I was led to a discussion with Quentin Meillassoux (via Fabio at Hypertiling) wherein this passage caught my eye:
…the difficulty is to have the culture of the problem. People think that to be intelligent is to say there is no problem. But what is rare is a philosopher who tries to work in the direction of amazement, at what is right under their nose.
I’m certainly sympathetic with the final sentence, in fact I’d even go so far as to say I agree with Meillassoux. However, the reference to the “culture of the problem” and the italicized sentence above caused me to raise my eyebrows. Generally, this is the standard critique of ‘analytic’ philosophy, isn’t it? e.g. ‘they’ spend all their time coming up with counter-examples to undermine whatever claim is under their nose (this of course is something some have equated with ‘sneering’ or ‘trumpery’–yawn). A while back I chanced upon a comment by Rogers Albritton, which is probably what Meillassoux should have said instead of correlating attempts at dismantling theory with intelligence:
Philosophy, as he [Wittgenstein] means to be practicing it “simply puts everything before us, [it] neither explains nor deduces anything” and it “may not advance any kind of theory” (Philosophical Investigations I 126, 109). Its aim is, rather, “complete clarity,” which “simply means that the philosophical problems should completely disappear” (ibid., 133). I’d like nothing better. Moreover, I believe it: the problems (at any rate, those I care most about) should indeed, as he says, completely disappear. That’s how they look to me. I love metaphysical and epistemological theories, but I don’t believe in them, not even in the ones I like. And I don’t believe in the apparently straightforward problems to which they are addressed. However, not one of these problems has actually done me the kindness of vanishing, though some have receded. (I don’t have sense-data nearly as often as I used to.)And if there is anything I dislike more in philosophy than rotten theories, it’s pretenses of seeing through the “pseudoproblems” that evoked them when in fact one doesn’t know what’s wrong and just has a little rotten metatheory as to that.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about naturalism and phenomenology of late, and by extension, Snow’s (50 year old!) essay on the “two cultures,” which seems, at times, more severe than ever these days. Philosophers, working together with, not in opposition, to scientists, certainly have a role to play in fostering dialogue about science, that much should be clear, whether it’s criticizing or defending science. Of course, there’s Wittgenstein, who famously declared Darwin had nothing to do with philosophy, insists:
In philosophy we do not draw conclusions. “But it must be like this!” is not a philosophical proposition. Philosophy only states what everyone admits (PI:599).
It’s no doubt true that some problems that initially seem like philosophical problems are best resolved by science. Perhaps problems about mind/brain interaction are like this. Certainly, philosophers can state the problem clearly, say why we feel it’s a real problem, and then, scientists solve it. Of course, some problems can be solved by, I don’t know, logicians and mathematicians (and not those dumpster diving continental philosophers!). Anyway, the real impetus for this post was to bring attention to this lecture by Onora O’Neill, ‘The Two Cultures Fifty Years On’
In his 1959 Rede lecture The Two Cultures C.P. Snow contrasted what he called ‘the traditional culture’ of literary study with the culture of natural science, and judged them wholly different in approach and achievements. The scientific culture, as he saw it, was rigorous and productive; the literary culture was neither. However, if we consider the approaches and methods actually used by inquiry in the humanities and in the natural sciences we find many similarities. In both domains inquiry relies on interpretation and inference, makes and seeks to support empirical truth claims and deploys and defends normative assumptions. It is hardly surprising that no single or simple conception of ‘impact’ can do justice to the diversity of work undertaken in either culture.
You can listen to the lecture here via backdoor broadcasting