Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Archaeology trying to become a science

Richard Rorty repeatedly, but most clearly in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, makes the point that it was the Kantian project of submitting the other sciences under the tutelage of philosophy, whose Erkenntnistheorie (pp.135-136) would be responsible for adjudicating whether teach science was wielding the tools correctly and staying in their little box (pp.138-139, esp. Fn 18). Via the Neo-Kantians and the logical positivists and the Wiener Kreis, this stance moved into the USA and became the basis for the Wissenschaftsverst√§ndnis, as expounded by Carnap et al. (p.221).

This all may sound harsh and a little difficult to believe, until you pick up a volume like Explanation in Archaeology from 1971, which is expressively trying to be the "good kid" and follow the rules laid down by Hempel and the others.

Consider the Preface:
As the fields of science developed, natural laws were incorporated in formalized frameworks or theories for the understanding or explanation of natural phenomena. The formulation and confirmation of such laws and theories is the primary goal of science, that is, the discovery and description not only of what, when, and where, but also of how and why. By use of scientific laws and theories, explanations can be given and predictions made. This is no less true of the newer social sciences than it is of the natural sciences. (p.vii)
After pointing out that it makes no sense for everyone to define their own sense of "explanation", the authors explicitly turn to the experts for help.
We turn to the logical positivist philosophers of science for a carefully considered definition of the word "explanation". To these analytic philosophers, explanation is by no means a vague concept. It means demonstrating that the particular case one wants to explain is an example of general relationships described by an established general law. Such laws are called covering laws, and this type of explanation is called a covering law explanation. (p.viii)
The advantage of their tack is not only that they can move logically within their explanations, but that the setup itself has consequences that are rationally sound.
Once this definition is accepted, as we feel it should and will be, a number of very important consequences logically follow. (p.viii)
Among these consequences is that the investigation has to start with the laws.
The most obvious and fundamental of these is that to explain anything one must have a body of general laws about the relevant phenomena. (p.viii)
The acceptance of this rather harsh prescription has not proved popular. Many archeologists have simply preferred to be unconcerned, and those that have shown concern seem to have protested the matter.
The suggestion that archeologists accept this definition and its consequences has produced a significant amount of controversy over theory among some archeologists, but has left many others unconcerned. (p.viii)
The reasons are not, as Rorty would have argued, that this form of philosophical Arbeitsplatzsicherung is too transparent to fool anyone, but according to the authors have to be looked for in the nature of archeology itself.
To understand why this [rejection of logico-positivistic explanation, RCK] is the case, we must digress briefly to consider the multiple nature of the broad area of study labeled archeology. (p.viii)
The authors know that the discussion of these scientific explanations are a cottage industry in their own right, but feel that the promise of scientific testability of hypotheses is an advantage that makes for a pragmatic argument to switch.
There is an immense literature describing and extolling the virtues of using scientific methods, but the basic reason for adopting them is pragmatic. In practice they provide practical, testable explanations and predictions. It is for this reason that their acceptance within the general framework of scientific archeology is urged. (p.viii)
Of course, the outer framework is just that, and it needs science-specific filling.
Philosophers of science tell us, in clear, logical terms, that scientific methods are; and scientists of other disciplines provide various models demonstrating how these methods may be applied. (p.xi) 
But before scientific archeology can progress in an orderly and systematic fashion, archeologists must achieve preliminary general agreement concerning initial assumptions, proper procedures, and what constitute successful and acceptable general laws and explanations in archeology. (p.xi)
They cite Harvey's 1969 book Explanation in Geography, London (Eaton Arnold), as a successful exemplar.

PS: For a brief moment, the authors appear to be more pedagogical than some of their comrades in post-modernism, when the authors---after sketching the structure of their book---note
 It must also be made clear what we are not doing in this book. We are not interested in showing where and how archeologists have not been scientific. (p.xiii)
That's great, except the next sentence continues
Because few archeologists have claimed that their work is rigorously scientific, this would be a meaningless endeavor. (p.xiii)
Ooohh ... the disappointment.

Bibliographic Record

Patty Jo WATSON, Steven A. LeBLANC, Charles L. REDMAN, Explanation in Archeology: An Explicitly Scientific Approach, New York -- London (Columbia University Press), 1971.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Richard Rorty on Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Introduction)

My, doesn't that sound like the post-modernists?

The attempts [In the early twentieth century, RCK] of both analytic philosophers and phenomenologists to “ground” this and “criticize” that were shrugged off by those whose activities were purportedly being grounded or criticized. Philosophy as a whole was shrugged off by those who wanted an ideology or a self-image. (p.5)

Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Dewey are in agreement that the notion of knowledge as accurate representation, made possible by special mental processes, and intelligible through a general theory of representation, needs to be abandoned. For all three, the notions of “foundations of knowledge” and of philosophy as revolving around the Cartesian attempt to answer the epistemological skeptic are set aside. Further, they set aside the notion of “the mind” common to Descartes, Locke, and Kant — as a special subject of study, located in inner space, containing elements or processes which make knowledge possible. … They set aside epistemology and metaphysics as possible disciplines. (p.6)
Rorty then sets out to describe the revolutionary philosophy he has in mind, clearly by Kuhn's notion of paradigm shifts.
The aim of the book is to undermine the reader’s confidence in “the mind” as something about which one should have a “philosophical” view, in “knowledge” as something about which there ought to be a “theory” and which has “foundations”, and in “philosophy” as it has been conceived since Kant. (p.7) 
The book, like the writings of the philosophers I most admire, is therapeutic rather than constructive. The therapy offered is, nevertheless, parasitic upon the constructive efforts of the very analytic philosophers whose frame of reference I am trying to put in question. Thus most of the particular criticisms of the tradition which I offer are borrowed from such systematic philosophers as Sellars, Quine, Davidson, Ryle, Malcolm, Kuhn and Putnam. (p.7) 
Rorty accepts the linguistic focus of the analytical philosophical tradition but sees no novum therein. 
It is the notion that human activity (and inquiry, the search for knowledge, in particular) takes place within a framework which can be isolated prior to the conclusion of inquiry — a set of presuppositions discoverable a priori — which links contemporary philosophy to the Descartes - || Locke - Kant tradition. (pp.8-9) 
For the notion that there is such a framework only makes sense if we think of this framework as imposed by the nature of the knowing subject, by the nature of his faculties or by the nature of the medium in which he works. (p.9)
One way to see how analytic philosophy fits within the traditional Cartesian-Kantian pattern is to see traditional philosophy as an attempt to escape from history — an attempt to find nonhistorical conditions of any possible historical development. (p.9)
Each of the three [i.e. "Wittgenstein, Dewey and Heidegger", RCK] reminds us that investigations of the foundations of knowledge or morality or language or society || may be simply apologetics, attempts to eternalize a certain contemporary language-game, social practice, or self-image. (p.10) 

Bibliographic Record

Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Cambridge, MA (Cambridge University Press), 1979.

Richard Rorty on Contingency and Language

In the introduction and the first chapter, The Contingency of Language, of his book Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, p.3-23, Richard Rorty looks at the problem of how to reconcile private perfection with social justice.

Introduction

In his introduction, Rorty observes that this problem that has found solution suggestions primarily in metaphysical settings (e.g. Plato, or Christianity in the self-realization of service) (p.xiii).

This historicist turn has helped free us, gradually and steadily, from theology and metaphysics — from the temptation to look for an escape from time and chance. It has helped us substitute Freedom for Truth as the goal of thinking and social progress. But even after this substitution takes place, the old tension between the private and the public remains. (p.xiii)
Rorty argues that the very attempt to unify the private and the public in a theory is the problem, that self-expression and justice do not need a unification anymore than a paintbrush and a crowbar do (his example) (p.xiv).
The closest we will lome to joining these two quests is to see the aim of a just and free society as letting its citizens be as privatistic, “irrationalist,” and aestheticist as they please so long as they do it on their own time — causing no harm to others and using no resources needed by those less advantaged. (p.xiv)
There are practical measures to be taken to accomplish this practical goal. But there is no way to bring self-creation together with justice at the level of theory. The vocabulary for self-creation is necessarily private, unshared, unsuited to argument. The vocabulary of justice is necessarily public and shared, a medium for argumentative exchange. (p.xiv)
The fallacy lies in the assumption that a unified language will allow us to speak about ourselves and about the necessary social reforms and their lack of solidarity. Both projects need doing and both projects have exemplars in the philosophical tradition, and taking the quests as something that needs unification produces an unnecessary antagonism.
We thereby become aware of our own half-articulate need to become a new person, one whom we as yet lack words to describe. The other sort reminds us of the failure of our institutions and practices to live up to the convictions to which we are already committed by the public, shared vocabulary we use in daily life. (p.xiv)
The one tells us that we need not speak only the language of the tribe, that we may find our own words, that we may have a responsibility to ourselves to find them. The other tells us that that || responsibility is not the only one we have. Both are right, but there is no way to make both speak a single language. (pp.xiv-xv) 
The claim to a single language is theological and metaphysical and fails the historicist's and nominalist's criticisms.
It [i.e. the exposition, RCK] sketches a figure whom I call the “liberal ironist.” I borrow my definition of “liberal” from Judith Shklar, who says that liberals are the people who think that cruelty is the worst thing we do. I use “ironist” to name the sort of person who faces up to the contingency of his or her own most central beliefs and desires — someone sufficiently historicist and nominalist to have abandoned the idea that those central beliefs and desires refer back to something beyond the reach of time and chance. (p.xv)
Anybody who thinks that there are well-grounded theoretic answers to this sort of question [e.g. “When may one favor members of one’s family, or one’s community, over other, randomly chosen, human beings?” RCK] — algorithms for resolving moral dilemmas of this sort — is still, in his heart, a theologian or a metaphysician. He believes in an order beyond time and change which both determines the point of human existence and establishes a hierarchy of responsibilities. (p.xv) 
The historio-nominalist stance remains rare.
The ironist intellectuals who do not believe that there is such an order [i.e. a timeless one, RCK] are far outnumbered (even in the lucky, rich, literate democracies) by people who believe that there must be one. Most nonintellectuals are still committed either to some form of religious faith or some form of Enlightenment rationalism. (p.xv) 
This is the first time in this essay that Rorty identifies Enlightenment rationalism as metaphysical. It would be good to hear more about this, and Christopher Wells has published a reconstruction and critique of Rorty's stance, which refers to Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature as the first text important for understanding this issue (a 300+ page monograph!). However, Wells makes it clear that the Enlightenment rejection of Rorty is powered by Rorty's replacement of Truth by Freedom; cf. (p.xiii) above.

Because Rorty argues for a general turn toward descriptions, from theory to narrative, which also means that the sermon and the treatise can be replaced by the newspaper article, the documentary, or the TV show, as vehicles of moral change (p.xvi).
It would amount to a recognition of … the fact that there is no way to step outside the various vocabularies we have employed and find a metavocabulary which somehow takes account of all possible vocabularies, all possible ways of judging and feeling. A historicist and nominalist culture of the sort I envisage would settle instead for narratives which connect the present with the past, on the one hand, and with utopian futures, on the other. (p.xvi) 
More important, it would regard the realization of utopias, and the envisaging of still further utopias, as an endless process — an endless, proliferating realization of Freedom, rather than a convergence toward an already existing Truth. (p.xvi)

Chapter I: Contingency of Language

In Rorty's reconstruction, the Enlightenment alignment with science as a quest for the Truth that could torpedo the social relationships of Western Europe, came to a head after the French Revolution, which definitely demonstrated that the social relations were a descriptive vocabulary that could be replaced, rather than a consequence of the Nature of God and of Man (p.3). With the rise of the Romantic era interpretation of art, which replaced the notion of imitation with the self-expression of the artist, politics and art took the place of the explication of the ends of community and individual, replacing religion, philosophy and science (p.3). 

Rorty seems to argue that the success of the sciences tricked philosophers into thinking that the sciences were doing more than offering descriptions of the world, somehow approximating its true nature, and were thus maintaining the Enlightenment alignment with science as the force for public improvement (p.3). Rorty argues that such a stance is insufficiently nominalist.
Whereas the first kind of philosopher [i.e. the one aligned with the Enlightenment program of rationality, RCK] contrasts “hard scientific facts” with the “subjective” or with “metaphor”, the second kind sees science as one more human activity, rather as the place at which human beings encounter a “hard,” nonhuman reality. On this view, great scientists invent descriptions of the world which are useful for purposes of predicting and controlling what happens, just as poets and political thinkers invent other descriptions of it for other purposes. But there is no sense in which any of these descriptions is an accurate representation of the way the world is in itself. (p.4)
Rorty points to German Idealism as the only project that seriously tried to put science in its rightful place and treat it as an exercise in truth making rather than truth finding. Unfortunately, that attempt was half-hearted, because the criticism did not extend to German Idealism itself.
They [i.e. Kant and Hegel] were willing to view the world of empirical science as a made world — to see matter as constructed by mind, or as consisting in mind insufficiently conscious of its own mental character. But they persisted in seeing mind, spirit, the depths of the human self, as having an intrinsic nature — one which could be known by the kind of nonempirical super science called philosophy. This meant that only half of truth — the bottom, scientific half — was made. Higher truth, the truth about mind, the province of philosophy, was still a matter of discovery rather than creation. (p.4)
This was not radical enough, leaving too much truth to be ``discovered``.
What was needed, and what the idealists were unable to envisage, was a repudiation of the very idea of anything — mind or matter, self or world — having an intrinsic nature to be expressed or represented. For the idealist confused the idea that nothing has such a nature with the idea that space and time are unreal, that human beings cause the spatiotemporal world to exist. (p.4) 
We need to make a distinction between the claim that the world is out || there and the claim that truth is out there. (pp.4-5) 
To say that the world is out there, that it is not our creation, is to say, with common sense, that most things in space and time are the effects of causes which do not include human mental states. To say that the truth is not out there is simply to say that where there are no sentences there is no truth, that sentences are elements of human languages, and that human languages are human creations. (p.5) [emphasis added, RCK] 
The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not. Only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world on its own — unaided by the describing activities of human beings — cannot. (p.5)
The suggestion that truth, as well as the world, is out there is a legacy of an age in which the world was seen as the creation of a being who had a language of his own. (p.5)
If we cease to attempt to make sense of the idea of such a nonhuman language, we shall not be tempted to confuse the platitude that the world may cause us to be justified in believing a sentence true with the claim that world spits itself up, on its own initiative, into sentence-shaped chunks called “facts”. (p.5) 
Rorty warns that the confusion arises most easily when looking at the justification for holding a sentence to be true or false, rather than considering whole vocabularies. In looking at alternative sentences,
… it is easy to run together the fact that the world contains the causes of our being justified in holding a belief with the claim that some nonlinguistic state of the world is itself an example of truth, or that some such state “makes a belief true” by “corresponding” to it. (p.5)
When we consider examples of alternative language games — the vocabulary of ancient Athenian politics versus Jefferson’s, the moral vocabulary of Saint Paul versus Freud’s, the jargon of Newton versus that of Aristotle, the idiom of Blake versus that of Dryden — it is difficult to think of the world as making one of these better than another, of the world as deciding between them. (p.5) 
One cannot even recast the decision as a summation over the number of true sentences the individual vocabularies produce or verify and then picking the larger set.
… the fact that Newton’s vocabulary lets us predict the world more easily than Aristotle’s does not mean that the world speaks Newtonian. (p.6) 
The world does not speak. Only we do. The world can, once we have programmed ourselves with a language, cause us to hold beliefs. But it cannot propose a language for us to speak. (p.6)
However, the switch between language games is usually not conscious or arbitrary, but rather a long-ranging development, as Rorty points out with respect to the acceptance of the idioms of Romantic poetry, Galilean mechanics or (via Thomas S Kuhn) the Copernican revolution in general (p.6).
Rorty points out that wanting to identify the property of a better or worse fit of a description with the world amounts to privileging some languages over others (p.6). But this temptation has to be avoided.

What is true about this claim [i.e. of the Romantics, RCK] is just that languages are made rather than found, and that truth is a property of linguistic entities, of sentences. (p.7)
[RCK says: I find this a vastly better description than saying that "truth is made".  That contraction is helpfully expanded in this form, though the "what is true about this claim" could have stayed outside, adding confusion, in my mind.]

What the Romantics expressed as the claim that imagination, rather than reason, is the central human faculty was the realization that a talent for speaking differently, rather than for arguing well, is the chief instrument of cultural change. (p.7)
However, for the same reason that science does not progress from one paradigm to the next without disruptions, the argument for the paradigm shift cannot be framed within established philosophical theory.
… philosophers should not be asked for arguments against, for example, the correspondence theory of truth or the idea of the “intrinsic nature of reality.” The trouble with arguments against the use of a familiar and time-honored vocabulary is that they are expected to be phrased in that very vocabulary. They are expected to show that central elements in that vocabulary are “inconsistent in their own terms” or that they “deconstruct themselves.” But that can never be shown. (p.8)
That is because established vocabularies are in fact self-consistent. And any attempt to argue for a shift devolves into the better/worse language argument, which is unhelpful (p.9).
Such arguments are always parasitic upon, and abbreviations for, claims that a better vocabulary is available. Interesting philosophy is rarely an examination of the pros and cons of a thesis. Usually it is, implicitly or explicitly, a contest between an entrenched vocabulary which has become a nuisance and a half-formed new vocabulary which vaguely promises great things. The latter “method” of philosophy is the same as the “method” of … revolutionary science (as opposed to … normal science). (p.9)
Though what takes place is a re-description, the re-description makes no claim to answer the same questions, rather it attempts to substitute new and purportedly more interesting questions for the old questions that were treated under the reigning vocabulary paradigm.

But it [i.e. the disruptive new philosophy, RCK] does not argue for this suggestion [of doing something else, RCK] on the basis of antecedent criteria common to the old and the new language games. For just insofar as the new language really is new, there will be no such criteria. (p.9)
Davidson’s treatment of truth ties in with his treatment of language learning and of metaphor to form the first systematic treatment of language which breaks completely with the notion of language as something which can be adequate or inadequate to the world or to the self. For Davidson breaks with the notion that language is a medium — a medium either of representation or of expression. (p.10)
In Davidson's theory, language is not a mediator between the self and the world, eliminating a host of problems that are otherwise unattackable. Rorty compares Davidson favorably to Wittgenstein in taking neither a reductionist nor an expansionist tack to language.
Both philosophers treat alternative vocabularies as more like alternative tools than like bits of a jigsaw puzzle. To treat them as pieces of a puzzle is to assume that all vocabularies are dispensable, or reducible to other vocabularies, or capable of being united with all other vocabularies in one grand unified super vocabulary. (p.11)
Among the impossible questions that this skips is questions such as
“What is the place of value in a world of fact?” (p.11)
or
“What is the relation of language to thought?” (p.12)
In lieu, Rorty argues that we should focus on the efficiency of the use we make of our tools.
“Does our use of these words get in the way of our use of those other words?” (p.12) 
The questions I have recited above are all cases in which philosophers … [have seen] difficulties nobody else sees. But this is not to say that vocabularies never do get in the way of each other. (p.12)
… revolutionary achievements … in the sciences, and in moral and political thought typically occur when somebody realizes that two or more of our vocabularies are interfering with each other, and proceeds to invent a new vocabulary to replace both. (p.12) 
Rorty gives the pre-Romantic Germany as an example from the arts, where for Hegel or Hölderlin, the vocabulary for the worship of Jesus and vocabulary for the worship of the the Greeks collided.
… the traditional Aristotelian vocabulary got in the way of the mathematized vocabulary that was being developed in the sixteenth century by students of mechanics. (p.12)
The gradual trial-and-error creation of a new, third, vocabulary — the sort of vocabulary developed by people like Galileo, Hegel, or the later Yeats — is not a discovery about how old vocabularies fit together. That is why it cannot be reached by an inferential process — by starting with premises formulated in the old vocabularies. Such creations … are not discoveries of a reality behind the appearances, of an undistorted view of the whole picture with which to replace myopic views of its parts. (p.12)
The biggest problem with the tool-analogy of Wittgenstein is that the creator of a new vocabulary, unlike a tool smith (p.12), has no idea what problem they are trying to solve at that point in time (p.13).

Davidson’s polemics against the traditional philosophical uses of the term “fact” and “meaning” and against what he calls “the scheme-content model” of thought and inquiry, are parts of a larger polemic against the idea that there is a fixed task for language to perform, and an entity called “language” or “the language” or “our language” which may or may not be performing this task efficiently. (p.13)
Davidson introduces the notion of "passing theories" (p.14), which are ad-hoc constructs that can be revised and updated as two people try to communicate with each other.
Davidson’s point is that all “two people need, if they are to understand one another through speech, is the ability to converge on passing theories from utterance to utterance.” Davidson’s account of linguistic communication dispenses with the picture of language as a third thing intervening between self and reality, and of different languages as barriers between persons or cultures. (p.14)
Think of the term … “language” not as the name of a medium between self and reality but simply as a flag which signals the desirability of using a certain vocabulary when trying to cope with certain kinds of organisms. To say that a given organism … is a language user is just to say that pairing off the marks and noises it makes with those we make will prove a useful tactic in predicting and controlling its future behavior. (p.15)
Eliminating the medium prepares the stage for eliminating the question of more or less befitting the description of some external reality.
To see the history of language, and thus of the arts, the sciences, and the moral sense, as the history of the metaphor is to drop the picture of the human mind, or human language, becoming better and better suited to the purposes for which God or Nature designed them …. The idea that language has a purpose goes once the idea of language as a medium goes. (p.16)
This also explains why vocabulary selection is not a choice, especially not an arbitrary one.
Davidson lets us think of the history of language, and thus of culture, as Darwin taught us to think of the history of a coral reef. Old metaphors are constantly dying off into literalness, and then serving as a platform and foil for new metaphors. This analogy lets us think of “our language” — that is, of the science and culture of twentieth-century Europe — as something that took shape as a result of a great number of sheer contingencies. (p.16) 
To accept this analogy [of language as a coral reef, RCK], we must follow Mary Hesse in thinking of scientific revolutions as “metaphoric redescriptions” of nature rather than insights into the intrinsic nature of nature. (p.16)
What is not intended with this is any notion of convergence of these redescriptions to a true or better description.
This account of intellectual history chimes with Nietzsche’s definition of “truth” as “a mobile army of metaphors.” (p.17) 
But in order to accept this picture ["of people like Galileo and Hegel" "in whose minds new vocabularies developed”, RCK], we need to see the distinction between the literal and the metaphorical in the way Davidson sees it: not as a distinction between two sorts of meaning, nor as a distinction between two sorts of interpretation, but as a distinction between familiar and unfamiliar uses of noises and marks. (p.17)
The literal uses of noises and marks are the uses we can handle by our old theories about what people will say under various conditions. Their metaphorical use is the sort which makes us get busy developing a new theory. (p.17)
Why it may not be immediately obvious what the advantages are that Davidson's theory of metaphor possesses, from the point of view of Rorty's theory the advantage is that there is no better or worse fit of a linguistic phrase for a description of a state. Thus, there is no "proper" use to which the metaphor is the "improper" use---a possibility that Rorty's theory has eliminated.
Positivist history of culture thus sees language as gradually shaping itself around the contours of the physical world. Romantic history of culture sees language as gradually bringing Spirit to self-consciousness. Nietzschean history of culture, and Davidsonian philosophy of language, see language as we now see evolution, as new forms of life constantly killing off old forms — not to accomplish a higher purpose, but blindly. (p.19)
What goes for revolutionary, strong scientists and poets goes also for strong philosophers — people like Hegel and Davidson, the sort of philosophers who are interested in dissolving inherited problems rather than solving them. (p.20) 
… the world does not provide us with any criterion of choice between alternative metaphors, that we can only compare languages or metaphors with one another, not with something beyond language called “fact”. (p.20)
The line of thought common to Blumenberg, Nietzsche, Freud and Davidson suggests that we try to get to the point where we no longer worship anything, where we treat nothing as a quasi divinity, where we treat everything — our language, our conscience, our community — as a product of time and chance. (p.22) 

Bibliographic Record

Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, Cambridge (Cambridge University Press) 1989.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Rorty on his own political Stance

In Thugs and Theorists, Rorty sketched his own stance as a social democrat and compared it to the stance of some of the people he agreed or disagreed with. In the closing section of that paper, Rorty focuses on the fact that philosophy should be treated like literature and that some people write books that are "relevant to current political practice"— he cites Mill, Dewey, Rawls, Habermas, Hugo, Zola, Dickens, Solzhenitsyn, Orwell —, while others write such that are not— he cites Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, Wittgenstein, Woolf, Proust, Nabokov — , and that both are OK (p.572).

Richard Rorty on the Historiography of Philosophy

In his essay on the historiography of philosophy, in which Rorty identifies four different genres of historical writing about philosophy, Rorty looks first at a binary choice that philosophers can make: whether to reconstruction the arguments of the past philosophers as contemporary conversations, what is termed rational reconstruction, or in the context of their past conversations, that is, historical reconstruction (p.49). Rorty considers this dilemma false, as he points out that both are necessary and that the history of science shows how this could be done. Rorty wonders why it is OK for the historian of science to note these unfortunate confusions.
We do not think its anachronistic to say that Aristotle had a false model of the heavens, or that Galen did not understand how the circulatory system worked. We take the pardonable ignorance of great dead scientists for granted. We should be equally willing to say that Aristotle was unfortunately ignorant that there are no such things as real essences, or Leibniz that God does not exist, or Descartes that the mind is just the central nervous system under an alternative description. (p.49)
Rorty has a discourse-level suggestions as why that hesitancy might exist.

We hesitate merely because we have colleagues who are themselves ignorant of such facts, and whom we courteously describe not as ‘ignorant’, but as || ‘holding different philosophical views’. Historians of science have no colleagues who believe in crystalline spheres, or who doubt Harvey’s account of circulation, and they are thus free from such constraints. (p.50)
There are purposes for which it is useful to know how people talked who did not know as much as we do — to know this in enough detail so that we can imagine ourselves talking the same outdated language. (p.50) 
There is knowledge — historical knowledge — to be gained which one can only get by bracketing one’s own better knowledge about, e.g., the movements of the heavens or the existence of God. (p.50) 
However, in order for this to be controlled, a heuristic has to be be developed, and Rorty makes use of the one proposed by Quentin Skinner, to wit:
No agent can eventually be said to have meant or done something which he could never be brought to accept as a correct description of what he had meant or done. (Skinner 1969:28) (p.50)
Rorty envisions such reconstructions as eliminating false perceptions of the past.
As Skinner (1969:52-3) rightly says, ‘the indispensable value of studying the history of ideas’ is to learn ‘the distinction between what is necessary and what is the product merely of our own contingent arrangements.’ (p.51) 
[E.g. animal magnetism in Hegel’s philosophy. RCK]
… we would like to be able to see the history of our race as a long conversational interchange. We want to be able to see it that way in order to assure ourselves that there has been rational progress in the course of recorded history — that we differ from our ancestors on grounds which our ancestors could be led to accept. (p.51)
This means that we are interested not only in what the Aristotle who walked the streets of Athens ‘could be brought to accept as a correct description of what he had meant or done’ but in what an ideally reasonable and educated Aristotle could be brought to accept as such a description. (p.51)
[RCK: Rorty is right in this, because the absence of this belief would undermine the possibility that people could be swayed by rational arguments at all, bringing the project of philosophical discourse to an end. A dead philosopher is an extreme example of someone who is both incredibly bright and coming from incredibly different presuppositions; a perfect person to convince to our own stance.]

Rorty uses Peter F. Strawson's The Bounds of Sense from 1966 on Immanuel Kant, to make Kant a “fellow-member of the same disciplinary matrix” (p.52), as Rorty had put it in an earlier paragraph.

Since Kant agreed with this line of thought [i.e. that Humean psychological atomism is deeply misguided and artificial, RCK], and such much of the ‘Transcendental Analytic’ is devoted to making similar points, it is natural for someone with Strawson’s concerns to want to show Kant how he can make those points without saying some other, less plausible, things which he said. (p.52)
In the long footnote 1 (pp.52-53), Rorty objects to Michael Ayers attempt to reconstruct the philosopher historically before reconstructing him rationally, because the understanding of what is being said is a pre-requisite to coming up with a good translation and not just the raw materials for such a translation. 
I think that Ayers overdoes the opposition between ‘our terms’ and ‘his terms’ when he suggests that one can do historical reconstruction first and leave rational reconstruction for later. The two genres can never be independent, because you will not know much about what the dead meant prior to figuring out how much truth they knew. These two topics should be seen as moments in a  continuing movement around the hermeneutic circle, a circle one has to have gone round a good many times before one can begin to do either sort of reconstruction. (p.53 Fn 1 cont). 
Such enterprises in commensuration are, of course, anachronistic. But if they are conducted in full knowledge of their anachronism, they are unobjectionable. (p.53)
It is natural to describe Columbus as discovering America rather than Cathay, and not knowing that he had done so. (p.53)
Historical reconstructions of what unre-educated dead thinkers would have said to their contemporaries — reconstructions which abide by Skinner’s maxim — are, ideally, reconstructions on which all historians can agree. If the question is what Locke would be likely to have said to a Hobbes who had lived … for a few more decades, there is no reason why historians should not arrive at a consensus, a consensus which might be confirmed by the discovery of a manuscript of Locke’s in which he imagines a conversation between himself and Hobbes. (p.53)
[RCK: This would of course never validate the correctness of the reconstruction of Hobbes, only the correction of the reconstruction of Locke.]

Rorty is interested in this convergence of the historical reconstruction because he denies the convergence for the rational reconstruction.

Rational reconstructions, on the other hand, are not likely to converge, and there is no reason why they should. … The Fregean, the Kripkean, the Popperian, the Whiteheadian, and the Heideggerian will each re-educate Plato in a different way before starting to argue with him. (p.54)
Thus, philosophers can alternate between the two modes of reconstruction, historical and rational, obeying and disobeying Skinner’s maxim.
When we respect Skinner’s maxim we shall give an account of the dead thinker ‘in his own terms’, ignoring the fact that we should think ill of anyone who still used those terms today. When we ignore Skinner’s maxim, we give an account ‘in our terms’, ignoring the fact that the dead thinker, in his linguistic habits as he lived, would have repudiated these terms as foreign to his interests and intentions. (p.54)
However, that difference of historical and rational cannot be mapped to the difference between meaning and truth.
The contrast between these two tasks, however, should not be phrased as that between finding out what the dead thinker meant and finding out whether what he said was true. (p.54)
This is partially due to the fact that meaning is not necessarily something that cannot develop even for the utter.
It is perfectly reasonable to describe Locke as finding out what he really meant, what he was really getting at in the Second Treatise, only after conversations in heaven with, successively, Jefferson, Marx, and Rawls. (p.54) 
… grasping the meaning of an assertion is a matter of placing that assertion in a context — not of digging a little nugget of sense out of the mind of the assertor. (p.55)
From this stance the search for truth falls out, because 
… determining truth is a matter of placing it [i.e. the assertion, RCK] in a context of assertions which we ourselves should be willing to make. (p.55)
Thus any separation of truth and meaning is suppressed. 
There will be as many ration reconstructions which purport to find significant truths, or pregnant and important falsehoods, in the work of a great dead philosopher, as there are importantly different contexts in which his work can be placed. (p.55)
Rorty now introduces the distinction of history of culture or thought versus history of philosophy, or the question of the canon, as to how to pick great philosophers. (p.56)

The problem arises only in a relatively trivial form for the history of chemistry, because nobody much cares whether we call Paracelsus a chemist, an alchemist, or both. (p.56) 
This is because we have, in these areas [such as chemistry, RCK] clear stories of progress to tell. It does not make much difference … at what point we see a ‘discipline’ emerging out of a chaos of speculation. (p.56)
For the big, geistesgeschichtlich[e] stories that Rorty finds paradigmatically in Hegel, but also in Heidegger, Reichenbach, Foucault, Blumenberg and McIntyre, Rorty returns to his previous assessment that their purpose is self-justificatory.  
When I say that these are works of self-justification, I of course do not mean that they justify the present state of things, but rather that they justify the author’s attitude towards the present state of things. Heidegger’s, Foucault’s, and MacIntyre’s downbeat stories condemn present practices but justify the adoption of their authors’ views towards those practices, thereby justifying their selection of what counts as a pressing philosophical issue — the same function as is performed by Hegel’s, Reichenbach’s, and Blumenberg’s upbeat stories. (p.57 Fn 4)
Instead of working on specific issues, 
… Geistesgeschichte works at the level of problematics rather than solutions to problems. (p.57)
As a result, the scope is much broader “(e.g. Kant as the author of all three Critiques) …” (p.57).
It [i.e. Geistesgeschichte, RCK] wants to give plausibility to a certain image of philosophy, rather than to give plausibility to a particular solution of a given philosophical problem by pointing out how a great dead philosopher anticipated, or interestingly failed to anticipate, this solution. (p.57)
This is another crucial difference vis-a-vis the history of science.
Historians of science feel no need to justify our physicists’ concern with elementary particles or our biologists’ with DNA. … philosophers do need to justify their concern …. (p.57) 
The question of which problems are ‘the problems of philosophy’, which questions are philosophical questions, are the questions to which geistesgeschichtlich[e] histories of philosophy are principally devoted. (p.58)
The academic discipline called ‘philosophy’ encompasses not only different answers to philosophical questions but total disagreement on what questions are philosophical. (p.58)
This means that the rational reconstruction is the little sister to the geistesgeschichtliche approach. 
If one disagrees with him [i.e. the great dead philosopher, RCK] mainly about solutions to problems, …, one will think of oneself as reconstructing him …. If one thinks of oneself as showing that one need not think about what he tried to think about (as in, e.g. Ayer’s dismissive interpretation of Heidegger, …) then one will think of oneself as explaining why he should not count as a fellow-philosopher. One will redefine ‘philosophy’ so as to read him out of the canon. (p.58)
Canon-formation is unimportant in the natural sciences, because the work stands on its own. It is only in philosophy, and only in its honorific use with moralistic intent (p.58), that the affiliation with a great dead philosopher is required (p.59). For mere rationalistic reconstruction, the relevance of the problem suffices; and for historical reconstruction, a contextualist historian need not concern themselves about the canon (p.59)
One might, in one’s philosophical capacity, share the Anglo-Saxon belief that no philosophical progress occurred between Kant and Frege and still, as an historian, delight in recapturing the concerns of Schiller and Schelling. (p.60)
In practice of course, everyone want to work on the relevant problems and analyze the relevant historians, so the Geisteshistoriker as the "sage" of the philosophers remains enormously influential; but the geistesgeschichtliche approach has lost a lot of its influence, given the meandering focus of effort over the centuries.

Nobody is quite sure whether the issues discussed by contemporary philosophy professors (of any school) are issues which are ‘necessary’ or merely part of our ‘contingent arrangements’. Furthermore, nobody is sure whether the issues discussed by all or most of the canon of great dead philosophers offered by books called The History of Western Philosophy — e.g. universals, mind and body, free will, appearance and reality, fact and value, etc. — are important issues. (p.60)
Thus, the Geisteshistoriker assembles
… a cast of historical characters, and a dramatic narrative, which shows how we have come to ask the questions we now think inescapable and profound. Where these characters left writings behind, those writings then form a canon, a reading-list which one must have gone through in order to justify being what one is [i.e. a philosopher, RCK]. (p.61) 
It is this form of history, though, that is parasitic on the rational and the historical reconstructions, synthesizing their insights, and in combining these two into the same process runs headlong into the problem of anachronism, because it has to simultaneously trace and evaluate, speak in their and in our terms.
It has to ‘place’ that vocabulary [of the great dead philosopher, RCK] in a series of vocabularies and estimate its importance by placing it in a narrative which traces changes in vocabulary. (p.61)
It is self-justificatory in the way that rational reconstruction is, but it is moved by the same hope for greater self-awareness which leads people to engage in historical reconstructions. (p.61) 
Rorty now turns to doxology, the most dubious of the historiographical genres, which is an enumeration of the individual philosophers that presents their writings with neither enough historical context, against historical reconstructions, nor with enough interaction with the best present day work, against rational reconstruction (p.62).

But because not all historical philosophers that are well known worked on the same issues, the underlying narrative must suffer from a lack of coherence.
… doxography is the attempt to impose a problematic on a canon drawn up without reference to that problematic, or, conversely, to impose a canon on a problematic constructed without reference to that canon. (p.62)
A more honest approach would either adjust the problematic or the canon to fit the task (p.63), and to admit that the "deep questions" are dependent on the time at hand. 
The main reason for this recurrent half-heartedness is the idea that ‘philosophy’ is the name of a natural kind — the name of a discipline which, in all ages and places, has managed to dig down to the same deep, fundamental, questions. So once somebody has somehow been identified as a ‘great philosopher’ (as opposed to a great poet, scientist, theologian, political theorist, or whatever), he has to be described as studying those questions. (p.63)
The solution to the problem of mistaking 'philosophy' for referring to a natural kind is both better contextualized historical reconstruction and "more self-confident" Geistesgeschichte:
We need to realize that the questions which the ‘contingent arrangements’ of the present time lead us to regard as the questions are questions which may be better than those which our ancestors asked, but need not be the same. They are not questions which any reflective human being must necessarily have encountered. (p.63) 
It is not the answers to the same questions that have improved, but also the questions themselves (p.63).
We can think of the fundamental questions of philosophy as the ones which everybody really ought to have asked, or as the ones which everybody would have asked if they could, but not as the ones which everybody did ask whether they knew it or not. (p.63)
We should just stop trying to write books called A History of Philosophy which begin with Thales and end with, say, Wittgenstein. (p.65)
For not all topics were prevalent in all centuries:
They [i.e. these books, RCK] have to worry, for example, about the absence or the skimpiness of chapters headed ‘Epistemology in the sixteenth century’ or ‘Moral philosophy in the twelfth century’ or ‘Logic in the eighteenth century’. (p.65) 
Against these difficulties of histories of philosophies, with its unwarranted distinctions of canon (p.66), Rorty proposes a scheme that is based on "a sociological view of the distinction between knowledge and opinion” (p.66). 
On this view, to say that something is a matter of opinion is just to say that deviance from the current consensus on that topic is compatible with membership in some relevant community. To say that it is knowledge is to say that deviance is incompatible [with membership in the relevant community, RCK]. (p.66)
Rorty illustrates this with the example of the “good Americans” who consider the party to vote for a matter of opinion, but know that the press should be free from government censorship; while “good Soviets” [this is a 1980s paper, after all, RCK] know that some censorship is necessary for newspapers, while the question of appropriate consequences—labor camp or asylum—is a matter of opinion (p.66). 
… to say that the existence of real essences, or of God, is a ‘matter of opinion’ within philosophy departments is to say that people who differ on this point can still get grants from, or be employed by, the same institutions, can award degrees on the same students, etc. By contrast, those who share Ptolemy’s opinions on the planets or William Jennings Bryan’s on the origin of species are excluded from respectable astronomy and biology || departments, for membership there requires that one know that these opinions are false. (pp.66-67)
Since these communities make their own rules about what counts as opinion and what counts as knowledge, they should be able to define their own canons and pick their own favorite great dead philosophers (or parts thereof) (p.67), without being submitted to such a canon by a History of Philosophy (p.67).

We should encourage people who are tempted to dismiss Aristotle as a biologist who got out of his depth, or Berkeley an as eccentric bishop, or Frege as an original logician with unjustified epistemological pretensions, or Moore as a charming amateur who never quite understood what the professionals were doing. (p.67)
Rorty views these as experiments that support Geistesgeschichte but suppress doxography (p.67). Having thus axed doxography as an unnecessary genre, Rorty now summarizes the three genres that are indispensable to philosophy and recalls their purpose (p.67):
Rational reconstructions are necessary to help || us present-day philosophers think through our problems. Historical reconstructions are needed to remind us that these problems are historical products, by demonstrating that they were invisible to our ancestors. Geistesgeschichte is needed to justify our belief that we are better off than those ancestors by virtue of having become aware of those problems. (pp.67-68)
These three genres thus form a nice example of the standard Hegelian dialectical triad. (p.68) 
Rorty now turns to the broader genre of intellectual history, which has more grounding in the sociological and political aspects of the time (p.68), and covers cases of figures that never make it into the canon but belong there for other reasons, "people like Erigena, Bruno, Ramus, Mersenne, Wolff, Diderot, Cousin, Schopenhauer, Hamilton, McCosh, Bergson and Austin" (p.69). Rorty also discusses the non-philosophers:

These are people who in fact did the job which philosophers are popularly supposed to do — impelling social reform, supplying new vocabularies for moral deliberations, deflecting the course of scientific and literary disciplines into new channels. They include, for example, Paracelsus, Montaigne, Grotius, Bayle, Lessing, Paine, Coleridge, Alexander von Humboldt, Emerson, T.H. Huxley, Mathew Arnold, Weber, Freud, Franz Boas, Walter Lippman, D.H. Lawrence and T.S. Kuhn — not to mention all those unfamiliar people … who turn up in the footnotes to Foucault’s books. (p.69)
This general intellectual history provides the grounding for the sketching out of the histories of philosophy; only the doxographies find themselves independent of these analyses.
Like the history of anything else, history of philosophy is written by the victors. Victors get to choose their ancestors, in the sense that they decide which among their all too various ancestors to mention, write biographies of, and commend to their descendants. (p.70) 
But it also broadens the contexts, flattening the mountain tops into the plains by exposing a more accurate assessment of the degree of influence of the famous figures (p.71).
… intellectual history works to keep Geistesgeschichte honest, just as historical reconstruction operates to keep rational reconstructions honest. (p.71)
It is only that skepticism, of asking how the famous philosopher X ever came to have that position, that allows philosophers to write radically new Geistesgeschichte, such as Foucault's The Order of Things (p.72).
I am all for getting rid of canons which have become merely quaint, but I do not think that we can get along without canons. This is because we cannot get along without heroes. … We need to tell ourselves detailed stories about the mighty dead in order to make our hopes of surpassing them concrete. (p.73)
The assumption that there are timeless questions, that all people everywhere should have sensibly thought about, is a necessary precondition for the community of philosophers that present day thinkers want to be members of (p.73).
On this assumption, what we need is to see the history of philosophy as the story of the people who made splendid but largely unsuccessful || attempts to ask the questions which we ought to be asking. (pp.73-74) 
The competition [between the canons, RCK] is not likely ever to be resolved, but as long as it continues we shall not lose that sense of community which only impassioned conversation makes possible. (p.74) 

Bibliographical Record

Richard Rorty, The Historiography of Philosophy: Four Genres, published in 1984 in Richard Rorty, Jerome B. Schneewind, Quentin Skinner (ed), Philosophy in History, Cambridge, as Chapter 3 (pp.49-76), now also accessible inTruth and Progress: Philosophical Papers, Cambridge 1998, pp. 247-273.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Another stab at post modernism

In an ongoing attempt to appreciate the valid points of post modernism, prompted by an attempt to find the nuggets of insight in the somewhat vitriolic and long-winded expositions of Alan Goff in The Inevitability of Epistemology in Historiography, in: Interpretation (A Journal Of Mormon Thought), Vol 9 (2014), pp.111-207, an attack on Dan Vogel and similar "empiricist" historians along the lines of Goff's 2005 FARMS Review Dan Vogel's Family Romance and the Book of Mormon as Smith Family Allegory, both with well over 150 footnotes, I stumbled upon several interesting comments on the discussion between historiography and postmodernism.

The first was Patrick Karl O'Brien's review of Keith Jenkins (ed.), The Postmodern History Reader (Routledge, London, 1997), and Joyce Appleby et al. (eds.), Knowledge and Postmodernism in Historical Perspective (Routledge, London, 1996) from 1999. In it, O'Brien comments on the necessity of taking the warnings of the literary theorists seriously about the roles that emplotment, discourse and narrative play in historiographical work, while explaining the lack of acceptance of the postmodernist stance by the historical community with the accusatory stance, the straw man positions (mostly drawn from 19th century historians, if at all), and the dubious meta-narrative of the Enlightenment project, among others.

It then occurred to me to start looking for positive examples of postmodern historiography, but found no papers by Alun Munslow, whose work I had read in the past, and who O'Brien considers a "serious historian" (ibid). A bit of broadening of the search terms brought me to Xin Liu Gale's Historical Studies and Postmodernism: Rereading Aspasia of Miletus, in: College English, Vol. 62, No. 3, (Jan., 2000), pp. 361-386, which reviews three then-recent approaches to Aspasia of Miletus, all by feminist historians, two of which she faults on feminist terms (the problem of communities of research; the contradictions of source interpretation; the way in which re-imagining can be subverted for non-feminist uses), while the third is praised for providing a Wirkungsgeschichte of Aspasia in the absence of the historical material to pull off a female biography.

This in turn led to Richard Rorty's 1990 Tanner lecture, Feminism and Pragmatism, published in 1992, and The Historiography of Philosophy: Four Genres, published in 1984 in Rorty et al (ed), Philosophy in History, Cambridge, as Chapter 3. Both papers are now accessible in Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers, Cambridge 1998. I discuss Feminism and Pragmatism here and Historiography of Philosophy here.

Gale had also referenced an interview between Jacques Derrida and Gary A. Olson on rhetoric and composition in her paper, which I discuss here.

So that was all very interesting and focus changing, but still leaves me short of practicing Postmodern historians.

Derrida and Olson discuss Composition

These quotes are from an interview between Jacques Derrida and Gary A. Olson on rhetoric and composition:
You have to adjust your teaching according to the situation. I call my students in France back to the most traditional ways of reading before trying to deconstruct texts; you have to understand according to the most traditional norms what an author meant to say, and so on. So I don’t start with disorder; I start with the tradition. If you’re not trained in the tradition, then deconstruction means nothing. It’s simply nothing.
That’s why there is not one deconstruction, and deconstruction is not a single theory or a single method. I often repeat this: deconstruction is not a method or a theory; it’s something that happens—it happens. And it happens not only in the academy; it happens everywhere in the world. It happens in society, in history, in the army, in the economy, and so on. What is called deconstruction in the academy is only a small part of a more general and, I would say, older process. There are a number of decon­structions occurring everywhere.
Now, if we refer to deconstruction as an organized discourse which appeared under that name some twenty-five years ago, of course, this phenomenon, as such, appeared in France. Nevertheless, it was not originally French; it appeared in France as already the heritage of a number of old things—German things, for instance. It was a new hybrid or graft, the French graft, of something older which implies Marxism, Heideggere­anism, psychoanalysis, structuralism, and so on.
So contrary to what some people think I think—for instance, Habermas—I would be on the side of philosophy, logic, truth, reference, etc. When I question philosophy and the philosophical project as such, it’s not in the name of sophistics of rhetoric as just a playful technique. I’m interested in the rhetoric hidden in philosophy itself because within, let’s say, the typical Platonic discourse there is a rhetoric—a rhetoric against rhetoric, against sophists. I’ve been interested in the way concepts or arguments depend intrinsically on metaphors, tropes, and are in themselves to some extent metaphors or tropes. I’m not saying that all concepts are essentially metaphors and therefore everything is rhetoric. No, I try to deconstruct the opposition between concept and metaphor and to rebuild, to restructure this field. I m not at ease with metaphor either. I’m not saying, “Well, we should just substitute metaphor for concept or simply be content with metaphors”.

Richard Rorty on Feminism and Pragmatism

In the context of my research into positive examples of postmodernist historical writing, I stumbled into Richard Rorty's 1990 Tanner lecture, Feminism and Pragmatism, published in 1992, now accessible in Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers, Cambridge 1998.

In Feminism and Pragmatism, Rorty looks at the question of what could be meant by a feminist view of the world.
Only if somebody || had a dream, and a voice to describe that dream, does what looked like nature begin to look like culture, what looked like fate begin to look like a moral abomination. For until then only the language of the oppressor is available, and most oppressors have had the wit to teach the oppressed a language in which the oppressed will sound crazy—even to themselves—if they describe themselves as oppressed. (p.4f)
Feminists are trying to get people to feel indifference or satisfaction where they once recoiled, and revulsion and rage where they once felt indifference or resignation. (p.5)
Rorty reminds reader in (p.5 Fn 6) that in the 1920s, the Canadian Supreme Court in the context of the eligibility of women to becoming senators denied that "person" could refer to women as well, since it never had, until overruled by the privy council. The satisfaction or revulsion toward language use changes, and thus new language can be constructed through new uses (p.6). Rorty discusses the issue in the analysis of universalist (e.g. Kant) versus historicist (e.g. Hegel) philosophies of morals; the former requires a realist stance toward morals, which the latter does not (p.6), assuming (p.7) instead that only the actualized is known at the present.
By dropping a representationalist account of knowledge, we pragmatists drop the appearance-reality distinction in favor of a distinction between beliefs which serve some purposes and beliefs which serve other purposes—for example, the purposes of one group and those of another group. (p.8)
Memes are things like || turns of speech, terms of aesthetic or moral praise, political slogans, proverbs, musical phrases, stereotypical icons, and the like. Memes compete with one another for the available cultural space as genes compete for the available lebensraum. (pp.8-9) 
But this leads to a somewhat weak statement; and who would want to fall behind the negative examples given by Rorty (p.6).
So the moral world does not divide into the intrinsically decent and the intrinsically abominable, but rather into the goods of different groups and different epochs. (p.9) 
[When Rorty wonders with Michael Gross and Mary Beth Averill about the use of the male-connotated "struggle" for evolution, in preference over the bountiful aspects of nature (p.9 Fn 10), one wonders whether they are not aware of the way in which, say, bird chicks toss their siblings from the nest, or shark mothers eat their own young.]

Rorty's point is that (p.10) feminism is much easier to accommodate pragmatically, because under the guiding oppressors the claims just sound crazy. Thus any language suggesting realism should be avoided.
Arguments for the rights of the oppressed will fail just insofar as the only language in which to state relevant premises is one in which the relevant emancipatory premises sound crazy. (p.10)
A rhetoric of “unmasking hegemony” presupposes the reality-appearance distinction which opponents of phallogocentrism claim to have set aside. Many self-consciously “postmodern” writes seem to me to as trying to have it both ways — to view masks as going all the way down while still making invidious comparisons between other people’s masks and the way things will look when all the masks have been stripped off. ... || … I agree with Stanley Fish that much of what goes under the heading of “postmodernism” exemplifies internally inconsistent “antifoundationalist theory hope”. … (p.12 Fn 17)
I have argued in the past that Deweyan pragmatism, when linguistified along the lines suggested by Hilary Putnam and David Davidson, gives you all that is politically useful in the Nietzsche-Heidegger-Derrida-Foucault tradition. Pragmatism, I claim, offers all the dialectical advantages of postmodernism while avoiding the self-contradictory postmodernist rhetoric of unmasking. (p.14)
We pragmatists are often told that we reduce moral disagreement to a mere struggle for power by denying the existence of reason, or human nature, conceived as something which provides a neutral court of appeal. We often rejoin that the need for such a court, the need for something ahistorical which will ratify one’s claims, is itself a symptom of power worship — of the conviction that unless something large and powerful is on one’s side, one shouldn’t bother trying. (p.14 Fn 21)
An adoption of the pragmatist stance would free feminism for having to develop a general theory of oppression (p.14). Instead, women are encouraged to create and experience themselves through language, tradition and identity (p.16), since there is no reality behind these things that they could be 
describing more accurately. Rorty distinguishes his stance from radicals, who are trying to hunt down a mistake somewhere at the root. For pragmatism, a community that is imagined to think and treat and speak differently is the solution (p.18). 
This mean that one will praise movement of liberation not for the accuracy of their diagnoses but for the imagination and courage of their proposals (p.18).
… do not charge a current social practice or a currently spoken language with being unfaithful to reality, with getting things wrong. (p.22)
Drop the appeal to neutral criteria, and the claim that something large like Nature or Reason or History or the Moral Law is on the side of the oppressed. (p.23)
For us pragmatists, … we see personhood as a matter of degree, …. We see it as something that slaves typically have less of than their masters. This is not because there are such things as “natural slaves” but because of the masters’ control over the language spoken by the slaves—their ability to make the slave think of his or her pain as fated and even somehow deserved, something to be borne rather than resisted. (p.25) 
I am suggesting that we see the contemporary feminist movement as playing the same role in intellectual and moral progress as was played by, for example, Plato’s academy, …. For groups build their moral strength by achieving increasing semantic authority over their members, thereby increasing the ability of || those members to find their moral identities in their membership in such groups. (pp.30-31)
Rorty leaves the outcome open, of whether the group remains separate or gets assimilated, because the masters wish membership for their own children, and woven into the language of the dominant (p.31).
For to be a full-fledged person in a given society is a matter of double negation: it is not to think of oneself as belonging to a group which powerful people in that society thank God they do not belong to. (p.31)
We say that the latter groups [such as Galilean scientists or romantic poets, RCK] invented new moral identities for themselves by getting semantic authority over themselves. As time went by, they succeeded in having the language they developed become part of the language everybody spoke. (p.33) 
 “Truth" is not the name of a power which eventually wins through, it is just the normalization of an approbative adjective. (p.34)
To sum up for the last time: prophetic feminists like MacKinnon and Frye foresee a new being not only for women but for society. They foresee a society in which the male-female distinction is no longer of much interest. Feminists who are also pragmatists will not see the formation of such a society as the removal of social constructs and the restoration of the way things were always meant to be. They will see it as the production of a better set of social constructs than the ones presently available, and thus as the creation of a new and better sort of human being. (p.35)

Bibliographic Record

Richard Rorty, Feminism and Pragmatism, [published in 1992], in: Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers, Cambridge 1998, pp.202-227. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A New Plan of Attack (Part 1)

In the mid-1820s, when Joseph Smith Jr grew up, the United States found itself in a period of convulsive change. The Revolutionary War and its aftermath, the war of 1812, had severed the cords to what had been the cultural place of origin of the majority of the settlers: Western Europe. Issues were complicated by the remaining large groups of Native Americans and the rising number of African American slaves.

The rapid expansion in productive land use, the wealth to be obtained in these areas, and the potential for living comfortably was an impetus that did not always fulfill itself. It was part of the Puritan inheritance of New England and its settlers, that questions of economic success translated almost directly into questions of identity. Thus, any reversals, be they of the meteorological or the financial type (market saturation in Ginseng, for example), caught the young Nation on shaky ideological feet.

This drama of identity played out at multiple levels, including the scientific, where efforts like the expeditions of Lewis and Clark, the scientific description of the American fauna and flora, or the mapping of the local antiquities, as well as the founding of museums for both artistic and scientific purposes were attempts to connect with the European establishment in these disciplines.

Equally, this state of socio-economic flux was mirrored at the level of the religious. The Puritan consensus of the majority of the early New England settlers had disintegrated during the Revolutionary War, where the Colonies could not afford to deny voice to compatriots, however different their religious convictions might be. Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists on the established side of the spectrum, and a bewildering variety of millennial, revival and socially-utopian communities on the radical side of the spectrum, vied for the role of explaining what everyone was experiencing. This exasperated the situation instead of providing balm for the bruised identities.

One classical Protestant move was to go back to the Scriptures, widely and continuously read by the majority of the target audiences of these religious efforts, and to separate, once again, the unsoiled core of Christianity from the dung of accretion over the centuries.  One cannot underestimate how little was certain and how much was up for discussion at that point in time. Reformers like Alexander Campbell had no qualms of ditching the inherited religious symbols, including the creeds that had formed the common understanding of diverse denominations such as the Catholic, the Protestant and the autocephalous churches.

Though the critical analysis of the Scriptures, in the style of a Spinoza or the English Deists, had not yet made much impact on the American continent, the Scriptures themselves raised enough puzzles: How complete was the Bible? After all, there were over a dozen books mentioned in the Bible that were not in the canon.  Which in turn raised the disturbing question: Had it been handed down accurately? Why were there so many translations of it? If the Bible was God's definitive word, why was it insufficient to settle the theological questions of the day, such as the appropriate form or phase of life for baptism? And how were the citizens of the young republic supposed to find themselves in these stories of kings and priests of the ancient Fertile Crescent? The very fact that the Indian mounds and artefacts, which the prominent antiquarians were busily chronicling, found no mention in the Bible, must have given pause.

It was in this time of identity ferment that Joseph Smith Jr reached his religious maturation. The son of a family of once comfortable religious seekers, who had been demoted through speculation, family sickness and the agricultural catastrophe of 1816 to the level of day laborers, grew up in Palmyra, NY, where he witnessed the religious commotion and the economic upheavals in the boom and bust cycle of the Erie canal construction first-hand. Smith Jr's personal response to this situation was the Book of Mormon.

At this point, an aside is necessary. Like many other endeavors, the history of early Mormonism has a couple of tar pits that can consume all of a researcher's resources. The first amongst these is whether Joseph Smith Jr was sincere or a scoundrel. The next is the exact relationship between the Golden Plates and the translation of the Book of Mormon. The third is the question of the reasons behind the introduction of polygamy. All of these are questions of the form "what actually happened" and therefore belong in the realm of fiction rather than history. Hercules Poirot and Sherlock Holmes, within their worlds created by Dame Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, will tell us what actually happened. Historians as scientists can only definitively say what did not happen, and then tell stories that stay within these limits of the impossible, knowing full well that there are other stories, bounded by the same limits, equally good or perhaps even better.

In the case of the Book of Mormon, whose mention sparked the aside in the first place, the solution is to invert the question.  In order to settle the issues that needed settling in the minds of Joseph Smith Jr and his contemporaries, any addition to the canon had to satisfy a number of criteria.

First of all, as Jan Shipps has pointed out, it had to be about the New World, that is, it had to describe the Antiquities of the New World and thus show the continuity of the Salvation Narrative of the ancient Fertile Crescent with the new republic. One way to achieve that was to hook the Native Americans, whose identity with respect to the Israelite tribes had been a long-standing issue of research in the Americas, into the genealogy of Jacob. Structurally, this was accomplished via the obscure prophecy of the House of Joseph being a fruitful bough, a branch that reaches over the wall (Gen 49:22-26). This passage dominates the biblical references in the Book of Mormon with over ten references.

Furthermore, the extension to the canon had to sidestep all of the issues of translation that had proven to be such fountains of confusion, insecurity and dissent. Thus, the Book of Mormon was translated in a spiritual fashion, using divinatory devices, thereby guaranteeing the correctness of the translation, as Wunderli pointed out (An Imperfect Book). It was translated from sources that, though witnessed to exist, were not accessible to anyone else, thereby eliminating the possibility of revision. These sources were necessary, because they formed the material arc of continuity between the American antiquities and the beginning 19th century. And finally, the sources were authored in an unknown language, which eliminated the possibility of any alternate expert witness arising from, say, the academic world, to so much as challenge the wording. Reconstructed in this way, we can now understand the terror of the lost one hundred and sixteen pages better: Now there were two translations where there should have been only one. Never was there a book more intended to be unambiguous than the Book of Mormon.

In addition, the extension of the canon had to be in a shape that satisfied the expectations of its Bible-saturated recipients. 2 Kings 22 gave the expectation that covenants and laws of the Lord with his people could be rediscovered. Daniel (Dan 12) had been instructed to seal up his visions in books. Such books were expected to be inaccessible to the learned, e.g. Isaiah 29:11. And Habakkuk (Hab 2) had been instructed to write his vision onto tablets, so plates of metal (gold or brass) was within the range of possibility. Equally, the sticks of Judah and Ephraim (leading Israel) from Ezechiel seemed in support of such a canonic extension.  In general, the Bible was used to shape expectations of interactions with the divine that are remote to present day Bible readers, because the expectations for the contributions of the Biblical books differ. (Even the inclusion of Joseph Smith Jr himself into the book of Genesis, during the Bible revision project, as a prophecy for a son of a Joseph, has a weak precedent in the prophecy of King Josiah of the House of David in 1 Kings 13,  where the name of the predicted child is given.)

With a book structured to settle disputes and reconnect the American churches to the salvation history of Abraham and the early Church of Acts, in a manifestation of the then rampant Primitivism, it would have been folly not to settle other doctrinal issues. As Alexander Campbell pointed out in his famously dismissive pamphlet, this dated the Book of Mormon more than anything else; but again that is looking at the problem from the wrong angle. From the point of view of the Mormon converts, it reinforced the sensation that God was concerned about their questions and had authoritative answers for them that would settle the issues. Campbell, who campaigned so hard for Christian unity, should have appreciated the underlying sentiment more.

Among the primitivist movements, the Mormons were unique in including the Native Americans, in however unflattering a form, into their salvation history. The inclusion of the New World and the explanation for the American antiquities however came at the price of going much farther into the Old Testament than many other Christian denominations and sects had found necessary. This resulted in the importation of theologoumena that set the Mormons at variance with the other Christian denominations, such as temples, priesthoods (whether of Melchizedek or Abraham), and eventually even polygamy. It also imported attitudes that corresponded to the clan- and tribe-centric ethics of the Old Testament, which found expression in notions such as the avenging angels or Danites, and in the expectation for the spoils of the Gentiles. Admittedly, that flame was fanned by the generally retributive stance of the apocalyptic literature, no matter which part of the Bible the specific text came from. As a result, it may not be possible to draw the line between the millennial expectations and the Old Testament matrix correctly for any individual point at hand. But the overall spirit is decidedly less meek and more combative than the majority of the New Testament texts. And this drawing upon Old Testament models is not, as Jan Shipps had assumed, because the Mormons saw themselves as Israel; they always knew that some of the Lamanites and the hidden tribes behind the ice and stone of the poles were the lost tribes of Israel. It was because the Old Testament was part of their inheritance as well, and more helpful in the fights of rejection with the local communities than the pacifist stances of the Gospel.

In setting up his solution in this fashion, Joseph Smith Jr created several problems for himself and his movement, both at the level of the theory and the level of the contents. The monolithic salvation history worked fine for the context of its discovery, and is only problematic now, where great narratives that span the centuries are suspicious in general, because of our increased understanding of how they limit voices within the experience. We prefer our histories, and especially our salvation histories, pluralistic.

The theoretical problems that plagued Joseph Smith Jr during his life-time already were related to his insufficiently developed theory of revelation. His notion of the "burning of the heart" was effectively a popularized form of Spener's pia desideria. Spener had developed that notion precisely to reject the grasp of the governmentally controlled orthodoxy of 17th century Germany, emphasizing the role of the individual over the establishment. Unlike Spener, Smith Jr was not trying to make a free space for personal piety in a socially controlled space, but was trying to externalize and validate a personal experience for the social space. For this, the burning of the heart was an ill-suited tool, leading to continuous charges, even from within the ranks of the converts, that Smith Jr's revelation were too damn convenient to be external to himself.

Furthermore, the reduction to the "burning of the heart" meant that there were no external checks and balances on the contents of revelations. This in turn undermined the monolithic nature of the Book of Mormon that had been built up so carefully. The Mormon convert of 1843, who looked at the condemnation of the concubines of David and Solomon in the Book of Mormon (Jacob 2:24) and the revelation given for the Shakers, to have a wife and to cleave unto her (D&C 42:22) on the one hand,  and then at the revelation regarding Plural Marriage (D&C 132), was once again reduced to trying to sort out the contradictory indications without the help of a canonical scripture. It is not surprising that some of the critics were willing to accept the Book of Mormon as true, while taking a decidedly more critical stance with respect to Joseph Smith Jr's claim to continuous prophecy.

For the continued success of early Mormonism, though, Joseph Smith Jr's ability to reshape the kerygma continuously was unavoidable and possibly a source of its success. Because of the lack of development and penetration of historical criticism, Joseph Smith Jr could not know that he had laden himself with theological models that were not tried and true patterns of action. The description of the early apostolic church in Jerusalem in Acts was an ideal type, constructed by the author as a foil for self-evaluation of the early Christian congregations; not a recipe for running a church qua organization. Joseph Smith Jr learned that early when faced with the charismata of the Campbellite converts in Kirtland, Ohio, and even more so when trying to develop the law of consecration into a funding model for the church.

(See Part 2 for the remainder of this text.)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Alexander J. Campbell on the Internet Archive

The Internet Archive has quite a number of writings by and on Alexander J. Campbell. It makes sense to look at Campbell, since he was a contemporary of Joseph Smith Jr, against whom he pamphleteered, and since he was in the same business of rectifying the sorry state of Christian disunity (albeit with a Scottish background, thus obviating the need for historical surgery that Jan Shipps has identified in Joseph Smith Jr's approach).

There are first of all his own writings:

Finally, some of them, especially ones gathered from the Millenial Harbringer that Campbell published, were re-issued by W.A. Morris, MD, in Austin, TX, in 1896.

Then there are various reminiscences. There is the one of Dr Robert Richardson, who had been requested to provide a Memoirs of Alexander Campbell (Volume I 1868, Volume II 1870) in Philadelphia (J.B. Lippincott & Co). Then there is Selina Huntington Campbell's Home Life and Reminiscences of Alexander Campbell by his Wife, St Louis (John Burns) of 1882. This was followed in 1892 by the work of Thomas Chalmers, a Church of Christ pastor from Brooklyn, NY, on the impact of Campbell's journey in Scotland, entitled Alexander Campbell's Tour in Scotland: How he is remembered by those who saw him there, Louisville, Kentucky (Guide Printing & Publishing Co).

Then there are theological assessments of his work, some of which refer back to the earlier publications, especially Richardson's two-volume maior opus. There is Thomas W. Graftons' Alexander Campbell: Leader of the Great Reformation of the Nineteenth Century,  published in St. Louis in 1897 by the Christian Publishing Company. Then there is Winfried Earnest Garrison's Church History dissertation, submitted at the University of Chicago, entitled The Sources of Alexander Campbell's Theology, also published by the Christian Publishing Company in St. Louis in 1900.

Campbell's work had already raised criticism during his own lifetime, and the detractors sound suspiciously like those that attacked Joseph Smith Jr.

Of course, additional criticism was levied against Campbell after his death, for example:
Keep in mind that this is not all that's available from Campbell on the web; for example, the Alexander Campbell Page has a list of articles, esp to the inside of Richardson's biography.

PS: Most likely the two-volume Journey from Edinburgh Through Parts of North Britain from 1802 (Volume I, Volume II) is by a different Alexander Campbell, a Scottish writer and musician, who also authored the long poem The Grampians Desolate of 1804.