Tag Archives: Davidson

On “truth and Truth”, in William James

“(..) this command that we shall put a stopper on our heart, instincts and courage, and wait (..) till doomsday, or till such time as our intellect and senses working together may have raked in evidence enough – this command, I say, seems to me the queerest idol ever manufactured in the philosophic cave.” W. James, The Will to Believe, p. 32 (1).

1. Introduction

In his essay “The Will to Believe” (1), William James makes the case that reason does not stand supreme, that being human we always also have some passional skin in our games. James relies on “Pascal’s wager” – where passion and reason are so peculiarly mixed as to yield holy waters that can’t be reduced to the characteristics of hydrogen or oxygen. His paper maybe reads more as an attack on our modern scientific consensus, as establishing its own scientistic holy cows, than as a defence of religion. He challenges a purely rational truth-seeking attitude as committed to a prior passionate and absolutist conception that we ought to constantly suspend judgment to avoid the False. My short piece will not challenge that analysis – mainly because for the most part I pragmatically agree with it –  but analyze whether we can, by James’ own lights, be passionately committed to believe in Truth at all. If not, as I will try to defend, then the whole business of comprehensive doctrines as taken for granted by Rawls (3), and certainly sympathetic to James’ view, becomes problematic – even within a religious or moral philosophical outlook. Believing in truth is not the same as believing in Truth and sceptics get away with not believing in the latter if they’re passionate in practice i.e. willing to act on their moral passions and reflect on their actions.

I proceed as follows: in the next section I explore the link between passion and truth in (1), the section thereafter deals with truth and practice, then I conclude. Continue reading

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The Longing for Being (longed for)

What’s the point of living forever, if living means your identity does not survive even the briefest of moments? People are trained to see their life and identity as something sacred (sacred enough to trample other people and shit all over their identities) and it is a bogus conditioning. In the West we have replaced God with Truth but our zeal to convert others has stayed essentially the same. The only thing which has changed is that we believe that our life – that we – have become sacred cows giving the divine milk of wisdom. All the life preserving bullshit we inhale constantly invariably leads to seeing life as a struggle – one in which we have to prevail by making our point.

Choosing life has become synonymous with becoming deaf to others. It is ludicrous as we find ourselves complaining nobody wants to listen to us. It makes us feel dead inside. The thing is – and this is why I write – that it’s not life that makes life worth living but longing: the longing for being longed for. If for whatever reason you cannot be longed for then it’s time to throw in the towel and just fade away. People will tend to hear this as negative, in denying the value of life but I consider it a fact that the value in living comes from trying to understand others. Life’s a positive thing, death can’t touch it.

A lot has been said about continental and analytic philosophy. Sometimes it seems like it has been invented just to shoot at each other. Still, good philosophy can’t but come to the same conclusion: that there are no facts except inter-personal ones. Facts are moral. First there was an ought, it is the is that will remain forever imperfect.

Below the fold there is an imperfect exercise in trying to argue just that. Continue reading

Aixo era y no era

“Let us keep this notion of split reference in mind, as well as the wonderful ‘It was and it was not,’ which contains in nuce all that can be said about metaphorical truth.” P. Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor, Routledge Classics, 2003, p. 265.

Being a logical kind of guy, I don’t particularly like fairy tales. Still, I think the law of non-contradiction is worse than a fairy tale. It is a hoax. Proven useful to open cans, it wound up opening one full of worms. Its next of kin are identity and the excluded middle. It’s the triumvirate of a logical tyranny that suffocates us to a point of becoming a prejudice against every prejudice.

I believe can-openers are useful tools, certainly if the can they open is critical thought. It is however not the case that critical thought has merit in and of itself. Critical thought is to the good life as food is to a healthy body, not less but at the same time not more. What it allows if taken in good measure is to find the middle; overconsumption though leads to becoming bloated and – full of it – using it as a stick to beat the life out of every argument.

The nice thing about stories is that, as Ricoeur rightly has it, they keep us in suspense and thereby create something new. They’re alive and as such infinitely closer to the good life than any artificial construct could ever be. I will believe in Artificial Intelligence if it can weave or listen to a good story, create a telling metaphor or be insulted by being likened to artifice. Call that the Bervoets-test.

Anyway, let’s make this political.

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Anti-physics

“(..) who cannot reveal himself cannot love, who cannot love is the unhappiest of all. But you do this out of sheer obnoxiousness, you train yourself in the art to become a riddle for others.” S. Kierkegaard, Either/Or, my translation from Dutch.

Kierkegaard and Nietzsche have a common cause in destroying the confusion that places us as an instrument of ultimate truth. They are seen as anti-metaphysical and adopted by many of this very (psycho)physical age – oh, the irony of it! – as evidence that these times, our times, are superior in having overcome that specific Hegelian disease of thinking.

That’s not true. We straightened some wrinkles to find injecting botox has just made us look more preposterous than ever. We now believe physics can solve anything and that it is just a matter of time to resolve the riddle of life. Deep down we believe there is eternal truth; we happen now to believe as well it is just a matter of time before we find it. Some even think that if they live long enough they’ll live forever and don’t stop to think what a ghastly thought that is.

The question in this evidence based world is: what counts as evidence?

Is it the increasingly complex models picking out specific observations designed to falsify it but somehow always winding up verifying something? Or is it the everyday meeting of minds where you make yourself vulnerable to misunderstanding?

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Is ‘real’ really real or just no big deal?

“In giving up the dualism of scheme and world, we don’t give up the world, but re-establish unmediated touch with the familiar objects whose antics make our sentences and opinions true or false.”  Donald Davidson, Inquiries into Truth & Interpretation, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2001, p. 198.

The word ‘real’ is a divider. Just like with God, when your real isn’t my real that’s enough to create the type of zeal to come to blows. We constantly show we don’t need the Gods to start a war. That is a fact. It might seem everyday and familiar to sophisticated modern people like us constantly figuring out what is real and what a mere figment of our fancy. Nevertheless it is a fact: whenever people think they’re right, ‘really’ right, death’s on our doorstep.

So let us examine this little word ‘real’ for what it does to our reality. Let’s see whether it belongs with the familiar family of other infamous four-letter words. To start the inquiry, try to remember the last time you heard somebody saying person X was not a ‘real’ Y. For instance X was in fact a muslim but she wasn’t a ‘real’ muslim in that she did not wear a hijab. Or, X was in fact liberal but he wasn’t a ‘real’ liberal in that he didn’t verbally come out in support of gay marriage. Or, X was in fact born here but he wasn’t a ‘real’ national because he failed to defend his identity. Or, X was indeed a refugee but she wasn’t a ‘real’ refugee in that she did adopt our identity. Or, like in my case, I am an atheist but I am not a ‘real’ atheist because I do not think religion is the worst thing that ever happened to the whole wide world. Like I’m not a ‘real’ autistic because, well, I don’t look like one.

It won’t be too hard to come up with your own examples where something like this was thrown at you or somebody you liked. So follow me in tracking how the word ‘real’ flies like a boomerang hitting the utterer of it smack in its own face. At least when we’re lucky enough it doesn’t hit a very real person in a very real way before it has fully bent back.

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The Autinomies of Philosophy

The chance of there being an unconscious typo in the title is about as big as that of Freud not having slipped up. If it appears I am talking in riddles that is only because you feel that there is something to decipher. One thing is certain: philosophers are weird. So am I. Even if that doesn’t establish anything as far as me being a philosopher, you got my drift.

Carnap_in-science-there-are-no-depths-there-is-surface-everywhere-403x403-nk55v7

Let us wonder a while about the weirdness of philosophers. They have come up with waves and particles, with particulars and universals. Then they calculated and associated to come to one invariable conclusion: neither the one nor the other, or both at the same time but in an at most a superficial manner. Philosophers say they despair about this. That is merely a mask they wear to ensure somebody feeds them. If they’re particularly power hungry they will even exclaim they’ve solved it. Solutions sell, this much they know of real life. It’s one of those regularities that have neither rhyme nor reason.

Without weirdness we would discuss in caves instead of about waves. What is wrong with that? Caves are no place for philosophers. So what’s up with them?

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Being of Two Minds: Anomalous Monism

“Anomalous monism resembles materialism in its claim that all events are physical, but rejects the thesis that mental phenomena can be given purely physical explanations.” D. Davidson, Essays on Actions and Events, Clarendon Press, 2001, p. 214.

The lack of clarity in philosophy of mind is a lack of clarity of its terms. That lack of clarity of terms is, in its turn, nothing else than a lack of terms. There was a time the discussion was about mind/body dualism whilst most recent scientific writing is, implicitly at least, based on the identity of brain and mind. It’s all a blur and no matter how many tokens of supervenience or emergency types are exchanged, it remains a blur of bodies, minds and brains. The classical solution to this lack of terms is to index terms like consciousness1 or prefix them with an adjective like ‘basic’ mind or some such. This is then a temporary definition just good enough to make a local argument without risking to enter into holistic arguments. Good for publishing but bad for discussion.

I have always thought that Davidson’s anomalous monism was a basis for getting out of this black hole of terminological unclarity. It has the strength of common sense: there are no extra-natural things but mental descriptions of natural things aren’t something purely physically determined either. The thing is this: anomalous monism of what? Of the mental and the physical, sure, but what about the brain and its mind.

Let me repeat that: what about the brain and ‘its‘ mind? That the mind is ‘of’ the brain would not startle many if I had not also italicized it (and – to play it safe – put it in scare quotes too). Well, if the mind is of the brain I think we don’t have enough anomalousness and still too much monism. Since the mental indeed doesn’t allow itself to be reduced to the physical, this leads to minds1 and minds2 and hence right back into the muddy waters of going mental at or talking past each other.

So I made a picture to try to put the mind right back where it belongs: very much outside the brain. So far out that the mind does not have a location at all, which seems to me rather in tune with the anomalousness of the mental.

twominds

Here goes the not so short explanation: Continue reading