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May 2015
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4inquiries [userpic]
Platonism and Pragmatism

How do the Platonist and the Pragmatist see each other? What exactly do they disagree on?

"...pragmatists see the Platonic tradition as having outlived its usefulness. This does not mean that they have a new, non-Platonic set of answers to Platonic questions, but rather that they do not think we should ask those questions anymore. When they suggest that we do not ask questions about the nature of Truth or Goodness, they do not invoke a theory about the nature of reality or knowledge or man which says that 'there is no such thing' as Truth or Goodness... They would simply like to change the subject. They are in a position analogous to that of secularists who urge that research concerning the Nature, or the Will, of God does not get us anywhere. Such secularists are not saying that God does not exist, exactly; they feel unclear about what it would mean to affirm His existence, and thus about the point of denying it... They just doubt that the vocabulary of theology is one we ought to be using. Similarly, pragmatists keep trying to find ways of making antiphilosophical points in nonphilosophical language. For they face a dilemma: if their language is too unphilosophical, too 'literary,' they will be accused of changing the subject; if it is too philosophical it will embody Platonic assumptions which will make it impossible for the pragmatist to state the conclusion he wants to reach..." - Richard Rorty, from the "Introduction" to Consequences of Pragmatism

Plato: I'm concerned with certain questions, like "Who should rule?"
Pragmatist: You shouldn't ask those questions.
Plato: Why shouldn't I ask the questions that concern me?
Pragmatist: Those questions are not useful.
Plato: I can use those questions.
Pragmatist: You can't use them to get anywhere.
Plato: I can get places.
Pragmatist: You can't get anywhere valuable.
Plato: I value the places I arrive at.
Pragmatist: You shouldn't.
Plato: Why not?
Pragmatist: They aren't useful.
Plato: I can use them.

I don't know how to fill in the discussion from here. I'm guessing something like this:

Pragmatist: You use those questions and values for totalitarianism.
Plato: I see how you might say that, but the totalitarianism I promote is what we should do.
Pragmatist: We should not be totalitarian.
Plato: Why shouldn't we be ruled by reason?
Pragmatist: You shouldn't ask those questions.
Plato: Why shouldn't I?
Pragmatist: Those questions aren't useful.
Plato: You just told me that I use them for totalitarianism.
Pragmatist: Totalitarianism is not what we should do.
Plato: So things can't be useful for things we shouldn't do?
Pragmatist: You shouldn't ask those questions...

What, exactly, does Pragmatism charge Plato with doing wrong? What is this standard of "usefulness" that Pragmatists leach onto?

Comments

Where did you get the dialogue? It seems more a parody of pragmatism.

Here's how I, in a pragmatic mood, would answer the Platonist in this exchange:

Plato: I'm concerned with certain questions, like "Who should rule?"
Me: Great. Me too.
Plato: Why shouldn't I ask the questions that concern me?
Me: You should. What other questions could you ask?
Plato: I can use those questions.
Me: Then you should ask them.
...
Plato: I value the places I arrive at.
Me: Then it's good that you ask how to get there.
...
Plato: I see how you might say that, but the totalitarianism I promote is what we should do.
Me: Do we need leaders? If so, how could we select them? Does it make sense to say that we should be ruled by a certain kind of ruler, when it's not clear that such rulers could even exist, much less be identifiable by the methods of selection available to us?
Plato: Why shouldn't we be ruled by reason?
Me: What does that even mean?
etc.

I think the problem with your understanding is that pragmatists don't really eschew value or ethics. They just try to fit them in to a coherent view of the world. Questions of who should rule or how we should live are eminently in the attention of pragmatists; indeed, that's all they ask. I think that all the pragmatist really does differently is take the analytical framework back a step and ask whether, say, a rationalistic take on philosophical purposes best serves the point to philosophical inquiry, whatever it is. Why have philosophy? What's it good for? What are the questions it's supposed to resolve? These are all basically the same question.

Thanks for filling in sensible answers for the pragmatist.

Questions of who should rule or how we should live are eminently in the attention of pragmatists; indeed, that's all they ask.

"[Pragmatists] do not think we should ask [Platonic] questions anymore." Do you and Rorty disagree about what a pragmatist is? Karl Popper seems to think that questions of who should rule should not be our attention; is he just not a pragmatist?

I think that all the pragmatist really does differently is take the analytical framework back a step and ask whether, say, a rationalistic take on philosophical purposes best serves the point to philosophical inquiry, whatever it is.

What is a "philosophical purpose"? Why is philosophical inquiry "pointed to"? Plato investigates being/knowledge/experience/etc with rationality because it is the most reasonable way to investigate those those things; what is a pragmatist doing different?

I'm going to offer up a guess here - just a guess, because I'm not qualified to answer properly.

I think that a pragmatist's understanding of rationality is different from a Platonist's because it sees forms as less real than concrete manifestations, rather than more so. That is, for a pragmatist, I think that forms would be human-created ideas that can have powerful motivational influences for people in general and should be understood as such, rather than being the ends and means of philosophical inquiry.

Pragmatists seem to be attacking Plato's questions, not his answer to those questions. Even if Plato has to abandon the forms and other answers, his questions are still very important. Why do pragmatists think we should abandon the questions themselves?

But if the questions are along the lines of "What is the good?" and "How should society be structured?", then they're inappropriately focused on forms.

"How should society be structured?"

How is that inappropriately focused on forms? It seems to me that this question should be asked and addressed even if there are no forms.

Because it's not very relevant. It implies crafting an ideal vision (i.e., recognizing a form), and then either that was a meaningless, sterile exercise or the next step is to embark on the messy process of trying to conform society to the vision. (Popper's The Open Society and its Enemies discusses what he considers the follies of "social engineering.")

I think a pragmatist would be more likely to ask questions like, "Given our country's existing form of government and patterns of citizen interaction with this government, are there ways that we could encourage greater respect for generally accepted values like human dignity? If a government is clearly heinous in its actions, what modes of protest are most effective and appropriate? What real-life measures can people take to better express their values in the public arena?"

So forming ideals at all is not a good idea because getting reality to match the idea is messy? Don't we try to get As even if we think we can only get Cs because we may end up with Bs?

Do I have to read Popper's book, or is the error in social engineering blatant enough for me to be told in a comment box?

The important questions you ask don't seem to oppose Plato in anyway. I can imagine Plato answering those questions without contradicting his writings, anyways.

If you're living in a society where people can accept the inevitability of Bs and that ideals are inspiring, transcendent ideas rather than an either/or standard for adequacy, ideals are probably good, or at least harmless. However, if you're in a society where certain ideal and probably unattainable conditions must be met for your life to have any worth, now you've got a recipe for disaster.

I can imagine Plato answering those questions, too, but I suspect he'd be likely to consider them trivial compared with the task of imagining what an ideal society would look like.

I can't really answer your Popper question now, but perhaps later this evening. The book is long (two volumes), but the gist of it, iirc, is in a single, fairly short chapter.

Here, I found you a link to extracts from the book. The part most relevant to what we've been talking about is Chapter 9. The entire chapter is only 10 or so pages, so it wouldn't take you long to read the extract.

Thank you, that's awesome!

I'll read over this material, but it looks like Popper's deeper concern is historicism. I disagree with Popper's evaluation of historicism, but I haven't been fully informed on both sides. I'll check it out when I have time.

Time, yeah, where can I buy more of that?

For another author who's opposed to efforts to realize utopian ideals in the political sphere, you could read the essays by Isaiah Berlin in The Crooked Timber of Humanity and his other works. I'm not a huge Berlin fan, but he makes some good points.

In The Open Society and Its Enemies, Popper attacks utopian social engineering. What he advocates is piece-meal social engineering, which is essentially step-by-step democratic reform and internal change, rather than trying to step outside of your culture and political society and force it to conform to some external standard you've created (and of course the standard isn't really external at all, which is part of the problem).

Thanks. It's the "utopian" part that means that previously envisioned ideals are involved and makes it Platonic.

Right. It's nice to see that someone else has read Popper's book. :-)

Well, I haven't read all of it. But your encouragement makes that more likely!

Honestly, I haven't yet read the second half, about Hegel and Marx.

The second part seems almost superfluous. I do own both volumes, though, but so many things seem more urgent.

Well, it seems like most remaining Marxists are Marxists in a sense that is totally irrelevant (e.g., Fredric Jameson). Whereas it seems (by my lights, anyway) like Platonism is becoming fashionable in some quarters again. Anyway, Popper's point is really that it's the same drive that motivates both, historicism, and he addresses that fully in his book The Poverty of Historicism, if you ever get a chance.

Mm, looks good. So many books, so little time!

It's a transcendental question, for one thing.

It's no more transcendental than the questions pragmatists are concerned with. If I want to know how society can be set up so that the most good results, I'm not being anymore transcendental than Popper asking "How can we so organize political institutions that bad or incompetent rulers can be prevented from doing too much damage?"

What do you mean by "the most good"?

The situation that is closest to ideal.

Sorry, this will probably split off in to two seperate interrogations by me and twisted_apples but I would suppose that him/her and I are so different that it will end up being different soon enough. Anyway, sorry to interject.

Ultimately the form of the good is ineffable and you can only draw off lesser comparisons to reference it, right? So really it is a circular definition, kind of like... "the highest of all possible goods" or something like that.

The thing is that the statement "the highest of all possible goods" doesn't have an actual thing that it is being representing. When you make that statement what do I see? Is it what you see? Are we sharing the same image? It is more or less a sign post that does not point to anything at all.

I mean this in the same way that I believe that a lot of religious vocabularies point no where. I'm not saying they aren't useful! ha.

Ultimately the form of the good is ineffable and you can only draw off lesser comparisons to reference it, right? So really it is a circular definition, kind of like... "the highest of all possible goods" or something like that.

The thing is that the statement "the highest of all possible goods" doesn't have an actual thing that it is being representing. When you make that statement what do I see? Is it what you see? Are we sharing the same image? It is more or less a sign post that does not point to anything at all.


I've made a post addressing your concern. Goodness isn't representing anything because goodness is not a property - it is a descriptive predicate modifier. Goodness, as a descriptive predicate modifier, is neither ineffable or circular.

Please keep in mind that I'm not a degreed expert in this field. But:

Do you and Rorty disagree about what a pragmatist is?

I don't think I disagree with Rorty. I don't think that "Who should rule?" is (just) a Platonic question. It seems like a very practical question to me; if we need leaders, we need a method for selecting them. For a pragmatist, it's just a matter of finding the right framework within which a question is sensible. If I wouldn't change a thing about my life depending upon the answer to the question, "Is there a real world?" then why ask it?

Karl Popper seems to think that questions of who should rule should not be our attention; is he just not a pragmatist?

I think it depends upon what you mean by "our" and "pragmatist." It's fitting, I think, that "pragmatist" has no clear referent but rather shifts to the purposes of those who employ the term. For Peirce, pragmatism was just a view on logic; for James, it was a self-help method; for Dewey, it backgrounded educational reform. For Popper, "pragmatism" might best be framed by his chosen specialty. I don't think Popper would say we have no business trying to figure out how we should live or whom we should select to lead us in our endeavors, because that would be like saying we have no business figuring out what to eat for dinner or how to spend our money. I'd guess that what he meant had more to do with the methods and specialties we can effectively employ towards those sorts of questions. Adopting first principles that seem intuitive and then deriving from them a means of deciding how to run a national government just doesn't seem adequate to the end.

What is a "philosophical purpose"? Why is philosophical inquiry "pointed to"?

I'm fairly radical about pragmatism, so my response to these questions is that they're categories imposed by "philosophers" more than cognizable categories in a pragmatic method. I don't know what philosophy is, or what it's supposed to be. What I know is that there seem to be a lot of people talking about something they call "philosophy," some of whom seem to be saying something useful, some of whom seem not to be. I'm just trying to adapt the method to the notions other bring to the table. A "philosophical purpose" is whatever purpose philosophers bring to their endeavors.

As for why philosophical inquiry is "pointed to," I'd say it's important to emphasize that I'm not saying that it has to be "pointed to" something "practical" or "instrumental" like paying the bills. All I'm saying is that inquiry generally proceeds by approaching a problematic situation and resolving it. What is being? Here's what being is. The latter is the "pointed to." The pragmatic critique would go on to say, "Why do we need the 'pointed to'?" What is it "pointed to"? I'd like to know why I should care whether there is a real world. What difference does it make?

Plato investigates being/knowledge/experience/etc with rationality because it is the most reasonable way to investigate those those things

This is just a truism. "Plato uses reason because reason is reasonable."

But what does it mean to "investigate being/knowledge/experience"? What is it that we're investigating? What will investigating it avail us? I think the pragmatist just looks at a situation and asks whether the solution gets us where we want to be. It's perfectly possible that thinking to ourselves rationally is the best way to do whatever it is we mean when we say we are "investigating being." I think a pragmatist can accept that as far as it goes. Whether it's something worth doing is another matter.

Here's a quote from Popper that I'm responding to:

[B]y expressing the problem of politics in the form "Who should rule?" Plato created a lasting confusion in political philosophy... It is clear that once the question... is asked, it is hard to avoid some such reply as "the best" or "the wisest" or "the born ruler" or "he who masters the art of ruling" (or perhaps "The General Will" or "The Master Race"...)... But such a reply, convincing as it may sound -- for who would advocate the rule of "the worst" or "the greatest fool"...? -- is... quite useless. First of all, such a reply is liable to persuade us that some fundamental problem of political theory has been solved... [but] we find that far from solving any fundamental problems, we have merely skipped over them, by assuming that the question "Who should rule?" is fundamental... [E]ven those who share this assumption of Plato's [that "the best" should rule] admit that political rulers are not always sufficiently "good" or "wise", and that it is not at all easy to get a government on whose goodness and wisdom one can implicitly rely. If that is granted, then we must ask whether political thought should not face from the beginning the possibility of bad government... [T]his leads to a new approach to the problem of politics, for it forces us to replace the [trivial] question: "Who should rule?" by the new question: "How can we so organize political institutions that bad or incompetent rulers can be prevented from doing too much damage?"

Hopefully that adds some context to my confusion.

The pragmatic critique would go on to say, "Why do we need the 'pointed to'?" What is it "pointed to"? I'd like to know why I should care whether there is a real world. What difference does it make?

Do pragmatists suppose that Plato never thought of these questions or that he didn't answer them? He seems to address them all in the Republic.

This is just a truism. "Plato uses reason because reason is reasonable."

Yeah, but pragmatists seem to disagree that Plato's use of reason is reasonable, but I don't know what the pragmatists' reason for saying this is.

But what does it mean to "investigate being/knowledge/experience"? What is it that we're investigating? What will investigating it avail us?

To do philosophy; the self and its relationship to the world; eudaemonia.

I think the pragmatist just looks at a situation and asks whether the solution gets us where we want to be. It's perfectly possible that thinking to ourselves rationally is the best way to do whatever it is we mean when we say we are "investigating being." I think a pragmatist can accept that as far as it goes. Whether it's something worth doing is another matter.

The pragmatist doesn't think happiness is important and worth looking for? Or do they suppose that there is some other reason that Plato is philosophizing?

Not to be dismissive about it, but I'm not sure how I've failed to say what Popper has here. In the passage you quoted, Popper hasn't so much dismissed the question "Who should rule?" as he has reformulated it in a way that makes sense to a pragmatist. The sense in which the two statements differ is the sense that is "trivial."

Do pragmatists suppose that Plato never thought of these questions or that he didn't answer them?

I don't suppose that they do. To the extent that they're satisfied with his method, they ought to be satisfied with his answers. I wasn't trying to explain why pragmatists think Plato was wrong (and I'm not altogether certain that they think he was). I was just trying to explain what I meant by talking about the "point of philosophy." Plato may have asked that question and come up with a suitable answer for his purposes, most broadly conceived. The answer just may not suit our own purposes.

To do philosophy; the self and its relationship to the world; eudaemonia.

This isn't really an answer. We just ask: what is "philosophy," and what does it mean to "do" it? What is "self" and "world" and why does it matter how they relate? How does the concept of "eudaemonia" not just assert its value.

The pragmatist doesn't think happiness is important and worth looking for? Or do they suppose that there is some other reason that Plato is philosophizing?

I think James, especially, would think happiness is just great and absolutely worth looking for. If philosophizing makes you happy, then that's what makes you happy, so do it. It's really not any more complicated than that.

I'm sorry I can't more adequately answer these questions. As I've said, I'm not really qualified to engage this subject with the kind of scholarly depth that I think would really satisfy you. In a sense I am very much the "American pragmatist" much reviled by early twentieth-century philosophers. I'd love to continue this discussion, but I probably won't, as I do have other areas (actually within my competence) to which I must devote my attention. Have a good evening (or morning).

The sense in which the two statements differ is the sense that is "trivial."

Then why would Popper object to one but not the other?

I wasn't trying to explain why pragmatists think Plato was wrong (and I'm not altogether certain that they think he was).

Popper and Rorty DO think Plato was wrong, fyi.

Plato may have asked that question and come up with a suitable answer for his purposes, most broadly conceived. The answer just may not suit our own purposes.

The pragmatist attack was on Plato's questions not his answers, right? Even if you don't like Plato's answers, what is wrong with the questions?

This isn't really an answer. We just ask: what is "philosophy," and what does it mean to "do" it? What is "self" and "world" and why does it matter how they relate? How does the concept of "eudaemonia" not just assert its value.

How do you infer that an answer isn't an answer because it leads to more questions? Do pragmatists suppose that a real answer would be a response that is fully imminent with its meaning? That would be ridiculous. How is this an objection to Plato at all?

If philosophizing makes you happy, then that's what makes you happy, so do it. It's really not any more complicated than that.

I think Plato's claim is that philosophy leads to happiness for all, which is what the pragmatists reject - not philosophy for personal satisfaction.

Hopefully someone else can pick up the conversation since you have to go. Thanks for trying to show me what parts of my pragmatists were made out of straw.

I think the basic pragmatic critique on platonism is that platonism in the traditional descartian tradition assumes that philosophy is about having properly represented beliefs in one's "mind"(rorty would critique the idea that we have some glassy essence which represents things), that certain vocabularies have preference over others, and also because platonism seeks out some universal truth among all communities instead of identifying its ethnocentricism and working to establish itself within a community(platonism seeks to be outside all communities, some kind of meta-abjucator of discourse which denies the openly democratic approach of a mulitiplicity of opinions).

Rorty's approach is also about "Antirepresentationalism". Platonism is all about Representing (ha!). Rorty critiques the plato/descartesian aim of philosophy as "[philosophy] is to be a general theory of representation, a theory which will divide culture up into the ares which represent reality well, and those who represent it less will" and "we owe the notion of a 'theory of knowledge' based on an understanding of 'mental processes' to the seventeenth century, and especially to locke." is the one that introduced this idea that we possess a kind of "mind" which "represents" ideas. (taken from Philosophy and The Mirror of Nature). One could also, I suppose, trace the history of thinking about truths relating to forms, or eidos, to plato as well.

Basically constant discussions of representation miss the point, the point is to have a dialogue (I think the dialogue you are suggesting with the platonic person would actually go quite differently) and to de-emphasize the importance on how we come to these beliefs and what methods we have for justifying them. Rorty also tries to delegitimate the "correspondence theory of truth" in favor of a more conversationalist method of truth.

"Differently put, Rorty argues that we can give no useful content to the notion that the world, by its very nature, rationally constrains choices of vocabulary with which to cope with it." (stanford)

Oh he also draws heavily off wittgenstein, maybe that would be usefle to know as well?

I think the basic pragmatic critique on platonism is that platonism in the traditional descartian tradition assumes that philosophy is about having properly represented beliefs in one's "mind"

My understanding is that Platonism assumes that philosophy is about rationally examining the self and the self's relationship to the world. Why do pragmatists critique Plato through a 'traditional descartian tradition' rather than on Plato's own terms?

that certain vocabularies have preference over others

Does this refer to Cratylus?

platonism seeks out some universal truth among all communities instead of identifying its ethnocentricism and working to establish itself within a community

What's wrong with this goal? I'm not convinced that there are no universal principles of justice, so if pragmatists are denying the possibility of reaching the goal then I'd like to see the reason.

Rorty's approach is also about "Antirepresentationalism".

Do I need to read his books to understand his motivations? Why is Rorty trying to de-emphasize the importance on how we come to these beliefs and what methods we have for justifying them?

I don't know much Wittgenstein except for his early philosophy, which I don't suppose will help me understand his most robust objection to Platonism. Do I need to read Philosophical Fragments to grasp his critique?

Thanks for clearing some stuff up.

"My understanding is that Platonism assumes that philosophy is about rationally examining the self and the self's relationship to the world. Why do pragmatists critique Plato through a 'traditional descartian tradition' rather than on Plato's own terms?"

In this case I think thats why most antirepresentationalists, postmodernists, or what have you (these terms get confusing, but i'm not saying they are interchangeable) focus on descartes rather than on plato/socrates. Nietzsche is really the one who attacks plato/socrates for giving tyranny to reason and a focus on the other-worldly (things like forms, ideals, universal truths,) instead of focusing on the world of particulars which we live in. If you consider the platonic method to be about taking care of the soul and looking into one's self in order understand how to live then I don't think the antiplatonic critique would be as strong. However; The idea that something we can represent abstractly should be more important to us than the things which we are aquainted with without ratinality being imposed upon it is, I believe, a main strong under current of criticism among the community which stresses a de-emphasis of epistemology (pragmatism being one of them)

Plato tries to show how language corresponds to reality through giving universal definitions in order to grasp the forms. Rorty believes, with Davidson, that the Correspondence theory of truth is redudant and says nothing about truth itself. An example by Frege is this,

It is worthy of notice that the sentence "I smell the scent of violets" has the same content as the sentence "it is true that I smell the scent of violets". So it seems, then, that nothing is added to the thought by my ascribing to it the property of truth. (Frege, 1918).
-- taken from wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deflationary_theory_of_truth#Redundancy_theory

"Does this refer to Cratylus?"

I don't believe so. I think Rorty just means that plato assumes that a certain kind of "philosophical vocabulary" represents the world better, than say, an artistic vocabulary, or a sociological vocabulary. This is the privelege he means, that philosophical words and phrases should stand above other forms of discourse.

"I'm not convinced that there are no universal principles of justice, so if pragmatists are denying the possibility of reaching the goal then I'd like to see the reason."

I believe that pragmatist fall more along the lines of deflationary truth. The deflationary theory of truth is a family of theories which all have in common the claim that assertions that predicate truth of a statement do not attribute a property called truth to such a statement. (taken from wikipedia) I do not think a pragmatist would say out-right "there is no possibility of making an assertion that corresponds to reality" rather we should avoid making these kinds of statements at all. (for they add nothing)

"Why is Rorty trying to de-emphasize the importance on how we come to these beliefs and what methods we have for justifying them?"

Lyotard tries to divide language as having prescriptive utterances such as "close the door" and declarative utterances "the door is made out of wood". Rorty would suggest we focus less on declarative utterances such as "this is the way it is" and focus more on prescriptive utterances "this is how it should be"

"Do I need to read Philosophical Fragments to grasp his critique?"

I don't think so. Just that there is no strict denotative relationship between what we utter and how it is represented. The word "ice cube" could bring up an image of a box, coldness, blue, cardboard, or what have you. There is no "ice cube" to "ice cube" relationship: language is instrumental not representational.

Interesting reply. It seems that I want to take Plato for his merits while others want to condemn him for his faults. I view Plato as someone who proposes a groundwork for philosophy and then admits that he can only see so far. He encourages people to keep being rational so they might be better than him, not exactly like him. Pragmatists and their kin seem to view Plato as a Jesus, trying to get others to imitate him action-for-action. That doesn't seem like an intellectually honest critique of Plato though. Where I see "Know thyself" others see "Make me King". I hope modern philosophers that like Plato aren't seen as advocating the bad things that Plato, himself, would have changed if he had been shown reasonable arguments.

It is worthy of notice that the sentence "I smell the scent of violets" has the same content as the sentence "it is true that I smell the scent of violets". So it seems, then, that nothing is added to the thought by my ascribing to it the property of truth. (Frege, 1918).

Truth's importance as a predicate is not in adding meaning to statements of clear identity but in adding meaning to statements of ambiguous identity. Plato is concerned with a thing as it is different from its appearance. So if smell, which is imminent, is the basis of our statement then of course predicating truth to the statement doesn't add anything - there is no separation between the appearance of a smell and the smell itself. We use the correspondence theory of truth because affirmations and denials of truth express a clarification of ambiguity. Thus predicating truth (or falsity) of statements regarding a specific man's desire may add a world of meaning. When Socrates considers the man who lends you a sword and returns for it in a drunken rage, it makes all the sense in the world for Socrates to say "The man wants his sword back, but is this true?"; the truth of the statement would confirm the identity of the man as he appears (drunk fool), but the falsity of it would confirm the identity of the man as he really is (a rational creature). That is the value of the correspondence theory of truth.

I think I will have to read Wittgenstein, because I couldn't follow the explanation of how language is instrumental. I'm also not clear on how instrumental language necessarily opposes Platonism because I'm not sure what is meant by Plato's linguistic representationalism. In what book does Plato lay out this theory?

Oh he also draws heavily off wittgenstein, maybe that would be usefle to know as well?

He does draw from later Wittgenstein, but he isn't primarily influenced by Wittgenstein. He draws more influence from Dewey, Nietzsche, James, and Sellars.

I think more or less I meant he engages philosophy at the point when it made the "linguistic turn".

I see James, Sellars, and Dewey, of course. Why do you think Nietzsche?

Despite the fact that Nietzsche was no egalitarian, and Rorty is a committed democrat, they have similar views of genealogy, truth, etc. Also, Rorty explicitly claims him as an influence. Furthermore, philosophically (though again not so much politically), Rorty also has a bit in common with some of the French poststructuralists.

I'm thankful that Rorty is so clear however; it would be nice if Rorty shared some of Nietzsche's adoration for the passions, aesthetics, and his own writing style. I definitely see a kind of Rorty re-evaluation of values, values, this time, being epistemological instead of noble values versus egalitarian values.

Rorty wants to do away with epistemology and ontology. Rather than seeking any kind of transcendental certainty, he wants us to start placing value on solidarity, and expanding our ethnos (meaning, our interpretive community) as much as possible. As such, I'd say that his (substantive) values are almost entirely opposed to Nietzsche's... in a way. Rorty's values differ from Nietzsche's in that Rorty favors social democracy, re-telling history as a story of progress, and working to achieve (more of) an open society. Nietzsche stood opposed to all three of these things. On the other hand, he shares quite a lot in common with Nietzsche, not just in terms of philosophically deflationary views of truth, etc., but also in terms of individuality and "becoming who you are."

Plato: So things can't be useful for things we shouldn't do?
Pragmatist: You shouldn't ask those questions...


Of course it's trivially true that standards of usefulness are relative to what exactly those standards are for. For example, x, y, z might be very useful to a Nazi, a feudal lord, or an aristocrat, respectively. "In particular, there is no reason why a fascist could not be a pragmatist in the sense of agreeing with pretty much everything Dewey said about the nature of truth, knowledge, rationality, and morality. Nietzsche would have agreed with Dewey against Plato and Kant on all these specifically philosophical topics. Had they debated, the only substantial disagreement between Nietzsche and Dewey would have bee about the value of egalitarian ideas, ideas of human brotherhood and sisterhood, and thus about the value of democracy. It is unfortunate, I think, that many people hope for a tighter link between philosophy and politics than there is or can be. In particular, people on the left keep hoping for a philosophical view which cannot be used by the political right, one which will lend itself only to good causes. But there will never be such a view; any philosophical view is a tool which can be used by many different hands." - Richard Rorty, Truth Without Correspondence to Reality

Are you inferring that Platonism is not good because it can be appropriated by people for bad things? That doesn't follow. Are you inferring that Plato professes his ideas to be invulnerable to bastardization? I don't think it does. Plato recognizes his own infallibility when he suggests at the end of the Republic that there may be good reasons for permitting art in society, but that he simply hasn't heard any. He encourages everyone to look to the form of the Good, which is infallible, so that people might be better than him. Therefore Rorty is wrong to say that no philosophical viewpoint is invulnerable to use by many hands, since looking towards the form of the Good is a trivially infallible philosophical method. It's like Rousseau's General Will, which is trivially infallible; the hard question asks about the nature of the General Will and form of the Good, and bad answers do not make the General Will or the form of the Good any more fallible.

I may not have been clear, but I've tried to emphasize the usefulness of the forms as empowering explanatory language and a working model of experience.

That's certainly not what Rorty's saying, since he says that any philosophy can be used by people for bad ends. Rather a pragmatist would just say that Platonism is not good because it can't be appropriated by us for what we think good as much as some other option.

Of course, if you show that Platonism is a useful ontology, then one could be motivated to be a Platonic pragmatist, just as, say, personally-religious scientists are materialist pragmatists at work.

Right. That's exactly what I said.

No. I am explicitly not inferring that.