[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.
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”: