Seeing Students Develop: From Objective Data to Subjective Achievement

Even though the personalization / individualization of instruction is being driven by objective data in learning platforms, this data can also be used to facilitate a deeper self-understanding  commitment and understanding between the student and the teacher.

To see the future, students and teachers should focus on their horizons.  Horizons here refer to a point in developmental  time that can’t be seen clearly today, but that I can reasonable expect to achieve in the future.  Because many aspects of this developmental journey are both precarious and dependence on future actions, this joint vision can’t be wishful thinking, but must be clearly framed in terms of privileges and obligations.  When it is treated this way, assessment is not a picture of student achievement, but is a methods for making both student and teacher visible to each other in a way that is rational, meaningful and conducted in an ontologically responsible manner; that is, in a way that is true to who we we want to become (Shotter, 1993).

This model of support begins with valid assessments that are clear and explicit about their  meaning, the underlying values implied and the actual or expected consequences.  The learning process can then be understood from a narrative perspective as well as mathematically.  By referencing empirically supported path models, personalization can include choice, preparing the way for stronger commitment and clarification of learning directions, choices and possibly experiments involving learning directions.

Theis idea is not to suggest that assessment must become less objective, but to recognize that an education process must contribute to the development of a subject.  Educating a student is not like designing a computer chip.  It is about helping an individual actualize their unique capabilities while finding themselves and their place in society.  The Goal of Education is intellectual development.  Approaches that are tethered to a mechanistic model of education will fail in this goal and are not even appropriate in terms of the efficiency by which they may be justified.  Assessment may start with objective visions, but its uses must directly translate to the subjective tasks that are central to both teacher and student.

4 Reasons Adaptive Learning Could Replace High Stakes Standardized Testing (It’s in the Validity)

I attended a recent nyc edtech meet up at Knewton in NYC. While looking at their promotional materials on their platform it occurred to me that this system has a stronger basis in validity over high stakes standardized testing (HSST).  I know it’s a (big) data driven approach, likely similar to what I was familiar with at Sylvain, except that digitalization allows you to address many more dimensions in the data, to cross-reference different domain skills and to better represent intellectual development over time.  This post is about the validity of big data adaptive learning systems as compared to high stakes standardized testing (HSST).

  1. The easiest distinction to be made is to contrast the “snapshot in time” nature of HSST and the developmental histories of adaptive learning.  Development is the way students and teachers understand school-based learning especially when it’s not linear, but proceeds in fits and starts.  Neither does a snapshot relate to the purposes of assessment.  In adaptive learning error is not judgement, but an excuse for more learning.
  2. This point may seem esoteric but I think important.  HSST must represent an ambitious  construct interpretation, that is, a single HSST question must represent the same learning that is represented in hundreds if not thousands of questions in an adaptive learning system.  And while the assessments in the adaptive system are part of the learning process, HSST constructs often stand outside of any pedagogical process.  (See #1 below)
  3. There are negative consequences associated with HSST.  Because of the lag time between testing and reporting, there is less instructional relevance to HSSTs.  Assessments in adaptive learning provide immediate feedback and are instrumental to the learning process.  There are also many unintended consequences, like instructional time that is wasted on test prep or the disassociation of error from an opportunity to learning.
  4. Assessments are consequential for students.  In adaptive learning assessments determines the instructional pathway the student will pursue.  If done well, the student will perceive this assessment to have been appropriate and helpful.  In many HSST (e.g. the SAT) assessments may be perceived as a threat and associated with a lack of opportunity.  See #2 below

It seems to me that as Adaptive Learning becomes more common and its validity become recognized, HSST will no longer be needed.

#1.   “If the IUA does not claim much (e.g., that students with high scores on the test can generally perform the kinds of tasks included in the test), it does not require much empirical support beyond data supporting the generalizability of the scores. A more-ambitious interpretation (e.g., one involving inferences about some theoretical construct) would require more evidence (e.g., evidence evaluating the theory and the consistency of the test scores with the theory) to support the additional claims being made”.  Kane (2013) p.3

#2. “The SAT is a mind-numbing, stress-inducing ritual of torture. The College Board can change the test all it likes, but no single exam, given on a single day, should determine anyone’s fate. The fact that we have been using this test to perform exactly this function for generations now is a national scandal”. NYTimes


A New Form for Validity

Thinking about new projects.  Here are the general contures of a new way of looking at validity.

  1. There have been criticism of Samuel Messick unified view of construct validity and Kanes Argument based approached.  I have yet to accept any logical argument made against either framework, yet I am sympathetic when it is said that these frameworks are not practical administratively.  
  2. Consider an argument made by the philosopher Karl Popper.  Popper makes a distinction between justification and criticism on the way to his famous idea of fallisficationism.  Just like one cannot claim that one’s theory is true through experimentation (you can only be sure of your results if they are false), so too it is precarious to justify one’s beliefs, but easy to demonstrate if their false.  Justification can be seen as a next to impossible task, but criticism is more likely to be seen as true.  If we respond to criticism with a desire to improve and adjust our beliefs than our beliefs will approach a closer version of what you might call truth.  So, the best way to justify assessment validity is by being open to criticism; always seeking to improve through critical reasoning.
  3. This does not nullify Messick’s framework (Messick, 1995), but it shifts it from justification to a framework for critique and critical thinking.  Messick’s framework moves from a hopelessly difficult attempt at justification and becomes a critical framework for knowledge transparency.  Recent developments in philosophy  have demonstrated the contingent nature and how the shape of knowledge is shaped by the form of its production.  Messick’s transparent critical framework for the production of assessment knowledge is the best way to see the underlying contingencies
  4. Kane’s framing of  validity as an argument is more suited to a critical approach than a justificationist approach.   The very nature of argument sets up a 2 sided dialogue.  Every argument presupposes a dialogic counter argument.  If you enter into an argument you must be willing to entertain and engage with critical position.  Kane’s framework is more suited to respond to critical than to depend on justification.

Scaffolding Start-ups: A New Role for Education

How does education change in the future.  The biggest trend that must be dealt with is change itself on a massive scale.  Knowledge is both increasing and decaying on an exponential trajectory.  What you knew 5 years ago may not be relevant today and many capabilities you may need today were unheard of 5 years ago.  Careers also change; requiring retraining.  The web is open and accessible and puts content at our finger tips, but it does little to help us structure that information in ways that build our capabilities.  Capabilities require more than just knowledge it requires active practice-based learning.  Capabilities also require different types resources, many of which may be still very scarce or expensive.  We need new educational institutions that provides new type of resources that build capabilities; the ability to do.

Here is an examples of a new model of an incubator institution, Brewery Inc; a brewery incubator based out of Houston recently profiled in FastCo.  Brewery Inc provides shared access to professional brewing equipment, a shared workspace, business workshops, a tap room with an established customer base and a regulatory framework all to support aspiring nano-brewery entrepreneurs to developing their product before venturing out on their own.  All of this helps to mitigate start-up costs and risks through shared knowledge and resources.

“Brewers pay $1,500 for the year to use one of Brewery Inc.’s fermenters. In exchange, “we’re actually taking all the licensing under our name, and taking all the responsibility for those brewers,” Borrego says. “When they’re ready to open their own business, the beer is perfect, the market is there, brand is established, and they’re fully ready to focus on the business aspect.”

As an educational pedagogy, what this brewery is doing is scaffolding the start-up process.  Entrepreneur Nano-brewers are able to learn by doing and what they are able to do is is extended by Brewery Inc.’s knowledge and resources.  When they leave the nest (so to speak) they are ready to fly on their own.  Sure, some could have survived on their own, but Brewery Inc’s processes accelerates and deepens their learning and their knowledge of how to make a brewery happen.

What types of resources are needed to scaffold start-up in other businesses?

Psychology and Management: Dealing with Dysfunction and Cross Purposes

Stowe Boyd’s recent post reminds me that management is a social, psychological and indeed, a human endeavor.  Part of this endeavor concerns dealing with unavoidable dysfunction that will arise.

The Problem:

Far too often organization members operate at cross-purposes. This is particularly true with organizational structures enabling division of labor: members are grouped into divisions, functions, and departments, and then further split into groups and teams, in order to create specialized functioning on behalf of the larger system . . . members too often come to identify with the parts rather than the whole to which they belong. . . . with predictable misalignments in purpose, activities and relationships. (Kahn, 2012, p.225)


a particular person or leader may be carrying all kinds of unconscious anxieties, aggressions, and energies of those being led; bloody mergers, acquisitions, downsizing or combative relations with competitors or the world at large may veil all kinds of individual and group fears and inadequacies; a corporate group’s understanding of its external environment may be dominated by the unconscious projections of a few key managers; a strong corporate subculture may be mobilizing neglected aspects of a corporate “shadow’ that are worthy of attention and of being brought to light. (Ross)

A Solution:

In understanding these hidden dimension of everyday reality, managers and change agents can open the way to modes of practice that respect and cope with organizational challenges in a new way. . . . They can begin to untangle sources of scapegoating, victimization, and blame and find ways of addressing the deeper anxieties to which they are giving form. They can approach the “resistance” and “defensive routines” that tend to sabotage and block change with a new sensitivity, and find constructive ways of dealing with them. (Ross, Ibid)


William A. Kahn, The Functions of Dysfunction: Implications for Organization Diagnosis and Change, Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 2012, Vol. 64, No. 3, 225–241.

Gordon Ross’s blog;



Validity: the Overlooked Issue in Big Data

Validity is an important, but often overlooked issue whenever measurement and data analysis is involved and this includes Big Data applications.  Like Steve Lohr’s concerns is his NY Times article on the potential pit falls of Big Data (Do the models make sense?  Are decision makers trained and using data appropriately?) or Nassim Taleb’s article, Beware the Big Errors of Big Data, validity concerns are paramount, but the nature of vlaidity is not addressed.

Validity is an overall evaluative judgment of the degree to which empirical evidence and theoretical rationales support the adequacy and appropriateness of interpretations and actions on the basis of test scores or other modes of assessment (Messick, S, 1995, Validity of Psychological Assessments, p.741). Also available here

That is to say, when we look at data analytics, are the results justifiable.  Just having data doesn’t make it right. Big Wrong Data can be a dangerous thing.

As big data becomes a larger part of our everyday life, validity must also becomes a critical component of analysis; especially if big datas is to find success beyond the current fashion. As Samuel Messick (ibid) said;

. . . validity, reliability, comparability, and fairness are not just measurement principles, they are social values that have meaning and force outside of measurement whenever evaluative judgments and decisions are made. (Messick, Ibid).

This importance is not reflected in the scant treatment that validity often receives in data and measurement training or in most discussions of big data. The modern view of Validity (after Samuel Messick) is about more then judging the rightness of one’s measures, it is also about the transparency of the assumptions and connections behind the measurement program and processes. I’ll propose the following (non-exhaustive) list as a place to begin when judging the the use of data and measurement:

  • Content Validity – Data and measurement are used to answer questions and the first step in quality measurement is getting the question right and clear. Measurement will not help if we’re asking the wrong questions or are making the wrong inferences from ambiguous questions. When questions are clear you can proceed to begin linking questions to appropriate construct measures.
  • Structural Fidelity – Additional information should show how assessment tasks and data models relate to underlying behavioral process and the contexts to which they can be said to apply.  Understand the processes that underly the measures.
  • Criterion Validity – This examines convergent and discriminant empirical evidence in correlations with other pertinent and well understood criterion measures. Do your results make sense in light of previous measures.
  • Consequential Validity – Of particular importance are the observed consequences of the decisions that are being made. As Lohr’s article points out, our data based operations do not just portray the world, but play an active role in shaping the empirical world around us. It’s important to compare results with intentions.

Good decisions are based on data and evidence, but inevitably will rely on many implicit assumptions. Validity is about making these assumptions explicit and justifiable in the decision making process.

“The principles of validity apply not just to interpretive and action inferences derived from test scores as ordinarily conceived, but also to inferences based on any means of observing or documenting consistent behaviors or attributes. . . . Hence, the principles of validity apply to all assessments . . .”(Messick, ibid, p.741).

Reference – Messick, S. (1995). Validity of Psychological Assessments: Validation of Inferences From Persons’ Responses and Performances as Scientific Inquiry Into Score Meaning, American Psychologist, 50, 741-749.

A Dialogical Understanding of User-Centered Design

The Anomalogue Blog inspired me to think when it said: “this is what brand strategy wants to become: a philosophy of an organization which enables it to function according to a particular intellectual and artistic taste”.
I believe a good brand strategy is user centric in that it engages the user as an involved participant in the brand. Everyone today wants to channel the mojo of Apple, maybe even Apple itself now that Steve’s gone. I think the core of Apple was that it was out to change the world through technology, but unlike IBM, we were invited as participants in that change through using Apple’s technology.  IBM wants to change the world by what it’s experts do to us, but Apple changes the world with our participation.

Yes, as Amonalogue says, the backstory of strategy design can be understood in terms of a philosophically deep pragmatism and I understand that as it is expressed by Wittgenstein and Bakhtin.

From the Wikipedia article on Wittgenstein:

. . . philosophical problems arise when language is forced from its proper home into a metaphysical environment, where all the familiar and necessary landmarks and contextual clues are removed. He describes this metaphysical environment as like being on frictionless ice: where . . . all philosophical problems can be solved without the muddying effects of everyday contexts; but where, precisely because of the lack of friction, language can in fact do no work at all.[154] Wittgenstein argues that philosophers must leave the frictionless ice and return to the “rough ground” of ordinary language in use.

OK, as Ludwick anticipated, most of the world doesn’t get Wittgenstein. I believe one key is to understand the nature of this rough ground. Here’s where I look to Bakhtin.

“We must renounce our monological habits so that we might come to feel at home in the new (dialogic) artistic sphere which Dostoevsky discovered, so that we might orient ourselves in that incomparably more complex artistic model of the world which he created” (Bakhtin, 1984, p.272).

I think Design operates in this artistic sphere of dialogue. This sphere is user centric, but in a way that is dynamic, relational and chiasmic (multiply intertwined).   From John Shotter

“All real and integral understanding is actively responsive… And the speaker himself is oriented precisely toward such an actively responsive understanding. He does not expect passive understanding that, so to speak, only duplicates his or her own idea in someone else’s mind. Rather, he expects response, agreement, sympathy, objection, execution, and so forth… “

In this view, successful design does not try to capture the user, but invites the user to become chaismically intertwined with the organization and with other users in what could be called dialogic design. Apple invitation to participate as technology changes the world is one example of dialogic design in strategy. Where are other example of this type of design:

In science I look to Messick’s understanding of assessment validity (judgments of the truthfulness of empirical observations). He looks not only within traditional boundaries of science through construct validity (judgments of consistency with theory, domain and prior empirical observations), he also considers categories outside of traditional science in judgments of the utility of assessment tools, the value implications of those tools and social consequences that are secondary to tools use.

In journalism I look at the move from reporting the facts, to the new role of journalists as community builders; where people do not want to only be told the truth, but want to become active participants in building the world as well. One example is  There they are using journalist tools for the purpose of creating a politically active community where people’s voice can be expressed as they participate in political action.

Can Apple keep it’s mojo? Not by building pretty things, that’s Tiffany’s brand. Apple’s only brand is changing the world through technology and bring us along to drive the change. Can Apple continue to change the world though us?

How the 20th Century Rocked Our Foundations

From Danny Quah (Professor of Economics and Kuwait Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science):

At (the Penang Free School) I’d excelled in mathematics and science, but that is now only a small part of what I need to do to be a productive contributing member of the community. What matters more instead? A good sense of what is artistically compelling and linguistically convincing. A political awareness of what ought to matter to people in international society. Articulatenesss in writing and speaking, and an ability to debate effectively. Physical acuity and a feeling of confidence and security in my own skin.

The Limitations of Mechanistic Thinking

Though we may not be consciously aware of the models that are implied by our thinking, much of the language that forms our conceptual toolbox is still founded in 19th Century enlightenment concepts of mechanistic materialism. This is true even though science in some cases no longer supports some of these outdated common ways of speaking and thinking. This reductionistic rational foundation to understanding is quite different from Bakhtin’s dialogic approach that opened my last post.  Any first step in moving beyond this limited way of thinking and speaking must begin with better language rooted in a new dialogical paradigm.  Of course the materialistic mechanistic models are still very important, but our language should help us see where these models are appropriate and where they are perpetuating limitations that are holding us back.  As Danny Quah implies above; just when science is taking on an even bigger societal role; the role of a scientist is being transformed.

W. Barnett Pearce in Thinking about Systems and Thinking Systemically pointed out that Einstein, Godel, Wittgenstein and Whitehead; all began to expose the anomalies of a mechanistic materialism early in the 20th Century:

  • Einstein’s thoughts opened the world of quantum mechanics demonstrating the limitations of Newtonian mechanics.
  • Wittgenstein, in his Treatise on Logical Philosophy, wrote one of the clearest statement of logical and language. He always was against dogmatism and the presuppositions of philosophy and he understood that much of the real meaning we need was not to be found logical premisses, but in how people acted in everyday life. Ludwig Wittgenstein
  • Godel also found that any logical system could not be both consistent and complete. Kurt Gödel
  • Whitehead first sought a complete logical foundation to mathematics, only later to be inspired by quantum science and came to view his prior project in logic as wrongheaded. He moved on to revisit Process Philosophy; to understand the world’s foundation as dynamic and the world as an ongoing process. Science gives very accurate snapshots of that process, but in many situations we need to understand the process.

The assumption of scientific materialism is effective in many contexts, says Whitehead, only because it directs our attention to a certain class of problems that lend themselves to analysis within this framework. However, scientific materialism is less successful when addressing issues of teleology and when trying to develop a comprehensive, integrated picture of the universe as a whole. Alfred North Whitehead

Pearse reached the conclusion that;

. . . If the task is not so much to see how well our knowledge fits the Enlightenment criteria as to figure out what are the appropriate criteria for our knowledge, then we can move on with confidence . . . we should be less concerned about the hypotheses and propositions that we can assert than our abilities to enter into a wide variety of systems (or aggregates, or not-so-well-formed systems) and act effectively. The emphasis might well be on what we can do rather than on what we know – that is, on our ability to think systemically in the contexts in which we find ourselves.

Can Design Thinking Be a New Way of  Productively Talking.

In many ways I believe that good Design Thinking begins with an acknowledgement of these systemic anomalies, but I also think it needs to develop better foundations and conceptual tools so we can truly move beyond them. The shallowness of our common rational language often stands in bleak contrast to the depth of our experiential understanding and nowhere does this standout more than in design thinking. Hence, we get phrases like “playfulness”, “out of the box” all of which exist over there inside “innovation laboratories”. The challenge in both working in a design way, and in communicating this type of work with others, can be found in the inadequacies of these common ways of talking, thinking and acting; all founded in the language of the prominent techno-rational paradigms of the 19th Century. When we speak of “playing” at work we are straining against a common understanding of work that is not helpful for new ways of conducting our daily economic activities. Work is linear and object oriented within a specified process. The vast majority of today’s jobs can only be successfully accomplished if we act dynamically, relationally, cooperatively in dynamic processes and with an eye that seeks innovation.

These needs are all dialogical needs. Not only are most organization struggling to understand and support this new way of working, our very language steers us in the wrong direction, often without our conscious awareness of the contradictions that are created. If we need to think out of the box, what is the purpose of the box. Where do we find the boundaries of that box and can we feel really comfortable when we or our coworkers leave it. How can we be playful at work when work and play have opposite meanings. Do we need playing boxes and working boxes.  Can we really go between them and how do we derive our thinking boxes in the first place?  Are we not straining against the limitations of language conventions that are foreign to design thinking?

Boundary Crossing as a foundation of Design Thinking

Innovation often depends on serendipity as we dialogue with an entire world of people and ideas. A large part of an organizational Innovation lab might be termed a serendipity lab, but of course serendipity cannot be reliably found in the lab.  Even the idea of a laboratory is in some ways a reflection of a 19th century rational scientific mind set.  Design thinking requires working in environments and cultures that are multidisciplinary, multi-purposed and dialogic, that is, dynamic, relational and engaged, especially with others that might be alien to our own way of thinking. It requires a dialogic exposure that is well beyond the diversity of any organization, that crosses all organizational boundaries. To a great extent it is living on the edge and dialoging with others living on their own edges. How to do this will be the topic of my next post.

A Project to Frame Design Thinking

“We must renounce our monological habits so that we might come to feel at home in the new artistic sphere which Dostoevsky discovered, so that we might orient ourselves in that incomparably more complex artistic model of the world which he created” (Bakhtin, 1984, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, p.272).


This introductory post outline a personal project to frame my understand design thinking by analyzing it’s intellectual roots, that I believe are shared by many other movements and disciplines.  The question has been asked; “Is design thinking dead; just another business fad”?  I believe that a good way to avoid yet another faddish outcome is to ground Design Thinking in solid intellectual and epistemic roots.  I also think that a well grounded conception of Design Thinking can serve as a template for other disciplines.  My interest in design thinking springs from a recognition that it reflects what I believe is a zeitgeist, a general spirit of our age that is reflected many disciplines.

Design Thinking as Zeitgeist

The story of this zeitgeist will be the subject of a second and third post in this series.  It will begin with the success of a 19th Century reductionist mechanistic style of enlightenment science.  This style of science is important, successful and it is the basis of most of the technology we see around us.  But it’s success has also brought us to the point where it’s limitations and contradictions are becoming apparent.  It is my belief that Bakhtin’s artistic model (quoted above) is consistent with design thinking and needs to be understood as a way to address the aforementioned limitations of scientific thinking.  This artistic model is important, not as a substitute to linear mechanistic models, but as a way of freeing ourselves to think differently in order to clearly recognize the limitations of a linear mechanistic and monological science and enable us to act beyond it’s limitations.  In other words, we can use the contraindications from this monological perspective to form a complimentary dialogical foundation.

To understand monologic technology within a dialogical world there is an additional struggle we must take to develop this artistic model because our common way of understanding art is also monological.  Art is often reduced to an object; a painting, poem, or performance.  But art can only truly be understood as a dialogic communicative expression by an artist that demands our response.  It is through this dialogical understanding of the arts that brings out it’s social productivity and makes it familiar to cross-disciplinary design thought.  As an object art has little use.  As a medium to enable a new and unique expression to be formed within us is it’s only artistic goal.

Case Studies in Transformation: Psychometrics (past) and Education (future)

In a fourth and fifth post I will analyze how other disciplines have attempted to deal with the historical limitations of a monologic perspective with psychometrics as the focal disciplines.  Psychometric began late in the 19th Century firmly within a monologic style of science, but has been increasingly cognizant of potential limitations since mid-century.  These changes can be seen as a move toward dialogic principles.  A second example will look at the changing nature of 21st Century educational institutions that are being challenged by digital scholarship and how a dialogical perspective could meet that challenge.

What is Design Thinking: Dialogic Artistry in the World

As a sixth and last post, I will consider why design thinking is a good representation of  Bakhtin’s dialogic artistic and complex model and will become increasingly important as a trans-disciplinary guide for acting in many fields and disciplines.

#change11 The Idea of Transformative Research: The Importance of Sense-Making and Conversation

Apostolos K’s recent post brought my attention back to Thomas Reeves’ article; Can Educational Research Be Both Rigorous and Relevant?  The problem with Reeves’ article is that it’s base in a positivist understanding of research that in turn is based in analytic philosophy.  It emphasizes empiricism when we need sense-making.  It encourages people to come to the research when we need to find ways to bring the research to the people who need it.  Here are a couple of distinctions I would make:

#1. Reeves ends by making the relevance – rigor distinction to be an individual choice, but they are 2 different things.

Rigor refers to the validity of one’s claims; how much do I believe the answers to the questions you are asking.  The type of rigor Reeves talks of is great for some types of questions, but there are many many other worthwhile questions and the validity of the methods we use to answer them are also different.  Every answer we need is not always answered best by a double blind random controlled trial.

Relevance refers to the resonance between the research and the contexts in which we want to use that knowledge.  Relevance comes from research that is part of a larger societal conversation.  The problem with a lack of research relevance is caused by a lack of a research conversation as to what the problems are and how best to address them.  Empirical evidence can’t replace sense-making conversations, but this is what positivist research attempts.

#2. If you look only at a narrow range of positivist research you can  see a relevance rigor distinction in this way.  As you control for confounding variables in a study, the more laboratory like it becomes,  the less it relates to settings where confounding variables are in play.  This is also the reason that much positivist research knowledge is of questionable use.  I think we need 2 things.  Many different types of research looking at a problem in different ways and we also need a collaborative and transformative conversation that brings different research and different ideas together and makes sense of them.  It is this sense-making that helps research resonate for many different people and makes this knowledge useable in differing contexts.  It is my hope that things like this MOOC can serve as the infrastructure for such a transformative conversation.  It is not that Reeves is wrong in specifics, but he is missing the transformative possibilities because of his narrow range of focus.

All of this reminds me of Richard Rorty’s early experiences in philosophy as he explains in the following:


When in 1950 I sat starry-eyed at Carnap’s feet, I actually believed that by the end of the twentieth century philosophers around the world would be bedecking their articles with quantifiers, talking the same ideally perspicuous language, trying to solve the same puzzles, adding bricks to the same edifice. But during my years at Princeton, watching the winds of doctrine veer about, and last yearns urgent new philosophical puzzles wither and die in the blast, I realized this scenario was unlikely to be played out in even a single university, much less on a global scale. Still, the realization that my Princeton colleagues no more agreed about when a brick had been added to the edifice of knowledge than about what counted as an important philosophical problem did not diminish my growing conviction the best of the analytic philosophers have done a lot for the transformation of the human self-image.

In various books and articles I have tried to tell a story about how the linguistic turn in philosophy both made it possible for the heirs of Kant to come to terms with Darwin and encouraged an anti-representationalist line of thought which chimes with Nietzsche’s perspectivalism and with Dewey’s pragmatism. This line of thought, running through the later Wittgenstein, as well as through the work of Sellars and Davidson, has given us a new way of thinking about the relation between language and reality. Thinking in this way may, at long last, do what the German idealists vainly hoped to do: it may persuade us to end discussion of tiresome pseudo-problems about the relation of subject and object, and of appearance to reality.

These analytic philosophers, I would argue, can help us get philosophy back on the Hegelian, historicist, romantic, path. This is the path that nineteenth-century neo-Kantians , Husserlian phenomenologists, and the founders of analytic philosophy all hoped to block off. The story I have tried to tell elsewhere about how analytic philosophy tried and failed to avoid taking this path culminates in the claim that human beings can, with the help of Wittgenstein, Sellars and Davidson on the one hand, and Heidegger, Foucault and Derrida on the other, get away from the old idea that there is something outside of human beings—something like the Will of God, or the Intrinsic Nature of Reality—which has authority over human beliefs and actions. It is a story about how certain intuitions we inherit from the Greeks can be undermined and replaced, rather than systematized. Whether or not one accepts or likes this story, it is a story of transformation, a story of the sort that Kierkegaard could acknowledge as having ethico-religious import (even though its import is radically atheistic).

My story, in short, is not about how to avoid analytic philosophy, but rather about why you need to study certain selected analytic philosophers in order fully to appreciate the transformative possibilities which the intellectual movements of the twentieth century have opened up for our descendants. The disciplinary matrix of analytic philosophy, despite the hollow defensive rhetoric with which it resounds, is one with which future intellectual historians will have to become familiar, just as they have had to become familiar with the disciplinary matrix of German idealism.