Saturday, August 06, 2011

The Richard Rorty Exchange Part IX

The Philosopher responds.

My responses to him are inserted and always follow an asterisk *:

I like your spirited reply!

I guess I'm going to just have to read that damn book [Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature] and hope to God I don't lose my "illusions."

* This, for me, raises the question of what makes us attach to the ideas, conceptions, beliefs that we are attached to that "seem right" even when (or if) the argumentation and evidence don't prove them or when the relevant community doesn't agree on an answer? We could say that some of us have an intuitive connection to the way things are, but that begs the question of whether there is a "way in which things are." And what's the nature of the "intuitive" connection? There is an interesting, bypassed world hidden in words like: assumption, intuition, conversion.

That having been said, sometimes it seems to me that Rorty is too absolute. (Ha!). Either the Real is self-present to us in some absolute way, a la Descartes, "clear and distinct" and all that or we must simply give up any hope of knowing the real and turn our attention to more "useful" topics. But isn't that attitude overdrawn? I mean, why can't we, in Aristotelian fashion, move toward the real, make models, test them, listen to what nature is telling us she's like, try to correct for bias, and "slouch toward verisimilitude" (with apologies to Yeats). We don't have to be the (Rortian) victims of his Cartesian anxiety. Rorty seems to couch things in this "all or I want no part of it" way. I believe science is one very good way, perhaps our best and only way, of getting out of our way, and letting nature tell us what she's like. How, for example, can we explain its pragmatic success if it doesn't bear some semblance to the real (note small r)? Anyway, I suspect Rorty's model of knowledge is too Platonic. He'd have done good for a good dose of the Stagirite. But, hell, I haven't done my homework.

* Rorty would be fine with making models, testing them, correcting for bias, even using colloquially the phrases "listening to nature" and "seems right but is it true?" as long as some ambitious philosopher doesn't say "Is nature really telling us things?, What is the 'real'?" Being a pragmatist he'd support all scientific inquiry. He just recommends not getting fooled by metaphors - here the aural metaphor of "listening" rather than the visual metaphor of a "mirror of nature" - like nature telling us what she's like. He suggests that we be satisfied with working towards agreement with our fellows and not taking the Peircian step of "The real, then, is that which, sooner or later, information and reasoning would finally result in".

* Now how does Rorty explain why science works so well if it's not telling us what nature is like? But does poetry work less well? Does it tell us what nature is like?

* Here's Rorty: "[The pragmatist] drops the notion of truth as correspondence with reality altogether, and says that modern science does not enable us to cope because it corresponds, it just plain enables us to cope. His argument for the view is that several hundred years of effort have failed to make interesting sense of the notion of 'correspondence' (either of thought to things or of words to things). The pragmatist takes the moral of this discouraging history to be that 'true sentences work because they correspond to the way things are' is no more illuminating than 'it is right because it fulfills the Moral Law.' Both remarks, in the pragmatist's eyes, are empty metaphysical compliments - harmless as rhetorical pats on the back to the successful inquirer or agent, but troublesome if taken seriously and 'clarified' philosophically." Consequences of Pragmatism, p. xvii.

* So you and Rorty agree on the doing of science, he would just caution against letting the sometimes useful concept "real" slide into the historically unsuccessful investigation of the "Real."

Thank you for your interesting reply.

* And thank you.