apolliana: (Default)
Once we make certain discoveries, it becomes difficult to state them as propositional knowledge. Or even to state what question the discovery was the solution to. Because we ourselves have changed as a result (roughly the point of a digression of Cavell's in "Aesthetic Problems of Modern Philosophy"):

"The more one learns, so to speak, the hang of oneself, and mounts one's problems, the less one is able to say what one has learned; not because you have forgotten what it was, but because nothing you said would seem like an answer or a solution: there is no longer any question or problem which your words would match. You have reached conviction, but not about a proposition; and consistency, but not in a theory. You are different, what you recognize as problems are different, your world is different" (85-6).

This analogizes philosophical problem-solving to therapeutic problem-solving, but it's not clear that the description is true of both, always. Or that the reasons for the dissolution or disappearance of the problem are parallel.

When one solves one's personal problems, the ones that seemed like insoluble mysteries, sometimes the problems do disappear; but usually one can say what the solution was, if there was one. Oftentimes fitting poorly with one's environment makes us think there's some deep problem within ourselves that vanishes when we find new jobs, places, neighbors, or relationships. The problem dissolves because it was caused by something external to oneself in the first place. You aren't different, necessarily, but your world is. (You might be different in that you have firmer ideas about what your scene is.) But the wrongness of a certain environment or path or person is still something one can state, even after the problem has dissolved.

For philosophical problems, it's somewhat different. The problems seem to arise in this way: when we first learn abstract concepts, they seem to present us with many possible problems, incompatibilities, paradoxes. It becomes puzzling how the world could ever have come together out of piles of opposites. But this is a view from 'above'; on the ground, concepts aren't so monolithic. The learning that resolves our paradoxes is simply detailed experience of life--and life with language--on the ground; in its minutiae, in its (ugh) ordinariness.

Some people, no doubt, address themselves to problems that seem to be both simultaneously. A young person's philosophical worries are tinged with the wrongness of his or her life thus far. Many of the questions I used to care about seem inane now. Those that remain concern the nature of inquiry and discovery, and the nature of thought and experience. These things are interesting because they are so complex that philosophers' accounts invariably leave things out. The questions I still care about arise from complexity, rather than from from stark oversimplification.
apolliana: (Default)
I have transcribed the discussion between Strawson and Evans in this television program, for the good of the many, but mostly of me. The transcript is downloadable at scribd here. There is much more here about generality, and whether language ought to be confining (no), and I will provisionally agree with Strawson about all of it. Except, that is, with his and Evans's sexist language.

(Also: Strawson looks uncannily like Patrick Cargill.)

Part 1

S (lecturing): And now to language, that marvelous liberating medium; the medium of thought, a degree of complexity, of reasoning of any but the simplest variety, of communication, of stored knowledge, and, if Wittgenstein is right, the source of all the bewitching perplexities of philosophy.

[Music, as of computers beeping.]

S: Language, we want to say, is the vehicle of thought, or words the clothing our thoughts put on when they make their appearance in public, or the outward and visible or audible manifestation of the inward and spiritual thing. Yet we also feel we must have managed the force of the idea, for at the level of any complexity the availability of any language, the vocabulary and syntax of our language, the availability of a sentence for expressing a thought is the possibility of thinking the thought. After a point, what we can’t say, we can’t think. So our language, or our languages, come to seem like an autonomous and highly structured realm, with all the thoughts we might think lying in it.

S: And yet again in a sense we are masters of this realm—the language, languages, our language; the limitless sentences and combinations of sentences of which we know in advance the significance, but of which we only ever use, or read, or see, or hear, a comparatively insignificant proportion of them. And even that comparatively insignificant proportion, which we so readily frame and utter in understanding what we say, or which we hear or read, understanding what we hear or read; even this is vastly numerous. So how is it that we have this vast and potentially limitless understanding?

[Formal logic and semantics book is shown. Cut to Evans talking about a farmhouse in Aberystwyth where he likes to go philosophize, walking around, natural surroundings. London and America cause tension. Doing philosophy is extremely hard. And when most at work appears to be asleep: an embarrassing occupational hazard for a philosopher.]

Interviewer: To what extent do you think that your investigation of language is an investigation of the organic structure of a living form?

E: Living… well, I think probably it is something which I don’t allow myself to forget that language changes, and is changing all the time.

I: Name two ways in which that influences you.

E: Well, there’s a pretty ordinary distinction between names, proper names (‘Evans’ and so on), and descriptions (‘the guy who’s got long hair’). There’s some moderately obvious distinction between those two forms of referential device. But I think it’s very, very important to the understanding of both of them to see that an expression can change from one category to the other over time. You’ve got to have your distinctions, your taxonomy and your theory, capable of allowing for that.

[Sun on leaves. Strawson stands on a low tree branch.]

E: Peter Strawson is now Professor of Metaphysics at Maudlin, but he only took up his chair there quite recently. Up until a few years ago, he was college tutor at University College, which is where I met him, just in the normal course of events. As an undergraduate there I was taught most of my philosophy by him. Most of his early stuff, his published stuff, as far as I know, was on logical theory—necessity, entailment, and of course the famous quarrel with Russell on the theory of descriptions. During the course of which he introduced and tried to refine, and over the years increasingly tried to refine the idea of a speaker’s referring to something. This idea moved very much to the center of the stage in his book Individuals, where he asked questions about how the world must be in order for a speaker to be able to refer to things like events, bodies, persons, sounds, nations, and so on. Since Individuals, he’s written on a variety—quite a wide variety—of different topics, but an experienced Strawson-watcher will be able to detect beneath the surface a concern with reference and with the distinction between particular and general.

E: I don’t think I came away from being taught by him with a whole set of philosophical doctrines, or dogmas. What he did manage to communicate to me was an idea that certain subjects are very interesting. As time has gone on, I’ve disagreed with him more and more about particular matters, for example, like the whole debate between him and Russell. But what has persisted is my conviction, shared with him, that the subject of reference, and the distinction between particular and general, for example, is a subject of enormous fascination. So if I gave a student one of Strawson’s things to read, say, his book Individuals, I wouldn’t give a damn if he thought it was all wrong. What I would mind is if he couldn’t see that a very wide range of interesting subjects were being discussed in a fruitful way.

E: Do you think there’s any sense in which philosophy differs from other disciplines in that its results should ultimately be intelligible to ordinary people?

S: Intelligible?

E: Intelligible to non-philosophers. Which is clearly not a constraint physicists operate under; although they can be intelligible, they don’t have to be.

S: Well, what I think is true is something like this: namely that philosophers must try to explain, and try to explain the relationships of, ideas which every man as a man has to operate with, has to use: ideas like that of knowledge, truth, identity, personal identity, perception—these are ideas with which everybody is bound to operate, being a man, and these are among—importantly among—the ideas which it’s the task of the philosopher to explain and explain the relationships among. Whether it follows from that that his results, and even his questions, except the most general questions of all, should be able to be intelligible to everybody, I’m not so clear.

E: I agree, I don’t suppose it would follow from that. But aren’t there some concepts that are as it were second-order—those of logical form, entailment and so on. Do you think these are of a different kind?

Part 2

S: Oh, they might well be, because of course there are philosophical problems that go under the title ‘philosophy of mathematics’ or ‘philosophy of physics,’ and if no one is required as a man to be interested in physics or mathematics, no one can be required as a man to be concerned with the philosophy of these subjects. I would go further and say concern with these ideas which are everybody’s property, which everybody willy-nilly operates with, is the fundamental concern of philosophy.

E: Ah, well what’s captured in that word ‘fundamental’?

S: Well, the tendency to ask philosophical questions or to think philosophically is possibly endemic in the species, that children ask philosophical questions, worry about philosophical issues. And of course when they do so, it is about these common notions that we all employ that they think. But I think I want to say that in another sense handling these notions is fundamental because I really think too that to explain the more sophisticated notions probably requires an adequate philosophy of the commoner notions.

E: Yes, then that gives a more solid sense to ‘fundamental.’ The sort of thing you have in mind for children would be what happens at the end of the world, or having an infinity…. Well, I don’t know—would infinity fall into your category of things that one has to operate with? In a sense it’s cross-cutting because he doesn’t have to operate with it, but in a sense it’s perplexing for every man.

S: As soon as he starts thinking of the position of things in space, or the series of events in time, questions of a very profound nature come up.

E: Well….yes. You talk about handling these things. Is it just that philosophy is concerned with laying bare, tracing paths between these central concepts: causality, person, body, space and time and so on? Is that really what it’s all about?

S: Well, I think it is what it’s fundamentally about. I think there are certain concepts or classes of concepts which are absolutely basic in our scheme of things—in everybody’s scheme of things. Notions like space, time, persistence, bodies, identification, reidentification, action—all these form, to my mind, a web with complex relations to each other. And one can’t hope to get really and finally clear without addressing a complex set of connections which bring all these in relation to each other.

E: Yes, well isn’t that a bit pessimistic in a way? Since the list is so long—and I don’t think you’ve exhausted it—it’s a bit like there being a building so large you can never take account its proportions all at once. Perhaps there’s something impossible about complete philosophical understanding…. What I suppose I’m skirting around is the question: is the critical role gone for the philosopher in the way you envisage it?

S: I can’t think of one.

E: So everything is alright as it is?

S: Let’s say provisionally, yes.

E: And not only do you believe that, but do you actually have an argument to think that it’s right?

S: I think there’s no privileged unique position from which we can organize and understand and if necessary criticize and throw out bits of the current commonly shared human conceptual scheme. There is no such position. On the other hand, of course, we can criticize not so much elements of the scheme as humans actually operate it, but typical philosophical misunderstandings of the way they actually operate it.

E: Yes. But it’s central to that way of looking at it that their operation and philosophical views about their operation are distinct. I mean, very much a rejection of what I said a moment ago, that ordinary people might take up positions on philosophical issues just by doing business.

S: Not by doing business, by carrying on their ordinary transactions with each other and the world; there they use, they deploy, they employ these ideas but they don’t, except in a trivial sense, espouse a philosophical view. They might be said to espouse a philosophical view in a trivial sense, in that as it were they observe, if I may be allowed the analogy, the correct grammar of those terms in using them. This of course is very far from saying that they have any notion of what that grammar is—any reflective and conscious notion of what that grammar is, and this is the role of the philosopher precisely to exhibit it to them.

E: I wonder…. I suppose it’s because I think…. I mean God provides us the precedent for someone who wants to say that human beings can engage in a great deal of talk which they think they understand…

E: Let me try again; how about the soul? ..when you try and lay bare the connections like you’ve done there are connections there, but they might be contradictory connections.

S: There is a distinction here between the case of the soul and the case of God in that you can make perfectly good sense of talking about human beings’ souls in a sense that fits in with the conceptual scheme although it may not be the sort of sense that is attached to it by religious believers.

E: Ah, but the critical question is whether it is the sense attached to it by ordinary people.

S: See, the word ‘soul’ is one among many, isn’t it—mind personality temperament, thoughts, and so on.

E: I’m particularly thinking of the soul as in the possibility of an afterlife.

S: Well so long as it is connected to a set of transcendental beliefs, it suffers from the general deficiency of other such beliefs. So long as it’s integrated with one’s beliefs about human beings anyway, then we can rescue it and make sense of it.

S (lecturing): Surely we don’t learn the meaning of every new sentence independently. The whole point of the fact of the infinite potential is that we don’t need to do this. So out of some limited means or material is generated this potentially limitless understanding. And here we have a problem which engages many thinkers in the philosophy of language today, and is likely to continue to do so for some time to come. It seems it must be solved by crediting us with implicit mastery of a structure of general rules or principles of combination of linguistic elements; a grasp of a grammar or syntax, in fact. And that this together with a grasp of a finite vocabulary of elements which do have to be learned independently and individually, these together contain in themselves and explain the possibility of this limitless understanding. But where shall we look for the abstract underlying structure? Here the logician or semantic theorist inspired by logic may modestly raise his hand. The central consideration, he points out, in understanding the significance of sentences, is a grasp of their truth conditions. To understand a sentence is to know what--

Part 3

S: --expresses, or is capable if given contextual conditions of expressing, and to know this is just to know what we would be believing if we took that thought to be true. Now suppose we understand the basic notion of a true predication—of truly applying a concept in an individual case. The notion schematized in logic in the form of the atomic proposition; you can write these forms as you know and as I’ve done on the board as Fx, Fx,y etc., where the xs and ys are placeholders for the names of individuals and the Fs are placeholders for predicates. Now of course for this structure to have content we also must learn the sense of individual predicates; the difference for example between the truth conditions for predicating ‘is blue’ and those for predicating, say, ‘is square’ or ‘is a fracas.’ And this will be so for any structural explanation. Formal logic on this view supplies the necessary structural key for an adequate semantic theory for any natural language. Now the semantic theorist who thus takes a stand on formal logic is aware that adjustments are necessary before this key will turn. To illustrate the point with a very simple case: take the true attributive adjectives ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ and an indefinite list of nouns, such as ‘hockey-player’, ‘draughtsman’, ‘king’, ‘husband’ and so on. It seems clear that in mastering the semantic force of the 2 adjectives, we also master a very simple rule of combination such that given that we also know the meaning of the relevant nouns, plus the notions of predication and conjunction, we can put the right semantic interpretation on an indefinitely large class of sentences, of which are instances sentences (1) and (2) on the blackboard.

(1) Charles is a good husband and a bad king.
(2) John is a good hockey player and a bad lecturer.

But now if we turn in a naïve spirit to formal logic to help us with the elucidation of the principles of our semantic understanding here, we are immediately in a dilemma. We can’t treat these sentences in the spirit in which we can treat, say, our sentence number (3).

(3) John is a 38 year-old hockey player and a long-haired lecturer.

With this one, number 3, we can just render it perhaps as a conjunction of four simple predications which can be redistributed in any order without affecting the truth-value of what’s been said. We can treat it to the effect as ‘John is 38 years old and John is hockey player and John is long-haired, and John is a lecturer,’ and so on. But to apply the same treatment to sentence (1) and (2) would be semantically disastrous. It would lead for example to the result that sentence (1) is equivalent as regards truth-conditions to sentence (4).

(4) Charles is a good king and a bad husband.

So in general no simple maneuver stands the slightest chance of displaying as subject to the structural rules of logic all those structural features which are at work in generating sentence meanings out of sentence elements. So the semantic theorist who follows this line, who takes a stand on logic, is bound to work hard at recasting whole classes of ordinary sentences in such a way, as he would put it, as to reveal their true logical form. And studying them in their restructured, recast form, he hopes, we should be able to see just how just the same logical principles are really at work in determining their meanings as we see at work in those well-behaved sentences whose meaning is simply mirrored in their surface appearances. And the idiosyncratic semantics and syntax of particular natural languages will on this view be complete when we have framed the clinically applicable rules which will enable us to transform the superficial structures of all sentences of a language into their deep or true logical form.

Now this is one program, and a program to be treated with great respect. But I don’t think we can say that it has an exclusive claim to be treated as the right way to set about the problem.

E: In this lecture we just heard, you characterize a way of doing semantics for a natural language, such as English, the formal logician’s way of doing it; and you hint that this isn’t the way you yourself think that the subject ought to be pursued, though you treat it with a considerable amount of respect. Can you perhaps explain what you think wrong with doing it that way?

S: Well, in general I think it’s unrealistically restrictive. Let’s take an example of the sort that’s been discussed recently. Let’s take, ‘John kissed Mary in the garden at midnight.’ Now this is typical of course of a whole host of sentences in which we say that somebody acted in some way, some time, some when. And part of our understanding of these sentences is knowing that for example, ‘John kissed Mary in the garden at midnight’ can be true only if John kissed Mary period is true. A grasp of this logical consequence, of the inference of John kissed Mary from John kissed Mary in the garden at midnight is part of our understanding of this class of sentences. This is true of the whole lot of sentences of this class. Now it might look straight off as if our understanding of this, each of these sentences, was to be explained by our having hold of a simple rule. After all, it’s in the nature of action that when people act they act somewhere, sometime. So it seems that we can, given an action predicate like ‘kissed,’ always modify that predicate by combining it with a locality specifying expression like ‘in the garden,’ time specifying expression like ‘at midnight’ to form a modified predicate that will be true, which will hold true of just those agents of which the unmodified predicate in ‘John kissed Mary’ is true. I call this form of combination adverbial modification. Here we seem to have hold of a perfectly general and perspicuous principle, our grasp of which is sufficient to account for our grasp of this general logical feature of these sentences. But if you accept the approach that I was critical of, then you can’t accept this; and the reason why you can’t is that the predicate calculus, that is to say the form of logic, of current logical theory which we are talking about and which is regarded as the framework for semantic explanation by these theorists—the predicate calculus simply doesn’t allow for this style of predicate modification. It isn’t catered for in the forms of the predicate calculus. So. what are the theorists of this style to do? Well, what they do is to say that we understand the logical consequence here, we understand this type of sentence, because we really understand it as of a different form from the form it superficially appears to have. And to render this different form in something like ordinary English, one might say that a sentence like ‘John kissed Mary in the garden at midnight’ really has a form like this: ‘There is a kissing which was by John of Mary, and which occurred in the garden, and which occurred at midnight.’

E: Yeah, but the logician doesn’t have to claim that he’s reporting on a stage of mental activity in providing his regimented sentences. What he really wants to say of them is that they represent, in a clearer, more perspicuous form, a form in which the possibilities of inference, of entailment and so on are more clearly realized, and in another way more clearly related to other forms of inference—they represent these better than the ordinary English sentences themselves.

S: Well, of course, by talking of a process I didn’t mean to saddle him with the suggestion that we actually went through this process; only that it was so to speak available to us. Even if this is made quite clear, why is it that we go so remote, so far from the explicit forms that we really understand them to have and instead as it were mask them as having the form that they, on his view, don’t?

E: Well, he might point out the way language has been built up. It wasn’t built up like a French city—or, for that matter, an American city—with the streets laid out before it’s built up. Like a very ancient city there’s a long history, and bits are added on here and there…

Part 4

E: (continued from Part 3)… and fashioned to fit into the sometimes very un-ideal plot that’s already there. I suppose what’s interesting is not merely the negative aspects, the criticism, but the extent to which you have an alternative to the formal semantics given by the formal logicians.

S: I think what we have to bear in mind is what the object of the whole exercise is. The object, isn’t it, is to explain the ordinary speaker’s mastery of a limitless range of sentences; grasp of a limitless range of sentences and their logical relations. Now, it’s …how do we do this? Answer: because we credit him with mastery of a limited set of rules of combination or styles of combination and elements.

E: Well to give—yes: let me think again through this by suggesting another example and seeing what you would say of it again if I can see the blank wall that I saw gazing me in the face again. The old problem about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and all that sort of thing—; here’s the problem: you get--

S: I discussed that in my lecture. In other words, what solution is to be offered to the problem of attributive adjectives of an evaluative sort? You could also admit this category too; admit the category of evaluative or appraisal words, point out with respect to them that the criteria for their application depend upon the type of thing you’re applying them to. If you take these two facts together, you’ll see that you won’t be able to know the truth conditions for calling an x a ‘good x’ unless you know what sort of thing an x is, or what the value of x is here.

E: But with those—I mean, taking ‘good knife’ for example, which in a sense raised a good number of the problems which ‘good king’ raised—would you suppose that to be some sort of algorithm for getting the meaning of the compound, ‘good knife’ from that of the element ‘knife,’ together with what you said about ‘good’?

S: Suppose you took ‘king’ as a sort of functional term like ‘knife’ so that in a sense you haven’t grasped the concept ‘knife’ unless you know what properties it’s required, by those who require knives, to have. You might say ‘king’ was like this—he kings it well; he’s just, and so forth. But of course what complicates the matter with these evaluative predicates applied to social phenomena is that your standards may change; I mean elements of evaluation may change over time. So it isn’t quite a straightforward semantic issue, in the way that perhaps the combination of an evaluative word with a purely instrumental object like a knife might be.

E: At least for that class of cases it wouldn’t be true that you’d need under the entry for ‘knife’ in the dictionary some statement as to what properties you’d need to have to be a good knife.

S: Well, let me ask you—do you think you understand ‘good oscillograph’?

E: I’m going to have to reveal my ignorance.

S: But surely you want to say, in a way, you understand it perfectly well. There isn’t a clear yes or no answer here, is there?

E: Well, when it becomes a yes or no answer, when it becomes interesting I suppose is to say that it isn’t just a trivial matter what would count as understanding; when it really becomes interesting is whether we say this is part of the province of explanation for semantics. That’s really what I’m getting at. What is an oscillograph, by the way?

S: I haven’t the vaguest, myself.

E: The reason I’m worried about that is this sort of point. In some sense I want to say that in coupling a term like ‘cat’ with a term like ‘run,’ in order to understand it you’ve got to know what state of affairs is being asserted to obtain, and—I can’t put this very clearly, but do you see what I’m getting at?

S: Suppose you took the expression, not ‘cat runs,’ but ‘water runs.’

E: Or ‘nose runs’!

S: If you wish. If you think that the primary application of the word ‘runs’ is to some creature with legs and they twinkle and that’s the matter of the thing running, or whatever their particular movement looks like. But obviously—or at any rate, plausibly—when you make the jump from ‘[an animal of any species] runs’ to ‘water runs,’ there is a real inventiveness here, a real extension of your vocabulary, which is in a sense rather mysterious; because it isn’t already covered by the semantics of ‘runs,’ and yet it’s graspable—it’s humanly graspable.

E: And the critical question is, is this something that semantic theory should try and explain, or can it explain? That’s really what I was getting at, you see.

S: But what does seem to me important and interesting is that there really aren’t any rules here—

E: Well, in a sense there can’t be!

S: Whereas in the sort of semantics we’ve been talking about the whole idea is to explain human capacity by reducing the styles of combination we have to general, graspable rules. It seems to me in this sort of example, which is perhaps a relatively trivial extension of something much more important in human thought, rules are not to be had.

E: Of course what happens when rules are to be had, that is when the metaphor becomes dead and conventional, it ceases to draw upon the imaginary capacity we’re talking about. But you see what’s interesting—well, one of the things; I made the case rather difficult for myself by starting with ‘man’ and ‘cat’ because in a sense I want to say you can’t draw the line where this extension stops.

S: Surely, when the child learns, he doesn’t learn an abstract specification for running, like ‘legs moving relatively fast in relation to each other.’ He learns in relation to a dog, perhaps, or himself; and he does make this extension to cat, and even in that, you might say, there’s an element of imaginative creativity or something of the kind. That ties in with something I said in my lecture which seemed to arouse some sort of response: I said that what you can’t say, you can’t think. And there's something not quite right about this because of course we as it were constantly enlarge the boundaries of our language by these creative or imaginative sets. It’s still in a way true, but it doesn’t mean that we’re bound within the language as it is in any particular stage.

E: No, and thank God for that! I mean, what an awful and nightmarish possibility it would be if that were true. And interestingly enough there’s another fact—

S: Actually, how misused the word ‘creativity’ is by those linguists who refer precisely to our mastery of an indefinitely large number of sentences by virtue of our mastery of a certain restricted set of rules—and say this is creativity. It isn’t creativity at all!

E: Exactly! Creativity precisely comes in where the rules give out!

S: Or where you stretch them.

E: Well, I mean, actually we don’t want to fiddle over the word ‘creativity’; in a sense they can have creativity because in a sense we know what they’re talking about; one can understand new sentences, but—

S: Why give them a good word? Now, if we ask ‘what is fundamental to thought at large?’ not thinking of the subject matter on one hand, or logic on the other, I think we’re bound to say that the most fundamental feature of all is a certain dichotomy, or duality perhaps better, of on the one hand a notion of the general—the universal, the repeatable in multiple cases—and on the other hand, the individual case, the particular case. And obviously this dichotomy is represented in logic, is represented in the basic notion of predication, of saying of an individual case that it’s of such and such a character. In logic this notion has an entirely general, subject-free character. Now might we not see the unlimited generality of logic—the notion that it’s totally indifferent to what you’re talking about, be it numbers, or objects of an ordinary kind, or not—as arising out of an extension, a kind of imaginative extension, from this basic case on the strength of certain analogies, not of a subject matter kind, but of a logical kind; the extension from this basic case to other more rarified cases. So that we can take numbers as individuals and talk of the properties of numbers; so that we can take, if you like, actions as individuals and talk of the properties of actions; so that we can take propositions as individuals and talk of the properties of propositions, and so forth.

E: And the examples that come to mind do have such a character, don’t they?

S: So that some sort of exercise of as it were human imagination is involved in making this step—

E: So—

Part 5

S: in the sense that we have an analogical extension of forms, this time, rather than semantic contents, beyond their primary application.

E: Well, one day—as one likes to dramatize these things—something of this form was used to express a proposition of a rather different kind. And in order for the hearers of this new proposition involving making new uses for old means, they had to be imaginative in some of the ways we’ve been talking about to understand what was going on.

Focusing on that move, isn’t there a danger that he could only understand what was going on by incorporating error into his thought—somehow thinking of the subject too much like the subject of the other kind, let’s suppose the sentence is something like ‘his proposal was defeated’?

S: I don’t think that there has to be any sort of error made by the actual people who talk in this way. What I do think, and I think this is a unique thing about the history of philosophy, is that the constant charge of reification—of treating what aren’t things as if they’re things—is justified insofar as it is justified by philosophers—not ordinary men, but philosophers—taking these derivative forms too seriously, and at the same time being haunted by the original model. If the basic entities, the basic individuals, are spatiotemporal objects or spatial objects, then if you take the derived grammatical forms too seriously, then you may suppose that properties, propositions, all sorts of things, have a quasi-substantial character, which they don’t have. But I don’t think, so to speak, that this basic error which philosophers can make is implicit in the language; I think it’s a philosophical error.

E: So it would be as wrong in these kind of cases to suppose that the ordinary man is mislead as it would if you took some of his metaphors for talking about his mind, like ‘in the back of my mind,’ and all that sort of thing—

S: Right. There of course as soon as he starts to reflect—and as I said, the tendency to reflect philosophically is endemic in the species; good!—as soon as he starts to reflect, maybe he’s liable to fall into these traps. As Wittgenstein pointed out, we are mislead by surface grammatical analogies, by metaphors, to bring the two points together as you did. But we’re mislead not when we use these things in ordinary exchanges, but when we start to reflect.

E: Do you think that line can really be drawn so clearly, actually?

S: Yes! Yes, I do. What’s wrong with the philosophers of the critical kind, is that they over-correct, as it were. Because they see that there is a theoretical risk here they—

E: They try to provide translations of them.

S: Yes, they try to provide translations of them—

E: And you can’t.

S: So in a way you can see the whole new move in theoretical semantics as a very old thing, fished up again.

E: I suppose it would follow from our speaking of this in the ways that we have—imaginative, creative—that those translation procedures just aren’t going to be available in general.

S: So they’re caught in a terrible dilemma. Terrible for them, but amusing for us.

E: One of the ways it’s efficacious—now, I’m not sure this is what you had in mind, but maybe by seeing how little this gets your thought you can tell me the rest of it—is that of course it enables us to use—I mean, we’re talking about the extension of a grammatical form—it enables us to use, coupled with the extension of the new term, in subject position, some term like ‘his proposal,’ ‘his defeat,’ and so on, a whole lot of already existing predicates could now change.

S: Good, this is excellent. So this is where the exercise of imagination as you put it, which is involved in the adaptation of a grammatical form for a new purpose, goes along with and is married to that extension of particular predicates from their original application to their new application. I mean a defeat is something that happens to somebody in a battle.

E: Not in a proposal.

S: Not in a proposal.

E: I wonder whether we couldn’t—I don’t know, maybe that’s too bold.

S: So this is extraordinarily interesting; the notion that there’s a union here of these two kinds of extension—the semantic extension, which you earlier illustrated by talking about water running on the one hand, and the adaptation of the grammatico-logical form to receive new inhabitants. There is a continuity here, isn’t there, between things which we are accustomed to regard as discrepant or distinct, but which linguists or theorists of language, who are concerned after all with all uses of language, should be able to cope with. We spoke earlier of those as we called them of those imaginative extensions of the uses of ordinary predicates, ordinary words; and we considered the example of extending the word ‘runs’ from cats or animals to water, and I think rightly called this an imaginative step. And couldn’t it be said that it’s just the very same sort of imagination at work in characteristically poetic uses of language, in figures and tropes such as poets use. I mean, to see water as running is as it were the same sort of thing as, to take a childish example, to see a cloud as a camel. Or, to take a sophisticated example, to see the water, the river, as a strong brown god, or something like that, as in Eliot. But in general what one would like to stress is the kind of continuity here in use of language, and in thinking in general, between the poets view of the world and the ordinary person’s vision of the world.

E: Yes, so poetry is contained as a possibility right in the germ of all language.

S: Yes, and otherwise it would be utterly mysterious how we could understand the poet’s tongue if this were not so, if the poet’s tongue wasn’t after all our own tongue in a rarefied, refined, and intensified form.

E: Part of the thing that might be accounted for by looking at it in this way—reversing back now to what we said about the meanings of the composite is based by a rule on the meanings of the two parts—the characteristic ambiguity of poetry, because it isn’t yielded; I mean, you couple two terms, ‘water’ and ‘run’ perhaps (I can’t think of one that has a very obvious ambiguity at the moment)—the output isn’t yielded automatically by the semantic content that you have already. And that’s why you have this ambiguity—

S: And one’s inclined to say that no output is yielded automatically, or almost none. This refers to a point that you made, and that after all Hume made too when he described the imagination, and attributing to this faculty the key role in the application of words at large, he described this as a magical faculty in the soul, which is properly called a genius—he used these highly elevated forms of words to talk about the ordinary person’s capacity to apply ordinary general words over a range of similar, and also quite dissimilar cases. And it as you might say is an extension of just the same faculty which you might find in poetic use of language.

E: And do you think the mystery he found in it was the extent to which it isn’t rule-determined?

S: Right, I think that’s so. That in a sense the rules escape us. And this in a way is equivalent to saying that we can’t reduce it to a rule, or not to a mechanical rule; and yet it’s a faculty we must all be possessed of for the most, in a way, prosaic exercises of the mind and uses of language as for the most obviously and conventionally poetic.

E: What comes to mind is that perhaps a lot of the emphasis placed on rules as an explanatory concept in our understanding of language has been actually been misplaced.

S: And of course it’s not only the matter of the extension of the trope in the individual word, the figurative use of the individual word, but—I suspect I haven’t been into this at all—there is a similar imaginative use of grammar in poetic language. But this is a subject of investigation; I have no views about it really, except that I suspect it might be so.

[Part 6. Walking—Credits.]

E: Do you remember that footnote in Austin’s whatsit, a lovely thing that use to puzzle me, let’s see if I can remember it—why is beer, or water, in a toy beer bottle not toy beer, but pretend beer?

S: Aha.

E: So if I was being really belligerent on some occasion I would say,

S: You’ve really complicated the setting because the whole phrase ‘toy beer’ is odd, like ‘toy wine,’ ‘toy wool’—

E: But it wasn’t real beer, you see, it was water! That was the point!

S: Yes, yes, yes. The point still holds.
apolliana: (Default)
The point of saying something often makes what is said more clear, but not always. Nor would I want to say the 'point' is always obvious from the circumstances (environment, and other people) surrounding the speaker; the thoughts of the speaker might have more light to shed on the matter. Where, metaphorically, is the 'point,' anyway? I'd say in the inclinations and needs of the speaker. 'Point' might be another way of saying 'intention.' I'm not generally a fan of explaining meanings in terms of speakers' intentions, if only because it isn't clear that there's always something we can call an 'intention' behind what the speaker says; and certainly not an intention that his words mean? [something or other] (cf. Kripkenstein).

This, then, is another reason the point of saying something does not make the meaning of 'know'--or any other term--so clear that it precludes philosophical questions about the concept the term refers to. When the question is about knowledge, what constitutes 'knowing' is not always clear. In classrooms, it is often the ability to answer a question by repeating a prompted fact. But such 'knowledge' isn't tied down by an account, making it rather superficial. This superficiality will usually be apparent to both the student and the teacher. Everyone knows that we call this 'knowledge' only for convenience of expression. What constitutes knowing whether the bank is open is less clear; I'm inclined to say that this isn't something anyone not present at the location can truly be said to know.

Thus, I believe, philosophical questions about knowledge arise naturally from the slipperiness in our ordinary uses of the term. Like any term which implies success--or at least goodness--at something, using it invokes a scale of possible degrees of this success; invoking part of this scale invokes the whole of it.

To say that all ambiguities in our words are removed in 'ordinary' as opposed to 'philosophical' contexts is to overlook the ordinary situations from which philosophical questions arise. Which is to overlook a fundamental characteristic of 'ordinary' experience.

Now, there may be problems with not knowing which particular criterion for knowledge one has when one talks about knowing, or with using more than one criterion for knowledge at once; but the problem will not be that it doesn't ordinarily happen. Perhaps there are reasons to outlaw it in an ideal language. But this is very different from saying that outside of the context of philosophical discourse this ambiguity does not happen.
apolliana: (Default)
"[T]he capacity to understand and competently answer everyday questions is essentially the capacity to see and properly respond to their point; and I shall also argue that the theorist's question [about knowledge] has no point, in the relevant sense. The point of an everyday question guides us in answering it and in assessing our own and other people's answers.... [N]either our everyday employment of 'know that' and cognates nor anything else, with the exception of theorizing within the prevailing philosophical paradigm, ever requires that we answer the kind of question that we are here invited [by the traditional epistemologist] to answer" (Baz 14/16).

The only currently practicing ordinary language philosopher argues that when epistemologists ask about knowledge, they are asking questions divorced from any practical purpose, and therefore from any way of determining what 'know' means in the theoretical context. But it does not seem to me that we ordinarily know what 'know' means; far from it--particularly in the context of the knowledge-acquisition that goes on in schools.

My last post turned on an ambiguity in our ordinary use of 'knowledge': when do we count someone as knowing or as having learned something? What is required of them? Perhaps this is less ambiguous in reference to one specific fact or other than it is to the entirety of one's education. But I don't think it's clear in any of our minds just in what sense we are supposed to 'know' the things we learn in school--the primary arena in which we become familiar with the idea of knowledge.

Cognitive psychologists distinguish recall from recognition: to recall is to reproduce the thing you learned, while to recognize it is to judge that you've seen it before. (It's delightful to see G. Evans talking about this distinction in ch. 8 of Varieties of Reference.) If recall is our standard--as expressed by final exams of all sorts--we probably fall quite short of our standards for knowledge of what we have 'learned' in school; what we are able to recall decays quite quickly. Perhaps, at best, we will be able to recognize something we've learned when we see it again. Perhaps 'knowledge'--in the school sense--is closer to 'knowledge' in the sense of knowing people or places; being 'familiar' with them (French, 'connaitre'). Quite a lot of my undergraduate education is like this, for me; it's a matter of personal familiarity. My old friend, Palestrina!

This is all to say that, as students and teachers, we don't always know what sort of knowledge we're supposed to be acquiring or instilling. On both sides, the ideal of total recall never quite goes away; it hovers above us as the standard no one will ever be able to meet. But it is not the case, either, that there must be some point to what we learn and study. Sometimes, when what we learn is a skill, there might be a point ('to be able to reason critically in the future,' 'to know how to take the derivative of something'), but it is--importantly--an abstract point. My freshman math discussion about whether Euclid was selfish in pursuing knowledge for its own sake looms nearby.

Not everything we do has a very particular point, however much we might be tempted to assume there should be. But to do that is to infer intentions where none were; to try, desperately, to understand why we're undergoing something long and arduous and confusing. But there isn't always an explanation, less one in terms of someone's intentions. Sometimes we endure suffering (Ptolemy, difficult relationships) for which there is no justifying reason. (Okay, Ptolemy is a bit more justifiable.) I was constantly, as an undergraduate, trying to figure out what the rationales for the various peculiarities of the Program were, trying to understand why--if there was any reason--speaking was valued above writing; it turned out there were no reasons of the caliber I had in mind. This is a sweet, very human tendency to hallucinate purpose where none exists; but it is not the case that because we are given to it, the purposes we hallucinate are there. We do not ordinarily, in the realm of education, operate as if there is a particular 'point'--like an individual person's aim or end--to what we learn. And most of the time we don't know what it means to know what we've learned, either.

These may be failings of education, but I suspect they're unavoidable. If someone comes up with a set of things they believe it would be good for young people to learn, that set will be quite general. It's hard to say exactly how much background knowledge is required for any field or skill. Perhaps someone can do quite well with less. Perhaps what the person will go on to do is only tangentially related to what they have learned; this is expected to happen. Many will only remember what was interesting, or relevant to something else they find interesting--apart from any 'point' the teacher had in mind in constructing the course. And this is fine. Perhaps the idea is that the student integrates what she has learned into her overall worldview, her mental map of human knowledge. Is that a 'point' in the everyday sense? I rather doubt it.

For the 'propositional' (or declarative) knowledge we learn in school, the point of knowing it is rarely something students are aware of, if indeed there is a point. And what counts as knowing it is likewise vague. Need the student just be able to repeat the fact? Do they need to understand what the words mean? Do they need to understand more about the people, places, substances or forces named in the proposition that composes the fact? Do they need to have read the first source in which the fact appears? Do they need to have understood what they read?

I think we, as students, know this is a hopeless task. But the ideal--of having full recall and recognition of everything knowable--haunts everyone who is a student or a teacher. And so does the vagueness of 'know.' Our questions about knowledge and the traditional epistemologists' ("theorists'") questions are not so remote from each other. The theorists are us.

x-posted to: WordPress.
apolliana: (Default)
"There might be extraordinary facts, even about our everyday experience, which plain men and plain language overlook" (J.L. Austin, "The Meaning of a Word," 69).

One of the most common objections to understanding philosophical problems by comparing them with ordinary ways of speaking is that not all of our ordinary ways of speaking are correct. We may have language games that need to change, because they're based on empirical or ethical mistakes (blaming animals, for example; or talking of some people as if they are less human than others). I very much doubt any ordinary language philosopher would have claimed that how we do speak is always how we should speak; but it is not obvious why. The answer, I suspect, will also explain the way the appeal to ordinary language is supposed to work.

How do we discover that it's wrong to blame animals? It doesn't work, primarily. It causes unhappiness and fails to facilitate anything positive, other than the expression of anger. If it's a language-game (is it, even? we pick it up from other people, but it's practiced on non-speakers), it doesn't do much. It might as well be a "wheel turning idly."

The most important concept in the PI has long seemed to me to be the "very general facts of nature" that form the background to our language-games. If certain very general facts of nature were otherwise, our language games would be different too. That is, "the way we speak" does not exist in a vacuum. It depends on much else. Thus "the way we speak" cannot be the only evidence we consider. What, then, are "very general facts of nature?" Physical facts, certainly, but also the reasons for which we speak (the kinds of aims we have--grounded in physical facts).

But that is all, so to speak, from a third-personal point of view. How does it look from the inside?

The way we should speak depends on a great deal. It depends upon what we're talking about, and what the best description of the case is, given our knowledge, and purposes. The fact that we do sometimes blame animals thus does not imply that we should, given other facts to which we may appeal. It's not the appropriate response. Finding the best description of a strange case, a misunderstanding, or a clash of concepts involves finding the best, most appropriate response. To do this, we must be open to other ways of considering the case in question. For this purpose, many other language-games all have to be functioning too; we must accept sensory evidence, understand and consider competing theories, and empathize. We cannot step outside of language even in bringing this evidence to bear on what we say.

The activity of doing philosophy, in my own practice, is an attempt to find the best description of things; however, the 'things' I want described, and the descriptions I find more salient are those which are "closer to home." I'm no Quinean because I do not give primacy to the same conceptual schemes. To do so would be to abandon my grounds. Our language is crucial to the evidence we already have for things--to what we are committed to; we can't simply remove it, as Quine imagines we can, to see the world as (Humeanly) only behavior and "stimulations of the nerve endings." That may be an appealing minimalist picture, but once we've done that we're no longer talking about ourselves. That picture is wrong because that is not how we are. (Kant was right about this.) Philosophy needs to start in the middle of things, or else it will not address philosophical problems, which arise in us there; throwing out the distinction-richness of the language we ordinarily help ourselves to is a way of not listening to or answering the person asking the question. There is, then, a given; but it is not as simple as sense-data. It is the body of language we acquire and the distinctions we learn to make within, and through it.

I do hold that philosophical problems, to the extent that they are properly philosophical, arise from conflicts among concepts. Some of these conflicts are superficial, and can be undone. (And the wonderful thing about Wittgenstein's method of dissolution, at least in theory, is that it works from the inside. The way it works, in the ideal, is that you find that you are committed to these ordinary ways of speaking, and discover for yourself that the problem arises from a confusion. You discover commitments you already had--not unlike a kind of recollection.) Some of these conflicts are, I think, not at all superficial, and cannot be undone (in this category fall all philosophical problems describable as "conflicts of perspective (1st v. 3rd)). But they can be best described, and perhaps the best description will work some kind of knot-untangling magic; I doubt it, but we will be braver and less idle if we try. Not least because the countless philosophers out there not working in these frameworks keep describing things with abysmal impoverishedness.
apolliana: (Default)
Analytic sentences are sentences that give uncontroversial and exhaustive definitions of words. Very few words are as easily defined as 'bachelor,' however; definitions sprawl, and diverge from each other. Does a divergent definition imply a lack of analyticity? If so, there is more to analyticity than 'what is said of a sentence giving a term's definition.' It would seem that some degree of simplicity is required; but I'm not sure there's any good reason for requiring it.

Perhaps, in addition to being the characteristic of a sentence stating a definition, what marks analyticity is epistemic: it seems to you as if the definition states no more than is contained already in the term named in the sentence's subject. If it does not seem that way, philosophers will hesitate to call the sentence analytic. A divergent definition may state more than is contained in the subject term in a sense--if we take it that any given understanding of the term is an understanding of it under one of that set of definitions, but not of all of them. (Dancing around analyticity is the metaphysical notion of essential qualities: an analytic statement will name the essential qualities of its subject, but not its inessential ones.)

There is still another criterion of analyticity alleged: that of what we have learned from definitions, v. what we have learned from the world: I do not look to the world to find out whether bachelors are married or not; I look to the definition of 'bachelor.' But the world seeps in everywhere. We might learn the term by definition; or we might learn it ostensively, in which cases our experiences clearly mediate learning. Perhaps the more important criterion is how we determine whether something is true ; but even then...the fact that things we experience fit the definitions contributes to our willingness to assent to those definitions. Even some of Euclid's definitions are better understood by drawing them.

It is alleged that the analytic/synthetic distinction is no good because we might discover married bachelors. But that's not the best description of what would have to happen: linguistic drift would have to make it such that 'bachelor' changes its meaning for other reasons. (Maybe 'bachelors' are all married men in disguise, as part of some larger deception.) Then the intrepid skeptic will say, "We've discovered that bachelors are really married!" (meaning, not really 'bachelors' at all). If the deception and the awareness of it persist for a long time, the word may change its meaning; but the original discovery requires that the original meaning still be operative. This possibility does not mean that our word could really mean something different than what it seems to right now; in fact, it requires it. So the possibility of future meaning-changes does not in itself stand in the way of our current level of certainty about our definition statements.

Still, few terms are like 'bachelor' in that we do not assume discoveries will be relevant to their meanings. (But here are some that do: 'Philosophers study philosophy,' 'Cordates have hearts,' 'Squares are two dimensional figures with four equal sides'.) It is legislated that the unmarried men are called 'bachelors.' It's a name for them. No other characteristics are relevant to their fitting that definition. ('Bachelors are messy' is not analytic, if mostly true.) Many things we have labels for are not defined before they're labeled--resulting in divergent definitions and family resemblance concepts. It's not clear whether it makes sense to call attempts to confirm definition sentences about such concepts 'empirical,' however: if we already know them, we know what they mean, even if they do not have 'essential' definitions of the kind given as examples of analyticity. Multi-feature definitions will be more easily amended due to linguistic or empirical change (all the dogs on earth become three-legged), without jarring the speaker.

In any case, the possibilities of (1) linguistic change over time due to changing facts about the things we call by certain names, or (2) multi-part definitions do not stand in the way of our knowing, here and now, what our words mean--and being able, should we be intellectually astute, to set it out. (I suspect that some people think we need widespread analyticity in order to do this, though I have no idea why they would.)
apolliana: (Default)
I'd forgotten that Austin said anything like this. (How could I have?!)

"Although it will not do to force actual language to accord with some preconceived model, it equally will not do, having discovered the facts about 'ordinary usage' to rest content with that, as though there were nothing more to be discussed and discovered. There may be plenty that might happen and does happen which would need new and better language to describe it in. Very often philosophers are only engaged on this task, when they seem to be perversely using words in a way which makes no sense according to 'ordinary language.' There may be extraordinary facts, even about our everyday experience, which plain men and plain language overlook" (J.L. Austin, "The Meaning of a Word").

That might as well be my motto.
apolliana: (Default)
"The trouble is that concepts, without which we do not connect one thing with another, are apt to become a network which confines minds. We need to be at once like someone who has seen much and forgotten nothing, and also like one who is seeing everything for the first time. It is, I believe, extremely difficult to breed lions. But there was at one time at the Dublin Zoo a keeper who bred many lion cubs without losing one. Asked the secret of his success, Mr. Flood replied, "Understanding lions." Asked in what consists the understanding of lions, he replied, "Every lion is different." It is not to be thought that Mr. Flood, in seeking to understand an individual lion, did not bring to bear his great experience with lions. Only he remained free to see each lion for itself" (John Wisdom, "Paradox & Discovery," Eponymous volume, 137-8).


We can recognize many things we can't define. Meno knows virtue. Any acquired perceptual ability that gives us 'direct perception' of physical objects or sensory qualities, or perhaps even abstract ideas, gives us the ability to immediately recognize those things. Often these are what we might call 'higher-order properties'--i.e. they aren't simple; they are more like 'virtue' than like 'red.' But 'red' and 'virtue' are in the same boat when it comes to definitions.

Can we say how we recognize the things we recognize? Sometimes, yes; and this will be like saying how we do actions we've learned to do by heart. Saying how we recognize what we recognize immediately will be like saying how we do something we never have to think about the method for doing. Some of these features we will have forgotten, if we ever had to think through them at all. Whether we can bring them into our awareness will vary: there's not much I can say about how I recognize red things, since my visual data processing just isn't available to me; but I can say something about virtue, lions, fear, or kinds of philosophical skepticism.

How we recognize things is important. Knowing how we recognize things often tells us what they are (or tells us what they are relative to our current conceptual scheme). I don't only mean how we actually do recognize things, but both how we do and how we could. It's important that someone knows how to tell an elm from a beech, and that he or she could tell me; there are more recognizable features of the elm than I currently know how to recognize.

A concept, like 'elm,' denotes a collection of recognizable features of the world. (This is a variant on "possible experience.") The concept may be cobbled, and less straightforward than a natural kind, but that doesn't make the situations that prompt its application unrecognizable, or even non-delineable. Philosophers, so far as they are concerned with conceptual analysis, should be concerned with the actual application of the concepts with which they are concerned (if these concepts aren't neologisms). But it's crucial to not take the particular words people use as rigid guides to what exists.

The reason for this is that the words are not enough. One also needs the circumstances--and not just the social circumstances, not simply what words the speaker was responding to, but the features of the world she was responding to in thinking, say, "look, that's probably an elm." And the features of the world to which she responds may include features of her own mental life: "that was an interesting thought," "there's that strange feeling again." None of these are metaphysically problematic, I claim, in that what makes a tree look elmy, or one's thought seem interesting, could not be closer to first-person experience, and farther from the view-from-nowhere.

That "every lion is different" does not mean that we can't recognize lions. It only means that we can't easily sum up what it means to "understand" lions so as to breed them successfully as Mr. Flood did. Maybe we can't recognize the features he recognized in them, whatever those were: 'lion-breeding-conducive' features, we could call them. We can all recognize lions.

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apolliana: (Default)
"I believe that if, faced with the extraordinary pronouncements of metaphysicians, we avoid asking them to define their terms, but instead press them to present us with instances of what they refer to contrasted with what they do not refer to, then their pronouncements will no longer appear either as obvious falsehoods or as mysterious truths or pretentious nonsense, but instead as confusingly presented attempts to bring before our attention certain not fully recognized and yet familiar features of how in the end different types of questions are met." ("A Feature of WIttgenstein's Technique," in Paradox and DIscovery 101-2).

My fondness for John Wisdom stems from his being broadly and Ordinary Language philosopher who nevertheless believes that the things philosophers worry about are not nonsense, but have substance either as clashes between--for lack of better word--language-games, areas of discourse, or as revealing to us other aspects of our experience that for one reason or another find expression as philosophical questions. That, broad though it is, is my general theoretical orientation. I could not be a dogmatic ordinary language philosopher because I do think some philosophical questions worth pursuing.

The Received (Dogmatic) View is that all philosophical questions arise from 'misused' terms, terms applied out of their natural homes; and what we must do to answer these questions is to remind the asker that she doesn't know what she's talking about. If the asker returns her words to their natural habitats the questions will disappear. I think this turns a blind eye to philosophy--and not only to philosophy, to a real, important feature of experience: a feature of experience not unlike aspect phenomena. My metatheory is that philosophical questions arise from the contrast--not only that, but the 'flipping'--of multiple natural, but evidently opposed, ways of viewing the same subject matter. There are very good reasons for this, where it occurs.

I think philosophical dilemmas are interesting for conceptual reasons, structural reasons. For example, extreme external world skepticism shows us something about the limitations of knowledge based on evidence, and is insoluble for the same reason that it's impossible--that it may not be possible to doubt all our beliefs about the world simultaneously, without retaining one on which to base the doubt. But taking this sort of interest in philosophical problems does not mean that I think they are 'constructs' (whatever that means), of some kind, or ought to disappear with a shift in one's attitude towards the world (though that may happen--but that's not the most interesting thing to say about them). The skeptical mindset may be a peculiar one to get into, but it's not simply that.

Does this amount to the same as Wisdom's "not fully recognized and yet familiar features of how in the end different types of questions are met"? Possibly, though I would subsume "how different types of questions are met" under aspect-switching phenomenology; from one point of view, we are tempted to address the question as to whether the will is free by referring to causal chains, and from another, with the conviction that we could have done otherwise. And in a way, "how in the end different types of questions are met" is exactly what we learn from the skeptic above: we learn about what it means to base a belief (or a doubt) on evidence, and how our ability to meet certain questions runs up against the limits of our methods of finding out about things.


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