Sunday, June 20, 2010

Analytic wolves in pragmatist clothing

I am conflicted. I have been reading a good deal of interesting material on pragmatism that is either written by analytic philosophers or couched in analytic terms (or both). Much of this is pleasantly surprising in the sense that the usual bad attitude is absent. However, a further pleasure caused my conflict: should I be enjoying this stuff? Should I not instead be suspicious of attempts to graft analytic discourse onto pragmatism? Do I really want analytic theorising to make an impact within the pragmatist camp - even when it is qualified all over the place by 'minimalist', 'deflationary', 'quietist', and the like? After all, such theorising is often just too easy. Think, for example, of how little effort is required to forge a 'new' distinction. For all their virtues, and despite their inclination to throw around anchoring terms like "reality" and "truth", analytic theorists are generally answerable only to attenuated versions of history and the latest theoretical fads.

I will return to this topic. Meanwhile, perhaps I will have to attend some more APA (Analytic Philosophers Anomymous) meetings to help me get over this.

Apologies for the lack of postings - I have been incredibly busy.


  1. Do you feel conflicted about Robert Brandom?

    I just finished his Reason in Philosophy, and his last chapter, "How Analytic Philosophy Has Failed Cognitive Science," if the argument is granted, would be powerful evidence that the post-Fregean tradition does have something latent within it--and only it--that should be excavated and not avoided as a simple matter of idiom.

    As much as I have always considered myself a recalcitrant (if amateurish) Rortyan, I found myself nodding when Brandom declares at the close that analytic philosophy has shown "results," which seems to fly in the face of the most basic metaphilosophical position Rorty defended since '61 in "Recent Metaphilosophy."

  2. Hi Matt,
    Thanks for your comments. The jury is out on Brandom. He is one of the most insightful Rorty commentators. But, when he talks about pragmatism in analytic terms, I tend to wonder why he even needs to use the word "analytic" - it seems superfluous (i.e. the pragmatist content is self-contained). I will take another look at the chapter you refer to in order to assess whether the 'results' have the consequences you refer to. I will probably say more on Brandom in the blog some time. Thanks again for your response and for prompting me to do so!

  3. I would certainly be interested in any commentary you had on Brandom. As an outsider to Philosophy Departments and the nuances of specialized debates, I have the luxury of being able to be relatively insouciant about them. When Brandom deploys his commitment/entitlement vocabulary for inferential chains, I find it an excellent way to formulate a model for teaching composition (a first, breezy explication in "Reading Academically"), and for those purposes, most of the debates don't seem to matter (or even, what Brandom might think about me mangling his vocab in the process). But when I start trying to really incorporate the theoretical perspectives opened by his work (part curiosity, part in the hopes of finding even more tools), I start getting anxious about--to use Brandom's vocabulary--what other, hidden positions I'm becoming committed to that I'm untrained in being able to spot.