Another pragmatist book by Rorty. Truth becomes replaced by descriptions and warranted assertibility. It is justification which leads us in thought, because there is no final way to become satisfied, no way to end discussions and arguments, no way to finally prove the correspondence between knowledge and nature, or whatever else. It is difficult to disagree with this, because when we do study representationalism and correspondence theories and verificationist theories, there are always quite severe problems.
There are many ways to come to a pragmatist conclusion. One would be simply through defining truth, like Davidson seems to do, through its way of coming about. Truth is the process of coming to a true statement in regards to something. In that way, truth is always in the process. The process is more or less made up of justification. To replace truth with justification is to in a way make philosophy wholly atheistic, and do remove any notion of essentiality, which is another aspect to Rorty’s book. There is no essence in the world we can come across that cuts through the limitations of mankind in relation to a thoughtless universe. Instead there are people justifying things in a free democratic society, with only each other as judges, no Gods, no Nature, no correspondence to and fro man and object, or subject and object.
In a way there is a monism underlying this as well, buttressed entirely by intersubjectivity. The ridiculousness of pragmatism, in the way presented by Rorty, is that we have no way of knowing what it is that makes up justification, or what in us determined thinking a statement is justified or not. What exactly is there to guide us in this endeavor, if we have nowhere to look for security? What assumptions operate under this philosophy? An object’s variability between people does not matter to a pragmatist, since the description of it will be what guides our relation to it. We suspend the will to know it in itself. It seems to prop itself up on intuition, though, the intuitive way we relate to objects in our shared space. Knowledge of an objects is knowledge of what can be done with it, what kind of tool it can be, how it can be described, what kind of manipulations it allows for; all this is what Rorty calls relational. Our way of talking about objects is not truth-based or relating to a Nature in itself, or an Absolute way that thing are, but is simply talk about our way of relating to it and our ways of using those objects. Likewise, our talk of the objects is teleological in kind, it’s done with a specific purpose or function in mind. “I want food” is not some kind of attempt to describe the physicality of hunger, it is simply the description of a certain wish. Obviously the example is in some way slanted.
If we were to make a final justification our goal, a Rortyan pragmatism would end up calling it useless and hopeless. Mostly on the ground of past failures. It seems like Rorty is looking for some kind of happiness outside of the bitterness that philosophy harbors against the failures of epistemology. This same bitterness is what Rorty thinks fuels the fight against pragmatism. Perhaps a good way to turn pragmatism on itself is to look for its justifications. When Rorty uses pragmatism as a way to get away from epistemology, he doesn’t as such solve anything, he simply devolves to quietism, in a beautiful way, but nonetheless in a dissatisfying manner. Is happiness an automatically justifiable endeavor? Why not remain in the torture of an epistemological attitude? What justifies the absolute freedom of justifiable statements?
Objectivity was described as the ease of which somebody can agree to something, or the degree of agreeability of something. That which has a lesser degree is more subjective, that which has a higher degree of objectivity holds a higher chance of being accepted universally, or at least with more ease. But is objectivity even an ideal for a pragmatist? Is science something to hold dear in this pragmatist sense, where all it does is create a way of walking, unveil ways of using things, and a method of justification. Justification does not seem detached from epistemology, it seems the same problems remain, with the sole difference being that useless terms like “truth” have been curtailed.
What is it that we should hope for in the future? What is this “happiness”? Is it material contentness we are speaking of? Intellectual satisfaction? Pragmatism again operates through some kind of pleasure principle. I really don’t quite understand what fuels it. Does this reflect poorly on the state of my mental health? Or is it simply not a good justification for a move to hope, where certainty and knowledge become jettisoned?
The hope for the future is indeed a hope to gain tools where we can approach the inapproachability of certain off-limit aspects of reality. This hope is put on science, I imagine, since it is the only methodical approach that seems to attempt knowledge of a non-human kind, an entirely machinic-objective approach. An approach that claims to unveil the reality of nature itself. But what is the point in hoping for such a future, and not participating in it actively, alongside science, if need be, but in reality simply through an epistemology? Why shut down the enterprise? Who do we leave it to? I don’t understand the usefulness of hope.
But I think it’s easy to agree with the pragmatist denial of essences of certain kinds. Pragmatism seem to stand for an openness to a changing variety of justifications, or a becoming. It moves along with the new. It denies the Greek notions of a human essence (p. 39) and leaves humanity indefinite, always “improving”, developing, gaining more and more pleasure, happiness, freedom, and whatever other value is highlighted and held as important in pragmatism.
A thing I really agree with however is the notion that there is no essence, as should be clear. Our relational way of being in the world without any necessary way of telling which relation is “correct” or the most true makes it so that relationality is something characterized by a great amount of freedom. That which we know of objects is made up of our descriptions of them. This relationality itself is infinite, says Rorty, but to say “indefinite” would be more accurate in this sense, since we know nothing of infinitude, we know only a limitlessness. In this sense I do not think Rorty’s attempt to appeal to numbers in showing how nonessentialist thinking works, since all you have to do is ask the essentialist “where is the essence, and what constitutes it?” You will find their answer is never going to be satisfactory, since it will be entirely arbitrary without any sliver of self-awareness, thus not justified, thus not necessarily true in any conceivable sense, either, if we are to remain in that mindset.
Relationism is not simply descriptive, in my mind, but it holds true for an empirical or phenomenological approach as well. That all experiential relationships are at their core non-hierarchical, they are all immanent and to some extent differ perhaps mostly in how much they can inform what is said about the object, or inform the descriptive statements. This is something lacking in Rorty, which I am not sure I like.
Because we have to ask ourselves, what does a relational description refer to? It surely is referential, so what is referred to here? Is each relation not an essence, as it is in Husserl? This kind of essence would then what a description refers to. But this is not an essence in the sense of being the one true essence of an object, but simply the essence of a descriptive act, the foundation of a descriptive statement. It is simply the grounding of a description in something other than itself, in something other than the syntactical structure, it is grounded by its linkage to an essential relation betwen word and experience. Without this I would say a description is senseless, but it still maintains the democratic and non-hierarchical view of knowledge or relations that Rorty seems to value.
If we want to explore the world, or explore the way we explore the world, what does pragmatism suggest? Science is one description among many, it seems, according to Rorty. But how do we explain our descriptive behavior? How do we explore what constitutes a referential act, and so on? What would pragmatism allow for? Everything? Everything is open in the war of ideas, and they will live and die in that war, through some kind of historical dialecticism. I have no way of navigating this kind of space.
“We seem to have become more than human, to have distanced ourselves from our own humanity and viewed ourselves from nowhere.” (p. 49)
This is a very important aspect, in this case in regards to psycho-physical explanations of the world. We should always be wary of describing the world from outside of our own human groundedness and our needs. I mostly stand for such a statement in an epistemological sense, that we are never not human, our concepts are never devoid of a body, etc. We are always human, no matter how much we try to think the inhuman. What “human” in this sense means to me simply the experiencing entity we can see ourselves as, the way things appear to us, and how we interact with things with a particular directness and relationality. This is very important to realize, and to not lose track of in the psycho-physical scientific world explanations. All our scientific concepts are constructions, a constructivist social order.
“Is this description useful to show whether or not something is true?” could be the pragmatic epistemological questions. “Is this useful if we want to know this object?” In a way that is already how anyone interested in these questions operate, we’d spot it right away if something was not fruitful. But does “truth” have utility in itself? For philosophers like Descartes it was the starting point for a whole geometrical edifice, a ground from certainty that could build almost anything, in a mathematical manner, a move from axiom to elaborate proofs, and so on. Is this not still possible? Have we absolutely forsaken this notion? Obviously there is no need to follow in the footsteps of mathematics, but would it not be possible to build proofs based on core truth-concepts. If there is a truth such that “when we see X we say ‘Z’”, is that not something we could work with? A solid knowledge of a predictable behavior. Or are we to skeptically approach this as well? Could there really be an axiomatic theory of truth with appeal to the self-evident? Whatever it could be it would be subject to the same pragmatist view of justification-based discourse, and I don’t see that as necessarily a problem, it simply displaces the goal of philosophy, a goal I don’t think is actually active in the mind of anyone doing philosophy, since all philosophy involves itself with is textual analysis and argumentation, even when it exlaims to unveil truth, the former is its actual societal act.
Pragmatism does seem to be liberating to a large extent, however, especially the therapeutic kind that Rorty posits, but it seems equally a simple acceptance of failure, or an attempt to avoid hardship for the sake of comfort or happiness. Perhaps it is strange to want to remain in a state of discomfort or intellectual torture, but it seems more interesting to stumble and fail than to accept a non-satisfying arbitrary set of descriptions and justifications based on nothing but the propositions that constitute them. Pragmatism doesn’t do enough for me, but that is not to say that it couldn’t. I suppose we shall see, but not yet.