The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


It is interesting that sophisticated philosophers sometimes turn into veritable snobs when it comes to talk about their fellow scholars. There is a market for those “masters of Excellence” intent to demonstrate their superiority by dividing the world into the Good and the Bad. Luciano Floridi is a case in point.

He gave a carefully argued talk at the Kirchberg Symposium this August. His opinions on some of the other presentations are published in a blog entry. He proves himself to be a truely digital (on or off) guy.

“So far, the worst two (but I cannot imagine anything could beat them) are the following.”

There is an attempt at irony when Floridi announces that he will comment “on the sin not the sinner”. We can be more specific here. One of his “worst” talks came from Newton Garver. I actually made radio program based on it. Here are Lucidi’s complaints:

The other talk at the bottom of the list was on silence and grammar in Wittgenstein. There wasn’t anything as bad as the arrogant nonsense and incompetence I illustrated above, the problem was another. It was a long sermon. No thesis stated, no problem tackled, no question answered, no reasoning, no ifs&thens, no nothing. It was not wrong because it was not right either. Goody-goody, probably deeply felt by the speaker and I would say rather convincing in leading the audience. It really made you conclude with an “Amen” at the end of it. But I kept quiet, and I did not leave either; I behaved properly and just made a mental note never to read or listen to this person again. Unlikely, but just in case.

Well, let us not quarrel with tastes and proper behavior, just stick to the facts, which, surprisingly, Lucidi gets completely wrong. As the above audio file (and the audio of the ensuing discussion) clearly show, Newton Garver was proposing at least one controversial thesis which was picked up by several members of the audience less oblivious to the presentation than Mr. I-am-Right.

Wittgenstein, according to Newton Garver, abandoned any attempt to search for truth, proposing “perspicuous representation” instead. (“There are no theses in philosophy.”) This does, indeed, go against the grain of a certain practice of (analytic) philosophy. But it is remarkable that its proponent is not able to even notice the challenge. Especially as Garver’s claim (on behalf of Wittgenstein) was put into question by several contributors during discussion.

E.g., one point I made was that for a presentation to be perspicuous – rather than confusing – a standard has to be presupposed. This is a normative construct that only works within a framework of contestable propositions. So it seems that one cannot escape from reliance on truth by simply abrogating “the quest for truth”.

There is a deep issue involved here, pitting Heidegger and the later Wittgenstein against Oxford-style research (but include Ernst Tugendhat). Unfortunately an occasion to take up this issue was missed.

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