Marshall Feldman MARSH at
Thu Jan 26 14:10:59 MST 1995

>Posted on 26 Jan 1995 at 14:52:03 by TELEC List Distributor (011802)
>Re: foundationalism
>Date: Thu, 26 Jan 1995 12:37:06 -0500 (EST)
>From: Justin Schwartz <jschwart at>
>To: marxism at
>Reply-To: marxism at
>  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.

I'm not prepared to make it here except insofar that I've never seen a coherent
succsssful argument about anything without some measure of realism.  The
following reference nicely illustrates this in economics (whoops, I've
misplaced the referenc, but I'll look for it; the title is "How to combine
rhetoric and realism in economics", and it shows how McCloskey's work
presupposes a certain measure of realism).

>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?

I'm not using empiricist to refer to anything that allows some role for
empirical data.  Rather I am using "empiricist" in a more Althusserian sense
as 1) the acceptance of the empirical as all that is real and 2) the naive
belief that things are as they appear to us empirically.  Rorty might
argue against both, but his pramatism leads him back to prescribing we should
act as if both were true.  In his terms, "knowledge helps us cope."  Hence
for him we should accept our cultural tradition and work within it, and of
course that tradition takes certain things as empirical givens (e.g. the
individual but not the Great Spirit).  Moreover, since it is a material
culture, our culture and its products give us our empirical world.
Rorty's sanguine attitude towards our culture implies a similar non-critical
attitude to the world it produces: i.e. what's empirically given to us.
Somewhere (I'll have to look) he endorses the epistemology of Dewey, Pierce,
and the other early pragmatists, saying that we accept knowledge claims
because they help us (work for us) instrumentally.  It seems to me this
implies a certain tacit acceptance and non-questioning of empirical reality.
In fact, this instrumental view comes very close to Milton Friedman's
"black box" notion in Essay on Positive Economics.  Of course where
Friedman and Rorty differ is that the former treats the inputs, outputs,
and black box as real, claiming we don't need to and can't know what's in
the box: any convenient fiction that accounts for the relation between input
and output will do.  Rorty, on the other hand, treats such things as
negotiated within a community through speach.  Still, the contents of
the black box remain obscure, we just treat the observables as socially
constructed.  But at the end of the day, all we have are the observables
and our speach.

Marsh Feldman
Community Planning                      Phone: 401/792-2248
204 Rodman Hall                           FAX: 401/792-4395
University of Rhode Island           Internet: marsh at
Kingston, RI 02881-0815

"Marginality confers legitimacy on one's contrariness."


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