Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Thu Jan 26 10:37:06 MST 1995

hOn Thu, 26 Jan 1995, Marshall Feldman wrote:

> >Re: foundationalism
> >From: Justin Schwartz <jschwart at>
> >My interest in the matter, aside from whatever made me go into philosophy
> >in the first place, is mainly in this point: the fashionable antirealism
> >associated with postmodernism seems to me (a) to be based on fundamental
> >confusions, like that I have been insisting on about foundationaliksm, but
> >(b) more importantly to deny that we can either interpret the world OR
> >change it; the AR says there is no world to interpret, and the
> >attack--logically distinct from AR, I think but am not sure--on
> >"totalitizing metanarratives," "essentialism," and the like, says that we
> >cannot change it. (Actually, put that way I am not sure that these two
> >views are independent.)
> I don't think they are.  The denial of "metanarratives", it seems to me,
> is based on the notion that what the metanarratives refer to are simply
> figments; parts of our language games.  Things like the proletariat don't
> exist in reality (outside our language) and therefore they can have no
> causal efficacy.  Part of the confusion, I think (and to further muddy the
> waters) is that the pomo anti-metanarrativist CAN be realist, i.e. realist
> about the observable entities we encounter in the world, while denying that
> anything "deeper" really exists.  Thus, Donald Trump and Roger Smith are
> real, but the bourgeoisie is not.

Well, some pomos deny that there are people--Deleuze and Gautteri, Foucault.

  In fact, I'd argue that realism is
> unavoidable in discourse about anyTHING; Rorty and the other anti-realists
> SEEM to avoid realism by talking about philosophy only.

I'm sympathetic to this, but the case would have to be made.

  The crucial
> question for me is not between realism and something else, but rather between
> commonsense realism and a more deeply "layered" one along the lines of Marx's
> surface appearance/underlying reality or Bhaskar's structured reality.
Yes, or rather, as I would put it, the question is about what the
structure of reality is, which entitities, relations, etc. exist. Thus: is
Marxian value a real quantity? Has the working class revolutionary
potential? And appraisal of these issues lead us into concrete assessments
of the evidence for particular theories.

> Incidently, one thing missing from this debate so far is the implicit
> empiricism in contemporary anti-realism.  See Novack's _Marxism vs Pragmatism_
> on this point and the class nature of pragmatism (which includes Rorty
> and this ilk).

Again, there is empiricism and empiricism. If its empiricist to believe
that we should formulate testible theories to account for observed
evidence, I'm an empiricist.

Now some contemporary ARs are empiricist in some senses (and not others)
and others are not. Rorty, for example, is explicitly verificationist
(i.e., holds that theories are more or less exhausted by their empirical
content). Kuhn is not verificationist. He's (unobjectionably) empiricist
in the sense specified above, but that doesn't have anything to do with
his AR. As to pomo AR, how is it empiricist, Marshall?

--Justin Schwartz


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