Against Rorty on the Usefulness of Ontological Debates

Rorty ontology
Richard Rorty, cover of Contingency, irony, and solidarity.

I’m a big fan of Richard Rorty. His book Contingency, irony, and solidarity (CIS) was one of the books that led me to inquire into philosophy more rigorously (ironically enough — sorry Dick!).

But there’s something that’s always bugged me about Rorty. He uses pragmatist insights to label entire subjects “not useful”. The following quote was recently brought to my attention:

The question that matters to us pragmatists is not whether a vocabulary possess meaning or not, whether it raises real or unreal problems, but whether the resolution of that debate will have an effect in practice, whether it will be useful. We ask whether the vocabulary shared by the debaters is likely to have practical value. For the fundamental thesis of pragmatism is William James’ assertion that if a debate has no *practical* significance, then it has no *philosophical* significance.

So my objection to the “realism versus anti-realism debate” is not that the debtors are employing sentences that are devoid of meaning, nor that they are using terms that do not designate substantial properties. Rather, that the resolution of these debates will have no bearing on practice. I view debates of this sort as examples of sterile scholasticism. I regret that such a large part of English-language philosophy in the twentieth century was devoted to questions of this type.

— What’s the Use of Truth? (Richard Rorty)

(An aside: for all his insistence on deflating these debates, Rorty’s not always consistent in whether his position is deflationary about the debate or withinthe debate.…

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Steve Patterson: Against Academia | Who Shaves the Barber? #25

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Against Academia
Steve Patterson

Is academia the best place to do philosophy?

Independent philosopher Steve Patterson became disillusioned with academia during his time in college and has since decided to pursue philosophy full time outside the academy. He doesn’t mince words when it comes to his views on academic philosophy. For Steve, the university system is perverted by poor incentives, which has resulted in badly written, dogmatic work on irrelevant subject matter with unexamined premises. After recounting his journey to becoming an independent philosopher (which starts with discovering the Santa lie), he lays out his arguments against academia, citing economics, “fandom”, false axioms, religiosity, and arguing over strands of leaves without first settling on the trunk of the philosophical tree.

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Next week: Steve Patterson: Certainty and Logic
Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.
Click here for the full list of episodes!

Topics discussed

0:20 – Intro to Steve Patterson
2:30 – Roots of doubt: Santa, religion, libertarianism, economics
14:20 – Experience w/ university and professors
20:44 – Economics of academia
23:49 – Quality of academic work
28:32 – Philosophy of mathematics (Euclid v. ZFC)
32:40 – Missing the philosophical forest for the trees?
40:23 – Alternatives to peer review and the market for alternatives to academia

Sources

What’s the Big Deal about Bitcoin? by Steve Patterson
Square One: The Foundations of Knowledge by Steve Patterson…

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Why (I) Do Philosophy | Who Shaves the Barber? #21

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Philosophy’s an odd practice. It can be abstract, technical, and complicated to the point of appearing incomprehensible; and the generality of the subject matter can make it seem like it isn’t really about anything at all. It certainly doesn’t seem to make a great deal of progress over time. So why the hell does anyone do it?

Here I propose three main reasons I think people do philosophy: competitive craftsmanship, scientific inquiry, and spirituality. The first breaks down into two subcategories – craftsmanship and competition – as does the second – curiosity and improving the world. Just how does philosophy satisfy each of these needs? Do people really pursue philosophy in order to satisfy them? And can they actually be satisfied by philosophy? I conclude with some words about how these apply to why I’m pursuing philosophy (eg, doing this podcast), and specifically why I’m not pursuing academic philosophy.

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Next week: Michael Zigismund: Philosophy of Law
Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.

Topics discussed

0:20 – Intro: why do I do philosophy?
3:44 – What is philosophy?
9:03 – What sort of question is “why do philosophy?”?
14:04 – Three reasons: competitive craftsmanship, scientific inquiry, spirituality
14:26 – Competitive craftsmanship: philosophy as art or game
15:51 – Arguments
18:30 – Virtues of competition
25:08 – Carry-over benefits
26:46 – The rules of the game applied to the rules of the game: self-reference, regress, form become content, grounding
34:12 – Creation v.…

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