In this introduction to Part 1 of the Common Knowledge symposium, “Fuzzy Studies,” the journal's editor discusses four essays from the 1980s by Richard Rorty, in which Rorty chose to associate himself with various neopragmatists, Continental thinkers, and “left-wing Kuhnians” under the rubric of the “new fuzziness.” The term had been introduced as an insult by a philosopher of science with positivist leanings, but Rorty took it up as an “endearing” compliment, arguing that “to be less fuzzy” was also to be “less genial, tolerant, open-minded, and fallibilist.” He defined the “new fuzziness” as “an attempt to blur just those distinctions between the objective and subjective and between fact and value which the critical conception of rationality has developed.” This introduction also examines W. V. Quine's essay “Speaking of Objects” (1957), which describes objects as fuzzy “half-entities”; Clifford Geertz's essay “Blurred Genres” (1980), which advises social scientists that being “taxonomically upstanding” is futile; and Lofti Zadeh's article “The Concept of a Linguistic Variable and Its Application to Approximate Reasoning” (1975), which abandons “Aristotelian, bivalent logic” in favor of a “fuzzy logic” based on Zadeh's “fuzzy set theory.” This introductory piece relates these theoretical works of the past half-century to the sorites paradox and to classical issues of vagueness raised and still unresolved in Western philosophy. Returning then to Rorty, the author questions how Rorty expected his endorsement of the “new fuzziness” to be applied, as proposed, to theology and politics. Suggesting that such applications are the natural work of historians, the author, having asked the historian Natalie Zemon Davis for comment, then quotes her response—which associates fuzzy studies, “common knowledge,” and peacemaking—at length.
Research Article|August 01 2011
FUZZY STUDIES: A Symposium on the Consequence of Blur Part 1
Common Knowledge (2011) 17 (3): 441-449.