« Text of talk at DRM Ceremony, April 20, 2016 | Main | The still-invisible dimensions of "Western philosophy" »

April 29, 2016


Tim Lacy


Thanks so much for the pointer and your cautionary reflection above. I really appreciated the proper amount of historical relativism in the McWhorter's piece.

On your gloss, why *is it* so difficult for some philosophers, particularly those with an analytic bent, to think about cases and particulars? Why is there that quick leap to analogy and grand principle (often for grand-standing purposes)?

As a historian with a fondness for philosophy, I find it difficult to discuss situations that are embedded, or contextual, with many philosophers. Is this a never-the-twain-shall-meet meet situation? Is there a way, a format, where philosophers can be more contextual in the sense that historians are? Is this a "philosophy of history" problem among philosophers? Or is it that historians are too contextual, such that they make everything unique (i.e. unable to abstract from)? I'm willing to concede if historians are the problem. That said, I don't often encounter historians prone to downward slippery slope abstractions.


John Protevi

Hi Tim, I'm less certain about the reason why as I am about the existence of the tendency to principle-mongering. Maybe I'm exaggerating the extent of that tendency from a limited sample of the way it shows up as thread-jacking in online discussion, but I take it your experience includes face-to-face discussion as well.

Not sure it's limited to analytics, and in any case, there is theoretical pushback in the name of "moral particularism." http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-particularism/

In any case, as I like to joke, I feel like Quentin Compson sometimes: "I don't hate principles, I don't!" But I think it's all about the granularity of our descriptions of our motivations / reasons. Or better, the finer-grained we get, the smaller the distance between a mere description of our motivations / reasons here and now, and the principle we say we're applying. But that's not to say we can't ever produce principles.

So, "we should remove the names of those who were the most egregious propagandists for slavery on the basis of racial inferiority even by the standards of the day and not by our own standards" (and mutatis mutandis for the calls to remove the names of Rhodes in Oxford and Wilson in Princeton) is a more fine-grained principle that would preclude many of the slippery slopes and reductios that cropped up in these discussions.

Tim Lacy


Thanks so much for that link to the SEP article on "moral particularlism." I'll study it.

As a philosopher who cares about granularity and particulars, would you characterize yourself as in the minority in the profession? I like the idea you express of shortening the distance between our here-and-now motivations and whatever principles we say we believe in, or are "practicing."

Perhaps it's all about asking more particular questions and enforcing attention to those particulars in dialogue.

I would like to hear your thoughts on questions about the relations between historians and philosophers, from your point of view as in the discourse of the latter.

- Tim

The comments to this entry are closed.