Some hold that we actually do make progress, others that we can make progress and still others that we must make progress. This progressive spectrum from (neo)liberalism over Obama-ism to Extinction Rebellion is jointly attacked by reactionary forces who want to make things great again. The progressive defense against it is weak, specifically because of a tendency to organize circular firing squads over who is truly progressive. In times of actual regress it makes sense to do something (admittedly quite unprogressive): build up our defenses.
So let’s analyze once for all: what does it actually mean to be progressive.
“The self is both made and explored with words; and the best for both are the words spoken in the dialogue of friendship.”
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self – The Making of the Modern Identity, Harvard University Press, 1989, p. 183.
In reading these pages, I was reminded by the abomination that is the word “paradigm”. Although I am largely sympathetic to the project of Charles Taylor in tracing the origins of self and identity, there is a certain something about it which annoys me. Thinking about it his pinpointing of pivotal moments in philosophy is the cause of this slight discomfort. In his own words I think his is the natural way of explaining, as against the more convoluted way which is less prone to be accepted in this scientistic bottom-up world. Sure, this way serves the purpose of bringing home the point that the way we see things naturalistically is neither eternal nor inescapable. Still it also exposes us to the risk of marking “paradigm shifts” showing side by side clear before’s and after’s and simultaneously expressing a strong valuation that such before’s are inferior and the corresponding after’s are superior. Thinking in “paradigm shifts” has led to the abominable results that we see all around us, marking in’s and out’s in the most uncharitable of ways.
The quote stresses, I think, not the discrete but the continuous; not the sudden but the emerging; not revolution but evolution. It connects the continuous evolution of language with its essence in friendship. The quote gets it all right. From that very first time that people pointed to the same thing in uttering or gesturing (hence thinking) the word “that”, the mechanism of development is a mechanism of co-operation (see P. Grice), a mechanism presupposing being charitable to understanding the other (D. Davidson) and best seen in one of Quine’s favorite metaphors of rebuilding the ship as we are sailing it:
“We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction.”
Otto Neurath, from Wikipedia. Continue reading
Posted in Charles Taylor
Tagged Bergson, Carnap, Davidson, Gadamer, Grice, Habermas, Kant, language, language as progress, Levinas, Neurath, Nietzsche, progressive insight, quadrialectics, Quine, Rawls, tones
“- Well, we usually go to France or Belgium or perhaps Germany, said Gabriel awkwardly
– And why do you go to France and Belgium, said Miss Ivors, instead of visiting your own land?
– Well, said Gabriel, it’s partly to keep in touch with the languages and partly for a change.
– And haven’t you your own language to keep in touch with – Irish? asked Miss Ivors.
– Well, said Gabriel, if it comes to that, you know, Irish is not my language.”
(James Joyce, Dubliners, The Dead, The Portable James Joyce, Viking, 1947, p. 205)
And well, we’re all stuck between where we come from and where we to go. Well, some of us want to go where we come from. And others come from where they want to go. The difference is not material but it is the difference between artists, broadly speaking, and bastards, narrowly defined.
The nostalgic focus on the material, on solutions that are both clear-cut and that cut clearly into same and different. It is not so with the optimistic for whom push never comes to shove; there always remaining a difference, in principle. Never mind the issues we face in interpreting what is around us. What counts is that we will never and cannot ever have a final interpretation even if we always will have issues to face.
I know this is not clear. But it is what it is, and, well, Continue reading
“The interest, on which justice is founded, is the greatest imaginable, and extends to all times and places. It cannot be possibly serv’d by any other invention. It is obvious, and discovers itself on the very first formation of society.”
David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Penguin Classics, 1985, p. 669.
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 23-12-2009. I don’t know how good or bad what follows is, but it is for sure a great quote.]
Call it the Roddenberry-principle: you can’t imagine, can’t conceive of, a society that is composed of intelligent individuals in which there is no basic notion of justice & therefore of fairness. So much so that even the biggest bands of thieves have some code of law internal to them and that any changes to current laws are invariably justified – with recourse to some ‘higher’ principle of justice. Continue reading
“Le mécanisme reprochera donc avec raison au finalisme son caractère anthropomorphique. Mais il ne s’aperçoit pas qu’il procède lui-même selon cette méthode, en la tronquant simplement. Sans doute il a fait table rase de la fin poursuivie ou du modèle idéal. Mais il veut, lui aussi, que la nature ait travaillé comme l’ouvrier humain, en assemblant des parties. (..)”,
H. Bergson, L’évolution créatrice, p. 90, Quadrige, Grands Texts, 1941.
[Amateuristic English translation below: “Mechanistic thought will, rightly, attack final causes for its antropomorphic character. But it doesn’t recognize that it proceeds following this same method, simply by leaving out a final cause. Without any doubt it makes tabula rasa with the objective sought after or with ideal models. But it wants, it as well, that nature works like the human worker, putting together piece parts.”
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 20-11-2009. This should be good.]
Going hard-core again. I apologize to those unwilling to dive deeply. It’s a ‘slippery slope’-mission which I’m about to embark upon. Nobody will be willing to wave the mechanistic flag but many will be willing to put anything – even remotely – Bergsonian out with the garbage of extraterrestrial, supernatural, or, extrasensory entities, or, beings, or causes. But, much worse than that (and here stoppeth the usual disclaimers because these religious bastards just won’t socially darwinize themselves into oblivion rapidly enough): the nut crew is all too happy to claim anything, knowing their own claims to be ludicrous.
“Bleib nicht auf ebnem Feld!
Steig nicht zu hoch hinaus!
Am schönsten sieht die Welt
Von halber Höhe aus.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, Reclam, 2000, p. 16.
[Amateuristic English translation: “Don’t stay on the flat lands!Don’t climb too high!The most beautiful view of the world, can be seen from half-height.”]
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 08-11-2009. I think I’m getting bored with this, but I’ll finish the re-posting because I’m getting close to finishing it. At least it makes me see how pitiful I am (although the end is better than the start.]
I am running a serious risk of not taking myself seriously enough. It’s a risk that is well less known because the average person is well to the overly serious side. Still, one can go too far in the other direction, as Nietzsche probably did round about the time he wrote the book from which this quote is taken. Maybe, with rising average levels of learning, it will become the standard to be more like Wilde than like the village preacher (or village nut, if you prefer).
This would be good but in naming the Great One with Anal Preferences, you get my point or at least so I hope: you can only laugh so much with yourself, before it gets to points where it becomes really laughable. Continue reading
“Je lui disais que c’était bien quelque chose, notamment à ceux comme lui d’éminente qualité sur lesquels chacun a les yeux, de se présenter au monde toujours bien tempéré, mais que le principal était de pourvoir au-dedans et à soi-même; et que ce n’était, à mon gré, bien ménager ses affaires que de se ronger intérieurement: ce que je craignais qu’il fit pour mantenir ce masque et cette réglée apparence par le dehors.” Montaigne, Essais Livre II, Chapitre XXXI, folio classique, editions Gallimard, p; 488.
[Amateuristic English translation below: “I told him that it was quite something, certainly in those – like him – of eminent quality on whom everybody has their eyes, to present oneself to the world as always well tempered – but that the important thing was to provide for oneself internally; and that it was – to my taste – not a good way to manage one’s affairs to be eating oneself from the inside: which was what I feared he did to maintain that mask and that temperate appearance on the outside.”]
[Re-posted from The Old Site original dd. 14-07-2009. Finally Montaigne again, I’m not so sure about my translation so don’t rely on it. I should look for a quote on impatience, I really should.]
Let me be clear: I’m fed up with all this excitement and passion and live fast stuff – even if I wouldn’t mind the ‘die young’ bit. Continue reading
“So one might, in the end, be faced with the alternatives of either reverting to their theoretically unambitious style or giving up hope altogether of systematizing the linguistic phenomena of natural discourse. To me, neither alternative is very attractive.”
Paul Grice, Studies in the way of words, Prolegomena, p. 4, Harvard University Press, 1989.
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 08-03-2009. Good intentions, but as usual no follow-through. Anyway, these are the origins of quadrialectics.]
I have decided to re-read Grice after completing my reading of Davidson. I think it more and more likely that some kind of “stepping stone theory of language” – as per my not (yet?) published thesis on common sense reasoning – might just be the sort of alternative that Grice would have found attractive. Continue reading
“Eine prinzipielle Moral ist mithin ein System, das nur allgemeine Normen zulässt (d.h. Normen ohne Ausnahmen, ohne Privilegierungen und ohne Einschränkung des Geltungsbereichs). (..) Formalität heisst, dass keine konkreten Verpflichtungen (wie im traditionellen Naturrecht oder in der Ethik), sondern nur abstrakte Erlaubnisse rechtlich normierbar sind (Handlungen dürfen nicht geboten, sondern nur freigestellt oder verboten werden).” Jürgen
Habermas, Legitimationsprobleme im Spätkapitalismus, edition suhrkamp, 1973.
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 14/10/2008. I will be restricted to re-posting the old material for lack of inspiration and motivation. It should get a little bit better post after post. At least that’s what I hope.]
[Amateuristic English translation: ” A principled morality is therefore a system that only allows general norms (i.e. norms without any exceptions, privileges or limts on its applicability). (..) Formalness means that there are no concrete obligations (like in natural law or in ethics) but only abstract permissions which are rightfully put as norms (actions cannot be ordered but only allowed or forbidden).”]
Not what I wanted to quote; I would have preferred something non-political, in English and preferably something linguistic. But this is what I came across, and my old fascination with the subject outweighs the less-than-lyrical Habermasian style.
So, here goes: morality and ethics or, cross-wise, content and form.
“Men don’t get knocked out, or I mean they can fight back against big things. What kills them is erosion; they get nudged into failure. They get slowly scared. I’m scared. Long Island Lightning Company might turn off the lights. My wife needs clothes. My children – shoes and fun. And suppose they don’t get an education? And the monthly bills and the doctor and teeth and a tonsillectomy, and beyond that suppose I get sick and can’t sweep this goddam sidewalk? Course you don’t understand. It’s slow. It rots out your guts. I can’t think beyond next month’s payment on the refrigerator. I hate my job and I’m scared I’ll lose it. How could you understand that?” John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent, p. 14, Penguin Books, 1961.
I started reading again; luckily I’m not a man to keep with any plan. This is great. Steinbeck is great. American lit is great. As if it feels a responsibility to make up for the lack of American history. When I read this in context I thought this is the kind of stuff capitalism generates. I was wrong: this is the human condition. The problem is not hope but the lack of it. Or, seen from the other angle, the problem is not hope but the omnipresent all-pervasive fear of losing it.
The key word in the above, for me, is ‘refrigerator’. Continue reading