Studying Rorty: Diary, 2/11 to 2/20/21

Copyright 2021 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

Richard Rorty, 1931-2007

{2/12/21}  Weight 209.4 at 7:00 am.  I anticipate a “bounce” tomorrow.

Had some serious chest pain last night, maybe a heart attack.  I decided to sit there and say nothing to Pablo, though I suppose it would have made sense to do so, because what if it got worse and I passed out?  It got better, but I’m concerned, and sometimes my heart feels sore, as though bruised.

I also developed a sore throat last night that was worse this morning when I woke at 3:30.  I went back to sleep, and now it’s almost gone.  With Pablo at the laundromat it was sometimes necessary to shout to be heard, possibly that’s the cause?  I sure hope it’s not an illness.

In addition to laundry yesterday, I got my four pages of dictation done.  I also searched through the two prison diary files and collected all talk of “models and mysteries,” eleven pages.  I guess I’ll put it into my blog.

{2/13/21}  Weight 210.2 at 5:30 am.  The anticipated bounce.

Today I’m thinking that watching the news has gotten too depressing for me to keep watching the news.  When Trump was in power I felt that I had to watch, because I was afraid; now I’m less afraid, but more disappointed.  But I suppose I’ll have to watch anyway.

“Dunkel ist das Leben, ist der Tod.”  Listening to Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde this morning, and why not?

{2/14/21}  Weight 210.0 at 6:30 am.

Hemlock Club meets at my place today, 10:00 am.  I’ve been cleaning for a week, slowly.  [2/19/21:  Nog cancelled, so the meeting didn’t happen.]

Lin Yutang, in The Wisdom of Laotse, speaks of “…the new knowledge of the essential emptiness of matter.” (p. 16)  This is a classic example of what I call philosophitis, and I answered it in my diary on 4/4/09:

“So, now, what is truth? It is an expression of what we know, adequate to the question we are dealing with. Question: are my keys in my pocket? True answer: which set of your keys do you mean?

“Is matter solid? Answer: do you mean impenetrable to cosmic rays, or impenetrable to your head?

“Does God exist? Answer: do you mean the God of Genesis as interpreted by a Stupid Christian Fanatic or do you mean some vague notion of something or other? Or: exist to shake hands with, or exist as unicorns exist? Exist to pray to, not expecting an answer?”

The overall point of these questions is to demonstrate that the initial question is poorly expressed and must be clarified before it can be answered with something other than a question.

Internet gone again.  I was on Amazon, playing music for free (don’t know why this was available), when MS Edge crashed, got it back, crashed again, now it won’t work.

{2/15/21}  Weight 209.8 at 7:15 am.

Edge working today.

What’s not working is my reading of Lin Yutang:  The Wisdom of Laotse.  I am again defeated by the Tao Te Ching.  I guess I understand that it’s not to be grasped logically, that it’s not meant to be understood; what good is it, then?  I’ve tried many times.  I see no point in spending any more time on it.

{2/16/21}  Weight 211.2 at 6:15 am.  A catastrophe.

{2/17/21}  Weight 211.2 at 5:15 am.  I used to think weight loss was easy!

If I can eagerly contemplate doing more dictation, after doing eight pages yesterday, I guess I’m doing the right thing.  “Let’s get to work!” is what I just said aloud.

The news/talk seems just as depressing as ever it was under Trump.  Maybe it’s me?

{2/18/21}  Weight 210.0 at 7:00 am.  Yay.

As anticipated, the dictation software has been fixed, or fixed itself, or whatever-it’s-working, making my work somewhat lighter.  A very welcome development.

Took a nap and had an odd dream:  I was in my parents’ house, taking a nap, when I was wakened by a persistently barking dog, our dog.  I went into the hall outside the bedroom, opened the door to the living room (which in reality was never closed), found my brother there, and asked him where the dog was.  It was in my parents’ bedroom.  I let the dog out into the hall.  I asked him why he’d locked up the dog but he didn’t answer.  That’s it.

Then I dozed off again and again heard a dog persistently barking.  When I woke up I was surprised not to hear barking.

Dreams are weird.  While I was in the infirmary at Kern County Jail, afflicted with Covid, I had the most wonderful dreams of my life.  I described them at length in writing, but those pages were lost (or thrown away) by the guards who were supposed to mail them to me here at home.  Here’s what I remember of the best of them:

I was outside a large building, a palace, and a parade was going on around me.  There were large masks or heads.  I went into the building and ended up sitting on a sofa next to a beautiful but odd-looking, stylized young woman.  Then I was walking from room to room in the palace, and all were large, beautiful, and mostly empty.  In each room one word was spoken—by me, or by an announcer, I don’t know—something about what everyone wanted to know.  In the final room was the one-word answer to that question.  The funny thing is, those words together made sense in a poetic sort of way, but I can no longer remember the question (that everyone wants to know) nor the answer.

A call just now from a social worker.  It seems that J has been in rehab but they want to release him and weren’t getting useful answers from him (or something like that), and he was causing problems for others in rehab.  That’s our J.  I was listed as an emergency contact on his medical records.  I told her that he had been homeless for years, and I hadn’t seen him in over a year.  That’s about it.  Why was he in rehab?  I guess they’ll kick him out and he’ll go back to wherever he’s been living.

I’ve been doing eight pages of dictation a day, just got to page 400; 1,100 to go on the Prison Diary, other projects to follow.

{2/19/21}  Weight 209.8 at 5:00 am.

All my talk of study has gone nowhere [see Efficient Learning].  I am getting a lot of work done, but the reviewing stalled early because the highlighted parts of the books didn’t have enough context…that is, I just started rereading.  Specifically, rereading the “Introduction” to Richard Rorty:  Consequences of Pragmatism (Essays: 1972-1980), University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1982, pb.  There is too much and too little.  I need to select perhaps the three most personally relevant or generally most important points from each book, and learn those thoroughly.  If three “aren’t enough,” I should learn them first and expand later.  In any case, I need to get back at it.

I’ll start with the Rorty.  In working on the following, I see that I first have to understand, thoroughly understand what he’s saying.  It’s not just reading.  So I think my approach here, at least for philosophy or science books, is to summarize and explain the material to myself.

The “Introduction” starts like this:  “The essays in this book are attempts to draw consequences from a pragmatist theory about truth. This theory says that truth is not the sort of thing one should expect to have a philosophically interesting theory about. For pragmatists, ‘truth’ is just the name of a property which all true statements share.”  p. xiii.  The reasons for believing this are primarily historical, i.e., attempts to make such theories have produced no lasting results, that is, “nothing interesting.”  He also says that these attempts, and criticism of them, essentially amount to the “literary genre” we call philosophy.  The result of recent (1982) work in pragmatism and analytic philosophy, it seems, has been to “set Philosophy aside” and get on with solving our problems.  (When “Philosophy” is capitalized, he’s referring to traditional philosophical questions considered in traditional ways; when not capitalized, it “can mean simply what [Wilfrid] Sellars calls ‘an attempt to see how things, in the broadest possible sense of the term, hang together, in the broadest possible sense of the term.’” p. xiv.)

Rorty describes an “anti-pragmatist backlash,” a “reaction in favor of ‘realism,’” this reaction having three distinct motives: “(1) the view that recent, technical developments in the philosophy of language have raised doubt about traditional pragmatist criticisms of the ‘correspondence theory of truth,’ or, at least, have made it necessary for the pragmatist to answer some hard, technical questions before proceeding further; (2) the sense that the ‘depth,’ the human significance, of the traditional textbook ‘problems of Philosophy’ has been underestimated, that pragmatists have lumped real problems together with pseudo-problems in a feckless orgy of ‘dissolution’; (3) the sense that something important would be lost if Philosophy as an autonomous discipline, as a Fach [subject or field], were to fade from the cultural scene (in the way in which theology has faded).” p. xxi-xxii.  See pages xxii-xxiii for names of philosophers adhering to the first two of these “motives.”

The rest of the “Introduction” considers these three positions at length; Rorty, in essence, agrees with the third, but says that Philosophy will go the way of theology, and be replaced with “something better.”  (p. xxxviii).

This will do for now, though this doesn’t give a real definition of “pragmatism.”

On 2/14 I said, copied from 4/4/09, “So, now, what is truth? It is an expression of what we know, adequate to the question we are dealing with.”  I have since recognized the circularity in this definition, in that “what we know” implies that we know correctly, i.e., we know the truth and express it.  I’m not sure that this is a problem.

{2/20/21}  Weight 210.0 at 7:00 am.

Some good movies I’ve watched lately:  The Pawnbroker, a character study with Rod Steiger as a Jew tormented by memories of Nazi Germany and his lost family, and Pressure Point, with Sidney Poitier and Bobby Darin as, respectively, a prison psychiatrist and a Nazi-loving inmate—this could also be called a character study, though it’s more than that—set in America during WWII.  Brilliant acting all around.  Lots of irrelevant synchronicity and parallels between the two movies and the lead actors.  Pawnbroker was pretty unpleasant, seeing the poor people forced to the pawn shop to sell their possessions, with little or no relief along the way.

Woke up this morning with worsened tinnitus; now, at 2:20 pm, it’s about back to what it was yesterday, i.e., negligible.  The Merck Manual speaks of an overdose of aspirin as being a cause.  I took two aspirin last night, in addition to my usual 81 mg. daily dose.  Looks like I’ll be quitting aspirin as a pain reliever.

Copyright 2021 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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