Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Out of the Matrix: Richard Rorty had an article in the Sunday Globe "Ideas" section on philosopher Donald Davidson, who died last month. Davidson extended the ideas of Ludwig Wittgenstein on the questions like "What is real?" and "Can language describe it?"
Descartes's conception of the mind as a private inner space, and his treatment of concepts as mental entities that somehow precede language, rather than as uses of words, have done a lot for science fiction. But they have done nothing for serious thought. Wittgenstein and Davidson thought it was time for philosophers to stop fooling around with the inverted spectrum and the incommensurable Galactics. In their use of expressions like "really real" and in their attempts to make wholesale skepticism plausible, Wittgenstein said, philosophers have taken language "on holiday." We should not let our holiday entertainments distract us from serious work.
Of course the most famous students of the shortcomings of language, the postmodernists, are still on holiday; or, more descriptively, they are still on a tenure-based conference junket. Even children can grasp the idea that, once you've introduced the postmodern thought that there is no truth and that language is inadequate or politically corrupted, the conversation has necessarily stopped. If we believe that you and I can talk all day and not approach the truth, or even define terms, in any meaningful way, we might as well hang it up and go fishing.

Put another way, lit-crit god Stanley Fish, upon pronouncing that there can be no assertion of non-subjective truth, was asked, "Isn't that an assertion of objective truth?"

He replied, supposedly with a grin, "Yep."

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