27 October 2008

"There are here hugely many interrelated phenomena and possible concepts."

First off, Brandom's Hegel course has started, and so his website has been updated with several handouts, sets of notes, and some new readings of parts of the Phenomenology by Brandom. I'm linking this at the top of the post so that I can remember to check it for updates; I have no idea how long the class website will stay up once the term ends.

For a similar reason, I've added links to the websites for various workshops to my sidebar. It's surprisingly hard to google up the Contemporary Philosophy Workshop's blog. (Incidentally, the Philosophy of Mind workshop is wonderful, and someone should update their blog. This year it appears we're reading various articles on referring to oneself -- so far we've read Anscombe's "The First Person" and Strawson's "The First Person and Others", plus an extract from "The Bounds of Sense". Finkelstein is great. Also at the last meeting a female grad student yelled "CHICKEN SEXERS!" at an inappropriate time. It is a good workshop!)

I just finished listening to the McDowell-Davidson interview again, and it's still good. I picked up on a lot of things that I'd missed the last time I listened to it. For instance, I'd missed the point of the chicken-sexing discussion here (or at least I'd forgotten it was about just this point). One thing that leaped out at me was that, in an attempt to get Davidson to see what his story was missing about perception & the first-person, McDowell opposed the thing he thought was missing to what is "discursive". Davidson was saying that he could see the guy behind the camera, but that there was a guy there was a belief he held, and he couldn't see what was missing from his story about perception, since it looked to him like there was just his being caused to form a certain belief, here. McDowell tried to draw attention to the fact that Davidson was talking in third-personal terms of himself, and mentioned that anything he could say that way would be "discursive". (He just said it as an aside, it seemed to me -- this part of the interview has McDowell struggling noticeably to find a way to put the point.) I had thought that the opposition between "intuition" (in the Kantian sense of what McDowell thinks Davidson needs to account for) and the "discursive" (in the sense of what's articulated) was something recent -- new to "Avoiding the Myth of the Given" -- but it's present in this interview, which (according to a citation in "Reading McDowell") is from 1997.

Recently I've been re-reading some of Davidson's stuff from the nineties, i.e. post-Mind and World, with an eye to making sense of McDowell's revisions to his views in "Avoiding the Myth of the Given". It's easy to miss just how subtle the issue of what McDowell thinks is wrong with Davidson's picture is.

Incidentally, I've finally gotten a copy of "John McDowell: Experience, Norm, and Nature" via ILL; some of the things McDowell says in his responses there do nicely resolve some of the things I found puzzling about the book's lead-essay; McDowell refers to "Avoiding" in several of his responses. For instance, from his response to Houlgate's paper, p.232/233

But [that sensory experience takes in that things are as they are represented to be by the sensory content of experience] does not eliminate the possibility of a position according to which we do not strictly see cars and trees. Sellars distinguishes what we see, as common ways of talking would have it, from what we see of what we see, the proper and common sensibles that what we see instantiates. For instance, when in ordinary speech we would say we see a car, what we see of the car is something other than the car itself, perhaps its colour, shape, and motion or lack of it. It would be possible to introduce a notion of what we see, strictly speaking, that coincides with this notion of what we see of what we, ordinarily speaking, see. And for some purposes it would be a useful notion. Houlgate cites Hegel[*] saying one can bring something's qualities before the eyes, but not the something itself. I think that belongs in this kind of context, not the kind of context determined by Houlgate's explication of Hegel's talk of 'positing'. What we see of what we see is not something taken in by our visual sensations, from which we would need to go on, in an act of 'positing', in order to arrive at something with the form of thought. In seeing what we see of what we see, our seeing is already informed by our conceptual capacities. What is in question here is a restriction, well motivated for some purposes, on what conceptually informed content can count as strictly speaking sensory content -- not a gesture in the direction of content that is not yet conceptually informed at all.

I think this sort of example is very helpful in making sense of Avoiding the Myth of the Given, since it gives another example of how McDowell wants to distinguish between the conceptual capacities he thinks are involved in the content of an experience (the common and proper sensibles) and those he doesn't (those involving recognitive capacities). I'm inclined to find this example problematic -- I don't think that "the car itself" is something other than what one sees when ("ordinarily speaking") one sees a car, except in the sense that there is always more to see -- more perspectives one might take in of the car, more ways one might view it. What one sees in the "color, shape, motion or lack of it" sense is just the color of the car, the shape of the car, the motion or lack thereof of the car. One might not see the car as a car, if all one sees of it is describable in this manner, but I still want to say it is the car that one sees. (If one's perception is of a "red thing", and a red car is what one is looking at, I don't see what could possibly be the object of one's perception if not the car. I suppose one could say "the paint on the car" or somesuch, but i) I'm inclined to count that as part of the car, and so perception of it is perception of the car and ii) this sort of answer seems to tempt one into saying things like "all we ever perceive are the surfaces of things", which strikes me as bad phenomenology.) Suffice to say, I think that the only reason to say "we don't strictly see cars or trees" is that one has been lead astray by philosophy.

(I remember this came up in the discussion of Boyle's "Sortalism and Perceptual Content" paper at the workshop last week, and he clearly thought the issue was a mess -- he wanted to avoid saying anything one way or the other (the example was whether one can see a beach when one looks at it, since after all there is a great deal too much beach to take it all in with a glance). The fact that McDowell doesn't seem to hesitate like Boyle did gives me pause. Incidentally, Boyle was great the second time, too. I've not yet finished this paper -- it's longer than the logic one was, and I'm tripping up trying to get through the ending sections. He mentioned in the discussion period that his paper is "programmatic"; perhaps that's part of why I'm finding it so damned hard to follow. I should probably read Evans.)

Perhaps I'm just reading McDowell with the wrong emphasis -- certainly there are some purposes for which a "restricted" view of what's sensed makes sense. (See PI section 11, especially p.196 on putting the "organization" of a visual impression "on a level with colors & shapes". To be able to say what stays the same when you see the duckrabbit shift from a duck to a rabbit, you have to draw some such distinction as this.)

More from PI section 11:
Then is the copy of the figure an incomplete description of my visual experience? No.—But the circumstances decide whether, and what, more detailed specifications are necessary.—It may be an incomplete description; if there is still something to ask.

This seems just right: An account of the content of an experience solely in terms of "common & proper sensibles" seems both an exhaustive account and to leave something out. ("And now just look at all that can be meant by 'description of what is seen.'")

At a minimum, McDowell's modification of Davidson needs to be able to distinguish chicken-sexing from perception -- this is just the thing McDowell used as an example of what Davidson couldn't account for, in the interview. It seems to me that McDowell's setting of "recognitive capacities" outside of the passive actualization of conceptual capacities which he conceives experience to be leaves seeing a chicken as a chicken on the same level as chicken-sexing. It's a belief which is causally formed by having the chicken in view, but there's no way to give a justification for the claim by appeal to anything which is given in experience.

"Here we are in enormous danger of wanting to make fine distinctions", says Wittgenstein; it appears to me that McDowell has succumbed to the danger in his limitation of what conceptual capacities can be involved in the content of an experience.

(It occurs to me that I still don't know what to do with the Thompson-inspired bit about "intuitional forms". I still need to finish "Representation of Life"; I set it aside when I had to reboot a while back, and haven't thought to finish it. I doubt it answers the object I put here, but perhaps it'll shed more light on what motivated McDowell's revision.)

*Houlgate's Hegel quotation is from Vorlesungen uber die Philosophie des Geistes, which doesn't appear to have been translated into English yet, so I can't tell if context changes its import. It sounds like the sort of thing I think Hegel shouldn't say -- it sounds to me like the sort of thing one would say in a reductio of the idea that what one is given in experience is "sensible qualities" of objects rather than the objects themselves. But Hegel says a lot of things in "Subjective Spirit" that I don't think are quite what he should have said; Houlgate brings a lot of them up, and McDowell spells out why he doesn't want to follow Hegel on those points. McDowell claims that holding on to a lot of Hegelian insights requires jettisoning some of the stuff Hegel says about (e.g.) what Hegel calls "sensations" and "intuitions", and I think he's right about that, for the reason he gives (among others). When reading "Subjective Spirit", the relation between "Thought" and the earlier chapters which referenced it (i.e. nearly all of the chapters in "Subjective Spirit") was often a bit mysterious; Hegel seemed to both insist that everything before "Thought" could only be on the scene when thought was (since the "content" of sensations/intuitions/representations was of the sort proper to thought -- only in thought did the form fit the content), but also allowed that it could be on the scene (in infants for instance) when thought was not. He also seemed to offer a psychological account of how thoughts were to be built up from representations (and representations from intuitions, and intuitions from sensations) through habits & various secret workings of memory, and that seems like that has to fall prey to the criticisms of the Myth of the Given. It's one of the thornier patches of Hegel's system. Lots of good stuff in there, though; definitely not like the "Philosophy of Nature".


Daniel Lindquist said...

Jon's comment:

Are you in Haugeland's class? I have yet to figure out who you are IRL. I'm the kid in the back who always has his computer open, who asked a very inarticulate question about normativity.

Daniel Lindquist said...

My comment:
Yeah, I am. I dropped NDI for the analytic course shortly after posting about it, since I flipped a coin and that's how it came up. (It helped that I didn't want to write on any of the paper topics he listed.) But I'm still taking Haugeland's class.

I generally sit towards the front, on the side by the door, since I keep having to get up to blow my nose. You could probably identify me just by looking for someone who left the room more than once a class. I'm 6' even and I wear glasses and a black hooded sweatshirt (because it is cold outside). Feel free to say hi or something if you figure out who I am. (I'm sorry, but I can't recall which inarticulate question about normativity you might have asked.)

I was the one who kept going on about the guy who used a rock & a wrench to drive nails into boards to make doghouses etc., and whether there was an interesting sense in which he was doing things incorrectly. (I still don't think there is. Sure, "a hammer is a hammer" and it's "for hammering" but I see no reason not to discard these ways of talking as soon as one has some idea for what may be a better way of getting about. Someone asked a follow-up question about invention that clearly irritated Haugeland, but I think that's a good way to press the point: if equipment can only show up according to its antecedently established roles, then it seems like you can't talk about someone just using an "old tool" in a "new way", and so you need some stranger story to tell about how invention is possible. For any "new way" would i) have to be already part of a referential matrix to count as a way of using equipment at all, ii) would only be a misusing of the equipment, and so not a new use for it in a positive sense. How invention happens is thus something Haugeland's Heidegger has to confront.)

Incidentally, "In a few years we'll all be drinking from our shoes" is a fun sentence to utter.

I also asked about the scheme-content dualism and was disappointed to find out that Haugeland hasn't looked at Davidson in years, and thinks that "ways of being" are something like conceptual schemes.

I think I've tried to press Haugeland about what sorts of entities have their "way of being" as presence-at-hand (I don't think there can be any, if an entity can only have one "way of being" -- thus the floundering whenever an example is reached for, and Heidegger's use of "Things", "Nature", "bodily properties" etc. as "examples" of entities present-at-hand), but maybe I brought that up in the reading group. Haugeland's account of "present-at-handedness" really does bother me, but I've found it's damnably hard to figure out just what Heidegger means by it. He seems to use it very loosely -- it doesn't have a "strict sense", as far as I can tell. It's almost always brought up as a negative contrast case -- other entities are not present-at-hand.

I probably should've bugged Haugeland about Quine when he made that remark about "to be is to be the value of a bound variable" as a paradigm of "presence-at-hand". To say that whatever there is can be mentioned in a sentence of the form "There is at least one X such that F" does not, I think, say anything about "ways of being". And so it doesn't say that everything has the same way of being. I don't think Quine's famous claim amounts to anything more substantial than Haugeland's "Entities are just whatever there is". In fact, I think Haugeland himself has called an entity "something which there is". But Something which there is is just the value of a bound variable (="something").

Quine, "On What There Is": "Now how are we to adjudicate among rival ontologies? Certainly the answer is not provided by the semantical formula “To be is to be the value of a variable”; this formula serves rather, conversely, in testing the conformity of a given remark or doctrine to a prior ontological standard. We look to bound variables in connection with ontology not in order to know what there is, but in order to know what a given remark or doctrine,, ours or someone else’s, says there is; and this much is quite properly a problem involving language. But what there is is another question." Quine's "ontological" point, insofar as he has one in "On What There Is", is just to make clear how we can avoid having to posit nonexistent entities for people to talk about when they discuss things that don't exist. I don't think this can possibly conflict with Heidegger's project; Quine's small point isn't about anything like what Heidegger (or at least Haugeland's Heidegger) wants to talk about.

Incidentally, the sign on the door that says "Haugeland's Heidegger's Being and Time"? I made a joke about that sign in the reading group, and Clark said that was intentional -- it's a class on Haugeland's Heidegger's Being and Time. (Clark is cool.)

It's an interesting course. Definitely not what I was expecting, but interesting.

Daniel Lindquist said...

Jon's second comment:

I think I know who you are, but I'm not sure. I'll try to figure it out on Tuesday.

I was also disappointed with the mention of Davidson. I want to say that Davidson's target in that article is not at all whatever Haugeland means by 'ways of being.'

The invocation of Quine made me similarly uncomfortable. You're definitely right to point out that the purpose of Quine's slogan involves alleviating confusions about what we say about fictional or non-existent objects. (This may be an idiosyncratic understanding of Quine coming from someone with distinctly anti-naturalistic sympathies, though.)

Clark seems cool. I have another thing during the discussion sections, which is why I haven't gone to them. Maybe I'll try to shuffle things so that I can.

J said...

There you go censor-dan. A bit of Russell, and AYN RAND, and time to delete....Most quasi-analytical sorts of really don't take on Quine's nominalism (because they don't know what it implies, or don't have the chops). PMS Hacker has of course......

Question: how'd you do on GRE's, S-dan? Or was it like ... hush hush......

Really, I think U of Chi Philosophy should have the GRE scores of all faculty posted online.

Sorta Kantian even................