jueves, 10 de septiembre de 2009

In Defense of a Deliberative Society

Based on Richard Rorty's letter: Philosophy as a Transitional Genre, I sketch some criticism on his view of philosophy and the role of consensus in society.

The Contradiction Revisited

"That is because there will be no dominant form. High culture
will no longer be thought of as the place where the aim of the
society as a whole is debated and decided, and where it is a matter of social concern which sort of intellectual is ruling the roost." R. Rorty


But what about debates on "redemptive issues"? are they meant to disappear? this is not only an issue of traditional redemptive truths, where aims were debated without discussing the means. For liberal societies "means" has become an "end" in itself (democracy, universal rights, free speech, etc.) and therefore by weakening the importance of discussing any redemptive truth, the redemptive truth of liberal society is threatened. If we still hold this practice, and I think we should, the shadow of a possible dominant form will always be present. Whether this form should be totalitarian is another issue [1].

The Political Turn

There is no need for pragmatic debates to remain respectful of balance, at least not from a rational point of view. Now, beyond the rational criteria there's a political reason [2]: the need to legitimize knowledge on a society. In order for knowledge to become a common product and therefore a legitimate patrimony, the debate has to remain balanced according to democratic criteria until consensus is gradually achieved. The limits of the patrimonial conception of knowledge is addressed below. For the time being I assume that Rorty's position pretends to delegitimate the role of debates on society. Having say this, I cite again and continue developing my criticism.

Constitutional and Ecological Perspectives

"In that utopia, the literary culture will not be the only, or even the dominant, form of high culture." R. Rorty


This seems to be an order which is incompatible with the notion of constitutional society, a society where certain monopolies has to be held. Think of the war-force or the law itself, which has to be unique for all citizens [3]. There is also the challenge of global threats which requires a coordinated centralized response -due to survival requirements not all responses can be legitimated by consensus-. Suppose the example of an emergency where two persons have to decide which survival strategy to follow; do they have to address the problem as a matter of taste or should they try to argument their sum zero discussion? this is just a local problem but humanity faces globally many sum zero problems that should be addressed by some kind of material or philosophical confrontation. In other words, many of the metabolic processes of society involve, to some degree, a centralized structure. If internet epitomizes the current trend in decentralization(s), the globalization of politics (UE, G8, OTAN, etc.) epitomizes the current trend in centralization(s). This latter process imply an increasing pressure for debates and consensus making, which are to be carried not only on historical but also philosophical terms. Which of the issues are really sum zero should be the real challenge for a pluralistic philosophy a la Rorty.

The Cognitive Insight

This last approach is better understood after reading a related article of Rorty: Democracy and Philosophy which nevertheless, is intimately related with his non-philosophy as exposed in articles such as Philosophy as a Transitional Genre (see link above).

Basically, I understand that Rorty promotes a kind of historical eclecticism, which I myself welcome as a useful approach, specially for transitional societies in developing countries. Nevertheless, his defense of such historical eclecticism is formulated in detriment of philosophical debate and here is where I differ. He pretends to convince us that philosophy is a bad copy of historical experience [4] and in its best role, a creative action to imagine a better world. Of course these claims are not original, they have a rich tradition and criticism. I will just show that the defense of historical eclecticism leads naturally to what we understand by philosophical debate. The reason for my claim is that eclecticism imply a negotiation of historical events based on value judgments. If we manage to deconstruct the notion of historical event, we naturally end up doing philosophy and is precisely this process which I claim to be the evolutionary and rhetorical origin of reason from memory. Actually is no more than the old claim that simulation is intelligence and intelligence is simulation. Rorty's dichotomy between historical eclecticism and philosophical debate can only stand when the historical events are extensive and therefore locatable chronologically. Rorty is rising doubts on our ability to recombine historical events in novel ways and being able to successfully apply value judgments on this new -simulated- scenario. Needles to say that this claim compromises the enterprise of empirical science. Besides, if we are to be that pessimistic for the success of behavioral sciences, how can historical eclecticism have any value if, after all, implies a movement of historical abstraction -otherwise, how could we separate soviet socialism from vodka!-.

[1] By "totalitarian", I mean that it would compromise every domain of human experience. To some extent, this is opposed to pragmatism.
[2] Here I use the term politics to denote the dynamic of power between human wills. In that anthropocentric sense, it is an independent issue from rationality which is the dynamic of power between the human will and its Other.
[3] The Rortyan non-philosophy would either pulverize the state's soveregnity where there is no monopoly of law or would make citizenry a matter of taste. Interestingly, the latter case has been proposed as an scenario for cyberspace [The Life of the Law Online, D. R. Johnson], showing the pragmatic value of Rorty's thesis.
[4] Bad copy because it lacks of historical context which is the ultimate source of truth.
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