Aug 25th, 2006 by ravi
Defining “non”-analytical philosophy

Leiter reports has a guest blog entry by Jason Stanley, that provides a fair[er] definition of that type of philosophy that is not considered "analytical":

Soames attempts to make this distinction when he writes that analytic philosophy is characterized by “an elevation of the goals of truth and knowledge over inspiration, moral uplift, and spiritual comfort”. I reject Soames’s categorization, because it makes it sound like the options are to seek truth and knowledge or to find religion. I would rather mark it as the quite different distinction between, on the one hand, philosophy that treats phenomena apart from their cultural and historical context, versus philosophy that looks at phenomena mainly through an anthropological lens.

[ link ]

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Jul 15th, 2006 by ravi
One for the bookmarks: Antimeta

Antimeta — Found this very interesting math and philosophy blog while searching for something entirely unrelated (the history and politics of the name change of Bombay). Posting it for my own record, but perhaps it may be of interest to those, if any, who read my blog? Kenny Easwaran (the author of the blog) has a very useful collection of links to other philosophy/logic/math blogs at his site.

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Jan 13th, 2006 by ravi
Criticism of Pomo Feminism

Over at K’s blog, she writes:

Bitch responds: Is Cultural Feminism Pomo Feminism?
But, anyway, I’d say that, no, cultural feminism is rather different from postmodern thought. And I will warn you: While I wouldn’t say I’m a postmodernist, I certainly didn’t spend my time studying it and in fact mostly wrote criticisms of it, I do have a big problem when I read dismissive crits of their work.

Since I posted recently about the Sokal prank and the uncharitable (and inconclusive) attack it represents, the above jogged my memory of an interesting paper by Gabriel Stolzenberg, a mathematician at BU, in response to the attacks on postmodernism by various physicists and philosophers (Sokal, Weinberg, Nagel, to name a few). The paper is Reading and Relativism (PDF) and is a wonderful read and includes this section, a quotation from Luce Irigaray by Thomal Nagel, which Nagel then goes on to criticize:

Is E = Mc2 a sexed equation? Perhaps it is. Let us make the hypothesis that it is insofar as it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary tous. What seems to me to indicate the possibly sexed nature of the equation is not directly its uses by nuclear weapons, rather it is having privileged what goes thefastest….”

Stolzenberger comments on Nagel’s response:

This may send Nagel into convulsions but how does he know that it is her problem not his? How can he possibly know unless he knows what Irigaray means by “sexed” and “privileges” and that her reference to speeds is not an ironic metaphor? If he does not know these things, he is kidding himself. But if he does know, why does he not tell us, so we can join in the fun of mocking Irigaray? Instead of fulfilling his obligation as a philosopher to give us a reason to believe what he says, Nagel encourages us to trust that whatever Irigaray means is refuted by the authors’ “comically patient” observation,

Whatever one may think about the “other speeds that are vitally necessary to us,” the fact remains that the relationship E = Mc2 between energy (E) and mass (M) isexperimentally verified to a high degree of precision, and it would obviously not be valid if the speed of light (c) were replaced by another speed.

This shows especially poor judgement. If Sokal and Bricmont think that something privileged can easily be replaced, there is little reason to suppose that they have any idea of what Irigaray is talking about. And by mocking her instead of giving us an argument, Nagel makes it appear that neither does he.

As Stolzenberger points out elsewhere, a kinder reading of the text might produce other interpretations which make a lot more sense than the narrow sense in which Nagel uses it.

I am reminded of Heidegger’s famous “science does not think” essay. One reading of Irigaray’s text may yield a point similar to the one Heidegger makes.

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Jan 10th, 2006 by ravi
L’Affaire Sokal: The lowest form of humour

Doron Zeilberger at Rutgers publishes a page of opinions that is a wonderful read, even if you are not a mathematician. In opinion 11 he points out better than I can exactly what was wrong with Sokal’s prank on the pomo philosophers:

Opinion 11 of Doron Zeilberger:
Great Scientists, Lousy Philosophers

The intersection of the sets of great mathematicians or scientists and great philosophers is a rapidly decreasing function of time.

[…]

Nowadays, Traditional God has been replaced, in part, by another God: `Absolute Truth’. Practicing scientists get really annoyed when they are reminded that after all they are also human, and their view of science is time- and fashion- dependent. So Alan Sokal had a good laugh at the expense of post-modern cultural-relativists. But he used the same cheap trick of Euler, intimidation by jargon. He went one step farther: making fun of the sociologists’ jargon. He had the advantage that their jargon is closer to spoken English than his, so he could master it superficially.

Making fun of other people’s language is the lowest form of humor. Like Euler, Sokal did not prove anything, except that physical scientists and mathematicians are arrogant and look down on everybody else. They are also religious fanatics, for whatever religion they may have. Social science has probably lots of rubbish, but so does regular science, and in either case it is not the content that matters so much as the act of expressing oneself’s.

For more info on the Sokal Prank see the Wikipedia.

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