Saturday, January 25, 2003

Disillusionment

I noticed that Shelly at Burningbird is very down on blogging. She says here that from where she sits blogging is pretty much all about:

"entertainment and profundity. That's all this is -- smoke and mirrors.It's about links and popularity and one upping each other, and posting and running around seeing who links to us and checking our ranks. How many of you check your popularity in the morning before you read your so-called 'favorite' weblogs? There's no ethics or honor, friendship, pathos or beauty in the hypertext link; it just is. But we use it as a judgement of worth, and that's the saddest thing I've seen since high school. And I quit high school."

That was about two weeks. Her life was a bit topsy turvey then.

But the issue remains. Why blog?
Well you ain't going to win the popularity stakes with philosophy.com. Its a very low traffic site with no links at all, apart from my own----as far as I know. So there must be other reasons than smoke and mirrors, entertainment, links and popularity.

Why blog? It can be answered by another question why write? We write because we have something to say, in this case about philosophy and the contribution it can make to public life. This involves learning towrite in a different kind of way to academic philosophy, but not to popularity and seeking links for their own sake.

Friday, January 24, 2003

Richard Rorty

Much has has been made of the very real and debilitating Continental/analytic divide in academic philosophy. In response many talk aboutneeding to build bridges across the divide and how they appreciate the bridge building currently being built by postanalytic philosophers.

It is, therefore, suprising that Richard Rorty, who has done of lot of bridgebuilding should be so quickly dismissed. More considerate commentators say that he leaves them cold; or even though they-----eg.,purse *lips* square jaw appreciate aspects of pragmatism, American pragmatists like Richard Rorty doesn't appeal.

What Rorty has been able to achieve from the perspective of someone who was nearly ground down into the dirt and hung out to dry by analytic philosophers in Adelaide whilst doing their PhD in the philosophy institution is an opening to other ways of doing philosophy. After Rorty you can discuss Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidgger, Adorno, Derrida, Foucault etc legitimately. After Rorty you can talk about philosophy needing to transform itself. After Rorty you can talk about philosophy allied to literature rather than science. You may not agree with lots of things that Rorty says but at least he has opened the windows of the philosophy institution and allowed some fresh air in. That's important because it was getting to be so stale in the philosophy institution that it was becoming difficult to breathe. Though philosophy was a part of the Humanities in the liberal university it saw itself as a part of the natural sciences. Analytic philosphy drew a stark divide between philosophy (ie., scientific philosophy) and the rest of the humanities including literary criticism.

In his paper ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHY AND TRANSFORMATIVE PHILOSOPHY this state of affairs is addressed by Rorty He says that the 1960s left movement did not change the way that philosophers understood their discipline. They became politically active and continued on with doing analytic philosophy and concentrating on the hard core specialities ---metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind and science. Everything else, including the history of philosophy was seen to wimpish and girlish-----it contributed to opinion rather than knowledge much like literary criticism. Rorty says:

"..analytic philosophers would like, above all else, to feel that they are adding bricks to the edifice of knowledge...That sense of definitiveness and finality is what analytic philosophers yearn for." This is "deeply ingrained in the culture of analytic philosophy" and it leads to "the ideal of the pursuit of non-time-bound, unrevisable, truth."

Consequently, analytic philosophers dismiss histories of philosophy as being more like literary criticism than genuine philosophy " because it invites intellectual historians to tell another competing story about the same trends, just like setting up a literary canon invites the next generation of critics to revise that canon."

Rorty argues that the division between analytic and non-analytic philosophy roughly parallels C. P. Snow's contrast between the scientific and literary culture. Rorty says that:

' Most people who go in for what analytic philosophers call "Continental philosophy" are willing, and often eager, to fuzz up the boundaries between philosophy, intellectual history, literature literary criticism and culture criticism.They are relatively indifferent to the results of the so-called hard sciences....The typical reader of Heidegger and Derrida views the hard sciences as handmaidens of technological progress, rather than as providing windows through which to glimpse reality unveiled."

Most of these readers would concur with Nietzsche giving priority of art and literature to science, the need to view science through the eyes of art, and the emphasis on an art-centred education rather than a science-centred education. In an art centred-culture the poets determine our ends whilst the scientists merely provide the instruments and means to realize these ends.

Rorty's use of C. P. Snow's two cultures thesis is useful because it highlights the differences between analytic and continental philosophy in a way that is readily understandable. So what do those in the humanities do? According to Rorty they tell stories about past transformations in human culture:

"these are stories about, for example, how the Greeks got from from Homer to Aristotle, how literary criticism got from DR., JOhnson to Harold Bloom, how the German imagination got from Schiller to Habermas, how Protestantism got from Luther to Tillich, and how feminists got from Harriet Taylor to Catherine MacKinnon.These narratives tell us how human human beings managed to change their most important self-descriptions. All such narratives are endlessly contestable, and endlessly revisable in the light of more recent changes."

Such narratives are then woven together with one another and the resulting tapestry is what Hegel called 'holding our time in thought'. Rorty says that this alternative understanding of philosophy gives us a plausible understanding of what humanities department in our universities offer their students:

" By telling stories about past transformative encounters members of these departments hope to put students in a better position to have similar encounters of their own...Holding one's time in thought is the humanities what puzzle-solving is to the sciences."

What they are doing is making things hang together by telling stories about how past transformations do or do not hang up. Rorty says the "greatest non-analytic philosophers of our centurry, Dewey and Heidegger, spend a lot of their time telling stories about decline and about progress, stories which led their readers to reconceive themselves and their surroundings."

This account by Rorty opens a doorway into an other way to write philosophy to the analytic conception of system building scientific knowledge by professionals through solving deep philosophical puzzles within a materialist program of scientific research. It opens up a doorway through which you step through to make contact with people trying to put the old and new together, trying to make sense of historical and cultural change, trying to make human life hang together in a rapidly changing world.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Interesting blog

I just came across this by chance. purse lips square jaw. Its by Anne Galloway. She has a post on the continental and analytic philosophy conflict called 'The Philosophical Divide'. Have a read. It has some very good insights.

For an institutional, post-analytic attempt to cross this divide, see Centre for Post-Analytic Philosophy. Its burb says:

"For the greater part of this century dialogue between the two traditions has been rare and, on the whole, unhelpful. But there is now an increasing recognition that analytic and continental philosophers genuinely ought to have something to say to one another.

Although the crisis in analytic philosophy and the need for rapprochement between analytic and continental philosophy are fairly widely recognized, there has until now been no institutional forum within which dialogue between the two traditions can be fostered and from which a new, "post-analytic" philosophy might arise."


This puts the finger on the pulse of academic philosophy. There is a huge divide and my experience in it, whilst writing my PhD was that there was little comprehension between the camps and a deep hostility. It was an enemy/relationship that bordered on an unspoken---cold-- war.

Those who help to construct bridges across the divide --eg. Richard Rorty--should be affirmed (as well as criticised,) because they are going to be treated with suspicion by those on both sides of the philosophical divide.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

A paradox
Have you noticed this?

Those liberal warriors (eg., Bob Carr's mob in NSW) who are fighting the war on terrorism as a force of oppression that threatens human freedom and democracy are compelled, during the course of the fight, to forsake freedom itself. They are foresaking the very thing---freedom---that we are fighting for.

It is necessary, the liberal warriors for the new global order say, because the terrorists could be anyone, they could strike anywhere and at any time. The enemy looks like one of us but he/she cannot be properly identified. They add that the figure of the enemy is the funadamentalist opponent of liberal tolerance.

(It could even be the Greens, according to some in the Australian media. Rarely is the enemy Christian right-wing fundamentalists).

Many have noticed the paradox. Some philosophers give it a name:self-destructive dialectics.

Pray tell me again. What are we fighting for?

Law and Order? Security? Others say it is to kill as many Taliban soliders, Al Qaeda members, terrorists or Iraqis as possible--take your pick as those to be killed changes every six months.

What then makes our life worth living in a world of blind fate? What do we dedicate our lives to in this new order?

Survival? Mere survival?

What a bleak life we are fighting to defend from the enemy

Monday, January 20, 2003

Richard Rorty

Here is a link to a recent text by Richard Rorty, the American pragmatist philosopher, that was listed on his home page.

The text is called, The Decline of Redemptive Truth and The Rise of a Literary Culture, and it can be found here.

When I have some time I will summarize the argument and comment on it. It is very appropriate to both the postmodernist debate that flares up every now again in the Oz blogworld and to the recent debate about the writing of Australian frontier history. The concept of truth is a key assumption in both debates.
Conservatism

Some recent weblogs at public opinion have been exploring conservatism in an attempt to get a bearing on, or understanding of, what Australian conservatism stands for, or means, these days .

Some work on this 'understanding what conservative means' has already been done by other webloggers. For instance, John Jay Ray at Dissecting Leftism is happy with a minimalist definition of conservatism as suspicion of big government. Though this does capture the limited government stance of conservatism, it fails to distinguish conservatism from non-statist forms of liberalism---eg. libertarianism.

At Philosoblog Jim Ryan has this to say:

"Being conservative means accepting traditional values on trust; until you come across enough evidence to reject one of these values, you will not. But if you cling to traditional values, come what may, no matter what the evidence against them, then you might just be a reactionary."

This is a reflective conservatism not a dogmatic one. If you are dogmatic you are a reactionary.

This has been picked up by One good turn in terms of the importance of tradition.

"It is not clear to me, however, what it would mean to accept a value (traditional or otherwise) on trust. How would you evaluate whether the value holds up to the evidence? Let's take, for example, the value of freedom of association. I suppose the relevant evidence would be the good and bad things that come from having this value. But if we try to judge in this way, where are we getting our notion of good and bad from? Wouldn't this be part of our conservative package? As I see it, the problem is that, under this formulation, it looks like we need some fundamental standards grounded independently of the tradition in order to judge the tradition."

He acknowledges that:

" While I do believe that conservatives have an inherent trust in their tradition, and begin from that trust, they should not be satisfied with simply being trusting. Rather than being imitators of the past, we should strive to make the wisdom of the past our own. When we understand why our traditions have taken shape as they have, we become equal to our ancestors, and not simply beholden to them.

To say that we can understand our traditions is to say then that understanding is not fundamentally traditional. Thus I would claim that conservatism is more of a temperament than a philosophy. A conservative looks to tradition as a trustworthy place to find truth, believing that we can only safely venture upon new ground if we can maintain what makes us strong."


This does capture the importance of tradition. But which tradition? We all live within traditions, even liberals. Many people have this temperment of understanding the tradition they live within---even libertarians and Marxists.

What we see in these brief remarks is an unwillingness to characterise conservatism as a political philosophy. Why this reluctance?Could it be that what is taken to conservatism is actually liberalism? In Blinded by the Right the neocon David Brock spells out what he takes to be the core neo-conservative values that he embraced as a result of his confrontations with the political correctness of the academic left in the early 1980s These are:

..."respect for the Constitution, scepticism about government power, defense of privacy and individual liberty, pluralist discourse, civility and restraint." (p. 311)

These are, as Brock acknowledges, classic liberal values. He spend a decade working and writing in the world of Washington politics for the conservative movement he discovered that this movement 'stood more often than not for precisely the opposite of all these salutory values." What he discovered in the partisan politics of the moment was 'the right- wing ideology of exclusion, intolerance, prejudice and hate underneath.' (p. 311)

What conservatism is as a philosophy is very unclear.