Saturday, January 13, 2007

The "Wittgenstein fallacy"

There is an interesting discussion taking place at Leiter Reports and the boundaries of language, regarding "the Wittgenstein Fallacy," i.e., the idea that the profession is in such dire straits nowadays – e.g., in demanding mountains of publications for tenure and even tenure-track positions – that even Wittgenstein would not succeed if he were alive today.

There are two issues here: whether early and/or frequent publication is necessary for professional success, and whether having an attitude toward philosophy similar to Wittgenstein's hurts one's chances for same. These two coalesce into one only if one equates a Wittgensteinian attitude with low rates of publication in particular. (A further issue is whether we should equate philosophical success with professional success in the first place.) In his discussion at Leiter Reports, Jason Stanley paints a picture in which (with the crucial qualifier that this applies at the elite departments but maybe not at others) the best students can succeed in getting good jobs even without publications, based on their budding reputations (the grapevine, I suppose, more than letters of reference). It seems we have no way of disputing this, as he would know this from the inside, so I will not do so.

Moreover, I certainly agree with Professor Stanley that "it's a mistake to rush into print," and that "pressure on graduate students to publish is unhealthy and detrimental to the profession, because [...] it takes years to produce a good piece of philosophy [...])." As Wittgenstein himself put it: "This is how philosophers should greet each other: 'Take your time!'" (This is from Culture and Value, which also has: "In philosophy the winner of the race is the one who can run most slowly. Or: the one who gets there last").

But so far the only thing this has to do with Wittgenstein is that (as James Klagge elaborates in a comment to that post) he only published one book (the Tractatus, his unrevised dissertation) and an early article ("Remarks on Logical Form") during his lifetime. Indeed, the view Professor Stanley says that he is specifically concerned to reject is "that philosophy is so extraordinarily hard to do that virtually any publishing whatsoever is a sign of failure to recognize its profundity," a view he attributes to "the followers of Wittgenstein, and most specifically the students of Burton Dreben," Dreben being another notorious non-publisher and purported Wittgensteinian (I cannot confirm this, as I was not one of his students).

I don't say this is a straw man (though Professor Stanley also notes that it is "less and less common nowadays"), but it does seem to me to be comically overstated. Rejecting it – as we should – leaves open the possibility that philosophy is so extraordinarily hard to do that most of what is actually published nowadays fails to recognize its difficulty.

But even this fails to answer the latter question (i.e, whether it is detrimental to one's career to have a Wittgensteinian attitude in and toward philosophy). So let us ask: who are these elite students, who succeed merely on their aura of promise? Why are they so highly regarded? It certainly isn't because of any Wittgensteinian attitude they may have (i.e., other than refraining from publication, which you don't have to be a Wittgensteinian to do). Instead, they are students of the most highly regarded scholars in the profession: the stars of the mainstream-analytic firmament. Indeed, Professor Stanley's own suggestion for a contemporary Wittgenstein-analogue, in refuting the "Wittgenstein fallacy," was not someone with contemporary-Wittgensteinian views, but rather the exact opposite, i.e., "a graduate student at Princeton in the 1980s under David Lewis and Saul Kripke." (Any suggestions that Kripke counts as someone tolerant of, or even aware of, Wittgensteinian views, on the basis of his having written a famous book on the Investigations, will be mocked, or perhaps ignored, as I determine appropriate.)

As Professor Leiter has presented it on his blog and elsewhere (I can dig up links on request), the contemporary consensus on Wittgensteinian views in philosophy is that, while there had been until recently a few remaining such holdouts against the naturalistic tide (to wit: Chicago, Harvard, Pittsburgh, and Berkeley), it seems that even these are returning to the fold (what with Dreben's death and the emeritus status of Cavell and Putnam at Harvard, and their replacement by fresh-faced youngsters with more respectable views). Indeed, even counting Putnam here, or seeing Pittsburgh and Berkeley as Wittgensteinian redoubts in the first place (i.e., on the basis of their housing McDowell and Sluga respectively), is stretching it; and Chicago is just as much, if not more, a haven for classical German philosophy as it is for Wittgenstein.

So while it may indeed be the case that Cavell's and McDowell's actual students may get jobs – I can think of at least one of each – despite their views (and of course even these students may not have Wittgensteinian views at all), it surely remains undeniable that Wittgensteinian attitudes are dangerous to one's career. After all – to make just one point in this regard – just as all but the elite departments demand scholarly publication, they equally demand scholarly specialization; and unless such candidates are willing to present themselves as "historians of analytic philosophy" (i.e., qualified to teach the Frege/Russell/Tractatus course, along with intro logic and maybe analytic philosophy of language), they may very well fall between the stools in this sense. Once more from Culture and Value: "I find it important in philosophizing to keep changing my posture, not to stand for too long on one leg, so as not to get stiff." So while, with Nietzsche, I "admire scholars even for their hunched backs," it's hard, from this seemingly vanishing minority perspective, not to see the profession as one full of stiffs – and it is quite clear that the feeling is mutual (mutatis mutandis).


Tony Alterman said...

Oh my, does this ever hit home! After getting my doctorate from the CUNY Graduate Center in 2000, with a 3.9 GPA, some minor publications, numerous conference papers, great faculty references, courses with illustrious names in various fields, and excellent teaching evaluations, I spent four years sending out CV's for full time faculty positions - and never even got an interview! Why? My thesis was on Wittgenstein. I applied for "History of Analytic Philosophy" positions but there were relatively few of those to go around. But I really considered my work to be phil Mind/Lang. Those positions, however, went exclusively to cog sci types. And I was told this point blank by people who would know. So even with self-styled Wittgensteinians, and a few real ones, at most of the major universities, there was virtually no chance of a Wittgenstein scholar getting a job in Mind/Lang. Ten or twenty years earlier I would have been a shoe-in; now I was a pariah. And I am far from ignorant of cog sci or opposed to it in principle; I simply don't think it helps us much with the mind-body problem, free will, etc. But that is enough to disqualify me for a fulltime faculty position.

I had an exchange with Brian Leiter during a previous controversy concerning some of the negative effects of the Leiter Report (in particular the weight given to factors that amount to, roughly, prestige, in rating departments). During that exchange he let it be known that he thought Wittgenstein was basically a philosophical poseur. I replied that this was an interesting opinion coming from someone who worked mainly on Nietzsche. And thus we went our separate ways.

I haven't seen the recent thread, but I can't believe people are actually arguing about this stuff. It is incredibly obvious that first-time jobs go first of all to people with degrees from Leiter's top-rated schools, and that there is a direct cause-effect relationship there based on false assumptions about the relative quality of candidates from those schools versus others; and secondly to people with elite journal publications. Is this really in doubt? Is it even in doubt that having elite grad school connections has a direct effect on getting your articles into elite journals? (Not a 100% guaranteed sort of effect, but a direct one nonetheless.) Blind review my butt: I have known some journal editors in my life, and I am certain that blind review plus a phone call from Jerry Fodor (or whoever) is not a bad ticket to publication. (There are plenty of less direct methods of influence too.)

I long ago got over worrying about folks like Leiter yelling "sour grapes" at folks like me. The profession operates on elitism, favoritism, careerism, and a dozen other morally indefensible "isms". There's not just a "Wittgenstein fallacy", there's an ethics fallacy: anyone who believes in the basic ethical principle, supported by Hobbes, Kant, Mill, Rawls, and every other serious ethicist, that right action begins with a completely egalitarian view of persons, cannot operate inside the philosophical profession. The same people who teach a class on Kant and Mill and Rawls go into an Executive Committee meeting an hour later and make decisions about hiring, tenure, admission, publication, grading and every other important facet of the profession based on criteria that are utterly biased, personal, and selfishly motivated. Publication requirements are the least of it, I think; they serve as a convenient means for getting rid of unwanted persons, but will surely be overridden when other political factors motivate hiring or retention.

Now about Wittgenstein and attitudes, I don't think it is a very good argument that because someone like him, or Kripke, occasionally breaks through into the philosophical mainstream without the usual credentials, that therefore there is something wrong with expecting some kind of professional accomplishments from professors at major research institutions. What you can say, I think, is that there are many other criteria besides publication that can and should supplement our view of a philosopher's value to the profession or to an institution. Whether this agrees or not with the threads on Leiter's site I don't know; as I said, I haven't read them yet. But one should also at least focus on the quality of publications: there are people who churn out a paper every couple of months and write books to boot, and some who do it every couple of years. Are the former always more valuable? I doubt it. Nobody can do serious work in philosophy at that rate. Another criticism I have of the profession is a really sterile formalism in the style and form of journal articles. Once you've mastered it you can really pump out articles, I suppose. Sterile writing for sterile minds. These publications have no relation to philosophical value; they measure merely academic competence.

Enough said, probably too much. Lastly, I will add a link to your blog on mine, which is also a philosophical blog on culture, focusing a little more on the arts than yours. Backlinks are appreciated. Thanks for your post, as I said, it really resonated. Now I've got to go and read the Leiter threads.

Duck said...

Dr. Parrot: thanks very much for your comment. Birds of a feather, indeed. (I'm curious about your dissertation; can you send/post an abstract?)

I think the thread in question has its roots in Professor Stanley's umbrage at the idea that philosophers can be divided into two types, "technical problem solvers" and Deep Thinkers, and that if one publishes a lot (or at all), one is ipso facto shallow. If one thought that, then one would indeed complain about the "publish or perish" ideal (and cite Wittgenstein as one who might thereby "perish"). His defense is to agree that publishing is overrated for most candidates/tenure-seekers but that a recognized genius who didn't publish would still succeed. This strikes me as probably true, but beside the point as I see it.

My claim is a bit different from yours. You say that jobs go to "people with degrees from Leiter's top-rated schools," where I say that they go to people, whatever their school, who can demonstrate professional specialization in an acceptable subfield (and that these are construed in such a way as to make certain views, not simply in those subfields but about philosophy generally, essentially verboten). In other words, my impression is that someone working on, say, epistemicist responses to the problem of semantic vagueness, even if the degree were from a second- or even third-tier school, would be more welcome in a "philosophy of language" post than would anyone, even from a higher-rated school, who was following a Wittgensteinian path out of the philosophical mindset that makes such views attractive (or even worth discussing).

I don't think there is anything unethical about this. I simply think that nearly all professional philosophers are on one side of an important divide with respect to what they think philosophers are supposed to be doing. Given that, what happens in the profession is perfectly appropriate. That is, unless what you say is also true. (For what it's worth, my own degree is from a top-10 school.) So I am concerned more with Cartesianism, platonism, realism, antirealism, empiricism, physicalism, and (the bad kinds of) naturalism than I am with "elitism, favoritism, careerism, and a dozen other morally indefensible "isms"". If people do not understand our views then we must either a) try harder or b) tend our own gardens, even if on our own time. But perhaps (like Boxer in Animal Farm, perhaps, or Candide) I am naive. I've been called worse.

I may have seen your exchange with Leiter, but I don't remember it specifically. Wittgenstein does indeed seem to be a closed book to him (and perhaps the Investigations is a literally closed book to him as well). I'm not sure I understand your comment about Nietzsche (that "[Leiter's] was an interesting opinion coming from someone who worked mainly on Nietzsche"). If this means "you should talk, your guy's a lunatic" then I disagree. Nietzsche was as firm an anti-Cartesian as one could hope for at the time. To say otherwise is, well, to adopt Leiter's own interpretation of Nietzsche as a proto-Quinean empiricist. But perhaps you mean "if you're so into Nietzsche (the leading anti-Cartesian of his time) then why on earth don't you get Wittgenstein?!". That is my own question as well (but then I think I have an answer to it).

Anonymous said...

I have seen some analytics claim that Nietzsche is great for style, but that there's not really anything interesting philosophically going on in his work. I take it that this is what Leiter is being said to claim about Wittgenstein. But if Leiter likes Nietzsche, then he should be sensitive to the "So-and-so is just flashy prose" charge, and it'd be odd for him to accuse Wittgenstein (or anyone) of it.

I am curious what you think the answer to Leiter's problem is.

Duck said...

Actually, I think Leiter's charge against Wittgenstein (and Wittgensteinians) is more severe. He certainly thinks that philosophically speaking there's no there there, as the saying goes (Leiter may even have said this himself), but he also condemns the style as self-indulgently baroque. He rejects the idea that there are two "schools" of philosophy, "analytic" and "continental," distinguishable by their content (i.e., the philosophers discussed). There's just good philosophy – clear, rigorous, precise – and bad philosophy – vague, obscure, even obscurantist. After all, he points out, the best contemporary scholars of continental philosophy are clear, rigorous, and precise, and they were (surprise!) trained in the best departments. (You can see how this came up, i.e., in a defense of the Leiter Report against charges that it undervalues "continental" departments; see this recent post on the matter for more; also here). Wittgenstein and Wittgensteinians fall into the latter category (i.e, obscure, not "continental"). So when Leiter responds to the "Nietzsche is just flashy prose" charge, he does it by showing the clear, rigorous, and precise arguments Nietzsche makes (if indeed in prose nowadays considered "flashy"). But he thinks Wittgenstein really is just flashy prose – or not even that, just portentous and obscure.

As for Leiter's problem. Lots of non-philosophers, some of them in literature departments, read Nietzsche as a prophet of the same facile anti-scientific relativism they themselves profess (not, of course, that all of either group do this). But Nietzsche is not a relativist, he's a perspectivist. Leiter sees this – sort of. His article on Nietzsche's perspectivism (and other places, including his book) recoils to the opposite extreme, so that "perspectivism" in Nietzsche amounts, as I mentioned, to a sort of proto-Quinean naturalism cum scientific realism. I will grant that there are some interesting and overlooked points to be made in this regard (e.g., w/r/t Nietzsche's debt to Schopenhauer and the German materialist school; see this fine book for example). But the view itself (putting to one side the extent to which Nietzsche held it, which I think must be minimal) is standard-issue scientific-realist boilerplate. No-one who holds it can, or at least does, as far as I can see, have the slightest clue what Wittgenstein was up to. That is, beyond the rejection of "metaphysics" crudely construed (platonism) – of course there is some common ground there between Quine and Wittgenstein; I mean the uniquely later-Wittgensteinian views on Cartesianism in philosophy (not that he called it that). In any case my objections to Quine (to whom all respect) are more like Davidson's than, say, Judith Butler's (or whoever). Anyway, that's Leiter's story: not getting it.

Anonymous said...

There is one authentic philosophical dispute---realism vs. nominalism--Most other disputes (or pseudo-disputes) follow from that, or relate to that issue, including a priori vs. a posteriori views of knowledge (and self), rationalism vs. empiricism, spats about "what there is", and really ethics and politics in a sense. Academies the world over could implement Quine Day (celebrate Constructive Nominalism!), make most of the science people happy (and make humanists, theologians, and lit. snoots unhappy) and save taxpayers millions of shekels.

Tony Alterman said...

Yes, DuckRabbit, the difference between a squawck and a quack is no much to speak of! Here are a few comments (still haven't gotten to the Leiter thread, though):

1. My thesis was on the 1929-30 manuscripts and what they say about the origin and meaning of his later philosophy. In part my project consisted in going over the material that the Hintikkas looked at in *Investigating Wittgenstein*, acknowledging the critical turns they identified but arguing for very different conclusions as to where they led. We can talk more about this offline (but still online); send me an email at if you'd like to pursue it. I've also published something on the seeing-as remarks.

2. My critique of the philosophical profession is based on dozens or hundreds of observations over the course of my participation in it. I would not try to sell this as a scientific study; I only say that if what I have observed first-hand and heard through eyewitness testimony is representative of the general character of the profession, it is morally corrupt to the core. Personal politics, pet theories, vindictiveness and crass careerism drive much or most decision-making; and that is only the beginning. I have heard the most incredible sexist and racist remarks made openly at APA conventions, witnessed elitism so profound that most corporate boards would not tolerate it in their companies, heard of one department after another that is radically split in the most vituperative way over political and personal issues. A miasma of conspiratorial politics and malignant attitudes. Philosophy itself is important, wonderful, a great triumph of the human mind and spirit. What shocks me is how those who produce it can be such lowlifes when it comes to dealing with colleagues and students.

3. The GC was rated, I believe, in the top 20 when I was taking classes there. I studied with Fodor, Steve Schiffer, David Rosenthal, Jerry Katz, and others who are notable in aesthetics, political theory, etc. I did not mean to say either that having a degree from a top institution is by itself, or even with good recommednations, sufficient to secure a job, or that anyone who does secure a job because of these factors necessarily does not deserve it. But the effect of these factors is profound. Nevertheless, I agree that one way you can sometimes overcome the "grad school status factor" is to find a niche of the kind you describe. I know people who have done that. But two points here: (a) let a competent person with that sort of angle compete against someone in the same area who is no more competent but hails from U.Mich or Pittsburgh or NYU and I believe there is little chance they will get the job, especially if the hiring institution is a highly rated school; (b) even if they get hired and publish widely, their chances of being hired, and certainly of getting tenure, at an elite school is very limited. Look at the faculty rosters at even 2nd or 3rd ranked schools: the fulltime faculty member who graduated from a non-elite school is an exception. One of the big problems I see with Leiter's approach is that it rewards and indeed perpetuates just this sort of name-brand elitism in hiring.

4. Most of my exchange with Leiter was by email, several years ago, so few people have seen it. My response was - sorry - intended in the sense that I think so little of Nietzsche as a philosopher that I won't take criticisms of Wittgenstein very seriously from someone who thinks N is an example of what a philosopher should be. Now, in case that seems like rank prejudice, see my latest post, in which I cut Nietzsche's idea of the aesthetic life a lot of slack in spite of some serious cautions. (I know someone will come back with "Nietzsche didn't really think that... etc.", but that's what makes philosophy fun.) But my general impression of N - and I am no scholar (any more than Leiter is a W scholar), I've read maybe three or four of his major works and some of the less widely read stuff - is that he draws most of his conclusions from extremely biased, historically inaccurate analyses of intellectual history. I am much more sympathetic to Foucault, whose slanted history seems to me not to impact his philosophical points as much. With Nietzsche, as soon as I reach the point of saying to myself, "this is just a wildly distorted view of ----" (fill in the blank: "Christianity and Judaism", "Greek tragedy", etc.) I can no longer muster much sympathy for his superimposed philosophical views.

5. "N was as firm an anti-Cartesian as one could hope for..." Perhaps. Don't know if he was as firm as Hobbes, or Hegel, or Peirce, or James, but maybe he was. But the enemy of my enemy is not always my friend... Re: N and relativism vs. proto-Quinian naturalism: seems to me he clearly embraces both in one form or another, but in different spheres. The naturalism is right there in black-and-white in some of his later works; the relativism is a direct outcome of his rejection of traditional moral philosophy and his life-as-art approach to ethics. Of course, if you subscribe to a naturalistic metaethics this comes out as just inconsistent, but naturally (!) I don't.

6. Back to W. I would only add that neither anyone who holds to ontological relativism nor to Quinian naturalism can have a clue what W is up to. (One of my favorite quotes, from Aeschylus: "Here are two sides, and only half the argument.") It is really a shame that philosophers, who - whatever I may have said about their moral bearings - are generally very smart people, have such difficulty thinking their way out of this fly-bottle. I can't take seriously someone who is incapable of nonlinear thinking and shrugs W off as a charlatan. When I think about this I usually console myself with the ad hominem thought: either Russell, Moore, Ramsey, Keynes, Waismann, Wisdom, Malcolm, Anscombe, von Wright and others who knew him are right, and W was a profound genius; or Leiter et al are right. Since I judge that to be no contest, I'll pack my PI on my next trip and leave The Genealogy of Morals home.

Anonymous said...

"I can't take seriously someone who is incapable of nonlinear thinking and shrugs W off as a charlatan."

The early LW was not quite a charlatan: more like an almost-engineer mostly parroting Russell's notes on Frege.

The later LW was heading towards CharlatanVille: he was sort of a psychotic, half-baked anthropologist.

Now, Fodor--there's a real charlatan, nearly as much as his marxist ournalist pal Noamsky.

Philosophy for Dummies!

Duck said...

Welcome Chorizon, new moniker and all. You help make my point, with your talk of traditional philosophical "pseudo-disputes," that Quine has the odd Wittgensteinian bone in his body. But it is an odd one indeed if it sees them that way only in the light of the "one authentic philosophical dispute" between realism and nominalism. Actually – and I never thought I would type these words, and don't take offense or we'll never hear the end of it – you sound more like Rorty (who actually has plenty of Quinean bones in his body, below the surface where the bones are). One other thing: I don't see how we would end up saving taxpayers millions of shekels if we blow it all on a big Quine Day bash. Or perhaps you had something more, er, parsimonious in mind.

[But Dude, do stay civil. And your early-LW reading is even more appalling than your later-LW reading. Let us please not start.]

Thanks again, Parrot, for your lengthy response. I may take you up on that. I am a big LW fan, but my approach to him is heavily filtered through my own concerns (which I thereby take to be one he would approve of, given his attitude toward disciples). Anyway my philological scholarship in that area is weak and could use a boost. I can imagine that 1929-30 would be particularly interesting.

I cannot refute your critique of the profession, alas, though I cannot confirm it either, except to note that my own department apparently suffered just the sort of vituperative personality-driven split of which you write, a few years before I got there. When I arrived, there was a deceptive calm, some of the "losing side" having left and others having removed themselves from department life. Sad.

I can't imagine studying with Fodor or Katz, polar opposites of LW as they are (hell, they're polar opposites of Davidson). I took a course with Schiffer (about vagueness, which is why I know what epistemicism is), whom I liked, even if he did lapse into Fodor-speak at times. Maybe you were there too! This would be 1996 maybe.

Wow, I can just imagine that email exchange with Leiter. He's a prickly character to begin with (perfectly nice to his friends though), and once you criticize Nietzsche in favor of LW, he'll let you have it with both barrels. If you're not into Nietzsche, there's no point in forcing him on you. He's that kind of philosopher. I get that (now). And as I said, there's no denying the naturalism is there. The question is what to do with it (as he himself seems to have trouble deciding).

Perhaps I read my own anti-Cartesianism into Nietzsche. Still, some of what he says (e.g. about the "ascetic ideal" and his response to it) is very congenial. And I think it worthwhile to make friends with the enemy of your enemy, to the extent that that is possible. I've learned quite a bit that way (plus I have some new friends; which means we have that &^%$er surrounded – he's going down, you mark my words).

Don't knock ontological relativity: it's an excellent way station toward a better view. Once you have scheme and content distinguished like that, just hebe that dualism auf (as Davidson does, although of course not in those terms!) and you're home (he said, making it sound like the work of an afternoon). And W's thinking isn't "nonlinear" – it travels criss-cross in many directions, the better to achieve those elusive ├╝bersichtliche Darstellungen. But I see what you mean.

Anonymous said...

The Tractatus , not quite as utterly nauseating as the PI, may develop Frege and Russell's points on semantics/denoting to some degree (tho' did LW ever write something on language as powerful and organized as On Denoting? Ich Denke nicht), and LW does sort of do some logic stuff (though whether his reduction of propositional logic to tautologies and contradiction is rather debatable, as is his dismissal of induction--if not probability); regardless, I think he was a great dillettante in comparison with Frege, Russell (tho' yes BR could be boring, pompous, excessively glib, or whatever), or Quine (whose writing on logic and semantics is a model of clarity). And that was the opinion of quite a few members of the Vienna Circle was it not? Reading Witt's Poker and one gets the sense most of the big name analytical philosophers were a bit nutty, however logically adept: and none more nutty than LW. And the Wisdom of the Master style of the TLP is somewhat offensive, in a sense; even if the semantics and logic discussion was important (tho' from what I have read, LW did not really resolve many key issues, such as Russell's paradox).

IN regards to the Real/Nom. dispute, I think Witt. is a bit unclear: occasionally he seems nominalist (the material on the word/object) but then with the "Great Mirror", and logical form as transcendent etc. there seems to be a hint of realism, at least (no?). Of course there are other apparent contradictions (his statement that all of his points (including transcendence of logical form??) are compatible with natural science? Or the jive about all of this being nonsense?) It's bizarre if not a bit more sinister than Lewis Carroll. Quine (who is I believe a nominalist ultimately, as his essay with Goodman, Constructive Nominalism, demonstrates) at least avoided the zen master schtick.

Anonymous said...

Let me qualify, slightly, before you put on your Mr. Mr. Mortarboard and phire away: Someone mentioned Hobbes, and suggested that Hobbes is a great opponent to Descartes. HEAR f-n hear. Most naturalist--and nominalist--themes are contained in Leviathan, and his criticisms of Descartes (and Scholastics as a whole), which so many theological or platonic types tend to laugh at or ignore, are really quite cogent. Quinean naturalism (now that the ism trading has commenced) should be viewed as a development of a Hobbesian sort of material causality rather than Cartesianism (or german idealism), or Platonism (tho' Quine grants the force of platonism/logicism, I guess). Unlike so many other filosophes (postmod or analytical) Quine does not try to conjure up the old realist or idealist ghosts.

Indeed Bacon and Hobbes should be credited for kickstarting chem. and biology, and removing the teleological sorts of issues (and even Nietzsche objects to the "anti-teleologists", did he not? wrongly). The Wittgenstein of the Tractatus, unlike Quine, seems quite unaware of, shall we say, the effaciousness of the Hobbesian naturalist tradition (and indeed of Locke and Hume, if not Darwin and the physical sciences as well); and perhaps that is one reason his writing seems so peculiar; the later LW may have moved to a more naturalist position, but I personally find the PI rather perplexing and disorienting.

Duck said...

Jeez, Chorizon, give it a rest. You don't like Wittgenstein - got it. (You don't speak German either - got it.) I think we're done here. Piss off.

Anonymous said...

Ich kenne ein bisschen deutsch. The point is closing down phrauds--even ones who think they understand Quine and Russell.

Yr a demon, like the grrls of the Valve: and like Chesterosopher Ludwig W: not in a great place in Malebolgia.

Tony Alterman said...

Don't be so curt with Chorizon, Duck; it's not every anti- Wittgensteinian who admits that he "denke nicht"!! Besides, anybody who likes Hobbes can't be all bad; Hobbes is almost an obsession for me, his Objections to the Meditations are like my Bible. I believe that anybody who recognizes the value in Hobbes has some hope of redemption for their other intellectual sins. And yes, Virginia, On Denoting is a very nice piece of work. No, the private language argument is not that kind of philosophy. "Resolve" Russell's paradox?? W shows that with the conceptual tools of the TLP the Theory of Types can be stated very simply. That's not enough? Give me a break. (Actually on my reading the ability to state the Th of Types as a simple rule about self-reference is one of the main motivations of the work. But from what I can tell, that discussion is not exactly on Chorizon's radar screen.)

"Don't knock ontological relativity: it's an excellent way station toward a better view. Once you have scheme and content distinguished like that, just hebe that dualism auf (as Davidson does, although of course not in those terms!)" That is indeed one of those untranslatable Hegelisms, don't blame Chorizon if he doesn't get it!

Anyway, I don't think I knocked ontological relativity, I knocked "naturalistic metaethics". The dualism you refer to is presumably what Quine suggests (Ontological Relativity), and Davidson rejects (On the Very Idea...) If I understand Quine's position, what's right in it follows trivially from the notion of language games; and what's wrong with it is calling it "ontological". (Not a something, and not a nothing either; that's a bye-bye to ontology, as far as I can tell, or at least there's nothing left beyond classifying objects and concepts as belonging to this language game or that.)

Davidson argues that the dualism is incoherent, or at least collapses into a difference of language, which is generated by a difference in the empirical truths we accept. I find his position preposterous. If it were true we would be utterly incapable of understanding, e.g., what Copernicus thought, to say nothing of Aristotle; but that is a prima facie untenable position.

As for Rorty's "The World Well Lost", I have made many honest efforts to comprehend it. Since you have just written a small book on Rorty (of which I have read only the first few paragraphs) I do expect some assistance here. But what I get out of it so far is that he thinks we can be good old Aristotelian realists so long as we understand that everything we're being realists about is relative to the best way of organizing empirical truths; and the best way just happens to be OUR way or something very close to it. And on this (basically Jamesian) view (no need to even get Dewey involved) nothing could "count" as knowledge that our present conceptual scheme is just wrong; and this is fine because we never actually change more than a few concepts at a time. Now apart from sharing the defect of Davidson's view, this view depends on an empirical claim about the rate of conceptual change, which depends (for Rorty) on the rate of factual change; and the fact (if it is one) that facts are added or discarded slowly cannot possibly ground the view that a totally different conceptual scheme might be possible or even right, much less an objection to the concept of alternative conceptual frameworks.

So overall I like the OR's better than the anti-OR's, but I don't really like either. "Transitional view" did you say? Maybe that's it. But where do we go after Quine, Feyerabend, Kuhn, etc. if not back to W? MacDowell? That's still the transition, I think...

I hope you don't think that by "non-linear" I mean "illogical" or even "non-logical". More like "dialectical". Aufhebung, more or less. But beyond that: he just keeps approaching a problem from every angle he can think of, quite different from the sterile, linear-deductive approach of the more dogmatic analytic philosophers.

Fall 1995 I audited Schiffer's Vagueness course at the GC. You too? I took his Meaning course before that, maybe 1992; wrote a long paper on Fodor's theory of content. In the first part I claimed that Fodor had the tools to answer all the putative counterexamples, and showed how he would do it; but then I raised an objection to Fodor's ontology in the second part. Schiffer ripped the first part to shreds, and insisted I write in the dry deductive style he himself prefers. I demurred, and we didn't exactly part as buddies, though recently when I've run into him he's been very friendly. Fodor is a trip: a person who gets a tremendous amount of mileage out of bluster and put-downs of his philosophical enemies (W and Peirce taking positions of honor of course) but somehow comes across as a brilliant guy nonetheless. Katz I found very difficult; like Fodor, he saw everything through the prism of his own theories, but more than that, he was rather ruthless as a teacher, known to fail half of the class on occasion, and based the entire grade on one short in-class essay exam. I made the mistake of taking his core course in Phil Lang my first semester at the GC, with no previous training in philosophy; I was pretty relieved to get out of it with a B, the lowest grade I got out of 24 courses. All three, Katz, Schiffer and Fodor, were sharp as tacks but could be extremely difficult to work with. I took or audited three courses on W at the GC, so I didn't mind being exposed to the other side. I already knew what I thought about W when I got there, and none of those big names had much impact on that.

Duck said...

Thanks for the Hobbes tip. I've taught Leviathan but we had to rush past the first part, which is key, to the stuff about the sovereign. I will check out the O. to the M. I must admit that my first thought of Hobbes (esp. as this is all our friend cares about in him, I assure you) is as a materialist, and my attitude toward materialism is that we have been in that place and done those things, and that it got aufgehoben long ago (by Kant, even). For contemporary (to him, that is) objections to Descartes, I like Spinoza, who is always saying things like "Descartes is great! ... but I would just like to suggest this little tweak: ... ", followed by a devastating objection. And Spinoza was big for the Germans I'm interested in in a way Hobbes was not. But I am not an expert in this area.

I don't know what lies they told you about Davidson down there (Fodor's book on holism is a riot) but your version sounds like the exact opposite of mine (and my advisor's advisor was Davidson himself). As I read him, your objection to him is his objection to the position he attacks. In any case the best way to understand his rejection of the scheme-content dualism is not in that paper (good as it is) but as it is manifested in the stuff about interpretation (esp. later). Skip "The World Well Lost," although there is other good stuff (that is, helpful for understanding Rorty) in that book, my favorite of his. Try #s 9 and 12, as well as the preface. And look at the comments on my Rorty post at the Valve (putting to one side the trouble I get into with my epistemological talk!). After Quine we go through Davidson to McDowell where we hook back up with Wittgenstein and Hegel, routing the Cartesians and causing them to flee the field in disarray. This will take some doing though, given their entrenched positions (practically, not philosophically).

I do think we agree about W's approach. Even though it is not "linear-deductive," as you say, when he "travels criss-cross" over the terrain, each criss and cross is, well, a line.