One criticism of the analytic trend in philosophy has been that it uses an ill-founded (logicist) model of truth in language. A pragmatic critique might argue that some principle based on utility would be better.

Wittgenstein, whose slogan was 'meaning is use', employed a chess analogy for language (see language games) which I would like to over-extend a little.

When we use language, we have an 'uncertainty horizon.' Beyond a certain point we can't see the consequences of our choices of words - this is like a scaled-up version of the limit of our ability to see ahead in chess.

We may liken the normal, practical use of language to tactical moves with obvious immediate consequences. By contrast, the philosophical use of language is like making 'deep', 'positional' moves. These may have no immediate practical import, but nonetheless, as the game unfolds, they will have their effect. That is why objects - atoms - that were discovered only recently have a name that dates from ancient Greece.

The view that Wittgenstein criticised (the Augustinian Picture) was that our statements are true or false in virtue of some deep logical correspondence between them and the world. A 'strong' pragmatic view might be that if truth is anything at all, it is an index of the usefulness of a proposition in a practical, human, context.

In the everyday world, we quite regularly distinguish true from false statements, and one construction that is very useful for this is simple boolean logic. Other algebras, multivalue or fuzzy logic, modal logics, paraconsistent logics, quantum logic, whatever, may also be employed usefully in dealing with information.

I see no reason to assume that any particular one of these is the best description of how language comes to be actually useful. Let's face it, a convincing and adequate mathematical model of language is not remotely in sight - personally, I would be looking in the connectionist and computational complexity directions for that - even insofar as language itself can be treated mathematically, and perhaps we shouldn't make the assumption that all of it can be.

Rather, these logical algebras are themselves linguistic objects, schemas in the cognitive sense, perhaps, or language-games, which are part of the representational systems we employ.

Here the analogy breaks, because in the chess analogy these schemas are more like moves or pieces than rules; their adoption would be like a deep positional move.

Does language model reality? Despite its possible biological origins as a system for maintaining order in the social hierarchy, we should agree at least that language thinks it models something. The linguistic practice of "talking about" is an important one - a deep move, made early in the game. It has obviously been useful in certain areas, and to a high degree, to bring the Boolean schema into play in conjunction with "talking about"; hence: law, the sciences.

Rorty has stated (or at least he has been represented as stating) that it is no longer the business of philosophy to argue about such things as the relation between the mental and physical. Instead we are to neologise, to 'keep the conversation going', to become 'edifying philosophers.' But even if we use a new label for our edifying concept, we had better explain it using existing terms. Whether we re-define, humpty-dumpty-like, an existing word or invent a new one will not, in the end, matter much; what matters (to myself or Rorty) will be whether our term or distinction proves useful in the conversation.

When we do analytic philosophy, perhaps particularly when considering the mind, it may well be that there are areas where the adoption of a particular logical schema gives us little purchase on some of what is discussed. But perhaps it may be said that this adoption gives useful (or not useful) a purchase on the contributions to the discussion, a purchase that 'useful' does not have when we are just 'keeping the conversation going'. At least it may be clear when the rules have been broken. We can set out sights on universal standards.

Rorty might say that this 'usefulness' is illusory, and only helps with getting university money, the respect of similarly deluded analytic philosophers, etc. and that our arguing achieves nothing outside analytic philosphy. This is a view with which I have some sympathy, but which really only establishes that there is a lot of bad analytic philosophy. A counterfeit coin only exists because there is true gold, we might say.

In my struggle to keep the conversation going, I can only neologise my own picture of analytic philosophy - that by analysis, in which we play the game of adopting the logical schemas, we develop the capacity of our language to function consistently at the limits of what is universal. To me this looks like a useful argument against Rorty, but on Rorty's view, who's to say?


This writeup is a response to the pragmatic critique of analytic philosophy, by jderrida, prompted by the /msg'ed request I received for a 'critique of my critique'. I've tried to argue above that analytic philosophy has its place, where it is useful in firming up and developing our philosophical vocabulary; that is, in the production and maintenance of philosphical meaning. In general, I wouldn't seek to defend the supremacy of analytic philosophy, as practiced today, by any means. A lot hangs by that term, analysis.

JerboaKolinowski: I think Richard Rorty would certainly agree with you that analytic philosophy can be, and is, quite useful. One example is Robert Brandom's Making it Explicit which, to be sure, Rorty has problems with, but on the whole he finds it a very useful work (he better: the book is an extension of Brandom's Ph.D. Thesis written under Rorty). Rorty's praise of analytic philosophy, in fact, often dissapoints his more postmodern readership. However, the utility of a particular analysis or theory of language does not imply that analytic philosophy in toto is useful, or more useful than not. While Rorty praises the work of individual analytics, I think he more often criticizes what might be called analytic methodology and the spirit in which analytic philosophy is written, because it is these that presuppose A Way Things Really Are and all other sorts of notions that the pragmatist can't find a way to cash out.

This is also why the pragmatist insists on using the terms of the tradition: truth, good, better, happy. There is alot at stake in those words and it wouldn't be very pragmatic to abandon them, to give them up, to analytic methodology. Philosophy is a battle for these words.

Zirtix: Of course it wouldn't be a fault of pragmatism if it wasn't as well-suited for the academic journal as a typical analytic philosophy paper is, the format, style, rhetoric, and publishing of these journals as they are conceived by the contemporary philosopher is mostly a result of the success of a few journals in the early days of analytic philosophy, Mind being the most obvious. Aside from that, it just doesn't stand that pragmatism isn't succesfully advanced piecemeal. Aside from his 1979 Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature Rorty has never written a book (his very recent Achieving Our Country is a transcription of lectures). The volumes that bear his name are, in fact, collections of essays and responses published in the analytic journals and elsewhere. The same is true of the pragmatist writings of C.S. Pierce and William James. The latter, in fact, never wrote a book on pragmatism. Instead he only published his piecemeal responses to his critics in academic journals, popular journals, and then later collected these into book editions. His popular exposition of pragmatism, Pragmatism, a new name for some old ways of thinking, is a collection of eight lectures delivered to a large audience, conceived of as a book only later (and it shows).

In responose to the two points that pragmatism oddly embraces pluralism and that taking an ironic stance is pragmatically useless, one need only look at the application of pragmatism to ethics and political philosophy. In fact, pragmatism can here help us to see the uselessness of old forms of theorizing and the necessity of revising our political and ethical philosophies -- and, of course, such a revision should involve diverse viewpoints and take a pluralistic stance about the way(s) the universe is (are). That the twentieth century has been the bloodiest, and that the United States and Britain have been involved in this every step of the way, and that analytic philosophy with its dry value-less calculating logic has been the dominant philosophical methodology in these two countries since at least 1910, leads me to sincerely doubt your claim that the irony-free extant philosophical framework doesn't deserve some questioning. That analytic philosophy has failed so miserably to articulate a moral and political vocabulary is certainly more than just a shortcoming. Not only are book-length works on emotivism and meta-ethics dry, but even a single lecture on these topics induces in most of the population a feeling that something has got to be wrong with philosophy today (which, by the way, most people will tell you whether they've stomached such a lecture or not). That analytic philosophy fails ethics so rigorously is no surprise, given that it models itself after science and its value-free methods of inquiry.

Objective notions about The Way Things Really Are that encourage the sort of political certainty that is prerequisite for totalitarian logics like Nazism. Hence, the pragmatist's irony and derision of this family of concepts.

Transplanted from The Pragmatic Critique of Analytic Philosophy -- it fits a bit better here:

Unlike JerboaKolinowski I'd lump Wittgenstein roughly in with Rorty. I'd like to consider why pragmatism looks like a failure to me. It seems that presentations of pragmatic, conventionalist or relativistic notions of truth are necessarily bound to a 'book' or 'long' form of discussion to be really plausible. Who can deny that Wittgenstein's less analytic writings (which I do admire) have their force magnified many times by their presentation in meandering volumes? I say 'long' in comparison to the unit of analytic philosophy as most effectively practised, which is the short paper: the concise presentation of a logical or evidential point.

Heavy analysis does often become repetitive and dry in the course of a cohesive book. But a 'pragmatic', ironic or reactionary doctrine is better presented in this format because drawn-out criticisms of the 'analysts' are necessary, and because musings rather than succinctly summarisable deductions are required. After all, the pragmatist must steer clear of substantive theorizing if their thesis that philosophy is 'content-free' is to hold. Also, pragmatism respects the plurality of human viewpoints and traditions in a way that is alien to the analytic style. It introduces complexities and in doing so seeks a better understanding of practice -- even if this understanding should be of a form that undermines our belief in the significance of philosophy.

And this illustrates the reason why pragmatism defeats itself. It is so much more expedient to use the pre-ironic framework to get things done than it is to try to grasp and use the ironic one, that the ironic framework should call itself a failure.

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