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Intelligence, Community, and Cartesian Doubt

Howard Callaway

This paper attempts some integration of two perspectives on questions about rationality and irrationality: the classical conception of irrationality as sophism and themes from the romantic revolt against Enlightenment reason. However, since talk of "reason" and "the irrational" often invites rigid dualities of reason and its opposites (such as feeling, intuition, faith, or tradition), the paper turns to "intelligence" in place of "reason," thinking of human intelligence as something less abstract, less purely theoretical, and more firmly rooted in practice, including communicative practice. "Intelligence" is "reason" naturalized.

Intelligence is always embodied in practices or potentially so embodied. It is a matter of more or less and better or worse. Intelligence most directly concerns the better and worse in the solution to problems, including scientific problems certainly, and also problems of ethics and policy, problems of cultural life and of everyday life. The intention is to approach "reason" and irrationality as a matter of continuities and discontinuities, as contrasted with rigid dualities of reason and its opposites. Our loyalty to the Enlightenment does not appropriately consists in presupposing a purely rational and reasonable world but in seeing human intelligence as holding potentialities for deeper understanding and improvements. The traditional opposites of reason can still be more or less intelligent and open to improvements and criticism.

This paper is about "reason" and unreason, or attempts to go beyond reason. We are interested these days in critiques of reason, say, in critiques of "instrumental reason," as the Europeans sometimes put related themes. Part of the idea is that some concepts of reason and rationality are too narrow, tending toward reductionism—wanting to explain away what needs to be better understood. We hear the idea, too, that only the natural sciences are capable of genuine reason and rationality, while in the humanities, the social sciences, in matters of ethics and religion, and in everyday life, perhaps, we must make do with something of an inferior (or more wonderful but dubious) kind. While the natural sciences embody reason and rationality in its paradigmatic sense, elsewhere we make do with feeling, taken as an opposite to reason, with related conventions or tradition, or with artifice of other sorts.

The related questions have a long history, dating at least from the Greeks, including Greek-inspired critiques of sophism and sophistry: the irrationalism of "making the better argument appear the worse," and so on. In that context, we inevitably think of the domination of rhetoric over content as a locus of "irrationality," and I believe that this locus of the discussion of rationality is important to the theme. I will touch on this further below. The romantic and conservative critiques of rationality and "rationalism" are additional related themes. So, the French Revolution, inspired by the Enlightenment concept of reason, eventually marched through old Europe on horseback, seeking to remake the human world through revolution and conquest. As we know, the revolution evoked both reaction and romanticism (two movements with strong historical links), and it inspired various theories about the limits of reason.

This paper attempts some integration of these two perspectives on questions about rationality and irrationality. But as I go along, I shift concepts somewhat. Since I think that our talk of "reason" and "the irrational" often invites and inspires a rigid duality of reason and its opposites (such as feeling, intuition, faith, or tradition), I want to speak of intelligence in place of "reason," thinking of human intelligence as something less abstract, less purely theoretical, and more firmly rooted in practice, including communicative practice. "Intelligence" is "reason" fully naturalized, and hence somewhat "de-intellectualized."

Intelligence, then, is always embodied in practices or potentially so embodied. Intelligence is a matter of more or less and better or worse. Intelligence most directly concerns the better and worse in the solution to problems, but since I speak of problems generally, including scientific problems certainly, and also problems of ethics and policy, problems of cultural life and of everyday life, the intention is to approach "reason" and irrationality as a matter of continuities and discontinuities, as contrasted with rigid dualities of reason and its opposites. Our loyalty to the Enlightenment does not appropriately consists in presupposing a purely rational and reasonable world but in seeing human intelligence as always holding potentialities for deeper understanding and for improvements. So, all the traditional opposites of reason can still be more or less intelligent, and open to improvements and criticism.

Davidson on Irrationality

To help make the point that the switch from "reason" to intelligence retains a place for criticism of the "irrational," it seems useful to start with some quotations from Donald Davidson's "Paradoxes of Irrationality." While people sometimes speak of irrationality as a matter of especially problematic differences from accepted or conventional opinion or practice, and thus as a matter of failure to conform to "our reason," Davidson emphasizes that this concept of the irrational is too broad for some important purposes. In contrast he says, "the sort of irrationality that makes conceptual trouble," is not the failure of someone else to believe or feel or do what we deem reasonable." Instead, what especially concerns Davidson is

the failure, within a single person, of coherence or consistency in the patterns of beliefs, attitudes, emotions, intuitions and actions. Examples are wishful thinking, acting contrary to one's own best judgment, self-deception, [or] believing something that one holds to be discredited by the weight of the evidence. [1]

Such failures of consistency among a person's beliefs, attitudes, and emotions, intuitions and activities, may also count as departures from conventional opinion and practices, but it is not their being departures which especially concerns us. Instead of comparing beliefs, attitudes, emotions, etc. to an accepted standard, as concerns the specifics of content, Davidson emphasizes relatively internal questions of consistency. We do find people sometimes acting contrary to their own best judgments, involved in self-deception, or even professing to believe what the evidence tends to discredit, perhaps thinking of this as a proof or test of faith. These cases are indeed more problematic, partly because they tend to reverberate through our account of what it is the person in question really believes. The door is open to wonder, for instance, if such people do indeed believe what they profess to believe or judge, once they begin acting contrary to their professed belief and judgment. Again, when we speak of wishful thinking, our very grasp of the notion of belief may begin to waver. John speaks and acts as though Mary is madly in love with him. But no one sees any evidence of this. When we talk to John in his more serious moments, he sees all the signs as well, but caught again in his romantic dreams, he acts as though he didn't. So, what does John believe, and what is belief, anyway?

While Davidson focuses on irrationality here, it is important to see that he is no behaviorist, reductionist, or eliminativist concerning belief and reasons. He wants to make full use of these concepts. As this is usually approached, in common sense or non-reductivist terms, our actions are reasonable and rational, let me say our actions are intelligent, when they suitably reflect our beliefs and desires. We can explain someone's actions by reference to what that person wants and believes. This is so in spite of the fact that not all action is intelligent and though people sometimes act in ways inconsistent with their own beliefs and desires.

In accordance with narrowly scientific, or reductionistic, conceptions of reason and rationality, it is sometimes said that we must seek to replace or eliminate all this talk of belief and desire, along with their propositional contents or interpretations. The idea is that any genuine explanation is always a causal explanation and that causal explanations always concern underlying mechanisms. In accordance with similar ideas, to get a genuinely rational and scientific explanation of human action we must talk in terms of stimulus and response, perhaps, or understand what is going on purely in terms of neurophysiology, or in terms of genetic determination and social conditioning. It is sometimes thought that all genuine and rational explanation must be part of the natural sciences or even that it must be capable of being integrated into physics. Paradoxically, this tends to eliminate our ordinary conception of intelligence understood in terms of a coordination between our understanding of the world and acting in accord with this understanding. To resist such reductionism is not to proscribe research in the natural sciences. Research remains open. But in resisting scientific reductionism, the urge to eliminate talk of belief and desire, we do lower our expectations of what can be achieved in the purely natural-science-based approach to distinctively human matters.

There are resources in Davidson's philosophy to resist reductionism. One key to this is his view of reasons as causes. Davidson puts a related point as follows: 

...there is no inherent conflict between reason explanations and causal explanations. Since beliefs and desires are causes of actions for which they are reasons, reason explanations include an essentially causal element. [2]

But to hold that the reasons (beliefs and desires) we have for actions are causes of what we do, is far from saying that reasons for action are the only causes involved. Instead, it is just because our actions and doings can be caused without any suitable reasons that we come to better understand irrationality. For example, Davidson has been much concerned with akrasia or weakness of the will. Briefly, these are cases in which we know or understand what it is better to do and yet fail to do it. In such cases, Davidson maintains, "The irrationality depends on the distinction between a reason for having, or acting on, a principle, and a reason for the principle." [3] We may hold to a principle for reasons which are not reasons for the principle. In such cases, the principle is not motivationally integrated. Hence it does not consistently function as a reason for what we do or for our holding it. Likewise, we may have a motive and reason for ignoring a principle which is not a reason for rejection of the principle itself. Often such things have to do with social pressures. Our deeper convictions and insights may be resisted in view of relatively external factors.

It is not too difficult to imagine the second sort of case as involving a domination of rhetoric over reasons, or as involving a loyalty to "reasons" which are actually external and superficial in relation to our deeper beliefs and desires. As Davidson puts the point, "many common examples of irrationality may be characterized by the fact that there is a mental cause that is not a reason. This characterization points the way to one kind of explanation of irrationality." [4] We may, for example desire the approval of our peers and consequently profess to believe what they believe; but wanting to believe what others believe is not a reason for the particular beliefs themselves. The desire to belong is an important example of a reason for professing a belief which is not a reason for the belief. Again, we may desire to accept, along with our peers, some popular unifying slogan. In such a case, the rhetoric of the slogan is allowed to take precedence over any detailed examination of related questions or problems, and similarly people may profess loyalty to abstract "reason" in the sense of the Enlightenment ideal, without thereby actually going to the trouble of examining their working concepts, beliefs, desires, or feelings, as required on occasion, when problems or conflicts are encountered.

Pragmatic Belief

The pragmatic tradition in philosophy understands belief in a stronger sense than is sometimes otherwise invoked. Basically, a belief is understood as that on which we are willing to act, and in consequence we might emphasize a distinctive element of this conception by thinking of pragmatic belief as a matter of conviction. In an important sense, the concept represents a normative stance on belief, and it is not as though there are no real alternatives. It is much to the point to notice that we often do not bother to distinguish belief from feigned belief. Likewise, we sometimes neglect the distinction between belief and entertaining a hypothesis. When we entertain a hypothesis, we should be willing to put it to the test of experience and thus act on it in that fashion, but if our tests are successful, then hypothesis is replaced by accepted belief, and we are willing to act more directly.

Peirce urges us to understand belief and differences in beliefs by considering consequences for action. To understand a claim more fully we must consider the difference its truth would make to our experience in light of possible actions. But what is involved here is actually quite complex, and thinking through Peirce's pragmatic maxim, we come to see that the consequences of a particular belief, put into action, may well depend on what other beliefs are true. There is a kind of holism implicit in the pragmatic maxim which helps us understand why Peirce, and pragmatism generally, cannot be understood as verificationist in positivistic style. The meaning of a particular belief may even depend, or come to depend, on other truths yet to be discovered, and in consequence of this point, we cannot limit "consequences" to implications connected with easily stated methods and tests. Sometimes we do not know how to test particular hypotheses, though further research may turn up a method.

It is a crucial point that ‘unverifiable' religions, ideologies, metaphysics, and prejudices of every sort have important social consequences. It seems clear that Dewey was well aware of this point, and his critique of dualisms in The Quest for Certainty is inspired by it. There is a philosophical problem here which can be expressed by asking how it is possible that a difference in concepts or ideas, lacking direct significance or testable consequence, can make a difference in human action or experience. But, clearly, they can and do make a difference. Even the positivists' rejection of metaphysics can be read as confirming the point. For if metaphysics and the "non-empirical" had no social consequences, then it would make little sense to bother to oppose them. The point is that conceptual habits help form our expectations, even where they may have no direct empirical bite. The social significance and organizing power of traditional theologies is an important case in point. Though we cannot prove or disprove the idea that we will all have to account for our sins before God, for instance, the belief may still constrain our actions, in view of the pronounced expectation.

The notion of ideology as a social-determined belief system might stand as an analogy to Descartes' demon or the notion of a "brain in a vat." Just as the demon is supposed to fool me by making it seem as though there is a table in front of me, when there is not, I may be mislead concerning the facts as filtered through systems of social relations which distort or control flows of information for particular purposes. Cartesian doubt is literally fantastic, even as methodology, or so the pragmatists have argued. But in contrast to this, the notion of socially-induced distortions of belief is well grounded in human experience. We are all familiar with discussions of ideology, mind-washing, and belief which is socially induced and socially formative. I will argue that this sets a practical problem rather than primarily a theoretical problem. The answer to it will consist of particular sorts of social structures which we may create in cooperative action. But I am getting ahead of my story here.

Part of the answer to this kind of problem is already implicit in the pragmatic conception of belief as conviction. By focusing on belief as conviction, or upon that which we are willing to act on, we set up a tension within experience involving the attempt to test our beliefs by reference to action. We are to think of experimentation as part of what is invoked by talk of action. When we have a problem, we come up with possible hypotheses suggesting solutions, and to approach the matter pragmatically means seeking to test such hypotheses in terms of their possible consequences.

This is still not verificationism, however, since the success of testing hypotheses through action and experimentation is often a matter of "better and worse." There are degrees of success and usually also further possible tests which might be considered. In addition, large-scale hypotheses of various sorts come to be thought of as "leading ideas." We are not able to subject them to direct and definitive tests, though they function to guide research in spite of that. In the end, Dewey speaks of the need for faith in human intelligence and human experience conceived in terms of self-correcting processes of continued cooperative inquiry.

But we should have no doubt that for Dewey there are better and worse faiths, better and worse expectations, better and worse in the methods of inquiry. This is exactly the point of his advocacy, his convictions concerning human intelligence and the experimentalist methods of inquiry. Verificationism, in contrast, so limits what is to count as a test of hypotheses that it effectively blocks off the continued process of inquiry. The point might be put by saying that we must remain open regarding what may come to count as possible evidence or support for particular hypotheses.

The pragmatic tension in experience, the absence of utter certainty, is crucial. If we are too little concerned with testing our hypotheses, we lower our guard against irrationalism, or to put the point in more Deweyan terms, we cease to concern ourselves appropriately with the "better and worse" of belief. But on the other hand, if we draw the limits of possible evidence and support too narrowly, presumably in order to facilitate decisions among alternatives, then we may cut short the process by means of which plausible or initially implausible hypotheses come to the status of accepted and well-confirmed belief.

My chief point in mentioning the appropriate "tension" in the pragmatic conception of experience and inquiry is to emphasize how this may interact with "irrationalist" determination of belief. Once we close the door on narrowly positivistic conceptions of verification, stressing the holistic interconnections of beliefs with respect to testable consequences, and the possibility of delayed confirmation and/or guiding hypotheses, then we also open the door to metaphysics.

Our more scientific brethren may become distinctly uncomfortable at this point. We should have no doubt that metaphysics can be troublesome. It has often played the role of social ideology, inducing uniformity of professed beliefs and expectations by descent into dogma. Although the pragmatists open the door to metaphysics in order to facilitate their broad conception of inquiry, they are surely not all of one mind concerning what is to be accepted as appropriate. While I am convinced that the best metaphysics in the pragmatist tradition is naturalistic, there have certainly been contrary tendencies. Peirce and Royce come to mind in particular. When these contrary, anti-naturalistic tendencies have proved especially strong, then there has also been a tendency for flight into reductionism and disregard for the continuity of the natural sciences with the broader realms of humanistic concerns.

Perhaps it's better not to defend naturalistic metaphysics, our friends may think, if it means that to defend it we need to learn, say Whitehead and Heidegger along the way. Notice that we verge here on sympathy for those having reasons for not considering naturalistic metaphysics. Still, the reasons given here are not strictly reasons for rejecting naturalistic metaphysics. Instead they are reasons for not wanting to have to bother with refuting various alternatives as would be required to defend naturalistic metaphysics. While I can sympathize with someone's not wanting to bother with debating metaphysics, this sympathy does not extend to the erection of barriers to others doing so. Following Peirce, we should not block the road of inquiry; but in self-defense, as it were, our more scientifically-oriented philosophers have indeed erected effective rhetorical barriers. Much of recent American philosophy can be understood in terms of related tensions. Consider Quine's shifts on the notion of "ontological commitment," for example.

The problems of "belief" in the pragmatic tradition can be understood as bearing on issues connected with the dominance of rhetoric, especially where rhetoric relieves us of intellectual burdens, and these problems also have bearing on romantic rebellion against the claims of reason. Even French philosophers presumably are chiefly concerned with claims made by other French philosophers (or perhaps with philosophers writing in French). Do they really need to deal with all the others, as well, in order to defend their case in an intelligent way? If you can sympathize with our French philosopher mostly keeping to discourse among French philosophers, then I think you may appreciate, too, the elements of genuine intelligence in a bit of "romantic rebellion" against the claims of universal reason. How many of us could really do anything of significance if we had to first encompass every possible alternative? Still we hope that not all the French philosophers only read each other—and the same goes for American philosophers.

Our tests of social and political hypotheses, and generally all hypotheses outside the natural sciences, crucially depend upon human cooperation in ways that are very difficult to specify. Moreover such cooperation is very difficult to establish across the lines of cultural differences. The required cooperation and coordination of efforts parallels cooperative inquiry within the natural sciences, but it is much broader in scope. It is said that when we take a bit of data in the social sciences, one of the great problems is that the data are liable to "bite back," and what this suggests is that we require cooperation from others who may or may not have any sympathy with the social aims of our inquiry. In addition, we need to distinguish between cooperation, on the one hand, and mere conformity and/or connivance on the other. This is increasingly difficult as cultural differences intervene. Natural science is near-universal, but the humanities differ greatly from culture to culture.

Unfortunate as it may be, we have to recognize that there are always some social forces which will oppose even the very testing of hypotheses concerning social and intellectual reconstruction. Those who are satisfied with the social and intellectual status quo may have reasons for their beliefs, attitudes, and actions which are not reasons for the positions they take; and it is no easy matter to distinguish such social-intellectual conservativism from contextually-justified resistance to unproved hypothesis. Again, this becomes increasingly difficult as we cross cultural boundaries.

Broad social support for a plurality of independent perspectives and judgments is indispensable anywhere. My position here is a version of the classical liberal argument for the freedom of speech and discourse. But the difference is that I recognize no fast and firm distinction between "negative" and "positive" freedoms. Individual expressions of conscience and conviction stand in need of social support. They require construction and maintenance of a certain sort of society, and particular values in society. Still, to urge social support for expressions of conscience and conviction is not to deny the need to distinguish between better and worse in the longer run. Instead the idea is to bring all concerned along in the evaluations.

Crossing cultural borders, our commonalities with the general run of opinion and commitment are significantly reduced. In consequence, our opportunities for many cooperative undertakings are also reduced. We may arrive at the stark alternatives of adopting common opinions just because they are common, thus failing appropriate inquiry concerning them, or of working in isolation. Neither alternative is especially promising as concerns cooperative inquiry, and we can understand in these terms both the intrinsic difficulties of philosophy across cultural borders, and something of the "irrational" temptations of uncritical assimilation.

Though we may sympathize with those who have been subjected in degree to forced assimilation, this does not plausibly extend to blocking related inquiries which have been left hanging. On the contrary, opposition to forced assimilation plausibly rests on the observation that it sets up tensions which sooner or later cause serious problems, if they are not attended to in depth. Adopting beliefs and commitments as a matter of superficial adaptation sets up motivational conflicts with more deeply held opinions and attitudes. In the extreme, this issues in cynicism and the rejection of all claims to objectivity. Reason and rationality come to be viewed as mere cloaks of oppression, everywhere and always. The end result of forced assimilation, philosophically expressed, may be a kind of sophism.

This kind of judgment or reaction, perpetuation of initial, superficial, and external judgment and prejudice, rests ultimately upon beliefs and attitudes left unexpressed and the lack of deeper integration. The fact that prior belief and attitudes are not expressed, and not submitted to inquiry in comparison to those prevalent in the wider cultural environment, this divorce of belief from action and conviction is the ultimate source of the tragedy. No genuine community can long rest on forced assimilation. Such a community sows the seeds of its own dissolution, since it teaches or induces, in dramatic fashion, disrespect for its own values, beliefs and commitments. Genuine respect, even regarding those ideas we hold most dear, must allow for their examination and reexamination in inquiry. But in contrast to this attitude, too often we encounter socially-unquestionable dogma on every side. Its important to realize that this is not simply the doing of authorities. It also arises from all those who "go along in order to get along."

Traditions and Their Growth

We are tempted to think of tradition as something intrinsically conservative, and there can be no doubt that tradition is a conservative force in cultural life. Yet, on the other hand, it is a serious mistake to think that we can or should totally escape the specific constraints which cultural and intellectual traditions impose upon us. The point is particularly evident in the relationship between cultural traditions and values. If we propose and support innovations of values and evaluations, then we can do little other than call on established values for support. It is only because we are already engaged by values that we can make much sense of proposals to elaborate upon them, alter them, or augment them. If the values and commitments we call upon for support are NOT those of our living traditions, then the arguments are likely to be even more arbitrary and contentious than they would otherwise be, and it is hard to see how they could successfully draw any broad support. In most cases, if innovation or reevaluation is to be sensible, it must be a matter of innovations and reevaluation in or among living traditions. We can only reevaluate something, or innovate in valuations, in relation to established values which are unproblematic in the given context of inquiry.

There is some tendency to think that values can have no genuine support, that value inquiry is "methodologically infirmed," to use Quine's phrase, in view of the "fact/value" duality of positivistic social sciences, or in view of the "is/ought" duality passed on to empiricism from David Hume. But once we see that value inquiry is a matter of systemization and optimizations of existing values and commitments, it becomes difficult to imagine what else it might plausibly be regarded as being. The essential problem of value inquiry is that it is too often clouded by exaggerations of conflicts and differences. Such exaggerated conflicts function, often enough, to decenter opponents, when, in fact, the great need is to know exactly where we are coming from.

Writing these words, I think of Dewey's position in his Theory of Valuation [1939], but this kind of position is deeply rooted in the anti-Cartesianism of the pragmatist tradition. We can almost as easily draw on Peirce for this theme as we might from William James or from Dewey. The general point is that inquiry is a response to a problem, and that we need to leave most of our existing beliefs and values in place in order to make sense of a particular problem or to effectively develop solutions. Of course it would not make much sense to leave all of our existing beliefs and values in place in dealing with an emerging problem, since our problem reflects some inability to act which is based in our existing beliefs and values. We don't want to beg the question regarding possible solutions to our problem, and that is part of what we ordinarily mean by objectivity. But on the other hand, neither do we want to rob ourselves of our intellectual or valuational tools-in-hand whenever we are faced with a problem. That is part of what intelligence is. We don't start again from the "indubitable" every time we encounter a problem. Instead we start from what is factually unproblematic.

It is this perspective which motivates the pragmatic critique of Cartesian doubt. Descartes thought it best to first attempt to doubt everything which we might possibly doubt in order to uncover what could not be doubted and might therefore serve as a firm foundation of the edifice of knowledge. But this sets the criteria of knowledge claims impossibly high and robs us of the conceptual tools (our existing beliefs) needed to deal with genuine problems. So the argument is that a genuine problem must be distinguished from a merely feigned problem, that a genuine doubt must be distinguished from a merely possible doubt. To put a related point in pragmatist terms, we might say that there is no sensible deconstruction without a conservative moment which allows us to proceed to reconstruction. Every criticism, as exposition of a problem, presupposes one or another positive view upon which it depends: conviction.

In making these kinds of points, we are again touching on the pragmatist conception of belief. If a belief is what we are willing to act on, then it cannot be that all our beliefs are problematic. If genuine doubts reflect interruptions in our established ways of action and disappointment of our established expectations, then doubts are specific and focused, and they cannot be universal. It makes little sense to attempt to set all our established beliefs and values aside and to begin again from scratch. In addition, pragmatism always stressed the social character of inquiry. We depend upon our colleagues in testing and checking our descriptions of problems and our proposals for new solutions.

For the pragmatists, then, inquiry is always rooted within cultural traditions, or traditions of expanding experience, as we might also say. This point makes the pragmatists among the most "romantic" of Enlightenment-loyal philosophers. Mere criticism, especially merely negative and external criticism has minimal value from this perspective, since it provides no way to check on the consistency of its own presuppositions. The problem is precisely its "unsituated" or contextfree character: the lack of explicit positive background. Criticism of some sort or other is always possible, just as doubts are always possible. It is just because of this that merely plausible doubts and criticisms have so little genuine interest. The point marks the constructive and reconstructive purposes of the pragmatist tradition and distinguishes it sharply from contemporary "deconstructionism," and most forms of postmodernism. Pragmatism defends the heritage of our Enlightenment ideals by way of elaborations and corrections focused on the relations of theory to practice.

Conclusion

 All or most of import to us as human beings depends directly or indirectly on the cooperation and support of others. Yet there is no way of knowing, a priori, who is more likely, and who is less likely, to provide reasonable cooperation and support. While I am not tempted in the least by the fears of Descartes' demon or the hypothesis that I might be a brain in a vat, still I do think the problems of the social context of inquiry are considerable. It is better to see Cartesianism as rooted in social problems and conflicts related to evaluation of the social context of inquiry. Basically, it is similar to the withdraw from the world of action prominent in Epicurean and Stoic philosophies, though Cartesianism of course has its particular epistemological focus. We might view it, then, as an extreme version of the Stoic and Epicurean emphasis on intellectual virtues as contrasted with moral virtues. If I am right about this, the point suggested is the limited viability of the distinction between intellectual and moral virtues: belief is best thought of in terms of conviction or what we are willing to act on. Meaning and meaningfulness, in the end, cannot be separated from practice and consequences.

If we are seeking to bring out the best from traditional conceptions of religious community, then I think it is crucial to see that the chief function of religious community is to provide basic values and orientation as required by the tasks and specific problems of orientation in the social context of life. This is facilitated by relative openness and emotional warmth within religious communities, and by dealing directly and sincerely with basic values and conflicts connected with them. Ideally we aim to minimize the distortions and dissimulation introduced by intensive competitions of all sorts. At its best, religious community can teach us how to build trust by means of joint participation in relatively uncontroversial activities. Those who learn to work together learn to trust one another, in degree; and this fund of mutual trust can then be made use of in discussions of difficulties and differences.

We are disappointed, of course, if we learn that according to some particular religious communities the cosmos is somewhat like a benevolent feudal kingdom and that we will do best by treating our social superiors with deference, respect, and obedience. But at least we can see that religious communities do provide orientation, basic values, and practical experience as relevant to our social life. I suspect that this is generally true of what we call religions, and that the functions they perform are not easily replaced in nonreligious or antireligious groups or organizations. I think it would be wonderful if secularists had such communities, and I hope they do. But in that case, I would tend to think of secularists, in such communities, as practicing a religion. "Religion" viewed in terms of its original meaning is simply our effective means of binding ourselves back into community. Think of the "ligion" as a matter of social "ligaments."

The kind or orientation and practice provided by our local religious communities also has its importance in the social orientation of inquiry. If we see this task, too, as a problem of "building a (special purpose) human world" of cooperation, communication, and joint projects, then this may help in avoiding many a pitfall. Dewey has it that the essential function of religious experience is the realization of the ideal from the actual. Though our ideals are never fully realized, improvements are always at least possible. But thinking of the religious in this way, we will not be much tempted to build a human world full of deconstructionists along with those critics who are perfectly capable of plausibly criticizing anyone and anything from any perspective. For regarding such critics, we have no real idea of their constructive or reconstructive purposes. Intensive criticism makes sparks fly, and has its rhetorical grasp of our attention. Again, it may elucidate many a diverse protest. But where we cannot clearly recognize constructive and reconstructive purpose, and where sincerity and openness are at a discount, the better part of wisdom is to keep one's distance. This is also a way of building one's human world.

We all know a good deal about what is wrong with human societies, what we chiefly want and need to know is how to go about making improvements, while preserving what is best. We must beware of those who make some overly-idealized conception of a perfect human future into the enemy of anything better in the here and now.

It is sometime said that capitalism tends to undermine the very values on which its practice depends, and I have long found this a wise saying. Because of this, I believe that countermeasures are continually required to prevent exaggeration of social and moral problems. Building moral community is an unending task.

All the more reason to be wary of those who only see the defects and are so cynical about the prospects of our society as to be willing to see it, and anyone who supports it, ruined. Just as we cannot reasonably improve human knowledge, except by starting where we are, with all our present beliefs and values, so we cannot hope to improve society by first destroying all its existing forms. Likewise, we need to learn to see the varieties of irrationalism which arise in connection with purely critical stances. Surely there is much standing in need of criticism, but criticism only retains its validity in relation to those positive views it depends upon and presupposes. The all-purpose critic, where positive direction and vision are not forthcoming, must therefore evoke suspicion of mere sophistry. Where positive vision remains too vague, particular criticisms may reflect only shifting and inconsistent professional alliances. In Davidson's words, this is "the failure, within a single person, of coherence or consistency in the patterns of beliefs, attitudes, emotions, intuitions and actions." [5]   

Additional References

Callaway, H.G. "No Need to Speak the Same Language?" (with J. van Brakel), "Critical Review of Bjorn T. Ramberg, Donald Davidson's Philosophy of Language," Dialectica 50:1 (1996), 63-71. Callaway, H.G. "Intentionality Naturalized," in Naturalism or Transcendentalism? Proceedings of the 1993 Bern Congress for Philosophy, Dialectica 49:2/4 (1995): 147-168. Callaway, H.G. "Liberalism and the Moral Significance of Individualism: A Deweyan View," Reason Papers 19, (fall 1994): 13-29.. Callaway, H.G. Context for Meaning and Analysis, A Critical Study in the Philosophy of Language. Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi, 1993. Callaway, H.G. "Simon Evnine, Donald Davidson," Philosophical Quarterly (Scotland) 43 (October, 1993): 555-560. Callaway, H.G. "Democracy, Value Inquiry, and Dewey's Metaphysics," The Journal of Value Inquiry 27 (1993): 13-27. Dewey, John. The Quest for Certainty [1929], vol. 4 of John Dewey the Later Works, edited by Jo Ann Boydston. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1981-1990. Dewey, John A Common Faith [1934] vol. 9 of John Dewey the Later Works, edited by Jo Ann Boydston. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1981-1990. Dewey, John (1939) Theory of Valuation, vol. 13 of John Dewey the Later Works, edited by Jo Ann Boydston. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1981-1990, 189-252.



[1] Davidson, Donald, "Paradoxes of Irrationality," in Wollheim, Richard and James Hopkins, eds.,  Philosophical Essays on Freud (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 290.

[2] Ibid., 293.

[3] Ibid., 297.

[4] Ibid., 298.

[5] Cf. note 1.


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