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.