: Short Introduction of
Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Richard Rorty 1979, Princeton University Press).

⎯ 역사와 진리 사이 (1)

Philosophers are accustomed to questions like “are there numbers?”, or “can we reduce mind to datum in Turing machine?”. This kind of questions raise so-called ‘philosophical problems’ and they are main objects to which philosophers strive. However, we can pose a question, not philosophical one, like this: Do “philosophical problems” really exist? It has not been a long time since this weird question began to be accepted seriously by some unique moves in philosophy: Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Rorty. If there aren’t philosophical problems at all, nor philosophical themes or method too because these are just empty words were it not for philosophical problems. Furthermore, we can even utter there is no philosophy if we have no philosophical problems for philosophizing. 

In this regard, Richard Rorty, in his distinguished ‘philosophy’ work, warrants that there’re no philosophical problems and methods at all. If they exist, those must be pseudo-philosophical subjects compatible to daily kind of ones: “did American economy get better after COVID?” or “is Trump doing a hard work for USA?” In other words, philosophical problems have no difference to matters in politics or economy. Philosophy is one of many cultural businesses, not ‘distinguished subject leading other fields’ If there’s any priority for philosophical task, it’s nothing other than a self-image created by philosophers themselves. For Rorty, philosophy serves as only a cultural matter, just like literature or history. While philosophy can receive or reproduct cultural change, it cannot instruct or constitute it. While Plato once dreamed of philosopher king in Phaedrus, Rorty presents Philosophy as “a” domain of culture, which is not special at all in its theme or certainty.

Regarding it, I’ll introduce Rorty’s claim above made in his ‘Philosophy and mirror of nature’ and make short comment about it. This paper consists of three parts and each part will summarize main points made in mirror.

An invention named ‘Mind’

Descartes and Philosophy of Mind

 Rorty starts his task with making a simple, but unique diagnosis for the history of epistemology in philosophy. For him, epistemology hasn’t been placed in philosophy from the start. At times of Plato or Aristotle, the epistemological theme like the relation between mind and world wasn’t situated at the center of philosophical questions. They didn’t have a certain concept for epistemology. It was ‘invented” at modern time and the most popular inventor of it was Descartes. (mirror, 45p) Of course, there were already certain images of mind with some typical properties before Descartes: separation from body or participating in eternity as Nous etc. However, Descartes’ work is fundamentally different from any precedent concepts about mind in that (1) he converts mind to a substantial mean for proving inner certainty and, from it, (2) formulate substances (or, nature) into a object of verdict of mind. Rorty is convinced that these two conversions conducted by Descartes place in the heart of the mind as a mirror of nature. Let me describe this point more specifically.

 For Descartes, our inner consciousness is the most certain and error-free agent. Just like he said in 107p;

  1. we know our minds better than we know anything else
  2. we could know all about our minds even if we knew nothing else

 We perfectly understand and describe about our inner state. Our mind is like a mirror perfectly mirroring our sensations, feelings (especially, pain) or any kind of inner image. We have no doubt about the fact that “some images show themselves to us” (Remind that it’s different from the one that “there’s something”) We can call this mirroring process simply as ‘representation’. Regardless of whether our representation matches to the world, our mind provides us a certain foundation for beliefs through representation. Now Descartes prepares foundation for all kinds of philosophical investigation. The mirror of mind reflects its contents incorrigibly, which means it’s perfect device of justification. From it, Descartes and his successors urge philosophy to make mind as an only mean of its investigation. Rorty sees this phenomenon as an ‘epistemological turn’ which placed justification at the center of philosophy.

 How can we refute Descartes’ maxim that the mind is foundational tribunal for justification and we must place epistemology and psychology at the center of philosophy? Rorty doesn’t dismiss Descartes’ claim frontally. (actually, it seems that he doesn’t need to do so) Instead, he gives a weird, but critical thought experiment about our understanding of mind. He introduces people named Antipodeans looking like just us;

..on the other side of galaxy, there was a planet on which lived beings like ourselves…..These beings did not know that they had minds. They had notions like “wanting to” and “intending to”…. But they had no nothion that these signified mental states….Neurology and biochemistry had been the first disciplines in which technological breakthroughs had been achieved… these people concerned the states of their nerves. (71p)

In this regard, we can anticipate Antipodeans would say “He’ll simulate his C-fibers” when they watched others getting hurt. They’d never talk like “She’s feeling pain” or “I’m hurt” because neurology and chemistry are only tools for their worldview. Then, without hesitation, we can pose an interesting question about Antipodeans; “Do they have a raw feeling, which is pain?” It’s typical philosophical question in philosophy of mind. However, it seems not easy to answer this question.

 The reason making our answering hard is that it’s not that desirable in philosophy of mind to identify neuro-physical reports to raw feelings. Neuro-physical reports (e.g. firing of C-fiber or spinal reflex) are totally material entities having nothing to do with ‘mind’. Antipodeans don’t need mind-theory for such reports. However, raw feel is the most immediate and undoubtful (technically saying, phenomenal) matter of mind. Borrowing famous comments of Kripke, Rorty claims that it’s undesirable to reduce raw feels to material entities without additional conditions or explanations. (78p) Furthermore, pain is picked out by itself not by one of its accidental properties.  It’s essential to raw feels that they can be incorrigibly knowable (91p). To sum it up, pain is a state of mind which should contain incorrigible reports, but material entity lacks such properties. Therefore, if we still hold unique condition of mind (incorrigible reports), it’s impossible for us to say Antipodeans have raw feels, further, or mind.

 Now, if we can’t rightfully say Antipodeans feel pain, there arises a paradox. Though it seems they having pain, we can’t legitimately say they do. Rorty suggests there’re three candidates for resolving this paradox.

  1. Antipodeans have raw feels by virtue of containing some incorrigible raw feels
  2. Antipodeans don’t know about their own incorrigible knowledge while they actually have it
  3. There is no raw feel anywhere

Each three candidates represent behaviorism, Cartesian dualism, and materialism. Rorty rejects second and third, while dealing with first seriously. (it doesn’t mean he’s a behaviorist)

 According to Descartes, we know our minds better than we know anything else. And it works as well as at the case of Antipodeans. This very point consists what Rorty calls Glassy Essence of human mind. Our mind reflects something clearly just like an unclouded mirror. ‘Incorrigible reports’ or ‘ontological status’ of raw feels are examples of such essence. What Rorty is trying to in this section is not to request a certain position for answering it. Rather, Rorty points that the questions like “Do they have mind?” or Do they really feel pain?” are misguided themselves. Why are they so? That’s because epistemology, or theory of mind, was introduced in philosophy to guarantee fundamental certainty and criteria for philosophy, which is impossible to be achieved. Rorty claims only philosophy has such desire for fundamentality having nothing to do with other parts of culture. (125p) For Antipodeans, they have their own cultural toolboxes for having pain. The only problem is that they have no theory or concept of mind, which is not a big problem for them at all. Surely, philosophers like Putnam can ask whether Antipodeans and us have same reference and that asks philosophical inquiry. However, Rorty doubts if we have such capacity to distinguish references sharply and if there’s an urgent need to do such an inquiry. (Rorty explores this problem of reference more thoroughly in latter chapter)

 So, what’s the point of Antipodeans episode? Though Rorty himself doesn’t make clear of it, but we can at least assume there’re two themes Rorty wants to show from it. First, there’s an old, firm prejudice that we can never be wrong about our inner thoughts; In other words, we should receive incorrigible reports about our phenomenal properties (e.g. pains). Second, such mind-theory is not substantial, but just a matter of culture and language. The only reason we can’t tell Antipodeans have raw feels is that they didn’t have the language (or, cultural domain) of epistemology. Epistemology itself doesn’t make fundamental differences between its owner and others. Whether or not Antipodeans have theory of mind, they have raw feels and their own sort of expression for such feelings. To conclude, there’s no ‘philosophical problem’ like “Do Antipodeans have pain?” or “….mind?” because it turned out that it’s only a cultural matter.

History of the mirror of nature

Things, Mind, and Language

 According to Rorty, philosophy turned its interests about things to inner mind as a glassy reflection after Descartes. Then, how did we come about a mirror of nature as an essence of our mind? Once Descartes invented such a image of mirror, it’s his successors who actually made mind as a mirror of “nature”, the external world. Rorty cites various philosophers as members of successors, but it’s J. Locke who grounded Descartes’ epistemological turn as a study of outer space. (140p) This conversion from inner thinking space to outer one consists of appealing to the mere sensations, the sense data. We can say that the empirical program which asserts our only path to the world is sensation starts from this very point of Locke.

And Rorty insists this was done by great confusion of Locke between explanation and justification. Before going through the confusion made by Locke and other empiricists, we need to clarify the term “Myth of Given” coined by W. Sellars. In Empricism and Philosophy of Mind, Sellars claims it’s often misleading that philosophers (especially, empiricists) identify the justification to casual relation. It’s certain that nearly all of our knowledge starts from sense data in that we have casual relation to objects only in our sensation. However, admitting it doesn’t necessarily lead the fact that we have justification from sense data. Having casual relationship and being justified are different affairs. Empiricists’ mistake is to infer that we’re justified from sense data from our casual relationship with objects in sense data. The sensation doesn’t provide the foundation of justification, but merely a casual role. (for more explicit comments about Myth of Given, see second chapter of J. Mcdowell’s Mind and World)

 In this regard, Rorty insists Locke is making a sort of Myth of Given. As is well known, Locke supposes our mind is tabla rasa, which is empty board, and only experience fills our inner space. We have only empty and clean starting point, not presuppositional construction or system to constitute recognition. However, how can only experience alone justify our beliefs beyond merely initiating sensation? For it to be a recognition, it still needs the conceptual realm totally independent from sensation. Though Locke looks our mind as a reflecting mirror, this mirror doesn’t work some additions like conceptual schemes. And if a mirror needs additional factors for reflecting, is it really a mirror? For Rorty, the critic applied to Locke can be conducted to other sort of empirical doctrines as well. Hume is making same mistake in A Treatise of human nature and it was rightly pointed out by Kant. According to Rorty, Sellars’ work in Myth of Given is that it showed the mirroring image of our mind as deceptive and promoted new kind of philosophy, the holism in 20th century.

Holistic Behaviorism

 Before dealing with holisim, we need to see that this sort of attempts to discover foundation in mirroring image continued to other philosophy, which is called analytic philosophy. The uniqueness of analytic philosophy starting from G. Frege and B. Russel is that it seeks its inquiry in language, not mind nor things. Analysis of meaning, often tried by analytic investigators, is key method to discover true meaning of proposition and the structure related to it. Analytic philosophers usually believe they can find ‘what the proposition P meant’ by analysis just like Russell did so. For them, investigation of language which philosophy carries out has a privileged representations about reality, because it’s believed to be the most fundamental inquiry. And this privilege is just another case of mirror-image already seen in modern philosophy.

Rorty explains who served decisive role in uncovering the impossibility of the ideal of analytic philosophy is W.V.O. Quine. In several works, Quine suggests a meaning of proposition is decided only upon explicit dissent or assent of users, not fixed reference or abstract entity. Whether a proposition is true or false can be answered only in certain matrix where the proposition ontologically commits. (See words and objects) Just like Sellars showed it’s impossible to justify our beliefs only with experience, Quine warrants that proposition alone without conceptual matrix cannot constitute meaning. This radical behavioristic viewpoint opens up an irremovable relativity in the analysis of meaning. Quine’s semantics (if we can call it semantics) is quiet similar to Wittgenstein’s, in that they saw meaning is determined in social context. (177p) Our verbal activities are always a playing of language-game whose rules are given from society. And this very fact enhances the state of philosophy as a cultural matter, not an independent one. On the other hand, Davidson also presents radical perspective on meaning and truth which has nothing to do with mirroring something. For Davidson, being truth of some propositions is identical to being accepted by the speaker of that saying. (See Truth and Meaning) This tautology-looking analysis of meaning deconstructs the mirror-like image of mind. There is nothing to reflect because all we need to understand meaning is the subject’s own intention and context.

We can learn from Quine and Davidson much lessons; The mirroring image of philosophy consists of many trials to discover fundamental semantics behind our language or being. However, for Quine, analysis of meaning outside of its context (in Quinian sense, ‘mapped matrix’) is meaningless. He’d only admit overall mapping object-subject relation as an possible ontological analysis (See Ontological relativity and Word and Object). Similarly, Davidson says truth is a sort of primitive concept, not a thing requiring certain semantics. Davidson didn’t need any form of semantics but only syntax of proposition, and someone’s ‘regarding T as truth’ is only condition for being truth. Any kind of attempts to construct a certain mirror of truth cannot success, because it seems certain that ‘regarding T as truth’ would be relative depending on subject. In philosophy of above two, any theory of foundation cannot stand.

Rorty says this kind of critic consists main theme of 20th century’s holism. While he admits holism mainly lead by Quine and Davidson promoted deconstruction of mirror image in analytic philosophy, he says they didn’t make explicit new image of philosophy perfectly different from mirror of nature. It’s because Quine and Davidson still holds the Russellian ideal of philosophy, desiring to describe exact image of our mirrors. Actually, new image of philosophy Rorty aims at is achieved in J. Dewey or later Heidegger, further, or Derrida. Now Rorty presents totally unprecedented concept of philosophy (actually, not a concept in strict sense) with some help of philosophers like Kuhn, Gadamer, and Heidegger.

Philosophy as a hermeneutic conversation

Incommensurability and edification

 If philosophical ideal of discovering fundamental is not desirable and needs to be refined, what’s the alternative? Rorty presents new image of Philosophy, not as a solution to so-called philosophical problem (because there’re no such problems actually), but a therapeutic methodology for curing them (See Philosophical Investigation) Then, what does it stand for by ‘therapeutic’? Rorty cites the concept of ‘therapeutic’ was borrowed from Wittgenstein. For Wittgenstein, questions like “are there minds?” or “what’s the essence of being?” cannot be rightly answered because they’re ill-posed ones. Rather, we should cure and let them away from our culture. Same for Rorty, it’s not a job of philosophy to invent (like Descartes did with his pseudo-skepticism) or solve the epistemological problem. Philosophy only serves as a domain of culture, especially for promoting communication between other cultural fields like science, sociology, or economics. And the most desirable model of such ‘new’ image of philosophy was showed by Kuhn and Gadamer.

So far, so good. However, it seems we need to review in which points Rorty is trying to separate his new philosophy from old one. In mirror-image of philosophy, philosophers seek incommensurability. As we saw in the case of incorrigibility in mind, philosophy always tries to find irrefutable truth. For Descartes, it was inner thought, and for Kant, transcendental dualism did that role. Regardless of their themes, philosophers are same in that they pursue such absolute truth. It was not that different in philosophy of language too because its founders, Russell and Frege, find their ideality in same thing with Kant and their followers tried same thing. (269p) Rorty’s main point is that Philosophy should give up such incommensurability and permit commensuration and conversation. In short, ‘edification’ in philosophy must be permitted. In this sense, conversation means endless process toward the truth which would never be achieved.

 According to Rorty, Thomas Kuhn’s the structure of scientific revolutions is the touchstone of such fulfillment of Rorty’s new philosophy. Kuhn perfectly separated the notion of unchangeable truth from the domain of science. To put it shortly, Kuhn explains the normal science is accepted by present world with its familiarity, not with its reflecting truth or nature. Though people trust recent science more than old-fashioned because they think it fits better to reality, for Kuhn, normal science (the science broadly accepted for now) can always be substituted by ‘revolutionary’ ones. While revolutionary ones look weird at first, it becomes normal science through some resistance and crisis of previous normal one. Describing this whole series of change as ‘scientific revolutions’, Kuhn warrants there’s no unified, singular method of choosing certain scientific method. (319p) Furthermore, Kuhn claims not only there’s no internal relation between normal science and revolutionary one. It opposes frontally to traditional understanding of science as an integral process of investigation toward truth. In strict sense, science is not related to such inquiry, but just a continuous revolution. Surely, science cannot meet incommensurability because it experiences fundamental turn whenever revolution happens.

  While Kuhn’s revolution was a great turn for the concept of science to be refined, in Rorty’s perspective, he was still saddled in traditional philosophy’s ideal; the clear, mirror-like description of scientific field. On the other hand, another touchstone for mirror-breaking philosophy is shown from Gadamer with his Truth and Method. Organizing ‘hermeneutic’ tasks in the history of philosophy, Gadamer developed unique, but strongly convincing concept of hermeneutics. Gadamer sees all rational activity as an interpretation, based on subject’s context (in other words, horizon, borrowed from E. Husserl). Interpreting a phenomenon is different from bracketing phenomenon systematically, because Gadamer’s interpretation is, rather, expressing phenomenon in its own background understanding. there’s no certain ‘answer’ in this act, which makes hermeneutics independent from systematic philosophy. Rorty asserts that we can admit edification in hermeutic philosophy, while not in systematic one. Therefore, hermeneutics consists of conversation regarding various domains other than philosophy. Hermeneutic investigation itself is conversation because it nearly doesn’t set up presuppositions while ready to edify its presuppositions (in Gadamerian words, prejudices).

Then, what about Rorty’s new image of philosophy inspired from Kuhn and Gadamer? Rorty asks; is there any reason should philosophy differ from poem? (7p) Any expected replies like “the reason is because philosophy seeks unchangeable truth about object(nature)” will be rejected because it already supposes Glassy essence of philosophy. For Rorty, there’s no priority or uniqueness of philosophy other than other subjects in our culture. The old maxim that philosophy investigates absolute or incorrigible one is wrong: Philosophy without mirrors, the title of the Mirror‘s last section, means philosophy has nothing to represent. Our mind is not an unclouded mirror. Rather than reflecting nature flawlessly, philosophy now aims to edify. This edifying process can be seen as an education, as a Bildung. In education, we have no certain completed aim or decisive method, but only stepwise processes at each moment. With these concepts of new philosophy, Rorty declares traditional philosophy as an irrefutable inquiry must be substituted to conversational discipline.

Rorty’s philosophy as an edification seeks truth (not Truth, which he cites as an aim of traditional philosophy) endlessly in openness. While it admits the impossibility of reduction from one subject to another, it still holds the possibility of conversation between subjects or domains. We can say philosophy sets up conversation between literature and science, law and mathematics. Whatever objects it deals with, the most central point of edification is that it should be done in continuous process, not a ‘philosophical inquiry’.

Now, philosophical problems find its peace in Rorty’s theraphy __ the philosophy of edification and conversation. There’s no serious philosophical problem; This is because while philosophical problems themselves are designed to be answered with philosophical solutions (which are quite systematic and juridical), ‘new’ philosophy without mirror don’t presuppose the possibility of such solutions. Rather, it reserve edification of subjects in those problems __ who are ready to be refined through conversation. They’d gladly admit that those problems are endlessly postponed to be solved. At least, we can expect they will play with various cultural languages in conversation. The questions posed in the head of this article __ “is there a philosophical problem?”___ could be answered by Wittgenstein, simultaneously, or Rorty himself as follows;

…But this simply means that the philosophical problems should completely disppaer……There is not a philosophical method, though there are indeed methods, like different therapies. (Philosophical Investigations, Ch. 133)

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