Innocent Realism: Susan Haack

This is from an interview with Susan Haack (Haack.interview–warning pdf).  Aside from her Philosophy of Logics textbook, I’m completely ignorant of her work, for the most part.

CB: Could you tell us more about Innocent Realism?

SH: It is, I hope, a metaphysical position that can accommodate the most robust realist intuitions to the most sophisticated anti-realist objections. The main ideas are something like this. The world — the one, real world — is independent of how we believe it to be. In saying this, obviously, the Innocent Realist repudiates both the irrealist thesis that there is no real world, and the pluralist thesis that there are many. However, she of course allows that human beings intervene in the world, and that we, and our physical and mental activities, are part of the world. The one, real world, in other words, is heterogeneous: there are, besides natural things and events, human artifacts of every kind, social institutions, and the theories, depictions, and imaginative constructions of scientists, artists, poets, novelists. etc..Adapting an idea from Peirce (who was in turn adapting an idea from Duns Scotus), the Innocent Realist construes “real” as meaning “independent of how you, or I, or anyone believes it to be”; and as contrasting with “fictional, a figment, imaginary.” Scientific theories are real; and so are works of fiction. But the explanations scientists imagine, when they are successful, are true, and the laws they imagine real; while fictional characters and events are precisely not real, but imaginary.  Though very fallibly and imperfectly, we humans are able to know something of how the world is. This is possible only because we have sense organs able to detect information about particular things around us, and the intellectual capacity to make generalizations about them; and because the things around us are of kinds and subject to laws.

We describe the world, sometimes truly, sometimes falsely. Whether a synthetic description is true or is false depends on what it says (which is a matter of human convention) and on how the things in the world it describes are. There are many different true descriptions of the world, in different vocabularies. All these many different truths must somehow fit together: there can’t be rival, incompatible truths or “knowledges.” But this doesn’t mean that all the truths about the world must fit together by being reducible to a privileged class of truths in a privileged vocabulary; I see the truths of the social sciences as “fitting together” with the truths of the natural sciences more in the way a road map can be superimposed on a contour map of the same territory.

Here’s a pdf of an interesting article by Haack, “Six signs of scientism.”


Levinas and the Cinema of Redemption (NDPR review)

Michael Morgan reviews Levinas and the Cinema of Redemption: Time, Ethics, and the Feminine in the NDPR:

The question that I kept before me as I was reading this book and preparing to write this review is whether philosophers can learn anything valuable from it. After all, it is a book written by someone who has published extensively on film, it treats various Hollywood and European films that are classics and certainly worthy of attention, and it purports to engage with the work of an important twentieth-century philosopher as part of its project. To be sure, one can learn something even from a book that has significant deficiencies, but what I have been asking myself is something different. It is whether a philosopher could learn anything positive from the book. Does the book say helpful and interesting things about Emmanuel Levinas? Does it show us how to explore films in the light of Levinas’s philosophical work? Does it read films in a way that is philosophically novel and interesting, about film itself or about these particular films? I wish that I could answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, but I cannot. The most I can say is that in the course of reading what Girgus has to say about Levinas and the nine or so films he discusses, one is provoked to reflect upon a number of problems and issues concerning Levinas and film, and although Girgus has nothing particularly helpful to say about most of them, it is worthwhile to have them called to our attention. Continue reading

Are Transcendental Arguments a type of Wager?

Having discussed the fate of transcendental reasoning in the analytic tradition, Reynolds and Chase (in Postanalytic and Metacontinental: Crossing the Divide) turn to the continental side, wherein transcendental reasoning is “perhaps even permanently contested terrain…but not controversial enough to induce general abstinence.” The authors suggest:

…the implicit rationale seems to be a bit like Pascal’s Wager–believing in the efficacy of transcendental arguments, if they work, may result in tremendous results (a Copernican revolution); if they do not, some important concepts will have nonetheless been created.  Better that, on this view, than disbelieving and being the under-laborer of science (37). Continue reading

More Philosophical Tribalism

Crispin Wright discussing McDowell’s Mind and World:

…if analytical philosophy demands self-consciousness about unexplained or only partially explained terms of art, formality and explicitness in the setting out of argument, and the clearest possible sign-posting and formulation of assumptions, targets, and goals, etc, then this is not a work of analytical philosophy (“Human Nature? in Reading McDowell, 157-158) Continue reading

Philosophical Tribalism (and Remorse)

I’ve been reading through some of the essays in Postanalytic and Metacontinental: Crossing the Divide this morning (NDPR review here).  While I’m hoping to say some more about those essays later on, (for one, there is a particularly excellent essay about transcendental reasoning) a remark early on in the introduction made me chuckle.  Discussing two approaches to the analytic-continental divide, a deflationary view (which calls into question the distinction altogether) and the more essentialist position (which insists on the two ‘houses’), the editors note:

However we characterize or dismiss the distinction in theory, in practice it has for many years been very much a feature of the day to day activities of contemporary philosophers.  Academic philosophers, journals, conferences, publication series and even entire publishing houses, all now often live entirely within on or the other tradition. in some cases, the result is that continental philosophers have effectively been consigned to other disciplines, like comparative literature. More usually, philosophers simply inhabit their own tradition without attending to the other–perhaps looking at or attending occasional papers from the other side out of collegial politeness or personal loyalty, and often regretting it when they do (3-4). Continue reading

“Party Line Continentalists?” (and Post-Kantian Philosophy)

While my first instinct was to simply ignore Brian Leiter’s discussion of “Party Line Continental Philosophers,” since it appears to be nothing more than a straw man, I came across this rather thoughtful response at a blog called Speculative Humbug:

Leiter suggests (or rather alludes to his having suggested elsewhere) that we are living in a ‘Golden Age’ for (Anglophone) scholarship on the history of post-Kantian European philosophy.  While this is perhaps overstating the case a bit (important recent figures, such as Deleuze and Badiou, are still quite neglected), it is certainly true that the history of philosophy has a much more considerable presence and respectibility in the Anglophone philosophical academy than it had at the height of of the dominance of the analytic movement.  Various figures have been influential in breaking with the ahistorical paradigm that previously dominated, not least amongst whom is the critically important yet still strangely subliminal Wilfrid Sellars.  In the wake of these figures, Anglophone scholarly work on Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche and perhaps especially on phenomenology abounds. Continue reading

Return into the Lifeworld, again: More Phenomenology Resources

Here are some links/ papers about Merleau-Ponty, phenomenology, naturalism, the body and other phenomenological issues I’ve dug up that some may find of interest.  Click below the fold, I’ve included papers by Hubert Dreyfus, Sean Kelly, Shaun Gallagher and others (and the list is virtually alphabetized to boot!).

Interview with Shaun Gallagher

An excerpt from an interesting discussion with Shaun Gallagher:

I don’t think phenomenology is dead in any sense. You don’t have to take your phenomenological concepts just from Husserl or Merleau-Ponty, but you can also take their work and actively extend it and use phenomenological methods to make distinctions and to ask different kinds of questions. And then you can take whatever results you can gain from such analyses and use them in your own scientific experiments. Or, if you don’t get involved directly in the science, you can at least interface with experimenters and try to influence the kinds of questions they’re asking and the kind of procedures they’re using. So I don’t think of phenomenology just as the texts of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty; it’s indeed a practice – I agree with Varela on that. You practice phenomenology, and then you see if it can work to inform some experiments.  Also, it’s important to see where that goes – to see whether the results of the experiments suggest further phenomenological refinement.

Read the rest here

See also this lecture from December 2000: Phenomenological and experimental research on embodied experience”

Richard Taylor, Zing!

I was re-reading an excerpt from Richard Taylor’s Metaphysics for class this afternoon and laughed out loud when I came across this passage, I had completely forgotten about it:

The theory of soft determinism looks good at first–so good that it has for generations been solemnly taught from numberless philosophical chairs and implanted in the minds of students as sound philosophy–but no great acumen is needed to discover that far from solving any problem, it only camouflages it (43).

Zing!   On a serious note, I do kind of worry about the various forms of liberatarianism/theories of agency, however appealing,  they often strike me as a bit er..anti-science. There is the issue of quantum physics, I suppose (if it’s an issue at all).

A Boring CFP Post: North American Levinas Society

Sixth Annual Conference and Meeting
“Celebrating Totality and Infinity at 50”
May 1-3, 2011 | Texas A&M University

Call for Papers

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of Totality and Infinity, the North American Levinas Society invites submissions of individual paper and panel proposals for our sixth annual meeting and conference, hosted by Texas A&M University, to be held May 1-3, 2011. We are especially interested in organizing the conference around considerations of Totality and Infinity, with regard to both its historical framework and relevant contemporary readings and questions that the work continues to engender. Although preference will be given to papers that address the conference theme, papers and panels on any topic related to Levinas will be considered. Continue reading