the logical space of reasons


Reviewing John Dewey’s Experience and Nature in 1925, George Santayana charged that the overarching goal of the treatise was incoherent on its face.1 Indeed, Santayana insisted that Dewey’s “naturalistic metaphysics”—the philosophical slogan of this particular work—was a flat contradiction in terms. Years later, Richard Rorty agreed with his hero’s interlocutor. In fact, Rorty extended Santayana’s critique, complaining of Dewey’s ambition to transform philosophy into a credibly modern, because natural science. For this ambition, holds Rorty, is predicated on a willful forgetting of what thoroughgoing naturalists don’t ever forget but emphatically deny. Specifically: “[N]othing is to be gained for an understanding of human knowledge by running together the vocabularies in which we describe the causal antecedents of knowledge with those in which we offer justifications of our claims to knowledge.”2 One way of cashing out Rorty’s point here is to say that I might explain your affective state, say, your sadness, by reminding myself of the cruel remark that I made last week. Alternatively, I can cite the frequency and rate at which sound waves hit your eardrum, triggering a chain reaction that includes the passage of vibrations through a coiled tube in your ear, and the subsequent swaying of hair-like nerve endings or cilia, which are thought to be responsible for the transmission of messages from the auditory nerve to the brain.

more from Jason Bartulis at nonsite here.