March 10, 2008

"The difference between making arguments and analyzing them is not always recognized, and ... readers get outraged about things I never said."

The Fish-eye view: Why Stanley Fish bothers to write columns for the New York Times.
For the most part, it is not my purpose in this space to urge positions, or come down on one side or the other of a controversial question. Of course, I do those things occasionally and sometimes inadvertently, but more often than not I am analyzing arguments rather than making them; or, to be more precise, I am making arguments about arguments, especially ones I find incoherent or insufficiently examined....

Given a choice between being trivial and being ethical in any direction whatsoever, I’ll take trivial (although I might want to debate the judgment), because ethics is not something I’m doing in these columns. This doesn’t mean that I think ethical questions are unimportant — although I do think there are fewer of them than is usually assumed; there are none, for example, in the current controversy about superdelegates; it is just that if you want those questions raised and examined, you’ll have to go elsewhere. This might seem to be an admission that my perspective is severely limited. Yes, it is, but it is my conviction is that its limitedness is its strength and that were it to be expanded the only gain would be the pious fuzziness you can get from a thousand other commentators.
Heh heh. Fish is eely. See how "inadvertently" he "urged" a "position" on the superdelegates question — the most pressing political issue of the day?

13 comments:

rhhardin said...

Ficiently examined arguments ought to be enough. Su- designates too much.

Middle Class Guy said...

"I do those things occasionally and sometimes inadvertently.."


This means one of two things. he is so careless that he does not read what he writes before it is published orrrrrrrrrr, since he does not practice ethics, he is dishonest while being trivial.

Zeb Quinn said...

It's all sophistry to me.

This however managed to catch my attention:

"Someone who believes that the racial, ethnic, religious or gender identity of a candidate makes it more likely that he or she will support and work for certain favored policies is not performing a base or discriminatory act by voting for that candidate."

Color me any which way you want, but in my book someone who votes for someone solely because of skin color and solely in the belief that they will take certain positions because of their skin color, is indeed performing a base or discriminatory act by voting for that candidate. It's the essence of racial bigotry.

Ann Althouse said...

Zeb, you totally threw in "solely." He didn't say that.

The Drill SGT said...

it's interesting that if you are on the left can take an indentity politics position and claim not to be racist, but let some guy in sheets say he same thing and clearly his position is abhorent.

"Someone who believes that the racial, ethnic, religious or gender identity of a candidate makes it more likely that he or she will support and work for certain favored policies is not performing a base or discriminatory act by voting for that candidate.",

Richard Dolan said...

Is Fish really all that "eely"? I don't think so. He's got his own vortex going, in a clever, offbeat and kind of Althousian way.

Everyone assumes he's a lefty wacko (he almost certainly is), and then he writes a few columns about how McCain may well out-surge the Obamians. His commenters lambast him for deviating from the Truth (after all, he is writing in the NYT). But what do they expect from a guy whose academic claim to fame is recasting Milton's Satan as the postmodern rebel-hero, the guy we should identify with in the creation epic?

Performance art, when done well, is enlightening as well as entertaining, much more so than the usual blather on the same topics. Fish is quite an accomplished performer.

Quayle said...

Ann is right. To assign attributes to an issue (it is an ethical question; it is not an ethical question) is to also select the rules by which the issue is addressed.

An more clear example would be to say, "I make no decision on this particular rape case, except to point out that whatever rape is, it isn't a question of criminality."

Original Mike said...

Who knew that Cyrus Pinkerton is Stanley Fish?

Henry said...

Original Mike, I think Richard Dolan has the better take: [Fish] has got his own vortex going, in a clever, offbeat and kind of Althousian way.

The continuous leitmotif of the Althouse trolls is the illegitimacy of looking at the world at any other level than the navel. Everything is outcome to them. To criticize a candidate's ad is to criticize the candidate. To admit the effectiveness of a candidate's ad is to promote the candidate.

I think the way Fish phrases his catadromous "position" on superdelegates is typical of both Fish and Althouse. The act of avoiding weighty pronouncements is itself a pronouncement.

Zeb Quinn said...

Zeb, you totally threw in "solely." He didn't say that.

I didn't "throw" it in. I read it in. It was implied by what he said.

Joe said...

I have an enduring disdain for Stanley Fish on the basis of this article.

P. Rich said...

Fish is a self-described "neutral critic" who enjoys attacking not the substance of a position but the quality of the argument while remaining above the fray. This is fundamentally a coward's stance, as he can always plead innocence of all things substantive or controversial, and inadvertence should he be called on a personal opinion that mysteriously crept into a supposedly objective broadside. Meanwhile, the messenger is dead, and if anyone confuses the destruction as pertaining to the message, well, that's just the inability of the reader to make appropriate distinctions. [Insert guffaw here.]

Word merchants are bad enough. Critics are the worst of them, and a critic who claims objectivity while carefully picking his shots and crafting his unctuous commentary deserves little more than ridicule.

Trooper York said...

I thought Fish was great on Barney Miller but dropped off a lot when he got his own show. I didn't know he wrote for the Times.