2 May 1997
The Evil Empire has collapsed in ruins, and the Forces of Good are truimphant. Or will they in turn become an Evil Empire? It is difficult not to share the emotions of the moment: I discovered long ago that my own immediate reactions are more or less a reliable barometer of the 'public mood' (that elusive concept) — even when later, reflectively, I come to judge that the public mood is wrong...
It is the 'end of an era' in another sense, in that you have now completed your Pathways programme. Do you have any plans to do anything more? If you don't want to tackle another programme, the Associate Diploma would give you the chance to send me pieces of work — there is no fixed limit — on subjects of your choice, even though for you the 'gong' might not be that important.
The Council of the Philosophical Society of England meets in London in a week's time. I am giving a talk to the AGM on a philosophical topic (probably, 'Is it Rational to Fear Death?' — if I can iron out the kinks), and reporting to the Council on sixth month's of work as Director of Studies. I am glad to say recruitment has been fairly brisk as the result of an advert I placed in the magazine Philosophy Now.
I am sorry, by the way, that this reply to your letter of 15 April and pieces on the 'I', 'deciding to believe' and the 'deadening sins of 50's-60's philosophers' passed my seven day deadline, but the pressure of work in the limited time I have available at the moment...has been fairly intense.
Well, let's get down to work.
I found your essay on 'The Self as I and Me and Inner Core and how the I arises' very eloquent. One point you effectively made by your example of the family doctor but failed to cap was the doctor's skill in diagnosing an illness by 'sniffing the air'. We all-too readily associate 'scientific objectivity' with the use of instruments — thermomenters, rulers, clocks and the like — ignoring the important role of the investigator's unquantifiable judgement (the 'look' of the pre-cancerous cells in the microscope, the need to 'tweak' the apparatus just here). It is a point Robert Pirsig makes in his pursuit of the elusive concept of Quality (following in the footsteps of the American pragmatist tradition of James, Pierce, Dewey) in his excellent, unclassifiable book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. — There is not so great a distance between the therapist's empathetic 'tuning in' on another subjectivity (cf. your Note) and the white-coated experimenter in the lab. Both have to 'tune themselves in', to stay on the quality track. There is a complex interplay of 'subjectivity' and 'objectivity' here.
As you know from previous comments, I don't fully accept your stance on the 'inner core'. One question I would put to you is this. Is it conceivable that two persons could experience exactly the same subjective feelings in their inner core, even though one was a poet and very skilled at finding creative ways to communicate her inner states, while the other was inarticulate (but no less intelligent, perhaps). I would claim that the ability to articulate is inextricably bound up with the nature of the inner object itself (you see, I don't mind talk of 'inner objects' so long as they are not private objects in Wittgenstein's sense!).
I would go so far as to admit that the inner is inexhaustible in a way in which the outer is not. That is not to say that one could in practice give an exhaustive description, say, of my desk and all the various objects inside it and on top of it. We are able to describe objects in the world around us in very fine detail, but at some point our instruments give out. (Long before one comes to the position of every molecule, say.) Then there is Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle to reckon with. But the inner is inexhaustible in a different way. Even as a physicalist, one has to admit the inaccessibility of mental states to physical investigation (I reject the dubious science fiction hypothesis of 'brain readers'). All that remains is what we say and do to give expression to our inner states: and the creative possiblities are endless.
You will not be surprised, therefore, that in my terminology the 'subjective world' and 'objective world' contain exactly the same objects. The former is the world as the solipsist sees it; the latter is the world as the anti-solipsist sees it. My metaphysical thesis is that both are in a way right (and, by the same token, wrong).
Your response to question four contains, I believe, a possible fallacy. (I am not saying that you necessarily fall victim to it.) The metaphor of 'input and output' easily blinds us to what I emphasise in the Language programme as the 'mediating role of concepts'. Admittedly, there is less room for 'making up a world' when we are talking about the objects we bump into or that immediately impinge on our senses. But then consider such a relatively straightforward matter as Galileo's dispute with the Inquisitors about the existence of mountains on the moon! Or if one thinks of the present day, the existence of unresolved (and many would claim unresolvable) disputes between rival cosomologists, or set theoreticians, or practicioners of psychoanalytic theory highlights the fine line between discovering a world and inventing one.
There is a danger, in other words, (for the anti-realist who rejects the naive realist's picture of 'copying' reality or of truth as 'correspondence with reality') of falling into a crude instrumentalism or pragmatism that simply fails to see the problem here.
You might naturally expect me to attempt some defence, or plea in mitigation, in the face of your attack on the 'deadening sins' of philosophers. I shall not. But here is the problem that really worries me. My ambition (as I expressed it to a student who recently joined Pathways in Bethlehem Pennsylvania — we communicate by e-mail) is that Pathways should 'encircle the globe'. I believe in the importance of philosophy, and would make everyone a philosopher if I could. But what exactly is it that I believe in?
Do I want everyone to go around puzzling over heaps or small and large elephants? Hardly. (Yet the Buddha resides here, just as it resides in the mating habits of an obscure species of South American butterfly.) There will be philosophic 'professionals', those that push forward the frontiers of the subject, as well as those who pass on the riches of philosophy to succeeding generations of students. But something is wrong with present day academic philosophy: of that I have no doubt. The Departmental Seminars I attend every Friday at Sheffield give me ample evidence of that.
The result is that, significantly, the magazine I referred to earlier (Philosophy Now) would in terms of its circulation (c. 5,000) be judged to represent a very tiny minority interest! (At present, it has no rivals apart from our own house magazine The Philosopher.) Could that really be true? Sometimes one simply lacks the imagination to see the way things could have been, or yet still might be. I am pushing ahead even though at this stage I don't see clearly (or even obscurely) how change will come. — Do you?