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Ideas of Robert Fogelin, by Text

[American, fl. 2003, Professor at Dartmouth College, USA]

2003 Walking the Tightrope of Reason
Intro p.1 We are also irrational, with a unique ability to believe in bizarre self-created fictions
     Full Idea: We as human beings are also irrational animals, unique among animals in our capacity to place faith in bizarre fictions of our own construction.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Intro)
     A reaction: This is glaringly true, and a very nice corrective to the talk of Greeks and others about man as the 'rational animal'. From a distance we might be described by Martians as the 'mad animal'. Is the irrational current too strong to swim against?
Intro p.9 Humans may never be able to attain a world view which is both rich and consistent
     Full Idea: It might be wholly unreasonable to suppose that human beings will ever be able to attain a view of the world that is both suitably rich and completely consistent.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Intro)
     A reaction: Fogelin's lectures develop this view very persuasively. I think all philosophers must believe that the gods could attain a 'rich and consistent' view. Our problem is that we are a badly organised team, whose members keep dying.
Ch.1 p.18 The law of noncontradiction is traditionally the most basic principle of rationality
     Full Idea: Traditionally many philosophers (Aristotle among them) have considered the law of noncontradiction to be the deepest, most fundamental principle of rationality.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Ch.1)
     A reaction: For Aristotle, see Idea 1601 (and 'Metaphysics' 1005b28). The only denier of the basic character of the law that I know of is Nietzsche (Idea 4531). Fogelin, despite many qualifications, endorses the law, and so do I.
Ch.1 p.37 The law of noncontradiction makes the distinction between asserting something and denying it
     Full Idea: People who reject the law of noncontradiction obliterate any significant difference between asserting something and denying it; …this will not move anyone who genuinely opts either for silence or for madness.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Ch.1)
     A reaction: This seems a sufficiently firm and clear assertion of the basic nature of this law. The only rival view seems to be that of Nietzsche (Idea 4531), but then you wonder how Nietzsche is in a position to assert the relativity of the law.
Ch.2 p.47 A game can be played, despite having inconsistent rules
     Full Idea: The presence of an inconsistency in the rules that govern a game need not destroy the game.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Ch.2)
     A reaction: He only defends this thesis if the inconsistency is away from the main centre of the action. You can't have an inconsistent definition of scoring a goal or a touchdown.
Ch.2 p.62 Deterrence, prevention, rehabilitation and retribution can come into conflict in punishments
     Full Idea: The purposes of punishment include deterrence, prevention, rehabilitation, and retribution, but they don't always sit well together. Deterrence is best served by making prisons miserable places, but this may run counter to rehabilitation.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Ch.2)
     A reaction: It seems to most educated people that retribution should be pushed far down the list if we are to be civilised (see Idea 1659), and yet personal revenge for a small act of aggression seems basic, normal and acceptable. We dream of rehabilitation.
Ch.2 p.63 Retributivists say a crime can be 'paid for'; deterrentists still worry about potential victims
     Full Idea: A strict retributivist is likely to say that once a crime is paid for, that's that; a deterrence theorist is likely to say that the protection of potential victims overrides the released convict's right to a free and fresh start.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Ch.2)
     A reaction: Interesting since the retributivist here has the more liberal attitude. Reformists will also have a dilemma when years in prison have failed to reform the convict. Virtue theorists like balance, and sensitively consider our relations with the criminals.
Ch.2 p.63 Legal reasoning is analogical, not deductive
     Full Idea: There is almost universal agreement that legal reasoning is fundamentally analogical, not deductive, in character.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Ch.2)
     A reaction: This raises the question of whether analogy can be considered as 'reasoning' in itself. How do you compare the examples? Could you compare two examples if you lacked language, or rules, or a scale of values?
Ch.2 p.67 Philosophy may never find foundations, and may undermine our lives in the process
     Full Idea: Not only is traditional philosophy incapable of discovering the foundations it seeks, but the philosophical enterprise may itself dislodge the contingent, de facto supports that our daily life depends upon.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Ch.2)
     A reaction: In the end Fogelin is not so pessimistic, but he is worried by the concern of philosophers with paradox and contradiction. I don't remotely consider this a reason to reject philosophy, but it might be a reason to keep it sealed off from daily life.
Ch.3 p.70 My view is 'circumspect rationalism' - that only our intellect can comprehend the world
     Full Idea: My own view might be called 'circumspect rationalism' - the view that our intellectual faculties provide our only means for comprehending the world in which we find oruselves.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Ch.3)
     A reaction: He needs to say more than that to offer a theory, but I like the label, and it fits the modern revival of rationalism, with which I sympathise, and which rests, I think, on Russell's point that self-evidence comes in degrees, not as all-or-nothing truth.
Ch.3 p.75 Conventions can only work if they are based on something non-conventional
     Full Idea: Convention, to exist at all, must have a basis in something that is not conventional; conventions, to work, need something nonconventional to build upon and shape.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Ch.3)
     A reaction: Fogelin attributes his point to Hume. I agree entirely. No convention could ever possibly catch on in a society unless there were some point to it. If you can't see a point to a convention (like wearing ties) then start looking, because it's there.
Ch.3 p.80 Radical perspectivism replaces Kant's necessary scheme with many different schemes
     Full Idea: We reach radical perspectivism by replacing Kant's single, necessary categorial scheme with a plurality of competing categorial schemes.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Ch.3)
     A reaction: It certainly looks as if Kant sent us down a slippery slope into the dafter aspects of twentieth century relativism. The best antidote I know of is Davidson's (e.g. Idea 6398). But then it seems unimaginative to say that only one scheme is possible.
Ch.3 p.97 Cynics are committed to morality, but disappointed or disgusted by human failings
     Full Idea: Cynics are usually unswerving in their commitment to a moral ideal, but disappointed or disgusted by humanity's failure to meet it.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Ch.3)
     A reaction: I felt quite suicidal the other day when I saw someone park diagonally across two parking spaces. They can't seem to grasp the elementary Kantian slogan 'What if everybody did that?' It's all hopeless. I wonder if I am becoming a bit of a Cynic?
Ch.4 p.96 Rationality is threatened by fear of inconsistency, illusions of absolutes or relativism, and doubt
     Full Idea: The three main threats to our rational lives are fear of inconsistency, illusions (of absolutism and relativism) and doubt.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Ch.4)
     A reaction: This is a very nice analysis of the forces that can destroy the philosopher's aspiration to the rational life. Personally I still suffer from a few illusions about the possibility of absolutes, but I may grow out of it. The other three don't bother me.
Ch.4 p.99 Scepticism is cartesian (sceptical scenarios), or Humean (future), or Pyrrhonian (suspend belief)
     Full Idea: The three forms of scepticism are cartesian, Humean and Pyrrhonian. The first challenges belief by inventing sceptical scenarios; the second doubts the future; the third aims to suspend belief.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Ch.4)
     A reaction: A standard distinction is made between methodological and global scepticism. The former seems to be Cartesian, and the latter Pyrrhonian. The interest here is see Hume placed in a distinctive category, because of his views on induction.
Ch.4 p.102 Knowledge is legitimate only if all relevant defeaters have been eliminated
     Full Idea: In general a knowledge claim is legitimate only if all relevant defeaters have been eliminated.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Ch.4)
     A reaction: The problem here is what is 'relevant'. Fogelin's example is 'Are you sure the suspect doesn't have a twin brother?' If virtual reality is relevant, most knowledge is defeated. Certainly, imaginative people feel that they know less than others.
Ch.4 p.104 Scepticism deals in remote possibilities that are ineliminable and set the standard very high
     Full Idea: Sceptical scenarios deal in wildly remote defeating possibilities, so that the level of scrutiny becomes unrestrictedly high, and they also usually deal with defeators that are in principle ineliminable.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Ch.4)
     A reaction: The question of how high we 'set the bar' seems to me central to epistemology. There is clearly an element of social negotiation involved, centring on what is appropriate. If, though, scepticism is 'ineliminable', we must face up to that.
Ch.4 p.120 For coherentists, circularity is acceptable if the circle is large, rich and coherent
     Full Idea: Coherentists argue that if the circle of justifications is big enough, rich enough, coherent enough, and so on, then there is nothing wrong circularity.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Ch.4)
     A reaction: There must always be something wrong with circularity, and no god would put up with it, but we might have to. Of course, two pieces of evidence might be unconnected, such as an equation and an observation.
Ch.4 p.124 A rule of justification might be: don't raise the level of scrutiny without a good reason
     Full Idea: One rule for the justification of knowledge might be: Do not raise the level of scrutiny in the absence of a particular reason that triggers it.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Ch.4)
     A reaction: That won't decide the appropriate level of scrutiny from which to start. One of my maxims is 'don't set the bar too high', but it seems tough that one should have to justify moving it. The early scientists tried raising it, and were amazed by the results.
Ch.6 p.146 Saying 'It's all a matter to taste' ignores the properties of the object discussed
     Full Idea: "It is all a matter of taste" may be an all-purpose stopper of discussions of aesthetic values, but it also completely severs the connection with the actual properties of the object under consideration.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Ch.6)
     A reaction: This remark grows out of his discussion of Hume. I like this remark, which ties in with Particularism in morality, and with the central role of experiments in science. The world forces beliefs on us.
Ch.6 p.147 Critics must be causally entangled with their subject matter
     Full Idea: Critics must become causally entangled with their subject matter.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Ch.6)
     A reaction: This remark is built on Hume's views. You may have a strong view about a singer, but it may be hard to maintain when someone plays you six rival versions of the same piece. I agree entirely with the remark. It means there are aesthetic experts.
Ch.6 p.153 The word 'beautiful', when deprived of context, is nearly contentless
     Full Idea: Like the word 'good', the word 'beautiful', when deprived of contextual support, is nearly contentless.
     From: Robert Fogelin (Walking the Tightrope of Reason [2003], Ch.6)
     A reaction: If I say with, for example, Oscar Wilde that beauty is the highest ideal in life, this doesn't strike me as contentless, but I still sympathise with Fogelin's notion that beauty is rooted in particulars.