Putting Des Cartes before the horse
September 1, 2011 12:40 AM   Subscribe

"The modern and contemporary philosophical tradition, which has emphasized the specialness and security of self-knowledge, especially self-knowledge of the stream of conscious experience, and in comparison the relative insecurity or derivativeness of our knowledge of the physical world around us, has the epistemic situation upside-down" - Eric Schwitzgebel (Previously)
posted by Gyan (32 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've just started submerging into this heady stuff, but it looks like somebody's saying that Modern Philosophy has put Descates before the horse.
I have waited years to find a situation where that pun can apply. Now I can die happy.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:53 AM on September 1, 2011 [12 favorites]


And now I just noticed that the poster put it in the title. Now I can die in agony.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:53 AM on September 1, 2011 [19 favorites]


Also discussed here.
posted by Segundus at 1:00 AM on September 1, 2011


You also misspelled Descartes, oneswellfoop.

Christ, this just isn't your night...
posted by hincandenza at 1:40 AM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I will not have much to say about the metaphysics of consciousness, the question of whether we are purely material beings, and if so what aspect of materiality is key to the stream of conscious experience.

Yeah, this is where you lost me. It's called Consciousness Explained and it's actually science.
posted by Mooseli at 2:43 AM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Relevant classic pun on reddit
posted by panaceanot at 3:08 AM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


ooooh i get it, this is the rejection of phenomenology

took me a second, i was distracted by the phenomenological approach the writing takes :P
posted by flyinghamster at 3:42 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, flyinghamster, I don't think this is the rejection of phenomenology. Most of the points he's making seem familiar phenomenological ones. I think I've read some of exact examples about ellipses and colour perception in Merleau-Ponty. This is just another chapter in the sad history of analytic philosophers 'discovering' amazing ideas (Truth sometimes exists in a social and historical context! Sense experience is not simple!) that they would have been exposed to for decades if they had done a modicum of reading-around beyond their own very narrow tradition. The funny part is when they then try to bolt these ideas on to their existing framework, and so you get this guy arguing that we must have some kind of pre-existing knowledge of the existence of tissue boxes and burritos. God, if I had a penny for every philosopher who thought they were engaging in a radical rejection of Descartes (oh, you rebel, you!), I could buy a rocket and send them all to the moon so that I didn't ever have to read their tedious articles again.

They'd have to be sent in several batches, but I'm OK with that.
posted by Acheman at 4:01 AM on September 1, 2011 [12 favorites]


They'd have to be sent in several batches, but I'm OK with that.

What is the collective for philosophers? A gaggle? A squabble?
posted by -harlequin- at 4:11 AM on September 1, 2011


The very apparatus we use to try to get at what's "Real" is a part of the "Reality" we're trying to get at. It's fun to try to figure out stuff as if it's "out there", and maybe it is, but we'll never really know, for sure. Take Wittgenstein's advice and get to your garden.
posted by Vibrissae at 4:29 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


tl;dr - philosophers have generally thought that while what our senses tell us about the world may be wrong, the actual sensations cannot: ie, I may be wrong about seeing a chair, but not about seeming to see a chair. Schwitzgebel argues that even this is wrong: we don't even know for sure what things seem like.
posted by Segundus at 4:36 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


to clarify

playing with the discrepancy between observation and thought does not even approach descartes' premise because the existence of self-knowledge does not rely upon the validation or accuracy of that knowledge to any degree aside from that which affirms the self

i still say that the author tries to "reject" phenomenology entirely, but that might not be entirely implicit in the text aside from my own perspective... another one i just thought of is that he is arguing for the acceptance of descartes (because his conclusion of epistemological 'upside-downness', even if just in analogy, relies on a direct juxtaposition of 'upside-downness' and 'rightsideupness', an all-too distinct physical re-orientation considering the area of his inquiries)

and i know i said "clarify" so i apologize for the last bit there = ) at least i am not talking about how john locke doesn't believe in circles :P

im not going to say that descartes can't be functionally rejected, but i haven't seen it yet... by all means, keep trying!
posted by flyinghamster at 4:44 AM on September 1, 2011


What is the collective for philosophers?

A conjecture of philosophers?
posted by Grangousier at 5:47 AM on September 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, but the feeling of whether something is true or false occurs in your personal phenomenological field. Your doubt or certainty of your phenomenological experience happens in there too. This guy doesn't get the whole picture either.
posted by zeek321 at 5:49 AM on September 1, 2011


(He doesn't get the whole picture unless he explains his own writing within his argument.)
posted by zeek321 at 5:50 AM on September 1, 2011


I suggest a din of philosophers.
posted by oddman at 6:25 AM on September 1, 2011


I think a lot of people said this before Eric Schwitzgebel did.
posted by superiorchicken at 6:38 AM on September 1, 2011


All his argument really boils down to is that subjective experience is sometimes hard to talk about or remember. It doesn't refute Descartes in the least.
posted by shivohum at 6:52 AM on September 1, 2011


This guy was the outside evaluator on my Ph.D. qualifying orals. Missed the correct time at 10:00 AM (thought it was at 1:00 despite numerous reminders on my part), so I had to wait in dread until the orals could be rescheduled with all five faculty at 4:00 PM. Worst six hours of my life. Nice guy though.

No point here, I'm just name dropping.
posted by Palquito at 7:02 AM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's called Consciousness Explained and it's actually science.

More like a huge castle of speculation balancing precariously on top of a couple empirical observations about perception.
posted by straight at 7:09 AM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Suppose that a person can get to know their own stream of conscious experience well. Maybe even resolve enough to receive the much-sought transcendental experience. They're still caught in the predicament that they can't demonstrate that to others - who haven't the perceptual apparatus. Still subject to the whims of nature and their relatively ignorant neighbors.

The search for what's stable in the world 'outside' of ourselves rewards us with observations we can agree on. Laws we can build reliably with. And can lead to better health and more stability in our personal and interpersonal lives.

In recent times Maslow's heirarchy recognized that without taking care of basic needs, and achieving stability, for most of humanity contemplation of self is impossibly remote. I'm impressed that anyone still resists that, by now self-evident, assertion.
posted by Twang at 7:31 AM on September 1, 2011


O.K., wading in here with inadequate consideration and not having read the book...

It doesn't refute Descartes in the least.

There seems to be a bit of confusion in the thread. I don't read him as trying to refute Descartes broader Cogito argument, but just the part of it that relies on infallible apprehension of your internal states, etc.

Schwitzgebel seems pretty focused on that small piece of this and doesn't really go as far as to discuss how he then would construct an epistemology or whatever. His "turning Descartes on his head" seems to suggest that he'll endorse some kind of externalist version of Descrartes argument (to the extent it even makes sense to talk about such a thing) rather than rejecting his philosophy of mind and epistemology entirely... which hasn't been uncommon in recent years (if not Descartes framing of the issues, which is harder to escape).

Before anyone else does:

Metafilter: wading in here with inadequate consideration

posted by Jahaza at 7:38 AM on September 1, 2011


I know what you're thinking, 'cause right now I'm thinking the same thing. Actually, I've been thinking it ever since I got here: Why oh why didn't I take the BLUE pill?
posted by dragonsi55 at 7:41 AM on September 1, 2011


a "beard of philosophers?" Patriarchal for sure, but perhaps not inappropriate
posted by reverend cuttle at 8:00 AM on September 1, 2011


I don't generally think in language at all, and it seems a bit weird to me that people claim to do that.

I used to think in words when I was a kid, but since reaching adulthood I tend to think in muffled trumpet sounds
posted by Hoopo at 9:05 AM on September 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


a "beard" of philosophers also carries statistical accuracy
posted by Pseudology at 12:15 PM on September 1, 2011


A reminder:

"Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language."

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world."

"I don't know why we are here, but I'm pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves."

- Ludwig Wittgenstein
posted by Vibrissae at 2:09 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


The limits of thinking apply also to thinking about thinking.
posted by wobh at 8:11 PM on September 1, 2011


I assume that in any collection of philosophers there would be a lot of disagreement, so I'd suggest calling them "a disjunction of philosophers".
posted by benito.strauss at 9:19 PM on September 1, 2011


tl;dr: They used to say that your experiences of the world were mediated but your internal states were experienced directly. Now they, too, are mediated.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:43 AM on September 2, 2011


"I used to think in words when I was a kid, but since reaching adulthood I tend to think in muffled trumpet sounds"

Miss Othmar, is that you?
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:47 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


"In other words, vegetables have immaterial souls -- or, if not souls exactly, immaterial parts analogous to souls."

They have a consciousness, they have a life, they have a soul! Damn you! Let the rabbits wear glasses!
posted by homunculus at 11:53 PM on September 3, 2011


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