30 January 2012

The Endogenous given: a possible breakthrough on my part?

The Myth of the Given is usually approached as if it was simply another name for sense-data theories, but Sellars had broader aims than that, as the opening of his essay makes clear. McDowell is sensitive to this; even though most of his discussions of the Myth occur in the context of discussions of perception, he is aware that this form of the Given is only "the exogenous Given".

I have hitherto been unable to make sense of what "the endogenous Given" would be, in McDowell's sense. I am now going to have another go at it, because I couldn't get back to sleep while it kept coming to mind.

The idea of the exogenous Given can be put like this: there are some truths which we must take notice of, give credit to, anterior to language. Language is the sphere of our conceptual sovereignty, and we can speak as we like, but we must pay respect to some superlative Facts (sensory stimuli, sense data, unschematized intuitions, raw feels). Whenever we rework our web of language-belief, there are some items which we regard as Given (prior to any way we wish to work out our web of language-belief, as these items have empirical content each on their own, and we must work around them in reworking our web). These are the items which impinge on our web of belief from outside, in Quine's terms, and prompt us to rework it in the first place; they are also what enable items within our web to have reference, to link up with the world at all, to be either true or false.

I will leave the problems with the exogenous Given aside; my readers are presumably very familiar with them. Now: can I modify this picture to depict an endogenous Given?

An attempt at doing so: the idea of an endogeous Given can be put like this: there are some truths which we can be secure in, anterior to the relating of language to the world. Experience is the tribunal in which our thoughts are tested, and the world is always liable to prove us wrong, but there are some truths which are safe from the world's onslaught: they are due solely to our free decisions. (Semantical rules, rules of grammar, L-rules and P-rules.) Whenever we rework our web of language-belief, there are some items which are not open to revision: not on the grounds that we must work around them out of respect, but on the grounds that they cannot possibly be causing trouble: they were part of the web before the web had any possible friction with experience. We rework our webs to accommodate experience's verdicts, but there are some items within the web which are prior to the linking-up of the web with any possible experience: and since they do not speak to experience, experience cannot speak to them. They are items within the web which are independent of the world, and have their position in our thought prior to thought's contact with the world. They give a structure to the web which we find useful, but which has nothing to do with the world.

McDowell thinks that Quine's attack on analyticity may manifest an awareness that there can be no endogenous Given. If I am now groping towards a correct understanding of what McDowell means by this, then I can make sense of his reading of "Two Dogmas" in this way: Carnap's language-systems laid out rules of various sorts (L-Rules and P-Rules in "Logical Syntax of Language", Semantical Rules once he decided he should add semantics to his arsenal), and these rules were 1) purely up to our free pragmatic decision, and incapable of theoretical defense or critique; 2) part of the language as soon as they were added (the analytic statements of the language, which were true before the language was put to work in science); 3) included in the language prior to decisions were made about how to handle protocol sentences within the language (the synthetic statements of the language, which would be made true or false by experience only). One way of putting a complaint of Quine's is then this: the sentences which Carnap calls "analytic" are not actually capable of defense or attack in a way distinct from any other sentences; as Carnap already allowed in "Logical Syntax of Language" section 82, any sentence (synthetic, L-Rule, or P-Rule) can be revised if it seems expedient to do so in the light of awkwardness among protocols, in the face of recalcitrant experience. Carnap had added that some revisions constituted changes of language while others constituted moves within a language, but it is hard to find a practical difference between the two. What Carnap called a move "within a language" was a change of truth-value of a synthetic statement when experience showed that it was necessary to revise some member of a cluster of statements (Carnap was already aware of Duhem, and is explicit that scientific hypotheses are not tested one by one). What Carnap called a "change of language" was a change of truth-value of an analytic statement when experience showed that it was necessary to change some member of a cluster of statements. The supposed safety of analytic statements from challenge by experience is illusory: they are only immune to revision so long as we are sovereign to continue speaking "the same language", to keep using the same artificial Carnapian construct, without any possible judgement from the world. But the idea that we can choose a language in the way that Carnap thought we could is illusory: we never inhabit a realm of "purely pragmatic" judgements anterior to theoretical defense or criticism, where Carnapian conventionalism could be the order of the day. No part of our language is in place before our language hooks up to the world, independently of our obligations as beings which think the world.

If this is right, then Quine's attack on Carnap is an attack on "the endogenous Given" because it is an attack on a purely pragmatic (a-theoretical, a-rational), conventionalist view of part of our language (part of our thinking). Carnap tried to lay out part of language prior to language, just as the exogenous Given tries to secure some experiences prior to experience: both are Given because each tries to have part of language-experience before both are operative. Meaning is not present without the world to articulate, and the world is not given without our thought articulating it.

Now, one of the central tasks of "Mind and World" is to lay out a way of thinking of an exogenous given (without the capital), such that within language-experience experience can serve as a tribunal for thought. In the first appendix to his book, "Davidson in Context", McDowell suggests that once this has been done, it can be seen that Quine's attacks on analyticity leave untouched "the endogenous given". This would have to be something like a way for language to structure thought within language-experience. The challenge to articulating an exogenous given was to make clear how experience could make a belief right or wrong without already being a belief, being something within our conceptual sovereignty; the challenge to articulating an endogenous given is to make clear how thought can be structured without already being among the items within thought, without simply being something the world contributes. The exogenous given always threatened to disappear within thought, leaving us with thought spinning frictionlessly; the endogenous given threatens to disappear into the world, leaving our minds as wax tablets which the world imprints upon.

This way of looking at it I think makes clearer what McDowell thinks as being in the extension of "the endogeous given": pure thought as such, in Kant's sense. This also makes clear why he refers to rehabilitating analyticity to articulate "the necessary structure of our mindedness", and to not simply contain "definitionally secured truisms like 'a vixen is a female fox'". The endogenous given will not simply be the analytic a priori, but also the synthetic a priori!

In Kant, the analytic a priori and the synthetic a priori are distinguished by the question of whether one needs to make reference to what can be given to us in a possible intuition, in our peculiar forms of intuition. McDowell follows Hegel in canceling part of this: the forms of intuition are not peculiarly ours, but belong to thought as such; all of pure thought thus has the generality Kant reserved for pure general logic. Where some of Kant's analytic a priori truths, such as the law of non-contradiction, had held independently of our forms of intuition, and others, such as the law of universal nomological causal connection, had not, for Hegel and McDowell no a priori truth can have less generality than another: they are the truths of thought as such.

This way of looking at it can leave mysterious why Kant held that a priori truths which had more limited application were synthetic, but this can be resolved by a Hegelian criticism: Kant held that those among his a priori truths which held only for thinkers with our peculiar spatiotemporal forms of intuition were synthetic because he held that they related concepts (our spontaneity) with forms of intuition (our receptivity), in dualistic fashion. What he called "analytic" he did not have to relate to a form of intuition which he regarded as being given independently of our concepts, our spontaneity; what he called "synthetic" he did have to relate to something he regarded as independently given. A symptom of this dualism in Kant's thought is the distinction between a "metaphysical" and a "transcendental" exposition/deduction of the forms of intuition and thought (space, time, and the categories): Kant lays out the forms of space and time and his Table of Judgements before going on to defend these as necessary forms of all our cognition (as united in the schematized categories). Hegel does not proceed in this way; his exposition of the categories in his system is immediately a defense of them as the necessary forms of our thought, for he produces them only as forms in which thought thinks itself. Hegel can thus say that the method of philosophy (his philosophy) is neither analytic nor synthetic: he neither reproduces what is provided from our spontaneity considered as something independent of our receptivity, nor relates our spontaneity to anything given in receptivity regarded as independent of our spontaneity. His label for his thinking is simply: Pure thought.

This way of thinking about the endogenous given, as encompassing pure thought as such, is especially helpful as a way of viewing Quine: Quine rejects the very idea of an endogenous given, and so becomes prone to speaking of logic as merely "obvious", of our knowledge of the law of non-contradiction as simply on a par with our knowledge of the solidity of the earth beneath our feet. He loses pure thought into the world. Carnap had tried to secure pure thought on a conventionalist basis, but this is hopeless; Quine reacted by jettisoning the very idea of it. But as Davidson showed, Quine also made empiricism impossible; where Quine wanted to maintain a link between thought and world, he lapsed into incoherence. McDowell showed that Davidson, in making empiricism impossible, unintentionally made thought itself impossible, and so sought to resecure empiricism. A task I think McDowell has left unfinished is a further retrieval: once empiricism has been vindicated, how are we to further vindicate pure thought?


Nikhil said...

Hello! Thank you for your excellent reading of McDowell's "Davidson in Context." However, I must say that I am puzzled by the question that you are left with at the end of your reading because this is a question that McDowell explicitly addresses in the very last section (section 9) of the very same essay "Davidson in Context."

Roughly, McDowell makes the following points in that final section:

1. Quine's attack on analyticity is inextricably bound up with the persisting dualism of the endogenous and exogenous factors (which is the very dualism that Davidson rejects as the third dogma of empiricism). Thus, if we are to follow Davidson in rejecting the third dogma, Quine's insights can no longer make sense in the way Quine intended them to.

2. The suspect notion of "analytic sentences" is the notion of truths that are true solely in virtue of their meaning (true solely in virtue of the endogenous factor). However, once we reject the dualism of endogenous vs. exogenous, we see that meaning is not to be identified with the endogenous factor. "When we reject the dualism of scheme and world, we cannot take meaning to constitute the stuff of schemes... but that does not deprive us of the very idea of meaning."

3. [b]It is possible for us to rehabilitate the idea of meaning and further of analytic truths is a non-dualistic fashion.[/b]

4. Analytic truths are those truths which might delineate the necessary structure of our mindedness i.e. they might delineate what McDowell loves to call "the constitutive ideal of rationality." Then, McDowell says, "Perhaps this is the category in which we should place at least some of the hinge propositions to which Wittgenstein attributes a special significance in On Certainty.

Please do let me know if what I've said here fails to hook on to your question!

Daniel Lindquist said...

I agree that McDowell takes himself to have addressed the question I ended with; I just don't think he's done so adequately. I want to be told more. I read your point 3 as a promissory note: It may be possible for us to rehabilitate this idea, but I don't see quite how to do so, and I don't think that McDowell has already done it.

Your point 4 is just the thing I think McDowell doesn't tell us enough about, or at least that I want to be told more about before I feel secure that I understand it. He also mentions it a few other places, always in passing: the first section of "Knowledge by Hearsay" and parts of "Gadamer and Davidson on Understanding and Relativism", for examples that I've spent too much time staring at. I don't know what to do with "hinge propositions" and their ilk. (They're clearly important in some way or other!)

I should probably make another post spelling some of this out some more, with reference to the text of section nine.