28 December 2009

Kuhn and Putnam/Kripke Essentialism

From Rupert Read & Wes Sharrock's "Thomas Kuhn's Misunderstood Relation to Kripke-Putnam Essentialism":

It is only given our post-Lavoisieric framework that we are forced to see water as largely H2O. Absent that framework, ‘water’-in-all-its-states is not necessarily viewed as a natural kind (as the quotes above from Kuhn make clear: liquidity was regarded as an essential property of water [in the 1750s]) – and still less is H2O. Kuhn is bringing talk of possible worlds, one might say (paraphrasing Wittgenstein), back from its metaphysical to a more everyday (i.e. everyday scientific) use. A taxonomy supplies a ‘set’ of possible worlds between which normal science goes on to choose. If something really threatens the taxonomy, we (imagining ourselves now into the position of scientists actually confronted by such an anomaly) cannot retreat to philosophers’ assurances about what all possible worlds must turn out to be like. Rather, sometimes, we must face the need to uproot fundamental assumptions about the set of possible worlds available to us and enabled for us by our taxonomy, our ‘ontology’, our thought-style.

Redubbing is then at least as important as dubbing; and, of course, in concert with Kuhn’s reasoned scepticism as to ‘Correspondencism’: progress through revolutions is not well-described as bringing us taxonomies which themselves come closer and closer to matching the universe’s ‘own’ taxonomy.

This sounds like a Kuhn much more to my taste than I found in "Structure"; I need to read Kuhn's later stuff some day. Though I'm not quite sure what a "taxonomy" is; it seems it can't just be a vocabulary if it carries with it "assumptions", but it's clearly supposed to be something more like a vocabulary than like a set of beliefs, or else the name (and all of the talk of "failures of translation") seems quite strange. Maybe the "assumptions" here are supposed to be analytic truths; but then it looks strange that they can need revising when things get rough. Though perhaps I'm wrong that Kuhn thinks they can need revising; perhaps it's just a fact that we do revise them. It's not that a taxonomy starts to look confused so much as that whatever taxonomy you use will end up looking shaggy after repeated use. So you get a new one, which isn't better, just new. Kuhn then ends up looking weirdly Carnapian. This seems like it can't be right.

The picture seems to be that a "taxonomy" involves assumptions about how the world might be, and it's these assumptions (inter alia) which provide a set of possible worlds that normal science tries to whittle down to a singleton. And then when that inevitably falls apart, a different taxonomy is adopted. And I think Kuhn does hold it to be inevitable; this seems to be why he denies that change of paradigms is progressive. You cease to be bothered by certain anomalies in normal science; this is the progress made by changing paradigms. But there will always be more anomalies elsewhere which previous paradigms didn't have to worry about (because they didn't come up). (I may be misremembering "Structure" here; I can't remember if he allowed a sense in which revolutions meant progress. Skimming the last chapter suggests he didn't.) Maybe it is a sort of ersatz Carnapianism, then. Hmm. Have to read more about this.

Read's article is a good counter to the "'Water' is a rigid designator, so it was never an element" line that people seem to take as decisive against Kuhn, though. This other article of his is pretty decent, too; he wants to stump for a version of "incommensurability" which is "non-semantic", but involves something related; he opens with Wittgenstein's bit about someone who "believed in the Last Judgement" and how his disagreement with the believer "would not show up at all in any explanation of the meaning" of their words. Incidentally, Jason Bridges's paper "Wittgenstein and Contextualism" (which has very little about Wittgenstein) closes with this quote, to make the point that "meaning" and "point" (in the Charles Travis sense, that the meaning of an utterance is heavily tied to our particular point in making it) are not the same thing. Getting clear on what's at stake in saying that something is or is not a matter of meaning seems potentially fruitful. It seems to be something different for Bridges and for Read.

18 December 2009

Spinoza and Anomalous Monism

From the comments to my previous post:

And that Spinoza class sounds awesome. Nadler is the man. Maybe you could post the Davidson/Spinoza stuff. My sense is the comparison is much richer than just saying, gee, they're both kind of saying "there's just one kind of stuff with different aspects." But I wonder what you said, and if Nadler said anything interesting back.

I do think that there's a deeper connection between Davidson and Spinoza than that. I think the most straightforward expression of this is actually in "Aristotle's Action"; Davidson is really free with his historical connections there, and praises Spinoza for his dismissal of "the will" in favor of having ideas themselves having force. (This is Spinoza's famous criticism of Descartes as imagining ideas as being like "mute pictures on a wall".) Davidson and Spinoza both have a keen sense of humanity as being a special sort of thing within nature, and not something which is added to nature from outside, as "a kingdom within a kingdom". This basic sense that "We are just bodies, though mental-talk isn't body-talk" is one thing that makes Spinoza feel special among the early moderns, and makes him relatable in a way that someone like Malebranche isn't.

My Spinoza paper's main argument was that to make sense of the argument for E2P7 as actually being something like a good argument, we had to understand Spinoza as committed to there being only one "order of things in nature", with each "connection" being both a causal connection between ideas and a causal connection between bodies (depending on how we make sense of it -- and we can only make sense of it in one of those two ways, and not just as "connected things in nature", because of Spinoza's connection of causation with knowledge in E1Ax4, which is supposed to be a sufficient proof for E2P7). Now, it's still hard to see how the argument in E2P7D is supposed to work, but if all Spinoza wants to say there is "Look, there's just the one nature with its mess of causal connections", then it can at least begin to make sense how this claim could have such slim argumentative support. Any richer notion of "psychophysical parallelism" as being what E2P7 is talking about has a serious problem trying to make sense of the idea that this follows "evidently" from "The knowledge of an effect depends on and involves the knowledge of a cause". That's just not a wide enough base to build much off of.

And if I can get that much from E2P7, then it's pretty easy to see that Spinoza is an anomalous monist: he's committed to there being no psychophysical laws (because all explanations are internal to a single attribute), he holds that all causation is backed by strict physical laws (because all things in nature are at least modes of extension, and all causation is lawlike, by E1Ax3), and he's committed to there being (in some sense) psychophysical causal relations. Which are close to the three premises from which Davidson gets to anomalous monism in "Mental Events"; at any rate they're close enough that showing their consistency leads to an interesting position.

This last premise was the part I had to argue for the most, since Spinoza seems to flatly deny it in E3P2. Davidson has some arguments for what to say about this in "Spinoza's Causal Theory of the Affects", but I found some aspects of his reading of Spinoza to be unsatisfying (because he relies on Curley's reading of "Ethics", which Nadler used as a foil for a lot of the class). Thankfully Della Rocca's work was incredibly helpful here ("Representation and the Mind-Body Problem in Spinoza" is fantastic). The key twist was to treat "a causes b" as intensional, for Spinoza. You can change its truth-value by changing how 'a' or 'b' is described. So Spinoza's explicit rejections of cross-attribute causation do not show that he has to reject an extensional notion of cross-attribute causation, which is what's at issue for Davidson's argument. And then all of the standard "psychophysical parallelism" bits in "Ethics" are pretty smoothly handled by treating Spinoza as talking about psychophysical causation while not mentioning extensional causal relations, and the general close connection of the mind and the body through "Ethics" (especially in the treatment of the affects) becomes easy to understand. (This obviously has a "principle of charity" motivation to it, too, since the complete rejection of psychophysical causal relations is pretty nuts; Spinoza's mockery of Descartes's attempts to make sense of the soul literally moving the body look a lot more sensible if he has some other way of saying how our attitudes can make us move. If Spinoza's real gripe there is that the idea of a Cartesian mind which is totally separate from the body does not make sense (and so instead we should identify the mind and the body, while understanding it in two different ways), then BS is suddenly a much more attractive character for we modern naturalists.)

Della Rocca also has a nice little argument that "things" (as in "one and the same thing expressed in two ways", E2P7S) have to be modes: all there is (for Spinoza) is substance and its modes, E1P15D; "thing" as "substance" does not make sense in the context of E2P7S, since then "the circle in nature" might as well be identified with "the idea of the Panama Canal" as with "the idea of the circle'; ergo things=modes. So modes can expressed in multiple ways (as bodies and as ideas). This was the only place where Nadler had a problem with my paper: Spinoza never talks about modes that way, as if they could have different descriptions under different attributes. And he sometimes seems to speak of the mind and the body as two modes, not one. But my answer to that was to take the same line as I did with causation: Spinoza has an intensional notion of mode-identity. The truth-value of "a is the same mode as b" depends on how 'a' and 'b' are described.

Now, one big difference between Davidson and Spinoza is on the nature of psychological understanding. Spinoza is the theorist of man as "a sort of spiritual automaton"; Davidson does not believe in psychological laws. One interesting thing that I realized during this paper is that the way Davidson introduces "anomalous monism" does not entail accepting the three principles he argues from in "Mental Events"; the position Davidson defends in that paper is just one possible form anomalous monism can take. So the three principles Spinoza accepts which I said were "similar" to Davidson's are in fact sufficiently similar to make him a genuine anomalous monist by the terms of "Mental Events".

The way Davidson divides up his four categories (nomological monism [materialism], nomological dualism [interactionism, parallelism, epiphenomenalism], anomalous dualism [Cartesian dualism], and anomalous monism) is by looking at whether one accepts or rejects psychophysical laws, and whether one identifies mental events with physical events or not. Spinoza clearly rejects psychophysical laws and identifies mental events and physical events. So Spinoza is an anomalous monist despite holding a nomological view of the mental. Which is an interesting sort of position.

One thing I didn't deal with in my paper (except very briefly) was adjudicating between Davidson and Spinoza on the topic of psychological laws. Davidson I think gets this just right: the anomalism of the mental is just the sort of freedom we should want the mind to have. I can't see the attraction Spinoza is supposed to have here; his lists of affects just felt tedious, though some of the definitions are clever, and I just don't see how the conatus argument in E3P6 is supposed to work at all. (Della Rocca and Nadler both said that the argument just doesn't work; it's a key part of the book where the argumentation is just shoddy, as with E1P6D. In fairness to Spinoza, his bad arguments are at least very clearly laid out.) This isn't even to mention the really embarrassing parts of Spinoza's psychology, like the incredibly simplistic account of memory in E2P18S. The interesting stuff in "Ethics" seems to me to largely be in the broadly naturalistic picture Spinoza offers, and in the fun Descartes-bashing and anti-religion stuff sprinkled throughout. (I think it's this last bit that Nadler got most excited about.)

I should read "Spinoza's Heresy" some day to see just how E5P23 is supposed to get dealt with; Nadler's view seems to be that the "eternal" part of the mind is just the abstract idea of its essence. Which seems to fit with the demonstration well enough, but I can't see how it fits into the book. On Nadler's reading, Spinoza just thinks that the soul is mortal and dies with the body, end of story; which makes all of the stuff about the "intellectual love of God" and "the eternity of the mind" that closes the book out very, very weird. On Nadler's reading it seems like all of the weirdness is superficial; really Spinoza is not saying anything that a materialist would have any problems with. But it feels like Spinoza has something in the background here that's going lost; that superficial weirdness is really weird, in a way that (e.g.) his doubletalk about the value of "religion" is not. The praise of religion is plausibly just Spinoza trying to win over converts to his anti-religious way of thinking; the stuff about the amor intellectus Dei doesn't seem like something that we're supposed to just slough off once we are converted to Spinozism. It's supposed to be genuinely liberating in some way; the sad passions are somehow being combated by the eternal part of the mind. This part of Spinoza is just dark to me. I don't get it.

i has an m.a.

I officially graduated last weekend. Finished my thesis in late November; I haven't been blogging because whenever I would get the urge to blog (or would begin a post), I would think "Shouldn't I really be working on my thesis instead?", and that killed the fun of it. And then after finishing my thesis, I had to get PhD applications done. Finished those of earlier this week. I am now free of any academical-type obligations, for the first time in quite a while. (It feels strange, like I must owe someone a paper, and just can't figure out who.)

So, now I can blog freely again.

Because it seems like a thing to do, here's a brief recounting of my year at Chicago:

Fall quarter was when I had to take the MAPH "core" course, which was about Theory. I was reminded of the "Theory's Empire" book-event from The Valve often. I did not enjoy this course, and was glad when it ended. I really can't say I got anything from this course, except some painful and awkward introductions to Freud, Lacan, and Adorno (and some other guys I would've been happy to never encounter). It wasn't even good for writing practice; the longest paper I had to write was five pages or something like that. And that paper was about Lauren Berlant and some movie I've never seen based on a book I've never read. Just a mess of a class.

There was an "introduction to analytic philosophy"-type course that was only open to MAPH students; I figured it was a good thing to take. There were issues that lead to the class being taught by a PhD student, Tom Lockhart, but he did a good job of it I thought. I enjoyed the class, and it was a pretty gentle way to get back into the swing of things after having a semester off (and before that, a semester of law school). I wrote a paper on the second part of "Mental Events" for it (and a shorter one on "Naming and Necessity", which was much easier to lay out than the second part of "Mental Events").

Haugeland's Heidegger's "Being and Time" was a good excuse to read the rest of division one of "Being and Time". I fell a day behind in the reading at one point, and caught up by skipping a section I'd read before: the bit about the broken hammer. It turns out that if you read all of division one except that bit, the "present at hand" sounds like a philosopher's fiction: nothing is ever actually given to Dasein like that. It's always something richer, like the ready-to-hand, the living, Daseins, etc.; the "present-at-hand" is paradigmatically what is presented to a res cogitans (i.e., it is nothing but something confused philosophers dreamed up). Now, in the broken hammer passage, this is clearly not Heidegger's view. We can see the broken hammer, and he says we see it as just something present-at-hand. So I spent a lot of this quarter misreading "Being and Time". I like my misreading a lot more than Heidegger's actual view, though, and I think that my misreading makes sense for pretty much all of the rest of division one (especially section 21, "Hermeneutic Discussion of the Cartesian Ontology of the 'World'"). Incidentally, this is the class that taught me how the quarter system works: I suddenly had to scramble for a paper topic when I realized the course was almost over, and ended up having to get an extension for the paper (by a week or two). I ended up writing something about Dreyfus's Heidegger and "Telling" that I don't think really came together, but was kinda fun to work on.

Winter quarter was very cold and dark.

I sat in on Ford's "Action and Practical Knowledge" seminar, which gave me an excuse to read Anscombe's "Intention" and Thompson's "Naive Action Theory", along with some more of Davidson's old action papers. This also got me up to speed on philosophy of action well enough to know some of what was going on at the Anscombe Conference in the early spring. Definitely glad I didn't take this for credit, though; I'm still mulling a lot of it over, and I'm not sure I really get what's so important about Thompson. (I've read the rest of "Life and Action" now, and still don't see it. Though he did say some stuff about gold and Kripke-Putnam essentialism in the third part that lead me to suspect I in fact do not want to get on board with his broader program. I should probably look at that passage again, and post on it.)

I also sat in on Irad Kimhi's "Active Thoughts" seminar. It was utter madness from beginning to end and I couldn't get enough of it. I couldn't tell you what the class was about, but there was a lot of interesting stuff crammed in there. Sitting in on it also gave me an excuse to read more Frege ("The Thought" and "Negation" especially), and some other fun logic-y stuff.

For credit, I took "Intermediate Logic", "Modern Moral Philosophy", and Pippin's "Kant's Critical Philosophy". Logic did not require me to write a paper, or to read very much; this made it an excellent course for the winter quarter. It was also fun to do more logic homework, though some of the completeness proofs were annoying.

"Modern Moral Philosophy" was taught by a visiting professor from Rome, Piergiorgio Donatelli. We read a little Bernard Williams, several Iris Murdoch pieces, two chapters from "The Claim of Reason", a McDowell essay I hadn't read yet, and then a lot of Cora Diamond's stuff. And Donatelli brought up dozens of other figures in the lectures. It was a heady mix of stuff; my lecture notes are a mess (though not as bad as the notes for "Active Thoughts"). I read an article of Diamond's that wasn't assigned for class (her piece in the "Cambridge Companion to Wittgenstein") that bothered me in ways I couldn't quite get a handle on; I wanted to write on that, but wasn't getting a grip on it, so instead I wrote about something Diamond said about McDowell, and somehow a quarter of the essay ended up being about Davidson.

I read several Diamond pieces about Truth and Tarski-type approaches to it for this paper; I did not like them very much. She seemed to go after Rorty for the wrong reasons (as Conant did, in much greater length, in his article about Rorty and Orwell), and she seemed unhappy with Davidson's take on truth for no reason I could figure out. (If I recall correctly, it had something to do with there being "many ways something could be true"; I couldn't see how this was a problem for Davidson, since any difference between e.g. moral facts and chemical facts would be paralleled in the relevant T-sentences: they would say that the different sorts of sentences are true IFF different sorts of things are the case. Diamond didn't flesh any of this out so much as say we needed to pay attention to it. I can't tell what exactly I'm supposed to notice, so I don't see why Diamond-on-ethics-and-truth is so great.)

For Pippin's class I wrote a paper on the Transcendental Aesthetic. It was straightforward: Kant says that the transcendental ideality of space and time are established here; what are his arguments, and do they work? I defended the venerable "neglected option" objection, more or less. It was pretty easy to write, which was good because the rest of the quarter had me pretty frayed.

The Anscombe Conference was in the early spring. Thompson is a lot of fun to watch, and McDowell is surprisingly frail and birdlike in person; he looked like he might break if someone ran into him. I made it to most of the papers; most of them were good. McDowell had a paper on Anscombe-on-sensations that was pretty much the paper you would expect him to write on that topic. I will need to find my notes to say much about the rest of the speakers, but I do remember this: Thompson is a genius.

I was supposed to have a draft of my thesis done early in the spring; difficulties finding a workable topic lead to that not happening. I ended up writing about McDowell's criticisms of Davidson in "Gadamer and Davidson on Understanding and Relativism"; most of the paper was devoted to setting the stage, since "Epitaphs" is a tricky paper to get right. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out, though Kremer (my advisor) remains unconvinced. One section of the paper ended up getting cut before it was even to the draft stage, what I was trying to articulate in the comments here, because a) I realized that spelling things out would take another paper to do well and b) I'm not at all sure that McDowell makes this argument against "Epitaphs" (and I'm suspicious that he doesn't make it because he knows it's not a good objection; certainly the closest he comes to making it explicitly is very hand-wavey stuff, and he could've made it very straightforwardly. I think Dummett does make it, for instance.). This paragraph probably makes sense to nobody except me, since only three or so people on the planet have read my thesis, but I refuse to cut it! Blogging is for vanity's sake.

Bridges taught a course on "Rationality" and a seminar on "Contextualism" in the spring; I considered both, but ended up taking neither. (I didn't know anyone in the seminar and it felt awkward; the "Rationality" course was not exciting in the first few courses, and was overfull -- I dropped it so someone else could have my slot.) Stephen Nadler (a visiting prof from U Wisconsin-Madison) had a course on Spinoza's "Ethics" which was simply phenomenal; I'd planned on just sitting in on it (and asking some questions about Hegel and Spinoza), but by the end of the second class I knew I had to take this course. Nadler did an amazing job leading the class: we got through the entire book, and discussion was always lively and unforced. I wrote a paper on Spinoza and anomalous monism, which I thought turned out very well, and it was the third Davidson-y paper I'd written in as many quarters. (When I asked Nadler about the topic, I assumed it was probably too banal to write on, and was going to ask for suggestions as to what in specific to focus on in the area; turns out it's not all that well-represented in the Spinoza literature, though Della Rocca does defend the connection, so I got to write a paper that came very easily.) Hands-down the best course I took for credit at Chicago.

Another (regularly) visiting professor, Jocelyn Benoist, was teaching a seminar titled "Intentional Objects: An Inquiry into the Common Origins of Analytic Philosophy and Phenomenology"; about half of the course name shows up on my transcript. Benoist lectured about a lot of interesting people I'd had only superficial knowledge of before, like Bolzano and Brentano and Meinong, and some I had never heard of (mostly Polish philosophers, who were all interesting to read). All of it was shiny and new, and Benoist covered a lot of material very quickly. The guiding thread through most of the class was what to do about terms with sense without reference (if Meinong is wrong and there are any), and what lead into that question getting asked in that way. I wrote a paper about Frege and Evans's account of him in chapter one of "The Varieties of Reference", basically just trying to make sense of how Frege could be so cavalier in saying that "Odysseus" has the same sense whether or not Odysseus ever existed. (One nice point Benoist stressed was that Frege's example was not random; this was around the time when Troy was discovered by archaeologists, after having been considered as mythical for centuries.) I read a lot of Frege (and a fair bit of Evans) in preparation for this paper, but something just didn't quite come together in the end; I'm happy with what I have in the paper, but feel like I didn't really finish it. I don't know what I failed to write, but I definitely did not write something that needed writ.

It was a fun year.

And randomly: these conference papers are pretty good listenin'. And the "Coherentisme" paper is actually delivered in English. Hours of Sellarsian fun.