Hacking 1-3 Prag Essay
Monday, March 30, 2009 at 6:47PM
Kevin O'Neill

1.You can be a fallibilist w/o being a pragmatist.

Lesson: Both pragmatists and H are fallibilists.

.2. Both prags and non-prags can and do “take a look.”

This means that H thinks thick descriptions and obsessive fact gathering matter; but note that he sees both obsessive factseeker, Foucault, and Wittgenstein, the philosopher of “imaginary possibilities,” as equally strong influences on his work. What can we do with this? Hmmm...

3. Disagreeing about truth

Truth = what works

Coherence theory

I am not at all clear about what is being argued here. I think, however, on second thought, that Hacking is telling us that he disagrees with the pragmatists about truth. He does s because he thinks that truth is not based on verification or justification of claims

by testing them, at least not in all relevant cases. First he thinks that we say things are true because there is a syntactic function built into all natural languages, as “It is true that...” and that truth is simply that formal property.

Second he believes that “regular” claims about pennies and Walmart can be tested in a pragmatist way, by being tested. No problem because they are low-level iterations of truth and we all know how to navigate them, using Williams’ virtues of sincerity and authenticity. What really interests the H-man however are the cases of truthfulness that are more complex and that depend on developing a set of rules, a style of reasoning, adapted to the production and testing of specialized claims that are candidate for truth or falsehood only within that style and its conventions. H thinks that the study of how different complex practices of maintaining accuracy and enacting sincerity is much of what philosophy should be about.

To reiterate:

H appears to be saying two things:

first that truth is a formal property of language with no theoretical import; it is just a necessary syntactic function of languages.

Second he is also arguing that what gets to be a candidate for this function develops over time. That is, history develops candidates for true-or-false, not for true, since that is purely formal. At certain times it is not possible to ask, “Is that claim true or false?” because at time t-1 such questions cannot be asked, because the technologies necessary to make them askable do not yet exist.

I think H thinks that R is not sufficiently historicist and moreover does not know that timeless truth is not very important and does not need to be rejected.

H thinks that Williams is telling us something important about style of reasoning.

So he thinks he disagrees with R about truth.

Now I start to get a glimmer -- namely that R thinks that Williams is proposing that philosophers have special methods for discerning how truth works and R wants to argue that saying that truthfulness has pragmatic value is indistinguishable from saying that it has intrinsic value. He does not think philosophers can deploy special tools to uncover the mechanics of truth-telling because there are none but happiness.

H wants to counter-argue that Foucault unearthed ways to look back and understand how certain styles of reasoning, always allied with new technologies for making the world or people, for seeing and/or producing a real, could emerge. Philosophers describe the conditions of emergence and the inner mechanics of that emergence, somewhat as Hegel did less teleologically (idealistically?) R tends to read history in a more linear and less nuanced manner, seeing religion as a source of satisfaction that is no longer true because it is no longer satisfying, whereas H might see religion as having been superseded by newer technologies of truth that produce more dependable results.

I am not sure about this or about whether there is such a huge difference between R and H. I have no idea how H sees religious belief, except that one would imagine that H would tend to see it in the context of a whole time and place, as a function of an entire environment.

H’s idea is that there are objective truths within the conventions for determining true-or-false established within different style of reasoning, by which he means that different ways of generating and testing statements, often based on new technologies, establish clear-cut rules for true-or-false.

He also says that for most sentences, stating ordinary truths, no such style is required and between this sort of sentence in one language and its analog in another there is not indeterminacy of translation at all, pace Quine. He agrees with Davidson’s scheme-content rejection in most cases but reserves the styles of reasoning talk as possibly a scheme that determines, even creates, and is in turn created by its content. This is what he means by dynamic nominalism.

But, 4 he agrees with the prags about reality,

in the sense that he agrees with Peirce that “the origin of the conception of reality involves the notion of a community w/o definite limits, “ and with Dewey’s contempt for a “spectator theory of knowledge”, by which H means that he favors a view of reality that is constructed by communal projects and that involves “taking a look” as well as experimental intervention. He will have many things to say, some cautionary, about such communal efforts to make worlds in new ways, at the same time never giving up the idea that most of what we experience is uncontroversially real, and that questions about realism are dead-enders.

H likes the fact that Dewey tried to “destroy the conception of knowledge and reality as a matter of thought and of representation.”

H thinks that this attitude should have turned philosophers’ attentions to experimental science but instead they went toward R, who he sees as praising talk, that is as embracing anti-representationalism a very different sense, not as something that one wants to move beyond but as something that is a fundamental mistake and a waste of time. I think H might misread R a little because R does agree with James that truth is what is good in the way of belief, and with Peirce that believing is a “habit of action”, but he also seems to suggest, in the “Romantic Polytheism” piece,

that we need to eliminate the distinction between what he calls “cognitive” and “non-cognitive” descriptions of belief, thereby rejecting the idea that there are things we know by using reason and things we believe by using feeling. In rejecting that he is also rejecting the invidious distinction between Reason and Feeling.

Now let’s get sophisticated. Rorty rejects the Cog- ~Cog distinction in segment 2 of his pragmatic philosophy of religion but then in Segment 3 he writes that we need a new distinction, namely the one between truths communally arrived at, which aim at prediction and control, and truths that have to do solely with individual self-development. While this distinction is a bit crude compared to what H will do with his writing on kinds and the many and complex ways people work together to predict and control, still the spirit is not so different because both agree that the establishment f what we would call scientific truth is a shared enterprise using accepted techniques of intervention - testing, definition and so forth. R does not bother to distinguish, as H does, between truths about kinds of things that we find and those we make up or fabricate, but at the same time his interest is really in the difference between religious and political belief, not in science, and H seems to have little or no interest in this issue.

Note: H loves reading James because of his generosity and because he took a look, a long, long, look, at people’s everyday experience, something R tends to ignore in favor of seeing where James stood on the issue of God and his reality. It is clear that R’s real targets are the big Metaphyiscal Things - Truth, Reality, Reason, God, while H is more willing to say that questions about reality are really handled best in a low-key way, that “Reason” is an historically developing,

changeable collection, with indeterminate boundaries, of shared practices of experimental intervention. Reason does have a “being” but that being is historical, which means contingent, changeable and fallible, and also without foundation. The key difference is that H thinks that such concepts have perfectly good uses if only we examine the history of such uses, and trace the development, splitting, appearance and disappearance of various iterations of the concepts, with the understanding that concepts create their own dynamic realities and antirealities, that is that when we deploy a concept its instances react to it by appearing, disappearing, resisting, redefining, living up to, and so forth. H wants to get being-naming concepts out of people’s heads and mouths, where he fears R will leave them, and re-envision them as ways people act, set up institutions, write, incarcerate, prescribe, etc. H, perhaps more than R, sees scientific concepts wholly as the Peircean “habits of action.”

On the other hand when we move to areas that R favors such as religious belief and politics, he seems quite dedicated to the proposition that we need to and should cooperate in activities that extend prediction and control, which science and technology do. But how does this work with respect to questions about whether we can redefine people as less than human? In the article we read last century about this R seems to suggest that we should collectively decide that redefining any human as non-human in aid of harming them is BAD, but he does not supply any shared public mechanism for predicting and controlling, and he says elsewhere that there is no inferential connection between pragmatism and democracy, that good pragmatists can be good fascists.

Now I am not sure of all this; H writes about making up people and says some pretty nuanced things about the very groupings of people that R fears and rejects. Of course H is talking about putatively more “respectable” groupings, but still, he does emphasize the possibility that such “kindings” can be dangerous. Let;s pursue this issue further. Right now I have nothing interesting to add, except that I think I am on to something worth pursuing.

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