Sunday, 27 January 2013

Philosophy without Intuitions by Herman Cappelen

It sometimes seems to me that a pestilence has struck the human race in its most distinctive faculty - that is, the use of words.. It is a plague afflicting language, revealing itself as a loss of cognition and immediacy, an automatism that tends to level out all expression into the most generic, anonymous, and abstract formulas, to dilute meanings, to blunt the edge of expressiveness, extinguishing the spark which shoots out from the collision of words and new circumstances.
(Italo Calvino: Six Memos for the New Millenium)

In philosophical papers and academic blogs ‘she’ has become the standard for the unmarked personal pronoun particularly when the profession of philosophy is being considered in general. cf: golden cobra
Presumably this is to encourage women to take up advanced study with a view to becoming academics. Grammatical positive discrimination kind of. In a rumination on the ethics of littering by a prof. I noted that whereas ‘she’ was used in topic neutral mode when it came to vandalism ‘he’ or ‘she’ it was who uprooted a post in the park. Do I detect a wobble in resolve?

The profession continues to wallow in ‘worry’ and be beset by ‘suspicion’(cf: suspicion also suspicious minds)but there is an apostle of light in the person of Herman Cappelen who is generally dismissive of such hedging locutions and who blows cold on the subject of intuitions as the ore from which philosophic gold is extracted.

Here is a review:disputatio

and the first chapter available on Professor Cappelen’s academic web site:
web site
An interview with him:
new books in philosophy
I hear the grinding of tectonic plates and as Professor Cappelen promises to debunk the notion of analytic philosophy as being conceptual analysis, earthquakes are coming.
Oh ye worriers!

P.S. It is published by O.U.P. in the U.S. so ‘she’ must be obeyed but nevertheless I will have to read it.


ktismatics said...

Percentage of PhDs in the US awarded to women:
- in English literature, 78%
- in philosophy, 30%

So should English departments make a concerted effort to deploy male pronouns in order to woo those young men who would otherwise pursue philosophy? It's a shrinking pool: over the past 30 years the percentage of US university students majoring in the humanities has halved. Two-thirds of newly-awarded 4-year college degree recipients in America are women: maybe the name of the degree should be changed from "bachelor's" to "bachelorette's"?

ombhurbhuva said...

There are Bachelorettes in the EC too but in these islands graduates of Media and P.R. Studies are known as spinsters. I don’t know why women don’t go in for doctorates in Philosophy but I seriously doubt or even methodically doubt that unmarked plurals will help.

ktismatics said...

"The pronouns! They are the lice of thought. When a though has lice, it scratches, like everyone with lice... and in your fingernails, then... you find pronouns: the personal pronouns."

- Carlo Emilio Gadda, quoted in Calvino's fifth Memo

While you might intuit that the generic "he" functions androgynously for the reader, there is empirical evidence disputing the benignity of the purportedly unmarked personal pronoun. "He/she" fares somewhat better; "they," better still, even when its plurality conflicts with the unidentified singular antecedent to which it refers in the sentence. The offending grammatical construction seems fairly easily avoided, and in fact I don't encounter it often. I paid scrupulous attention in reading Calvino's fifth Memo: not once did he use the generic "he" or "him." So I agree with you, Michael, that, when an unsuspecting reader encounters the unmarked personal pronoun while reading, they are unlikely to be scarred psychologically or professionally thereby.

ktismatics said...

Of course "though" should be "thought" in the Gadda quote.

ombhurbhuva said...

Yes there is ambiguity with ‘he’ as the unmarked form in that reading a text you may come to believe that you have missed some male person previously mentioned. That could happen. ‘They’ avoids that. However in standard English ‘she’ most definitely refers to a person previously mentioned. That reference is unambiguous. Making ‘she’ unmarked increases ambiguity as we will unconsciously retain the old ‘he’ as unmarked. I find myself in philosophical texts looking for the woman but I’m getting the hang of it.

Katie Wales (book: Personal Pronouns in Present-day English calls ‘he’ a pseudo-generic. I suppose she means a pseudo-unmarked. She is fond of ‘they’. Assumptions will be made on the basis of our shared reality but really a grown woman put off philosophy by thinking that Philosophers can only be men because of a generic ‘he’ seems daft.

ombhurbhuva said...

An autocomment by way of being a P.S. I’m noticing that ‘intuitions’ have become radioactive. Sturdy young philosophers are suiting up with single quotes when mentioning them. Dangerous for your philgoonies you know. The steadying hand of Eric Schwitzgebel, a grizzled veteran, distinguishes between the low green glow of the everyday and the pulsing red of toxic levels. Be safe out there!