Bryan Magee Speaks To Isaiah Berlin On Why Philosophy Matters

Of note to this blog:

Sociological theories of history, functioning as presumed ‘scientific’ maps of Man’s place in Nature, claiming knowledge of presumed rational ends (‘final solutions’), have proven to be the sources of monstrous totalitarianism.

Isaiah Berlin spent more time with the works of Karl Marx than most; positing that even Immanuel Kant’s transcendental idealism (Stoic aestheticism) had within it conflicts leading to unintended Hegelian-Marxist manifestations.

Philosophy, at best, can perhaps work to point out such conflicts, while creating new ones of its own, presumably, in pursuit of truth.

Perhaps popular sentiment in the Marxian direction can, somewhat, explain popular movements attempting to medicalize, categorize all human behavior, and generally ‘banish’ evil from what is being called the modern world.

It’s not that I think these fields of knowledge (e.g. psychology and sociology) aren’t valid, nor that they aren’t making imporant discoveries, nor even that the synthesis of mathematics and empirical data within them isn’t progressing.

It’s rather that such disciplines attract many people sharing in a set of common principles, beliefs and sentiments, the stuff, really of human nature; people self-selecting for pre-existing ideological commitments while pursuing ends of their own.

This has consequences for the rest of us.

***Another favorite of this blog, Kenneth Minogue, tried to identify the connective tissue common to ideology: ‘Alien Powers; The Pure Theory Of Ideology‘.

Update And Repost-Is Psychology A Science? From Richard Feynman’s ‘Cargo Cult Science’

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Also On This Site:  Adam Kirsch In The New Republic On Slavoj Zizek: The Deadly Jester

Slavoj Zizek In The New Republic: Responding To Adam Kirsch  

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason?: From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.…

Bryan Magee Via Youtube: ‘Miles Burnyeat On Plato’

Burnyeat beginning at minute 2:20 of video five:

‘Aristotelianism is actually opposed to that sort of materialism [Heraclitus and atomic doctrine] but Aristotelianism carries the war so far into the enemy camp that it’s actually very hard to reconcile the Aristotelian philosophy with the modern scientific enterprise which says a lot about atoms, the movements of particles…matter and that sort of stuff….

‘…and indeed I think it was no accident that when the modern scientific enterprise got going, it got going by throwing away the Aristotelianism which had so dominated the Middle-Ages.’

But, Platonism is much easier to reconcile with the modern scientific enterprise and that’s why I think, since the Renaissance, really, Platonism has lived on after the death of Aristotelianism because that’s a philosophy you can use, or be influenced by, if you’re seeking to show how scientific and spiritual values can be reconciled…if you want to do justice to the complexities of things where materialism is giving just too simplistic a story.’

From The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry On Eliminative Materialism…Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’…

From YouTube: J.P. Stern On Nietzsche…Repost: From the Cambridge Companion To Plato-T.H. Irwin’s “Plato: The intellectual Background’

Repost-From YouTube-Bryan Magee: On The Ideas Of Quine

Via Wikipedia-Quine’s position denying the analytic/synthetic distinction is summarized as follows:

It is obvious that truth in general depends on both language and extralinguistic fact. … Thus one is tempted to suppose in general that the truth of a statement is somehow analyzable into a linguistic component and a factual component. Given this supposition, it next seems reasonable that in some statements the factual component should be null; and these are the analytic statements. But, for all its a priori reasonableness, a boundary between analytic and synthetic statements simply has not been drawn. That there is such a distinction to be drawn at all is an unempirical dogma of empiricists, a metaphysical article of faith.[13]

— Willard v. O. Quine, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”, p. 64

As a pretty strong materialist, Quine rejects a priori synthetic statements as necessary, as well as mind/body duality problems, regarding the ‘why?’ questions as fundamentally unanswerable.  At least such questions are not for philosophy to posit nor answer, anyways.

There simply doesn’t exist a category of knowledge we humans possess that doesn’t have its origins in our experience.

For Quine, it seems, philosophy is more abstract and general than the sciences (asking questions about questions, clarifying), but it it can’t hope, as Kant hoped, to be placed onto the same ground as the sciences.

Yet, as a Youtube commenter points out: Aren’t there still abstract entities beyond our material existences on Quine’s view (not souls, not God, not ideal forms), but rather just numbers and number sets naturally existing, and perhaps waiting to be discovered?

A link posing a re-purposed Quinian idealism:

ABSTRACT. Quine’s web of belief is influenced by, and encompasses, the entire scope of reality. It is established with a minimalist vocabulary, and is an efficient and integral vehicle toward his metaphysical [a]nd unambiguous ontological commitment, which leads to a somewhat bleak but rigorous membership in the world. Physical objects exhaust the domain of substance, and man becomes a mere four dimensional physical object. All states of mind are psychologized, or reduced to their impact on behaviour. Effectively, idealist criticisms have not simply been taken note of, but idealism has been hijacked, and the result is a new kind of empiricism and an original view of the world.

 

Via A Reader-‘John Searle On The Philosophy Of Language’

Via a readerJohn Searle on The Philosophy Of Language as part of Bryan Magee’s series:

It’s always a pleasure to observe someone with deep understanding explain a subject clearly.

There’s some interesting discussion on modernism and postmodernism too, or the tendency for the ‘moderns’ to focus on language itself as a problem to be re-examined and possibly solved, or the study of linguistics to be put upon a foundation similar to that of many sciences.

As we’ve seen in the arts, the poem, a novel, the very written words themselves can become subjects which poets, novelists, and writers examine, doubt, and in some cases ‘deconstruct.’

As to that tribe in South America, cited as evidence against Chomsky’s claims of necessary recursion and the existence of a universal grammar, Searle has some things to say in the interview below.

As previously posted: Paul Ibbotson & Michael Tomasello at Scientific American: ‘Evidence Rebuts Chomsky’s Theory Of Language Learning:’

‘But evidence has overtaken Chomsky’s theory, which has been inching toward a slow death for years. It is dying so slowly because, as physicist Max Planck once noted, older scholars tend to hang on to the old ways: “Science progresses one funeral at a time.”

Worth a read.

As posted:  Caitlin Flanagan reviews Tom Wolfe’s new book ‘The Kingdom Of Speech.‘ Jerry Coyne, ecologist, writing in the Washington Post, was not impressed:

“Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”The Politics Of Noam Chomsky-The Dangers Of Kantian Transcendental Idealism?

Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

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Some Updated Links On Postmodernism…Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism…And Truth’

A Bleak, Modern House-Four Poems

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Bryan Magee Via Youtube: ‘Miles Burnyeat On Plato’…Bryan Magee Via Youtube: ‘John Passmore on Hume: Section 1’

Bryan Magee Via Youtube: ‘Martha Nussbaum On Aristotle’

Aristotle, as his student, counters Plato’s arguments for an existence of a ideal world of forms, and an immutable soul.    He can also offer serious opposition to the perhaps unnecessary material vs. spiritual dichotomy we often find ourselves in modern times.  Also discussed is his ethics, which unlike utilitarian (happiness) or Kantian (categorical imperative) moral philosophies do not rely wholly on a set of supremely abstract principles to which the full range of human experience would be bound (at least in the same manner).

Thanks to a reader for the link.

Related On This SiteFrom The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha NussbaumMartha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West Bengal…Trans-Atlantic hubris?: Martha Nussbaum On Eliot Spitzer At The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionReview-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…

Some discussion of Plato:  Repost: From the Cambridge Companion To Plato-T.H. Irwin’s “Plato: The intellectual Background’

From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant

Did Kant really address why his own metaphysical system is necessary as charting a course for possible human knowledge?  Warnock states that Kant thought:

“All we can establish foundations for is the notion of possible experience and what can be an object of possible experience…”

In other words, physics can tell you all kinds of things about energy, but it can’t tell you what energy is.  And this is the best of our knowledge (which philosophers like Kant try to explain).  Kant’s metaphysics (and religion too) can’t even do that, and are doomed to failure.

In a way, metaphysics may be just where Aristotle left it, or where someone like Roger Penrose leaves it (after a lifetime of applying deep mathematical thinking to physical theory in his work on black holes):  An exercise in trying to develop firm footing for our knowledge after the fact…trying to provide some context for our knowledge and not being able to do so…yet…

Addition:  Of course, this doesn’t nullify the depth of Kant’s contributions, nor the depth of his moral theory.   It just may not make it a moral law in the same sense as Newton’s laws (deeper laws have already come along) .  I dug up one side of this exchange from the Bloggingheads Sentimental Mood Jesse Prinz Edition.  So just because Kant didn’t perhaps validate his project as he’d have hoped, it doesn’t follow that you need to embrace some moral relativism as does Prinz:

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1. If there are facts of a certain sort (chemical, biological, psychological, moral, whatever) which may be true true, even though everyone thinks they are false, then facts of this sort (chemical, biological, etc.) must never change. 

The trouble is that you yourself don’t actually believe this principle. For example, geographical facts are clearly objectively true — even if everyone believes in El Dorado, El Dorado doesn’t exist; and even if no one believed in Everest, Everest still would exist. But it’s obvious that it doesn’t follow that geographical facts don’t change over time. Mountains and polar ice caps and rivers come and go. Geographical facts change all the time — it’s just that our beliefs don’t change them.

Perhaps your point is, not that the geographical facts don’t change, but rather that the geological laws don’t change. But at a certain level even this isn’t true: Plate Tectonics fits the earth over most of its history, but it doesn’t exactly fit the earth when it was molten or when it eventually cools down completely in the distant future. It doesn’t fit the moon or Jupiter. Perhaps at a high level of abstraction, we can imagine a final theory of planetary geography that fits ALL types of planets anywhere in the universe. Perhaps these very abstract laws don’t themselves vary (once there are any planets to talk about).

But if you make the moral law sufficiently abstract, it can be as unvarying as any laws of universal planetology. Utilitarianism is the theory that there is a rather abstract law of morality, which, though it does not vary, accounts for why seemingly quite different things can be right or wrong in different circumstances (e.g., why leaving your elderly to die may have been OK for the Eskimos in conditions of scarcity while it would be very wrong for us).

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