The APA Presidential Addresses: The 1990s
APA PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESSES: THE 1990s Mark Tschaepe Twentieth-century intellectuals, who adopt schemes of values that incorporate the destabilizing discoveries of the past, easily imagine that the transition must be relatively painless—although the persistence of people who seek to prevent those discoveries being thrust on their children might give us pause. (10:518) Philip Stuart Kitcher (1997–1998)
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eading through the presidential addresses of the American Philosophical Association (APA) that were delivered throughout the 1990s, a striking feature is observed. There is a tension within and between many of the addresses that comes closest, in a general sense, to the theme of Kitcher’s “Truth or Consequences,” in which he expounded upon the ongoing debate between Gnosticism and Romanticism. Gnostics are those who are “confident not only of the power of scientific investigation to advance our knowledge of nature but also of the value of such advances” (10:511), while “romantic poets and naturalists, Luddites, devout people of various faiths, some feminists, and multiculturalists—have protested the hegemony of the sciences” (10:511). Throughout the presidential addresses of the 1990s, there are representatives of the gnostic view, which involves a turn away from traditional nonscientific methods of inquiry within philosophy, and a turn toward the methods and findings from within the sciences. Many of the representatives of this group are those who proposed new methods by which to answer old questions, as well as old methods by which to answer new questions. According to Kitcher, the fundamental crux of the tension between the two groups is whether the “painful” enlightenment of the sciences is to be valued over the ideals of those who fit into the opposing category. The guiding question Kitcher entertains is from the side of the Gnostics, represented by Thomas Henry Huxley. The question is whether the ideal of a person who is strong enough to accept any truth is an appropriate ideal. According to Kitcher, Huxley contributed to a grand project the ideal of which was to take priority over all other projects in the search for knowledge of how nature works. The romantic criticism of this priority is “the subordination of all goals to the epistemic” (10:514). Painful enlightenment, which is what the Gnostics advocate and the Romantics resist, is defined as an episode or series of episodes wherein “people acquire beliefs that have an impact on their values” (10:515). These episodes are painful because they involve a resignation to the idea that the world is not how it was believed to be. “Enlightenment is painful when we lose the parts of our schemes of values that give shape and direction to our lives” (10:524). Kitcher explained four types. The first is one in which “before the discovery, people
have valued a particular goal and devised a single strategy for attaining it, only to learn that a key presupposition of this strategy is incorrect” (10:515). The second involves discoveries that are “inconsistent with claims that are essential to prior justifications of the value of the goal” (10:515). The third is that “in which the discovery reveals that the valued goal is unattainable” (10:515). Finally, the fourth includes “examples in which the discovery is taken to show that there is no basis for valuing the goal” (10:515). What ultimately defines painful, as opposed to normal, enlightenment is that “the principal consequence of the advance in knowledge is constriction of the set of available strategies and/or destabilization of the scheme of values” (10:516). The Gnostics take such consequences to be well worth the pursuit of knowledge, while the Romantics blanch at the idea that this specific type of knowledge is worthy of subordinating all other values. As Kitcher stated: Gnostics are committed to a strong progressivism, one that sees the history of the sciences not simply in terms of epistemic gains but as contributing to the improvement of human lives, both instrumentally and through the elucidation of what it is best for us to pursue. (10:517) However, the Gnostic must contend with the challenges posed by the Romantics, which largely consist of the need “to explain [the Gnostics’] notion of value-progressiveness and to show how it is realized in the history of inquiry” and “the problem of short-term losses” (10:517). While the Gnostics declare that scientific understanding of the world is worth all sacrifice, the Romantics hold fast to the idea that there are beliefs worth preserving that may betray the epistemic findings from scientific discourse. One of the major objections that the Romantics make to the gnostic ideal of painful enlightenment is that an assumption is made “that epistemic utopia is approached by coming to know more” (10:521). As Kitcher indicated, the debate between the Gnostic and the Romantic remains in a stalemate, with each providing its own preferred lists of things that are taken to be valuable. This, however, does not mean that all inquiry is to end. Kitcher concluded, “[the Romantics’] questions ought to modify discussions and decisions about the ways in which the sciences are to be pursued and applied” (10:525). The push and pull of each group upon the work of the other actually helps shape the generation of knowledge rather than simply hinder all movement. The presidential addresses of the 1990s evince a muddied, but similar phenomenon at work. On one side, the steadfast Romantics steeped in the tradition of philosophy—essences, thought experiments, traditional divisions of philosophical problems—sustain the methods of accepted, canonized philosophy while addressing new questions. While on the other side, the Gnostics are push-
APA PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESSES: THE 1990s
ing their way into the specifics of areas of scientific discourse that had been largely neglected or purposely avoided for much of the century, addressing old questions with new techniques and data. At times, there is a strange beauty to the contrasts among the addresses; at other times, it is surprising not only that some addresses spring from the same discipline, but from even the same professional organization. Elliott Reuben Sober’s (1998–1999) “Testability,” is a suitable representation of the gnostic point of view. Sober argued for the importance of testability, disputing the notion that the concept of testability, “like the analytic/synthetic distinction, is supposed to be a vestige of a bygone age” (10:569). He argued that testability is an important concept in science, and thus, an important goal in the philosophy of science. In opposition to those who argue that testability is irrelevant or undefinable, Sober claimed: If a set of observations provides a test of a proposition because it bears relation R to that proposition, then a proposition is testable when it is possible for there to be a set of observations that bears relation R to the proposition. Testing is to testability as dissolving is to solubility. (10:569–570) Testability relates to the predictions that a hypothesis makes, along with being able to contrast that hypothesis against other hypotheses. When conjoined with auxiliary assumptions that are considered as given, hypotheses make specific predictions. These auxiliary assumptions are important because they provide an unquestionable ground from which to contrast competing hypotheses. Sober used the examples of the hypothesis of intelligent design and the hypothesis of evolution by natural selection to exemplify the importance of testability. With regard to evolution by natural selection, there are specific hypotheses that may be tested against competing hypotheses that share specific auxiliary assumptions. However, this is not the case with much of intelligent design. “If we don’t know what traits organisms would probably have if God designed them, then we won’t be able to test the hypothesis that God designed them” (10:585). Darwinism does not suffer the same problem as intelligent design: The worst-case scenario for Darwinism is that the theory, . . . entails that what we observe was very improbable. However, this, by itself, isn’t enough to reject Darwinism and opt for the hypothesis of intelligent design. We need to know how probable it is that the features would exist, if they were the result of intelligent design. (10:587) We do not know how probable it is that these features would exist, so there is no way of testing the intelligent design hypothesis.
The importance of testability with regard to philosophy of science—and philosophy—indicates a movement away from the Romanticism described by Kitcher and a gravitation toward the gnostic point of view that epistemically favors the value of scientific method, regardless of the painfulness of enlightenment. Sober’s example of Darwinian evolution contrasted with intelligent design is a nice example of this movement within philosophy. “Science,” he suggested, “is the art of the testable” (10:588). At the end of his address, Sober referred to the historical regularity by which empirical sciences have branched from philosophy. He indicated that there is no reason to believe that this branching process will somehow end. Rather, it seems to be continuing. In what could almost be a nod to Kitcher’s address, with regard to the gnostic point of view, he ended: Future generations of philosophers will look back at us and smile indulgently, charmed by the fact that we thought that this or that problem could be solved by the methods of philosophy we now have at our disposal. Some of the innovations that will permit this change to take place will occur within philosophy, but others will be empirical results in science. The boundary between what is empirically testable and what is not will shift, but I expect that the concept of testability will remain epistemologically important. (10:590) Philosophy gives birth to more empirical scientific pursuits, and with those births are shifts away from the “charming” methods, which philosophers once held dear. This understanding of the evolution of philosophy as a progression is from the gnostic point of view. Drawing an analogy between tests and testability of scientific hypotheses and the theories within philosophy, Sober admonished that “inference to the best explanation” (10:588) is not the equivalent of hypothesis testing or testability. He did not find the concept (or the inferential process) to be objectionable, “as long as it does not give the false impression that scientific inference allows one to discriminate between empirically equivalent theories” (10:588). In a subtle way, the distinction Sober drew between scientific testing and philosophical argument contributes to the gnostic attack upon Romanticism. Scientific methods that empirically contrast hypotheses solve problems through a brand of scientific reasoning, which is considered epistemically valuable by most philosophers who advocate inference to the best explanation. However, inference to the best explanation without empirical testability, at least according to Sober, should not be taken as pure form of scientific reasoning. Its epistemic value is less than the process of scientific testing. The idea of pure reason, apart from empirical testability, could be said to have given way to the idea of falli–
APA PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESSES: THE 1990s
bilism within philosophy. In fact, fallibilism may be understood as part of Kitcher’s Gnosticism insofar as it is at the core of scientific methodology. In his “Damn the Consequences!” another philosopher of science, Larry Lynn Laudan (1994–1995) began by declaring, “many of us see the current philosophical era, an era of fallibilism, as one in which these old categories no longer apply” (10:303). Laudan framed a debate related to that of the Gnostic and the Romantic: that of the skeptic and the foundationalist. This debate does not directly map onto that indicated by Kitcher, but there does seem to be a relation between the two. According to Laudan, “the traditional skeptic’s role is now played by the epistemic relativist; the foundationalist’s part is taken by what I call the philosophical optimist” (10:303). Collapsing the debate, Lauden claims that both sides are incorrect in subscribing to what he calls “a consequentialist theory of evidence or plausibility” (10:304). According to Laudan, consequentialism is fundamentally flawed. He defined consequentialism as “the view that the plausibility or acceptability of a hypothesis or theory is determined exclusively by an examination of the truth of the accessible consequences of that hypothesis or theory” (10:304). Two variants of this view are hypothetico-deduction and inference to the best explanation. Because both the epistemic optimist and the skeptic buy into consequentialism, neither stance succeeds. Laudan purported to “show that being a consequence of a hypothesis is neither necessary nor sufficient to qualify something as evidence for that hypothesis” (10:306). Here, he continued the criticism of inference to the best explanation that was entertained by Sober. According to Laudan, partisans of inference to the best explanation “insist that hypotheses derive support only from those phenomena which they explain better than their rivals” (10:308). As he demonstrated, there is a significant difference between supporting evidence, which is often antecedent to evidence for a hypothesis, and true empirical consequences. The conclusion he drew turned Kitcher’s bifurcation of philosophy on its head: epistemology is not principally about truth; it is about warrant. What people have supposed is that the warranting conditions of a statement must be drawn from that statement’s truth conditions. They get epistemology via semantics. Truth conditions become warrant conditions. Or better, what warrants a theory must be found among the things that would make the theory true. Plausible as this idea is, it is plainly wrong, for the reasons I have already indicated. Epistemology is not a stepchild of semantics because truth conditions and warranting conditions are not the same thing. (10:310) The combination of Sober’s argument pertaining to the perpetual shift into scientific method and Laudan’s argument that epistemology pertains to warrant
rather than truth, and evinces a third trend that was gaining momentum in the 1990s, especially with regard to philosophy and science, viz. fallibilism, to which Laudan referred at the opening of his address. Still, the fallibilist is closer to the Gnostic than to the Romantic insofar as fallibilism fully embraces the painful enlightenment to which Kitcher referred. It seems that fallibilism, which acknowledges the contextual and often temporary status of warranting conditions, was a fitting stance for the last decade of the twentieth century, which so often entailed tarrying between Gnosticism and Romanticism. The fallibilist trend continues in Arthur Isidore Fine’s (1997–1998) “The Viewpoint of No-One in Particular,” wherein he criticized the “view from nowhere” and “absolute conception” put forth by Thomas Nagel and Bernard Williams (10:531). Fine took both to task for their (mis)understanding of scientific method as statically objective, i.e., as a “specifically scientific way of knowing” that does “not separate process from product” (10:537). As an alternative, Fine proffered experimentalism, which is a brand of the fallibilism Laudan advocated: What I am supporting here is an experimental point of view. It is basically: John Dewey’s [(1905–1906)]. The idea is that we learn in inquiry how better to conduct it. Thus, I am urging that we move beyond the heated debates over objectivity by trying out different conceptions of what counts as an objective process, that we learn from those trials and that we use this knowledge to move toward temporary equilibria about the characteristics of objectivity. (10:536) This is in stark contrast to the realist attitude put forth by Nagel and Williams, whom Fine claimed wanted to separate the realm of natural science from the realms of mind and human affairs. Instead, Fine urged a focus on process wherein “objective procedure is something that needs to be tailored to the subject matter under consideration in a way that generates trust” (10:542). We learn whether a process affords trusting its product through the process of inquiry. Fine urged, “procedural objectivity does not guarantee objectivity for the products of inquiry” (10:540). This resembles Laudan’s position concerning warrant. At the end of his address, Fine warned that it is a mistake to view scientific method as somehow special or separate from other forms of thinking. Similar to Laudan, Fine’s position seems to capture that emerging at the end of the century, which is one that overcomes what might be considered the dogmatism of Gnosticism and the traditionalism of Romanticism. With regard to both positions, Laudan and Fine together embraced a far more painful enlightenment that does not forsake scientific endeavor, but definitely calls all absolute claims into question. Fine nicely captured the fallibilism of science in practice when he stated:
APA PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESSES: THE 1990s
Science proceeds on the basis of trial and error and what happens in most laboratories and in most centers of calculation on most days in most years is the methodical, procedurally objective production of errors. The whole conception of method, moreover, suffers from an incommensurability of ends. We want to maximize the attainment of truth and for that purpose, we need to take risks in the generation of hypotheses. We also want to minimize error and for that purpose, we need to avoid risk and flights of fancy. Sometimes we can strike a balance between risk taking and risk avoidance, but not always and not according to any general scheme. Procedural objectivity is terrific, but it scarcely guarantees overall reliability much less access to what is really real. (10:539–540) One of the major themes at the end of the twentieth century was surely that of experimentalism; not only experimentalism, but a reexamination of the products of experimentation. This called into question the a priori principles upon which much of scientific and philosophical endeavor had been built. However, during the upheaval of the 1990s, not all philosophers bought into the wholesale overhaul of foundational principles. In “Philosophical Naturalism,” Michael Lee Friedman (1996–1997) argued that philosophy and science do not operate without foundational, a priori principles, which are mathematical. He utilized the importance of such principles in his argument against what had become a dominant theme in the latter half of the twentieth century: philosophical naturalism. He declared that philosophical naturalism is characterized by two ideas: the rejection of any special status for types of knowledge traditionally thought to be a priori . . . all knowledge whatsoever is now conceived as having fundamentally the same status as that found in the empirical natural sciences. . . . The totality of human knowledge is pictured as a vast web of interconnected beliefs on which experience or sensory input impinges only along the periphery. . . . [and] philosophy, as a discipline, is also best understood as simply one more part—perhaps a peculiarly abstract and general part—of empirical natural science. (10:413) Friedman understood this form of philosophical naturalism to stem primarily from the work of Pierre Duhem and Willard Van Orman Quine (1957–1958). He argued that empirical science and philosophy do not merely consist of a large string of conjunctions culminating in a vast web of knowledge, but “a generally agreed upon and taken for granted background that makes possible an inquiry we can honorifically characterize as “scientific”—that is, as progressive, as problem solving, and as capable of wide if not universal consensus” (10:423).
He proffered a core of accepted science (or Kuhnian normal science)— consisting mostly of mathematical principles—from which revolutionary science is one step removed, while philosophy is two steps removed. Friedman fits into Kitcher’s category of Gnosticism in proposing the epistemic core of science over and above the contingencies of much empirical science and philosophy. Also speaking on the subject of naturalism, in “The Charm of Naturalism,” Barry Stroud (1995–1996) challenged the conception of naturalism as being anything more than open-mindedness. He stated: When we look at this most recent enthusiasm for what its proponents call “naturalism,” I think we find that, whatever they are excited and optimistic about, it is not naturalism as such. . . . What is usually at issue is not whether to be “naturalistic” or not, but rather what is and what is not to be included in one’s conception of “nature.” (10:369) Stroud distinguished two aspects of naturalism, which are “a view of what is so, or the way things are, or what there is in the world” and “as a way of studying or investigating what is so in the world” (10:370). The first pertains mostly to the opposition to the view of supernaturalism, by which Stroud meant “the invocation of an agent or force which somehow stands outside the familiar natural world and so whose doings cannot be understood as part of it” (10:370). In this regard, naturalism is surely a gnostic view (in Kitcher’s sense) that attempts to fulfill the painful enlightenment of negating supernaturalism, which we may understand as a romantic view, from consideration. The second sort of naturalism is epistemological naturalism, which Stroud located as being opposed to Rudolf Carnap’s philosophy. Carnap “sought a reduction of all talk of external bodies to talk only about possible sense experiences” (10:372). Quine objected to Carnap’s attempt at rational reconstruction, However, as Stroud remarked, their dispute was really “about what philosophy is or ought to be doing” (10:372). In Stroud’s view, Quine and Carnap are actually close in their naturalistic view, but they do not take it far enough. As he noted, Quine blanched at the work of philosophers such as Thomas Kuhn, Michael Polanyi, and Philip P. Hanson because of the disruption their studies brought to scientific observation and methodology. As a corrective to Quine, Stroud remarked, similarly to Fine and Laudan: Scientific epistemology must be prepared to accept whatever the empirical study of human beings actually reveals. If it turns out that human knowledge is acquired without there being a firm, fixed line between socalled “observational” and “non-observational” terms, or if what a philo-
APA PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESSES: THE 1990s
sophical “theory of evidence” calls “evidence” is never actually appealed to in the acceptance and rejection of scientific hypotheses, then so be it. That will have to be accepted as the way knowledge is in fact acquired. (10:373) Stroud’s point was, if you are going to be a naturalist, you have to accept what the findings are in studies of human beings. One cannot pick and choose the painful enlightenments to accept. He asserted, “a more open-minded or expansive naturalism will admit states of affairs and psychological phenomena that are found problematic from a more restricted naturalistic point of view.” (10:381). He indicated that this leaves naturalism as open-mindedness, and the only thing distinctly naturalist about it is its opposition to supernaturalism. Still, the underlying point is one that echoes those of Laudan and Fine, as well as Kitcher. The philosophical era is one with a growing advocacy for painful enlightenment. One aspect of the advocacy for painful enlightenment over Romanticism is a turning away from standardized approaches to philosophical problems and toward pluralism. Of all the addresses delivered in the 1990s, that delivered by Patricia Smith Churchland (1992–1993) is exemplary with regard to the general themes that carry through the end of the century. Her address, “Can Neurobiology Teach Us Anything about Consciousness?” signifies a tendency in the last decade of the twentieth century to move away from what might have been considered the standard, monolithic tradition of Western philosophy and begin moving toward greater diversity. At the same time, Churchland’s address is one deeply embedded within the gnostic category. Her philosophical realignment toward neurobiology is perhaps one of the greatest threats to those to which Kitcher refers as the Romantics. Churchland’s address captured the nascent movement away from traditional philosophy in a couple ways. First, she is one of seven female presidents of the APA during that decade, which was a significant increase over previous decades. While this represented a shift toward diversity, and it was surely still not enough; for instance, there were no persons of color among the presidents of the APA during the 1990s. Still, the shift was a beginning, regardless of its hesitant nature. Another way that Churchland moved away from tradition was her blatant openness to, and early adoption of, scientific work outside the philosophical discipline. She captured the trend that was only beginning to gain steam, as is evident in many of the other addresses, by looking to neurobiology for help in answering philosophical questions about consciousness. When Churchland looks to neurobiology, which includes neuroscience and psychology, she recommended “that it would be wisest to conduct research on many levels simultaneously, from the molecular, through the networks, systems, brain areas, and of course behavior” (10:180).
MARK TSCHAEPE From the vantage point of considerable ignorance, failure to imagine some possibility is only that: a failure of imagination—one psychological capacity amongst others. It does not betoken any metaphysical limitations on what we can come to understand and it cannot predict anything significant about the future of scientific research. (10:183)
One way of describing the addresses of the 1990s, well represented by Churchland, is as a rising from the armchair by philosophers. It is a hesitant, slow rising, but a rising all the same. It is professional philosophy giving way to openness toward not only past scientific research that has come to be accepted, but toward a scientific future that is available to facilitate philosophical progress. Says Churchland, “In any case, the trick is to generate testable, meaty hypotheses rather than loose, frothy hypotheses susceptible only to experiments of fancy. The trick is to make some real progress” (10:189). If this particular decade, the 1990s, looks to anything, it looks to the possibility of real progress, one stimulated by a gradual rejection of much of tradition and characterized by a slow acceptance of new modes and resources of inquiry. Churchland’s approach to philosophical questions through neurobiological research is the most extreme by comparison to the other addresses of this decade, but it is also the most emblematic of the movement from the philosopher’s armchair that can be detected, even in the faintest sense, in many of these addresses. Just as Churchland looked to neurobiology to inform philosophy of mind, Alvin Ira Goldman (1991–1992) looked to cognitive science to address issues within both philosophy of mind and moral theory. In “Empathy, Mind, and Morals,” he argued, “empathy may be the key to one sector of the philosophy of mind and to several sectors of moral theory. But whether [it is] depends heavily on the outcome of empirical research in cognitive science” (10:79). He stated that, for the most part, “two approaches to the nature of mental attribution have dominated contemporary theory” (10:80). These are theories of intentional states and the language theory of mind. The first “says that the language of intentionality embodies a “stance” adopted toward others, one that presupposes or imputes to them a high degree of rationality”; the second “says that the language of the mental presupposes a commonsense ‘theory’ of mind, a set of causal laws which interrelate stimulus inputs, internal states, and behavioral outputs” (10:80). Goldman suggested a third approach worth considering: imaginative projection, i.e., empathy. He focused on both a wide sense of empathy—a process of simulation that pertains to philosophy of mind generally—and a narrower sense of empathy, which entails the emotional state of sharing attitudes, sentiments, or emotions. Cognitive science, which has progressed in studies of both meanings of empathy, can, according to Goldman, inform philosophy in a manner hitherto unexplored. Regarding ethics, he said, “to the extent that both de-
APA PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESSES: THE 1990s
scriptive and prescriptive ethics should seek to place human moralizing within the context of human biology, it is instructive to inquire into the evolutionary origins of moral psychology” (10:97). Like Patricia Churchland, who suggested that philosophy look to neurobiology to solve the problems of consciousness, Goldman suggested that philosophers should look to the sciences to solve their problems concerning mind and morals. Both Church’s and Goldman’s addresses represent a gnostic shift in philosophy, wherein the traditional (Romantic) views of mind and morality are seriously challenged by scientific experimentation. Both advocated positions that entail accepting the painful enlightenments that such challenges pose. Of course, not all of the addresses of the 1990s advocated for such a change. Sidney Sharpless Shoemaker’s (1993–1994) address is one that represented not so much a resistance to change, as a steadfast settling into the armchair. Shoemaker’s “The First-Person Perspective” stands in stark contrast to those of Churchland and Goldman. Unlike theirs, Shoemaker’s remained in the realm of thought-experiments with discussion of “C-Fibers.” Still, Shoemaker’s skepticism regarding first-person narratives within thought experiments indicated an important turn toward the third-person narrative, which is the narrative of science. As Shoemaker stated: Where it seems to that one can imagine discovering the realization of a putative possibility from the first-person perspective, one should always ask whether this seeming discovery could be confirmed from the third-person point of view. If one finds that it is impossible in principle that it should be, one should look to see whether the first-person thought experiment can be faulted I have tried to fault the first-person thought experiments considered here. (10:226) Shoemaker’s account of mind and body remained firmly entrenched in the debates sustained by William Lycan and John Rogers Searle (1989–1990). Churchland largely acknowledged the importance of such debates, but moved onward into the specifics of science, firmly entrenching herself in the laboratory of the neuroscientist. Goldman, in a similar fashion as Churchland, moved beyond the positions of Daniel Dennett and Jerry Fodor, leaving them in the armchair while he made his way into the cognitive science lab. Shoemaker remained in the armchair, but he did move in the general direction of the laboratory. These three addresses signified a theme that carried through a number of the addresses, the turning away from the worn debates of the mid- to late 1900s, toward new considerations that would carry philosophy into the twenty-first century. Within the realm of moral philosophy, Richard Henry Kraut’s (1993– 1994) “Desire and the Human Good” is emblematic of a kind of new approach
to a modern philosophical issue that provides a kernel of the tradition in creating that approach. Kraut addressed the pluralist turn within moral philosophy, which attempts to value multiple perspectives in a non-hierarchical manner. He argued that such a pluralist stance cannot rest upon that to which he referred as the “desire theory,” which ultimately attempts to ground the multiform of goodness in individual desires. He stated, “what we need is a theory that is more objective and in this respect closer to the eudaimonistic theories of ancient and medieival philosophy” (10:256). This was not merely a return to Aristotle’s eudaimonia (human flourishing), however. Kraut was attempting to bridge the conception of objective virtue that flourishes in the work of Plato, Aristotle, and Christian thinkers, with the pluralistic evaluation of morality that had gained momentum near the end of the twentieth century. He questioned what makes something desired worth wanting (10:260). The three criteria he established were all rooted in love. He stated that what makes a life a good one is, at least, that a person must love something, that what a person loves must be worth loving, and that a person must be related in the right way to what that person loves (10:261). One of the major tasks of morality, according to Kraut, is then to determine what the basis of worth is in an objective sense, not in the relative sense of desire alone. As he concludes his address, “in deciding which sorts of lives it is good to live, we cannot bypass the task of evaluating our desires by asking whether their objects possess the qualities that make them worth wanting” (10:266). Kraut advanced beyond the modern moral philosophy by not relying upon reason alone, but leaving the possibility open of worth being based on something other than reason. His address even advanced beyond the traditional concern that has been limited to human beings as moral agents. Kraut considered non-human moral agents as well, which is another shift in the discourse that begins to emerge in the addresses of the 1990s. Margaret Dauler Wilson (1994–1995) also addressed non-human animals as agents in “Animal Ideas.” Like Kraut, she returned to the work of earlier philosophers to address progressive ideas. She considered the question of the epistemic status of non-human animals, concentrating on four central questions concerning cognition and consciousness: She asked whether non-human animals “reason,” and if they do, then “how does their ‘reasoning’ compare with that of human beings?” (10:278); She asked whether non-human animals “evince still other kinds of mental states, such as non-rational ‘knowledge’ or conscious ‘sensibility’ which are in some ways continuous with those of human beings?” (10:278). She questioned whether “some human beings, such as fetuses, idiots, madmen, or (as Locke says) the decrepit elderly [are] closer than others to the condition of brutes” (10:278). Finally, she asked “what are the bases we have for answering questions about brute mentality in specific ways?” (10:278).
APA PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESSES: THE 1990s
To address these questions, Wilson looked to debates concerning these issues between Descartes and his contemporaries, which were then followed by those of Locke, Leibniz, and Hume. She indicated that these thinkers’ debates about such questions are relevant to the current work going on in the sciences concerning both non-human animal cognition and ethical considerations with regard to non-human animals. Her address reveals that the philosophical tradition is not being completely overthrown. Rather, the tradition remains useful even as philosophers move forward and begin to utilize other disciplines to inform their own work. Even when some aspects of philosophical tradition seem well-worn or even ready for disposal, some remain resilient in the face of change. In her address, “Goodness and Utilitarianism,” Judith Jarvis Thomson (1992–1993) made this point concerning utilitarianism within moral philosophy. As she stated: Our problem isn’t merely that it continues to have its friends, though it does; our problem is deeper, lying in the fact that we haven’t found—and its friends are delighted to draw our attention to the fact that we haven’t found—a way of positively killing it off. (10:157) Thomson indicated that utilitarianism, as a theory of right, will not go away, but she also pointed to the problem that there are two senses of good: goodness-for and good with regard to what people ought to do. She criticized the utilitarian for being concerned for the state of the world apart from specific acts. Looking to an emendation of utilitarianism, she referred to William David Ross, whom she labeled as a “quasi-utilitarian.” Ross established a list of prima facie duties that inform the goodness of actions. Thomson read Ross as suggesting that his list of prima facie views may be looked at as actual views of duty in which “we are to choose the act which is itself best” (10:168). According to Thomson, ultimately, “an act’s being just, or good for people, supervenes on certain of its natural features, so also, at the next level up, does an act’s being the one we ought to choose supervene on its being just, or good for people” (10:169). She indicated that there is a double supervenience, which signifies that utilitarianism errs in reducing the right to the good. In the same vein as Ross, Thomson advocated an advance—a quasi- stance—in which independent principles are used to found moral theory. Just as Thomson called for moral theory to address specific acts, in “The Future of Feminist Liberalism,” Martha Louise Craven Nussbaum (1999–2000) addressed the need for political theory to address specific aspects of life that have been underappreciated and underrepresented within philosophical examination: need (dependency) and justice in terms of the family. According to
Nussbaum, “liberalism, even in its strongest forms, has not yet given satisfactory answers” to these “deep problems exposed by feminist thinkers” (10:680). The neglect of the first deep problem—that of the “need for care in times of extreme dependency”—stems from that to which Nussbaum aptly referred as “the fiction of competent adulthood” (10:680). This is the idea that, apart from human infants, most persons are autonomous agents with only the most basic political dependencies. Nussbaum stated, “Life, of course, is not like that. . . . there are many citizens who never have the physical and/or mental powers requisite for independence” (10:681). The need for a discussion of need and dependency has been largely ignored by Kantian and, in turn, Rawlsian liberalism. According to Nussbaum, this neglect may best be supplanted by adopting “a political conception of the person that is more Aristotelian than Kantian, one that sees the person from the start as both capable and needy” (10:687). The Kantian notion of the autonomous, rational agent must be overhauled because this type of person does not by any means constitute the socio-political world. Nussbaum contributes to the painful enlightenment that acknowledges that human beings are far more diverse and dependent upon one another than traditional philosophy has conceived. Because of this realization, our philosophical orientation and approach must adapt to this diversity instead of merely continuing to neglect it. Regarding family, Nussbaum stated: One the one hand, the family is among the most significant arenas in which people pursue their own conceptions of the good, and transmit them to the next generation. This fact suggests that liberal society should give people considerable latitude to form families as they choose. On the other hand, the family is one of the most non-voluntary and pervasively influential of social institutions, and one of the most notorious homes of sex hierarchy, denial of equal opportunity, and sex-based violence and humiliation. (10:690) She strongly remarked that the family is a social institution, “whose influence is pervasive and present from the start of a human life” (10:691). Being a social institution, the family is not a natural entity, i.e., a natural kind. The Western nuclear family, for instance, is a parochial concept that must not overshadow non-nuclear groupings, such as same-sex couples, “village groups, extended families, women’s collectives, kibbutzim” (10:692) and others. In addition, the family is “a creation of state action, enjoying a very different status from that of a church or a university” (10:692). In order to address issues of the family, especially after acknowledging its contextual contingency, Nussbaum urged that questions concerning justice and the family “be left to the contextual deliberation of citizens, in the light of their
APA PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESSES: THE 1990s
history and their current problems” (10:695). Against the claim that her suggestion might seem dangerous in an “intuitionist” sense, she proffered a fallibilist position: “we should not purchase definiteness at the price of falsehood, by stating or implying that a parochial grouping is ahistorical and universal” (10:695). This approach to justice undermines the Romantic conceptions of the autonomous self and the ahistorical family, replacing a largely homogenous picture with a picture of reality that includes its heterogeneity. Many philosophers in the 1990s, including Nussbaum, had a great facility for peeling back pictures of reality that were far too homogenous and idealized— Kitcher might say, “too Romantic”—to expose what had hitherto been unmentionable. Mary Mothersill’s (1998–1999) “Old Age,” probably performs this act of exposure more explicitly and more effectively than any of the others, and, although Nussbaum’s address closes the decade chronologically, Mothersill’s is appropriate to close this sketch of the 1990s, especially given its topic. Mothersill opened, “old age, spanning, as it does, the concepts of life and death raises issues of great philosophical interest” (10:551). Traditionally, the topic of old age has been forsaken in philosophy for the topic of death, but Mothersill indicated that she found old age to be a more promising philosophical topic. “For one thing, it opens the possibility of confirmation and disconfirmation, and it does have analogues” (10:553). One of the greatest problems with old age is a practical one: as more people age without dying, there is a greater need for resources. As Mothersill stated, removing a Romantic obfuscation from the issue: We, the oldies, are very expensive. We do not pull our weight. We are mostly unemployed and assumed by those whose opinions count to be unemployable. We are unproductive. Some of us live off pensions and annuities; others (not everybody) have social security, which, as we are reminded daily, is running out of funds. We have a disproportionate number of medical problems, many chronic and severe. Some of us need part-time caregivers; some need round-the-clock institutional care. Who is responsible for us? Who is supposed to provide for our housing and pay our medical bills? Who is to keep us from dying of boredom? (10:554) According to her, these are issues that philosophers need to begin to address. They have neglected the elderly for far too long. Mothersill also pointed to the need for gerontology to utilize philosophy. She stated, for instance, “Successful Aging1 presents the views of neuropsychologists, cell biologists, sociologists, but not of philosophers” (10:557). Although more than half the essays in that book make the point that “old age is not a disease, and old age is not to be thought of as a process of gradual dying”
(10:557), Mothersill charged, “in none of the essays is there even a hint of what is required for something to count as ‘a disease’” (10:557). Philosophy has the tools by which to help answer the question of what counts as a disease, but philosophers need to confront perhaps the most immediate painful enlightenment of life, which is becoming old. In her own insightful way, Mothersill is exemplary of one of the major themes of the 1990s in philosophy, which was a call to end denying the realities that philosophers had previously neglected. Although the only truly common theme in all of the 1990s addresses is that they had philosophical topics, the underlying criticism levied toward much of the doxa leading up to the 1990s in philosophy is apparent in these addresses. Perhaps that has something to do with it being the end of a century, or perhaps it simply has to do with the very nature of philosophy. Note 1. John W. Rowe and Robert Louis Kahn, eds., Successful Aging (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998).