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THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY
VOLUME XC, NO. 9, SEPTEMBER

1993

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PUTNAM AND THE RELATIVIST MENACE is "often asked just where I disagree with Rorty" (RHF 20). I am often asked the converse question. We are asked these questions because we agree on a lot of points that a lot of other philosophers do not accept.
I

IN

his Realismwith a Human Face, HilaryPutnam' says that he

Here are five points on which I whole-heartedly concur with Putnam:
(i) ... elements of what we call 'language' or 'mind' penetrate so deeply into what we call "reality" that the very project of representing ourselves as being 'mapper's of something 'language-independent' is fatally compromised from the start. Like Relativism, but in a different way, Realism is an impossible attempt to view the world from Nowhere (RHF 28). (ii) [We should] accept the position we are fated to occupy in any case, the position of beings who cannot have a view of the world that does not reflect our interests and values, but who are, for all that, committed to regarding some views of the world-and, for that matter, some interests and values-as better than others (RHF 178). What Quine called 'the indeterminacy of translation' should (III) rather be viewed as the 'interest relativity of translation' ..... '[I]nterest relativity' contrasts with absoluteness, not with objectivity. It can be objective that an interpretation or an explanation is the correct one, given the interests which are relevant in the context (RHF 210). (iv) The heart of pragmatism, it seems to me-of James' and Dewey's pragmatism, if not of Peirce's-was the insistence on the supremacy of the agent point of view. If we find that we must take a certain point of view, use a certain 'conceptual system', when we are engaged in practical activity, in the widest sense of 'practical activity',

1 Cambridge: Harvard, 1990. Hereafter referred to as RHF.

0022-362X/93/9009/443-61

? 1993 The Journal of Philosophy, Inc.

443

and 'reason'. some questions about truth are asked in philosophy which are not asked in the market place. By this I mean that. Some questions about the sun's motion are asked in astrophysics which are not asked when admiring dawns or sunsets. a reflection some of whose ambititious projects failed. 'fact'. but a basis. I have long been puzzled about what keeps us apart-and in particular about why Putnam thinks of me as a "cultural relativist."3 I am grateful to Putnam for taking up this question explicitly in the pages of Realism with a Human Face (pages 18-26). indeed. Putnam. as for the French thinkers whom he admires. I do not think that I have ever written anything that suggests that I wish to alter ordinary ways of using 'know'. Rorty hopes to be a doctor to the modern soul (RHF 19-20). but that is because the notion of absoluteness is incoherent (RHF 171. the case that ethical knowledge cannot claim absoluteness. a sort of pedestal. 83. He begins as follows: For Rorty. 'objective'." in Realism and Reason (New York: Cambridge. Like Bishop Berkeley. (1) The failure of our philosophical 'foundations' is a failure of the whole culture. two ideas seem gripping.444 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY then we must not simultaneously advance the claim that it is not really 'the way things are in themselves'. see RHF 120).. 'objective'.4 I have written at tedious length against the idea that philosophy has been a pedestal The Many Faces of Realism (La Salle. The distinction between the vulgar and the philosophical way of speaking is not an appearance-reality distinction. Since we agree on all this. see his "Why Reason Can't Be Naturalized. 1983). Contexts are individuated by the questions regarded as relevant in regard to statements made using the word. but a distinction between contexts in which a word is used.. William James. For Putnam's use of this term. It is. p. 'fact'. 1987). on which the culture rested. the failure of foundationalism makes a difference to how we are allowed to talk in ordinary life-a difference as to whether and when we are allowed to use words like 'know'. If I am right. ' This suggestion does not conflict with (iv) above. The picture is that philosophy was not a reflection on the culture. and 'reason'. and which has been abruptly yanked out. roman numerals added). and most other paradox-mongering philosophers (except maybe Alfred Korzybski. IL: Open Court. and accepting that we were wrong in wanting or thinking that we could have a foundation requires us to be philosophical revisionists.2 (v) To say. as [Bernard] Williams sometimes does. Under the pretense that philosophy is no longer 'serious' there lies hidden a gigantic seriousness. for Rorty or Foucault or Derrida. . 229-47. that convergence to one big picture is required by the very concept of knowledge is sheer dogmatism. 3 2 . pp. I have urged that we continue to speak with the vulgar while offering a different philosophical gloss on this speech than that offered by the realist tradition.

of "pseudo-problems. values. The second idea which Putnam says I find gripping. I think that Putnam is too kind to the problematic and vocabulary of modern philosophy when he follows Stanley Cavell in saying that "the illusions that philosophy spins are illusions that belong to the nature of human life itself" (RHF 20). 104-6.as for example. I have complained over and over again about Martin Heidegger's and Jacques Derrida's overestimation of the cultural importance of philosophy. 5 See. and there should not be. he rejectsthe "realism/antirealism" controversy. Here I think Putnam has a good point. helpful. For changes of opinion among philosophical professors sometimes do. . 1991). 21-6.his rejection is expressedin a Carnapiantone of voice-he scornsthe controversy(RHF 20). the question should always be "What use is it?" rather than "Is it real?" or "Is it confused?" Criticism of other philosophers' distinctions and problematics should charge relative inutility.or the "emotive/ cognitive"controversy." but rather of problematics and vocabularies that might have proven to be of value. but rather of distinctions whose employment has proved to lead nowhere.5 So on this first point I think Putnam is just wrong about what I say. or interests-might have considerable cultural importance.THE RELATIVIST MENACE 445 on which our culture rested. 1980. I should not speak. and of "Deconstruction and Circumvention. after a time. as I sometimes have. Both are reprinted in my Essays on Heidegger and Others (New York: Cambridge. rather than "meaninglessness" or "illusion" or "incoherence. I should not have spoken of "unreal" or "confused" philosophical distinctions. Both of us think that getting rid of the idea of "the view from Nowhere"-the idea of a sort of knowing that has nothing to do with agency. pp. It would probably not change our day-to-day ways of speaking." in Critical Inquiry (1984). but in fact did not." is evinced by the fact that: (2) when he [Rorty]rejects a philosophicalcontroversy. but it might well. proved to be more trouble than they were worth. make some practical differences. the closing pages of "Philosophy as Science." On the other hand. There is a tone of Carnapian scorn in some of my writings (particularly in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature6). For pragmatists like Putnam and me. or any less. as Metaphor and as Politics. in the long run." a lecture given in 1985. especially. make a difference to the hopes and fears of nonphilosophers. 6 Princeton: University Press. I doubt that my writings evince any more. desire to be a doctor to the modern soul than do Putnam's own. In particular. This notion appears prominently in James Conant's long. one which reveals what he calls my "analytic past.

When Conant speaks of the "inevitability" of participation and victimization. The nature of human life? For all the ages to come? Talk about the nature of human life does not fit in well with the pragmatism sketched in (i)-(v) above. and probably impossible. so does our notion of what constitutes a live philosophical option." or is as ephemeral as the distinction between the superlunary quintessence and the four sublunary elements has proved to be (or as I hope the distinction between the divine and the human." despite my explicit rejection of this label ." a notion invoked by both Cavell and Derrida. Cavell. by I do not see how Putnam. or that between realism and antirealism. he is drawing on an analogy between philosophical therapy and psychoanalysis-an analogy which turns on the notion of "the return of the repressed. the distinction between "our experience" and "the external world" is among "the illusions that belong to the nature of human life itself.446 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY introduction to Realism with a Human Face. or some other leitmotif of the philosophical tradition. The idea is that it is terribly difficult." As those norms and standards evolve. for example. This analogy with psychoanalysis strikes me as a symptom of professional deformation-of the same urge to exalt the importance of the topics listed in the "Philosophy 101" syllabus as is evinced by the suggestion that philosophy has been the pedestal on which culture rests. as well as our sense of the difference between such options and futile. or Conant could tell whether. or skepticism (Cavell). may prove to be). Conant says. "scholastic. for example: unless one carefully examines the characterof a given philosophical position's seductivenessto those who are attractedto it.7 Cavell and Derrida of course might be right: maybe these 7 There is a difference between hoping for the end of "Philosophy 101" and hoping for the end of philosophy... as well as the characterof the disappointmentit provokes in those who reject itwhat allows for it to appear initiallyso innocent and yet the implications of its failure so precipitous-one's gesture of rejecting the picture will inevitablyrepresent a further form of participationin it and victimization it (RHF lv). These themes are supposed to be as hard to stop harping on as are beliefs about one's parents acquired in early childhood." quibbles. to avoid "complicity" with phallogocentrism (Derrida). evolve in time. nor with Putnam's view (cited below) that "our norms and standards of warranted assertibility . RHF 19) as recommending "the end of philosophy. I am still thought of (as by Putnam.

and my attempts in subsequent writings to scrape it off. in his gloss on Putnam's remarks about my Carnapian scorn. By 'Darwinism' I mean a story about humans as animals with special organs and abilities: about how certain fea- on the last page of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. The thing I like best about contemporary "Continental" philosophy is that our colleagues beyond the Channel seem to be glimpsing such a culture. to forget them actively by getting involved with new themes.. and being victimized by. see the remarks at pp. I am impatient to see what culture would look like when these issues come to seem as obsolete as do controversies about the nature of the elements of the Eucharist. Relativism and Truth (New York: Cambridge. For some examples of this impatience. This suggestion has to do with the fervent physicalism which he and I once shared. Robert Wallace. Hegel. But we shall never find out whether this is the case unless we do our level best to give them the slip. But before leaving those ideas. Plato. (Cambridge: MIT. sooner or later. e. I still retain a trace. or instead have succeeded in making it new. Perhaps it may clarify matters if I say that I hope that we never stop reading. II So much for my doubts that Putnam. maybe they are ineradicable kinks. maybe they will always hunt us down the arches of the years. Aristotle. ." 8 Conant. and Heidegger. trans. a preoccupation I see as a symptom of cultural lag and parochial education. as he rightly says. see Hans Blumenberg's criticisms of Karl Lowith's claim that the problems of contemporary secular culture are simply the return of repressed theological problems. and of which. but also hope that we may.8 Questions of whether we are unconsciously participating in. let me offer a preliminary suggestion about what this underlying difference is. and by talking in ways that make it hard for those old themes to come up. gets at the underlying difference between us. when faced with the traditional problems of philosophy. 1991) about British and American philosophers' continued preoccupation with issues about realism and antirealism. is one of impatience-a desire to get on to something more fruitful" (RHF li) and that "Rorty's recommendation appears to be that one should leave the fly in the fly-bottle and get on with something more interesting. the old. says that my "overwhelming emotion.g. I have no apology to make for my impatience. What I retain is the conviction that Darwinism provides a useful vocabulary in which to formulate the pragmatist position summarized in (i)-(v) above." Conant here gets me exactly right. 2 and 12 of my Objectivity. ' For an example of the sort of debate between intellectual historians I have in mind. should I think be referred to future intellectual historians. stop trying to sucker the freshmen into taking an interest in "the problem of the external world" and "the problem of other minds. The Legitimacy of the Modern Age. Kant. Dewey.THE RELATIVIST MENACE 447 philosophical themes will always creep back in disguise. in his description of these two ideas.9 There is not much point in trying to answer these questions now. Despite my regret for my tone of Carnapian scorn. 1983).

hand. 1989). Relativism and Truth. Dorothy Ross. have a lot to do with who we are and what we want. these organs and abilities. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP. I discuss this difference between them in my introduction to Joseph Murphy. Rather. by batting increasingly complex noises back and forth."'1 Putnam." This view of Davidson is developed in my "Non-Reductive Physicalism. . He has done this by showing how we can eliminate the middle man ("experience") that was supposed to intervene between language and the world. I follow Davidson in thinking that "It is good to be rid of representations. 1993). in the spirit of Deweyan experimentalism. explicitly repudiates representationalism. and with them the correspondence theory of truth. I discuss the relation between Darwin and Dewey at some length in my "Dewey Between Hegel and Darwin. I think Dewey was right in suggesting that we should try to get along without the rem10 Davidson. and brain enabled humans to start developing increasingly complex social practices. but they are hard to reconcile with Darwin's account of our origins. ed. and I see Putnam and Donald Davidson as continuing this Deweyan initiative. that it behooves us to give the self-image Darwin suggested to us a try." in Relativism: Interpretation and Confrontation. as scientistic and reductionist. Plato and Kant have served us well." in Modernism and the Human Sciences.448 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY tures of the human throat. for it is thinking that there are representations which engenders thoughts of relativism. pp. But these latter epithets would only apply to someone who argued. The antinaturalist self-images that were suggested to us by. 11Davidson. I suggest there that Dewey's unhappy attempt to construct a "metaphysics of experience" held him back from following out the implications of his pragmatism and of his Darwinism. but that Davidson has now enabled us to drop James's and Dewey's claim to have "deinaccuratescribed experience as it really is" (as opposed to the-supposedly way in which John Locke and David Hume described it). Pragmatism: From Peirce to Davidson (Boulder: Westview. however. does not feel comfortable with this picture of humans-as-slightly-more-complicated-animals. and also by showing how to drop the notion of language as a medium that intervenes between "subject" and "object. in the hope of having fewer philosophical problems on our hands. and the practices they made possible. I see Dewey as having used this story to start freeing us from representationalist notions. ed." included in Objectivity. I am suggesting. unlike Putnam. "The Myth of the Subjective. "Because Darwin tells us how things really and truly are. 165-6. Michael Krausz. it behooves us to adjust our selfimage to suit. but they no more put us in a representational relation to an intrinsic nature of things than do the anteater's snout or the bower-bird's skill at weaving.10 I regard Putnam's continuing insistence on using the term 'representation' as a mistake. (Notre Dame: University Press. It strikes him. as does physicalism. 1990). among others. According to this story." I do not wish to argue in this way.

' just mean that we can observe the behavior of S's peers and determine whether. to be ascertained by observing the reception of S's statement by her peers. ? If so. but Putnam says that I am "certain to disagree" with (1). (4) Our norms and standardsalwaysreflect our interestsand values. terms (the same way in which we think of the anteater's and the bower-bird's relation to the rest of the universe). scheme-content.. III After listing the two leading ideas I have already discussed. I think that my differences with Putnam come down. to whether the statementspeople make are warrantedor not. to his unhappiness with such a purely causal picture. or Putnam would not be so . and I am equally unsure about (2). Putnam suggests that he and I have different concepts of warrant. and that it would help if I indicated "which of the following principles . (5) Our norms and standardsof anything-including warrantedassertibility-are capable of reform. in the end. I certainly agree that it is usually as "objective" (in the sense of 'objective' which-in (iii) abovePutnam distinguishes from 'absolute') whether or not S is warranted in asserting p as whether or not she is over five feet tall. This is because I view warrant as a sociological matter.THE RELATIVIST MENACE 449 nants of those earlier self-images. he [Rorty] can accept. But it must mean something more than that. are (3) Our norms or standardsof warrantedassertibility historical products. I have no trouble with (3)-(5). We should see what happens if (in Jean-Paul Sartre's words) "tweattempt to draw the full conclusions from a consistently atheist position. I am not sure whether I do or not. . and reality-appearance distinctions. (2) Whether a statement is warranted or not is independent of whether the majorityof one's culturalpeers would say it is warranted or unwarranted. and to think of our relation to the rest of the universe in purely causal.they evolve in time. There are better and worse norms and standards(RHF 21)." His list of principles goes like this: there is usuallya fact of the matteras (1) In ordinarycircumstances. The first step in conducting this experiment should be to set aside the shards of the subject-object. . But the term 'matter of fact' gives me pause. . as opposed to representationalist. Does 'There is a matter of fact about . As to (1). Our picture of intellectualflourishingis part of. . . I shall return to this point at the end of this article." a position in which such phrases as 'the nature of human life' no longer distract us from the absence of a God's-eye view.. our picture of human flourishingin general. I can happily embrace (1). and only makessense as part of.

" Putnam's discussion of his five principles (RHF 22) is a bit confusing because he switches targets. explicitly ethnocentric.12 I do not see how one could reconcile the claim that there is this nonsociological sort of justification with (i)-(v). for Putnam. given (i)-(v) above. to assert p. P might of course be true. There being a fact of the matter about warranted assertibility must. pp. just as much as Realism. his relativist-bashing remark: "Relativism. assertions which only begin to get warranted as (in Putnam's words) "our norms and standards of warranted assertibility . . . They think this even after patiently sitting through S's defense of p. He and I presumably agree that lots of (praiseworthy and blameworthy) social movements and intellectual revolutions get started by people making unwarranted assertions. Is that possible? Is (2) true? Well. maybe a majority can be wrong. can it be? Presumably it is whatever makes it possible for a statement not to be warranted even though a majority of one's peers say it is. But warranted? I cannot see how Putnam could support (2) except by running 'warranted' together with 'true' running together a claim supported by examining the behavior of S's peers and a claim to which this behavior is irrelevant. Relativism and Truth. But I do not see how this remark is relevant to my own. substituting "the Relativist" for me. I entirely agree with. assumes that one can stand within one's language and outside it at the same time" (RHF 23). thinks S must be a bit crazy. given the interests and values of herself and her peers. evolve. position. see my 1984 paper "Solidarity or Objectivity?" reprinted in Objectivity. . For S may be the unhonored prophet of some social movement or intellectual revolution whose time has not yet come.13 12 On the skepticism-inducing role of the belief that there is such a natural pattern of justification or warranting which is that of no order of reasons-a the sustained particular human community but is somehow nature's own-see polemic against the very idea of "context-independent relations of epistemological priority" in Michael Williams. some natural order of reasons which determines. and after sustained attempts to talk her out of it. whether she is really justified in holding p. 13 For the difference between relativism and ethnocentrism. 1991). Unnatural Doubts: Epistemological Realism and the Basis of Scepticism (Cambridge: Blackwell. But what more. But suppose everybody in the community. except for one or two dubious characters notorious for making assertions even stranger than p. quite apart from S's ability to justify p to those around her. and fervently applaud.450 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY sure that I would disagree with it. Might S still be warranted in asserting p? Only if there were some way of determining warrant sub specie aeternitatis. be something more than our ability to figure out whether S was in a good position.

My reply was based on taking seriously Putnam's famous rhetorical question. appeal to such a "fact of the matter. Nor can I see what 'us' can mean here except: us educated. zeroes in on my claim that reforms in our standards of warranted assertibility are not "better by reference to a previously known standard. rather than a clarification. 13 at p. as far as I can see. but only to those beliefs overlap ours to some appropriate extent. of the notion of 'reforming' the ways we are doing and thinking invoked in my fifth principle" (RHF 23). this ideal community can be anything more than us as we should like to be. later on the same page. xxxvii)." This paper was. indeed. given that no such community is going to have a God's eye view. But neither. tolerant. when Putnam. but just better in the sense that they come to seem clearly better than their predecessors" (p. inhabited by people for whom the Nazis' racism seems common sense and our egalitarian tolerance crazy. and thus faces extinction. Truth and History. The problem for Putnam is that he must both maintain his anticonvergence thesis ((v) above) and make sense of the notion of "truth as idealized rational acceptability. but adds that I seem." London Review of . wet liberals.THE RELATIVIST MENACE 451 Things get clearer.15 the people who are always willing to 21-34. "ever so slightly decadent". "14 He says this passage amounts "to a rejection. however. See especially fn. "Liberation Philosophy. and does so again in Realism with a Human Face (page 41). "the Relativist" for years." any more than a species of animal that is in danger of losing its ecological niche to another species. 1982): "[the pragmatist] does think that in the process of playing vocabularies and cultures off against each other. but just better in the sense that they come to seem clearly better than their predecessors. and the world in which we won and the Nazis' racism seems crazy. can find a "fact of the matter" to settle the question of which species has the right to the niche in question. can Putnam. "We should use somebody else's conceptual scheme?" 14 This quote is from the following passage in my Consequences of Pragmatism (Minneapolis: Minnesota UP. ethics. a reply to Putnam's criticism of my "relativism" in his Reason. 15 Putnam grants that I am as wet a liberal as they come. at times. in part. but this much truth in ethnocentrism: we cannot justify our beliefs (in physics. 30: "there is no truth in relativism. or any other area) to everybody. I cannot. we produce new and better ways of talking and acting-not better by reference to a previously known standard. But I cannot see what 'idealized rational acceptability' can mean except "acceptability to an ideal community. Putnam sees me as relativistic because I can appeal to no "fact of the matter" to ajudicate between the possible world in which the Nazis won." He has invoked the latter notion as a defense against my evil twin." Nor can I see how. sophisticated.

there is little to choose between us. when they are at their rare best". The former alternative seems to leave him with no option but to fall back on Peirce and the notion of "the community of inquirers at the ideal end of inquiry"-the speakers of Peircish. then he must either propose another one or give some sense to 'idealized rational acceptability' which is not acceptability to an ideal community. p. 8/5 (March 1986). Objectivity. 'rational acceptable'.. will always invite the question 'to whom?' This question will always lead us back. and my "Habermas. "Coherence. I cannot see any promise in the latter alternative. It comes out yet again when I argue that Jurgen Habermas's term 'ideal communication situation' is just an abbreviation for "the way of deciding public issues characteristic of free twentieth-century constitutional democracies.452 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY hear the other side." something which will guide us toward CSP along convergent lines-'idealized' adds nothing to 'rational acceptability'. 7 For details about the problems encountered by such a Peirce-like move (a move Putnam and I both made in our salad days). at our best'. Our common commitment to (i)-(iv) makes it impossible for either of us to find an Archimedean fulcrum. at our best. thereby denaturalizing Putnam's definition at the cost of making it circular. I am here concerned to show that."6 If this is not the ideal community Putnam has in mind. it seems to me.'7 For once we strip 'idealized' of reference to some process built into any and every inquiry-something like Peirce's own "growth of Thirdness." and of the ineluctability of self-referential indexicals. etc. The same point comes out in my discussion of Davidson's explication of 'true' in terms of "language I know. Justification and Truth. Our commitment to (v) makes it impossible to substitute a Peirceanfocus imaginarius for such a fulcrum. Relativism and Truth. Derrida and the Functions of Philosophy. Irony and Solidarity (New York: Cambridge. the people whose norms and standards of warranted assertibility embody what Wilfrid Sellars called "CSP" (short for "Conceptual System Peirce"). The only way in which this argument would not apply would be if 'such as to hit the truth' were built into 'idealized'." forthcoming in Revue Internationale de Philosophie. 84. Identifying 'idealized rational acceptability' with 'acceptability to us at our best' is just what I had in mind when I said that pragmatists should be ethnocentrists rather than relativists. p. . 157-9. who both Putnam and I hope. see Michael Williams. see my Contingency. 5. I agree with Davidson that Putnam should apply his own "naturalistic fallacy argument" to his own definition of truth as idealized rational acceptability. So all 'a fact of the matter about whether p is a warranted Books. pp. to be. 6 above. as far as decadence goes. to the answer 'Us." Review of Metaphysics. 16 See the passage cited in fn. xxxiv (1980): 243-72. If there is no such guidance system built into human beings qua human then the terms 'warranted'. But his refusal to grant to Williams that the notion of knowledge entails that of convergence to a single result forbids Putnam to make this Peirce-like move. in short.-the sort of people. etc. to think out all the implications. 1989).

on my view." in Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre. (New York: New American Library. If so Fascismwill then be the truth of man. nor the rest of the 'us' described above. so do our norms and standards of rational assertibility. Sartre'8 said: Tomorrow. become invisible." So much the worse for truth too? What does that question mean? I take the force of the antiabsolutism embodied in (i)-(v) to be that it does not mean anything that we cannot find a purpose for this additional lament. ed. but because it is not an entity at all. What he should have said is that the truth (about certain very important matters) might be forgotten. I have quoted this passage in the past. But Putnam does not. and so much the worse for us (ibid. Walter Kaufmann. I quite agree. 358). some men maydecide to establishFascism. 1988). to render judgment on us and the Nazis. But 'us' here does not mean "us humans-Nazis or not." Neither would Putnam.THE RELATIVIST MENACE 453 assertion' can mean is "a fact of the matter about our ability to feel solidarity with a community that views p as warranted. When we go. 259) that the absence of a third thing. and the others may be so cowardlyor slack as to let them do so. get lost-and so much the worse for us. 'Us' here does not mean "us humans" (for Nazis are humans too). 260. in this context. his argument is based on the presupposition that no third thing means no truth. Stout thinks (see p. VI Applying what I have been saying to the phrase Putnam finds objectionable. Ethics after Babel (Boston: Beacon. Sartre should not have said that Fascism will be "the truth of man." As a good ethnocentrist. does not imply "that there is no moral truth of the matter.after my death. leadingJeffrey Stout to remark that he usually takes it "as a sign of backsliding or an invitation to misreading when favorable references to Sartre and existentialism appear in Rorty's work". the heart of the matter. though the letter is a bit off. p. . The word 'truth'. a neutral tribunal. Part of the force of the Darwinian picture I am suggesting is that the spirit of Sartre's famous remark about a Nazi victory was right. p. "Rorty himself would not feel 'solidarity' with the culture that results." 18 "Existentialism is a Humanism." Putnam says that in the possible world in which the Nazis win. is just the reification of an approbative and indefinable adjective. The presence or absence of such a sense of solidarity is. Does truth go too? Truth neither comes nor goes. I want to gloss 'come to seem clearly better than their predecessors' as 'come to seem to us clearly better than their predecessors'. It means something like "us tolerant wet liberals. 1975).." There is no such thing. That is not because it is an entity that enjoys an atemporal existence.

it is internal to our picture of warrantthat warrantis logically independent of the majorityof our cultural peers . 20 Does this mean that we have to hold open the possibility that we might come to be Nazis by a process of rational persuasion? Yes. 'were brainwashed into'. ." Is this circular? That is: Does 'recognize them as better versions of ourselves' require recognizing them as people who still agree with us on the central issue in question (e. This is no more dangerous than holding open the possibility that we might revert to an AristotelianPtolemaic cosmology by a process of rational persuasion. as non-Quineans use these notions. for example. even at my worst." . count as rational persuasion. When we picture a better version of ourselves we build into this picture the evolution of this better version out of our present selves through a process in which actualizations of these values played an appropriate part. . racism)? No. liberal education. concept of "better" to replace our present concept. a free press. by our present notions of the difference between rational persuasion and force. rather: recognize them as people who have come to hold different beliefs from ours by a process that we. Putting aside Quinean doubts (of the sort Putnam and I share) about notions like "internal" and "logically independent" for the moment. spoken of either warrant or truth being determined by majority vote. novel.. but to close off either of them is-as the American Civil Liberties Union keeps reminding us-part of what we mean by "intolerance." Putnam suggests that I am proposing a different. ." Rather. . we should not call the result "a version of ourselves. Again. this last sentence would have been paradoxical if 'the majority of' had been omitted.19 Among the interests and values that we have recently evolved into having are an interest in avoiding brainwashing and a positive valuation of literacy. free universities.454 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY any more than it means "whatever otherworlders take over Earth from the humans" or "whatever nonhuman dominant species evolution next throws up to rule the Earth. I claim that. (RHF 24)." but something like "an unfortunate replacement for ourselves.20 If we did not build this process into the picture. or the nonhuman Galactics. they 19 The importance of 'our present standards of what constitutes rational persuasion' is that we need to cover the possibility that the Nazis.. It is our ways that count in deciding whether to apply the term 'came to seem better' rather than. it means "language users whom we can recognize as better versions of ourselves. It means. have different ways of distinguishing persuasion and force than ours. and genial tolerance of Socratic gadflies and Feyerabendian tricksters.g. Neither possibility is very plausible. He says that this concept of 'coping better' is not the concept of there being better and worse norms or standards at all. I do not recall that I have ever.

fuller. and that I cannot either. I shall also set aside the problem of how Putnam. will do as statements of necessary and sufficient conditions for a view. But once we give up the quest for such conditions-once we recognize that normative terms like 'true' and 'better' are not susceptible to analysis-there is still plenty of room for debate about which explications raise more problems than they solve." explicate 'bad' in terms of metaphysical pictures? There are all sorts of occasions on which we say that our concept of X needs to be changed. for example. but the old feature of our old concept which you prize is a bad feature (RHF). policy. for the sake of a richer. I want to recommend explaining 'better' (in the context 'better standards of warranted assertability') as 'will come to seem better to us' not as a piece of "meaninganalysis." Consider. I do want to substitute new concepts for old. Putnam considers the possibility that my metaphilosophical stance might be: sure my concept is new and different. in initially counterintuitive ways. I see my explication of 'better' (as applied to standards of warranted assertibility) in terms of 'us at our best' (where 'us' and 'best' are spelled out along the lines suggested above) as raising fewer problems than Putnam's in terms of 'idealized rational acceptability'. the concepts we use in alloting social roles. 'closer to the way the world really is' or 'closer to the way God sees it' or 'closer to the facts of the matter' or 'closer to idealized rational acceptability'. His reaction to 'But it is a bad feature' is to ask "But what can 'bad' possibly mean here but 'based on a wrong metaphysical picture'? And how can a Relativist speak of right or wrong metaphysical pictures?" (RHF 22)." can be so confident about the self-identity of concepts. But I shall waive this point. the feminists' suggestion that we change. happier. depending on context. any more than they would say that weight is logically independent of pressure exerted on surrounding objects. who thirty years ago popularized the notion of "cluster concepts. and old intuitions thrown overboard. nor my preferred alternative.THE RELATIVIST MENACE 455 would not say that warrant is like truth in being logically independent of the opinion of our peers. I quite agree that the relativist cannot. or practice being better. not for metaphysical reasons. but for reasons that are called. neither these latter explications." but as an answer to 'what do you mean by 'better'? which is more in accord with (i)-(v) than. But why should either I. in some suitably broad sense. nonsexist society. "But what you are saying . "ethical" or "practical" or "political. Or consider any other social movement that meets the objection. for example. theory. Let me just grant that. or this patsy called "the Relativist. For the usual "naturalistic fallacy" reasons.

pp. instead. but (more or less) invents it. be superseded by the still greater convenience of the idea that there is not." The metaphilosophical question about pragmatism is whether there is something other than convenience to use as a criterion in science and philosophy. in a culture convinced of (i)-(v). Michael Brint and William Weaver. eds. (Boulder: Westview."21 This analogy to social movements that suggest shoving old concepts aside is my reply to an anti-Rorty argument attributed to Putnam by Bernard Williams: [Rorty'sviews] simply tear themselves apart. as Rorty admits. to the question Williams raises about convenience. 1991). The perspective from which I can say that the latter idea might be still more convenient is the familiar one of the tinkerer or the pragmatic social reformer: the person who says "Let's see what happens if we try it this way. . Right Answers and True Banality. But that conflation is a separate issue. of course." For Dworkin's additional reasons for thinking my view "philosophically a dog's dinner. If as Rorty is fond of putting it. there is simply no perspective from which Rorty can say." see his "Pragmatism. 22 Review of Realism with a Human Face in London Review of Books. the correct descriptionof the world (for us) is a matter of what we find it convenient to say. It seems to me that all that his point requires me to do is to distinguish between what has so far been found convenient to say and what might prove still more convenient to say. 359-88. the latter claim is not entailed by anything in (i)-(v) above.456 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY conflicts with our customary ways of thinking!" with "So what? Let's try some new ways of thinking! We might like them! Our interests and values-both old familiar interests and values and some new ones that we may not yet be quite conscious of having-may turn out to be better served by these new ways. Putnam and I are both enthusiastic proponents of this doctrine. This passage from Williams is said by Ronald Dworkin to summarize "Hilary Putnam's devastating critique [of Rorty]. Williams and (at least in the passage I am discussing) Putnam both seem to assume that the only lever that could pry us out of present convenience is something that 21 My reference to interests and values of which we are not yet conscious is an invocation of Dewey's doctrine of "the means-end continuum" -the idea that you change what you want as you find out what happens when you try getting what you thought you wanted. 11 November 1989. runs the Goodman-Putnam claim that there is no "way the world is" together with the straw-man claim that there were no dinosaurs or atoms before we "invented" them. and if." in Pragmatism in Law and Politics. that science does not reallydiscovera world that is alreadythere. The convenience of the idea that there is a "way the world is" would. I want to speak. as he also does.22 Williams here. we find it convenient to say that science discoversa world that is alreadythere.

specifically. 7-12. means of commending.doing the sort of thing we philosophy professors do-is the only.THE RELATIVIST MENACE 457 has nothing to do with convenience-something like a "metaphysical picture. for the same reasons I should." "better. This seems to me just the strategy one would want to adopt if one is a pragmatist in a sense contextually defined by (i)-(v) above. from claims to knowledge and appeals to self-evidence to suggestions about what we should try. ." This is exactly the possibility I have in mind. Surely. But Putnam does not take this "political" stance seriously. It is just one more nudge in the right direction-the sort of modest little contribution to social progress to which a somewhat peripheral academic discipline may aspire. It is also. be accused of thinking that fiddling around with concepts like "fact of the matter. or helping to bring about. would it not be better to argue for these directly. my strategy for escaping the self-referential difficulties into which "the Relativist" keeps getting himself is to move everything over from epistemology and metaphysics to cultural politics. he turns intuitionist." But what pries us out of present convenience is just the hope of greater convenience in the future. only someone who thought of philosophy as the pedestal on which culture rests would ask for more? Putnam concludes. Putnam acknowledges the possibility that we might "behave better if we became Rortians-we may be more tolerant." "rational acceptability. pp." etc. he seems quite happy with such appeals when he confutes "the Relativist. if I read Dewey correctly." In one passage (RHF 24-25). He asks: "If our aim is tolerance and the open society. on what seems to me very little evidence. tolerance and the open society. irresolvable. RHF 38-4023). But Putnam does not adopt it." Objectivity. Even though he rejects. of the views summarized in (i)-(v). Relativism and Truth. In short. that it is "more likely" that 23 See also my own remarks on Lewis's notion of "elite objects. or even a principal. appeals to intuition as a way of reinvigorating metaphysics (see his criticisms of Saul Kripke and David Lewis. Dewey's pragmatic justification of pragmatism-and. any more than Dewey. rather than to hope that these will come as the by-product of a change in our metaphysical picture?" But surely I cannot. and I honestly do not see why he does not. less prone to fall for various varieties of religious intolerance and political totalitarianism. disagreements on dead-end issues. 'Convenience' in this context means something like: ability to avoid fruitless. it seems to me. At the last moment.

or enable us to hold more true beliefs. . but more important issues.Rorty reallythinksthat metaphysical is wrong. to be in much the same line of business. Why is the former an attempt to give a God's-eye view and the latter not? Is Putnam painting a "metaphysical picture" when he puts forward (i)-(v)? I should have thought that he was doing what he calls "criticizing accepted cultural norms and standards" by suggesting some alternative cultural norms and standards: suggesting. I should have thought I was doing much the same thing." In this essay. but which distracts from larger. than their predecessors.g. is somethinghe cannot admithe really thinks. emotively" (RHF 24). in short. about 'better'. as opposed to merely coping with it cleverly. under all that wrapping(RHF 25). Putnam dismisses this idea for same reasons ((I)-(V) .but this. a picture of human beings as just complicated animals. So I shall conclude by returning to my earlier suggestion that what lurks in the background of Putnam's criticisms of me is his dislike of. of course.. I think. v So far I have been picking apart Putnam's ipsissima verba-a strategy which has its uses. I am engaging in "hermeneutic discourse (which is to say. and my enthusiasm for.. both to me and to philosophers who find both our views absurd. when I argue that my own views "are more helpful philosophically" than the views I criticize. I can only ask what the difference between his metaphilosophical stance and mine is supposed to be. says that when I recommend a new cultural practice. in rhetoric). e. that we clean out the last remnants of metaphysical realism from our conversational and pedagogical practices.g." What he has in mind is the idea that we are constructed by evolution so as to be capable of tracking truth-that nature has cleverly contrived an organism that represents it accurately. For. I cannot figure out what the difference in metaphilosophical status between what I say (e. . Putnam takes as one example of "a naturalistic account of reason" the "appeal to Darwinian evolution. We seem.458 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY realism most of the time anyway. But Putnam sees us as doing something quite different. and I do not know why." Again. and claim that these new practices are more rational. however. I can develop this suggestion by looking back to Putnam's 1983 essay "Why Reason Can't be Naturalized. I am using "these semantic and epistemic adjectives .We will be better off if we listen to him in the sense of having fewer false beliefs. he says. Putnam. that the attempt to say that from a God's-Eye View there is no God's-Eye View is still there. in the passage Putnam finds so wildly counterintuitive) and Putnam's own (i)-(v) is supposed by Putnam to be. less precise.

vol. 208. I think that the rightness or wrongness of what we say. 3 (1903-1906). 246. The idea of "some kind of correctness which is substantial" is the point at which I break off from Putnam. 2 (June 1992): 415-8. My sense of 'Darwinian' has nothing to do either with the notion of truth-tracking or with that of arriving at some goal that nature has set for us. and a fixed goal. that as thinkerswe are committedto there being some and kind of truth. I shall not take up the question of whether this gets Foucault or me right. Further. see the exchange between us in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.is that we in are thinkers. its workings had a fixed origin. . LII. is just for a time and a place. but I think that Putnam runs together the question 'Can we give necessary and sufficient conditions for the application of normative expressions?' with the question 'Does our familiar use of normative expressions show that there is "some kind of correctness which is substantial" (or that. one of our fundamental'self-descriptions'.That means that there is no eliminating the 25 normative. I have no use for either evolutionary epistemology or reductionism. Without falling back into metaphysical realism-into the de24 Dewey effectively criticized Spencer's doctrine that there was such a goal in his "The Philosophical Work of Herbert Spencer": "Since his [Spencer's] 'environment' was but the translation of the 'nature' of the metaphysicians.24 But after disposing of the evolutionary epistemologists.. In this respect. Rorty'sphrase. and Putnam's reply to this criticism. in the sense of what we are warranted or unwarranted in saying. but instead turn quickly to the morals which Putnam draws in the final paragraphs of his essay. For a criticism of Putnam's criticism of disquotational accounts of truth. 247)? My answer to both questions is "no. as Putnam goes on to say." 25 Realism and Reason. to both "reductionism and historicism. p. and thus are unable to offer rational criticism of a prevailing consensus. far-off. 431-47. morals which sum up the view that results once one rejects the error common to evolutionary epistemologism and cultural relativism. Evolution still tends in the minds of Spencer's contemporaries to 'a single. a fixity". a fixed quality. Peirce (and perhaps Bernard Williams also) can be counted among "Spencer's contemporaries. some kind of correctness which is substantialand not merely 'disquotational'. p. p." Putnam says: Let us recognize that one of our fundamentalself-conceptualizations. The Middle Works ofJohn Dewey. Putnam goes on to criticize Michel Foucault and me as cultural relativists. people who want to reduce 'better' to consensus. "the rightness or wrongness of what we say is not just for a time and a place")' (ibid.THE RELATIVIST MENACE 459 again) as I should." I think that nothing about the substantiality or atemporality of correctness follows from the irreducibility of a set of expressions to one another. divine event'-to a finality.

and unsure why Davidson thinks "truth" is more central to explanations of verbal behavior than any of the other concepts ("meaning. that the truth of what we say is not just for a time or place. and the development of norm-governed practices by those organisms.. but still. either for our standards of warranted assertibility or for any other aspect of our practices. So it is the sort of vacuity that pragmatists like Putnam and I should avoid. 128. via appropriate means. But that high-minded platitude is absolutely barren of consequences. p. the only aspect of our use of 'true' which is captured neither by a common-sensical account of its approbative force nor by a disquotational account is what I have previously called the "cautionary" use of 'true'.. As I see it. I am also puzzled about Davidson's seemingly unQuinean notion of "conceptual content. reinvigorated the flabby old controversy between realism and antirealism. . p. I take this cautionary use not to be a gesture toward "the way the world might be anyway" but toward possible future generations-toward the "better us" to whom the contradictory of what now seems unobjectionable may have come. what you say might not be true'. Davidson and Truth. Davidson has said (in "The Structure and Content of Truth. Putnam takes it as something more than that-the same mysterious "something more" which causes him to take seriously realistic talk about the presence or absence of a "matter of fact. Explaining the nature of the old controversy by the use of that new term seems to me a striking case of the obscure being explained by the more obscure. He also objects to my suggestion that there is little to be said about truth." and by the conceptual-empirical distinction which he draws throughout his Dewey Lectures.) used in formulating such explanations. I am puzzled by this notion of centrality. 27 The popularity of Michael Dummett's question 'is there a matter of fact about . is readily explicable in Darwinian 26 See my "Pragmatism. miss that part of "the content of the concept of truth" which is captured by T-theories. to seem better." this JOURNAL. The emergence of language-using organisms. and urges that I. I regret the popularity of the term 'matter of fact'." in Objectivity. Relativism and Truth. ?' has.."27 I see no problem about either the irreducibility of the normative or about the place of norms in a world of fact. LXXXVII. then I suppose we might say." nor why Davidson thinks that "the concept of truth" is "central" to such theories. While agreeing with Davidson about the importance of theories "for describing. noncontroversially if pointlessly. 6 (June 1990): 287-8) that in my paper I misconstrued him as being a disquotationalist." etc. explaining. and other fans of disquotationalism. Since I regret the survival of the controversy.460 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY nial of one or more of propositions (i)-(v)-I cannot give any content to the idea of nonlocal correctness of assertion.26 This is the use found in such sentences as 'Your arguments satisfy all our contemporary norms and standards. If we shift from correctness and warrant to truth. and I can think of nothing to say against your claim." "assent. 313)-theories of the sort from which T-sentences are a fallout-I am not sure why it is important to call such theories "truth-theories. understanding and predicting a basic aspect of verbal behavior" (ibid. alas." "belief.

has nothing to fear from irreducibility." This is how I would try to confirm my preliminary suggestion that what Putnam and I really disagree about is how much can be saved from the realist tradition once we affirm positions (i)-(v). (Or. as running together a possible transcendence of the present by the future with the necessary transcendence of time by eternity. . and to experiment with an image of ourselves (i. RICHARD RORTY University of Virginia 28 Realism and Reason. for he takes this claim to entail that "philosophy. us wet liberals) as as local and transient as any other species of animals. This explicability. 247. When Putnam says that "reason is both transcendent and immanent.) So Putnam's claim that "reason can't be naturalized" seems to me ambiguous between an uncontroversial but inconsequential truth about irreducibility and a false claim that the Darwinian story leaves a gap in the fabric of causal explanation. p. to use Putnam's famous example. in making this inference.e. gesturing in the direction of our possibly different future practices. is both in time and eternity. a philosopher from whose writings I have benefited immeasurably for some thirty years." I can agree with him. as culture-bound reflection and argument about eternal questions."28 I see Putnam. and the consequent naturalization of reason. any more than the utility of taking what Daniel Dennett calls "the intentional stance" toward certain organisms and machines has anything to fear from the irreducibility of intentional to nonintentional discourse.THE RELATIVIST MENACE 461 terms. More generally. This is because all I can mean by 'transcendent' is "pointing beyond our present practices." But this is not what Putnam means. I see him as running together our ability to use tensions with our present body of beliefs of desires to put anything (including our present norms and standards for warranted assertibility) up for grabs with our ability to achieve a rightness that is "not just for a time and a place. generously calls our debates "a very fruitful ongoing exchange" (RHF 19)." something like the sense of nonlocal and nontransient rightness with which religion and realist philosophy provided us. than the utility of talking about square pegs and round holes has anything to fear from particle physics. I hope that this article may help continue that exchange.. yet none the worse for that. Putnam thinks that these positions leave room for something like the ApelHabermas notion of a "universal validity claim. Putnam. I think that these positions are of interest only insofar as as they call on us to do without that notion and that sense.

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