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May 16, 2007

Surely in Need of Much More Argument

Evaluating a recent book about Derrida at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Nancy J. Holland says:

One wonders, for instance, about the statement that philosophy in America "has the role of legitimating the US government and the scientific enterprise" leading to the suggestions that analytic philosophy "has as its telos the establishment of a universal culture for a static, totalitarian universal civilization" (pp. 124-125). Intriguing, and possibly even largely justified, but surely in need of much more argument.

Brian Leiter has responded with a post called "How Can Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews Publish Nonsense Like This?" He points out that, for one thing, there is no such thing as analytic philosophy, which I did not know. Some discussion ensues over whether the phrase "intriguing, and possibly even largely justified" might be an oblique put-down (what is called, I believe, a "piss take," though I only learned that expression yesterday and cannot be quite sure of using it correctly).

But the best thing in the comments section is a report by Tad Brennan, a former student of George Bealer, who would probably be called an analytic philosopher if analytic philosophy actually existed. Which it doesn't, so none of that. Anyway, here is Brennan's testimony:

I'm afraid I have to rat him out on this. The fact is, he was *constantly* legitimating the U.S. government. "The US government is totally legitimate!" he'd say. "Never question the legitimacy of the US government!"

Every now and then he'd say something about the bankruptcy of set theory or the ineliminability of propositions in the ontology. But if you questioned him about whether that was really the best set of primitives to work with, he'd get all, like, "You're questioning the legitimacy of the US government! Don't question the legitimacy of the US government!" And then he'd make us say the Pledge of Allegiance again.

As for the telos of his views being a static, totalitarian civilization, I mean, yeah, probably, but I never took his advanced course. I got scared off by people saying it was really hard-core and techie--a lot of manifest destiny and exceptionalism, shining-city-on-a-hill stuff and all.

It sounds like ACTA should give out a George Bealer Prize.

(crossposted from Crooked Timber)

Posted by smclemee at May 16, 2007 3:18 PM

COMMENTS

"oblique put down"? I read that as a pretty direct one, actually.

Posted by: Ahistoricality at May 16, 2007 7:22 PM

It is obvious that some readers are not aware of some of the more common mid-western usages of the phrase "Intriguing, and possibly even largely justified." For example, here is Winnipeg it is common to hear people say "She is struggling to avoid being stereotyped as an intriguing, and possibly even largely justified blonde" or "it was just intriguing, and possibly even largely justified luck that caused my grand-parents not to book a birth on the Titanic." Hope this clarifies matters, I am off to the gym to lift some intriguing, and possibly even largely justified bells.

Apologies to Calvin Trillin

Posted by: Doug Smith at May 18, 2007 5:08 PM

My own impression is that she was not delivering a put-down of the opinion in question at all, but concurring with it.

I see nothing whatever in the review to suggest the comment is other than the expression of the wish that the point be made with some evidence and logic, rather than ex cathedra.

Posted by: Scott McLemee at May 18, 2007 5:25 PM