Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Reply to comment

biophile's picture

Thoughts before the discussion...

Why do people need unshakeable first principles? Why do we look for a grand unified theory or a paradigm that encapsulates all that there is? It’s a very peculiar drive to have. After all, how can an artificial construct made by the human mind cover all that there is in existence? Even if we knew everything there is to know (which I think is impossible to do) how could it all be organized and fit under one little umbrella? The world we see is a mass of contradictions and exceptions seem more common than the rule. It’s a very important point that is being made here: not everything we do has to fit within the larger scheme of things and not everything has some underlying property that relates to a universal.

What I find especially intriguing here is the parallel to biological evolution. Variation is essential to the evolutionary process, implying that peculiarities are more important to the emergence of life than some form that we consider to be universal or lasting. Although many developmental mutations are detrimental to the functionality of an organism, it appears that such mutations helped to bring about the forms we now see. Although some Platonists may argue that the Form of treeness is what makes a tree a tree and that Forms such as treeness are what constitute reality, it is not self-evident that the forms we see around us rely on some fixed and eternal concept. What is more clearly seen is that the world around us is constantly in flux with little fixity over time. Perhaps what we perceive to be unchanging is not really so, but rather we search for patterns of being and, upon seeing some similarities between objects or events, say that we know the essence of that thing. It seems true enough that some things endure- people are usually born with functioning organs, trees grow root first, the Sun appears to rise near the East according to our vantage point and so on. Does that mean that there are eternal forms or truths that make these things possible? Things do not have to proceed in the way that we predict they will, even if they’ve been playing out that way for time untold. As was stated explicitly in the article inductive reasoning cannot be trusted since another set of observations may come along that topple the conclusion we reached based on old data. Exploration and an open mind are key, I agree.

Another thing I appreciated was the admission that this point of view- that there are no unwobbling pivots as far as we can tell- is not itself an unwobbling pivot. Although we should not assume that there are such foundations, it would be hypocritical to declare them absolutely nonexistent. The bottom line of Rorty’s argument seems to be that we cannot assume that they do exist and that we need to base our decisions and our goals on something more ephemeral, i.e. our time period or our happiness. I do wonder what the philosophical community would do, though, if unwobbling pivots could no longer be used in their arguments.


The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
1 + 4 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.