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Mortimer Adler
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Richard J. Bernstein
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Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
Richard J. Bernstein

Richard J. Bernstein is a moral and political philosopher with a deep interest in the sources of values.

His 1986 collection of essays Philosophical Profiles, published in the heyday of postmodernism and deconstruction, was a wide-ranging comparative review of the work of several philosophers, including Richard Rorty, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Martin Heidegger, from Bernstein's perspective as an Americal pragmatist in the tradition of Charles Sanders Peirce and John Dewey.

Bernstein lamented the loss of interest in American pragmatism.

But by 1948, Dewey’s voice was barely heard by professional philosophers in America; the brutal truth is that despite Dewey’s enormous influence in the first quarter of the twentieth century, he was no longer taken seriously as a philosopher. He was viewed as a fuzzy-minded thinker who might have had his heart in the right placed but not his head. Academic professionalism in philosophy had triumphed, and with this triumph not only Dewey but the philosophers associated with the “golden age” of philosophy in America including Peirce, James, Mead, Santayana, Royce, and Whitehead were marginalized.

Philosophy in America was already in the process of being transformed during the late 1930s, due to the growing influence of the emigre philosophers forced to leave Europe. Reichenbach, Carnap, Tarski, Feigl, Hempel (and many others associated with logical positivism and the “new” logic) were setting the agenda for philosophy. Logical positivism in the militant form of the Vienna Circle or in the more polemical form advocated by A. J. Ayer did not take deep root in America. But a positivistic temper, and the legacy of logical empiricism in the disciplines of the philosophy of the natural sciences and logic, did flourish. In the period following the Second World War, w'hen there was an enormous growth of academic institutions, there was almost a scurrying to refashion graduate schools in America so that they would become respectable analytic departments. This was a time of great confidence among professional philosophers. It was felt that philosophy had to give up its pretensions to grand systems and syntheses; it must be much more modest in its scope and claims. But there was a collective sense among the analytic community that philosophers had “finally” discovered the techniques and conceptual tools to achieve high standards of clarity and logical rigor - and consequently were able to make genuine progress in solving and dissolving problems. This was also a time when the Anglo-American/Continental split in philosophy became an almost unbridgeable chasm. What was going on in European “philosophy” was taken to be pretentious, obscure, and muddled. By the new standards of what constituted “doing philosophy,” Continental philosophy” no longer counted as serious philosophy. Of course, there were pockets of resistance to the new analytic style of doing philosophy. There were those who still defended and practiced speculative philosophy in the style of Whitehead; there were those who saw greater promise in phenomenology and existentialism; there were those who sought to carry on ohilosophy in the pragmatic tradition. But philosophers who had not taken “the linguistic turn” were clearly on the defensive. Richard Rorty captures the mood of this time when he writes [in Consequences of Pragmatism, p.215]

In 1951, a graduate student who (like myself) was in the process of learning about, or being converted to, analytic philosophy, could still believe that there were a finite number of distinct specifiable problems to be resolved - problems which any serious analytic philosopher would agree to be the outstanding problems. For example, there was the problem of the counter- factual conditional, the problem of whether an “emotive” analysis of ethical terms was satisfactory, Quine’s problem about the nature of analyticity, and a few more. These were problems which fitted nicely into the vocabularly of the positivists. They could easily be seen as the final, proper formulation of problems which had been seen, as in a glass darkly, by Leibniz, Hume and Kant. Further there was agreement on what a solution to a philosophical problem looked like, - e.g., Russell on definite descriptions, Frege on meaning and reference, Tarski on truth. In those days, when my generation was young, all of the conditions for a Kuhnian “normal,” problem-solving discipline were fulfilled.
There were other influences shaping the character of analytic philosophy at the time. In the post-war period, there was also a receptivity to the type of “ordinary language philosophy” 0r “conceptual analysis” that was so fashionable at Oxford. Ryle, Austin, and the later Wittgenstein (as filtered and domesticated through Anglo-American spectacles) rivaled the more formalistic methods favored by logical empiricists. But whether one’s allegiances were to the more formal or informal methods ol analysis, there was a shared conviction that philosophers could now make genuine progress in solving and dissolving well- formulated problems. Soon, a new generation of philosophers was trained in America who not only mastered analytic techniques, but whose contributions surpassed the work of their teachers. Quine was a new hero, for he represented a transitional figure who had assimilated what was taken to be most enduring in the pragmatic tradition but whose style of argumentation and logical finesse owed more to Carnap and Tarski than to Peirce, James, or Dewey. Davidson, Kripke, and Putnam soon became the philosophers to be taken seriously. With the increased sophistication of analytic philosophy, there was also a growing complexity. Whereas, with an earlier generation of logical positivists and empiricists, the ramifications of their claims for other fields of inquiry could be clearly discerned - even if they were controversial and provocative —' it was difficult for many outsiders (or even insiders to philosophy who were not tuned into the latest controversies in the professional journals) to figure out the significance of the problems that analytic philosophers took to be so central. It looked as if philosophers were perfecting a jargon that was barely intelligible to others. But for insiders this is what was to be properly expected as philosophy became more sophisticated - just as in any other specialized discipline.

Bernstein singled out Rorty and MacIntyre as confronting the loss of traditional values in moral philosophy. Macintyre said the enlightenment project was a failure. Rorty said analytic philosophy could not make a ratioaal argument for values, though he called values "as real as your shirt."

As an undergraduate in physics at Brown University in the 1950's, I attended a required course in the philosophy department that claimed science can have nothing foundational to say about ethics. I also took a course in existentialism, where I read Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre's argument that we are condemned to freedom, but that our freedom is absurd because there are no universal criteria for values or morality to help us choose our actions

But Arthur Stanley Eddington had said in his Nature of the Physical World (required reading in our foundation of physics course with Bruce Lindsay) that the second law of thermodynamics might imply something about good and evil. I decided to follow that idea.

That led me to read Rorty, Bernstein, and especially Jacques Derrida. Rorty was reacting to deconstruction and postmodernisn. He left philosophy to become a literary critic, claiming that moral values could and should be imparted through literature and the humanities.

The nineteenth-century hermeneutics of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey were being imported to America, along with arguments for Praxis and Action by Frankfurt School philosophers, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and Jurgen Habermas.

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