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