Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Postmodernism, pragmatism, and motte and bailey - a quick note

Whenever I identify my philosophical leanings I always like to qualify that I'm by no means a professional philosopher - it's simply what resonates with me of what I've read which is of course limited. That having been said for a while now I've identified with American pragmatism and in particular (although not on all points) Richard Rorty, who I've spent the most time with of all the pragmatists. Pragmatism of course has a lot of similarities to postmodernism.

In reading up a little on the motte and bailey fallacy after Julien's comment on the wage gap post, it seems that it's used by Shackel to point out the problems with postmodernism. Now I don't know what Shackel thinks of pragmatism (that's probably worth checking out) but it strikes me that a lot of what I like about pragmatism is precisely that pragmatism is sort of postmodernism without the motte and bailey fallacy. Postmodernism has a defensible core having to do with some sort of anti-foundationalism and social construction, etc. (their motte), and that's fine and Shackel seems to indicate that's fine. But then they build that out into much bigger claims that are less defensible. At pragmatism's core of course is the same anti-foundationalism but they are much less willing to go the extra step. Rorty constantly insists that he's not a relativist, that he's fine with concepts like progress as meaningful concepts, etc. His practical claims about human life are typically not that out of the ordinary. He only insists that we don't pretend they have what he'll often refer to as the Platonic foundation that we like to pretend they have.

Keep the postmodernist motte, skip the bailey.

I do like this concept a lot. So much of our discourse is a constellation of related arguments rather than a single argument and this helps to treat and evaluate that constellation of arguments as a whole.

I'm happy to have reactions to this - it was my spur of the moment reaction but I could be wrong.


  1. Have you at least read the fundamental texts in philosophy? (Namely: The Pre-Socratic philosophers, Plato, and Aristotle.)

  2. "Have you at least read the fundamental texts in philosophy? (Namely: The Pre-Socratic philosophers, Plato, and Aristotle.)"

    Early Greek Thinking, by Heidegger is fundamental IMO.

  3. You may be interested in this post by Scott Alexander on the motte and bailey doctrine in the context of feminism (whether you sympathize with his critique of feminism or not):


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