Sunday, October 07, 2007

Claude Levi-Strauss demonstrated the rationality behind various mythological structures

Why are you treating Davidson and Quine as authorities as to what belief are without actually providing their arguments and claims? Throughout this discussion you have evoked them on a number of occasions as if you assume that I am familiar with their positions, share the positions of these thinkers and that these thinkers ought to decide the issues being discussed. I have read a few of Quine’s articles and occasionally teach “Two Dogmas”, and haven’t read any Davidson or Mcdowell for nearly fifteen years. More oddly yet, you simply reference their names without explicitly laying out the arguments and concepts behind these claims as if your interlocutor (me) ought to already be familiar with them.
The distinction between shibboleth and belief is not one with which I am familiar, nor one I have ever come across. Absent a more thorough elaboration of this distinction similar to what I did above in response to CynicLibrarian concerning Lacanian diagnostic categories, I see no reason to admit this distinction as being at all relevant to this discussion (simply because I have no idea what distinction it is that I would be admitting, nor what it would be committing me to). You compare my concerns about this distinction with McDowell’s concerns about the principle of charity, yet the principle of charity is not a concept I work with, nor something I’ve adopted a position towards one way or another. Similarly, absent a clear and explicit development of the specific claims you’re attributing to Quine and Davidson, I see no reason to treat them as relevant to this discussion as, once again, I am not familiar with their claims and therefore am in no position to determine what I would be committing myself to.
Throughout this discussion I have straightforwardly treated belief as a judgment that something about the world is the case. Hence, “it is raining” (here outside of Dallas), “Hurricane Katrina is Gods wraith against the sinful behavior of those living in New Orleans”, and “The world is round” are all instances of belief. If you wish to add some bells and whistles that is fine, but you will have to do that by actually developing those bells and whistles rather than simply citing others.
I suspect that your experience at your Evangelical university can be explained very easily. When one is within a community where beliefs are shared and where it is generally assumed that ones interlocutors have the same beliefs (that you’re “one of us”), the intractability of belief becomes invisible and the difficulties that emerge with respect to persuasion do not appear. The absence of difference gives rise to a certain perspective on rational discourse. My different experience is not simply the result of encountering students at Quad-C that have fundamentalist beliefs (it’s exceedingly rare for such things to come up at the college), nor the result of lurking about conservative and fundamentalist forums, but is the result of having lived all over the country and witnessed a few small town religious revivals where books were burned, laws changed, and school policies on sexual education and evolution were transformed. Persuasion did not take place in these contexts. Change the context somewhat and imagine yourself exactly as you are now attempting to persuade Heinrich Himmler to give up his beliefs in the Nazi party. Or consider what would be involved in persuading Stephen Dawkins to endorse the intervention of supernatural causes in the order of nature. Why is it that one can have sound, well developed, arguments based on good reasons (in all three of these instances), yet persuasion fails to take place? This is the issue that I’m talking about. We can call these beliefs, shibboleths, doxas, quarks, whatever you like… But it is these incommensurable universes that I’m referring to.
You are free to correct me if I am mistaken, but I have understood you to be arguing that beliefs, shibboleths, quarks, doxas or whatever else you might like to call them have no impact both on how we act in the world and how we understand the world. I am not sure how you’re comparing me to the other person who discussed the Aztecs with. So far remarks you have made don’t exactly suggest that you’re the most credible authority on cultural anthropology. My position is that beliefs, shibboleths, quarks, doxas, leprechauns or whatever you want to call them do make a significant difference as to how we engage with the world. That aside, Aztec sacrifice was deeply intertwined with their cosmology (they believed or had the “shibboleth” that the universe was in a state of decline), and was a premised on a cause and effect relation (that sacrifice would sustain the universe and the continued existence of man). Given that the world is still here, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Aztecs.
A couple of times you have expressed concern about rationality. Perhaps you understand me to be saying that these positions are irrational and are evoking the “principle of charity” (whatever that is) to save the rationality of these groups. I wouldn’t see these observations as claims that a group as irrational. Within the Aztec cosmology, for instance, this practice is perfectly rational. In the clinical setting, we inevitably discover that the apparent irrationality of the analysand’s actions are, in fact, rational once we take into account the unconscious material of which the symptom is an expression. Claude Levi-Strauss demonstrated the rationality behind various mythological structures brilliantly in his work. However, it seems to me that Davidson-Quine (again I have no real idea as you haven’t articulated their positions, just cited them), are taking rationality to be something far stronger that I would find suspect: a position is rational only insofar as it is also true.
Anthony Paul Smith Says: October 6th, 2007 at 5:39 pm
Who is Stephen Dawkins? Did they splice the DNA of Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins? Or maybe Stephen Hawking and Dawkins… they could be Stephard Dawking.
Adam Says: October 6th, 2007 at 5:41 pm
Freudian slip! He thinks Richard Dawkins’ arguments against religion are the equivalent of Stephen Hawkings super-geniusness!
larvalsubjects Says: October 6th, 2007 at 5:41 pm
I knew it!
Resemblances aside, Dawkins, fundamentalism, and Nazism, are all examples of strongly held belief systems where persuasion is unlikely to take place. It would be difficult to make my point without referring to passionately held belief systems. Then again, perhaps I’m just obsessed with some of these things (well not so much the Dawkins)… I’m certainly behaving obsessively in this thread.
It also occurs to me that who is doing the persuading makes a big difference as to the likely success of the persuasion. It’s unlikely that Bill O’Reilly could ever convince me of anything, though I might very well endorse the very same proposition were it to come from, hmmm, John Stewart, Badiou, or Zizek.

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