In many respects, Hume was a cognitive scientist of religion avant la lettre: his Natural history of religion, Enquiry and Dialogues concerning Natural Religion contain bold hypotheses about the origins of religion in human nature (NHR), the reason why people believe in and transmit miracle stories (Enquiry, On Miracles), and the intuitiveness of intelligent design/creationism (NHR and Dialogues). Many of these hypotheses are still being explored by current cognitive scientists of religion (CSR for short) who share Hume’s taste in making bold conjectures about the cognitive, historical and cultural factors that underlie widespread religious beliefs and practices. Recent Hume scholarship asks whether Hume thought that belief in creationism/intelligent design is a natural belief. The answer is not at all obvious, since Hume voices several seemingly conflicting opinions. In this blogpost I want to argue that Hume’s ideas about the intuitiveness of creationism/IDC are very relevant to cognitive science today, and that belief in intelligent design is not a natural belief, but that some of its constituent beliefs are.
"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."
The ideal of a pure language in which a pure, pared-down, unambiguous translation of
the truths of pure mathematics can be effected deserves a more extended discussion
than I have given it here. But I will limit myself to pointing out that this ideal language is very far indeed from the languages of man as conceived by Whorf; for to Whorf the least visible structures of a language, those that seem most natural to its Speakers, are
the structures most likely to embody the metaphysical preconceptions of the language
Community. On the other hand, the case of gravitational attraction does not at all
demonstrate what Whorf asserts about Newtonian cosmology as a System, namely that
the key concepts of the cosmology emerge smoothly from or fit smoothly into, the
structures of Newton's own language(s). Instead we find in Newton a real struggle, a
struggle sometimes — e. g., in the General Scholium to Book III of the Principia —
carried out in awareness of the issues involved, to bridge the gap between the non referential
symbolism of mathematics and a language too protean to be tied down to
single, pure meanings.--J.M. Coetzee (1982) "Newton and the Ideal of a Transparent Scientific Language," Journal of Literary Semantics.
Among recent philosophy the Whorf hypothesis is primarily an object of curiosity as background to Kuhn's Structure (and maybe Quine's Word and Object), although two of my favorite philosophers, Lieven Decock and our very own Helen de Cruz (and a few others), work on it. (Undoubtedly part of the lack of interest is recent, philosophical abhorrence of relativism, but the thesis has not disappeared from linguistics and psychology.)* A charismatic economist, Keith Chen, rediscovers a version of it in economics by focusing on the surprising impact of linguistic structure and financial activity (saving rates)--here's a popular video. (HT Hülya Eraslan; I ignore my methodological qualms today.) In the article quoted in the epigraph above (it's his conclusion), Coetzee is interested in the version -- he attributes it directly to Whorf -- that "we see nature along lines laid down by our native languages." I call this version, the "narrow Whorf thesis" (to distinguish it from broader claims about linguistic/cultural relativism and also Whorf's explanation for the narrow Whorf thesis.)
Now, what does the narrow Whorf thesis have to do with Newton and Coetzee?
The scientific revolution of the 17th century, which has given rise to
such extraordinary progress in the understanding of nature, depended on a
crucial limiting step at the start: It depended on subtracting from the
physical world as an object of study everything mental – consciousness,
meaning, intention or purpose. The physical sciences as they have
developed since then describe, with the aid of mathematics, the elements
of which the material universe is composed, and the laws governing
their behavior in space and time.--Thomas Nagel in the NYT.
I have blogged about a variant of this mythological (I think Heideggerian) history before. (This is not to be confused with other blogging at NewAPPS on Nagel's recent views, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) If all you know is Descartes then this myth might seem plausible. But the Cartesian 'crucial limiting step' was successfully rejected throughout the seventeenth century. Many philosophers are familiar, of course, with Leibniz's monads, but may dismiss Leibniz as not really contributing to the scientific revolution (as opposed to mathematics and mathematics). So, let's focus on Newton. When he thought through the metaphysics of body (in critical response to Descartes), he embraced the idea that an
extended body had to be the kind of thing that was capable of exciting various perceptions in the senses and imagination of minds (this is from a piece known as "De Gravitatione;" I am linking to a very nice treatment by Zvi Biener and Chris Smeenk.) While this doctrine is not stated in the Principia; there are glimpses of it in the General Scholium (added to second edition) and in his Opticks. Newton is not ideosyncratic; as I learned from my PhD Student, Marij Van Strien, through the second half of the nineteenth century leading physicists (including Maxwell) were tempted by anti-reductionist conceptions such that mind was not excluded from their inquiry.
The following three sub-fields are highly specialized: Ancient philosophy, seventeenth/eighteenth century philosophy, and philosophy of physics. The following sub-fields have a low level of specialization: metaphilosophy, philosophy of religion, philosophy of probability, philosophy of the social sciences, decision theory, and philosophy of race and gender. Highly specialized sub-fields tend to require extensive knowledge in some area beyond the typical training of a philosopher, and outside of philosophy proper.--Brad Wray.
Brad Wray, a Kuhnian-naturalistic philosopher of science, has mined the PhilPapers data with an eye toward "the degree of specialization in each area of specialization" in the discipline. (Wray is a bit too confident that this is a "representative sample of the profession;" I worry about selection and, especially, geographical effects; even so the numbers are pretty large (3,226 people in total and 1,803 'philosophy faculty or PhD') so that the results can be illuminating if used with caution.)
Wray: "The degree of specialization of an area is a relative measure of how specialized a particular area is" and is calculated as follows: "The number of people who claim the area as their primary area of specialization/The number of people who claim the area as an area of specialization." I have posted a chunk of the abstract, which contains the core results, in the epigraph above. One of Wray's finding would not have surprised Adam Smith: "an analysis of the data suggests that the size of a specialization is correlated with the degree of specialization."
Wray's crucial result (which seems to have been explored at the prompting of a referee) is this one: "a high degree of specialization is the exception, not the norm in philosophical specialties. Many specialties seem to depend, to a significant degree, on the involvement of many who work in the area but who do not identify the area as their primary area of specialization." Of course, this says nothing about the way in which specialists set the agenda with a specialization.
Either way, this data suggests that there are still quite a few generalists in philosophy (it is amusing to me that I work in a 'specialist' area because us 'early modernists' cover two hundred years of systematic philosophy with ongoing discussions pertaining to M&E, value, science, and increasingly philosophy of religion). The question as to what degree Wray's pattern is born out by publication and citation-data is worth exploring in the future.
One can’t help but share in
Chagnon’s frustration at the hasty decision of the majority of his disciplinary
peers to disown its historical connection to any branch of the complex and
variegated scientific tradition. After all, until very recently (and to some
extent to this day still in languages such as French and German), a ‘science’
was any relatively systematic body of knowledge, anything the goal or product
of which was scientia, and it is only
in the very most recent times that the notion has been reduced to the figure of
somber men seeking to run the world on the basis of claims of unassailable
expertise. Yet the cartoon version of science that Chagnon proposes in
response, in its total failure to recognize that there might be special
problems of theory-ladenness, power inequality, looping effects, prejudice --in
a word, all those factors that make the scientific study of humans a more
delicate matter than the study of other domains of nature--, can easily make
one wish to take the ‘postmodern’ turn oneself, if only to get away from this
astoundingly simplistic pretense of scientificity.--Justin Smith (writing about Napoleon
Chagnon’s book, Noble Savages: My Life
among Two Dangerous Tribes- The Yanomamö and the Anthropologists (Simon
& Schuster, 2013).
Justin is one of the leading historians of philosophy of my generation. He is also a staunch defender of the fact that "one can in fact approach the subject matter
of anthropology naturalistically, using the conceptual tools of European
traditions of thought, and still come up with theoretically sophisticated
accounts of indigenous beliefs that remain nonetheless sensitive to the actual
concerns, to the ‘voices’, of the people being studied." (He also wants to bring some anthropological methods into the history of philosophy.)
[This post was inspired by an email correspondence with John Doris.--ES]
The sciences play an important role in (at least) two ways of doing philosophy these days: (a) as an ingredient or constraint in so-called 'naturalistic turns;' (b) as an object of study in Philosophy of X (POX) -- with X = any particular science -- or General Philosophy of Science (GPOS). This (a-b) is not to deny the existence of other roles of science in philosophy, including: (c) functioning as the exemplary model of doing philosophy--I tend to refer to this as "Philosophy as Normal Science" (PANS; regular readers know I want us diminish PANS) and (d) being a source of discipline of philosophy (as, say, Williamson wishes). In practice, there are lots of blended positions. I will not define "philosophy" or "science", and I recognize that those of us that work in Europe (and, perhaps, elsewhere) are often taught (and paid/evaluated) to think of ourselves as scientists.
Here I focus on some problems that (a) and (b), especially, share in practice. The source of these is that we philosophers are generally not practicing scientists. (What I am aboout to claim also applies to those that have a PhD in some science, but it may not apply fully to those that also have ongoing research projects within some science.) This means that any science we rely on (in a-d) will be inevitably: (i) dated (science can move very fast as Bertrand Russell emphasized--it is hard enough for the professionals 'to keep up'); (ii) potentially misunderstood (we are -- despite our fabulous reasoning and conceptual skills -- not the experts in the science, after all); (iii) a partial perspective (most sciences are much larger than philosophy and can have a huge division of intellectual labor). Even if one were to ignore the effects of (i-iii) in (a-d) bits of science 'travel' from properly (stabilized) scientific domains/contexts to philosophical contexts; it is, thus, very likely that (iv) science will be partially transformed in translation (one need not be a Quine-ean holist, Kuhnian incommensurabalist to see that any disciplinary appropriation is not prima facie truth or meaning/pragmatics preserving). In practice, i-iv can be blended--and, perhaps, the list ought to be longer. I call the effects of i-iv, "NAPPs." The idea is that NAPPs is internal to naturalism (and not to be confused with excesses such as scientism or positivism).
JHAP aims to promote research in and provide a forum for discussion of the history of analytic philosophy. ‘History’ and ‘analytic’ are understood broadly. JHAP takes the history of analytic philosophy to be part of analytic philosophy. Accordingly, it publishes historical research that interacts with the ongoing concerns of analytic philosophy and with the history of other twentieth century philosophical traditions. In addition to research articles, JHAP publishes discussion notes and reviews.
"and with the history of other twentieth century philosophical traditions" is a very important clause! Two [update: now three] notes which concern that clause:
Nature does nothing in vain, and in the use of means to her goals she is
not prodigal. Her giving to man reason and the freedom of the will
which depends upon it is clear indication of her purpose. Man
accordingly was not to be guided by instinct, not nurtured and
instructed with ready-made knowledge; rather, he should bring forth
everything out of his own resources. Securing his own food, shelter,
safety and defense...all amusement which can make life pleasant, insight and
intelligence, finally even goodness of heart-all this should be wholly
his own work. In this, Nature seems to have moved with the strictest
parsimony, and to have measured her animal gifts precisely to the most
stringent needs of a beginning existence, just as if she had willed
that, if man ever did advance from the lowest barbarity to the highest
skill and mental perfection and thereby worked himself up to happiness
(so far as it is possible on earth), he alone should have the credit and
should have only himself to thank-exactly as if she aimed more at his
rational self-esteem than at his well-being. For along this march of
human affairs, there was a host of troubles awaiting him. But it seems
not to have concerned Nature that he should live well, but only that he
should work himself upward so as to make himself, through his own
actions, worthy of life and of well-being.--I. Kant Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View (1784). Translation by Lewis White Beck.
Kant's nature is a brilliant economizing-social planner; one that designs circumstances that are conducive to the optimal social good, yet requiring a market failure in praise (I almost wrote 'credit', but decided that would cause the wrong kind of confusion).
Brian Leiter has reported the passing of Fred Dretske; Brian also links to this gem on the Gettier paper. I met Dretske only a few times in graduate school and spent a few days with him when he visited Syracuse. (Chalmers has some nice pictures, including one of Dretske and Murat Aydede, who enthusiastically introduced me to Dretske's views in graduate school.) I recall a memorable exchange between Alva Noë and Dretske, where from the audience (I think) Dretske forcefully pressed his case against the embodied cognition approach.
Dretske got his PhD (1960) at age 28 at a very good (but not great)
department (Minnesota--then in the grip of logical positivism, I
suspect). Unlike a lot of twentieth century, analytic boy-wonders, he did not have a break-out (still famous) paper at the start of his career. (Correct me if I am wrong.) Rather, he published on a very regular basis in top journals on a range (of sometimes very quirky) topics, including time-travel--this morning I enjoyed reading "Counting to Infinity," which reminds us of that alternative world in which analytic metaphysics could have come in its own by reflection on the nature of infinity (recall my post). After a decade (or so), he published Seeing and Knowing and a remarkable group of papers, including a classic one on Epistemic Operators.
Between Knowledge and the Flow of Information (1981) and Naturalizing the Mind (presented in 1994) he seemed to capture and define the common sense of a whole philosophical era. A remarkable achievement.
I provide no example of a ‘Hegelian’ ontological
argument because I know of no formulation of such an argument. Many
people assert that Hegel provided an ontological argument; but, when
pressed for a list of the premises of the argument, Hegel's friends
fail to deliver. Here, in my view, they follow Hegel's own precedent:
his lectures on ‘the ontological argument’ are full of
assertions that there is a successful ontological argument, but he
gives no argumentative support for those assertions, not any
indication of what the premises of the target argument might be.--Graham Oppy writing in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [HT to Jon Shaheen.]
Would somebody be willing to offer an argument-sketch of Hegel's argument (with references to Hegel's text)? Of course, if you are drawing on other folk, do provide detailed references!
This blog about Lost Causes in Statistics [HTGreg Gandenberger] made wonder if Lost Causes are really possible in Philosophy. A half a century ago The Principle of Sufficient Reason or Metaphysics generally might have seem such a cause; and that makes me hesitant to nominate one.
Can anybody suggest decisively (that is, forever) rejected, once-promising philosophical projects/positions?
I am inclined to suggest the naturalistic fallacy just to get conversation going.
Signed comments only (unless one writes me with an explanation for anonymity.)
[I] We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though
frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this
account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of
the subject. Masters are always and every where in a sort of tacit, but
constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above
their actual rate. To violate this combination is every where a most
unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his
neighbours and equals. We seldom, indeed, hear of this combination,
because it is the usual, and one may say, the natural state of things
which nobody ever hears of.--Adam Smith (1776) Wealth of Nations.
[II] Servants, labourers and workmen of different kinds, make up the far
greater part of every great political society. But what improves the
circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an
inconveniency to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and
happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and
miserable. It is but equity,
besides, that they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the
people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as
to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed and lodged.--Adam Smith (1776) Wealth of Nations.
Our very own Helen de Cruz called my attention to this fascinating post by Keith DeRose. Consider his claim [A]:
[A] But as it generally goes with philosophical arguments, they don't
produce knowledge of their controversial conclusions about substantive
Initially I thought that in [A] DeRose was relying on a claim about the nature of philosophical argument; let's call it "a no knowledge producing property of philosophical argument." This has a Humean flavor to it. I was (unintentionally, perhaps) led in this hermeneutic direction by DeRose's quote [B] from David Lewis' (1996) "Elusive Knowledge:"
[B] We have all sorts of everyday knowledge, and we have it in abundance. To
doubt that would be absurd. At any rate, to doubt it in any serious and
lasting way would be absurd; and even philosophical and temporary
doubt, under the influence of argument, is more than a little peculiar.
It is a Moorean fact that we know a lot.
Inspired by Plato onwards, theories of cosmic, physical, and moral sympathy (συμπάθεια--'fellow feeling') were developed in a variety of contexts (e.g., Galenic medicine, Stoic metaphysics, magnetism, moral psychology, magic, etc.). For all its variety, in most thinkers and traditions the very possibility of sympathy presupposes that sympathy takes place among things that are in one sense or another alike (sometimes within a single being/unity/organism) to be contrasted with the antipathy (ἀντιπάθεια) of un-alikes. (Here I just flag the non-trivial moral issues this raises for ethical theories that rely on sympathy/empathy.) Let's call this condition of the possibility of sympathy, "The Likeness Principle" (or TLP). I learned the significance of the TLP in Plotinian and Stoic thought from Eyjólfur Emilsson, René Brouwer.
Those of you who have been following some of my blog posts
will recall my current research project ‘Roots of Deduction’, which aims at
unearthing (hopefully without damaging!) the conceptual and historical origins
of the very concept of a deductive argument as one where the truth of the
premises necessitates the truth of the conclusion. In particular, this past
year we’ve been reading the Prior
Analytics in a reading group, which has been a fantastic experience (highly
recommended!). For next year, the plan is to switch from logic to mathematics,
and look more closely into the development of deductive arguments in Greek
But here’s the catch: the members of the project are all much
more versed in the history of logic than in the history of mathematics, so we
can’t count on as much previous expertise for mathematics as we could in the
case of (Aristotelian) logic. Moreover, the history of ancient Greek
mathematics is a rather intimidating topic, with an enormous amount of
secondary literature and a notorious scarcity of primary sources (at least for
the earlier pre-Euclid period, which is what we would be interested in). So it
seems prudent to focus on a few specific aspects of the topic, and for now I
have in mind specifically the connections between mathematics and logic (and
philosophy) in ancient Greece. More generally, our main interest is not on the
‘contentual’ part of mathematical theories, but rather on the ‘structural’
part, in particular the general structure of arguments and the emergence of
necessarily truth-preserving arguments.
I start losing my grip on the distinction between being a source of
change and a mere transmitter of change when the change isn’t just local
motion....Locke does come to think that attraction may be real, not
reducible to the transmission of motion, and not the direct exercise of
divine will. That would make attraction an active power that is not
will. So I wish I’d hedged my claims a bit more, and said that the only
active power we have a clear idea of, and the only active power we are
sure there is, is will..--Antonia LoLordo
My favorite early modern blog, the Mod Squad, is hosting a week long 'author meets critics' on LoLordo's Locke’s Moral Man. The first exchange between Sam Rickless and Lolordo is terrific. Lolordo's remark above caught my Newton-obsessed attention.
Because I am rarely capable of great subtlety and a friend of historical truth, I love subtle revisionism. So, I am grateful to Dirk Felleman for calling my attention to the title, "200 YEARS OF ANALYTICAL PHILOSOPHY" of a 2008 issue of the The Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication. The issue was edited by world class scholars-philosophers, SANDRA LAPOINTE, MATTI EKLUND AND AMIE L. THOMASSON. So, where does analytical philosophy start?
During the last few days I have been rather critical of Timothy Williamson's dismissive-ness toward most of the rest of us and his inability to accept honest disagreement as a potentially intrinsic feature of philosophy (here and here). Now, amidst Williamson's (2006) kvetching about debased standards he does offer a positive proposal worth reflecting on:
But when philosophy is not disciplined by semantics, it
must be disciplined by something else: syntax, logic, common sense,
imaginary examples, the findings of other disciplines (mathematics,
physics, biology, psychology, history, ...) or the aesthetic evaluation
of theories (elegance, simplicity, ...). Indeed, philosophy subject to
only one of those disciplines is liable to become severely distorted:
several are needed simultaneously. To be ‘disciplined’ by X here is not
simply to pay lip-service to X; it is to make a systematic conscious
effort to conform to the deliverances of X, where such conformity is at
least somewhat easier to recognize than is the answer to the original
philosophical question. Of course, each form of philosophical discipline
is itself contested by some philosophers. But that is no reason to
produce work that is not properly disciplined by anything. It may be a
reason to welcome methodological diversity in philosophy: if different
groups in philosophy give different relative weights to various sources
of discipline, we can compare the long-run results of the rival ways of
Williamson's final paragraph begins: "In making these comments, it is
hard not to feel like the headmaster of a minor public school at speech
day, telling everyone to pull their socks up after a particularly bad
term". I cannot speak for the participants at the conference, but my own
reaction to being compared to a wayward British schoolboy was: So who
died and made you headmaster?--Tim Maudlin
I much prefer searching self-criticism than kicking the outsider. So, I was about to start really liking Williamson. But it turns out, Williamson is not above kicking down. For the very same passage continues: "within the analytic tradition many philosophers use arguments only to the extent that most ‘continental’ philosophers do: some kind of inferential movement is observ able, but it lacks the clear articulation into premises and conclusion and the explicitness about the form of the inference that much good philosophy achieves." (11) Okay, so the point is: most analytical philosophers think they are superior in philosophical virtue to continental philosophers, but they are as bad as the legitimately despised continental philosophers. Yes, in context Williamson says he is deploying "crude stereotypes," but he is not disowning the stereotype about continental philosophy! (Cf. "Much even of analytic philosophy moves too fast in its haste to reach the sexy bits." (15; emphasis added--ES)) The main point of Williamson's piece is to double-down on the stereotypical virtues of analytical philosophy: "precision" and "rigour" (15), and to do so in opposition to the despised 'other.' In fact, the un-argued hostility toward Kant, which I noticed yesterday, is a trope in Williamson: "if we aim to be rigorous, we cannot expect to sound like Heraclitus, or even Kant: we have to sacrifice
the stereotype of depth." (15; logically that allows Kant to rigerous, of course, but if you sound like Kant, etc...) [Doubling-down is not the whole story, but about that more tomorrow.]
The usual stories about the history of twentieth-century philosophy fail to fit much of the liveliest, exactest, and most creative achievements of the final third of that century: the revival of metaphysical theorizing, realist in spirit, often speculative, often commonsensical, associated with Saul Kripke, David Lewis, Kit Fine, Peter van Inwagen, David Armstrong, and many others: work that has, to cite just one example, made it anachronistic to dismiss essentialism as anachronistic. On the traditional grand narrative schemes in the history of philosophy, this activity must be a throwback to pre-Kantian metaphysics. It ought not to be happening; but it is. Many of those who practice it happily acknowledge its continuity with traditional metaphysics; appeals to the authority of Kant, or history, ring hollow, for they are unbacked by any argument that withstood the test of recent time.--Timothy Williamson (2004).
Philosophy is not easy.
Judging where 'we' are 'in' philosophy's development is also not easy. The twenty-year data-set (1993-2013) deployed by Healy (here and here) cover much of my time in philosophy. My progress through the discipline (Tufts BA, Chicago PhD, Wesleyan, WashU) meant that until I arrived at Syracuse in 2005, I was oblivious about the dominance of David Lewis. Obviously, I had read some Kripke and Lewis along the way; if my memory doesn't deceive me, Van Inwagen had visited Tufts to give a lecture, and, while I found him impressive, I had thought Dennett had gotten the better of the exchange. Ever since 2005 I have been playing catch-up on recent metaphysics (which I adore). I have been taking comfort from the fact that around the same time even Brian Leiter missed how significant Lewis's legacy was radically reshaping philosophy. For Lewis and the "wave of "old-fashioned" metaphysical theorizing," (Leiter: 6) he inspired is, in fact, a very minor presence in Leiter's entertaining volume (2004) The Future For Philosophy, from which I quoted Williamson above (recall my post, and Mohan's).
Spotting self-serving narrative is easier. Here's a formula: when folk that pride themselves on "logical rigour and semantic sophistication," (Williamson: 128) trot out metaphors ("the test of recent time"), you have a good chance of being served disciplinary-boundary-engendering myth. Above Williamson implies that somehow (Kantian) arguments against metaphysics were shown wanting (by argument). Williamson does not even provide a pro forma reference to an authoritative place where metaphysics was made safe from Kantian criticism. Given that it would be surprising if the Wykeham Professor of Logic were merely bluffing, I welcome suggestions from readers that can direct me to the appropriate place where I can find a decisive refutation of transcendental idealism (say, as reformulated by Langton or Allison).
As some readers will recall, we’ve been holding a reading group of the Prior Analytics
in Groningen over the last academic year, which then prompted me to write (too?) many posts inspired by
this venerable work (here and here, for example). We are nearly finished, only
three more chapters to go (so just one more session). But interestingly,
towards the end things are getting increasingly strange. Up to chapter 18 of
book B (which traditionally receives much less attention than its more famous
sibling, book A), things were still following the usual Aristotelian pattern of
extreme systematicity and strenuous examination of cases. But as we got to
chapter B19, there was a sudden change of gears: B19 and B20 are explicit
applications of the theory of syllogistic to dialectical situations (needless
to say, these made me very happy), and B21 is really about epistemology
and quite out of place in the context of the Prior Analytics (though also very interesting). (Some scholars
think that these are older layers of the text, which then somehow ended up
being placed at the very end.)
At B22 it looked like we were back on track
with the usual analysis of cases in the figures, but there was still a surprise
in store. Towards the end of the chapter, Aristotle presents a
puzzling discussion of ‘opposites’, one of which is preferable over the other.
He writes (Smith translation):
When A and B are two opposites, of which A
is preferable to B, and D is preferable in the same way to its opposite C, then
if <the combination of> A and C is preferable to <the combination
of> B and D, then A is preferable to D. (68a25-28)
With apologies for the Delphic headline . . . TypePad doesn't allow italics. The question is this: shouldn't the history of philosophy be the study of philosophical content in historical texts? Should it be the study of something else? And really, I don't care whether you are an analytic philosopher or something else. The question remains: shouldn't the history of philosophy for you be concerned with what you find interesting in old texts?
Eric is alarmed by Julia Annas's notoriously provocative article on the state of ancient philosophy. Annas recounts how in the nineteen fifties and sixties, pre-Socratic philosophers such as Parmenides and Democritus, Plato and Aristotle (and in the seventies, the Hellenistic philosophers) began to be treated as "equal partners in philosophical debate," with the result that "For some time it has been taken for granted, in the major philosophical departments, that ancient philosophy is part of philosophy."But, she records, later scholars turned away from the ahistorical stance.
Ancient philosophy, however, is a philosophical way of engaging with these texts; that is what distinguishes it from other ways of studying them. And philosophy develops differently at different times, so we should reasonably expect the state of ancient philosophy to reflect its engagement with philosophy.--Julia Annas "Ancient Philosophy for the Twenty-First Century," (25).
Summer is arriving so it's time (despite two more rounds of grading ahead and too many deadlines) to read around a bit. When I first encountered the passage above at the start of Professor Annas' self-congratulatory essay -- "engagement with analytical philosophy restored the study of ancient philosophy to philosophical vigour" (41) --, I was surprised because I thought it meant that Annas was going to historicize the practice of "ancient philosophy" (by which she means the philosophical, analytical engagement with folk like Plato, Aristotle, and others). The surprise following from the fact that I would not expect her to have an interest in such an enterprise. (The rest of the essay suggests, she doesn't really, although she admits "we do well to be aware of" our own "philosophical assumptions and methodological preferences." (42))
One might also read the passage above as reflecting on the danger that fashions in contemporary philosophy are
echoed (perhaps with some delay to let these fashions be reflected in graduate
curricula) in the interpretation of past thinkers. (While researching my
dissertation I noticed that Ayer gives us a Hume as seen from Vienna; Garrett
gives us a post-Quine-ean Hume; it made me wonder if my Chicago Hume would be a funny
mixture of Wittgenstein and Kant.) Indeed this is what she has in mind (e.g.,
p. 27). Now, one might think that once such a diagnosis is offered one is
well down the road of debunking the enterprise so diagnosed. While there are
glimpses of a debunking attitude ("we can now see that a great of the time
and fuss [about "the 'Third Man'"--ES] was off the point" (31;
[undergraduates could always see it and those silly enough to say so would be
told they lacked rigor]), it's not the main point of Annas' narrative of
Rather, she celebrates the hard-won autonomy of "ancient
philosophy" from present concern:
I've been reading Walter Cerf's wonderful preface to the Harris and Cerf edition of Hegel'sDifferenzschrift. The nicest thing about it is the long speech that Cerf imagines Schelling and Hegel making upon a visit to Kant, explaining to the snoozing man how critical philosophy leads to speculative philosophy. It's just a wonderful pulling together of so many important dialectical strands in German Idealism.
Another thing kind of weirded me out though. Cerf really interestingly notes how the conceptual divisions that Hegel attempted to overcome were not some kind of abstract game but in some sense constitutive anxieties of the age. The root distinction between particular and universal has all sorts of historical resonances such as issues concerning the relation between an autonomous, yet alienated, individual and the community that both nurtures and stifles him (and it is a "him" with Hegel). In order to be able to be intellectuals, the young Hegel and friends lived in a kind of painful monastic self-denial that exacerbated these tensions (cf. Kierkegaard), and they (unlike Soren) really did for a time at least hope that the French Revolution would somehow be the historical overcoming of them.
Of course existentialism turned necessity into a virtue, taking the very tensions that Hegel and friends analyzed to not be things that could be sublimated, but instead things just constitutive of the human condition. Some strains of Speculative Realism go this one better, and see these tensions as inscribed in the non-human universe itself. Tristan Garcia is to some extent a metaphysical (that is British, not American) Hegelian with no Aufhebung.
Reading Garcia and Cerf together made me wonder if our current time has any constitutive tensions analogous to all of the particular/universal dichotomies that haunted Hegel. With Garcia, I think many of Hegel's are still with us. But to some extent we are used to many of them now. Again, the tension between liberal autonomism and communitarianism, and crap aspects of both, are just facts of life we all unsuccessfully navigate now in ways big and little. What interests me tonight is whether there is anything like this that future Walter Cerfs might describe as distinctive of our point in history? I realize that this is probably a silly game, but I'm interested if anyone has any suggestions.
Upon re-reading the Vindication in preparation for a class discussion, the second epigraph to this post, which we may loosely translate as Natura sive Deus, startled me. Could Wollstonecraft, who so often sounds like a Deist, be a kind of Spinozist? For, Wollstonecraft is quite clear that "propriety" is just "another word for convenience." (106) So, the substitution of "Nature" by "God" is really an act of social expedience. Yet, could this really be so? For, so much of Wollstonecraft's argument seems to rely on commitments that require commitment to immortal souls and, presumably, a judging God (and one can find other Deist commitments).
geometry, economic theory does not consist of theorems which must be a
set upon some part of a man's, or a woman's, life. The ethics of commerce
on ethics as a whole, and for this, we, however “we" are constituted, must
ourselves through an inward look, of picturing something that we cannot see,
a composite and being satisfied with a rough outline that allows us
on. The question, and now I keep repeating myself as in a stutter, is how are
do this? How is one to foster an optimal blend of competition and cooperation in
that society, to control self-interest and to acknowledge the possibility
of self-deception, to prevent one particular picture
overshadowing the composite,
putting the analyst and the
analyzed, the theorist and theorized, on the same plane of
existence so that an ethics of theorizing, rather than a narrative of self-serving
domination, can emerge? (Khan 2003: 19)
M.A. Khan, a mathematical economist (whose career I helped celebrate this week-end), concludes an important essay on Alfred Marshall, Frank Hahn, Joan Robinson, and Keynes (all Cambridge economists who engaged in serious reflection on their craft and its role(s) in society) with the lines quoted above. Now as Khan puts it, “Economists
do not have a comparative advantage when it comes to ethics,” (Khan 2005: 40) so he turns to philosophy, but not philosophical theory (recall his criticism of Singer). Rather, inspired by Wittgenstein and Cavell and aided by philosopher-economists from the past, Kahn turns primarily to an extended self-examination. Now, the aim of his ethic is “to
cope and carry on” without domination. So, the aspirations are in some sense quite minimal. But, of course, a moment's reflection makes one realize that a society without domination and with an "optimal blend of competition and cooperation" is, of course, far beyond present existence anywhere. Even a dominance-free theorizing about such a society may still be beyond our reach. (Yes, I expect protests from our political philosophers and ethicists.) Khan's focus on "society" (and not, say, a system of individuals [recall here]) makes him altogether a strange bird among contemporary economists, yet an heir to Adam Smith.