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.

19 April 2009

I want this to be true so badly

To be fair, when Russell was in full propaganda mode for the new logic he was quite capable of blaming subject-predicate logic for the oppression of women, famine in China, and the First World War.
From Brandom's "Hegel and Analytic Philosophy". Sadly, no footnotes to the relevant Russelliana are provided.

13 April 2009

Towards a Reading of McDowell on English in Hegel and Gay People

McDowell, from "Toward a Reading of Hegel on Action in the Reason Chapter of the Phenomenology". He's just invoked Wittgenstein's claim that "light dawns gradually over the whole" -- the capacity to think doesn't come piecemeal, but involves a metabasis eis allos genos, as Aristotle and Kierkegaard put it -- a leap into another kind.

Now suppose that light has dawned for one, in the specific way that consists in becoming a speaker of English. If there are other speakers of English around, they will recognize one as a speaker of English. That is not an empirical claim -- as if speakers of English just happen to be good at recognizing one another (like gay people, as some folk wisdom has it). Being a speaker of a language is not contingently connected with the ability to recognize one's fellow-speakers. It includes that ability. It makes no sense to suppose someone might be a speaker of English though people who recognize one another as speakers of English do not recognize her as one, or she does not recognize them as fellow-speakers. This is an a priori link between the status and the idea of recognition.
I think that speaking English is more like "gaydar" than McDowell sees. Consider the Jive-talking scene in Airplane!

I venture the following bold conjecture: The Jive-talkers here are speaking English. (If it please you, they are speaking a dialect of it, but I shan't suppose there is any other way to speak English than by speaking some dialect or other.) Further, I claim that the stewardess and the old lady who "speaks Jive" recognize one another as speakers of English.

Hence this scene serves as a counter-example to McDowell's claim: It not only makes sense to suppose that someone might speak English despite not being recognized by other English-speakers (who can recognize each other as English-speakers), but I find it hard to believe that such things don't actually happen. Some people have really thick accents, or speak with odd grammars (Ebonics comes to mind), or just have vocabularies which are unfamiliar to the point of not being immediately comprehensible. (Jargon.) Or to use one of Davidson's favorite examples: it is hard to buy that James Joyce wrote in something other than English, and it is easy to understand why someone would deny it. (There's more than one way to write "in English".)

A possible response: "Jive" really is not English. After all, the lady claims to "speak Jive" like one might claim to "speak Spanish". But the old lady's claim to "speak Jive" is of course a joke; Airplane! is a comedy. One can "speak Jive" only by speaking English.

I think this is even clearer in this parody from a terrible webcomic: "Does anyone here speak 1337?" The fellow who needs his pills is merely employing an odd typographical scheme (and some odd spellings), in one of the manners which constitutes the family of "13375|>34|<". One can't understand what "| n33d m4 p|11z" means without understanding what "I need my pills" means (or at least, that's not how it generally goes -- I suppose there's nothing stopping someone from learning 1337 as their primary English script). (We can imagine all of this happening in a chat room, to skirt the issue of how one can speak in a particular typographical scheme.) Here we have three monolingual English-speakers, two of whom can understand all three, and a third who can only understand one of the others. But everyone involved would select "English" when asked to select a language at the ATM.

Mutual recognition just isn't as closely linked to "speaking the same language" as McDowell claims it is; it's not transitive. Two English-speakers can recognize each other as such without it being the case that any English-speaker one of them can recognize as such could be recognized as such by the other. (The fellow in the fourth panel can recognize all parties involved as English-speakers-writers, even if the stewardess can't.)

Historical shifts work here, too; there's a diachronic as well as a synchronic sense in which "English" is not One Thing. As an empirical matter, I'm not at all sure that most of the people we can agree are English-speakers would be able to tell you that "And these few precepts in thy memory look thou character" is a sentence of English, as opposed to random English words in a string. A moment's inquiry has convinced me that I don't know what this sentence means, at least if I don't look at it in context. So, if I did manage to correctly guess that this is English, I would get its meaning wildly wrong, if I could even hazard a guess at it.

Now, all of this is pretty obvious. But overlooking the obvious is de riguer in philosophy. Especially if one tells oneself things like "Speaking English is a matter of being a member of the community of English speakers".

The upshot of all this is, I think, that McDowell's initial supposition doesn't make sense. There is no specific way of having "light dawn on one" that is "becoming a speaker of English". There are many such ways to become the many such things which fall under the vague umbrella-heading of "speaker of English".

Now, even if McDowell's universal claim fails, there's clearly a weaker claim that's right: Being an English-speaker requires there being some other English-speakers that recognize you as an English-speaker. (Here "there being" should be read broadly: they can all be dead, and none of the ones that would recognize you need to have ever recognized you as an English-speaker, since you could learn the language from audio tapes.) Stronger than that: There have to be some causal connections of the right kind connecting one English-speaker up to some other English-speakers -- it has to be possible to tell a story about why a particular speaker counts as an "English-speaker" rather than a speaker of some other kind. The stories could be convoluted, in particular instances. But some sort of story has to be capable of being told, in principle, even if no one actually knows all the details.

This weaker claim, though, is compatible with taking Davidson's line on "natural languages" like English: Speaking English is a matter of being able to understand other English-speakers, more or less, much of the time, for the most part, in many cases, etc.. It's not cleaner-cut than that. (We can draw firmer lines, if we like, for particular purposes. Maybe there's good reason to not teach Ebonics-friendly grammar in middle-school English courses. If we like, these could also be grounds to say that Ebonics "isn't English". Or we could simply say they're reasons not to teach that sort of grammar to students, and remain silent on whether or not Ebonics "is English".) There is no one thing that is "knowing how to speak English". Speaking English is a motley.

McDowell seems to be a bit unfair to Davidson, in addition to being wrong about English. In introducing the notion of a broadly Hegelian approach to practices such as "speaking a language", he notes that it's not a given that this is a viable approach. "Donald Davidson, for instance, argues that there is nothing essentially communal about the ability to make oneself understood by, say, doing what we call "speaking English.""

In one sense, this is right: There's no identifiable community that we can point to as the body which is capable of judging what is or is not "speaking English". There is no such "community", if communities are entities with identity. (The French pretend to have such a body, but I think that is all they do: pretend. People speak French as they please, and the official body tries to make them stop using English loan-words.) This is presumably how McDowell meant to be understood, in context. It strikes me as rash to think that there's anything un-Hegelian in this. (More on that in a moment.)

In another sense, this is just wrong: "speaking the same language" for Davidson is a matter of frequently converging on passing theories, and this can hold between many speakers all at once. Adam and Betty and Charles can all frequently converge on passing theories when speaking to one another, and this would mean they all "speak the same language". Davidson does focus on the minimal case of two speakers trying to communicate with each other, but the sort of communality which is in play here isn't limited to groups of two. In the sense in which "speaking English" is mentioned at all, it's a case of this wider communality. One has to frequently converge with many speakers, at least counterfactually, to be a speaker of something like "English". (It's important to not take Davidson's position as more radical than it is. He thinks we should take measures to preserve Basque, for instance. He sees no puzzle in the idea that there are speakers of Basque, or of German, or of French, or of English. It's just that many philosophers and linguists have made it impossible to get what that involves into view, because of prior commitments about what "languages" are.)

The sense in which McDowell is right about Davidson is that there is no notion of the community which can be appealed to to make sense of "speaking English". But there are many groupings which we appeal to to make sense of someone who "speaks English", and Davidson recognizes this. From the response to Pereda in the appendix to "Truth, Language, History": "Pereda has the sensible idea of trying to reconcile the Wittgensteinian and Tarskian modes by emphasizing the importance of a general background against which deviant verbal behavior is understood.... I see nothing wrong with Pereda's view, as long as it is taken as saying that members of a "speech community" share a host of overlapping, non-identical, habits of speech, and have corresponding expectations about what others in the community will mean by what they say (such a set of expectations is what is characterized by what I called a "prior theory"). It's worth noting that Davidson's treatment of metaphors also requires this sort of general background be in view: only if the literal meanings of words is settled can metaphors be employed.

In the context of McDowell's article (which is a response to Pippin's most recent views about Hegel on action), the remarks about Davidson are a preamble. But the reason the preamble exists is because McDowell claims that we have to assume that Davidson is wrong about language if we are to take a Hegelian view of action (such as saying that things are thus-and-so). This would be unfortunate, if true. (Certainly I have a fair bit invested in its being wrong.) But I don't think the conditional holds.

Here's how McDowell puts the upshot of the Phenomenology: "The point is to equip the consciousness that is the recipient of the education recapitulated in the Phenomenology with a satisfactory conception of what it is to be an autonomous inhabitant of the space of reasons at all.... What is needed is awareness that one is in touch with reasons only by virtue of one's formation in a Sittlichkeit, combined with a critical attitude to the conception of reasons one finds oneself with." I think this is entirely compatible with Davidson, given a certain reading of "formation in a Sittlichkeit".

It would certainly be Davidsonian to claim that one can be in touch with reasons only by having been made a member of the "community of minds", and that it is in dialogue that understanding is reached -- not only understanding of others, but also of oneself, and of our shared world. This gives us the two parts of the Hegelian requirement McDowell mentions: the critical attitude is that openness to the other that characterizes genuine dialogue, which Davidson tends to thematize as the "understanding of the possibility of error", and the "formation in a Sittlichkeit" is just that whereby one has been made capable of coming to be a dialogue-partner at all: membership in the community of minds.

(I hasten to add that dialogue can involve more than two parties, as is the norm in Plato's dialogues. To put the point in a way McDowell should like: dialogue is not simply a matter of "I-Thou" relations between speakers, but is a matter of speakers coming under the sway of the dialogue itself; that I am a participant in the dialogue is thus a salient "I-We" relation. I can be made sense of, even in my self-understanding, only with reference to the dialogue, which can involve an open-ended number of participants. Apart from such ongoing enterprises of inquiry, I could not be in touch with reasons at all. And contrariwise, for a period of time I can be the only participant in a dialogue, soliloquizing. I can do this only against the background of inquiry in common with others, who are also capable of passing judgement on the notions I produce in my temporary solitude.)

Now, it's reasonable to think that I've here pushed the Hegelian notion of Sittlichkeit to the breaking point: such fluid and open-ended communities as "wherever conversations happen" don't seem to be the sort of thing Hegel meant. Sittlichkeit is more closely tied to World-History and the State, in Hegel. Forms of Sittlichkeit are the sort of thing that can be conceived as elements in the World-Historical unfolding of the Idea (from the Orient to the Germanic nations by way of Greece and Rome). So, "formation in a Sittlichkeit" must be more-or-less "becoming a citizen in some state or other". But I think this betrays the bad orientation towards Sittlichkeit that Hegel identifies with Greek culture: one's Sittlichkeit is simply given and stands independent of one. The proper, modern orientation is rather to see one's Sittlichkeit as not independent of one's subjectivity, but partly constituted by it: I am a moment of it, in my free particularity. There is nothing freestanding that I could be related to that would do the job of a Sittlichkeit; I simply find myself in the midst of a mass of concerns, and this is being formed into a moment of Sittlichkeit. There's nothing in the notion of Sittlichkeit as such that demands more than this. It takes more work for Hegel to show that the notion of "lots of subjects interacting with one another" has more structure than this, that it is and ought to be laid out in the way states are. Such concerns, I think, carry us beyond the arena McDowell is concerned with. A more chaotic, Davidsonian conception of what Sittlichkeits are will do as well for the purpose of providing a context in which mindedness can come on the scene. The question whether or not the very idea of responsiveness to reasons as such has any necessary connection to any particular way of organizing ourselves can be set to the side.

This approach also seems to fit more nicely with the "modernist" Hegel that McDowell takes over from Pippin: "In reflecting about how to think and act, we cannot take on trust the deliverances of any received authority. We are entirely on our own." Who the relevant "we" is can't be "taken on trust" either, but is also up for reflecting on. I have to judge for myself who my dialogue-partners are, and what the dialogue is about, and if there's even anything like this at all.

A postscript about the reading of Hegel that forms the bulk of the article: It all looks right to me; McDowell's reading here seems as able as his reading in Heterodox Lordship and Bondage. His reading here is less radical, though, since his opponent is just Pippin, rather than the received view of the "master-slave dialectic". McDowell seems to me to ably put paid to Pippin's view, both in itself and as a reading of Hegel.

22 March 2009

A Puzzle about Reception History

In "Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective" McDowell wishes that Davidson offered us an account of brutes which had more to say than the rough, unsatisfying bits he actually offered. It's clear in the context that McDowell doesn't just wish that Davidson had offered a fuller account, but that he wants a fuller account period. Davidson's story is (at best) frighteningly incomplete, and probably just wrong on a lot, but McDowell doesn't have anything to offer in its place.

This essay was published in 2003. It can't have been written much earlier, since it was presented at a symposium devoted to Davidson's third collection (thus the title), and that collection didn't come out until 2001.

Michael Thompson had been an assistant professor at Pitt since 1992. He'd been an associate professor since 1999. "The Representation of Life" was first published in 1995.

It seems implausible that McDowell would not have mentioned "The Representation of Life" in this context, if he'd read it. It offers him just the sort of thing he asked for. It's not particularly subtle about it, either. McDowell wants a better treatment of brutes: here it is! That is all it is about! It is devoted to doing justice to just the sorts of facts that Davidson has to paper over!

But, McDowell shows no indication of being familiar with Thompson's treatment of brutes.

How could McDowell have missed reading one of Thompson's key essays for so long? Or if he hadn't, what the hell happened here? It can't be that he thought Thompson would be inimicable to Davidson (because of essentialism or whatever), since McDowell is normally fine with urging things on Davidson. But what problem could McDowell have had with Thompson? (There are no hedges when he footnotes "The Representation of Life" in "Avoiding the Myth of the Given" three years later, where he is drawing explicitly on Thompson's treatment of animals.)

I guess we all have things we mean to read, but haven't gotten around to....

06 March 2009

Watchmen review

It was awesome.

03 March 2009

McDowell's Certainty

Tim Thornton:

["Understanding Wittgenstein's On Certainty"] was suggested to me by one of Moyal-Sharrock’s PhD students at Hertfordshire, who said that it was an interesting counter to McDowell. I think that the contrast she had in mind was between McDowell’s commitment to the connection between mind and world being always within the realm of concepts and Moyal-Sharrock’s emphasis on a non-propositional bedrock of animal certainty / certainties.
Not having read the book, but having been keeping an eye out for McDowell's references to "On Certainty", my first impression is to expect that the difference comes in whether or not one wants to call "hinge propositions" things known. Wittgenstein pretty clearly thinks there's something wrong with that; McDowell thinks it's alright.

Now, going just by the bits I skimmed on Moyal-Sharrock's webpage and Thornton's remarks, I'm inclined to suspect that she crosses two different sorts of necessary conditions:

One has to be capable of reacting differentially to the sorts of things one is supposed to be regarding as salient in one's environment to be capable of reporting on how those things stand, or to be capable of "taking in" how those things are via experience. If one doesn't react in different ways to different sorts of stimuli, then one can't take notice of the distinctions between those sorts of things experientially. (I take this to be the point of Brandom's "RDRD"s, reliable discursive responsive dispositions.) If one's body was dead to the world, then one's mind would be, also. I take this to be what Thornton was gesturing at when speaking of the "animal" background necessary for the "game of giving and asking for reasons". All very standard Sellarsian stuff. This sort of thing is a necessary condition on being able to take a stand in the space of reasons (as it's a necessary condition on being able to know things noninferentially, and a body of knowledge needs noninferential "groundings" to distinguish it from "rumors and hoaxes", so being able to give reasons for what one holds requires RDRDs).

This is, I think, different from the sort of thing that bothered Wittgenstein in (large parts of) "On Certainty" -- "hinge propositions" (so-called because of two or three places where W. employs the metaphor of our practice "turning on them"). The thing that bothered Wittgenstein was that we can't sensibly try to figure out what is the case, in a particular instance, or what so-and-so means, in a particular instance, unless there is a great deal we simply do not put under question, in that instance. This is a necessary condition for inquiry or interpretation to be possible. Putting something in question requires not putting everything in question at once. (This is also a familiar Sellarsian/Davidsonian point.) It doesn't seem plausible to me to call this "animal" certainty -- what sort of certainty would it be being opposed to? For this sort of certainty is just: not doubting that that this is how things are.

This, I think, is what bothered Wittgenstein about Moore's "here's one hand, and here's another": In a situation in which no one is trying to figure out if there are any hands to be found, Moore presents himself as having concluded that: Yes, there are. Here is one hand, and here is another. But if this wasn't in question, then there's no conclusion drawn here. So Moore seems to "cross the streams". He takes something that was being held constant, and acts as if it was something he'd just discovered to be the case (or at least thought that we'd not noticed).

Now, McDowell. From a footnote in "Knowledge by Hearsay": "Much of "On Certainty" is about the status of this sort of knowledge. Wittgenstein himself is dubious about counting it as knowledge; but I think that is inessential to his main point, which is to warn against assimilating the sort of thing in question -- propositions that function as pivots on which our practices of looking for grounds for belief can hinge, by not being on the agenda for testing or confirmation -- to cases where it makes sense to look for the grounds of a belief. (Wittgenstein's doubt about counting these propositions as known may reflect the influence of the kind of conception of knowledge I am going to attack.)" For those who haven't read the essay, the attack in "Hearsay" is just what a reader of "Mind and World" would expect; McDowell thinks that testimony can put its hearer in touch with the facts themselves, and he opposes a "highest common factor" conception of what knowing via testimony must be like.

(A fun bit of trivia: in this essay, McDowell refers to his own position as "coherentism" and calls Davidsonian coherentism "the heroic position" -- heroic because it tries valiantly to just do without "absolute starting points" by just dropping noninferential groundings for knowledge tout court. The third position is still just the "Myth of the Given". I rather like the designation "the heroic position". And this way of laying out the dialect does a better job, I think, of making clear where Davidson fits into the dialectic of "Mind and World".)

Now, the way McDowell presents Wittgenstein's point here strikes me as agreeable. It is important to not assimilate things held in doubt to things not held in doubt. Missing this distinction will make a hash of any attempt to give an account of inquiry: it'll make it seem like Descartes was asking questions in the only way that it makes sense to ask them (or at least the only way that's not partly dogmatic). Any inquiry which doesn't begin by putting everything in question will look like it's "chickening out" in the face of hard, empirical Reality. From another vantage point: Not making Wittgenstein's distinction will make it seem like any claim to know something noninferentially is dependent for its strength on a background of premises which justify it, so that knowing that there's a pink cube in front of me must rely on my antecedently knowing that the world is laid open to view in front of me. And any attempt to know that the world is laid out in front of me by looking at it will beg the question, as the sort of knowledge I get from looking presumes what I here want to know by looking. Not drawing Wittgenstein's distinction then leads to a "highest common factor" view of knowledge. This is familiar territory for McDowell.

But, I think there's something more going on in McDowell here, and I don't like some of the other things I find. Spelling out what's bothering me here (and it's been bothering me since I first read the first appendix to "Mind and World") will require some quote-mining. I'll assume that the interested reader can look at section nine of the first appendix to "Mind and World" themself, but there are other bits that bear noting.

From the opening paragraphs of "Knowledge by Hearsay":
much of the knowledge we have through language was surely not acquired by understanding a linguistic production. Part of the point here is that we were not yet capable of understanding the elements of what we know through language when we started to acquire them. The body of sentences we accepted from our elders needs to have become quite comprehensive before any of them were comprehended. "Light dawns gradually over the whole." ("On Certainty" ss141) But the image of dawning light does not apply only to coming to understand the members of a stock of sentences accepted from one's elders. The image also fits a general sense in which growing into a language is growing into being in possession of the world, as opposed to having a mere animal ability to cope with a habitat. [Here McDowell footnotes "Truth and Method" p.443: "Language is not just one of man's possessions in the world, but on it depends the fact that man has a world at all."] And much of the knowledge that enters into our possession of the world, even though we have it through language, is not something we have been told. It need never have been enunciated in our hearing; rather, we find it implicit in the cognitive-practical ways of proceeding into which we were initiated when we learned our language.
Now, read in one way, I have no problem with any of this. Knowing something because one has been handed down the knowledge by one of the traditions one has been initiated into is a real way of knowing things. It's unwise to assimilate it to knowledge gained via testimony, for reasons McDowell explores in "Hearsay": being able to learn something via testimony requires having a conception of oneself as a hearer, and the other fellow as trying to impart knowledge. This sort of self-conception is necessary if one is to be capable of judging whether or not accepting a particular bit of testimony is doxastically responsible. And this sort of self-conception is only available downstream of picking up one's first language, being initially led into the space of reasons. So the sorts of things one knows because one has been initiated into a tradition aren't known by testimony. (I think this is a stronger way of putting the point than McDowell offers here -- from the fact that what is known hasn't been enunciated in one's hearing it remains an open question whether or not what one knows here mightn't be something gained via inference from what one learned via testimony. This is one sense in which something can be "implicit in the cognitive-practical ways of proceeding" in which we proceed as rational animals: the way of proceeding includes knowledge gained by experience or by testimony (because the way of proceeding involves communicating with others and taking in one's surroundings), and what is "implicit" is just what follows inferentially from this knowledge. This clearly isn't what McDowell wants to draw attention to.)

One neat benefit of drawing this distinction: We can rehabilitate the idea that two people can disagree with one another because of differing background commitments (or even "conceptual schemes") while agreeing on "empirical matters". For they can agree in what experience discloses to them while disagreeing about something each of them has been handed down by their tradition (one can be handed down P, the other ~P). This would be akin to two people disagreeing over whether or not a certain bird is an emu because one of them recalls the bird-book wrong (and so wants to call it an ostrich, and wants to say it lives in Africa and lays the largest egg of any bird etc.). Belief in the possibility of incommensurable conceptual schemes (in the relativistic sense) would then follow if one held that what one had been handed down by one's tradition was invulnerable to revision by experience or testimony; the sort of scheme-content dualism Davidson attributes to Kant (where there's only one scheme) would follow from believing that there's only one possible set of beliefs one can be handed down by one's tradition. (Both of these further claims, I hasten to add, seem implausible. And it would only be in certain narrow circumstances that two people could agree on what experience discloses while disagreeing on what inferences experience licenses them to draw. And narrower still cases where the disagreement about inferential licenses follows from a background difference in beliefs acquired via tradition, rather than differing in other beliefs picked up via experience or testimony.)

Where I want to differ with McDowell, then, is not on the very idea of knowing things via "the teachings of the elders" or things like that. One can simply have a belief because of how one was raised, and if it's true I have no problem with counting it as knowledge. (If one insists, you can add: and provided one has the belief due to being raised in the right way, so that it counts as justified in the right way to be knowledge.) And placing this sort of knowledge alongside learning a language seems right. Learning to cope with a novel vocabulary involves coming to know things through, so to speak, seeing that they're in the air around the practice. I don't think Davidson would reject this sort of thing, either -- when he denies that it's necessary that a speaker has ever spoken the same language as anyone else, he affirms that a speaker can only pick up what language they have by interacting with other speakers. So a child who doesn't learn to speak just as his teachers aimed at might still pick things up from their attempts, and this could be the same sort of knowledge by tradition that he would've gained if he had learned to speak just as his teachers wished. (He might have missed some of the things they aimed to teach, or he might have grasped some things they didn't think they were imparting, or even that they would reject. But I don't think any of this is a threat to the general Gadamerian idea McDowell is keen to defend.)

If this is all McDowell wants out of "the endogenous given", then the endogenous given is harmless. Where I think McDowell goes wrong is in linking this good Gadamerian idea about tradition to the good Wittgensteinian idea about a distinction between hinge propositions and others: McDowell assimilates the two, and further identifies them with "necessary forms of mindedness" and with analytic propositions (all in some very dense paragraphs at the end of the first appendix to "Mind and World"). Setting aside the further identifications, the first one seems to me to be wrong.

I think Wittgenstein was right to include "man has never been on the moon" among his examples of a "hinge proposition". It's something that (in the 50's) one would be right to hold fast as one went about in the world. If something implied that a man had been on the moon, then this would be sufficient to show it false (by modus tollens). Once the "space race" began, it would've gradually shifted from hinge to door (so to speak). And the way in which it could so shift would not be a matter of, say, experience simply revealing that it was no longer true: for hinge propositions are the standard by which we manage experience, by which we judge whether to accept or reject a particular case of things seeming to be thus-and-so. Experience would then not disprove a hinge proposition for the same reason that thermometers don't have a line that reads "this thermometer is broken". How one accounts for changing hinge propositions is just going to be a different sort of thing in epistemology. One which, as far as I can tell, McDowell doesn't give us any help in coping with.

It might be thought that McDowell was right to identify hinge propositions with analytic propositions and "necessary forms of mindedness", if experience can't threaten them. But here I think my presentation suffers from the fact that I don't have a clear grip on what I want to offer as an account of change in hinge propositions. (Barring unhappy surprises, I aim to just crib from Isaac Levi on the matter.) For I think that, in another sense, experience can lead one to reject a hinge proposition. Continuing the analogy with the thermometer, it would be similar to trashing a thermometer which read -20 degrees on a summer day, when one had intended to use the thermometer to measure the temperature outside. One had further ancillary commitments which lead one to reject the standard one was using, because of something in the way that standard had functioned in its use as a standard. It can't be "standards all the way down", so it might seem that McDowell must be right: there's a bedrock of absolutely firm standards, and these are the necessary forms any possible mindedness must take. But I think this is too quick. Levi gives an account of something he calls routine contraction, in which beliefs are rejected simply because they form a contradictory pair (P and ~P), and such things are unfit for use in the way beliefs are used (that is, as standards in inquiry). For anything is compatible with them -- anything which conflicts with P agrees with ~P, and vice-versa. The reason this is called "routine" is because it is parallel to routine expansion, in which beliefs are gained via an operating habit (as opposed to explicitly deciding to take what the map says as right, or to believe what one's mother says about how to treat a cold, or whatever). The set of beliefs one uses as a standard in inquiry function as a background against which such habits can be intelligible to have, but routine expansion is distinguished from expansion due to inquiry. I omit the details because I am not entirely firm on them; hopefully Duck can correct me if I've messed up any of this so far. But the upshot is: it is the case that taking one's experience at face value can lead to a routine contraction which eliminates a hinge proposition from one's set of beliefs. Or, more concretely, one might cease to hold as a hinge proposition the claim that Man has never been on the moon because of what one read on the front page of the New York Times. Though if one had been trying to make sense of an arbitrary stranger who was talking about NASA landing on the moon, one would have ruled out of court at the outset that he might be right that man had been on the moon -- the stranger would be taken to be a crank, as it were a priori. Like I said: the manner in which hinge propositions can be revised is tricky. (One can just say "one revises them as one judges best" but this says nothing, for they are the standard by which one judges what is best.)

Hinge propositions, I then want to say, are corrigible. This doesn't distinguish them from beliefs gained by tradition: here, too, I want to say they're corrigible. And here McDowell has to agree with me, or else his rhetoric about the "standing duty to reflect" on what one's traditions have handed one down, as what guarantees the rationality of taking the Gadamerian line on traditions, is just empty gassing.

What, then, prevents identification of hinge propositions with propositions held true because of how one was raised?

It is this: one can pick up hinge propositions other ways, too. It's easily thinkable that some children in Wittgenstein's day did not learn that man had never been on the moon via their tradition, but rather via reading about it in astronomy books, or by asking an adult whether or not there were men on the moon, as there were men in distant countries. And there's no reason to think that Wittgenstein gained this particular belief in any special way. Who knows when he first realized that men had never gone to the moon?

Now, it might seem that I'm stacking the deck against McDowell by my choice of example. But I think that the more standard examples of "hinge propositions" are not relevantly different. For in each case, the proposition's status as a "hinge" is contingent on how things fall out as life goes on. It might end up retracted due to the commitments one gained via habitual expansion. (And this would include cases such as accepting the conclusion of a skeptical argument, where it's the sort of thing one finds compelling.)

As a conclusion, I want to say: "Hinge" is a status, not a kind. A proposition which one holds as a hinge might later be rejected as simply false. And I want to say exactly the same thing about "invulnerability to experience" -- which is just to repeat C.I. Lewis's position on the issue from A Pragmatic Conception of the A Priori. And if I say the same thing about analyticity, then this is close to Quine's mature position: For late Quine, "a bachelor is an unmarried male" is analytic for a speaker because that speaker learns that this is a true sentence at the same time that the speaker learns to use the word "bachelor". For non-native speakers, it is not analytic, nor is it analytic for the odd native speaker who learns the word in some way other than learning that "a bachelor is an unmarried male" is true.

"Necessary forms of mindedness" are a different issue: here I don't want to hold on to the notion at all. If I can't make sense of someone holding that ~P where I hold that P, then I want to say that this is a failure of imagination on my part. (Which isn't to say it's blameworthy. Unlimited imaginative power is no duty, which is good because it's clearly impossible for we mortals. And of course it says nothing about the truth or falsity of P.) And where I want to talk about conceptual relations -- say, "belief is intrinsically veridical" -- it seems to me silly to claim to be limning the "necessary forms any mindedness must take" -- unless this be said with a keen awareness that philosophy is hard, and philosophers are often wrong. Rather, I want to just say: this is true, and the modality attached to it can go hang. (To deny "necessity" to a claim is not to say that it's only possible instead.) For the sorts of claims made here are as shaky as any (and so as firm as any). Rationality thus seems to demand that we recognize a standing duty to reflect on them. Which means not ruling out serious reflection a priori, by lumping them into a pile labeled "analytic" or "necessary" or "a priori".

As a final caveat, another of the few places where McDowell mentions "On Certainty". From "Knowledge and the Internal Revisited":
I recognize my own authority as a reporter of greenness. But I would be at a loss if pressed for premises for an argument that would have my reliability about greenness as a conclusion. My reliability about that kind of thing has for me, rather, a sort of status Wittgenstein considers in "On Certainty". It is held firm for me by my whole conception of the world with myself in touch with it, and not as the conclusion from an inference from some part of it.
I take it that this status is that of a hinge proposition. I also take it that there is no temptation whatsoever to claim that "McDowell can recognize green things, in normal lighting conditions" is analytic, or necessary, or anything of the kind. I also take it that it would be uncontentious to speculate that McDowell picked up his capacity to recognize green things when he learned to use the word "green", as taught by his elders. This would then be a case of an endogenously given hinge proposition which is neither analytic nor necessary, and which is further plainly in danger of being made false by experience -- if McDowell goes blind, for example (Heaven forbid). So it's not clear to me how much I'm trying to distance myself from McDowell, and how much I'm just trying to get clear on what his view is.

I can make up an interpretation on which it's reasonable to talk about rehabilitating "interesting analytic judgements" and an "endogenously given" conceptual scheme, but I can't both do this and claim to be disagreeing with "the familiar tenants of Quinean philosophy". And the necessity-talk (and the kind words for Lear's "Leaving the World Alone") just strike me as bad moves. Lear's piece tries to argue for an a priori refutation of Dummett's claims that our logic needs an intuitionistic revision, as in he doesn't deal with Dummett's arguments in reaching the conclusion that Dummett is wrong. This just seems to me to be as wrong as wrong can be. And McDowell shouldn't be so hard on Quine.

This post is an attempt to work things out that I'm not entirely settled on. What could be a better tribute to "On Certainty"?

23 February 2009

Avoiding the Myth of the Given

I've attempted, once again, to get a grip on "Avoiding the Myth of the Given". I'm pretty happy with how this turned out. I just ignore the part I hate!

If the formatting is a little odd, it's because it didn't copypasta quite right.
In a retrospective account of “Mind and World” McDowell writes that

“Trying to spell out [the possibility that we can regard judgements as being justified by experiences, conceived of as actualizations of conceptual capacities], which I found missing from Davidson's picture, I made one of the assumptions I have here [in this article from 2008] renounced: that if experiences are actualizations of conceptual capacities, they must have propositional content. That gave Davidson an opening for a telling response. Davidson argued that if by "experience" we mean something with propositional content, it can only be a case of taking things to be so, distinctive in being caused by the impact of the environment on our sensory apparatus. But of course his picture includes such things. So I was wrong, he claimed, to suppose there is anything missing from his picture. I want to insist, against Davidson, that experiencing is not taking things to be so." (p.268/9 of “Avoiding the Myth of the Given”)

Here McDowell rehearses one of Davidson’s responses to “Mind and World”: if an experiencing is something which can provide reasons for believing that things are thus and so, then it must be something to which the subject attaches a subjective probability – the subject must associate the content of the experience with some degree of credence. But then the experiencing must just be a belief. In this article, McDowell grants to Davidson that this is the correct thing to say if one does not distinguish “propositional content” from a novelty McDowell introduces in “Avoiding”, called “intuitional content”: "If we avoid the Myth [of the Given] by conceiving experiences as actualizations of conceptual capacities, while retaining the assumption that that requires crediting experiences with propositional content, Davidson's point seems well taken. If experiences had propositional content, it is hard to deny that experiencing is taking things to be so, rather than what I want it to be: a different kind of thing that entitles us to take things to be so." (p.269) It thus seems that, as of his most recent publications, McDowell is of the opinion that his new distinction between “intuitional” and “propositional” content is essential to making clear what’s missing from Davidson’s system. Without it, if one simply speak as McDowell had been of “experiences possessing propositional content”, the point is ceded to Davidson: experiences can only be more beliefs (albeit ones distinguished by a peculiar causal history). This is precisely what Davidson wants to say about perception, if he has to speak of it at all: “To perceive that it is snowing is, under appropriate circumstances, to be caused (in the right way) by one’s senses to believe that it is snowing by the actually falling snow. Sensations no doubt play their role, but that role is not of providing evidence for the belief.” (Introduction to Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective p.xvi) (Earlier comments in this introduction make it clear that Davidson is keen to deny that sensations provide evidence so as to ensure that perception can be direct, offering us unmitigated contact with reality – the actually falling snow, in this case. He notes that he ought to have been giving credit to Sellars’s “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind” for making him sensitive to this, years and years ago. Davidson thus opposed McDowell in order to secure something McDowell takes himself to be securing for us.)

Given that the position articulated in “Avoiding” is McDowell’s most recent position, and given that he here cedes to Davidson that his main criticism hit its target, it is worth trying to work out what McDowell’s new position is supposed to be. It will turn out that it’s not clear that McDowell’s new position is coherent as stated, but it is suggestive of a position that McDowell could adopt to evade Davidson’s criticism. (Many exasperating details of “Avoiding” will be sidestepped in this presentation, since I think they can come apart from this revision of McDowell’s position. The other revision seems to me to simply be a mistake, and I will pretend McDowell never brought it up.)

First off, in changing his mind about what kind of content experiences have, McDowell has not given up the claim he’s most famous for, that the content of experiences is “unboundedly conceptual”: "it is right to say the content unified in intuitions is of the same kind as the content unified in judgements, that is, conceptual content." (p.264) In “Avoiding” as in his earlier position in “Mind and World”, McDowell urges us to regard experiences as passive actualizations of a subject’s conceptual capacities, where conceptual capacities are paradigmatically those capacities actively utilized in acts of judgement. But in “Avoiding” McDowell regards these two actualizations of a subject’s conceptual capacities as involving two different kinds of unity. The contents of intuitions have intuitional unity, and the contents of judgements have propositional unity. The main contrast between the two seems to be whether the content is articulated or merely articulable. McDowell continues to speak of the former as “propositional content” (or “discursive content” – in both cases the sort of content involved in judgements is intended); the latter he calls “intuitional content”. The kinds of unity are just the kinds that belong to the kinds of content.

"Discursive content is articulated. Intuitional content is not." (p. 262) This should not be taken as saying that intuitions involve some kind of content which is utterly foreign to judging: "an intuition's content is all conceptual, in this sense: it is in the intuition in a form in which one could make it, that very content, figure in discursive activity." (p.265) Problems should be coming into view: if the “very content” which is present in an intuition is capable of being part of the content of a judgement, and if the content of a judgement is both discursive and articulated, then must not the content of the intuition be likewise? This formulation is not the only place in the article where McDowell seems to slip up, either: "Whether by way of introducing new discursive capacities or not, the subject of an intuition is in a position to put aspects of its content, the very content that is already present in the intuition, together in discursive performance." (p.264)

Talking of aspects of “the very content” of an intuition as also being (potentially) the content of a judgement is something natural for the McDowell of “Mind and World” to say. It is given to me in experience (in an intuition) that there is a red cube in front of me, and so I can knowledgeably judge that there is a red cube in front of me. But if one of the main points of “Avoiding” is to avoid saying that intuitions have the same kind of content as judgements, it seems simply incoherent for McDowell to continue to speak this way. He should rather speak elliptically: Part of the content of my experience is such that, were I to articulate it discursively, I should articulate a claim to the effect that there is a red cube in front of me. The content of an intuition as such is unarticulated and non-discursive. Hence I cannot express it by directly mentioning a sentence (such as there is a red cube in front of me), for sentences are already articulated and discursive entities – they are ready-made to make claims with. Intuitional content can only be understood on analogy with sentences, on pain of losing the distinction between intuitional and propositional content which McDowell now thinks is so important. Or, perhaps less enigmatically, McDowell might say that a particular intuition has the content that would license a claim that there is a red cube in front of me; the removal by one level would thus distinguish it from a judgement, which might have the content that there is a red cube in front of me, while also making it perspicuous how the two contents are supposed to be related. It would also make clear the difference between knowledge gained by experience and knowledge gained by testimony: the content of a piece of testimony is of the that there is a red cube in front of me form. It is literally a claim, whereas experiences only “so to speak” contain or make claims (to echo a claim of Sellars’s that McDowell claims is “wrong in letter, but right in spirit”; I think that one can read Sellars’ claim as right even in letter, if one puts a proper stress on the “so to speak”).

Read this way, McDowell’s position does not appear to have changed since “Mind and World”, or at least not so substantially as he implies in “Avoiding”. McDowell can still say something like “Seeing (veridically) that there is a red cube in front of one is being in a state such that one is licensed to believe that there is a red cube in front of one, provided one believes that one is in normal lightning conditions etc., or else to (unlicensedly, but rationally) believe that it merely appears to one as if there were a red cube in front of one, or to suspend judgement between these two.” Such a state is not a belief, but is internally related to beliefs. It is not itself taking a stand on how things are, but being in the state makes a certain kind of stand rationally justified to take up (namely judging that there is a red cube in front of one). Such a state also provides a “ground” for justifications in the sense McDowell wanted in “Mind and World” and Davidson wanted nowhere: forming a belief on the basis that one is in a state of seeing that things are thus-and-so is not the sort of thing one can ask for further justification regarding; a skeptic has to shift ground and question whether or not one is really in that state, and not another. For forming a belief that things are thus-and-so on the basis of a veridical experience is not something that could need further grounding: it is a case of the world making itself manifest to a subject. Taking experience at face value like this is only possible with a background of beliefs of an appropriate sort (about normal lighting etc.) and with an accompaniment of beliefs of an appropriate sort (that one is in a state of seeing that there is a red cube in front of one, for instance), but the belief formed on the basis of experience is not an inference from any of these. And so there is no question of its inferential credentials: it comes from no premises, and so there is no question about the truth of the premises from which one reasoned in coming to hold it.

This sort of position would give McDowell what he did not find in Davidson, while also making clear why Davidson’s response does not win the day: it is a method of justifiably forming beliefs which is noninferential, yet which is an exercise of a subject’s rationality. And so it is neither a case of forming a belief on the basis of another belief, nor forming a belief through simply being “struck” with one due to the causal impacts of the world. It is simply not something Davidson gives any account of, though the parenthetical “in the right way” in which beliefs have to be formed to count as “perception”, by Davidson’s definition, probably would demand something like this account to flesh it out. For it is hard to believe that “deviant causal chains” would be avoidable in any other way of fleshing out the story than experiences “so to speak, containing claims” which they licensed their subjects to take at face value. Without the “right way” involving forming beliefs because they are how things are disclosed to one in experience, it also seems implausible that our perceptual contact with objects would be “direct”, as Davidson wished it to be. Hence for Davidson to be right, he has to be wrong: if he wants to account for direct perception of objects & events in the world within his system, he must modify it to include the sort of picture of experience McDowell offers us. Without modification, his system leaves it mysterious how perception is supposed to fit into things, and thus we can feel a sense of vertigo: What if the objects I behold in perception just have no relation to the things I believe? And this is just the fear of “frictionless spinning” that McDowell lays out as one end of the teeter-totter in “Mind and World”.

22 February 2009

Davidson's Conceptual Dualism

A citation from a post from a while back at "Frame/Sing":

Here I want to refer to my friend and former colleague at Warwick University Tim Thornton, a Wittgensteinian. He told me years ago that he never understood why Davidson was a conceptual dualist. Why stop at two conceptual spheres or modes of description? Why is the distinction between the mental and the physical so much more compelling than any other way that we can think of to describe the world? Would it not be sensible to say that all situations can, in some way, be described as moral? Tim Thornton thought that conceptual pluralism made more, Wittgensteinian, sense. (footnote, p. 27, Davidson and Spinoza: Mind, Matter and Morality, Floris van der Berg)

This actually comes up in one of the "Davidson in Conversation" interviews, with Stuart Hampshire. Here's a quote from Davidson:
I certainly think that we have more than two ways of conceiving reality. I often sound as if I think there are just two, natural science and psychology or something, but, no, there are a lot of natural sciences, and they have different ways of describing things, perhaps irreducibly different…. I don’t know how you’d count potential conceptual schemes, so I don’t see that one should boggle at them [like Spinoza did].
So ,it seems that Thornton’s point was appreciated by Davidson. He just wrote as if he hadn’t thought of it a lot of the time, because the only relevant schemes in the context were the mental & the physical (the rational and the nomic).

Incidentally, this is a nice instance of Davidson talking about "conceptual schemes" in a way that doesn't involve the scheme-content dualism. Later in the same interview, he notes that in physics we plausibly "don't have the best conceptual scheme for the task" (of formulating laws with no exceptions etc.) and that we can advance by changing our scheme. So it seems that Davidson was fine with talking about "conceptual schemes" in a basically Kuhnian way. Which is interesting. Certainly a lot of people have worried about a tension between the two. (I know I have.) Davidson doesn't seem to feel a tension -- he just uses "conceptual schemes" here, without comment.

There's a lot of interesting things in the "In Conversation" videos. I wish they were more easily accessible; only the Rorty one is online, as far as I can tell.

19 February 2009

Counterfactual Wittgenstein

From section 3 of the epilogue to Brandom's Between Saying and Doing:

"One constant in Wittgenstein's thought, early and late, is his denial of methodologically monistic scientism[, the idea that the only way knowledge can be gotten is the way the natural sciences, especially physics, give us knowledge]. "Philosophy is not one of the natural sciences," he says in the Tractatus, and this view seems to be part of what lies behind the theoretical quietism of the later work. In fact, I think Wittgenstein thinks that if systematic philosophical theorizing were possible, it would mean that philosophy is an empirical science. Since it is not, philosophers must eschew theorizing, restricting themselves instead to light, local descriptions of discursive practices, where such descriptions might provide helpful reminders in freeing ourselves from the sorts of misunderstandings and puzzlements that arise precisely from the theories implicit in inherited pictures of what is going on when we talk and think. Whether or not Wittgenstein himself reasoned in this way, I take it that it is common for his admirers to see him as presenting us with a forced choice: either embrace scientism about philosophy of the methodologically monistic sort -- that is, take philosophy to be an empirical, scientific discipline -- or give up the idea of systematic philosophical theorizing once and for all.

I think this is a false choice. Rejecting scientism of the methodologically monistic sort does not entail giving up the possibility of systematic philosophical theorizing about discursive practice.... I want to claim that what is objectionable about the methodologically monistic form of scientism is its exclusivity. Rejecting that at least leaves open the question of whether, and which, features of natural scientific investigation, explanation, knowledge, and understanding ought also to be counted among those useful and appropriate in philosophy. After all, description is also a central and essential element of scientific methodology, and even the most rigorous versions of Wittgensteinian quietism allow philosophers to describe features of our linguistic practices.
I've bolded the part that struck me; I've quoted the rest for context, and because I liked the passage.

My initial response to Brandom's hypothetical was to agree: Wittgenstein probably did think something like this. The natural sciences (including the social sciences) are engaged in theory-building, hypothesis testing, etc.; philosophy doesn't do this sort of thing (and when it tries to, it does so out of confusion). But it's a weird counterfactual. You have to imagine that what Wittgenstein took philosophy to be also involved what Wittgenstein categorically thought philosophy was not. Tricky business, if you can manage it at all.

After thinking about it a bit more, I'm inclined to say that Brandom skips over the therapeutic nature of Wittgensteinian philosophy -- therapeutic is opposed to constructive in roughly the way quietistic is opposed to theorizing, after all. It's not just that Wittgenstein doesn't give general accounts with theoretically posited entities as explananda; it's that he's not interested in doing that, even if it is possible. Or rather, stronger than that: even if Wittgensteinian philosophy does provide general accounts, with theoretical posits, the point of doing so is to ease some antecedently felt philosophical tension. To keep us from feeling obliged to answer other sorts of philosophical questions, Wittgensteinian philosophy asks and answers questions of its own. (The questions may be rhetorical, the answers obvious. But they are still posed, and they have right and wrong answers. And the therapy can misfire if the questions become points for debate, when they were supposed to be anodyne.) So he's wrong to think that Wittgenstein thinks there's a forced choice between anti-theoretical "quietism" and scientism. (To be fair, he hedges his claims here. But he seems to do so not because he's unsure that they do justice to his understanding of Wittgenstein, but because he wants to avoid offending those who read him differently.)

In any case, I thought his discussion of the issues was interesting. It's a good epilogue.

16 February 2009

Thompson Puzzles

From "Naive Action Theory", footnote 33:

It is interesting that the examples through which Anscombe attempts to illustrate the idea of "many descriptions of the same" do not actually illustrate it: it is the rare act of moving an arm that can be classified as a replenishment of a house water-supply.
I have no idea what's supposed to be wrong with Anscombe's example (from ss23 of "Intention"). It looks to me like a perfectly fine case of redescribing an action in multiple ways. The rest of the footnote seems to imply that Thompson wants to say that "replenishing the house's water-supply" has "moving my arm" as a proper part, rather than this being something it's identical to. But this doesn't seem right. Moving my arm, in these circumstances, just is my replenishing the house's water-supply. It's not a part of something else I do; the only thing I do to replenish the house's water supply is move my arm (while holding the pump-handle). Once the event that is my moving my arm is in view, there's nowhere else to look to see me replenishing the house's water supply. (Though you might need to look elsewhere to get the necessary background in view to recognize that I am in fact replenishing the house's water supply by moving my arm. Taking in this background is not taking in more actions performed by me. It's seeing that the house has functioning plumbing, and that my hand is holding the pump-handle.)

The preceding footnote also mystifies me:
Mention of this great paper [Davidson's "Agency"], in the present context, invites the remark that its account of the concept of agency fails to take proper account of actions with parts. Surely it will be "agency" in the sense Davidson means to capture if the agent sinks the Bismark, or ruins her finances, by doing A, B and C, each of them intentionally. But the events falling under the descriptions A, B and C need not fall severally under the description "a sinking of the Bismark" or "a ruining of her finances", as the case may be; none by itself, we may suppose, adds up to that. And so it might be that nothing done intentionally falls under that description, and thus that something "done", in the emphatic sense Davidson means to elucidate, isn't done intentionally under any description.
I can't see how this argument is supposed to work. Suppose {A,B,C} are things like "moved her arm towards the firing button", "moved it even closer to the firing button" and "pushed the firing button". The third would be identical to a sinking of the Bismarck (in the sense of "sinking" which people do, as opposed to what boats do). Standard "pulling-the-trigger-is-killing-Jones" sort of example. But that doesn't fit Thompson's criteria. He needs items {A,B,C} such that none of them is identical to a sinking of the Bismarck. So, none of them can be anything like "pushing the button that launches the torpedo that sinks the Bismarck". Suppose we change C to "moved her arm closer still to the firing button" -- now we have intentional actions {A,B,C} such that none of them is a sinking of the Bismarck, but each of them are done as part of the agent's attempt to sink the Bismarck. But this doesn't work, either, since she doesn't sink the Bismarck by doing A, B, & C; she sinks the Bismarck by doing A, B, C, and D (where D gets her the rest of the way to the button and has her pushing it). I'm not able to think of any {A,B,C} that actually fit Thompson's criteria.

The "ruining her finances" bit seems like it might work a little better: Sue can do A, B, and C such that any two of them would not ruin her, but all three bankrupt her if done together. But then it seems like whichever happens to be the third will be identical with her ruining her finances -- as the straw that breaks the camel's back. Thompson's "none by itself adds up to that" seems to obscure this feature of Davidson's theory of action: what casual relations an event ends up standing in can determine what descriptions are true of it. "By itself" an event doesn't tell you what descriptions are true of it. Other events are relevant for that.

Another thought I had was: it's a gestalt thing. Whole is more than its parts. Maybe nothing she did was, by itself, "ruining her finances", but she just ended up with ruined finances after doing various things. But here it looks like either there is no action of hers which is a ruining of her finances, or else the thing she did which is a ruining is composed of the other things she did. In the former case, there is no action to account for; in the latter case, the fact that no part of the action is describable as a ruining doesn't cut against Davidson, that I can see. For there is an action which is describable as a ruining: the event composed of A, B, and C (or whatever went it to the relevant gestalt in this case). If there are gestalt-y actions, then I'm not seeing why Davidson has any problems with that.

Also: saying "this is no worse than the Sorite's paradox" does not seem like much of a help when trying to defend a doctrine. But this seems to be what Thompson says here:
Such an appeal to the idea of vagueness carries with it a number of theoretical difficulties, but supposing them handled, the same vagueness would no doubt then be found to infect the division of our nested classes of descriptions into "pre-intentional" and intentional. In that case, my conjecture ── viz., "Acts of moving something somewhere intentionally always have an initial segment which is also an act of moving something somewhere intentionally" ── could again be sustained, if only it were given the sort of construction that an adequate theory of vagueness would supply for such sentence as "No one is made bald by the loss of a single hair".
I'm not sure how such a construction could work for Thompson's conjecture. Avoiding the Sorite's requires mathematical induction breaking down at some point (or else removing hairs one at a time until they're all gone does not give you a bald head). It seems plausible that vague terms are like this. Induction with them only works for a bit, then it shades off into not working anymore. You take a hirsute head, remove a hair (not bald), remove a hair (not bald), and then eventually he's bald. (What you say in the details of this are, as far as I can tell, generally still up in the air.) It doesn't strike me as very plausible that Thompson's terminology her employs vague terms. "Initial segments of acts" is not the sort of phrase that you pick up from ordinary language (the usual home of vagueness); it's a technical term in the theory of action. More to the point, I don't know how the vagueness story would go, here. You identify an initial segment of an action (which gives you another action), and then an initial segment for that action, and then at some point you can't? (This also seems to cut against Thompson's "quasi-Kantian" defense of his claim, which rests on the "Axioms of Intuition"'s claim that what is given in intuition is always an extensive magnitude. Thompson seems to offer two different and incompatible defenses for his weird view.)

12 February 2009

A Note on Triangulation

While rereading Rorty's response to Ramberg in "Rorty and His Critics", I had a thought about why McDowell doesn't seem to like the notion of "triangulation". Davidson introduces the notion as something that doesn't require language. Monkeys can triangulate -- they react one way to snakes, another way to lions, and another way to eagles, and monkeys can notice these different reactions, and in this way avoid predators. Which makes it seem like the point of the notion is to explain animal behavior, primarily; human behavior is then a type of animal behavior that it explains. I've reread several of Davidson's later essays recently, and he pretty consistently uses it in ways that can be read like this: triangulation is something generic to rational and non-rational animals, and in interpretation of a rational animal some additional factor is brought into view. Triangulation + Language = Rational Animals.

Davidsonians seem to speak a bit differently (though I'd argue that they simply bring forth what's already present in Davidson's texts). Here's the bit from Davidson that Rorty, in his response to Ramberg, said he had previously found "utterly opaque":

We depend on our linguistic interpretations with others to yield agreement on the properties of numbers and the sort of structures in nature that allow us to represent those structures in numbers. We cannot in the same way agree on the structure of sentences or thoughts we use to chart the thoughts and meanings of others, for the attempt to reach such agreement simply sends us back to the very process of interpretation on which all agreement depends.
And here's Rorty:
I did not understand the second sentence in this passage until I read it in Ramberg's way. Read that way, it can be paraphrased as saying "Whereas you can, in the course of triangulation, criticize any given claim about anything you talk about, you cannot ask for agreement that others shall take part in a process of triangulation." The inescapability of norms is the inescapability, for both describers and agents, of triangulating.
This is a far cry from "running when the other monkey hoots, climbing a tree when he hollers". If McDowell reads "triangulation" in the more generic sense, this might explain why he misses some of the more Gadamerian elements of Davidson.

In addition, rereading Rorty's response has reminded me just how fantastic this volume is. This stuff is just captivating. Really terrific.

11 February 2009

"Active Thoughts?" What?

Here is a description from the UChicago time schedule from this quarter:

51603. Active Thought. A widely accepted historical narrative celebrates the liberation achived by the modernist Fregean understanding of predication from the Aristotelian pre-modernist conceptions. The pre-modernist saw the inner composition of thoughts as displaying an intellectual act. Frege according to this widely accepted narrative had discredit this pre-modernist picture and gave us an act-free conception of logical unity of thoughts. Thus according the post Fregean understanding a person—a soul is logicaly speaking, non-active substance. On the face of it, the considerations Frege brought against the pre-modernist conception were strong. Yet we shall that by accepting them as conclusive modernist philosophy took a wrong turn. We present a conception of active thoughts which is not susceptible to the Fregean objections against the traditional conception. We shall consider the implications active conceptions of thoughts to our understanding of the nature of the soul and of Being. Professor Irad Kimhi.

When looking at courses for the coming quarter last December, the consensus was that this paragraph was totally incomprehensible. It started off like something you understood, and then it suddenly got weird, and then... well, you can read that last sentence. Kimhi totally means it.

I have been sitting in on the course (we had our sixth meeting this afternoon); it is wild.

I'd already typed up my notes for the first class (weeks ago, right after it got out); I have put them under the fold. The weird examples are Kimhi's. (A more recent class had "humans cannot eat and drink at the same time". He retracted it when it was pointed out that they can in fact do that. He changed it to "cannot breath and drink at the same time", which is at least closer to true.) I've polished them up only slightly, for readability. I think they give a good impression of the course so far: a whole slew of... things... and some vague feeling that there is something important, somewhere, in all of it.

also: a quotation from Kimhi, from 1995. Still hilariously accurate.

There was a handout of quotations (four pages).
Aristotle, Metaphysics Gamma III 1005b 15-30.
J. Lukasiewics, "The Three Versions of the Principle of Non-Contradiction" (Kimhi is supposed to put this on Chalk).
De Interpretatione 16b26, 16b33, 17a25, 17a26.
De Anima 426b29.
J. Lukasiewics, "Aristotle on the Law of Non-Contradiction" (from "Articles on Aristotle 3. Metaphysic. ed. J Barnes, M. Schofield, R. Sorabji)
S. Cavell, "Aesthetic Problems of Modern Philosophy", MwM p.91
G. Frege, Negation (extract not read in first class) [we spent the next two classes talking about Frege's "Negation" at great length. Great, great length. The thing Kimhi was interested in was pretty much what Geach was interested in in "Assertion". The thing about conditionals.]
B. Spinoza, Ethics II P49 Scholium.

1)The Shulamite is dark;
2)The Shulamite is pale.
-This pair of beliefs cannot coexist in one consciousness -- the psychological law of noncontradiction (PLNC). They are psychologically incompossible.

-These states of affairs cannot coexist -- they are incompatible. The ontological law of noncontradiction (OLNC). They are logically/metaphysically impossible.

What is the relation between PLNC and OLNC?

Four possibilities:
Psychologism: Reduce OLNC to PLNC.
"Logopsychism": Reduce PLNC to OLNC.
Psychological Dualism: PLNC =/= OLNC
Psychological Monism - Spinoza, where Kimhi wants to put Wittgenstein. AKA "Immanentism". [Six weeks in, we are still waiting to hear how this works.]

Three versions of the law of noncontradiction (Lukasiewics):
(1) The Ontological: it is impossible for the same thing both to belong and not to belong at the same time to the same thing and in the same respect.
(2) The Psychological: it is impossible for the same person at the same time to believe the same thing is and is not.
(3) The Logical (Semantological): "The most certain of all principles is that contradictory assertions are not true at the same time" Met. Gamma VI 1011b13-14.

(3) and (1) collapse into one another given the T-schema, ["p" is true IFF p].

The LNC involves simple predication for Aristotle. In "The Shulamite is dark" the predicate "is dark" is affirmed of the Shulamite. The LNC is a restriction on what can be predicated.

A common trope in modern philosophy: take an ancient concept, make a modern distinction. This is not a return to the ancient concept.

For Aristotle, sentences are things like prayers and assertions -- acts. Sentences are not selfstanding entities.

For Aristotle, "S is P" = affirmation that S is P = belief that S is P.
Contrasted with Frege, where affirmation/belief that S is P is a complex entity: a proposition plus a force (assertional force + proposition = affirmed proposition).

Kimhi claims that Lukasiewics, Husserl and Frege all endorse "psychological dualism".

Lukasiewics criticizes Aristotle for treating mental acts as things standing in logical relations.

Comment made in response to Cavell quote, regarding "psychological monism": "you have to depsychologize psychology and psychologize logic". Kimhi makes a comparison to Heidegger, where "fundamental ontology" just is "the existential analytic of Dasein", and to Aristotle's claim that "the soul is all being". Investigation of the soul is investigation of all being.

Immanentism collapses into logopsychism if you do not psychologize logic.

For Frege judgement has two components -- a content, a truthbearer, and an act of affirmation.
A properly logical component (stands in logical relations) and a psychological act.

One question the course is meant to address: What is the force you face when you cannot avoid a certain conclusion?

(The pressure of a logical law.) [We read "What The Tortoise Said to Achilles" for the third class, and have discussed it a great deal. Kimhi thinks that Frege is not entitled to say the Tortoise is doing anything wrong, except in the sense that he is doing what he ought not to do. He is doing what he says, accepting "P" and "P>Q" and rejecting "Q" etc.]
Luk. says Aristotle regards this as a logical pressure. Accuses Aristotle of confusing logic with psychology.

Luk. understands "belief" like Frege does: propositional attitude + proposition as its object

on the subjective side, the attitude. Force.

on the objective side, the proposition (truthbearer, sentence). Content.

Kimhi: Desire treated as a force directed at a proposition rather than a state of affairs. Specifying a proposition not specifying a state of affairs. [Kimhi taught a seminar on Lacan last quarter; I am guessing this is related to Lacan's discussion of desire in "The Signification of the Phallus". When I realized I'd drawn a connection to something in Lacan I'd read, part of me died inside. ;__; ]

One view is that specifying a proposition is specifying a possible state of affairs.

Desire not towards a state of affairs, but to a state of affairs obtaining (on the Fregean picture). [the preceding lines were in response to a question from Gabriel Lear -- there are six-to-eight professors attending this course, and then are a great deal of fun to watch. Robert Pippin is the happiest man on the planet. And Kimhi's feet get held to the fire often.]

Modern conception of sentences: Sentences are forceless things. Forces given from outside.
Aristotelian view: Sentence is a product of an act. Force characterizes the act.

Aristotle -- can believe that P and can hope that P. Not enough to force decomposition into force and propositions.

Kimhi calls the entity/act distinction a "metaphysical dualism"

One thing Kimhi wants to achieve is a proper understanding of the distinction between act and entity.

Searle's denial that belief/fear/hope are "mental acts"
Sellars's "Science and Metaphysics" p.74, section 33, "Intentionality" (both these were read to us by Kimhi)

Intentional action not a *type* of action.
Intentional/nonintentional a seperate question from question of type of action.
Raising of arm, unintentional raising of arm.

Sellars: Nonsense to speak of taking something to be the case on purpose.

"Act" as in "actuality" not "action". Energeia and Dunamis. Metaphysics Theta VI & X.

Carpenter in energeia is a carpenter in action.

Metaphysics Theta has a discussion of truth and falsity in a book about actuality/potentiality (energeia/dunamis)

actuality -- not something that can be done intentionally or unintentionally

[Kimhi has said a bit more about this sort of thing since then -- the Aristotelian idea of "actuality" looms large in his thought. An assertion or a negation is an actualization of a "determinable"; the assertion or denial can be true or false, but the determinable cannot. Only acts are truthbearers, for Kimhi. "Nothing spatial-like can be a truthbearer." He is like, a for-real Spinozist.]

PLNC: Affirmation and denial cannot coexist in one consciousness.

Witticker (sic?) -- the real subject of "De Interpretatione" is the contradictory pair. [I don't know if I spelled this guy's name right, or what the article referred to is.]

Not that contradictory pair is a more specific sense of assertion; study of assertion is study of contradictory pair.

A distinction that is often not made: Set of inconsistent beliefs, and set of beliefs that are psychologically incompossible.
We all have inconsistent beliefs; no one can have incompossible beliefs.

Not all incompossible sets are inconsistent:
{~P, I believe that P}; {P? P}
(two examples of incompossible sets)

First is incompossible, but not inconsistent.
Second: I cannot wonder if P and believe that P.

The psychomodal relation of two members of an inconsistent pair is incompossibility.

Inconsistent pairs are incompossibles which are not incompossible with a third.

Meg is blonde; Meg is brunette. Also excludes "Meg is a redhead".
Not contradictory, but incompossible.

Contradictories need some form of excluded middle.

Thinker never in a position in which both of a pair are incompossible with existing beliefs and the pair are incompossible: this can serve as a definition of inconsistent pairs.

[For anyone who read this far, trivia: Kimhi spent the first half of our fourth class with his fly down. While standing at the front of the class to lecture. An hour and a half like that.]

are a contradictory pair IFF
of compossible beliefs
No such that
incompossible and

Never in a position to reject both members of a contradictory pair or to accept both.

Two views of the "act form" of a contradictory pair:
Pair of contradictory acts are affirmation and denial: same content, different forces
Pair of contradictory acts are affirmation of P and affirmation of ~P: different contents

Classical: + -----> <------ -
Modern: -------> <+>
-------> <->

[Kimhi draws a lot of whiteboard diagrams. They are hard to reproduce in ASCII art okay ;__; ]

Classical: Negation sign not part of content. Displays force of act.
Frege: Negation sign part of the content.

Aristotle: Cannot assert P & ~P, as cannot present oneself as knowing both P and ~P.

Assertion holds subject and predicate together.
Denial holds subject and predicate apart.

Descartes: Affirmation is an act of the will. Intellect can grasp an idea, then will can go on to affirm it. (Spinoza criticizes Descartes's dualism of intellect and will.)

"Propositionalism" -- "Combination theory" (two names for Kimhi's target)

Aristotle: Affirmation creates unity of truthbearer.
Descartes: Logical unity of truthbearer independent of affirmation or denial.

Descartes middle figure between Aristotle and Frege.

Views of contradictory pairs:
Combination-Seperation theory (Aristotle)
Only combination with negative and positive predicates (Hobbes)
Combination theories: positive or negative attitude towards object (Descartes)
Only affirmation. Negation part of content of propositions. (Frege)

An aporia in Spinoza's criticism of Descartes: If the two members of an inconsistent pair do not share a common content, how do they oppose one another (Kimhi emphasized the point by slapping his fists against one another). First class ended with this aporia.

reading those notes again, it actually does make more sense now (five weeks later). Still, lots of weirdness in this course.