Elijah Millgram at Daily Nous

Elijah Millgram is one of my favorite philosophers working today, so I was pleased to see him write a series of blog posts over at Daily Nous. I took the opportunity to comment excessively, and enjoyed the ensuing dialogue.

In “Doing it All By Yourself“, Millgram takes a shot at the illusion of the lone wolf philosopher, the philosopher who claims authority over the general topics of philosophical concern. I think Millgram’s points are well-taken, and generally approve of attempts to temper the arrogance of certain kinds of philosopher who assume that the disciplinary boundaries of philosophy are non-porous.

All the same, in my comments I worry that Millgram’s comments make no room for philosophy as a branch of authentic inquiry into the ways things work. For example: me. I do philosophy because it makes things make sense by my own lights; I do not do it because I am the self-conceived titan of rationality, fit to serve as umpire of critical thought. Maybe I can’t “do it all by myself”, but my own voice has got to be in there somewhere.

In “Metaphysics by Forgetting“, Millgram argues that the apriori is a kind of cognitive blind spot — we take our givens as givens because we’ve forgotten that they came from more humble aposteriori beginnings. I agree with him, more or less, though only when it comes to the matter of intuitions and other states which (I think) have the feature of ontological neutrality.

In “Metaphysics as Intellectual Ergonomics“, Millgram advances a wide-ranging intellectual programme, which he refers to as ‘intellectual ergonomics’. His programme is probably best seen as a form of analytical neo-pragmatism, but if so, it starts it all afresh and unfettered. His comment here is too brief to evaluate very well, but it relies heavily on the notion of repurposing of conceptual schemes. In this, it stands in stark contrast to the neo-pragmatism of Rorty and Davidson.

In the ensuing comments, Izzy Black and I have a good conversation about the prospects of metaphysics, which I found enormously helpful. The disagreement, as it emerged in the course of the exchange, seemed to come down to an argument over whether or not the intelligibility of the world demanded conceptual schemes. I argued that this could not be the case, given that the transition between schemes may involve the theoretical imagination, which does not rely upon the prior authority of any conceptual schemes in order to operate fully.

In “Keeping it Real in Philosophy“, Millgram argues that the discipline is at risk of becoming corrupt and unproductive, and argues that we should be thinking seriously about how to develop procedures to mitigate disaster. To help the cause, he enlists the aid of Jerome Ravetz, author of parallel works in the sociology of science.

I offer my own spin on some of the problems of the profession, expressing worries about overly strident condemnations of the quality of work. Here, I’m afraid that I self-consciously run the risk of coming across as something of a middling apologist-reformer.