19-04-09

On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme

"It would be wrong to summarize by saying we have shown how communication is possible between people who have different conceptual schemes, a way that works without need of what there cannot be, namely a neutral ground, or a common co-ordinate system. For we have found no intelligible basis on which it can be said that schemes are different. It would be equally wrong to announce the glorious news that all mankind - all speakers of language, at least - share a common scheme and ontology. For if we cannot say that schemes are different, neither can we intelligibly say that they are one.

In giving up dependence on the concept of an uninterpreted reality, something outside of all schemes and science, we do not relinquish the notion of objective truth - quite the contrary. Given the dogma of a dualism of scheme and reality, we get conceptual relativity, and truth relative to a scheme. Without the dogma, this kind of relativity goes by the board. (..)"

D. Davidson, Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2001, p. 197-198.


This long one is one of the rare wormholes (some basic notion of science fiction is a assumed existant in the reader of this) between philosophy of language and ethics. I need to caution you here: my interest is rarely with the correctness of a conclusion nor even with the plausibilty of the arguments, nor with the validity of the reasoning. My interest lies squarely, and far from modestly, on what it would mean if true.

If true we have speakers that understand each other at least somewhat and a world against which they can check each other's understanding. Insofar as speakers don't understand each other, they are not speakers and they are merely, if that, part of a background against which understanding is possible. Part of the world. That is clean, that is neat; it's not much of an universal truth to navigate by but it's not only better than nothing, it's enough to make some quite striking moral observations.

Because - assuming that it is an important part of what we are that we communicate there clearly is virtue (aargh, thát word) in extending both breadth & depth of it (it is a truely Habermasian point to make). Not just that, whatever else may be said of an erroneous but shared & understood notion, there is no free-for-all - as everything, if it is to have any cash value in the world will either have to accord with the facts or, in the present case more importantly, be able to be morally judged good or bad as far as it helping or blocking communication and understanding. Some undoubtedly find this plebeian morality naïve and counter to everyday facts of falsities typical of what is called the common people. But these elitists are wrong and for following reason:

As per the above: language can't be individuated (more on that later - language by the way is not alone here, gene can't be properly individuated - subatomic particles cannot, ...) (in fact: maybe later has to be more on only that! - don't steal it, now!, at least not without referral, smiley here).

Integers don't work for communication and the continuum isn't as easily filled by an elite (must find back that article by Church!); at least not as easy as the elite thinks it can ;-) Common sense is a product that involves the common people more than it involves the happy few (e.g. the happy (sic) few that can make sense of this). We're constantly creating understanding and (Quine's right there albeit not radical enough) there's no possible end to it (although there is a beginning: any successful attempt at communication).

So that is the moral path: neither crooked nor narrow - no requirement to force us in directions against our grain because nothing is so natural for human beings as to be blabbering constantly. The risk does not come from our momentary tiredness of this talking, our instinctive conservativeness in not allowing new understanding that could jeopardize a status quo in which we and our children are pretty sure to thrive. No sir, the risk comes from the attempts to regiment our communication (rules for spelling come to mind as early symptoms) which is always (& necessarily, per the above) the creation of arbitrary and untenable (except temporarily, by force and coercion) in's & out's that are, as always, immoral by the simple but strong lights described above.

At the risk of repetition of things elsewhere slumbered about on this site; it is not at all a coincidence to discover that the shorter, simpler and less detailed version is the better. Only by stripping away the coincidental and realizing it's just an instant in the journey rather than the possible end point we can fix something worthwhile (Darwin's like that as well). It is immoral to defend a multiplicity of rules. Certainly when we're told that bending, or sometimes even only calling into question, these rules is in & by itself immoral. Very little things are immoral. Religion was maybe right in that (& only that): in the end judgment is simple and not a question of arithmetic.

(I apologize for the more-than-average typo's: my wireless keyboard is running out of batteries, it seems)


Whilst writing this I was listening to Chemical Brothers, We Are The Night, 2007.


23:14 Gepost door Guido Nius in Algemeen | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: language, optimism, davidson, convergence, learning, universals |  Facebook |