Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thinking Positions Through: Nominalism and more

Just a thought that is often over-looked.  If one embraces moral nominalism, which strongly tends towards embracing moral relativism, contra moral realism, then one must explain the origin of morality.  Before embracing nominalism of this sort, one should think carefully of the consequences.  Moreover, if one does not embrace moral nominalism while embracing it more generally, then one must explain the discrepancy, which will be difficult.

If you embrace moral nominalism, then if I ask why you should support the Occupy Wall Street movement, which so many academics do, what do you say?  Are you giving any reasons that are not arbitrary?  It can be done, let me assure you, but there’s a large difference between the possibility of resolving a paradox and actually having done so before one embraces a philosophical position.

What am I getting at, really?  I believe that too many thinkers embrace positions without thinking through their consequences, and at best defend themselves in an ad-hoc manner.  It can be difficult to have a critical conversation with someone who is defending themselves in this manner—even if they are earnest and especially if they are not or are unaware of the ad hoc defense.

I once saw a classic case of this mentality, wherein an author defended criticism of his view (in cyborg theory) with the retort that the criticism concerns topics of which he was not a specialist and therefore he should not be held to the implications of his view in those fields.  That was the pinnacle of ignorance and sublated arrogance.

I am not addressing this missive to anyone in particular, though I am on record for targetting classical and neoclassical pragmatist scholarship on this matter, i.e., not thinking through all the implications of a position and deferring critiques—even from fellow scholars—as misunderstandings.  To name names, I am still on the fence concerning the agon of Robert Talisse vs. the Dewey establishment on the topic of Dewey’s democratic politics, wherein Talisse re-invigorates historic critiques against Dewey’s organicist view of society.

An honest moment.  I speculate that part of the problem is contemporary academia’s fetishism of uber-specialization.  What goes along with this is either a blindness to or lack of appreciation for the fact that most things we scholars write have been written and said before and that true novelty is rare.  I understand that we must grandstand as if we were all creative geniuses, but we must not forget that this is due to reasons other than wisdom or philosophy.  Finally, the honest moment, I understand that not everyone wants to be a systematic thinker, even though I believe they should.


  1. Addendum.

    On the off-chance that someone wanders over from the conversation about nominalism at Matt's Footnotes2Plato or Adam's Knowledge Ecology, this post has little relation to the discussion of nominalism there. In fact, the inspiration was the fact that I just graded my Intro to Ethics course exam on Hume and Mill, moral nominalists. The slight connection to the other conversations is that I wonder whether ontological or epistemic nominalism leads to moral nominalism. I see no necessity here, and I'm not even certain its very probable. Rather, I'm thinking the open question. Could not one be an emotivist and be a realist otherwise?

  2. For those coming here from Matt's recent link, note that I've discussed this issue in far more technical detail in other posts, but this is a nice practical point not said elsewhere.