"Disputes about words belong rather to grammarians than philosophers, but philosophers ought not to escape censure when they corrupt a language, by using words in a way which the purity of language will not admit" (Thomas Reid, EIP, I, 11).
(I hear Eliot in this: "to purify the language of the tribe.")
"The hatred that men bear to privilege increases in proportion as privileges become fewer and less considerable, so that democratic passions would seem to burn most fiercely just when they have least fuel. I have already given the reason for this phenomenon. When all conditions are unequal, no inequality is so great as to offend the eye, whereas the slightest dissimilarity is odious in the midst of general uniformity; the more complete this uniformity is, the more insupportable the sight of such a difference becomes. Hence it is natural that the love of equality should constantly increase together with equality itself, and that it should grow by what it feeds on." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tocquevill
Is the rising up of those who feel alienated by the social justice movement also fueled by hatred of privilege? Yes, I think it is. The Tocqueville effect is playing out in two different groups of people at the same time. The question is: do we have any power to stop either of them? Or will they cause society to ultimately fall apart?
"To expect sense from two mentalities of such extreme viewpoints would not be logical" --Spock, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.
"This thing you call language: you depend on it for so very much, but is anyone ever really its master?" --Spock as Kollos the Medusan
has very little to do with the style of writing itself, or of the 'goodness' or clarity of the thinking that underlies it. It has to do with the audience sharing the author's presuppositions.
When a conclusion is correct, there is always more than one valid argument that can be made for it.
Or maybe it's just me....
For a long time I've had the feeling that there's a bias in contemporary philosophy against arguing for 'big' positions--the kinds of positions those who hold (or discount) hold (or discount) in a fundamental way. The thought is: if you give an argument for one of these positions, the only people you convince will be those already convinced.
What remains to philosophy is--must be--to only solve problems within these fundamental framework views. But that makes it difficult to ever interact with those who reject them, UNLESS your M.O. when interacting with them is to always accept others' presuppositions and to try to work things out within their views.
That's all well and good, I suppose. But it seems to be ignoring a herd of elephants in the room. (That, and I'm absolutely terrible at accepting presuppositions I object to.)
1. The Identity of Indiscernibles: If two things have all their properties in common, they are identical.
2. The Indiscernibility of Identicals: If two things are identical, they have all their properties in common.
THESIS: there is no application of these principles that is not implicitly epistemic, and self-refuting.
I used to think that both of these principles were acceptable. Or that perhaps (1) was acceptable, but not (2). But upon further thought, both are problematic if "have all their properties in common" is read as "are indiscernible." Having all properties in common with something is not equivalent to being indiscernible from it. Indiscernibility is an epistemic notion. As an epistemic notion, it is incomplete until the perspective of the discerner has been specified. (It makes a difference whether we're talking about things being indiscernible to God, or to me; and it might make a difference what else I know about the entity in question.) Thus Descartes's use of (1), which turns not on shared properties but on indiscernibility from his perspective, is not legitimate.
For uses that do not on indiscernibility from a perspective, (1) seems fine. But it also seems like a principle that will never be used, as no two things have all their properties in common--unless what we really mean to say is that what seem, from some perspective, to be two things, have all their properties in common. But if that's the case, they only seem to have some properties in common: there are sufficient differences for them to seem to be two things in the first place. There won't be any such "two things" ("two things" should be put in scarequotes).
Non-epistemically motivated uses of (2) are equally impossible to apply. We're never going to encounter TWO THINGS that have all their properties in common. We might encounter what seem to be two things but are actually one, which have all their properties in common except seeming to be two things. This is an epistemic interpretation of (2), and it refutes itself. In seeming to be two things, the "two things" do not have all their properties in common. They have sufficient difference to seem to be two.
The purely metaphysical version of (2) might also be false in quantum physics: if, in quantum physics, the same thing can be in different places at once, (2) is false for whatever sort of thing has that ability.
To do the work philosophers want to put them to, both (1) and (2) need to include epistemic notions. But they can't. The purely metaphysical versions are not much use.
Despite the apparent democracy of its classes, St. John's is a strikingly non-transparent place. The curriculum is handed down from on high. The educational objectives are completely undetermined. No explanations of why things are important, or what you should be getting from them, are ever given. This sounds great, in theory. But in my case it led to paranoia: am I finding what I should be finding in these things? And to obsessive attempts at pattern-recognition, at discerning what the guiding intentions were behind the arrangement of the Program.
This contributes all the more to students' paranoia about their own performance. The grading system is--because unspoken--also vague and various. It's harder to know when you're doing well when you have no idea what that would mean.
The College thus takes on characteristics of a religion. It inspires simultaneously doubt about one's own worthiness and about whether what the College requires of one to be worthy--whatever it is--is right. Perhaps this is part of what has made me obsessed with trust issues for much of my adult life. This is also why the College reminds me of The Village from The Prisoner, despite being intended to be the paragon and training ground of democracy.
In past years, I've moved on from the things in my life I believed in that required me to trust them in ways I found difficult. I'm much happier, and don't miss them. Perhaps it's a worthwhile experience to have, but on the whole, if something requires trust to the degree that constant self-doubt is inspired, I would avoid it.
David Kaplan uses the following example in support of the idea that indexicals and demonstratives (including some uses of pronouns) refer directly, i.e. unmediated by Fregean senses:
Suppose you have a friend, Paul, who lives in Princeton. You're at a party, and Charles has shown up disguised as Paul. You say
(1) "He [Delta] now lives in Princeton."
Kaplan says, "I assume that in the possible circumstances described earlier, Paul and Charles having disguised themselves as each other, Delta would have demonstrated Charles. Therefore, under the Fregean theory, the proposition I just expressed, Pat [he named the proposition 'Pat'] would have been false under the circumstances of the switch" (Demonstratives, 516). He construes Fregeanism for some reason as tying the actual object presented, rather than the mode in which it is presented, with the proposition expressed. (Sure, senses are modes of presentation of referents, but senses compose thoughts, so I'm a bit confused.)
He claims that Direct Reference gets the right result because demonstratives are rigid designators; they designate the same thing in all possible worlds (keeping certain things constant), rather than varying with, say, which object is present. (I can't claim to understand this. If you hold the object constant, the person you refer to in all possible worlds would still be Charles, would it not?)
But this seems like the right result for the wrong reason. I agree that in the proposition above, the person you refer to is Paul rather than Charles. But why? Because the information you're drawing on in making the judgment is derived from Paul, and not Charles. It's irrelevant whether Paul or Charles is the person sitting next to you: you're saying something about Paul based on information drawn previously from Paul.
Let's tweak the case slightly. Suppose, at the same party, Charles-in-a-Paul-suit starts dancing. You say,
(2) "I never thought I'd see him dance!"
Which person are you referring to?
This seems harder, to me, because the information you're drawing on concerns the actions of the person in front of you. Are these Charles's actions, or Paul's? I don't pretend this is obvious, but I think it's much more tempting in this case to say you're referring to the person who's actually there (Charles), rather than the person he's disguised as. Then again, it might not be surprising if Charles is someone who dances often, and Paul never does. So perhaps here you're referring to Paul also, even if Charles is doing the dancing.
What if Charles disguised himself as Paul to carry out a murder. You catch him in the act, and call the police. When they arrive, you say,
(3) What he did was horrible!
Does 'he' refer to Charles, or Paul? Charles. Why? Charles did the thing, even if you thought he was someone else. These are not easy cases.
A very Evansian way to treat these cases would be the following: you are referring to the person from whom the bulk of the information you draw on in your thought/statement/judgment derives. You fail to meet your target in making the judgment insofar as there is a mismatch between the person from whom the bulk of your information derives and the person who's actually there. So in (1) you have tried and failed to refer to Paul by demonstrating Charles, but you have still said something true about Paul. In (2) you're drawing on information about the frequency of Paul's dancing, and so still trying to refer to Paul, albeit also failing. In (3) you have said something true about Charles without knowing it. You have referred to Charles, but as it were by luck.
That is still not to explain why a more sophisticated Fregeanism might be useful in such cases. But Charles-under-a-Paul-mode of presentation could certainly go a long way in making sense of (1) and (2).
I am a lady who is big into technical stuff. Philosophy of language, taking electronics apart and putting them back together; you want to talk about how to solve a problem? I'm all over it.
I am also surrounded by dudes all the time.
So why in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the world isn't most of my life like Kaylee at the ball on Persephone (Firefly)?
Oh, because the latter is a Joss Whedon fantasy. Carry on.
Sometimes I think much of what we value about people and places and living situations boils down to action potentials--if not in the strict sense that the term is used in neuropsychology, but in the sense of what is easy to do in different places, with different people, etc, and what is most enjoyable that way.
My apartment without a roommate in it has all the same things I enjoy using and playing with. But only without one can I really enjoy them, or use them at all. When one is on one's own, action potentials in a lot of directions are practically infinite.
Quite a few are also curtailed, which could only blossom in someone else's presence: shared experiences of all kinds.
On the whole, I value shared experiences more. But I don't feel whole unless I have that total freedom frequently. It's the space for self-determination.
As I get older, increasingly I discover people my age or younger doing things that seem as though I could've done them. The "I could've ___ that" phenomenon. It's strange for someone who has been culturally isolated for most of her life to find people who speak for or to her at all. It's unnerving. It makes me feel average. A product of my times, even though I'm not; a product of other times, maybe.
Perhaps it's just that increasingly possibilities are becoming realized, so some of those I might've been able to realize are also being realized by other people. And as I continue on the path I've found, I realize possibilities there. Yet culturally, it feels as though I ought to be realizing all those I'm capable of, putting the unique combination of influences that I embody to every use possible. That other people will end up doing it for me is at once comforting and saddening.
I was inspired to revisit this now, 13 years later, because what it says is still true, and still a problem for me, even outside of the cultish environment of the college in question.
Note: The following is an opinion-piece, written for the St. John’s student newspaper, on the place of “quiet students” in the discussion-based atmosphere of the school.
Mr. MacLean has raised some issues that have preoccupied me, on and off, for the past three years. Although I cannot present anything other than a personal case, perhaps it will offer some psychological insight.
Frankly and at the outset: I am a student with a notorious history of pained quietness. I can say only that other quiet students do not personally offend me, or seem to threaten the life of any of my classes. What is of concern, I believe, is not any threat to the community that might come directly from quiet students, but whether students like myself are missing--and are perhaps incapable of attaining--something crucial with regard to their own educations. This is the sense I have from my intense awareness of how my classes function and of how I am, in respect to their functioning that way, deficient. This is not a defense I feel the need to give because I believe myself objectionable; I am not objectionable, but neither am I wholly in accord with the operational standard. I give my case history below.
Granted that St. John’s belongs to students who think out loud, I think, mainly, on paper. The difficulty lies, specifically, in the moment of intuition (intuition in the Cartesian sense, Rules for Direction of Mind), which unfortunately for me does not retain its connection to the logical circumstances that produced it. As soon as I “see” something (a math proof, for example), I lose accounts. A train of words does run through my head, but is generally detached from the real issue at hand either for my mind or the discussion. Bringing the words and the images together is a constant undertaking. Perhaps others have this problem, too, and are simply stronger intellectually and so overcome it more quickly. It is true that, with some subjects and situations, I experience this less. But, as it is, a link is missing that enables me to say what I “see” and “see” what others say with the rapidity called for by most occasions.
There are other problems (emotional), which stem mostly from fear of being exposed in the above handicap: of speaking and producing not the moments of intuition but the words running through my mind, and saying nonsense.
It is true that conversations involve common ground between participants. I think I have grown capable of finding this along with my classes, but often don’t stay there myself. I simply can’t work out any ideas of my own at all, and put words to them, in time with the conversation. I am too busy picturing the situation someone else presents to respond immediately. In this way, I often fall back upon my own trains of thought--which frequently enough are just outside the bounds of the discussion. What interests me—what I would say—cannot be said in the context of the conversation. What I do say is what I believe to be lacking in the presentation on the table. Perhaps this reaction is grounded in a need to feel some integrity within myself in the midst of a disorienting situation. This is a shortcoming on my part. In assuming my personal ideas to be of more importance to me than the exercise of conversation, I commit what may be a fundamental sin against the standpoint of the College.
I’m not sure I foresaw this effect: I had hoped, as a prospective, that I would undergo a miraculous transformation (there is something rewarding about holding forth in a group of people that I had, in fact, always dreamed of) from the environment alone. Perhaps my soul was not prepared. Perhaps it never will be. The fact is, others can and do spend less time thinking about the readings but naturally and, it seems, effortlessly send out the words they do. Something prevents their rising in me (though I could write them with a little more time). I see others participating in this way--pretty much the way I do in orals, paper conferences, and one-on-one situations in general--and cannot help feeling I am missing something, although I am fairly reconciled that I must hold myself to a different standard. Whether or not such a different standard exists coherently in the eyes of the College has caused me some uneasiness.
My tutors have accepted me, hitherto, because I am very alive intellectually and certainly benefit from classes, both in the development of my thought, and in my relationship to conversation. (The second type of benefit I noticed almost immediately: conversation with friends and family at home became, by Christmas freshman year, much easier. I could deal with strange ideas and viewpoints more rapidly.) I don’t need to mention, for all will know it in their own cases, how I have grown intellectually here. My own education, then, is going just fine--unless, of course, what matters to an individual student’s education here lies not in what he learns, what new ideas he takes away, but somehow lies in the act of conversation itself. On the one scale, students of my order are not even ideologically reprehensible; but on the other scale, there are heights of development we (assuming there are others) are incapable of reaching that nevertheless are central to any student’s task at the College.
Although, as stated, I don’t believe we are in danger as a community from quietness, the above question--whether the purpose of education lies in learning things and being involved with the ideas of the program and one’s classmates, or instead lies somehow in the intellectual exercise of conversation—is a serious one. To this higher standard we may, I fear, be accountable: it consists, I imagine, in a still higher readiness to accommodate strange thoughts, place them, and work on them rationally; a more rapid and trained “seeing” of what one hears. These are virtues for me because they are my deficiencies. Whether these virtues are the primary purpose of our work here determines how far students such as myself should be accepted. Any quieter means of reaching for such virtues, should such means exist, would be the criteria of our acceptance.
I have always hated discussion classes. At St. John's, I'd spend the day preparing for a seminar, not get to speak in it, and go home feeling miserable knowing that however much I loved the material and however much work I did, my grades would be terrible. Often I'd cry after classes for which I'd put in a lot of preparation. That didn't change in graduate school. Classes in which I cared about the material and spent the day preparing were especially bad. (It's easier to not care what you say or how the class goes when you don't care about the material.) And especially when the professor yelled. More weeping, followed by a migraine.
Discussion-based learning is only useful to an individual student if she gets to guide the discussion; and the difference between the places I wanted to go and the places the rest of the group did was always huge, so I reasoned that the majority ought to get their preference. (Perhaps I'm an innate utilitarian.) I still think like this. But this isn't to say discussion isn't valuable and something I need. Discussion with a single person at a time is.
Group discussion contexts often stifle my inner dialogue. Being surrounded by peers is not a good situation for opening up one's mind. There's too much going on to follow a line of thought. Thinking is something one does in private, in a pleasant place, when distractions are tuned out and one is relaxed. Feeling safe is of the utmost importance to this. Otherwise all kinds of defenses take over and make thinking difficult. Part of the problem, then, is that group environments are threatening (intrinsically, not just sometimes), and part of the problem is that they're too busy.
When I think about classes I've enjoyed being in, there are only a few. If groups, they were tiny (<5) and did not exhibit significant power structures; we were engaged in a task together, and it was pretty clear what to DO in the actual class. That is, one could prepare things one would like to talk about and actually talk about them. (That's happened twice the entire time I've been in school. And when I think about it now, the preparation I did for them was much like preparing to lead a discussion section these days, even though I wasn't the leader. Knowing how to prepare is important.) Another type was a lecture with a lot of individual feedback: the professor often asked students to write responses to questions and problems. These weren't graded; I don't know whether he ever looked at them. But I loved those classes so much I went to them when I wasn't even enrolled.
In the future, then, as a leader of classes, I might want:
1. to have students write their own responses to questions more often
2. to make it so that students know how to prepare for discussion classes
3. break large groups into smaller groups, and give people roles within the groups, so they're not distracted by floundering in social chaos.
2. is hard. In my first seminar at St. John's one of the tutors asked me, in particular, to come up with possible seminar questions before class. He never asked my questions, and I never knew if I was supposed to ask them (I assumed I was just being evaluated based on them). It helped neither my performance nor my grade, and I felt awful for being singled out as in need of remedial something or other. So, whatever I do--NOT that.
Many professors do things like that, for instance having students post something either to them or to an online discussion board before class. But I've always hated the publicity of this and found it stifling. (When posted to a professor, they'd often tell me how much my questions stunk.) So perhaps just requiring them to write something and not evaluating it or showing it to others would be better. Another possibility is to have a discussion board but have all contributions be anonymous. If that could be done, it might have interesting results.
I dreamed last night that I was giving them (being a big nerd), so here goes:
Pace Wittgenstein, we can give a definition of what it is to be a game. To be a game, a set of actions must contain routine or ritual components which have an indeterminate outcome that depends either on chance, on skill, or both.
There is no need to specify the number of players, the fact that some games are played with balls, others with words, etc.
There may be concepts that can't be pinned down through definitions, but this isn't one of them. (It's certainly true that we don't LEARN most concepts in this way, but that doesn't mean definitions can be given afterwards. Harder concepts to do this for are basic sensory concepts, like 'red,' and perhaps qualitative concepts.)
“In this box are all the words I know,’ he said. “Most of them you will never need, some of them you will use constantly, but with them you may ask all the questions that have never been answered and answer all the questions which have never been asked. All the great books of the past and all the ones yet to come are made with these words. With them there is no obstacle you cannot overcome. All you must learn to do is use them well and in the right places” --King Azaz the Unabridged in The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, 98-99.
"Do you know what lights remind me of? They remind me of all the people in the world waiting for other people to come to them."
I've always thought so. Including LEDs on radios, because radios are somehow oceanic.
Kate (played by Rita Tushingham) in The Girl with Green Eyes (1964).
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.
A strange thing about fashion is how 'meta' all the images are. "Here are photos of people looking fashionable while plausibly doing ordinary things." But of course they are not usually images of people doing anything at all except posing as people doing things. It's funny that we model our outfits on people plausibly wearing those outfits to do things rather than on people actually wearing those outfits to do things. Fashion images are hypothetical; floating, detached from life, like tourists. Even the images presented by clothes bloggers, the more professional they are, seem somehow unreal. Not knowing who these people are or what their lives or like accomplishes this.
Perhaps fashion images have to be detached from life; otherwise, the activities shown , or the person, would upstage the clothes in their attractiveness or interest. If I were to be shown an image of the scenarios I most desire to happen, I would not focus on the clothes.
Perhaps I just feel that the image is incomplete until the person wearing the clothes is really in view. This goes with my general contempt for ready-to-wear; it shouldn't exist. Clothes are for particular people and particular purposes. Abstract clothes are something else entirely; they're ideas, or artistic compositions; often both.
My suspicion is that this fear is largely a matter of style rather than content (or subject-matter). Many of the topics discussed by 'continental' or non-traditional philosophers are perfectly sensible, and should not be feared. What people fear--and probably should fear--is turgid, unclear writing. But I'm not sure they know that. Very often students are accused of being 'continental' when their writing is just slightly idiosyncratic, even when they're addressing analytic topics in a mostly analytic way.
The disturbing thing is that professors who use these terms of abuse have no idea it's a trivial, easily corrected, feature of the student's idiosyncratic writing style (and let's face it--all young people have idiosyncratic writing styles; especially the smart ones) that they're objecting to when they use this label. In my early years I was called Heidegger and Derrida, despite the fact that I wasn't doing continental philosophy of any sort. The paper accused of having Heideggerian language was a straightforward cognitive science paper; granted, it probably wasn't the best thing for the course, but it betrayed no signs of that strange German metaphysician. It was also quite clear and well-organized, though at times I certainly failed on that score.
Not being maximally clear and well-organized are not signs that a student is doing a different kind of philosophy. They are signs that he or she needs to refine her sentence and paragraph structure. I've noticed this in students I teach: often I'll think a particular student's writing is a bit contrived and convoluted, and that it sounds continental for that reason. But it's never because he's trying to do a different kind of philosophy (they're answering set questions, after all): it's because his writing sounds like that right now, and he needs concrete pointers to make it clearer and plainer.
None of the professors who accused my youthful writing of sounding ...European ever gave me these. They assumed the problem lay at the level of content, not of language--and mistakenly also assumed that these levels are separable. Kids express themselves idiosyncratically. They're not trying to be Heidegger; they may not have ever heard of Heidegger. They just need to learn to speak plainly; or, if they know and forget under pressure, to be reminded. The process of trying to become a clear and careful thinker isn't one that ever stops. But it is a skill that can be taught. Or self-taught, as the case may be.
"Who are you going with?"
"My sister's boyfriend. He's taking me to see Hatfield and the North"
"Never heard of them. Can I come too?"
"No," said Benjamin decisively. You wouldn't like the music. It's very complex and difficult. A bit like Henry Cow."
"Never heard of him either."
"It's just not the sort of thing girls like, I'm afraid"
(The Rotters' Club, 94).
...which I am only reading because it is named after a Hatfield and the North album.
It seems odd that women wouldn't like Hatfield & the North; their sound is whimsical and angelic (what with the airy soprano chorus of Northettes). And of course it's not stereotypically masculine, either; most men would call the entire genre of progressive rock effeminate. Rather, it's a male dominated thing for the same reason that analytic philosophy is a male dominated thing--whatever that reason is. (I stare grimly at the textbook bell curve for IQ showing more outliers at either end among men... and hope for a nicer explanation.)
7 April / Indianapolis
A flat bone-colored plain with sparse trees growing out of it like public hair from brown wrinkled skin, the grey sky above it through which moved a few grey clouds like trucks along the grey road....
A terrible dinner in a public dining room at a U-shaped table, with thirty or forty teachers. Apparently no one reads in Indianapolis and the teachers had the discouraged air of vegetarians trying to convert to cannibalism.
Anyway I had two mornings undisturbed in which to work. Afternoon two to four talk with students. Dinner, then my lecture on the thirties. It went well but really I was completely without confidence. Somehow I have in my own mind no contact with an audience when lecturing. It is as though I were behind a glass screen gesticulating, and everything I say somehow keeps them attentive but is almost meaningless to me. When I am reading poems I do have confidence or at any rate can become absorbed in the problem of trying to read them effectively. After half and hour I broke off and said I would answer questions. Rang B. and told him how appalling I found Indiana. He said, 'It is the most awful state in the union.'
From Journals 1939-1983, 354-5. This was in the 1976-9 section, precise year unlabeled.
I think he exaggerates.
I like what he says about lecturing, as I feel that way sometimes--particularly when teaching something I cannot get into myself, and when I can't make it conversational. Even when I do feel connected to the students, my performance is opaque: I cannot really control what I do. Those higher levels of self-awareness must be shut down in order for me to act.
are signs of the impulse to categorize things, gone out of control. They are deranged.
Yes, concepts are fun. But we do not need to try to think of everything that falls under every one of them. It is not usually useful work (can I interest you in a swarm of virtues?); and in most cases you could do it yourself.
I try neither to make them--except the practical kind--nor read them. Once, in a dark period, I made a long list of things that protect other things, upon realizing how much of my energy goes into protecting things; I felt ashamed afterwards. It looks like the product of insanity.
*This excludes functional lists, such as indexes, phone books, etc. I won't list them.
Lately I've been in need of time and space to myself, running constant mental searches on places to be alone. (There are none.) I find myself wishing for a Narnian wardrobe, or some other secret passageway to a pocket universe. Just as children do. Did I desperately need to be alone as a child? It's unlikely. I'm among the last of the (mostly) unsupervised children. Then the draw was the idea of finding novelty, of finding a bit of something shining and dream-like, amid the ordinary. Part of me really believed that if I followed the brown and dingy creek behind my house to the place where it ends, that place would be a glowing Elysian field. I feel a tiny portion of that feeling when I look for new music, which is like the things I know, but also different. Novelty as transfiguration of the ordinary.
Hell, I am a continental philosopher. Must read about quantifiers immediately!
Side note: much psychedelia captures this juxtaposition perfectly (as suggested by song titles like "Thursday Morning," "Tuesday Afternoon," "Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow"). It's simultaneously reassuring--as if to say, "Look! The world goes on!"--and dreamily transfiguring.
Certain sensations are puzzling because they seem to be at the limits of what it is possible for one's brain to process. They actually feel 'maxed out.' For example, a runner at the end of a race feeling something like pain that nevertheless doesn't feel like pain (because of the euphoria induced by the momentum). If someone asks me what I'm feeling in a case like this, the answer will usually be "I don't know"; there's a general sense of positive valence, but little else can be said.
It's like the sound you get if you press too many notes, too hard, on a synthesizer. There's a weird reverberation that becomes its own entity; but there's also a clear limit to how loud the whole sound, and even the individual notes, can get; beyond that the keyboard cannot process. So is experience synthesized (sorry) in the brain.....
And perhaps certain cases are like that of pressing more than one note on a monophonic keyboard: press both at once, and they produce a weird blurp, then nothing. Some part of sensory experience demands the whole of one's brain, and the rest disappears, or is attenuated..
Michael Tye has a paper arguing that the failure of the inference
(1) The pain is in my fingertip.
(2) The fingertip is in my mouth.
(3) The pain is in my mouth
does not fail to motivate representationalism--because a representationalist can say the pain is represented as being in the fingertip and not in the mouth. However, anyone who thinks experience has content can say that, representationalist or not. (Why this would motivate representationalism, I do not see. But that's not what I want to talk about.)
The proposal he contests is that it is made to not motivate representationalism through being explained as an inference equivocating on different senses of 'in': one that is, and one that is not used to describe the state of the object. This seems to me not the most enlightening explanation of what's going on in these inferences.
Granted, a pain being 'in' something is not the same as a finger being 'in' something.
Similarly with holes:
(4) There is a hole in my shoe
(5) The shoe is in the box
(6) There is a hole in the box.
But surely this has to do not with 'in' so much as with the natures of pains and holes. They cannot be moved from one object from another, in any straightforward way. They aren't moveables. Rather, they're tied to whatever they modify. We could say they are like Strawson's & Williams's 'attributive adjectives'--i.e., 'good'--which lead to similar inference failures. A cricket player is a person but a good cricket player need not be a good person. Likewise a pain in my toe is in my foot, and my foot is in my shoe, but the pain is not in my shoe. 'In' doesn't have its normal use with pain: it's almost part of the noun, 'pain-in-the/my____'. Saying the difference lies with the sort of noun 'pain' is seems to get closer to what actually makes the inference fail. We could, thus, call 'pain' and 'hole' 'attributive nouns'--they require another noun, something they are 'in,' in order to make sense, and once attached to it, they cannot jump about, however lawfully, from place to place via inferences.
--Grumpy, Mid-Century British Philosophy Revivalist
When I was four, one afternoon I touched my own arm. I realized that when I touched my arm, I could feel both the sensation of my arm under my fingers, and the sensation of the fingers touching my arm. But when someone else touched my arm, I only felt their hand touching my arm. I could feel what my arm felt, but not what their fingers felt. This made me think of all the sensations I couldn't have, because I wasn't other people--not situated inside of their bodies, but only mine. I envisioned the street outside my day care full of people whose sensations I wasn't having. I wanted to be all of them at once. I wondered why I couldn't be, and why I was the one that I was.
It was a busy afternoon.
Russell's Principle: That in order to have a coherent thought, you must know what you are thinking about; in particular, you must have some kind of distinguishing knowledge of the referents of singular terms in your thought--i.e. a way of distinguishing them from other things.
Suppose you receive a postcard that says simply, 'I wish you were here,' with no pictorial representation of where 'here' is. Suppose, for this first case, that it's signed, so the only unknown is where 'here' is. Do you understand the sentence? My inclination is to say, yes and no. You understand it as a sentence containing a variable standing for 'the place where I [the writer] am,' wherever that happens to be. And the way you understand a sentence like that is certainly different from the way you understand a sentence with no undetermined referents. Why? Because you will invariably puzzle over where 'here' is. You have received a little mystery. You do, however, understand the kind of thing 'here' stands for: some place or other, where the writer is located at the time of writing.
John Perry's response is--extremely roughly--that you think of the referent of 'here' casually; this doesn't seem quite right to me. And that since you can, with the right resources, figure out what it is, then you know what its referent is. I agree that you can sometimes figure it out. And if there were no causality, and no event was connected to any other, this--and much else--would be rather difficult. But I think you can figure it out because you know that 'here' refers to the place the writer was at the time of writing. (For all I know, this is Perry's current position. I haven't read Reference and Reflexivity yet. But he does love to talk about ambiguous postcards as counterexamples to Russell's Principle.)
This effect is magnified if the sentence you're presented with contains more than one indexical or demonstrative with an unknown referent. On the wall above, 'It's you I love' is undetermined for both 'you' and 'I.' Supposing it actually was written by one person for another, we understand it to be one person telling another that they love them. And that is about all one understands. It's an empty schema. You can only imagine the circumstances that occasioned it.
It's also possible that it was written as an empty schema, in order to puzzle people, or to symbolize the act of telling someone that you love them; in this case there is no referent. It's art. This case is perhaps the furthest from any possibility of an ordinary understanding of the sentence. Not only is it an empty schema: it was written in order to be one. It's a representation of a type of utterance. It's not an utterance at all. (This case is interesting, because these sorts of thing are everywhere these days: mottos inscribed on things. They're not actual utterances--no one is saying them. And it's not clear who no one is saying them to. Yet we surround ourselves with them.)
All of this puts aside the more complex problem that even a sentence like 'wish you were here' might not have the meaning it superficially appears to have. It might be sarcastic: "Vesuvius in eruption. Wish you were here." There might be still more to the context of a spoken or written utterance than simply the referents of indexicals and demonstratives that we need to know in order to understand the utterance. If I turn on the television and see one character say to another, "It's you I love," having not seen what preceded that, though I will know its referents (sort of: this person and that person--though I may be intrigued to watch more to find out which particular people they are in the show's universe)--and I may be able to determine from its tone whether it's sincere, I won't really know its import, having not seen what preceded it. If I open a book I've never read to a random page and see "It's you I love" written there, then, though I may be able to see that it occurs in a conversation and thus is not a piece of conceptual art, I will be able to determine just from reading that sentence neither its sincerity, nor its import, nor the referents of 'you' and 'I.' I will, however, know the sorts of things 'you' and 'I' stand for--so long as they occur in ordinary speech. They stand for people (or, in this case, fictional people). I will have to read the rest of the story, however, to find out who.
I would like, then, to partially uphold Russell's Principle. I think the way one understands a sentence with indexicals and demonstratives whose referents one doesn't know is quite different from the way one understands a sentence with indexicals and demonstratives whose referents one does know. And I think that this ability to come to know said referents rests primarily on understanding the way such terms work--the sorts of things they refer to.
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.)
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?
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?
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--
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…
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—
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?
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.