29 February 2008

This is what I want from a book review

Today Note Dame Philosophical Reviews reviewed Ido Geiger's "The Founding Act of Modern Ethical Life: Hegel's Critique of Kant's Moral and Political Philosophy." I quite enjoyed reading the review, and it left me with not the slightest desire to purchase the book reviewed.

The review briefly notes that Lacan comes up in the book; I suspect Zizek is lurking behind this, too, but the book is unsearchable on Amazon. Sentences like "The founding act is a new speech, which presents itself as old, the invisible deed which establishes the visible "truth" which comes after" make me want to pick For They Know Not What They Do back up, just to poke at it some more. I put it down after Zizek managed to manhandle both Russell's paradox and "The fear of God" within the same subheading. He also tries to expound on Hegel's understanding of the relationship between the Universal and the Particular without mentioning Hegel's distinction between "abstract" and "concrete universals". That is, he tries to expound on Hegel without Hegel. (To no surprise, where there should be a discussion of concrete universals there instead appears Lacan -- in particular the "not-all [pas-tout]". I have noticed a pattern -- Zizek will say he is discussing Hegel, then discuss Lacan, and then use the fact that he called Lacan "Hegel" to support Lacan. I suppose this is its own sort of "founding violence".)

Unlike Zizek, the NDPR review says many things about Hegel which are not wrong. It is a good review.

27 February 2008

25 February 2008

A nice way of putting it

I rather liked the way Quine described his contribution to empiricism in "Five Milestones of Empiricism" (p. 72 in "Theories and Things"):

The fourth move, to methodological monism, follows closely on this [Quine-Duhem] holism. Holism blurs the supposed contrast between the synthetic sentence, with its empirical content, and the analytic sentence, with its null content. The organizing role that was supposedly the role of analytic sentences is now seen as shared by sentences generally, and the empirical content that was supposedly peculiar to synthetic sentences is now seen as diffused throughout the system.

For some reason I like the phrase "methodological monism". I think it's the absence of any discussion of a method that does it for me.

I think this way of putting it makes the connection between the two parts of "Two Dogmas" clearer. The second dogma was being propped up by the first -- the dividing-up of empirical content among sentences was supposed to be handled by the analytic/synthetic distinction, with the analytic sentences providing a "framework" which could be filled in by the empirical content brought in by true synthetic sentences. Rejecting this picture (since the demarcation between framework and empirical content is arbitrary) leaves the analytic/synthetic distinction without any work to do; I take this to be why Quine says the two dogmas are "at root one".

Attempts to rehabilitate analyticity show up, in this light, as possibly being irrelevant to the "dogmas of empiricism"; analyticity which is insufficient to rehabilitate the organizing-organized dichotomy poses no threat to Quine's aims. (This would include Quine's own sense of analytic sentences in Roots of Reference, stipulative definitions, Strawson & Grice's insistence that we have at least a rough notion of analyticity on the grounds that there is in practice agreement on many cases, and McDowell's suggestion in the first afterword to Mind & World.)

(In case you were wondering, the other milestones are the shift from ideas to words, the shift from words to sentences, the shift from sentences to systems of sentences, and the abandonment of "first philosophy".)

23 February 2008

I like memes (the internet kind, not the Dennett kind)

Alexei at Now-Times has tagged me with the following meme:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages)
2. Open the book to page 123
3. Find the fifth sentence on that page
4. Post the next three sentences
5. Tag five people

By less than a hands-breadth, Quine's "Theories and Things" won. Runners-up were Priest's "Introduction to Non-Classical Logic" and "Death Note 13: How To Read". (Page 123 of "How To Read" contains Major Spoilers, so it's just as well I wasn't closer to it. Death Note is absolutely fantastic, incidentally. If you do not mind reading comics from right to left, pick up Death Note. If you don't like it then I don't know what you want from a comic book.)

So: Theories and Things, which I had out because I realized I'd never read "On The Very Idea of a Third Dogma"; this has since been remedied. Page 123, fifth sentence, from the close of the article "Intensions Revisited":

For my problem is not one of reconciling mind and matter, but only a quest for general criteria suitable for unprefabricated cases.
And that's the last sentence on the page, and of the article. I suppose I'm supposed to wrap to the next page in this event. Page 124, new article, "Worlds Away":
Identifying an object from world to possible world is analogous, it has been suggested, to identifying an object from moment to moment in our world. I agree, and I want now to develop this analogy.
Consider my broad conception of a physical object: the material content of any portion of space-time, however scattered and discontinuous.

Quine then goes on to argue that our way of establishing that some physical object, some collection of time-slices, is a single body can't work for transworld bodies -- in the actual world a body's identity is determined by "continuity of displacement, distortion, and chemical change" but gradual distortions across worlds can change any body into anything else, so all bodies collapse into each other. (There, now you are not left hanging in suspense. I won't be summarizing "Intensions Revisited" though, because it's longer than five pages and that seems like effort.)

And might as well tag people: Duck, N.N., the Self and World guy, Currence, and the guy at Bosphorous Reflections makes five. Obviously, ignore this if you don't feel like playing along, or if you're sick of this meme, or if you never read this paragraph.

Nitpicking "On Quine's cul-de-sac"

Duck has already covered Hacker's "Passing By The Naturalistic Turn: on Quine's cul-de-sac" in broad strokes, and done a generally satisfactory job of it. I just intend to prod at some particular passages that annoyed me, or which caused me to want to write something.

In the USA it is widely held that with Quine’s rejection of ‘the’ analytic/synthetic distinction, the possibility of philosophical or conceptual analysis collapses, the possibility of resolving philosophical questions by a priori argument and elucidation is foreclosed, and all good philosophers turn out to be closet scientists.

If philosophy is supposed to be "continuous with science" then what can it mean for some philosophers (and not others) to be "closet" scientists? I do not think Quine's claim was that the distinction between the subject-matters of philosophy and science was vague, but that there just was not any: The difference between philosophy and chemistry is the same as the difference between chemistry and physics -- they are in different areas of a university. (I believe Quine once referred to the distinction between philosophy and the natural sciences as "Useful to librarians, but not to philosophers" but I can't place the quote. I suspect it was somewhere in Quiddities.)

Hacker notes that Quine himself "offered an account of analytic truths" in The Roots of Reference. It's two pages long, ps.79/80. The upshot is that an "analytic sentence" is a sentence which one learns to use just by learning to affirm it. I quote the close of the passage, to give the flavor, the book is searchable on Amazon:
In Word and Object I defined a stimulus-analytic sentence as one to which every speaker is disposed to assent. The analytic sentences in the present sense are a subclass of those, and a somewhat nearer approximation to the analytic sentences uncritically so called. Even so, we have here no such radical cleavage between analytic and synthetic sentences as was called for by Carnap and other epistemologists. In learning our language each of us learns to count certain sentences, outright, as true; there are sentences whose truth is learned in that way by many of us, and there are sentences whose truth is learned that way by none of us. The former sentences are more nearly analytic than the latter. The analytic sentences are the ones whose truth is learned in that way by all of us; and these extreme cases do not differ notably from their neighbors, nor can we always say which ones they are.
So there can be no dividing up of sentences into analytic and synthetic, since a) there are gradations of approximation to analyticity and b) it is not clear how to decide whether a sentence a speaker holds true is one whose meaning he learned while learning to assent to it, or if further inference (possibly involving non-analytic sentences) was needed to decide the sentence's truth (which he is presently disposed to assent to simply upon hearing the sentence). (Suppose you learned that Larry, Moe, and Curly were called "bachelors" by being taught to assent to the novel sentences "Larry is a bachelor", "Moe is a bachelor", and "Curly is a bachelor", which sentences are used to explain to you why the three share an apartment and throw wild parties each weekend. And suppose you knew they were men through their appearance. Then suppose that you realize that they are unmarried when you ask them where their wives are and they laugh at you. You might come to realize that "bachelors are unmarried men" at this point, depending on what else you'd picked up about the usage of the words. By Quine's standard, this sentence would not be analytic in your mouth -- you learned to assent to it some time after you were first able to form it.) So any attempt to separate sentences into the two categories of Hume's fork is going to fail -- there will be cases where it's just not clear which tine applies. And so any attempt to have philosophy consist in "clarifying" propositions partly by mean of Hume's fork is a dead program. It seems reasonable to deny that Quine is backsliding in Roots of Reference, contra the implication in Hacker's article on page two.

It also strikes me as worth noting that Quine handles the question of the analyticity of logical statements (on p. 80 of Roots of Reference) by just taking the highest common factor between quarreling logicians: The law of excluded middle "should be seen as synthetic" because denied by intuitionistic logicians, while "that an alternation is implied by its components" is declared analytic, because it is not a subject of disagreement. But there are paraconsistent logics which do reject the inference from A to AvB (which allows them to hold onto Disjunctive Syllogism as a rule of inference without risk of Explosion). So it would seem that Quine is wrong to count this as analytic -- there are logicians who find reason to object to it, and logics which disallow it. I take this to show that Quine's manner of distinguishing analytic from synthetic logical statement is ad hoc and pointless -- "analytic" here just means that there has not been a non-classical logician clever (or bored) enough to draw up a logic which denied some principle or other. Quine's just conjured up a useless standard for being "analytic" that lets him say (with many philosophers from the tradition) that logic is analytic. But this is mere wordplay. Quine is trying to find a way to talk in the traditional way despite having ruled out all of the plausible ways to actually get away with this.

Hacker again:
And in respect of a priority, what goes for mathematics and logic goes too for such propositions as ‘red is more like orange than like yellow’ or ‘red is darker than pink’.

I should have thought that red and yellow were more alike than red and orange: red and yellow are both primary colors, while orange is a secondary color. I don't even know what to make of this example. It's weird. Perhaps schoolchildren are taught their colors differently in Britain, as they are taught to pronounce "Zee" as "Zed", and part of this is that colors' "likeness" to one another is measured by their spacing on a color-wheel. (So contrastive colors are maximally unlike, and the three primary colors are all equally like and unlike one another.)

Certain reds are not darker than certain pinks. Looking at my bookcase, I see two books whose spines are a soft red and hot-pink, respectively. The hot-pink looks darker to me. Is hot-pink not pink? Or consider the red of red cellophane -- is this darker than the pink of a healthy pink carnation?

I shouldn't think it would be hard to produce color-swatches which matched the shades of red and pink I have in view. In which case what Hacker says is false, or at least not true in all cases of "red" and "pink" -- if he wants to talk about colors which are somehow impossible to illustrate with color-swatches, then I don't know what he is talking about.

Is it a problem if a philosopher's examples of a priori truths appear to be empirically false? What does it tell us about the a priori/a posteriori distinction if we are not all agreed on where to draw the line -- is the a priori still a "purely" conceptual matter if we are not agreed on its extent?

Hacker: "Knowledge that Jack is taller than Jill is categorially unlike knowledge that red is darker than pink." I don't know what a "category" is supposed to be here, or how they are supposed to be distinguished. I had to look to confirm my suspicion that Hacker's pink-generalization was wrong, and I should have to look to see if Jack was shorter than Jill. What is the point in drawing up "categories" and apportioning various bits of knowledge to different ones? In one sense I can perfectly well understand the point of having "categories" for different areas of knowledge: Chemistry, psychology, biology etc. are separated as a division of labor tactic -- new departments are formed as certain areas of study start to take up too much of the resources of the previous department, and their interrelations shift as convenient (thus the development of chemistry and physics as separate disciplines towards the end of the nineteenth century, and the blurring of chemistry and biology with the arising of organic chemistry; one could also note the development of psychology and computer science as disciplines, both of which split from what had previously been called "philosophy" -- as "natural science" earlier developed out of "natural philosophy"). What the epistemological import of these accountant's divisions could be supposed to be, I haven't the foggiest. Mathematics has the pedigree of having been privileged by the Greeks, but I don't see that there is a firm boundary between recent progress in mathematics and theoretical physics or computer science -- and where there are researchers whose work covers multiple fields, I don't see that it makes any sense to suppose that they are mixing and matching a little bit from each discipline, which might be untangled by a philosopher (and then "represented perspicuously" by a tabulation of which of their practices was of which sort, and then whether or not each of their utterances had a sense).

There are distinctions in how we are able to make sense of things like rocks, things like pigs, and things like philosophers. The rock has no aims; the pig has piggish aims; the philosopher aims at doing what is right. But I don't think that these sorts of categorical distinctions can be what Hacker wants; at the least, I don't see that these sorts of distinctions include a priori/a posteriori, conceptual and empirical, grammatical and natural-scientific, which seem to be more the type of thing Hacker wants to trumpet.

14 February 2008

"In Defense of a Dogma" -- first impressions

I've just finished "In Defense of a Dogma"; I've not yet read N.N.'s post. It seemed worthwhile to write up my marginal notes "fresh", so to speak. The organization is not my finest -- I have basically just gone through each note and expanded on it, and then moved to the next note when I was finished. I'd polish it up a bit more, but I leave town in the morning (visiting my sister for the weekend), and I'd like to get something tossed up before I head out. A quick glance leads me to believe this is also my longest post so far. You've been warned. The Batman panel is a jump.

First, something else. From The Journal of Symbolic Logic, Vol. 23, No. 1. (Mar., 1958), a review of "In Defense of a Dogma" by Alan Ross Anderson:

But 'means the same as,' though not peculiar to philosophers, is found by Quine equally obscure, which suggests that if Quine were asked whether 'Der Schnee ist weiss' is a correct translation of (or means the same as) 'Snow is white.' he would give some such reply as "Well, if one is true the other is, though I haven't the faintest idea whether they 'mean the same,' whatever that may mean."

I think this nicely captures a way not to read Quine: As rejecting "meaning" in the broadest sense of the term. (It is commonly noted that, ironically, Davidson takes up Quine's rejection of "meanings" while making "theory of meaning" central to philosophy.)

For we know perfectly well what Quine says to such questions: If you abstract as much as this author does, there's not an answer to the question of whether or not that's a good translation for "snow is white". If you don't tell us anything about what we're translating into (or from), then every contender for the title of "a good translation" is on all fours with the others. And just saying "I meant translating into German" doesn't entirely anull this -- there are still multiple fine ways to translate a sentence into another language. For which of the various translations we use (in Quine's terms, which of the various rival translation manuals we use to interpret utterances by the speaker we are aiming to understand) makes no difference to our practice. But the various translation manuals are rivals -- they give different translations for the interpretand's utterances, and this can extend to differing on which of the interpretand's sentencess are true and which are false, in some cases. (Imagine cases where the interpretand's utterance may be takes as either trivially false or trivially true without it mattering which; or highly abstract theoretical matters which have a minimal attachment to anything the interpretand says or does.) But if truth-values can shift, then so can "meanings" (Sinne). So to know the meaning of an utterance, one doesn't need to know which "meaning" it is related to -- that picture of "meanings" is a confused one.

From an interview with Davidson, reprinted in "Problems of Rationality", p. 257:
I started out as many people did in those days, reading Ogden and Richard's The Meaning of Meaning and Charles Morris. Now what looked like the central problem to them was to define the concept of meaning: x means y where x is a word or a phrase or a sentence and God knows what y was supposed to be -- and you wanted: iff what? That is how a lot of people were thinking about philosophy of language. Really smart people sought analyses of particular locutions, but never said anything about how you could tell whether you had come up with a correct solution or on what grounds you criticize these things apart from ad hoc arguments. So I think perhaps I felt more frustrated by this situation that I found the subject to be in than I think other people did. On the one hand, so many issues seemed rather sharp: What is meaning? How do you even think about it? Where do you start? And somewhere along the line I discovered Tarski, and I thought: you don't even want to ask the question what is meaning. It's the wrong question. It was a huge shift of perspective to get away from worrying about what it is to talk about the meaning of a predicate. Reading Tarski made me realize that there's a way to get around all that -- and somwhere along there Quine showed up...

And now to the topic of the post: In Defense of a Dogma.

Graham Priest, Two Dogmas of Quineanism, The Philosophical Quarterly Vol 29, No. 117, Oct. 1979.
I n "Two Dogmas of Empiricism"1 Quine presents essentially a two-pronged argument against the existence of analytic truths. The prongs are:
(i) There is no non-circular definition of 'analytic'.
(ii) Under the pressure of recalcitrant experience there are no beliefs that cannot be held on to, and conversely, no belief that may not be revised.
The first point is not a condemnation of the notion of analyticity. Many important concepts are definable only in circular terms. The importance of (i) is that, if any point in the circle of definitions is attacked, it is no use trying to defend it by appealing to some other notion in the circle since that is itself just as much under attack. For example, in the reply to Quine by Grice and Strawson, "In Defense of a Dogma", analytic sentences are characterized as those whose truth value cannot be revised without a change of meaning. But this will not do. For synonymy, and its converse, difference of meaning (which is obviously required to make sense of the notion of meaning change), are parts of the very circle all of which is under attack. This is the function of (i).
It is (ii) that provides the direct attack on the notion of analyticity. For it seems to undercut the whole point of drawing the analytic/synthetic distinction. If any belief can be held on to come what may, then we can conventionally refuse to let experience speak for or against any sentence we wish. The notion of analyticity is therefore vacuous.
Even if, as Strawson and Grice claim, we can sort sentences into analytic and synthetic by using paradigm examples of each, there is no point in this activity. For no important theoretical difference underpins this division. Similarly we could use observational criteria to sort substances into those containing phlogiston and those not containing phlogiston (as Priestley did), but once the theoretical underpinning of this distinction disappears, this becomes pointless.

In addition to being a nice summary of Quine's article, I think that Priest nicely handles the first section of S&G's paper, which consists of trying to make it seem that of course there must be some sense to the analytic/synthetic distinction, because there is widespread agreeement on what is and is not analytic in many cases. I think this line of argument just doesn't work. I think Priest also nicely handles S&G's closing argument -- the sense of "sense" and of "concept or set of concepts" (p. 157) they presuppose is tied in with the concepts Quine is suggesting we can do without.

For instance, take this claim from the close of S&G's article:
If we can make sense of the idea that the same form of words, taken in one way (or bearing one sense), may express something true, and taken in another way (or bearing another sense) may express something false, then we can make sense of the idea of conceptual revision. And if we can make sense of this idea, then we can perfectly well preserve the distinction between the analytic and the synthetic, while conceding to Quine the revisability-in-principle of everything we say.

The first part seems clear enough: "Snow is white" is true in the sense that this is its usual color, but false in the sense in which "Snow is frozen water" is true. And we can speak of this, if we like, by saying that "different concepts" are involved in the two cases of "snow is white", or that "is" means different things in the two cases, or that the two sentences have different "senses". This is just the banal fact that there are homonyms -- that an utterance can constitute different sentences in different contexts. But this by itself is not sufficient to make sense of the notion that there are sentences which are true due to their meaning alone; more argument is needed if we are to "perfectly well preserve" the notion of analyticity. Here is S&G's argument for the second part: "Where such a shift in the sense of words is a necessary condition of the change in truth-value, then the adherent of the [analytic-synthetic] distinction will hold that the form of words in question changes from expressing an analytic statement to a synthetic statement." -- Yes, if we could make sense of the notion that only changing the meaning of a sentence could make it false, then we would have analytic sentences! This is clearly question-begging. And the same goes for trying to use "the distinction between that kind of giving up which consists in merely admitting falsity, and that kind of giving up which involves changing or dropping a concept or set of concepts." For the shift from this distinction to the analytic-synthetic distinction only comes via the (undefended, and Quine thinks false) notion that there might be sentences which can only be given up the latter way.

In general, S&G seem transfixed by the idea that for a word or sentence to "have a meaning" is for there to exist some thing, a meaning, which stands in some relation to that word or sentence, and which might be related to other words and sentences as well. And rejection of this picture is confused with rejection of meaningfulness generally.

A fair bit of S&G's article is devoted to attributing to Quine a thesis that they admit he does not claim, but which they think he must be committed to, and then attacking the thesis: An explanation of any term in a "family-circle" of terms which are interrelated (as analyticity, synonymy, semantic rule etc. are), it is supposed Quine demands, "must be of the same general character as those rejected explanations which do incorporate members of the family-circle (i.e., it must specify some feature common and peculiar to all cases to which, for example, the word "analytic" is to be applied; it must have the same general form as an explanation beginning "a statement is analytic if and only if...")." The only reason given for attributing to Quine this suspect doctrine is that "he does not even consider the question whether any other kind of explanation might be relevant." I think the explanation for this is simple enough: No other sort of explanation for the distinction had been offered; it was always just assumed that the cluster of related notions which Quine wants to jettison were a cluster we could make good sense of at least some members of, or which we couldn't help but employ. Quine doesn't have to consider any other sort of argument because none was on the market. So S&G seem to have been too quick to attribute to Quine the suspicious doctrine.

It is worth noting that S&G fall into the same confusion that the reviewer I quoted at the beginning does (p. 146): "Is all talk of correct or incorrect translation of sentences of one language into sentences of another meaningless? It is hard to believe that it is." Indeed it is. Nobody would last a week in a foreign-language course if they held otherwise. But understanding sentences of another language need not be conceived of as a matter of figuring out which sentences of the target language "fit" the various senses I am acquainted with, and so need not stand or fall with the suspect notion of synonymy; elsewhere in the article, S&G admit that terms like "means the same as", "is self-contradictory", and "is inconsistent" do not, in their ordinary use, qualify for membership in the "family-circle" which Quine is attacking, but this does not keep them from making silly arguments like this one.

Now to S&G's examples.

To explain the distinction between "logical impossibility" and some other kind (they say "natural (or causal) impossibility", but this strikes me as a poor name for it), they consider two possible exchanges.
X: My neighbor's three-year-old understands Russell's Theory of Types.
Y: You mean the child is a particularly bright lad.
X: No, I mean what I say -- he really does understand it.
Y: I don't believe you -- the thing's impossible.

At which point X is supposed to present the child, whom Y can then quiz etc., and it might so happen that Y can see that what X said is true. In this case X's initial claim is just supposed to have been taken to be "naturally impossible", such that an extremely odd child might be presented who would verify it.
X: My neighbor's three-year-old is an adult.
Y: You mean he's uncommonly sensible or very advanced for his age.
X: No, I mean what I say -- he really is an adult.
Y: Perhaps you mean that he won't grow anymore, or that he's a sort of freak, that he's already fully-developed.
X: No, he's not a freak, he's just an adult.

At which point Y is supposed to give up the notion that Y understands what X is talking about. For "whatever kind of creature is ultimately produced for our inspection, it will not lead us to say that what Y said was literally true, but at most to say that we now see what he meant." My initial reaction to this was "It should not be a logical truth that Freaky Friday is a work of fiction." It is not particularly difficult to come up with science-fiction scenarios in which a person is simultaneously a child and an adult. And a character from any of those being presented to Y would seem to show that what X said was simply true. (It is no argument that the science-fiction scenarios are all in fact fictional, since the same charge would take down S&G's first example, too -- I am confident that there never has been, nor never will be, a three-year-old who reads Russell with comprehension. Or, I am at least as confident of this as I am that no three-year-old will simultaneously be an adult.)

To summarize the difference that S&G claim to be illustrating, they claim that, upon X's incessant claims that he is speaking the literal truth, the "appropriate" response would be, in the first case, to say we did not believe him; in the second case, to say we did not understand him. As far as I can tell, there's no argument at all for this. And I have no intuition that this is in fact the proper way to talk, if that is supposed to be the support for the claim. If someone wanted to maintain that they didn't believe that a three-year-old was an adult, and that they didn't understand what could be meant by a three-year-old understanding the "Theory of Types", I don't have the slighest idea why anyone would object that they'd gotten the two backwards. I would personally be inclined to ask to see the kid, and if I don't see what I was promised to then dismiss X as crazy, in both cases.

(I think S&G might be rigging the deck on the second one with the final line: "He's not a freak, he's just an adult." This is ambiguous: Either X is denying that the three-year-old is just fully-developed, or X is now saying his neighbor's three-year-old is both an adult and not a freak. Which seems even weirder, and so might be coloring intuitions. But the response can be the same: One merely needs to imagine that not only is some three-year-old simultaneously an adult, but also that this is as common as morning dew. But why this should be supposed to be "logically impossible", rather than merely false, I don't know.)

S&G conclude their use of these examples with the claim that "If, like Pascal, we thought it prudent to prepare against very long chances, we should in the first case know what to prepare for; in the second, we have no idea." But this does not tell us anything interesting about the two cases. For the fact that I cannot imagine something does not make it impossible. Consider a third scenario:
X: My neighbor's three-year-old understands the Voynich manuscript.
Y: Now you are just making stuff up.
X: No, I mean what I say -- he really does understand it.

In this situation, I should have no idea what to expect. I can imagine what having the Voynich manuscript explained would be like in the sense that I can explain what reading a proof that there is a largest prime would be like, or looking at a picture of an invisible green sheep. (Parts of the manuscript would be pointed at, and ways to translate the apparently meaningless text would be given; various arguments would be given that anything larger than such-and-such would be a multiple of numbers other than one and itself; I would look at something and it would appear to be both invisible and green.) Now, this final comment is not central to S&G's claims, but it seems dumb enough to draw attention to.

On to the next example I found disagreeable: The green point. In "Two Dogmas" Quine writes
I do not know whether the statement "Everything green is extended" is analytic. Now does my indecision over this example really betray an incomplete understanding, an incomplete grasp, of the "meanings" of "green" and "extended"? I think not. The trouble is not with "green" or "extended", but with "analytic".

S&G claim that the falsity of this claim can be shown by replacing "analytic" with "true". But surely this is false: It is true that anything green is extended. S&G suppose that our hesitation is due to the fact that "the boundaries of application of words are not determined in all directions" -- we might not be sure whether or not to count a "green point of light" as extended or not; it seems to me obvious to respond that while there may be green dots, there are not green points in the mathematical sense. An unextended object is an invisible object. To suppose that there might be unextended green objects would then be to suppose that there might be invisible green objects. That there are no such objects does not strike me as controversial; at the least, I doubt Strawson or Grice would disagree with it. So Quine's example is one in which "we should hesitate between 'analytic' and synthetic, and have few qualms about 'true'."

S&G claim that in these sorts of examples, "no more than in the sample case does the hesitancy necessarily imply any obscurity in the notion of analyticity; since the hesitation would be sufficiently accounted for by the same or a similar kind of indeterminancy in the relations between the words occuring within the statement about which the question, whether it is analytic or not, is raised." This seems to just be false. I am fully confident that anything which is green is extended. But this is just to say that the extension of "green" is a subset of the extension of "extended". S&G would have me believe that there is some further problem troubling me that is preventing me from seeing whether or not "Everything green is extended" is analytic or not. This would be news to me. I'm not aware of any problems with "green" or "extended".

Quine, then, remains in need of an answer: Is "Everything green is extended" analytic or not? (I suspect Kant would count it as part of the synthetic a priori, claiming that the concept of "green" by itself cannot give up the manner in which that concept is applied to intuitions, and so not that it only applies to spatial (extended) ones. Whereas for Kant, analytic judgements don't need intuitions -- those is what is "synthesized" in "synthetic" judgements. "This looks like the synthetic a priori" is not a good sign that we have a clear view of things.)

(As an aside, I do think, as McDowell suggests in his first afterword to Mind and World (the long one on "Davidson in Context", p. 158), that we can make some sense of the analytic/synthetic distinction by taking analytic sentences to be those that express the "necessary structure" of any conceptual scheme (taken in a non-scheme/content sense). But this "necessity" should not mislead us -- our beliefs about what is necessary and what is not are as revisable as any others. (I take this to be part of McDowell's point when he warns that his talk of "necessity" should not be used to give us a "reassurrance" that our thought is on the right track.) To say that some sentence is "necessarily true" is just to refuse the revisions to my web of belief that would be necessary to countenance that sentence's being false (even counterfactually); this may be due to my lack of an ability to imagine what those revisions would encompass, or a simple confidence that many of the needed revisions would be bad ones, or some other reason. And any attempt to say whether or not a sentence is "germane" to revision in light of experience will depend on one's beliefs about what could constitute a possible experience -- and these beliefs, too, are revisable. So in a sense, McDowell's defense of analyticity doesn't do better than S&G's. There doesn't seem to be a point to demarcating true sentences into analytic ones and non-analytic ones by referring to the "necessary structure" of a conceptual scheme -- the distinction between the sentences which are candidates for revision and the sentences which are not is neither fixed, nor firm, but is a matter of degree and is open to debate (supposing someone can make a compelling case for it, which we can't rule out in advance -- who knows what the future holds?). So this reinterpretation of what is going on in the distinction between analytic and synthetic distinction does not rehabilitate the distinction, but merely makes it easier to see why it seems a compelling distinction: It's tied in with the fact that some of our commitments are very strongly held, others are not so strongly. But this is all sketchy and dashed-off; the defense of analyticity/necessity is a minor point in a generally excellent Afterword.)

10 February 2008

The meaning of §122 is of fundamental importance to us

It turned out to be sooner rather than later: A contribution to the ongoing discussion about §122 of Philosophical Investigations.

To begin with, a copy of a copy: Cavell, Existentialism and Analytical Philosophy, duplicating a paragraph from "Aesthetics and Modern Philosophy" (I cite the former because I don't have a copy of the latter handy):

In the Tractatus Wittgenstein says, "The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem," and in the Investigations he says: "... the clarity we are aiming at is indeeed complete clarity. But this simply means that the philosophical problems should completely disappear." Yet he calls these problems solved (Investigations), and he says that when "there are... no questions left... this itself is the answer" (Tractatus). Putting these remarks together, the implication is that the problems of life and the problems of philosophy have the same form -- Wittgenstein would say they have the same "grammar": they are solved only when they disappear; answers are arrived at only when there are no longer questions. In the Investigations, this turns out to be more of an answer than, in this simple form, it seems to be; for here such an answer more explicitly dictates and displays the ways philosophy is to proceed in investigating problems, ways leading to what he calls "perspicuous representation," which means, roughly, that instead of accumulating new facts, or capturing the essence of the world in definitions, or perfecting and completing our language, we need to arrange the facts we already know or can come to realize merely by calling to mind something we know. Philosophical conflict, say as expressed in skepticism, does not arise from one party knowing facts the other party does not know. Wittgenstein also says that perspicuous representations are "the way we look at things," and he then asks "Is this a 'Weltanschauung'?" The answer to that question is, I take it, not No. Not, perhaps, Yes, because it is not a special, or competing, way of looking at things. But not No, because its mark of success is that the world seem --- be -- different.
I think Cavell notices something which I took to be clear, but which Baker & Hacker both appears to disagree with Cavell & me on: what a "perspicuous presentation" (ubersichtlichen Darstellung) is. Wittgenstein says that this concept is of "fundamental importance" to us, that it "earmarks" (bezeichnet, names, labels) the form of account we give, the way we look at things. It "produces just that sort of understanding which consists in 'seeing connexions'"; this is said to be the reason "finding and inventing intermediate cases" is important.

The way I take all of this is -- the goal of Wittgenstein's approach to a philosophical problem is to attain a "perspicuous presentation" of the issues which have given rise to the problem -- to get a view of things which does not leave us wanting to ask questions which don't have answers (such as "how do I know that what I call "pain" is like what you call "pain"?"). Being "perspicuous" is just this quality of not being confusing to us (here, now, on this occasion) -- not leading us to ask the bad sort of questions, or make bad, "metaphysical" inferences from our everyday knowledge. And what is "presented" is nothing that was "hidden" in our everyday talk, nor something that we require a systematic treatment of our language-use to notice -- though a systematic treatment might be useful, in some cases! --; what is presented is just our everyday practices, which we were already familiar with. "Philosophy leaves everything as it is."

"A main source of our failure to understand is that we do not command a clear view of the use of our words. Our grammar is lacking in this sort of perspecuity." We fail to understand, to have the right sort of understanding, because we might not immediately notice that certain questions or assertions are nonsense; we can be wrong when we feel that we have a clear view of the words involved. We might need leading to see a piece of "disguised nonsense" for the patent nonsense it is.

Why is finding/inventing "intermediate cases" important? Not, I would argue, because this is somehow a "fundamentally important" "form of account" that Wittgenstein is concerned with presenting. The presentation of "intermediate cases" is important because the sort of understanding Wittgenstein aims at (and aims at cultivating) is one which consists in "seeing connexions" -- in seeing how things hang together. And presenting a confused consciousness with "intermediate cases", with cases where the connexions are more readily drawn, is a means to cultivate this sort of understanding. When one has this sort of view (which need not be a "bird's eye" or "God's eye" view), one doesn't ask questions about "how things hang together" which have no answer (such as "How does thought hook onto the world?"). Nor does one fall in for metaphysical rubbish which purports to explain how things hang together. (Seeing connexions means not imagining what connexions would have to be like.)

Based on n.n.'s post, Baker and Hacker both seem to take "perspicuous representations" as naming means to Wittgenstein's end, rather than Wittgenstein's end itself. (Though Baker seems to come close to my reading when he claims that "a 'perspicuous representation' is not a representation that is perspicuous, but a representation that renders perspicuous what it represents" -- though he seems to then go on to say that "all of the reminders of 'landmarks', the suggestions of 'patterns, analogies, pictures, etc. which enable us to find our way about in the motley of "our language"' will qualify as 'perspicuous representations." Whereas I don't want to call these anything more than -- helpful. They aren't of "fundamental importance" to Wittgenstein's "method", because there is no method in philosophy, and so nothing could be fundamentally important for that method. And neither can there be anything "fundamentally important" to the end Wittgensteinian philosophizing aims at, other than the end itself.)

And now, since n.n. was skeptical that his geography quotations allowed for a non-Hackensteinian reading, I shall attempt to give a non-Hackensteinian reading of the lot:

My aim is to teach you the geography of a labyrinth, so that you know your way about it perfectly. (MS 162b, 6v).
Knowing one's way about a labyrinth "perfectly" would just mean that one didn't go towards a dead-end at any point, or towards a wrong exit. There's no reason to assume that this imagery (which is basically that of the fly and the fly-bottle) is intended to hint at something like "conceptual topography." The geography/knowing-your-way-about talk could just be swapped out with talk of confusion & its avoidance.

The philosopher wants to master the geography of concepts. (MS 137, 63a)
I read this line two ways; I'm not sure quite what the context is, so I'm unable to get a firmer grip on it than that:"The philosopher" wants to do a lot of impossible things; "mastering the geography of concepts" might be no better a goal than "trying the grasp the incomparable essence of language" (PI 97). Alternately, this line may just be saying the same as the previous one: The philosopher wants to not get lost when he wanders in thought. He doesn't want to fall into paralogisms, antinomies, etc.

I am trying to conduct you on tours in a certain country. I will try to show you that the philosophical difficulties which arise in mathematics as elsewhere arise because we find ourselves in a strange town and do not know our way. So we must learn the topography by going from one place in the town to another, and from there to another, and so on. And one must do this so often that one knows one's way, either immediately or pretty soon after looking around a bit, wherever one may be set down.
This is an extremely good simile. In order to be a good guide, one should show people the main streets first.... The difficulty in philosophy is to find one's way about. (LFM, 44)
Suppose one had no guide when one was dropped into a strange city. One would wander around, not knowing where one was headed. And then after one had wandered around for long enough, one would instead be wandering around while knowing where one was headed (if one had been paying the least attention to one's surroundings). One might do this without ever drawing a map -- one simply "gets a feel" for the place.

If one has a guide, then the most helpful thing the guide can do is point out places where it is easy to get turned around, where the topography is unintuitive, and places which are hubs, which lead to many places (the "main streets"). This too might be done without ever drawing a map (even mental one).

In this "extremely good" simile, the main streets are the uses of the confusing bits of language which are not confusing to the one being guided; the guide aims to lead the wanderer to stop heading down blind alleys by pointing out the main streets, and leading the wanderer to learn how the alleys and streets line up -- the philosophical therapist aims to lead the confused thinker to stop trying to "dig below bedrock" by pointing out how things stand on the ground, and how the bedrock lies relative to the surface; how we use certain terms, and how their apparently metaphysical use stands to their everyday use.

One difficulty with philosophy is that we lack a synoptic view. We encounter the kind of difficulty we should have with the geography of a country for which we had no map, or else a map of isolated bits. The country we are talking about is language and the geography its grammar. We can walk about the country quite well, but when forced to make a map, we go wrong. (AWL, 43)
When forced to make a map!

I admit, I'm not sure what to make of this passage. But I will note that it's different than the earlier ones -- here the problem is not one of being lost or not (for "we can walk about the country quite well"), but of the difficulty of making a map. So it appears that these various geography-images don't share a common backing; they're just all places where Wittgenstein uses similar sorts of metaphors to convey some point or other.

I am inclined to connect this passage with the introduction to the Investigations: the "difficulty in philosophy" here is just that which prevented Wittgenstein from writing a "normal" book, with chapter-headings etc. But as he notes in that introduction, this isn't an accidental difficulty; the only way to go about this process is to "travel criss-cross in every direction." (And the only way to draw a map is through wandering around as one notes landmarks.)

Teaching philosophy involves the same immense difficulty as instruction in geography would have if a pupil brought with him a mass of false and falsely simplified ideas about the courses and connections of rivers and mountains. (BT, §90)
This geography-quote could be replaced with "...as instruction in poker... about the values of hands and how to spot a bluff." Any resemblance to "conceptual geography" is entirely superficial.

In order to know your way about an environment, you do not merely need to be acquainted with the right path from one district to another; you need also to know where you'd get to if you took this wrong turning. This shews how similar our considerations are to travelling in a landscape with a view to constructing a map. And it is not impossible that such a map will sometime get constructed for the regions that we are moving in. (RPP, §303)
The only sense in which I would need to know where I'd get to if I took a wrong turn, if what's at issue is whether or not I know my way about, is that I need to know how (if I took a wrong turn) I might get back on the route I wanted to be on. (For if I had to know where all the wrong turns would lead before I could be said to know my way around an environment, then the only way I could know my way around an environment would be to know my way around any environment that environment could lead to, since I could take wrong turn upon wrong turn, which is absurd.) So the sort of map in question here, I want to say, is the sort of map you're given as directions to a party (as opposed to the sort sold at gas stations). (I suspected I might be missing something from lack of context here, but a glance at the surrounding sections in the RPP seem to show that there is no context for this remark -- it's just there, between some remarks about pain and "inner processes".)

After several unsuccessful attempts to weld my results together into such a whole, I realized that I should never succeed. The best that I could write would never be more than philosophical remarks; my thoughts were soon crippled if I tried to force them on in any single direction against their natural inclination.—And this was, of course, connected with the very nature of the investigation. For this compels us to travel over a wide field of thought criss-cross in every direction.—The philosophical remarks in this book are, as it were, a number of sketches of landscapes which were made in the course of these long and involved journeyings.
The same or almost the same points were always being approached afresh from different directions, and new sketches made. Very many of these were badly drawn or uncharacteristic, marked by all the defects of a weak draughtsman. And when they were rejected a number of tolerable ones were left, which now had to be arranged and sometimes cut down, so that if you looked at them you could get a picture of the landscape. (PI, Preface)
Here the metaphor is just that of writing a book as being like painting a landscape. Wittgenstein is apologizing for the painting not being very good, just as he'd hoped that someone might do a better job at writing the Tractatus, in that book's introduction. Landscape painting, not cartography, is what is being gestured at here.

This may be compared to the way a chartered accountant precisely investigates and clarifies the conduct of a business undertaking. The aim is a synoptic comparative account of all the applications, illustrations, conceptions of the calculus. The complete survey of everything that may produce unclarity. And this survey must extend over a wide domain, for the roots of our ideas reach a long way. (Z, §273)
Here I think context is helpful:
273: Hardy: "That 'the finite cannot understand the infinite' should surely be a theological and not a mathematical war-cry." True, the expression is inept. But what people are using it to try and say is: "We mustn't have any juggling! How comes this leap from the finite to the infinite?" Nor is the expression all that nonsensical--only the 'finite' that can't conceive the infinite is not 'man' or 'our understanding', but the calculus. And HOW this conceives the infinite is well worth an investigation. This may be compared to the way a chartered accountant precisely investigates and clarifies the conduct of a business undertaking. The aim is a synoptic comparative account of all the applications, illustrations, conceptions of the calculus. The complete survey of everything that may produce unclarity. And this survey must extend over a wide domain, for the roots of our ideas reach a long way.--"The finite cannot understand the infinite" means here: It cannot work in the way you, with characteristic superficiality, are presenting it.
Thought can as it were fly, it doesn't have to walk. You do not understand your own transactions, that is to say you do not have a synoptic view of them, and you as it were project your lack of understanding into the idea of a medium in which the most astounding things are possible.
I will admit that Wittgenstein does seem to have something like Hackenstein's approach in mind, here. Hackenstein's approach strikes me as a pretty decent way to handle confusions that arise from the misuse of a calculus. So, I am inclined to just concede this one: a Hackensteinian approach will get it about right. It's a fine tool for working with calculi.

A philosophical question is similar to one about the constitution of a particular society.
—And it's as if a group of people came together without clearly written rules, but with a need for them; indeed also with an instinct that caused them to observe certain rules at their meetings; but this is made difficult by the fact that nothing has been clearly articulated about this, and no arrangement has been made which brings the rules out clearly. Thus they in fact view one of their own as president, but he doesn't sit at the head of the table and has no distinguishing marks, and that makes negotiations difficult. That is why we come along and create a clear order: we seat the president at a clearly identifiable spot, seat his secretary next to him at a little table of his own, and seat the other full members in two rows on both sides of the table, etc., etc.
(BT, §89)
"They in fact view one of their own as president, but he... has no distinguishing marks"strikes me as incoherent. If the president is identifiable as the guy that he is, then anything that allowed that guy to be distinguished would be a "distinguishing mark." And if the president isn't identifiable as the guy that he is, then I don't see how they could view him as their president. This paragraph does not strike me as being Wittgenstein at his best: The people are supposed to have an instinct to follow rules which they are unable to follow? How is that supposed to work? If I do a piss-poor job at something, it would be awfully strange to say I'm doing it instinctively -- instincts are supposed to be capabilities. (I can duck a ball instinctively. I can't try (and generally fail) to duck a ball instinctively. If I usually get hit by a ball when it's thrown at me, but flinch while it's approaching me, then all I'm doing "instinctively" is flinching, not repeatedly trying (and failing) to duck.)

I will note, though, that we are supposed to just be rearranging the seating-order here: We seat the president here, the secretary there, with an aim to making it easier to conduct meetings. We aren't making an organizational chart, and then using the chart to arrange with. The arrangement itself is said to "bring out the rules clearly" -- the rules don't get a further, explicit, formulation.

I also feel compelled to note that some countries have done perfectly well without written constitutions, and some have even argued that written constitutions are detrimental to the cause of the rule of law (since a written constitution can be adhered to in letter only while violated in spirit, but this is not possible when a nation's constitution is just its most central customary laws -- or at least it is much harder to simultaneously present an account of the law of the land which will be recognized as such and bend that law to be something it isn't). There are all sorts of things I don't like about this paragraph.

(I should probably finish Insight and Illusion at some point. I laid it down somewhere in the middle period; I remember finding Hacker's account of the "mystical" in the Tractatus hand-wavey.)

09 February 2008

I can't believe that worked

Backstory: I dropped out of law school at the end of last semester, since I'd come to realize that I hated everything about what I was headed towards there. But, if I'd dropped out during the semester, I would've had to repay my scholarship funds for that semester (several thousand dollars, if memory serves). So I had to complete the semester "in good standing" -- I had to sit for my exams, then drop out between semesters. (Technically I could fail one class by not showing up for the exam, and just take an 'F' in the course, without ceasing to be a "student in good standing". Which I did. I had already been back in Dallas for two days when my Contracts exam was going on.)

Now, exams were shortly after I spun my car into a tree. And I was not planning on ever going back to law school. So I didn't bother studying at all. Or even catching up on the reading I'd fallen behind on. I planned on just taking my four 'F's and moving on with my life, figuring that my law school GPA was never going to be anything that mattered.

Now the funny part is, one of my exams (Civil Procedure) consisted of forty multiple-choice questions. And the exam constituted 90% of the grade, the remainder being participation credit. (Which I'm sure I didn't get, since I was in Dallas on the day I was "on call" -- it was the day of my dad's heart surgery, and I'd already decided I was dropping out anyway.) The questions were pretty complicated, based on the sample questions I looked at, so it's not like it was a joke exam. It was forty rather tough multiple-choice questions.

Wait, forty multiple-choice questions? I knew how to handle this! The answer is 'C'. The answer is always 'C'. No need to read the questions, or open the test booklet! Mark 40 'C's, write my name on the top of the scantron, and turn the exam in two minutes after I walk in (late) for the exam.

Today, for the first time, I checked my grades from last semester: I passed that class. With a 'C'.

Sometimes life is good.

(I actually managed to pass Property, too, and its exam was a dozen short essays. One of which I answered with a single sentence, since I was tired of writing and couldn't think of anything better to put. (Suggested response-length for that essay was "A page to a page-and-a-half".) I guess I was paying more attention in that class than I thought. I somehow managed to get 9 hours of law-school credit when I wasn't trying to pass. And hey, my GPA is 1.75 points higher than I expected it to be!)