Outline of our “Naturalists, Normativists, and Supernaturalists”

December 31, 2007

I’m clearly in full-on “eating cheesy poofs” vacation mode today, so I’ll make my promised post on our article idea brief.

First, here’s an outline of our article that I came up with last week. It’s a bit telescoped, but I think that the key ideas can be discerned:

Review the terms of the debate (naturalists vs. normativists), indicate alternative Review how history does and does not feature in the articles in question           

  • Turner’s triumphalist archaeology           
  • Roth’s reduction to Winch and criticism on Davidson           
  • Henderson’s contemporary focus, use of examples (MLK)Risjord’s appropriation of  Davidson and other tools           
  • Rouse’s contemporary focus, drawing on literature           
  • Stueber’s contemporary focus, drawing on literature 

Allows us to introduce a different history (Droysen and Dilthey) in order to reframe the debate 

  • This is the explanation vs. understanding debate, the universal vs. local debate.
  • The great virtue of Risjord’s approach (whatever his Davidsonian sins) is his marrying of explanation and interpretation (shared in a way by early Roth).  

There are two tied issues here: one of scientific and philosophical methodology, the other of the corresponding complex of epistemology and ontology, best cast as a matter of anthropology.  

  • Two options: reductive (Turner’s epiphenomenalism or Dilthey’s and Winch’s “socialism”) and integrative. 
    • Risjord provides part of the methodology.
    • Roth’s and Henderson’s rejections of that methodology are rooted in their rejection of the anthropology (or so we claim).  
      • Consider some basic examples (trying to buy liquor in a dry county) and the everyday and formal ways we make sense of these examples (arguing, debating, myth-making, bullshitting), including presenting at philosophy conferences. These ways determine both what our ends are (something up for infinite re-consideration) and how we will pursue them. In the order of things, only then does causality “kick in” (though in practice of course this is seamless).  

There are good purposes for “strictly explanatory” and “strictly interpretive” approaches to human life, but philosophically there is no basis for holding either as ultimate. They must be married, and there are different ways to do so.  

[This is part of Risjord’s point: to say that X did Y because he believes Z is not just to give an explanation, it is also to engage in social magic. This means that this answer tells us as much about the group to which X must give justifications as it does about X’s causal makeup.]  

Challenging point: what should we make of belief Z? There are the following possibilities: “We” 

  • recognize and endorse Z (in our actions and/or explicitly)
  • recognize but do not endorse Z
  • do not recognize Z 

Especially in the third case, we will be inclined to appeal to other explanations of X’s behavior. Other explanations are always possible, however, and the need to synthesize and/or debate is always possible. Writing constitutions is difficult.


Much Ado about Monkey Poo

December 31, 2007

Somehow I got directed to smithsonianmag.com’s article on Yale Psychology professor Laurie Santos’s research testing whether monkey’s have a “theory of mind,” including an understanding of “false belief” (e.g. realizing that if person A puts grapes in box 1 and leaves the room, then returns after person B has moved the grapes to box 2, that person A will assume that the grapes are still in box 1 — apparently children under 4 have trouble with distinguishing what they believe to be true and what others with different information should believe to be true). It occurred to me that this might be a good example of the sort of finding about human cognition derived from scientific study that hermeneutic and intentionalist approaches to the human sciences ought to — somehow — synthesize with, or at least make sure that they are consistent with.

And then I ran into this little gem of a story, which made me forget all about my actual research interests:

“She [Santos] has somewhat more affection for the 11 capuchin monkeys in her lab at Yale, who are named after characters in James Bond movies (Goldfinger, Jaws, Holly Goodhead). Her work with them involves experiments on “social decision-making.” She equips them with tokens they can trade for food and studies the development of their rudimentary economy. Like human beings, they are loss-averse: if the going price is two grapes for a token, they prefer to trade with an experimenter who shows them one grape and then adds one, compared with one who shows three and takes one away. They are also sneaky. After swapping for an apple, she says, they will sometimes take a bite of it, then present the untouched side to the researcher and try to sell it back. And they have an entrepreneurial bent. At times they would offer their feces in exchange for a token, behavior that baffled the researchers until a student pointed out that every morning someone comes into the cage and scoops out the droppings—which may have given them the idea that people value them.”

And now a word from our sponsors…

December 31, 2007

Checking around to see if any wordpress blogs had similar tags, I found a couple of very nice sites that I’ve added to the blogroll here. One is Grundlegung, which has an interesting post on Brandom up right now that looks insightful, though a bit outside my specific interests in Brandom. Grundlegung led me further to Rough Theory, which looks great, and has a post I really need to read on Habermas and Brandom. And so do you:


UPDATE: Reading through the comments on the Rough Theory post above (which is a very nice overview of Habermas, Brandom, and their problematic intersection) led me to this citation for Analytic Philosophy and the Return of Hegelian Thought:


Some Signs of Things to Come

December 31, 2007

I’m back from vacation, and ready to write. I did send in our proposal for the Philosophy of Social Science Roundtable, requesting a receipt. I didn’t get one, so I’ll send the proposal on to the other two organizers. Whether accepted for that conference or not, though, I’m ready to write this sucker.

Continental Philosophy of Social Science continues to prove a thought-provoking book. I’ll blog some more on that soon. And I may have some responses to Brabsher and/or Mulbo and/or Obiwanky. [Listing these noms de blog this way reminds me of the line from Raising Arizona: “Hear that everybody? We’s using code names.”] Most of all, though, I want to sketch the main move I have in mind for the article at this point: suggesting a modified hermeneutic practice as the right method for integrating and synthesizing all of the varied approaches to studying human behavior that are coalescing here under the broad heading “social science,” including those approaches that focus narrowly on causal explanations of said behavior. That is to say, rather than opposing hermeneutics to the heirs of positivism, I would like to try to meld them together. I’ll explain what that might mean tomorrow.

And now, for no particular reason, two quotes from Mark Twain:

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” [Clearly Twain was writing well before the age of modern advertising.]


“I thoroughly disapprove of duels. If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet place and kill him.”

[On the exam you will be asked to say whether this latter quote is more similar to (a) or (b) below, justifying your answer with your own humor taxonomy:

(a) Mine is a most peaceable disposition. My wishes are: a humble cottage with a thatched roof, but a good bed, good food, the freshest milk and butter, flowers before my window, and a few fine trees before my door; and if God wants to make my happiness complete, he will grant me the joy of seeing some six or seven of my enemies hanging from those trees. Before their death I shall, moved in my heart, forgive them all the wrong they did me in their lifetime. One must, it is true, forgive one’s enemies — but not before they have been hanged. — Heinrich Heine

(b) If you find that you have offended someone, walk a mile in their shoes. Then you will have a mile head start…and they won’t have any shoes. — Dutch proverb]

Mulbo Responds to Brabsher

December 14, 2007

I tend to think that Heidegger (early, anyway) may be closer to W and Gadamer on the flexibility of background practices than you suggest. This was a claim in my diss (that he’s closer to G). The basis of my argument turns on authenticity. Ted frequently pointed out that Heidegger is clear that an authentic Dasein’s world need not change. But I believe an interpretation that couples sections 61-63 with chapter 5 yields a position in which the tradition which we inherit can be modified by us. The specific direction such modification takes is, of course, not directly guided by the subject — it happens, as you say about W and G, in the absence of rules or princples. I think Heidegger’s account of fate, in other words, is one in which Dasein is a full participant. And only authentic Dasein, as Heidegger stresses, actually has a fate.

Brabsher on Meaning Finitism

December 14, 2007

As I interpret Heidegger, things stand in unambiguous relations to one another and goals.  Using Ted’s concept of the signifying chain, it seems that the chains indicate actions as the only thing it makes sense to do somewhere.  Or that there is a clear line between it making sense to do one thing rather than another.  The bedroom as a site of activity may indicate a multitude of actions but these chains aren’t intermingled and confused.  They are definite and already in place.  I think Wittgenstein, on the other hand, allows for the development of new meanings within such sites and for the fact of ambiguity and polysemic relations.  I think there is a clear comparison here between W and Gadamer.  In Truth and Method Gadamer comes awfully close to saying that meaning is use in the section on application.  But, the implication of this is that there is no rule or universal standing over language governing it.  It develops in the very process of being used.  This is “meaning finitism.”  So ultimately, my contention is that we have overlapping, but often different background understandings of the situations we share (of course we only share them insofar as our understandings overlap to some degree).  Again I see W and Gadamer as very close here. 

Another Brandon…

December 12, 2007

Email correspondance from Brandon Absher, PhD student at the University of Kentucky, and the latest inductee in the Schatzki Ring:

Greig and Brandon, I just finished reading the paper.  And, I’m very excited that you are considering these issues in the light you are.  Probably my most important thought about the paper is that it could lead into a piece on the Gadamer/ Habermas debate.  Chris Zurn is currently writing an encyclopedia entry on this issue and I read a lot of the material over the summer (with the intention of perhaps writing a paper on the topic).  Ultimately, Habermas consistently attacks Gadamer for a perceived conservatism.  His claim is that we require theories to offer understandings of oppression.  He models this approach on psychoanalytic theory.  The point of doing the theory is to develop therapeutic practices – ultimately understood in terms of the theories developed later in TCA I and II.  Personally, I’ve been VERY concerned about the relationship between science and practical life in Heidegger’s work.  Mostly, I share his belief that practical/existential/ethical life is foundational for any theoretical interpretation of the world.  On the other hand, I don’t want to be dragged into a form of irrationalism consonant with Heidegger’s own political commitments. My work: The first chapter of the dissertation as I’m now conceiving of it will challenge a currently (perhaps perennially) popular way of thinking about language.  The basic idea is that humans have “attitudes” toward represented “content” which are “expressed” in the form of marks, utterances, and other forms of signs. As I read W and H, they present a challenge to this view.  Most importantly understanding language isn’t about associating signs with content and attitudes, rather it’s about knowing how to get along in a practical context.  Signs don’t represent content and express “attitudes” (believing vs. wishing, etc.), instead they bring about a shared practical intelligibility – my warning about the wet floor brings the floor itself to view as having a certain place within our already shared practical world, there are certain things that I’m supposed to do with regard to this floor now or with regard to the utterance itself.  The second chapter is on the concept of context.  Basically, it works out the common theme of background understanding found in W and H and the necessity of shared background understanding in understanding the utterances, etc of another.  Here, drawing on the concept of meaning finitism worked out by David Bloor in his reading of W, I’m going to argue that W’s understanding of context as fluid, ambiguous, and ever-changing is preferable to what I see as Heidegger’s more closed interpretation of context (or background understanding).  There’s a tenuous third chapter on the relation of W and H to analytic theories of semantic “externalism”, but Ted’s a little uncertain about it.  The final chapter will be about the “articulation of intelligibility” and the role of language in this articulation.  This chapter will share substantial ground with your section on narrative, theory, and argumentation.  The basic idea is as follows: the warning in the example mentioned before draws on a shared practical intelligibility.  It brings the floor to light in a new way within our ongoing practice, but our larger sense of the situation and it’s relation to other situations remains unchanged.  Other types of discourse (or maybe other discursive moments or events) allow us to re-contextualize much larger regions of our life.  With Arendt in mind, I think primarily of political discourse – which corresponds in many ways to what you’re talking about under the head of “argument.”  Certain political discourses or political moments of discourse have the power of re-shaping our background understanding of the world within which we live.  Religious discourse is also important in this way – here I think less of Arendt and more of Heidegger’s treatment of poetry in the later work and of silence in the early work.  The best way of saying it, I think, is that much of our practical discourse operates within an already shared horizon and leaves that horizon basically untouched.  There are, however, (borrowing from Gadamer) horizon shifting and horizon fusing ways of speaking.  So that’s the basic idea.