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Young Nietzschy

Five Years Without Rorty

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I love how a (mostly) innocuous remembrance of a friend occasions such vitriol in the comments section by people who clearly have not read Rorty, nor understand what his position on truth was. If I believed in human nature, I would be tempted to say that this (mouthing off about things of which you have little or no idea) would be a universal feature.

 

Also, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature should be on everyone's reading list this summer if one has even a passing interest in whether or not one can arrive at the "truth" (a question that has enormous ramifications for how one sees the world).

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To say there is no such thing as human nature....seems a bit of a rhetorical flourish.

 

Its tantamount to saying we aren't sense-making, love-seeking, passionate, emotional, rational, irrational, compassions, self-ish, free and constrained, biological, relational, and creative beings.

By my count thats 12. And if you look to the work of Jonathan Haidt, he'd say we're moral begins too--there are 5 languages of morality. Actually communication and language and symbol making is number 14.

 

But we don't have a nature?....Especially when I just named 14 different ways we have nature. And 15 is the way we exist and draw meaning from communities. Really?

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To say there is no such thing as human nature....seems a bit of a rhetorical flourish.

 

No, I mean it. Even if we share certain biological dispositions, almost by definition these are constantly fracturing into new and different forms-- some better adapted to their environment, some not. To say there is such a thing as human nature is to adhere to some conception of Platonic truth, and it is my contention that such a thing does not exist (or rather it's Rorty's, and I happen to agree). It would presume, for one thing, a static view of humanity from the cave man to today (which seems silly on face).There are no universals, and even if there were, we would be absolutely ill-equipped to discover them (amounting to the same thing).

 

That said, in the weak sense of "There are certain norms that our society values, and these tend to show up in people who have internalized these ideals," I could go along with that definition of human nature, or the colloquial sense of "people of our culture, of our time."

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Why can't human nature be historically contingent or historically adaptive (not a static view). Thats what Darwin would say. Thats what developmental psychologists would (arguably) say.

 

Your second statement seems to be an argument based on cultural relativism--but that very statement seems to assert how human nature adapts to times. Moreover--your argument is checked back by core human values that Haidt speaks to.

 

I still think I have 15 characteristics which describe the human experience--which literature that goes back 200 (aka the American founding) and even 2000 years confirms. If I have historical evidence that we share these characteristics--that people have been talking about since Plato in the Republic, Aristotle, the Federalist Papers, the Second Treatise of Government, Thoreau, Rousseau, and Emmerson--and a number of the poets even--I don't see why its not valid. Because I allow room for the values to fluxuate in the way they relate to the human experience, the Rorty/Plato argument falls away--it assumes a strawman argument that I'm simply not running. Not my arg. yo.

 

And you can win a principle and still win. Ie. If greater than 60% have the characteristic--its part of human nature (actually my standard **could** be more like 51%)

 

 

And the burden is on the person who asserts there is "No such thing as human nature"--especially when I've literally listed the characteristics and its not been refuted. This is like me saying there are 5 waffle houses in your town...and naming them....and you totally ignoring the 5 that I named.

 

I think Rorty is assuming a particular definition of human nature which is true for all times. Something like what Kant might say. Even so, Kant can still win that people followed most of his principles for humans in his day (ie they were heavily rational, even if not absolutely rational). And I think the neuroscientists and biologists, and even anthropologists--at least on a culture specific basis would critique his argument. Depending on what you're constraints on the same would be.

 

PS. large philosophical assumption: I rely on Platonism or perfectionism or the idea of the cave. Not my argument about human nature. I actually sight a continuum of biological--which are both "good" and "bad" and don't ascribe any value statement to any of them. So I don't see why I invoke or must invoke Platonism.

 

PSS. I'll even defend the claims that he's talking about like "rationality is the very core of humanity--few characteristics come close." Whenever you assert a premise--generally the implied part of the sentence is on balance or over a particular number of years. And his argument on this level doesn't fundamentally effect the argument--if human nature for the last 20 years is X, then the policies that I would base on that premise are still going to be true because we're still in that 20 year time frame.

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Why can't human nature be historically contingent or historically adaptive (not a static view). Thats what Darwin would say. Thats what developmental psychologists would (arguably) say.

 

Then we have no real disagreement if you agree that human nature is contingent upon time and space. But that's not how the term is usually used.

 

Your second statement seems to be an argument based on cultural relativism--but that very statement seems to assert how human nature adapts to times. Moreover--your argument is checked back by core human values that Haidt speaks to.

 

Haidt's core values would also apply to any society of social apes. At the point at which we're talking about "human nature" that is (seemingly) based in biology and would not be exclusive to humans, I believe we've lost any meaningful sense of the phrase.

 

I still think I have 15 characteristics which describe the human experience--which literature that goes back 200 (aka the American founding) and even 2000 years confirms. If I have historical evidence that we share these characteristics--that people have been talking about since Plato in the Republic, Aristotle, the Federalist Papers, the Second Treatise of Government, Thoreau, Rousseau, and Emmerson--and a number of the poets even--I don't see why its not valid.

 

Your sample size is inadequate. Even assuming that art is mimetic (arguable), intellectuals are (by definition) not representative of society as a whole. Moreover, our society values certain ideas, so naturally we focus on the unbroken thread from which those ideas developed. Much more interesting is to look at the very real differences in outlook and culture and norms from even one hundred years ago, much less 2500. Try comparing our ideals and values, for example, to ancient Spartans instead of ancient Athenians and get back to me on how "human nature" has remained more or less constant. Or even better, what about the nomadic Asiatic or Germanic tribes operating at the periphery of ancient "civilization": how much do we have in common with them?

 

Because I allow room for the values to fluxuate in the way they relate to the human experience, the Rorty/Plato argument falls away--it assumes a strawman argument that I'm simply not running. Not my arg. yo.

 

And you can win a principle and still win. Ie. If greater than 60% have the characteristic--its part of human nature (actually my standard **could** be more like 51%).

 

There's no way to measure this, no God's eye vantage to gather these data. I'm not sure it would be very helpful anyone. To what purpose would you want identify a characteristic as human? To exclude those who fall upon a different place in a continuum of value? Even if a personal characteristic were legitimately open to censure, denying someone their humanity does not solve the problem (since it is a bandwagon appeal instead of an actual reason) and it is an evil unto itself (at least in the weak sense that our society values not causing others unnecessary pain).

 

And the burden is on the person who asserts there is "No such thing as human nature"--especially when I've literally listed the characteristics and its not been refuted. This is like me saying there are 5 waffle houses in your town...and naming them....and you totally ignoring the 5 that I named.

 

Uh, no. I said I don't believe in human nature (at least in the way that it's normally used, and you've already granted it's a contingent concept, so there's really little disagreement between us), and, even if there were such a thing, there's no way to verify it.

 

I can make an inductive case for there no being a human nature, but I will never be able to deductively prove this, so your burden (truth value of my statement) is an unreasonable one (since the best I can ever do is establish it is unlikely there is a human nature).

 

I think Rorty is assuming a particular definition of human nature which is true for all times. Something like what Kant might say. Even so, Kant can still win that people followed most of his principles for humans in his day (ie they were heavily rational, even if not absolutely rational). And I think the neuroscientists and biologists, and even anthropologists--at least on a culture specific basis would critique his argument. Depending on what you're constraints on the same would be.

 

PS. large philosophical assumption: I rely on Platonism or perfectionism or the idea of the cave. Not my argument about human nature. I actually sight a continuum of biological--which are both "good" and "bad" and don't ascribe any value statement to any of them. So I don't see why I invoke or must invoke Platonism.

 

Actually, P&tMoN is about flaws in a correspondence theory of truth (in general). What I'm defending is a consequence of the argument, not Rorty's central concern.

 

PSS. I'll even defend the claims that he's talking about like "rationality is the very core of humanity--few characteristics come close." Whenever you assert a premise--generally the implied part of the sentence is on balance or over a particular number of years. And his argument on this level doesn't fundamentally effect the argument--if human nature for the last 20 years is X, then the policies that I would base on that premise are still going to be true because we're still in that 20 year time frame.

 

See Rorty's works for a more general reader (Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity or Philosophy and Social Hope). You're not that far from his argument that one can recognize that your socially derived values are not absolutes and still defend them those values to the death. Perhaps you're a closet pragmatist (though I suspect you'd be more in sympathy with Peirce than Dewey).

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