Kant / Quine / Davidson — Implications for Realism

My dialogue with Crispin Sartwell of Dickinson College on Kant, Quine, and Davidson. Originally aired on MeaningofLife.TV, May 6, 2019.


21 responses to “Kant / Quine / Davidson — Implications for Realism”

  1. alandtapper1950

    Thanks Dan (and Crispin), a great discussion. Terrific to see the past few weeks’ back-and-forth taken to a higher level. Glad that there is more to come. Alan

  2. Kripkensteinsmonster303

    Great dialogue! While I largely agree with Dan I was a bit puzzled by the claim that we can imagine a creature that has no experience of duration. I don’t really see how that could go. Especially if we accept with Ryle and Wittgenstein that mental states need behavioural criteria, since how could you manifest b hagiography without time? I think the weaker thesis that we could imagine a creature with a very different experience of time is enough to establish the anti realist view, though

  3. Kripkensteinsmonster303

    That should be ‘manifest behaviour’

  4. Dan

    There are some parallels between what I have been saying and what Crispin Sartwell is saying here. In particular his view of the “repleteness” of the world which our perceptual mechanisms and conceptual schemes are only able to partially capture.

    I wrote in a comment on “History and Knowledge”: “Stuff happens in the world during a particular period. There are countless, literally countless possible and plausible perspectives on these events…”

    There I was mainly concerned with ordinary historical narratives which necessarily involve interpretations of and judgments about specific human actions and behaviors. And on these matters there can be no definitive story.

    “There are historical facts, of course. And errors of fact can be avoided. But what status does the prose narrative itself have? A *single narrative* in the face of the immensely complex reality which any slice of time embodies…”

    This point can be broadened to apply to other kinds of narrative. When we are talking about the history of the universe (galaxy formation and that kind of thing) the problems are different. I claimed that in areas which don’t involve human/social/value questions there *is* in a sense “one story” which our scientific inquiries aspire to tell. Here we don’t have to deal with different moral priorities or interpretations. But the “repleteness” issue is still there. We may get the general principles but we can never grasp or describe the actual contingencies.

    I also have an issue with your [Kant]* approach, i.e. seeing what [Kant] should have said or really meant or however you want to put it. I prefer to see thinkers *as they were*. They wrote what they wrote, the good and the bad. It’s all inextricably bound up, as I see it.

    You find Kant* a useful fiction, it seems. I don’t think I do. I am also uncomfortable with the talk of “heroes”. (These ideas, I think, are connected.)

  5. You find Kant* a useful fiction, it seems. I don’t think I do
    = = =
    Then you don’t see the history of ideas as something from which to learn and construct better views, but rather as a kind of museum of artifacts. Seems pretty useless to me. And it’s not how philosophy — or any other discipline for that matter — makes use of its history.

  6. “Then you don’t see the history of ideas as something from which to learn and construct better views…”

    This doesn’t follow from what I said at all. As I see it the history of ideas is useful because it reveals where many taken-for-granted ideas (and myths) originated. It allows one to have a mature perspective.

    “And it’s not how philosophy … makes use of its history.”

    This is another issue. And the history of ideas is not restricted to the history of philosophy. (Also, what “philosophy” means changes over time.) Descartes or Kant, for example, can be seen as *thinkers* in a broad sense, or (more narrowly) as precursors to particular forms of philosophy/metaphysics.

    “… or any other discipline for that matter…”

    Take scientific disciplines. They do not put the focus on individuals. They use the ideas (and discard the individual). There is no canon. In general terms, to the extent that individuals or specific texts are still the centre of discussion, to that extent the science is not well developed.

  7. Kant* is using the ideas and has nothing to do with heroes. And your observations about science at the end are just false. Of course there are key texts and figures.

  8. “Kant* is using the ideas and has nothing to do with heroes.”

    Maybe not. But you explicitly talked in terms of heroes.

    “And your observations about science at the end are just false. Of course there are key texts and figures.”

    Of course there are key texts and figures in the *history of science*. But scientific practice moves away from a dependence on texts and “authorities”.

  9. Right, that’s why my great uncle, a physicist and mathematician, was charged with spending years translating Einstein’s notebooks.

    And there are no authorities in philosophy. Indeed arguments from authority are considered fallacious. So I have no idea what relevance it is to the conversation.

  10. Dan

    My point was that the writings of scientific pioneers are not central to the practice of science.

  11. You don’t have to read Newton’s or Einstein’s or Schrödinger’s actual writings to do physics. You learn the equations etc. but the texts you use are likely to be contemporary papers etc..

    Likewise with Darwin/ Wallace and biology.

  12. Not the point, of course, but I am not going to keep arguing this with you. We don’t agree about philosophy. We don’t agree about science. We likely never will. the readers can decide for themselves. I’m out.

  13. Dan,
    First – Cute dog! what breed? What’s it’s name? I own a lhasa apso. She’s 13, and unfortunately recently developed “doggie dementia” (it’s real), so its sad to see her bump into things and find it difficult to climb stairs… But she’s long been a blessing to me, and is most of my life right now, in a way….

    Curtis slipped at the beginning when he expressed a belief in a “noumenal tree.” He then had to spend quite a while and effort backing away from that while still maintaining the evident realist position that the tree somehow “penetrates us” (that is, somehow impresses the truth of it on our minds).

    “The sentence “My skin is warm” is true if and only if my skin is warm. Here there is no reference to a fact, a world, an experience, or a piece of evidence.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Davidson is moving towards a position where philosophic justification for sentences is irrelevant, and doesn’t set the standard by which truth can be judged.

    If I said, “the snow is white,” and someone said, “it can’t be,” I would not ask him for his conceptual schema; I would ask whether he understood English. If he proposed a theory by which the accumulated crystalline form produces an illusion, I would not debate him, I would simply note his social ineptitude and move on. (If I were in a science class and the teacher talked about crystalline forms, that would be a different matter. But if she started talking about ‘illusions,’ I would think she were reaching beyond her expertise.)

    It is interesting that Curtis, as did Mark at one point, bring up measurement as an example of a means of seeing reality from different perspectives without changing reality. Measure is a human invention; no matter what formula of measurement used, it reconstructs ‘reality’ according to human perspective. It is true that water is water whether in a 12 oz. can or a 355 milliliter jar; unfortunately it will thence ever be that which can be poured into a 12 oz. can or 355 milliliter jar. (Before this, was too long ago to remember what it was then. We have no records of it; we have a lot of ancient water jugs, though.)

    (“Ah, but the poets!’ – Alas, verse is a measure.)

    I was struck by Curtis’ recurrent insistence on “the environment” as essentially synonymous with “world.” I look out my window, and I see absolutely nothing that humans did not have a hand in making – the hills and gullies were produced through land-mover tractors and plows, the trees were planted by a landscaper, part of the lawn is actually astroturf (so that my company’s sign would never be blemished with grassy overgrowth); beside that, there’s a stream that was dug as a run-off…. The clouds in the skies undoubtedly have been effected by smoke emissions from factories…. I suppose we can say the stars are still untouched. But who knew what or if they truly were until we decided to measure them and developed the prostheses by which to do so?

    Some of this – certainly that which indicates contribution to climate change – might be considered rather unfortunate; but it may also reveal that this is in someway how humans have always related to their environment.

    “If dogs run free/ why can’t we?” But my town has a leash law, Bob Dylan. And that’s just the way it goes.

  14. Ooops, kept calling Crispin “Curtis” for some reason… maybe I have a touch of ‘doggie dementia myself….

  15. Her name is “Madison.”

  16. […] discussion between Dan Kaufman (or “DK”) and Crispin Sartwell (or “CS”) in a video presented at Electric Agora.  I found it an interesting discussion.  In this post, I plan to comment on a small portion of […]

  17. Zac

    I feel like there’s a question creeping underneath this again and again: “How can we talk about the world without talking about the world?”. You all really insightfully thread this back to Kant where it was more of a mind-world question than a language-world, and stress the continuities. But as much as I love continually going back to these questions and getting caught in the conceptual circles and the almost sci-fi descriptions that spin out of us trying conceptualize what we’re positing to be unconceptualizable, I come back to a Wittgensteinian doubt that we’re even speaking of something definite here. Like, am I more certain of “the veil” than I am of the tree in front of me? The former drifts into a kind of philosophical posit like “sense data” that’s considerably less clear or present to me than the everyday objects and practices the “sense data” supposedly underly. It’s a kind of argument that leaks elsewhere in philosophy:

    “How can values exist without valuers?”

    “How can numbers exist without enumerators?”

    “How can reason exist without reasoners?”

    In a sense, they can’t, but in another sense, I wonder what it would even mean for us to expect them to.I think the threat of Rortyism looms large here where we end up skepticizing talk about our relation to the world because we can’t make sense of the world being divided up into proposition-shaped objects. But I think that’s creating a false expectation, one that lends too much credence to the kind of Platonism Rorty is supposed to be repudiating. I don’t need the tree over there to be underwritten by some Form totally independent from my conceptual history that already carves up the world in a particular and partly accidental way. (Curve ball: likewise, do we need transcendent Laws to ground our morality any more than we need Forms to ground our facts? Ask William Gass’ “Obliging Stranger”.) Perhaps we could learn something about the biological history of trees that realigns our concept of tree and its place in the (err) Tree of Life. We’ve re-carved the world in a sense, but we’re still engaged with a world that’s fundamentally independent of us. It just can’t tell us or fate us or determine us to characterize it in particular ways.

    I’m much more of aligned with the late Putnam on these issues (talk of “the veil” sounds like the old “internal realist” Putnam). There are lot of places where talks about these kinds of issues but The Threefold Cord is a good starter. With qualifications, he takes on board Quine’s repudiation of the two dogmas, Davidson’s of the third, and tosses on a fourth (he calls it “the last dogma”), which is to say, the fact-value dichotomy. But though all of these distinctions have profound entanglements, he’s adamant about the transactional nature of this entanglement when it comes to our relation to independent realities. We can’t just say that we’re stuck behind a “veil” because if we truly were, it doesn’t really make sense that we could make sense of anything beyond the veil or of the veil itself. We’re part of an ongoing process, embedded in an environment, always working to situate ourselves, never wholly determined or determining. We don’t have categories passed down from on high. Regardless we can work with what he have and place some kind of trust in it. I’m alright saying that we have a better picture of the world than the creature that only experiences heat. People saying that I have to point to measures and distinctions based on convention in order to make this statement have a whiff of “Like … that’s just your schema, man…” Well, yeah. So what? I have no expectation of a super-Schema. I’m just making my way through the world.

  18. I agree with your Wittgensteinian intuitions and largely share them. Perhaps more like Hume, though, I do think there is value in pursuing the philosophical questions, so long as we are clear what they do and do not imply with regard to practice.

  19. Zac

    Fair enough. As much as I throw doubt on the disagreement though, I’m still getting caught up in it and using its terms anyway, so I can’t claim to be above the fray here.

  20. be interested in hearing Daniel talk realism/antirealism with Lee Braver @ USF.