- Joseph Margolis
region = Western Philosophers
color = #B0C4DE
name = Joseph Margolis
May 16, 1924flagicon|USA|size=20px Newark, New Jersey
notable_ideas = "Culturally Emergent Entities", "the Flux", "Robust Relativism", "Second Natured Selves"
Relativism, Western philosophy, Philosophy of art, History, Aesthetics
influences = Sophists, Hegel, C.S. Peirce, Dewey, Wittgenstein, W.V. Quine
Joseph Zalman Margolis (born on
May 16, 1924in Newark, New Jersey) is an American philosopher. As a radical historicist, he is noted for his wide-ranging critique of many of the central assumptions of Western philosophy.
His notable ideas include: "Culturally Emergent Entities", "the Flux", "Human Utterance", "Incongruent Judgments", "Indicative Universals", "the Intentional", "Preformation", "Robust Relativism", "Second Natured Selves", "Sentential Formulas versus Meaningful Sentences".
Joseph Margolis was the son of
central European, Jewish immigrants. His father, a dentist, was a well-read man, greatly interested in literature, and proficient in four languages.
Before dedicating himself to philosophy, Margolis served in
World War IIas a paratrooper. He was wounded during the Battle of the Bulge, and lost his only brother, a twin, in the same engagement. He studied at Columbia University, earning both the M.A. (1950) and Ph.D (1953) in philosophy. Famous contemporaries at Columbia included the art theorist Arthur C. Dantoand the philosopher Marx Wartofsky.
Margolis has taught at numerous universities in the United States and
Canada, as well as lecturing throughout Europe, in Japan, New Zealand, and South Africa. Since 1991 he has held the Laura H. Carnell Chair of Philosophy at Temple University, Philadelphia[For the many associations and societies of which Margolis is a member, see [http://www.pragmatism.org/library/margolis/margolis.htm pragmatism.org] ] .
As set out most clearly in "Historied Thought, Constructed world" (California, 1995), Margolis holds that philosophy is concerned principally with three things:
# what we assume to be the nature of the real world, and why;
# what we assume to be how much we might know about the real world, and why;
# and after having answered those question as best we can, how we should live out our lives, and why.
He sees the
history of philosophyconcerning these three question of reality, knowledgeand ethicsas a gradual movement away from the idea that any of these three realms is changeless and towards an increasing acceptance of real change infecting all three spheres. His greatest contribution might well be seen in his emphasis on the question "why". That is, Margolis constantly emphasizes that legitimationis philosophy's principal task.
Margolis is a champion of
Protagorasin that he takes the latter's dictum, "Man is the measure of all things", to its logical conclusions, showing how, strictly adhering to such a measure, all fixities and changeless first principles must give way to consensual, though not criterial, truth claims. Since "man", the measure, is himself a creature of history, no modal claims of invariance can possibly be sustained. Margolis however avers that there need be no fixities either "de re" or "de dicto" or "de cogitatione". The world is a flux and our thought about it is also in flux. Margolis sees the whole history of Western philosophyas a struggle between the advocates of change and those who either, like Parmenides, deny that change is intelligible, or those, like Heraclitus, who find some logosor lawwhich allegedly governs whatever changes are admitted. He has critiqued the whole of the Western philosophical tradition from this viewpoint, showing how cognitive privilege may show up in the unlikeliest of places, such as in W.V. Quine's advocacy of extensionalism, in spite of Quine's own admission that there is no reason why extensionalism should be adequate to "limn the ultimate structure of reality". Margolis goes beyond critique, offering firm, constructive proposals concerning our truthclaims and the possibilities of legitimation, even under the conditions of accepting the ubiquity of flux. Contrary to postmodern philosophers like Richard Rortyor Jean-François Lyotard, he shows that our lack of cognitive privilege means that the need for a philosophical justification of our choices and programs becomes more, not less, pressing now than at any previous time.
Margolis began close to the so-called analytical school of English-speaking philosophy but soon widened his interests as he set out to critique all past Western philosophy, and to then build up a synthesis of all that was best in contemporary and past thought, uniting the artificially sundered European and English-speaking traditions.
His principal tasks have been:
# to overcome the apparent opposition between the "naturalist" tradition of analytic philosophy and the "holist", humanistic tradition of
phenomenology, deconstruction, genealogy, hermeneuticsand historicism;
# to provide for legitimative discourse which avoids any and all Kantian or Cartesian transparent, cognitively privileged, essentialist, correspondentist, objectivist, transcendental, "presenced", "logocentric" appeals.
In order to achieve this, Margolis has developed a carefully crafted philosophy which treats the "natural" as ontologically prior to the cultural, while emphasizing that we only know
naturevia cultural means, hence, that the cultural is epistemologically prior to the natural, in a logical sense. While his position is found in many of his works, the clearest exposition of this is probably to be found in his "Selves and Other Texts" (Penn State, 2001).
His major achievements are:
# the cogent and convincing critique of nearly all prominent philosophers, classical and modern;
# the advocacy of a "robust relativism" which eschews relational
relativisms of all descriptions, and hence, is not self-contradictory;
# the defence of a radical historicism, which avoids the pitfalls of all earlier historicisms, such as those of Hegel, Marx, or even such contemporaries as
# and, together with all this, the depiction of how legitimation functions under the newly accepted historicist conditions.
Margolis has published extensively in all branches of philosophy. Of his more than thirty books, perhaps the most impressively structured work is his "Historied Thought, Constructed World" (California, 1995). There, he opens by pointing out that, for the vast majority of the Greek thinkers, there was a first principle which ran "necessarily, reality is invariantly structured and, when known, discernibly known to be such". Beginning with his counterproposal - (2.1) It is not in any way conceptually necessary that reality possess invariant structures or an invariant nature - Margolis gradually traces out the implications of the antithetical visions. This move takes him through the vast vistas of 2, 500 years of philosophy, on the one side, while he details the minutiae of close philosophical argument, on the other. For instance, showing that
Aristotle's famous demonstration of the principle of non-contradiction is itself dependent upon a presupposition of the changelessness of individual things, and upon their having a fixed essence, he goes on to relate this to the purely formal nature of the non-contradiction argument. In his terminology, it applies to "sentential formulas" and not to "meaningful sentences", since discourse in use may always offset any seeming contradiction by reinterpretation, as is routinely done, for instance, in the case of the wave theory versus the corpuscular theory of light. In other words, there is no conceptual necessity in the adherence to a strictly bivalent logic; our logics depend, in a deep sense, on what we pre-thinkingly take the real world to be like. Hence, there is no reason to disallow relativism at all, for the world may well be the kind of place where incongruent judgments - judgments which on a bivalent reading would be "true" or "false", but are now no longer so, adhering to a many valued logic, one consisting of more than two exclusive truth-values - are all that creatures such as ourselves may ever hope to legitimate.
If science is indeed a seeking after the "truth", it would be most "unscientific" to assume that the world must be changeless or have changeless laws governing its changes before we have even investigated it. This, however, has been the canonical philosophical view which has assumed almost infinite guises, from Plato's Forms through Aristotle's essentialism to the nomothetic belief in the Laws of Nature and on to Wittgenstein's Correspondentism in the "Tractatus".
Margolis carefully builds up his argument of the view that thinking is history by examining the very minima - reference and predication, for instance - making up our ability to probe and communicate the results of our probings. Constative discourse – the making of statements of fact — for instance need only rely on identification, and reidentification, of items for it to prove effective in use. Therefore, historical memory and consensus, together with a narratizing ability, are all that are necessary to ensure the stability of what we make reference to, there need be nothing essential at all in things themselves, for our constative discourse to be able to flourish and even thrive. Margolis constantly inveighs against postmodernists of Rorty’s stamp, since they risk disabling constative discourse in their objectivist fears of privilege. There need be no conceptual privilege involved in making statements, nor in the justifications proferred for the statements made.
Still, Margolis emphasizes that justifications cannot be dispensed with. They cannot because any statement implies a whole set of beliefs about the way the world is (ontology) and about how we know that (epistemology). We must legitimize our statements as best we can, else we should never know why we should choose some over others, nor should we know how to proceed to make other statements building upon, but going beyond, our original exemplars. The case here is very close to the problems of nominalism which completely fails because it does not allow us to go on, to extend, to reapply the experiential.
The key to how we in fact "go on" is to be found in the major postulate of "Historied Thought, Constructed World"; "Thinking is a History". Making meaningful reference, within constative discourse, is a thoroughly historical skill. What we predicate - about what is thus referred to - is likewise historical. It is generally admitted today that meaning depends upon context, but context is merely synchronically what history is diachronically. Margolis then shows that the continuous struggle philosophically to entrench changlessness either in human thought or human nature or physical nature has, in large part, been a futile struggle by some against acknowledging the lack of any fixed-kind nature of the human being. It is futile in that we have no natures but are histories. Many are far from content to see themselves as but creatures at the mercy of their own man-made history. There is a deep fear of the radical freedom such an admission entails. Nevertheless, Margolis shows that there are enough man-made would-be stabilities and fixities to go round. There is the habituating weight of the customary, of Hegel's sittlich, the slow change in human languages, the inertia of institutions.
Margolis admits, of course, that the historized "nature" of the human --and therefore of truth, of judgment, of reality, and the rest - is not his own discovery. The theme arises with the
French Revolution, with Hegel, Marx, and a long so on. Nevertheless, all previous thinkers have fallen victims to some theological or teleological yearning, as witness Hegel's "Geist", Marx's utopianism, or the case of Heidegger. Perhaps, the only thinker escaping changeless longings was Foucault, but Foucault became confused about how we might make truth claims about earlier epistemes and their own truth claims without ourselves betraying our own insights into the historicity of truth claims themselves. This, the "antinomy of history", as Margolis dubs it, is only resolved by history itself. The truth claims of earlier historical epochs are given their historical weight, from our own historical present, our own truth claims regarding theirs are obviously subject to our own bias and blindness, but ours must still be legitimated as best we can legitimate them, taking into account as far as humanly possible – though, of course, never overcoming - our limited horizon via self-critique.
Margolis' whole project might be seen as a study in humility in the sense that such fads as
psychoanalysisor structuralism, physical reductionism, and the like, are now seen as but passing trends that gather some in their wake but then float of into the mists of yesteryear's conceptual fashions. No gain we ever make is a secure one, history and our own historized nature ensure that. Taking "Man the Measure" seriously, however, has led Margolis more and more into a study of the human condition and the advocacy of Cultural Realism. While the physical sciences have brute nature or Pierce's Secondness to test themselves by, the Human Sciences offer a rich semiotic field but one where the investigator and the investigatee are one, ourselves. The physical sciences, however, are themselves but human sciences without Intentional (cultural) complications to deal with, except the cultured, limited-horizonized, historized nature of scientists themselves, obviously, and their own inexorable subjection to the hermeneutic circle.
Margolis offers five philosophical themes which have gathered momentum from the time of Kant on. They are:
# Reality is cognitively intransparent. That is, everything we say about the world must pass through our conceptual schemes and the limits of our language, hence there is no way of knowing whether what we say "corresponds" to what there is; what the world is like independent of our investigating it;
# The structure of reality and the structure of thought are symbiotized. That is, there is no way of knowing how much of the apparent intelligibility of the world is a contribution of the mind and how much the world itself contributes to that seeming intelligibility;
# Thinking has a history. That is, all we take to be universal, rational, logical, necessary, right behaviour, laws of nature, and so on, are changing artifacts of the historical existence of different societies and societal groups. All are open to change and all are the sites of hegemonic struggle;
# The structure of thinking is preformed. That is, our thinking is formed by the enculturing process by which human babies become adults. The infant begins in a holistic space which is immediately parsed according to the norms and conduct and language she is brought up in. By taking part in the process, we alter it, alter ourselves, and alter the conditions for the next generation;
# Human culture, including human beings, are socially constructed or socially constituted. That is, they have no natures, but are (referentially) or have (predicatively) histories, narratized careers. He embraces all five themes separately and conjointly, defends them all, and concludes that our future investigations of ourselves and of our world risk ignoring them at our own peril.
His own investigations into "ourselves" have proceeded apace. With "What, After All, Is a Work of Art" (1999) and "Selves and Other Texts" (2001), he elaborated upon his earlier work on the ontological similarity between human persons and artworks. The latter - defined as "physically embodied, culturally emergent entities" - he treats as examples of "human utterance". This, in turn, permits Margolis to treat of the full complexity of the Cultural World, which is now seen as semantically and semiotically dense, richly filled with self-interpreting texts interpreting themselves, and others, their acts and artifacts in an intriguingly diverse number of ways, with no artificial closure to their endless inventiveness in view. It is an inspiring vision, even if, at times, a dizzying one.
Affinities and Critique
It is clear from the above that Margolis has philosophical affinities with Hegel, Marx, Peirce, John Dewey, the later Wittgenstein, and Michel Foucault. From Hegel and Marx, he takes on their historicism without their teleologisms, or theories of some historical goal. From Pierce, he takes the idea of Secondness, the brute thingness of things which guides our sense of reality. With Dewey, he shares the conviction that philosophy should never exceed "natural" bounds. With Wittgenstein, he holds that "what has to be accepted, the given, is – so one could say - forms of life" (PI; 226). Finally, Margolis sees Foucault's "historical a-priori" as a fair replacement for Kant's transcendental a-priori.
Throughout a long list of publications, he has shown the shortcomings of all the moderns, as it were, from
J.L. Austinto Eddy M. Zemach, and all the ancients from Aristotle to Zeno of Elea. Once described as "a one man intellectual tradition", Margolis' criticisms tend to go to the heart of the argumentative weakness of the one being critiqued. This is done by a thorough-going adherence to the idea that our thinking is a history and that, conceptually, there need be no modal first principle of any kind. It is also done with a generousness of spirit which is exhibited by Margolis always letting the voice, or at least the written text, of the culprit speak for itself, with an amplitude of direct quotation.
Just for the record, Margolis has been as successful dealing with and deflating, the scientistic gurus,
Noam Chomsky, Paul Churchland, Jerry Fodor, Daniel Dennett, and the like, as he has been with keeping within bounds the "humanist" excesses of Hans Georg Gadameror Emmanuel Levinas. Prime targets have been the "progressivists" – those philosophers like Jürgen Habermasor Karl Popperwho see the race as going, almost automatically, to some place of greater mutual understanding and profounder scientific insights, so to say - and the "traditionalists" – who hold we have seen better days, or that the "good old days" have never really been lost, primarily Gadamer, in spite of Gadamer's own best insights, but also Alasdair MacIntyre, and other neo-Aristotelians.
Along the way, Margolis has offered some useful hints at how to clear the philosophical air. He shows how
Jacques Derrida's philosophical thesis – "il n'y a pas de hors-texte" - is as close as deconstruction ever comes to a Kantian-like transcendental conjecture, i.e. how it is a thesis linked to the interminably constructed, texted, contexted, symbiotized lack of fixed nature of the human. With his simple suggestion that we use "exist" and "existence" of things which offer brute resistance, while keeping "the real" or "reality" for numbers, and such entities which lack corporeal substance, we may escape many a philosophical headache. With his proposal to retain "indicative universals" for use where changlessness had been posited of the would-be eternal (death and taxes, for instance), Margolis enables us to eschew the bugbear of cognitive privilege and to keep within the modest bounds where humans really ought to stay.
* "The Unraveling of Scientism: American Philosophy at the End of the Twentieth Century". Ithica, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2003.
* "Reinventing Pragmatism: American Philosophy at the End of the Twentieth Century". Ithica, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2002.
* "The Quarrel between Invariance and Flux: A Vade Mecum for Philosophers and Other Players". With Jacques Catudal. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.
* "What, After All, Is a Work of Art? Lectures in the Philosophy of Art". University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999. xxii+ 143pp. A Japanese translation is pending.
* "A Second-Best Morality. The Lindley Lecture", University of Kansas, 14 October 1997. Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1998. 26pp.
* "Life without Principles: Reconciling Theory and Practice". Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1996. x + 262pp.
* "Historied Thought, Constructed World: A Conceptual Primer for the Turn of the Millennium". Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. x + 377pp.
* "Interpretation Radical But Not Unruly: The New Puzzle of the Arts and History". Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. xiii + 312pp.
* "The Flux of History and the Flux of Science". Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. x + 238pp.
* "The Truth about Relativism". Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991. xvi + 224pp.
* "Texts without Referents: Reconciling Science and Narrative". Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989. xxiv + 386pp.
* "Science without Unity: Reconciling the Natural and the Human Sciences". Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987. xxii + 470pp.
* "Psychology: Designing the Discipline". With Peter Manicas, Rom Harré, and Paul Secord. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986. viii + 168pp.
* "Pragmatism without Foundations: Reconciling Relativism and Realism". Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986. xx + 320pp.
* "Culture and Cultural Entities". Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1984. xiv + 162pp.
* "Philosophy of Psychology". Foundations of Philosophy Series. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1984. xvi + 107pp.
* "Art and Philosophy". Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press; Hassocks: Harvester Press, 1980. xiii + 350pp.
* "Persons and Minds". Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science. Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1978. x + 301pp. Translated into Russian translation, (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1986), 419pp.
* "Negativities: The Limits of Life". Columbus, Ohio: Charles Merrill, 1975. ix + 166pp.
* "Knowledge and Existence: An Introduction to Philosophical Problems". New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. xiv + 289pp.
* "Values and Conduct". Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971. x + 227pp.
* "Psychotherapy and Morality: A Study of Two Concepts". New York: Random House, 1966. xii + 174pp.
* "The Language of Art and Art Criticism: Analytic Questions in Aesthetics". Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1965. 201pp.
* "The Art of Freedom: An Essay in Ethical Theory". Dissertation, Columbia University, 1953.
Collections and journal issues edited
* "The Philosophical Challenge of September 11". Edited with Armen Marsoobian and Tom Rockmore. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003. 260pp.
* "The Philosophy of Interpretation", Edited by Joseph Margolis and Tom Rockmore. Metaphilosophy 31.1-2 (January 2000): 1-228. Also published as "The Philosophy of Interpretation" (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 2000).
* "A Companion to Aesthetics". Edited by David E. Cooper with advisory editors Joseph Margolis and Crispin Sartwell. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992.
* "The Heidegger Case: On Philosophy and Politics". Edited by Joseph Margolis and Tom Rockmore Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992. xii + 437 pp.
* "The Ontology of History", Joseph Margolis, Special Editor. The Monist 74.2 (April 1991): 129-292.
* "Interpretation", Joseph Margolis, Special Editor. The Monist 73.2 (April 1990): 115-330.
* "Victor Farías, Heidegger and Nazism". Edited with a Foreword by Joseph Margolis and Tom Rockmore. French materials translated by Paul Burrell, with the advice of Dominic Di Bernardi; German materials translated by Gabriel R. Ricci. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989. xxi + 368 pp.
* "Rationality, Relativism, and the Methodology of the Human Sciences". Edited by Joseph Margolis, Michael Krausz, and Richard M. Burian. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, 1986. viii + 234 pp.
* "Philosophy Looks at the Arts", 3rd ed. Edited by Joseph Margolis. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986. xii + 605 pp.
* "Is Relativism Defensible?", Joseph Margolis, Special Editor. The Monist 67.3 (July 1984): 291- 482.
* "The Worlds of Art and the World". Edited by Joseph Margolis. Grazer Philosophische Studien vol. 19. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1983. viii + 203 pp.
* "An Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry", 2nd ed. Edited by Joseph Margolis. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1978. xiv + 679 pp.
* "Philosophical Looks at the Arts", 2nd ed. Edited by Joseph Margolis. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978. x + 481 pp.
* "Fact and Existence". Edited by Joseph Margolis. Proceedings of the University of Western Ontario Philosophy Colloguium, 1966. Oxford: Blackwell; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969. viii + 144 pp.
* "An Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry". Edited by Joseph Margolis. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968. xii + 942 pp.
* "Contemporary Ethical Theory". Edited by Joseph Margolis. New York: Random House, 1966. viii + 536 pp.
* "Philosophy Looks at the Arts". Edited by Joseph Margolis. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1962. x + 235 pp.
* "Interpretation, Relativism, and the Metaphysics of Culture: Themes in the Philosophy of Joseph Margolis". Introduction:
Richard Shustermanand Michael Krausz, Humanity Books, 1999.
* In Spanish, Peter A. Muckley: "El pensamiento prohibido de Joseph Zalman Margolis: Una introducción y un llamamiento". [http://serbal.pntic.mec.es/~cmunoz11/margolis.pdf]
* [http://www.pragmatism.org/library/margolis/margolis.htm Home page]
* [http://www.temple.edu/philosophy/Margolis/index.htm Temple University page]
* [http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/lookupname?key=Margolis%2C%20Joseph Online books]
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