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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: May ::
Re: Ideology and Biology
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0567.  Thursday, 15 May 1997.

[1]     From:   Sean K. Lawrence <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 14 May 1997 18:50:34 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0562  Re: Ideology and Biology

[2]     From:   Paul Hawkins <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 14 May 1997 23:41:34 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0562  Re: Ideology and Biology


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean K. Lawrence <
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Date:           Wednesday, 14 May 1997 18:50:34 -0700
Subject: 8.0562  Re: Ideology and Biology
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0562  Re: Ideology and Biology

> As the man says, "_I_ am interested impartially in the truth.  _You_ are
> ideological."
>
> That's how a certain kind of argumentative game works, and that's the
> game that Paul Hawkins has just played against a recent post of mine.
> Nothing personal, but I don't see much point in playing that kind of
> game.

Some of the rest of us don't see much point in the kind of game you are
playing, either. For what it's worth, I think that your comment, a
little earlier on this thread, that "It's elephants all the way down"
like Rorty's "It's society all the way down," is a variation on an old
story related by (among others) Stephen Hawking.  In the Hawking
version, some great British physicist (Bertrand Russell, he implies)
finishes a popular lecture and is challenged by an audience member who
declares, "You've got it all wrong.  The world is resting on the back of
a tortoise."  To the obvious follow-up-"What is the tortoise resting
on?"-the unflappable audience member replies, "You're very clever, but
it's tortoises all the way down."  Plus ca change, as the French say,
plus c'est la meme chose.

The arguments for politics, society, elephants and tortoises all the way
down share a similar, tautological structure:  "Everything is X. By an
_argumentum ad hominem_ I can disprove all statements that Y is not X by
positing a further level of X underlying Y.  It's X all the way down."
[To reproduce the arguments for politics, elephants or what have you,
just do a search and replace for 'X', on any word processor].  All are
sophomoric arguments that amount to nothing more than declarations of
creed.  The writers of most creeds, however, (St. Athanasius is an
exception) usually begin their statements with the words "I believe,"
whereas variations of the above argument remove the first-person
speaking position altogether, turning the belief of the speaker into a
statement of reality-egologically, Levinas might say.

Of course there are reasons for doubting a language 'instinct', just as
there are reasons for doubting any sort of universal called 'the
political'.  But Paul, unlike you, is raising his point as a
possibility, which might subvert a totalizing structure, where you leap
directly into dogma with 'it's elephants all the way down,' apparently
doing your best to reduce all things to one, totalizing truth.  Any
possibilities which do not square with it must be dismissed as _prima
facie_, ridiculous.  I think this is what Paul meant by "ideological",
rather than designating your favourite sub-species of tortoises.

Cheers,
Sean.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Hawkins <
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Date:           Wednesday, 14 May 1997 23:41:34 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 8.0562  Re: Ideology and Biology
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0562  Re: Ideology and Biology

Robert Appelbaum has acknowledged that he's being ideological; I don't
see how the Chomskyan position in this instance is ideological in the
same way. This is very different than saying "you're ideological and I'm
not." I may not even agree that Robert *is* being ideological:  it may
be as ridiculous of him to say that as that I am ideological.
Reductions of ourselves may be as foolish as reductions of others.  And
perhaps we all can be so reduced.

But even had I played the card Robert supposes, the game could still go
on, because the proposition could have merit.

The question is not whether I am influenced or shaped by ideology or
whether Pinker has values.  But does ideology compel my support for
Pinker?  And do Pinker's feelings for ordinary Joes require him to come
to his conclusions about language, as Appelbaum's allegiance to
constructivism requires certain conclusions?  Elsewhere in his book
(427-428), Pinker is quite clear that ethics and science cannot and
should not be conflated, as Appelbaum implies they always are.  Pinker
would, I am sure, say that even if language were not innate, there would
still be plenty of reasons to respect Joe.

We don't need to dwell on this list on the intricacies of universal
grammar, but of course the implications for our discussions of the
existence of a language instinct are quite enormous, as earlier
contributors have acknowledged. (Robert mentions that there are many
good reasons for thinking that language is not innate, but he doesn't
mention any:  many of the more famous, including the hypothesis of
linguistic determinism, Pinker refutes in detail)  Pinker's final
chapter is a good account of some of these implications.  He quotes
Jerry Fodor: "relativism is very probably false.  What it overlooks, to
put it briefly and crudely, is the fixed structure of human nature. . .
.  [I]n cognitive psychology the claim that there is a fixed structure
of human nature traditionally takes the form of an insistence on the
heterogeneity of cognitive mechanisms and the rigidity of the cognitive
architecture that effects their encapsulation."  Pinker continues,
"Modern intellectual life is suffused with a relativism that denies that
there is such a thing as a universal human nature, and the existence of
a language instinct in any form challenges that denial" (405).

I have no great interest in whichever side turns out to be right.

Paul Hawkins
 

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