Monday, December 18, 2006

The Matter of Truth, the Matter of Matter: Which Matters More? Part X

I have complained that Nelson Goodman’s brief mention of William James in the beginning of “Ways of Worldmaking”, (WoWM), frames the thinking of William James in a way which is misleading and harmful. However, I have begun to feel a pang of conscience about the way I in turn have framed the thinking of Nelson Goodman, focusing as I have on only a paragraph or two of WoWM found at the beginning of the book.

In order to broaden and correct my presentation, I want to include this stronger, more witty, more characteristic, and more meaty Goodman excerpt, from chapter six of WoWM:



“To speak of worlds as made by versions often offends both by its implicit pluralism and by its sabotage of what I have called ‘something stolid underneath’. Let me offer what comfort I can. While I stress the multiplicity of right world-versions, I by no means insist that there are many worlds—or indeed any; for as I have already suggested, the question whether two versions are of the same world has as many good answers as there are good interpretations of the words “versions of the same world.” The monist can always contend that two versions need only be right to be accounted versions of the same world. The pluralist can always reply by asking what the world is like apart from all versions. Perhaps the best answer is that given by Professor Woody Allen when he writes:

‘Can we actually ‘know’ the universe? My God, it’s hard enough finding your way around in Chinatown. The point, however, is: Is there anything out there? And why? And must they be so noisy? Finally, there can be no doubt that the one characteristic of ‘reality’ is that it lacks essence. That is not to say it has no essence, but merely lacks it. ( The reality I speak of here is the same one Hobbes described, but a little smaller.)’

The message, I take it, is simply this: never mind mind, essence is not essential, and matter doesn’t matter. We do better to focus on versions rather than worlds. Of course, we want to distinguish between versions that do and those that do not refer, and to talk about the things and worlds, if any referred to; but these things and worlds and even the stuff they are made of—matter, anti-matter, mind, energy, or whatnot—are themselves fashioned by and along with the versions. Facts, as Norwood Hanson says, are theory-laden; they are as theory-laden as we hope our theories are fact-laden. Or in other words, facts are small theories, and true theories are big facts.”

(Nelson Good quote from page 96 of WoWM; Woody Allen quote-within-quote from “My Philosophy” in Getting Even (1966); Norwood Hanson from Patterns of Discovery (1958).)

With this quotation, I hope to have dispelled the impression I may previously have created that Nelson Goodman’s thinking is absolutist or essentialist; I hopefully have also destroyed any ability I might have had to use Goodman as a straw man.

I still will use him as a stalking horse.

What is this idea from Goodman’s gloss (above) of Professor Woody Allen that “matter doesn’t matter?” Not at all what I take from Professor Allen’s teaching…. Why and how do our ‘takes’ diverge on this most critical point?

On the matter of “worldmaking” and whether matter matters, I was reminded of this:


“Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.” - Karl Marx


I claim that Nelson Goodman’s book is not in contradiction to this single statement from Marx, that it addresses the same issue, and with an approach which seems similar, too. And yet Goodman’s book is of another world - it is different, and this difference matters - I cannot be indifferent to this difference.

Goodman says this:


“ Worldmaking sometimes, without adding or dropping entities, alters emphasis; and a difference between two versions that consists primarily or even solely in their relative weighting of the same entities may be striking and consequential.” ( WoWM, page 101.)

In other words, “propensitites to emphasize differently” ( William James), are REAL differences; there can be no appeal to “ same essential interests”(also William James) to mask these REAL differences, to make these “ propensitites to emphasize differently,” trivial or inessential.

Therefore, even though at times I appear to be quarrelling with Nelson Goodman over mere matters of emphasis, these aren’t mere – in this matter, these matters do matter.



10 Comments:

Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

For example, whether one writes and thinks in a way that will only engage the sympathies of fellow academics -- or whether one writes in a way that inspires thousands to take ownership of the conditions of their lives.

Is that what you're getting at, here?

I'll be going away for a week, so I'll relapse into silence. But I'm taking James and Wittgenstein with me. I'll have lots to talk about when I get back.

12:34 AM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

When I read statements such as this:

"While I stress the multiplicity of right world-versions, I by no means insist that there are many worlds—or indeed any" I have a qualm about my bitterness about this man and this book - my bitterness may be unwarranted.

I can't criticize Nelson Goodman because there exist those readers, those people, ( such as me, in particular,) who fail to give him a "close" and "careful" reading...

...who fail to notice, on page 101 or wherever it is, that he's buried this statement( see above)... in a book called " Ways of Worldmaking"?

(But there may not be any worlds, he reveals, on the sly is it, almost?)

Is Nelson Goodman a lawyer or a philosopher? I want to know. Is he covering himself, or creating concepts?

Is liberal and smart, or " liberal and smart" synonymous with SLIPPERY? Does it have to be?

1:56 AM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

"Is that what you're getting at, here?"

Just how obscure am I being, anyway?

3:16 AM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

With you and me, Yusef, it's hard to tell. Sometimes we have a synchronicity that borders on telepathy. Sometimes we seem to be speaking two utterly different languages. And sometimes, it seems to be a bit of both.

6:20 AM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

I'm very interested to see that you're taking James AND Wittgenstein with you.

This is unfounded, mere speculation-- but I think that the language games are a response to the monism-pluralism, critical-communicative problem(s) I'm talking about.

10:21 AM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

Where I see Wittgenstein as most "Jamesian" is his philosophical practice -- his insistence, for example, that a problem strikes as fascinating and insoluble because we've unknowingly committed ourselves to a specific picture of things, and that picture "holds us captive." Whereas once we come to turn ourselves around and see that our thought is held captive by a picture, and one that we can question -- even step outside of, in some limited sense -- then we're no longer caught in the inescapable grasp of an irresolvable problem.

I think that Wittgenstein pursues this approach in his criticisms of Russell and his own earlier views, much as James pursues it in his criticisms of Bradley and McTaggart.

11:35 AM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

Yeah.

One thing that caused my jaw to drop while reading " A Pluralistic Universe," was when James used the charming and arresting phrase " dogmatic slumbers." I had thought this was Wittgenstein's coinage, but it appears W took it from James.

3:58 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

"...his insistence, for example, that a problem strikes as fascinating and insoluble because we've unknowingly committed ourselves to a specific picture of things, and that picture "holds us captive." Whereas once we come to turn ourselves around and see that our thought is held captive by a picture, and one that we can question -- even step outside of, in some limited sense -- then we're no longer caught in the inescapable grasp of an irresolvable problem."

Such an insistence as this could never have narrow appeal to only the academic community. There could be a lag time, based on the style of the delivery or some such thing, but pretty quickly, everyone is going to want in on it, I think.

But there does seem to be some process where what does get out is muted and "domesticated" as you said earlier.

That's part of what I am interested in with Goodman. I want to write a post about the difference between someone talking about "men making history" and someone talking about "ways of worldmaking."

There is always ( for me )this terrible ambiguity about the political significance of aesthetic activity, of what it is and does, how it functions, in the social,political, and psychological spheres.... does it dissipate energy and fervor for social change, or promote psycholgoical social health, or a bit of both, and how and why?

4:17 PM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

"dogmatic slumber" is from Kant -- he uses it in the Introduction to the Prolegomenon to Any Future Metaphysics, where he writes that reading Hume awoke him from his "dogmatic slumber" as Leibnizian rationalist. In particular, Hume showed that the concept of causation cannot be handled with the assured insouciance with which it was treated by Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Leibniz, et al.

Interestingly, the full title of Kant's work is Prolegomenon to Any Future Metaphysics That is to Come Forth as Science.

However, I'm not aware of where the phrase is found in Wittgenstein! A hint?

5:50 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

I need to check where I heard that from Wittgenstein.

It may be that I got it from the Norman Malcolm biography of W, and that Norman Malcolm used the phrase ( rather than W himself) to describe W's return to philosophy after his long departure from it, which W had thought would be permanent.

After the tractatus, W thought he'd said everything that needed to be said in philosophy, so he left academic english environs to live in a remote Norwegian village to teach grammar school for six or so years.

( I doubt I have the details exactly right.)

The story seems so poignant after what you said vis a vis Todd May yesterday.

6:43 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home