Friday, 19 August 2011

Skorupski and Critical Philosophy (II)

In my last posting on this topic I addressed the characterisation that Skorupski gives of the Kantian project of Critical Philosophy. I mentioned in that posting, however, that Skorupski also has a historical conception of the notion of "Critical Philosophy" that ensures that he sees the Kantian form of it as only a specially important version but not as identical with the idea of "Critical Philosophy". In this posting I will look at some of the implications of his broader conception of "Critical Philosophy" both in terms of how it leads him to respond to some trends within 20th-century philosophy and how it further elucidates the understanding of the rationale for viewing Skorupski's own project as being a form of "Critical Philosophy".

In viewing this wider sense of "Critical Philosophy" it is useful to look first at how Skorupski understands some tendencies of 20th-century thinking to belong under this heading. With regard to this area Skorupski views the projects of Wittgenstein and Carnap as representing forms of "Critical Philosophy". However the initial discussion of the view that these latter forms of thinking are versions of "Critical Philosophy" focuses much more on the Vienna Circle than on the work of Wittgenstein. 

Skorupski in characterising the Vienna Circle engages in some understandable broad generalisations. The Circle is correctly pictured as being an empiricist school of thinking but, whilst admitting that there is a sense in which the adoption of global realism can arise as a result of empiricism, Skorupski wishes to deny that this is what happened in the case of the Vienna Circle. 

Rather than taking the view that forms of intuitions and categories of the understanding are central to cognition the Vienna Circle argue instead for a form of conventionalism, a standpoint that allows them to concede a certain variation to what is required for cognition. Conventionalism also has the advantage, from Skorupski's point of view, of not requiring a 'joint-product' approach to objectivity since the conventions can define both the nature of objects and how they are understood to operate thus removing the alleged need to appeal to noumena.

However the Vienna Circle also escaped the Platonism of Frege by denying that "thoughts" in Frege's sense exist. This is the basis, indeed, of the "linguistic turn" in philosophy. On its basis it appeared that philosophy could be subsumed into a general project of logical syntactics or grammar (something that suggests a point not commented upon by Skorupski, namely, a relation to Leibniz, something explicit in the earlier work of Russell). So the basis of viewing the Circle as a form of "Critical Philosophy" is that it denies the cognition-independence of facts, one of the two key component parts of global realism.

The Circle's position, on Skorupski's characterisation, does not require the rejection of factualism but does involve a radical reinterpretation of it that views it very much in deflationary terms. Given the Circle's commitment to a form of scientism, however, it tended to non-cognitivism about a wide array of important areas, including aesthetics and ethics. Skorupski sketches reasons for why this need not have been the outcome of the view and traces the real problem with its conception in its commitment to verificationism. The verificationist view arises, allegedly like Kant's 'joint-product theory', from too strong a denial of cognition-independence of facts.

Due to this claim that the problem in both cases arises from too strong a denial of cognition-independence of facts it becomes evident that Skorupski's own form of "Critical Philosophy" will be aiming to do more to represent this feature of common cognitive claims than the earlier versions of the project of criticism were able to do. This is due to him being committed to the view that cognition-independence is rooted in common cognition in a way that he does not think factualism to be. The reason for this asymmetry is that Skorupski thinks that the contrast between factual and normative is central to  common cognition and thus that factualism is a deeply revisionist response to it.

The crippling scientism of the Vienna view is thus taken to reside precisely in its scientistic disinclination to take normativity seriously as something radically distinct from description and, in having this disinclination, the Vienna view departed from common cognition. Skorupski's general attempt now emerges as one that will, unlike the classic critical moves of Kant and Vienna, attempt to retain a sense of cognition-independence whilst denying factualism. This is what Skorupski terms, simply enough, the "Normative view".

On the "Normative view" some wholly normative propositions are a priori and no wholly normative propositions are factual. However Skorupski wishes to distinguish this view from an intuitionist one that ascribes the special property of normative propositions to some special kinds of facts thus again stating an opposition to an alternative view on the grounds of its implicit factualism (intuitionist factualism thus joining noumenal factualism). Similarly, and more obviously, there is a concern to deny reductive realism concerning normative propositions such as arises in contemporary naturalism.

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