David M. Brown's Blog

September 11, 2012

Happy 25th anniversary, Dipert misrepresentation of Kelley!

Filed under: News,Philosophy,Scrammo — davidmbrowndotcom @ 8:17 pm

Here’s a pdf of the Randall Dipert’s 1987 essay-review in Reason Papers of David Kelley’s Evidence of the Senses.

Among other complaints, some not odd, Dipert offers the odd complaint that Kelley’s theory of perception is not enough about individualist ethics. “Where is the individualist theory of human action? …I conjecture that no tome on realistic epistemology can animate vigorous, individualist anything.” As I thought when I first read the review, this lament is like criticizing a book on plumbing for inadequately advancing a theory of architecture.

Dipert also contends that Kelley’s “main aim is to demonstrate just how passive and non-creative perception and knowledge are.” But (conceptual) knowledge is not the same as (sensory) perception, though one grounds the other; knowledge, though based on perception, is very much active, in Kelley’s view. One can’t, for example, merely peer at Dipert’s sentences in order to comprehend what he is talking about. Such comprehension can be achieved only by an active mental process, if then.

“There is an emphasis, an obsession [?], with demonstrating the essential (epistemological) passivity of human life,” Dipert contends. “This is radically out of tune with the ‘spirit’ of individualism.” He claims that “Rand/Kelley” promote a view of the “passivity…of the human mind.”

The dual indictment of David Kelley and Ayn Rand is slovenly as well as perverse, since at the time of Dipert’s review, 1987, the only book-length work by Kelley was Evidence of the Senses; whereas the entire corpus published by Ayn Rand in her lifetime, including Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, was still in print. How can anyone read IOE–or, for that matter, the dramatic portrayals of “planning, deliberating, intending, acting” in Rand’s novels–and come away with the notion that Rand regarded the human mind as essentially passive in its acquisition of knowledge? One can argue that Rand, Kelley or anybody needs to do more work on a “theory of practical reasoning in the sense of Aristotle.” But this is a far cry from the inference that a thinker sets forth or even passively relies upon a “passive” view of how the mind acquires knowledge and acts on the acquired knowledge. Rand and other Objectivism-influenced authors critique views of knowledge that regard its attainment as automatic.

How does Dipert come to such a strange indictment of Kelley’s perspective, certainly belied further by the latter’s later work (which includes a book on logic, with examples and exercises and everything of the non-passive sort)? If I were to speculate I would have to actively use my mind. Dipert’s review is interesting but at times tendentious, and strangely preoccupied with the Randian or Objectivist-movement backdrop, with which he seems at times to conflate the arguments of the book. Kelley cannot even use such a concept as “primacy of existence” without Dipert’s pausing to slam unspecified “rants” (admittedly not by Kelley) that have deployed this phrase. Perhaps Dipert’s approach to Kelley’s book is a little too passive and prejudiced.


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