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"Popular Myths About the Legal Realists":
I've suggested before that the 19th century legal scholar Christopher Columbus Langdell is often unfairly caricatured as one who saw law as a formal science following absolute principles. Over at Balkinization, Brian Tamanaha looks at similar caricatures on the other end of the spectrum in a very interesting post, Popular Myths About the Legal Realists. Putting the two together suggests that the realists caricatured Langdell and then were in turn caricatured by others, leading to two caricatures that are very popular but might not have much grounding in reality.
Anderson (mail):
So typical. Philosophy, I can attest, has proceeded by caricature, from Aristotle on Plato to the present day.

I actually think Harold Bloom is onto something with his "strong misreading" shtick, tho when it quits being a shtick &becomes a neo-Kabbalah, not so much.
2.15.2007 2:35pm
advisory opinion:

Philosophy, I can attest, has proceeded by caricature . . .


Don't often agree with Anderson, but so true.
2.15.2007 2:50pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
"Philosophy...has proceeded by caricature...."

Hmmm. Bit of a caricature there, no?
2.15.2007 3:09pm
Anderson (mail):
Bit of a caricature there, no?

I rest my case!

(Consider: Plato's "theory of Ideas"; Nietzsche's "superman"; Kant's "noumenon" -- all the subject of gross misreading that certainly can be called caricature.)
2.15.2007 5:03pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
"all [these ideas have been] the subject of gross misreading that certainly can be called caricature"

Right, but how has philosophy "proceeded by" such caricature? Do you mean that the public has preserved philosophical works only because they honor their own misunderstandings? (Reminds me of Darrow's remark: "I have suffered from being misunderstood, but I would have suffered a hell of a lot more if I had been understood.")
2.15.2007 5:33pm
advisory opinion:
Add to that the Logical Positivists' view of Wittgenstein as some kind of positivist (on the contrary, if anything Wittgenstein was a kind of logical negativist. Carnap and the rest of the Circle - with the exception of Neurath - had thought of the Tractatus as trivializing the mystical, while elevating only 'meaningful' empirical statements or tautologies to significance - the rough opposite of Wittgenstein's ontological stance).

Another well-known example is Carnap's appropriation of Popper's demarcation criterion as a criterion of _meaning_, in turn taken on by A.J. Ayer who claimed that Popper's Logik der Forschung postulated falsifiability of statements as just such a criterion. This caricature was in its turn latched upon by Habermas who attacked Popper as a stripe of positivist (something he never was). Needless to say Popper was driven to apoplexy.

A third example is that of P.F. Strawson who managed the remarkable feat of basing The Bounds of Sense on a caricature of Kant's transcendentalism ("a presposterous [ . . .] phantasmagoria") while producing a work of considerable merit in its own right.

And yet others include:

The rather common conflation of Schopenhauer's 'will' with volition.

Russell's scandalous treatment of Kant in his History of Western Philosophy.

The idea that Hume "posed" a logical problem of induction instead of a clear-cut argument that it IS an impossibility.

Hart as misunderstood as by Dworkin.

And so on.

There are caricatures subtle and crude, but it is the crudities that are unforgiveable.
2.15.2007 9:05pm
advisory opinion:
As to how philosophy has "proceeded" in such a way. Perhaps one could argue that from a fundamental misunderstanding of Wittgenstein spawned the logical positivist movement, which was in turn transmitted to the Anglophone world via Ayer, heralding a generation of linguistic philosophy and the idea of logic-chopping conceptual analysis that colours analytic philosophy till this day.

And this is just one identifiable thread in the history of ideas.
2.15.2007 9:16pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
AP, I find those of your examples with which I'm familiar rather, well...crudely put. Take your first example—the logical positivists and Wittgenstein. The Vienna Circle started meetings in 1908, whereas Wittgenstein's Tractatus was published in 1918. If Wittgenstein exerted influence on logical positivism, then, it wasn't a foundational one.

Wittgenstein's subsequent influence on at least Schlick in respect of the meaning of propositions is clear enough, but then Schlick's interpretation on this score seems to me quite reasonable.

In any case, it seems clear that the Circle as a whole was at best moderately influenced by some of Wittgenstein's ideas, and it's arguable that his influence was in fact trivial when compared to that of Mach, Einstein and Goedel.

That's just an example. In general, "caricatures" among elite philosophers seem to me very, very rare; even rarer is a caricature that retains any philosophical vitality. Dworkin on Hart, e.g., is arguably guilty of caricature; but then scarcely anyone in jurisprudence takes Dworkin on Hart seriously.
2.16.2007 10:50am
advisory opinion:
Dude, if that is crude, then I too rest my case!

But after doing some digging on the subject, we'll have to disagree for reasons pertaining to your chosen example.

First, you claim that

The Vienna Circle started meetings in 1908, whereas Wittgenstein's Tractatus was published in 1918. If Wittgenstein exerted influence on logical positivism, then, it wasn't a foundational one.

Yet this simply isn't true, and is an argument unsound on multiple levels. Logical positivism is not chronologically synonymous with the Vienna Circle's precursor. The precursor to the Vienna Circle that consisted of Hans Hahn, Philipp Frank, von Mises and Neurath were indeed influenced by Mach and Poincare and no doubt by their own "foundational" training as scientists. But this was not the Vienna Circle proper of logical positivists that flourished in the interwar years, and excludes, inter alia: Schlick (!), Carnap (!), Waismann, Reichenbach (!), Viktor Kraft (!), Karl Menger, Herbert Feigl, Carl Hempel (!), and Goedel, of all people. (Goedel himself wasn't even a positivist: he was a Platonist!)

It was only in 1924 that the VC proper, as constituted by the majority of its members, started meeting regularly, and only later that they put out their manifesto ("The Scientific View of the World") and began publishing Erkenntnis (1929-30). Indeed, the name "Vienna Circle" was not taken until 1928 - after the Circle had ample time to take in the Tractatus (readings were done from 1926-7 according to Waismann), and only after a conscious effort at framing the 'new' logical positivist programme according to Wittgenstein's anti-metaphysical agenda.

In short, the 'old' Machian positivist program was replaced by the 'new' logical positivist program, for which Wittgenstein was the patron(ising?) saint.

As Wittgenstein was to sniff later: "Some people have turned this suggestion about asking for the verification into a dogma - as if I'd been advancing a theory about meaning." (See Passmore's A Hundred Years of Philosophy).

This view was also taken by Urmson in his Philosophical Analysis: It's Development Between the Two World Wars. He wrote: "They [Schlick et al.] seized on the Tractatus and worked on it hard . . . . Already disposed to reject metaphysics on the old positivist grounds . . . they readily accepted the anti-metaphysical strain in Wittgenstein, calling themselves logical positivists to emphasize their acceptance of the view of Wittgenstein that metaphysics . . . was a logically impossible enterprise . . . ."

If this view of the Circle that is promulgated by so many philosophers, historians of philosophy and those close to the Circle itself is "crude", then I suppose that rather nicely makes Anderson's point doesn't it? Either way, caricatures abound.

You then claim:

In any case, it seems clear that the Circle as a whole was at best moderately influenced by some of Wittgenstein's ideas, and it's arguable that his influence was in fact trivial when compared to that of Mach, Einstein

On the contrary, as my little disquisition makes clear: Wittgenstein's influence was major, and important. Toulmin's Wittgenstein's Vienna provides further illumination:

"Almost from the moment of its publication, the nature and purpose of Wittgenstein's Tractatus gave rise to misunderstandings among his Viennese contemporaries . . . [who] quoted [the Tractatus] in support of intellectual attitudes quite antagonistic to Wittgenstein's own. As a result, both in Vienna and in England itself, the Tractatus became the foundation stone of a new postivitism or empiricism. . . . [Wittgenstein] himself remained an onlooker, and an increasingly sceptical one, so that by the early 1930s he had dissociated himself entirely from ideas and doctrines others continued to regard as his brain-children . . . Far from being a positivist, however, Wittgenstein had meant the Tractatus to be interpreted in exactly the opposite sense."

Paul Engelmann, who knew Wittgenstein intimately, continues the thread:

"A whole generation of disciples were able to take Wittgenstein as a positivist . . . . Postivism holds - and this is its essence - that what we can speak about is all that matters in life. Whereas Wittgenstein passionately believes that all that really matters in human life is precisely what, in his view, we must be silent about." (Engelmann, Letters from Ludwig Wittgenstein.)

And so an entire philosophical program was founded upon a caricature of a philosopher who did not want to have anything to do with it. And this program - framed thus - was transmitted by Ayer to the English-speaking world and gained wide currency for the next 20 years, colouring philosophy with its detritus. And with great vitality too: the legend of the positivist Popper for instance, was particularly insidious.

In sum, not only are such caricatures by "elite" philosophers more common than you think - as some of my other examples show, they are made by even the elite of the elite; giants in the field who have made original, groundbreaking contributions to the subject. I do not expect the minnows of present-day academic philosophy to be any less prone to such caricatures.
2.16.2007 7:38pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
For the sake of argument (and for the sake of refining the argument), let's just accept your narrative. Taken as it is, then, it would count as strong evidence that the VC was "strongly influenced" by Wittgenstein. (And mea culpa for introducing this red herring.)

What I don't see, however, is how the narrative supports the claim that in some nontrivial way a "caricature" of Wittgenstein lies at the foundation of logical positivism. Let's leave out the "foundation" part, and focus on the "caricature" part. If (for instance) Toulmin's book badly misreads the historical importance of Wittgenstein's influence on the VC (and Carnap himself would surely have said this is so), is Toulmin's rendering a "caricature"? I don't think so. But if it is, then a "caricature" merely amounts to a "bad misreading," in which case philosophy "proceeds by caricature" like just about every other discipline in the liberal arts or nonphysical sciences (including of course law), and maybe even some of the physical sciences (as perhaps in the case of Darwin). I'm pretty sure you meant the claim to be more peculiarly true of philosophy than that. Or?
2.18.2007 12:55pm
anonVCfan:
Isn't this just a common, but unfortunate, style of making an argument?

1. Distill your opponent's argument to a sentence or 2, such that it becomes a caricature.
2. Attack the caricature.

It happens a lot in constitutional theory. Liberal-minded scholars characterize Scalia et al. as "strict constructionists" and say things like "if you take them at their word, the air force is unconstitutional, and the internet can't be regulated."

I suppose it's legitimate sometimes, where your opponent's philosophy can be distilled to a sentence or 2 without failing to do it justice, but it seems to me that this sort of thing happens all of the time and, while it's unfortunate, it's not remarkable when it happens.
2.18.2007 7:31pm
advisory opinion:
What Anderson said - I meant that it was "typical" of philosophy. I do not know if it is also typical of, say, literary criticism . . . I haven't looked. Do you know of any other program in the liberal arts, of comparable significance to its subject, that was borne of similar caricature?

Btw:

Dworkin on Hart, e.g., is arguably guilty of caricature; but then scarcely anyone in jurisprudence takes Dworkin on Hart seriously.


Not true either, they take him seriously enough to think that he requires refutation (as Hart himself did). See for example the literature on the Hart v. Dworkin debate in Hart's Postscript: Essays on the Postscript to the Concept of Law.
2.19.2007 4:51pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
"Not true either"

Well, then no well-known scholar is not taken "seriously" (since you are well-known by dint of having other scholars take you at least "seriously" enough to address your claims). My point is that just about everybody, and maybe by now just plain everybody, in jurisprudence thinks Dworkin gets Hart in the main wrong.

Anyway, the original claim was that philosophy "proceeds by caricature." Refined, you say you mean that caricature is "typical" of it. Arguable, I guess, but a different argument.

I suppose we might as well leave it at that.
2.20.2007 3:12pm
advisory opinion:

. . . the original claim was that philosophy "proceeds by caricature." Refined, you say you mean that caricature is "typical" of it. Arguable, I guess, but a different argument.


How is it different? The claim was that it proceeds by caricature, typically. Same argument as from the start.

That "everybody" _now_ thinks Dworkin is wrong on Hart does not mean that he was never taken seriously, nor goes to the force of the example as an instance of caricature by an "elite" jurist. You might as well say that everybody, or almost everybody, _now_ thinks that the logical positivists read the Tractatus wrongly. In other words, it's an ignoratio elenchi!
2.20.2007 5:06pm