“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

From Cynicism to Allergy Medicine

What is the post-modernity (as opposed to postmodern) philosophical style? The top way of being right since the late eighteenth century has been cynicism. I am smarter than you because I can see through you better than you can see through me.

After this, if there is an after, philosophy in post-modernity (I would say an ecological era) must be a kind of Benadryl: allowing me to tolerate greater levels of contradiction and ambiguity.

This is one of the merits of Derrida, notwithstanding the authoritarian argument that a divine authority is impossible (the “radical atheism” strain).



Anonymous said...

Funny how this sounds like a recognizable distortion of the politics of realism seen in the Unity of Science movement that grew from logical positivism. E.O. Wilson suggested in 1998 that the ethos of "unblinking realism" and "the search for pure standards" were a failure, but only due to "ignorance of how the brain works." On that view, this ignorance is why "the most valiant concerted effort ever mounted by modern philosophers" cannot move forward.

Is the post-modern philosophical style a response to cynicism about the ethos of science? Cynicism about the politics of brain science and mathematical physics and "the valiant concerted effort" of modern philosophers?

I don't think we've gotten away from that cynicism just yet. It is the ecological realms opened up by that cynicism, combined with the legacy of toxic connections to politics, that give the new philosophical style its aversion to and obsession with ethics.

Will the new philosophical style attach itself to a new scientific ethos? That's the big question, I think.

But I would say that the Principle of Tolerance from Carnap points to a similar problem to the Benadryl image. How do people with conflicting philosophical styles (termed linguistic frameworks and such by Carnap) come to agreement about the truth of their statements?

Perhaps OOO demonstrates a new valuation of the ethos of science? Y'all are using old words in new ways -- "unblinking realism" turns into withdrawal, and the "search for pure standards" turns into aesthetics. If you happened to also be genius-level mathematical physicists, we'd be having poetic-mathematical-aesthetic discussions of simultaneity (Graham begins to go there with the Occasionalism, but that should go so much deeper, I think).

Anonymous said...

I intended to remark about adapting the Principle of Tolerance to this image of Benadryl. But I got carried away and forgot to mention the PoT.

Gotta love the PoT.

Henry Warwick said...

Philosophy has been around what, 2500 years? To this day, no one agrees on anything. I would consider that either a catastrophic failure, or a mistaken set of priorities (why argue when consensus on even the smallest questions is impossible?)

Anonymous said...

To be more precise:

First, I think Carnap's principle of tolerance can improve the social structure of cynicism. "I am smarter than you because I can see through you better than you can see through me" changes into something more diplomatic. "Now that you've clarified what you're saying, I can agree that what you're saying is true if one adopts your framework. However, I prefer the following framework, which has the following virtues that your framework seems to lack. And what do you have to say about that?!"

Second, the principle of tolerance can improve the social structure of contradiction and ambiguity by at least promoting a milieu of speaking as clearly as we can about contradiction and ambiguity.

But you're probably thinking I'm coming from left field with this spandrel from analytic philosophy. Allow me to disambiguate.

The distorted, "received unwisdom" about Carnap is that he thought "philosophy is nothing more than technical logic, entirely stripped of any human interest... Metaphysics should be overthrown. Ethics should be abolished. Even epistemology is tainted with psychology and must be discarded."

In response to this distortion, Richard Creath (one of the world's foremost Carnap scholars) points to the social implications of the principle of tolerance:

"Central to tolerance is the idea that traditional social concepts such as duties, rights, property, the state, and marriage, can be refined or even replaced. I think Carnap quite clearly saw his philosophical programme in opposition to traditional wys of thinking and as providing the basis for social reform. He quite clearly saw the explosive power of tolerance."

THIS IS A PHILOSOPHICAL STYLE. One can even understand Latour's work on modes of existence as an extension of Carnap's 1932 innovation, although admittedly one that branches into social theory rather than sticking to the comforts of logic and science. What I want to point out is that Carnap himself did not view the principle of tolerance as something confined to logic and science. He believed it opened up "a boundless ocean of possibility" (his phrase) for collaborative conceptual clarification.
quotes taken from Richard Creath 2009, "The Gentle Strength of Tolerance: The Logical Syntax of Language and Carnap's Philosophical Programme"

Anonymous said...

Reblooged agilekeys' comment on Carnap's principle of tolerance here:
I too think that Carnap's ideas have not been explored and acknowledged as much as they should be.