Common Sense, Pragmatic Inconsistency, and the Possibility of Scepticism. Contra Reid

L. Jaffro (2010). Rétorsion du sens commun et possibilité du scepticisme. Contre Reid. In M. Cohen-Halimi and H. L’Heuillet, Comment peut-on être sceptique ?. Paris: Honoré Champion, 93-116.

This essays aims at assessing the ad hominem argument from common sense used by Thomas Reid, particularly against David Hume, and claims that the argument does not prove that scepticism is impossible. Attention is drawn to two difficulties in Reid’s attack against the sceptic. The first difficulty lies in Reid’s joint use of two  different conceptions of common sense: an intuitionist conception that equates common sense with a set of primitive intuitions and ‘first principles’ evident by themselves; a pragmatic conception that sees in common sense a sensitivity to norms, most often implicit, of practice and communication. In the pragmatic conception, a second difficulty lies in the tacit identification between two dialectical arguments that can be called, following Perelman’s ‘new rhetoric’, the argument from direct inconsistency and the pragmatic argument (pointing out indirect inconsistency). The last section draws on John Mackie’s logical analysis of various forms of alleged self-refutation to criticise the ad hominem argument against the sceptic.

‘Scientific Persecution’ and the Argument from Common Sense

L. Jaffro (2009). L’argument du sens commun et la ‘persécution des scientifiques’. Philosophiques. Revue de la Société de philosophie du Québec, 36(1), 131-147.

Drawing mainly on An Essay on Philosophical Method (1933) and on The New Leviathan (1942), this paper sets out R. G. Collingwood’s main arguments against G. E. Moore’s appeal to common sense. According to The New Leviathan, the recourse to common sense as a safeguard against scepticism or idealism leads to ‘scientific persecution’ and ‘obscurantism’. That view might be considered as excessive. However, after a close examination of the structure of the argument from common sense, Collingwood’s critique appears to be relevant. This does not prevent him from using the notion of common sense, understood as a set of basic beliefs. There is no contradiction here, provided that we distinguish the notion of common sense from the argument from common sense.

Shaftesbury on the ‘Natural Secretion’ and Philosophical Personae

L. Jaffro (2008). Shaftesbury on the ‘Natural Secretion’ and Philosophical Personae. Intellectual History Review, 18(3), 349-359.

The third Earl of Shaftesbury devoted a great deal of effort, both theoretical and practical, to improving and controlling his personae, whether philosophical, literary or social. Far from being only a matter of rhetorical strategy, the meticulous care with which he made use of those masks makes sense within a conception of philosophy in the ancient fashion that includes the cultivation of oneself at its core. According to the perfectionist ethics of which Shaftesbury found a paradigm in the Roman Stoics, the task of self-fashioning was an essential ingredient of the education of the philosopher. Following Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, Shaftesbury referred to it as prokopê (self-improvement). Shaping a philosophical self necessarily involves creating personae, at least two: one that suits the needs of the apprentice and is fitted for keeping the askêsis away from prying eyes, and another one (or possibly a full set of personae, in accordance with the various literary genres that may be adopted to that end) to which the mature philosopher – the writer – has recourse when he teaches or, as Shaftesbury puts it, ‘gives advice’ to the reader.

Which Platonism for Which Modernity? Shaftesbury’s Socratic ‘Sea-Cards’

L. Jaffro (2008). Which Platonism for Which Modernity? Shaftesbury’s Socratic ‘Sea-Cards’. In S. Hutton and D. Hedley (eds), Platonism at the Origins of Modernity : Studies on Platonism and Early Modern Philosophy. International Archives in the History of Ideas, Dordrecht: Springer, 255-267.

The so-called Platonism of Shaftesbury is mainly a reconstruction through which commentators claim to understand Shaftesbury better than he understood himself. For he used to view himself as a disciple of Socrates; in his opinion being a disciple of Socrates meant that he was not a Platonist but a Stoic, insofar as the Stoics drew the ultimate consequences of the Socratic idea of virtue as knowledge. The chapter reconsiders Shaftesbury’s relationship to ancient philosophy by drawing unpublished manuscripts, especially his Design of a Socratic History.

The Objects of Education: What Ontology?

L. Jaffro (2007). Les objets de l’éducation : quelle ontologie? Revue de métaphysique et de morale, 56(4), 429-448.

The paper deals with the ontological status of the objects of education and takes a realistic stance on this issue. A typology that stresses differences between various kinds of skills and objects is outlined. The author argues that the objects of education, though not identical to the objects of knowledge, depend on them, so that learning processes must not be construed in a subjectivist or skeptical way. This ontological standpoint casts light on the significance of taste and sensitivity in the context of education.

From Hermeneutics to Common Sense. Stanley Rosen on Precomprehension

L. Jaffro (2006). From Hermeneutics to Common Sense. Stanley Rosen on Precomprehension ». In N. Ranasinghe (ed.), Logos and Eros. Essays Honoring Stanley Rosen. South Bend, Ind: St Augustine Press, 36-49.

The chapter defends Stanley Rosen’s claim that hermeneutics presupposes pre-theoretical reason, and analyses the nature of that presupposition. Insofar as they do not use it as a criterion, philosophers are right when they recognize that they must needs necessarily draw on common sense as the medium of mutual understanding and criticism.

What is Wrong With Reid’s Criticism of Hume on Moral Appreciation

L. Jaffro (2006). What is Wrong With Reid’s Criticism of Hume on Moral Appreciation? European Journal of Analytic Philosophy, 2(2), 11-26.

In his Essays on the Active Powers, Thomas Reid criticises Hume’s theory of moral judgment and argues that it is untenable. The aim of this paper is to show that Reid shares more with his target than is ordinarily acknowledged. The author suggests that the opposition between cognitivism and non-cognitivism concerning the role of feelings in moral judgment tends to obscure (disputable) assumptions held in common by both philosophers about the nature of feelings.

Shaftesbury on the Cogito. An Intermediary between Gassendism and the Common Sense School

L. Jaffro, Shaftesbury on the Cogito. An Intermediary between Gassendism and the Common Sense School. In G. Carabelli and P. Zanardi (eds.), Nuovi saggi su Shaftesbury. Padova: Il Poligrafo, 2003, 111-125.

Shaftesbury’ fourth Miscellany (1711) starts with a brief criticism of Descartes’ cogito. He rejects the modern metaphysical account of ‘egoity’ in the name of the ancient Stoic conception of a moral discipline of the self.  We do not need the metaphysical certitude of cogito sum as a foundation stone, nor any ‘wonderfully refined speculations’ on the nature of the ego; on the contrary, the ordinary and pre-philosophical experience of my own existence as a subject is ‘sufficient ground for a moralist’.