[Please note that all the posts related to Braver Reading Group are gathered here.]
First Response to Online Reading Group
First, I want to thank Jon and Mikhail for hosting this reading group. It is very gratifying to see my book fulfilling its central purpose of generating discussion, optimally among those who do not usually engage with each other. I take their roles to be hosts and guides, friendly to the sights they’re showing perhaps (why else show it?) but unafraid to point out dusty corners and structurally unsound areas when they find them. And I see my own role not as handing down authoritative rulings, but as a participant in the discussion, perhaps with a few privileges but not occupying a fundamentally different position than other readers.
The Introduction lays out the book’s project and motivation, namely to try to lay a groundwork for dialogue between analytic and continental philosophers. In his comment, Lou Deeptrek questions both the existence of such a divide and the desirability of bridging it. The former concern focuses on a potential caricature of analytic thought as unhistorical when in fact many analytic thinkers may have a very strong grasp of the history of philosophy, and vice versa. Since these go to the heart of the entire work, I want to spend a little time addressing them.
As to the existence of the divide, I find this unquestionable. While significantly less doctrinaire than a few decades ago, there are distinct sets of thinkers (Hegel-Nietzsche-Heidegger-Derrida-Deleuze vs. Frege-Russell-Wittgenstein-Putnam-Kripke), broad methodological differences (book-figure focus vs. article-problem or issue focus), topical emphases (holistic systems vs. distributed niche-work on subjects like philosophy of mind, science, etc.), model preference (literature and the soft sciences vs. the hard sciences), and so on. The demand for a single set of necessary and sufficient definitional features could only produce caricatures, as Simon Glendinning and Hans-Johann Glock have recently shown in exhaustive detail. But that itself is a caricature of definitions. A family resemblance kind of definition, using many of these distinctions as overlapping threads in addition to lines of influence show a clear, if not clean, division. Yes there are many mini-divisions, but the largest and least porous is the overall mutual silence between analytic and continental thought. This division informs JFP ads, journal & conference definitions, departmental identity, and so on.
I singled out a particular attitude toward history as both a paradigmatic difference and a philosophically interesting and motivated one. Certainly, plenty of variation exists among philosophers and, in the last 2-3 decades, a crop of serious historians of analytic philosophy have arisen, many of whose work I gratefully rely on. The reason I focus on this point is that a) it formed a particularly important element in Frege, Russell, and Moore’s creation of analytic philosophy, and b) it harmonized with their rejection of Idealism, making it relevant for this book. My point wasn’t the blanket claim that all analytic philosophers are ignorant of the history of philosophy, but that the ideas motivating the founding of the movement were philosophically hostile to integrating history into metaphysics and epistemology, and largely for realist reasons. I hope that appears much less simplistic.
As to the potential benefits of dialogue, the first thing to say is they will only reveal themselves in the process. When neither side seriously studies, or pays much attention, to the other, neither can legitimately write off the other. For a dismissal to be intelligent and justified, it must be informed as to what it is dismissing and why. My suspicion is that a great deal of knee-jerk dismissal is due to surface impregnability of texts, itself due to lack of familiarity with the ongoing conversation. It is only within this context that questions and answers make sense, hence my book seeks to fill in this background as painlessly as possible. Second, my view here is quite Gadamerian (I discuss this more explicitly in an article on Davidson and Gadamer coming out in an anthology with MIT next year). While prejudices and assumptions are in the final analysis ineradicable, this does not remove the obligation to examine and challenge them; it just makes the task an infinite one. Furthermore, we cannot simply dig them up, turning over the rock of our investigations to stomp out the creepy crawly things underneath; their depth and ubiquity in our thought makes them hard to uncover. The best method for discovering our assumptions lies in the encounter with those who do not share them, those who question what we find unquestionable. Suddenly, the inconspicuous background machinery of our thought snaps into focus and we can catch a glimpse of the vast expanse beyond it. Obviously, we may end up retaining them, but then we will do so wittingly.
Gadamer focuses on texts from the past as the best provocative interlocutors, but many forms of difference will serve. In this way, the isolated and divergent development of analytic and continental thought (like species evolving on different islands) can actually prove beneficial. Discussing an issue with someone who thinks very differently can be far more enlightening, exciting, liberating, and rejuvenating than with someone immersed in the same minutiae of the issue as yourself. Again, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, but this view sketches a very formal outline of the hermeneutic rewards such a dialogue may bring.
This can only take place, of course, if we do talk to each other, a rather difficult project (just as the divergent species will have increasing difficulties producing offspring. OK, I am now going to drop that metaphor; it is suggesting too many disturbing images). I constructed these sets of theses in order to make it possible to converse in a common and mutually comprehensible vocabulary. I also found that, since each great continental thinker likes to come up with her own terms, these theses also help delineate the precise ways each inherits and modifies her predecessors’ ideas, making the book worthwhile for continental specialists as well (I hope). BTW, just for the record, I do consider myself primarily a continental philosopher who reads a lot of analytic rather than the reverse. Not that it matters much (to paraphrase Nietzsche, what is it to us how Herr Braver classifies himself?).
Casey questions the relative merit of both traditions, preferring analytic because its theism and naturalism allow it to answer the Big Questions, whereas continental skepticism (identified with idealism and anti-realism) prevents it from doing so. This is, as Casey admits, operating at a very general, abstract level, where the air is perhaps too thin to support robust conclusions. My main response is to object to the identification of anti-realism with skepticism, and with the claim that neither of these can address the Big Questions. Even if it were the case that continental thinkers generally found them unanswerable and that Casey finds this unsatisfying, this is not a good objection. It seems a prejudice to demand, before the inquiry begins, a substantive answer; we should follow where the inquiry leads. An answer’s (or a non-answer’s) distastefulness does not count against its truth, and finding out that we cannot answer the Big Questions does itself tell us quite a bit about some of those very issues. However, as Hegel points out, it is only Kant’s contrast between noumena and phenomena that enables the distinction between our answers and Truth Itself. I cannot say much more at this point and at this level of generality, but I hope you stick it out at least that far.
Mikhail properly described the project’s goal as frequently using my book as a springboard, chasing any worthwhile tangents that occur. I think it’s safe to say that the discussion of Jon’s presentation of Chapter One succeeds in doing that, leaving me in the rather awkward position of having very little intelligent insight to offer. Most of this goes way beyond my expertise, so I’ll only make a few comments.
Jon very helpfully lays out the theses of the Realism Matrix, and explores some of their logical interrelations. Many of the comments here question how distinct these theses are, whether they can operate independently of each other or not. I’m quite sympathetic with this, and I think they do slide around a bit. The Matrix is meant to be a tool, a lens which brings the thinkers’ interrelationships into higher resolution, and we will find significantly different ways of wielding and bringing them together. Stating them in abstraction leaves them at their least defined and most vulnerable. This is not meant to dismiss these objections and questions—the theses must stand up to examination—as much as to suggest that they will much richer and more robust within their employment than sitting on the shelf. I don’t want to put a damper on this discussion (which isn’t my role anyway), but to ask that we reserve full judgment until we see them in action. Here you can see my continental showing—while I do abstract these ideas and treat them as theses for the sake of exposition, I find that they only come to life within the context of particular thinkers.
Let me respond to some comments individually:
Alexei asks whether R3 Uniqueness entails reductionism (ruling out emergence) and convergence (ruling out incommensurability). Perhaps we could distinguish between a Strong R3 & a weak one. Strong R3 claims that there is a single vocabulary that can account for everything that exists, requiring reductionism and convergence. As science is the most popular choice for the reducing vocabulary, this position often converges with scientism, tho it doesn’t have to. Weak R3 allows for multiple vocabularies and kinds of objects, shrinking the Uniqueness claim to the demand that each discourse yield a single set of true claims, with the unique description of the world as a whole becoming the conjunction of these divergent accounts. I’m not sure that Weak R3 can be maintained, because I don’t know what to do at points of conflict or incommensurable overlap between vocabularies. Putnam I think reads it as strong, since he sees its first rejection in the fact that Kant wields different vocabularies in each of the Critiques, allowing, for instance, no single description of a person’s action (it’s both free and caused).
Daniel wonders why “R1 and R2 imply R3. You could have multiple equally good ways of describing the world, each of which gives you statements which stand or do not stand in a ‘correspondence relation’ to the fixed block of objects that constitute the world.” I think we’d have to push a bit on what “equally good” means here. One popular analysis would say that if two different accounts are equally good (make equally successful predictions, etc.), then they’re just different forms of the same claim. The rubber hits the road when they contradict, and here, one would think, differences in quality would emerge.
Daniel also challenges the move “from R1, R2, and R3 to R4. It seems to me that you could deny bivalence while saying that there is One True Way The World Is; other ways of talking might fail to be either true or false.” I think, in that case, those statements that fail would not qualify as genuine statements. They would be considered misfirings or ways of talking that do not attempt to describe the world (like questions or orders). There are plenty of ways of talking that are neither true nor false, but they don’t count as descriptions of reality.
Finally, Daniel asks why A5 automatically rules out R2. It doesn’t eradicate that way of understanding truth, but makes its successful acquisition impossible. Biting the skeptical bullet is a fully coherent option, just not a popular one.
Ricky asks about the centrality of R4 Bivalence to realism in general, reasoning that the world could simply be self-contradictory, combining A4 with R1. First, Concerning its centrality, the main reason I included R4 is because of its prominence in analytic discussions of anti-realism due to Dummett. I’m approaching the issue of realism as a historically instantiated movement since I’m trying to make the movements mutually intelligible, so influence is as important as logical rigor. Second, you make precisely Hegel’s critique of Kant’s analysis of antinomies (see pp. 61-2, 67-8, 108-12).
Ricky also says, “(R6) Realism of the Subject is interesting because in almost every case that Braver looks at, if not every one, in order to maintain a coherent position, the philosopher has recourse to R6. It seems that to deny both R1 and R6 is just frickin’ crazy.” To give a very quick fore-shadowing, it is the abandonment of R6 that moves continental philosophy from what I’m calling the Kantian Paradigm to the Heideggerian one, where the post-modernists reside, who have been called frickin’ crazy on an almost daily basis.
As for my lack of discussing analytic realists, I do spend a good bit of time on Frege, Russell, and Moore, but you may be right. This was not part of my grad school upbringing so I had to educate myself, and my reading may have been problematically incomplete. We all have to stop reading at some point of course, but I need a solid grounding in the movement in order to plausibly present myself as capable of speaking about the issue. Please do look at all the references and endnotes, tho, before deciding. Misrepresenting Devitt is a very serious sin and, if true, I’m abashed. Unfortunately, most of my books are packed up for the summer so I can’t check my copy; I do remember finding him rather difficult. If I misrepresented him, you are absolutely right to call me out on it. On the whole, tho, the final evaluation of these theses should focus on the degree to which they illuminate and open up the continental thinkers; they’re a tool for the ensuing analyses. larvalsubjects is right that if my account is a straw man of realism, this would not be fatal to the book’s project, but it would compromise it and reflect badly on me as a scholar (he’s too tactful to make these charges). I do want to point out that, as Mikhail say,s I was describing analytic realism, not Speculative Realism. As Jon puts it, SR “takes seriously the lessons of Kant and Hegel,” making it something new under the sun and very intriguing.
Orestes Mantra proposes a shortcut to getting rid of R2 by “ denying the literal existence of thoughts that are linked up to a fixed world.” I’m sympathetic to this approach and in my more recent work—an article on the Dreyfus-McDowell debate and a book on Heidegger and Wittgenstein—I’m putting a lot of emphasis on the absence of explicit acts of thinking in most of our lives. This best applies to situated engaged speech, like Heidegger’s hammerer grunting at the inappropriateness of one hammer and grabbing another. However, Orestes wants to combine this rejection of R2 with the retention of R1, which raises the question of the status of this R1 claim that there is a mind-independent reality. This claim seems to aim at correctly corresponding to an objective world, or else I’m unsure of its force. As I read them, Heidegger and Wittgenstein allow a place for representational speech & thought, just one that is highly derivative and relatively rare. Philosophical discourse, which is what my book is mainly concerned with, consists primarily in this form of thought & language.
larvalsubjects says that his realism would reject R1 (or perhaps R3) because of the new objects arising all the time. We could perhaps revise R3 to the statement that at any particular time, there is a single description of what exists (though Einstein’s rejection of absolute simultaneity may rule out this move) so that, while the peppers didn’t exist some time ago, they do now and we can describe them in 1 true way. If R3 cannot accommodate change, after all, we’re stuck with Parmenides. Or we could specify that it describes the totality of the four-dimensional world, so that the entire sequence of events from the beginning of time to its end yields a single true description. The fact that this account is not available to us due to our limitations is no objection for realists’ with a non-epistemic view of truth.
I think Mikhail hits on a very helpful point about R1—by describing the Independent world as a fixed totality, it already slides into R3. Kant’s noumena and, on some readings, Nietzsche’s chaotic Will-to-Power meet R1 but lack R3 since they have no comprehensible structure. Of course, making this claim about reality only makes sense on the basis of a weakened R2-R3—they way reality really is is to lack structure; unstructuredness is its structure. I don’t think this is merely a gimmick, but we’ll have to wait to see. If we fully pull out all posited structure, of course, the substance of the claim that something exists starts looking pretty empty. This is Goodman’s critique—a world with no qualities whatsoever (I’m moving quickly & sloppily here) is a world well lost.
My thanks to all comments and I look forward to continuing the discussion!
Lee, let me say that we are glad that you have decided to participate in this discussion. When Jon and I initially conceived of this exercise, I think it was mostly for our own benefit. I am very sympathetic to your project and I am embarrassed by my own inability to understand or, most importantly, appreciate a lot of what is happening in analytic tradition. As you rightly point out, one has to eventually find his/her corner (I take it that’s what you mean by “stop reading”) and no one but a few very smart people can have knowledge of all that is going on in contemporary philosophy, but I think it is never a bad idea to get some perspective, to see the larger context of important (why else would we bother with them?) issues.
This project is the best thing I’ve ever seen bloggery offer, and I thank you all for it. My thoughts, as usual, are stray.
1. What happened to pragmatism?
2. Even so, I think it’s right to characterize analytics as the science- (or really, math-) oriented of this pair. That’s how my dad got into it (Chisholm at Brown). But he got right out again as soon as he got tenure, because he thought if you wanted to do science (meaning by this, get something tangible done) it didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense to noodle around in philosophy instead. On this evidence there’s a way through analytic philosophy that takes its disgust with the historical failure of philosophy to answer its own questions and the ground-shifting to science and math so seriously that it leaves the whole philosophical project as such to the gnawing criticism of the mice.
3. So a larger history of philosophy might want to consider those (few? many?) coming from both the continental and analytic traditions who have run up against the domain limits of philosophy and hit the eject button. There’s no need for this to have been the book Lee wrote, I’m just thinking around it.
4. I really couldn’t agree more with Lee about the value of dialogue, and with others different enough that there’s a chance to learn something, to escape for a moment the prejudices and minutiae of insularity. As he says, “While prejudices and assumptions are in the final analysis ineradicable, this does not remove the obligation to examine and challenge them; it just makes the task an infinite one.” But in a longer term I’d say beware that infinity. How many times do I need to hear someone say the same things, spin out the implications of the same assumptions, spiral down into the same vortexes of confusion, before I decide I’m done here and get on with something else? There are dialogues that reach a stopping point, for various good reasons; sometimes divorce is a good outcome for bad relationships. And endlessly revisiting it may not be healthy or productive, especially for the parties directly involved. Whether it is for their offspring is an interesting question.
When I first started thinking about what Heideggerian perceptual experience was like, I also thought that representations were “rare” in our phenomenology thanks to the standard Dreyfusian tradition. But the more I think about it, the more I am convinced otherwise. Perhaps the main difference between human and non-human perception is what Heidegger calls the “as-structure” of our experience. We see the world “as” things. Lamps are seen “as” lamps, books are seen “as” books, loaded with referential and pragmatic complexity (e.g. hammers, wood, and nails, etc).
However, to say our perception is representational, wherein we see the physical world “in terms of” something, as something, is not to say that there is a epistemic mediation between our “minds” and the “objective world.” The human entity, like all evolved organisms adapted to niche environments, is immersed directly in the world, and as in Gibsonian ecological theory, all that is needed is a direct, “pick up” of the information contained in the already highly organized environment. I think mapping Heidegger’s conception of presence and being as the determination of entities as entities (SZ 6) onto this Gibsonian “pick up” of environmental information is helpful in thinking about how Heideggerian perception could be theoretically instantiated. Crucially though, the “invariants” of the environment which are meaningful to the organism are different for different species. For humans, abstract, linguistically structured invariants are meaningful and salient. The world is significant; we are fascinated by the world, caring about our relation within it.
Thus, the reason why Heidegger claims over and over that the special perceptual powers of Dasein are only possible with language (“language is the house of being”), is simply because language allows us to see the world in terms of trees, lamps, friends, books – seeing the presented world as entities. Taylor Carman makes this argument in his Heidegger’s Analytic, which I highly recommend for those who haven’t read it. He reads Heidegger in terms of laying out the constitutive hermeneutic conditions of the intelligibility of entities – presence – as entities. I think what Heidegger, and especially later Heidegger, wants to argue is that the development of symbolic language was an epochal moment in the evolution of our consciousness, indeed, it was the springboard into consciousness: introspection, abstraction, episodic memory, autobiographical thinking, planning, narration, spatialization, etc.
That, anyway, is just my take on things.
You should read Chomsky’s short essay “Cartesian Linguistics.” Some of the ground breaking insights you are attributing to Heidegger were made by Descartes. The “animals have no minds” arguments from the Discourse actually involved language and is a lot more sensible (though no less wrong IMHO) than the one in the Meditations). But your penultimate paragraph is exactly Descartes’!
In particular, the claim that language is what allows us to see the world as entities seems crazy to me. Chimps engage in deception with one another and also keep track of who is more trustworthy. The Gricean layering of intentional ascription necessary to do this makes it pretty nuts to say they don’t see the world in terms of entities.
Maybe I’m missing something here.
MacIntyre’s “Dependent Rational Animals” has a really nice discussion of Heidegger’s notion of “world richness” from the great essay “The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics.” MacIntyre argues that higher animals are world rich in Heidegger’s sense. But the good thing about that aspect of Heidegger’s thought is that we can make sense of the issue of world richness without presupposing anything about language, which is of a piece with the anti-Cartesian aspect of Being and Time.
Since this is getting off topic (though the issue of animal cognition can be presented as a test case for some of the arguments in the later chapters), you should have the last word here.
Well, the absurdity of this claim depends on what you mean by “seeing the world in terms of entities.” In strict Heideggerian terms, an entity is “something which is.” Thus, in order to experience the world in terms of entities, you must have some primitive conception of ontology, with the understanding of “thatness” built into your basic perceptual processing. This likely requires some sort of ability to theoretically detach from online coping in order to implicitly or explicitly ask questions such as “what is that?” and “is that really there or am I hallucinating?”
Does a chimp understand the world in such terms? Can they detach themselves from the world enough to engage in such theoretical reasoning? It is possible, I suppose, especially given that chimps are highly similar to humans on many levels. Furthermore, it is no surprise to the Heideggerian that the most intelligent animals on earth are capable of non-rudimentary social communication. But I think there is nevertheless ample room to doubt the claim that chimps both pre-theoretically and theoretically understand what it means for something to “be,” along with having an understanding of its referential “whatness”, the Heidegerian criterion for there being an understanding and interpretation of entities *as* entities.
This is the crux. No one should deny that chimps are capable of perceiving individual chimps as apart from other individual chimps, or capable of primitive object-recognition and enforcement of moral norms. I would even be willing to grant that Great Apes have a very, very primitive Dasein-status in virtue of such abilities, but this shouldn’t restrict us from noticing and elaborating on the extreme differences between humans and non-humans, particularly in respect to our linguistic and cultural scaffolding. If chimps have a primitive understanding of what it means for something “to be,” then how much more complex must our own understanding be!
I think the Heideggerian notion of animal cognition is capable of granting the Dasein-esque powers of understanding and interpretation to non-human animals, but I would be very surprised if we ascribed such capacities to those species without the capacity for complex communication and grammar. This in turn would not be a mark against the Heideggerian thesis, but rather, a support of the claim that language bestows untold changes in consciousness to those species so lucky to possess it.
Oh, and thanks for those references, I will definitely check out some of those articles.
Let me clarify. I’m not claiming that Heidegger managed himself to break free of the Cartesian prejudice about animals. MacIntyre’s point is that Heidegger’s insights from the Metaphysics essay actually (in contrast to Heidegger’s own prejudices) help us make good sense of animal cognition.
For a nice overview of Heidegger’s wacky views about animals, see Stuart Elden’s 2006 essay, “Heidegger’s Animals,” from Continental Philosophy Review, http://www.springerlink.com/content/u32647r256725018/ .
It’s a weird almost constitutive thing that philosophers have to crap on others as part of working out their views (Aristotle on women and slaves, Descartes on animals, etc.). I think that this is probably just the inevitable fallout from what happens to the Socratic method when put into the hands of humans.
This original sin honestly probably has more to do with the analytic/continental split than anything else. Leibniz’ firm resolve to find some truth in everything he reads is a good corrective I think, as is Braver’s book.
I think it’s an honor to have you take part in the discussions and there is an overwhelming consensus among the participants that your work is an important contribution to philosophy, let alone continental philosophy. I think Graham Harman is right to say in his review of your book that if all the primary texts of continental philosophy (at least the figures you cover in your book) were to disappear then we could accurately reconstruct their ideas from your work.
I agree that one must stop reading at some point and also found Devitt a difficult writer. However, what I was trying to intimate with my remarks, having most likely failed due to my own fault, is that because, to some extent, you want to defend anti-realism against views that it is incoherent or unsound, dealing with the analytic criticisms would be an essential step in that defence. I picked out Devitt especially because he is at the forefront of analytical metaphysical realism and you had utilized him in constructing the definition for realism. For me, Foucault’s position as you demonstrate it would be significantly if not fatally flawed faced with Devitt’s and others’ charges against anti-realist constructivism to the point of an incoherent position. My comment about R6 goes some way to showing that even these philosophers are unable to maintain soundness without backtracking from total anti-realism. They themselves, perhaps only implicitly, realize it is “frickin’ crazy”. A more substantial discussion should wait until we reach the Foucault chapter.
I also think it’s a good thing to remember, as you point out, that you were describing analytic realism and not its speculative variety. But if the continental thinkers you look at deny the analytic realist theses yet abide by the speculative theses then it may not be accurate to call them anti-realists tout court. Granted some would still be anti-realists (I would wager at least Hegel and Foucault; I’ll probably be the only one who will try to defend Derrida as something of a realist) others with the required amount of textual interpretation could be counted as partisans of a modified realism. This doesn’t diminish the importance or validity of your arguments but just signals a path of further inquiry of inquiry and discussion, which, as you say, was one of the hoped for goals of your project.
larvalsubjects writes, “it seems to me that there are not six features common to variants of realism, but two…. Realism is reduced to a caricature and we don’t get much in the way of individual philosophical voices articulating different varieties of realism.”
I don’t think I was as clear as I should have been about the relationship of these theses to realism. I didn’t mean them to be collectively necessary for anything to count as realism. They represent a Chinese menu of ideas which philosophers mix and match to form their particular variant. As Jon points out, the whole point of having multiple theses was to be able to plot the various species of realism and anti-realism with some detail, as I do for Kant at the end of Chapter Two (p. 57). Now it’s true that I show this in detail for the continental anti-realists and not for the analytic realists, but that’s due to the topic of the book rather than the constrictions of the Matrix (I’m always self-conscious of the unfortunate images of Keanu Reeves when I use this term). The fact that Speculative Realism doesn’t quite fit the theses says more about its innovativeness than the deficiencies of my Matrix, which was largely inspired by early (say pre-WWII) analytic philosophy.
Also, its value comes out in how helpfully it illuminates the developmental arc of continental thought. It has to be cogent and realistic, of course, so these objections are not illegitimate or off-base, but too much focus on them independently of their employment (forced upon us by the structure of the book & reading group) may yield a somewhat distorted picture. (And, BTW, I don’t think I read any of your works prior to writing it, so you plagiarism charges will never stick! 🙂 I’ve recently been reading Rousseau’s Dog).
Carl asks, “What happened to pragmatism?” Indeed. Some look to it as a way out of the divide and the realism/anti-realism debates. The main reason I left it out is that I don’t know it well, and two traditions seemed quite enough. Also, as a historical/sociological fact, pragmatism has a relatively quiet voice in contemporary discussions. Yes, Rorty and Putnam fought over the title for some time but, justly or not, it plays a relatively minor role in the field.
Gary Williams says, “However, to say our perception is representational, wherein we see the physical world “in terms of” something, as something, is not to say that there is a epistemic mediation between our “minds” and the “objective world.””
At the very least, I would recommend a change in your terminology. “Representational” strongly suggests something—i.e., a representation—positioned as just such an intermediary.
Then what is the cash value of the as-structure? Aren’t animals reacting to predators as danger, food as edible and desirable? I’m a little confused about your account because, on the one hand, you link the as-structure to abstract linguistic thought, & on the other to animalistic reactions. These seem contrary.
Ricky, thanks for your kind words. I worked very hard on this book and it’s great seeing it inspire discussion. I did hope that, in addition to bringing analytic thinkers up to speed, each chapter would capture the main points of its respective thinker and cover most of their works, both for pedagogical purposes (one target audience being grad students) and to prove that I wasn’t gerrymandering their ideas. The third goal was to illuminate the lines of influence and development among these philosophers. I’m very glad I didn’t misrepresent Devitt; I would’ve felt very bad about that.
“Because, to some extent, you want to defend anti-realism against views that it is incoherent or unsound, dealing with the analytic criticisms would be an essential step in that defence.” It sure would be a great addition, as Andrew Johnson also suggests. At the end of Chapter Five, I do use Heidegger’s early work to beat back Davidson’s critique of conceptual schemes. My excuse for not doing more of this is as lame as it is straightforward: there’s just so much one book can do. Just translating the continental thinkers into terms commensurable with each other and with analytic philosophy was quite enough for one project. The press was very upset at its length already (they suggested splitting it into 2 shorter books). This doesn’t excuse me, of course, since I’m responsible for the decisions I made in dealing with the length limitations. I see this book as laying the groundwork for dialogue, and taking a few steps on it, rather than a full-blown instance of the conversation I hope to see. More interaction, esp. of the kind you suggest, would be really good; please write it! I’d love to read it.
I don’t quite follow this. Speculative Realism doesn’t fit the Matrix well, but none of the thinkers I deal with are Speculative Realists (except Heidegger on Graham Harman’s unorthodox reading). As I understand the movement, it has largely emerged in the last decade; its main earlier inspiration being Deleuze, whom I don’t discuss in the book. Early on in Meillassoux’s book, he gives a brief description of continental philosophy (esp. Heidegger) as embodying “correlationalism,” very close to anti-realism. Did I respond to your point?
I guess what I was trying to get at is if continental anti-realism could be reformulated to be in line with speculative realism then one could save them from the charge of anti-realism (if this be a damning allegation!). But this does not undermine your work. It just signals a further area of exploration.
On the relation of continental anti-realism (and speculative realism) to analytic philosophy, I am actually just beginning my PhD on this topic so hopefully you will be able to read it in the future!
“Gary Williams says, “However, to say our perception is representational, wherein we see the physical world “in terms of” something, as something, is not to say that there is a epistemic mediation between our “minds” and the “objective world.””
At the very least, I would recommend a change in your terminology. “Representational” strongly suggests something—i.e., a representation—positioned as just such an intermediary.”
This is the same reason Davidson gave for not liking “representation” talk. “Beliefs are true or false, but they represent nothing. It is good to be rid of representations, and with them the correspondence theory of truth, for it is thinking that there are representations that engenders thoughts of relativism. (It is, of course, harmless to say true beliefs and thoughts are true because of how the world is: they correctly ‘represent’ the world.)” (“The Myth of the Subjective”, p.46 in “Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective”).
Davidson also here gives us (at least the germ of) a way to rehabilitate representational talk: being representational is having truth-conditions (or more broadly, satisfaction conditions). What would be the case if a sentence were true is just how that sentence represents the world as being. There’s no need for any sort of “epistemic intermediary” here, no need for any entity called a “representation”; my gaining the knowledge that I have nine books on my desk can just be the result of the way the books on my desk are (causally) related to me (given that I can count, and know what to count as a book etc.). My seeing them is a matter of my being related to the books, not to a representation. (Here McDowell has done the most helpful work; “Having the World in View: Sellars, Kant, and Intentionality” is a masterpiece, and should be read by anyone who reads “Mind and World”. And everyone should read “Mind and World”.)
I think the same tack works with Heidegger. Carleton Christenson has written some stuff about a “representationalist Heidegger” as a counter to Dreyfus. “Getting Heidegger Off The West Coast” is the first piece of his I read, and is probably the place to start. He looks at the textual basis for Dreyfus’s reading and finds it pretty seriously wanting. “Heidegger’s Representationalism” is also good, though the polemical anti-naturalist/anti-pragmatist bits are a bit unfair.
I actually think the Dreyfus-McDowell exchange is also a good way to get at Heidegger on this point — so long as one realizes that McDowell is the better Heideggerian of the two. (Though he’s willing to just give up Heidegger interpretation to Dreyfus, he shouldn’t — Dreyfus imports a lot of things that aren’t in Heidegger (“mindless coping” is not one of Heidegger’s terms — he rarely speaks of “mind” at all), and everything in “Dreydegger” McDowell objects to is something Dreyfus imported into Heidegger.)
“Then what is the cash value of the as-structure? Aren’t animals reacting to predators as danger, food as edible and desirable? I’m a little confused about your account because, on the one hand, you link the as-structure to abstract linguistic thought, & on the other to animalistic reactions. These seem contrary.”
I think this illusion of contrariety is the chief thing that “Mind and World” is devoted to dissolving. Reactions which are made possible for us by our having been initiated into language-use are animal reactions. We are rational animals, and rational animals. Non-rational animals react to predators because they are dangerous and food because it is edible, and at a certain level of generality the same is true of us. But the responses of rational and non-rational animals here are two species under a common genus, not simply identical.
Non-rational animals cannot wonder whether what seems dangerous to them really is so, or whether the reaction which seems good to them (fleeing) really is good. They simply flee. When rational animals flee without hesitation at the sight of danger, they are not doing just as the non-rational animal does; they are expressing how they take the world to be, what they take to be best to do (as opposed to how the world appears to them, what appears to them to be the right thing to do — for they might reject such appearances, and instead act on how they really think things are — or else they are behaving irrationally. Non-rational animals cannot behave irrationally; irrationality is a disease of rationality, not an absence of it — only against a background of general rationality can something be irrational). This is what McDowell means by invoking Gadamer’s distinction between “world” and “environment”, and saying that only rational animals can take up a “free, distanced orientation” to their surroundings.
Rational animals and non-rational animals are both living things, and so talk of them has the special sort of logical/conceptual characteristics that brings with it (see Micheal Thompson’s “The Representation of Life”, available on his website). So distinguishing between rational animals and non-rational animals doesn’t put the latter on a par with rocks and thermostats. But there really is a difference worth noting between rational and non-rational animals: rationality effects a sea-change in our animality.
This all seems right to me as long as rationality/non-rationality is understood to be on a continuum.
You can’t just clump humans on one side and chimps and sea slugs on the others. In particular we know enough at this point to place chimps, parakeets, dolphins, and elephants are all clearly on the side of rational with what you’ve said above. Dogs are probably in the grey area.
Dan: “This is what McDowell means by invoking Gadamer’s distinction between “world” and “environment”, and saying that only rational animals can take up a “free, distanced orientation” to their surroundings.”
Kvond: The danger is thinking that this “free” and “distant” forms some kind of absolute category of capacity, some kind of reflective abstraction (a kind of imported nothingness). I’m with Jon in calling for a continuum of rationality, but I would also not put human beings at the very limit of it either. For instance the kinds of freedom and distance a human being act ACTUALLY take, that is the actual thoughts and sentences forms let us say in 1100 AD, and then now in 2009 show that the freedom and distance is ever qualified. We will be able to perform acts of distance next year that we cannot this year. The absolute category of “World” is I think a philosophers invention that often gets by without criticism.
I actually don’t think it makes sense to treat rationality (as opposed to arationality, not as opposed to irrationality) as a matter of degree like this. I think it’s a matter of a leap. Sociality I do think is reasonably spoken of as a matter of degree, and there I think dolphins/dogs/great apes are clearly a lot closer to us than to slugs. Which is how I handle the “dolphins are not like beetles” thing. But as an empirical matter, I don’t think that there’s any reason to attribute an appreciation of the distinction between seeming and being to anything but humans (that we know of). So, as an empirical matter, only humans have an “understanding of being”. (As opposed to being able to discriminate beings — which iron fillings are capable of: they react differently to magnetic iron than to nonmagnetized iron, they react to oxygen by rusting, etc. It’s not some particular level of talent at discriminating beings that makes something rational rather than arational, or even that makes it alive rather than dead. Those are just different issues.) I think treating non-human animals as if they were like us, only taciturn, is anthropomorphizing them. Which is often useful, as a heuristic move, but I think it has to be kept in mind that they aren’t actually little quiet people who run around naked, or anything like that.
kvond: I think that’s putting the wrong weight on Gadamer’s/McDowell’s rhetoric. Being able to take a “free, distanced orientation” to one’s surroundings is just having it make sense to ask “it seems that things are thus-and-so, but is that really how it is?” Actually being free is a different matter (it involves, inter alia, asking that question in the right places, and finding the right answers), as is being “distanced” (which is asking the question with a real doubt about the answer, at least). Those clearly change a lot with history and location, and even locally and within a single life. And what freedom/distance we can have is always a matter of how we’re oriented among other entities, not a matter of being something peculiar over and against them.
Yeah I tend to think the crocodile and rock understand their being just fine, actually better than we understand ours. How else do you explain the fact that we argue all the time and can never figure out what we even mean? The crocodile doesn’t even bother with that.
Seriously, it’s weird how Chomskyans keep just enough naive behaviorism around to be able to justify the way we treat animals.
Most animal ethologists are pretty successful at avoiding the Charibdis of Chomskyan hypercognitivism and the Sylla of behaviorism. Neither view works very well for humans either for that matter.
I agree. Although as Daniel eloquently points out, the term “representation” shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a pejorative given that it can actually be coherently instantiated into Heideggerian thought, I do think that it has a long history of disastrous philosophical baggage and should probably be abandoned as as a philosophical term.
I also think Daniel’s distinction between “irrationality” and “arationality” are excellent and open a door into Heideggerian thought that gets at a deeper phenomenological structure than the standard Dreyfusian “non-representational coping.” Although Dreyfus is right to say Heidegger was diametrically opposed to the idea of a epistemic mediation between “thought” and world, as in Kantian and Lockean theory, he nevertheless brings into his human-phenomenology the capacity to see the world “as something it is not.”
Heidegger refers to this as a “semblance.” See section 7 in Being and Time “The concept of a phenomenon.”
I think this section does a good job of showing how within Heideggerian, non-mediated “direct perception,” there can still be “misrepresentation” given that human perception usually involves an interpretation of the world (totality of entities) as something. Normally, the “as-structure” of our interpretation/understanding of the world is accurate in that I can see the water bottle on my desk as as a water bottle, which it is. However, through our various moods,dispositions, and situational contexts we sometimes interpret the world as something it is not, such as when we see a boulder at night as being a cow, or a shadow on the wall as a duck.
In this kind of perception, our “as-structure” allows us to interpret the world as something it is not. However, and this is extremely important, the fact that we can misinterpret the world does not mean that normally we have no direct epistemic access to the world, as in Kant, where we are *never* seeing the water bottle as what it is, which for Kant would be the noumenal reality. Heidegger flips this around and says that Kant wants to have it both ways. Kant wants to say that all “accurate” perception of the shadow as a shadow is representational in that we are merely perceiving the noumenal realm “as” the shadow, but Kant also wants to claim that we can see the phenomenal “appearance” of the shadow as another kind of appearance when we see the shadow as a duck. Kantians have been abusing this double signification of “appearance” for centuries thanks to their assumption of a transcendental reality
Heidegger points out that when you say humans aren’t directly perceiving the world but rather just perceiving a “phenomenal” appearance , it eliminates the phenomenological coherence of saying humans can see the world “as merely looking like so-and-so,” as in the shadow-duck example.
So,getting back to the original question, the cash-value of the “as-structure” is that it allows for the possibility of misrepresentation within a perceptual framework of direct realism. Because humans usually interpret the world “as” something, accurately or inaccurately, this sets us apart from most non-human animals because we have the ability to step back and think “was that a cow or a boulder?”
I think this is why Heidegger says in his essay “On the Essence of Truth” that “…the ek-sistence of historical man begins at the moment when the first thinker takes a questioning stand with regard to the unconcealment of entities by asking: what are entities?”
Also, I just noticed that I had overlooked a comment in Dr. Braver’s original post that I want to contest:
I think Charles Taylor gives a good example in Human Agency and Language of why this kind of thinking about language is too narrow to accommodate the actual phenomenology.
In Taylor’s example, the person’s claim “Whew, it’s hot” definitely “describes reality” but if you stopped here and didn’t investigate further into the meaning of the statement, you would miss the deeper structure of “creating a rapport.” I think what Heidegger and others want to say here is that often, the truth or falseness of a statement is trivial compared to the deeper hermeneutic interaction between one agent and another.
We’ve crossed wires at some point — the issue is not whether rocks and crocodiles understand their being (being-a-rock and being-alive, respectively, I suppose), but whether they have an understanding of being. In SuZ terms, it’s the distinction between having an understanding of care and an understanding of being. The being of Dasein is care, but being is not care (or any other being — this is one aspect of the ontological difference). Rocks and crocodiles don’t have an understanding of being, but this isn’t a matter of their being negligent or ignorant or anything like that. It’s not like rocks and crocodiles have minds like we have, but are very dumb. They just are not minded in the sense that we are. (Crocodiles are minded in an analogous way, proper to crocodilians; whether a croc is smart or foolish is judged by what flourishing crocodiles would do. Rocks are not minded at all; nothing a rock does counts as flourishing or not, except as a joke. (“Ow, I stubbed my toe — bad rock, bad!”))
I don’t see that there’s anything prima facie wrong with arguing a lot and wondering what one another mean. I don’t see that conversation can really go any other way, and I like conversation. It’s how I learn about things and make friends and all that good shit. Crocodiles and rocks are missing out, man.
Also, I’m neither a Chomskyite nor a behaviorist. I like our everyday propositional attitude talk just fine, and don’t think it can be reduced to anything more behavioristic. And I don’t like mentalese or innate ideas.
I like what Gary Williams says about the as-structure.
Though, in defense of Kant, I would hasten to add that there’s a tension in him when it comes to the “representationalism” issue: Kant is an empirical realist. Empirical objects are given to the subject immediately, not by way of an epistemically intermediate representation. So there’s a sense in which noumena are not given to us at all, in experience, and what are given to us are what’s really there (in space and time, outside of our heads): rocks, chairs, faces, all the other middle-sized dry goods we come across. Here Kant is to be distinguished from Reinhold (who came up in the Realism Wars at some point — I think it was one of Tom’s posts at Grundlegung, which really deserved more attention than I think they got). Reinhold is the sort of representationalist a lot of people think Kant was (i.e. a straightforward subjective (empirical) idealist).
The trouble is, of course, that space and time for Kant are transcendentally ideal: outside of the forms of intuition which the mind imposes, there is no space or time (and so no spatiotemporal objects) — things in themselves cannot be spatiotemporal, Kant takes himself to have proven (which is a view that’s already present in the Inaugural Dissertation of 1770). Which leads to the problem that we seem to not really be given objects as they really are, which makes Kant’s “empirical realism” seem like a booby prize rather than a real exoneration of the mind’s ability to have thoughts about things.
But, I’m sure that this stuff will come up again later, when the Kant chapter gets reached. (I kinda wish I had Braver’s book now, but I can’t justify making time to read it — I can’t justify time to comment either, but that’s another matter!)
I like the point Gary Williams takes from Taylor, but I’m not sure it’s relevant to the question of bivalence. Whatever one said about logic, one could grant that there’s an awful lot of important hermeneutic-y stuff that logic generally doesn’t talk about, and one could agree with Heidegger that it’s this hermeneutic stuff that makes the narrow concerns of logic (or of “truth as correctness”) intelligible for us. (I think this is a point a lot of people get wrong about Heidegger: his views on truth & falsity aren’t particularly weird; he just prefers to reserve “truth” for something else: what he also calls “disclosedness”. He argues that disclosedness makes truth/falsity (in the sense of “correctness”/”incorrectness”) possible, since it’s the fact that we are open to the world that makes asserting/judging possible, but when it comes to what makes an assertion or judgement true or false, Heidegger just repeats trivial claims about something being true if it says that things are so, and they are so, and false it things aren’t so. He argues against some ways people have tried to work this out (since their ways made no sense), but he doesn’t reject the trivial claims about the truth/falsity of assertions as correctness/incorrectness.)
But, for truth-value gaps I had in mind the usual suspects: non-referring names and vague terms. “The present king of France is bald” hits on both counts. I go back and forth on how compelling I find the idea of truth-value gaps of this sort (singular terms with sense but no reference), but I think it’s unrelated to issues about “realism” generally.
I wrote a bit about it in the next post on Braver, but I wonder if I am going crazy with this “imposition” stuff, I would like to find a good representative passage in Kant where he indeed talks about “mind imposing space/time” or something like that. It’s really been bothering me lately as I feel like I’m misreading Kant or staring at texts and really not seeing how anything like “imposition” is there…
See Part I, section 10 of the Prolegomena.
Günter Zöller notes in the editor’s introduction of my text that:
Just so everyone knows, I am “Gary Williams” but keep forgetting to log out of my wordpress account so everyone can see my name.
Ricky: That’s really exciting! I’d love to hear more about your project. You can email me at braverlj at hiram.edu when you get some time.
Gary: “the cash-value of the “as-structure” is that it allows for the possibility of misrepresentation within a perceptual framework of direct realism.” OK, but we only find out about the misrepresentation by comparing it with another perception, which would put him in the same boat as Kant in terms of adjudicating between contradictory perceptions. At this point, I don’t see what’s been gained by this.
Daniel: I think you hit the nail on the head when you call it “this illusion of contrariety.” I made a (pretty cryptic, in retrospect) gesture at that by saying they “seem” contrary. I’m actually a fan of Dreyfus’ mindless coping stuff & think we ought to model a lot of our behavior much closer to animals, including intellectual behavior. I talk about this a bit in the later Heidegger in discussing his “anti-humanism” that then flourished with the post-modernists. However, if we want to blur the division, I think we have a lot of work on our hands reconceiving the nature of thought. As Heidegger says, “We can learn thinking only if we radically unlearn what thinking has been traditionally” (WCT 8). I’ve been working on this project recently & find it fascinating, but quite imposing.
“OK, but we only find out about the misrepresentation by comparing it with another perception, which would put him in the same boat as Kant in terms of adjudicating between contradictory perceptions. At this point, I don’t see what’s been gained by this.”
Here I think the best way to read Heidegger is through McDowell: Heidegger was foreshadowing McDowell’s disjunctivist account of perception. A veridical perception isn’t a matter of something which is common between veridicial and non-veridical perceptions, plus something special to veridical conceptions (a representation, plus its truth), and the reverse is true of non-veridical perceptions (they are not a matter of a representation, plus its falsity). A veridical perception relates the knower to entities as they are in themselves; a nonveridical perception doesn’t. It only seems to: it actually relates the knower to entities only obscurely, not directly.
So there’s no question of “which to choose from” when you have conflicting “representations”. On the one hand, you have the world itself which has been disclosed to one as it is in itself; on the other hand, you have some illusory “seemings” that don’t provide any justificatory aid. It’s only a representationalist picture of how the mind can relate to entities that makes the puzzle seem real.
(This is only one of the many ways in which we must adjust our thinking to escape the modern, Cartesian/Lockean paradigm of how thought can relate to objects, if we are to make it intelligible that something “in us” can have something to do with something “outside us” (which the Cartesian/Lockean paradigm fails to do). I view the later Heidegger’s stuff about “thinking” and releasement and all that as being in a line with Kantian thought in this way, against other aspects of modern thought, and not as a demand for something as implausible as Dreyfus’s acognitive account of cognition. The later self-described “antihumanists” and “postmoderns” I think are much closer to what you say Later Heidegger was; I think Heidegger’s “continental” reception was largely confused.)
This seems like an awkward way of approaching the whole issue. We don’t find out about misrepresentation by comparing it to other representations, we find out about misrepresentation by looking closer at the world itself. For example, in the bent-pencil phenomenon, we understand that it is a misrepresentation by investigating into the matter further and pulling the pencil out of the water glass to see that it is straight. In light of scientific discovery and the everyday occurrence of “inspection”, wherein we focus our eyes and pay closer attention to what is before us, it seems strange to deny that we are only able to understand misrepresentation through other representations that are just as fallible. There couldn’t even be a fallible/infallible schema without the possibility of the world showing-itself presupposed.
In defining phenomenology, Heidegger argues that there are pretty much two ways to look at an entity in the world: as itself, or as something it is not. With the bent-pencil, the “appearance” of brokenness is not the pencil “as itself” because pencils aren’t normally broken, but when holding and staring at the pencil under normal lighting conditions, we see it “as itself”. This isn’t really an “essentialist” perspective given that the concept of pencil is constantly changing over time (mechanical versus regular, etc). What it is “in itself” is really determined by the language games we find ourselves in.
But as they say, “the world is its own best model.”