Platonists, Positivists, and Pragmatists

Platonists, Positivists, and Pragmatists
Brad
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Posted Oct 10, 2002 - 6:06 PM:

Within Philosophy, there has been a traditional difference of opinion about the Nature of Truth, a battle between (as Plato put it) the gods and the giants. On the one hand there have been Philosophers like Plato himself who were otherworldly, possessed of a larger hope. They urged that human beings were entitled to self-respect only because they had one foot beyond space and time. On the other hand-especially since Galileo showed how spatio-temporal events could be brought under the sort of elegant mathematical law which Plato suspected might hold only for another world-there have been Philosophers (e.g., Hobbes, Marx) who insisted that space and time make up the only Reality there is, and that Truth is Correspondence to that Reality. In the nineteenth century, this opposition crystallised into one between "the transcendental philosophy" and "the empirical philosophy," between the "Platonists" and the "positivists." Such terms were, even then, hopelessly vague, but every intellectual knew roughly where he stood in relation to the two movements. To be on the transcendental side was to think that natural science was not the last word -that there was more Truth to be found. To be on the empirical side was to think that natural science-facts about how spatio-temporal things worked-was all the Truth there was. To side with Hegel or Green was to think that some normative sentences about rationality and goodness corresponded to something real, but invisible to natural science. To side with Comte or Mach was to think that such sentences either "reduced" to sentences about spatio-temporal events or were not subjects for serious reflection.

It is important to realise that the empirical philosophers -the positivists-were still doing Philosophy. The Platonic presupposition which unites the gods and the giants, Plato with Democritus, Kant with Mill, Husserl with Russell, is that what the vulgar call "truth" the assemblage of true statements-should be thought of as divided into a lower and an upper division, the division between (in Plato's terms) mere opinion and genuine knowledge. It is the work of the Philosopher to establish an invidious distinction between such statements as "It rained yesterday" and "Men should try to be just in their dealings." For Plato the former sort of statement was second-rate, mere pistis or doxa. The latter, if perhaps not yet episteme, was at least a plausible candidate. For the positivist tradition which runs from Hobbes to Carnap, the former sentence was a paradigm of what Truth looked like, but the latter was either a prediction about the causal effects of certain events or an "expression of emotion." What the transcendental philosophers saw as the spiritual, the empirical philosophers saw as the emotional. What the empirical philosophers saw as the achievements of natural science in discovering the nature of Reality, the transcendental philosophers saw as banausic, as true but irrelevant to Truth.

Pragmatism cuts across this transcendental/empirical distinction by questioning the common presupposition that there is an invidious distinction to be drawn between kinds of truths. For the pragmatist, true sentences are not true because they correspond to reality, and so there is no need to worry what sort of reality, if any, a given sentence corresponds to -no need to worry about what "makes" it true. (just as there is no need to worry, once one has determined what one should do, whether there is something in Reality which makes that act the Right one to perform.) So the pragmatist sees no need to worry about whether Plato or Kant was right in thinking that something non-spatio-temporal made moral judgments true, nor about whether the absence of such a thing means that such judgments are is merely expressions of emotion" or "merely conventional" or "merely subjective. "


--from Richard Rorty's "Consequences of Pragmatism"

So, where do you think you stand?
Myth
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Posted Oct 10, 2002 - 6:47 PM:

Interesting post, anyone wanting to read the book can do so here.

Originally posted by Brad
So, where do you think you stand?

Well, I would place myself somewhere between the transcendental group and the pragmatists (who, of course, disagree with eachother). I believe that science is not the final word, as I believe there is knowledge that exists outside comprehension, not with usual notions like morality and rationality, either. The notion of truth however, is not something clearly defined, at least, not to me, and I would follow the aregument that 'several hundred years of effort have failed to make interesting sense of the notion of correspondence'. I believe that an understanding of the concepts of truth, correspondence and reality is currently unattainable. I might add to this later, but I have a train to catch smiling face
Paul
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Posted Oct 11, 2002 - 1:18 AM:

It's ironic, or perhaps just a good study in anthropology, how philosophy is done in groups via peer pressure with people joining a camp and fighting to defend their label -- joining into armies to do battle with other armies, perhaps the battle Plato means to point to. Any major philosopher must be labeled, shoved into their proper hole, and forced to remain there. Pick a side and defend it, that's the idea. It's hard to get away with darting back and forth to pick up ideas from all the camps -- when we do this, we're called inconsistent or self-contradictory by the generals who think that the armies must always stay at war.

Sticking to only the groups mentioned here, I'm a cross between a pragmatist and a postivist but with a more Platonist concept of the trancendental. I'm an empiricist many ways -- certainly I reject rationalism -- but I agree with Kant's revision of empiricism (I'd argue that Kant's position is interpretable from an empiricist perspective but not strict rationalist) in that I believe much more investigation needs to be done into the nature of the observer's functions and mechanisms in order to understand the observations.

I believe that there is a possible physical interpretation for anything that can be known to exist (and note, you can't really apply the term "existence" to things you can't in some way derive at least a vague idea of), so this sounds a bit positivist. I also think metaphysics is our way of understanding things rather than something strictly objective, and I prefer the metaphysical be reduced where possible... yet I don't go along with Carnap's program of complete reduction. I also think there is a transcendental reality which the physical maps relations of. I like the positivist view of ethics. I think the pragmatists may make the most sense about truth.
turnstile
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Posted Oct 11, 2002 - 1:54 AM:

For me personally- being under the influence of Descartes and Hillary Putnam- my position would fall under a pragmatic epistemology; I think. To speak of ‘verification’ can only make sense within a human epistemological framework. I also believe that the best we can hope to obtain is certainty within our own epistemology- to speak of things ‘outside’ of our epistemology is nonsensical- which is the way Descartes and Putnam chose to battle skepticism. The idea is to create a philosophic system where skepticism is not possible; or at the least skepticism would have to assume a position outside of our epistemology; which would reduce it to a nonsensical position. Of course some of this is still in the preliminary stages (or at least on my part of it); but I think I could be categorized in the anti-Realist camp (that is if I had to be categorized- which is not always a bad thing). And being in this camp, in turn, would have me adopt certain aspects of pragmatism; which of course I do.

Hope some of this has made some sense.
Brad
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Posted Oct 11, 2002 - 8:12 PM:

I hope Myth expands on that post, I think we have quite similar positions. I would also put myself in the anti- or non-Realist camp. My problem with Kant is noemena because, if you're like me, you instinctively want to show that any "You can't get there from here" argument is wrong. I think it's better to say that there's nothing over there to get to. On the other hand, I am fascinated by Heidegger and am not so sure we should chalk up his search for 'being' as a form of egotism.

One problem with Pragmatism, and I consider myself a Pragmatist, is that it can always blow itself up as a specific, differentiated philosophy. In a sense, we are all Pragmatists. We always have been. This leaves the other two positions unscathed (and, of course, it goes without saying that this isn't the only way to chop up the tradition).

TecnoTut
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Posted Oct 30, 2002 - 5:39 PM:

Many people here (I will not list names) think Richard Rorty holds the official stamp of pragmatism and thus there is a fine distinction between Pragmatism, Positivism and Platonism. This is wrong-headed thinking. Rorty's position is thoroughly anti-epistemological. For him, the criteria of evidence are not objectively grounded in their relation to truth. Still he thinks there is a future for the ex-philosopher, but it is to be "hermeneutic" rather than epistemological, "edifying" instead systematic, literary rather than scientific, a matter of "carrying on the conversation of Western culture" rather than of inquiring of how things are.

What is Rorty thinking?! Has he forgotten that the greatest modern pragmatist, W.V. Quine, was a Platonist towards mathematics and a realist towards theoretical entities in physics? Rorty's line between Platonists and Pragmatists is not as thick as he thinks it is. Has he forgotten that the founder of pragmatism, C.S. Peirce, wrote of the need to "rescue the good ship of Philosophy for the service of Science from the hands of the lawless rovers of the sea of literature..as for the phrase 'studying in a literary spirit'...it is impossible to express how nauseating it is to any scientific man"? Peirce's remarks reveal his insistence that philosophy, like science, is a form of inquiry, of truth-seeking, and that, in this pursuit, testability is paramount, and clarity and precision of language mist take priority over euphony and elegance. But the line between pragmatism and positivism can be easily erased when we realize that many pragmatists hold that the meaning of sentence is based on experiential consequences. This is practically the same thing as Logical Positivism's commitment that a statement is meaningful if it is verifiable. Granted the difference is that the pragmatists differed from Logical Positivists in that pragmatism was not intended to eliminate metaphysics but to rule out the pragmatically meaningless from 'scientific' metaphysics. Another difference is that the pragmatists did not insist that all statements are either tautological, synthetic, or senseless. Although there is a difference between pragmatism and Logical Positivism, the above reveals that pragmatism is, nevertheless, a form of positivism.
Brad
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Posted Oct 30, 2002 - 6:13 PM:

Have you now or have you ever been a Rortian Pragmatist?

We know who you are. smiling face

TT,

Your scientism is well exhibited here. Now, I'm not saying you don't have any respect for literature for it seems, in other posts, that you do, but you are uncomfortable unless we place it in a specific hierarchy and science come first: "The philosophy of science is philosophy enough."

What's wrong with simply disagreeing with this statement?

Just because Peirce is wrong is no reason for the rest of us to be.
DarkCloud
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Posted Oct 30, 2002 - 7:29 PM:

...I wonder if there is any definitive test we can take to determine our stands for certain?

...I'm sure there is one... especially for us people who don't have the time to read every post- but would like to still respond intelligently to them wink
TecnoTut
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Posted Oct 31, 2002 - 11:10 AM:

Brad,

I'm trying not to turn this into a 'who's right?' topic. But frankly, I side with Peirce. Why? I tend to give more weight to the very founder of Rroty's school of thought. Rorty has the right to say what he says, but I believe he is willfully ignoring the history of Pragmatism. What is its history? Simply that there is no sharp line beween Pragmatists, Platonists, and Positivists. Classic key cites are Quine and Peirce. I am not at all shocked by Rorty's position considering he is a professor of literature. But my concern is that many people, following Rorty, believe that being a pragmatist means not being a Platonist or a positivist. This is simply not true,
Brad
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Posted Oct 31, 2002 - 6:53 PM:

I think it's precisely the sharp dividing line that Rortian Pragmatism avoids. It certainly avoids saying silly things like the Peirce quote above. But I don't see what the big deal is? Is it not enough to distinguish between Rortian pragmatism (or if you want, call it neo-pragmatism) and Peircian pragmatism in the same way we can distinguish between, say, Marxist socialism and Fabian socialism?

Certainly, Rorty and Peirce are very different and anyone who has read Rorty knows that. If they don't, they'll find out as soon as they read Peirce or as soon as they converse with someone who makes the claims that you've made here. I see that as a good thing all around. I don't however subscribe to the idea that Peircian Pragmatism is inherently better because he coined the term. That, if anything, is a Platonic approach to philosophy in that you inherently describe the orgins as somhow purer, more perfect, than what we have now -- though we could just as easily call this idea Confucian or nostalgic. It seems clear, TT, that you want to keep this distinction between the scientific and everything else. I don't, but at the same time, I don't want to privilege literature, aesthetics, or the social sciences (Why haven't you mentioned Dewey and James as other noteworthy Pragmatists?) over and above science. All of these fields seem valuable in their own way and different standards should be applied to each.

You can keep the hierarchy all you want, TT, but I fail to see what that gives you except an ego boost.
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