Tuesday, January 17, 2012

rewritten a bit

"The unexamined life is not worth living"
That is, of course, the famous Socratic dictum around which so much of our discipline is organized, and while some, like Nietzsche, have famously rejected it, their reasons need not immediately concern us. For there is a more mundane question it presents: most people--meaning the fathers, mothers, siblings, children of most academic philosophers--do not lead "examined" lives in the Socratic sense. Is it really the case that philosophers who embrace the Socratic dictum think their lives are not worth living? I'm curious what philosophers think, and whether they've ever had this discussion with their non-philosopher relatives.
First comment, Michael Rosen
Ha! It depends what you mean by "examined". Non-philosophers point out that philosophers are, typically, very good at a certain kind of theory-building but very bad at self-understanding. Many, many years of interacting with philosophers makes me believe that they are all too often right.
I added this farther down; it wasn't accepted. It begins sloppily, reading as if curiosity about the world expands from self-absorption rather than the opposite: that curiosity about the self is a prerequisite for curiosity about the world.
The argument is that the "examined life" refers to the examination of one's own life, in that only an individual can experience the self as living. [examining the process of living] But we live in the world and to examine the self is to examine its interactions; "self-understanding" is thus the required first step towards knowledge of the world. Following Michael Rosen's observations above (and contra the opinion of this post) that would mean that most academic philosophers do not follow the Socratic dictum any more than do other members of their families.

The paradox is in the fact that understanding desire is not the same as having it, while to be fully human -to be living- is to desire. See also what's called the paradox of anthropology: no one understands the French more than those who study them, but only the French know what it's like to be French. Self-knowledge is limited. Our understanding of others (of each other, reciprocally) is always different and often superior, or at least of value, to our understanding of ourselves. Most athletes need coaches, few of whom were ever as good at playing the game as the athletes themselves.

The hermeneutics of suspicion consists in mutual suspicion and mutual curiosity. A man can only be as feminist as the women around him judge his behavior to be. Absent a consideration of behavior, arguing only from ideas, leaves us to accept Donald Rumsfeld's claims to competence and the cafe revolutionary's statements of commitment. To be may be the value of a bound variable, but to live, or live well, is to judge and be judged.

It is no secret that much of contemporary philosophy is under the spell of the Other. The point isn't to be under a spell, like a narcissistic teenager, but to engage.
The reference to "bound variable" is Quine, and the first line of the last paragraph is from here. To follow the history start here and work backwards, to here and here

Leiter's tone is snide, mixing condescension with curiosity; his language holds an object as if by the tips of its fingers, to limit the risk of contagion. The paradox of Nietzsche and Borges is the paradox of a cloistered scholar celebrating the freedom of the illiterate; Leiter, without irony, celebrates Nietzsche, scholars and scientists, following the technocratic model of intellectual life as expertise, a model that denies the rule of reciprocal curiosity and suspicion: experts cannot be contradicted by non-experts. It's a model that celebrates the life Nietzsche lived, as a school teacher, not what he argued for. A couple of the comments on translation are interesting, as to whether "not worth living" should be "not to be lived". Others begin arguments without continuing them.

Still reading Fodor et al. I can't see much of a distinction, in their structure, between the old arguments Leiter accepts and the new ones he disparages (on Darwin). Reading about "multiple realizability", "reductionism" and "projectibility" I thought immediately of explosions, and the functionalism of relations rather than objects. Pain is not a "thing" it's a relation between things. The relation is the kind. Cognitive science is still the creation science of human behavior; theologians forever being pushed slowly back. Claims for physicalist anti-reductionism are no more than attempts to reify linguistic ambiguity as "vital principle".

Also, at the Stanford Encyclopedia link ("et al", above), reading was like watching a slow motion ping pong match. I felt like walking back and forth from one side of the table to the other to hit the ball back to myself. And in saying that, I'm not trying to give myself much credit for anything.

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