Where to draw the line: how Platonism haunts our discourse and the search for exorcism

by slimboyfat 120 Replies latest jw friends

  • slimboyfat
    slimboyfat

    In the discussion about race I adopted a position I am not entirely comfortable with. I think there is a sense in which it is useful to distinguish categories of description that can be fruitfully defended (apples and bananas) and those that cannot (Caucasian or other racial descriptions for example). But there is a more fundamental sense in which I believe that everything is socially constructed, every single line you can think of. Including fruit. Another poster expressed it this way:

    Every attempt to classify living things is flawed and tentative. Look at the arguments that rage among paleontologists. Every definition of species is subject to being contradicted by exceptions.

    That's perspectivism in a nutshell I'd say. You can't get clearer than that. I'd apply it to everything including the stars and man and flies and eyes and hopes and harps.

    At the beginning of his book "The Greatest Show on Earth" Richard Dawkins explained that the Platonic idea of perfect forms had inhibited acceptance of the radical idea of evolution and common descent. Western culture is so committed to the idea that categories are fixed by their ideal forms that the suggestion that all life is related and there are no non-arbitrary lines to be drawn anywhere was simply unthinkable for most people.

    Take the question: when did the first human live? It depends what you mean by human. It depends where you want to draw the line. There is no right and wrong answer. Some scientists say that around 200,000 years ago a species emerged from which we decend and which we can reasonably begin to identify with our own. But you can argue earlier or later for different reasons. And whoever you choose to call the first human, his parents were virtually identical to him. The line is arbitrary.

    Dawkins understands this and it's a good insight he puts at the start of his book. But what he doesn't seem to appreciate is that ALL lines are arbitrary. Every taxonomy, every name, every collection of names and theories and typologies and explanations involving causation. Every meaningful utterance you care to make, hear or value. It has all been made not found. And it can be unmade. We need to get past the idea that we are discovering lines where there are none. We need to be fully aware that we are drawing our own lines. Why? Because then instead of asking the stupid question: does this line truthfully belong here? We'll ask the much better question: is it useful to draw a line here or not.

    And that's where I draw the line.

    And it deconstructs itself, which is beyond the line I have drawn but infects the inside. As always. Recursive, but none the less useful for that. Dare I say true? I believe I can say the word only because I don't believe in it. And because people like to hear it. But it wouldn't miss it at all.

    Let's stop chasing shadows.

  • cofty
    cofty

    I agree with the first 4 paragraphs.

    After that I don't know if I agree or not because it became ambiguous.

    I think you are trying to argue there is no such thing as a fact. If so, you have all your work still to do.

    "search for exorcism"?

  • dropoffyourkeylee
    dropoffyourkeylee
    I suggest that SBFs autocorrect function put in the word exorcism. Maybe he meant something else, as it doesn't fit.
  • cofty
    cofty

    I think it's the idea of the need to exorcise the ghost of Plato.

  • slimboyfat
    slimboyfat
    You understand why "the first human" is not a fact but an interpretation? It's the same with everything.
  • cofty
    cofty
    You understand why "the first human" is not a fact but an interpretation?

    Yes

    It's the same with everything

    No

  • nicolaou
    nicolaou

    Not everything Slim'. Yes, putting your finger on an individual hominid at some point in the past 200,000 years and claiming "this was the first human" would be ridiculous but that is NOT true of everything.

    Some things can be called 'true' or a 'fact' without any nod to relativistic caveats. Go on, ask me for an example . . .

  • nicolaou
    nicolaou
    Damn your quick typing ability Cofty!
  • slimboyfat
    slimboyfat

    It's just a matter of degree. Once the Platonic spell is broken there's no going back.

    Can I tell you the books that convinced me about social constructionism?

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Invitation-Social-Construction-Kenneth-Gergen/dp/1412923018

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Social-Constructionism-Vivien-Burr/dp/0415317606

    I am persuaded that all knowledge is socially constructed. Which doesn't mean "things" don't exist in themselves. It means we can't "know" them except through the mediation of discourses, language and so on.

  • cofty
    cofty
    If I was to say "so what?" I wouldn't mean that flippantly.

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