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Re: Richard Dawkins, Knowledge, and Faith

Re: Richard Dawkins, Knowledge, and Faith

What is the use in asking “did it happen?”  That is the pragmatic point”

As you say, Jacob, that’s the pragmatic point; my point is that there are limits to pragmatism. I’m suggesting that whether or not something exists or some event happened is not determined by human utility.

…you seem to be under the impression that I am talking about ideas, but I’m not.  Think of it this way…”

Let’s see: you’re telling me that you’re not talking about ideas, but then you tell me to think in a particular way. But now I recall your telling me that, per Rorty, ideas aren’t in minds but are activities we perform to coordinate action among one another. So I should think of it this way in order that I might coordinate myself with you? Why not think about it my way so that you can coordinate yourself with me? On some level it doesn’t matter what I think you’re talking about, or even what I think I’m talking about. Are there giraffes being eaten by lions unobserved by humans, or aren’t there?

Giant waves that we call Tsunamis still kill lots of people.”

Right: they kill humans regardless of what we agree to call them. Sometimes they kill other creatures without any human witnesses on the scene to tell the rest of us about the event. If there was no word for it, or if none of the humans on the beach had ever seen or heard of such an event, would it happen anyway? There’s an apocryphal story about how the native Americans couldn’t even see Columbus and his three boats coming toward them because they had no concept of what such a thing could be. Somehow I bet that’s not true.

everybody runs when someone says a Tsunami is coming.  That is not idealism.  That is pragmatism”

Agreed. We’d have idealism if the phrase “a Tsunami is coming” were only an agreed-upon signal to run for higher ground, without there being some event independent of language and culture to run from. I presume we’d agree that the pragmatic value of running is that the thing really is likely to kill you if you don’t run.

Such as…name some names.”

There’s Steve Fuller for one. He wrote this: “Alchemy and phrenology are indeed part of the backstory of modern science, and had they enough practitioners or believers today, they would be worth trying to incorporate in the science curriculum to illustrate the context of discovery.” Of course even without names and quotes the position is consistent with the sort of intersubjective pragmatism we’re discussing.

Logically speaking it would have been impossible for this disease that we call smallpox to exist before it was named as such.”

You don’t believe that the disease existed before it had an agreed-upon name? Or that the disease was caused by a contagious virus before Pasteur discovered the virus? I guess we disagree there, Jacob. Did the stars revolve around the earth before Copernicus said that they didn’t?

How do you get that?  I’m not sure.”

It may seem like a good idea for you and I, who agree that the Holocaust actually took place, to teach its reality. But if you have a community of people who agree among themselves that the Holocaust did not take place, what justification does the pragmatist have for teaching them that it did? Does the pragmatist try to persuade the Holocaust deniers that it’s in their best interests to say that the Holocaust happened?

Again, the question is not did it really happen, but what use is this story for our community today?”

Here again, I’d say that “did it really happen” is very much the question.


Richard Dawkins, Knowledge, and Faith By: Jacob (60 replies) 6 February, 2010 - 01:49