Friday, June 29, 2012

The songs that saved your life

Whenever three things come together in anything like the same orbit I smell a blog post. This essay by Mark Edmundson ("Can Music Save Your Life?") strikes me as being totally wrong. The other two things are my daughter's starting to get into music (albeit a song that seems calculated to appeal to girls with low self-esteem: "You don't know you're beautiful--that's what makes you beautiful") and my listening to the part of the album that actually downloaded when I bought the new Saint Etienne album on iTunes. The Saint Etienne album is a celebration of music (which sounds horrendous, I know) and begins with a song featuring a lot of spoken word (also highly dubious in prospect) about getting into music as a teenager and this going along with parties, boys, and first kisses. But the point isn't about the kisses, it's about the music: reading the music press, memorizing the charts, getting excited about going to see bands. It is connected somehow with the other stuff though. (I think this is why I am moved by my daughter's liking a song so much that she plays it all the time. Although it's also the only song she's got on her phone.) It makes sense for singer Sarah Cracknell to ask: “when I was married, and when I had kids, would Marc Bolan still be so important?" The answer, surely, is No. Not because music was ever a substitute for having a family, but because other things, such as families, become more important as you grow  up. And so, hopefully, you need music less. 

This seems to be a pretty well recognized phenomenon. Jim Morrison memorably claimed that "music is your only friend," and The Smiths compared music to a life-preserver:
The passing of time
Leaves empty lives
Waiting to be filled
I'm here with the cause
I'm holding the torch
In the corner of your room
Can you hear me?
And when you're dancing and laughing
And finally living
Hear my voice in your head
And think of me kindly
But isn't the idea of music as something that stops you from drowning, that saves your life, an exaggeration? Isn't Edmundson right? Well, yes, if you take the claim (which is not only made by Morrissey) literally. But no one means it literally, except in the sense that music can help get you through a difficult time. In some cases that might mean preventing suicide--there are plenty of songs urging you not to kill yourself--but more often the idea is of music as therapy, not emergency surgery.

Edmundson asks:
Who hasn't at least once had the feeling of being remade through music? Who is there who doesn't date a new phase in life to hearing this or that symphony or song? I heard it—we say—and everything changed.
The answer to his first two questions is: Me (and you too, I would bet). "I heard it--we say--and everything changed." No, we don't.

He also says this:
Music makes life melodious—assuming that the music has a melody. But life is often jarring. Pop music suggests, by its easy, pleasurable repetitions, that life makes sense. We can pretend, for the duration of a song, that there is harmony in our lives.
Instead of pop music he recommends Beethoven and Coltrane. I don't know jazz, but I have no objection to Beethoven. Still, there is something shocking about this idea of pop music. You would have to define pop music very narrowly (no blues, no punk, no heavy metal, nothing alternative, no rap, etc.) to get it to consist of easy, pleasurable repetitions suggesting that life makes sense. Even The Beatles would be out, at least in their later years. So this is really a caricature of pop music.

He goes on:
The philosopher Allan Bloom didn't much care for the effect that music had on his students. He believed that they used music to counterfeit experience, in particular to fabricate joy. He said that music—rock music especially—reproduced in listeners the feelings of triumph that come from completing a great work of art or doing a heroic deed or making a conceptual breakthrough in science or philosophy—or even finding the true love of one's life. Students, Bloom said, found in rock music a way to fabricate those emotions, and then they often took the logical next step and asked themselves, implicitly, Why bother going further? Why should one actually do the deed and put in all the work leading up to it, when one can have the reward simply by putting on some music or showing up at a concert?  
He cites no evidence, and it seems to me highly implausible that anyone has ever foregone a genuine achievement because music acted as a kind of experience machine that made the effort not appear worthwhile. Would anyone claim that the vicarious experiences offered by literature have this effect? Music is rarely triumphant, and when it is it tends to be motivational rather than demotivational (although I have no evidence to offer either). "We are the Champions" might be a good song to play in a gym. I doubt everyone would stop working out and just listen before going home.

Of his students he asks: "Does music save their lives? No, it preserves them, much as it did mine." But a life-saver and a life-preserver are much the same, aren't they? And music does not only help stop you from getting too bored, as Edmundson recognizes some of the time. 

Perhaps his essay is not worth responding to, and I won't go on much longer, but there's also this:

The Music Geek listens only to the best music. He does it all day long, sitting in his Herman Miller Aeron chair, with his Bose headphones on; he wears pads on his eyes; his face is drawn in sublime concentration.
This person does not exist. Edmundson also says that we should create music, if only for ourselves, not just consume it. But he's writing like someone being paid by the word or fulfilling some contractual obligation, not like someone who has something to say, so I can't be bothered to formulate a response.

I don't agree with Alva No
ë either when he says that the best musical artists play with identities but don't inhabit them. Authenticity is not bullshit, as Noë almost says. Here's one thing he actually does say:
The greatest rock artists play with identities, they don't inhabit them. Think of the way the Rolling Stones moved from blues to country and western, from funk and disco to psychedelia. We find equally soft boundaries and playful identities in the Beatles, Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Bob Marley.
Bob Marley playing with identities? I missed that. And what about the fact that the Rolling Stones moved from really, really good to notoriously bad? Bruce Springsteen's identity might be bogus (I've read that it is a brand), but not all identity is like that. The songs that let you know, not that life makes sense, but that someone else feels the same way you do are hard to fake. And they can become an important part of your identity, not something to play with, and not something to sneer at when you're older and Marc Bolan is no longer so important.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Confusions of Young Törless

One book I took to read on holiday was Robert Musil's The Confusions of Young Törless, which I recommend. I always like novels that discuss Kant explicitly, as this one does. It has been compared to Lord of the Flies, but it's at least as much like The Brothers Karamazov, with the crime being (extreme) bullying rather than murder. The root of the problem, as it seemed to me, is not the absence of adult authority figures but the absence of any reason to believe in conventional, traditional ideas about how to behave. It is pretty much taken for granted that Christianity is out of the question, and the uninspiring figures of the teachers at the military academy where the novel is set are like the opposite of an advertisement for conventional morality. These are the people you are supposed to look up to, this is what it is promised you will become if you do as you are told. And they are weak, dull, and rather poor. (Musil doesn't go into this, but part of the problem here might have to do with capitalism as much as it has to do with the death of God.) So the boys look for something else to believe in.

Törless is bothered by the limits of reason. He has a longish and disappointing conversation with his mathematics teacher about imaginary numbers, how much we don't know or understand, and how much students are asked to take on trust from their teachers (who, he finds out, themselves do not know all the answers). If reason is limited then not only is there room for faith, as Kant says, but there is a need for faith. But faith in what? Here's where writing about a book that you read two weeks ago in an airport becomes a problem. I don't remember which character is which, and even at the time I found myself forgetting who was being described. So I'll just speak vaguely. One of his friends, I think, has a roughly Schopenhauerian belief in some sort of Indian mysticism. For this mysticism he will overstep the bounds of conventional morality, and because of this mysticism he sees no reason not to do so. Life is little more than a dream, after all, as Schopenhauer sees it. The other one (again: I think) is more 'Nietzschean,' in the crude, will-to-power, master morality sense. He's a bully, in short. The result is bullying, of course. The all-male environment of the military school perhaps encourages the kind of contempt for weakness that goes with this, and the sexual desires of the boys have no outlet except with an understandably cynical prostitute or else with each other. So the bullying takes on a sexual aspect, although it's not really clear (to anyone, I think) how much of it is really gay and how much is merely sensual. One of Musil's points seems to be that this kind of distinction is inherently vague. In fact he suggests at times that everything is inherently vague, which I suppose is a more or less Kantian or post-Kantian thing to think. 

If a story has an ending (happy or sad) then there isn't much of a story to the novel. The victim of the bullying goes away and Törless learns nothing much. All that is definite, determinate, fixed, intelligible is concrete things, things with names. But all that really matters exists in a different, psychological (I'm not sure that's the right word) realm, which can never really be understood or articulated. So the twin temptations are into nonsensical mysticism, or something like it, some kind of irrationality, on the one hand, and into a desperately conventional materialism, on the other. (Between the two is the skin, and a third option would be to focus on one's own physical sensations in an infantile and masturbatory way, like Leo Wojtys in Witold Gombrowicz's Cosmos.) Musil offers no solution.

Perhaps Wittgenstein offers a kind of solution, insofar as his work is a response to Kant or the post-Kantian condition. I don't know how to articulate what this solution might be though. Something like the gradual disappearing of the apparent problem, perhaps. Apparent dilemmas cease to be apparent, not once you apply the conceptual scheme of phenomena and noumena, but when you think out the supposed problem and its terms.

Another kind of solution might be provided by art, to the extent that it can give some expression to the inarticulate chaos of the psyche. The other book I read on vacation was Geoff Dyer's Otherwise Known as the Human Condition, in which Dyer suggests that although poetry might be impossible after Auschwitz, photography might take its place. If this is true then the best advice might be don't speak (or think) but look. This also, of course, has a Wittgensteinian flavor.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Eight days in Rome

A diary of part of my trip to Italy, written partly for the reason diaries are written and partly in the hope that someone might benefit from it:

Day One: spend in and around JFK due to missed connection. Think twice about flying Delta in future.

Day Two: spend morning sleeping. Afternoon: walk around the Forum and the Colosseum. Tickets are much cheaper if you are an EU citizen (not necessarily resident as the guidebooks say--my green card was all the evidence I needed, although that was not the case elsewhere). I can't say much worthwhile about this stuff, but the guidebooks and online guides seem to expect you to whip through quickly. We didn't exactly linger, but it took more than a few minutes to see all the things we wanted to see. There's also a nice, and very small, exhibition in the actual forum building showing glassware, mosaics, and friezes. One frieze had a cow, a sheep, and a pig, and was one of my favorite sights in Rome. (This is one way I judge art: has it got animals in it?)

Day Three: Pantheon then the Dorling Kindersley walk based on tombs, legends, and artists of Rome. The Castel Sant' Angelo looks very cool (we didn't go in), and we visited the Piazza Navona on the way, with its massive fountain. The walk takes MUCH longer than the advertised two hours even if you skip some bits and get all passive aggressive with the family about hurrying up before the crypt closes at 6:00. I think it actually closed at 6:30, or at least some time after we left. Inside the crypt are four rooms with dirt floors and decorations on the walls and ceilings made from human bones. There are also whole skeletons, some with partially mummified faces. The idea is to remind us of death. A guide I overheard pointed out that the remains are anonymous, and many of the bones are separated from the rest of their skeletons to form patterns made only from hip bones, and so on. At the end is a clock made of bones with no hands, to indicate that death is eternal, and a figure of death made from a skeleton plus other bones for the scythe, etc., and a message in multiple languages: "What you are now we were, what we are now you shall be." Apparently elsewhere nearby is a grave marked only with the words: "Here lies ashes, dust, nothing." It sounds like desecration, but it didn't feel that way to me. Morbid all the same, and not something I would go in for. I think you could pass out if you stayed there long enough.

Funny how objects can make you think something, or of something. They don't quite say that you are going to die and become something close to trash, and they don't exactly show it either. But they come pretty close to forcing that thought on you. The Italian for one way (as in one way street) is senso unico: unique sense. These bones all point in one direction and have a pretty singular, well defined sense.

Day Four: Sleep in (i.e. almost all morning--still jet-lagged). Find out that National Museum of Rome is not open today, because it's Monday. Abandon that part of day's plans. Discover great breakfast place and supermarket. Head to Vatican stopping at the Piazza Campo de Fiori along the way. There is supposed to be a great flower market here, but there weren't that many flowers. There was a market though. Fantastic vegetable stalls, and salesmen demonstrating a tool to make spirals out of vegetables. For some reason they especially encouraged people to eat these vegetables with chicken. "If you don't lava chicken then you lava dog." I get that lava = love, but I don't know what the dog reference means, except that the man who said this had, for some reason, a toy chicken and a toy dog. Eat pizza in the piazza in front of St Peter's then head to the Trevi fountain, and back home. Lots of walking, which is good. I didn't know that Rome is such a beautiful city. In the evening we walk to the Tempietto and on up to the top (or nearly) of the Janiculum Hill. Views of rooftops and domes across the city and beyond. Here is possibly the coolest bar in the world, with great views, very comfortable-looking chairs and sofas, tvs showing Ukraine v. Sweden in the European Championship, and a dj playing a woman singing a jazz version of Radiohead's "Creep" (possibly Karen Souza). Then back down the hill for gelato in Trastevere.

Day Five: a proper(-ish) visit to the Vatican. We almost didn't do this because of hearing about the long lines and the crowds inside. But being at St Peter's yesterday and seeing what looked like fast-moving lines made me start kicking myself for passing up the opportunity to see the Sistine Chapel and the School of Athens. So we ordered tickets online when we got back to the apartment yesterday and here we are. Turned out the lines I saw were for St Peter's, not the museums, which you enter a long way round the back. After that panicked hike (our tickets were for a specific time) there was no line and we had no trouble getting in. Inside was crowded but not too bad. Crowded enough, though, that if you actually wanted to look at any artworks along the way to the Sistine Chapel and not in a side gallery you would be pretty much out of luck. Worst by far are the tour groups, whose members split off to take a photograph or look at something and then push everyone out of the way to catch back up. Grr. They all caught up with us in the room with Raphael's School of Athens. Oh well, I saw it. And then you get to the Sistine Chapel itself, which is slightly less packed. There is great art all around, tourists all around, and a guard shouting "Silence!" and "shhh!!" every few seconds. We left about an hour after going in and the lines were much longer then. I'm glad I went, but much more because I would have regretted it otherwise than because I had such a great aesthetic experience. It's really no way to see art. Had to do it though. (After some thought, I think the best thing would be either to skip the Vatican completely or else go in planning to spend hours, at least half a day, so that you can see things when the crowds are thinner and just sit it out in the meantime.) Then lunch and the long, gelato-punctuated walk home for a rest before dinner. In the evening we walked around our neighborhood, Trastevere. Winding alleys led past gelateria, trattoria, pizzeria, a few shops still open, and into a piazza or two with fountains and a band playing (what movies would lead you to believe is) classic Italian street music. Fantastic, like a come-to-Italy advert.

Day Six: Must get up earlier. We keep waking up after nine, and by the time we've all showered, got dressed, had breakfast, figured out where we're going, etc., it's after eleven. Good for blogging like this, but bad for sight-seeing. When we get going we go to the National Museum of Rome in Palazzo Massimo, which is full of the kind of noseless, armless, and headless statues you might expect. But there's also a sarcophagus carved with crowds of Roman soldiers conquering Germans:

On the top floor there are whole rooms of murals and mosaics from ancient Roman houses, including one large room painted to look like a grove of trees with lots of blue sky and birds (see small and not-vivid-enough picture below--it's much better in real life, another top sight in Rome). In the middle of the museum is an open space surrounded by orange trees, which is what I think they would grow in heaven.

If I had brought my UK pasport it would have been quite a bit cheaper, but I won't complain. Then across the street to the Termini bus station and on to Villa Borghese. You buy your tickets in advance for a specific time, and we got there an hour early, which was just enough for lunch and a couple of cappuccinos. The museum/gallery never gets too crowded because of the timed tickets, which is something the Vatican museums might learn from. You go for the Caravaggios (famous name) and the Berninis (incredible presentation of marble (literally hard rock in Italian, as far as I can tell) as soft flesh) and a Canova (hard rock as soft cushions), but what really delights you are the ceilings, which come as a complete surprise (to me) and feature 3-D-looking satyrs and strange figures like a dog-headed man with wings. There's other playfulness too, like a chariot with horses falling towards you rather than the usual secure angels and God looking down. This and the Bellini and Cranach paintings (one of each) are much more my scene than Michelangelo or Raphael, frankly. The best sights are the ones you don't expect, so calling this a must-see might be self-defeating, but I would say you should visit this ahead of the Vatican museums, not because of what painters I prefer but because the environment is so much more compatible with pleasure. It's less crowded and the art is more fun. In the evening we show some friends of ours a little of Trastevere, and go into the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, which is a revelation. The church is from the fourth century, and is, I believe, the first church in Rome dedicated to Mary, and may have been the first church in Rome where mass was celebrated openly. The ceiling and upper wall at the end facing the entrance are covered in mosaics, with lots of gold. If they had services in English I would go to church here. At least once. It's spectacular. Then dinner in the Ghetto, traditional Roman food, which involves lots of frying. Tasty.

Day Seven: Ostia Antica. A Roman city buried in the sand until relatively recently, so a bit like Pompeii (to which I've never been, so can't compare). It's mostly in ruins, but some murals and mosaics survive, as well as parts of statues, columns, and plenty of walls. You can climb about in the ruins and make your own finds, and some ruins are even overgrown, which makes it all the more fun. You could easily spend a whole day here. We almost did, but left because the heat was getting to us. Dinner in the main square in Trastevere. Wonderful atmosphere, but the food was less good (in general it has not been nearly as fantastic as other people have led us to expect (apart from the gelato), but none of it has been bad--until now, when my son's pasta was under-cooked and my wife's risotto over-salted). The Caprese salad (mozzarella and tomato), though, was unbelievably good. I've had this often before and had no idea it could taste like this. Wow.

Day Eight: our last day in Rome. Must try to come back, but in the meantime, what to include and what to miss out on? We start with a disappointing walk around Trastevere. You can't beat breakfast for four for 7 euros, but it's a little too hot out (about 90 Fahrenheit), the "bustling" food market is underwhelming, and the permanent exhibition at the museum of life in Rome is closed to make way for photographs of no interest to the family. A cheap lunch of pizza slices to go would be good, but we need to sit down, so we go for the more expensive option. I'm glad we have credit cards. And I think I've discovered the secret of the mozzarella and tomatoes: lots of olive oil and salt. A rest at the apartment before venturing out for one last look at the forum and Colosseum. In the evening we go back to the coolest bar in the world. The velvet rope suggests it's closed but some people are allowed in so I ask. We get in! The drinks are far from cheap, but you get so much free food (focaccia, crudités, nuts) that it's almost a free dinner.     

Notes on Rome:

There are amazing, do-not-touch quality antiquities all over the place, and they are very much touchable in fact. Around them is a normal, tourist-filled, graffitied city of narrow lanes and wide avenues. Not so normal is the quality of the architecture. In the centre of the city, at least, (an area of several square miles) almost every building is tasteful and classic-looking. The worst are a little shabby or showy, but nothing is ugly. Lots of trees and fountains. High quality drinking water pours constantly from drinking fountains on the street. A strong smell of urine in the streets. From dogs? Homeless people? There aren't many beggars, but those there are seem somehow very old-fashioned. These aren't young drug addicts but, mostly, handicapped people and (people I imagine to be) gypsies. It is hot, but not unbearably so. Traffic is a little crazy, but more like dodgem cars at the fair then anything mean-spirited. People argue, even stopping and blocking the street to get out and make a point, but the person I saw do this was a woman who stopped to yell at a man. There was no sense that things might turn violent. No road rage. Just some drivers who play too rough and need to be told.

The Romans know how to live (even if, presumably, most of them can't afford to live as if they were on vacation all the time). Cappuccino for one euro ($1.25) and pastries for breakfast. A light lunch on the go (good in theory, but inconceivable when you're hot and tired and need to sit down) or a huge lunch for which you pay only about what I would pay for lunch at home (close to $10 if eating out). Then a nap. More cappuccino and/or gelato throughout the day. Then dinner as the main entertainment in the evening. You can walk all over the place, but there's excellent public transport too. I was expecting it to be good, but I had no idea it would be this good. In case that seems more a reflection on me than anything else, a well-traveled friend of ours who visits Paris often said that she intended to switch to Rome from now on.

Travel advice: Lots of websites give suggested itineraries, and these are worth looking at. But they seem to expect you to have no jet-lag, to want to spend very little time looking at each place you visit, not to think twice about paying to go into a museum that they expect you to be in for less than half an hour, and to be able to get from one place to another just like that. If anything says "Now make your way to..." look it up on the map. They might be expecting you to take a bus or even a taxi. This could get expensive, and it takes time to figure out which bus you need, where to get tickets, etc. Also, guidebooks can't always be trusted. Ours gave the wrong address for one building (it didn't matter--it was right next door--but it brought the point home) and showed a bus route that was at best out of date and at worst simply wrong. Walking lets you find things as surprises, which is always better than going to them because someone else told you you should. It also allows you to see the city more than you can from a bus. But it also gets hot and can be tiring, so buses and trams are your friends. There is something called a Roma Pass for museums. We didn't buy one, but I strongly suspect we should have. Investigate.

Here's what I would recommend seeing, in order of priority:

1. The Forum and Colosseum, plus as much as you can manage of the Capitol (museums we didn't go into and great view of the Forum) and Palatine (we didn't go, but friends who did raved about it)
2. The National Museum of Rome (there are several branches: the one in the Palazzo Massimo is the one I mean) and Villa Borghese
3. The Pantheon and as many of the famous churches and fountains as you can manage
4. The Vatican, if you feel up to it. Try to see Castel Sant'Angelo while you're in the area, even if only from the outside
5. Ostia Antica
6. The churches of Trastevere, the Tempietto, and the Janiculum hill

OK, that's probably more than enough. Really you would need at least a month to see it all at a pace that allowed you to enjoy the experience. After Rome we visited Montepulciano, Lucca, Florence, Pisa, San Gimignano, and Siena. All very good. But not a patch on Rome. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

OK, two last things

Having signed off prematurely yesterday I find two things in my email this morning that I want to bring to the attention of the one or two people who might read this but not get the philosophy news that I get. First, there's a very interesting review of Avner Baz's new book here. It's interesting because it's an informative review, because the book sounds good, because the review includes some biographical information about J.L. Austin, and because it cites Tommi Uschanov (see note 4). UPDATE: The reviewer, Sari Nusseibeh, is Austin's son-in-law.

Secondly, there's this call for abstracts on love:
CFA: Love and its Objects: What Can We Care For? (publisher pending)

Abstracts are invited for a collection of essays on the philosophy of love.

Recent research in the philosophy of love has focused on reasons of and for love. Without wanting to exclude reflections on this topic, we are looking instead for essays that concentrate on the relation between love and its different objects: we love others as friends, and we are sometimes encouraged to love others as fellow humans; we love our children and parents, and this love often undergoes deep transformations over time; we love others romantically, maybe erotically; we are sometimes said to love or not to love our selves; we are sometimes said to love - not just like - our pets, animals, landscapes, justice and wisdom. Is it really love that we are talking about in all of these cases? How do the differences in the objects of love shape and inflect love itself and how can these different kinds of love be compared?

The core of the volume will consist of (a) essays within the analytic tradition (broadly construed) e.g. essays that touch upon work in the philosophy of love by Frankfurt, Velleman, Kolodny and Helm; together with (b) contributions from the allied Wittgensteinian tradition drawing upon themes from Gaita and Diamond which dovetail well with recent analytic debates. Proposals for historical studies will be given consideration if they connect up with these same debates. The editors are also open to the possibility of including some essays which attempt to bridge the analytic/continental divide.

Possible topics include the following:

Friendship, Love of one’s neighbor, Erotic love, Self-love and love of others, Loving children, loving parents, Family relationships, Loving the good, loving the bad, Loving animals, Reciprocity in loving persons and in loving animals, Loving non-sentient objects: country, nature, wisdom, 
Wrongdoing and its impact upon love, Love as a reactive attitude, Love as a person-focused response
Irreplaceability of the objects of love, Love’s intentionality and love’s reasons, Love de re and de dicto

Submission details: Send abstracts of 350-500 words to by 31st August 2012. Full papers (6000-8000 words inclusive of notes & bibliography) will be due at the end of April 2013.

Christian Maurer, University of Fribourg (Suisse).
Tony Milligan, University of Aberdeen.
Kamila Pacovská, University of Pardubice.
The question of how the differences in the objects of love shape and inflect love itself is one I've thought about before, or tried to. It once struck me that I loved each member of my family (my wife and two children) in a different way. But I later realized that I was only describing each person, not really my love for that person. That's how it seemed at the time, anyway. Now I think that perhaps it was both, or that the two cannot be separated completely. I hope someone figures it out (if that hasn't been done already).

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Musical interlude

I can't guarantee that I'll post anything new or reply to any comments for the next three weeks, so here are some videos to ignore in the meantime.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The end of Haidt

(His name rhymes with height, by the way.)

The final third of The Righteous Mind offers an evolutionary hypothesis about why people are social animals, or "groupish," as Haidt puts it (which I won't try to assess--it sounds reasonable to me); suggests that we can become 'hive-minded' in certain circumstances (ancient phalanxes and modern raves, for instance); suggests further that religion can be explained in evolutionary terms because it helps bind groups together; and then suggests ways we might all learn to get along better. It's a bit of a mess, but not all bad.

On p. 190 he concedes that "a great deal of our moral, political, and religious behavior can be understood as thinly veiled ways of pursuing self-interest." How much is a great deal? On p. 315, in the first paragraph of his conclusion, Haidt calls moral psychology "the key to understanding politics." He isn't contradicting himself here, but there is something of a tension. We are left to imagine how it is meant to be resolved. Perhaps self-interest makes up a significant minority of the reason why we disagree over politics. Perhaps it is the main reason, but moral psychology allows us to understand the mysterious rest. I don't know what Haidt thinks. 

Chapter 10 concerns what it takes to switch our minds from merely groupish, but still largely self-interested, to bee-like parts of a collective hive-mind. Haidt suggests University of Virginia football games (I must not have been drunk enough when I went), witnessing nature's awesomeness, drugs, and dancing with lots of other people at raves. So a drug-fuelled rave in a field (with thousands of UVA fans) ought to be close to the ultimate buzz (ho ho). I almost regret not having had that experience, but I can too easily imagine that it would have been very much as Jarvis Cocker describes in "Sorted for E's and Whizz" (i.e. "adequately supplied with Ecstasy and amphetamines"):
Oh is this the way they say the future's meant to feel?
Or just 20,000 people standing in a field.
And I don't quite understand just what this feeling is.
But that's okay cos we're all sorted out for E's and whizz.
And tell me when the spaceship lands cos all this has just got to mean something.

In the middle of the night,
it feels alright,
but then tomorrow morning.
Oh then you come down.
Haidt doesn't say much about this problem, but he does recognize a downside to the hive. A nation-sized hive, he says, would be bad (he quotes The Doctrine of Fascism). But without membership in some smaller-scale hive we might suffer from Durkheimian anomie. We need to find a group or team to identify with. How about a football team? After all:
A college football game is a superb analogy for religion. (p. 247)
Well, no it isn't. Basically because of the fact that "all this has just got to mean something," and football doesn't have the right kind or quantity of meaning to offer. (I still like it, but that's not the point.)

More superficiality and ignorance from Chapter 11:
[T]he two most important thinkers in the history of the social sciences [are] Darwin and Durkheim. (p. 259)
Really? Not Marx or Weber? No psychologists or economists?
Gods and religions, in sum, are group-level adaptations for producing cohesiveness and trust. (p. 264)
Ah. Maybe it's unfair to take a statement like this out of context. After all, don't I agree with it, really? I sort of do, but it still strikes me as superficial. Almost breathtakingly so.
Utilitarians since Jeremy Bentham have focused intently on individuals. They try to improve the welfare of society by giving individuals what they want. But a Durkheimian version of utilitarianism would recognize that human flourishing requires social order and embeddedness. It would begin with the premise that social order is extraordinarily precious and difficult to achieve. (p. 272)
Didn't Bentham's immediate follower J.S. Mill say quite a bit about the importance of society, and not just the individual, in Utilitarianism? Haidt appears not to have read it.

In the last main chapter, Haidt tells us of his own political and moral views, and how they changed from being narrowly liberal to more open-minded, when he went to India, and then to more conservative, when he read Jerry Muller (ed.) Conservatism. This book taught Haidt that conservatives view human nature as inherently flawed, and understand the importance of maintaining society's moral structure. Liberals, he says, tend to damage this delicate structure by going too far too quickly. His own view is a wise mix of liberal and conservative, not surprisingly: governments should restrain corporate excesses (liberal), regulation is the solution to some problems (liberal), markets are "miraculous" (libertarian conservative), and "you can't help the bees by destroying the hive" (social conservative).

The last, conservative, two points are odd. Markets do work in remarkable ways, and freedom generally is a very good thing. But does anyone really deny this? Did Bill Clinton? Does Barack Obama? On p. 305 Haidt writes:
I find it ironic that liberals generally embrace Darwin and reject "intelligent design" as the explanation for design and adaptation in the natural world, but they don't embrace Adam Smith as the explanation for design and adaptation in the economic world. They sometimes prefer the "intelligent design" of socialist economies, which often ends in disaster from a utilitarian point of view.
How often is sometimes? And who are we talking about here? No one with any serious influence on US policy or legislation, surely. Or does Haidt have some peculiar definition of socialism in mind? I wonder how much Smith he has read. The liberal Martha Nussbaum is a fan, after all, rather like, it seems to me, every mainstream Democrat.

When he gets to his social conservatism Haidt suddenly starts talking in metaphors. He spells out a few more details on p. 309, but there isn't much there:
For example, the urge to help the inner-city poor led to welfare programs in the 1960s that reduced the value of marriage [Haidt doesn't explain how this is even possible, let alone how it supposedly happened], increased out-of-wedlock births, and weakened African American families. The urge to empower students by giving them the right to sue their teachers and schools in the 1970s has eroded authority and moral capital in schools, creating disorderly environments that harm the poor above all. The urge to help Hispanic immigrants in the 1980s led to multicultural education programs that emphasized the differences among Americans rather than their shared values and identity. Emphasizing differences makes many people [liberals?, conservatives?--this seems relevant if we're assigning blame] more racist, not less.
The paragraph ends there, without further examples from the 1990s and 2000s, and is followed by the hand-wavy, "On issue after issue, it's as though liberals are trying to help a subset of bees (which really does need help) even if doing so damages the hive."

I'm not convinced that liberals should be judged by what they seem to be trying to do. Nor are they necessarily wrong in general if some of their efforts to help those in need have unintended bad consequences, either in addition to their good consequences or instead of having any good consequences at all. The record of liberals on social issues in the 1960s and 1970s is surely better than that of conservatives on the whole. I don't hear many calls for a return to segregation, even here in the graveyard of the Confederacy. I agree with the Burkean idea of changing slowly when possible, and only changing at all when necessary, but I see no evidence that liberal social policies have "destroyed the hive." It wasn't welfare that created problems for African Americans, and social conservatives don't have an exemplary record in this particular area.

In sum: Haidt talks a bit like Sarah Palin, but what he actually says sounds like a mainstream Democrat who accepts that everyone is capable of making mistakes. He also talks as if philosophy is irrelevant, but takes inspiration for some key ideas from Hume (people aren't nearly as rational as we might think) and Isaiah Berlin (moral pluralism). He seems, in short, to be rejecting the very things he is, in fact, embracing. I can't tell whether this is a deliberate tactic or just a sign of confusion.

To me the most interesting part of the book is the middle section, the one where he identifies six moral foundations: care, liberty, fairness, loyalty, authority, sanctity. Each has a polar opposite, which helps to define it: harm, oppression, cheating, betrayal, subversion, degradation. It seems clear that harm and oppression are bad, or, put another way, that care and liberty are good. Fairness/cheating is trickier, because cheating seems like a kind of harm, but let's allow this one too. Now what about loyalty/betrayal? Loyalty to good people is good, but loyalty to bad people might not be. And not only might betrayal be good, when the person you betray is bad, but betrayal also sounds very close to cheating. If you break a promise is that cheating or betrayal? I would lump fairness and loyalty together and call them justice. And I think I'd do the same with authority/subversion. Authority is something like rightful or just power, and subversion (I would think) is only bad when what is subverted is good. (Which allows for the conservative point that, other things being equal, the status quo is always good.)

Finally we have sanctity/degradation. This is a weird one. Degradation sounds really bad, but simply regarding some things as sacred doesn't sound particularly good. "Is nothing sacred?" has rhetorical power, but it matters what is held to be sacred (not simply that something be so held). Haidt uses this category to cover respect for the American flag, an aversion to marijuana and other toxins, opposition to same-sex marriage, and xenophobia. But isn't respect for the flag more a matter of loyalty? On p. 149 Haidt even lists liberty, one of the other six foundations, as something that people hold to be sacred. So is sacredness really a sixth foundation, or is it an attitude toward the other five moral foundations? Opposition to immigration and love of the flag seem to me to be forms (perhaps misguided forms) of loyalty to a particular group, which is already covered under loyalty. Marijuana and same-sex marriage are connected by a concern (again, perhaps a misguided one) with the human body. Smoking anything is bad for the body, and if the body is a temple then this is a moral issue. Sexual ethics are related to this. Again, if the body is a temple then it matters how we use it, and one view is that certain kinds of sex are inappropriate. I would group concerns about sex and the body into a category called 'life', which is clearly an important concern in contemporary moral issues.

So instead of Haidt's six foundations I would focus on four clusters of issues: care/harm (or pleasure/pain), liberty/oppression (or autonomy versus its absence), justice/injustice, and life/death (including ideas about sexuality and the human body). But I agree with him that it's very helpful to see people as having different values, or caring about things in different ways, rather than as simply being right or wrong, moral or immoral. To the extent that this is his main point, I agree with him and value his book. I also agree with his picture of human nature as mostly non-rational. But the book does leave something to be desired, especially in its treatment of philosophy.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The unacknowledged legislators of the world

The only person I have ever heard of to have the name Bysshe is Percy Bysshe Shelley. His "A Defence of Poetry" (you have to scroll down) is something that I have now finally read, and is clearly important for the Romantic view that Rorty describes. What follows are some quotes and some of my initial reactions to them.
Poetry, in a general sense, may be defined to be 'the expression of the imagination': and poetry is connate with the origin of man.
In this sense poetry is certainly relevant to any understanding of the expressive arts. It might just be the same thing as them.
The savage (for the savage is to ages what the child is to years) expresses the emotions produced in him by surrounding objects in a similar manner; and language and gesture, together with plastic or pictorial imitation, become the image of the combined effect of those objects, and of his apprehension of them. Man in society, with all his passions and his pleasures, next becomes the object of the passions and pleasures of man; an additional class of emotions produces an augmented treasure of expressions; and language, gesture, and the imitative arts, become at once the representation and the medium, the pencil and the picture, the chisel and the statue, the chord and the harmony.
We feel, and we express our feelings, and then we react to these expressions in turn. Somehow what results is not just noise but a kind of harmony and mutual adjustment.
In the youth of the world, men dance and sing and imitate natural objects, observing in these actions, as in all others, a certain rhythm or order. And, although all men observe a similar, they observe not the same order, in the motions of the dance, in the melody of the song, in the combinations of language, in the series of their imitations of natural objects. For there is a certain order or rhythm belonging to each of these classes of mimetic representation, from which the hearer and the spectator receive an intenser and purer pleasure than from any other: the sense of an approximation to this order has been called taste by modern writers. Every man in the infancy of art observes an order which approximates more or less closely to that from which this highest delight results: but the diversity is not sufficiently marked, as that its gradations should be sensible, except in those instances where the predominance of this faculty of approximation to the beautiful (for so we may be permitted to name the relation between this highest pleasure and its cause) is very great. Those in whom it exists in excess are poets, in the most universal sense of the word; and the pleasure resulting from the manner in which they express the influence of society or nature upon their own minds, communicates itself to others, and gathers a sort or reduplication from that community. Their language is vitally metaphorical; that is, it marks the before unapprehended relations of things and perpetuates their apprehension, until the words which represent them become, through time, signs for portions or classes of thoughts instead of pictures of integral thoughts; and then if no new poets should arise to create afresh the associations which have been thus disorganized, language will be dead to all the nobler purposes of human intercourse. [my emphasis]
This idea of metaphor and marking and perpetuating relations that had till then gone unapprehended is very important to me (although it hardly seems to apply to all the expressive arts, music most obviously).
Every original language near to its source is in itself the chaos of a cyclic poem: the copiousness of lexicography and the distinctions of grammar are the works of a later age, and are merely the catalogue and the form of the creations of poetry.
This sounds right, especially the bit about distinctions of grammar, etc. coming only after the 'poetic' creation of language.
Hence all original religions are allegorical, or susceptible of allegory, and, like Janus, have a double face of false and true.
I quote this just because it struck me, not because it directly bears on my project of trying to understand, or say something about, philosophy's relation to the expressive arts. It reminds me of Wittgenstein, around the time of the Lecture on Ethics, on religion, although Shelley isn't just saying the same thing as Wittgenstein.
[E]very great poet must inevitably innovate upon the example of his predecessors in the exact structure of his peculiar versification. The distinction between poets and prose writers is a vulgar error. The distinction between philosophers and poets has been anticipated. Plato was essentially a poet—the truth and splendour of his imagery, and the melody of his language, are the most intense that it is possible to conceive.
I tend to read Plato this way, probably because I've been influenced by people influenced by Shelley (Nietzsche who got his Shelley from Emerson, perhaps). The line between poetry and prose is blurry, I suppose.
All the authors of revolutions in opinion are not only necessarily poets as they are inventors, nor even as their words unveil the permanent analogy of things by images which participate in the life of truth
Rorty echoes this view of intellectual innovators as strong poets.
[P]oetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted
I like this. It reminds me of all Schopenhauer's references to mirrors, and of Larkin's idea that one kind of poetry is beautiful but not quite true. Mirrors don't distort all that much, though. Or they only distort what is there to be distorted. Though perhaps that's enough.
But poetry acts in another and diviner manner. It awakens and enlarges the mind itself by rendering it the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thought. Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar
This is reminiscent of Cora Diamond's idea of literature enlarging the moral imagination, and of Wittgenstein's idea that we need to wake up from the kind of sleep to which science puts us and see the world with wonder or astonishment.
[E]ven crime is disarmed of half its horror and all its contagion by being represented as the fatal consequence of the unfathomable agencies of nature
Also reminiscent of Wittgenstein. This time I'm thinking of (was it?) Rush Rhees's report that Wittgenstein said you could see German bombers as not evil but tragic if the right music were played when the newsreel was shown.
[Poetry] creates anew the universe, after it has been annihilated in our minds by the recurrence of impressions blunted by reiteration.
There probably isn't, but I wonder whether there's any link between impressions blunted by reiteration and the fact that words start to sound nonsensical when reiterated. Thoughtlessness is involved in both, and poetry (Shelley is claiming, at least) is a cure for this. Poetry might be called thinking then.
Poetry, as has been said, differs in this respect from logic, that it is not subject to the control of the active powers of the mind, and that its birth and recurrence have no necessary connexion with the consciousness or will.
Poetry would be involved in something like the creation of games or systems of meaning. Logic would apply within them. (Or am I straying too far from the text here? I've got thoughts of Frege and Heidegger dancing around together.)
Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.
The last line of Shelley's essay, which reminds me of Derrida on law and, as I recall, rule-following. All good stuff.

Haidt gets better

Part II of The Righteous Mind is much better than Part I. It consists of four chapters, and I'll say a little about each.

Chapter 5 is not great. Haidt rightly notes that utilitarian and Kantian ethics focus on one thing, happiness or autonomy, and say little about virtues or God, unlike other moral systems. But he calls this a Western phenomenon, rather than simply a feature of two kinds of theory, as if virtue ethics, communitarianism, and the natural law tradition, for instance, just don't figure in Western thinking. Admittedly, he's talking here about the moral thinking of the American college students on whom many psychological studies are based, but surely some of them think, as he seems to deny, in terms of community and divinity, or at lest some plurality of values. Indeed, Haidt goes on to identify narrowness in moral thinking with liberalism, and not all college students are liberals. His labeling system is so crude that he ascribes the "ethic of autonomy" not only to John Stuart Mill but to Peter Singer as well. Singer apparently values justice and rights "only to the extent that they increase human welfare" (p. 99). He should read Animal Liberation. Sigh.

The really good thing about this chapter is that Haidt supports, or at least implies support for, pluralism. He believes in multiple values, not just, say autonomy. Good. (He insists that he isn't making value judgments, only doing psychology about our moral thinking, but then he also uses sub-headings such as "How I Became a Pluralist," so it seems pretty clear that he is not just describing others' beliefs.) He says that seeing that people have different moral matrices (an idea I quite like) helped him understand how decent people could vote for the Republicans. They aren't just racist poor people and self-interested rich people after all! But, I would say, not so fast. And I don't mean this as a slam on Republicans. Democrats are quite capable of self-interest and racism too. Liberals can be prejudiced. It seems like an excess of charity to suggest that political differences come (entirely or primarily) from different value systems in which only recognizably good things are valued. In fact, surely nasty prejudices account for a lot of the things people do and even for the beliefs people claim to have. And surely self-interest is a big motivator, even if economists sometimes overstate its importance.

Chapter 6 starts with Haidt's theory of moral taste. Again he talks about Hume, again he disses "ethicists" who, supposedly, much prefer deontology and utilitarianism to anything Hume would have liked. Hume was not a million miles away from utilitarianism, though, and, as I mentioned above, there is such a thing as virtue ethics. It's quite popular with ethicists, even if it isn't the majority view. Haidt is exaggerating, and probably just ignorant about the people whose views he happily writes off. But it gets worse. He begins to speculate on p. 116 that Bentham and Kant might have suffered from the kind of autism called Asperger's syndrome. He officially concludes that Kant probably did not, but the idea is certainly planted in the reader's mind that these philosophers have something wrong with them. Never mind that Mill was a utilitarian too, and certainly not autistic. On p. 120 Haidt begins a section entitled "Getting Back on Track." So the Asperger's business was irrelevant after all? Then why include it? Anti-philosophy propaganda, it seems to me. Haidt seems to be counting on his readers to tend to ignore whatever people with autism have to say. And he seems to be counting on them to make diagnoses of dead philosophers that are not supported by the evidence. Ugly.

The chapter ends on a better note, as Haidt tells of his investigation into "identifying the adaptive challenges of social life that evolutionary psychologists frequently wrote about and then connecting those challenges to virtues that are found in some form in many cultures" (p. 124). He comes up, at this stage, with five such virtues: care, fairness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity.

Chapter 7 goes through these "moral foundations" in turn, explaining the evolutionary advantage of each, and how it affects current moral thinking (and unthinking reactions).

  • The genes of those who care for the young, weak, sick, and injured tend to survive more than those of people who don't. Hence, we care. "It was harder to find bumper stickers related to compassion for conservatives" (p. 134), and liberals seem to care more than conservatives, but we all care and oppose harm.
  • Cooperation has survival value, too, so we all value reciprocity (fairness) and oppose cheating. Liberals dislike the rich getting a better deal than the poor, conservatives dislike the lazy getting a better deal than hard-working people. (Let me just note that what people say might not be what they really mean. Do conservatives object to rich lazy people? Do they want a better deal for hardworking janitors? I'm sure some do, but some distinctions between the "hard-working" and the "lazy" might be code for social snobbery or just racism. Haidt doesn't show signs of having given this possibility much serious consideration.)
  • Loyalty is good, betrayal is bad. But liberals are so focused on care and their version of fairness that they tend to emphasize loyalty much less than conservatives do. Sports fans and patriots are more likely to be conservative.
  • Hierarchical structures are often useful (Haidt is somewhat tentative in this area), so it's good for people to be able to show due respect for authority and deference when appropriate. Liberals tend to be more subversive than conservatives, or to think of subversion of authority as a positively good thing.
  • It helps to try new things and not be too picky, but adventurousness can be dangerous. Foreign foods and foreign people can be toxic or germ-bearing, so might be best avoided. Haidt identifies this kind of thinking as a concern with "sanctity," and it is bigger among conservatives than liberals. It even extends to things like respect for the flag. (This seems like a very mixed bag, but there you are.)
Chapter 8 talks about surveys taken to find out the moral attitudes and beliefs of liberals and conservatives. Self-identified liberals care much more about care and fairness than the other values Haidt has identified. Self-identified conservatives care about all of them. But conservatives were not all happy when they heard about Haidt's research and findings. One explained angrily that what he opposes is not what Haidt said but his being taxed and the money given to "a non-producing, welfare collecting, single mother, crack baby producing future democrat" (p. 168). Another identified a typical Democrat as someone who, among other things, has "had 5 kids from 3 different men." Note the sex of the person these conservatives most dislike. (It might also be worth thinking of what the popular image of people on welfare is--it isn't exactly rare for them to be pictured, e.g. in news stories, as African-American.)

Haidt does not mention this. His conclusion instead is that he had made a mistake in treating fairness as if it were mostly a matter of equality. Conservatives don't want equality as such, they want proportionality. People should get what they deserve, with the lazy getting much less than the hard-working. So he adjusts his conception of fairness, and also adds another moral foundation: liberty. People want to be left alone, and they don't want oppression.It's hard to believe that Haidt draws this conclusion from that evidence, but if you can, read pp. 168-169 for yourself (here or here, perhaps). I like his plurality of values, and the fact that he wants to avoid just-so stories in evolutionary psychology, and that he wants to understand why people think and behave as they do. But his own prejudices and his treatment of the prejudices of others are bizarre, and seem to distort his theory quite badly.        

Friday, June 1, 2012

Rorty on nonsense

In "Wittgenstein and the Linguistic Turn," Rorty distinguishes between two kinds of Wittgensteinians: therapeutic Wittgensteinians, such as Conant and Diamond, and pragmatic Wittgensteinians, like Rorty. A big part of the difference is their different attitudes towards confusion and nonsense:
consider the difference between the everyday use of epithets like “confused” and “nonsensical” and their technical use by Wittgensteinian therapists. When Descartes mocked the Aristotelian definition of motion (“the actualization of the potential qua potential”) as unintelligible, he did not try to back up this charge with argument. The term “unintelligible” was just a rhetorical flourish. His point was simply that it would be better to treat “motion” as a primitive term than to try to synthesize mechanism with hylomorphism. When other fans of the New Science called various Scotist and Ockhamite doctrines “nonsense” they did not mean that these authors had failed to attach meaning to the words they used. Rather, they used “nonsense” to mean something like “not worth bothering about, now that Aristotle has been dethroned by Galileo and Newton.” “Useless” would have been as appropriate an epithet as “confused.” (p. 170)
There is a difference between Rorty and, let's say, me on this, but I don't think it's quite the difference he presents. Philosophical Investigations 500 says that:
When a sentence is called senseless, it is not as it were its sense that is senseless. But a combination of words is being excluded from the language, withdrawn from circulation. 
I doubt that any of the New Wittgensteinians would disagree with this, and it's certainly close to Rorty's idea of what 'nonsense' means. As far as meaning is use, meaninglessness (aka nonsense) is uselessness. It's also worth noting that part of the resolute view of nonsense is that 'nonsense' is not a technical term. So I think that Rorty has obscured the difference between himself and the Wittgensteinian therapists.

The real difference might almost be called an ethical one. He cares about usefulness in a historical and more or less consequentialist way (which is one reason why I'm always surprised to find myself agreeing with him). Now that Aristotle has been dethroned his views are nonsense. And that means they are simply not worth our bothering about. The goal, as Rorty says, is "to create a better human future" (p. 169). Therapists, on the other hand, care about individuals or selves. They want to improve themselves and to help, or at least understand, others, and not in a mass way, should anyone think that possible or worthwhile, but as individuals. So it matters to them why Aristotle thought as he did, why Descartes thought as he did, and so on. Understanding comes before cultural change.

This understanding is of a particular kind, though, it seems to me. It is not historical and it is almost egocentric. One puts oneself in the other's shoes, thereby ignoring causal factors. So a Wittgensteinian might want to know why Descartes thought as he did, but she will not do this by taking into account his Jesuit education or the politics of his day. At least, that kind of thing is not likely to be her primary focus. Wittgenstein himself did not go in for that kind of scholarship. His method is suggested by this passage from O. K. Bouwsma's record of conversations with Wittgenstein:
On Thursday evening we met at Black's. It was my turn to introduce the subject. I introduced: Cogito, ergo sum. After I had finished, W. took it up. "Of course, if _______ now told me such a thing, I should say: Rubbish! But the real question is something different. How did Descartes come to do this?" I asked, did he mean what leads up to it in Descartes' thinking, and the answer was: "No. One must do this for oneself." (pp. 12-13)
If cogito ergo sum is rubbish then it is because it is useless in something close to Rorty's sense. But the interest of the therapeutic Wittgensteinian (as I understand it--I don't mean to speak as if for other people) is not in what we can use and what should be left behind if we are to improve our culture. The interest is in how an intelligent person can be led to talk nonsense, and how we can avoid the same fate. And that means  taking seriously the possibility that Rorty is right when he says of Heidegger's Das Nichts nichtet:
The language game in question is one that Heidegger deliberately and self-consciously created. It is utterly implausible to think that Heidegger might have been led, by a process of elucidation, to find himself “confused about his relation to his own words.”
Rorty also says that, "Anything will have a sense if you try hard enough to give it one," which is at least close to being true.

But it is possible to struggle to find the right words, and to struggle to think well about something. Heidegger didn't believe that thinking was a breeze, or that whatever he said would be just fine. Neither did Aristotle or Descartes. So what Rorty finds "utterly implausible" is possible, however unlikely it might seem or be. This does not mean that it would be a good use of time to try to imagine how the process might go with Heidegger (although it might be). What it does mean is that there is a way of erring with language that Rorty is (consciously) overlooking. It is not utterly implausible that lesser minds than Heidegger and Descartes might go wrong in this kind of way. And it seems perfectly reasonable--both normal and useful--to call this kind of error "speaking nonsense." So therapeutic Wittgensteinians are concerned with a broader category of nonsense than Rorty is, have a different goal (more personal than political), and therefore a different focus. But I don't think the difference is anything to do with a technical use of 'confusion' or 'nonsense' by the therapists.