Professor of Philosophy, Cal State Fullerton
AOS - Metaphysics, Language, Epistemology
AOC - Logic, History of Philosophy (Analytic and American Pragmatism - esp. C.S. Peirce)
ANDREW HOWAT BIO
From Scotland to the OC
I grew up in Scotland and studied philosophy as an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh (1997-2001), where I was extremely fortunate to be taught by terrific philosophers like Rae Langton, Richard Holton, Alexander Bird, Huw Price, Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra, and Timothy Williamson.
I did my PhD in Sheffield (2003-2007) with Chris Hookway (retired) and Rob Hopkins (now at NYU). While there I was profoundly influenced by the remarkably friendly, pluralistic, and rigorous environment and by the strong feminist community created by Professors and fellow students such as Jenny Saul, Lindsey Porter, Jules Holroyd, Komarine Romdenh-Romluc, and many others.
My dissertation defended the idea that truth is a response-dependent concept and that this is a novel way to frame and defend classical pragmatism and its critique of metaphysical realism.
After several years of temporary appointments in the UK (at Sheffield, Nottingham, and Hull), I was hired by CSUF in 2011 as an Assistant Professor. I was promoted to Associate Professor in 2017 and Full Professor in 2022.
At the upper division, I regularly teach metaphysics, philosophy of language, American Philosophy, and Symbolic Logic. At the lower division, I regularly teach introduction to logic and introduction to philosophy. I am currently developing an empirically informed critical thinking class for the 100 level.
In August 2020 I became the editor for the PhilPapers.org category on Charles S. Peirce.
The late Richard Rorty made pragmatism famous, some might say notorious, with a provocative question and answer about the concept of truth. Question: given that any belief of ours may turn out to be false, how is it possible for philosophy, or any sort of inquiry, to aim at truth? Answer: you cannot aim for something you cannot recognize, thus it makes no sense for inquiry to aim at truth - we must learn to be satisfied with more modest goals, such as justification.
I am one of those 'new pragmatists' who argue that Rorty's iconoclastic, post-truth spin on pragmatism is a betrayal of its original, central mission, that it relies on and surrenders to the very kinds of Cartesian ideas and arguments that the Classical Pragmatists opposed. I believe pragmatism's conception of truth is a way of reconstructing, rather than rejecting, concepts such as realism, mind-independence, and objectivity, by rescuing them from the clutches of nominalistic and metaphysically realist metaphysics.
In recent years I have been especially influenced by several remarkable pragmatism scholars, particularly Cheryl Misak, Robert Lane, Diana Heney, Ken Boyd, Cathy Legg, Richard Kenneth Atkins, and Shannon Dea, among others.
PRAGMATISM AND CORRESPONDENCE
It is commonplace to describe the pragmatist conception of truth as incompatible with correspondence theory. This popular description relies on a deflationary reading of Peirce and James’s many apparent endorsements of correspondence. This reading says they regarded it as a mere platitude or truism, not as a substantive piece of philosophical theorizing. There are two main reasons typically offered in support of this platitude narrative – its consonance with Peirce’s original formulation of PT from 1878, and the objections that pragmatists frequently raised against various notions traditionally associated with CT. I argue that neither reason is compelling and that PT and CT are compatible conceptions of truth.
I am currently working on a book about Peirce's Conception of Truth, which examines not only Peirce's own remarks on the topic, but the large body of secondary literature they have generated in recent decades. I hope to provide a novel framework for thinking about the various ways we might defend Peirce's central idea that truth is somehow internally connected to inquiry and perhaps also to belief and assertion, while also embracing a robust form of realism.
RORTY VS. ARENDT ON TRUTH AND AUTHORITARIANISM
This chapter explores the relationship between Richard Rorty’s post-truth philosophical orientation (his desire to see culture “progress” beyond truth as an ideal) and philosophical pragmatism (the core meaning of a concept lies in the practical consequences of its application). Rorty believed that pragmatists reject the idea that “human beings must humble themselves before something non-human, whether the Will of God or the Intrinsic Nature of Reality.” (2021, p. 65) In his final series of lectures, Rorty called this “pragmatism as anti-authoritarianism” (Rorty 2021).
Why should we think that pragmatism leads to an anti-authoritarian, post-truth orientation? Rorty thinks that a commitment to truth (esp. qua 'correspondence with reality') as an ideal requires politically dangerous forms of humility, rooted in “self-abasement” (Ibid. p. 52). Just as our humble deference to God involves ceding our own authority to Him in ways that have, historically, often produced tyranny, he thinks our humble deference to Truth and Reality is merely a semantic route to the same destination.
While this idea has obvious precedents (Nietzsche and Dewey) and intuitive appeal, the same can equally be said for its opposite. There are seemingly good reasons to think that a lack of humility (a failure to respect human fallibility), is equally politically dangerous, or even more so. Consider, for example, Arendt’s famous remark: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.” Arendt’s view also enjoys significant empirical advantages: it accurately captures various horrific aspects of WWII and it explains why what we now call the “post-truth” era is more, rather than less authoritarian.
This chapter explores relationships between pragmatism, a post-truth philosophical orientation, (anti-)authoritarianism, humility, and fallibilism. It suggests that pace Rorty, it is difficult, at best, to describe a pragmatist, post-truth orientation that is genuinely liberatory, rather than threatening to democratic ideals.
Some Favorite Classes
These are four of the classes I regularly teach, which touch upon my research interests.
AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY (PHIL 379)
METAPHYSICS (PHIL 420)
Typically runs each fall
During the late 19th and early 20th century, Americans grappled with numerous difficult philosophical issues: ethical/political issues about race and justice through civil war, slavery, and reconstruction; existential/moral issues about faith, reason, and humanity’s place in the universe through the Darwinian revolution; epistemological issues about the nature and significance of scientific inquiry through the birth and growth of scientific institutions. From these struggles emerged a distinctively American school of thought named pragmatism, roughly the conviction that the measure and full meaning of any idea lies in its practical consequences. There has always been lively disagreement about what pragmatism is. Its influence and impact has also reached far beyond those who were comfortable identifying themselves with the label ‘pragmatist’, and helped shape both the Analytic and Continental traditions, through figures as diverse as Quine, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Derrida. By studying a selection of the many and varied ideas and thinkers associated with pragmatism (chiefly Peirce, James, Dewey, Addams, DuBois, Cooper, and Santayana), we shall endeavor to identify some of the practical consequences that might follow from calling oneself a pragmatist and consider its usefulness as a philosophical orientation. In the process, we shall endeavor to identify some of the practical consequences of being an “American” and a “philosopher”.
Usually runs every 3rd or 4th semester
What, if anything, can philosophical reflection tell us about the world? Can it tell us about the nature of time, the self, race, or gender? Can it tell us what reality is like independently of how it seems to us to be? Many are skeptical that there is anything to be gained by reasoning about the nature of reality from the comfort of one’s armchair. Surely, if you want to understand the world, you have to go out an investigate it, become a scientist of some kind? We will examine some popular forms of skepticism about the possibility of metaphysics and see how the discipline has changed significantly in response over the past hundred years or so.
PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE (PHIL 435)
SYMBOLIC LOGIC (PHIL 368)
Usually runs every 3rd or 4th semester
This course addresses three main themes in the recent philosophy of language: (1) semantics, or the study of the nature of meaning and truth; (2) pragmatics, or the study of the nature of speech-acts, conversational norms, implicatures, etc.; and (3) the application of all these concepts and theories to ethically and politically significant speech (e.g. slurs, generics, propaganda, pornography, etc.).
Every spring semester
This class is an introduction to symbolic logic, covering both sentential and predicate logics. The emphasis is on developing logical skills, particularly translation and proof, through frequent practice with clear and supportive feedback. This class is part of a campus-wide equity initiative aimed at reducing achievement gaps, so I spend a little time each semester discussing fixed vs. growth mindsets, belonging, grit and other topics from recent research on effective pedagogy. I also meet with other faculty teaching similar classes (e.g. in math) to discuss techniques designed to reduce achievement gaps and attrition.
In my spare time I write, arrange, perform, mix, and (am beginning to learn how to) master my own music, plus music I co-write with my friend and colleague Jon Bruschke. Our first EP is on Spotify (here). I also wrote the arrangements for Jon's rock musical Change the Game. Until recently I was lead guitarist for The Punkertons (a cover/tribute band playing Blink 182, Green Day, The Offspring, etc). Over the years, I have written rock music, prog, singer-songwriter, classical guitar music, and even some electronica. Other Sam was my band in my undergraduate days. My most recent solo project is The Prog Punk.
I'm a somewhat regular, but frequently injured tennis player in my home city of Irvine, where I also love walking my shepherd-husky cross Kaia (pictured) and visiting SoCal's stunning coastline, especially Laguna Beach. You can find me on Mastodon (but never again on X/Twitter) here and on Bluesky here.