“I Must Break You” (Updated)

[I promise, this is the last one on the matter, but I can’t resist, simply can’t – sorry it’s a bit long, but not as long as the original exchange.]

There’s rarely so much obvious hesistation followed by a resolution as in Alexei’s “What the hell, I’ll add my two cents here too” – but who am I to talk here? I would have probably done the same thing in view of so many “uncharitable” readings of Kant, hold on to this word, we’ll see it in a second. Since we know already why Levi hates Kant so much – I think his initial hesitation in that post was justified, it’s honest to admit it, but still unwise vis-a-vis an ongoing debate – it’s easier to process the following exchange. Before we dive into it, I’d like to say that I’ve really enjoyed reading it, even though in most cases siding with Alexei, I did agree with Levi on some points, even if he was coming very close to a really serious critique of Kant’s argument and never really quite got there.

So after an ininital back and forth following the fateful “What the hell” we get this affected remark from Levi:

At any rate, it seems to me that only a deeply uncharitable reading would begin from the premise that I am confusing theory and metatheory or am somehow the victim of a mere interpretative error. This is a nasty habit among Continental philosophers, where it is concluded that any disagreement with a particular thinker indicates a failure to interpret that thinker correctly, rather than a real issue (no matter how misguided) with the claims of the thinker.

Let me translate:

At any rate” – I am close to being done with this conversation, I am tired of yelling my position at you, consider withdrawing from this exchange. “A deeply uncharitable reading” – philosophy is not about arguments, it’s about feelings – I feel that my position is correct and you’re not giving me the necessary affect in your praise of my great new philosophy, I feel hurt and offended by your stubborn insistence that I don’t understand Kant. “The victim of a mere interpretative error” – are you calling me stupid? I wrote a book about Kant, therefore I cannot be wrong. Disagreeing with my reading of Kant is equal to calling me stupid because, being very intelligent, I cannot be wrong, which means that you are wrong and you know it, and yet you insist on disagreeing with me… “Nasty habit” – you, Alexei, are just like all of them, Continental types, rude and stubborn in your logic and your argumentation. You are also naive because you are all about your “book reports” and your careful readings and analysis. I wish you stopped.

Where to go from here? Well, the best way is to attack, to move forward from a hesitant hint to a full-blown accusation – So there goes Levi:

The theory/metatheory argument indicates either a) that you don’t understand the relationship between theory and metatheory as it functions in transcendental arguments (the soundness of the theory functions as a premise in the transcendental argument), or b) that you’re simply attempting to dodge the issue by situating your interlocutor, me, in a position of ignorance as being too dense to understand this material (references to not having read certain material have abounded in this discussion).

Translation: “Either you are calling me stupid, or you are stupid yourself, otherwise how else can we be in disagreement?”  I mean this is classic, friends, I am sure Levi is a cool relaxed fellow in person, but this just comes across as some junior high “dissing” of your opponent. What would Alexei do? (WWAD)

Levi, I’ve never claimed that you’re dense, nor that you’re ignorant, nor have I attempted to dodge issues. If I’ve decided not to discuss something, it’s only because I used my best judgment and decided that it’s not relevant to our discussion. I stand by these decisions. If you feel differently, please take one example and show me that it is in fact relevant. I’d be happy to elaborate on it.

Oh common, Alexei – give me something to work with here, are you just going to take it without a fight?

Now, down to business.

I guess you are seriously not interested in a cat fight. So sad. Let’s see Alexei’s determination and commitment to an argument and not to how one feels about it be crushed:

At any rate, the claims you attribute to me with respect to false theory indicate to me that you’re arguing against someone else or don’t have the faintest clue as to what, exactly, I am claiming, as I have never suggested that the fact that a theory turns out to be false indicates that the metatheory must be false (such an idea wouldn’t even occur to me).

The main logic here is following – learn, young debaters – you say that something I said is wrong, but it is not wrong, because nothing I say can be wrong, therefore it is right, or what you attribute to me is not what I said, because what I said cannot be wrong.

Alexei senses the end:

But honestly. If you think I’m just missing the point, perhaps we should call a truce. Or — novelties of novelties — explain yourself better so that I understand.

That would be too easy, wouldn’t it?  As I said to Alexei in his corner during the break between rounds, “Go for the ribs, with short uppercuts and then withdraw…” Will Levi accept the offered truce? Shake an offered hand of reconciliation?

It’s rather difficult to engage in a discussion with someone who won’t consider the claims you make in support of your position, and that’s what you’ve just done.

Someone certainly needs to slow down and read, but it certainly isn’t me. Notably you glide over the entire argument within those passages, concluding that I’m trying to refute the counterfactual when I’m clarifying just where I see science and mathematics as capable of showing that a metatheory is inadequate.

But yes, absolutely truce.

Ouch, but that’s more like it. Levi gets a couple of punches in after Alexei offers truce and then steps back to accept the offered truce – what a beautiful Machiavellian maneuver! And then, after accepting the truce, he punches him again! Ivan Drago would be so proud:

Honestly, Alexei, where you have been for the last fifty years? What do you think a little book called Speech and Phenomena was all about, all this talk of the signifier has been about, or Lothar Eley’s critique of Husserl was about? Notation, writing, inscription, are not intuitions (though perhaps in the empirical sense, yet even then…). Constructions, yes, inscriptions no. All of this additionally raises the question of whether you’ve understood Kant’s arguments for non-conceptual difference in the first Critique as well.

Alexei is down on the floor, he attempts to get up, he’s slow to get up. I’m sure this is the end of it, who could ever recover from such a crafty sequence of arguments/truces/punches? He tries yet again and again, he’s on his feet, ladies and gentlemen, he is on his feet – he slowly walk over and:

Yes, of course you can say whatever you want to say about Kant. It doesn’t mean anyone is going to take you seriously. I have been reading you charitably, and taking your remarks seriously, and I find it truly disheartening that at the end of all this (how many thousands of words between us?) you come out and say something like, “well you history guys are the death of new, innovative thought, because you actually expect me to know what I’m talking about, and that’s getting in the way of my new innovations. PS you mustn’t know anything about mathematics or the philosophy of math, and I can say that because I’ve looked up a few terms on Wikipedia.”

Oh snap, the crowd is on its feet! But wait, Alexei not only does that awesome “Wikipedia” move, but also sets up a possible nasty return from his opponent with a truly beautiful shot:

I’m really trying hard to avoid cheap shots, Levi. I’m sure I haven’t been totally successful, but I tried. So please try not to throw any at me (if not out of respect for me as an interlocutor, then out of some kind of personal integrity). Even if you are convinced I don’t know what I’m talking about, what good does it do you to say it out loud?

That’s some hysterical tabletop banging Levi, and it doesn’t become you.

Any attack after such an honest gesture of reconciliation and a bit of a reproach is madness, I tell you, madness. Well one can always try, of course – note that all of the citations below come from a single comment:

I would agree that notation is absolutely necessary to any mathematical reasoning, but would not concede the thesis that there is an intuition corresponding to these symbols in Kant’s sense of intuition. Many mathematicians will tell you this themselves, pointing out that in higher order maths what is important is the manipulation of the marks according to rules, not the intuition of what corresponds to these notations.

The majority of philosophers of mathematics rightly recognize that they should side with what maths discovers rather than beginning from a pre-determined normative criteria that then dismisses entire branches of mathematics.

I find myself perplexed as to why you would find this irksome when you continually claim that others are lacking a knowledge of a particular text, rather than simply outlining how you understand the text and the claim. It seems that there’s something of a double standard here. However, the fact that you’re applying your standard inconsistently, doing the very thing you’re criticizing me for doing with respect to your remarks about how well I’ve understood Kant or whether I adopt the “standard reading of Kant” (appeal to authority, and a strangely anonymous authority to boot– “das Man”), does not undermine the wisdom of the principle you’re evoking…

Double standard, you say? I am not making this up, I swear – you indeed just read appeals to authority followed by a reproach of the opponent who apparently appeals to authority in the very same comment – how much more awesome can this get? I need to take a break but I can’t tear my eyes away from this sublime exchange! But several petty remarks are to follow the obvious self-perceived knock-out, just to finish Alexei off, you know, Ivan Drago style:

All this stuff about misinterpreting the text was both insulting and had the air of a petty school professor lecturing an ignorant student.

Translation: “How dare you suggest that I am misinterpreting texts, you Continental scum? How dare you educate me about philosophy? Who do you think you are? Only I am allowed to tell you that you’ve misinterpreted texts! Got it?” Now I am ready to end this discussion, on my terms, not your terms:

At any rate, I think this is a good place to end the discussion because it’s become predictable at this point…

Alexei’s eyes are shot closed with blood, I have to cut his eyes open with a razor: “C’mmon, son, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, let’s get out of here!” Someone named “Rob” steps into the ring, tries to calm Levi down, but it’s not over just yet:

C’mon Levi, this is really absurd; if you are compelled to feel like you you’ve won, then so be it: you’ve won. now that that’s out of the way, and we’ve prejudged the matter to everyone’s satisfaction, maybe we can get back to something important.

Alexei is not done, that son of a gun, he still wants to continue with it, he’s even kind enough to give Levi his satisfaction – didn’t he see that any conversation with Levi ends either with an embrace of like-minded people or spirals down into an exchange that is very much like the one Alexei is now in?

As for the ethics of debate: I take myself to have always explained what I’ve asserted — I’ve even argued for it, your claims to the contrary notwithstanding. Nor have I told you that you have no knowledge of something. I’ve said — and I stand by this — that I don’t think you’ve finished CPR, and that you have misread the dialectic. On the first score, don’t feel bad, few people have read the whole of CPR. So what. It’s only important because I tried to argue that you’ve got a funny reading of the Dialectic, which could be remedied by looking at the Doctrine of Method.

I like this use of condescending remarks because, if Levi indeed never finished the first Critique and he knows it, it must really sting, he’ll never admit to it, of course, but still – nice shot!

If we can’t have a serious discussion about perceived inadequacies in an interpretation, Levi, then I fail to see why you would make any of your thoughts public.

But, to return to the main point at hand, to say that we can’t actually argue the merits of our interpretations in public is just dumb. If you don’t want to argue about Kant, why bring him up? If nothing depends upon your claims, if they are trivial, why make them?

Undermining the very purpose behind Levi’s presentation of his ideas on his blog supposedly for our discussion and assessment? Brilliant! The dynamic of the exchange is completely changing here – Levi is trying to save his face and attempts to go back to the issues which involve long quotations from Alexei’s comments and a number of “I agree with you here” – but Alexei’s not taking the bait, he learned his lessons, he motions Levi to approach and then:

There is a bullet to be bitten here, Levi: either you claim that math doesn’t refer (hence doesn’t need intuition) and thus commit yourself to some form of antirealism (which is by and large the dominant repsonse I think), or you claim that it does refer (how reference works, don’t know), which requires some form of an intuition (Russellian acquaintance and descriptions, Fregean Sinne and Beduetungen, husserlian intuitions, whatever they’re all responses to the problem of reference).

Will Levi admit that he might be mistaken about something? Well, there’s always an annoying strategy of quoting the comments in the body of the comment when responding to the comment that is actually just above the response – Levi’s trying to create comment-chaos, but stay with me, loyal reader, stay with me.

The first sentence of this passage says something quite different than the second and third sentence. The first sentence says that things-in-themselves are not spatial and temporal, while the second and third sentence make the far more modest claim that we cannot know whether they are.

Wait? Is this interpretation of texts? Coming from Levi? What’s going on here? I feel something is coming up, something big – don’t go there, Alexei! Levi continues with his now strangely calm remarks (did he take a nap and had his cookies?) and makes a final move:

Critical philosophy is often characterized in terms of the virtue of modesty (we must ground the possibility of our knowledge and all that). But actually, realism is a far more modest position. Realism begins from the premise that knowledge acquisition is a laborious activity, that often our theories are mistaken, that they must be revised, and that it is an ongoing process.

Levi finally comes out and states openly that he is not a realist, a brave move, I say, not everyone is willing to admit that in order to qualify for being a realist, one must admit that one can make mistakes, well, maybe your time will come, Levi, don’t despair. And where is Alexei? Did he finally realize that this is a useless battle and walked away from it like so many before him? Let’s hope so.

UPDATE: Shahar reminds me of another quotable Ivan Drago jewel: “If he diez, he diez”: 

27 thoughts on ““I Must Break You” (Updated)

  1. Wow Mikhail.

    If World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly the World Wildlife Foundation) hired you to call matches instead of that ass-hat Jerry Lawlor (not to be confused with his distant relative also from the Tennessee region, and whom is not to be named), then the sport of kings would return to glory days it hasn’t seen since the era of the Flair/Rhodes brouhaha.

    I really mean that, for what it’s worth.

  2. I’m going to send in my post as a writing sample with my application for a position at WWE (either wrestling one or wildlife one, I think I can do both)…

    I posted the Ivan Drago video in the beginning now fearing that the younger generation of readers would not get my “I must break you” reference – enjoy!

  3. Levi continues with his now strangely calm remarks (did he take a nap and had his cookies?) and makes a final move:

    Critical philosophy is often characterized in terms of the virtue of modesty (we must ground the possibility of our knowledge and all that). But actually, realism is a far more modest position. Realism begins from the premise that knowledge acquisition is a laborious activity, that often our theories are mistaken, that they must be revised, and that it is an ongoing process.

    Levi finally comes out and states openly that he is not a realist, a brave move, I say, not everyone is willing to admit that in order to qualify for being a realist, one must admit that one can make mistakes, well, maybe your time will come, Levi, don’t despair. And where is Alexei? Did he finally realize that this is a useless battle and walked away from it like so many before him? Let’s hope so.

    Amusing recount of the rhetoric of my discussion with Alexei, Mikhail (and yes I have read the entire Critique, though I’m certainly no expert on Kant). I’m perplexed by your final remark here about realism. What makes you conclude– if I’m reading you correctly –that realism is equivalent to the thesis that one cannot be mistaken where knowledge is concerned? Realism is an ontological thesis about the nature of things, not a claim about the infallability of our knowledge of these things.

  4. Sarcasm is a completely alien idea to you, Levi, isn’t it? From your exchange with me and Alexei, both proceeding in a similar way, I’ve concluded that you, by definition, cannot be wrong about your new philosophy, because you don’t have a sufficient criterion to judge something as either correct or incorrect – see Hegel’s critique of your position in “Sense-certainty”…

    If I say – “I am going to be a burrito-oriented philosopher, and these are my goals and my strategy, and my very own criteria for success,” then no one, and I mean it, no one can tell me whether I am right or wrong – you set up the rules of your very own game, people either play it with you or they don’t, they can’t criticize your game, it’s your own speculative creation. One can judge it to be either exciting or boring, but one cannot judge it to be wrong, therefore you can never be wrong.

    Whether you call your little game “realism” or “burritoism” is really just a matter of imagination and style. You’re doing “aesthetics” like Harman, but you have convinced yourself that you are doing “metaphysics” or “philosophy” – Alexei and I have never met, we’ve read some Kant and criticized your reading of Kant, not even your philosophical musing, yet you came out against us with a vehemence that I cannot really explain.

  5. Pingback: “It is clear that something terrible is coming.” (UPDATED) « Planomenology

  6. Mikhail,

    As far as I can tell, you never criticized my reading of Kant. You made some extremely vague claims about Kant saying that Kant could respond to my claims, that I was misreading Kant, and remarking that it was completely ridiculous to even imagine critiquing Kant as he is a great philosopher without explaining how any of this was the case. In other words, you gestured and waved your hands a lot.

    Alexei is entirely different in his approach. For the most part he carefully his understanding of what is being discussed and his arguments. I lost my temper with Alexei when he began attributing absurd claims to me about Kant or mistakes in interpretation that would be entirely silly and reflect a complete lack of acquaintance with Kant’s texts and arguments.

    I can, of course, be wrong with respect to my metaphysics. I have been pretty forthright as to what I believe I can demonstrate and what I think is still a work in progress. In our previous discussions I have said this repeatedly, saying “yes I can show this, I cannot show that, I’m still working on this, etc.” You came back, as I recall, with something like “aren’t you worried about wasting time and doesn’t bother you that you’re exploring claims without being sure that they’re true?” Absolutely not. How would I discover they’re false without working through them? One thing I’m doing right now is working out the implications of the claims or what follows from the claims, while another thing lies in developing the arguments of the claims. It is a work in progress and is an intuition, not a set of definitively demonstrated claims. If I cite something as a principle, I am not making the claim that something is demonstrated, but am stating a commitment or a philosophical decision. In other words, what I’m doing is very much what Alexei describes in your post on how you learned to love correlationism:

    If there’s one thing I’ve always admired about ‘analytic philosophy,’ it’s that its practitioners never have a problem with saying ‘I have this intuition [in the vernacular sense] about X, and now I want to show that that’s right.’

    I have this intuition and I’m trying to see if it leads anywhere.

    I am not sure what you’re getting at with reference to Hegel’s critique of sense-certainty or how it is relevant here. If you are suggesting that I advocate immediate knowledge through sensations, I can assure you that I don’t. There are plenty of ways in which I would accept being wrong… For example, if my position generated a fatal and irresolvable contradiction, if there was a whole range of phenomena I couldn’t take into account, etc. In the case of Alexei’s claims that Kant could deal with certain issues– in mathematics and physics –I simply was not convinced by his arguments. Indeed he did not present arguments but baldly asserted that Kant could handle these instances. If confronted with an argument that showed how Kant could deal with the issues I raised then I would concede the point.

    Sarcasm generally doesn’t transmit well on the internet due to the absence of non-linguistic cues indicating that one is joking in good spirit. It especially doesn’t translate when the person using the sarcasm has a history of conflict with the person they’re addressing.

  7. As far as I can tell, you never criticized my reading of Kant. You made some extremely vague claims about Kant saying that Kant could respond to my claims, that I was misreading Kant, and remarking that it was completely ridiculous to even imagine critiquing Kant as he is a great philosopher without explaining how any of this was the case. In other words, you gestured and waved your hands a lot.

    If you are so kind as to provide evidence of any of the above behaviors of mine, I would really appreciate it. And please look further back. As for “I’m still working on it” excuse you always throw around, please, spare me – if you’re still working things out, maybe you should think about it some more.

    Alexei is of course much better at patiently arguing with you, but in the end he said that same thing I did: you are misreading Kant in several key points – when it did come to that conclusion, you got irritated and the rest is history, and c’mmon now, don’t pretend as if this is the only time it happened – this is getting really boring…

    I’m sure it can be a sheer coincidence that Alexei and I have a similar incorrect reading of Kant and we’ve just managed to comment about it, but really what are the chances?

    I can, of course, be wrong with respect to my metaphysics.

    No, you cannot – it’s your metaphysics, you create it, you make up the rules, therefore it is enough that you are doing it for it to be correct – read my comment above.

    Sarcasm generally doesn’t transmit well on the internet due to the absence of non-linguistic cues indicating that one is joking in good spirit.

    Sarcasm seems to work just fine for me, otherwise the four people who are regularly reading this blog must be in for a surprise if they are taking me seriously – just because you have a hard time perceiving sarcasm, Levi, doesn’t mean that it “generally doesn’t transmit well” – there’s no shame in having no sense of humor, just don’t project it on others, that’s all…

  8. If you are suggesting that I advocate immediate knowledge through sensations, I can assure you that I don’t.

    Reading over your comment again – grading paper loses its charm after first 5 or so – I wonder if you could say more about this, hopefully in a concise manner and without name-dropping and reference to previously proposed principles – if you advocate mediated knowledge, what kind of mediation is it?

    As per “sense-certainty” and Hegel, I think there you can find some of the best critique of realism – most would say it’s a critique of “naive realism” but I really don’t think there’s any other kind, but I am showing my cards, of course.

  9. Mikhail,

    Take the following examples:


    Way to set up some real straw men there! [Alternative opening: C’mmon now! Give the imagined objectors some real objections!] I feel like a Kantian cop here policing the “internets” and fighting the losing battle. I’m not sure where to even begin here, I’m taking this to be a sort of manifesto, so more details and nuanced analyses to follow, right?

    This is your first response to the post in question. You simply charge me with making a strawman but don’t say how, leaving me with no way of knowing what you’re referring to. Notice how I response in the post to you. I state in the very first sentence that I’m still developing argument and that this is a work in progress.

    You then go on:


    If by “correlationist” you mean someone like Kant, then there’s really nothing wrong with thinking (about) objects without having you thinking about them – if by “objects” you mean “things,” then I’m not sure what’s so great about thing-oriented philosophy. But objects in Kantian traditions are not just things, things have a perfectly fine “empirical realist” treatment for Kant – there are also more interesting issues like “justice” or “freedom” or even “God”…

    As for “endlessly reducing the ontological to epistemic,” then it’s just not so, not in Kant who has a very elaborate system that includes both, yes in his own “correlationist” way. I suppose I am a bit puzzled by crude generalizations when it comes to the position you are apparently working against, that’s all.

    In your second paragraph here you merely assert that Kant has a realist treatment without explaining how or what that might be. I am, of course, familiar with Kant’s empirical realism. However, the crucial question is whether Kant is willing to say that objects themselves, independent of human existence, have the properties his empirical realism attributes to them. The realist says yes, the Kantian, no.

    You go on:


    Mikhail, I’m not sure where you’re getting the impression that I equate Kant’s philosophy to Berkeley’s idealism, nor am I sure as to what the distinction you’re drawing between objects and things is. In reading your remarks it almost sounds as if you didn’t read the post.

    I did read the post, but I did not say you equate Kant and Berkley, I said that your version of Kant is a caricature similar to early misunderstandings of Kant that linked him to Berkley’s tradition. For example, you write:

    This is entirely different than a Kantian making all objects, in the form of appearances or phenomena, depend on mind…

    Kant makes all objects as they appear to us depend on mind? With all due respect, but what does that mean? I am not saying that it is completely false, but it is such a general statement and it can mean so many different things – I am by no means an expert of Kant, but such formulations make me feel uneasy because a rather complex thinker is reduced to a cliche, a catchy term that is consequently easily dismissed…

    You accuse me of a caricature without giving any indication of what you take the proper reading of Kant to be. How is it possible for me to respond to such a claim? Whatever I say I get accused of engaging in caricature without being told just what that caricature is.

    Despite this, things were pretty civil up to that point between both of us. Things began to degenerate pretty quickly after you wrote the Downer Principle post, accusing me of being a victim of dogmatism and wishful thinking when I had continuously repeated that what I was doing was a work in progress and that I still don’t have arguments for a number of the claims I’ve made. Increasingly your remarks on my blog took on the appearance of being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian, and extremely uncharitable to boot. It seemed to me, at least, that you were constantly interpreting my remarks in the most uncharitable and absurd way possible. Eventually you were led to write the following:


    Mikhail, evoking the Downer Principle, surely you recognize that what you’ve just posted is not an argument. As you put it, wishing does not make it so.

    No, not an argument, I’ve said that I will not argue with you anymore, but that’s a great use of the Downer Principle otherwise. I just commented. If you seriously think yourself able to discover a new form of philosophy, to successfully achieve what was not achieved by so many – they were clearly much inferior to you, as they didn’t see what you see, full speed ahead I say, full speed ahead…

    This comment really put me in an impossible position. What you seem to be saying here is that a) any criticism of one of the great philosophers amounts to believing oneself to be a genius such as them, and that either we grant their genius and simply follow what they claim, doing no philosophy, or do work as great as theirs. An impossible set of alternatives and a really ugly comment on your part.

    Things finally ended with this gem:


    I see that my comment never made it through moderation – too bad, I think you’ve seriously gone awry with this whole object-oriented philosophy – Harman is good at it because he writes well, he could be writing fiction easily, your prose, on the other hand, is horribly boring, I hope you realize it soon and do something productive with your life…

    Wow, just wow. What can one say?

    Just a couple more points. First, I hate conflict. I don’t like to fight and I hate these sorts of blog fights. I can’t tell you how much I detest them. I don’t like the way I behave in these sorts of blog fights or when I lose my temper, and I really can’t stand contrarians who just seem intent on giving uncharitable readings and criticisms for the sake of generating conflict. Once our discussion began to go sour– in my view with the Downer Principle post —I know I did not behave in the most upright way towards you. I said snippy things, I insulted you, and allowed my frustration to undermine the discussion. But I also think your rhetoric often leaves a lot to be desired and needlessly causes conflict making it more difficult for your legitimate criticisms to get through. Rather than simply sticking to those criticisms you begin mocking the person you’re talking to, making it very difficult for the discussion to proceed. You call this your “style” and ask others to take it in stride, yet you get very upset when others address you in the same way. The sarcasm just doesn’t translate well in this medium.

    I’ve taken the time to find these quotes from you so that you might have a little perspective as to why I’m touchy towards you in our discussions. In the last two months there have just been so many ugly things said, so many mocking posts, that I expect to be kicked by you every time I turn around. I find it extremely unpleasant and would prefer things not continue that way in the future. Hopefully the well is not so poisoned that that’s impossible. I apologize for the harsh things I have said to you. They were in the heat of the moment and reactions to what I took to be unfair criticisms, insults, mockery, and uncharitable interpretations of my claims.

  10. Yay! A philosophical discussion rather than a fight over who did what to whom!

    If you are suggesting that I advocate immediate knowledge through sensations, I can assure you that I don’t.

    Reading over your comment again – grading paper loses its charm after first 5 or so – I wonder if you could say more about this, hopefully in a concise manner and without name-dropping and reference to previously proposed principles – if you advocate mediated knowledge, what kind of mediation is it?

    As per “sense-certainty” and Hegel, I think there you can find some of the best critique of realism – most would say it’s a critique of “naive realism” but I really don’t think there’s any other kind, but I am showing my cards, of course.

    In my view it’s important to distinguish between naive realism and hopefully what would be a virtuous realism. Naive realism would be the position that the objects we perceive exist in-themselves exactly as we perceive them. I do not advocate this position and believe that knowledge requires a number of mediations.

    First, my problem with this thesis is that it presents knowledge as a passive acquisition generally based on the sense-modality of vision. The idea seems to be that we simply look at the world and the world is as it appears to us.

    By contrast, I think acquiring knowledge is a highly complicated activity that requires engagement with the world. In a number of respects my position, at this point could be described as experimentalist. By this, I mean that we have to isolate things experimentally and then provoke them in a variety of ways to determine how these things behave under controlled circumstances. This requires mediations in the form of theories, concepts, instruments, the refinement of materials, and so on. A lot of the times these experiments fail or generate surprising results. The world speaks back under these controlled conditions, and our theories fall into ruin and we have to go back to the drawing board. However, occasionally our theories hit the real and in those circumstances we can say, in my view, that what we have discovered is real and mind independent, that it exists whether or not anyone is there to know it, and that it belongs to the things-themselves. In my view, what is discovered in these circumstances is not what appears, but rather the causal mechanisms or powers that exist in various things.

  11. Levi, I appreciate you taking time and finding the evidence of my “gesturing” – and I do see how my style differs from Alexei’s indeed, however to say that my comments had absolutely no merit because some gesturing took place might be going too far, we’ve never agreed to have a Kant 101 discussion – you assume that I know what I’m talking about and I assume that you do know it as well, for all the abuse/mocking/offense etc etc, it’s really about issues and not persons, I think I’ve always stated it up front, even if I often deviated from my own stated strategy and went for a cheat shot.

    I believe I apologized for that last one where I called your style “boring” but I did it in private as I felt that it was really a personal matter and had little to do with arguments, but since I stated it publicly maybe it wasn’t the best strategy.

    You’re correct, I often gesture and claim that being abusive and mean is just my “style” in a take-it or leave-it sort of way and it often bothers me as well and I really don’t think it’s a good way of dealing with opposition, but then again I believe that the internet medium is quite artificial and to take these exchanges too seriously is to sound affected and unnecessarily invested into something that is rather fleeting.

    Now, of course, I can’t guarantee that things would not get heated if we were talking about these issues in person, but I think it would have been a very different type of a conflict, wouldn’t it? Seriously though, can you give me an example of one big blog fight that resulted in any sort of an amicable solution or even a conversion?

    Look, with all my venom and sarcasm and “style” I do appreciate the fact that I have a chance to discuss philosophy with other intelligent bloggers, if I didn’t feel like I want to be bothered, I’d go back to doing whatever it is I was doing before the era of blogs, I suppose it would be writing anonymous letters to editors of various newspapers…

  12. Mikhail,

    Why don’t you go ahead and delete the post requesting evidence and the post I wrote providing that evidence. You’re right, I’m not being entirely fair and I played a large role in how the discussion degenerated. I apologize for the role I played in all that. I would very much prefer to let bygones be bygones and to go back to just discussing things. I will try hard to accept that this is your style and that there is no hostility behind it, but it is meant in a good natured way. (this post can be deleted too)

  13. [I corrected the error and erased your comment pointing it out]

    I appreciate the short concise version of your project here, or part of it, I think it’s a matter for a new post. I do think, however, that Alexei’s insistence on theory/metatheory was interesting because I feel that that matter got sort of sacrificed in the heat of the battle. So maybe it’ll come back in a different disguise.

    As for Kant and his shortcomings, I think my general issue with reading your exchanges with Alexei was a very simple one: having been educated in the period, I saw a number of brilliant references to critiques of Kant that have already been formulated and presented, in a sense, the very project of Kant’s philosophy is gone when Hegel dies, not gone-gone, of course, but incorporated by Hegel, of course there are neo-Kantian later and all, but to choose Kant as a target is to give his influence today a rather large power it does not really have – that’s my personal view, I’m not going to argue for it with examples, it will take too long, think of it as my hunch.

    This is what I find puzzling in your and Harman’s rhetoric: for all of its celebration of creativity, originality and just-do-it-ness (all noble characteristics that I appreciate), it needs these enemies like “correlationists” to kill off, to overcome, to show up – why? I wonder. That’s all. I think I and others I assume might be more perceptive to your position if it doesn’t begin with such a strange embrace of the good old Continental tactic of “everyone else before me was wrong” – I’m all for new philosophy, I would be much more supportive if you or anyone else just said: “Hey, I’m tired of what I’ve been studying all these years, I want to just think without limitations, I will not try to disprove them wrong, I’ll just set them aside and see where it gets me” – of course, you will invent some wheels that are already “on the market” so to speak, or maybe you’ll come up with something original, there’s way to know, but it’s not going to be easy if you go public with it. I know it’s tempting, you have a blog and an audience, but maybe I’m just an old-school type with a vision of an original genius sitting at his desk quietly writing original thoughts down and then shocking the world (preferably posthumously)…

  14. Mikhail,

    I think I’m far more driven by the epistemological issues than Graham is, which is to say I take them very seriously. In fact, I think I’m haunted by them. In my book Kant is one of the heroes. There I try to work my way out of Kant, but I argue that the Kantian argument can’t simply be dismissed but must be responded to. I’m no longer satisfied, however, by my arguments in the book. I think you’re right about the Kant-Hegel relation. For me, Kant is not the key target. It’s somewhat accidental that this discussion ended up revolving around Kant (why target Kant? where are all this Kantians?). For me the target is correlationism, which I think is much broader than Kant. So the real target would be the oridinary language philosophers of the Anglo-American school, the postmoderns, etc. A lot of the hostility you’ve been noting in my own rhetoric is that I’m just so close to these trends of thought (recovering Lacanian, wrote my thesis on Derrida and Husserl, wrote another thesis on Heidegger, etc). So a lot of what I’m reacting to is myself.

    I think you’re right about the theory/metatheory distinction. What I would like to see Alexei develop in greater detail is the conditions under which a metatheory can be falsified. When does a metatheory fail and require revision? I think it’s fairly clear that metatheory must share some relationship to theory and that theory should trump metatheory (rather than legislate or police metatheory), but maybe I’m wrong.

    There’s an image of Kant late in life that I love. When he was working on his final piece, the Opus Postumum, he is reputed to have worked on large pieces of brown paper. Each time he would write a remark he would fold the paper over to write the next remark. It seems that he wanted to be able to demonstrate the logical entailments between each claim and presume nothing. I think this is an admirable goal.

  15. Powerful stuff all around.

    I dimly remember having a beer with Levi in Columbus Ohio (is that right?), and I’m pretty sure he does have a pretty good sense of humor.

    I have the same reaction as Levi when I’m involved in conflict that reaches a certain point. I just feel ill.

    For what it’s worth, neo-Kantian philosophies of mathematics (“intuitionism”) are constitutively verificationist, that is truth conditions = proof conditions, where proof conditions are understood to be constitutively something humans can grasp. This leads to one half of Beneceraff’s dilemma. Constructivist, neo-Kantian, philosophies of math have great epistemologies but horrible semantics (and usually end up entailing that mathematical practice has to be revised radically).

    And Michael Friedman (“A Parting of the Ways”) makes a very good case that Heidegger and Carnap can only properly be understood as arising out of different anti-Hegelian “back to Kant” schools (Southwestern and Marburg schools, respectively). So everything really is to some extent a set of footnotes to Kant.

    This being said, big arguments about Kant exegesis might obscure the real philosophical disagreements. I get the feeling that Levi (and I’m not an expert in these things at all) has thought his way from his previous work to the broadly Kantian issues that gave rise to presuppositions of that work. But then this gets into a debate on what Kant actually meant (I’m being very “analytical” here in separating philosophy from history of philosophy; sometimes this is a good thing?).

    Anyhow, as an analytical philosopher that is learning from both of you, I hope you continue the dialogue, even if the gods of internet snark (who demand cruel obeisance from Mikhail and myself) intervene to no good end periodically.

  16. Jon, just a side note, when I was reading your comment, I vividly recalled a scene from some years ago – it was set in a bar/music venue, the show was over, people were finishing their drinks, I knew the owner so people were sort of hanging around after the closing, these two huge fellows all of a sudden grab each other’s shirts and start going at it (more wrestling than punching) and no one does anything, just sort of watches – I ask someone why no one is interfering, thinking that it’s probably because they are huge, but the response comes: ah, they do it all the time, had a bit too much to drink, they’ll be hugging and announcing their undying friendship to each other in a minute. I waited to see what happened, and indeed they were hugging and apologizing for torn shirts next time I looked…

  17. Yes, but–

    Was one of those bar brawlers carefully fitted and trained to be the consummate fighter, with his heart rate and punching power constantly measured via computers during his workouts?

    Did this contrast with the other brawlers’ rugged, old-fashioned style (e.g., weight training with logs and chopping wood in the bitter cold mountains)?

    And did one of the brawler’s promoters – a Soviet official- insults him, claiming that by allowing an American to fight so admirably on Russian soil, that that brawler is disgracing the Soviet Union?

    A lot more is at stake when Kant exegesis arrives.

    [Note: I am clearly not above plagiarizing wikipedia.]

  18. I don’t recall the brawl in so much detail, of course, but I do believe one the fighters had a ridiculous haircut in which his short bleached hair were standing perfectly up defying physics (or demonstrating secret Soviet advances in hair product development)…

    Also, I think one of them might have mentioned Maimon and how he basically destroyed Kant’s philosophy and the only reason we don’t really talk about it is because he wrote his critique of Kant in taverns on bar napkins (or their respective contemporary equivalents), proving once again that the best philosophy always comes to life in a company of a drink.

  19. Levi, I hear you and I’d like to get back to the theory/metatheory issue as well, if Alexei has time. I see your point about overcoming of Kant and I do think working things out on a blog is probably the best strategy – so I take back my accusation that you withdraw from debate by arguing that you’re “still working on it” – in fact, I do this myself very often, only my observations are sort of small pieces of something I don’t know what it is.

    I think I might go as far as to say that if we think about Kant’s own time, his philosophy was successful only in a sense that it caused so much discussion, but was it really successful in a sort of a hegemonic way? Was it “the” philosophy for a considerable time to be considered a kind of oppressive tradition that, say, Aristotelianism was in the early modern times? Not really. I mean Henrich’s “From Kant to Hegel” or even Beiser’s “From Kant to Fichte” are not really time periods, are they? That’s the whole point of that sort of periodization – there’s not real “reign” of Kant’s philosophy, it gets itself entangled in all sorts of debates right away…

    One thing is certain, at least for me, after Kant to disregard epistemological/metatheoretical issues is not just naive, it’s dangerous (I’d say mostly politically, as I believe dogmatism leads to oppression very easily), so I’m glad the old Prussian is still making us all nervous.

  20. Jon Cogburn writes,

    For what it’s worth, neo-Kantian philosophies of mathematics (”intuitionism”) are constitutively verificationist, that is truth conditions = proof conditions, where proof conditions are understood to be constitutively something humans can grasp.

    I wonder if this isn’t a little too strong a formulation, since it seems to run together truth and meaning, which aren’t quite the same (albeit intimately connected) — unless one is a doctrinaire verificationist. I’m certainly no expert, and I’m totally prepared to be corrected, but it strikes me that intuitionism — even Brouwer’s hypertrophied version — claims that an assertion is truth-valueable (decidable) when a proof could be constructed to show either its falseness or truth. IN the absence of some possible proof, which may not be possible here and now for the lack of certain techniques, a statement may not be meaningless, but it is certainly not something that can be experienced and hence not something that can be true.

    It strikes me that scientists in most other disciplines do actually say something similar I.e. that a theory is only significant to the extent that it can [1] make predictions about states of affairs and [2] suggest the conditions/methods under which these predictions could be confirmed or falsified. Condition [1] seems to secure the meaningfulness of a theory; condition [2] it’s truth or falsity. But decidability doesn’t say anything about the meaning of the claim being decided.

    So, it’s not so much a verificationist theory, since the meaning of a statement isn’t identical to its conditions of verifiability, and since you can also show that one cannot construct any proof for a given assertion (false statements are meaningful too — minimally they point out that it is absurd to state them).

  21. Actually Heyting’s intuitionism is where proof is really equated with truth (and by Heyting semantics a proof of a negation is a proof that there is no effective procedure to construct a proof of the claim). Intuitionist (in the sense of failure to assert the law of the excluded middle) mathematics all pretty much follows this.

    What they got from Brouwer were Kantian reasons for not asserting the law of excluded middle (below), though Brouwer himself was much more Kantian in thinking that mathematics described mental constructions and not proofs (I want to study this more, as Goedel’s theorems make it more plausible in I think interesting ways).

    All this being said your point is correct that almost all mathematical intuitionists since Dummett modalize in the sense that a claim is true if one *could* construct a proof of it. But part of how they keep the verificationism in light of this is just by not asserting the law of the excluded middle. They don’t have to say for any claim that it either is or is not verifiable, precisely because they equate truth conditions and verification conditions and don’t say that every claim is either true or false.

    Conversely, the reason you don’t assert excluded middle is because you are a verificationist. Say I assume that a function does not exist and get a contradiction. This is not the same as actually constructing the function. All I have constructed is a proof to absurdity of the claim that the function does not exist. So I know that it is not the case that it is not the case that the function exists. Now suppose that the law of excluded middle held. The either it is the case that the function exists, or it is not the case that the function exists. But then by disjunctive syllogism (since we know that it is not the case that it is not the case that the function exists) it would follow that the function actually exists.

    But why would anyone care that the disproof that a function exists entails that that function exists in classical logic. Why is this problematic? Let me be as clear as possible here. It is only problematic if you think that to assert that a function exists is to commit oneself to being able to construct that function.

    Now obviously, various forms of verificationism are consistent with this commitment, but people who accept Heyting’s semi-formal semantics (and one of the cool things about intuitionism is that there are all sorts of ways to rigorize Heyting’s accounts) think that the reason the assertion that a given mathematical object exists commits you to being able to construct that object is because mathematical objects are in fact identical to some kind of epistemically accessible construction (thus “constructivism”). But this is verificationism.

    Proofs that cannot avoid excluded middle or its equivalents such as double negation elimination are called “strictly classical” by some logicians and “non constructive” by all mathematicians. Classical mathematicians don’t like non constructive proofs because they are less informative. Intuitionist mathematicians think they are invalid (unless the relevant predicates are decidable, but that’s another story). But the only reason intuitionists think they are invalid is, as above, because they in some sense equate truth with the existence of a canonical procedure.

    Vis a vis your point about negations being meaningful too, it is important to realize that in Heyting Semantics even logical falsehoods have proof conditions (of course no proofs will ever meet those conditions) which are trivial to state recursively, e.g. a proof of (P & ~P) is any procedure r that yields procedures s and t such that s proves P and t yields ~P. Of course there is no such procedure and as a matter of logic cannot be one, but the claim still has proof conditions.

    It’s late and at the end of a long day. I’m sorry if the above is unclear or misses your point. I find this stuff interesting.

  22. Oops the first sentence in the fifth paragraph should have read, “But why would anyone care that the disproof of the claim that a function does not exist entails (in classical logic) that that function actually exists?”

    Sorry, see previous ending about it being late.

  23. Thanks for the clarification Jon. It was very helpful indeed, especially since I hadn’t made the connection between rejecting the law of excluded middle and accepting some form of verificationism.

  24. But you are absolutely right that the key question concerns how to modalize things, and then this modalizing either ends up weakening the verificationism significantly or, barring that, totally mangling mathematics (for example, via strict finitism). The weakening verification side of things totally fits into your initial intuition.

    This may be just a profound instability in the position (one can read Fitch’s Paradox that way). I have an intuition that Schopenhauer actually said some helpful things in this regard, but it may not be born out.

  25. I would love to hear, Jon, how Schopenhauer fits into the mix, when you have a few spare moments. The suggestion sounds fascinating, especially in connection to Fitch’s paradox. I had sorta thought that this latter paradox was another way of proving that modal logics are explosive (making it something like Russell’s paradox for non-classical logics). But again, I’m really no expert, and could be very far off base.

  26. Pingback: Hilarious Causation « Perverse Egalitarianism

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