Wednesday, February 17, 2010

When "My Spade Is Turned"

An interesting difference of view that may be an example of reaching a bedrock assumption is the different arguments that Matthew Bagger, a philosopher of religion, and Graham Priest, a logician, make about the fact that mysticism, and, Priest would say, all philosophical thinking, reach an inevitable point of contradiction. Such contradictions are “The Tao that can be spoken of is not the eternal Tao” or none of our concepts can ever grasp God. These assertions are contradictory because they say with words or concepts that we can’t know these ultimate things with words or concepts. Yet they do tell us something about these things.

Bagger argues that this paradoxical quality of ultimate entities is made into something mysterious by religions when they are just paradoxes. Priest says that the fact that mystics and philosophers keep running into contradictions at the limits of thought suggests that there are true contradictions. That we are finding something out about the nature of existence when that is the result we keep encountering. And as a corollary, the law of non-contradiction which says that something’s wrong with our understanding of things if there is a contradiction is, in this case, wrong. The contradictions at the limits of thought may be information we keep rejecting; that there are true contradictions.

Wittgenstein wrote: "If I have exhausted the justifications, I have reached bedrock and my spade is turned. Then I am inclined to say: 'This is simply what I do.'"

Bagger’s book is “The Uses of Paradox” and Priest’s book is “Beyond the Limits of Thought.” Who we think is right is dependent upon the kind of world we want to live in.


Zetetic_chick said...

Great post, Jeff.

I haven't read Priest, but I know he has some original ideas about contradictions and paraconsistent logic.

Thanks for your reply to my questions in your other post.

By the way, I just began a blog in English about Noetic Sciences:

On Rosemberg's article, I think he has a point about darwinism implying some kind of nihilism, at least regarding objective or trascendent moral values.

Larry Laudan made some interesting comments there, specially because Rosemberg's thesis assume that current science is "true" and from there he deduces his nihilistic conclusions.

But as Laudan comments, a change on the scientific paradigm could bring a different perspective and undermine Rosemberg's conclusions.

Jeff Meyerhoff said...

I don't think nihilism does result if one contends that there are no Objective or transcendent moral values. There are lots of (small o) objective and non-transcendent values. I may not be able to say: "These values that I believe in are The Objectively Right or True values" but I can say: "These values are worth fighting and dying for," or "are non-negotiable," or "are crucial to living a decent life," etc. And that's good enough. We don't have to leap to a problematic statement about their Objectivity or transcendence.

Thanks for the blog in English.


Zetetic_chick said...

Hi Jeff,

Check this article by Popperian philosopher David Miller on Alan Sokal's book:

Miller is the leading contemporary defender of Popper's philosophy of science.

I think Miller's skeptical position follows from the anti-essentialist premises of empiricism and the logic of the scientific method.

He has a negative opinion of relativism, but he consistently argues for absolute skepticism as an unavoidable logical conclusion.

I've been interested in philosophical skepticism, because I suspect that the skeptical objection has not been satisfactorily responded. All the replies that I've read seem to be weak or question-begging.

Jeff, I'd like to ask you:

-In addition Steven Hales's book, that other books would you recommend about a defense of relativism from the criticism of absolutists?

What's the best contemporary defense(s) of relativism, answering the best objections against it?


Zetetic_chick said...

I forgot another question.

Do you think Derrida's poststructuralism implies nihilism?

This seems to be a standard critique or complain of Derrida's epistemological ideas.

Jeff Meyerhoff said...

Regarding relativism I parrot Rorty: Don’t get into the relativism/absolutism debates. Don’t get into the skepticism/absolutism debates. See these debates as dysfunctional historical ephemera or epiphenomena. They are interminable and they masquerade as eternal philosophical conundrums. Nothing rides on whether you believe in relativism or absolutism.

Here's Rorty:

‘”Relativism” only seems to refer to a disturbing view, worthy of being refuted, if it concerns real theories, not just philosophical theories. Nobody really cares if there are incompatible alternative formulations of a categorical imperative, or incompatible sets of categories of the pure understanding. We do care about alternative, concrete, detailed cosmologies, or alternative concrete, detailed proposals for political change. When such an alternative is proposed, we debate it, not in terms of categories or principles but in terms of the various concrete advantages and disadvantages it has.’

From “Pragmatism, Relativism, Irrationalism” in Rorty’s Consequences of Pragmatism p. 168.

As Huw Price writes in that passage I quoted in a previous entry, we make the Correspondence Assumption and assume that we’re getting at something real when we debate the applicability of these concepts. But they don’t necessarily get at something existing. The meanings of the concepts arise out of social practices which are affected by historical, cultural, social, political, economic conditions. In manipulating these concepts and arguments we’re not working with transparent depicters of the existence.


Jeff Meyerhoff said...

The Miller article looks interesting. I'm going to read it more closely.

Two books about relativism are:

Rom Harré and Michael Krausz: Varieties of Relativism

It's writing is plodding but they're very knowledgeable.

Also Maria Baghramian's Relativism

Although I don't think she likes relativism that much.

I like Nelson Goodman's Ways of Worldmaking

He defends a radical relativism.

Hales is probably the most rigorous, but I don't know the literature well enough to say for sure.


Jeff Meyerhoff said...

Regarding Derrida: Yeah, people use to say he destroyed everything. But his work was used in part to subvert the unwarranted dominance of dominant parts of dualities.

Also, he wrote about ethics and justice.

I just bought Harold Coward's Derrida and Indian Philosophy and in it he writes:

"[Christopher] Norris also makes a good case to show that Derrida's thought does not end up in playful nihilism, as is frequently assumed, but rather has a strong ethical dimension. Part of Derrida's criticism of Western philosophy is that it has become so preoccupied [with] the epistemological problems of truth and reason that it no longer can effectively be a bridge from the thinking through of these problems to the practical sphere of ethical action."

Sounds similar to Rorty's critique.