Friday, December 31, 2010

Realism, Pragmatism and Neo-Pragmatism.

Rorty has charged his interlocutors with two points that are quite true. I want to tease out what these points come to in an effort to dissolve any disagreement that they might perpetuate.

The first point is that when a belief is justified, calling it true doesn't add anything; for after an application of the pragmatic maxim, one can only be sure that one has a justified belief. When D. Vaden House made the objection, I responded saying that 'justification' does not add anything to true belief because if true, it would be justifiable. The reason is that a belief if true to what it is about is justified because it is true to what it is about. That it is justified, or justifies itself, or in relation to us, that we could justify it to ourselves, is already given in the point that it is true to what it is about. So, literally, justification doesn’t add anything. Does 'truth' add anything?

Of course, Realists, note the capital ‘R’, would want to say that a belief is Correspondence true, if it is true, and that does not depend on what you, I, or anyone else may think about it. So they might want to insist that verifiability has nothing to do with the truth of a belief (and therefore that justification is an addition). I think Realists are right in a sense. If a cat has a patch of white fur under her head, the fact that she does has nothing to do with our ability to verify that she does. But pragmatists are also right in that saying that she does have a white patch, and thereby making the very point against the pragmatists, surely does rely on verification. So, it would seem that we need to make a distinction. There is a difference between being verifiable at time t and being potentially verifiable at time t+k. The fact that you just read ‘this’ has already been verified; the fact that a diamond (at the bottom of the ocean) has the same properties even if it cannot be verified by any of us presently would be verified by any of us.

It is true that the fact that a diamond is hard does not depend on our saying that it is hard. Even if all the perceivers were to cease to exist, the diamond would still be hard. It is not true to suppose that if no one is looking, everyday things behave in ways out of the ordinary. So, a tree falling in a forest makes an unverifiable sound. Of course it does not make a verifiable sound; of course it makes a sound that would have been verified.

The view that facts—where facts are just real objects in real non-abstracted relations—do not depend on our verification, according to Realists, overrides the difference between ‘is’ and ‘would be’. Realists want to insist that even in the case of a verified (as true) belief at time t, that the belief is true does not depend on our calling it true. From this point, they insist, arguing from the simplest explanation, that the same follows for as of yet unverified beliefs. I must confess that I am in agreement with the view that the truth of a fact does not depend on verifiability. It is not the case that because something is verified it is thereby and thenceforth true. This point is important and brings me back to my original point.

I am not saying that a true belief would not be verified. I am saying that a fact may be unverifiable. In the latter case, if the fact is true, it is so independent of verification. But in that case we cannot call ‘the fact’ true. So a fact may be true/real, despite the point that we cannot call it true, despite the point that it hasn’t yet been verified, despite the point that no one has a belief that would be verified by any of us. From this all the traditional notions follow. The goal is to have beliefs that mirror reality, beliefs that are true to their facts. But if a belief is true, it would be verified, unless it cannot be called true. But again, just because something cannot be called true does not mean it cannot be true.

What’s the point? If a belief is true, the fact that it is true does not depend on our calling it true. Of course, it may or may not be verifiable. If it is not verifiable, we can neither call the fact true nor false, but it may be either. If the true fact is verifiable, then the fact that it is called true, does not make the belief any more true than it is; the objects the belief is about do that. So calling a true belief justified does not add anything, to use Rorty’s rhetoric.

It seems to me that the difference between the neo-pragmatist and the pragmatist can be clarified by considering the following. Realists do not want to say that verifiability has everything to do with truth because they want to say truth is a matter of metaphysics, whereas verification is epistemological. Neo-pragmatists like Rorty want to say that metaphysics is empty if it is considered outside of epistemology. But it seems that the neo-pragmatist’s intuitions surrounding verifiability do not play well to the metaphysical norms that govern epistemological practise. Realism suggests that a belief is true because it corresponds to the fact it is about, and along with this point comes certainty. If verifiability follows from this point, as I suggested above, then it seems that all is well. The trouble with Rorty is that there is no certainty to be had—there is no norm outside of us.  It is this particular view that leads him in his anti-realist moments to say that while most of our beliefs must be true, any may not be true according to purposes to come. But if any our true beliefs may be false, then we are no longer working with the norm of truth, and we have undercut our knowledge claims.

Rorty wants us to believe that truths are true because they are verified; from this it follows that any of our beliefs may not be verified according to purposes to come. But if what I am suggesting above is correct that Rorty has simply ignored our realist intuitions—particularly those that stem from Berkeley’s shocking and silly thought experiment. There are beliefs that are justified because true to the facts they are about and thus called true, and beliefs that are called true because justified by the best of our lights. These latter beliefs may be false according to purposes similar to ours (e.g. preserving the truth). But, of course, while the Realist is right to suppose that a fact (or, possibly, an unverified belief) doesn’t depend on justification, calling a fact true presupposes justifying it, and that has everything to do with verification. The question then is how a realist can talk about a fact without calling it true—and that may just be a silly bit of rhetoric.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Religion? Or, in what sense?

Religion has fallen on hard times. With writers like Dawkins selling books like The God Delusion like pancakes, there may very well be widespread agreement that belief in God or something larger than life is silly, irrational or misinformed. Of course, not everyone can be easily fleeced.  I’m not convinced that a life without religion is worth living, but not because I want to serve something larger than life-- something outside space and time and something desirous of our affection. Rather, God is in everything and unites everything; it is a religious outlook upon everything all together that yields real meaning to the maxim, ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’—a maxim that ought to be co-opted for ecological purposes.
Some philosophers argue that religion is inescapable. On their reading, even atheists are religious in some sense. But it seems to me that if one were to make such an argument, one has made the term meaningless.  Perhaps, a better way to get at the term ‘religion’ is to say it means something like ‘open-ness to the mystery’, where ‘mystery’ is defined by way of one’s own personal (or communal) theological notions. In the very least, we will thereby respect the atheist that disagrees with the Christian religious imposition that all are restless until they rest with God. It is simply not true that everyone cares. Being atheist then is being closed to the mystery of life. Moreover, having made this definition ours, we will thereby be in a position to say that many religious people are not religious enough, or that they look for religion in all the wrong places.
A good way to get to the heart of the issue that I want to address is to consider a contemporary philosopher that has a rather interesting relationship to religion. Richard Rorty wants us to forget religious impulses (‘conversation stoppers’), unless they can be used to increase human solidarity against economically and racially impoverishing castes (See Philosophy and Social Hope 249). Whether or not his rhetorical suggestion is religious, in some sense, is not a very interesting question. It wouldn’t make a difference. The trouble is that it isn’t fruitful enough, because not only does it naively suppose that human solidarity (fraternity) can weather the storm, it isn’t clear whether he truly desires economic castelessness (ibid.). We should seek a way of speaking that allows us to fully appreciate the mystery of the Wholly Other, not just the human other. Fraternity should have no limit, and we should seek unity with Nature.
If we make a distinction between religion in the sense of ‘blind faith’ and religion in the sense of being  open to the mystery, it seems that we can move beyond older naive forms of religion, as well as naive and blind faith in technology and science. In this sense, reformational philosophers were on the money. To tie the notion back to Rorty, we might say that Rorty was rightly critical of religion in the first sense, as we should be, but not open enough in the second sense. However, while being open to the mystery of religion doesn’t protect us from being open to the possibility that technology may have some answers for our problems, it does protect the life-filled object from scientific reduction. If we foster a deep religious respect for Nature and our relationship in it, as one species among many, we may stop ourselves from totally annihilating ourselves and the rest of the world.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ever wonder why Kris Kringle is a privileged white guy?

The history of Santa Claus is inherently racist. I say 'inherently' because its origin is, as a matter of fact racist. It would seem that if such is the case, we celebrate racism when we celebrate Christmas. Hence, I'm not taking part in an inherently racist celebration ever again.

I was raised in the Dutch tradition of celebrating Christmas, and where I come from it has everything to do with Sinterklaas (notice the similarity between Santa-Claus and Sinterklaas?). Importantly, the term 'sinterklaas' does not break into parts with any significance; so it is a proper name and thereby denotes that which its various translations denote. In other words, whatever a Dutch person means by 'sinterklaas' is referred to by colonizers of turtle island when we use 'Santa Claus.' Of course, it is important to note that the history of Santa Claus is steeped in other folklore, and one might argue that given its various relations to Saint Nicholas of Myra, and Odin, etc., one cannot tie Santa Claus to the inherently racist practices of the inherently racist Dutch. But it seems to me that while the good side of Christmas is tied to the patron Saint--perhaps in a desperate effort to evade the oprressive bad-side--'Christmas' itself, that is, Santa Claus himself and all the other bullshit that comes along with him, wouldn't be what it is commonly recognized as without the practices commonly associated with sinterclaas. Again, to repeat, Santa Claus just means sinterclaas; so: what is it about Christmas that makes Christmas Christmas?

We have the stockings, and the tree; we have the gifts left for Santa, and the reciprocity; but the big haul has always been the return--and that's precisely what any fat priveleged white kid wants.--Lots of loot. In the tradition, it was often the case that various treats were left out for the horse, or as the story aged, the reindeer; but later, it became milk and cookies, treats for Santa (with nothing, of course, for Santa's labor). All this, of course, in return for the latest bit of junk that no one needs anyways. However, the tradition also contains a bad side. Good little kiddies are rewarded with good/ies while bad kids weren't rewarded at all, and were thereby presented with a lack thereof. Perhaps, it is this part of the tradition that contains the essence of Christmas: goodness is rewarded; badness condemned, or at least threatened as a result if kids choose to be bad. (So be good for goodness sake!)

The lesson of "You better watchout" is self-policing: good kids get great hauls; bad kids will get nothing. (Of course the badest of the privileged kids still get more haul than the best of the poorest; but White Santa doesn't smile on the kids in third world, in fact Santa's elves are the good kids of the third-world.) But I want to get to a more pressing point, besides obvious racism contained in the very idea of 1st world nations. (Fuck Borders)

I mentioned above that sinterklaas means Santa Claus; so we can ask literally: what is it about sinterklaas that makes Christmas racist? The Dutch referred to the punisher of bad kids as Black Peter. In fact, Black Peter was the labor I referred to above. Black Peter is the reindeer. Black Peter is the punishment of bad kids. Black Peter is Santa Claus' slave. Black Peter is the threat. The sad part is that even if Black Peter didn't take any kids back to Spain, and even if Black Peter didn't beat any kids for being bad, but instead handed out gifts galore, all the good credit would be given back the that fat white fuck. (Again, Santa Claus was praised as Saint Nicholas of Myra--the good, while Black Peter was the excuse (the reason) for not recieving loads of presents (or any at all). Why didnt I get any presents this year Mommy?--Well, you see there are these others that come from other countries and steal our resources.) It is not without a bit of obviousness that the very idea of Black Peter is presently being debated in Holland ( But simply masking the racism with a new mask will not pull up the root of racism. We may have to also abolish Christmas for that.