[lit-ideas] Re: Valid-Some Thoughts

  • From: "John McCreery" <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 4 Jan 2008 09:18:22 +0900

On Jan 4, 2008 5:53 AM, <wokshevs@xxxxxx> wrote:

> For some time now, I have wondered what exactly the allure of Rorty's
> writing
> was all about. He was a very articulate writer, no doubt, and very
> well-versed
> in the major texts of a number of philosophical fields. But it is
> specifically
> his attraction to people outside of philosophy that intrigues me -
> students of
> history, sociology and literature, for example. Is it that he is basically
> saying what many of us intuitively believe to be the case, but rendering
> it in
> prose more rhetorically elegant and philosophically informed than we are
> able
> to produce ourselves?

Consider the role of uncertainty in people's lives. I will use my own case
as an example but suggest that it illustrates larger trends.

I grew up in a pious Lutheran home where going to church was a fact of life.
The only possible reason not to was being sick in bed. In our happy corner
of the 50s, heroes were heroes and villains were villains. The United States
of America was, no doubt about it, the greatest country in the world.

My first taste of disillusionment was noticing the discrepancy between what
was preached on Sunday and how people behaved the rest of the week,
especially during a traumatic time when, contrary to such scriptures as
"Blessed are the meek," "Turn the other cheek," "Love them that hate you,"
my father was engaged in a nasty faction fight that split his church and
left my mother repeatedly in tears. Like Walter, if only in this one
respect, he was a man utterly confident that he knew the Truth and would
never back down.

I went off to college still hoping, however, that, while religion had failed
me, I might still find Truth in philosophy. Instead, I found logic,
analytical philosophy of science, and enough Aristotle and British
Empiricism to persuade me that, far from finding the Truth, what I had
learned to do was parse philosophical statements, identify their weaknesses,
and continue an endless debate with no end in sight. Meanwhile, around me
the world was changing. The Vietnam war, the Hippies, the assassinations of
the Kennedys and King, the Civil Rights movement, feminism, the Great Leap
Forward and the Cultural Revolution, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the
collapse of the USSR. More and more of my friends had directly experienced
divorce, single parenting, step-parents, step-siblings. Here and there the
certainties with which I'd been raised endured, especially in my parents
generation, in the South where most of them lived, in Bible-beaters and
race-baiting politicians. Later, doing fieldwork in Taiwan and living and
working in Japan, I found people every bit as nice (and as nasty) as my
parents could be, whose fundamental assumptions were, in fact, dramatically
different. But that, I suggest, was only confirmation of what our century
has taught so many of us in so many different ways. Beware the man who tells
you, "I know what the Truth is."

Rorty speaks to that experience and persuasively tells stories with which I
(and, it appears, many others) easily identify. To a man convinced that he
knows what Truth is, we can only appear irrational, illogical, seduced
instead of convinced. He can, as other Bible-beaters do, insist that he
knows the Truth and that we can read it right here, pointing to his sacred
texts. Why these? his audience asks. "Because they contain the Truth" he
says. But, his interlocutor replies, that's what the people who want me to
read the Bhagavad Ghita, the Lotus Sutra, the Koran, The Interpretation of
Dreams or The Little Red Book also say. Why are you right, and they're

Walter might, for example, having claimed that his transcendental
demonstrations are convincing, offer a demonstration. I am very interested,
indeed, to see how he gets from "Some such assumption is necessary" to "This
assumption is always and everywhere true." But appeals to authority won't
do. Let's see the logic.


John McCreery
The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
Tel. +81-45-314-9324

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