Surely in Need of Much More Argument

by Scott McLemee on May 16, 2007

Evaluating a recent book about Derrida at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Nancy J. Holland says:

One wonders, for instance, about the statement that philosophy in America “has the role of legitimating the US government and the scientific enterprise” leading to the suggestions that analytic philosophy “has as its telos the establishment of a universal culture for a static, totalitarian universal civilization” (pp. 124-125). Intriguing, and possibly even largely justified, but surely in need of much more argument.
Brian Leiter has responded with a post called “How Can Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews Publish Nonsense Like This?” He points out that, for one thing, there is no such thing as analytic philosophy, which I did not know. Some discussion ensues over whether the phrase “intriguing, and possibly even largely justified” might be an oblique put-down (what is called, I believe, a “piss take,” though I only learned that expression yesterday and cannot be quite sure of using it correctly).

But the best thing in the comments section is a report by Tad Brennan, a former student of George Bealer, who would probably be called an analytic philosopher if analytic philosophy actually existed. Which it doesn’t, so none of that. Anyway, here is Brennan’s testimony:

I’m afraid I have to rat him out on this. The fact is, he was constantly legitimating the U.S. government. “The US government is totally legitimate!” he’d say. “Never question the legitimacy of the US government!”

Every now and then he’d say something about the bankruptcy of set theory or the ineliminability of propositions in the ontology. But if you questioned him about whether that was really the best set of primitives to work with, he’d get all, like, “You’re questioning the legitimacy of the US government! Don’t question the legitimacy of the US government!” And then he’d make us say the Pledge of Allegiance again.

As for the telos of his views being a static, totalitarian civilization, I mean, yeah, probably, but I never took his advanced course. I got scared off by people saying it was really hard-core and techie—a lot of manifest destiny and exceptionalism, shining-city-on-a-hill stuff and all.

It sounds like ACTA should give out a George Bealer Prize.

{ 155 comments }

1

Brian Leiter 05.16.07 at 7:54 pm

2

PersonFromPorlock 05.16.07 at 7:59 pm

Not sure what the problem is, here. The cited paragraph simply suggests that American philosophy is a whore for the Establishment, trying to rationalize ‘the American Way’ into a World Babbitry.

Not very interesting, probably unjustified and discussed endlessly over cubic miles of student beer.

3

John Emerson 05.16.07 at 8:04 pm

Oh boy! Analytic philosophy’s relationship to politics!

I have no idea what Leiter means when he keeps saying that there’s no such thing as “analytic philosophy”. It sounds like a freshman game proving that since every cat is unique, we can’t really say that there’s a “cat” species. Or maybe he’s saying that all supposedly non-analytic philosophy is really non-philosophy, so that the qualifier “analytic” is unnecessary. Whatever.

I think that the political import of analytic philosophy has been primarily to minimize political engagement by academic philosophers qua philosophers. Continental philsophy aside (and analytic philosophy is continental anyway), the target would be people like John Dewey, who did not draw a line between his thought and his politics. (Even Karl Popper’s proto-analytic philosophy is too broadly ambitious for analytical philosophy).

By defining philosophy as a technical, quasi-scientific enterprise using precise expert methods to give true answers to well-defined questions, political engagement can be pretty much precluded. Especially if you institutionalize a fussy technical style ensuring that nobody outside the biz will ever want to read anything philosophers write.

Politically engaged writing must be comprehensive and projective and can hardly be true in the analytic sense of the word. (Proposals can hardly be true). The movement of analytic philosophy is analytic, so that an analytic philosophy dealing with any substantive question can be expected to be working on a sub-question a year later and a sub-question of a sub-question of a sub-question ten years later. We’re goddamn lucky they all finally decided that other minds really do exist and not only that, we know they exist. I was getting worried.

My conclusion has been that after WWII, when the Eastasia / Eurasia switch took place, the American powers that be decided that any kind of philosophical politics aimed at a non-professional audience was a threat, just as any kind of populist politics was a threat. Rather than try to develop a substantive philosophy of democracy which might blow up in our face if we had to switch alliances again (as we indeed did when Nixon went to China), philosophy became technocratic and effectively endorsed administrative government by experts and an empty public sphere.

Something like that was there in Popper; Ernest Gellner in “Language and Solitude” recently proposed a very explicit version of that. (But because Gellner’s book is intelligible and explicitly political, he is not really an analytic philosopher).

Aspects of a critique can be found in McCumber’s “Time in the Ditch” and especially in Reisch’s “How the Cold War Changed the Philosophy of Science”. Mirowski’s “Machine Dreams”, about economics, is highly relevant.

Reisch’s book did change my mind about one thing. I originally blamed the mostly-Austrian logical positivists for the silencing of philosophy, but in reality many of them were politically engaged. Only when the McCarthy investigations took hold di philosophy become null.

4

bob mcmanus 05.16.07 at 8:39 pm

Hooray for Emerson. Perhaps this can be extended to economics and much of academia.

What was the philosophy of 19th century Imperial Britain? Neo-Kantianism? We need a study of the varieties of academic service to Empire.

5

John Emerson 05.16.07 at 8:50 pm

Bob, I think that we can agree that my post is definitive and incontrovertible.

6

"Q" the Enchanter 05.16.07 at 8:55 pm

If you question analyticity, the terrorists will win.

7

Russell Arben Fox 05.16.07 at 9:09 pm

There is such a thing as analytical philosophy. But it’s really, really boring.

8

bob mcmanus 05.16.07 at 9:22 pm

5:Emerson, I have read your stuff on analytic philosophy and neo-classical economists and journanimalists (don’t remember you in the Theory wars) but have yet to see you connect them all under some neat phrase like, oh, “capitalist running dogs.”

Hell, I don’t even remember if the superstructure is important anymore. All I know is that America gets Reagan/Bush economics and kills a million Iraqis, while the French get August off and universal healthcare. Nobody’s fault or credit, of course, and nothing is connected.

Silly puppets.

9

John Emerson 05.16.07 at 9:28 pm

Did a car bomb hit Crooked Timber world headquarters? Only the dissident rabble is responding.

Despite my longtime disagreement with the Crooked Timber clique on many important questions, I strongly and unconditionally condemn whoever it was that blew up their palace.

10

bob mcmanus 05.16.07 at 9:44 pm

“Only the dissident rabble is responding.”

I have been reading too much liberal criticism of neo-classical or neo-liberal economics lately. The trade and globalization wars. I get crazed.

Thank, Mr Berube, for keeping your archives open. I am going back to the long series on Raymond Williams to see if it calms me down.

It will at least keep me away from here for while.

11

harry b 05.16.07 at 9:57 pm

I haven’t read Reisch’s book, which is not exactly an oversight but a strange kind of tribute — I want to read it when I have some real leisure time so that I can get into it and enjoy it. As you know, I disagree with you john, about the value of analytic philosophy (which I’m inclined to think does exist, and in which I was trained), and also about its current character, which is both more tolerant of diversity than you seem to think and more diverse itself. (I am someone who was trained in, and now works in, highly analytic departments, and does a lot of work that no-one would classify as analytic philosophy, including work that is politicaly and policy engaged, as well as a good deal of work that is anyaltical – the former is not only not frowned upon, but positively encouraged, unless I am reading my colleagues drastically wrongly). I can’t spell out in any detail the usefulness of analytical philosophy for doing work that is engaged in the way that I think, for example, good work on evaluation of education or health policy; but I find it useful, and find philosophical work in those areas which is not informed by the analytic tradition often mushy and wrongheaded.

And, I should add, sometimes insightful. The analytic tradition places a great deal of value on rigour, enough that with rigour you can become a star. Much less on insight. Not that insight is not valued at all — rigour and insight together are recognised as fantastic. But if you are going to display just one of those virtues, it had better be rigour. I do think this is a flaw.

So, having not read Reisch, I hesitate to say this, but my amateurish reading of the history is that you are wrong, in a way, to excuse the logical poitivists as much as you do. Sure, they were a bunch of very left wing Jews, many of them politically engaged, and you’ll find their legacy in the way that analytical philosophy department in the 60s (god, even in the 80′s which is when I expereinced this) became havens for encouraging and supporting left wing activist students. BUT, the logical positivists believed that nromative questions were non-questions, certainly non-philosophcial questions, and this deadened normative philosophy in general for a long time, and from well before WWII. They were wrong. And, to be honest, some of what people like you dislike about A Theory of Justice is in there because Rawls is trying, very hard, to convince his colleagues in the core of analytical philosophy that they are dead wrong about the non-philosophicalness of normative questions (and obviously, if you are already convinced, and hostile to analytical philosophy, you are going to find that…unnecessary at best).

So, that’s my take on it. No car bomb, and, of course, responding to you and bob because it would be much, much, worse here if you weren’t around.

12

John Emerson 05.16.07 at 10:03 pm

The pre- and post- logical positivists were amazingly different. One of them did multi-media pop writing. I strongly recommend Reisch.

Careful, specialized philosophical policy studies aimed at policymakers would fit within my stereotype of analytic philosophy. The absence of a constructive vision and the emphasis on facts and truths, and the refusal of popular engagement, seem to be the sticking points. (As well as the rejection of normativity.)

13

aaron_m 05.16.07 at 10:07 pm

I am so glad that there is no such thing as analytic philosophy!

Now I can finally stop worrying about the mental vivaciousness and academic pith of all those freethinkers telling me to discard analytic philosophy for, my fatally coherent mental world forced me to assume, non-analytic philosophy.

Just think of all those wasted sleepless nights.

14

fardels bear 05.16.07 at 10:20 pm

I second the call to read Reisch and McCumber. For more good historical research on the history of analytical philosophy, pick up two edited volumes: Ronald Giere & Alan Richardson (eds) ORIGINS OF LOGICAL EMPIRICISM and Gary Hardcastle and Alan Richardson, LOGICAL EMPIRICISM IN NORTH AMERICA.

These give a great deal of insight into the politics of the logical empiricists and the political climates in which they worked.

Both volumes are published by the U. of Minnesota Press and the are commonly referred to as “OLE” and “LENA” which is great inside joke for anyone familiar with Minnesota humor.

And, finally, the notion that the positivists were in service to the state and the “contintental” philosophy provides a useful basis to critique the state is hard to square with the historical record. The positivists (Carnap, Neurath, Reichenbach) all fled for their lives from Hitler. Heidegger stayed and found life pretty comfortable under Hitler.

15

John Emerson 05.16.07 at 10:26 pm

Ole passed out drunk at his wedding. When he woke up he wandered into a room where his best man was having sex with his new bride Lena. He called everyone over and said, “Everyone says I’m drunk, but look at Sven! He’s so drunk he thinks he’s me!”

I see analytic philosophy as tied specifically to administrative or technocratic liberalism, in the context of a realistic foreign policy. It wasn’t specifically right wing. (Several of the logical positivists were Communists, or almost).

I’ll look those books up.

16

seth edenbaum 05.16.07 at 10:31 pm

It weren’t me!
But considering how much time Brian spends promulgating the pure reason of academic status-seeking and social-climbing I think he should lay off the diatribes. The defense of intellectual professionalization is conservative on its face. It’s hypertrophied foundationalism; the foundation being not an idea as such but the social structure that underlies that idea. Is anyone going to tell me that discussion of angels and pinheads had no relation to church ideology, or that pure formalism does not hide a politics, or an anti-politics? Derrida began and ended with absurdity, or at least failure, though Americans tried to turn even that into success[!?].

This might be a good time for me to segue into a discussion of Tomasky’s piece in the NYRB. That really is a pathetic piece of work. The democrat’s mistake: they’re too pure for this world.

17

Colin Danby 05.16.07 at 10:48 pm

I’m delighted to join this rowdy celebration of the nonexistence of analytic philosophy. Plus we have John E’s critique in reserve in case it springs back into existence.

If analytic philosophers existed, it would be characteristic of them not to get that “Intriguing, and possibly even largely justified, but surely in need of much more argument” is a put-down and not even oblique.

18

Matt 05.16.07 at 10:56 pm

I’d more or less agree with all of what Harry says, but would add that Reisch is good, McCumber much less so. And also that Emerson, while amusing at times, often talks out of his ass about things he poorly understands and that this is one of the cases. (I guess that’s also part of what Harry was saying but in a nicer way. He’s really much nicer than I am.)

19

John Emerson 05.16.07 at 11:01 pm

Analytic philosophy, while non-existent, controls hiring for American philosophy departments (and probably most English-language departments). At Leiter’s site you will find neat overall rankings of all the philosophy departments and neat rankings of all philosophy departments by specialty (e.g., top twenty political philosophy departments, top twenty logic departments, and so on). You can also find how successful the various departments are in placing graduates in jobs. The gist is that if you ever want to get a tenure-track job in philosophy, you have to get a PhD from a top twenty school, preferably a top ten school, and to get a PhD from a top twenty school, it helps a whole hell of a lot to get a BA from a top twenty school.

You will also find that while analytic philosophy does not exist, departments which are strongest in the more stereotypically analytic specialties (logic, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of science) are ranked highest, and that departments whose strengths are elsewhere are ranked lower.

Some think that what this all means is that philosophy is a perfectly-ordered discipline. Others think that philosophy is a closed corporation or cartel.

20

Peter Hollo 05.16.07 at 11:02 pm

I think Leiter’s probably overstating the case (to say the least), but I would guess that his asserting that analytic philosophy doesn’t exist is in analogy with the retorts for many years that postmodernist philosophy doesn’t exist. Anglo-American philosophers would say (effectively) “Oh, that’s just so much po-mo bullshit”, and the response would be, reasonably enough, that what gets grouped under the umbrella of postmodernism is a whole lot of different ways of thinking and reasoning, or a whole lot of thinkers – Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard etc – which/who disagree on as many points as they agree on.

So perhaps (well I’m sure) all he’s saying is that there’s no monolythic discipline of analyic philosophy. I don’t know that I agree, mind you.
Am I missing something? This seems pretty obvious from reading his other posts.

21

John Emerson 05.16.07 at 11:03 pm

Matt, might you be specific? People have changed my mind on these threads, but not by the method you’re using.

22

seth edenbaum 05.16.07 at 11:14 pm

Does “technical” philosophy exist?
That’s the more important question.
Leiter would say yes.

23

John Emerson 05.16.07 at 11:17 pm

Seth, I have been convinced that there actually is value in philosophy of language and philosophy of mind. I just dislike the way that other sorts of philosophy have been excluded.

Specifically, the non-science-like parts.

24

seth edenbaum 05.16.07 at 11:21 pm

…while saying that philosophy is not science.

No idea how he manages to do that; smoke and mirrors I guess.

25

John Emerson 05.16.07 at 11:29 pm

I think they’re conflicted about whether philosophy really is science or not. One theory is that any valid philosophical work is absorbed by the appropriate science, so that philosophy of mind now is part of AI or psychology. Philosophy thus is the fleeting transitional instant between the brute meaningless stupidity of humanism / common sense and real science.

26

Neil 05.16.07 at 11:45 pm

One sense is in which analytic philosophy doesn’t exist is that the styles of inquiry that goes on in departments that style themselves analytic are so disparate that we, quite literally, have trouble talking to one another. Philosophy of science is splintering: as some now do philosophy of physics or biology seriously, you need PhD level knowledge of the relevant science. Naturally, someone who works on moral psychology doesn’t know what you’re on about. Philosophy of mind is splintering, so that as some now do it you need a serious education in cognitive science. Logic went this way long ago. Meanwhile, analytic philosophers continue to do dead Greeks, and rationalism/empiricism; some now do Chinese and Indian philosophy seriously. And some – Brian Leiter is a case in point – do figures that were once the preserve of the continentals. The normative parts of philosophy themselves are splintered: compare say Stephen Stich on morality to John McDowell.

It is very easy to say what all analytic philosophers have in common, as some of the commentators do above (naming no names), especially when you haven’t read any of it seriously that is later than 1970. It’s worth noting that logical positivism has about as much influence on analytic philosophy as does Hegel (arguably less).

27

Matt 05.16.07 at 11:52 pm

Here’s an example of you making stuff up, John:
“The gist is that if you ever want to get a tenure-track job in philosophy, you have to get a PhD from a top twenty school” That’s demonstrably false. Does it help? Yes- but that’s true of every academic discipline and has nothing special to do with philosophy and nothing at all to do with analytic philosophy. What you say isn’t even true of people teaching at top-twenty departments let alone of philosophy as a whole. I don’t know that what I do can clearly be called ‘analytic philosophy’ in an meaningful sense so I’m not just defending my turf, but your understanding of what goes on in philosophy departments, and what has gone on in them for as long as I’ve known anything about them (the last 12 years or so) is quite wrong. It’s not easier to get a better idea but since you show no interest in doing so I don’t see why I should take the time to do basic research for you.

28

John Emerson 05.16.07 at 11:57 pm

I won’t cry if someone names my name, Neil. I even survived being told I’m talking out of my ass.

The diversity you mention proves nothing. As I said, that’s the way you prove there’s no such thing as a species.

The model is proliferation followed by decimation followed by proliferation. Starting about 1940 or so certain tendencies (including logical positivism) became increasingly dominant in American philosophy at the expense (decimation) of all other tendencies. Once these tendencies became dominant they diversified (proliferated). The newly proliferated discipline was diverse, but there were types of philosophy not present because of the earlier decimation. There are certain common traits beneath the diversity traceable to the ancestral schools of 1940 or 1950. (The fact that these schools are also extinct is irrelevant; they left descendents, whereas the decimated schools didn’t).

Implicit in my attacks on analytic philosophy is a belief that it would have been better if some of the decimated schools had survived and had left descendants. Above all I think that the narrowing of range characteristic of analytic philosophy was unfortunate. I agree with Harry B above about normativity. I also think that projective (rather than purely descriptive) philosophy should be pursued, and that philosophy should serve a larger audience than just philosophers.

None of this necessarily means that I have any very strong interest in pomo or continental philosophy.

29

John Emerson 05.16.07 at 11:59 pm

Matt, what do you know about the job market for tenure track philosophy profs. I’ve been told that it’s as I’ve said. Do you have different data, based on hires in the last 10-20 years? Obviously there are individual exceptions. (The narrowness of hiring is new; don’t name 50-year-old guys.)

30

John Emerson 05.17.07 at 12:02 am

Neil, Chinese philosophy is my area of greatest interest and expertise (I’ve actually published on it), and while I’ve read analytic work on Chinese philosophy, I find it to be wretchedly bad. Analytic philosophers find seeming matches between some Chinese philosopher and some analytic theme, and write from there. They really don’t seem to have much concern for what the Chinese philosophers were trying to do.

31

Matt 05.17.07 at 12:16 am

John,
The data exits and isn’t hard to find. You don’t need to rely on what ‘you’re told’. You can find it on the Leiter blog. It’s manifestly not true that one must be from a top-20 dept. to get a TT job, even among the top-20 depts. You could also look at the home pages of departments and see that this is so. (One example- a graduate from Harry’s dept. a few years back is TT at Berkeley. Wisconsin isn’t a top-20 dept. and Berkeley is. Many more are easy to find.) This is a good example of what annoys me about your comments on this subject- the data is there and is easy to find but you’re willing to just make stuff up and so are completely wrong.

(Of course going to a top department helps one get a good job. But again, this is so in all things in life and not special about philosophy. This is so becaue there is a non-negligable correlation between going to a top department and being really smart. But many people from non top-20 departments get TT jobs, including jobs at very good departments.)

32

John Emerson 05.17.07 at 12:20 am

Where are these easy-to-find data? I’m willing to have my mind changed. Someone else tolf me differently.

Demographically, there are not a lot of tenure-track jobs, and there are a lot of PhD-granting institutions. The big schools brag a lot about how good their placement is.

33

seth edenbaum 05.17.07 at 12:34 am

But, again…
Is there such a thing as “technical” philosophy? I think that’s what John Emerrson is on about. And I’m not referring to philosophies which concern themselves with specific branches of science or technical knowledge, but the analogizing of philosohy [and that's all it is] into a branch of technical knowledge.

34

seth edenbaum 05.17.07 at 12:35 am

35

John Emerson 05.17.07 at 12:38 am

Yeah, Seth, I think of philosophy as the most inclusive discourse. Analytic philosophy sacrifices a lot of scope for the sake of rigor. I’d sacrifice rigor for the sake of scope. Once youdo that, you’re not an expert, not a scientist, and not a technician.

Analytic philosopher do have their own little general philosophies too, but they don’t have to talk about them because they’re nit part of technical philosophy.

36

John Emerson 05.17.07 at 12:41 am

And for the record, I wouldn’t root out and destroy every scrap of rigor I found anywhere. I’d just realize that if I was going to work on an ambitious scale, it couldn’t all be as tightly argued as Quine or whomever.

(“Quine? Quine is tightly argued? Emerson shows once again that he knows **nothing** about philosophy!”)

37

bob mcmanus 05.17.07 at 12:47 am

“None of this necessarily means that I have any very strong interest in pomo or continental philosophy.”

John, I am never quite sure where you are coming from, as opposed to say, Seth Edenbaum above. Your arguments seem scattershot and empirical (Analytic Philosophy:Cold-war politics;journalism:corporate ownership & editors;etc) within what feels like a systematic critique. It’s like you are hunting grouse with a target pistol for fear of accidentally shooting someone in the face. Ideology discredits nowadays? A systematic critique refutes itself? Whatever.

But you are right. You are seriously and ernestly engaging, while I am just throwing bombs. A troll almost by nature, with a principled project of disrupting bourgeois complacency.

38

Leia 05.17.07 at 1:00 am

As I said, that’s the way you prove there’s no such thing as a species.

But you can refute those who claim this by pointing out the important similarities that bind a species together. So what similarities exist that bind analytic philosophers together? My impression is that these similarities are getting less and less significant.

And if you think philosophy should be important to non-philosophers, then po-mo and continental philosophy are definitely out.

39

vivian 05.17.07 at 1:13 am

If someone can’t tell the difference between (a) describing a well-functioning constitutional democracy with an engaged, educated, prosperous and peaceful citizenry as legitimate (for internal and external reasons), and (b) legitimizing (as in providing cover for) the actions and office-holders of the actual US government, well then, that pretty much disqualifies that person from being either rigorous or insightful, at least on the matter at hand.

I suspect philosophers are politically engaged as much as other academics, depending more on their interests/knowledge and maybe personal identities than their styles. And in my experience, US philosophers of all stripes think highly of John Dewey. (They are also more likely to think well of John Emerson than his 19th c. namesake.)

40

seth edenbaum 05.17.07 at 1:23 am

Here’s another interesting tangent. What’s the relation of the armed forces to the civilian leadership? If the soldiers are technicians, the suits are the philosophers. And what happens when things get confused?.

Philosophy like politics is comparative. “Expertise” is problematic, if not in fact, dangerous. Brian Leiter is friend and defender of Richard Posner, and both defend experts over amateurs and generalists. Both defend “technical” knowledge and expertise as wisdom. But I would not ask a philosopher of automobile mechanics for his objective opinions on public public transportation policy. He would not have one. So responding to Neil, if philosophy has become atomized, is it not therefore weakened? Posner can’t think of man outside the categories he has created. Tomasky [and man is he not alone in this!] can’t think of politics outside of the categories he has grown up with, which are those of American exceptionalism and the American intellectual’s capacity for “reason.”
What Tomasky describes is the experts’ failure to communicate with and contempt for the masses. That is what Posner and Leiter describe. That’s what the experts of the military say when they overthrow their civilian leadership: “Let the experts take control!”

Experts are the new reactionaries. And amateurs are the only ones left observant enough to notice.
Stewart and Colbert are amateurs too.

41

John Emerson 05.17.07 at 1:34 am

Bob, maybe I turned into a pragmatist or a realist, or an empiricist as you say. The intellectual and political movements to which I have belonged have turned out so badly that I switched to piecemeal sniping at the edge of conventionality.

If the soldiers are technicians, the suits are the philosophers.

“The suits” are the generalists who make the big decisions. They decide mostly on the basis of businessman’s common sense informed by a little economics, maybe some engineering, media savvy, a nod to Christianity, management practice, and the normal prejudices of people with money. There was a time when philosophy aspired both to provide frameworks for making the big public decisions, and also frameworks within which intelligent citizens could interpret the world. This is generalist philosophy in the archaic sense, and it has been renounced and is laughed at by analytic philosophy. Philosophy has abdicated.

42

Matt 05.17.07 at 2:26 am

Okay John. Nearly every philosophy grad department now lists their placement data on their web page. (there are a few odd exceptions, such as Chicago.) I have looked at all of this. Why? Because I’m interested in such things and since I don’t have a TV I have to find something else to do to waste my time. You could do this too if you wanted but you’d rather just make things up. If you did it you’d see that you’re full of crap here. You also could go to Leiter’s page and look at the last two years of placement data and see that you’re full of crap. But you don’t want to do that. This is what makes me think you’re not actually interested in knowing anything here but rather just is repeating nonsense based on old bad ideas that you’ve had. This sort of thing is common from you, unfortunately. All of the philosophers reading this know you’re full of crap of this subject but others may not which is why I bother to spend time on it. Please, stop just making stuff up.

43

John Emerson 05.17.07 at 2:35 am

Not true, Matt. Harry B. is partly sympathetic and some others seem somewhat interested.

You have asserted that I’m wrong about one point of rather secondary interest. You haven’t said anything about the more important things I said in #3, which are documented (four titles). Plucking out a single mistake and taking it to refute the whole is bad argumentation. Your use of invective is also unbecoming.

44

Matt 05.17.07 at 2:47 am

If this were the first time you’d made stuff up on this topic I’d be more sypathetic, John, but it’s not. See, for example, your claim that ethics isn’t valued at top departments in an earlier thread. It’s quite clear that you don’t know what you’re talking about regarding philosophy as it’s done in philosophy departments today. (Harry seemed to me to say exactly that.)

45

Neil 05.17.07 at 2:49 am

John, you claim to be more knowledgeable about Chinese philosophy than me, and I have no reason to doubt you. It just proves my point: I don’t have the kind of background needed to assess the quality of colleagues who do Asian philosophy. If you really think that pointing to diversity of philosophers is irrelevant to whether they belong to different classes, well, I’d be interested in seeing what kinds of considerations you do think are relevant.

46

djw 05.17.07 at 4:47 am

The flaw that John identifies in Chinese philosophy does seem like a common one amongst today’s analytic philosophers, and it’s noticable to the non-expert. A top tier philosophy journal recently published an article on 14th century Islamic political thought by a well regarded young scholar. Cool. And it is interesting, but it’s frustrating, because he feels it necessary to try to put all this stuff in conversation with Rawls (ie, could it fit with Rawls’ concept of political liberalism). It seems a bit forced, and a distraction from taking those thinkers seriously on their own terms. In my limited experience, this is a trend when analytic philosophers take on non-Western philosophy.

47

john c. halasz 05.17.07 at 5:15 am

Philosophers are just jockeys riding lame ponies. Why, in their academic self-importance, they fail to recognize that fact, is a topic of absorbing academic interest.

48

Toadmonster 05.17.07 at 5:22 am

Analytic philosophy contributes to reinforcing existing power structures and modes of thinking by taking for granted the validity and universality of common intuitions and presuppositions, while making no attempt to inquire into their ground, trace them historically, examine their social effects, etc. It is analytical – so it says for example “we generally think of action in terms of agency, the subject, etc, now let’s try to give that some more structure.” But it is only ever “let’s formalize what we already think is true”, with the same basic ontology and terms always at work. Certain broad conceptions of truth, philosophy, inquiry, what language is available, what methods are legitimate, etc are at work in analytic philosophy, but never articulated explicitly, since bringing those horizons to the fore would open the way for alternate possibilities.

49

alex 05.17.07 at 7:10 am

Well, then, somebody should nominate the analytic philosophy article for deletion.

50

bill the turk 05.17.07 at 10:44 am

I’m pretty sure analytic philosophy does exist too. At least in Turkey.

Analytic philosophers, on the other hand, are mostly just logical constructions out of sense data.

The only time we have reason we have to believe that they exist (as opposed to being merely an empirically adequate explanation of the existence of analytic philosophy) is when they are buying their round at the bar.

On such occasions they tend to be a fairly empirically inadequate. So on those occasions we should take claims about their existence as being expressive of belief not acceptance.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a bunch of papers to grade for some aspiring logical constructions out of sense data.

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bill the turk 05.17.07 at 10:49 am

‘Ernest Gellner in “Language and Solitude” recently proposed a very explicit version of that. (But because Gellner’s book is intelligible and explicitly political, he is not really an analytic philosopher).’

Like Bertrand Russell, I guess, in that case.

I’d have thought the two main reasons why Gellner is not an analytic philosopher are that 1) he’s a sociologist and 2) he launched his career with a fairly polemical critique of analytic philosophy.

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bill the turk 05.17.07 at 10:56 am

‘Analytic philosophy contributes to reinforcing existing power structures and modes of thinking by taking for granted the validity and universality of common intuitions and presuppositions, while making no attempt to inquire into their ground, trace them historically, examine their social effects, etc.’

Funny. Last time I encountered this line of argument, it was in R.M.Hare’s review of Rawls Theory of Justice.

I guess Hare wasn’t any more of an analytic philosopher than Russell.

By the way: could you explain how the work of, say, Peter Singer ‘contributes to reinforcing existing power structures and modes of thinking by taking for granted the validity and universality of common intuitions and presuppositions’. Or Thomas Pogge, for that matter.

Maybe they aren’t analytic philosophers either.

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bill the turk 05.17.07 at 11:13 am

‘The absence of a constructive vision and the emphasis on facts and truths, and the refusal of popular engagement, seem to be the sticking points. (As well as the rejection of normativity.)’

I think your picture of analytic philosophy might have been true (just about) in 1970.

Its simply not the case that most (or even many) analytic philosophers writing today ‘reject normativity’. In the words of Sir Humphrey Appleby: ‘Name me six’.

Nor is it, by and large, true that there is an absence of ‘constructive vision’. Try reading – say – Phillip Pettit on Republicanism. Or Philip Kitcher on science and democracy.

As for the lack of popular engagement – i’m always inclined to suspect that people who make a big deal of this are really just complaining that analytic philosophy is difficult, and that it is very difficult to find potted summaries of contemporary work in the field.

My own view would be that part of the reason for this is that the discipline prizes genuinely original, creative work over popularisation. Perhpas that is a problem. But if so, I think this has more to do with differences between the public role of intellectuals in anglophone culture and non-anglophone (specifically francophone) cultures.

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bill the turk 05.17.07 at 11:42 am

‘it’s frustrating, because he feels it necessary to try to put all this stuff in conversation with Rawls (ie, could it fit with Rawls’ concept of political liberalism). It seems a bit forced, and a distraction from taking those thinkers seriously on their own terms’

Of course, if he’d done that, he’d have been cited as an example of someone doing ‘dry as dust’ historical scholarship with no relevance to contemporary issues. Or of eschewing popular engagement. Or something.

And incidentally, there is a whole academic discipline (with its own journals) devoted to ‘understanding past thinkers in their own terms’. Its called ‘history of ideas’ and it has a bunch of journals of its own. Such as, for example, ‘The Journal of the History of Ideas’.

And believe it or not, there are even people who know the difference between the two disciplines, and read (and even write) and draw inspiration from both.

Its worth knowing some of these things. Personally, I find it frustrating that Maths journals don’t publish much on things like Hobbes’ proof of the trisectability of the angle.

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engels 05.17.07 at 11:50 am

“Analytic philosophy doesn’t exist” sounds to me like something Baudrillard might have said.

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abb1 05.17.07 at 12:24 pm

I don’t know anything about philosophy in America or in China, but it seems obvious that in every society there must be at least a branch of philosophy dedicated to legitimating the ruling regime and its ideology. And obviously it’ll be the most or at least one of the most lucrative branches. That’s just common sense; follow the money, status, etc. – that’s where it’ll be.

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Neil 05.17.07 at 12:49 pm

‘Analytic philosophy contributes to reinforcing existing power structures and modes of thinking by taking for granted the validity and universality of common intuitions and presuppositions, while making no attempt to inquire into their ground, trace them historically, examine their social effects, etc.’

Um, more rubbish by people who don’t know what they’re talking about. There is a rich literature on the cross-cultural validity of intuitions (or lack thereof). See the work of Stephen Stich, for instance. On second thought, don’t bother. Instead, tell us what precisely is wrong with it, without bothering to read it.

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FL 05.17.07 at 1:17 pm

Right, it’s getting frustrating to hear claims of the sort “analytic philosophy presupposes X without critically examining it” when I have articles arguing against X on my desk.

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John Emerson 05.17.07 at 1:29 pm

A. As for the lack of popular engagement – i’m always inclined to suspect that people who make a big deal of this are really just complaining that analytic philosophy is difficult

B…. But if so, I think this has more to do with differences between the public role of intellectuals in anglophone culture and non-anglophone (specifically francophone) cultures.

A: No, Dewey is not easy. Habermas is difficult too. I don’t especially like most continental philosophy, but it is both difficult and engaged.

B. There are public intellectuals in the US, but they don’t come from ohilosophy departments.

As for Gellner, he started in philosophy and still writes philosophically, and his career-ending polemic was specifically against Wittgenstein (not analytic philosophy). However, he’s willing to be explicit about his political intent in a very clear way.

As for Bertrand Russell, he didn’t consider his political writings to be philosophy at all, and in fact they weren’t. He was a journalistic philosophe writing about the issues of the moment. (His book “Power: A New Social Analysis” was very seriously intended and quite good, but it was ill-received, so he decided just to be a journalist).

On popularization, I’m nottalking about watered-down popular writing for the generic voter, but generalist writing for smart people specialized in something other than philosophy. Confident experts (in the sciences) are willing to do generalist writing, but analytic philosophers are defensive about their expertise so they need to continually be reminding people how difficult and technical their work is.

As for the various purported generalist philosophical works, for whatever reason they don’t seem to circulate outside the specialist community, probably for reasons I’ve given.

Incidentally, no one has responded to my specific points in #3.

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John Protevi 05.17.07 at 1:39 pm

One way to make sense of “analytic philosophy doesn’t exist” is to say that it’s a comment about essential definition: there’s no finite set of necessary and sufficient conditions that will pick out AP as opposed to “continental philosophy” (CP). And conversely for CP. Simon Glendinning makes this argument for CP in The Idea of Continental Philosophy (Edinburgh UP, 2006), and so do I (shameless self-promotion ahead) in the Preface to A Dictionary of Continental Philosophy (Yale UP, 2006).

But that’s not the end of the story.

1. You might switch to a prototype category theory and say that there are people everyone agrees do AP and everyone agrees do CP, even though there are borderline cases on which people disagree.

2. You might want to shift gears and say that AP and CP exist as sociological networks, that is, as hiring and citation networks.

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John Emerson 05.17.07 at 1:53 pm

As for Singer, I don’t think that he and the supermodels in PETA are likely to change the world very significantly. I suppose it’s possible that one day we’ll have rat temples in the US, and sacred cows roaming the streets, but animal rights by and large seems pretty peripheral.

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seth edenbaum 05.17.07 at 2:00 pm

Ok then. how about the preference for theory over history. Rawls builds a logic out of dreamed-up beginning (a fantasy). The book begins with what is pretty much the last scene of Louis Feuillade’s Barabbas. I had hard time taking the book too seriously after that.

In Rawls individualism and expertise, are foundational. They precede argument. And if you tell me that there are plenty of books in the analytic tradition that criticise individualism (and I’m curious what they’d be) I’d still respond that I’m not going to spend that much time with a book that claims to argue against its own existence; at least one without a sense of irony.

Expertise and professionalism are not curiosity. They may sharpen it or dull it. Find me a recent academic argument that questions the teleological foundaations of either.
And historians are not “experts”

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harry b 05.17.07 at 2:09 pm

On writing for smart people who are not trained analytic philosophers: Dennett, Kitcher, Nussbaum, Dworkin, Singer, Blackburn, Haack, Sober, Dummett (books on voting procedures and immigration) Carroll (a book on horror, for goodness sake), all the anayltical contributors to the much-derided-by-weatherson popular culture series, Okin, McGinn, Flew (older, I know), our frequent commenter Tom Hurka…
Then there are the people who engage with other discplines on their own terms — many of the above, Goodin, Pettit, my colleague Hausman, Churchlands, Rosenberg, Buchanan…
I try to do both.
It took me 2 minutes to come up with the above, if I had longer the list would expand a great deal.

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harry b 05.17.07 at 2:11 pm

emerson’s probably right about Singer and PETA. I doubt that the millions his textbook has generated for Oxfam have helped anyone much either.

That is, I really think emerson’s right on the PETA point. The second sentence is supposed to be read ironically.

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John Emerson 05.17.07 at 2:15 pm

Charity donations don’t count. I was referring to Singer’s animal rights philosophy.

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harry b 05.17.07 at 2:32 pm

seth, if Rawls were a historian, his preference for theory over history would, sure, be a defect. He was a philosopher. He was trying to come up with a normatively authoritative set of principles concerning the gvoernance of social institutions. History is not completely irrelevant to that task (in his view). But theory is at the core of it.

Individualism. Sure, the theory is individiualist in one sense. But it is a very specific sense, and one that I find almost incontrovertible, and I doubt its the sense in which you mean it.

Unfortunately, I am offline the rest of the day, and probably for a while longer, but I bet there is an entry in the Stanford Online Encyclpedia of Philosophy on individualism that will sort some of this out for you if you care, or you could read the frist 3 chapters of my book Justice if it is to hand….

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MattD 05.17.07 at 2:51 pm

In what sense is Singer peripheral? In the sense that no-one takes him seriously? I’d dispute that. It seems that every second (philosophy) grad student I know is a vegan, and that is largely due to Singer’s influence.
Lots of mainstream analytic ethics today takes animal rights very seriously, at least as a problem to be addressed, even if it doesn’t generally embrance Singer’s views.

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Matt 05.17.07 at 3:04 pm

“Rawls builds a logic out of dreamed-up beginning (a fantasy)”

Unlike, say, Locke or Hobbes or Rousseau or Plato, or, oh wait, they did that too.

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loren 05.17.07 at 3:10 pm

seth: “Rawls builds a logic out of dreamed-up beginning (a fantasy). The book begins with what is pretty much the last scene of Louis Feuillade’s Barabbas. I had hard time taking the book too seriously after that.”

Seth, come on, that’s not a fair reading of what Rawls is up to in Theory.

Do you think philosophy ought to reject a generic preference for theory over history, and that this is where ‘the analytics’ (if they exist) steered us astray? Or is the point less polemical: we ought to embrace people who start with history, and give it priority over theory, as sometimes doing (what we ought to recognize as) philosophy?

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John Emerson 05.17.07 at 3:31 pm

Well, I’ll quit trolling. I still stand by my #3, which hasn’t been addressed much.

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Adam Kotsko 05.17.07 at 4:06 pm

Of course analytic philosophy doesn’t exist — nothing exists! The answer to the question “Why is there something instead of nothing?” is “There isn’t!”

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seth edenbaum 05.17.07 at 4:25 pm

-”The Original Position” is a fiction. Is A Theory of Justice taken as a theory of fiction? If not why not?

-Someday soon someone will write a biography of a famous historical figure and it will be praised as “The biography of “X” for the 21st century” What does this statement mean? What does it imply about our sense of historical knowledge?

-What is the place of the “law” of non-contradiction for our observation of ourselves? Does it apply? If we make it apply are we clarifying the issues or only simplifying them to make things easier, so we can build models? And what are the limitations of those models?
Generalizations are vulgarizations. We use courts of law and frankly archaic systems of adversarial ethics to guard against assumptions too quick generalizations. Each act is an isolated and unnamed event until it is “named” at the end of trial.
We categorize every new experience by way of a process of recognition. We “recognize” what we’ve never seen before. If we didn’t there would be no continuity and no communication. What does this, and the rule of law imply again about the limits of our “reason”?

The rule of law is not the rule of science. The rule of law is predicated on the impossibility of pure reason.

There is no reason to trust people. Between Enlightenment and Renaissance humanism I’d choose the latter, hands down. And between Plato and Euripides I’d do the same.
Scientists seek calrity and tend towards optimism. The first is not possible and history argues against the second.

Philosophers, even professors of philosophy, who understand the issues listed above I got no problem with. The vast majority of them don’t. The want to be scientists and worse, they pretend to be. The vast majority are nothing but mental engineers. They may as well by automobile mechanics; in a world where most people don’t own cars.
John Searle is right about AI, and Daniel Dennett is a goddam motherfucking idiot.

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seth edenbaum 05.17.07 at 4:58 pm

“They may as well by automobile mechanics”
And I should add that their cars don’t have to work outside the mind.

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loren 05.17.07 at 5:00 pm

seth: “”The Original Position” is a fiction. Is A Theory of Justice taken as a theory of fiction? If not why not?”

Frictionless planes and pure vacuums are fictions in this sense, yet I won’t dismiss classical mechanics as a mere ‘science of fiction’, unworthy of further study. This won’t persuade you, of course, because you see a gaping and unbridgeable divide between the mechanics of matter and the workings of the soul.

I take no sides on the impossibility of pure reason. I’m not even sure what it means for pure reason to be impossible – supposing we think reason can be pure in the sense Kant seems to have meant. Even accepting these divisions, we might believe that the terrain of reason, pure and practical, is more variegated and overlapping than you are hinting at here.

On that point, I have more hope than you that practical reason can be theoretical in useful and insightful ways, and so I don’t assume (as I think you may?) that pure reason and theoretical reasoning are essentially synonymous.

Rawls provides one way (contestable, of course) to buttress my hope with principled argument: practical reason can be usefully theoretical without depending on pure reason. Or, alternatively, constructivism in ethics is possible and fruitful.

Your assertions of radical particularism don’t seem to me to really challenge this hope in any deep way, but perhaps I’m too steeped in the dreams of reason?

But just so I’m clear: are you rejecting the possibility of philosophy outright? Can there be no genuine wisdom in an examined life? Is the latter even possible, in your view?

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brianartese 05.17.07 at 5:21 pm

Looking back at Leiter’s original post:

“Intriguing, and possibly even largely justified”? How about sophomoric prattle befitting a bad undergraduate’s blog?

Touche!

Since “analytic philosophy” does not even exist, how can it have a telos–let alone the telos in question?

hmm… ’tis reminiscent of a sweeping and startling pronouncement, presented boldly as uncontroversial fact, that you’d find in a bad undergraduate’s blog… But wait –

And how exactly is it that “analytic” philosophers like Alvin Plantinga, George Bealer, Hilary Putnam, Michael Rea, and John McDowell, among many others…

Only a bad undergraduate, clearly, would fail to know the names of those associated with an “analytic philosophy” that is the mere coinage of a bad undergraduate’s brain.

NDPR … really should not publish irresponsibly silly comments like those…

If there must be silliness, indeed, it should at least be a responsible silliness…

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John Emerson 05.17.07 at 5:31 pm

troll on> The fictions of physics have all been accounted for by now. They were not made a permanent part of the theory. The whole science of thermodynamics had to be worked out in order to bring physics into closer contact with reality and get rid of the fictions. /troll>

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seth edenbaum 05.17.07 at 6:05 pm

I keep saying I gotta learn when to quit.
And again someone brings up “soul,” proof once more of the tendency to read though bias rather than simply looking at the words on the page, or screen.
Speculation on assumed foundations is useful, but as far as philosophy (in the larger sense) is concerned it helps to be aware that assumptions are assumptions and that what is built on them is provisional.

Let’s say you have an interest in a certain form of philosophy, a certain way of looking at the world. You enjoy looking at the world this way. It gives you pleasure. But is there a one to one relationship between your philosophy, your fabricated structure, and the world itself? Astrophysicists are interested in “the final questions” and they want governments to spend milions and millions of dollars to see what’s out (or in) there, because they though they generalize to the whole of humanity, “need to know.” They ascribe psychological meaning to unknown facts and to the fact that they’re unknown. Their search is fundamentally a religious quest and as such it’s absolutely absurd, but no more than anything else (I’m supposed to be studying Spanish verb forms right now.) A passion for quarks is not a quark.
Actors are athiests by comparison.

I’m interested in how one person lives among others; in the fact of individual consciousness, even as it’s the product more than the producer. [That's my bias] We live by comparison. You can’t be good writer if no one else thinks you are. The modern ideology was to bet that you were right and that everyone else would catch on later. That got confused with “progress” but they have nothing to do with one another. Cezanne was a 19th century painter living right where he belonged, not a time traveller from the 20th. His art was observant not speculative. We learn about his time from the record of his preoccupations as people will learn about us from ours.

If you want to continue this conversation then begin by answering the questions I laid out in my last comment. I have to go back to Spanish.

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roger 05.17.07 at 10:30 pm

I’m puzzled by the analytic philosophy doesn’t exist phrase. Is it a joke? It isn’t like this is one of those supersly categories upon which the experts disagree – it is more like, do Big Macs exist. You might not like Big Macs, but if you want to check out the question of their existence, go and look at a menu at McDonalds. Similarly, scroll through your average faculty page on college websites and look for areas of expertise, and dollars to big macs, you will find analytic philosophy listed somewhere by somebody.

As to what constitutes analytic philosophy, how broad it is, its history and themes, there you can argue. The passages quoted by Holland seem like utter tripe to me – first of all, from the point of view that the state or the scientists are going to analytic philosophy in the first place for legitimation. I must have missed that speech of Eisenhower’s when he pulled out the old Quine and read off exciting passages to legitimate his Cold War strategies.

We’ve long passed the time when philosophy gave out licenses like that.
Also, of cours, as a description of what analytic philosophy does or has done, it is vague and suckish.

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bj4k 05.17.07 at 10:40 pm

I think the problem Leiter has is that, as an analytic, he is a minority in his field, and he gets no respect from his field. And his book on Nietzsche, by the way, is really bad. It Quinizes Nietzsche, which couldn’t be further from the truth. And it’s a primer for students because Leiter is unqualified to write anything else.

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MQ 05.17.07 at 11:28 pm

Look, the issue isn’t whether philosophers are Republicans or Democrats, it’s whether the intellectual assumptions of analytic philosophy support the modernist mindset of social engineering (which can be authoritarian or supposedly “liberatory”). Quoting from a decidedly non-analytic philosopher,

“The world-city has definitely overcome the land, and now its spirit fashions a theory proper to itself, directed of necessity outward, soulless. Henceforward, we might with some justice replace the word “soul” by the word “brain”. And, since in the Western “brain” the will to power, the tyrannical set towards the Future and purpose to organize everybody and everything, demands practical expression, ethics, as it loses touch more and more with its metaphysical past, steadily assumes a social-ethical and social-economic character.”

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John Emerson 05.17.07 at 11:41 pm

Reisch and Mirowski show that the military, military think tanks like Rand Corporation, military “operations research”, and related foundations played a big role in reconfiguring economics and philosophy after WWII. Roger’s jokey response misses the mark. After reading Mirowski and Reisch, Roger might still believe it’s no big deal, but from his post here it seems that he’s unaware of the facts.

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roger 05.18.07 at 12:38 am

John, as a matter of fact, I’ve read both of Mirowski’s books about the foundations and history of neo-classical economics. And unless you are doing associative poetry, the relationship between a socialist like Otto Neurath and the Cowles commission is, uh, obscure to non-existent. Michael Polanyi (a conservative) and his brother Karl (a socialist) were both influenced by some analytic philosophers. Good for them. Every thinker, continental and otherwise, with a job in the academy between 1947 – 2007 has benefited from money directed to the universities by the Pentagon.

If the military was expected big things in the way of legitimation from analytic philosophy, well, I think they got rooked on the deal. Wouldn’t be the first time the pentagon paid too much for tools.

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Matt 05.18.07 at 1:03 am

“but from his post here it seems that he’s unaware of the facts.”

Coming from you, Emerson, this is a bit rich.

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colin 05.18.07 at 1:24 am

Not to blow this whole thing open, but

[start rant]

Leiter’s denial of the existence of analytic philosophy is really cloaking his desire to deny that there is something called Continental Philosophy. If there is nothing that really is Continental Philosophy then Leiter doesn’t have to use information from Continental Philosophers in the PGR. Thus 20th Century Continental Philosophy, 19th Century Continental Philosophy and Feminist Philosophy (which features a number of Continental programs) are all severely under reported. By that I mean that there is a disproportionate number of programs that get one of the two caveats, either inserted by board, or based on previous rankings. Unless one thinks that there are not enough programs to provide an adequate ranking for CCP than it seems as though there is a definite lack of CPs that are being surveyed. Also, coextensive with this is that if Leiter denies that there is such a thing as CP then he can justify having schools like NYU and Brown ranked for 20th C CCP. Who in there right mind would go to NYU for CP? Obviously there are some good people as U of C (Arnold Davidson, etc), but is nothing compared to Stony Brook, which features 10 Continental philosophers. The PGR also manages to exclude very good CP programs like Memphis and Villanova. And to top it all off Leiter frequently makes derisive comments about the SPEP. It seems to me that anyone who does not take the SPEP seriously is in no position to judge either what CP is, or whether it exists.

[end rant]

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John Emerson 05.18.07 at 1:45 am

Yeah, Matt, I’ve heard you. You’ve said nothing substantial about my main post at #3. All of your posts are long on assertion and invective and short on argument. You may actually be right about hiring practices, though you spent more time ranting about what I’ve said here (and everything else I’ve ever said) refusing to present evidence, because I’m awful, than you have spent making your point. Analytic philosophers are supposed to be specialists in argument, but you don’t argue.

So what about the political neutering of philosophy around 1950? There’s a pretty good case for ideological interference in philosophy around 1950.

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loren 05.18.07 at 2:35 am

seth: “If you want to continue this conversation then begin by answering the questions I laid out in my last comment.”

I thought I did – you mean the ones about Rawls as fiction, right? The original position is indeed fictional if you view it as a situation (“we do not suppose the agreement has ever, or indeed ever could actually be entered into. And even if it could, that would make no difference”). If instead you take it as an argument endorsing an understanding of fairness, tailored for free and equal, rational and reasonable parties who don’t necessarily agree on profound moral, religious and philosophical matters, then I think it seems far less fictional, and far more constructive.

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josh 05.18.07 at 4:00 am

A couple of very pedantic points:
“As for Gellner, he started in philosophy and still writes philosophically, and his career-ending polemic was specifically against Wittgenstein (not analytic philosophy). However, he’s willing to be explicit about his political intent in a very clear way.”
This should be in the past tense, shouldn’t it? Also, his polemical attack on ‘analytic philosophy’ was taken as an attack not just on Wittgenstein, but on Oxford philosophy in the wake of Austin.
“Reisch and Mirowski show that the military, military think tanks like Rand Corporation, military “operations research”, and related foundations played a big role in reconfiguring economics and philosophy after WWII.”
Fair enough — but what follows from this? Just because certain trends or techniques in philosophy were supported or encouraged by the military or associated agency doesn’t demonstrate that they have, in fact, been subsequently used to, or have had the effect of, supporting the status quo. This isn’t to say that they haven’t — just that pointing to this connection doesn’t really demonstrate anything (any more than, say, the CIA’s sponsorship of Pollock or tours by the Boston Symphony Orchestra reveal that abstract expressionism or classical music are somehow inherently, or even have in fact been, supportive of the Western capitalist crusade against Communism). Ideas, and intellectual techniques, have often been put to uses quite contrary to the agendas of those who initially developed them.
(Just to be clear, since things have gotten a bit heated here, I don’t mean this as an attack on John Emerson, his knowledge, or the quality of his arguments in general; it does just seem to me that this particular line of argument, taken in isolation, falls into the genetic fallacy, and so should be allowed to fall by the wayside).
“And it’s a primer for students because Leiter is unqualified to write anything else.”
I’m somewhat surprised to find myself writing this, but — that’s really not at all fair. I’m not entirely convinced by Prof Leiter’s take on Nietzsche, but I think it’s a respectable, well-performed, and in many ways plausible work of conceptual reconstruction. And it often takes more skill to be able to both do subtle, sophisticated philosophical interpretation, and then communicate it clearly to a wide audience (that is, write a philosophically interesting primer), than to write more specialised things (or at least, I’ve found it to be so).

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seth edenbaum 05.18.07 at 4:45 am

Question: “Someday soon someone will write a biography of a famous historical figure and it will be praised as “The biography of “X” for the 21st century” What does this statement mean? What does it imply about our sense of historical knowledge?”

Question:”What is the place of the “law” of non-contradiction for our observation of ourselves? Does it apply? If we make it apply are we clarifying the issues or only simplifying them to make things easier, so we can build models? And what are the limitations of those models?”
Question: “We categorize every new experience by way of a process of recognition. We “recognize” what we’ve never seen before. If we didn’t there would be no continuity and no communication. What does this, and the rule of law imply again about the limits of our ‘reason’?”

And I’ll rewrite something from above so it’s a question rather than a challenge: “The rule of law is not the rule of science. The rule of law is predicated on the impossibility of pure reason.”
What does it mean to say that the a preference for the rule of law is by definition, conservative, or even pessimistic?

You refer to “the examined life.” Euripides it seems to me led more of one than Plato.

“If instead you take it as an argument endorsing an understanding of fairness, tailored for free and equal, rational and reasonable parties who don’t necessarily agree on profound moral, religious and philosophical matters, then I think it seems far less fictional, and far more constructive.”

…and then we’ll reach the end of history, and we’ll all be eating cake for breakfast. I’d call it a nice plan but it’s not even that. It’s a conceptual home run, but that’s not gonna get us even to first base.
I made a series of observations about the relations of expertise to democracy. No one’s responded. I made a few observations about the tendency of experts to construct a teleology around their expertise to the exclusion of others’ and of objects and events that don’t fit, and again, no response.
In a world where Michael Tomasky can write about the intellectual and moral seriousness of American liberals while 3/4 of the world thinks those liberals are deluded idiots, what am I supposed to think of rationalist discourse? What’s the liberal American discourse concerning the Mideast or health insurance compared to say, Sweden? How did Josh Marshall, reasonable and reasoning American, come to name his son for the man who drew of the map for the annexation of the West Bank? This is American liberalism, which ignores 600,000 Iraqi dead and puts up billboards about Darfur. And if you think I’d being hard on Marshall, well Helena Cobban doesn’t get press at TPM Media, and she’s a goddam quaker.
When has humanity’s conscious and conscientious moral awareness ever not been swamped by desire and fantasies of teleology and easy solutions, or simply by greed? Tell me how the “Philosophical Gourmet Report”[sic!] has anything to do with the life of the mind as promulgated through academic philosophy. Doesn’t rationalist epicureanism kind of miss the point? In fact I think Brian is just being honest. In the end he’s a philosopher of sensibility, but he can’t do more than hint at it, since he says he’s the opposite.

The intellectual life is predicated on criticism, which is a function of language. The logic and craft of language are inseparable, and we are swayed as much by hope and cadence as by reason. The attempt to separate criticism from language and link it by means of analogy [a literary trick!] to science was a betrayal both of language and common sense.

The history of modernism will be written as the history of
wishful thinking.

“Wishful Thinking” is the definition of kitsch.

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bill the turk 05.18.07 at 9:42 am

‘it is more like, do Big Macs exist’

Only if they have no parts, or are alive (at least according to analytic philosopher Peter van Inwagen)

john emerson at 3 (and subsequently)

‘Politically engaged writing must be comprehensive and projective and can hardly be true in the analytic sense of the word. (Proposals can hardly be true).’

Of course, that’s a line of argument lifted straight from analytic philosophy of the mid 1950′s. (C.L.Stevenson’s emotive theory of ethics, J.L Austins ‘How to do Things with Words’ and maybe a touch of R.M. Hare.)

Like many lines of argument form the 1950′s, in many disciplines it’s been examined and found wanting in various respects. Probably too many for a blog post.

But its worth noticing that there is now a whole subdiscipline of philosophy (namely applied philosophy) whose existence is predicated on a rejection of precisely this line of argument.

Oh, but you haven’t read any of it. So obviously that’s a sign that its not sufficiently popular/politically engaged.

Peter Singer: well I reckon there are quite a lot more vegetarians in the Englsih speaking world than there were thirty years ago. And not all of them are philosophy graduate students (although I think that carniovres should be treated as a protected minority in philosophy departments) And I suspect that part of the reason is that people have articulated apparently persuasive argyuments for animal rights.

Not sure what the point about supermodels was supposed to be: I’m not aware of any supermodels who are prominent philosophers, analytic or otherwise. (Alfred Ayer’s championing of Naomi Campbell’s claims to the Wykeham Professorship at Oxford notwithstanding )

A1. As for the lack of popular engagement – i’m always inclined to suspect that people who make a big deal of this are really just complaining that analytic philosophy is difficult

A2: No, Dewey is not easy. Habermas is difficult too. I don’t especially like most continental philosophy, but it is both difficult and engaged.

Who said that Habermas and Dewey weren’t hard? I certainly didn’t. What I do (and I think did) say is that there is a market niche for writing popularisations of people like Habermas and Dewey, and not so much of say Putnam or McDowell or Nussbaum, and that many people who champion the continentals at the expense of the analytics get at least some of their familiarity with this stuff from their popularisers.

B…. But if so, I think this has more to do with differences between the public role of intellectuals in anglophone culture and non-anglophone (specifically francophone) cultures.

B. There are public intellectuals in the US, but they don’t come from philosophy departments

And this refutes the claim that their are *differences in the public role of intellectuals* in the two cultures how, exactly?

I was fairly careful not to make the claim that you appear to be addressing, that intellectuals have no public role in anglophone cultures. the claim was that the roles of intellectuals in public life was different. I stand by that.

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bill the turk 05.18.07 at 10:15 am

harry b: I think your father was a colleague of my father’s (or possible even his boss) some time during, or shortly after the John Patten years.

I’ve been reading CT for a while, and had been wondering whether you were related to Tim ‘the nutter who goes round frightening children in Birmingham’ Brighouse for a while until you posted the link to a Guardian story which alluded to the famous Patten libel story.

It strikes me that education is one important area where philosophy – including analytic philosophy – can have(and at times has had) a significant, but not necessarily conspicuously visible effect on the ‘real world’. Obviously, I’m probably preaching to the converted here (or, more exactly, preaching to the parson)in saying this to you – but it seems as though that’s a point that has been under-addressed in this thread.

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John Emerson 05.18.07 at 11:06 am

Just because certain trends or techniques in philosophy were supported or encouraged by the military or associated agency doesn’t demonstrate that they have, in fact, been subsequently used to, or have had the effect of, supporting the status quo.

What you say is a truism. I do not say that it is a necessary truth that military sponsorship of philosophy or economics had political intent. There is additional evidence. One is to coincident McCarthy witchhunt which ended some philosophical careers — philosophers were frequent targets. A second is that the rise of analytic philosophy was at the expense of other philosophies that were more politically engaged. A third is an observation of the actual political behavior (or absence of behavior) of analytic philosophy, and in particular to the presence or absence of political content in their philosophy itself.

Note that I am not saying that analytic philosophy is right wing. It effectively supported Cold War administrative liberalism, or government by experts. The whole schtick “I don’t see why anyone should thnk a philosopher has any expertise at all on political topics”, combined with the concurrent claim to be experts and specialists on other topics, amounts to the exclusion of non-experts from politics and the renunciation of citizenship. Because certainly if philosophers (super-bright people with ample leisure and a public voice) have nothing to say about politics, then the average citizen (“orthodontist” in recent discourse) doesn’t. This is more strikingly true because philosophy before the analytics customarily did participate in politics.

Simply dismissing “the genetic fallacy” with a wave of the hand is dogmatic and tendentious.

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John Emerson 05.18.07 at 11:10 am

P.S. Gellner thought of himself as a disciple of Popper, though he had no close relationship to him. Popper is an interesting case, because he was there at the founding, but did not follow the rest of the crew in the renunciation of “big picture” philosophy and a political message. His explicit political message (Cold War administrative liberalism) was about the same as the analytic philosophy tacit position, but his being explicit made him persona non grata and Popperians grumble about his neglect in American (though not British) schools. Neutral liberalism is the ideology that dares not speak its name.

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John Emerson 05.18.07 at 11:19 am

Of course, that’s a line of argument lifted straight from analytic philosophy of the mid 1950’s. (C.L.Stevenson’s emotive theory of ethics, J.L Austins ‘How to do Things with Words’ and maybe a touch of R.M. Hare.)

My denunciation of analytic philosophy is not universal. I’m sorry that Austin’s work was squeezed out; I found it very usable. (Developments of that kind of thing by Rom Harre, John Shotter, Sabini and Silver, and others were mostly outside philosophy). and I also like some things in Wittgenstein. I’m mostly talking about American university philosophy.

Bill the Turk: No, I have read applied philosophy: specifically Toulmin, Perelman, and Michel Meyer. That’s the stuff I like. But they don’t leave a very big footprint in American schools, and Toulmin had a very disappointing career (as he himself says)and hasn’t worked in a philosophy department for years (over a decade, I think). However, these guys do not think of practical philosophy as a minor subdiscipline (“applied philosophy”). They redefine philosophy in practical terms, and I generally support them.

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John Emerson 05.18.07 at 11:31 am

Bill 9:42:

You have a lot of energy, but you’re being obtuse.

Animal rights may be effective, but it strikes me as a ludicrous place to begin your political engagement. The biggest animal-righters are supermodels and the like, and significant contact with these people (when they were trying to disrupt or sabotage the medical research facility where I worked, for example) can be very disturbing.

When you said:

But if so, I think this has more to do with differences between the public role of intellectuals in anglophone culture and non-anglophone (specifically francophone) cultures.

you were basically restating my point in slightly different words in the belief that you were refuting me. When I object to the apolitical nature of American philosophy, I am objecting to “the public role of intellectuals [specifically philosophers] in anglophone culture”.

I no longer have any idea what your point was about “analytic philosophy being hard”. It wasn’t a very good one, I would guess.

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roger 05.18.07 at 12:59 pm

“It is more like, do Big Macs exist’

Only if they have no parts, or are alive (at least according to analytic philosopher Peter van Inwagen).”

Ah, Professor van Ingwagen should use his very interesting ontological criteria to persuade a backseat full of hungry nine year olds that, really, they should order oysters. Now, that would be philosophy in action! Although I can see a future for the van Ingwagen eat all you want diet plan – if it doesn’t exist, how filling can it be?

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Chris Bertram 05.18.07 at 1:32 pm

Because certainly if philosophers (super-bright people with ample leisure and a public voice) have nothing to say about politics, then the average citizen (“orthodontist” in recent discourse) doesn’t.

Huh? If a person is an expert on, say, philosophy of mind, why does their (reasonable) denial that _their professional expertise_ gives them an expertise in _politics_ amount to a claim that they, _qua citizens_ , have “nothing to say about politics”?

Come off it John, you’re bluff has been called by Josh, Loren, Bill the Turk and lots of others, and all we’re hearing from you now is bullshit, obfuscation, moving of the goalposts.

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loren 05.18.07 at 1:39 pm

“Someday soon someone will write a biography of a famous historical figure and it will be praised as “The biography of “X” for the 21st century” What does this statement mean? What does it imply about our sense of historical knowledge?”

I have no idea what this statement means, nor do I much care. It smacks of your hypothetical author pandering to some intellectual fad, and it strikes me as a rather uninteresting question.

Question:”What is the place of the “law” of non-contradiction for our observation of ourselves? Does it apply?”

It depends what specific aspect of “ourselves” you have in mind. The implications of that principle are similarly dependent.

Question: “We categorize every new experience by way of a process of recognition. We “recognize” what we’ve never seen before. If we didn’t there would be no continuity and no communication. What does this, and the rule of law imply again about the limits of our ‘reason’?”

I’m not sure I understand the question. There are lots of limits to our reason.

“What does it mean to say that the a preference for the rule of law is by definition, conservative, or even pessimistic?

Compared to what? And wouldn’t the substance of that rule of law kinda matter to this indictment?

“I’d call it a nice plan but it’s not even that.”

Why not? It’s an argument in part about how liberals ought to understand their political values without demanding deeper conformity on ultimate questions of God and Truth and Right.

“The intellectual life is predicated on criticism, which is a function of language.”

That’s part of it, obviously. So is understanding.

“The logic and craft of language are inseparable, …

That doesn’t seem obvious or uncontentious to me
(and a lot hangs on what you mean here by “logic” and “craft”).

“The attempt to separate criticism from language and link it by means of analogy [a literary trick!] to science was a betrayal both of language and common sense.”

Why? I don’t see this at all.

The history of modernism will be written as the history of wishful thinking.

And even if you’re right, you have a favoured story that … what? denies hope? reason? embraces mere force and cunning? the force of rhetoric and anecdote over civil argument and careful observation?

“Wishful Thinking” is the definition of kitsch.

And if “analytic philosophy” has any generalizable meaning, it’s the refusal to merely accept pithy aphorisms in lieu of detailed explanation, evidence, and argument.

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John Emerson 05.18.07 at 1:52 pm

Chris, who has responded to my #3? Josh tried, and I think his response was lame. You can’t just wave things away by saying “genetic fallacy”.

The expert-specialist definition of philosophy is part of what I object to.

I have even heard Velleman (following Dworkin) say that an ethicist normally has no special insight into actual real-world ethical problems. In a debate elsewhere people seemed to be saying that the philosophical study of ethics cannot and should not intend to produce an ethical teaching, but can only describe and analyze the ethical teachings of others. The professionals seemed horrified at the idea that a philosophical student of ethics would normally produce an ethical teaching.

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John Emerson 05.18.07 at 1:56 pm

As I understand, the consensus among the professionals here (with the partial exception of Harry B, though perhaps he was just being polite) is that philosophy has no real problem of the type I describe, and that nothing I have said is worth bothering with. Is that a correct understand?

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Matt 05.18.07 at 2:04 pm

John,
Harry (and others) have mentioned several people who address just the sort of “problem” you think philosophy now has. You’ve apparently not read any of those people but that doesn’t stop you from making broad and sweeping claims. It’s pretty clear that you’re again making crap up. You’re obviously not stupid, so why do it? Please, stop making crap up. It’s an area you don’t know much about. Your ideas are poorly informed and, at best, out of date. Please, move on.

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OHenry 05.18.07 at 2:07 pm

Isn’t this all like the attacks on Dawkins, that his kind of science would undermine politics? Hasn’t, has it?

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seth edenbaum 05.18.07 at 2:19 pm

To refer to a biography or work of history as a book “for our time” is a common trope. No one complains about it. And you should wonder what that means.

What is the place of the “law” of non-contradiction for our observation of ourselves?
In the context of American social and political history, are Jews “white?”

“What does it mean to say that the a preference for the rule of law is by definition, conservative, or even pessimistic?
Why are judicial decisions not made by reasonable people, ad hoc?

I usually go off on Donald Davidson and Mallarme at this point.
No one I know thinks Mallarme can be translated. Do you?

I’ll try another one. What’s the difference between “I love you” spoken with soft confidence and in a plaintive whine?
What’s the difference between the statement “I don’t want to kill my father and sleep with my mother” when it’s howled and when it’s merely stated? What the difference to use Freud’s terms, between repression and a condemning judgement?

Isn’t it odd that people should choose to make things: write them or paint them or build them, solely for the purpose of interpretation and reinterpretation? Isn’t the purpose of art, or the fixation of art specifically on those things or moments or events that are both “A” and “Not-A”?

Logic is not philosophy, it is simply logic. It is a tool.
Tools as not philosophies.

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John Emerson 05.18.07 at 2:25 pm

One unsurprising vote from Matt. There’s no “problem”.

We do have people saying “What I do (and I think did) say is that there is a market niche for writing popularisations of people like Habermas and Dewey, and not so much of say Putnam or McDowell or Nussbaum.”

Why is this? Not being read by non-philosophers seems to be a positive goal. I find people in the sciences much more forthcoming about being able to write in a popular fashion than philosophers are. Why are they? Less to prove, maybe?

Some of what I said overlaps with things Putnam said, but as I understand people just ignore Putnam because he changes his mind so often. It has something in common with things Rorty was saying, but as I undertand, Rorty’s proposals came to nothing.

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Matt 05.18.07 at 2:31 pm

“as I understand people just ignore Putnam because he changes his mind so often.”

Umm, no.

“Not being read by non-philosophers seems to be a positive goal.”

Again, wrong for many, perhaps most, philosophers. But, philosophy is often quite technical. Much of the work is professional. It’s hard for people who are not practiced in it to get in to much of the work. But most philosophers are very happy to be read by non philosophers and many work with them all the time. Your ignorance here is astounding.

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John Emerson 05.18.07 at 2:36 pm

Well, no one here even seems to be aware of what Putnam said. When I tried to cite him on this elsewhere people just laughed — “That’s Putnam for you”.

You should come up with arguments more substantive than contradiction, Matt. Argument is what you guys are all about.

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Chris Bertram 05.18.07 at 2:44 pm

“Is this a five minute argument or the full half hour?”

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loren 05.18.07 at 2:50 pm

Seth, I answered your questions to the best of my ability, and now you respond with a bunch of other questions. You have issues with translateability and disciplining discourses, okay, fine. But this started with you making a banal claim about Rawls, and me calling you on it. Now I’m getting murky questions and pithy quips about the impossibility of translation and some vague sense that you accept a sort of Foucaultian view of the world, but aren’t quite sure what to make of it, morally speaking. Thus you shun both expertise and the possibility of constructive theoretical argument in ethics a la Rawls, but what’s your alternative? So far I’ve read one substantive claim: let “reasonable” people make judgements of their fellow citizens on an ad hoc basis. Curiously enough, for all that you claim you cannot be bothered taking him seriously, Rawls actually has some detailed and quite reasonable views on reasonableness …

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John Emerson 05.18.07 at 2:51 pm

Moral philosophy and real world ethical choices

Dworkin does not go so far as to say that a moral philosopher would be wrong to claim to have a moral teaching, or to try to teach a moral teaching, but I’ve hear others argue that.

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Matt 05.18.07 at 2:57 pm

John, given your tendency to make things up and speak (with an air of authority) about things you quite obviously know very little about I don’t see that it’s worth trying to have a real argument with you. It’s worth taking the time to do that only with those who are acting in good faith and I think there’s pretty good reason to think you are not.

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John Emerson 05.18.07 at 3:01 pm

Look at my various posts. I made a number of specific statements which could be responded to bey something other than huffing and puffing. But you only huffed and puffed.

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John Emerson 05.18.07 at 3:02 pm

And I may also ask: if I’m not worth an intelligent response, why am I worth any response at all?

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loren 05.18.07 at 3:10 pm

“Isn’t the purpose of art, or the fixation of art specifically on those things or moments or events that are both “A” and “Not-A”?

So, back in the ’90s I’m at a Magritte exhibit in London, pondering a painting that is helpfully explained to me in the accompanying blurb as exploring “the problem of rain.” Me, I’m thinking: the problem of rain is that the guy is standing in it.

No one’s amused.

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Matt 05.18.07 at 3:12 pm

John,
You said many things about philosophy that were not true. Many people, including me, replied to them (your false statements about placement, about philosophers not engaging in political disciourse, etc.) You just kept on repeating nonsense and acting as if no one replied to you when many people did. This is a pattern for you. It explains why people have little time for you (though we’ve wasted more than we should have already.) When it is _you_ who doesn’t know something you could start by reading something. When you start from a position of ignorance but take on an position of arrogence it’s no surprise that people find it hard to give you serious attention.

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John Emerson 05.18.07 at 3:17 pm

But Matt, people have lots of time for me, especially you.

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seth edenbaum 05.18.07 at 4:59 pm

Loren, you just don’t read do you? My questions were there the first time. Hint: Look for the question marks. Go back an look at #88. They’re in there.

“So far I’ve read one substantive claim: let “reasonable” people make judgments of their fellow citizens on an ad hoc basis”
Amazing. Somehow I was under the assumption that the rule of law was accepted by everyone here. I make no claims against it. Maybe you just think I used the term “pessimism” to describe an unacceptable position? That describes your bias (towards optimism) not mine. Murderers occasionally go free on “technicalities.” Assuming that we all defend the rule of law, what does that imply about our understanding of justice and truth and findings of fact?

Rawls’ is a theory of justice predicated on the individual and on individualism. It is predicated on a number of assumptions about what and how we define ourselves, assumptions that end up in bizarre proposals such as the those discussed and defended by Ronald Dworkin in Sovereign Virtue. If one sees society as an assortment of monads you can build yourself some pretty odd ideas.

“The contract” however is not a platonic form.
Economics is one measure of value. Some would call it the lowest common denominator among a variety of other overlapping means of measurement. We can choose to design a social contract that ameliorates the inequalities that arise if we use economics a measure, but how do we do so without therefore weakening the other forms of engagement?
Philosophies tend to grow and expand outside their boundaries, just as corporations tend to grow bigger just because they can. What the logic of Google’s expansion beyond that? What would be the logic of a philosopher of automobile-mechanics expanding into a logic of social interaction? What would be the logic of an economist expanding the logic of economics into a logic of society? The only logic is the logic of inertia.
Rationalists rationalize, wise men get outta town.

And there is not reason to rely on Continentals to undermine Anglo-American academic philosophy. The combination of the Anglo-American literatary and legal traditions does a much better job. Lawyers and actors vs. philosophers and logicians.
Easy.

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seth edenbaum 05.18.07 at 5:39 pm

It’s not worth responding to the comment on Magritte. I’m not much of a fan, but that doesn’t matter; your comment says enough for most people to leave off arguing with you.
I do go back and forth however between annoyance at liberalism at claims for logic as philosophy. They’re related not identical. I disagree with one, I despise the other.

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MQ 05.18.07 at 8:05 pm

In my experience academics have a hard time registering or even really hearing a critique of the scientism that is a general presupposition of of current academic life. Which is part of what’s happening here, since John and Seth’s critique seems quite articulate to me.

Scientism has paid off big time in the sciences, not so much in other areas of the academy. As Seth implies, it can lead to a certain creeping philistinism.

I think academics do have a fair response in asking “well, compared to what?”. I’m not sure there’s ever been a period where the formalized- in-the-academy take on areas similar to today’s “academic philosophy” didn’t have huge ideological issues and problems of various sorts. It may be a problem with intellectual life in general, the desire to abstract, as implied in Nietzsche’s critique of Plato. Going back thousands of years, the intellectual type has always been caricatured the same way.

One might actually look outside the formal academy for the damage done by scientism…everything from our self-help writing to our public rhetoric and written literature all kind of suck by comparison with the great eras of the past. Something’s been lost all right, but I suspect your philosopher types have always been your philosopher types.

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colin 05.19.07 at 12:53 am

mq at 117: characterizing academics this way is a woeful generalization. All one has to do is to cast one’s eyes across the pond to the work of Gadamer’s skepticism of method, be it aesthetic or scientific, to see that there is plenty of protestation against scientism. On this side of the Atlantic I would think that this post is filled by Rorty. As they both held professorships at major universities I think that it is safe to call them academics.
Now obviously both these philosophers stand outside of mainstream analytic philosophy (which, contra Lieter, does exist) so it could be argued that they do not represent a norm that is based in a scientism. I think that this is true and I have little desire to have philosophy ‘solve’ ‘problems.’

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josh 05.19.07 at 1:41 am

John Emerson, in his response to my post above, writes (citing further evidence of the way that analytic philosophy supported Cold-War, administrative liberalism — at least I think that’s the claim):
“One is to coincident McCarthy witchhunt which ended some philosophical careers—philosophers were frequent targets.”
Now, I take this to be among the examples of specific evidence JE claims to have cited, to which, he alleges, others haven’t responded. So, not to leave him feeling aggrieved — I’ll respond. John, to make this point stick, it’d help if you could connect the effects of McCarthyism on philosophy to the spread of ‘analytic’ philosophy. I’m not saying that evidence for this doesn’t exist: I’m just saying, you don’t provide it. It’s quite possible, as far as I know, that some of the philosophers targeted were themselves ‘analytic’; it’s also possible that some of the philosophers who benefitted at the expense of these blacklisted philosophers were not analytic. Also, is there evidence that philosophy was particularly affected? You make it sound as if this were the case, and as if McCarthyism had a significant impact on academic philosophy — philosophers being ‘frequent targets’ — but this isn’t really substantiated. Facts and figures, please. (Inciddentally — and, I want to stress, this in no way contradicts the larger argument about analytic philosophy and McCarthyism — one of individuals who was particularly influential in spreading analytic philosophy to the US was Morton White, then at Harvard — who had been involved in Marxist politics in the ’30s, and who — while, like most of that group, he had moved away from his youthful radicalism — was a staunch opponent of McCarthyism. As were many, though lamentably not all, Cold War liberals, who in turn were particular bugbears of McCarthy; but never mind — that’s no argument that their aims might not have converged. On the other hand, the coincidence of McCarthyism, the spread of analytic philosophy, and a tendency towards a liberal consensus in American academia is not enough to demonstrate that these were linked).
Anyway, I certainly should, and hopefully will be able to, read the works that John’s mentioned, which will hopefully provide more evidence to evaluate and form better-informed opinions. I just have to say, the case presented thus far seems a bit thin to me.

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loren 05.19.07 at 2:34 am

Loren, you just don’t read do you?

Funny Seth, I was about to say the same thing (although at least one of us has actually read Rawls carefully – alas, your monads quip sorta gives it away). I am sorry I seem unable to read you properly. I wonder if, like Mallarme, you are simply untranslatable? Or perhaps you merely await your Debussy? I’d pay a buck for that on itunes.

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MQ 05.19.07 at 3:48 am

Yes, Colin, I agree, there is a strain of counter-scientism among selected academics, especially in continental philosophy. In fact, that is precisely the strain that Derrida was probably drawing on in the original quote; my own citation of Nietzche’s critique of Plato made reference to the 20th century tradition as well. My “woeful generalizations” were concerned with people who identify with analytic philosophy.

There is a certain dead-end quality to the theorists of counter-scientism as well, though. The problem may be in theory as much as scientism.

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John Emerson 05.19.07 at 12:36 pm

Josh, in the course of hundreds of pages Mirowski and Reisch make quite detailed arguments which I was not able to duplicate in full here. Both negative attacks specifically on philosophy by McCarthy, and positive foundation and military support for certain schools of philosophy and economics were documented.

As I said in #3, Reisch’s book changed my mind about the role of logical positivism specifically. The logical positivists (proto-analytics) often were politically engaged, and one of the McCarthyists (Sidney Hook) was a pragmatist. After the witchhunts everyone was less engaged, and the winners were analytic philosophers.

I’m playing by blog rules, as is everyone here, and not everything I’ve said has been well-grounded, but actually the argument I’m making has substance and does not deserve the scorn it’s received by people astonished to find that not everyone worships their sacred cow.

Just for fun let me cite a remark on the most prestigious of the engaged analytics. I think that it applies to most of the others:

“Although John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice (1971), as well as what many consider to be its ideological and philosophical counterpart, Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), could be construed as alluding to or reflecting, or in some way speaking to or about, politics, they were distinctly contextless works written by professional philosophers which lifted the perennial debates about liberalism and the ground of values to a new level of abstraction while apparently allowing academic commentators to believe that they were actually saying something about politics.” (John Gunnell, The Descent of Political Theory, Chicago, 1993, pp. 272-3.)

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seth edenbaum 05.19.07 at 3:14 pm

The model of Rawlsian thought and for liberalism generally is the author/subject as monad among monads; not windowess, but monads nonetheless. Describe the Rawlsian authorial voice.

Rawls wasn’t interested in people, he was interested in ideas. That’s a bit of a problem.

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josh 05.19.07 at 6:16 pm

Ok John, obviously I need to read the book. Still, lumping together logical positivism, Hook’s pragmatism, and analytic philosophy in general — and Hook’s own less-than-fully-admirable position on Communists in academia and McCarthyism, which he opposed — doesn’t make me all that optimistic about being convinced by the argument (although I take it that in the case of Hook, you’re just following the common practice of referring to all attacks on alleged Communist sympathisers in the US as McCarthyism. Which is fair enough, though a bit imprecise.)
Anyway, granting for the moment that there’s strong evidence that analytic philosophy’s advance in American academia was aided by the support of the government, and the purging of non-analytic philosophers: I’m still unclear as to how that supports the argument that analytic philosophy, as such, supports the status quo today. That’s what I meant by invoking the idea of the genetic fallacy, which seems to have caused such offense. And fair enough, I should have been clearer. The point is this: saying that at one point X was used for some purpose — or even that X was designed or pursued with some purpose in mind — doesn’t necessarily mean that X need serve, or always will serve, that purpose. (I mean, think of Marx’s turning of classical economics against capitalism, or Augustine’s use of classical Roman rhetoric and political theory to attack the ideal of the Roman Republic — though granted, that’s an equivocal case).
But — you may well be right. All I’m saying is, pointing to the coincidence of analytic philosophy and some sort of ‘Cold War liberalism’, or even showing that one was encouraged by the other, isn’t a slam-dunk argument.

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abb1 05.19.07 at 6:58 pm

I think typically you don’t need to ‘design’ or ‘use’ this X for a purpose; all you need to do is give people in X a right set of incentives and they will design everything and keep it up to date. This is the way markets work. McCarthyism is an exception, hiccup in the system.

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John Emerson 05.19.07 at 7:50 pm

A lot depends on how you feel about contemporary analytic philosophy. I don’t say that AP is reactionary or conservative. Just tending toward centrism and nullity, and generally ineffectual and irrelevant. The insistence on technical language and strong suppression of what used to be called “world view” philosophy, and tendency to avoid popular outreach even when talking about public topics is a lot of what I’m talking about. (Few or none of the general-interest books Harry B named seem to have made out into the non-philosophical community — Nussbaum is probably a good exception, whereas Singer is a bad exception. (Dennett on Steven Jay Gould is pretty mixed.)

In the course of my polemics I’ve come to realize that almost no Anglophone now alive remembers a time when philosophy wasn’t overwhelmingly analytic. I’m 60, and the stuff I became interested was already being phased out when I was an undergrad.

Even though a few established pros get a little more ambitious in their old age, the philosophy that is taught to grad students and to undergrads planning to stay in the field is very constricting, and people in the field now are the ones who accepted or delighted in the narrow philosophy they were taught.

With the rise of analytic philosophy, a lot of people got squeezed out, and we don’t really believe that what happened was simply a matter of truth defeating error. I’m sort of the last of the Mohicans, and when nmy cohort kicks the bucket, no one will remember that philosophy could have been something other than it is.

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david 05.19.07 at 8:42 pm

looks like i’m a little late to the party, but…

john,

i’m still trying to figure out what your point is. you’ve spent this entire thread trying to get people to respond to your #3, but the problem with that (as you now seem to be admitting) is that your main claim was a historical one which you really didn’t offer much evidence for–you just cited a book which nobody else here has read. yes, of course you can’t be expected to do much more than that it a comments thread, but then what exactly do you expect people to respond to?

you’ve also been saying that philosophy is “politically neutered,” but again it’s pretty hard to see what the complaint is supposed to amount to. you’ve conceded that most philosophers are politically liberal like you and that many are politically active as well. so the complaint then becomes that their philosophical work itself does not have immediate political implications. but you’ve never said why you expect that it would–are people not allowed to think about things other than politics? (if not, we should alert the mathematicians, classicists, musicians, physicists, psychologists, ethologists, archeologists, evolutionary biologists, etc.)

so…then there’s the claim that political philosophy and ethics are being marginalized by the philosophers whose work isn’t expressly political. that’s just false. at NYU for example, which i’m told is part of the Leiter “cartel”, my informal estimate is that about 1/3 of the grad students and faculty members have ethical or political topics among their primary areas of research.

ok, so then you say that you just don’t like the ethics and political philosophy that you’ve read. i think you’re right that, on the whole, mainstream ethics and political philosophy tends to focus more on abstract questions about the nature and objectivity of moral and political obligations than it does on more applied questions (although as harry b. said, i think you’re exagerrating even here). but i don’t understand why you’re so upset about this. first of all, i don’t see why you regard it as historically unusual. we’re talking about a field whose roots run from plato and aristotle through locke and hume and kant, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that highly abstract questions predominate in discussions of ethical and political topics. and second, i don’t see why you see this predominance of abstract moral and political questions in philosophy as a bad thing. do you think these sorts of questions are undeserving of serious attention? where else but in philosophy departments are they going to get it? the applied questions that interest you more are receiving plenty of attention throughout quite a few fields, including philosophy. or am i missing something here?

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John Emerson 05.19.07 at 8:52 pm

“Cartel”: Leiter talks about philosophy as though it were a very successful business, success being defined by hirings and rankings. Sorry, his stuff is unseemly.

My view of philosophy is a very common one among people with an interest in non-analytic philosophy who have encountered American philosophy departments. It’s people who don’t think the way I do stay in philosophy, and by the evidence they’re completely unable to understand what the complaint is. I can understand disagreement, but the bafflement I get is offputting.

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FL 05.19.07 at 9:56 pm

David in 127: “…we’re talking about a field whose roots run from plato and aristotle through locke and hume and kant…” I made a similar point here when a variant of this conversation came up. One thing that puzzled me then and continues to do so is what Emerson’s preferred alternative looks like. Or, to put it another way, there looks to be a lot of continuity between questions addressed by the historical tradition and questions being asked in (what gets called) contemporary analytic philosophy. (Hey, there’s Gibbard and Blackburn thinking along Humean lines; over there are virtue ethicists worrying about lines of argument from Aristotle; and so on.) If so, you might think that AP-in-its-current-sense isn’t some new interloper so much as a continuation of past practice with as least as much claim to the label “philosophy” as whatever it is that Emerson would prefer to see in its place.

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John Emerson 05.19.07 at 11:05 pm

“A continuation of past practice with as least as much claim to the label “philosophy” as whatever it is that Emerson would prefer to see in its place.”

“At least as much claim” — hardly a ringing endorsement, especially because I’m not trying to destroy analytic philosophy, but to end its monopoly.

I claim that there was a narrowing of philosophy starting about 1940 or 1950. Is that difficult so understand? Analytic philosophers came into dominance by defeating and excluding other forms of philosophy, and they were happy to do so. I would rather have seen a more plural landscape. Are you unaware of the existence of these other, earlier forms which I would have liked to see continuing to develop? Have my statements of what I would like to see in addition been so totally incoherent that you have no idea what I would prefer?

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david 05.19.07 at 11:15 pm

john e.,

i’m not about about to defend leiter himself, but his rankings are intended as a service to undergraduates who are applying to grad school. back when i was in that position, i found them to be extremely helpful. friends of mine in other fields were really envious of all the information i had available. to give you an idea of how helpful leiter is to prospective grad students: i had a really urgent and important question which my advisor didn’t know how to answer. i emailed leiter completely out of the blue as an anonymous undergrad and asked him for advice. i then went jogging, and when i came back i had a really long and detailed email from him which helped me tremendously. if it weren’t for leiter’s report, students like me who didn’t have “connections” just wouldn’t have access to the same quality of information as the ivy leaguers.

“My view of philosophy is a very common one among people with an interest in non-analytic philosophy who have encountered American philosophy departments”

well, i don’t think i’m uninformed about or confused by hostility to contemporary anglophone philosophy. it’s not like i haven’t heard enough of it. what i do think is that it’s very often misinformed and narrowminded.

concerning the “misinformed” part, just look at how flabergasted some of the people in this thread were by leiter’s claim that analytic philosophy doesn’t exist anymore. you for example keep citing views of the logical positivists as if they have anything to do with what’s happening in so-called “analytic” departments today. there is a sense in which analytic philosophy (understood as a historical tradition rather than a specific project) is very much alive–people still read much more frege, russell, and wittgenstein than they do husserl and heidegger, for example. but the revolutionary aspirations of logical positivism are entirely absent, so far as i can tell.

another strikingly misinformed complaint about “analytic” philosophy is the one you were making about the current status of ethics and political philosophy. my point in the last post was that plato and aristotle and descartes and spinoza and leibniz and locke and berkeley and hume and kant are all “non-analytic” philosophers. but many of the complaints you made about “analytic” ethics and political philosophy would apply equally well to philosophy as they practised it. (i’m not particularly knowledgeable about john dewey, but my understanding is that he was quite explicit that his vision of philosophical inquiry was very much out of sync with what philosphy had been historically.)

i’m sure that a lot of people don’t find in american philosophy departments what they were expecting. people come into them with all kinds of bizarre views of what philosophy is and what it has been historically. (it wouldn’t surprise me if i have extended family who think that i write fortune cookies for a living.)

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david 05.19.07 at 11:24 pm

seems to me that all ya’ll haters in this thread really have some very idosynchratic and mutually inconsistent ideas about what philosohy ought to be, despite the common visceral dislike of what it is today. does everyone agree, for example, with john e. that what’s needed are more discussions of “policy proposals”? how about the guy who said that the problem with rawls is that he cared more about ideas than about people? how about all the scientists who think that philosophers don’t pay enough attention to empirical results? how about all the christians who think that philosophers don’t talk enough about god? (those groups apparently don’t read crooked timber, but i can tell you that there are plenty of them.)

man!, no wonder philosophers don’t attract a wider audience. everybody outside of philosophy has such strong opinions about what philosophers ought to be doing with their time.

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david 05.19.07 at 11:39 pm

fl,

yeah, i basically agree. i was reading this paper by don garrett (a Hume scholar) recently on the current state of historical scholarship. he made this really interesting claim that historical research is thriving right now because, for the first time in a really long time, there’s no sweeping radical movement which seeks to reform philosophy in a way that would make past philosophy irrelevant. consequently, philosphers today see their work as more continuous with past work than has been the case in a really long time.

and maybe john e. can correct me, but my understanding, as i just said, was that dewey was explicit about trying to transform philosophy into something new and different. as with the logical positivists, the changes apparently didn’t stick. john, in the interest of pluralism, are you also in favor of reviving logical positivism? how about reviving medeival scholasticism? (i’m half-kidding, of course.)

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FL 05.19.07 at 11:52 pm

hardly a ringing endorsement

Well, it’s hard to make comparative claims when I’m not sure what the alternative is. Regardless of whose fault it is, I’m genuinely unclear on what your preferred “plural landscape” is. What makes this a bit frustrating is that you seem to have a very narrow view of what’s included in contemporary (what-gets-called) AP, and, if that view were right, I would be more sympathetic to the idea that a lot of philosophical value has been left out. But what’s done now under the label “analytic philosophy” isn’t as narrow as, say, the sort of thing done in the Frege-Russell-Wittgenstein corpus that’s often taught under the rubric ‘history of analytic philosophy.’

That isn’t to say that the current tent is maximally inclusive. I’m reminded of Railton’s nice line that while the cure for the ills of 18th c. science was to engage in more inquiry along the same lines, the cure for the ills of 18c. philosophy wasn’t simply more of the same.

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John Emerson 05.20.07 at 12:38 am

does everyone agree, for example, with john e. that what’s needed are more discussions of “policy proposals”?

Where did I say that?

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john c. halasz 05.20.07 at 12:39 am

Oh my! While I hate to get involved in such a learned debate so late in the game, here’s my piss-poor addition: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5s5qGg01nE

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david 05.20.07 at 2:56 am

john,

looking back at your post, i see that i mangled your words. (sorry.) just so we’re clear, was i seriously misrepresenting your views? i thought you wanted philosophy to get its head out of the clouds and become more engaged with real-world political problems.

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seth edenbaum 05.20.07 at 3:27 am

“How about all the scientists who think that philosophers don’t pay enough attention to empirical results? how about all the christians who think that philosophers don’t talk enough about god?”
Empiricism and god. That’s a good one!
Chomsky and Posner have a lot in common of course, and none of it good.

“I’m sort of the last of the Mohicans, and when my cohort kicks the bucket, no one will remember that philosophy could have been something other than it is.”

John, that’s too much. You take yourself too seriously and give yourself too much credit.
Scholasticism comes and goes. It has its time and then most of it gets forgotten. If one is interested in philosophy because of an interest in the hows and whys and modes of awareness then you’ll search out things that interest you and that you can learn from. “Serious, professional” journalists are angry about the popularity of John Stewart, just as as “serious fine artists” are still angry about movies and popular culture. But Shakespeare was an entertainer and John Stewart has more respect for his audience than Chris Matthews does; so his audience has more respect for him. And he deserves it.
Serious people who are serious about something other than professionalism get the point. Lieberman’s another example of someone who takes himself more seriously than he takes his responsibilities. But moral seriousness is not moral responsibility. Manners are not actions.
Rationalists rationalize and who can stop them?

If you’re interested in engaging with people who engage the world and others in a questionaing “philosophical” manner, read a novel or go to the movie. Read some history. If you’re interested in professional philosophy the odd are those things won’t interrest you; and the odds you’re pretty god damn dull.
About as dull as a your average democratic politician… or Bob Shrum! But wait! Michael Tomasky can teach you how to be popular with people you have no respect for. You can make the rabble like you!
It’s all so god damn pathetic. A book on philosphy would be a book on the rise of a rigorously intellectual secular Islam, the kissing cousin to the secular jewish intellectual tradition. How about the equally new rise of the intellectual Catholic right? Lotta asians in there. Anti-communist family hisoty. I’ll bet you. How about Lars von Trier, Tarantino and the theater of the confidence man?
We await the return of philosopher as critic.

After asking Loren to describe the “authorial voice” in Rawls I realized how odd the request sounded. And then of course I wondered why it should seem odd. That’s an obvious question for any author, inn’t?

Philosophy historically has to do with the relation of ideas to experience, not of ideas to each other. In the long run the stuff that gets remembered will be historicized. The sciences are looked back on as historicized and not, but science fiction, like all words becomes just another part of history. Don’t mourn the death of philosophy, John, any more than the death of “serious” journalism.
Go get your MTV.
Did you hear that Klezmer clarinet riff in that last Shakira song?
The worlds’ still an interesting place.

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david 05.20.07 at 3:58 am

“A book on philosphy would be a book on the rise of a rigorously intellectual secular Islam, the kissing cousin to the secular jewish intellectual tradition. How about the equally new rise of the intellectual Catholic right? Lotta asians in there. Anti-communist family hisoty. I’ll bet you. How about Lars von Trier, Tarantino and the theater of the confidence man?
We await the return of philosopher as critic.”

dude, are you high or something? wtf?

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seth edenbaum 05.20.07 at 5:28 am

link

Or how about Zhang Yimou and the Chinese “Hollywood” epic cinema. He’s sure as shit better than David Lean. But of course in this country philosophers and members of the social-scientific academic community think Peter Jackson and George Lucas are geniuses, without really taking them or “entertainment” seriously. It’s just something you do for fun after reading Rawls or Naming and Necessity.

How about “El Laberinto del Fauno,” “Children of Men” (et al.) and the latinization of the culture of el norte? You don’t have to write criticism any more than Aristotle did, but he paid attention. I’m sure you could pull some interesting abstractions out of all this. I can.
And on the crisis and modernization of Islam, I’m not saying anything others aren’t. But again, they’re paying attention. And yes conservative asian american catholics are rising force in the church and in the defense of intellectual conservatism

The choice kiddo, is between loyalty to your categories or to your curiosity. I would be ashamed to choose the former. Americans, even one’s who you’d think are paid to know better, tend to choose what they know, as if it’s all they need to know.

I went out to browse bookstores today. I thought I might pick up something by Quine or Kripke, but I ended up with Joan Didion. We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live. Sounds philosophical, don’t ya’think?
david, to answer your question: a half a bottle of wine.

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Matt 05.20.07 at 11:33 am

It sounds more like a bottle and a half, Seth! As far as I can tell your complaint comes down to, “people who are called philosophers don’t work on what I wish they would.” That’s fine, of course, but it’s not a very serious complaint.

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seth edenbaum 05.20.07 at 3:56 pm

I’m annoyed by people who would describe themselves as being interested in philosophy as such but whose ideas and behavior manifest more than anything else the assumptions and philosophy of professionalism.
Is professionalism a valid philosophy?
It’s the same problem women had trying to explain sexism to men, and you have the same response. There’s less at stake for me than there was and is for women or blacks (or Palestinians) but the issue itself is the same. Can a technical [sic] philosophy respond to these questions. More importantly is a technical philosophy anything more than an act of avoidance them.
Is autism a philosophy or a symptom?

How about a study of popular culture, Star Trek and the “Borg”? Google, Microsoft, Pseudo-Sociability, and the moral imperitives of geekdom: Individualists are all alike.
Doesn’t interest me much but there’s a book there.

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Matt 05.20.07 at 6:28 pm

“It’s the same problem women had trying to explain sexism to men, and you have the same response. “

Except that no one is, you know, oppressing you or keeping you down.

“There’s less at stake for me than there was and is for women or blacks (or Palestinians) but the issue itself is the same. “

Well, at least you see there’s less at stake for you. How does philosophy as practiced today systematically warp your possibilities and life chances, though, or say that your life is worth less than others? It doesn’t, does it? So it’s not really the same problem, I’d guess.

I don’t suppose that ‘technical’ philosophy does have much to say about day-to-day problems. But if only such philosophy is worth the name then, well, huge swaths of the history of philosophy is out. If that’s your criterion then I think you’ve got a pretty funny one.

As for the last bit, I must admit that I have not the slightest idea what you’re talking about. I rather suspect you don’t, either.

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seth edenbaum 05.20.07 at 7:39 pm

“How does philosophy as practiced today systematically warp your possibilities and life chances, though, or say that your life is worth less than others? It doesn’t, does it?”

Why is it about me? I’m not the issue. But yes, the tendency in the humanities towards pseudo or demi-science and the rule of the reason-able and “fair” in the American press have caused real problems. Academic philosophy, Chicago school economics, and the general professionalization of intellectual life are all BAD SHIT!

Your argument is about as perfect example of anti-intellectualism as I could imagine. Just admit that your interests are technical and not intellectual and we’ll leave it at that. I don’t expect people to be intellectuals, and I don’t picks fights with statisticians.

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Matt 05.20.07 at 8:07 pm

Who’s picking fights with statisticians?

Some of my interests in philosophy are, I suppose, primarily intelectual and technical, but since my main interest is in fairly applied fields, ones I care about quite a lot, I don’t suppose that my main interests are properly described as ‘techinical’ except in the sense that I do want to get clear on what’s at issue. Much like John I think you’ve just got a highly idiosyncratic view of the field.

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abb1 05.20.07 at 9:40 pm

But yes, the tendency in the humanities towards pseudo or demis – science and the rule of the reasonable and “fair” in the American press have caused real problems. Academic philosophy, Chicago school economics, and the general professionalization of intellectual life are all BAD SHIT!

This guy wrote a couple of books about it (or something similar anyway). Though his criticism is not limited to just the US scene.

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Henry 05.20.07 at 9:45 pm

Seth, there are people who do that, they’re called social critics and they write in the editorial sections of newspapers and in news and culture magazines. Or sometimes they write fiction. Or make movies.

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seth edenbaum 05.21.07 at 12:38 am

Saul seems to enjoy grand generalizations. I make them only under duress. And according to one review I read, Voltaire’s Bastard’s has about a page on Edmund Burke. Not a good sign.
On the other hand, yesterday I bought and this afternoon walked around reading The Chomsky-Foucault Debate: On Human Nature.
So far at least Chomsky comes off as a pedant: every argument predicated on what by his account must be.
Foucault comes off well:

[S]o that it won’t be compromised by history, it is necessary not that the truth constitutes itself in history, but only that it reveals itself in it; hidden to men’s eyes, provisionally inaccessible, sitting in the shadows, it will wait to be unveiled. The history of truth would be essentially its delay, its fall or the disappearance of the obstacles which have impeded it until now from coming to light. The historical dimension of knowledge is always negative in relation to the truth.

“The historical dimension of knowledge is always negative in relation to the truth.” Very nice. And it reminds me, since I’m a half assed reader that it’s not the continentals who annoy me so much as their american fans. Manhattan is full of pseudo-bistros and they annoy me too. It would be interesting to do a study of Chomsky’s reception and popularity in Europe, to see how his straightforward moral individualism is altered by European culturalism. There’s what we would call a Burkean element to all the continentals. But where Americans invent something like Communitarianism to counter the individualism that is the basis of their own logic, the Europeans see culture or community (and therefore history) as foundation itself. For a lot of reasons intellectually and emotionally I’m much more confortable with the latter. I’m also betting that it’s the future and that that future is already here.
That’s enough. I’m having fun but it’s not my blog.

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loren 05.21.07 at 1:41 am

“Saul seems to enjoy grand generalizations. I make them only under duress.”

!?

Yawn – this is too easy (although in fairness, your generalizations are indeed less grand than some of Saul’s) ….

“Rawls builds a logic out of dreamed-up beginning (a fantasy)”

“we categorize every new experience by way of a process of recognition”

“The rule of law is predicated on the impossibility of pure reason.”

“There is no reason to trust people.”

“The history of modernism will be written as the history of wishful thinking.”

“Rawls wasn’t interested in people, he was interested in ideas.”

“The defense of intellectual professionalization is conservative on its face. It’s hypertrophied foundationalism; the foundation being not an idea as such but the social structure that underlies that idea.”

“If you’re interested in engaging with people who engage the world and others in a questionaing “philosophical” manner, read a novel or go to the movie. Read some history. If you’re interested in professional philosophy the odd are those things won’t interrest you; and the odds you’re pretty god damn dull.”

“Philosophy historically has to do with the relation of ideas to experience, not of ideas to each other.”

“The choice kiddo, is between loyalty to your categories or to your curiosity. I would be ashamed to choose the former. Americans, even one’s who you’d think are paid to know better, tend to choose what they know, as if it’s all they need to know.”

“Astrophysicists are interested in “the final questions” and they want governments to spend milions and millions of dollars to see what’s out (or in) there, because they though they generalize to the whole of humanity, “need to know.” They ascribe psychological meaning to unknown facts and to the fact that they’re unknown. Their search is fundamentally a religious quest and as such it’s absolutely absurd, but no more than anything else”

“Isn’t the purpose of art, or the fixation of art specifically on those things or moments or events that are both “A” and “Not-A”?”

“Academic philosophy, Chicago school economics, and the general professionalization of intellectual life are all BAD SHIT!”

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loren 05.21.07 at 1:46 am

oooh, forgot one, and it’s a beauty …

“But of course in this country philosophers and members of the social-scientific academic community think Peter Jackson and George Lucas are geniuses, without really taking them or “entertainment” seriously. It’s just something you do for fun after reading Rawls or Naming and Necessity.”

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seth edenbaum 05.21.07 at 2:24 am

“Rawls wasn’t interested in people, he was interested in ideas.”

Lauren, thanks for reminding me, that was my mother’s line.
She died last year. A real bitch, but a smart woman.

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seth edenbaum 05.21.07 at 4:04 am

“Lauren”?
opps. I just typed without thinking.

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abb1 05.21.07 at 7:12 am

I dunno, of all the authors you mentioned I only read Rawls and he takes the same line in his criticism: glorification of narrow expertise; technocrats lose connection with reality, their sense of ethics gets screwed up; millions killed, economies devastated, environment ruined by technocrats who want to prove a point that, taken in isolation, may be perfectly rational. Notice that this was written in 1993, well before the recent manifestation of these alleged phenomena.

And this POV seems to be catching on in the pop-culture: Paul Wolfowitz’s Real Problem? He’s too good at math.

Me, I’m skeptical about this, I’m a cui bono? kinda guy. Wolfowitz had an idea and Exxon accidentally made a half-trillion dollars? I don’t think so. And I don’t believe there’s any expertise there in the first place, it’s all bullshit. I bet Wolfowitz isn’t even good at math.

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seth edenbaum 05.21.07 at 8:33 pm

I thought considered not responding but since no one reads my blog (or ever did really) I’ll keep going here.
A couple of days ago I was in a bar in my neighborhood with a friend. I live in one of the most diverse and polyglot neighborhoods in the US, and one that is also thought of as one of the most “European” neighborhoods in NY.
My friend and I were in an Irish bar that has begun to attract the newer generations of manhattan transplants. White manhattanites shy away from the other more continental bars and hangouts, Greek and Eastern European, as well as those of other more “ethnic” (darker skinned) groups. The exception is the beer garden, the only beer garden in NY, where NYU students seem to have taken up permanent residency.
They also shy away from places where they might have to dress up a bit. The greek cafes are large and noisy, and on summer nights 30th avenue might be Cyprus or Rio, Alexandria, or somewhere on the Adriatic, populated as it is by people from all of the above and more. My waiter yesterday was Lebanese, and the couple next to me were Ecuadorian well past middle age and on a date. The music was Eurodisco, and loud. The girls all thought they were pretty, to the degree that you believed them, and you got the impression that people knew who they were and why they were there. In a room of about 150, inside and out on the sidewalk under the umbrellas I was probably the only one not born in another country, in Queens or in transit, and I was the only person drinking and eating by myself. I was also almost undoubtedly the only one not fluent in at least two languages.

On sunday in the Irish bar, where the owner is an old friend of Shane MacGowan (who drops by when he’s town to play a gig or get his teeth fixed) my friend and I had to put up with a different crowd. Next to us were 5 rowdy aging NYU types, singing along with whatever came on the jukebox. They annoyed me and they annoyed my companion and others as well; I had them pegged and tried to find a way to describe my response to the woman I was with, an experimental psychologist with as I realized a very sharp eye. When the 5 assholes started singing along with “New York New York” it was better to leave than start a fight.
Outside Z explained it. She said they weren’t enjoying themselves singing as a group, each was singing alone at the same time as the others, in such a way as to try to convince them that he was having fun. And we were not the only ones at the bar annoyed by their behavior.

This is the heart of the issue of individualism and community. The Eurodisco cafes in my neighborhood are full of people for whom community is constitutive and this is brought into stark relief when put alongside the individualism of the americans who move in to their neighborhood. The tension is very similar to that brought out by gentrification in working class neighborhoods, where I’ve witnessed plenty of sing-alongs (of “NY NY”) that were just as rowdy and much less annoying to others in the room.
The difference is that in my neighborhood the immigrants have money, and what is developing is a multiethnic bourgeoisie that exists both as community and a place for individuals, though not in the older american sense. I should also add that the neighborhood has a large and growing Islamic community, from Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Palestine and South Asia. I live down the street from a mosque. And although I see women in Abayas and even in niqāb, fully covered, I’ve seen girls in headscarves and spandex and one girl in a headscarf and a t shirt that read “save a horse ride a cowboy.”

Cosmopolitanism sees community as constitutive, even if from the outside. Lberalism sees communty as suspect. And yet liberalism creates artificial communities, with rules and taboos and regulations, that then go unexamined. Reading on in the Foucault Chomsky debate they both begin to sound pretty silly. But Foucault is charming and Chomsky is not.

Interesting to think that the moderate Islamic party in Turkey is considered by many to be more modern than its secular opponents. And from this the logic becomes not one of religion vs secularism but whether a system of order, or language or justice, is seen as a system of questions that one asks of oneself and others, or as system of answers that is handed down by and which one is obliged follow. This is a good essay on community and language and the need of communities to describe themselves on their own terms. That need, requirement, is more important than liberalism itself.
I think this about does it for me this time.
Thanks for the server space.

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seth edenbaum 05.21.07 at 8:35 pm

correction: yesterday being sunday, it was saturday night when I was at the bar. a good weekend.

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