Rebecca Newberger Goldstein in “Plato at the Googleplex, Why Philosophy won’t Go Away” untangles a frequent confusion, conflation, of contextualization and validation. Crediting Hans Reichenbach she merits the careful separation of historical influences and assessments of validity or “the context of discovery” versus “the context of justification.”
“When you ask why did some particular question occur to a scientist or a philosopher for the first time, or why did this particular approach seem natural, then your questions concern the context of discovery. When you ask whether the argument the philosopher puts forth to answer the question is sound, or whether the evidence justifies the scientific theory proposed, then you’ve entered the context of justification. Considerations of history, sociology, anthropology, and psychology are relevant to the context of discovery but not justification.”
It’s not a wall of separation as there can be relationships between them.
“Sometimes, for example, examining the context of discovery can help flush out unstated premises in an argument, presuppositions that were regarded as so intuitively obvious in the context of the thinker’s mindset, whether for cultural reasons, personal reasons, or the interactions between the cultural and the personal, that they didn’t bear being stated.”
Yet, the two are separate.
“But still the assessment of these intuitions in terms of the argument’s soundness isn’t accomplished by work done in the context of discovery. And conversely one doesn’t diminish a philosopher’s achievement, and doesn’t undermine its soundness, by showing how the particular set of questions on the question, the orientation he brought to bear in his focus, has some casual connections to the circumstances of his life.”
Goldstein writes this in response to readers of her Spinoza book,
“…thinking I was perhaps arguing that Spinoza’s philosophical arguments were groundless because his personal history helped determine which problems he set out to solve…”
Taking this further it becomes more easy to tease apart this drastic braid in discussing the personalities of people versus what they say. I think of the classic outing of gender issues in Richard Dawkins. By contextualizing his background and maybe even heredity we can see how he arrived at such poorly-voiced conclusions (fighting words) in the face of discussing gender-abuse priorities. Eg, American women seem more concerned (whining) about their problems when they should be focusing on the worse abuses in other countries more whole-heartedly. With historical contextualization we can see how Dawkins would arrive at his statements and by validation we can evaluate his statement.
Another more recent example of this is a recent SMOA podcast with Faisal Saeed Al Mutar (show includes an excellent basic overview of Islamic issues) about how women are treated so much better in the states that they can’t get the horrors of wearing the veil, especially in light of some Muslim women trying to make the veil fashionable, to own their oppression. Let women dress themselves even if oppressed some say. Further we don’t kill women in the states for how they dress. Americans are so much more advanced in their freedom of appearance. The West has time-warped progress and the East is catching up.
Two things occur if we look deeper. Americans generally don’t kill people, cut their tongues off, or their hands. This may seem generous but it really is the result of economics. We have the wealth to have prisons and to keep hordes of people in them. It has become such an industry that eliminating prisons would be an economic loss. Far, far cheaper to chop off a hand or do a castration or simple beheading. We can hardly execute mass murderers… That we can keep so many in prison shows just how little we need labor as well and yet contradictorily how much we still believe that everyone can and should work–or be the cause of income-producing work. It is just now that prison scientists are admitting that solitary confinement is more abusive than floggings. Islam may be more kind to stone and behead some than we are to imprison them.
The other is modesty. While it seems that Americans are immodest it is absolutely against the law to be in public naked, genitals must be covered. Refusing to cover your genitals will lead to imprisonment and ultimately a plea of insanity. We wouldn’t kill them just drug or imprison them until they reform or die. Public-school teachers cannot use standard texts to teach Indo-Euro-Asian ancient history because of the plentitude of viewable genitals. I‘m sure in a country where the temperament is to imprison drug abusers for longer than manslaughter that if being genitally naked became a political issue even worse disincentives would occur. It wasn’t so long ago that the chastity belt was considered a very real option and that virginity was the economic fuel of women. In my lifetime.
“There’s a golden rule to be struck between the extremism of historicism, on the once hand, and the extremism of philosophical insularity on the other, and Reichenbach’s distinction helps to dissolve the false dichotomy.”
The biggest reason this matters to atheists is the wrong-headed argument that we are atheists because we have been damaged by religion and not because religion is philosophically unjustified. Further that men raised by single-mothers hate men and hate patriarchal religions because of their rearing and not because patriarchy is wrong, or at least no longer useful. The event of abuse may cause the exploration but doesn’t affect the validity of the arguments against religion.