Monday, August 17, 2015

More from Falafel and the Mirror of Hummus. Rorty misreading Charles Taylor, or at the very least being stupid.
the third and most fundamental reason for the impossibility of hard prediction is that man is a self-defining animal. With changes in his self-definition go changes in what man is, such that he has to be understood in different terms. But the conceptual mutations in human history can and frequently do produce conceptual webs which are incommensurable, that is, where the terms can't be defined in relation to a common stratum of ex- pressions. (p. 49) [Taylor, "Interpretation and the Sciences of Man", 1971]
The point that what interferes with predicting the behavior of inhabitants of the unfamiliar culture is simply the incommensurability of their language seems to me exactly right, but I think Taylor proceeds to obscure his own point when he goes on to say:
The success of prediction in the natural sciences is bound up with the fact that all states of the system, past and future, can be described in the same range of concepts, as values, say, of the same variables. Hence all future states of the solar system can be characterized, as past ones are, in the language of Newtonian mechanics. . . . Only if past and future are brought under the same conceptual net can one understand the states of the latter as some function of the states of the former, and hence predict. 
This conceptual unity is vitiated in the sciences of man by the fact of conceptual innovation which in turn alters human reality. (P.49)
Here Taylor reinstates the notion of man as a being who changes from the inside by finding better (or, at least, novel) ways of describing, predicting, and explaining himself. Nonhuman beings, as mere etres-en-soi, do not get changed from inside but are simply described, predicted, and explained in a better vocabulary. This way of putting it leads us back into the bad old metaphysical notion that the universe is made up of two kinds of things. The sense in which human beings alter themselves by redescribing themselves is no more metaphysically exciting or mysterious than the sense in which they alter themselves by changing their diet, their sexual partners, or their habitation.
Human beings redescribe themselves by developing a taste for democracy and no longer behaving as they have in the past. There's no feedback loop in geology.

There are no references to Santayana in A Secular Age.  I downloaded but haven't yet read the essay Rorty quotes. No reason to bring god into this shit.

A footnote on the response to Kuhn:
The ferocity was found, however, mainly among professional philosophers. Kuhn's description of how science works was no shock to the scientists whose rationality the philosophers were concerned to protect. 
A non-religious Jewish particle physicist may see irreconcilable differences between fermions and Alexander Portnoy; my sympathies will be with his wife.

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