practical epistemology

John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Mon, 21 Nov 1994 11:34:21 JST

Replying to my last post on practical epistemology, John Stevens

"I think what Scott thinks he's doing is educating the 'professional'
reader, and using the jargon\ to impart his insights to them."

Now that, I suggest, may be precisely why I have to work so hard to
bracket my response to his writing to get to the insights he offers (and,
as I have indicated before, these are very real). I have always hated
people who set themselves up as teachers, get on a a high horse and
talk down to me. Also, I have had it forcefully pointed out to me that
when I do this myself the results are rarely happy. My wife, my
daughter, my colleagues at work should all be cited here.

When I look for theory to rationalize my response, the first thing that
comes to mind is a bit of transactional analysis a la Eric Berne. When
someone writes as a parent to my child, my response is oedipal rage. I
feel an overwhelming desire to kick the superegoistic ass.

On a more elevated plane, I think of Stanley Cavell writing about
Emerson and Wittgenstein. Cavell argues that Emerson, in particular,
advocates a democratic self that in order to improve itself must
envision a better society than the one in which it now lives--but has no
right to impose its wishes on others. All it can do, then, is to offer itself
as a model and attempt to persuade others to go along with its wishes.
Cavell sees Wittgenstein as enacting a similar vision, which accounts
for the form of the _Philosophical Investigations_: a compendium of
thoughts which the reader is invited to consider--NOT a "system" that
claims authority.

The alternatives are legion and all too familiar. One thinks
immediately of Plato's _Republic_, Descarte's "Cogito ergo sum,"
Hegel's totalizing History. What they share is aristocratic contempt for
those too base and ignorant to perceive their axiomatic truths. As a
bred-in-the-bone Jeffersonian, I prefer the bourgeoise virtues
celebrated by Donald McCloskey in a recent issue of _American
Scholar_. Long-suffering (the peasant's virtue) is not my long suit.
Neither, I'm afraid, is aristocratic hauteur; I'm far too fat, sloppy and
muddled to ever bring that off. I long for the voice of the negotiator who
is able to say simply, "Here is what I see, and here is what I make of it.
What would you like to add?"

John McCreer