Late Thoughts on Pragmatism and Religion, Pragmatism and Trascendence

These remarks might be or seem to be a little off the points we have been discussing but I think they are relevant and I hope I can show you how. 

I begin with a discussion and a hunch. The discussion took place at a friend’s home at an Easter supper. After we had eaten I fell into conversation with a woman I will call Rachel who was hosting the dinner. She belongs to a group who discuss the Torah and we began discussing the events around Mt. Sinai when Moses receives the tablets of the law. She offered an intelligent and plausible set of reads, in which for example the fact that the Israelites turned on God was explained by the fact that they were afraid of change and wanted to return to Egypt. And she also conjectured that Moses’ “sidekick”, Aaron, led the collective effort to set up a golden calf and worship it in direct contradiction to God’s orders because he was afraid the people would turn and go back to slavery in Egypt.

I was struck by this intelligent misread and it reminded me of something I consider important, a hunch I have about reading but also about the way the world might be. When I read Scripture or any anonymous sacred text, such as Qu’ran or the Gitas,  I try as hard as I can to be a fundamentalist in the sense that I try to take what I read seriously and take a look (thanks, Mr. H) at what it says without interpreting it, and also, most importantly, without trying to make it all coherent, without filling in the narrative holes and lacunae in order to make the story hang together in a neat way. There is a very strong human tendency, a longing to make things hang together and it has a lot to do, I think, with Hacking’s styles of reasoning and with Rorty’s idea that truth making has to do with establishing claims and habits that allow us to predict and control our world. In both cases the point is that it matters to make a higher level of sense about things because we are very smart apes whose flourishing must depend on our ability to master and manipulate our complex environment, which we are always testing with our intelligence, and trying to remake to suit ourselves. 

And I saw this same tendency in my intelligent host. She wanted, and her friends wanted, to manufacture a version of the Mt. Sinai story that made sense of what happened, a version that would implicitly reassure them that the world and events in it make sense and that even religious matters offer a clear, consequential narrative curve. But the Biblical texts themselves are odd amalgams of coherent accounts - especially, long, extraordinarily detailed descriptions of altars, sacrifices, and ritual clothing, among other things ritual. But interspersed with these accounts are very strange stories that offer no clear account of either motives or intentions. For example the people of Israel go to great efforts to melt down all their gold ornaments in order to fashion an idol, a clearly false cow-god, as they camp in front of Mt. Sinai, which is covered with clouds and where they know that Yahweh is in residence, conferring with Moses. They also know that His very first rule was that they should worship Him alone and that, second, they should not erect competing false gods. There is no ambiguity here — their beliefs are definitely habits of action, or should be habits of action, arising from what they see and hear and touch, in this case the palpable presence of God. And yet their first instinct, unexplained, is to create a belief, a habit of action — dancing around the golden calf that they know they have created — that treats the calf as if it were a god,  and God who they know is right there on the mountain, as if He were not there at all and had not laid down any rules. 

Even more strangely the effort to make and worship the cow is managed by Aaron, Moses’ right-hand guy, a guy who has seen God and heard Him speak on more than one occasion. This is perverse, untoward behavior, which is never explained or justified. It opens a hole in the fabric of interpretation, an empty spot for which there is no filler. Why are the people of Israel so fickle? Why did Aaron run the thing when he knows that there is a real God? Why did God make such undependable creations, and how can it be written that these endlessly perverse ann untrustworthy beings are made in His image? 

My Torah friend wanted to make sense of this. She conjectured that Aaron went along with this weird program because he was afraid that if he did not the people would turn around and go back to slavery in Egypt. But there is no mention of such thinking in the text. Nor does it explain the people’s behavior except to say that they are wicked and stiff-necked. What happens to the world if we embrace the idea that it might be filled with explanatory holes, what Derrida calls aporia, pathless places, incidents and events that do not lead anywhere else, that have no connection, beyond ‘plausible’ semi-explanations, to anything else?

In this read of the world the question of whether we have an instinct for truth is irrelevant, as is the idea that we can develop styles of reasoning to order our experience beyond what common sense offers. I think that both Rorty and Hacking are right, and that our grandiose tendency to want Truth diverts us from the more important business of developing ways to tell smaller local truths that make us happy and allow us to flourish. And I agree with Hacking that it is important to study how these local truths emerge from styles of reasoning whose rules and whose objects we create from our own intelligence.

But what if there are still holes, openings to something else, for which we do not have an instinctive yearning, which is in no way an answer to questions we ask, either practical or romantic? What if there is just something else there, some Other with which we find ourselves in contact but which we do not understand? Rorty tends to see religious belief as most highly educated and rational people, including almost all such believers, see it — as a constructed response to a felt need, as a story crafted to answer a huge metaphysical question about who we are and why we are here. And most religious or ethical or generally spiritual or philosophical answers are exactly that - brilliantly constructed responses to Big Questions. 

But what if items like the Torah account of the meeting with God at Mt. Sinai suggest first that there might not be an instinct for God, that is, that even if we have metaphysical longings for Meaning, the strange whatever the Jews meet is not even close to being such an answer, but is, on the contrary, a delay and obstruction to that sort of quest? And what if religious formulations, in any faith, are at their best when they verge on the incoherent, when their fragmented, ambiguous, or just weird character indicates that what they encode, or try to encode, is a glancing, unsatisfying but real meeting with something utterly not us, rather than with something we were seeking?

If we read in this way we can on one hand agree entirely with the pragmatists and with Hacking that we make up truth to suit ourselves, and with Hacking that this does not mean that the truths we make up are any the less objective for being made up. We can agree that we are smart apes who do not face a Real, that there is no way for us to rise above our evolutionary circumstances and attain Truth. And we can also believe that such accounts as the Torah story of Mt. Sinai suggest that some of the apes have also run into something whose meanings cannot be successfully or happily translated, that in our experience there really might be an indigestible, incommensurable other that cannot be assimilated to wish fulfillments or consoling dreams.



I have also been thinking about Rorty’s claim that we have no instinct for truth, and the suggestion that in our public projects we aim at creating truths or beliefs that can be tested in intersubjective ways. He then says that we can pursue any self-creating individual projects we like without such intersubjective agreement. Here’s the question: if Rorty believes that we need to develop a society in which we stop categorizing people in ways that lead to their abuse or oppression, then mustn’t we develop intersubjectively agreed-on public projects ? If so, what sort of intersubjective testing of such rules might there be? Why would we adopt them in the first place? On what basis would they be reinforced?


And do such sanguine, compassionate public projects arise in the public realm or do they emerge from private dreaming, from individual projects of self-development that stress compassion? 

Second, are such projects — egalitarianism in general, support for gay rights, feminism, antiracism, and so forth, vehicles for transcendence? I mean does dedication to such causes take us beyond ourselves and involve our lives in something greater than our lives, as happens when we embrace a religious perspective, whatever that is? And is such transcendence, a transcendence that art might offer as well - poetry, music, film, visual arts, etc., -something everyone needs, or is it peculiar to some people and is such a “need” conceivably a function of the quality of one’s education?

Third, have you discerned any clear political or social or moral direction in Hacking? I think that his ideas on making up people have serious political and ethical implications because he is suggesting that, in a sense, society can put clones in place, made-up people who would not be there otherwise, and this is very provocative. He is not of course saying that we literally create people but that we create them as the kind of people they are. I do not think this leads to the general charge that Hacking believes that all people are made up. If I am right in arguing that he sees a difference between regular uninteresting truth that anyone can get, and self-reflective truth created by styles of reasoning, then I think we can extrapolate this same template to his theory of identity and guess that people can either develop in the “regular” way, inside their respective cultural and historical settings, with no special designation, or they can be created by, and react to, highly developed clinical identities foisted on them by ‘experts’ whose style of reasoning makes their existence possible. 

On the other hand I am not sure that the same dualism can apply to people because of course everyone is definitely shaped by family history, ethnicity, gender, religious belief, geography, socio-economic level and so forth. Are any of us just folks or are we all functions of some style of reasoning or other, or of several, or some styles of reasoning overlaid on less fully articulated but nonetheless powerful rules for identity offered by our particular backgrounds? I am just not clear on any of this. 






Three motives 4 rebirth of anti-prags. But 2 realisms - technical and intuitive.

3 Motives

1.new developments Question pragmatist rejection of correspondence theory of truth.
Kripke & Dummett

2. Prags underestimate human significance of old phil problems, dissolve too much.

Nagel & Cavell

3. No more philosophical Fach.

Nub for intuitive realist = prags dissolve problems using Verificationism. That is prags say that if we cannot check it directly it is not worth talking about.
Intuits object: prags reject the Ideas that 1.non-solvable phil problems are interesting and 2 - that there are facts beyond language.

Second lot, the technical realists, believe that prags have verificationism wrong for different reasons: following Kripke they believe, pace Frege, that meaning does not determine reference. They believe that real natural kinds determine both thinking and language.

They think that words do not carve up and order an inchoate world, but that things, kinds of things that are real & unchanging, do so.

Ultimately to call a sentence true does not for Rorty mean that the sentence corresponds to the Real but that it does a job, works for us.

To say that a sentence's value resides in it's correspondence to facts rather than in the fact that it provides a fruitful habit of action is for the prags to say something that does no useful work and creates weird problems that cannot be solved.

Sent from my iPhone


First, Rorty claims that we do have many intuitions because we have been educated in a particular intell tradition. But R's point is that we have no special responsibility to these time bound intuitions. If we had lived earlier we might feel responsibility to other intuitions.

Intuition people think we have a responsibility to these things and that it is wrong to repress them. They believe this because they believe that if we dig deep enough and teach people the right vocab, they will all find a set of intuitions that they all share.
If these guys are right one of two things have to be true:
E/ language does not go all the way down O/ at base all languages are commensurable.

Rorty believes something different and interesting. He believes that our job is to create intuitions for the common future, to act as poets rather than as Philosophers, makers
rather than discovers.

He does not question the intuitions but questions how loyal we need to be to them .





THOSE WHO PLUMP FOR INTUITIONS SAY THAT we have to do justice to everyone’s intuitions.

If this is so then we have to say that intuitions go deeper than language, that is, views of the world occur and are universal despite culture and language.

Or, despite the appearance of differences in culture, “all vocabularies are commensurable.”

Two things are meant: first that culture has nothing to do with intuitions and second that Homeric heroes and Genghis khan both talk about what we talk about.

Ok; to see the problems and intuition proposed as Philosophy as indispensable to understanding how philosophy and intellectual has gone in our culture makes perfect sense. Thus studying the history of philosophy is a Good Thing. (do Hacking article on this from HO) But it is not a Good Thing if we do it to protect these allegedly timeless “intuitions”

We need, thinks R, to step back from the tradition and see it as a tradition rather than as something spontaneously given to all people in all cultures.

He sees Cavell and Clarke as looking at “the legacy of scepticism” as indication “of soemthing important about human beings,”, rather than as telling us something about how modern Westerners see consciousness and awareness.

Nagel is a good example when he collects a bunch of allegedly “deep” problems under a single, capital letter rubric, “Subjective-Objective”. Here he is saying that there are sets of old and insoluble but real philosophical problems to which we keep returning, and we study guys from the past not because their answers are believable anymore but to see how they dealt with these issues, issues with which we still must deal, accepting that human understanding has some built-in, important and informative limits, rather than stuff it just cannot do.

Rorty does an interesting analysis of Nagel’s take on “moral luck”. Let’s do this very carefully.

1. The problem is that we can only blame people for what is under our control and yet almost nothing is. What he means is that when you write a great blog entry, this might be a function of your genetic inheritance, how much sleep you got, whether you are getting along with your ferret, your blood sugar level and your typing skills.

2. As Nagel puts when we really examine things people do we find less and less wiggle room.

3. He offers a “flabby” “compatibiist account” of moral judgments such as Hume might offer. Hume might suggest that Bob is responsible for whatever we generally hold people responsible for. That is, we look at such gross factors as absence of coercion(no one held a gun to your neck as you wrote the blog entry); ignorance (you did not understand that what you were writing was rivetingly brilliant); involuntary movement(you got up at night and wrote it in your sleep, or your hands just raced over the keyboard out of your control). Under these very rough circumstances we would say that you had diminished responsibility for the blog.

4. But a Hume would accept these rough guidelines knowing full well that Bob’s genes, blood sugar, relationships with his ferret and so forth all affected his decision. The reason Hume would accept this is that he does not believe that there is anything deep going on here. He does not believe that there is some deep problem with something called Free Will. For him using community standards of responsibility is just fine, on the understanding that we can freely wrangle about degrees of culpability, introducing arguments about mitigating circumstances and so forth in an endless interchange.

5. Nagel’s problem is that this loosy-goos

6. y approach does not account for one salient fact - namely that philosophers have thought that is a problem here.

7. Here is how he thinks it: he thinks that if we raise skeptical objections, that is, raise questions about why we keep having to take away all the factors we regard as external to truly moral judgment, even though taking them away leaves us with nothing at all in such judgment except those accidental factors - shows us that there is a problem.

8. Nagel being a naturalist kind of guy does not plump for Kant’s solution -- that there just has to be some deeper reality to Freedom, some aspect of our moral identity that transcends this animal world (can you say, ‘Categorical Imperative’?), but he does say that this intuition about subtracting all accidental factors remains with us always, a problem, a deep problem, that might have no solution but that we feel some responsibility to try to solve. We must at least admit that the problem remains, the intuition is unkillable, and we have a responsibility to admitting that it is there.

9. “in a sense the problem has no solution, because something in the idea of agency is incompatible with actions being events or people being things.”

10. What do this mean? Well, here: Nagel wants to say that when we think agency, that is, moral acting and the responsibility we attach to it, we have an intuition, a deep and unchangeable sense, that when we describe moral acts -- the killing of innocents, going to a Jonas Brothers concert - we just cannot accept that such acts should be described as events, that is as occurrences like water gushing from a faucet or a Google search once the Return key is struck. Events are lawlike and occur according to predictable rules; acts carry a connotation of being authored, of having unique originators who could have done otherwise. You cannot stop the email once you hit the send button, but we like to think, we cannot help but think, that we had some choice, some agency, in deciding whether to hit the button in the first place.

11. But we also know with every scientific bone in us that acts really are events, that people really are things -- but we cannot, according to Nagel, but keep coming back to this deep, troubling intuition that to be fully human means to possess some level of moral agency.

12. We are this left an insoluble puzzle that attests to “the limits of our understanding.”


Rorty contrasts Nagel’s approach with that of Iris Murdoch, whom I consider a wildly under-appreciated resource in moral philosophy. Her little book on goodness, which I used when I used to teach ethics, is a gem and I recommend it highly to anyone who wants to get a quite different, intriguing and plausible read on moral philosophy.

Murdoch sees this Nagelian “intuition” as an intellectually disastrous wrong turn because it posits an isolated moral agent outside space and time. This agent is isolated, not just from space-time but, as M points out also from “belief, reason, feeling, and yet is the essential center of the self.”

To solve this disaster Murdoch wants to get back behind the whole Kantian discourse about the unbridgeable difference between moral and empirical self, to drop the language of existentialist isolation and alienation from the world and to revive an oder vocabulary, once used by 16th century Platonic Christians (or, Aristotelians). Rorty’s point is not to embrace Murdoch as right but to suggest that Nagel’s intuition, and his exciting sense that the question of moral agency leads inevitably to “ineffable depths and limits of language”, raises question not about the limits of language but about the image of man on which such a formulation of problems is grounded. What can Nagel be thinking, in the grip of what historically limited template does he write and think, such that these become intuitions and problems?

Nagel sees these as wonderful problems; an outside will see then as “reductiones ad absurdum of a vocabulary”. On understanding that phrase will depend your understanding of this whole sectionb, so let’s look at it carefully.

What is going on here is something that tells us how 20th century European intellectuals think, and where their language, their vocabulary, leads them.


more on rorty's philosophy of religion - a fragment added when found online




The five things:



we did #1, about beliefs as habits of action.

#2 - “If there is no will to truth apart from the will to happiness, there is no way to contrast the cognitive with the non-cognitive, the serious with the non-serious.”

Earlier in this section Rorty says that people like Tillich made religion “symbolic”, by which R means that Tillich redescribed religious belief as “poetic”' and poetry therefore as “religious”. This appears to mean that one does not make religious claims as if they were true about the nature of the universe, straight ahead, but as expressions of an indivudal's take on things, his or her personal vision or feel about the whole shebang. R does not see such individual visions as co0mpeting with science, but then one has to ask, what exactly are they?

R recognizes that if we keep saying that science, as opposed to poetry or religion, is “serious” kniowledge, or “cognitive” -- produced by reason -- which means that poetry/religion are non-serious as knowledge and also non-cognitive (a matter of feeling or mood, not knowledge) then what one has done, and which no religious person will take seriously, is to relegate rel/poetry to a realm outside truth.


R, instead of claiming that religion does exist in the same realm of truth as science, and is just wrong, a position that Hitchens, Dennett, Harris and Dawkins all take, or claiming that there are different and equally valid forms of knowing (very mysterious and profound-sounding but mighty difficult to cash in), or that religious folks, through their faith, have access to truthy truth that is just not available to we peons who do not believe, chooses to argue that we need to drop a distinction on which all the preceding positions logically depend: namely that in culture there are some things that fulfill our need for truth and some that answer other, generally lesser aims such as our feelings.


What does this amount to? R seems tio be saying that there is a cultural distinction between claims thatr have cognitive weight and those that have lesser weight or no weight at all. This is definitely a cultural intuition. You and I do tend to believe that some sentences tell a truth and others are more contestable. R wants us to begin to believe and to talk as if the real reason we believe the guy at the Apple store more readily than the guy in a bad suit who brandishes the Book of Mormon at us is that generally speaking we expect more happiness from the Apple Genius than from the Mormon missionary, although sometimes the relationship gets reversed.

R is asking us to rethink our cultural instincts. Does this make sense? Is geek talk really just as true or not as religious visions or “Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?”

If so what does this do to the whole idea of what it meaqns for things to be true? Isn't Rorty perhaps going a little too far in a way he need not go? Can't we say that certain truths are truer than other truths for most poeople and that this is not because they are better but because they seem much easier to prove?

The problem for R is, I think, that if we say this we are saying something that he really does not want us to be able to say, namely that religious claims might actually be true-able, testable as true in much the same way as claims about Mac logic boards. And R assumes that this cannot be so, is not in the realm of possibility and therefore he writes as if we should stop talking in this way.


He substitutes another distinction that he likes better, that gives him more pleasure. He says that we need to distinguish, not between cog and non-cog sentences, but between “projects of social coperation and projects of individual self-development.


The big distinction here is between claims in which intersubjective agreement is required and claims in which it is not. My first response is that this distinction is cool but shows that the R man does not know a whole lot about religion and religious practice, namely that religious belief is deeply intersubjective rather than individual. Indeed part of the whole point of religion is it inherently communal nature.


In science people cooperate to observe and experiment so that they can make predictions that will come true. This does sound a lot like traditional ideas about truth, doesn't it?


R says that law is the same, but does not make clear what he means. How exactly is law like science?


R sees what he calls “romantic art” as “a paradigmatic project of individual self-development.

R thinks that perhaps religion = another paradigm. But it is one iff it is separated from 2 things:

  1. attempt to predict consequences of our actions (science)

  2. attempt to rank human needs.(morals).


But this is what religion does.


This needs a lot more discussion.


  1. Love of Truth

    R believes there is no love of Truth, nor should love Truth. Under this description, if we need nit love truth then religious belief is not intellectually irresponsible. R assumes 2 things.

First he assumes that religious belief and truth have nothing to do with each other and cannot have anything to do with each other.

Second he assumes that religious people will not want to have anything to do with the truth.

R wants to say that we should never rule out a rel. belief just because there ain't no evidence 4 it. We just don't ever want it to erupt into “a social and cooperative project.”

The real problem with religion is its sins against liberty, that is against its responsibility to other people.


  1. Love of Truth = Secular version of religious hope that hooking up w/ God will give us power in dealing with other people.

    R objects to this alliance not because it is weak but because it is antidemocratic. So, what R has vs. the rel fundies is not that they are intellectually irresponsible but morally irresponsible.

    Rel people claim to know the only ways to happiness and they exclude other people's' ways.



    R much prefers Dewey to James, because James hangs a lot of his ideas on there being a Truth, a God. Dewey really has no interest in God, but in the social dimensions of religion.



In Will






Hacking pp. 54-55, 59



this is R's historicism = “the theory that social and cultural phenomena are historically determined, and that each period in history has its own values that are not directly applicable to other epochs. In philosophy, that implies that philosophical issues find their place, importance, and definition in a specific cultural milieu.”


“That is certainly Rorty's opinion, and, aside from qualifications, ... , it is mine too.”



H disagrees with R in this important particular.

H thinks that R believes that “traditional topics , ... , the kit and caboodle of metaphysics and epistemology – had a place in earlier pieces of European history but are now defunct. Philosophy shall absent itself from a post-philosophical age.”


H thinks that R is an old-fashioned historicist who does not pay enough attention to history; he wants a story about history but “pays little attention to the complex interweavings of past and present.”


H is a different sort of historicist, one dedicated to Taking A Look.

How does this work and how is it different from R's view of things?


“The I concepts traditionally of interest to philosophy are not ... timeless objects. Instead, “normalcy,” “chance,” “cause'” “person,” “evidence,” “guilt,” or “abuse,” are structures whose roles and power have been determined by specific histories. This is a local historicism, attending to particular and disparate fields of reflection and action. It discourages grand unified accounts, but it does demand taking a look at a lot of little facts. R's use of history is in contrast global, drawing conclusions about the whole of philosophy and indeed everything else, for chemistry and lit crit are alike ruled part of conversation.”


See page 59, the list of undoing, historicism and progress.


R and Dewey: Undoing, some historicism, and lots of progress.


Analysis of R's kind of undoing: R says H thinks that the ideas of the old dead philosophers were just wrong, “or have come to be wrong because of other historical developments. H sees R,s rejection of past philosophy as a bluff, middle American move that undoes, with great originality, analytic philosophy and its special set of problems inherited from the classical philosophers.


Here is the essential difference on which I would love to comment:

“R's undoing is an undoing by tracing the path of programs and projects in philosophy. “




“He is not much concerned with the concepts and how they are constructed.”



R deals with “the path of programs and projects in philosophy.”

This means that R, in dealing with programs and projects, did not pay attention to either concepts or their construction. H, for his part, must be less than interested in programs and projects.


H sees R as successful because he argued that the analytic phil that had alienated and repressed so many Ami phils was committing suicide.


H shares R's pluralism, but not his interest in phil as conversation and phil as problems.

H then does a riff on R and phil-as-problems, which makes clear that R sees himself as clearing up phil problems in order to make phil irrelevant to the future.




H is saying that what interested R is rebelling against the analytic philosophers, in undoing them as the last representatives of people who were trying to solve philosophical problems that were first raised centuries ago. But Rorty, doing what H considers to be Big History, tries to make big claims about philosophical questions and how they were answered, and assumes that philosophy has been passed by by history, because it was a wrong turn in the first place and besides we no longer need those sorts of answers.

Where H differs deeply is made clear in the next section of the essay in which he presents Thomas Kuhn as a model, as a historicist John Locke, or as an empiricist with a sense of history. He wants to say that philosophy still has a job, that is to study styles of reasoning to trace how deeply reflective concepts are developed, how they are produced, and what uses they have. As H sees R, R wants to turn philosophy into conversation, into interminable talk, because he does not appreciate dead philosophers as people who in their time and context made new realities possible.



Making Up People

In his article on Making Up People H is tackling a question that he summarizes at the end of the previous essay, on page 98. There he writes, anent Foucault, that the question of whether there are "natural kinds" of things for science to know and study has produced two "straw", that is, exaggeratedly simplified positions on what there is and how we relate to it.
First, "straw realism" is said to argue that there are natural kinds in the world, and that these terms, or language, we use to refer to these "pick out essential properties", that is, things about the kinds that make them be what they are and without which they could not be what they are. For example, moose would a natural kind, as would wombats and perhaps glaciers (personal computers?), and for straw realists the terms we properly use to designate moose instances (‘That is definitely a moose.’) would name things that every single moose has to have in order to be called one. The point is that these hypothetical realists are guided or ‘required’ by the kinds of things that moose are to name, say, heavy shoulders and a certain kind of antlers and even, as a high bid, a certain distinctive DNA pattern when they think about and name the moose.

On the other hand we have the people H calls “straw idealists-cum-nominalists”. “Cum” in this context is the Latin word meaning “with” and is used in this construction to designate Xs—as-well-as Ys”, suggesting that the phils who oppose the hypothetical realists are always both nominalists – people who believe that all that kinds have in common, really, is the fact that we call them all by the same name – and idealists, namely, people who believe that we assign terms or names to things in the world because of an idea or concept we have about that thing.


To call either group ‘straw’ means that these are caricatures, that no real philosopher has such a simple position.


H tells us that he is an “empirical realist”, namely somebody who believes that there really are things in the world and that they are “really existing anterior to any thought.”

And even more, not only are there real things that exist before (and presumably after) we think of them, but in many cases (but importantly by no means for all) we seem to have to sort things as we do; not only must we do so but there seems little compulsion about this. We sort things as we do because that is just how we are made.


But note something terribly important and muy easy to miss: H writes in the middle of this empirical realist paragraph something that completely alters the game: “But something else happens when we engage in reflective discourse.”


OK, we are back, intermittently watching UNC dismember Michigan St. in one of the dreariest championship games on record.

The next thing H writes is that Foucault was interested in how “objects constitute themselves in discourse.” Paired with the previous sentence about “reflective” discourse we begin to get the idea: while many things seem to aggregate themselves without our intervention, and/or in many cases we just seem to put things together in certain ways that agree with the way other people and in a larger context other cultures put things together, this is not always the case and is rarely the case when we name objects as elements in ‘reflective discourse’, that is as items in a self-consciously constructed, end-seeking kind of discourse such as natural science or alchemy or rabbinic commentary on Torah.  Within such constrained discourses, or what H calls “styles of reasoning”, terms “constitute themselves in discourse”, that is acquire meaning and use within the frame of and in terms of a carefully constructive conceptual scheme within which, and nowhere else, they find a place.

So, H is saying that there are two sorts of sentences and two sorts of language – the everyday garden variety of sentences and language that name real things in an uncomplicated way, indicating how such sentences are to be tested and how such terms are to be applied. In this world the straw realist will do fine. But in a parallel world in which objects are in a serious sense created by a certain convention of discourse this realism just won’t do and a form of nominalism-idealism rules, namely, a set of conventions within which objects and their meanings are essentially created by the rules of the talk about them.