Thursday, November 11, 2010

Quote of the Day

But why not take a full blown eliminationist line? Why not eliminate the normative from our conceptual vocabulary? Could it be a superstition that there is such a thing as reason?

If one abandons the notions of justification, rational acceptability, warranted assertibility, right assertibility, and the like, completely, then 'true' goes as well, except as a mere device for 'semantic ascent', that is, a mere mechanism for switching from one level of language to another. The mere introduction of a Tarskian truth predicate cannot define for a language any notion of rightness that was not already defined. To reject the notions of justification and right assertibility while keeping a metaphysical realist notion of truth would, on the other hand, not only be peculiar (what ground could there be for regarding truth, in the 'correspondence' sense, as clearer than right assertibility?), but incoherent; for the notions the naturalistic metaphysician uses to explain truth and reference, for example the notion of causality (explanation), and the notion of the appropriate type of causal chain depend on notions which presuppose the notion of reasonableness.

But if all notions of rightness, both epistemic and (metaphysically) realist are eliminated, then what are our statements but noise-makings? What are our thoughts but mere subvocalizations? The elimination of the normative is attempted mental suicide.

The notions, 'verdict I accept' and 'method that leads to verdicts I accept' are of little help. If the only kind of rightness any statement has that I can understand is 'being arrived at by a method which yields verdicts I accept', then I am committed to a solipsism of the present moment. To solipsism, because this is a methodologically solipsist substitute for assertibility ('verdicts I accept'), and we saw before that the methodological solipsist is only consistent if he is a real solipsist. And to solipsism of the present moment because this is a tensed notion (a substitute for warranted assertibility at a time, not for assertibility in the best conditions); and if the only kind of rightness my present 'subvocalizations' have is present assertibility (however defined); if there is no notion of a limit verdict, however fuzzy; then there is no sense in which my 'subvocalizations' are about anything that goes beyond the present moment. (Even the thought 'there is a future' is 'right' only in the sense of being assertible at the present moment, in such a view.)

One could try to overcome this last defect by introducing the notion of 'a verdict I would accept in the long run', but this would at once involve one with the use of counterfactuals, and with such notions of 'similarity of possible worlds'. But it is pointless to make further efforts in this direction. Why should we expend our mental energy in convincing ourselves that we aren't thinkers, that our thoughts aren't really about anything, noumenal or phenomenal, that there is no sense in which any thought is right or wrong (including the thought that no thought is right or wrong) beyond being the verdict of the moment, and so on? This is a self-refuting enterprise if there ever was one! Let us recognize that one of our fundamental self-conceptualizations, one of our fundamental 'self-descriptions', in Rorty's phrase, is that we are thinkers, and that as thinkers we are committed to there being some kind of truth, some kind of correctness which is substantial and not merely 'disquotational'. That means that there is no eliminating the normative.

Hilary Putnam
"Why Reason Can't Be Naturalized"
Realism and Reason: Philosophical Papers, vol. 3

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