Archives For Patrick J. Reider

In this Special Issue, our multinational contributors share their perspective on epistemic claims and the moral implications of how one should present them via mass media.  Though the individual responses vary, they fall under two headings: 1) New Media and Social Justice, and 2) Mass Media, Popular Science, and Bad Reporting.

The PDFs of each article give specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-1Kj

Please refer to: Special Issue 1: “Normative Functionalism and the Pittsburgh School” and Special Issue 2: “On the Future Direction of Social Epistemology.”

I. New Media and Social Justice

Considering Online News Comments: Are We Really So Irrational and Hate Filled?
Maureen Linker, University of Michigan-Dearborn, USA

Hashtag Feminism and Twitter Activism in India
Elizabeth Losh, University of California, San Diego, USA

II. Mass Media, Popular Science, and Bad Reporting

Science and Scientism in Popular Science Writing
Jeroen de Ridder, VU University Amsterdamm NL

From Science in the Papers to Science in the News
Carlos Elías Pérez, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, ES and Jesús Zamora Bonilla, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, ES

Free Will as an Illusion: Ethical and Epistemological Consequences of an Alleged Revolutionary Truth
Mario De Caro, Università Roma Tre and Tufts University and Andrea Lavazza, Centro Universitario Internazionale, Arezzo, Italy

Author Information: Frank Scalambrino, University of Dallas, Texas, scalambrinof9@gmail.com

Normative Functionalism and the Pittsburgh School: Table of Contents

Scalambrino, Frank. 2012. “Tales of the mighty tautologists?” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (1): 83-97.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-Ca

Abstract

There is supposed to be deep agreement among the work of Wilfrid Sellars, Robert Brandom, and John McDowell in regard to normativity. As a result, according to Robert Brandom (2008), and echoed by Chauncey Maher (2012), “normative functionalism” (NF) may refer to a position held by Sellars, Brandom, and McDowell, i.e., “The Pittsburgh School” of philosophy. The standard criticism of the various forms of this normative functionalist position points out the inconsistency in the commitment of normative functionalists to both metaphysical realism and psychological nominalism. Yet, the inconsistency between metaphysical realism and psychological nominalism may be difficult to see until the relation between normativity and perception is clarified. To this end, in this article I discuss the role of habit in perception. Normative functionalists aspire for a sort of pragmatism between the horns of psychologism and pan-logicism. However, once a discussion of habit in perception reveals a kind of relation between an agent and its environment that exceeds the inferential capacity of normativity, the normative functionalist position seems tautological. Put more specifically, the NF thesis may merely be claiming that the inferential sort of normativity which governs rational synthetic processing of experience is an inferential sort of normativity governing rational synthetic processing. The revelation of such a tautological grounding should be sufficient evidence for the Pittsburgh School to consider re-working its understanding of the functionality of normativity; for example, regarding claims such as: “In an important sense there is no such boundary [between the discursive and non-discursive], and so nothing outside the realm of the conceptual” (Brandom 2000, 357). This discussion should be, at least, valuable as a supplement to the standard criticism of NF or in regard to the Pittsburgh School’s avowed relation to G.W.F. Hegel.

“[A] tree or a rock can become subject to norms insofar as we consider it as engaging in social practices.” [1] — Robert Brandom

I. Introduction

The “Pittsburgh School” of philosophy refers to the work of Wilfrid Sellars, Robert Brandom, and John McDowell from the University of Pittsburgh. And, there is supposed to be “deep agreement” within the Pittsburgh School regarding normativity (cf. Brandom 2008, 357; cf. Maher 2012). “Normative Functionalism,” then, refers to the philosophical position indicated by the deep agreement among these various Pittsburgh School understandings of normativity. So, how may the position of normative functionalism (NF) be characterized?

Consider Brandom’s characterization from his Reason in Philosophy: Animating Ideas (2009),

The synthesis of a rational self or subject: what is responsible for the [normative] commitments … has a rational unity in that the commitments it comprises are treated as reasons for and against other commitments, as normatively obliging one to acknowledge some further commitments and prohibiting acknowledgement of others [Brandom’s emphases] (Brandom, 2009, 14).

It is as if the meaning of an experience for an agent depends on its relation to the norm-governed network, i.e., a space of reasons, in which it functions as an assertion. And, according to Brandom: “This is Kant’s normative inferential conception of awareness or experience” (Brandom 2009, 14). Further, in his book The Pittsburgh School of Philosophy (2012), Chauncey Maher explains, “the big idea is that the meaning of a term or a whole sentence is its norm-governed [emphasis added] role in rational conduct, broadly construed to include perception, thinking, speech, and deliberate action” (Maher 2012a, 5). Ultimately, in this article, I will argue that the domain of experience the Pittsburgh School considers norm-governed is too widely construed in regard to perception. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Patrick J. Reider, University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, PJR23@pitt.edu

Normative Functionalism and the Pittsburgh School: Table of Contents

Reider, Patrick J. 2012. “Sellars and Knowing the Thing-In-Itself.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (1): 68-82.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-BQ

Abstract

DeVries’ article “Sellars, Realism, and Kantian Thinking” misinterprets my argument that Sellars cannot show a sufficient degree of perceptual access for science to produce knowledge of “things-in-themselves” as involving a Cartesian characterization of Sellars. In correcting this misinterpretation (among many others), I will show that there are aspects of Sellars’ views on sensory receptivity, analogies, and representation that are at odds with the epistemic claim Sellars makes in regard to knowing the thing-in-itself, which deVries fails to acknowledge. In highlighting the nature of these internal discrepancies, I argue that Sellars’ and deVries’ (reading of Sellars’) account of science’s ability to achieve metaphysical realism entails criteria for knowing the thing-in-itself that is normative and/or presumed rather than the product of scientific discovery. In short, this paper has two foci: first, to respond to deVries’ misinterpretations of my account of Sellars, and second, to show that the traditional analytic commitment to metaphysical realism is central to Sellars, as well as to his readers, but cannot be sustained.

Section 1

In “Sellars on Perception, Science, and Realism: A Critical Response,” I argued that Sellars cannot show a sufficient degree of perceptual access to permit his accounts of scientific concepts, theories, analogies, and models to count as knowledge of “things-in-themselves.”[1] DeVries’ response to this paper in “Sellars, Realism, and Kantian Thinking” misinterprets my critique as relying on a Cartesian form of the “new way of ideas” to characterize Sellars. In attempting to dissuade me from a view I do not hold, deVries offers several excellent accounts of Sellars’ views on analogy and picturing. While correcting his mischaracterization of my view of Sellars, I will argue that neither Sellars’ nor deVries’ (reading of Sellars’) account of science and picturing permits knowledge of the thing-in-itself. Additionally, I will argue that Sellars’ and deVries account of the attainability of metaphysical realism via science entails criteria for knowing (what Sellars calls) the “thing-in-itself,” which can only be normative and/or presumed rather than the product of scientific discovery. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Willem A. deVries, University of New Hampshire, willem.devries@unh.edu

Normative Functionalism and the Pittsburgh School: Table of Contents

deVries, Willem A. 2012. “Sellars, Realism and Kanitan Thinking.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (1): 57-67.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-BA

This essay is a response to Patrick Reider’s essay “Sellars on Perception, Science and Realism: A Critical Response.” Reider is correct that Sellars’s realism is in tension with his generally Kantian approach to issues of knowledge and mind, but I do not think Reider’s analysis correctly locates the sources of that tension or how Sellars himself hoped to be able to resolve it. Reider’s own account of idealism and the reasons supporting it are rooted in the epistemological tradition that informed the British empiricists, rather than in the metaphysical reasons that ruled within the German tradition from Leibniz through Hegel that has much more in common with Sellars’s position. Thus, Reider takes Sellars’s notion of picturing to be just another version of the representationalism that has dominated the Anglo-American tradition since Locke, whereas, in my view, because picturing is a non-semantical relation, it is an important ingredient in naturalizing the coherentist theories of the idealists.

Section I

Reider starts off, appropriately, with a discussion of analogy and science in Sellars’s thought. The target here is correct, but the discussion goes awry in some important ways. This is most directly seen in Reider’s speaking as if Sellars wants to exploit something like a Thomistic “analogy of proportion,” when, in fact, Sellars is claiming that the kinds of analogies he’s exploiting, unlike the Thomistic version, offers us “new determinate concepts” [my emphasis], rather than an allusion to something of some general nature whose specific reality remains beyond our ken.

Granted, there is something like a Thomistic analogy of proportion in play when, in the midst of his analysis of perception, Sellars tells us that “sheer phenomenology or conceptual analysis takes us part of the way” in understanding sensory episodes, namely, “to the point of assuring us that

Something, somehow a cube of pink in physical space is present in the perception other than as merely believed in (SSOP §26: 89).”

This result yields, like a Thomistic analogy of proportion, a highly indeterminate concept of what is present to us in the perception: something that is somehow a colored, shaped object in physical space. However, for our purposes the main point is that scientific theorizing goes far beyond this; eventually, it will develop a determinate conception of what is present in the perception and how it can manage to be colored and shaped, that is, what properties it has that are counterparts to the properties of the physical objects that normally cause such sensory states. This will be a family of determinate concepts of sensa.

There are two significantly different forms in which Sellars thinks analogies can lead to new determinate concepts. One is a matter of analogical relations between sets or families of concepts. Scientists use such analogies to generate new conceptual schemes that might prove explanatorily useful and be subject to empirical test. So, for instance, around the turn of the 20th century, after the discovery of the electron, J. J. Thomson proposed the “plum pudding” model to explain the structure of the atom, which was fairly quickly replaced by the Rutherford “planetary” model, which was then quantized by Bohr. Analogies to plum puddings and solar systems enabled scientists to think about the objects they were investigating and the principles that might explain their behavior by using concepts of domains with which we were already familiar. This facilitated the development of new tests that drove the scientists to new models. Sellars has this kind of analogy in mind when he argues, as he did in so many places, that our mentalistic concepts are formed by means of such an analogy, and in fact, by two different analogies. One likens our intentional states to episodes of ‘inner speech’, the other likens our sensory states to ‘inner replicas.’

The second significant form of analogy that Sellars considers is based on an isomorphism between two domains of objects and their relations (as opposed to concepts and their relations). When the objects and their relations in one domain bear a useful isomorphism to those in some other, nominally different domain, Sellars often speaks of “counterpart properties and relations.” We can find at least two or three different places where Sellars claims that such an isomorphism plays an important role. One is in the analysis of the sensory domain, where our sensory states exhibit counterpart properties to those exhibited by the manifest image sensory objects they are typically caused by, and are arranged in a scheme that involves counterparts of spatial and temporal relations (SM I ¶74). The other is in Sellars’s difficult notion of picturing. Some tokens of a linguistic type (what Sellars calls a “natural linguistic object”) picture some objects in nature in virtue of participating in a complex system of such natural linguistic objects that, in virtue of an unimaginably complex projection relation, is isomorphic (in certain respects) to the worldly objects thus pictured. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Patrick J. Reider, University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, PJR23@pitt.edu

Normative Functionalism and the Pittsburgh School: Table of Contents

Reider, Patrick J. 2012. “Sellars on Perception, Science, and Realism: A Critical Response.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (1): 39-56.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-B8

Abstract

In this article, I explain the manner in which Sellars’ version of realism is undermined by his Kantian commitments and his normative functionalism. After providing an account of the perceptual and scientific models that support his realism, I argue for the following: Sellars’ perceptual/cognitive models do not permit sufficient perceptual and conceptual access to warrant a version of realism predicated upon our ability to know mind-independent existence. In other words, Sellars’ Kantian commitments, his norm-driven view of concepts, and his norm-guided view of reason place severe limits on one’s access to mind-independent reality. Consequently, when one strictly holds Sellars to these limits, he cannot show (or significantly support) the manner in which knowledge of mind-independent existence is possible.

1.1 Introduction

In what manner does Sellars believe perceptual knowledge is possible in light of his normative functionalist views? For instance, if 1) the meaning of words can be partly or fully reduced to the function they play in a language, 2) norms mediate and/or determine these functions, and 3) the manner in which perception unfolds is shaped by these norms (all of which are important aspects of normative functionalism), then in what sense does Sellars believe we can have objective empirical knowledge? This is an important question to ask, as it reveals the manner in which Sellars believes science, as a discipline founded upon empirical observation, can lead to knowledge of mind-independent existence.

In order to answer the above questions, we need to understand Sellars’ account of perception. One of his most complete accounts of perception, as it concerns his peculiar brand of realism, can be found in Science and Metaphysics: Variations on Kantian Themes.[1] Given the norm-driven account of Sellars’ views on meaning and the foreknowledge that Sellars is a realist, one might expect (and believe he needs) a view of perception that un-problematically supports realism. Instead, Sellars surprisingly makes numerous Kantian commitments that are central to his perceptual model — commitments which are historically interpreted as counter to realism. For example, take the following five Kantian commitments that Sellars adheres to in Science and Metaphysics (and throughout all of his later career): 1) neither sensibility (in itself) nor conceptuality (in itself) are capable of providing knowledge of the thing-in-itself, 2) without a pre-existing conceptual framework, no knowledge of empirical content is possible, 3) we are not directly aware of sensations, 4) in order to recognize empirical content, as facts or states of affairs, a judgment is required, and 5) in order to relate concepts to sensory content, via a judgment, the mind must first synthesize sensory content into coherent units of time and space.[2]

The above views are surprising for a realist to embrace, because they play a central role in Kant’s claim that the thing-in-itself (an entity’s true existence independent of how a person’s mind may contingently experience, believe, or feel about it) is unknowable. Despite Sellars’ Kantian commitments, he believes that “the gulf between appearances and things-in-themselves, though a genuine one, can in principle be bridged” (50). In what follows, I will first explain the manner in which Sellars believes this is possible. I then argue that his perceptual views do not support or allow the type of realist conclusion he draws from them. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Patrick J. Reider, University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, PJR23@pitt.edu

Normative Functionalism and the Pittsburgh School: Table of Contents

Reider, Patrick J. 2012. “Normative Functionalism in the Pittsburgh School.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (1): 16-28

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-AA

Abstract

Sellars, Brandom, and McDowell (whom Maher aptly calls the “Pittsburgh School”) have tremendous influence on the current shape of the analytic tradition. Despite their differing views on philosophy of language, the philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, and epistemology, their shared application of ‘normative functionalism’ highlights important similarities in their approaches to the aforementioned disciplines. Normative functionalism interprets the ability to form judgments, possess concepts, rationally defend or be critical of judgments, and consequently act as an agent, as largely guided by one’s responsiveness to norms. In this article, I argue for two related claims. First, I argue that the Pittsburgh School’s normative functionalism has germinated from the seed of Sellars’ ‘psychological nominalism’ and cannot be separated from it. Second, no philosophical question or approach can be free of competing claims as to the manner in which human beings think, communicate, act, and know. As a result, normative functionalism (insofar as it is a natural extension of psychological nominalism) is relevant to many philosophical disciplines, because it opposes nearly all the traditional views concerning how the human intellect comes into being and functionally operates.

Section 1

Sellars, Brandom, and McDowell (whom Maher aptly calls the “Pittsburgh School”) have tremendous influence on the current shape of the analytic tradition.[1] Despite their differing views on philosophy of language, the philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, and epistemology, their shared application of ‘normative functionalism’ highlights important similarities in their approaches to the aforementioned disciplines.[2]

As of yet, there is no definite way to refer to ‘normative functionalism,’ nor can one claim that its use is well established. Nonetheless, normative functionalism indicates a philosophical approach that will continue to have important repercussion in contemporary thought for two distinct reasons. First, via the considerable influences of Sellars, Brandom, and McDowell, the approach (if not the term) of normative functionalism is embedded in the most important issues facing one of the historically most prominent trends of the 21st century. Second, the theory of normative functionalism appears to maintain its explanatory power within a wide range of philosophical disciplines. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Patrick J. Reider, University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, PJR23@pitt.edu

Reider, Patrick J. 2012. Pittsburgh and the Analytic Tradition in Philosophy. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 1 (9): 20-27

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-qb

Please refer to:

  • Maher, Chauncey. 2012. Reply to Reider. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 1 (11): 16-23

The Pittsburgh School of Philosophy: Sellars, McDowell, Brandom
by Chauncey Maher
Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy

This article is a book review of Chauncey Maher’s text The Pittsburgh School of Philosophy: Sellars, McDowell, Brandom, published by Routledge. The first half of this article indicates the importance of the text’s theme, its intended audience, its content, and the manner in which it is successful. My explanation of the book’s content will additionally function as an overview of Sellars’, McDowell’s, and Brandom’s shared philosophical views. In the second half of this article, I offer a challenge to the text. This challenge also serves the dual function of being an introduction to the Pittsburgh School’s views on perception and knowledge.

The text’s theme and importance

Though the analytic tradition is varied, no one can deny that Sellars, Brandom, and McDowell hold a tremendous influence on an array of topics that are at the forefront of analytic thought — namely, epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of action.[1] While analytic philosophy is by no means the only philosophical tradition currently in practice, it has a powerful grasp on all English speaking schools (even if at times it is simply manifested as a rejection of the tradition). Hence, for anyone who is interested in a working knowledge of contemporary thought, the analytic tradition, in particular what Maher calls the Pittsburgh School (i.e., Sellars, Brandom, and McDowell), is undeniably one important slice of it.[2] Continue Reading…