Friday, July 24, 2009

On the Existence of Rocks

Richard McKay Rorty, bigtime famous philosopher, died a couple of years back. You know. Philosopher. Someone who loves wisdom. But what does “love” really mean, after all? And “wisdom” -- who are we to say what is wise? What is “wise”? And this idea of “someone,” of “being” “someone” -- it’s like, just like naming hurricanes … a great swirling, wind and water and cold and heat, noise and calm … if not meaningless, then just a natural homeostatic mechanism -- and mechanisms, as you know, are manipulations. From this we are to conclude … what?


Dead Rorty is said to have been the very most hated modern philosopher. He misquoted his predecessors and took them out of context, claiming they supported his positions. Nietzsche loves me and so does William James. When he lectured on Hans-Georg Gadamer’s “Truth and Method,” Gadamer shook his head and said, "But Dick, you've got me all wrong." Rorty smiled and shrugged and said, "Yes, Hans. But that's what you should have said."

"Truth," Rorty said, "is what your contemporaries let you get away with saying." Maybe I’m misquoting. No matter. If he didn’t say it, he should have. He’s said it now. If he did actually say it, he is correct. And very pragmatic as well, as he considered himself. You know about pragmatism: truth need not correspond to any fact -- a thing is true if believing it helps solve a problem. Truth is variably axiomatic. It may seem to be a contradiction, then ... his positions on God and absolutes and suchlike: best to try to get along without them. Apparently belief in these solves no problems. But what are "problems"?

On an unrelated note, he defined irony as a union of cynicism and idealism. Sort of the way that I define “here” as a union of up and down, and left and right, and forward and backward, and before and after. You know -- here. He was correct, of course. Social conventions require the integrity of skepticism, while we could not function without the fantasy of some ideal -- clearly, the proper attitude to assume would be amused and slightly sarcastic detachment.

He asserted that liberal democracy was a cultural prejudice, and then argued for it. He could find no rational supporting principle behind benevolence, yet argued that we should relieve suffering and promote peace. You know -- try to increase happiness ... even though there’s no objective way to show that happiness matters. And ... need I say it? "Objective"?

There is a kind of truth that is just opinion. Ideas about incest. Opinion. Adam “married” (from a certain perspective this is certainly true) himself. Abram married his sister. It seems these things, proscriptions and taboos, evolve. Incest is certainly wrong. Nowadays, that is.

Animals exhibit homosexual behaviour. Mounting as a display of dominance. How can animals be “unnatural”? Can cold be hot? Is mounting behaviour not truly sexual? Who’s to say that homosexual mounting is not a display of dominance? Not homosexual -- homodominant. Motives are such complex things. Complexual.

Theft? Marx was not the first, nor the last, to maintain that property is theft. Are such opinions wrong? We might move through degrees of ownership, but that continuum is not endless – it is bounded by fire at one extreme and ice on the other. Pick your absolute. It will be an opinion about an absolute. And there are no absolutes. Or maybe there are.

Murder? War is murder. So the pacifist Left would have it. Your opinion differs? Adduce your evidence and have at it. Your argumentation is a kind of warfare, and if you prove them wrong, killing their position, you prove them right. For they were innocent, and all ideas are sacred, and valid to those who hold them.

Meaning ... meaningfulness is a convention -- a socio-linguistic artifact. Words and sentences do not correspond to reality ... they are mere approximations. This is certainly true, just as what we see is not what actually is: the translation of reflected photons through the cornea and into neural impulses within the retina, processed in the visual cortex of the brain and somehow transferred from the distorted cortical map to be imprinted upon our consciousness -- none of this is the actual thing that we see. Of course not. Color blindness and the need for glasses demonstrates this. Reality doesn't have blurry gray edges. Or maybe it does. Both perception and communication are compromises. Is this not true?

If all this is bullshit, as it is, well, that’s what philosophy is. Manure, the cycling of carbon through a digestive tract, through a living thing -- the inert transfigured by life, then returned to mere matter, that new things might grow. Philosophy. From all this we learn that philosopher is a subset of that greater set consisting of con men, gurus, tricksters and all such dealers in faith. You know -- faith ... the thing that lets you believe opinions are absolutes.

Rorty is dead. He finds himself now in that particular state of irony that is neither here nor there, not before nor after -- but certainly either up or down. Dead as he is, he has been surprised by that peculiar species of absolute truth known as the existence of God.

Samuel Johnson proved the existence of a rock by kicking it. That’s pragmatism.

Happiness matters.



Anonymous said...

I wonder if those like him even get the privilege of being surprised to find they were wrong?

Jack H said...

The first surprise is waking up at all. After that it's all disappointment.


Will C. said...

"Rorty is dead. He finds himself now in that particular state of irony that is neither here nor there, not before nor after -- but certainly either up or down. Dead as he is, he has been surprised by that peculiar species of absolute truth known as the existence of God."

Read this in Rod Serling's voice and its just perfect.

Jack H said...

It's perfect no matter how it's read.

Will C. said...

My my, aren't we full of ourselves today?

Jack H said...

What you mean "we", white man?