Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Life in limbo

I certainly have some catching up to do. Here are a few of the reasons for not posting regularly. First, I am extremely busy with a number of writing/publication ventures. These include: The Cambridge Companion to Pragmatism (should go to press very soon), The Handbook of Financial Ethics, A Companion to Rorty, Truth in Practice: An Introduction to Pragmatism, and a multi-volume history of pragmatism. I am also writing a paper on Rorty and James for Pragmatism Today as well as making sure that a paper on Rorty, cultural politics and ontology that has been accepted for Contemporary Pragmatism conforms with the journal's stylistic conventions. In January I am giving a paper at a conference in Uganda the title of which is 'Pragmatism and Hope for South Africa'.

Second, to my surprise, I find myself taking a miserly writer's attitude towards this blog: I rather selfishly seem to want to keep any apparently good thoughts for publication. Since I also don't want to put out inferior stuff, this leaves me in a bit of a bind. I guess I will just have to get over that. Recognising what is going on is surely the first step.

Third, as well as tackling the sort of questions that, as I have mentioned before, I carry around with me all the time, I have been pretty stretched for the reasons I will now quickly describe.

I didn't get to APA (see previous post) - so things might appear to have gotten worse on that front. I am reading old and new analytic stuff in reams and some of the standard terms, those troublesome and time-consuming terms that I had become happily used to doing without (e.g. the dreaded "concept" - not to mention "metaphysics" which seems to invoked here there and everywhere recently by the cheapest strokes of a pen), have almost regained their original aura of temptation.

But thankfully, only "almost".

I started retracing my steps, looking at some of the more formal work that attracted me earlier on in my philosophical journey. Carnap's Aufbau, Meaning and Necessity, and Philosophy and Logical Syntax were well worth another in depth look. For, in my handy history of philosophy at least, "no Carnap" pretty much = "no Quine" pretty much = "no Davidson". I was very pleased to find that Rudi no longer occupies the desert he seemed to have long been consigned to (partly out of sheer neglect and partly because of the false belief that Quine's famous criticisms of him were fatal), and that some decent secondary literature has been accumulating of late (the Cambridge Companion to Carnap is a pretty good place to kick off). This led me back to Frege, but also to Tarski. And, I have just picked up a copy of Logic, Semantics, Metamathematics. It's the second edition that John Corcoran has done a lot of good work on. For some reason, I haven't seen this before, and I am quite (the English "quite", of course, which means "very") excited by it. One of the things I always liked about Tarski previously was the great care he took to distinguish between formal and natural languages. I don't think this distinction is any more than a pragmatic one, but that doesn't make it any less important.

Re-reading Tarski's groundbreaking papers also fits in nicely with my return to Davidson's work via the original texts, of course, but with some felicitous guidance from Le Pore and Ludwig's two exemplary expository volumes (OUP). I am also belatedly checking out Bjorn Ramberg's book on Davidson's philosophy of language - I have been impressed by his work on Rorty so I anticipate some returns on this even though it's rather old.

In addition gone back to Dewey's work on logic (by also covering Russell's criticisms and Tom Burke's defence - see Dewey's New Logic), and this mainly to find out whether there are any useful insights and whether useful connections can be made with more conventional approaches.

In tandem with these reading/research projects, I am reassessing the history of analytic philosophy, checking other versions against the one that Rorty did the dirty on. Scott Soames' Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century looked like a natural launching pad. I am still waiting for the second volume to arrive so I will reserve judgement - but at first sight, things look problematic. By focusing on Anglo-American thinkers and leaving Frege, Carnap, Tarski and others out of the picture, the historical value of the project is greatly diminished. I also have grave reservations about the motivation expressed in the introduction (both for the book(s) and analytic philosophy itself) - but more on that when I have seen Volume II. From what I have been reading, I anticipate a devaluation of Wittgenstein and an inflated estimation of Kripke's contribution. I hope I'm wrong. Finally, I am trying to get a better grip on Brandom's work again, and on all fronts.

I am listening to Beethoven's late string quartets (op.130 right now) while I am writing this. Bliss! Will I ever come back to my pragmatist senses? No doubt soon enough. But sometimes, philosophical limbo is the sanest place to be.

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