Friday, June 25, 2004

June 28th. A Monday Fix
Is it a sign of maturity or decay when an area of philosophy reaches a stage where virtually every possible view, however implausible, is represented by a treatise-length study written in its defense? Do contemporary debates about modality, properties, causation, or the mind-body problem represent philosophy at its peak of maturity, or are these debates paradigm examples of a subject in decay?
I spent some time with this post on Brian Leiter's page, where he quotes the author of that paragraph. I read the post and looked at one of the articles he cites, and was thinking of responding there (comments are on) but it can wait. I don't want to be accused of trying to hijack the discussion.
Impatience with the long haul of technical reflection is a form of shallowness, often thinly disguised by histrionic advocacy of depth.
How to respond to that?
Con`nois`seur´ n.
1. One well versed in any subject; a skillful or knowing person; a critical judge of any art, particularly of one of the fine arts.
The connoisseur is "one who knows," as opposed to the dilettante, who only "thinks he knows."
- Fairholt.
My comment
You can compare apples and oranges if you want, the only question is, why? You can argue in favor of intellectually rigorous activities being done for their own sake, but how rigorous is anything without boundaries? What is interesting about science is that in its search for knowledge it is bounded by what can be, or might be at some point, verifiable. That makes it practical but it also makes it a game with rules and limits. Intelligence is tested by an outside force. There are similar boundaries in athletics. You test yourself within a system of rules and regulations. There seems to be no outside force in analytic philosophy. I don't see how structures of pure logic can be applied to behavior, and even as a 'game' of skill philosophy seems limited.

I went recently to the Met, to an exhibition of work by the American Impressionist Childe Hassam, and found myself asking how and why work which was so derivative, such an imitation of the French, could be also so obviously American. The works 'looked like' American paintings. 
What kind of intelligence perceives the clues that mark such a difference? What sort of intelligence says "I know" before it can say why, or how, it knows. I remember years ago commenting on the strangeness of a painting by Hassam when I assumed that it was by a French hand; things didn't fit, but I wasn't sure why. I'm not patting myself on the back. I had help. But this is the argument from "depth" that Timothy Williamson derides, and it has nothing to do with religion or any sort of fuzzy mysticism, but with the perceptual intelligence of the connoisseur. Our intuitions act often through a form of silent logic, with which we play a game of catch-up. Our awareness is trained in such a way that it works in shorthand, preceding understanding. In the same way, 'knowing' how to hit a backhand is not the same as 'being able' to do it. I was able to recognize the oddness of a painting that I supposed to be French. Sometimes such responses (assumptions) are mistaken -in which case there is still a 'logic' behind them- sometimes not. But analytic philosophy will never be able to understand 'imagination' because its unwilling to use it. I've read more than a few articles in which the questions asked, about the logic of certain social activities, could not be answered unless someone chose to look outside the internal logic of the article. And as a matter of intellectual rigor or skill, there are other forms of discourse more rigorous because there's more at stake.

From an old post: In The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Simon Blackburn writes this about Donald Davidson: 
"Davidson is also known for rejection of the idea of s conceptual scheme, thought of as something peculiar to one language or one way of looking at the world, arguing that where the possibility of translation stops so does the coherence of the idea that there is something to translate." 
So if it is impossible to translate the finer points in Mallarmé, then no finer points exist.

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