As you know, I was the gentleman that made that remark in a private facebook thread with a close friend. If I recall correctly, people in that thread were asking about whether certain kinds of thought experiments were typically referred to as “Gettier Cases”. I said that they were, despite how inaccurate or uninformative it might be to do so, in part because of the alternative traditions you cite. I’m sorry you interpreted my remark as silencing my friends on facebook. Personally I believe that philosophers should abandon the notion of “Gettier cases” and that the practice of labeling thought experiments in this way should be discouraged. If you are interested, I have recently argued for this in two articles here (http://philpapers.org/rec/BLOGCA) and here (http://philpapers.org/rec/TURKAL).
In this post, I discuss in more detail the two main categories of genealogy that were mentioned in previous posts: vindicatory and subversive genealogies.
III. Applications of genealogy
In the spirit of the functionalist, goal-oriented approach adopted here, a pressing question now becomes: what’s the point of a genealogy? What kind of results do we obtain from performing a genealogical analysis of philosophical concepts? I’ve already mentioned vindication and subversion/debunking en passant along the way, but now it is time to discuss applications of genealogy in a more systematic way.
III.1 Genealogy as vindicatory or as subversive
By now, it should be clear that genealogy is a rather plastic concept, one which can be (and has been) instantiated in a number of different ways. Craig offers a helpful description of a range of options:
[Genealogies] can be subversive, or vindicatory, of the doctrines or practices whose origins (factual, imaginary, and conjectural) they claim to describe. They may at the same time be explanatory, accounting for the existence of whatever it is that they vindicate or subvert. In theory, at least, they may be merely explanatory, evaluatively neutral (although as I shall shortly argue it is no accident that convincing examples are hard to find). They can remind us of the contingency of our institutions and standards, communicating a sense of how easily they might have been different, and of how different they might have been. Or they can have the opposite tendency, implying a kind of necessity: given a few basic facts about human nature and our conditions of life, this was the only way things could have turned out. (Craig 2007, 182)
In this section, I pitch genealogy against its close cousin archeology in order to argue that genealogy really is what is needed for the general project of historically informed analyses of philosophical concepts that I am articulating. And naturally, this leads me to Foucault. As always, comments welcome! (This is the first time in like 20 years that I do anything remotely serious with Foucault's ideas: why did it take me so long? Lots of good stuff there.)
I hope to have argued more or less convincingly by now that, given the specific historicist conception of philosophical concepts I’ve just sketched, genealogy is a particularly suitable method for historically informed philosophical analysis. In the next section, a few specific examples will be provided. However, and as mentioned above, I take genealogy to be one among other such historical methods, so there are options. Why is genealogy a better option than the alternatives? In order to address this question, in this section I pitch genealogy against one of its main ‘competitors’ as a method for historical analysis: archeology. Naturally, this confrontation leads me directly to Foucault.
As I've started to work through Alain Badiou's thought, it's really struck me how destructive the analytic-continental split has been to his English language reception. Even though Badiou says nasty things about French (post)structuralism and analytic philosophy, it's nearly impossible to really understand him unless you have less than trivial familiarity with both traditions.
I'm really interested how many existent PhD programs even come close to helping students achieve this fluency. Ideally there would be regular graduate level course work in core analytic (mind, langauge, epistemology, metaphysics, logic) and core continental* (German Idealism, 19th century post German Idealism (including the big three hermeneuts of suspicion and the twentieth century traditions that two of them spawned), phenomenology, and French (post)structuralism).
I typically send students interested in graduate work to Leiter's specialty rankings, Leiter's comments on M.A. programs, the Pluralists's Guide, and the CDJ rankings. Taken holistically, these give students a very good starting off point for researching particular schools. But there's no list of good crossover** departments where a student could come out with enough mastery in core analytic and continental to be able to easily read someone like Badiou (or Frederic Nef, for that matter). Any suggestions would be helpful to my students. I can think of University of New Mexico, Northwestern, and Notre Dame off the top of my head. I'm sure there must be others though.
[*I realize this is highly contestable, in part because continental philosophers tend to be more critical of the idea of a canon. I'll be happy approving comments for anyone who wants to take issue with me on this. For me, a philosophical area counts as core if work outside that area needs to take it into account. For example, you can't do decent meta-ethics without knowing quite a bit of philosophy of language. From a purely anthropological perspective, the areas/traditions of continental philosophy I listed above serve the same purpose. Nearly everything English langauge speakers call continental philosophy is parasitic on oner or more of them in some way.***
**Notice I didn't say "pluralist." I used to use that word to denote this kind of thing, but too many other people are using it differently in important contexts now. Since "crossover" hasn't been used in this context, I can stipulateively define it in terms of involving core areas of both analytic and continental.
***The idea of core areas is to be distinguished from the sense that philosophy has certain core problems such as the epistemology and metaphysics of deontic and alethic modalities, the problem of the external world, etc.]
Nice NDPR review here by Riccardo Pozzo of Maurizio Ferraris' Goodbye Kant!: What Still Stands of the Critique of Pure Reason. According to Pozzo, the book is actually a best-seller in Italy, which is pretty cool. There's also this very funny passage (have to read it through to the end):
For Ferraris, given that "ontology includes everything that is in heaven and earth, the realm of objects that are available to experience," which makes up the first main topic of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, and given that "metaphysics deals with what goes beyond or transcends [experience]," which makes up the second main topic of the book, it does indeed make sense to speak of Kant's metaphysics and ontology (p. 20). In fact, "the reader of the Analytic has before him Kant's ontology, a work of construction and not of destruction" (p. 21). Ferraris follows suit with the two otherwise opposed readings of Kant by Strawson and Heidegger, with Strawson calling for a metaphysics of experience and Heidegger for an analysis of finite human being, "which amounts" -- Ferraris succinctly notes -- "to the same thing, said with more passion" (p. 21).
Ferraris himself is rapidly becoming one of the key figures in the movement in continental philosophy sometimes called "the new realism" or "back to metaphysics." His English language wikipedia page is pretty informative as far as these things go. In light of the recent reappraisal of Derrida by people such as Paul Livingston, Martin Hagglund, Graham Priest, and Debbie Goldgaber (following earlier work by people such as Sam Wheeler, and to some extent contraposed by Lee Braver's important interpretation of Derrida) it's interesting that Ferraris's early work is influenced by, and often about, Derrida. The wikipedia page (take with a grain of salt) says that his new realism comes in part by systematizing Vattimo and Derrida. A bunch of his stuff is coming out in English over the next few years. It will be fun to follow it.
Nearly every role playing game suffers from this. At the outset the impetus is to present something that is easy for new players and game masters to figure out and play. After the game hits a kind of popularity threshold the only way to make new money on it is to produce expansions with new character classes and rule-based mechanics. To get people to pay the money, there has to be some sort of ludological advantage to using the new characters and mechanics. So if you just stay with the old set, at a minimum your characters will be underpowered.
But each expansion makes the game more complicated, until it finally reaches a point where it becomes borderline unplayable for everyone (except for the Simpsons Comic Book Guy who loves this kind of thing). And it gets so slow. Where you could have had twenty combats a night in the unexpanded version, now you can only complete two, and you spent long increments of time thumbing through various books figuring out the proper algorithm for how the dragon-spawn Barbarian's grappling ability works during attacks of opportunity when the opponent is half submerged in water.
Since the industry needs non-Simpsons Comic Book Guys to remain viable, a new edition* is then released, and the process starts all over again.
Wow Badiou says some weird things about analytic philosophy in the Introduction to Being and Event.
The 'analytic' current of English-language philosophy discounts most of classical philosophy's propositions as senseless, or as limited to the exercise of a language game (1).
. . .for Kant, the transcendental subject, after which the question [of the utility of mathematics] was no longer seriously practised, save by Bachelard in a vision which remained constitutive, and by the American partisans of the stratification of languages) (7). . .
From that point onwards, with the exception of Husserl-who is a great classic, if a little late-modern (let's say post-Kantian) philosophy was no longer haunted by a paradigm, except that of history, and, apart form some heralded but repressed exceptions, Cavailles and Lautman, it abandoned mathematics to Anglo-Saxon linguistic sophistry (7).
Poor Saxons! As if it isn't bad enough that they got destroyed by the Normans mere days after finally winning a hundreds years struggle against the Vikings. As if it isn't bad enough that the 80s metal band of the same name was so indifferently talented. No. Badiou must compound the injuries with insult. In addition to military annihilation and no copy-write recourse with respect to crap bands, all Saxon philosophers are sophists, just sitting around stratifying languages, declaring all philosophy senseless and language games and whatnot.
If Derrida's Baby Boomer detractors were correct about him being a charlatan, then thinkers such as Richard Rorty, Sam Wheeler, Lee Braver, and Martin Hagglund would have to be the lowest kinds of carny marks, about as gullible as the professional wrestling connoisseur from the American South who has yet to cotton on to the fact that the match endings are predetermined. You can always pick out this type because he tells you during intermission just what he's going to do if CM Punk tries to shave his kid's head.
Wheeler's Deconstruction as Analytic Philosophy probably did the most to help me get over the analytic/continental culture wars that I saw so many of my undergraduate professors wage. But Wheeler's recent NeoDavidsonian Metaphysics (the introduction is available here) looks fascinating independent of that context.
Check out this recent 3AM magazine interview, (hat tip Leiter*) where Wheeler articulates the connections between Davidson and Derrida. It's fascinating stuff, making explicit a number of issues sympathetic readers of Rorty will have already sort of suspected:
Very nice Mark Okrent inteview here, which includes this gem:
My single most important commitment in this area is that the intentionality of action is fundamental, and the intentionality of cognitive states, including conscious states, is to be understood in relation to this fundamental intentionality of action. Action, as action, always is directed towards some telos. That is, acts are always directed towards something, they are always either in order to bring about some end or for the sake of continuing some process. It is a corollary to this basic commitment that actions don’t in general ‘acquire’ their goals by being caused by mental states that pass on their intentional content to the acts that they cause. (That is, what it is for an act to have a goal cannot be cashed out in terms of the content of the desires that might or might not partially cause the act.) It also follows from this basic commitment that we will never understand what it is for a state or event to be intentional until we can answer two questions: ‘What is it to be an agent who can act? ‘What is it for an agent to act?’ There is an interesting relationship between these two questions, taken together, and Heidegger’s question regarding the meaning of the being of Dasein.
A few days ago, I used the lack of historical figures in its top-20-pernicious list to propose that Leiter’s poll about pernicious philosophers said a lot about the politics of academic philosophy, and not so much about anything else. “Pernicious,” in other words, is a political designation. In the comments, Jon Cogburn wonders:
“You had me up until the historical construct bit. Aren't we in danger of presupposing that something can't both be a political act of boundary policing *and* a statement with a truth value? I mean I think that it's objectively false that Heidegger is a pernicious philosopher. I also think that calling one's colleagues charlatans in public forums is objectively pernicious. Maybe I [am] trying to police a boundary here, but aren't some boundaries objectively worth policing?”
This is a fair question; let me try to pursue and answer in three slightly different ways.
There’s a discussion going on over at Leiter about the results of his latest poll: which modern philosopher had the “most pernicious influence” on philosophy? Heidegger was the strong #1, both in terms of the number of people who hated him, and the intensity of their hatred. This doesn’t seem that surprising, given that Leiter’s readers, um, lean analytic and since Leiter took their Derrida option off the table.
Much more interesting, it seems to me, is the historical skew of the results. Most of the figures in the top 20 are 20th century philosophers, and all but three (Descartes, Berkeley, and Kant) are 19th or 20th century (and it wouldn’t be conceptually wrong to put Kant in with the 19c). Does this reflect poor historical training? Do influential but controversial positions get absorbed into the ‘mainstream?’
When it comes to learning, Deleuze argues that “it is so difficult to say how someone learns.” (DR 23). More dramatically, Deleuze adds, there “is something amorous – but also something fatal – about all education.” (DR 23). In learning to drive a stick shift car, for example, it is not sufficient simply to be told by the instructor to “do as I do,” or to follow the rule as they have stated and/or exemplified it in their actions. Learning is not a matter of following a rule or of doing what someone else does; to the contrary, what one encounters in learning to drive a stick shift car is the task of connecting various elements – namely, the hand, foot, clutch, accelerator, slope of the road, etc.—and of connecting them systematically so that the foot releases from the clutch right when the accelerator is being pressed, etc. Similarly in learning to swim it is a matter of establishing connections between the various parts and motions of one’s body with the resistance, currents, and buoyancy of the water. As Deleuze puts it, “To learn to swim is to conjugate the distinctive points of our bodies with the singular points of the Objective Idea in order to form a problematic field.” (DR 165)
In clarifying what Deleuze means by conjugating the distinctive points “in order to form a problematic field” will offer, I argue, what I take to be a helpful perspective from which to understand Merleau-Ponty’s example of the expert organist as well as Jason Stanley’s recent work on skill.
whether one should put one's adjuncting jobs on it,
how post docs seemed to only be available to people from the most prestigious schools,
the extent to which one can infer affirmative action from the page,
the extent to which one can infer chances of a tenure track job right out of graduate school from the page,
the extent to which deans are or are not driven by the desire to make hires from more prestigious schools,
how many post docs might already have accepted job offers which are now deferred and not on the page,
the ethical obligations of everybody involved in a department with persistantly low placement numbers.
One thing that didn't get any discussion is the fact that there's a search field on the appointments page. It's on the the right hand side with the word "Go" after it. You can search by area and tell how many people out of the (at present) 206 people who reported their hiring to the site got jobs with given AOSs or AOCs, e.g.
With Robert Brandom (and for recognizably Hegelian reasons) I think that Whig histories are necessary. I also agree with conservative critics that American English departments damaged their own enrollments when the 1980s attacks on the canon led to too sweeping curricular changes. In every field, it's very important for students to master a Whig history that allows them to critically engage with contemporary work and that gives them an analogical jumping off point to apply their knowledge elsewhere. And students know this.
I also agree about 90% with Brandom on how this Whig history should be put together for philosophy. A philosopher must understand Kant, how Kant led to Hegel, how (and hopefully why with respect to the 19th century) Hegel was finally suppressed in the "back to Kant" movement, how phenomenology and logical positivism pushed the neo-Kantian moment to its breaking point, and how contemporary philosophy is a reaction to the agonies and ecstasies of positivism and phenomenology.
This semester we've started a pluralist reading group at LSU. We've got students and faculty from both analytic and continental philosophy who may not have that much antecedent overlap in background and methodology. So (as much as possible) it's very important to get books that will help analytic philosophers learn continental philosophy while simultaneously help continental philosophers learn analytic philosophy.*
This semester and summer we're working through Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, focusing on secondary material that will be accessible to both analytic and continental philosophers (Forster's Twenty-Five Years, Beiser's two books covering Kant to Hegel, Robert Stern's work, and Westphal's Blackwell Guide to the book). In summer we're going to move to contemporary philosophers who use Hegel, including Stern and Markus Gabriel's metaphysical works, anti-metaphysical Pittsburgh Hegeliana, and Zizek's recent doorstop. Given Stern's contentions about the connection between Hegel properly understood and Deleuze, we might move on to the recent interpretations of Deleuze that are interesting and pretty accessible to all (including Bell, Delanda, and Protevi).
In the context of a very nice post about an exceptional department, Professor Leiter claims: "The term 'pluralism'** has, alas, been debased to the point that everyone now knows it is usually a code word for 'crappy philosophy is welcome here'."
That's accurate, but a little too generous! For one thing, it understates the self-congratulation with which the term is deployed, and well as the ways in which it is wielded in order to deceive those most vulnerable in our profession.
I realize that many of our judgments of concerning philosophical work are somewhere between full-bore cognitive judgments and Kantian judgments of taste rather than judgments of things you happen to find agreeable. I mean, my distaste for a philosophical view or text is not the same as my distaste for bitter vegetables. And that's fine!
When I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas in the late 80s there was the huge fad of philosophers making fun of professors in other departments who had appropriated philosophical thinking for their own projects.
Honestly, it's pretty easy work for people who spend their lives just studying philosophy to beat up on our brothers and sisters in humanities departments when they enter into conversation with a philosopher. The trick is to bracket the dialectical context of the appropriation as well as treat the norms relevant for engaging in those debates as if they are the same as writing good philosophy. With literarature department deconstructionism, this meant completely ignoring the context of New Criticism and the contribution that the appropriation of Derrida and De Man's writings made with respect to this background.
As a result of the kind of methodological stupidity the revolution very quickly began eating its own,* culminating perhaps in the 1992 petition against awarding Jacques Derrida an honorary Cambridge doctorate. By this point it was clear that American philosophy had completely squandered a very real chance of retaining a role as queen of the humanities. If during theory's heyday, a critical mass of us had actually taken the time (a couple of years hard work in each case) to actually immerse ourselves in the relevant history and canonical texts of other departments doing "theory," philosophy would today widely be viewed as a helpful discipline, as opposed to this weird thing where we spin our own wheels.**
One of the most depressing things to me as a student of continental philosophy is to see how the worst aspects of the the analytic/continental rift are now being replicated within continental philosophy.
Both of these writing modes are essential skills for graduate students to master, but it's hard to get them to even try the "teacher-development" mode, perhaps because it's more difficult. (It's especially important for continental philosophy students to master this, since they will very often be addressing non-CP experts when addressing professional colleagues.)
I am optimistic about the potential of the powers-based approach, but I
see its major barrier to success to be bridging the gap between itself
and other systems, or at least, clearly situating itself with respect to
the dominant dialectic. Many advocates of more traditional approaches
see the powers-based system as operating within its own philosophical
universe and making little contact with the existing framework. This
hurts both sides: powers-based theories are only taken seriously by
those antecedently friendly to them, and prevailing approaches do not
benefit from the theoretical resources of the powers approach. At the
same time, using the tools of the more dominant strategies would benefit
powers-based theories, as some of their key concepts (properties and
substances, to name a few) remain underdeveloped. Clearly connecting
powers-based theories to the traditional Humean framework will open up
greater theoretical resources for both sides.--Sara Bernstein reviewing at NDPR. [Letters added to facilitate discussion.]
This quoted passage is the closing paragraph of Bernstein's very informative and stimulating review. (What follows is in no sense criticism of Bernstein.) I read Bernstein as identifying the "traditional Humean framework" (i.e., Lewisian metaphysics) as the more "dominant" approach to metaphysics at present. I read her as describing the "powers-based" (i.e., a neo-Lockean or, more accurately, neo-Aristotelian) approach as the weaker party. Let's stipulate that Bernstein's judgment on the relative strength of both parties in analytical metaphysics is accurate (see also Troy Cross's recent reviews, here and here). Even so, her review raises some uncomfortable questions about the state of the discipline. Here I focus on three features: (i) the existence of sub-disciplinary echo-chambers; (ii) who gets to decide who should respond to who; (iii) the benefits, if any, of philosophical engagement.
One attractive story about the demise of the Principle Sufficient Reason (PSR) is that it was discarded in the founding of analytical philosophy together with the heritage of British Idealism and related polemics against Spinoza (and Bergson) by Bertrand Russell. When Russell was given the option, accept (a) Bradley's Regress or (b) the PSR, he chose neither; and he opted, instead, for (c) submission to scientific fact: "The scientific philosophy, therefore...aims only at understanding
the world... without being turned aside from
that submission to fact which is the essence of the scientific temper." (On Scientific Method In Philosophy [recall my discussion and Jeff Bell.] If the to-be-explained-facts are brute, then it is possible that even if they can be fully captured by integrated into a theory/model (etc.) some arbitrariness is inevitable (in, say, initial conditions). One might even think that this stance is (informally) justified by the "principle of indifference" that accompanies the embrace of a classical probability theory in one's inductive logic (see, Carnap).
Eric says below that "Lewis is arguably the most significant and influential (analytical) philosopher of the last quarter of the 20th century. (Perhaps, Deleuze is the only contemporary that will match his enduring significance..."
Now putting Lewis and Deleuze together would yield very interesting metaphysical work I think. Unfortunately, there's a high barrier to entry to this kind of comparative work in terms of the time commitments necessary to get even a baseline acquaintance with each philosopher. So there has been only a very few attempts I can find to bring them together. Here is a New APPS post by Jeff Bell (and another); there is also Ch 6 in this book by James Williams (pdf here). Williams begins:
For Gilles Deleuze, the virtual is real and no actual world is complete if considered in abstraction from the virtual. For David Lewis, possible worlds are real and the actual world is but one of many real possible worlds. Deleuze is critical of the concept of the possible, warning against any confusion of the possible with the virtual. Lewis’s arguments can be deployed against many of the assumptions that hold for Deleuze’s virtual – most notably, against the claim that the reality of the virtual is a certainty, rather than merely a useful supposition.
All nine of the Schock winners thus far were or are eminent philosophers, and most of us can only aspire to emulate the quality of their work as best we can. Even if one allows that "The Schock" only seems to go to male, analytical philosophers, each winner is an important and interesting philosopher, deserving of significant honor. Having said that, The Schock Prize judges had four or five chances to honor David Lewis, and failed to do so. (Lewis died in the Fall of 2001.) Lewis is arguably the most significant and influential (analytical) philosopher of the last quarter of the 20th century. (Perhaps, Deleuze is the only contemporary that will match his enduring significance, but he and Foucault died before the Schock got up and running.) So, while one can excuse the members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (RSAS) to play it safe and not award the prize to, say, Derrida (and, thus, avoid the predictable outcry), not giving it to Lewis means they failed to grasp the nature of analytical philosophy in their own time. That in addition, they passed on Gadamer, Ricœur, Goodman, and, thus far, Habermas suggests that the Schock has a long way to go before it can establish itself as the ultimate arbiter of general philosophical excellence.
Let's stipulate that there is genuine bullshit (see Frankfurt 1986). Let's also stipulate there is bullshit in the Humanities, even in philosophy.
A lot of people I know in philosophy are pretty confident that much of what passes in Literary Theory and the philosophies that influence(d) it is bullshit. I have seen testimony people that ardently defend this view who have studied quite a bit of, say, Continental philosophy and reached this conclusion. (Of course, in reality, a lot more folk are dismissive on the basis of extremely slender personal, intellectual investment.) When pressed for evidence, the Sokal Hoax is trotted out as exhibit A. It made a great splash inside the academy and the popular media that covers it. Rather than interpreting the case as an instance of bad refereeing, editorial misjudgment, whole areas of thought got written off by quite a few people.
I just learned that a paper was retracted from Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics--a very fine physics journal published by a reputable institute. It frankly reports, "The Editorial Board has investigated this and found that the XPS
spectra shown in figure 3 all exhibit an identical noise pattern that is
unphysical." [HT Retractionwatch] In other words, the journal published artfully presented bullshit. (It recently announced that it "is now using ScholarOne Manuscripts for submission and peer-review management.") Undoubtedly, this incident is unpleasant for all the parties involved, but nobody in their right mind will draw any inferences about physics from it.
The moral: very good journals can publish bullshit, and the refereeing institutions of all disciplines need constant maintenance.
The reader may have a sense that we have gone off the rails. To be honest, I share that sense. The claim that the category of sentence carves at the joints, for example...strains to the breaking-point my intuitive grip on the notion of joint carving...[I]t's evident from examples that there just is a metaphysically significant notion of saturation. I invite the skeptical reader not to simply dismiss the issue, but rather to join my struggle to make sense of this notion, and perhaps come up with something better. T.Sider, Writing the Book of the World (257) [emphasis in original--ES.]
An uncharitable -- not to be confused with the "skeptical" -- reader might interpret the passage above as a rhetorical way to dismiss an important worry (recall my earlier post). But this would miss what is at stake here; Sider here recognizes (to speak pompously) the crucial, world-historical significance of his project, which madly pursues the 'linguistic turn' to its near-breaking point within analytical metaphysics. For, with 'saturation' Sider makes clear how his knee-jerk realism and his embrace of the method of final (or fundamental) language come together: the world consists of joints and these correspond to "a linguistic category: that of the complete sentence in a fundamental language. In a fundamental language, a language in which the category of sentence carves at the joints, sentences are always "metaphysically complete"--saturated." (254)
Now, this is not the place to offer Sider's ingenuous and persuasive argument for his idea that "there's something metaphysically distinctive...abut all parameters being filled. When all parameters are filled, we can call the result a [metaphysical] fact." (252). Let's accept that a fully regimented fundamental language contains a primitive operator that attaches to a dummy sentence-variable. We have here a way of thinking about submission to fact (recall and here) that is internally satisfying (and consistent). To put Sider's insight more informally, but it in the spirit of Sider, "when God created the world" she needed sentences to write the book of the world.
Sider's picture comes attractively close to offering a metaphysical bedrock that dispenses with the Principle of Sufficient Reason (and, thus, exorcise the ghost of Bradley's infinite regress that has haunted analytical philosophy since inception).
"Scientific philosophy" as I will be using it here is an eighteenth century invention by now-forgotten philosophers (McLaurin, 's Gravesande) or not read as philosophers anymore (Euler) (and then opposed by now-canonical philosophers like Berkeley, Hume, Kant, and folk that are fun to read like Mandeville and Diderot) that, after the split between philosophy and science, was re-introduced into philosophy by people like Russell, and echoed by Carnap, and Reichenbach. Scientific philosophy has six characteristics:
‘success’ trumps other
(rational/methodological) claims. Given that scientific philosophers sometimes retreat to the idea that philosophy is an a priori discipline, the 'empirical' (in 1) is often re-packaged as, say, inference to the best explanation in light of a variety of enduring 'scientific virtues' (i.e., simplicity, scope, predictive power, fruitfulness, exactness, etc.)
(a) Physics is the foundational science and/but it (b) has no need
for ultimate foundations. While 2(a) may seem obvious (see, e.g., Ladymann & Ross) due to its universal scope, its foundational nature was contested well into the nineteenth century. One could imagine, say, the science of information taking over as the foundational science in the future.
Within scientific philosophy reason
limits itself in various ways: in doing so (a) it avoid the fallacy of systematicity because it does not try to say
everything about everything; (b) it embraces the intellectual division
of labor (from 3(b)); it avoids the fallacy of (metaphysical) foundationalism because it has no
need to try to to secure its practice in un-shakeable, first principles
(see 2(b)). So, it is no surprise that Russell rejected the principle of sufficient reason or Bradley's regress argument.
is a self-directed, autonomous practice; once one has mastered certain rigorous tools, one moves
from one given experiment/solution (etc.) to the next problem. Given the emphasis on rigor, it is no surprise that:
Scientific philosophy is often opposed to a licentious or unintelligible
alternative(s) associated with past failures, sometimes even moral. (Exhibit a.) It, thus, embraces commitments to transparency (and clarity).
offers submission to the
facts (recall) and is disciplined (recall) by way of a careful, painful, modest and most
importantly open-ended progressive method. This entails that any scientific philosopher will enter a pre-existing, moving research trajectory and can expect to die before any destination is ever reached.
Last week I received a widely distributed announcement on a conference celebrating "The 'Stanford School' of Philosophy of Science." The 'core' members of this school are taken to be: Nancy Cartwright (Durham), John Dupré (Exeter), Peter Galison (Harvard), Peter Godfrey-Smith (CUNY), Patrick Suppes (Stanford). The parenthesis are the current affiliation of the 'core' members; this immediately suggests that if there is a 'school' at all we are either dealing with a historical phenomenon or very distributed one. Scanning the list of the 'next generation' confirms that Stanford is not the current base of the purported school.
First, I adore much of the work done by many in the 'core,' but the idea that this group is a 'school' is deeply flawed. For, Suppes is far better understood (as he does himself) as belonging to the first generation (including Kyburg, Pap, Isaac Levi) intellectual off-spring of Ernest Nagel, who successfully created American analytical philosophy by combining the Scientific wing of Pragmatism with the new approaches emanating from Vienna, especially, and Cambridge (recall and here). In his autobiography, Suppes describes how assimilated from Nagel the significance of history of science.
It may well be irrational to believe that history is progress after the unprecedented moral and political calamities of the twentieth century. But it does not follow, as [John] Gray apparently assumes, that history has no meaning. There is another possibility. To my knowledge Gray never endorses it, and it extremely difficult for a post-Darwinian mind to grap, but it has been presumed true by most civilizations and philosophies of the past, and is still so regarded by many non-Westernized cultures today. The possibility is that history does indeed have a meaning, purpose and end, and that these can easily be discerned by human beings, but that the direction of history's development is backward not forwards. History is not progress but regress, not advance but decline, and it leads to destruction rather than to utopia.--David Hawkes reviewing John Gray "The Silence of Animals" in TLS (30 August, 2013).
Let's distinguish four main conceptions of history:
Eternal Return. Within philosophy this goes back to Book 3 of Plato's Laws. It was revived by Nietzsche (and is part of the sub-structure of much continental philosophy and via Ian Hacking it is seeping into philosophy of science). It accords well with a cyclical conception of history with a rise and fall narrative or with periodic destruction of civilization(s) (think of the Atlantis story in the Timaeus and Bacon's riff on it). I expect it to become increasingly attractive to people as we head for man-made environmental catastrophe.
Whitehead lectured on Science and
the Modern World and on Cosmologies Ancient and Modern. I responded little,
even after accustoming myself to his accent. What he said had little evident
bearing on the problems that I recognized. His lecture hours were mercifully
short and his speech exasperatingly slow. My notes were crowded with doodles…But
retained a vivid sense of being in the presence of the great.--Quine, The Philosophy of W.V. Quine, Volume 18 van Library of living philosophers, Hahn/Schilpp).
In Quine's memory Whitehead is a stereotypical Continental philosopher, somebody that affects greatness but is not relevant to our problem-solving. In his intellectual autobiography, Davidson comes close to adding that the "unreadable" Whitehead was basically a fraud as a teacher and philosopher: "Truth, or even serious argument was basically irrelevant." (Davidson, Volume 27 van The library of living philosophers, p. 13-14) [I thank Stefan Koller for calling my attention to these passages in Davidson.] So, some will find it, thus, fitting that bona fide Continental philosophers -- Deleuze, Stengers -- have adopted Whitehead as one of their own. Our very own Jeff Bell is part of this story and hopefully will share insights on its nature and causes.
Now, undoubtedly with the (once very influential) leaders of our tribe discouraging, even ridiculing interest in Whitehead it's no surprise that Whitehead is whitewashed (sorry, couldn't resist) out of the collective memory of analytical philosophy. I have already mentioned that this was not inevitable; in 1930 Ernest Nagel acknowledged that Whitehead's work on the "nature of existence" is "a notable addition" to a revival of interest in metaphysics among scientific philosophers. As regular readers know, I claim that Ernest Nagel is a privileged observer; he played the crucial role in coining and articulating the concept, "analytical philosophy" in 1936 (without including Whitehead, who was in the wrong Cambridge). Granting that historical accuracy need not be the most important philosophical virtue Whitehead's migration out of analytical philosophy obscures proper philosophical self-understanding, at least if we think that Quine's moves matter to us.
Now, reflection on this very small sample (add your favorite example in comments!) inclines me to delimit a certain genre of philosophically effective ridicule (as opposed to mere character assassination); this genre, relies on the magnification of a core philosophical commitment of the opponent and thereby render the whole project preposterous or laughable. I label this a 'Swiftian-Rabelaisian strategy.' Nietzsche's writings are littered with attempts at Swiftian-Rabelaisian strategy, although he often suggests that the contrasting strategy -- ridicule by way of minimization (e.g., Berkeley on minute philosophers) -- comes more naturally to him.
Of course, such a Swiftian-Rabelaisian strategy is compatible with the existence of effective arguments against the ridiculed opposition (as well as the existence of argumentative rejoinders). It is also compatible with holding a rather austere (what we may call, adopting a phrase from Derrida) 'ethics of writing'. Given the sample, I hasten to add that even if the meta-ethical-writing-principles were shared, the enacted norms of writing may differ widely. We should distinguish the Swiftian-Rabelaisian strategy from other forms of ridicule (which, say, rely on misrepresentation, incredulous stares, silencing techniques, etc.).
I conclude my preliminary analysis by way of a suggestion; in some possible world it ought to be possible to execute the Swiftian-Rabelaisian strategy under, as it were, the radar without, say, being funny. To give a hint of an example: when Locke takes on the stance of an 'under-labourer' he magnifies some privileged others (Boyle, Sydenham, Huygens Newton). Nobody would ever accuse Locke of being a funny writer, but it would be amusing if he were capable of an inside joke.
"Strauss' interpretation of Plato is wrong from beginning to end." M.F. Burnyeat.
Although we philosophers are thought of as a cerebral bunch, our loathings can be pretty intense. I need not mention the hundred-year, fraternal civil war, which around here we label a 'divide,' between analytic and continental philosophy; we are not known for our fondness for what passes as 'theory' among literature and cultural studies departments (and I have experienced plenty of uncivil behavior from folk in, say, science studies in return). But when professional philosophers are not just puzzled by the Straussians they encounter, we reserve a special kind of bile and invective against them, especially as Strauss's students found their ways into advising Goldwater and Reagan (and beyond); once I was halted in my invective against Wolfowitz by (The University of Chicago's) Ralph Lerner's, 'Paul once sat in that chair, and was no less passionate than you.' Undoubtedly a few of us were at least mildly irritated by reading Steven Smith's very respectful review of books on the legacy of Strauss in a recent New York Times Book Review--"doesn't he know that 'Strauss is not a Philosopher!'"?
In his famous essay, Burnyeat (a former teacher) overreached. Invoking "ordinary scholarship," Burnyeat treats Plato (surprisingly Popperian) as a "radical utopian," primarily relevant for opening up "a reasoned debate on the nature and practicality of a just society" (emphasis in Burnyeat). Given that Burnyeat was in no sense an ordinary scholar, who also searchingly pioneered the historiographical construction of the classics, these lines are painful read; Burnyeat reduces the significance of Plato's political philosophy to being a forerunner of Rawls. Those of us living in the shadow of the surveillance state may find Strauss' "anti-Utopian teaching" ("invented" or not) about Plato a useful touch-stone, sometimes. For in Republic and Laws surveillance are ever-present and its limits thematized. The cause of Burnyeat's overreach is that Plato's Laws has always been a blind-spot to him (and until recently ordinary analytic scholarship).
At some level, Burnyeat must have known he overreached, because he allowed the original and reprinted version of the piece to have a clear reference to a famous short story by Oscar Wilde, -- which may be read as an allegory on philosophical madness [Murchison is introduced as a truth-teller] ! -- that ends with that enigmatic "I wonder."