apolliana: (Default)
“Suppose someone told of a thing of a certain kind, and of certain things that had happened to it; and, when asked where that thing had been, and when the events he recounted had occurred, said, not that he did not know, but that they did not belong at all to our spatio-temporal system, that they did not take place at any distance from here or at any distance of time from now. Then we should say, and take him to be saying, that the events in question had not really occurred, that the thing in question did not really exist” (Strawson, Individuals, 29).


This passage raises questions about what it is we understand when we understand fiction. We follow a story, we understand that something happened, and at what location in the world of the story it happened; but the relationship between that world and the actual physical world may be loose. Perhaps so long as we have a time and place, whatever their relation to the actual world is, that fulfills Strawson's criterion. Perhaps what we do in entertaining fiction is akin to building on a temporary annex to our idea of the universe.

I suspect we do something similar in other contexts. In fact, I think a similar move is indispensable to our cognitive lives in societies.

Closed systems are abundant in philosophy. Carnap's sciences form their own systems, built upon axioms that are not themselves subject to the kind of examination they make possible; the cultures of cultural relativism are closed systems--each with its own ways of defining or cashing out normative terms; our conceptual scheme, for Strawson, seems to form such a system, insofar as he thinks skeptics are incapable of questioning it without also relying on it in so doing. Any argument that a position is self-undermining indicates that the self-undermining position's proponent is trying to break out of a closed system and failing.

In the cultural relativism case, in which 'right' is defined only for individual societies, there is no way of saying that anything is trans-culturally right or wrong. This, Bernard Williams argues, shows that cultural relativism is incoherent, as 'right' is used in a trans-cultural way in arguing to the conclusion that, since 'right' is only defined for individual cultures, it is wrong to interfere with another culture's actions expressing their values.

The response I'm inclined to give here is that there must be a way of arriving at an overarching definition of 'right' (which, of course, undermines relativism). And surely this is what we do when we talk to each other; we might cause someone else, or be caused, to revise our own values. That there is a trans-cultural way of understanding moral concepts is presupposed by the fact that we can talk to people with different values. Those trans-cultural understandings might be acts of the imagination, applied to our own concepts (and to human experience), looking for some way of bridging the gap. We might be noncommittal about the objective definitions of normative terms, but hold working theories. To do this is to leave the system of values, based upon a definitions of normative terms, open--open to revision of those definitions upon 'evidence' supplied by conversations and other evidence provided by witnessing, say, the effects of values, policies, or laws.

I doubt that such acts of the imagination provide an escape from skepticism. About that, I believe Strawson is correct. I concede, for example, that the skeptic about other minds presupposes their existence in imagining his or her own experiences as missing for other people. This is not to say there's nothing it is to imagine that others do not have experiences: we can imagine this. But if one tries to put together a coherent world around the conceit, it either ceases to exemplify the philosophical problem of other minds, or falls apart, turning in on itself like Castrovalva.

Certain regions of our concepts are, as it were, on the front-lines receiving assaults from experience, normative concepts and spatio-temporal locations for stories heard first among them.
apolliana: (Default)
When I tell people the topic of my dissertation, I frequently get responses such as, "Oh, I have no idea what my mental states are!" And I have to say, I'm baffled.

Usually, but not always, these people are extraverts. This leads me to suspect that perhaps this results from unstable or profuse identifications (in the Harry Frankfurt sense, wherein one 'identifies' oneself and one's standing volitions with those of others). Flakiness arises from the instability of such profuse or changing identifications, perhaps.

Then the questions as to what one ought to {do, love, want} will seem more relevant than they will seem to someone with fewer identifications yielding competing information about those things.

Of course, a person can have conflicting desires without being influenced by chaotic identifications. It's understandable to have desires pulling in two different directions. But sometimes there seems genuinely to be no fact of the matter; as when choosing ice cream: outside of a couple of broad parameters, there seems to be no preexisting preference there. In the no-fact-of-the-matter cases, what seems to be called for is not introspection, but some sort of commitment; or, if commitment sounds too detached, creation. I am hesitant to recommend this; but people do sometimes get stuck in an endless introspection loop, so that one begins to suspect that isn't the answer; whatever it is the person is looking for is not to be found antecedently existing. What's required is, rather, a leap.

This is to affirm the appeal of Moran's recommendations (from Authority and Estrangement to cases in which the introspection process (to the extent that naming one's desires is a process) fails to produce results of any kind. My overwhelming inclination is to say to these people, "You're looking in the wrong place." Though I do rather wonder why the process failed.

For the least self-estranging results, it would be best for the executive decision to be made in accord with one's identifications; though if conflict between those exists, another endless loop might be triggered. Additionally, if, in the case of no antecedent preference, in which a decision must be made based upon one's identifications, a subject might have a strong motivation to avoid any identifications. This would lead back to the endless unproductive introspection loop as well.
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.)

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