[lit-ideas] Re: When do we know enough?

  • From: Robert Paul <robert.paul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 14 Dec 2005 20:43:07 -0800

I thank John for introducing this topic, about which I'll try to say something useful tomorrow. In light of the reminder that one should strive for a charitable reading of another's thoughts and words, I'll try to read charitably a sentence from John's clarifying post, a sentence which may not raise concerns of general interest, but to me needs some helpful elucidation.

John writes:

That said, I would add that what I hear in what Eric says is reliance
on a series of old binary oppositions in which
art/science=subjective/objective=emotion/reason in which I was
thoroughly schooled as an undergraduate while studying analytic
philosophy taught by logical positivists. I count it as one of the
better achievements of my years since that I have become acquainted
with all sorts of writers, from the later Wittgenstein to Richard
Feynman and Richard Rorty who convincingly demonstrate that these
dichotomies are misleading.

I believe that John and I were at Cornell around the same time.* I was there from 1959 to 1962. During those years the philosophy faculty remained the same, except for the visitors, of whom there were usually two a year. During this time, there was no one who could have been called a Logical Positivist; no one who believed that propositions only had meaning if they were 'empirically verifiable'; and no one who was interested in reviving what were by then, dead issues in the philosophy of language, epistemology, and ethics.

John did, if I remember correctly, take a course from Max Black, which may have included the study of Tarski's 'semantic conception of truth,' a subject which he and I have discussed several times here. But of course Black was no Positivist, although he could be positive in the sense of being dogmatic in the face of challenges. 'You can't agree with me,' he once said to a young faculty member at a meeting of the Philosophy Discussion Club. We all understood this to mean not that the person addressed had said something earlier which conflicted with what he was now saying, but that Black would not allow any such agreement. I digress: in short, I'd be interested to know who among the faculty of the Sage School of Philosophy appeared to John in this guise.

Robert Paul
Reed College

*Or era.
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