Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Leiter: Gottlieb on Romano
Here, and the book is about as bad as one would expect given the author's almost total ignorance of philosophy.
Democracy needs better defenders than Romano, but I doubt the book is any worse than the review. Leiter and Romano deserve each other: poles of American mediocrity, the schoolman and the careless, the puritan and drunk.

Leiter posts two paragraphs from Gottlieb.
Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are not the founders and titans of philosophy, according to Romano; rather, they hijacked it. The notion of philosophia was fluid in Plato’s time, and Romano wishes that the usage and practice of the less famous Isocrates, a rhetorician and educationalist, had caught on instead of that of his slightly younger contemporary. Isocrates (“A Man, Not a Typo,” as Romano headlines him) wrote that “it is far superior to have decent judgments about useful matters than to have precise knowledge about useless things.” For him, philosophy was the imprecise art of public deliberation about important matters, not a logic-­chopping attempt to excavate objective truths. Isocrates, Romano says, “incarnates the contradictions, pragmatism, ambition, bent for problem solving and getting things done that mark Americans,” and his conception of philosophy “jibes with American pragmatism and philosophical practice far more than Socrates’ view.” Romano writes sorely of “the triumph of Plato and Aristotle in excluding Isocrates from the philosophical tradition” and announces that “Isocrates should be as famous as Socrates.”

My first thought about this claim was that it is simply nuts, which is also my considered view. Romano offers no explanation of how Plato and Aristotle managed to achieve the nefarious feat of obliterating the wonderful Isocrates. The only demonstrable sense in which they excluded him from the philosophical tradition is that their work eclipsed his, just as the music of Johann Sebastian Bach eclipsed that of his older brother Johann Jacob. Puzzled by Romano’s high estimation of the relevance of Isocrates, even to the broadest conception of philosophy, I reread some of his discourses and emerged none the wiser, though I did remember why I had so quickly forgotten him the first time around. Where are Isocrates’ penetrating treatments of the soul, virtue, justice, knowledge, truth, art, perception, psychology, logic, mathematics, action, space or time? And if philosophy would be better off not trying to talk about such things, what exactly should it be talking about?
The best definition of "philosopher" I can can come up with is self-described intellectual who prefers judges to trial lawyers. In their defense of truth philosophers almost always defend authority, if only their own, while pretending to live in a world where Sophocles (c. 496-406 BC) read Aristotle (384–322 BC) and not the other way around.

Philosophy is poetry that follows the dictates of a church.  I've said that too many times: Socrates like the Pope was an orator against rhetoric.

Gottlieb's last paragraph, not quoted by Leiter
Also, politics is one arena in which Americans do not appear, to this foreign observer, to be especially practical-­minded at the moment. They seem disfigured by tribal dogmatism, and thus not well constituted to devise utilitarian solutions to everyday problems.
"Both sides do it!" Philosophers, even those who claim to be empiricists in theory, have never been very good at in fact. American liberalism is a weak brew.
Where are Isocrates’ penetrating treatments of the soul, virtue, justice, knowledge, truth, art, perception, psychology, logic, mathematics, action, space or time? And if philosophy would be better off not trying to talk about such things, what exactly should it be talking about?
The soul does not exist.
Virtue and justice are defined by society.
Knowledge should be theorized by practitioners.
There are no truth, only facts and events.
Art is for artists and their audience to debate.
Perception and psychology, space and time, are dealt with in both art and science.
Logic and mathematics are studied by logicians and mathematicians.
Action should be theorized by those who engage in it.

Any free-floating philosophy unmoored to specific practice is linguistic art with pretensions to science, still the definition of theology.

Art is the description of experience, of subjectivity, of our world as sense. Science is the struggle to see beyond sense, but is still a struggle of sense.  The unending search for truth is the endless search for facts. Science can't justify science; desire justifies science.

Abstaining from alcohol won't make you sober; affirmations of atheism won't conquer faith. Leiter's defense of the academy is based on privilege and party loyalty. He writes on Nietzsche as Scalia writes on the constitution: ex cathedra, with the popish rhetoric of truthiness.

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