get to the bottom of a particularly nasty clog, like in the opening chapters of the Phenomenology), he, or somebody, should tell us more, if possible (and it might indeed be hard to generalize), about what it is exactly to perform an Aufhebung properly, or at all, and what exactly has been accomplished when it has been done, and what we can tell about what philosophy does from the fact that doing this helps us clean up the problems we make for ourselves with our theorizing. That's about all the System I can handle.

Now when I said this to Dantec I used evocative hand gestures rather than references to Wittgenstein, whom I didn't know very well at the time (I guess this was more like 8 or 10 years ago now than "a few"), but here's the punch line: never in my life have I seen anyone nod in agreement more enthusiastically than Dantec did (remember, he knows a lot more about Deleuze than I; on the other hand he's not a philosopher) when I suggested that this might be what Deleuze disliked about Hegel. Now that may not be worth much; but it's a nice story.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A trip to the dictionary

The other day I was thinking about the traditional philosophical chestnut of how we can think of ourselves as referring to things that there aren't any of. Some theories of meaning fall down here, like those that say that the meaning of a word just is its referent; but of course "there are no unicorns" isn't meaningless, it's true. We know better now about that one, but the more general issue is still active.

For instance, sometimes we say that we manifest understanding of a concept by applying it correctly in (a sufficiently impressive array of) particular cases. When an X is present, we say "there's an X," and not when there isn't. But what about concepts with empty extensions? For these it's never appropriate to say "there's an X" – because they're never present. On the other hand, when we see a drawing (or tapestry) which depicts a unicorn, we naturally say "there's a unicorn" (or, if pressed by some philosopher, "there's a depiction of a unicorn"). So does "unicorn" mean "the thing that would exist if that tapestry were an accurate depiction of reality in the relevant respect"? Let's hope not – that's a mess.

Not like this will settle it, but just for fun, what does the dictionary say? Will it make reference to the lack of (real) reference in such cases? The definition of "unicorn" is "a fabulous animal with one horn" (with accompanying drawing from British Royal Coat of Arms). Of course "fabulous" means "fictitious" (def. 1), so there you go. But other entries aren't so straightforward:
leprechaun, n. [Ir. lupracan, lugharcan, M. Ir. luchrupan, fr. lu little + corpan, dim. of corp body, fr. L. corpus.] Irish Folklore A little fairy usually conceived as a tricky old man, who if caught may reveal the hiding place of treasure.

Here we only have a reference to "folklore." I suppose that's enough, given the context. (Check that etymology, by the way – isn't that wild?) But what's a "fairy"?

fairy, n. [OF faierie, faerie, enchantment, fairy folk, fr. LL. fata one of the Fates, hence, fairy, fr. L. fatum fate. See FATE.] A minor supernatural being, supposed to be able to assume human form (usually diminutive), and to meddle in human affairs.

Here we have no indication that we're talking about something there aren't any of, except the distancing use of "supposed" -- but of course that might just as well mean that there are fairies but that they can't really assume human form, that that part's just talk. Like oysters, which really exist but might not really be aphrodisiacs. Interesting. How about "angel"? ("In theology, [...]") "devil"? Same thing (etymology: from Gr. diaballein, to calumniate, literally to "throw across"). By the way, def. 10 of "devil" is a technical term from Christian Science, as credited to Mary Baker Eddy. "Yeti"? No listing. "Easter Bunny"? Nope; they have "Easter egg," but they don't say who brings them. "Sasquatch"? Don't be stupid – I'm not even going to look that one up.

Now this particular dictionary is Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Fifth Edition, billed as the largest abridgment of Webster's New International Dictionary, Second Edition, and the date listed is ... 1936. I always liked this dictionary, but I have to say it's somewhat dated. Check out these two just down the page from "leprechaun." For example, I bet you (okay, some of you) think a lepton is a subatomic particle (electrons and positrons are leptons), but no:
lepton, n.; pl. -ta [Gr.] A minor coin denomination of modern Greece, equivalent to 1/100 drachma.

How about this one (note the capital letter):

Lesbian, adj. Erotic; — in allusion to the reputed sensuality of the people of Lesbos.

And that's it. Nothing about ***********, or *******, or *************, or anything; just "sensuality." Well, that's 1936 for you (although something tells me that even in the latest edition there isn't anything about *******; we're probably supposed to use our dirty little imaginations). First lady at the time? Eleanor Roosevelt. Oh, and in case you were wondering:

Sapphic, adj. 1. Of or pert. to Sappho, a Lesbian poetess (c. 600 B.C.) famous for love lyrics. 2. [often not cap.] = Lesbian, adj. 3. Designating, or pert. to, any of certain verse forms used by Sappho.

Anything about those "love lyrics" we should know? No? Just checking. And of course the def. of "fairy" I gave above is the only one given. Interestingly, def. 3 of "gay" is "Given to social pleasures or indulgence; hence, loose; licentious; as, a gay life." So the current use is just as much a slur as a PC euphemistic neologism. I did not know that.

By the way, just down from "fairy" is "fair catch," the football term. I always thought the fair catch rule was one of those newfangled wussy rules to protect players from having their heads forcibly removed from their bodies, like "in the grasp" and quarterbacks sliding forward. But no. I guess when you think about it, it's pretty obvious that such a rule is needed, so it's not too surprising that they would have figured it out by 1936.

So endeth the trip to the dictionary. If it's true that we learn something new every day, most of you are probably set for the rest of the week, so you might as well just go back to bed. Just another service from your friends here at DuckRabbit. You're welcome.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Postage due

Sorry for the unannounced blogging hiatus. One of the reasons I started blogging was because I have a bunch of half-written papers, and blogging about those things would get me going again. And that's been true to some extent. Unfortunately, now I have a bunch of half-written blog posts as well. Better slogging than blogorrhea, say I. You don't want me posting just any old rubbish, do you?

Anyway, starting tomorrow we will have new rubbish, so hang in there.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Hold on to your purses, marks

I am tardy in pointing out that the 12th Philosophers' Carnival is here. Alex of has done a fine job assembling the entries and providing his own perceptive account of the proceedings. Thanks Alex!

I should note that if you're not careful over there you'll end up right back here...

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Two overlooked movies

I just saw a pretty good movie which I didn't hear much about, and that reminded me of another recent movie with a similar title (both 7-letter trochees beginning with S). The first is Stander, which is a true-crime number about a cop who pulls bank robberies, gets sent to prison, escapes, and pulls more bank robberies. This all happened in the early 80's, and the film does a good job of capturing the era, including the moody directorial style. There's a nicely done scene showing our hero at the Soweto riots (another enjoyable feature of the film is the Seth Efrican exints the characters have), and the relatively unknown Thomas Jane (Mr. Patricia Arquette, if I'm not mistaken) does a great job (including the exint). Check it out!

The other film was perhaps not so overlooked (maybe I just missed it): David Mamet's Spartan, with Val Kilmer as a tough guy/fixer shafted by his own people. The clipped Mamet dialogue is very effective, as is Kilmer's eerily blank affect. Kilmer's been in some clinkers, and he's not the most versatile of actors, but here he's just right. No Seth Efrican exint though. Check it out too!

Monday, April 11, 2005

Synchronicity, man

In my rant the other day about realism and relativism, I said, in part:
[People's statements] are (or are the result of) particular people's actions and judgments, which happen in a particular (e.g. cultural) context, with a particular (e.g. cultural) meaning, and are therefore to be judged with respect to the appropriate standards for that action, whatever they may be (something which is itself to be judged by the participants, not by transcendent "objective" criteria, whatever that means).

I wasn't talking about Wittgenstein specifically there, nor is the following quotation about realism and relativism in particular, but check this out. This is Michael Luntley, from a recent book called Wittgenstein: Meaning and Judgement (Blackwell, 2003), which I just started (looks really good too). Too bad it's like $35 for a slim paperback (try the library).

In chapter 1, Luntley says that in considering the question of intentionality (how can our words mean what they do?), one of Wittgenstein's main concerns was to reject what Luntley calls "animatory theories of meaning." We tend to see signs as inert inscriptions or sounds, which only "come to life" under certain conditions. "Animatory" theories attempt to explain these conditions. Luntley discusses three varieties of animatory theory: Platonic (signs "come to life" by making contact with the Forms), Cartesian (we animate them with our inner intentions), and communitarian (the meaning of signs is determined by community usage – an account that other interpreters, e.g. Meredith Williams, take Wittgenstein to favor). Rejecting all such theories, according to Luntley, is the task of the "negative phase of Wittgenstein's master argument."

Instead of these "bipartite" (I'd say "dualistic," but that's me) accounts, he (Luntley's Wittgenstein) says, we need to speak not of inert signs but of symbols, or signs-in-use; and instead of use as the animating of inert signs, we should speak of the use-of-signs as a practice. This is the point of the RFC ("rule-following considerations") in particular. But that's for later chapters, which I haven't gotten to yet. In this passage (p. 18; unsubtly, I have emphasized the key words, which make it look like we may be making the same point) Luntley is characterizing the positive task which remains after the negative demolition is complete. When we reject theoretical accounts of sign-animation, we do not thereby become anti-realists about meaning. The task is to account for normativity, to understand it, not reduce, eliminate, or ignore it. (This, not a commitment to metaphysical realism, is the force of Luntley's use of "realism" here.)
The basic positive move is to see use not as a pattern of signs, words, or expressions howsoever characterized. The realism about patterns is not about patterns of signs [but instead] patterns of actions. If you think of grammar [in Wittgenstein's idiosyncratic sense of the term] as a structure, then what we find at the nodes of the structure are not signs, but actions of agents as they use signs. [What we agents] are doing in using signs is, fundamentally, taking an attitude to the world, the attitude of a judge. [...]

[This] fundamental condition for the possibility of judgement is not capable of theoretical articulation. It consists in seeing the world aright, in taking the right attitude toward the world. Grammar is perspectival, for the structure of judgement is a structure of acts of judgement, things that cannot be individuated independently of the judge, the subject as agent. In short, the positive phase [of W's argument] shows that the subject never drops out of the picture in an account of intentionality. That is why the fundamental question is not: What are the conditions for the possibility of meaning? It is: What are the conditions for the possibility of judgement? The former question invites a perspective in which we forget to tell the story about our own role in intentionality. The thrust of the positive phase of Wittgenstein's argument is that we cannot and should not forget to give the account of our role in all this, on pain of getting it all wrong.

Again, though, that "account" cannot be theoretical in the traditional sense. It consists in part of (the action of) taking up the very attitude it illuminates, i.e., of "seeing the world aright." This means: seeing it as (we do) the locus and object of our everyday judgments, which are of course not inherently mysterious or in need of theoretical explanation. This is the sense in which, as I was talking about earlier, "philosophy only states what everyone admits" (PI §599). The proper philosophical "explanation" of intentionality would be one which brought about in the hearer the correct attitude (that of an agent or judge, i.e., a participant in the practice of judgment) toward it; but of course that's the one we ordinarily have. When we are confused, and demand that the attitude itself be captured "theoretically," we simply need to reminded of this. The trick will be to apply the "reminder" in the right way (that is, the effective) way – and of course this therapy will vary from patient to patient depending on how exactly the confusion is manifested. What this means is that ultimately we will need an account which is not broken down so neatly into "negative" and "positive" components, given that the former merely deals with symptoms and the latter is "not capable of theoretical articulation." We will always be left with "theory" in some form, even if its ultimate role is to put that role itself in the properly anti-theoretical context.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Vice President Cheney replies to my (our) mom

Okay, actually it's Cecelia Boyer, Special Assistant to the Vice President For Correspondence (so who's the VPFC? Oh, never mind). Ms. Boyer's missive reads:

Dear Ms. Maile [that's Maier]:

The Vice President has asked me to reply to your letter expressing your thoughts on Social Security reform. Your comments have been carefully noted.

Vice President Cheney was pleased that you let him know of your views. Thank you for taking the time to write.

Sincerely, [etc.]

In other words, "Thank you for sharing" – which, as you know if you've ever heard this expression delivered just so, means something on the order of: Shut your pie hole, ya #$@%. So to Ms. Boyer, I say: you can't talk that way to my mom! You take that back!

I swear, the manners of some people nowadays. Of course, if I know my mom, she probably gave as good as she got...

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Realism and relativism

In a couple of places (some on other blogs), I've used "realism" as a term of abuse, as a counterpart to my equally abusive references to "relativism." This can be a confusing way of talking, so in this post I try to clear that up a bit. There aren't any real arguments here, just a more detailed, even plodding, statement of (the form of) my general attitude.

The first thing to understand is that when I say "realism" I mean the particular class of views also known (somewhat redundantly) as "metaphysical" realism, which does not mean "realism about metaphysical entities" (as opposed to, say, "empirical" ones), but a particular attitude toward objectivity in general (whatever sorts of entity are seen as objective). For me, in other words, the question of realism and relativism boils down to the question of what objectivity is (that is: how the concept of objectivity works) and how one can go wrong by misconstruing it. Once we understand that, it doesn't really matter to me whether we say that we have finally refuted "relativism" or that we have finally given it a proper defense. On the other hand, I do have my own preferred way of talking, which is a reasonably common one (see Putnam, R. Bernstein, etc.), according to which what we are to do is to find a way between the Scylla of "realism" (or "objectivism") and the Charybdis of "relativism" (or "nihilism," etc.). (For comparison see Joseph Margolis, who wants to defend "a version of relativism which is compatible with realism." I'd rather not talk like that.) Also like Putnam, I use "relativity" (as in "cultural relativity") to refer to the uncontroversially empirical fact of cultural difference, the significance of which realists explain one way (we see things the Way They Really Are, while their view is distorted by their alien conceptual scheme) and relativists another (everyone, or every culture, has their own way of seeing the world, none more "real" or "true" than another).

For me, and I'm sure for Rabbit also, if we start with the characterization I just gave, the relativist at the very least takes an early lead: he has taken the correct attitude, as the realist has not, w/r/t the pernicious idea that there is a single correct ("objective") view, or conceptual scheme, or Way Things Are. I agree with many others (for Margolis's version see Pragmatism Without Foundations) that one does not fall into a radical nihilism (nothing is true!) or relativism (everything is equally correct!) simply by rejecting realism so construed. Where we all differ concerns what we should, or have to, say in order to arrive at a stable position between realism and the radically silly positions we all reject (not that realism isn't silly in its own way, mind).

So let me say more about the basic position I am taking all non-realists to accept. ("Non-realism," in my usage, is the bare negation of "realism." "Anti-realism," on the other hand, is a proper subset of "non-realism": it is the genus of which nihilism, relativism, instrumentalism, and (constructivist or empiricist) idealism – views I reject as, well, insufficiently realistic – are species. We'll get to my positive views – the options for non-anti-realist non-realism – later. Got that?)

Here it goes. Realists are confused. The way they talk, you'd think people's statements were just free-standing propositions (i.e., inexplicably meaningful objects) describing How Things Are Independently, to be judged (as true or false) by peeling their propositional content out of the context of their utterance and holding it up to the one objective world to see if they match (and if they do, giving them the Stamp of Approval ("True")). But they're not. They are (or are the result of) particular people's actions and judgments, which happen in a particular (e.g. cultural) context, with a particular (e.g. cultural) meaning, and are therefore to be judged with respect to the appropriate standards for that action, whatever they may be (something which is itself to be judged by the participants, not by transcendent "objective" criteria, whatever that means). So what if that "condemns" us to failing to "transcend our subjectivity" and reach some sort of perspective-independent "reality." There's no such thing, and even if there were, it's not clear that we should have any interest in it. Our interest is in what is in front of us – the actions and judgments primarily, and the proposition derivatively – and those are precisely not "perspective-independent."

Again, though, this is just what's wrong with realism. (My account so far is indeed one-sided and thus, I recognize, sounds a lot like relativism. Keep reading.) Realism falls into incoherence when it tries to abstract the content of our utterances (beliefs, etc.) away from the only context in which it makes sense to see them as contentful – and it must do this, given that it is the essentially "subjective" (e.g. "interested," "perspectival," etc.) nature of our beliefs as constituted in that context that makes them unacceptable, for realists, as candidates for knowledge of the real. Instead, realists argue, we must rigorously strip away the subjective distortion of our individual, engaged perspectives and see the world as if "from nowhere" (see B. Stroud, T. Nagel, and B. Williams for characteristically Cartesian statements of this ideal -- although they differ in their levels of confidence concerning how successful this "project of pure inquiry" can be). This, I claim without argument, makes no sense. It's the idea that Kant, for example, mocks as that of the seagull who, tired of fighting wind resistance, dreams of someday flying in a pure vacuum (oops).

But a thoroughgoing relativism (instrumentalism, communitarianism, etc.) suffers from a corresponding difficulty. If the validity of our discursive states and utterances depends solely on internal or social/contextual standards rather than on their relation to the world, it's hard to see what makes them beliefs or utterances about the world, that is, contentful or meaningful beliefs and utterances, at all, instead of a (perhaps culturally "meaningful" but) essentially nondiscursive or non-intentional state or interaction. After all, it is essential to their nature qua semantic phenomena that beliefs and utterances can be false, and they're false when what they say doesn't match up with how things are (i.e. independently of how we believe them to be) – that's how it is that we can see them as saying anything in the first place; or, switching it around, what they say (their meaning) is how things are when they're true (and not when they're false). To accept this is just to know how to use semantic/interpretive language ("mean", "believe", "true", "false") at all, and to do that is just to participate in the practice of (as Brandom and McDowell like to say, following Sellars) "giving and asking for reasons" and to accept rationality as a norm. Contra relativists, we go wrong (in the realist direction) not simply by doing this at all but instead by reading into this perfectly innocent ("everyday," "ordinary") way of talking some tendentious metaphysics (and/or epistemology, and/or semantics) according to which rationality, or truth, or objectivity, or whatever, swings free ("dualistically," as I will say) of the practice that gives those concepts meaning. (Again, I see Kant as aiming at the same thing; but one way in which he goes wrong is by misconstruing the nature of "possible experience" as the only coherent referent of our concepts. The idea of "practice" (or "use," when that is construed properly; if not, it dumps us back into communitarianism), works better in this role.) But we go equally wrong, in the opposite direction, if we recoil (a useful term I picked up from McDowell; see e.g. ch. 1 of Mind and World) from this sort of realist hypostatization or idealization into denying the characteristic nature of semantic or discursive phenomena entirely – as if the very idea of being subject to norms of rationality, or of a universally accepted falsehood, or of seeing the world as in some way "objective" ("independent," etc.) were necessarily objectionable in the way realism is. This is why attacks on "metaphysical realism" often go under the name "[some sort of] realism" themselves, like Putnam's "pragmatic realism," or even some sorts of "scientific" realism (perhaps overly charitably construed). Again, to preserve the symmetry here, I abjure the name "realism"; but the point is that I need not object to everything that goes under it, as sometimes it does indeed refer only to the everyday ("commonsense") ideas that realists fail to distinguish from their tendentious theoretical distortions of same.

It is of course risky to commit oneself to a way of talking in advance of discussing the particular cases this way of talking is supposed to allow us to illuminate. And of course that's all I've done here: given the form of my account, i.e., "[X = the content of my account] shows the difference between a perfectly natural distinction and a philosophical dualism, and here' s what to do about it," etc. But there it is; we'll get to particular cases soon enough.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Let's finish up that Labyrinth order I was telling you about

David L. Hall and Michael Ruse, eds., The Philosophy of Biology (Oxford 1998)

This is from the Oxford Readings in Philosophy series, all of which (that I've seen) are excellent, although some of them are a little dated by now. Normally they have 12-15 essays or so; this one has 36 and is 772 pages long. Sections are: Adaptation, Development, Units of Selection, Function, Species, Human Nature, Altruism, The Human Genome Project, Progress, and Creationism. That last one, though, is just a back-and-forth between Alvin Plantinga and Ernan McMullin which, although two of the three essays have different titles, looks suspiciously similar to a corresponding exchange in Pennock's Intelligent Design Creationism and its Critics (MIT 2001), which is a very good collection itself (and which I got for like 7 bucks at Labyrinth last year). Onto the shelf!

Moving right along, now we have:

Richard Eldridge - The Persistence of Romanticism (Cambridge 2001)

12 essays in a slim 251 pp., this entry in Cambridge's Modern European Philosophy series discusses "Romantic thinking in the work of Kant, Hölderlin, Wordsworth, Hardy [Thomas, not Oliver], Wittgenstein, Cavell, and Updike." That's right, Updike: "Plights of Embodied Soul: Dramas of Sin and Salvation in Augustine and Updike". I took Eldridge's undergrad class in Aesthetics at Swarthmore (some time ago), and he's a very bright guy. The essays are described as "challenging" and I'm sure that's right - E is very influenced by Cavell (he edited the volume on Cavell in the Cambridge series that includes the Dennett book I got), and it shows both in his Romanticism and his carefully sculpted prose (although Cavell's stop-and-start style is harder to read). I also have his book on Wittgenstein (Leading a Human Life), and I'll probably read that first - so onto the shelf with this one, next to the also (mostly) unread Andrew Bowie books!

Wow, only two to go. The next one is:

M. Wrathall and J. Malpas, eds. - Heidegger, Authenticity, and Modernity (MIT Press, 2000)

This is volume 1 of a Festschrift for noted Heidegger scholar Hubert Dreyfus (the cover picture shows him in his convertible). This volume centers more on Heidegger - the other one, which I already have, has stuff on AI (he's a prominent critic, from the phenomenological angle (duh) - see What Computers Can't Do). Many big Heidegger names here (not Olafson though). Onto the shelf with the rest of the Heidegger stuff, of which I sure have a lot for someone who hasn't read any of it - there must be 15 books there.

The last one is:

Brian Massumi - A User's Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia (MIT Press, 1992)

C&S is, of course, Deleuze and Guattari's two-volume set, Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus. In this collaboration, as I see it, Deleuze is the philosophical muscle, but (my guess is - they don't say) Guattari contributes a lot of the more striking images (e.g., the rhizome), so that's something to be said for starting with C&S. Unfortunately, he also contributes the obsession with dethroning Freud, which seems less to the point than the stuff in, say, Deleuze's own Difference and Repetition (which is, alas, impenetrable for me at present - maybe later). Massumi seems torn between the desire to explain it in English (which would be nice) and, on the other hand, to match it in sheer over-the-topness: "But: There was that mysterious big white thing with a dark spot in the middle with a darker spot in the middle of that. And it kept coming back. Was that God? Couldn't have been. It was only Mother. Then again: that spot looked an awful lot like the pupil in Christ's deeply caring big blue suffering eye. We all know that he was white. [long footnote]" Holy frijoles! (Onto the shelf.)

And we're done! Until next time -

Friday, April 01, 2005

Just be glad it wasn't continuum-many

On the news just now I saw a report about electric car seats that malfunctioned and burned people on the fanny, people who, naturally, are now suing. Without batting an eye, the anchor then reported the manufacturer's response: the problem affected only a finite number of cars. Well, that's all right then!