Thursday, July 06, 2006

"Can Humanists Talk to Postmodernists?"

This article, while posted on an obscure web page, is cogent and timely. It was listed on the Arts and Literature Daily site a few weeks ago. The article underscores the necessity of logic in discourse and exposes the gibberish of so many postmodernist writers, particularly Derrida, Foucault, and Barthes. No information about the author is given in the article, strangely, but his impressive resume can be found on his web page.

19 comments:

Kevin Winters said...

Sure, if I accepted that definition of 'postmodern' then I would reject it to. Thankfully, not all who are thought to be 'postmodern' fit that mold.

Kevin Winters said...

From the article:

To proceed, therefore, we must first ask: What is the necessary framework for a marketplace of ideas? What conditions must be agreed on in order for the processes of verification and falsification to occur?

Shouldn't we rather look to beings first, rather than our explicit or implicit presuppositions? If we are concerned with what is, shouldn't that be our starting point and perhaps primary concern?

Douglas Groothuis said...

How can we understand "beings" without presupposing principles of logic and argumentation?

Kevin Winters said...

Groothuis,

Because we do so before we ever learn about 'logic' or the 'law of noncontradiction.' Even a child has an understanding of its toy before it can think abstractly.

Clint said...

Kevin,

That same child, however, still looks both ways before crossing the street. There can't be a car coming and not coming at the same time. Therefore, the child presupposes the the law of noncontradiction. One does not need to understand something or even be able to think abstractly to have presuppositions.

Tim said...

Clint,

Beat me to it! Right: one may presuppose something tacitly even before one has the conceptual resources to believe it explicitly.

Kevin Winters said...

Clint,

True, but the principle is derived from the child's experience with beings; it is not 'presupposed' like some Kantian apriori. Again, beings should be our first concern, not contextless logical principles or "processes of verification."

Tim said...

This bit struck me:

What Eagleton is doing, in other words, is feigning logical analysis, utilizing sly terminological shifts to obscure a calculated series of non sequiturs, thus allowing the impression that he is still working within the standard humanist framework--a framework wherein premises must be constantly examined for hidden biases and logical rules rigorously followed to produce defensible conclusions.

That sure does characterize the rhetoric of many of my postmodernist peers and professors from my grad student days.

Tim said...

Kevin,

Derived -- how? By logical inferences? This just doesn't make sense. Merely failing to see X in one's experiences does not in general provide a strong reason for believing that X is logically impossible. If you were right, it's hard to see how we would be able to come to the knowledge of the necessity of the laws of logic.

I suspect that this discussion is merely a microcosm of a wider gulf between our perspectives: you seem to think that, on the whole, broadly ontological questions must be answered before epistemological ones can properly be addressed. I think that, on the whole, the reverse is true.

Kevin Winters said...

Tim,

I think Lakoff and Nunez's demonstration's of mathematics' metaphorical and motor/comportmental bases are quite apt. It's really quite commonplace, given that this is how we teach children math: collecting apples, cutting pies, adding line segments, etc. All based on motor skills.

As for your last statement, the issue is different than that: every epistemology assumes an ontology, so we cannot move from the one to the other without begging the question. Furthermore, the viability of the epistemology rests on ontology: if the epistemology assumes a false ontology, then how can we use the epistemology to verify the latter, let alone find an appropriate epistemology in the first place? That doesn't make sense.

Tim said...

Kevin,

It's no great surprise that we disagree here. I think Lakoff and Nuñez's book is simply dreadful, one of the two or three worst books on mathematics that I've ever read. They perpetrate numerous mathematical blunders, and their attempt to do philosophy of mathematics is neither powerful nor original. I'd far rather read Husserl on the foundations of mathematics than this sort of silliness.

You write:

... every epistemology assumes an ontology, so we cannot move from the one to the other without begging the question.

There is, I think, a small amount of ontology that is required for self-conscious epistemic reflection -- about as much as Descartes gets by the third Meditation. But what is needed is ascertainable a priori anyway and is not problematic.

Incidentally, when I was in grad school one of the things I used to try as a model of Dasein was of a completely unreflective embodied Cartesian self. It was surprising how often I could predict what my continental peers would say about Dasein if I mentally substituted for it the notion of a "dumb cogito."

Douglas Groothuis said...

To say that mathematics is based on motor skills (if that is what Kevin is claiming) is a category confusion of the first order. It would mean that there are no mathematical truths until there are embodied beings who employ certain motor skills. But that is necessarily false, since many mathematical truths (Tim can tell us how many!) are necessary truths. They are true in all possible worlds, including worlds with no embodied beings with motor skills. To get more concrete, God before the creation of the universe knew the truth or falsity of every mathematical operation and equation. Yet there were no embodied beings as yet and so no motor skills. And God was not thinking, "As soon as motor skills are created, there will be mathematical truths." They were true when God thought them (because they are abstract objects forever in God's mind, as Augustine helped us understand). On the later point, see Ronald Nash, "The Light of the Mind in Saint Augustine."

Of course, postmoderists, given their constructivism are nominalists, so they would (illogically) reject all this.

Kevin Winters said...

Tim,

They are not attempting to do "philosophy of mathematics," but they are trying to ground mathematics within cognitive psychology. Their account makes sense to me and perhaps you would like to discuss one of their rudimentary examples to show their failings.

As for your assertion about Descartes, I don't think you can be more wrong. Even Cartesian doubt, as found within his third Meditation, assumes a grand metaphysic, even in his attempt to doubt it. The very notion that you can divorce a mind so thoroughly from the world is iteslf metaphysically loaded (not to mention impossible). It stems from ideas that first gained their credence in Augustinian philosophy (if Charles Taylor is to be believed), but which had little credence in the generations before him.

On your 'experiments' with Dasein, I'm sorry that you hold such a blatant misunderstanding of it.

Kevin Winters said...

Groothuis,

Yes, it would in fact mean that. If you would like to provide an argument to the contrary, feel free and we'll see where it leads.

Tim said...

Kevin,

On Lakoff and Nuñez's attempt to ground math in cognitive psychology via the extension of metaphors: tell me what metaphor we're extending when we raise a real number to an imaginary power. The idea that this is a matter of extending a metaphor is just wildly implausible.

On whether they're attempting to do philosophy of mathematics: the link you give doesn't disavow this. Indeed, they say that they are trying to give an account of "what mathematical ideas are and how mathematical understanding is grounded." It's tough to think of how one could avoid doing some philosophy of math in the course of trying to carry out that project.

On Dasein: I never claimed to understand it. I hold no understanding of it at all and don't pretend to. I just thought it was curious that I could (sometimes) predict what they'd say with this model.

On the metaphysical presuppositions of the Meditations: (1) I wouldn't simply take Charles Taylor's word for anything in the history of ideas, but regardless, (2) Can you pinpoint the false metaphysics in the Meditations and offer an argument that it's false?

Douglas Groothuis said...

Kevin:

I did give an argument based on God's knowledge of mathematical truths. What do you think of it?

John Stockwell said...

Making up phoney science and pushing it politically, which is what both traditional and intelligent design creationism do, is the very flower of the postmodern view of science (i.e. science=politics).

Douglas Groothuis said...

John:

These are just cheap shots: no content, no argument. "Intelligent Design Creationism" is a misnomer and an oxymoron to boot. It is the fallacy of stipulative definition: all anti-Darwin views must be creationism, so we put the label on ID people even though they deny it and even though their position clearly differs from creationism.

John Stockwell said...

The term "intelligent design creationism" is neither an oxymoron nor is it a misnomer. It hits the nail on the head.

If a person has familiarity with the tactics and arguments of the traditional scientific creationism movement, these are immediately recognizable in such works as _Darwin on Trial_, _Icons of Evolution_,
and other publications.

Indeed, _Darwin on Trial_ may be viewed as a manual for creating a form of creationism that attempts to distance itself from the traditional young-earth global-flood variety of creationism, in appearance.

All the anti-evolution arguments that Johnson uses are quite familiar to anybody who has followed the scientific creationism movement. Johnson employs many of the same false arguments against evolution that his young earth global flood predecessors did.

The motivation of the ID movement is not scientific, it is religious/cultural, as is evidence by the Wedge Document
http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/
Hangar/2437/wedge.html

This "5 Year Plan to defeat materialism"
basically states a political, rather than scientific agenda. (Science occupies only a small part of the agenda.)

Basically ID died or perhaps was stillborn
at step I of
this plan with regard to "scientific research". Even after 7 years since
this document became apparent, the ID
movement has no more than possibly
one or two of minor scientific papers
to its credit--nothing of scientific importance. The rest of their
publications are either
pop-antiscience or philosphy materials,
none of which have had any real impact
in the scientific community.

What's going to happen next? Failing to be able to produce any science to back up their position, IDCers will continue to pad the resume of intelligent design creationism, continue to tout irrelevant "lists of scientists skeptical about evolution" and continue attempting to use political rather than scientific means to achieve their ultimate goal of the destruction of mainstream science through the relaxation of the standards "acceptable scientific evidence" to include what might be best expressed as "the ooga booga".

You can't get more postmodern than that.