18 February 2012

The Endogenous given: why I am not satisfied with McDowell on this front

I ended my last post on the endogenous given with this summary of how I think the dialectic of pure thought has gone:

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?
In the comments, Nikhil asks a fair question: Didn't McDowell already answer this question in section nine of "Davidson in Context"? Why do I think he's left something unfinished? This post is my answer.

In section nine, McDowell says rejecting the dualism of scheme and content does not threaten "the idea that there are limits to what makes sense: that our mindedness, as Jonathan Lear puts it, has a necessary structure.... And analytic truths (in an interesting sense, not just definitionally guaranteed truisms like "A vixen is a female fox") might be just those that delineate such a necessary structure." This "interesting" sense of "analytic truth" is what I was calling "pure thought" in my previous post.

(To support my talking in this way, I note that two pages later (p.160) McDowell mentions that "An analytic statement should be a statement with no vulnerability to experience", and that the idea of the synthetic a priori comes up nowhere in the book. So I feel confident that the bolded claim from my last post was on the right track: the endogenous given includes both the analytic and the synthetic a priori.)

I take what follows in this section of "Davidson in Context" to be a series of gestures towards how we to think about "the idea that there are limits to what makes sense", how to think about pure thought.

First, Lear: if one turns to the Lear essay that McDowell mentions above, "Leaving the World Alone", one finds that Lear articulates his idea of a necessary form of mindedness in terms of the Tractarian doctrine of truths which can only be shown, and cannot be said. Statements that articulate the necessary forms of our mindedness are a special sort of nonsense, in that they show us thinking of both sides of the limits of how we can be minded. I think this idea is simply incoherent, as any serious attention to it shows. If we can't think something, we can't think it; we can't whistle it, either.

I think it's also not a doctrine espoused in the Tractatus, because that book is not a book of doctrine, and Wittgenstein did not conceive of philosophy as a body of doctrine. When I met him in 2010, I asked McDowell about his occasional use of "The world is all that is the case" to express the view of "the world" he wanted to call our attention to in, for example, the closing pages of "Conceptual Capacities in Perception". (p.143 in Having the World in View, where he calls it "idealism in an obvious sense".) I put the question to him: Does he deny that the world is all that is; that the world is the totality of things, not facts? Happily, he answered "No". Those are both perfectly fine ways of using the word "world", and he agreed with me that Wittgenstein did not mean in the Tractatus to promote one of them to the exclusion of the other; he likes the "resolute" approach to the book. He also emphasized that the closing pages of "Conceptual Capacities in Perception" must be read in the context of the Ayer essay it's responding to, which he clearly felt was just awful and deserved the response he gave it: "You think I can't talk in this way? Well I can, so nyah!" [My paraphrase.]

So, I think McDowell cannot be happy with resting on the idea that we can articulate the necessary structure of our mindedness by attempting to say what can only be shown, in Tractarian fashion. The Lear essay is a dead-end so far as rehabilitating the idea of pure thought goes.

The second way I see McDowell trying to think about pure thought is in terms of an idea of Sellars, discussed earlier in section four of "Davidson in Context". Sellars wrote in "Empiricism and Philosophy of Mind" that "empirical knowledge, like its sophisticated extension, science, is rational, not because it has a foundation but because it is a self-correcting enterprise which can put any claim in jeopardy, though not all at once." McDowell glosses this as saying "that any of our beliefs, including beliefs about structures that must be instantiated in intellectually respectable belief systems -- the beliefs that implicitly or explicitly govern adjustments in belief systems in response to experience -- are open to revision." (p.136) In section nine he returns to this claim: "Sellars's thought [that all forms of Givenness are to be overcome]... did not require him to claim that absolutely everything we think is up for revision. Immunity to revision, come what may, is a mark of Givenness only if it is understood in terms of the two factors [of scheme and content], and it need not be." (p. 158) So, he thinks that Sellars slipped up, and that immunity to revision come what may is an idea that needs rehabilitation.

Now, one reason I have for not being happy with this way of thinking about pure thought is just the fact that I like what Sellars had to say, in its full radicalness: thought is rational because it can put any claim in jeopardy, thought not all at once. (This may be stronger than Sellars himself meant it; I'm not sure if "empirical knowledge" is a pleonasm for him.) It seems to me that even in the realm of pure thought, there is room for disputation (though of a non-empirical sort).

For example: it is part of our form of mindedness that all thinkers have beliefs, have a way that they take the world to be. This is not an empirical claim, as if it just so happened that all thinkers we have found have beliefs, but a pure one: it is an interesting analytic truth, in McDowell's sense. But some have denied this: the ancient Pyrrhonists wrote that to live without doxa lead one to ataraxia, and some have read this as claiming that one should not have beliefs, or a view of the world, at all: one should suspend judgement about it, and be lead by impressions (which one does not take to give oneself a view of the world). Alternatively, Richard Jeffrey claimed that Ramsey "sucked the marrow from the bone of belief", and that we should henceforth talk of subjective probabilities instead: belief-talk was "the old religion" that has been replaced by the clear sunshine of probabilism, and it should be discarded, like phlogiston-talk has been. I want to say that it's good that these positions get argued over; I think we get clearer on what's involved with belief-talk, with it being a necessary part of our mindedness that we have beliefs, by seeing what's wrong with these alternative views. Why, then, would I want to deny that what I take to articulate a necessary form of our mindedness is up for dispute? I don't say this on Quinean grounds (the idea that everything is more or less physics), but on grounds of pure thought: I think dialectical encounters like this, which require that parts of our conceptual scheme be actually called into doubt by some parties to the encounter, are good for us reasoners. They help us to understand ourselves.

Historically, I suspect that the very idea of belief-talk in our familiar form got banged out because of Ancient philosophy's dealing with Parmenides: his weird split between the one truth/reality/Being and the "likely story" of the universe that is false (which occupies most of the proem that the goddess tells him) leads to Plato distinguishing various points along the divided line in the Republic, etc. It can be hard to take Parmenides seriously now, since he seems to simply say bizarre things, but he really was taken incredibly seriously by Plato and Aristotle, both of whom thought that his views were subtle and difficult to properly handle. I think a case can be made that Aristotle's distinctions among the ways in which "being" is said are due to his having to handle Parmenides: and Aristotle's success has passed into our common sense, which is why Parmenides now seems to simply be goofy. Such goofiness is the soil in which common sense is nurtured.

(Random aside, since I found it while trying to find that Jolley post: Yo Yo Ma on the floor of a bathroom, with a wombat.)

On another front: I continue to feel the attraction of Isaac Levi's version of decision theory/pragmatism, where all of my beliefs are on a par: I presently expect to revise none of them, ever, and for all of them to endure come what may. This is just what it comes to for me to take seriously that my beliefs are my worldview: this is how I take the world to be, and so I can't take the world to maybe not be this way. If I want to doubt my own view of the world, I can only do this on the basis of my own view of the world: thus I can only put things into question piecemeal, and not all at once, just as Sellars said. Empirical knowledge, on Levi's view, has a sort of unrevisability that is shared with pure knowledge: I have utmost confidence in it, and reject what is incompatible with it just on the grounds that it is incompatible with it. To have a view of the way the world is means also having a view of the way the world can't be, and isn't. All of this knowledge is revisable in the light of "experience" in Dewey's sense, the sense in which a job listing can ask for a typist with three years' experience, but this is just to say that (in some way or other) all parts of it can be put into question. It is still fully compatible with saying that Quine was wrong to think that logic and all the rest of pure thought were revisable because they were only remote parts of physical theory.

But, these are external criticisms (though ones I think McDowell should be somewhat sympathetic to). Can I also find internal criticisms to make of McDowell's idea that pure thought is what is unrevisable come what may?

I think I can, to some extent. One of the things McDowell implied above is that he wants to think that "beliefs about structures that must be instantiated in intellectually respectable belief systems" are unrevisable. But this idea of "structures that must be instantiated in intellectually respectable belief systems" strikes me as unsteady in the way that the Tractarian doctrine mentioned above is: it suggests that also thinkable are intellectually unrespectable belief systems, belief systems which lack the structures which are our necessary forms of mindedness. McDowell wants to deny that one could have beliefs about the structures which are our necessary form of mindedness such that one is thinking of such a belief system; if he does not, then I do not understand how he could claim that such beliefs are unrevisable. For unless one cannot get these structures wrong, beliefs about them must be revisable, lest we be stuck in eternal error about them. But if we can't get this sort of thing wrong, then I don't know what the contrast is supposed to be between intellectually respectable and intellectually unrespectable belief systems. The distinction can't be between those who do and don't make mistakes (fall for illusions, trust bad testimony), because the sort of structures McDowell is talking about have to be common between those if they are to be structures of our mindedness as such. But then the contrast seems to be: between minds which are minded and minds which are not. But this is no contrast at all. So, I think McDowell actually meant a contrast between minds which make mistakes regarding pure thought and those which don't. Intellectually respectable belief systems are those which are respectable qua intellect: they are not confused about thought as such, even if they are confused about empirical matters in various fashions. But then it looks like pure thought is a realm in which one can make mistakes (in a non-empirical fashion), and so one ought to hold beliefs about pure thought open to revision in the light of "experience" in Dewey's sense: further life and dialogue with others might lead one to see that one had not gotten clear about thinking, even when one thought one had.

The rest of section nine is involved in a discussion of transcendental idealism and its mere semblance of securing our beliefs, and some very brief remarks about Wittgenstein's talk of "how we go on". I think McDowell's simply right about Wittgenstein not being a transcendental idealist (at least in his later work), but that part of the essay seems to me tangential. The real issue is how Wittgensteinian "reminders" can do their work without providing the illusion of security that transcendental idealism (or conventionalism, I'd add) can appear to. But this post is already long and tangled, so I'll leave off here, with more closing obscure questions: McDowell, p.159: ""How we go on" is just our mindedness, which is ex hypothesi in constituted harmony with our world; it is not something that constitutes the harmony, as it were from outside." -- Is this harmony always so constituted? Can this hypothesis be false, in particular cases? What is one to say if one appeals to "How we go on" and is asked "But must we do this?" or "But should we do this?" or "Who is this we, Kemosabe?"

44 comments:

Nick said...

Thanks very much for this, it was excellent reading. You sound a lot like Putnam on this score: attempts to define the bounds of what can/should be thought always run into the transcendence of thought, so we must accept the authority of reason as such. I'm pretty much down with that.

Your final questions about conventionalism are critically important, I think, and those who like to refer to "how we go on" are insufficiently attentive to them. It's all well and good to talk about institutions, language-games, or social facts, but to pretend as though those entities (1) have fixed, determinate structures, (2) are basically the same for everyone in a 'society', and (3) are not in tension or conflict... these assumptions seem in need of empirical verification. Yet, according to the conventionalist, such structures are not proper objects of empirical investigation. Nonetheless, in the spirit of your post: the question "are you sure WE all go on this way?" seems sensible, important, and answerable.

Daniel Lindquist said...

It's easy to sound like Putnam: There are so many of him, it's harder to *not* sound like one of them!

I didn't mean to say that Wittgensteinian appeals to "How we go on" are conventionalist; I had someone like Carnap in mind in that parenthetical. And Carnap has compelling replies to your (1), (2), and (3): the structures are given by explicitly codified artificial languages which he offers us to use; he doesn't think that natural language is clear enough for there to be anything like "analytic statements" in it, which is why it's so important to construct and make use of new, artificial languages; and the coherence of his artificial languages can be proved via metalogic. (But I don't think we can actually do without natural language in the way Carnap seemed to envisage; we can only use artificial languages for particular, restricted purposes. So I don't think we can actually secure anything by making it an L-rule of such a language, except for the limited purposes for which we're using the artificial language. We still have to manipulate our new script as speakers of natural language, with all its troubles.)

I think Wittgenstein's reminders can be everyday sorts of claims. Thus remarks like PI 415: "415. What we are supplying are really remarks on the natural history of human beings; we are not contributing curiosities however, but observations which no one has doubted, but which have escaped remark only because they are always before our eyes." -- But then appeals to "How we go on" won't serve as a contrast class to empirical claims (since they can overlap), so I still don't think that McDowell can make clear what's involved in pure thought by pointing us back to PI.

Nick said...

Ah, I see, I may not be as up to speed on my "isms" as I ought to be. Carnap's conventionalism is certainly more responsive to my questions, but that's because, as you note, it's artificially set up to be that way.

Are you familiar with On Certainty? It kind of complicates the picture of Wittgenstein you're alluding to in your comment. He seems to have moved towards the idea that human knowledge is somehow based on instinct, and instinct is not a proper object of doubt, empirical or otherwise. So a certain class of sentences (like the Moorean sentence 'here is a hand') cannot be empirically investigated, at least insofar as such investigation presupposes the possibility of doubt. Perhaps this Wittgenstein would be the one that McDowell is looking for?

Daniel Lindquist said...

McDowell does mention "On Certainty" in a footnote in this appendix (and a few other places -- the opening section of "Knowledge by Hearsay" for instance), but I don't think that "book" is something you can put weight on. I've never been able to read it as anything but scattered notes on a topic Wittgenstein was puzzling over when he died.

My preferred treatment of "hinge propositions" is just to repeat the Sellarsian dictum: You can put anything in doubt, but not all at once! You always need to leave some things not (presently) doubted. But I don't see any reason to believe in a special class of sentences which must not be doubted. There must always be some sentences which are not doubted, but there needn't be some sentences which are always not doubted. Note the quantifier shift.

Nick said...

That seems perfectly reasonable. I'm actually giving a paper in a couple of months where I argue that the only proper way to interpret Wittgenstein's (tentative) position in On Certainty is to deny that the "hinge propositions" are propositions or sentences at all. Rather, they are something more primitive or instinctual, like "responses". I'm (awkwardly) calling this "primitivist foundationalism".

The trick is to understand what relation obtains between those responses and doubtable propositional beliefs, and to confront the spectre of Davidson asking us why we think we can talk meaningfully about such responses at all. I'm not even remotely sure how to deal with those problems.

Daniel Lindquist said...

Good luck making sense of all that. It's a mess of a "book".

N. N. said...

Old complaint: you're not making room for a distinction between grammatical and empirical statements.

Grammatical statements can be taken or left, so to speak, and if they are left, they can be replaced with different (but not contrary because incommensurable) grammatical statements. But they are not revisable because they are neither true nor false. And for the same reason they are not beliefs.

So, we could rephrase McDowell's point this way (though I think McDowell would not recognize it; he also appears to run roughshod over the distinction between the grammatical and empirical): There are some grammatical statements that everyone must adopt. Perhaps this is mistaken, but if it is it's not because we doubt grammatical statements.

The same goes for "hinge propositions"; as grammatical statements they cannot be doubted. But not because they're really certain.

Daniel Lindquist said...

Old reply: I see no distinction that I have elided.

How is something which cannot be true or false, which cannot be contrary to anything, and which cannot be believed, supposed to still have inferential content? Or are "grammatical statements" incapable of being used as premises in inferences? What use do they have, if they are the sort of thing you say they are? How is "adoption" not "belief-but-we're-not-calling-it-that"? etc.

(I think that the grammtical/empirical distinction, as it shows up in PI, does not allow of a general carving up of statements into the two kinds: "grammatical remarks" are what is not under dispute on an occasion. In abstraction from a particular occasion in which one is trying to undo a philosophical tangle, there is no grammatical/empirical distinction to be drawn, because what is under dispute is relative to the parties to the dispute.)

N. N. said...

Grammatical statements are not proper premises of arguments. Rather, they are translation rules. Thus, I would maintain that asserting "N.N. is an unmarried man" on the basis of "N.N. is a bachelor" does not involve an inference from the conjunction of the latter and the general claim "All Bachelors are unmarried men." Rather, it involves the application of a definition "a bachelor is an unmarried man." With this definition, we translate the first statement into the second.

I adopt the definition "a bachelor is an unmarried man," then I can be said to believe that a bachelor is an unmarried man. But what this means is that I believe that the word "bachelor" has that meaning, i.e., I use the word that way. Furthermore, I believe that this is how other in my linguistic community use the word.

"In abstraction from a particular occasion in which one is trying to undo a philosophical tangle, there is no grammatical/empirical distinction to be drawn, because what is under dispute is relative to the parties to the dispute."

In brief: I disagree. This disagreement is about how to read the Investigations as a whole. And that's a very long discussion. Still, while I think Wittgenstein says what I want to say (i.e., I take myself to be following his lead), even if he didn't, the grammatical/empirical distinction that I'm pushing can be set up without him.

Daniel Lindquist said...

So: you can be said to believe that a bachelor is an unmarried man. And you can (somehow) go from this "belief" and the belief that N.N. is an unmarried man to the belief that N.N. is a bachelor.

What point is there to pretending that this "belief" is not a belief, that this "translation rule" is not an identity statement (or a statement of the co-extensionality of concepts, in this case), and that this "application of a translation rule" is not an inference? They seem to behave just like beliefs, props, and inferences. Why pretend that they have these strange dopplegangers? What good does the second set of terms do you?

N. N. said...

I think "A bachelor is an unmarried man" is an example with too much baggage to be very useful in this discussion. Let me instead give a new definition: "A blork is a purple flower." Now, if I coin this word and use it this way, then someone might say that I "believe" that blorks are purple roses. But, in this case, that's a misuse of the word "belief." Beliefs can be false. What would it mean for "a blork is a purple flower" to be false? I think nothing would be meant. And if it makes no sense to talk of that statement being false, then it makes no sense to talk of it being true. But then it makes no sense to call it a belief, either.

The point of denying (or "pretending," as you put it) that the statement about the word "blork" is a belief is to distinguish between definitions and descriptions. The statement is not an identity statement because, prior to making it, "blork" had no content, no meaning. An analytic truth, as the positivists and Quine understood it, is a statement that is true because of the antecedent meanings of the terms. "Blork" hasn't got an antecedent meaning. The definition gives it a meaning.

You must either deny that there are such things as definitions or you must maintain that definitions are true or false. I'm guessing you'll opt for the latter. So my question is: what makes a definition true as opposed to false (or vice versa)?

If we can agree that definitions are neither true nor false, but we also agree that they can play a role in the statements we're willing to assert, then we will be led to distinguish between inferences from premises that are held to be true to a conclusion that is held to be true, on the one hand, and translations of statements according to definitions, on the other.

Daniel Lindquist said...

"What would it mean for "a blork is a purple flower" to be false? I think nothing would be meant."

Why? I think it would mean that it is not the case that a blork is a purple flower. This is just what I would say for any question of the form "What it would mean for... to be false?" It would mean that the negation of the prop is true.

"But, in this case, that's a misuse of the word "belief.""

I see no reason to think that "belief" can be misused. If a sign can be used, then it is used legitimately. If it is not used legitimately, this can only be because we have not given it a use in that context. But then it is not used in a wrong way, since it is not used at all. (A sign is only a symbol in its significant use.)

And in your previous comment, you yourself said that you can be said to believe that [example of what you call a grammatical prop]!

"An analytic truth, as the positivists and Quine understood it, is a statement that is true because of the antecedent meanings of the terms."

Having recently read a good deal of Carnap, Carnap never thought of analyticity this way. He thought that the notion was only clear for artificial languages, where signs have their meanings because of stipulation in the (explicitly codified) rules of the language. You get L-true (analytic-in-L) props at the same time you get props of the language L at all. And Quine doesn't always attack a notion of analyticity that relies on "antecedent meaning"; in section four of "Two Dogmas" he attacks the conventionalist sort of analyticity that Carnap had defended.

Kant and Frege also didn't view it this way, for what it's worth; neither would've thought that "All contradictions are false" is true because of something about words. Frege is also explicit that definitions are identity statements where the definiendum can be replaced by the definiens without change to sense. They're eliminable in proofs, but so are statements of self-identity like "N.N. = N.N.", which is true by one of his Basic Laws. It can be the case that a term is introduced by being used in an identity statement such that this statement counts as a definition by Frege's criterion, so Frege is also free of the idea that an identity statement relies on terms with "antecedent meaning".

I will also note that this idea of a term's having an "antecedent meaning" before being used in identity statements appears to go against the context principle: if a term is an object-word, then it can be used in identity statements, and has a meaning in them. It has no existence as an object-name prior to being able to be used thus. So there can be no contrast between terms which do and do not have "antecedent meaning" prior to being usable in identity statements, such as definitions (in Frege's sense of "definition", which is also Carnap's).

(The same will hold, mutatis mutandis, for statements of co-extentionality of concepts.)

"So my question is: what makes a definition true as opposed to false (or vice versa)?"

It says that things are so, and things are so, if it's true. It says that things are so, and things ain't so, if it's false. Asking this question does not advance the dialogue.

So, we cannot agree that definitions are neither true nor false: I continue to hold that they are identity statements. They may make use of terms which have not been used before being used in an identity statement, but no term exists as a part of a language before being used in some statement or other (since it is only in the context of a sentence that a word has a meaning), so what is the problem with introducing a term by using it on one side of an identity sign?

N. N. said...

"It says that things are so, and things are so, if it's true."

What things does the ostensive definition "This is red" (pointing to an apple) say are so? Does it describe the apple as being red?

Daniel Lindquist said...

"What things does the ostensive definition "This is red" (pointing to an apple) say are so? Does it describe the apple as being red?"

You have not given me enough information to tell what "the ostensive definition "This is red"" means.

N. N. said...

Ostensive definition: That color (pointing to the color of a ripe, Gala apple) is red.

What things does this definition say are so? Does it describe the color of the apple as red?

Daniel Lindquist said...

"What things does this definition say are so?"

I'll change your example a little more, so that it's definite enough that I can respond to it. If I have recast your statement in a way you dislike, feel free to rewrite it again in another way.

"That color is what I shall call "red"" (said while pointing to an apple) says that that color is what I shall call "red", provided context is sufficient to narrow down what I'm on about. Whether you want to call this "describing" is up to you; I don't have any stock in how you use that word.

It does strike me as a bad idea to define a term by using a sign you've already used elsewhere; this sort of overloading what Frege's main complaint about other Begriffsschriften. (I liked "blork" better.)

N. N. said...

I accept your revision. Now, is the definition either true or false? Perhaps you'll say that it's true if I do call that color "red" and false if I don't. But that's not right. The definition isn't a prediction of my future linguistic behavior. It establishes a rule that I follow or don't. And following it does not make it in any sense true.

And, in one sense, there's no such thing as its being correct or incorrect. This comes out more clearly in the "blork" example: "That color of flower is what I shall call 'blork.'" This definition is neither correct nor incorrect. The word means whatever I decide that it means, and I can't get it wrong. It follows that there is no such thing as my revising this definition in the face of experience. Nevertheless, I can drop the word or give it a new meaning anytime I like.

Daniel Lindquist said...

"Perhaps you'll say that it's true if I do call that color "red" and false if I don't."

Yup.

"But that's not right."

Why not?

"The definition isn't a prediction of my future linguistic behavior. It establishes a rule that I follow or don't."

I don't see why these are contrary.

"And following it does not make it in any sense true."

Calling it "blork" does not make it true that this is what you call "blork"? This is a curious new doctrine of truth you have unleashed upon the world.

"And, in one sense, there's no such thing as its being correct or incorrect."

Certainly so, in SOME sense! You can't choose a correct flavor of ice cream, either. This doesn't make "I will have a scoop of rocky road on a waffle cone" defy the true-false binary; it's just used in a different way when placing an order and when speculating about placing an order in the future. In the speculating case, I make a judgement which anyone could make about me; in the ordering case, I make a judgement that only I can make for myself. (There is a first-personal privilege in placing orders; I do not know what I am ordering via my receptivity, but via my spontaneity, to use Sebastian Rodl's terminology. I know what I am ordering without observation.) But I can also make the speculative judgement about the future as a way of expressing my intention for the future, and in this case my intention would remain the same if I ended up getting a rocky road waffle cone like I'd said; it would then have a first-personal privilege, despite being something that the world can make false if things do not go well for me. I will be making a judgement anyone could make about me, but not making it in the same way that another could make it; I will make it so that I order a rocky road waffle cone, while no one else can do this. I do not say of myself what I will do on the basis of my receptivity (unless I speak of myself only accidentally, as a doctor heals himself accidentally when he sets his own leg), but on the basis of my spontaneity. But what I say is what others could say, though I have a different basis for it than they do. So I want to say that there is an important element in common between the two, even though there are also differences.

"The word means whatever I decide that it means, and I can't get it wrong. It follows that there is no such thing as my revising this definition in the face of experience"

Compare this to expressions of intention: At least in morally indifferent cases, there is no such thing as intending wrongly. And you don't know what you intend via observation; in this sense you can't get it wrong, and can't revise it in the face of experience (since observation is not how you know what you are doing). But you can certainly revise your intentions in the light of experience in Dewey's sense; you can change your mind about what the best path is. And you do know what you are doing, and in doing so know something about the world, as Anscombe argued in Intention, even though this is done without observation, because you can get it wrong: not because you've been mislead by observation, but because something has intervened in the progress of your action. To not see how this could be so is to fall into the "contemplative" picture of knowledge she attacked in that book, and to continue to be under the sway of empiricism.

Shorter: The oppositions you are using are either ones I do not recognize, or think are not even oppositions.

N. N. said...

Speaking of curious new doctrines, is it your view that definitions (explanations of meaning) are predictions? Consider an analogous case (sorry for the addition of examples, but I find it helpful to use several). I'm explaining the game of chess to you, and I say "This piece, the bishop, is moved like this." If I go on to move the bishop differently, does it follow that my explanation of the bishop's movements was false? Clearly, the answer is "No." I might be cheating, or I may have simply made a mistake. In either case, my explanation is not made false. On the other hand, it would be made false if it were a prediction. This shows that making prediction and making a rule are contrary to each other.

Perhaps the use of "shall" in "I shall call that color (pointing at the color of an apple) 'red'" is what's misleading you. There, it's not used like it is in the prediction: "I shall be able to go back to work tomorrow (after having been out with the flu)." We can avoid the confusion by saying instead "That color is called 'red.'"

"Calling it 'blork' does not make it true that this is what you call 'blork'? This is a curious new doctrine of truth you have unleashed upon the world."

It's only curious if an explanation of meaning is mistaken for a prediction. Consider the chess example again. If I cheat or make a mistake, this does not make the explanation false. Similarly, if I follow the rule, this does not make it true. It doesn't because to establish the rule is not to make a prediction.

One can speak of "correctness" in different ways. If I explain the movements of a piece called the "bishop" in a game called "chess," then this explanation can be said to be "correct" if it matches what other members of my linguistic community would have to say about a piece called the "bishop" in a game called "chess." In this sense, my explanation can be correct or incorrect. However, there is nothing to stop me (other than disapproval) from using the words differently than my neighbors do. If I explain that a piece called the "bishop" is moved horizontally, then I have given the rules for a game that is different than the one commonly called chess. But, judged by any other standard than conformity with the community, my explanation is not incorrect. For example, my explanation cannot conflict with how bishops really move. There's no such thing.

This is clearest with the "blork" example (supposing this word has no present use in the language). Once we have distinguished definitions from predictions, it is clear that there is no such thing as defining "blork" wrongly. Likewise, there is no such thing as defining it rightly. Right and wrong simply don't apply to the coining of words.

N. N. said...

Apparently, my post was too long. Here's the second half.

"But you can certainly revise your intentions in the light of experience in Dewey's sense; you can change your mind about what the best path is."

I'll need you to explain Dewey's sense to me. Quine's sense is the one I'm responding to. Where does McDowell fall in this regard?

Certainly, there are reasons having to do with my life (my experience) which may lead me to change my definition of "blork." Suppose, for example, that I discovered that there were fewer purple flowers than I at first believed, and hence that my word for purple flowers was not particularly useful. Furthermore, suppose I noticed that purple flowers regularly grow near blue flowers of a certain shade. And that the latter are for more common. To make my word more useful, I might give it a new meaning: "A blork is a purple or blue flower." Here is something that might be called "conceptual change" (though, in fact, what we have are two different concepts which are genealogically related). And it is the result of experience. But we must be very careful here. The first explanation of "blork" was not wrong in the sense that it was somehow refuted by experience. And it was not even wrong in the sense of being not particularly useful. I could have retained it's original meaning (we have lots of specialized words that are not very useful), and coined a new word for the broader category. Thus, no pressure from the experience forced the change. Rather, in the light of a certain kind of experience, I decided to make the change. And that decision was unconstrained by experience.

Daniel Lindquist said...

"Prediction" is not a word I feel a need to use here.

I don't think that removing "shall" changes anything, unless it's by making the prop unclear again. I do think that removing the first-personal reference changes things:
"This color is called 'red' (in English)" and "This color is what I call 'red'" are two different disambiguations of "This is called 'red'". But in either case, if you say this and then don't use "red" in that way, something queer has gone on. An explanation of a rule is not something you can do once, and then have nothing hang on it.

"Consider an analogous case (sorry for the addition of examples, but I find it helpful to use several). I'm explaining the game of chess to you, and I say "This piece, the bishop, is moved like this." If I go on to move the bishop differently, does it follow that my explanation of the bishop's movements was false? Clearly, the answer is "No.""

I don't think this example is clear, either! On one way of reading this, the fact that you say (in your summary) that you are explaining CHESS means that what you told me (in the story) is irrelevant: the rules of chess are not up to you; the game is public domain. Your "telling me the rules" will be simply a reporting of facts about an existing boardgame, and you can be right or wrong about them. On another, the fact that you are explaining "chess" can drop out, and then what you told me of the piece's movements of might leave it indeterminate whether a future move is in accord with it or not. (Did you mention that it can move diagonally towards the starting row, or only away from it? Towards either the right or the left edge of the board? Was it clear that the bishop can move any number of squares, and not just the particular number you happened to move him in your example?) -- In which case you might make a future move which you meant to be in accord with the explanation you gave me which I'll quarrel with, and then I don't see why you can't have just given a bad explanation of the rules you meant to teach me to play with. And if you did do a bad job explaining the rules you wanted us to play with, I don't see any reason to deny that your explanation could include false bits (or at least false implicatures, etc.).

"Similarly, if I follow the rule, this does not make it true. It doesn't because to establish the rule is not to make a prediction."

The only way this inference works is if I add a suppressed premise: "And only predictions can be true." But why should that be true?

"...it is clear that there is no such thing as defining "blork" wrongly. Likewise, there is no such thing as defining it rightly. Right and wrong simply don't apply to the coining of words."

This I agree with. I don't see why it's any barrier to saying that definitions are true. Definings are not definitions -- one is done by men, the other is a prop.

Daniel Lindquist said...

"I'll need you to explain Dewey's sense to me."

It's the sense in which a job listing can say "Typist wanted; three years' experience required"; where "experience" is what living well gives you more of than living poorly. It's the sort of experience that Rorty always held was important, even at his most rampantly anti-empiricist.

Quine's sense of "experience" is simply incoherent gibberish: it's supposed to be something like Dewey's sense, something like Locke's sense, and something like the nervous stimulations that happen on my retinas. There just isn't any one thing that is all of those, but Quine needs something like that to do the work he attributes to "experience".

McDowell's sense of "experience" is a normal one in philosophy: sensory episodes that provide reasons for action & belief. Dewey's is much broader, Quine's narrower and incoherent.


"The first explanation of "blork" was not wrong in the sense that it was somehow refuted by experience."

Yes, you changed how you used a sign, and this is not a matter of learning a new fact via sensation. This does not make the previous definition false. What I don't see is why you want to prevent me from saying it was true.

"Thus, no pressure from the experience forced the change. Rather, in the light of a certain kind of experience, I decided to make the change. And that decision was unconstrained by experience."

This I think is incoherent: experience never forces anyone to do anything particular (unless it makes them act by accident, as a man being thrown by a giant), and decisions are only ever made in the light of experience (at a particular time in a particular place in a particular mood, etc.). There is not a purely active subject unconstrained by the world facing a world which is able to overpower him; there is an agent within the world negotiating his path through it. None of his actions are due solely to the world, and none of them are without the world.

N. N. said...

One more clarification. As I understand Quine on changing one's scheme in the light of experience, it is exactly the same as changing one's scientific theory in the light of experience (the conflation of scheme and theory is, in my opinion, a confusion, but I'll ignore that for now). So, for example, I hold that Einstein's theory of general relativity is correct. If it had turned out that stars behind the Sun were in their usual relative positions during an eclipse, I would be forced by experience to reject some bit of theory. Given the Duhem-Quine thesis, I could hold onto Einstein while giving up something else, but I would have to give up something. That is, experience would compel me to make some conceptual change. I can decide what to change, but I am forced to make a decision, to change something.

Contrast this with the "blork" example. There is no experience that could force me to make a change. I can, in the light of experience, decide to make assign a different meaning to the word. But I cannot be forced by experience to make such a decision.

N. N. said...

But in either case, if you say this and then don't use "red" in that way, something queer has gone on.

Is there something queer about misspeaking (e.g., meaning to say "blue" but saying "red" instead)? And if I misspeak, is the definition false? For if the definition says that I shall use a word with a certain meaning, and then (for whatever reason) I don't, then what it says will be false. Whether one uses the word "prediction" or not is beside the point.

But even if I misspeak, the definition is not withdrawn. It's still in effect. Indeed, the idea that I have misspoken depends on the definition's being in effect. But then it's being in effect comes apart in a strange way from its truth-value. The same utterance ends up being successful definition but a false prediction (or whatever you want to call it). Doesn't that seem odd?

N. N. said...

If you'll indulge me, I'd like to have another go at the narrow question of if and how definitions are true, as well as at the more general dissatisfaction I have with some ideas in your posts.

First, the narrow question. As I think about the form of definition "I shall call this color 'red'" (as opposed to the "I call this color 'red'"), it seems to me that if it is also a prediction (or whatever), then the prediction is completely irrelevant and unrelated to the definition. This is because the two can come apart. That is, the status of the definition (in effect, not in effect) is completely independent of the truth-value of the prediction. If I misspeak, for example, and the prediction turns out to be false, this has no bearing on whether or not I continue to accept the definition I've given. Because they are unrelated we can isolate, so to speak, the definitional part of the utterance. That part is neither true nor false. Rather, it is either in effect or not. And now, if we recognize that, strictly speaking, the definition is the definitional part of the utterance, then the definition as such (i.e., the utterance insofar as it is a definition and not a prediction) is neither true nor false.

I'll continue with the more general concern in the next comment.

N. N. said...

As I understand your understanding of McDowell's understanding of the endogenous given, it includes (a) "definitionally guaranteed truisms like 'A vixen is a female fox'" and (b) (what Kant would view as) "synthetic a priori" statements such as "all thinkers have beliefs." I gather that McDowell thinks that (b) is immune to revision. Does he also think that (a) is immune to revision?

This brings me to a question about what "immunity" means here. In a strong sense, "immune" means "incapable of undergoing." On that sense, we cannot revise analytic statements. On a weaker sense, being "immune" to revision would mean that, while analytic statements can be revised, then need not be. In this sense, "immune to" would mean something like "independent of." Analytic statements, being independent of experience, do not come into any sort of conflict with experience.

Now, it seems to me that (a) and (b) can be seen to be the same if we use something like Wittgenstein's idea of a grammatical statement. One result of this is that statements such as "thinking involves belief" are no more interesting than "vixens are female foxes." Both are definitionally guaranteed "truisms."

But aren't definitions revisable, and doesn't McDowell hold that statements such as "thinking involves belief" are immune to revision (here I'm going with the strong sense of "immune")? Therefore, McDowell can't hold that such statements are grammatical statements. But can a definition really be revised? Suppose I "revise" my definition of "vixen": "A vixen is a fox (male or female)." Have I changed the first concept? Have I, as it were, added something to it? Wittgenstein's answer is No! We can see this by asking whether the two definitions conflict with each other. They do not because the two occurrences of "vixen" are equivocal.

Applying this to "thought" or "thinking," someone who maintains that thinking does not involve belief is recommending a different grammar. His understanding of thought cannot conflict with ours because he means something different than we do by "thought." For us, "thought" just is an activity involving belief. And to talk about "thought" that does not involve belief is to not to talk about "thought" (in our sense) anymore. Our understanding of "thought" is unrevisable because any attempt to revise it will result in a different concept. Thus, equivocation makes this sort of revision impossible.

I hope that's fairly clear. I don't have a good enough grasp of McDowell (or Davidson), but I'm working on it. I'm finally getting around to reading through Reading McDowell, and I just bought McDowell and his Critics. I think I need to read these before having another go at Mind and World. But I have this vague sense that some Wittgensteinian distinctions (as I read him) can have an impact on the debate.

Daniel Lindquist said...

"Is there something queer about misspeaking (e.g., meaning to say "blue" but saying "red" instead)? And if I misspeak, is the definition false?"

No, and no. I say that what you mean when you speak is what you meant to mean, even if it doesn't come out right; if you write "I shall mean by 'blork' a red rook", and then go on to use it as if you've defined it to mean "red book", with no mention of chess-pieces, then I can catch your meaning; the typo does nothing to hinder it. Using the "right" signs to get your meaning across is not a real requirement on communication any more than printing neatly is a requirement on proving theorems in mathematics. In both cases, going too far afield can cause trouble for completing your task, but occasional oddities are of no consequence at all.

Asking what someone's words meant even if they said something they didn't mean to say is not a way of understanding what someone said, because understanding what someone said is understanding what they said, and this is not independent of whether or not they said what they meant to say.

This brings me to a broader point in our discussions: You often ask questions, and then answer them for me. But you are not good at predicting how I will answer your questions. But then you go on to ask questions which you do want me to answer, but which presume the answers you've given yourself to questions you asked yourself earlier. -- There is a reason that Plato's dialogues have constant interruptions for the interlocutors to say "It is so, Socrates"!

Daniel Lindquist said...

"One more clarification. As I understand Quine on changing one's scheme in the light of experience.... Given the Duhem-Quine thesis, I could hold onto Einstein while giving up something else, but I would have to give up something. That is, experience would compel me to make some conceptual change. I can decide what to change, but I am forced to make a decision, to change something."

As Quine lays out his views, I think this is wrong. There is no "have to" or "must" involved in the way experiences leads us to revise our webs of belief. Experience simply does, as a matter of fact, lead us to revise our beliefs. Quine has a resolutely alienated view of inquiry: he means only to be reporting on what people in fact do, and not saying anything about how one should do it. The summary you give matches Carnap's views in Logical Syntax of Language, which Quine is rejecting in "Two Dogmas". Carnap held that there could be things internal to your current language that rationally demanded you to make certain revisions (for instance, you would have to reject at least one of each pair of protocols that lead to contradictions, assuming that your language's L-rules prohibited contradictions from being true, which is the case for all of the languages Carnap ever constructs). Carnap also held that there were some changes you could make in inquiry which were not rationally demanded by your current language, or by anything else: choice of which language to use was among these, and so also was change of language. Carnap's term for this sort of change is that it is "pragmatic": it is not open to dispute, because it outside of the frameworks (languages) which make disputes intelligible. It's a matter of a-rational things, like feelings. Quine's quip at the end of "Two Dogmas" that our revisions are "where rational, pragmatic" is referring to this: the view that Carnap took towards changes of language, Quine takes to all changes of language/belief. Quine will let himself talk about "disputation" and "argument" and that sort of thing, but his way of cashing out all of this language is in resolutely alienated terms: it is simply a matter of how noises and scratches in fact make certain bodies change their dispositions to make noises and scratches. "Logical truths" are "central" to a web of belief, for Quine, just because the dispositions to make those sorts of noises and scratches is in fact not changed by things that happen to the bodies we are in the course of our existence. So, when you happen to have dispositions to assent to all of "Einstein was right about...", "The sun and starts were observed to be..." (etc.), you will in fact revise your dispositions to assent to sentences in some fashion. That is what Quine understands by your being "forced" to revise your web of belief when it's incoherent: you do in fact do this.

Daniel Lindquist said...

In laying this out, I just realized that here Davidson can be seen as closer to Carnap than Quine: he does think that revisions of our webs of belief can be rationally demanded, and not simply caused to happen. But unlike Carnap, he doesn't think there are any sentences in our language which are immune from revision, which goes along with his rejection of the idea that we choose which language to use from some supposedly external standpoint (where this decision is made "pragmatically" rather than rationally). Quine and Carnap both say that we can chose to use whatever conceptual scheme we like, but differ on whether what we choose here puts any rational demands on us; Carnap and Davidson both say that there are rational demands on how we revise our beliefs, but differ on whether there is some other way we can choose to revise them; Quine and Davidson thus both say that Carnap was wrong to think there are two different ways (rational, pragmatic) in which we revise our language/beliefs, but take very different lessons away from this. Davidson has only only rationally managing the webs of belief we happen to find ourselves with in medias res, where Quine has us only ever acting a-rationally. Carnap has some things we adopt arbitrarily putting rational demands on us, and Quine and Davidson reject this idea in fundamentally different ways.

Daniel Lindquist said...

"Because they are unrelated we can isolate, so to speak, the definitional part of the utterance. That part is neither true nor false. Rather, it is either in effect or not."

Let 'S' be a schematic letter that stands in for a definition. Let 'X' be a schematic letter that stands in for an unknown sentence. Here are two biconditionals:

'S' is in effect (relative to a speaker on an occasion) IFF X.

'S' is not in effect (relative to a speaker on an occasion) IFF not-X.

If definitions can be true, then there is an easy way to make all instances of this schema true: X is S. It is also then easy to see that "being in effect" and "not being in effect" look to be just variant names for "truth" and "falsity" which are being restricted in application to definitions, at least if one thinks that Tarski's T-schema tells us something about truth and falsity.

If definitions are not true or false, then I don't know what else you can put in for X to make my two biconditionals true for a given definition 'S'. But it seems to me that there should be something that could be put there, and that it should have something to do with the particular S in each case. If the only thing you can offer which fits this requirement is just "'S' is in effect" again, then I confess to not understanding what you mean by this string.

Daniel Lindquist said...

"As I understand your understanding of McDowell's understanding of the endogenous given, it includes (a) "definitionally guaranteed truisms like 'A vixen is a female fox'" and (b) (what Kant would view as) "synthetic a priori" statements such as "all thinkers have beliefs." I gather that McDowell thinks that (b) is immune to revision. Does he also think that (a) is immune to revision?"

It's a matter of speculation on my part that McDowell would include the synthetic a priori in the "endogenous given". His explicit statements on the subject say that it includes analytic truths in a sense more interesting than "A vixen is a female fox", in a context of thinking through Davidson to undo Quine. So I think McDowell regards it is trivially obvious that "uninteresting" analytic truths like "A vixen is a female fox" are immune to revision. Thus ends my exegerical remark.

A substantive remark:

"One result of this is that statements such as "thinking involves belief" are no more interesting than "vixens are female foxes." Both are definitionally guaranteed "truisms.""

I think this gets the examples I mentioned in my post wildly wrong.

It takes careful work to lay out what good belief-talk does us to argue that Jeffries was wrong to think that "Ramsey sucked the marrow out of the bone of belief", such as is done in Mark Kaplan's "Decision Theory as Philosophy", or in the first chapter of Isaac Levi's "The Enterprise of Knowledge". To state that "Thinking involves belief, just as being a vixen involves being a female fox" would contribute nothing to the project of inheriting decision theory and answering Jeffries's understanding of it. It would be sheer dogmatism, of a sort I find entirely foreign to Wittgenstein's view of philosophy. I think it is equally useless to claim dogmatically that Sextus could not have really advised us to live without dogma, in our ordinary understanding of that concept; Sextus is aware that he is recommending something not normally considered as an option, but surely he did not mean by this that he wishes to change the topic from the one discussed by dogmatic philosophers!

Daniel Lindquist said...

"I'm finally getting around to reading through Reading McDowell, and I just bought McDowell and his Critics. I think I need to read these before having another go at Mind and World."

I couldn't make it through "McDowell and his Critics". I thought that the essays in that volume were uniformally uncomprehending, and McDowell's replies were thus tedious rehashings of views already clearly laid out elsewhere. It's the worst "McDowell replies to essays" collection out there; "Reading McDowell" is easily the best.

N. N. said...

You often ask questions, and then answer them for me.

My apologies. It's a bad habit.

As Quine lays out his views, I think this is wrong. There is no "have to" or "must" involved in the way experiences leads us to revise our webs of belief. Experience simply does, as a matter of fact, lead us to revise our beliefs.

Reviewing Section 6 of "Two Dogmas," there is a "have to," but there is also a "does" (or rather, an "occasions"):

"A conflict with experience at the periphery occassions readjustments in the interior of the field. Truth values have to be redistributed over some of our statements."

As I read "Two Dogmas," the "have to" is Quine's position. He continues:

"Even a statement very close to the periphery can be held true in the face of recalcitrant by pleading hallucination or by amending certain statements of the kind called logical laws."

This suggests that, unless we make such changes, peripheral statements cannot be held true in the face of recalcitrant experience. That is, the experience demands that we change something.

Reviewing "Two Dogmas" also gives me a chance to defend my claim that, according to Quine, analytic truths are true in virtue of the antecedent meanings of their parts. In Section 2, Quine says:

"For the rest [i.e., for any sort of definition other than "the explicitly conventional introduction of novel notations for purposes of sheer abbreviation"], definition rests on synonymy rather than explaining it."

For Quine, a definition does not make one sign synonymous with another, but depends on prior synonymy; e.g., "vixen" already has its meaning, and "female fox" already has its meaning, and the definition "a vixen is a female fox" rests on that synonymy rather than explaining it. Presumably, Quine thinks that definitions are analytic truths, so at least this class of analytic truths are true in virtue of the antecedent meanings of their parts. And if Quine thinks that's so with definitions, I have every reason to believe that he thinks the same of analytic truths more generally.

N. N. said...

Concerning your biconditionals, consider an analogous case. A command (e.g., "Clean your room") is neither true nor false. But we do talk of them as being in effect or not (e.g., military orders are sometimes accompanied by an effective date, say, "effective immediately"). Let 'C' be a schematic letter that stands in for a command. Let 'X' be a schematic letter that stands in for an unknown sentence. Here are two biconditionals:

(The order) 'C' is in effect (relative to a speaker on an occasion) IFF X.

(The order) 'C' is not in effect (relative to a speaker on an occasion) IFF not-X.

Now, I think it is clear that X cannot be C. For example, it does not make sense to say, "The order 'Clean your room' is in effect IFF clean your room." I'm not sure what to put in for X. But whatever we replace it with, the result will not have the form of Tarski's T-schema. Definitions can also be expressed as orders, e.g., "Call this color 'red'" or "Let us call this color 'red.'" And X and S in your biconditionals cannot both be replaced by such a definition.

To state that "Thinking involves belief, just as being a vixen involves being a female fox" would contribute nothing to the project of inheriting decision theory and answering Jeffries's understanding of it. It would be sheer dogmatism, of a sort I find entirely foreign to Wittgenstein's view of philosophy.

And the claim that "thinking involves consciousness" would contribute nothing to the project of inheriting psychoanalysis and answering Freud's understanding of it, but it's nonetheless part of what we mean by "thinking." And someone who maintains that there can be "unconscious thoughts" is either talking nonsense or recommending a new notation (cf. Blue Book, 22-3). In either case, he is not saying anything that conflicts with our understanding of thought. Calling this (patently Wittgensteinian) view sheer dogmatism is simply name calling.

N. N. said...

I couldn't make it through "McDowell and his Critics". I thought that the essays in that volume were uniformally uncomprehending, and McDowell's replies were thus tedious rehashings of views already clearly laid out elsewhere. It's the worst "McDowell replies to essays" collection out there; "Reading McDowell" is easily the best.

Actually, tedious rehashings may be of help to me. I'll be sure and read McDowell's replies before I read the essays. And I'm looking at the Reading McDowell first, so that will help me avoid falling into incomprehension when reading the Critics collection.

You speak as if there are other volumes of this genre? Also, in your opinion, where should one go for the best outside account of Mind and World

Daniel Lindquist said...

"You speak as if there are other volumes of this genre? Also, in your opinion, where should one go for the best outside account of Mind and World"

There are in fact. "Experience, Norm, and Nature" and Reason and Nature (PDF) take this form, and I think I'm forgetting at least one other.

The best account of McDowell's Fragestellung is, awkwardly, in this paper draft that was presented to the Wittgenstein Workshop a few years ago. It's not a complete paper as posted, and Murray's never responded to my e-mails when I ask if he's gone back and finished it. But the thing that got posted to the workshop website is really penetrating, in a way that most accounts of "Mind and World" are superficial. He does a good job laying out who "Mind and World" is addressed to, what McDowell is assuming about his audience, and what background has to be in place for the "see-saw" McDowell addresses in that book to appear.

I'll address the substantive stuff later; I have two papers to write in the next two weeks, and this has been taking up more time than I like.

N. N. said...

Noooooo!!!! Page 57! It's like getting to the cliff-hanger ending of Season 1 of Blade: the Series, only to realize that no second season has been made and likely never will be.

Well Season 1 was still great, and so is Murray's paper. What an incredibly lucid and satisfying explanation of McDowell's project. Thanks for telling me about it!

Now what I'm most interested to find out is how McDowell's use of second-nature allows him to dispense with the claim that experience is extra-conceptual (Murray's EEC), i.e., how second-nature grounds the unboundedness of the conceptual.

Duck said...

Thanks guys, this is really helpful (if also frustrating in the usual way). I will try to say a few things (maybe at my place if I get long-winded or ambitious) while Daniel is getting back to work, but as you know this claim should not be believed in advance of the evidence for its truth. Here let me just say a few random things.

First, it's [Richard] Jeffrey, not Jeffries. (Also, you often write "lead" or "mislead" for the past tense when it is "led" and "misled." This is quite common, and I sympathize, having read "misled" at first (when a child) as the past tense not of "mislead" but instead of some unknown verb "to misle," and thus as sounding like "mize-eld". Anyway.

Also, Blade season 1 is good? Okay, I'll check it out.

I also failed to make it through McDowell and his Critics, but the way I thought of it was not that the critics were uncomprehending, but instead that they were zooming in on aspects of McD's work which were of less interest to me (as what I want to hear about is more about how "Wittgensteinian" "quietism" and "Pittsburgh" "Hegelianism" go together, with each other and with the other stuff about Davidson and Gadamer. But now I wonder if maybe these two reactions are more similar than they appear – that is, that reading McD as propounding just another philosophical doctrine about perception gets him way wrong (in the way that Davidson's critics so often do, mutatis mutandis), so that to pick at it in the way these critics do is to be "uncomprehending" of what he is really up to. I don't remember if I have seen the Murray piece before, so I will take a look at it – thank you.

I liked the bit in Daniel's comment (at 2/23 10:24 AM) about Rödl and intention, which I had not heard before. In general I don't see why statements of intention can't be factual in something like this way, and the same goes for "definitions," which I will try to say something about later. Oops, time for lunch.

Daniel Lindquist said...

"First, it's [Richard] Jeffrey, not Jeffries."

I spelled it right in the post! ;_;/

I think I keep confusing his name with "Jefferies tube". Which I also mispell. OTL

Duck said...

So you did – partial credit (failure) on this one. Wikipedia says "OTL" is an emoticon signifying failure (a man bowing) but after turning my head sideways for several minutes I still can't see it. OTL

Thanks for the Costa paper you sent, but now you'll have me reading instead of writing.

Daniel Lindquist said...

O is his head
T is his arms and torso
L is his legs, knees on the ground

OTL

Duck said...

A few isolated comments here, for what they're worth:

First, thanks for explaining OTL. I was looking at it wrong, and now I see it. Aspect dawning!

As for On Certainty, I agree with Daniel above, where he says:

"My preferred treatment of "hinge propositions" is just to repeat the Sellarsian dictum: You can put anything in doubt, but not all at once! You always need to leave some things not (presently) doubted. But I don't see any reason to believe in a special class of sentences which must not be doubted. There must always be some sentences which are not doubted, but there needn't be some sentences which are always not doubted. Note the quantifier shift."

That's right, but note also that the best word for "sentences which are presently not doubted" is "beliefs". "Hinge propositions" are current beliefs. Nick allows that this "seems perfectly reasonable", but if so I'm not sure why should go on to say that they are not propositions at all, as he does. He must mean "that seems perfectly reasonable, but I'm going in a different direction myself", because the views are clearly not compatible.

I also agree that OC is just a collection of notes where W is playing around (however seriously) with some ideas and never really settling on a solution. That's okay, it's still interesting; but I think claims of a "third stage" in his thought are a bit exaggerated.

Duck said...

Next, w/r/t Nick's first comment, I'm not sure that what we're doing when we decline to "define the bounds of what can/should be thought" is acknowledging "the authority of reason as such" due to "the transcendence of thought". I suppose whenever you reject what looks like a reductive account of thought then you are saying that thought "transcends" that account of it (here, its supposed limits); but what we are "accepting" here seems more (as in line w/ the account of OC above) is more the fact (of which we may indeed need to be "reminded") that (as W puts it) some things are "in fact not doubted".

That is, with the quantifier in the right place, as Daniel points out: It is always the case that some things are in fact not doubted; and these need not be the same things at all times.

So it's not so much that when we try to draw our line, some things (the same things?) always escape; it's that we are concerned with a domain in constant motion, so that drawing a line in the dirt and expecting your chickens to stay on one side of it is pointless, and building a fence to keep them in equally so.

Charles T. Wolverton said...

Hi, Dan -

We had an e-mail exchange last June motivated by my response to the Leiter post re suggested reading lists - mine being, apparently, closely aligned with yours: PMN, EPM, Ramberg's R&Critics essay, et al. I recently checked in here and belatedly found this sequence of postings that are closely related to my current pursuits. I assume that you're flagged by comments even if they aren't on currently active posts.

I've been battling DD's scheme-content essay, JM's response (which you sent me - thanks!), and these posts of yours. I think I have a reasonable grasp of the first two. All appear to start "in the middle" of the epistemic trek from non-cognitive infant to fully cognitive pre-schooler. This strikes me as problematic.

As JM says, S-C duality isn't just a dogma, it's inherently incoherent. And perhaps the problem is viewing the world-scheme-content interaction as being confined to the context of an individual. If we accept Sellars' dictum about awareness being "a linguistic affair", it would seem that the context should be social. And sure enough, society - at first personified by mom, dad, and other caregivers - provides the conceptual scheme that the infant comes to use (unknowingly, of course) in organizing - ie, segmenting - the undifferentiated sensory stream with which she is initially confronted. Then Lear (and according to deVries and Triplett's explication of EPM §33, Schlick as well) may have been on the right track with their applications of ostension, except that its application is most critical not at any cognitive stage of development but way back at pre-awareness. A caregiver presents an object and says a word. In time, this establishes an association between pieces of one sensory stream (the visual) and another (the aural). While Lear is right that initially the infant can't say the word, in time she is able to do so. And although I'm a bit of a skeptic about "thought" as a separate ability, if one wants to label the infant's new-found ability to recognize an object and parrot an associated word "pure thought", fine. In any event, that ability isn't "given", it must be learned.

Put in the terms of the DD and JM papers, in this view the world provides the sensory content streams, the caregivers embody the socially accepted conceptual scheme (AKA, language), and their ostensive teaching conveys to the infant where to put, so to speak, commas that segment the stream in accordance with the scheme.

From that perspective, I see the issue of an "endogenous given" as amounting to addressing what pre-awareness abilities must be in place in order for the infant to be able to engage in this process. And whatever the answer, those abilities will be the product of evolution, which provides one tie into "the world". They will be justified in the ultimate sense of having contributed to the survival of the species. Being innate, they will be unrevisable, other than perhaps as the result of further evolution. The linguistic scheme will be a product of social evolution and thus similarly justified, thereby providing another tie into "the world".

I'm not sure what "rationality" is. What I assume the word is supposed to capture seems to me not a matter of acquiring a new ability but of an existing ability having achieved a level of complexity. As Rorty describes it in PMN, at some point people notice that a child is no longer just parroting but "knows what she's talking about". Ie, becomes "rational"? In any event, that change seems likely to occur over time during the continuous developmental process rather than at some discernible point of discontinuity.

Since it's extremely unlikely that a novice has discovered something that experts have missed, I assume there's a major flaw somewhere in this view. So, I'd appreciate any corrective insights you care to provide.