Wednesday, November 19, 2014

philosophy lives in highlands

Habermas’ recollections on Jewish émigrés is a partial version of a chapter of The Lure of Technocracy, which will be available between March and May, 2015.

Postmetaphysical Thinking II is due in mid-2017 (German original, 2012!). And he has a big manuscript in process on the evolution of religion, he noted in last June’s interview.

One might easily forget that Habermas is a philosopher in a fully-philosophical sense, not just a political philosopher also being a public intellectual. Someone approaching the challenge of understanding Habermas’ career is met with the best paradigm available of what philosophy may strive to be. At 85, the philosopher is still actively engaged as philosopher. Very few pretend to understand the philosophical example that Habermas continues to work to exemplify. Whatever disagreement one has with particular views, his scale of recognized engagement is in small company, if having any peer.

I find an example of that unwittingly demonstrated by an excellent review today in the Notre Dame Philosophical Review, which has nothing to do with Habermas. It’s about the so-called “McDowell-Dreyfus” debate—a book of essays on that which can be regarded as a dispute about the nature of concepts.

The venue boils down (as they say) to issues of the susceptibility of phenomenology of mind to cognitive-scientific reconstruction, which could be considered a species of questioning the tenability of so-called “experimental philosophy” (which seems to me to be a new species of neo-positivism). Indeed, the excellent review by Wayne Christensen is by someone interested in experimental philosophy (in other work; he’s not overt about that in his review). But the great promise of cognitive science for philosophy (which I heartily endorse) does not translate into the claim that cognitive science is experimental philosophy (a claim made by a founder of experimental philosophy, Joshua Knobe). A close reading of Christensen's review provides a fabulous occasion for dwelling with this point. Indeed, the reviewer could be easily read as an overt partisan of philosophy vis-à-vis cognitive science. I would highly enjoy going through Christensen’s review in detail, for the sake of offering my own views. But I’ll shelve that desire (for the most part, but saying a little at the end of this post).

A case I would detail (apart from my own views of the debate)—but won’t detail now—is that this entire context is exactly pertinent to Habermas’ venture into cognitive neuroscience back in 2007, which I’ve celebrated briefly (and, yes, eccentrically). There, Habermas’ excursion dramatizes how philosophy belongs with issues of neuroethics which relate directly to issues of law. But issues of conceptuality (capability, comprehension, empirical representations of that, etc.) pertain directly to clinical neuroscience, developmental psychology (e.g., understanding learning difficulties, cognitive sluggishness), and prospects for much-needed new conceptual constellations in interdisciplinary psychological research. And the McDowell-Dreyfus debate is part of that, too (small part): all part of evolving metatheory, which philosophy is especially well-positioned to explore.

If one traces back into Habermas’ career of conceptual prospecting (finding a genealogy of exemplarity, at least ), many of his discursive stances might cause disagreement; but his challenge to prospect better views about important issues is important. I hope to derive a few good views. (This posting is a side trip occasioned by Christensen’s review.) My key point now is that philosophical research matters, as I was reminded today that Habermas is highly exemplary of what matters. (I have Derek Parfit's magnum opus, whew!, unread....Even though I’m not currently developing more focus on Habermas for online sharing, the notion of exemplarity in philosophical work is important to what I want to do soon: to understand intellectual exemplarity, as such, better.)

Regarding the McDowell-Dreyfus debate, I wrote to Dr. Christensen today in an implicit spirit of Habermas’ speculative ending to his 2007 excursion:
I feel that there's quite a bit of ambiguity here-and-there about what "conceptual"ity is. I've long been attracted to Ruth Garrett Millikan's enactive notion, such that a concept is primarily a capability. This places the weight of meaning on the developmental background of a capability—which is much more than an overt skill. It's common in theory of learning to talk about automaticity of what was very deliberately learned without implying that any automatic skill arose from the head of Zeus. Between initial automatization and much-later interest in empirical-analytical reconstruction, there may proximally appear a greatly-black box; but it's articulable in principle, I think. 

What a concept does for action is more than a reconstruction can easily capture, but that doesn't imply in-principle non-reconstructibility. Your emphasis on under-empirical framing in the McDowell-Dreyfus debate is important. [But I didn't mention my wariness about his apparent experimental-philosophical hopes.]

Effective attention is more than the meta-attention that we call "consciousness," but that doesn't imply that methodic reconstruction has a necessary wall. [I didn't add that, though a psychoanalysis may be required for reconstruction of nonconsciousness, a partnership in reconstruction can accomplish a lot.] Representability in principle [capability for analytical self-reflection] is never equivalent to reconstructive skill for a given case. [Learning never ends, but then learning does make progress.] How many persons understand much about the generative grammar of their linguistic expertise? Most experts in any given area would not be able to understand what cognitive scientists can say about representability, let alone articulate much in this regard without special training.

You would be interested to know—if you don't already—that Eric Margolis has a new anthology of others' cutting edge analyses of conceptuality, The Conceptual Mind: New Directions in the Study of Concepts. (He has most of his own work available online, including his contribution to the new book).
I deleted much of what I wrote to Christensen before I sent it:
My view of Bert Dreyfus is that he basically misunderstands Heidegger, whose work is the basis for Bert's own neo-Merleau-Pontian gripes against cognitive science.

I've long thought that he confuses skill, competence, capability, and capacity. We're born with capacities that we shape into capabilities through infant and child learning. These capabilities are shaped into standardly-parsed competences (represented through curriculum articulation and assessment categories), and competences become specialized, as multiple skills may be associated with a given competence. (Is so-called "linguistic competence" something singular? How many articulative skills in writing and communication belong with linguistic competence?)

The genealogy of a skill from capacities is like a family tree: A person is a trunk from many branches, not a branch tracing back to a singular trunk. [So much for the Originism of religious life.] A mind is a bushy world [as is natural selection over eras, as is cultural heritage.] But that doesn't necessarily imply that we can't trace our way back into the bush importantly. [Dreyfus's gripe may be that we can't trace back all the way, but that point pertains to everything, while we're far more likely to understand ontogenesis profoundly than we will understand a full Story of the evolution of intelligent life that can compose retrojective stories born of longing to capture an Origin.]

I'm interested in approaches to cognitive neuroscience that dissolve the so-called mind-body problem into problems of conceptuality in competing forms of inquiry: Phenomenology is not reducible to evolutionary cognitive reconstruction, yet the empirical-analytical realism of the latter is not reducible to its meta-theoretical paradigmicity. (This comment must seem obtusely conceptualist. Actually, the religiously-born problem is a conceptual problem. I go with Habermas on “ontological monism” without reductionist physicalism.)

The conceptual problems of understanding commensurabilities of discursive formations (foundations of phenomenology, foundations of scientific inquiry) takes thinking into questions like: What do we want from commensurability in interdisciplinary paradigm formation? What is our inquiry for? This is a purely philosophical kind of issue about our interest in enabling richly flourishing lives, which is the aim of so much positive psychology [which has nothing in common with positivism! Its parentage is humanistic counseling psychology.] 

The undoing of neo-positivist "experimental philosophy" is that we should be less interested in how things are (e.g., folk notions of truth) than interested in how things might best be understood (what capabilities or knowledge should we enable and promote?)—kindred with Owen Flanagan’s "Eudaimonics" or philosophical psychology of flourishing.

If we don't hope for our research to fit with interests in greater good for better humanity (e.g., educational excellence or social enabling of creative fruitfulness), what's research for? What matters for commensurabilities or consilience

One can map these kinds of humanistic interests up to questions of what we want from interdisciplinary inquiry and what constellations of conceptual work may be most promising for enabling—well, for enabling the minding of mindfulness for the sake of wholly flourishive lives, for proffering greater good and better humanity.

What kinds of minds do we primordially want? What do we want to know about creativity, about enabling creativity, and about turning that into good innovations? What do we want to know about the ontogenesis of mindfulness, from birth to making a long life?

This is especially philosophical work from which clinical and empirical agendas may be prospected. What follows for science is thus in light of what we want from our own humanity—not philosophy from what is measurable in folk intuitions (dear to Jonathan Haidt, Knobe, and the like).