See the NY Times article by Stanley Fish.
April 6, 2008, 7:19 pm

French Theory in America

I have never found Fish to say anything very important, but still I frequently read his essays. He comments now on deconstruction as coherently as I have heard, putting it in a context that starts with Francis Bacon. Indeed I think he says that deconstruction rebels against Bacon.

Bacon always seemed unimportant to me precisely because he has succeeded so well—he changed the way people thought so thoroughly that the vestiges of what came before are now dimly accessible only to the careful historical philosopher. Bacon, and a few others, largely undid a whole philosophical tradition. Bacon seems ordinary only against the new background that Bacon himself created—a bit like the old joke of Shakespeare being clichéed.

Best I can tell, from Fish, is that deconstructionists accuse modern science of doing just what Bacon criticized his contemporary intellectuals of doing—being in a world of their own construction that did not relate to reality. Recent negative books on string theory might be construed as making such accusations. The books are all from a mainstream of science, however, that is firmly in the Baconian framework, as if to invoke Bacon against string theory.

The only insight from the deconstructionists that I find useful is that, how the individual is ‘situated’ in the universe is problematic. Descartes proposed duality, which turned out not to bear fruit. His epistemic ‘Cogito ergo sum’ is a nice try but Popper’s engineering approach wins as a practical matter. For my two cents Daniel Dennett situates the individual in the universe accurately, even though it feels uncomfortable and unintuitive to many. Dennett’s perspective seems to stem from evolutionary theory, or at least be highly coherent with it.

Best I can tell, deconstruction fails simply because modern science ‘works’, cruddy epistemology and all.

Fish claims that deconstructionists presume that modern scientists aspire to making physics as certain as mathematics. (I think Fish is right.) Some, such as Hilbert, have aspired to making physics as clear as mathematics, but I do not recall that they have ever claimed that the clarified theory would be thereby more accurate.

In the paragraph beginning “Obviously the rationalist Enlightenment agenda does not survive this deconstructive analysis intact”, Fish grants that the Baconian project may never finish with certainty, but that the process is still the correct one. Fish recounts that Bacon thought it might finish in six generations. I think we might conceivably stumble on the truth but we could never be certain of that fact. More likely we will make better and better theories until we tire of the effort for lack of payoff, or lack of laboratory experiments we know how to do that might inform our theories.

I was recently bothered and perhaps persuaded by contemplating Feynman’s dictum that a theory is no better than its predictions. This precludes its being “right”! It is still useful.

Fish goes on to describe the decay of deconstruction.