Sunday, June 13, 2010

It's like being 18 all over again

I grew up in Orange County California, where I felt unbelievably out of step.  For those who don't know, Orange County is one of the most conservative places in the US (or at least was when I was growing up there).  This is a place where Ronald Reagan was thought to be too liberal, black folks are questioned by police because the only explanation for their presence is the plan to commit crimes, and Fox News is taken to be the gospel truth.  Again, needless to say, I felt considerably isolated and a bit crazy growing up there since I most definitely didn't/don't share these views.  Then I went to college and discovered that I wasn't completely alone and that, in fact, Orange County was a bit of an outlier. 

Jump forward a considerable number of years and I'm going through this again.  A recent Leiter Reports discussion focusses on the question of which philosophers of today will be viewed as important in a century (Hume was not viewed as all that important in his day and age and now is a must read and folks who were viewed as really important then have faded into near obscurity) and all of a sudden I discover that I'm not the rebel/idiot I thought I was. 

I went to graduate school where, to put it mildly, W. V. Quine was god.  I'd capitalize 'god' if it weren't for the fact that it was also made abundantly clear in graduate school that any sort of theistic beliefs were evidence of being ill-equipped for intelligent thought.  So, I dutifully learned my Quine but all the while didn't really enjoy what he had to say (not that I found it false, but, just, not all that worthy of being risen to god status).  Of course, I just took this to be indicative of the fact that I'm probably a fraud and got into (and out of) graduate school based on a mistake.  I much preferred, and continue to be influenced by, Hilary Putnam and Nelson Goodman.  Of course, in good Woody Allen fashion, I assumed that my preference for their work (in terms of being interesting, important, fruitful) was evidence that they were not all that good (sorry H & N).

Well, back to the Leiter Reports discussion.  Looking through the comments, it appears that, at least according to folks posting comments, Quine is either (a) wrong or (b) saying something so painfully obviously true as to be unworthy of further discussion — just incorporate his point and move on.  Further, Putnam (and to a lesser extent Goodman) is pointed to again and again as someone who will be viewed as important 100 years from now.  And a bunch of the other names noted as being important in 100 years are also folks I know and appreciate.

So, maybe I'm not the fraud I thought I was.  Maybe.

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