02-11-08

On Saying That

"If we could recover our pre-Fregean semantic innocence, I think it would seem to us plainly incredible that the words 'The earth moves', uttered after the words 'Galileo said that', mean anything different, or refer to anything else, than is their wont when they come in other environments. No doubt their role in oratio obliqua is in some sense special; but that is another story." Donald Davidson, Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation, p. 108, Clarendon Press 2001.


This essay is one of the most wonderful pieces of reasoning I have had the honour of reading. It does precisely what it sets out to do: make it plausible that a strange notion like 'intension' - a notion so private & subjective as to obliterate any hope of ever getting rid of the magical from our lives & our thinking - is superfluous. Instead of it a simple extensional alternative is put in place, an alternative that allows what we normally do in public discourse, in science, in any reasonable human endeavour: check with the observable facts.

Read the essay to get the alternative! Put succinctly (and undoubtedly incompletely) it goes as follows: when someone is indicating to believe, desire, want that ... what's happening is that someone is making a relation between herself believing, desiring, wanting and something that is pointed to (much in the same way as she would point to a bird in saying 'that is a bird'). So you extend the pointing to-reference to allow pointing to something non-physical. That's it. Away with the talk of thoughts that are mysteriously, opaquely embedded in clauses and somehow cannot break free out of the intimacy of the person thinking. Great!, isn't it?

Unfortunately, Davidson leaves it very much at that. That's unfortunate because it's one of the few philosophers that have achieved the credible link between philosophy of language and moral philosophy & that has done so by delivering a damning blow (there are philosophical knock-down arguments) to both moral relativism and a type of moral absolutism that prescribes behaviour in excruciating detail, leaving humans like shackled feet and hands to some arbitrary notions of 'the good life'.

Honouring the consensus that is building outside of the published works between all people busy with these matters - in other words: all people, as language & morality are not specific to philosophical investigations - honouring the consensus on such a link & its radical but softening consequences, we need to find Davidson's flaws in his philosophy of language in order to mend his remaining inadequacies in his morality. Indeed, his moral philosophy is inadequate: close, but no cigar. It does not allow to derive a categorical imperative, not even a very modest one.

That's what I need to research because I believe that, I am in fact convinced that, it is necessarily so that in morality we need something categorical. I also know that it's just not sufficient for me to point to that, even if I point vehemently to it. No, I need to not just demonstrate the truth of my little that-clause but I need to prove it and I will only be able to prove it by finding where the flaw is in Davidson's philosophy of language because I am willing to bet that that flaw is linked to the inadequacy of his moral philophy.

So, there you have it: a project. The project will maybe start with 'on saying that', as it is something that I think is safe; & along with it, all things it presupposes are safe and the consensus is building from there that there's nothing magical about thought that can keep it confined, under a spell, within our heads.

Thoughts are not in heads, thoughts are between heads - they're there to point to & to analyze from different angles in order to see whether they refer to the same, and from there whether they are consistent & ultimately true, or not.


Whilst writing this I wasn't listening to anything really.

23:47 Gepost door Guido Nius in Liefde | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: language, davidson, convergence, tones |  Facebook |

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