Philosophy and Literature 24.1 (2000) 239-242
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Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate: Unfashionable Essays
Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate: Unfashionable Essays, by Susan Haack; x & 223 pp. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998, $22.50 cloth, $13.00 paper.
In her Evidence and Inquiry (1993), Susan Haack presented a substantial new account of empirical knowledge and how it grows in the sciences and elsewhere. This account is designed to avoid the pitfalls of the two standard types of epistemological theories, foundationalism and coherentism, by combining features of both. Granted that the label Haack has chosen for her theory, "foundherentism," may be the pug-ugliest philosophical coinage of recent years, it does have the virtue of transparency, situating her account along a spectrum of familiar theories. The emblem that she has chosen for her approach, by contrast, is altogether striking and memorable: Haack compares the systematic pursuit of inquiry to doing a crossword puzzle. While each solution that you come up with for a row is a guess, based on the clue provided (this being the foundational component of the model), what enables you to check these guesses is their mutual fit in the interlocking pattern of the puzzle (the coherence component).
While Evidence and Inquiry was largely a constructive theoretical study addressed to philosophers of science and other specialists, Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate consists mainly of polemical essays (all written since 1993) concerning topics in philosophy but directed at very wide audience in the humanities. The earlier book did contain a polemical chapter ("Vulgar Pragmatism: An Unedifying Prospect"), which seems in retrospect like the seed from which much in her new book sprang. Haack's targets in this chapter were Steven Stich and (especially) Richard Rorty. Stich's approach to philosophy is scientistic, abounding in evolutionary and functionalist lingo, while Rorty's draws heavily on the humanities and literature. But for Haack the common upshot of their work is more important than the stylistic differences: namely, a [End Page 239] rejection of notions like objective truth and rational standards of inquiry--or rather an outright dismissal of them as philosophically naive, once viewed from the vantage point of a truly sophisticated way of thinking. In refusing to have any truck with either position, Haack strikes a line strongly reminiscent of the one taken by Hilary Putnam in Renewing Philosophy (1992), in which, however, the Scylla of scientistic reductionism (represented there by Jerry Fodor, among others) got far more critical attention than the Charybdis of literary-humanistic reductionism (Rorty again). Haack shares with Putnam a fundamental commitment to the indispensability of notions such as truth and rationality, which are essentially the concern of philosophy and which cannot be eliminated by invoking some type of naturalism, or some type of historicism--regardless of how popular such tendencies may be.
The kind of inquiry analyzed in Evidence and Inquiry is, of course, the serious kind. Haack recognizes two alternatives, discussed at various points in Manifesto. One way in which inquiry can fail of seriousness is when the outcome is determined in advance: C. S. Peirce labeled this "sham reasoning," and Haack adopts the locution, going on to coin a parallel term, "fake reasoning," to label another kind of pseudo-inquiry, where the real aim is self-aggrandizement, and the truth-value of the proposition supposedly under consideration is a matter of indifference. As Haack points out, the latter "is not uncommon in some areas of contemporary academic life, [when] a clever defense of a startlingly false or impressively obscure idea can be a good route to reputation and advancement" (p. 9). Though I foresee that this will be one of those distinctions impossible to keep straight, it is a useful one: right off the bat, it enables me to distinguish what is wrong with the work of Stanley Fish (fake reasoning) from what is wrong with that of J. Hillis Miller (sham reasoning).
In reading Manifesto, I had to remind myself constantly that Haack is writing about things going on in philosophy departments rather than literary ones, since much of...