Re: Before and After


Thanks for that heads up on McCumber's book (I've already looked into getting a copy of _Time in the Ditch_, which I discovered throught your site).

Though it's not the first book to deal philosophically with the divide between analytic and continental philosophy. There's also Stanley Rosen's _The Limits of Analysis_. Great book (even if it was written twenty-three years ago). Rosen's arguments, especially what he states in the final chapter, are (it seems to me at least) very much applicable today -- i.e. to analytics abandoning analytic philosophy and their turn to new-found "naturalism."

Posted by: Rob | Link to this comment | 10-22-03 11:02 PM
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Thanks for the tip on Rosen. I'll check it out.

Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 10-22-03 11:09 PM
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Rosen can be rather turgid, however. He's definitely not an obscurantist (ala Judith Butler et al.) -- I think he's really trying to get to the deepest problems.

The following is a salient passage taken from Rosen's _Nihilism: A Philosophic Essay_, an excerpt which (though, again, written a while back -- this in 1968 or so) is still rather applicable in its criticism of analytic philosophy and its "naturalism" (Dennett, Pinker -- the latter author whom I, actually very much admire). Blogger Julian Sanchez offered via e-mail correspondence to me a refutation of Rosen's critique, which I've also posted below.

"Suppose we believe, as do many scientific humanists today, that all psychic or mental phenomena may be reduced to biochemical processes and thereby to mathematically computable energy distributions. What is the status of this belief itself, and finally of the self who

believes it? To begin with, if the belief is true, it is itself an instance of a biochemical process, an electrical excitation of the physical organ known as the brain, and so a pattern of extension, matter, or energy. As such, it has no "value" in any sense other than the numerical. Thus, the mere fact of its truth (supposing it to be true) carries with it no rational or scientific recommendations, not

to say obligation, that it be believed, that it be regarded as a reasonable belief. If the reasonable is the useful, it is almost certainly unreasonable, because harmful, to accept a doctrine that obliterates the difference in dignity between man and dirt. On the other hand, if "reasonable" means "true," and the doctrine in question is true, then we accept it in tacit or explicit deference to

the principle, "one ought to accept what is true."

Now what status has this principle? If it is true that one ought to accept the truth, then it cannot be true that truth is always at bottom a mathematical description of energy patterns, since such patterns, if taken to be the final stratum of reality, into which all superficial or illusory strata are to be reduced, provide no basis for the reconstruction of moral or psychological imperatives. If it is not true that one ought to accept the truth (because of the assumption that "true" and "ought" are incompatible), but merely that we sometimes have a propensity to do so, then truth, and so reason, must be distinguishable from motives determining what we accept or believe. In other words, there is no REASON, no REASONABLE reason, for believing the true rather than the false. The mere fact that

proposition X is true is insufficient to command the allegiance of a reasonable man to that proposition, especially if it certifies that, qua man, or conscious being who is deliberating whether to accept X,

he is an illusion and so does not exist in those terms which alone make rational the debate concerning the acceptance or repudiation of

proposition X. On this alternative, then, the FACT that proposition X is true is paradoxically transformed into a VALUE, namely something

which we may believe or not as we see fit, or depending upon whether we regard it as worthwhile to believe it. And the transformation is paradoxical because X in effect asserts the radical distinction

between facts and values. This self-transformation of the assertion of the principle of contemporary rationalism into a value is equivalent to the transformation of philosophy into poetry by

Nietzsche and others. In the first case, a distinction is made between facts and values which renders values unreasonable. In the second case, facts are redefined as a special kind of values, which means that facts are rendered unreasonable. The contemporary nihilist situation is a synthesis of these two (basically equivalent) processes: the total effect is to make both facts and values

unreasonable and valueless. And so there is no real difference, in this context, between scientists and humanists. If it is fatuous to assume that nihilism will be overcome by knowledge of the second law of thermodynamics, it is equally fatuous to assume that it will surrender to an appreciation of poetic style. What then are we to say of the view that man's salvation lies in the union of such

knowledge and such appreciation?"

--Stanley Rosen, _Nihilism, A Philosophical Essay_, pp. 70-71.


Sanchez responds:

"My impression [of Strauss and of Rosen] has jibed with Will's sense that sometimes a certain amount of profound-looking rhetoric covers up analytical jumps. Take the bit you posted in my comments section. The argument, as I recall it, runs something like this (I'll just take one branch of the disjunction he sets up):
(A) If it's the case that fact and value are distinct, and that there are no values "in" nature (except, presumably, the part of nature that comprises our own minds and desires), then
(B) It is not necessarily the case that we have an overriding reason to believe the truth. If we do not care about believing what's true, we have no reason to do so.
(C) The status of (a) then becomes problematic, because the truth of the fact/value distinction alone provides no reason for us to believe it.
(D) Whether we believe (A) then is in some sense a matter of choice, and therefore
(E) The "fact" about the disenchantment of nature is then revealed as a sort of "value" itself.
If I'm remembering/summarizing this correctly, it doesn't seem to work once you dice it up and try to see the mechanics of the move from D to E. You'd need some premise like: (D') The object of a mental state whose contents are determined by values is itself a value. But why should we believe that? I just don't follow the move. A scientist might never have bothered investigating, say, principles of electricity if he didn't care about whatever benefit he thought might flow from his discoveries, but I don't see how that impugns the factual status of the discovery. Also, why does the denial of some universal principle that one must believe what's true

entail that one takes the "true" to be whatever is useful? Why mightn't I simply be disposed to want to find out the truth, while simultaneously recognizing that this is /just/ a disposition?"

--Julian Sanchez


My response

As to Julian's latter comment,

"why does the denial of some universal principle that one must believe what's true entail that one takes the "true" to be whatever is useful? Why mightn't I simply be disposed to want to find out the truth, while simultaneously recognizing that this is /just/ a disposition?"

I would say that asserting that being disposed to finding out the truth simply because it is a "disposition" doesn't strike me a strong recommendation for truth. Disposition is a "value."

Or, as one of my friends has put it:

"If Nietzsche's attacks on positivism (from which Strauss's and Rosen's critiques are taken) have not penetrated the Gehause of linguistic rules on which such analytic philosophy is based, then you are probably not going to persuade [Sanchez]. Rosen undermines the basis for the exclusive or universal legitimacy of the rules on which analytic logic is based in _Limits of Analysis_, which is what philosophers since Nietzsche have done in response to neo-Kantianism. The response of Continental neo-Kantians has been to historicize Kantianism. Strauss of course wrote his dissertation under a neo-Kantian positivist, Ernst Cassirer. The analytic philosophers you mentioned have a great deal in common with neo-Kantian positivism, and you might therefore look at Strauss early work, especially _Spinoza's Critique of Religion_, to see how Strauss reacted to such positivism.
But if he insists the rules are the rules and will not admit the the big rule has its locus outside the set of logical rules he is using, then he is not going to admit that the ultimate rule, the Grundnorm, on which the rules are based is (a) untrue or (b) relative to the system on which it is based."

Which I think gets it about right. Sanchez attempts to point out logical fallacies in Rosen's fact/value distinction -- which of course Rosen made only as an example to show the conundrum positivism finds itself in -- i.e., Sanchez did not address the substance or truth of the issue but rather the form. Rosen would simply reply that Sanchez had not dealt with the main issue, namely, if positivism (or "naturalistic positivism", whatever the hell that means!) is true it is meaningless and why should we believe something that, if true, is literally, under its own terms, without meaning, and if it isn't, then of course it isn't, and the entire edifice falls.

Posted by: Rob | Link to this comment | 10-24-03 8:14 PM
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I see your point, Rob, and thanks for the post. But what I really like about McCumber's piece is that it avoids the neverending mutual legitimization that analytics and continentals get stuck in and traces their disagreements to some fundamental philosophical issues. The great benefit of that approach is that it lets us have a philosophical, rather than tribal, discussion of the issues.

Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 10-25-03 10:31 AM
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