The great divide 
Brian Leiter has claimed that the distinction between analytic and continental philosophy, whatever its merits might have been forty years ago, is no longer useful. Gualtiero Piccinini responds, arguing that there is a real distinction and that it goes like this:
Analytic philosophy is a set of overlapping traditions whose founding fathers are Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, and Moore, whose exemplars include works by Carnap, Quine, and Kripke (among others), whose main sources of authority are logic, mathematics, and science, and whose core concerns include what there is and how we can know it.
Continental philosophy is a set of overlapping traditions whose founding fathers include Hegel, Nietzche, and especially Heidegger (or a subset thereof, depending on the specific sub-tradition), whose exemplars (besides Heidegger) include works by Gadamer, Foucault, and Derrida (among others), whose main sources of authority are art and hermeneutics, and whose main concerns include understanding "the human condition".


So Piccinini draws the distinction in three areas: founding fathers, sources of authority, and core concerns.

Founding fathers: For my own part, I see my work as continuing in the tradition of Thomas Reid, CS Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. The divide seems to miss all of my heroes.

Sources of authority: My work begins with a methodological presumption that science is mostly all right, but I am a philosopher of science. If your philosophy portrays actual science as altogether bankrupt, then it isn't a philosophy of science; it's just a philosophy that has dire consequences for science.

Philosophy of science as I see it has to make sense of the scientific enterprise as broadly successful. This does not mean that the claims of science must be taken at face value, nor does it mean that every specific instance of science must be deemed virtuous-- but science generally must be reckoned as OK.

This doesn't seem essentially anti-continental to me. Wouldn't Merleau-Ponty be on board?

Core concerns: My work is concerned with knowledge or at least with justified belief, but I think that it is a mischaracterization of the analytic tradition to say that it is concerned with what is and how we know it. The movements that are paradigmatically analytic didn't worry about being; rather, they worried about meaning. The linguistic turn was the great analytic stratagem, and I am not party to it.

On the other hand, Heidegger was not really concerned with the human condition. The brilliant existentialism was just a way of getting at his real concern: the problem of being. I don't pretend to understand it fully, but it does not fit into Piccinini's rubric.

In short, the analytic/continental distinction does not help me understand philosophy or my place in it. It neither clearly categorizes me nor illuminates those of my fellows that it does pigeon-hole. The distinction really only helps me understand the academic politics of philosophy in the twentieth century and, insofar as people are still carrying those banners, academic politics of today.

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Happy second blogiversary! 
Thus concludes year two of the blog. It includes about 20,000 words of blog content, down 20% from the year before.

Traffic has reached a few hundred mostly anonymous visitors per day. Of course, many of them are looking for the significance of epicycles, footnotes on hamlet, information about revolver ejectors, or something else that this blog won't help them with at all. It is an unnamed law of the internet that any webpage that combines words in an idiosynchratic way will receive a modicum of misdirected traffic from search engines.

With that in mind: Neolithic prognostication! Polymorphic esoterica! Bolivian commodity decoupage!

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Drowning in spam 
I have had several dozen items of comment spam appear throughout the site in the last 24 hours. I have temporarily turned turned off comments in order to put a lid on it.

Update: I have upgraded to the latest version of SimplePHPBlog and turned comments back on. I've activated moderation, which means that legitimate comments may take longer than usual to appear. If the new version stops the deluge, I may turn moderation off.

OK, really: That did not work, but I've made further efforts to cut the guy off. Hopefully it won't result in difficulties for anyone who is genuinely trying to read or comment.

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Lo, Quine! 
In Theories and Things and Perspectives on Quine, Quine defines an observation sentence for an individual in this way:
If querying the sentence elicits assent from the given speaker on one occasion, it will elicit assent likewise on any occasion when the same total set of receptors is triggered; and similarly for dissent. [PoQ, p.3]
Yet this seems obviously inadequate. Consider and individual asked to watch a series of images and count the number of rabbits that appear. Obviously, "That is the first rabbit" ought to count as an observation. Nevertheless, the very same image and so the very same receptor trigger will not elicit assent on subsequent occasions. Rather, when the subject sees the same picture she will say "That is the second rabbit."

One might amend the definition so as to include context; for example, the agent will assent when the same receptors are triggered and the neural machinery responsible for memory is active in the same way. This seems inadequate for several reasons. First, the revised version individuates occasions so specifically that they might be unrepeatable. This would trivialize the consequent of the conditional. Second, the revised version makes remembering something count as an observation. Third, there may be no clear line between the neural machinery of memory and that of calculation. That would make arithmetic count as observation.

Similar problems arise for sentences like "It is cold." My sensitivity to cold depends in part on my state of mind and attention. Assent requires more than just a specific temperature on my receptors.

In addition to the specific objection, I disagree with Quine's general fixation on stimulations at the sensory periphery. Perception and memory are richly interwoven with the environment; cf. d-cog.

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Watch Thag simulate the world 
Scholars typically explain the demise of the Neanderthals by claiming that they were better suited for colder climates and so died out when the Ice Age ended. They had bigger brains than Homo sapiens, however, and so they probably could have still out-thought us. Their cleverness suggests other possibilities.

Cristyn is working on a sound installation inspired by the study of Neanderthals, and a couple of days ago we had a conversation that involved posing this scenario:

Imagine Homo sapiens had died out, and the Neanderthals had lived on to develop an advanced technological civilization. They would be curious as to what the world would have been like had they died out. So a sufficiently advanced Neanderthal civilization would run simulations in which we modern humans developed and lived our lives.

The lack of a satisfactory explanation for why Neanderthals died out is just what we would expect if our world were such a simulation. The Neanderthal high programmer would simply write in the removal of their Neanderthal forebears. Deus ex machina.

To jump to a conclusion: We have no direct way of knowing if our world is a simulation or not. As such, we have good reason to believe that either (a) we are living in a Neanderthal's simulation of a world, or (b) there is a complete naturalistic explanation of why Neanderthal's died out. The radical contingency of natural selection means that we would never have decisive reason to believe the latter rather than the former.

Of course, this is a variation of the Simulation Argument. However, it ups the stakes a bit: The simulation argument admits that our modern human civilization developed, but asks if we are in it or in a simulation of it. The new argument leaves us with the possibility that there never was really a civilization like ours. Perhaps Napolean, the Sears tower, the TV show Star Trek, and the moon landing were never anything more than an idle-time process on a powerful computer run by a caffeine-addled trans-neanderthal IT guy.

If we take this scenario seriously, there might be ethical consequences. For example, we might wish humans to exist in the physical world and not just in so many simulations. The trans-neanderthal programmer probably have the technology to embody humans, based on the simulations of what we would be like. They will only do so if we seem like the sort of creature actually worth harvesting, rather than a curiosity only worth simulating. Unfortunately, it is unclear what they might want us to do. Perhaps we should perfect our skills at making espresso, so that they might embody us to work in their coffee shops.

I for one welcome our slope-browed overlords.

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