Deirdre McCloskey has replied to my last Sweet Talk post on Ideas vs Institutions!
John Dewey: Evolution’s First Philosopher
From The View of Life:
With this work, Dewey attempted to lay waste to philosophy not grounded in science. He was comfortable doing this because, unlike his contemporaries and most of his successors, Dewey embraced evolutionary thought.
As is apparent from the label he was assigned as Evolution’s First Philosopher (courtesy Jerome Popp, a scholar of John Dewey), Dewey was among the first philosophers to openly state that Darwin’s theory would change philosophy forever. He earned this title in part by concluding:No one who has realized the full force of the facts of the connection of knowing with the nervous system, and of the nervous system with the readjusting of activity continuously to meet new conditions, will doubt that knowing has something to do with reorganizing activity instead of being isolated from all activity, complete on its own account. … The development of biology clinches this lesson, with its discovery of evolution. For the philosophic significance of the doctrine of evolution lies precisely in its emphasis upon continuity of simpler and more complex organisms until we reach man (Dewey, 1953, p. 337).
That last line speaks to the notion of pragmatism as global supervience. The minimalist on truth only seeks understanding. To explain a phenomenon is to put it in simpler terms, to look at its parts and their interactions, and the parts of the parts. But at the foundation of all this standing under? Only useful posits.
Do meta-ethics without the baggage
A useful exercise for thinking about moral philosophy is to actually stop thinking about moral philosophy. If the non-cognivist’s thesis is correct, you can think about other evaluative or expressivist modalities that don’t carry the same baggage, and then draw parallel lessons.
Take humor. It’s much less controversially non-cognitivist. Few people defend an “objective” or truth-apt theory of humor. In fact sometimes its extremely difficult to articulate why something is funny. Nonetheless, patterns emerge about the real circumstances or properties humor is liable (but not guaranteed) to supervene to. That is, humor begins as an irreducible Humean projection that down the road can assume propositional content.
But that non-cognitive germ of humor has a few important implications. What’s funny isn’t fixed or absolute. It can change with history, and potentially with genetic engineering. That is, it has a dependency relationship to lower level phenomena, and isn’t intrinsic or ‘real’ in nature.
We can plausibly attribute our industry-era loss of rituals to many factors. Increasing wealth has given us more spatial privacy. Innovation has become increasingly important, and density and wealth are high enough to support fashion cycles, all of which raise the status of people with unusual behavior. These encourage us to signal our increasing wealth with more product and behavioral variety, instead of with more stuff. With increasing wealth our values have consistently moved away from conformity and tradition and toward self-direction and tolerance. Also, more forager-like egalitarianism has made us less ok with the explicit class distinctions that supported many farmer-era rituals. And our suppression of family clans has also suppressed many related rituals.
These factors seem likely to continue while per-capita wealth continues to increase. In that case overt ritual is likely to continue to decline. But there is no guaranteed that wealth will always increase. Robin Hanson on the decline of ritual.
"As if" Intentionality is incoherent? No. "Reality" is what’s incoherent
This is a rejoinder to a comment left on my last post defending eliminative materialism:
the crux of Feser’s argument has to do with intentionality specifically. Your response has not addressed how an eliminativist materialist can account for intentionality without making an appeal to ‘as-if’ intentionality (which, as Feser explains, is not truly intentionality at all). He further points out the incoherence of flat-out denying that intentionality exists.
The problem with addressing “intentionality” directly is that it is too generic. I’d rather pick a specific manifestation of intentionality and work my way down through the layers of supervenience to try and understand how it comes about. To extrapolate from my memory example, I am saying intentionality (and meaning generally) is an abstraction of a system’s role or use in a larger system.
An S-R latch is nothing more than a electrical mechanism that reliably returns the same output. To call that “memory” requires an added step, whereby the ability to store a electrical state is treated as information “about” a past event that helps an organism act in the present. Yet there is no “original” aboutness, nor any “aboutness” per se outside of the stored datums use in a larger system of survival. Intentionality is not “as if.” It is and always has been a pragmatic abstraction.
The comment goes on:
[Feser’s criticism is that] the underlying assumption that everything can be explained as a purely material process is fundamentally flawed. It is the incoherence of the underlying materialist philosophy that Feser is criticizing, not the fact that materialists use convenient abstractions.
People spill too much ink trying to defend pragmatic abstractions as “real” as opposed to pseudo-real or “as if”. My view as a metaphysical quietist is that this is mostly a debate over semantic turf. I call myself a materialist but I don’t mean that in the old substance monist sense. By it I really am referring to the pragmatic theory of global supervenience. Consider this paragraph from my post:
does Feser disagree that mental states are macro-phenomenon which supervene to neural computation and configurations of matter over a timeline of efficient causes? That’s the substantive issue at stake.
This is me implicitly re-framing the debate about materialism to a debate about global supervenience. Namely, “intentionality” globally supervenes on neural computation iff any two worlds with the same distribution of neural properties have the same distribution of intentional properties as well.
See: In Defense of Global Supervenience (1992)
To paraphrase Quine, even the very foundations of physics, elementary particles, are only real as pragmatic “posits” that may just as well be described as the gods of homer. There’s no as ifs, ands or buts about it.