Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Criticism of "Limited Horizons"

I wish to address one of the criticisms of my article in the Transactions of the C.S. Peirce Society (Winter 2012). This criticism originates from one of the reviewers. I can send a copy of the text upon request.

1. How can I answer the question, “how does this [imagination] work” without giving an empirical answer?

I give a logical and functional answer to the question of “how?” that a purely empirical response cannot supply. Hence, the question relies on an equivocation of what do we mean by “how?” Later, I will explain why a purely empirical response cannot supply this.

 I give a grounded, rigorous, theory of how imagination functions *if* it is to conform faithfully to Dewey’s texts while extending the analysis and interpretation beyond what the historic author probably intended. My intent is to “grow” the tradition: be faithful to its tenets and texts while modifying them only to respond to historic and contemporary problems. “Growing the tradition” is in contrast to neopragmatic or “analytic-pragmatic” approaches that dominate contemporary English-speaking philosophy, which borrow a concept here or there without the original motivations, problematics, theoretical contexts, etc. (Neopragmatism is a tradition within analytic philosophy, whereas “analytic-pragmatic” denotes ad-hoc appropriations.) Rather than being limited by history and a shared vision in a line of scholarship, neopragmatic or “analytic-pragmatic” is bound only by whatever problem or concerns they have. In contrast, I must justify any departure from the tradition, and part of that justification must be a replacement of whatever underlying theory or context I am jettisoning. Analytic-based approaches, since they sever the originating context and goals, do not need to do this.

I mention the issues of tradition and analytic philosophy, because asking for an empirical answer is usually motivated by the concerns of the mainstream analytic tradition, which generally tries to subordinate philosophy to science within any realm where that is possible. Typical members of the analytic tradition disagree on where to draw the line between philosophy and empirical science. Hence, I can read the question “how?” as either a request for more empirical work or as a wholesale skepticism of the viability of my project because it lacks rigorous empirical-scientific grounding required of much contemporary analytic philosophy. I am not sure which it is.

In response to the first reading, that is why I included far more discussion of Mark Johnson in the final draft. Mark Johnson does a lot of empirical work and is well-known, and I showed how my work is continuous with him. Thus, prima facie, my claims are consistent with empirical findings.

In response to the second reading, we would have to agree to disagree. Phenomenological approaches cannot be an empirical science, though they must be informed by them. I offer my theory as an abductive and practical hypothesis that spans both what can and cannot be directly addressed by empirical evidence. In fact, as many pragmatists know, the pragmatic tradition harbored many concepts for decades before they became mainstream in contemporary social psychology, embodied cognition, the extended mind thesis, etc. Hence, traditional pragmatists face far more skepticism than analytic writers unless they couch their writing within the terms of accepted analytic theories. Hence, I won’t cite Varela, but James, Dewey, and Mead. Or, when adventurous, I’ll cite Merleau-Ponty and Kestenbaum (1970s). Hence, In response to skepticism, I would ask the skeptic how much of it is motivated by real concerns vs. differences in the tradition? If it is the latter, we need to bridge those differences before any pragmatist must respond to those concerns. Meanwhile, many pragmatists (both tradition-bound and those not, of which Mark Johnson and others are the latter), are already making those bridges and I would implore the analytic skeptic to avail her- or himself to that literature. Of course, I am speaking of these traditional categories as much more delineated and substantial than they are, but I am sure the reader is aware of that.

Finally, as promised, why cannot an empirical answer be given? The article is an extension of my dissertation which is now a heavily-edited book manuscript. I seek to unify pragmatic metaphysics and phenomenology. Since Peirce did not sever the two from the outset, I don’t face quite the same challenges that a post-Husserlian phenomenology would face, as Husserl articulated phenomenology such that unification would require reconstructing “phenomenology.”  Phenomenology cannot be an empirical science, even on a pragmatic account, but it can be delimited by science is much more direct ways than even a post-Husserlian phenomenology. Hence, my article aimed to systematize principally Deweyan pragmatism to provide the beginning of a core phenomenology, since as yet not enough work has been done to provide a complete target for empirical criticism. This line of scholarship disappeared in the 1980s after the work of Kestenbaum, Rosenthal, Bourgeouis, etc. tapered off. 

Hence, to directly respond to the question, asking for an empirical answer for a phenomenology supposes that a phenomenology can be reduced to the empirical, which is a logical contradiction since any empirical account presupposes an implicit phenomenology. Moreover, it is a practical contradiction until we have a complete science of consciousness that solves both the “big” and “small” problems of contemporary neuro- and cognitive-science.

1 comment:

  1. p.s.

    The criticism is still a valid one. I didn't say this, but it needs to be said. I don't think I can give a definitive rebuttal other than to acknowledge that I must be beholden to the results of science, or cease being some kind of naturalist.