Philosophy, Film, Politics, Etc.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Stanley v. Romano

Jason Stanley has posted part of his and Carlin Romano's recent "Philosophical Progress and Intellectual Culture" panel discussion.

There's a lot of humor and good spirit here, until Carlin Romano starts talking. Jason Stanley is a bit all over the place, but his points tie together nicely enough and are delivered with panache. I am entirely sympathetic with his presentation and point of view (except about the propositional nature of practical ability, but that's pretty irrelevant here, and I think Stanley is even a little tongue-in-cheek about it at the end). Then Romano gets up and immediately goes on the assault. His criticism of academic and analytic philosophy is incredibly arrogant and ignorant.

His most humorous error results from his lack of familiarity with Grice's notion of implicature. He quotes Stanley, who says that "asserting that p implicates knowledge that p." Romero interprets this as a ridiculous error. He thinks Stanley believes that only a person who knows that p could ever assert that p, that the mere making of an assertion implies that what is asserted is true. That's not what Stanley means at all. Stanley's point is rather that part of what is communicated in an assertion that p is that the person making the assertion knows that p. But what is communicated is not necessarily true. The making of the assertion does not in fact imply that the person knows that p. It only means that the meaning of the assertion includes a statement of knowledge. (If this isn't clear, consider: I cannot assert that p whilst simultaneously asserting that I do not know that p. For example, the sentence "It is raining, but I do not know that it is raining" is problematic.) Romano is apparently unaware of this idea, which means he can't have much knowledge of Grice and, by implication (not implicature), the philosophical tradition in which Stanley is working. As a result, he makes a ridiculous accusation against Stanley. This got some great reactions from the crowd.

What's impressive is not Romano's ignorance. You wouldn't expect anybody to get these subtle distinctions without training. But that's the point. Romano fails to recognize that he is not qualified to speak critically about Stanley's book, and yet he focuses his entire presentation on a criticism of that very book.

Romano thinks philosophical writing should be accessible for everybody. Or, if not everybody, at least for himself. He thinks he should be qualified to criticize every philosophical work. But he's not. If I were going to psychoanalyze, I'd suggest that he's insecure about his inability to understand the bulk of analytic philosophy. He expresses his frustration by criticizing academic and analytic philosophers for their inaccessible writing. As if it is their fault he can't understand them.

I wonder, would he make the same criticism for specialists in other fields, such as biology, physics, mathematics, or psychology, or does he think philosophy is such that it is not worthy of advanced specialization?

I'd like to see how the rest of the discussion played out. From what we can see here, Stanley showed a decent amount of restraint and generosity in his initial response to Romano.

UPDATE: There's a good discussion with several links to other parts of the conference at Leiter's blog.