Get Your Hate On II: Against Simplicity, Research Time, 04/01/2018

I can understand why Gilles Deleuze would have been especially bitter about what pure Analytic Philosophy™ became. It started as a punk rebellion against pretentious Cambridge Hegelianism.

When I was studying the history of early Analytic Philosophy at McMaster University under Nick Griffin, he told me an amazing story about how that field came to be. G. E. Moore was a graduate student at Cambridge, talking with one of his senior professors, J. M. E. MacTaggart. During this casual lunchtime conversation, MacTaggart offhandedly remarks, “Well, of course, time isn’t real.”

Moore's reaction – “What the fresh fuck?!?!” Or the paragraph-long, overly-polite equivalent appropriate to 1890s England.

Of course, as soon as I thought of this example to update the Waverley
case, I had to throw on this album. More than a decade later, it's still
so good!
That punk spirit – the urge to overthrow an oppressive, beyond-the-world, pretentious Hegelian near-mysticism – animated the forge of Analytic Philosophy. But the school’s leaders focussed that spirit on reducing anything that could suggest the metaphysical away from philosophical thought.

What does that Waverley problem amount to today? Here’s an example better suited to the 2010s.

You remember when Untrue came out and no one knew who Burial was? So before 2008, when you talked about “Burial,” the reference of the name was mysterious, unknown. You could point to the album, listen to the music, but you couldn’t say what the real meaning of the name “Burial” was before William Bevan was outed.

It’s a mind-twisting problem to consider on its own terms. People still write essays returning to Bertrand Russell’s “On Denoting” to this day, more than a century later. But Deleuze’s critique still stands – Who the fuck cares? What does it matter?

In the specific context of mathematical logic, it makes perfect sense. But the extreme reductivism of Analytic Philosophy™ reduces philosophical thinking to these problems of word meaning and reference. Everything of wide or visceral relevance is abstracted from philosophy.

So here’s Deleuze’s argument for why Analytic Philosophy™ is to destructive to genuinely creative thinking.

Reason one. When you apply a problem of reference whose proper context is mathematical logic to all philosophical thinking, you end up reducing all of philosophy to logic. The doctrinaire rationalism of the American Analytics – I’m thinking in particular of Willard Quine and the many other thinkers he influenced – raises science to the ideal of thought.

I've come to think of Richard Rorty as having combined the most
profound errors of American Pragmatist™ thinking with those of
doctrinaire Analytic Philosophy™, delivered with all the smugness
of a lifelong Ivy League academician's style.
But that's another post.
But this reductive image of science isn’t even how science actually works. It’s that bizarre science of totalizing unification – the one true form of knowledge. This is why the sub-disciplines of philosophy of science that haven’t yet overcome the influence of Quine and Donald Davidson have become so moribund – their practitioners believe in a unified science that doesn’t exist.

Reason two. Philosophy turns into discourse alone. You exchange logical propositions and proofs – whether as symbolic logic or as propositions with the same simple framework – and evaluate them. Are the inferences valid? According to which system of logic?* A vibrant, creative tradition reduced to tiresome nitpicking.

* Even here, merely admitting that there can be more than one valid system of logic, all mutually incommensurable or irreducible, is more than the presumptions of doctrinaire Analytic Philosophy™ can bear.

Reason three. Philosophical conversation becomes mere debates over opinions. Is this a good argument? Are all your inferences valid? What are the facts and states of affairs that justify what you say?

Deleuze calls it Richard Rorty’s dinner table. Casual arguments over minutiae, tossed off with all the commitment of those who are never at risk from anything. As if conflicts over values, ethics, and ways of living have never killed anyone.

They never killed anyone as comfortable as Rorty, or most of the folks who think such arguments are philosophy’s central subject matter.

1 comment:

  1. I hope I got this. It is incredibly naive to assume human beings are purely (or at all?) rational beings. You reduce us to logic and reason, as far as we understand it, and you abstract away our frailty, our creativity, and our insanity. I used to be one of those "Analytic" types, many moons ago...hey that plant isn't alive, it's just a set of complex chemical reactions which of course can all be reduced to physics, and then, hey, let's apply all this to neuroscience and make philosophy obsolete. Okay, maybe I got a little carried away and went off topic.