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Try "Ontology: An Obituary," By Putnam

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Posted by Luis Hamburgh on September 2, 2002 21:39:25 UTC

Hello Harv,

>>>”I don't see (neurology) as relevant to the logical arguments that you continue choose not to produce (while still promoting the point that you are absolutely correct)... appealing to neurology is about as lame as I can imagine.”

First of all, though I may charge into these rants with the presence of a freed, stuck bull in Pamplona, I do not promote myself as “absolutely correct.” But what good is it to enter into a debate only partially committed to an argument? What good base runner steals second by hesitating after commitment? If I can stress my argument with all the resolve I’m capable of, then the wisdom I gain once the debate is said and done will be a lot greater -- ‘win’ or ‘lose’ -– than if I’d stepped into it half-hearted. Likewise, if I weren’t so convinced of my position I wouldn’t be wasting my time. (Though you may not pay much attention to outside disagreements, you may recall when a lengthy debate between Alex and myself resulted in me altering my view of the Uncertainty Principle. I'm not so proud as to deny my mistakes.)

Second of all, it seems to me again that you don’t read all the way through my posts before formulating your responses. Specifically, neurology was initially “about as lame as (you) can imagine,” but later on you chose to say, ”Just doing our best to prevent cognitive phenomena from becoming fixed mental paradigms . . .”. Somehow neurology had become “un-lame” enough for you to shuffle through its lexicon. This is only a complaint because I think the reason you haven’t presented me with a creditable response is that you rush through without giving my presentations (clumsy as they may be) much thought.

>>>”since when does studying invalid arguments that you know is invalid when you typing them have any profitable use?”

Well, I’m not exactly a great philosopher, but this seems to be a common ploy of the greatest philosophers. As one fitting example, Putnam presents what he considers to be invalid arguments by Quine (and many others) in his “Ontology: An Obituary” lectures (which you should read).

>>>”True objectivity by a human is not possible”
>>>”I do think there is epistemological-based objectivity”

I’m still a little shocked you don’t see the paradox here. These truths are compatible to you because you accept that “knowledge” is something greater than the methods through which we achieve and describe this “knowledge” . . . and this is due to your estimation of Epistemology and Ontology as two separate issues. You presume they are both valid, when in fact one is an unfounded glorification of the concern of the other.

As much as I rag him, and as much as his own understanding of time seems to be antiquated, I do think Dick is a lot closer to understanding the problems with Ontology itself. Consider his statement above -- "Central to a rational attack on any problem is that no answers to the problem can be specified as an opening position." What Dick identifies here becomes what you probably deem a "necessary evil." I see no problem with an initial starting point, but I do not consider Ontology as anything more than our way of fooling ourselves into the paradoxical position of "we cannot know objectively, though we somehow know objectivity exists outside of our knowing of it." I.e., all "knowledge" to me is in a way uncertain (even the horrible WTC tragedy).

Put it another way --

(1) Bill denies he can make a truly objective judgment.
(2)Bill claims that there is true objectivity.

How is it that Bill finds his own human judgment to be incapable of “objectivity” and then, with this same human limitation, judge that “objectivity outside human perception exists”? The answer is Ontology. It's unnecessary, really.

>>>”True objectivity would require an external view where we know something as it is versus how we see the thing.”

Like I said a number of posts ago, the "truth" is only consistent insofar as we define it. Observations are "true" because they match our descriptions. But, what do you mean by ‘true’? Is this ‘truth’ something you, a human, have inferred? If so, and it is an inference, how can you claim it as something you "know"? If not, and it is a fact, then how did you manage to escape that human limitation you posited thus: "True objectivity by a human is not possible"? And how can we possibly ever “know something as it is versus how we see the thing”? I mean, how could we know something without seeing it how we see it? Are you presuming metaphysical knowledge? If not, then what does "knowing something as it is versus how we see the thing" constitute? If so, then how have you elevated this presumption of metaphysical knowledge to the status of knowledge itself?

You sound very confused.

>>>”You see (ontology) as an attack on agnosticism . . .”

Not so much an attack; more like a barrier.

>>>”There is a need to make definitions of what we can point to as something we experience. . .”

I know my argument isn’t as flowery and syllogisitc as you’d like it, but I currently feel that if I “conceded” my point I will have failed to communicate to you the depth of your errors. As the week progresses maybe I’ll find the time (and wit) to put something a little better together for your apoproval. In the meantime, however, I’d ask that you read the first four links under ‘Putnam’ at . Maybe you’ll pay better attention to a real philosopher.


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