Why I Think Pragmatism Fails

My intellectual history with pragmatism goes way back. My first real exposure to pragmatism was through Richard Rorty’s masterpiece Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. In this work Rorty attempted to argue for a position that would do away with the dogmas and philosophical problems associated with either realism or idealism. Rorty’s own position was heavily inspired by James, Dewey, Heidegger, and late Wittgenstein. He saw in this tradition a way to avoid the problematic claims of realism and idealism, which he saw as both relying on a kind of epistemic foundationalism to get off the ground. Foundationalism is the idea that we can secure a solid foundation for building up philosophy and science that rests on self-evident epistemic principles. The most obvious epistemic foundation for Modern Philosophy is subjective experience. This was Descartes position in a nutshell. From the indubitably self-evident principles of subjective consciousness, Descartes wanted to provide a solid footing for the entirety of human knowledge, including science. For foundationalism, the essential project is to build a edifice of knowledge that rests on the epistemic security of our own experience of the world. From our own experience, we can provide a foundation for the truth claims of the sciences.

Rorty found this problematic because it assumed that our essential self was, at bottom, this self-conscious “Glassy Essence” that mirrors the world through representational mentation. Because the mind represents the world, the most secure path to knowledge for foundationalism is to determine whether the contents of the mind match up or correspond to the external world. Since the mind is the foundation for our knowledge, if we can develop a method for determining which mental contents accurately correspond to the world, we can arrive at a concept of truth. True mental states are those that correspond to the external world.

But what is this external world? Kant eventually forbid philosophy from talking about mental states corresponding to the external world. For Kant, the method for securing our epistemic foundations is equally subjective, since the essential task for philosophy is to inspect the mind to make sure its representational mechanisms are working properly. On the Kantian schema, the path to objective, grounded knowledge goes through the self and never really leaks out to the external world. The world which we think is external, is actually internal to our minds, since our experience is but a representation of the noumenal realm. To make sure our mirror is working properly, Kant wants us to polish the mirror rather than inspect the actual world, since we can never get out of our heads.

For Rorty, this whole project of grounding knowledge is doomed to fail from the beginning because it presupposes an awful lot about the nature of the mind, the self, and knowledge. Rorty’s essential philosophical move is to externalize the self such that there is no “inner core”, no real “Glassy essence” except the one we invent for ourselves through cultural accumulation. Rather than starting with the inner world and moving outwards towards the world, Rorty, like Sellars, wants to start with the outer world and move inwards. For Rorty we are first and foremost social creatures inhabiting a public sphere with a public language. Following Heidegger’s move of externalization, Rorty thinks we are first “outside” the mind, in-the-world, and it is only a theoretical move which brings us to the inner realm of subjectivity. Once we as a culture have played this “subjectivity game” for long enough, we actually become convinced that we do indeed have a Glassy Essence which is the foundation for all our experience, along with the appropriate cultural mechanisms for acknowledging our own authority on subjective matters. Rorty thinks this is a delusion generated by philosophical language games. In this respect, we can see how Rorty took up the project of later Wittgenstein, who thought philosophical problems about the mind and body are mere tricks generated by our use of language games.

When I first read Rorty, I bought this hook, line, and sinker. The demolition of the Glassy Essence seems right to me, even to this day. If there is no glassy essence at our core grounding knowledge, then the truth-claims of both realism and idealism are groundless, since they are both founded by the core self (which we know now is a mere delusion). In realism, the glassy foundation allows us to make truth-claims about the world insofar as we can represent the objective world in our mind. In idealism, the glassy foundation allows us to make truth-claims about the human-world correlate. On Rorty’s reading, both positions are problematic since they start off with the isolated, representing self.

So if objective truth-claims are groundless for Rorty, how does he avoid a radical relativism where anything goes? Since Rorty moves the “foundation” for knowledge from the inner self towards the outer community, does this not relegate truth to the community? What is to stop a community of flat Earthers to say it is “true for them” that the Earth is flat because they have a long communal history of talking about the Earth as if it is flat? Nothing. Rorty cannot avoid this relativism. But he can attempt to rob it of its essential force. How does Rorty do this? By recognizing that one of the most dominant and “useful” communal language games is science itself. Science is nothing but a sophisticated communal practice that has developed its own norms of subjectivity and objectivity, and science tells us that the Earth is not flat.

So although Rorty thinks that it is impossible to ground or provide an absolute foundation for truth claims which separate appearance from reality, he does think that science has invented a language game for distinguishing appearance from reality. This is how Rorty responds to the critics who claim that he is a relativist where “anything goes”. Rorty doesn’t think that we can have absolute knowledge of what’s mere appearance versus what’s reality, but he does think that we have highly developed language games for separating appearance from reality. Science is exactly such a game. It’s just that the truth-claims of science are grounded, not by the self, but by the standards and norms of the scientific community. So we are still able to make truth-claims that separate appearance from reality, it’s just that this ability to make claims is itself just a language game, albeit an absurdly successful one.

So why does pragmatism fail? Very simply, it fails because no matter how hard he tries Rorty is unable to stop religious fundamentalists from hijacking this exact argument to show the rationality of faith-based knowledge claims. Reformed Epistemologists like Plantinga want to use this exact same anti-foundationalist argument to bolster the claim that it is rational to believe in God even if there is no evidence or rational argument for his existence. Just so long as there is a religious community with shared communal norms and standards, it is perfectly rational for someone growing up in that community to accept the truth-claims without rational evidence or argumentation. God becomes “properly basic” i.e. not believed on the basis of any epistemic foundations. The Christian community grounds the truth-claims of Christianity and Christians are excused from providing evidence or arguments for their position.

This is unacceptable to me. I discovered this “quirk” of pragmatism when I took an undergrad class on Reformed Epistemology. That class made me realize that pragmatism makes it too easy to bolster the “subjective” truth-claims of religion as being perfectly rational because there are religious communities in which those claims make sense. If science is groundless but ok because it’s useful, then religion can be ok too so long as it is useful to a community of believers.

So what’s the solution? How do you avoid the relativism of pragmatism without collapsing back to a problematic foundationalism wherein truth-claims are grounded by the subject, which always seems to lead to problems of skepticism? I’m not totally sure. I’m still working out my critique of pragmatism and Reformed Epistemology. I certainly don’t want to return to foundationalism. I do think we need to demolish the “Glassy Essence” and acknowledge that we all start off embedded in a community of pragmatic norms. But perhaps we need to rehabilitate the position of naturalistic realism to be compatible with the demolition of the self. Can we develop an ecological realism that acknowledges both the reality of the mind-independent world and the ideality of our embeddedness into a community? Moreover, if the scientific language game is able to give a plausible explanation for how religion evolved in the first place, then we would have rational recourse for rejecting the truth-claims of religion without necessarily collapsing to a dogmatic foundationalism. If we can show that religion evolved as a method of social control based on the hallucination of divine beings, we could actually explain religion without merely claiming it is “false”, for obviously someone hallucinating believes with all their mind that their hallucinations correspond to reality. We could acknowledge that religious people think their claims are true while still having a plausible explanation for how these feelings of certainty are generated by neurological activity in the brain, which have an evolutionary and developmental history. When placed side by side in the intellectual arena, the truth-claims of religion and the naturalistic explanation for how religion contingently developed don’t seem to be on equal footing. If a schizophrenic was convinced that aliens had implanted a device in his brain, the pragmatist would be forced to say it’s “true for him”, especially if the schizophrenic started a cult of followers who developed communal norms of truth based on the reality of alien abductions. The pragmatist could only say “that idea is false from perspective of a scientific language game but true in respect to the standards of the cult”. The naturalistic realist would be able to, in principle, trace the origin of the belief in aliens to either a evolutionary or developmental neurological fact and claim them to be in all likelihood false (although it’s, of course, possible that the schizophrenic is right).

Have I really escaped pragmatism? It’s hard to see how I am avoiding it if I accept anti-foundationalism. It might seem like I am accepting anti-foundationalism but just adding dogma. But I think realism might have a way out of this, and that’s through the method of approximation by guessing. If we wanted to answer the question of where religion came from, we have two competing hypotheses. The religious hypothesis is that religion developed because God actually exists. The naturalistic hypothesis is that religion developed as a contingent fact of evolutionary and cultural development. Now which is the better hypothesis? I.e. , which hypothesis is most likely to be accepted by a community of genuine, truth-seeking inquirers after a million years of sustained inquiry? Given the overwhelming acceptance of naturalism amongst the educated and scientifically literate, we could extrapolate and determine that naturalism’s hypothesis about religion is approximating the truth. Given that the God-hypothesis cannot actually generate any predictions of the natural world (for it is one thing to say God exists, it is another to say what he is going to do), it seems like naturalism is superior as a method of inquiry. And the hypothesis for why that method is superior is that naturalistic realism is actually true. Note how this claim is not presupposed at the beginning of the investigation, but rather, is something that is generated after genuine inquiry into the probability of either hypothesis being true. Naturalism is the result of a long process of thinking and examining the world, not a dogma presupposed on the basis of self-evident knowledge. It seems then that we can accept anti-foundationalism while still being naturalists and realists.

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16 Comments

Filed under Atheism, Philosophy

16 responses to “Why I Think Pragmatism Fails

  1. Tim

    Thanks for your post, Gary.

    Maybe you are in danger of conflating religion with belief in God? James differentiated between mystical experience and the religious life. One doesn’t necessarily lead to the other either.

    You also seem to suggest that any religious-type experience is borne of delusion. But as Susan Blackmore has argued, unitive experiences of this nature seem to support our current scientific understanding of the cosmos. Can it be called a hallucination any more than the continuous sense of self can be called an hallucination, in so far as it is pragmatic in our day-to-day coping with the world?

    And what God do you refer to? The God of theism or the God of nondualism? It may be helpful to look into the theological debate between the constructivists and the perennialists in this regard. Also check out the cutting edge work of neuroscientist Dr Roland Griffiths.

    Best

    • Gary Williams

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply Tim.

      By God, I am referring to the “omniGod” of classic theology. By religious experience, I am primarily referring to the experience of hallucinating the voice of God speaking to you. I think this is the most primordial religious experience and is still evident today in schizophrenics and prophets to who claim to hear voices talking to them, which they interpret as a divine being (either Satan, God, or an angel or demon).

      I am aware of what James’ considered to be a “mystical experience”. He was referring to the mystical sense of union with the universe, or the collapse of the self/nonself distinction and a feeling of pure bliss or understanding. While many religious people have had this experience and then interpreted it in terms of a mystical union with God, this experience can also be had by an atheist who simply has a mystical union with the cosmos, as you suggest.

      While interesting from a neurological perspective, I do not think these types of experience are the origin of religion. I think the origin of religion has to do with the hallucination of a divine or authoritative voice giving commands or admonitory judgments in order to hold society together. Think about Moses or Abraham. When Abraham experienced God, he did not have a mystical union with God, but rather, experienced a voice giving him a command. I think this type of hallucination is the origin of religion and in this sense, religion is based on a delusion. However, we have since lost touch with that type of religious experience and often fail to take reports of it seriously.

      So yeah, I agree with you that mystical experience and organized religion are not the same. You can be a naturalist and still have mystical experiences wherein you are unified with the cosmos. I have had my fair share of these experiences, and they are breathtaking and hard to comprehend. James couldn’t make sense of these types of experience and this led him to the belief that we cannot rule out supernatural explanations of these phenomena. However, with modern brain science, we are beginning to understand how these types of mystical experience work, and the mere fact that someone is experiencing a union with the universe does not imply that there is a God or supernatural force. The experience of union could simply be an neurological artifact.

      So just to be clear, when I say that religion is born of a delusion, I am not referring to the mystical experience of union, but the experiencing of hallucinating authoritative voices giving you commands. It’s hard to see how the mystical experience of union could be a “delusion”, but I think it is clear in what sense people who hallucinate voices and claim that God spoke to them are deluded. They are not hearing God’s voice. They are hearing their brain trick them into thinking they are hearing God’s voice. And the experience of hallucinating voices is so powerful, it’s hard to rationally convince someone that the voice is a by-product of their brain.

  2. vic panzica

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. What makes science so universally appealing is its ability to penetrate the self and yes from an American perspective of religious freedom every other community has a right to its own rules and laws provided they do not violate basic human rights.

    Appropriately the old testament god did work by divine command and a strict community of laws. The new testament discussions between Christ and the jewish teachers always centers around laws.

    Likewise the great debate in the book of acts between Paul and Peter is whether a non-jew has to be converted to jewish law first (Paul) vs the universality of the teaching which Peter advocates. Peter is actually advocating that the message is universal and it “breaks” any type of human laws or teachings or inner rules which imbed the self. Stories of chrisitian conversion usually center around some type of “self-release” or “born again” experience which denotes a breaking of inner laws.

    Locke may have said that mind (self) exists behind a veil of ideas but it really exists behind a veil of rules.

  3. Gary, may I ask where (and for what reason) you originally took a course on Reformed Epistemology in undergrad? I also took course (actually, a few) on the subject in my undergrad, and even wrote a few papers in favor of it because, at the time, it seemed like a somewhat more academic position than what is called presuppositionalism in Christian apologetics. Obviously, I’m well past all that now, and am in complete agreement with you as to the dangers of anti-foundationalism re: fundamentalism, but I still find the genealogy of all this pretty fascinating.

    • Gary Williams

      Troy,

      It was an upper-level class called “Faith and Reason” at the University of Central Florida. It was taught by a professor who studied existential philosophy. We read Tillich briefly, then dived into Plantinga and Wolterstorff and read a bunch of Reformed Epistemology, as well as other contemporary perspectives in epistemology. We spent the majority of the class working out issues related to what it means for a belief to be properly basic and whether or not the sensus divinitatis can be applied to things like the Great Pumpkin or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was one of the best class I’ve ever taken. I never did figure out what the professor himself believed. I think he was a theist, but he always took the devil’s advocate for every position.

  4. Charles Wolverton

    Gary –

    If you haven’t already, you might want to read Ramberg’s essay in “Rorty & His Critics” and R’s reply in which he backs off a bit on his anti-realism. For me as a relative newby in this stuff, it was (and remains, even after several passes) a very difficult read, but IMO well worth the (continuing) effort. You would no doubt find it much less challenging.

    Your conclusion that Rorty’s pragmatism “fails” seems more a matter of disappointment that our community doesn’t always win than a refutation of his position. Accepting the anti-foundationalist position seems to necessitate accepting the disquieting corollary that “truth” is community-relative. And in CI&S, Rorty acknowledges that all we can do is make our case and hopefully succeed in expanding our community. Unfortunately, if religious zealots, schizophrenics, etc, do better at expanding their communities, we lose. It’s obviously happened before.

    I sympathize with your frustration – had anyone suggested to me 30 years ago that the US today would be experiencing an ignorance revival of these proportions, I’d have thought them delusional – yet, here we are. But I really rather doubt that the explanation lies in televangelists, evolution deniers, et al, skillfully exploiting the relativistic subtleties of Rorty’s pragmatism – even the likes of Simon Blackburn and Roger Scruton seem to have failed to grasp his essential points (although perhaps willfully). They just have an easier case to make than we do, since appreciating the benefits of the scientific methodology (as opposed to the resulting consumer products) takes a lot more education, effort, and time than listening to Joel Osteen an hour a week – plus he’s pretty entertaining!

    Strangely enough, I had just this very day commented to my wife that I wanted to ask you a question about P&MN and Rorty, Sellars, et al. Although a newbie (a few years) to philosophy, being constrained by no formal program, I stumbled onto Rorty almost immediately, and through him, found my way to Sellars, Davidson, et al – resulting in the peculiar situation that I have read only a smattering of other phil of mind stuff but have worked through several of Rorty’s books (including all the essays in R & his Critics), Sellars’ E&PM, some of Davidson and Quine’s papers, etc. But in participating in several relevant blogs (some you occasionally comment on), I’ve found that those authors are almost never mentioned, few people seem to have read them, and many have never even heard of them (perhaps excepting Quine). This seems quite surprising, since I’ve found their work extremely helpful in addressing consciousness, qualia, etc. So, my question is: what am I missing? Is my assessment of their importance exaggerated? Has it been superseded by more recent material? Am I the one missing the truly critical – presumably more current – sources? Any insights on this will be greatly appreciated.

    • Gary,
      I am a well educated amateur at the philosophy game, and the current state of the field is weird. I will hazard an answer to your question, because I don’t see any reply here.

      As a profession, philosophy has almost completely lost faith in the search for grand systems. “Continental philosophy” and “American philosophy” are both out of fashion. The major players now are critical examinations of other disciplines (philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, etc.), and general critiques (why X or Y is impossible).

      Thus it is not just the major American philosophers that are not read as often as you might expect.

      I suspect that 1) there is some sort of cyclic activity going, and 2) with the growth of academic positions (obviously not now, but in the recent past), professional philosophers need something to do. Everyone can’t be working on grand systems, but everyone can find a little niche to carve out. Pretty soon, even the majority of big names are small-niche guys.

  5. Just stumbled on this website and, in particular, this comment on pragmaticism. Having one of those, “OHMIGOD if I had only read this 20 years ago!” moments. Thank you for your work. One comment: from the very little I know about Peirce, the place where you ended up, that reality is just the final resting place of the scientific pendulum, WAS Peirce’s (as opposed to James’s) position. Please if you respond on the blog, cc nthompson@clarku.edu because I despair of my ability to ever find my way back here.

  6. Your blog made it to a list I am on where pragmatism was being debated. It seems worth passing the comments along here. “Mike” is a Peirce guy, who was not a big fan of the post.

    ———
    The blog post seems to me a good explanation of why Rorty’s stuff
    fails. We could argue over whether James’s version of pragmatism fails
    on the same grounds, but Mike is correct that Peirce is not vulnerable
    to the central problem explained in the blog. My, quite generous, read
    of James is that his agenda matched Peirce, but that he was willing to
    simplify things for a popular audience, whereas Peirce most vehemently
    was not. Recall, most of James’s books were series of invited
    lectures, with an educated public as the audience. To start your
    philosophy from James, then, is like starting it from an very solid
    undergraduate text. To start your philosophy from Peirce is, at its
    easiest, like starting from an advanced graduate student text. I’m not
    sure where Rorty falls on the spectrum, but (based on this blog and
    the Stanford entry), he seems to lack the solid foundation present in
    Peirce or James.

    The claim that pragmatic truth is about usefulness, i.e., utility, is
    NOT far from Peirce’s notion, but if we are to read Peirce that way,
    it is utility within a particular context, an experimental or
    investigatory context. So, let us say that there is a spring in town
    that is reputed to have unusual healing powers, and that those powers
    are attributed to a spirit that guards the town. The initial claim
    (healing powers) would be true, via Peirce, if a controlled experiment
    revealed that people who drink the spring water healed more reliably
    than people drinking other water. The second claim could also be true,
    if we could agree on a way to test the claim — we could offer
    sacrifices to a series of deities, and see if the spring’s powers
    change; we could call Egon, Raymond, and Peter to look for ectoplasmic
    activity, etc.

    What Peirce would absolutely not allow, but one could potentially read
    James as allowing, and what Rorty expressly endorses, is assigning
    truth value based on the within-society utility of the same claims.
    For example, let us assume that believing in the healing power of the
    spring and the guardian spirit helps one fit in, whereas denouncing
    the spirit leads to a swift death. For Peirce, that has no bearing on
    the truth-value of the healing power, nor the truth-value of the
    spirit. Rorty thinks it does, and the blog author doesn’t like that.
    Because the blog author knows pragmatism through Rorty, the blog
    author concludes that pragmatism inherently suffers this flaw. That last part is the part that is sad, and potentially as much of an injustice to Peirce as Mike claims.

    One major addition to that thought: Peirce sometimes seemed to allow
    things to be ‘true’ / ‘real’ in the tentative sense I mention in the
    at the beginning (confirmed usefulness in a given investigation or set
    of investigations); it is this meaning that James seems to run with,
    and that Rorty caricatures. In other places Peirce reserves the
    ‘true’ / ‘real’ to refer to things that will be ultimately agreed upon
    by any investigators, i.e., things destined to be true under an
    exhaustive analysis. Rorty’s approach has nothing that resembles this
    second meaning of ‘true’ / ‘real’.

    —-
    Anyway, hope there is something there interesting to you. Also, I notice you are linked to from Wilson and Golonka’s Psychological Scientists blog. Good stuff.

    Eric

    • Gary Williams

      Eric,

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. You and Mike are certainly right to point out that my critique of pragmatism does not apply to Peirce. But Peirce never supported a philosophical system called “pragmatism”. In order to distinguish his system from James’, Peirce called his view “pragmaticism”. So when I refer to pragmatism, I am referring primarily to the book/lecture series by James called “Pragmatism”, not Peirce’s system. It is this pragmatism that Rorty took up and championed.

      As you can tell from the last paragraph of my post where I said something would be true if a million years of sustained inquiry converged on an answer, I am a big fan of Peirce and think his pragmaticism is able to avoid the philosophical problems associated with James’ pragmatism. You say “What Peirce would absolutely not allow, but one could potentially read James as allowing, and what Rorty expressly endorses, is assigning truth value based on the within-society utility of the same claims.” I absolutely agree. For this reason, I like Peirce much more than James, although James’ psychology is very nice since he focuses more on psychological experiments. Peirce was definitely the “heavy hitter” of the pair in terms of philosophy, and was much more rigorous and technical in his writings.

    • Charles Wolverton

      “and what Rorty expressly endorses, is assigning
      truth value based on the within-society utility of the same claims”

      I would love to see some substantive passage (ie, not one of Rorty’s one-liner quips taken out-of-context) substantiating this assertion.

  7. Charles Wolverton

    Gary –

    An addition/amendment to my earlier comment (about a month ago, to which you didn’t respond – missed or dissed?)

    While reading something loosely related I just realized that although you skirted the point in this post, it appears that you either have ignored or perhaps not fully appreciated Rorty’s adaptation of Davidson’s concept of “triangulation” in the context of linguistic meaning to the context of belief justification (explored in the Ramberg essay to which I referred earlier.) The corners of Davidson’s “triangle” comprised two speakers of different languages and “the world”, but in the belief context the metaphor should be a polyhedron, the corners of which are the members of a community plus that part of “the world” about which the community is trying to establish its beliefs. And the “world” corner – along with the modification of beliefs as conflicting evidence arises – is what distinguishes the scientific community from the religious community – which one can argue doesn’t restrict its beliefs to those which comport with the observable “world”.

    Of course, this obviously still doesn’t preclude a religious community from claiming “truth” for its beliefs. But it does counter claims of what one might call “naive relativism”: all beliefs, being in the above sense “subjective”, are of equal warrant – which as far as I know, Rorty never claimed. Saying that one has no Archimedean platform from which to survey the world for absolute truth is not the same as saying that the beliefs of any community are as credibly justified as those of any other community.

    • Gary Williams

      Dear Charles,

      I apologize for not responding to your earlier comment, sometimes I just don’t feel like responding even though the person made an insightful comment that is worth responding too. My lack of response certainly wasn’t a “diss”, probably just a symptom of laziness.

      As for the “polyhedron” metaphor, it seems problematic to simply label one corner “the world”, since the open question is whether that world-corner is the “real” world and if so, who gets to say what that real world-corner actually is? I just don’t see how this escapes the problem of the religious people saying that the world-corner includes the reality of the divine realm, since *their* investigation and modification of belief leads them to believe that the world-corner actually includes the divine realm. If the scientific naturalists and the theists cannot agree on what that world-corner “really is”, then I feel like we are right back to the problem of relativism that I see endemic to Rorty’s position.

      And I do agree with you that Rorty never thought all beliefs of all communities are on an equal playing field. But when it comes to the deep metaphysical questions of “naturalism vs theism”, I don’t see how Rorty’s position could ever come down on the side of naturalism, which is what I require of a philosophical system in order to satisfy my own intuitions and beliefs. I want that Archimedean platform to be the natural world 🙂

      • Charles Wolverton

        Gary –

        Thanks. My phrase “observable ‘world'” was intended to suggest that the “world” corner isn’t, of course, the inaccessible “real” world. Perhaps your “natural world” would be a better phrase. But does really matter? As Rorty argues in CIS, p 46ff (much more eloquently that I am capable of competently paraphrasing at all, never mind in a sentence or two) against accusations of “relativism”, if that epithet is intended to contrast with the ability to convince essentially all possible audiences of one’s claims using a common vocabulary, it has no contrastive force since that can’t happen for any claims worth arguing about. Ie, “relativism” so interpreted is unavoidable and thus an empty criticism.

        I didn’t make it clear that the “earlier comment (about a month ago)” to which I referred was in this thread: #6 above (as published, not chronologically). If you have time, I really would appreciate your comments on my query about those mid-20th C figures who seem to me – and I infer, to you – critically important in phil of mind but seem missing from much contemporary discussion. It has been a confusing aspect of my study in this area (which being independent, leaves my access to people to whom to pose such queries limited to blog exchanges).

      • Gary Williams

        Dear Charles,

        To answer your original question about the importance of Rorty and Sellars for contemporary philosophy of mind, I really don’t think they are all that influential, except perhaps among the older generation. In terms of contemporary philosophy of cog sci and naturalistic phil mind, they aren’t really explicitly discussed, although I know Dan Dennett was inspired by Rorty and Sellars in his own way. So perhaps Rorty and Sellars have had a large influence on philosophy today albeit in a subtle way. I doubt there are all that many dissertation being written on the Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, but I do know that it is still being taught. I think it had a bigger impact on an older generation of philosophers. Im not sure how many young analytic philosophers of mind have read it. Probably not that many.

  8. Charles Wolverton

    Thanks, Gary.

    While it’s clear that they aren’t currently influential (at least directly), it is less clear (to me) that they shouldn’t be. In reading contemporary phil of mind essays/blog posts/etc, I frequently have that “reinventing-the-wheel” feeling. I’m currently slogging through Phil Investigations and keep wondering if a lot of discussions of contemporary issues wouldn’t proceed a bit more smoothly if the participants had taken some form of the “linguistic turn” ala W’s ideas.

    Oh, and congrats on completing your MA work.

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