Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Pragmatism, Realism, Etc.

I've begun reading Putnam's Realism with a Human Face. It's a difficult book, a collection of essays on epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and history of philosophy, and it interweaves both highly technical discussions about quantum mechanics and logic with a sensitivity to broad cultural and social concerns. It's not that one cannot see the forest for the trees -- one can! -- but that there are so many trees.

In the first section, Putnam provides a quick sketch of two recent developments in quantum mechanics and in the logic of semantic paradoxes. In both cases he examines the temptation of providing a "God's-Eye View," a theory of the totality. In quantum mechanics this temptation expresses itself in the desire for a theory that includes the observer within the system under examination, even at what Putnam considers to be extravagant metaphysical cost (many world interpretation, Bohmian mechanics). In logic this temptation expresses itself in the desire for a resolution of the paradoxes of self-referential sentences.

Putnam concludes that both temptations stem from an evasion of the Kantian lesson: one cannot include oneself within the system, because -- to rephrase the Kantian point in Wittgenstein-esque terms -- the norms of representation are not themselves among the objects represented. Putnam builds on Kant and on Wittgenstein in developing further the failures of metaphysical realism and the turn towards the life of the agent, towards practice or praxis. But, also like Kant and Wittgenstein, Putnam is mindful of the allure of metaphysics.

What is metaphysics? Is metaphysics possible in any sense "after" Kant and Wittgenstein? If so, how?

Next: Hegel and Deleuze as rival versions of self-consciously post-Kantian metaphysics!

And: the secret affinity between Nietzsche, Carnap, and Rorty!


Maureen said...

There may be a tacit Cartesianism smuggled into the problem space you describe Putnam as exploring (including oneself whin the sytem one is describing), *especially* if he's utilizing Kant and Wittgenstein (Wittgenstein has this Cartesianism in a subtle way, long story for another time).
Check out an article by Keith Gunderson, "Asymmetries and Mind-Body Perplexities." Current materialist philosophers of mind, like Rosenthal and Armstrong simply don't buy into this overall problem to begin with. Folks like J. Kim do. It is by no means a settled question--the metaphysics of the mind and how the self/mind fits into a system, but thus it's not settled as to whether metaphysics takes a dive on this point. There's a real danger in Putnam's position, especially if he's assuming as a basic premise that there is a problem to begin with with the self and its representation (hence my reservations). Godelizing and quantum mechanicizing this "problem" as he's doing *may* be no better than new aging it (see the film "What the Bleep Do I Know" for a prime example of this unexamined initial premise combined with a question begging application of quantum mechanics to make a case for macro level phenomena, when the unresolved question is how General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics can, in fact, cohere in a unified field theory. If your intial premise about the self already, by defintion, is Cartesian it forces the appearance that the self in this construal is the "unifier," when all that's happened is that questions are begged at two levels. Have fun!

Anonymous said...

Good post and this mail helped me alot in my college assignement. Gratefulness you as your information.

Anonymous said...