Monday, December 3, 2012

Brian Leiter endorses Brad DeLong's Position on Nagel

There's been a lot of scoffing at the ignorant unwashed who don't understand philosophy (most prominently by two economists!) on this blog lately. That's a little frustrating insofar as it's not really an argument to grapple with, but that's OK. I am relatively ignorant. Occasionally I'm even unwashed.

But Brian Leiter - who last I checked is a distinguished philosopher - agrees with DeLong that Nagel's book is "obviously not very good". That's an interesting way of putting it - "obviously" not very good.

I've excused myself from specific discussions of Nagel because I don't know the guy. But this seemed worth sharing with social scientists prognisticating on philosophy who thought DeLong was just a social scientist prognisticating on philosophy.

17 comments:

  1. 1) I have three degrees in philosophy.

    2) I have never argued about whether Nagel's book was good -- I haven't read it. I argued that DeLong totally mangled the argument of Nagel's that he gave. He did.

    Your pointing out that Leiter (a much less renowned philosopher than Nagel, by the way) says Nagel's *book* is no good does not at all "endorse" DeLong's terrible misreading of Nagel's argument.

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    1. Now do you have a problem with his argument or his reading of it? It does seem to endorse DeLong's reading of it (or what I called "position on" in the post). I don't see how else you could read Leiter. It of course does not endorse DeLong's argument. I never claimed it did.

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  2. I would rather have it said that I think Leiter's position on Nagel is sound than that he thinks my position is sound.

    As to Callahan's bizarre and specious claim that I have mangled Nagel's argument... here is John Dupre summarizing Nagel:

    "The starting point of Nagel's strategy is that if the general reductionist project is to be successful, then it must be shown how consciousness/cognition/value can be integrated into the materialist worldview. Prima facie these things are not material. The materialist story about how material came to possess these entities or qualities is evolution. So if evolution cannot account for consciousness/cognition/value, it is fatally injured…. The case of cognition…. Nagel thinks that reason gives us insights into reality that evolution cannot account for. Whereas perception gives us a view of the world mediated by a 'mental effect' that it causes in me, something that emerged to serve my evolutionary interests, reason gives me direct, unmediated insight into the world…. I will only repeat that we have surely not been offered anything harder to deny than the general truth of evolution…"

    If I mangle Nagel's argument, than so does John Dupre. My eight-bit Hume emulator tells me that that is very unlikely...

    Brad DeLong

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    1. "As to Callahan's bizarre and specious claim..."

      Yeah, right Brad. I gave a detailed analysis of how you mangled Nagel's argument about the sunrise, linked in my post to your blog, and put the link on your blog. What's more, at least half a dozen commenters at your blog noted that you mangled Nagel's argument, and said you mangled it in the same way I mangled it.

      But you would, per usual, rather engage in insults than in counter-argument, at least once you know you are beaten.

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    2. And, of course, the whole quote from Dupre is a total red herring. I noted how you mangled *Nagel's argument about the sunrise.* Dupre doesn't mention *that* argument in the above quote at all.

      It is as if we had the following discussion:

      1) Delong: Thomas Nagel thinks blue is red.
      2) Callahan: That is absurd: let me show you why. (I proceed to show why.)
      3) DeLong: Hah! Dupre says he finds Nagel's theory of colors unconvincing! You see: I have him right!
      4) Callahan: Um, no.

      I have not read Nagel's book. I have never discussed his OVERALL argument, here or anywhere else. I read a long passage you cited from Nagel. You mangled your interpretation of THAT passage. Quoting someone who does not like the overall argument is completely irrelevant here.

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    3. "I mangled it."

      Oops. "I said you mangled it."

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    4. Look: if you indeed have not read Nagel, and yet continue to argue about what he says, you are a self-disarmed man in a battle of wits.

      You claim "Dupre doesn't mention [Nagel's argument about the sunrise] in the above quote at all". But Nagel's argument about the sunrise is his principal example of how "reason gives me direct, unmediated insight into the world". And Depre's quote rejects that argument--and all its examples: "The starting point of Nagel's strategy is that if the general reductionist project is to be successful, then it must be shown how consciousness/cognition/value can be integrated into the materialist worldview. Prima facie these things are not material. The materialist story about how material came to possess these entities or qualities is evolution. So if evolution cannot account for consciousness/cognition/value, it is fatally injured…. The case of cognition…. Nagel thinks that reason gives us insights into reality that evolution cannot account for. Whereas perception gives us a view of the world mediated by a 'mental effect' that it causes in me, something that emerged to serve my evolutionary interests, reason gives me direct, unmediated insight into the world…. I will only repeat that we have surely not been offered anything harder to deny than the general truth of evolution…"

      Nagel claims that when he sees the sunrise he knows he is driving north because his reason gives him direct, unmediated insight into the world. I deny that my reason does so--or, at least, if it does so it doesn't tell me, and that is distinctly odd if you are Nagel...

      Brad DeLong

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  3. I figured it out! Daniel just likes to read bullies on the Internet. I think I have human flesh on my arm after going to that link.

    (Of course, that makes me question the tone of my own blog. I must rethink my life.)

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    1. Most bullies are just playing tough in the face of other threats.

      Most bullies also probably don't think they're bullies.

      Most people who think they are being bullied probably bully other people without realizing it.

      That having been said, I don't think I follow many notable bullies online. I pop in to Cafe Hayek every once in a while I guess.

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    2. Oh, Daniel, I agree that Don B. is often a bully on his blog, and so is Landsburg. It just astounds me that you think Krugman and DeLong are frolicking in the meadows when they are attacked by right-wingers.

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    3. I think I've been through this hierarchy before. As far as harshness I think you, Krugman, Russ Roberts, and the guys on Econlib are about on par. Horwitz, Boettke, DeLong are about on par. And guys like Boudreaux take the cake.

      And maybe that shuffles a little from time to time.

      And Cowen and Mankiw are just annoyingly mild mannered.

      "Bully" is too strong for most of these. And most people over-diagnose it in others and underidentify it in themselves. I think I can be harsh in a lot of cases and I know even that self image is likely too rosy.

      But this idea that Krugman is some kind of terrible guy that gets circulated is just dumb.

      You think I think they're frolicking in meadows. I've never given anything like that sort of endorsement. The fun of blogs is precisely that it can get heated in a less formal way. All I'm saying is that it's a lot less treacherous than some people make it out.

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  4. Philosophy is incoherent to anyone except other philosophers.

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    1. Anyone that can't read, yes. My wife is not a philosopher and she finds it intelligible and (sometimes) coherent. Maybe you should go fuck yourself?

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  5. It's also worth remembering Brad DeLong's thesis:

    "he [Thomas Nagel] seems to me to be distinctly dumber than anybody who is running even an eight-bit virtual David Hume on his wetware." Your link doesn't seem to be saying the same thing.

    Side-note: the link is broken.

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    1. Link should be fixed.

      I don't think that's his thesis. I think this is: "I agree that our heuristic reasoning is remarkably good for jumped-up monkeys. But it can and does go terribly, hopelessly, laughably wrong--no more so than when it tries to generate guarantees of its own papal infallibility out of thin air."

      And I've been blogging on the understanding that this is his thesis and that "dumber than anyone running an eight-bit virtual Hume" was just a little bit of blogging flourish.

      I feel pretty good about proceeding on that understanding.

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    2. And I would point out that anybody running even a four-bit Hume on their wetware believes that "our heuristic reasoning is remarkably good for jumped-up monkeys. But it can and does go terribly, hopelessly, laughably wrong--no more so than when it tries to generate guarantees of its own papal infallibility out of thin air"

      Brad DeLong

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  6. I cannot get the reply button to work to respond inline.
    I agree with Daniel. DeLong thinks we're flesh and prone to the ills that flesh is err to. Nagel thinks we transcend flesh and unless Darwinists can come up with a pretty darned good story they're done like dinner. Non-flesh dinner.

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