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47

A World without Substances or Essences

3
terms
3
notes

explaining his antiessentialist views

M. Rorty, R. (2000). A World without Substances or Essences. In M. Rorty, R. Philosophy and Social Hope. Penguin, pp. 47-71

48

[...] For pragmatists, there is no such thing as a nonrelational feature of X, any more than there is such a thing as the intrinsic nature, the essence, of X. So there can be no such thing as a description which matches the way X really is, apart from its relation to human needs or consciousness or language. Once the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic goes, so does the distinction between reality and appearance, and so do worries about whether there are barriers between us and the world.

—p.48 by Richard M. Rorty 1 year, 3 months ago

[...] For pragmatists, there is no such thing as a nonrelational feature of X, any more than there is such a thing as the intrinsic nature, the essence, of X. So there can be no such thing as a description which matches the way X really is, apart from its relation to human needs or consciousness or language. Once the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic goes, so does the distinction between reality and appearance, and so do worries about whether there are barriers between us and the world.

—p.48 by Richard M. Rorty 1 year, 3 months ago
53

I conclude that, whatever sorts of things may have intrinsic natures, numbers do not - that it simply does not pay to be an essentialist about numbers. We antiessentialists would like to convince you that it also does not pay to be essentialist about tables, stars, electrons, human beings, academic disciplines, social institutions, or anything else. We suggest that you think of all such objects as resembling numbers in the following respect: there is nothing to be known about them except an initially large, and forever expandable, web of relations to other objects. Everything that can serve as the term of a relation can be dissolved into another set of relations, and so on for ever. There are, so to speak, relations all the way down, all the way up, and all the way out in every direction: you never reach something which is not just one more nexus of relations. The system of natural numbers is a good model of the universe because in that system it is obvious, and obviously harmless, that there are no terms of relations which are not simply clusters of further relations.

sounds very similar to Wittgenstein's/Saussure's arguments about language which is pretty cool (he does mention both of them in footnote 2: "One way of putting the lessons taught by both Saussure and Wittgenstein is to say that no predicate is intrinsically primitive")

—p.53 by Richard M. Rorty 1 year, 3 months ago

I conclude that, whatever sorts of things may have intrinsic natures, numbers do not - that it simply does not pay to be an essentialist about numbers. We antiessentialists would like to convince you that it also does not pay to be essentialist about tables, stars, electrons, human beings, academic disciplines, social institutions, or anything else. We suggest that you think of all such objects as resembling numbers in the following respect: there is nothing to be known about them except an initially large, and forever expandable, web of relations to other objects. Everything that can serve as the term of a relation can be dissolved into another set of relations, and so on for ever. There are, so to speak, relations all the way down, all the way up, and all the way out in every direction: you never reach something which is not just one more nexus of relations. The system of natural numbers is a good model of the universe because in that system it is obvious, and obviously harmless, that there are no terms of relations which are not simply clusters of further relations.

sounds very similar to Wittgenstein's/Saussure's arguments about language which is pretty cool (he does mention both of them in footnote 2: "One way of putting the lessons taught by both Saussure and Wittgenstein is to say that no predicate is intrinsically primitive")

—p.53 by Richard M. Rorty 1 year, 3 months ago

regarding something abstract as a material thing (fallaciously); an effect of reification

56

the distinction between things related and relations is just an alternative way of making the distinction between what we are talking about and what we say about it. The latter distinction is, as Whitehead said, just a hypostatization of the relation between linguistic subject and linguistic predicate

—p.56 by Richard M. Rorty
notable
1 year, 3 months ago

the distinction between things related and relations is just an alternative way of making the distinction between what we are talking about and what we say about it. The latter distinction is, as Whitehead said, just a hypostatization of the relation between linguistic subject and linguistic predicate

—p.56 by Richard M. Rorty
notable
1 year, 3 months ago
60

We antiessentialists [...] cannot afford to sneer at any human project, any chosen form of human life. In particular, we should not allow ourselves to say what I have just said: that by taking this view of physical science we seem to see ourselves as more than human. For an antiessentialist cannot invoke the appearance-reality distinction. We cannot say that our opponents' way of looking at physics gets physics wrong, mistakes its intrinsic nature, substitutes an accidental and inessential use of it for what it is in itself. In our view, physical science no more has an intrinsic nature than does the number 17. Like 17, it is capable of being described in an infinity of ways, and none of these ways is the 'inside' way. Seeing ourselves as participating in the divine life by describing ourselves under the aspect of eternity is not an illusion or a confusion; it is just one more attempt to satisfy one more human need. Seeing ourself as at last in touch, through physical science, with the ultimate nature of reality, is also not an illusion or a confusion; it is one more human project which may, like all human projects, eclipse the possibility of other, more desirable but incompatible projects.

[...]

What about the Sartrean proposition that 'human beings are what they make themselves', which I have just put forward as antiessentialist doctrine? Is that proposition true? Well, it is true in the same way that Peano's axioms for arithmetic are true. These axioms sum up the implications of the use of a certain vocabulary, the vocabulary of numbers. But suppose you have no interest in using that vocabulary. Suppose that you are willing to forgo the advantages of counting and calculating, and, perhaps because of a morbid fear of technology, are willing and eager to speak a language in which no mention of the number 17 occurs. For you, those axioms are not candidates for truth - they have no relevance to your projects.

I love that he uses Peano arithmetic as an analogy

—p.60 by Richard M. Rorty 1 year, 3 months ago

We antiessentialists [...] cannot afford to sneer at any human project, any chosen form of human life. In particular, we should not allow ourselves to say what I have just said: that by taking this view of physical science we seem to see ourselves as more than human. For an antiessentialist cannot invoke the appearance-reality distinction. We cannot say that our opponents' way of looking at physics gets physics wrong, mistakes its intrinsic nature, substitutes an accidental and inessential use of it for what it is in itself. In our view, physical science no more has an intrinsic nature than does the number 17. Like 17, it is capable of being described in an infinity of ways, and none of these ways is the 'inside' way. Seeing ourselves as participating in the divine life by describing ourselves under the aspect of eternity is not an illusion or a confusion; it is just one more attempt to satisfy one more human need. Seeing ourself as at last in touch, through physical science, with the ultimate nature of reality, is also not an illusion or a confusion; it is one more human project which may, like all human projects, eclipse the possibility of other, more desirable but incompatible projects.

[...]

What about the Sartrean proposition that 'human beings are what they make themselves', which I have just put forward as antiessentialist doctrine? Is that proposition true? Well, it is true in the same way that Peano's axioms for arithmetic are true. These axioms sum up the implications of the use of a certain vocabulary, the vocabulary of numbers. But suppose you have no interest in using that vocabulary. Suppose that you are willing to forgo the advantages of counting and calculating, and, perhaps because of a morbid fear of technology, are willing and eager to speak a language in which no mention of the number 17 occurs. For you, those axioms are not candidates for truth - they have no relevance to your projects.

I love that he uses Peano arithmetic as an analogy

—p.60 by Richard M. Rorty 1 year, 3 months ago

(adjective) tending to cause discontent, animosity, or envy / (adjective) envious / (adjective) of an unpleasant or objectionable nature; obnoxious / (adjective) of a kind to cause harm or resentment

60

to put the point less invidiously

—p.60 by Richard M. Rorty
notable
1 year, 3 months ago

to put the point less invidiously

—p.60 by Richard M. Rorty
notable
1 year, 3 months ago

(noun) a posited object or event as it appears in itself independent of perception by the senses

68

we have a noumenal and trascendental side, a side which escapes relationality

—p.68 by Richard M. Rorty
notable
1 year, 3 months ago

we have a noumenal and trascendental side, a side which escapes relationality

—p.68 by Richard M. Rorty
notable
1 year, 3 months ago