Essaysمقابلات وحوارات

An interview with Susan Haack: Evidence, Science, Law

conducted by: Wael A. Abdalla

An interview that Susan Haack specialized for Mana platform. All rights reserved for Susan Haack and Mana Platform.

Thank you Professor Susan Haack[1] for accepting my interview request, and we hope that in this interview we will learn more about your views on Evidence, science and law. and we are pleased to welcome you to the “Mana platform,” which aims to spread culture and knowledge in the Arab world.


Wael Abdalla (WA):Professor Haack, you were included in Peter J. King’s book One Hundred Philosophers: The Life And Work Of The World’s Greatest Thinkers; according to a poll conducted by the BBC, you are among the ten most important women philosophers of all time; and your work has been praised in a considerable number of writings by some  noted contemporary scholars. Can you tell us about your philosophical career and the most important works that qualified you for such recognition?

Susan Haack (SH): Let me say, first, that of the two tributes you mention, I strongly prefer the less sexist one—I think a philosopher is a philosopher, and that his or her sex is imply irrelevant. And let me add that, more recently, I have twice been described publicly as “arguably the most important living philosopher.”[2] Naturally, I read this with great pleasure; but I also realize that such tributes need to be taken with a grain of salt; inevitably, they are somewhat limited in scope—who knows, after all, what great philosophers may be working in obscurity in India, or Tibet, or Ecuador, or… ?

Let me say, second, that I have never been a “popular” or “celebrated” philosopher. My work is, I know, respected and admired by many serious thinkers around the world; but I have never sought “disciples”; and I strongly prefer the respect and admiration of serious people to those who fawn or flatter me. And of course I write as clearly as I can; so Ph.D. student who rite on my work would have to push things further, not spend most of their time figuring out what I meant!

SH: Can I tell you about my philosophical career?

WA: of course!

SH: Well, not in a few lines, I can’t; it has been a very long and complicated process. I’ll start with the basics. I took my undergraduate degree and the B.Phil. at Oxford (where I was taught Plato by Gilbert Ryle, logic by Michael Dummett, ethics by Philippa Foot, and metaphysics by David Pears), and then the Ph.D. in Cambridge (where I learned most, probably, from Ian Hacking and Elizabeth Anscombe).

My first job was as a junior lecturer at a women’s college, New Hall, Cambridge; and then I went to the University of Warwick, U.K., where I taught philosophy for nearly 20 years. After that I moved to the U.S. and the University of Miami, first as professor of philosophy, and later also—for more than twenty years now—professor of law.

For many years, I worked primarily on logic and philosophy of language, resulting in two very successful books, Deviant Logic (1974)[3] and Philosophy of Logics (1978).[4] But as you probably know, over the years my interests have grown broader and broader. I started in logic and philosophy of language, but soon got interested in other areas too. I have summarized key ideas of my work in two recent papers, one (“The World and How We Know it,” (2018)[5] thematic, the other (“Not One of the Boys,” 2020)[6] more chronological.

I’ll quote from the latter, starting with the genesis of Evidence and Inquiry:

I began in logic and philosophy of language; but after I was asked to teach the year-long course on Epistemology and Metaphysics offered by the philosophy department at the University of Warwick, I began spreading my wings as I thought, taught, and eventually wrote, about these new questions. Around the same time, prompted by Quine’s causal dismissal of his observations about truth,[7] I began reading C. S. Peirce seriously; and was inspired to dig deeper as well as stretch further. So after Deviant Logic and Philosophy of Logics, I started [my] epistemological work; eventually, after many years, finishing Evidence and Inquiry.[8]

As a result, my interests grew broader yet, as I soon received:

… a whole raft of unexpected invitations to defend the objectivity of epistemic standards against skeptics of many kinds, requiring me to spread my wings much further as I developed the sustained response to postmodernist skepticism expressed in the essays in Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate.[9] Among my targets were radical feminist, post-colonialist, and sociological critiques of the pretensions of the sciences to tell us something of how the world is; and so this critique led, in due course, to the even more ambitious topics and themes of Defending Science—Within Reason,[10] which offers an account not only of the epistemology of science and its metaphysical presuppositions, but also of its place in society, and its relation to law, literature, and religion.

like many of my philosophical turns, was almost pure chance, fortuitous intellectual opportunism:

… prompted by my discovering that a colleague in the law school at the University of Miami was using my Evidence and Inquiry in a course on the analysis of evidence. As I learned more about why my work was relevant to evidence scholars, I discovered that, while I had a theory of evidence and its quality, the legal system was dealing on a daily basis with evidence far more complex and tangled than any philosopher could imagine. So I have spent many years refining and amplifying my foundherentist ideas as I applied them in the law, exploring the consequences of my critical common-sensist philosophy of science for courts’ handling of expert testimony;[11] and—glimpsing new possibilities out of the corner of my eye—gradually getting familiar with the work of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, and then developing my own neo-pragmatist philosophy of law.[12] This involved, in part, thinking about legal systems qua evolving social institutions, looping back to ideas I had earlier developed in metaphysics and in philosophy of the social sciences.

The influence of pragmatism has long been present:

… ever since I began reading Peirce seriously in the 1970s, my work has always been informed by the insights of the classical pragmatist tradition—a distaste for the a priori method and a focus on the world, a repudiation of false dichotomies and a search for continuities and, most relevant here, a lack of concern for disciplinary and sub-disciplinary boundaries.

[Thanks to the old pragmatists] my metaphysical ideas had already moved well beyond the mainstream analytic focus on our language or our conceptual schemes: My metaphysics, like my philosophy of science, is “worldly,” and so depends on experience; not, however, the recherché experience needed by the sciences, but close attention to aspects of everyday experience so familiar we don’t usually notice them.

This was the approach that led to my Innocent Realism, an ontological picture—very different from the more familiar forms of realism—of a world best described as a pluralistic universe.[13] And this required me to return to issues from Evidence and Inquiry as I developed and deepened the understanding of mind I had begun to sketch in response to Stich’s and the Churchlands’ skepticism about the very existence of beliefs and other propositional attitudes. Similarly, my thinking about the role of logic, first in science and then in law, led me back to issues from Philosophy of Logics about the scope and limits of formal methods.[14] And teaching a class on philosophy and literature—I focused on epistemological novels—[] also led me to all kinds of interesting questions about intellectual integrity, misleading evidence, sham reasoning, and so on. Putting Philosophy to Work[15] brought a good deal of this together, along with some wry reflections about the state of my profession, rife as it now is with perverse incentives that gradually undermine the genuine desire to figure things out without which serious philosophy is impossible.

And lately?

More recently still, noticing a distinct rise of scientism in philosophy, as in our culture more generally, I returned to issues from Defending Science, to articulate just what this mistake is, what forms it takes, and what’s wrong with it.[16] And of late, after decades of wrestling with the ever more unreasonable demands of referees, editors, copy-editors and, especially, academic publishers, I have turned my attention to the horrendous condition of academic publishing.[17]

As I also said in “Not One of the Boys,” and signaled by its title, “Memoir of an Academic Misfit,” my work has never quite been in the mainstream; I have always been, somehow, out of step. That’s why, as our interview proceeds, I’ll often need to resist your efforts to assimilate my work to this or that mainstream trend.

WA: Your books have gained a lot of fame, and your work has been published in 16 languages. But what reason do you see for the great interest of scholars, philosophers, thinkers and jurists in your pioneering book Evidence and Inquiry: Towards Reconstruction in Epistemology?

SH: Well, it’s a good book—as it should be: it took 15 painful years to write! And it really made progress. Moreover, it was warmly endorsed by some important figures: Lord Quinton, Sir Peter Strawson, Hilary Putnam, and Roderick Chisholm. But of these, only one (Chisholm) was in epistemology, and he wasn’t part of the new, late twentieth-century burgeoning epistemological “industry.”

That industry, however, didn’t receive the book so warmly: many didn’t understand it, and some of those who did, I fear, were jealous, and wanted, not o recognize what I’d done, but  to sideline me! Moreover, my theory cut across a whole raft of false dichotomies infecting recent epistemology: the causal versus the logical, internalism vs. externalism, naturalism versus scientism, and foundationalism versus coherentism. In particular, it combines elements both of causal and elements of logical approaches, AND both of foundationalism and coherentism.

Some professional epistemologists tried very hard to show that I was really a foundationalist, others to show that I was really a coherentist; and others claimed, falsely, that they had my theory all along.  But the book was much appreciated by people outside epistemology—not only philosophers generally, who may have been bored or underwhelmed by the self-absorbed and hermetic work of the specialists in epistemology, but also, very importantly, by historians, by scientists of every variety, and by lawyers interested in questions of evidence. These people evidently understood that questions about what evidence is and what makes it better or worse were crucial in every area of inquiry; and that I had made a serious attempt to answer them. And, unlike the epistemological clique, which tended to settle for unhelpful purely verbal answers, I had actually worked out my theory in real detail—detail that people serious about evidence appreciated.

WA: As you said, you offer an intermediate theory, between foundationalism and coherentism. Could we speak of your “crossword theory,” since that is an important metaphor for you?

SH: No: the crossword is very fruitful metaphor, but it is NOT itself a theory. Rather, to use another metaphor, it is a stepping-stone towards the detailed articulation of my theory, but not the theory itself.[18]

As you know, foundherentism is an intermediate theory, between foundationalism and coherentism. Like foundationalism but unlike coherentism, my foundherentist theory can acknowledge that a person’s experience plays a role in the justification of his beliefs about the world; like coherentism but unlike foundationalism foundherentism requires no privileged, “basic” beliefs, but can acknowledge the pervasive interdependence of our beliefs.

I first realized the usefulness of the crossword metaphor when I was trying to understand how there could be mutual support without a vicious circle; as there is among entries in a crossword. Then I realized that the clues were the analogue of perceptual evidence (perception, memory), and the entries of background beliefs. The criteria by which to judge the reasonableness of a belief, I then saw, were analogous to the criteria for determining the reasonableness of a crossword entry: how supportive the person’s evidence is (analogue: how well an entry fits with the clue and other completed entries); how independently secure the background beliefs it includes are, independently of the one in question (analogue: how reasonable those other entries are, independent of this one); and how much of the relevant evidence his evidence includes (analogue: how much of the crossword has been completed). Of course, all of these also needed spelling out in literal detail.

But by now, the metaphor is a bit like a pet dog: I let it take me for walks, to see where we go!

WA:Can we safely argue that your book Defending Science—within Reason: Between Scientism and Cynicism is a continuation of the work you began in Evidence and Inquiry?

SH: Yes—in a way. The idea that scientific inquiry is continuous with ordinary everyday empirical inquiry is already suggested, briefly, in Evidence and Inquiry; and the account of evidence and its quality from Evidence and Inquiry is used, amplified, and refined in Defending Science.

But more importantly, “No.” The very detailed account of scientific evidence and scientific inquiry, and the novel account of the metaphysics of science, are quite new in Defending Science.

There is no “Scientific Method,” I argue: i.e., no mode of inference or procedure of inquiry used by all and only scientists, and explaining the successes of the sciences. There are only:

  • the inferences and procedures used by all serious empirical inquirers (make an informed guess as to the explanation of some puzzling phenomenon, check how well it stands up to the evidence you have, and any further evidence you can get); these are not used only by scientists.
  • The special tools and techniques gradually developed by scientists over the centuries (instruments of observation, the calculus, statistical techniques, models and metaphors, computers and computer programs, social helps such as peer-review, etc., etc.); which, being often local, and always evolving, are not used by all AND:
  • The involvement in scientific work of many people, who may be thousands of miles, or centuries, apart.

Together, this is what explains how the sciences have managed to get more evidence, appraise its worth better, keep people honest, encourage creativity, and so on; and hence, their successes.

Scientific evidence, I argue, is like the evidence with respect to empirical claims generally, a matter of experience and reasons. But it is often far more complex and tangled than everyday evidence, and is usually not all possessed by one person, but is the joint resource of many people. Since it is individuals that have sensory experience, I needed to start with them, and could use the ideas developed in Evidence and Inquiry; however, moving from there to an account of the warrant of a scientific theory for a group of people, and from there to an understanding of the warrant of a scientific theory at a time, required an enormous amount of extra work. The crossword metaphor helped, suggesting how people with different talents might all contribute. (The collaboration of James Watson and Francis Crick on the discovery of the structure of DNA is a good example.)[19]

Working out a social conception of warrant was very hard. But the extra work brought benefits: it enabled me to refine and amplify the Evidence and Inquiry account, AND to understand why clear and unimpeded communication of results among scientists is so important—which in turn enabled me to clarify how an epistemologically well-informed sociology of science might work hand in hand with a sensible conception of scientific evidence and method.

The goal of science, I argue, is to discover significant, explanatory truths about the world (and not merely to arrive at “empirically adequate” theories, as Constructive Empiricists claimed). And the world about which they seek truths is, of course, the one, real world—the complex yet integrated world described in my Innocent Realist metaphysics[20]—a world of physical things, phenomena, kinds and laws, overlaid in “our” small corner of the universe by human mental states and processes, and all the artifacts, physical, social, intellectual, and imaginative, that we humans have created.

But of course there is no guarantee that scientific theories are true; many have turned out to be false. And neither is there any guarantee that science always makes, or will continue to make, progress.

WA:In that book you try to find habitable middle ground between two approaches that you see as extremist in their attitude towards science: scientism, an inappropriate deference to science, and cynicism, underestimates the value of science to the point of suggesting there’s nothing to it but power, politics, and rhetoric. Can you give examples of these two approaches in scientific work?

SH: Well, a good recent example of scientism might be E. O. Wilson’s Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge.[21] It’s really two books for the price of one! One says that all the truths about the world must, somehow, fit together. I agree. But the other, interwoven with the first, says that all the truths about society, religion, ethics, aesthetics, law, etc., are reducible to truths of biology. That is scientism—and of course it’s grossly false.

For obvious reasons, though, cynicism about science isn’t very common among scientists themselves; it is, rather, a pose adopted by radical sociologists and historians of science, such as Barnes and Bloor’s “Radical Program” or Harry Collins’s “Strong Program,” etc.[22]

There has long been a strain of scientism in philosophy, too, e.g., in the Churchlands’ insistence that neuroscience somehow shows there are no beliefs.[23] But of late, I regret to say, scientism has become disturbingly popular in philosophical circles: among those who think we should look to science for our epistemic standards, or for our metaphysical commitments,[24] and even those, like Alex Rosenberg who, blithely asserting over and over, without argument, that “physics fixes all the facts,” draw the bizarre conclusion that there are no values, ethical, aesthetic, or apparently epistemological, and that “the brain does everything without thinking about anything at all.”[25]

WA: Does your philosophy of science belong to the stream of the new philosophy of science, which tends to be realist and moderate?

SH: I don’t really know what you mean by the “new philosophy of science.” I DO know, however, that the strongest influences on my thinking here were much older philosophers and scientists: Thomas Huxley, Percy Bridgman, Albert Einstein, John Dewey, …[26]

And I also know that recent forms of scientific realism, with which I have little sympathy, tend to look to the sciences to “read off” our ontology. This, as I said earlier, is a form of scientism!

WA: You are very critical of Karl Popper’s philosophy of science. Why is that?

SH: Well, Popper fooled me for a while: I believed him when he said he was a fallibilist. But then, writing Evidence and Inquiry, I realized that he had NO sensible solution to the problem of the “empirical basis” of science: this can’t be scientists’ perceptions, he says, because perceptions can’t stand in logical relations to scientific theories; and what determines the acceptance of basic (perceptual) statements is purely a matter of convention on the part of the scientific community—which does not, of course, show them to be true.

It’s well known that Popper’s account denies that scientific theories can ever be shown true, probable, or “confirmed,” but only tested-but-not-yet falsified. What most people don’t realize is that, if basic statements are accepted only by convention, these statements are never shown to be true —and that means scientific theories are never known to be false, either! This isn’t fallibilism; it is downright, unmitigated skepticism!

WA: Have the standards of science changed these days, in the era of scientific progress and high technologies, from the standards of science that prevailed among post-positivist philosophers?

SH: The short answer is “No.” First, there was plenty of scientific progress long before positivism, etc. Second, I don’t believe scientists themselves were as much influenced by philosophy as your question suggests.

True, in the second half of the twentieth century some scientists professed to be Popperians. When you look closely, however, you soon see that they simply didn’t understand Popper.

Sir Peter Medawar, for example, liked Popper’s recognition that science requires imagination; but of course this idea was by no means new or original in Popper—and anyway, Medawar thought that, once a scientist has imagined a possible explanation, the next step was to confirm whether it was true! Sir John Eccles apparently liked Popper’s philosophy because it helped him over a depression when an earlier idea of his was shown to be false. And Sir Herman Bondi liked to speak of the first, falsifiable cosmological conjecture having been roundly falsified, and a new one adopted—which was later, he continued, “well- confirmed by observation” (!)[27]

And the many other, lower-level, scientists who think they are Popperians are usually just parroting stuff about scientific theories being “falsifiable,” with no clue that not all scientific theories fit this mold, nor that “falsifiable” doesn’t mean, in Popper, “can be shown to be false.”

Fortunately, however, this misguided pseudo-Popperism doesn’t really seem to have affected scientists’ work significantly.

WA: Can we call the present era “the era of big data”? And can we consider big data a new source of knowledge?

SH: It’s premature; I think, to talk about “the era of big data.” This is the era of computers, to be sure; but we don’t yet know how long the recent focus on big data sets will continue.

Anyway, if I understand “big data” correctly, this simply represents another tool for the sciences (as the calculus did, and statistics, and computers). I imagine it’s potentially very useful in epidemiology, for example; and I know it has been used to devise a way, or so it’s claimed, to distinguish identical twins from each other via DNA “fingerprinting.”[28] Of course, scientists will need to be aware of the possibility of bias in computer programs for crunching big data, as they need to be with programs for meta-analysis of multiple epidemiological studies.

WA: You indicated in your book Defending Science—within Reason that there is a relation between science and literature. What is the nature of this relation?

SH: The object of the chapter of Defending Science about science and literature is to explore both the similarities and the differences between the two enterprises.

To take one significant example: both doing science and writing fiction require imagination, but scientists hope their imaginative constructions will turn out to be real, and their theories true, while novelists intend theirs to be not only imaginative but also imaginary, and yet illuminating about the real world and real people.

WA: Is there also a relation between science and law? Between scientific reasoning and legal reasoning? Can we use your theory from Evidence and Inquiry in court?

SH: That’s really three questions in one—all of them big; I’ll try to take them individually.

But first I should say that there is simply no such thing as “the legal system, or “the law”; there are only the myriad legal systems, subtly or enormously different, around the world. And what I can find out about the Saudi legal system—relying on the Shari’a, now with the addition of more recent legislation law governing commerce and business[29]—tells me that I am simply incompetent to comment on it. That would take many, many years of study, and a whole new lifetime! So I will tell you, instead, something about Western legal systems.

These systems fall into two broad classes: common-law systems (U.K., U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.) and civil-law systems (continental Europe, Latin America, etc.) The former use juries; the latter rely on judges to determine factual as well as legal questions.

All legal systems have some rules about burden of proof (which side must produce evidence in order to prevail) and standard of proof (how strong the evidence needs to be). In U.S. law, as in all common-law systems, the burden of proof in criminal cases is on the prosecution, and the standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt”; in civil cases, the burden is on the plaintiff, and the standard is “by a preponderance of the evidence.” Such systems also impose various restrictions on what evidence, even relevant evidence, may be presented to fact-finders: not hearsay, for example, because the person who supposedly said whatever it is can’t be cross-examined. In civil-law systems, by contrast, all relevant evidence is usually admissible, and it is up to the judge—not, as in common-law systems, to a jury—to sort it out.

All modern western legal systems relate, probably in many ways, to science.

Law-Science Interactions: In the U.S., which I know best, the government regulates potentially dangerous scientific research; it occasionally prosecutes scientists found to have committed fraud in work conducted under federal funding; it may be called on the resolve disputes between scientists and legal players, as with the legal tussle over the 9,000 year-old skeleton of  “Kennewick Man”;[30] and so on. But perhaps the most important interaction of law and science is over the scientific witnesses sometimes called in court: e.g. forensic scientists, or psychiatrists, in criminal cases, or epidemiologists, or toxicologists, etc., in toxic-tort cases (where a plaintiff alleges he has been harmed by a drug or a pollutant).

The admissibility of such witnesses is governed (federally and, by now, in most states) by U.S. Supreme Court Rulings in Daubert,[31] Joiner,[32] and Kumho Tire.[33] Sadly, in Daubert the Supreme Court got itself tangled up with a quasi-Popperian philosophy of science—and confused Popper and Hempel and, even worse, being reliable and being scientific. Daubert, etc., haven’t had very much effect in criminal cases. But the main effect of what is known as the “Daubert trilogy”—though it was presumably crafted in hopes of keeping unreliable testimony from misleading jurors—has been to make it more difficult for plaintiffs to get scientific testimony admitted, since there are now many hoops they may have to jump through if defendants challenge them.

In civil-law jurisdictions—though Daubert has had some influence there, too—these things are done differently: e.g., normally it is the judge, not the parties to a case, who appoints expert witnesses. But, as I said, in all modern Western legal systems, there will be many interactions between science and law.

The Usefulness of (Good) Epistemology to the Law: Because legal decisions are, or should be, based on the evidence presented, the law needs a good understanding of evidence and its quality. My approach can explain, for example, why a congeries of pieces of evidence, none of which is sufficient by itself, may together be strong enough to reach the standard of proof—and even when it does.[34] Again, it can explain why evidence that the probability that the match between this defendant’s DNA and DNA from the crime scene can’t by itself tell us the likelihood that the defendant committed the crime, or why epidemiological evidence of the increased risk of a disease disorder among those exposed to a certain drug can’t by itself tell us the likelihood that this drug caused this plaintiff’s disease.[35]

Indeed the usefulness of my approach has been acknowledged by Justice Russell Brown of the Supreme Court of Canada, in his lovely “Foreword” to the recent Festschrift on my work, in which he speaks of my “essential and enduring contribution.”[36]

I think, however, that my epistemology is most usefully employed in educating judges and attorneys, rather than at trial in court—where it’s likely to be too complex for judges or jurors to understand when presented briefly and quickly.

Scientific Inference and Legal Reasoning: First: there is no peculiarly scientific kind of evidence or form of inference; scientists make essentially the same inferences as everyone else—though often their evidence is often far more complex, and sometimes they may use specialized inferential tools, e.g. of statistical reasoning, local to their field.

And second, while there are, at least in common-law countries, distinctively legal forms of reasoning—analogizing and distinguishing this case from previous, arguably precedent, cases, this is not simply a form of arriving at some legal truth; it is a matter of an attorney’s trying to persuade a judge to treat these cases as alike, those as different, or of a court’s offering a rationale for a decision.[37]

WA: Would you describe yourself as among the new pragmatists? Do you prefer the new pragmatism to the old?

SH: Many people—philosophers, scientists, novelists, etc., etc.—have influenced my work. But the strongest philosophical influence has come from the classical pragmatists, C.S. Pierce, William James, John Dewey, George Herbert Mead, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. For example, I learned from Peirce’s combination of fallibilism and a “high faith in the reality of knowledge,” not to imagine that dogmatism and skepticism were the only possibilities; I learned valuable lessons for my own metaphysical approach from his reflections on the meaning of “real”; I began to appreciate that, like him, I had always looked for continuities; I realized, reflecting on his many neologisms and his thoughts about the growth of meaning, the many limitations of logical formalism and the importance of conceptual innovation; and (quite recently) I saw how his idea of philosophy as empirical, but as depending on close attention to everyday experience, not the on recherché experience sought by the sciences, why it can seem that philosophy can be done purely a priori, but it can’t.

I learned from James’s unconventional reflections a different way of looking at ethics (and, later, the law), and was helped in my thinking about the relation of philosophy and literature. And as you can see in my “The Differences that Make a Difference,”[38] I learned a lot from his defense of the importance of individuals, including how to resist the group-think taking over the American academy. I learned from Dewey a way of thinking of the continuity of the sciences with everyday inquiry, and more about ethics. Of course, I acquired his splendid phrase for the false dichotomies that all the pragmatists shunned—as do I: “untenable dualisms.” He helped me think about education, the slipperiness of the concept of democracy and its abuse by authoritarian regimes, and even about art. My thinking about mind and language was helped immeasurably by Mead’s earlier, clumsily expressed but very insightful, efforts. And my thinking about the law as a constantly evolving human institution owes a great deal to Holmes.

I’m not quite sure what you have in mind when you speak of the “new” pragmatism.” But if this refers to the work of Richard Rorty, I have to say that I have almost nothing in common with him.[39] I draw again on that other recent interview:[40] I emphatically don’t admire Rorty! In fact, I was perhaps Rorty’s most effective critic—even mentioned in his obituary as such! In my view, what Rorty offered was a confused farrago of vaguely post-modern ideas under the grossly misleading label “pragmatism.” He dismissed Peirce, perhaps the best philosophical mind America has ever produced, as a “whacked-out triadomaniac” whose only contribution to pragmatism was to give it its name; my “We Pragmatists: Peirce and Rorty in Conversation” (1996)[41] shows how Peirce and Rorty disagreed about practically everything; and that Peirce’s is by far the better mind.

Rorty didn’t understand even Dewey, whom he most professed to admire, but on the contrary kept offering us what Dewey would have known were absurdly false dichotomies. Either truth is Correspondence to Things in Themselves, or it is just what you can defend against all conversational objections; either philosophy is the handmaid of the sciences, or it is nothing but another genre of literature; etc., etc.  In short, as I pointed out in Evidence and Inquiry and argued in detail in “Pining Away in the Midst of Plenty” (2016),[42] his whole philosophy is infected with a pernicious This-or-Nothingism.

In brief, our deep disagreements include: I think philosophy is a form of inquiry; Rorty denies this, claiming instead that it is a genre of literature, just “a kind of writing.” I think epistemology and metaphysics are core, and crucial, parts of philosophy (and have devoted much time to them); Rorty claims they are illegitimate, and should simply be abandoned and not replaced. I think there is such a thing as objective truth; Rorty boasts that he “hasn’t much use” for this concept. I think there are objective standards of better and worse evidence, and have spent many years working to articulate them; Rorty claims these are nothing but social convention.

If, rather, you are thinking of the more recent “Analytic Pragmatism” peddled by Robert Brandom, here I will simply say that I notice first, that Brandom has extraordinarily little to say about Peirce’s pioneering work in semiotics, Dewey’s conception of meaning as a property of behavior, or Mead’s remarkable contributions to philosophy lo language and mind; and, second, that preoccupied as it is with philosophy of language as the core of philosophy, and imbued as it is with the ideas of the later Wittgenstein, Brandom’s work seems to me far more analytic than pragmatist.

WA: Professor Haack, From your rich and various experiences and studies in different branches of knowledge, what would you say are the most important issues and topics that researchers these days should pay attention to in philosophy, science, and law?

SH: As I’ve said before, sometimes youths questions reveal misunderstandings. And, honestly, I prefer not to answer this question! It’s not for me to say what questions others should pursue; really serious inquirers, whatever their field, will naturally tackle those questions they think important, and can contribute to. And that’s just as it should be! It’s better to have many independent minds at work from different angles.    

But I would add one word of warning to philosophers, since our profession is, at present—at least in my part of the world—horribly preoccupied by passing fads and fashions: DON’T think and write about whatever happens to be fashionable! Think, and write, about topics where you have real interest. If you do, you may find you have something new to say; and then you can figure out how best to say it. [43]

WA: Professor Haack,  At the end, I am deeply grateful for your patience and time. I have greatly benefited from this interview.

SH:  Thank you. It has been a pleasure talking with you.




[1] Professor of Philosophy, and Professor of Law at the University of Miami – USA.

[2]Timothy Crowley, Citation for Susan Haack. Unpublished, available here: 2016. Robert Hanna, “Editor’s Introduction” to the reprint of Susan Haack, “Not One of the Boys: Memoir of an Academic Misfit” (Cosmos + Taxis 8, no.6 (2020): 92-106), APP August 3, 2020.

[3]Susan Haack Deviant Logic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1974).

[4] Susan Haack, Philosophy of Logics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974)

[5]  Susan Haack, “The World and How We Know It: Stumbling towards an Understanding,” Estudios filosóficos LXVII, no. 196 (2018)

[6] Susan Haack, “Not One of the Boys: Memoir of an Academic Misfit,” Cosmos + Taxis 8, no.6 (2020): 92-106. All the quotations in this answer are from pp.94-96.

[7] W.V. Quine, Word and Object (Boston: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1960), 23.

[8] See also Susan Haack, Evidence and Inquiry (1993; second edition, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Boos, 2009).

[9] Susan Haack, Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate: Unfashionable Essays (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).

[10] Susan Haack, Defending Science—Within Reason: Between Scientism and Cynicism (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2003).

[11] Susan Haack, Evidence Matters: Science, Proof, and Truth in the Law (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

[12] Susan Haack, “On Legal Pragmatism: Where Does ‘The Path of the Law’ Lead Us?”, The American Journal of Jurisprudence 50 (2005): 71–105; “On Logic in the Law: ‘Something, but Not All,’” Ratio Juris 20, no. 1 (2007): 1–31; “The Pluralistic Universe of Law: Towards a Neo-Classical Legal Pragmatism,” Ratio Juris 21, no. 4 (2008): 453–80; “The Pragmatist Tradition: Lessons for Legal Theorists,” Washington University Law Review 95 (2018): 1049–82; “The Pragmatist [Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.],” in The Pragmatism and Prejudice of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., ed. Seth Vanatta (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2019), 169–89.

[13] Susan Haack, “Realisms and Their Rivals: Recovering Our Innocence,” Facta Philosophica 4, no. 1 (March 2002): 67–88; Susan Haack, “The World According to Innocent Realism: The One and the Many, the Real and the Imaginary, the Natural and the Social” (2014), in Susan Haack: Reintegrating Philosophy, eds. Julia Göhner and Eva-Maria Jung (Berlin: Springer, 2016), 33–58; Susan Haack, “Brave New World: Nature, Culture, and the Limits of Reductionism,” in Explaining the Mind, eds. Bartosz Brozek, Jerzy Stelmach, and Łuckasz Kwiatek (Kraków: Copernicus Center Press, 2018), 37–68.

[14] Susan Haack, “Formal Philosophy: A Plea for Pluralism” (2005), in Susan Haack, Putting Philosophy to Work: Inquiry and Its Place in Culture (2008; Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books; expanded edition 2013, 2013), 235–50 (text) & 310–13 (notes).

[15] Susan Haack, Putting Philosophy to Work, (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2008, second edition 2013).

[16] Susan Haack, “Six Signs of Scientism” (2010), in Haack, Putting Philosophy to Work, 105–20 (text) & 287-83 (notes); Susan Haack, Scientism and Its Discontents (Rounded Globe, 2017).

[17]  See also Susan Haack, “The Academic-Publication Racket: Whatever Happened to Authors’ Rights?” Borderless Philosophy 2 (2019): 1–21.

[18] See Susan Haack, “Dry Truth and Real Knowledge: Epistemologies of Metaphor and Metaphors of Epistemology,” in Jaakko Hintikka, ed.,Approaches to Metaphor (Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Kluwer, 1994), 1-22. Reprinted in Haack, Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate (1998),.69-89

[19] See James D. Watson, The Double Helix (1968; critical edition, New York: W.W. Norton, 1980).

[20] Susan Haack, “Realisms and Their Rivals: Recovering Our Innocence,” Facta Philosophica 4, no.1 (March 2002): 67-88.

[21] E. O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (New York: Knopf, 1998).

[22] See Haack, Defending Science, chapter 7.

[23] See Hack, Evidence and Inquiry, chapter 8.

[24] See, e.g., Ladyman and Ross.

[25] Alex Rosenberg, The Atheist’s View of Reality: Living Life without Illusions INew York: W. W. Norton, 2011).

[26] Se Haack, Defending Science, chapter 4.

[27] Susan Haack, “Just Say ‘No’ to Logical Negativism” (first published, in Chinese, in 2012), in English in Haack, Putting Philosophy to Work, second edition, 2013, 179-94 (text) and 298-305 (notes). (This article includes references on Medawar, Eccles, and Bondi.)

[28] Michael Krawczak et al., “Distinguishing Genetically between the Germlines of Male Monozygotic Twins,” PLOS Genetics 14, no. 12 (December 2018), Some

prosecutors hope this might help them convict a guilty twin when otherwise this would be impossible; but so far the test is prohibitively expensive.

[29] Saudi Arabia, Foreign Law Guide (Marci Hoffman ed., 2012), This is all totally unfamiliar to me, and harder to grasp even than Pakistani law (English with an Islamic overlay mandated by the Constitution) or Turkish law (Swiss, now with covert Islamic elements).

[30] The legal issue was whether the skeleton should be given to the Umatilla tribe (under the Native American Graes Protetction and Repatriation Act) for proper burial, or whether scientists might do an mtDNA test to determne its ethnicity. Evenutally, the test were done; the ancestray was Native American!  See, e.g., “New DNA Results Show Kennewick Man Was Native American,” “The Ancestry and Affiliations of Kennewick Man,”

[31] Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 587 (1993).

[32] Gen. Elec. Co. v. Joiner 522 U.S. 136, 146 (1997).

[33] Kumho Tire Co.  v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999).

[34] Susan Haack, “Proving Causation” (2008), in Haack, Evidence Matters, 208-38.

[35] Susan Haack, “Risky Business: Statistical Proof of SpecificCausation,” in Haack, Evidence Matters, 264-93.

[36] Russell Brown, “An Immense and Enduring Contribution,” Foreword to Philosophy, The World, Life and the Law: In Honour of Susan Haack, ed. Mark Migotti, Cosmos + Taxis 8, nos.4 and 5 (2020): 1-2.

[37] See Susan Haack, “Scientific Inference vs. Legal Reasoning? Not So Fast!” Anuario de Filosofía y Teoría de Derecho (2019): 193-213.

[38] Susan Haack, “The Differences that Make a Difference: William James on the Importance of Individuals,” European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy II, no.1 (2010): 1-10.

[39] Except, possibly, a conviction that the epistemological clique was getting nowhere in intellectually.

[40] I draw here on Susan Haack, “From Analytic Beginnings to an Ampler and More Flexible Pragmatism: Muhammad Asghari talks with Susan Haack,” forthcoming in Journal of Philosophical  Investigations 14, no. 32 (2020).

[41] Susan Haack, “We Pragmatists: Peirce and Rorty in Conversation” (1997), in Haack, Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate, 31-47.

[42] Susan Haack “Pining Away in the Midst of Plenty: The Irony of Rorty’ Either-Or Philosophy,” The Hedgehog Review: Critical Reflections on contemporary Culture (summer 2016): 76-80. ”

[43] Thanks to Mark Migotti for helpful comments on a draft, and to Pamela Lucken and Bianca Anderson for help in finding relevant materials.


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