30-03-08

L'existence et le néant

"Si l'on passe (consciemment ou inconsciemment) par l'idée du néant pour arriver a celle de l'être, l'être auquel on aboutit est une essence logique ou mathématique, partant intemporelle. Et, dès lors, une conception statique du réel s'impose: tout paraît donné en une seule fois, dans l'éternité." L'évolution créatrice, Henri Bergson, Quadrige/PUF, 1941, p. 298.

"La négation diffère donc de l'affirmation proprement dite en ce qu'elle est une affirmation du second degré: elle affirme quelque chose d'une affirmation qui, elle, affirme quelque chose d'un objet." ibid., p. 288

(amateuristic English translation below)


Things esoteric & spiritual cannot be farther removed from my grasp of reality. However, I admit, quite reluctantly, that I'm attracted to the relation between pure logic & mathematics (also unavoidable in linguistics) & our dirty everyday real world, specifically because of the mystery that still persists in it. It should then not be a surprise to see here a quought on where logic and reality come apart, not in the spirit of providing evidence for a 'something more' but rather in the thriving tradition of meeting complexities rationally but head-on.

Pure logic & reality do come apart. They do so most strikingly in negation and, in consequence, in the law of the excluded middle. Many will find Bergson isn't a credible reference in such matters (which is why I started with the above & quite superfluous paragraph) & I do not do him justice here in quoting only a conclusion without providing his argumentation. Be that as it may, pure logic & reality do come apart for the basic reason outlined in the second quote. It is a truth that when ignored leads to the common fallacy succinctly put in the first quote. That common fallacy in turn is the premise of much mischief in the name of reason as well as the type of scientism/positivism commonly abused by those of a spiritual bend to discredit science/logic &, whenever necessary to saveguard the own 'spiritual' truth, reason itself alltogether.

Negation in natural language is a complex phenomenon. In its simplest form, negation of a primitive assertion, it remains problematic certainly with respect to negation in formalized logic. In the latter P denotes what 'not P' does not denote & that's more or less the end of it. In the former however, something happens, I believe, that is quite similar to 'that P' opaque contexts in as have been studied by e.g. Donald Davidson (to name a more credible source here, at least somewhere); 'not P' in natural language is not simply objective but a specific assertion that, for its truth, is relative to the context & the speaker of the assertion in ways that aren't one-to-one with respect to assertions of 'P' (even by the same speaker in the same context).

If so, the junction at which pure logic & reality come apart here is the junction between a static description of reality & that reality itself. As Bergson notes it is a coming apart of quite grave consequence. Not in the sense of discrediting the importance of pure logic & mathematics in describing reality (I'd go further in saying: not even in the sense of challenging the monopoly of pure logic for any reasonable description of reality). The grave consequence is that - in not heeding this fact of natural language - we'll necessarily misrepresent reality - with, see elsewhere, grave & rather concretely real consequences itself.

One could argue, no doubt many have so argued, that this may well be true, but that in philosophy and in science one has no other option than disregard this fact of natural language (&, if you will therefore: of nature). The problem is that ultimately the problems of philosophy but also science are problems as put in natural language; so are the results also put in natural language. It is therefore impossible to avoid this complexity. Avoiding it unavoidably leads to conclusions that are much more than merely doubtful: it leads to results that are plain wrong. Unavoidably wrong results naturally trigger - without need for any reasoning whatsover - an evolutionary defense mechanism in - most probably all - rational creatures: emotional or spiritual adherence to the base premise, whether revealed or not.

On the positive side, there is really no reason from all of this to posit entities of a spiritual or extra-scientific nature. It suffices to recognize that the basics of action (with Davidson) or time (with Bergson) are indeed basic. Reality isn't only to be described but also to be acted upon. Few would challenge that it is action that comes first and last whilst description is merely a helpful aid in the middle. Many unfortunately would see this as discrediting descriptions across the board although this truth (if truth it be) is very compatible with the desire to act only on the basis of an adequate description of the relevant reality. It's not because Darwin's law, or the laws of thermodynamics for that matter, are pointing to relative strengths that they do not absolutely apply.

 


"When we pass (consciously or inconscuously) from the idea of nothing to that of being, the being we end up with is a logical or mathematical essence, & therefore timeless. And, from that point onwards, a static conception of of reality imposes itself: everything appears given at once, for eternity"

"Negation thus differs from what is properly called a positive assertion in that it's an assertion of the second degree: it asserts something of an assertion that, it, asserts something of an object."

 


 

Whilst writing this I listened (quite appropriately) to Eric Satie, L'oeuvre pour piano by Aldo Ciccolini, EMI Classics.

22:33 Gepost door Guido Nius in Algemeen | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: bergson, dynamics, identity, scientism |  Facebook |

09-03-08

Linguistics and Philosophy

"The behaviorist is knowingly and cheerfully up to his neck in innate mechanisms of learning-readiness. The very reinforcement and extinction of responses, so central to behaviorism, depends on prior inequalities in the subject's qualitative spacing, so to speak, of stimulations...." W. Quine in Linguistics & Philosophy as quoted in "The Cambridge companion to Quine, Cambridge University Press 2004, p. 190.

"Science settles for partial criteria and for partial explanation in terms of other partially explained notions." W. Quine in Comment on Parsons, ibid, p.191.


Science is becoming suspect, again. More so behaviorism - itself already for a long time under attack from within science. There just has to be more - or, at least, another valid point of view on the same.

A familar perspectivist or relativist move is to contend that a scientific method is based on an absolute assumption. This is fair enough since it is a particular weakness of non-scientific claims that they are based on such absolutes that have to be taken in faith. If it's indeed established that science is no different in this respect one might as well give relativism a shot - even if it doesn't give any explanation it seems to fit the facts that people just happen to have this or that particular point of view based on this or that particular absolute.

But the move does not stand scrutiny. Just try the discussion: it will take just a couple of answers before your relativist counterpart will use one out of the set of words "all", "everything", "always" or "nothing" in relation to what are the typical claims of science. But the scientific method is just that: a method - it does not contend anything about "all things" positively. It is not positivism or scientism. It merely consists in looking at something in a way admitting of critical discussion. This is also the only way one can look at something whilst allowing any sensible discussion on it.

Even in pre-scientific times or in, so called, points of view that reject science's claim as the universal method it is the scientific method that was & is used to advance or arbitrate in any particular subject. That's part of being universal - the scientific method is effectively inescapable if one is to make a point that's not merely enforced but that enforces itself regardless of the force of the one making it.

It is not very different with behaviorism. From within science it is criticized for assuming that all can be reduced to behaviour. Behaviorism, strictly spoken, does not do anything of the kind. It merely says that in looking at something one only can look at what can be observed. A typical format of answer in the attack on behaviorism reverts to sensations, qualia & other subjectives that, supposedly, cannot be observed externally & at the same time are needed in any worthwhile explanation if we do not want to stoop so low as to claim we are merely carbon-rich automata. The move, now within 'science', is, indeed, not very different from the relativist one; not behavorism is decried but some sufficiently deformed caricature of behaviorism is put forward that is more or less as mysterious as the 'traditional' points of view. Once the caricature can be pointed at anything goes & everybody can remain at ease in his traditional wooliness. 

Resisting the caricature it is however clear that the behavioristic point of view is the universal point of view. The only way of looking at something allowing a critical discussion is to refer to things that can be observed. When a group of subjects have the same taste the investigation starts from an observation of behaviour. Even when a single person is said to have a certain taste, that is an assertion that can only be made by virtue of previsouly observed external behaviour. The fact that a certain taste is provoked in a certain individual by an innate mechanism proper to that individual that is itself not 'external' in a superficial way is still a fact that can only be established by first observing an external behaviour not only of that individual but of other, more or less, like individuals.

The fear that has been making a come-back clearly is that science is too cold, & behaviorism unbearably light compared to more grandiose positions. Maybe one can be sympathetic to this kind of nostalgia - I am not - but nostalgia can never take the place of reason. Whether unbearably cold or light, whatever a thing we start out with we only have the form of our universal methods to be able to cope with it & this quite regardless of the instinctive ambition we have to make substantive claims about its content or the content. The alternative is simply to regress to the beastly state of using physical strength to ascertain the way ahead & the semi-beastly state of reducing language to semi-poetic ungrammatical babble in propagandaic support of what happens to be your preferred position.

To use language in order to destroy the proper use of language is the most universal crime against humanity. To use mathematics & logic to destroy the proper use of mathematics & logic is intellectual suicide. Unfortunately, we're not very bothered by either the crime or the suicide, as long as our position's the one that in the end prevails. 

But it remains - contra Quine - that there is something like mathematics, that that something is precise & that neither science nor language can be seen as independent from it. That is a mystery, all attempts to ground mathematics in a psychological or empirical way are self-defeating. The truth is that in order to do science or to speak a language one is to presuppose something pure & precise that permeates the form of every argument without ever contending anything at all as to the substantial content of anything.

In this sense, maybe, there is something absolute assumed prior to science & which cannot be in its turn be approached with the method of science nor can be shed light on by observing any external behavour. But relativists have not gained a lot unless they want to get rid of mathematics & logic alltogether in defence of their own point of view (that's the way of the mystics - but there's yet to be spotted a mystic that remains consistent - and hence isolated - for a long time).


(to be redone)

17:57 Gepost door Guido Nius in Algemeen | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: quine, language, form-content |  Facebook |