From a comment thread at Currence's place recently, Duck:
"[Certain kinds of Heideggerians are annoying, k]ind of like Wittgensteinians who won't let you make any philosophical claims (or find them in Wittgenstein) because that would violate "quietism". There's a big difference between making a philosophical claim and offering a traditional ("constructive") solution to a philosophical problem. I wish McDowell would say more about this (now that he's said more about Hegel!)."
It would be nice for McDowell to say more about quietism; I recall in his response in the first Locke Lecture, Brandom said that McDowell was "a wild-eyed constructive philosopher, though using this sort of language makes him awfully uncomfortable." There's certainly an at least apparent tension in saying both "Let's stop feeling obliged to do constructive philosophy" and "Let's reappropriate Kant and Hegel."
I presume that McDowell takes his commitments to Hegelianism and to quietism to sit nicely together; I doubt he thinks there is a real difficulty in reconciling the two, or he should have copped to it by now. I think the quietism is more likely to blame for the appearance of a conflict than the Hegelianism. McDowell's Hegelianism seems to be fairly straightforward: when he talks about Hegel, he thinks Hegel got it right. It seems to me that Hegel fits into McDowell's work more smoothly than quietism does; I can understand how Brandom can see McDowell as a "wild-eyed constructive philosopher". So, what's wanted would appear to be an understanding of quietism which doesn't clash with what McDowell does. A few unsystematic thoughts towards this behind Asakura's back:
One needs to keep in mind why there can be no theses advanced in philosophy (PI 128): Everyone would agree to them. Things that look like dangerously philosophical "claims" aren't necessarily nonsense, or "metaphysical" as opposed to "everyday"; it's just that if they aren't nonsense, they're going to be truistic. "A philosopher is a man who has to cure many intellectual diseases in himself before he can arrive at the notions of common sense." (C&V 44)
Therapeutic philosophy is philosophy that doesn't try to add to our ordinary knowledge, in the way characteristic of the natural sciences; it's a setting-to-order of what's already been made available to thought. "Philosophy" is "what is possible before all new discoveries and inventions" (PI 126). Generally this takes place by reminding ourselves of what we already know (but are prone to forgetting), but sometimes therapy will require novel truisms to be coined -- sayings that are obvious once you hear them, but which draw attention to things we have overlooked hitherto. (It is no strike against a truism that it has not been in wide circulation already; a truism doesn't acquire its status as "truism" because of repetition, though repetition certainly helps to make truisms easier to recognize for what they are.)
Sometimes truisms (like "Thinking something doesn't make it so") may be in contradiction to philosophical theses (such as "The world springs up around us as our language grows in expressive power"). In such cases, whatever arguments have been offered in support of the thesis in question might make it hard to recognize the truism for what it is. So you may have to do old-fashioned philosophical dirty work to make the thesis no longer attractive; if there are arguments which seem rationally compelling, they must be made not to appear so. But then once you've taken down the thesis, you don't replace it with a contrary thesis; you're just back to common sense. No one feels a need to argue for the existence of "the external world" or "other minds" when there's not some particular confusion that makes it seem implausible; thus McDowell speaks of not wanting to refute skepticism so much as make it intellectually respectable to ignore skeptical doubts "in the way common sense has always wanted to" (M&W 113).
"Quietism" is a rallying cry to stop trying to build castles in the air and to recognize that common sense really is already rational, that our everyday notions are not generally confused, not in need of replacement with more scientific notions. The most that common sense can need is some ironing-out, so that what appear to be obligatory confusions to fall into cease to be seen as such; but even here, where we are prima facie altering common sense, what does the cognitive heavy lifting in our end result is what was already present in the everyday notions we began with. All philosophy adds to common sense is an elucidation of what common sense always in itself was, the truth about what our everyday practices and notions involve. But this is always just what was already "open to view" (PI 126), though it was "hidden" from us for a time. (PI 129)
"Quietism" is not a name for a "method" or "style" of philosophy, for there are many "methods" in philosophy (not a single method) and quietism is more than a stylistic preference (a "taste for desert landscapes"). The distinguishing mark of quietism is that it aims to make "the discovery which brings philosophy peace", which makes it possible to stop doing philosophy.
I am inclined to say that constructive philosophy can be put to quietistic uses. Kant said that Rationalist pretenses in metaphysics naturally gave rise to Skepticism whenever they arose, and Kant takes advantage of the contradictions between the two positions to defuse both of them at once, by showing that both sides shared common presuppositions which should be disowned. I think this is an admirably quietistic sort of move. In cases where only one pole of the opposition is in view, then, it seems reasonable to establish the other (by constructive means), to facilitate taking down the pair of them.
There is a further sense in which I think constructive philosophy can still be important if one's aims are quietistic; the use of constructive philosophy to help the befuddled see that they must be befuddled. I think an example should make clear the sort of thing I have in mind. Davidson's argument against global skepticism (based on the principle of charity) is unquestionably a bit of "constructive" philosophizing. The global skeptic is shown to contradict himself (for he must both uphold and reject the principle of charity); he is not shown to have been confused simply. It looks like the global skeptic made a perfectly sensible claim, it just turns out, on reflection, that it's false. Whatever motivated the global skeptic to take the views he did is left untouched. "Whatever credence we give to Davidson's argument that a body of belief is sure to be mostly true, the argument starts too late to certify Davidson's position as a genuine escape from the oscillation [between frictionless coherentism and the Myth of the Given]." (M&W 17) But Davidson's argument (assuming one finds it compelling, which I do) can still play a real role in helping to make it clear that arguments for global skepticism must have a problem somewhere, and so makes it clear that there is a need for philosophical therapy in this case. And this is a service of real value, for it is not always obvious that one has been bewitched by one's language.
In both of the cases considered above, the Kantian opposition of Rationalist with Skeptic and the Davidsonian opposition to global skepticism, the quietist makes a similar move: where there appears to be (only) two opposed views possible, adopt neither of them, but rather find why the choice seems to be forced on one. But the two cases are not identical. The two options in the Kantian stand-off are both rejected as equally flawed; Davidson's position is not found to be inferior to that of the skeptic tout court. Davidson is not wrong, he is simply arguing where there's no need to argue. If it is not mysterious how thought can "reach out to the world", then there is no reason anything like Davidson's argument would be called for. A quietist could still repeat Davidson's argument, since there are no errors to be found in it, but doing so would be pointless. It'd be like trying to prove that cats are alive -- nobody doubts it, so why waste the time? (But if it someday comes into question whether or not cats were ever really alive, then an argument that they are might be useful as a stop-gap measure; one uses medicine to treat an illness, but with the hope that the medicine will become superfluous as the illness is overcome.)
To champion "common sense" in the manner of quietism isn't a reactionary gesture. Everyday disagreement remains disagreement, everyday criticism loses none of its bite. (Or if it does, then it never deserved the sort of bite that it had; philosophy demolishes only "houses of cards", but this does make it not utterly passive.) There are various practices we (and others) engage in, and sometimes these practices come under question: Should we do this or that, continue on as our fathers did or tread new ground, do we need to "shift our paradigms"? And philosophy doesn't have anything special to add to those conversations. And this includes any particular criticisms to make of them. If some practice of ours' is shameful, or if some theory of ours' is wrong, or if I need to change the way I live my life, it won't be for philosophical reasons. The only thing philosophy can do in those sorts of situations is (on occasion) help to make it clearer just where the true problems lie. Their solutions are totally outside of philosophy.
Wittgenstein speaks of mathematics in particular, here:
"[Philosophy] leaves everything as it is. It also leaves mathematics as it is, and no mathematical discovery can advance it. A "leading problem of mathematical logic" is for us a problem of mathematics like any other... It is the business of philosophy, not to resolve a contradiction by means of a mathematical or logico-mathematical discovery, but to make it possible for us to get a clear view of the state of mathematics that troubles us: the state of affairs before the contradiction is resolved. (And this does not mean that one is sidestepping a difficulty.)... The civil status of a contradiction, or its status in civil life: there is the philosophical problem." (PI 124/125) I do not think mathematics has a privileged place, here; Wittgenstein focuses on mathematics because there is a particular temptation to try to look to philosophy for help in math, to think that philosophy has a positive obligation to solve problems when it comes to mathematics. The temptation is not as powerful when it comes to physics, or politics, or ethics, or religion, but I think it is still the same temptation: Philosophy is thought to provide justifications for our use of notions such as law of nature, right, justice, property, final judgement, and these philosophical justifications are held to show that some practice or other is not "groundless" (that is, not disreputable). But here I think the proper stance should be the same as with mathematics: A "leading problem of political philosophy" is just a problem of politics like any other. The same goes for philosophies of religion, of science, of language, of mind; where there are real problems here, they are questions for theology, for the natural sciences, for linguistics, for psychology. All that philosophy does is clear up where the real problems lie; any further than this, and philosophy must hand the baton on to other disciplines.
It is also worth noting that the "common sense" which we are left with after the untangling of a philosophical knot is a real achievement, and can justly be distinguished from the unreflective "common sense" of someone who just doesn't like reflecting. For once we have overcome a tension in our thoughts, once we have recognized a "problem" as merely a pseudo-problem, we are no longer tempted to fall into the old muddle. We can think freely where before we had gotten lost in our own conceptions. But the unreflective man cannot do this (or at least he might be unable to); he is still liable to fall into the confusion we have already worked through, if he takes the trouble to think. (And he probably will -- reflection is too pleasant to pass up altogether. Even the most practical man will occasionally "wax metaphysical".)
The sort of "common sense philosophy" which maintains dogmatically that all philosophical theorizing must be bunk, and so study of the stuff is a priori pointless, is simple rudeness, not philosophy at all; argument must be met with argument, though theses need not be combated with rival theses. If you really are convinced that so-and-so is confused about p, then you must be able to give some sort of reasons for thinking that so-and-so is confused about p; and if the only reasons you can give are flabby ones, it becomes doubtful that you are the reasonable party after all, that you are not just being contrary, or are yourself no wiser than the other fellow.
In the Open Court "Library of Living Philosophers" volume on Jaako Hintikka, Hintikka goes on for a bit about what Wittgenstein was like in person. "He was a recluse and something of a mystic, but he was also a proud Bloomsbury intellectual who could condemn a philosopher who never engages in a philosophical argument as being like a boxer who never enters the ring." (p. 37) (Incidentally, the next few pages of the book include some amusing dirt about Elizabeth Anscombe, for those who like that sort of thing. The book's searchable on Amazon.)
An aside: I'm about finished with Raymond Plant's "Hegel: An Introduction", which I picked up just because the law library had a copy. I've found it to be quite good. He explains Hegel's critique of Kant's ethical thought by identifying it with Wittgenstein's critique of "private languages": Says Hegel, Kant's "categorical imperative" can justify anything, since there's no rule given for how to identify a maxim from an action (the description under which an action is considered can be changed while the action remains identical, and different descriptions of a single action can vary in whether or not they will appear to pass Kant's tests), a "universalizable" maxim can be conjured up for any action you please if you redescribe it sufficiently (speak of theft in a way that doesn't presume an institution of property, for instance), and so it can't be the case that this is what ethical imperatives come down to, that they are willed into existence by pure practical reason, that "ethics" is just obedience to one's peculiar conscience. Which echoes Wittgenstein's point that if there is no criterion of "rightness" in one's use of a "private language", if there's not a distinction between thinking one is right and being right, then one can't speak of "right" in that case, and so the way we refer to our sensations cannot be by means of a "private language". Not a connection I'd seen before, and it fits Hegel's text pretty nicely. (I am always pleased to find Hegel & Wittgenstein being brought together, and Plant appears to have done so back in the 70's. I think Cavell is the earliest I've seen, though; in the essay on Kierkegaard in "Must We Mean What We Say" (p. 168) Cavell equates Kant's "transcendental logic", Hegel's "logic", and the Oxfordian fetish for ordinary language with what Wittgenstein called "grammar". That's the sort of comment that demands one go on further about it, but Cavell is a shameless tease.)
A final remark: Duck had a post from a few years ago on the topic of Wittgenstein & "theses", and I recall liking it when I read through his archives. I still like it now.
02 November 2007
From a comment thread at Currence's place recently, Duck: