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 |

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 |

17-05-08

Spinoza's Causal Theory of the Affects

 "(..) it is correct to insist, as Spinoza does (..), that ´the Body cannot determine the Mind in thinking, and the Mind cannot determine the Body to Motion". We should take this to mean that we cannot infer from a cause described in physical terms that a specific mental event will ensue as effect (..): mental and physical concepts belong to independent explanatory systems." D. Davidson in Truth, Language, and History, Oxford University Press (2005), p. 305-306.


I spared me the jargon. The thought that comes can do without. One should  wonder about the mind and the body. It is one of the classical wonders that stays actual. There are those who believe in scientific achievement instead of scientific method; they think the mind & the mental are merely convenient, or just a soft escape for the weak of mind. But the majority is still held - with an extremely wide margin - by those believing the mind is fully detached from all the merely material claims of science, & that deep truths are reserved for the spiritual. Both extremes have been and are instinctively repulsive to me.
The third way, the middle way, the way of Horace is to reconcile mind & body as independent but interconnected. Monism, with a twist, the type of monism Davidson has sought to establish bringing together historical thoughts, & his own modern language philosophy. Can there be 2 spheres that are, at the same time, independent and interconnected? Let me not run of into abstract musings but take my example, from the heart of the present matter.

If one - not just instinctively - thinks one wants to raise one´s arm there is really no issue whatever in connecting that thought to brain activity and that brain activity to activating nerves in turn controlling the arm's muscles. Only those that are ludicrously maintaining knowledge of the Dark Ages outdoes present-day knowledge would challenge this. Let´s not bother here with the ridiculous. The interconnection, some form of physicalism, is established. But the interconnection does not suffice for strict dependence. It would be quite feasible to measure the brain activity during that thought & it would then be quite demonstrable that, even in the same person, that same thought with that same result would not be characterized by exactly the same brain wave activity. As a thought experiment one can very well imagine severe damage to the brain not impairing having that thought and not impairing that thought to lead to the arm raising. If so, and not many people would doubt it enough to actually go to the trouble of doing the experiment, the thought & physical brain activity are not strictly paired. In fact, it is quite sufficient to note that different people can have a similar thought with a similar consequence - this is in itself enough to show that the actual physical brain activity that has to go along with such a thought is not, & cannot be, a determining factor even if, physically speaking, it is always the brain activity that results in the arm's raising (& never the thought itself). We should not be tempted into the futile simple solution of telekinesis.

I am sure Davidson and others would find this reasoning sloppy. It probably is, but I do not have the luxury of refining it. Sloppy or not, it is convincing in illustrating Davidon´s point of there being no strict laws coupling the mental and the physical. As a behaviourist of sorts this kind of illustration is crucial. It does not establish that there is something spiritual that somehow evades or floats over the material world. But it does show that the sphere of thought is not limited to the sphere of what is given physically, it allows for imagination.
The imagination it allows is linguistic & creative. In thinking we cannot realize things in the material world that would go against the physical laws but we can - & do- create in our imagination possible material connections (a key & a lock) that we subsequently can realize materially, as longs as they don´t defy any physical laws. The only limit to this creativity then is what is physically at all possible. Nevertheless, the beauty of language is such that it's physically possible to communicate in it between bodies. There are only linguistic limits to what can be expressed in such communication (we have science fiction to prove we needn´t bother here anymore with physical laws).
Because of this - although for sure I will have to explain this in more detail in another place - I don´t believe Davidson´s brand of monism can be correct. Mental explanation is not merely independent in explanatory ways, it is quite radically independent, a world on its own just needing a physical substratum more or less like fish need a liquid substratum.

Again, establishing the mental, through language, as independent is not at all establishing any spritualist or dualist claim. The physical world has given rise through evolution to biological species with linguistic abilities. Such kind of species have established thought & all things mental. These things do not live isolated from the material world but just happen to be able to express a thing or two without restrictions of the physical world (as long as there is a physical world with the relevant features in which things can be expressed).
So, don´t please go overboard on this: the mind, the spiritual & so on, & so forth did not exist before material things existed. Nor do they exist as long as the material world existed. Physicality predates mentality. It´d be interesting as a scientific exercise to date mentality, it would be a convenient way not to have the New Age´rs go astray time & again.
One may well make stories in which people lift weights merely by thinking to make it so but one will never actually lift those weights in that way.


Whilst writing this I was listening to Shostakovich-Silvestrov, Gryphon Trio, Aline Kutan, Analekta 2006.

(to be redone)

21:49 Gepost door Guido Nius in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: davidson, intention, convergence, tones, language |  Facebook |