31 December 2008

Davidson, Monkeys, and McDowell: Trianglers

I got the two new McDowell collections for Christmas. (In case you didn't know they were out already: they are. "The Engaged Intellect" and "Having the World in View" are the titles. Go and buy them!) Lots of delicious essay here.

So far I've only read one essay from them: Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective. (A quick look at my McDowell folder shows that I've had a copy of this essay for some time; I have no idea why I hadn't read it before. I didn't even recognize the name when I saw it in the table of contents for "The Engaged Intellect". Seems to have slipped through the cracks. I must have assumed it was not about the Davidson volume, for some reason.)

McDowell's "Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective" is a lecture on the third volume of Davidson's essays (which I will refer to as “ISO”, to disambiguate it from McDowell’s essay); apparently there was going to be a symposium about his work generally, but Davidson was able to get the topic changed to that volume in particular. McDowell's piece is pretty straightforwardly "Here are places in the volume where I want to poke at." It's a good essay.

Unsurprisingly, he agrees with the conclusion of "Three Varieties of Knowledge" wholeheartedly. Knowledge of one's own mind, of other minds, and of the external world all presuppose each other. His only criticism of the essay is that he dislikes how Davidson seems to "give priority to the intersubjective". He quotes Davidson as saying that "we come to have the belief-truth contrast through having the concept of intersubjective truth", that we "arrive at the concept of objective truth" through the idea of intersubjective truth. (p.105 of ISO – the essay is “Rational Animals”.) McDowell is puzzled by the suggestion that one of the legs of the tripod is somehow giving rise to the other two, and urges Davidson to adopt a more clearly holistic view.

I think McDowell is just misreading Davidson. Davidson's point is not that intersubjective knowledge somehow grounds the other two kinds of knowledge, but that once we have a notion of ourselves as part of "a community of minds" we also understand "the belief-truth contrast" (and the truth which is opposed to belief is "objective truth" –“the concept of an intersubjective world is the concept of an objective world, a world about which each communicator can have beliefs”, p.105 of ISO). There's no priority given to intersubjectivity, because Davidson could just as well have said that "we come to have the idea of intersubjective truth through having the concept of a belief-truth contrast" (after all, the distinction between what people believe and what is the case is just the sort of distinction needed to have an idea of "intersubjective truth"). So, I think Davidson already held the view McDowell urged upon him in Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective, at least by the time of McDowell’s essay. It's only an infelicitous phrasing that suggests he has an unbalanced tripod. (I should probably hunt down the issue of "Philosophy and Phenomenological Research" this essay was originally printed in, to see if Davidson published a response to the symposium.)

It’s worth noting that the passages McDowell struggles with are from an essay first published in 1982; “Rational Animals” is one of the earliest essays in ISO (tied with “Empirical Content”). “Three Varieties of Reference” comes along almost a decade later

This essay is the most I've ever seen McDowell say about triangulation; he makes it fairly clear why he generally doesn't talk about it. It seems to be tied to his qualms about Davidson on animal minds:

We need more than just the insistence, which I applaud, that our ways of understanding brutes differ crucially from our ways of understanding ourselves and one another. We need a positive line about our ways of understanding brutes [this is an odd thing for a "quietist" to say-D], and it is not satisfying to suggest that crediting them with intelligent engagements with their environment is just a convenience, called for only by the fact that we lack detailed knowledge about their internal control machinery.
That Davidson's discussion of animal minds (cf. "Rational Animals") is unsatisfying is certainly right (cf. Finkelstein's essay in the Cora Diamond Fechtschrift). McDowell tries to tie this unsatisfyingness to the doctrine of triangulation -- to be fair, triangulation features prominently in "Rational Animals" -- and makes some vague gestures towards a view of animal minds which comes closer to viewing them from an interpretive standpoint (though McDowell says he finds Davidson's "human chauvinism" on the point of animal minds "perfectly congenial"). These parts of the article are all pretty high-altitude and not very clearly sketched out, but McDowell’s worry about Davidson on animal minds seems pretty standard, and his suggested repair seems anodyne. But the connection to the doctrine of triangulation isn’t made very clearly at all.

I suspect that McDowell doesn't quite appreciate the role triangulation plays for Davidson. For instance, he writes that "even if we grant that triangulation might be essential for objectivity, that does not warrant the suggestion of a priority for intersubjectivity." (154) I don't think Davidson gives intersubjectivity any such priority, so if McDowell thinks that this "priority" is part of why Davidson talks about triangulation so much in his late works: Well, that seems like a problem.

Though it doesn't prevent many of McDowell's comments in this essay from being insightful, I think he underestimates how holistic Davidson's picture is (especially by the time ISO is published). He admits to finding Davidson's "imagery of exploitation (taking advantage, making use of) [intersubjectivity/triangulation] a bit mysterious" (156); I think it would cease to be mysterious if he just read Davidson as already holding some of the views he urges upon him. McDowell frets about Davidson's claim that rational animals "make use of the triangular situation to form judgements about the world" (p.130 of ISO); I think Davidson simply meant that subjects can be subjects because they're subjects who understand one another in a common world. They can "form judgements about the world" because of the tripod of subjectivity/intersubjectivity/objectivity. Triangulation is just an abstract form of the tripod -- the two reactors and their common cause are the three things the tripod's "varieties of knowledge" are concerned with, after all, not just one of them. (That the remark from p.130 of ISO shouldn’t be a case for stumbling is, I think, made clear by context: Davidson is just trying to express “why language is essential for thought”, and he makes it clear that he could say “much more” on the topic.)

As an aside, I think that a suitable account of animal minds needn't talk about triangulation at all (nor do I think Davidson thought it did, though he may have thought that a suitable account of "animal minds" would just show them to be really unmindlike after all -- sometimes Davidson just starts to sound like Descartes when talking about animals). A lot of animals don't react to others of their kind in any particular way (though of course social animals do), and I don't see that there's any reason to think an animal mind would have to have any notion of itself as anything like "one mind among others". Supposing sharks don't need any educating, but act only on instinct, and never work in concert with other sharks, I can't see why a shark mind couldn't be considered to be a perfectly good solipsist: it could treat all objects it encountered (apart from itself) as merely moving, not reacting to anything. In which case the shark mind does not triangulate. All of this, of course, needs the caveat that talking about "animal minds" using the terms we normally use for the normal sort of minds might lead to seriously problematic anthropomorphizing of animal minds. Also I suspect that sharks are actually smarter than this. But the point remains: intersubjectivity is clearly a lot less important when you're talking about animal minds.

Also: McDowell worries that Davidson doesn't seem to anywhere acknowledge the special role played by "hinge propositions". (He says similar things, at a bit more length but less clearly, in "Gadamer and Davidson on Understanding and Relativism".) I don't think anything is missing in Davidson here, though I think McDowell is right that he doesn't have anything like what McDowell is looking for. (After my Nth rereading of "Davidson in Context", which is the first appendix to Mind and World, I've become convinced that what McDowell thinks about "hinge propositions" is central to his defense of the analytic/synthetic distinction, the "cutting down to size" of the Quine/Duhem Thesis, the wary glance cast at the indeterminacy of translation, etc. etc. In this essay he identifies propositions which have a "status as hinges" with "fundamental propositions about reality, such as that there were things that happened a very long time ago" (157). It would be nice if I could find someplace where McDowell just talked about hinge propositions as such, rather than in passing. If he has an extended discussion of them anywhere, I really do need to look at that for my thesis. I'm pretty sure I can guess the sort of view McDowell has operating in the background of "Davidson in Context", but I don't have a clear grip on just why he thinks what he does.) Incidentally, I think Davidson does have an essay specifically about these sorts of propositions, and I think he misapplies his own ideas: I recall "Method and Metapyhysics" as being one of Davidson's worst essays. (I should reread it, to make sure, but I recall Davidson trying to use the principle of charity to conclude to a great many of our specifically metaphysical beliefs being true -- he gave examples. I don't think this is the right way to go about things. But, again, I should reread the essay.)

Postscript: Davidson, in a piece from around the same time as Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective seems to commit the same sin I above attribute to McDowell: he fails to realize how much McDowell's views agree with his own. Davidson, from "Quine's Externalism":
The additional force of the social is best brought out by posing two questions to those who have promoted perceptual externalism without linking it to the social (I think here of those who have followed Russell, like Gareth Evans and John McDowell). One question is this: where, in the infinite causal chains that lead to the sense organs, should we locate the elements that give content to our observation sentences and their accompanying perceptual beliefs? The short answer is that the location is given by two or more observers whose simultaneous interactions with each other and the world triangulate the relevant stimulus. This is something one person alone cannot do.
This sort of criticism of McDowell by Davidson makes it a good bit clearer what McDowell is responding to in Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective. I can easily see how McDowell could take this sort of criticism as implying that "triangulation" names something that a mere fan of Davidson-style interpretivism like McDowell is ignoring; McDowell's puzzlement at what's going on with triangulation-talk is then easy to grok. I'm not sure why Davidson thinks this sort of question is a problem for McDowell, since you can answer it by just talking about the special way observation sentences figure in interpretation... in exactly the way Davidson does. Which McDowell is happy to do. (Perhaps his criticism hits Evans; I wouldn't know. I suppose it probably does hit some position or other which Russell held at some point. But it’s not as if McDowell was just trying to rehabilitate “knowledge by acquaintance” or something like that.)

That Davidson is being less than charitable in the questions he poses to McDowell is even clearer from the "second question" he poses: "What, in the process of acquiring a first language and propositional thought, gives us the idea of error (and so of truth)?" That Davidson has an answer to this that McDowell can't steal strikes me as highly implausible. (The extremely condensed account he gives later in the paragraph is clearly not his whole story, but, again, I can see how McDowell takes this sort of mode of presentation of Davidson's views to imply that the intersubjective somehow has a "priority".)

Incidentally, I think that “Quine’s Externalism” should’ve been collected someplace, even if it wasn’t something Davidson had a chance to edit for publication. It would’ve fit nicely in the first part of “Truth, Language and History”. There’s another Davidson piece, simply titled “Externalism”, which I mean to read soon; that also looks like something that needed to be more readily accessible. (I have recently begun hunting for Davidson pieces which were unjustly not collected in the five volumes of his papers, as it occurred to me that pretty soon I’m going to run out of Davidson to read.)

PPS: Triangler. Macross Frontier's music is fantastic, as befits a Macross series. Yoko Kanno is still fantastic; "What 'bout my star" is probably my favorite track of the year. Mizuki Nana's "Trickster" is my favorite album though.

Rorty and the Dogmas

In The Search for Logically Alien Thought Conant compares Descartes's pious refusal to claim that God was "bound by the laws of logic" to Quine's claim that there are no truths which are in principle immune to revision, that there are no a priori truths. Conant compares Cartesian piety (of the old-fashioned sort) to Quinean scientistic piety: Who are we to say what Future Science will show us it is correct to think? This comparison is only made as a segue into what really interests Conant in this paper (which I haven't gotten all the way through yet), but he thinks "there is certainly something to the thought that certain classic papers of Putnam and Quine offer perhaps the closest thing to be found in twentieth-century philosophy to an attempt to rehabilitate Descartes's claim that it would be hubris for us to assert of an omnipotent God that He would be inexorably bound by the laws of logic -- those laws which happen to bind our finite minds."

Put like this, it occurs to me that this is similar to something Rorty likes to say: We shouldn't rule out that someday smarter, better people will come along who will show us that what we've said and done up to this point isn't the best we could've said and done. (Which isn't to deny that, so far, the best we've come up with is the best we've come up with, and we can't presently see how it could be improved on, or perhaps can't even imagine something being better than it.) Rorty even connects this with piety (in the old-fashioned sense), since both are tied to hope, the future, what is-to-come etc. It seems to me that Rorty's way of tying Quine to old-fashioned religious "piety" has the inverse effect of Conant's: Rorty's makes the Quinean view of the a priori appear genuinely humble, rather than fanatical. We aren't bowing in awe of Future Science, but merely holding open the possibility that the future will disclose things which are world-shakingly important (as has happened before).

I think a Rortyan approach also lets us see what's wrong with responses to Quine that present certain propositions ("Not every statement is both true and false") and challenge the Quinean to show how it could be rational to reject them: The Rortyan-Quinean can agree that we can't make sense of how it could be rational to reject the given proposition, while holding back from the conclusion that the proposition is therefore a priori true, incorrigible, unrevisable, untouchable by all possible experience, etc. For it might just be our present epistemic limitations that prevent us from seeing what a rational revision would be like, in any given case. Note that these "limitations" aren't the limitations of "a finite thinker" or "a being who cognizes through concepts" or "a being with a discursive understanding" or anything like that -- they're just blind spots we happen to have at this current moment. That such blind spots are a real possibility is something we can see through historical study (people can just overlook possibilities for long periods of time), which is also how we can see that there doesn't appear to be anything particularly systematic or consistent in what blind spots thinkers have. Sometimes, people just miss things, or an inferior option becomes the dominant one, or a paralogism garners wide assent, without there being anything interesting to say about why this happens in myriad cases.

Of course, this sort of historicizing shouldn't lead us into skepticism (which Rorty is less reliable on). It might be the case that something we can't see a way to do without is just right, and that the alternatives we can't imagine would all be inferior to our current practices anyway. And even where we can imagine how things could be otherwise, this doesn't commit us to any real doubts about how things actually are -- a contingent/a posteriori/empirical truth can be as certain as any. The question of whether a proposition is true (or of whether we should be sure of its truth) is to be held apart from whether or not to we should say it's true a priori, unrevisable etc. The Quinean/Rortyan view I want to advocate is just that we shouldn't say the latter sort of thing about anything -- we shouldn't pretend that some of our beliefs are protected from criticism in the way some philosophers have taken them to be. For any belief, one ought to stand ready to modify that belief if given a compelling reason to do so, and there's no telling in advance what reasons might eventually present themselves (for if one knew all such reasons beforehand, they would never provide an occasion to change one's beliefs). Eternal corrigibility is the price of rationality.

26 December 2008

Go on, guess

Guess who wrote this:

Because it was unclear how to harness Wittgenstein's insight, it was hard to view Wittgenstein's later work as leading to a coherent view of the general structure of language. As a result much of the work he inspired led to a dead end. Nevertheless, the basic idea is right: meaning is use; what is needed is to take this in, and apply it to the right use.

It's not Brandom.

(Incidentally, this is the 100th post on this blog.)

02 December 2008

An Idle Thought on the History of Analytic Philosophy

Sellars claimed to be trying to move analytic philosophy from its "Humean phase" to its "Kantian phase". Brandom takes the next step, and wants to move analytic philosophy to its "Hegelian phase". The next logical step would be: Kierkegaard phase. Which is presumably when we start making fun of the very idea of analytic philosophy, and recognize that the very attempt shows that there's something wrong with us. (Rorty clearly saw this coming. Brandom also mentions McDowell's remark about grafting "perfectly healthy pragmatist organs" onto the corpse of analytic philosophy in the afterword to his Locke Lectures, where he defends his attempt to keep the beast alive. I need to find a copy of that so I can finish the afterword. Incidentally, the Amazon reviews for that book are crazy.)

I'm not sure who comes after Kierkegaard. I suppose Heidegger lifts more than he acknowledges from Kierkegaard, so maybe we synch up with the Continentals. (First as tragedy, then as farce.) I for one look forward to analytic philosophy's Derrida Phase.

Recent posts at The Valve are what brought Kierkegaard to mind. Incidentally, I just tracked down a copy of "The Problem of Transcendental Intersubjectivity" this afternoon. It is apparently Valve Nostalgia Week.

01 December 2008

Appreciating the Little Things

The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy has footnotes, rather than endnotes. This is the first Cambridge Companion I've noticed this for.

They really do make the book a lot easier to read. Death to endnotes!

(The Cambridge Companions even had endnotes after every essay rather than all at the back of the book, so you couldn't even just stick a bookmark in the back and use that for all of the footnotes in the book.... Just terrible.)

So far, I've read the first two essays, and both are good. I need to read Pinkard's full biography at some point. The distilled version here was a fun read. Much better than Horst Althaus's biography, which is the only full Hegel biography I've read.

Also: I am amused at the title of this volume. None of the essays is about Hegel's relationship to the rest of "nineteenth-century philosophy"; every essay has Hegel alone as its theme. Nothing about Hegel & Marx, or Hegel & Kierkegaard, or even Hegel & Schelling. Every article focuses on a period of Hegel's life or a segment of his work, except for the introduction and Pinkard's biographical chapter. Where Hegel is related to other philosophers, Kant looks to be the main interlocutor. The title of the book just doesn't make any sense. Guessing it was decided as a formality; it has the same format as "Kant and Modern Philosophy", which did have a few pieces about how Kant fit in among his predecessors.

29 November 2008

Redding on Opposing Idealism

"Taking Berkeley as the prototype of idealism is a bit like taking the emu as the prototype of the bird."

(from "Idealism as a love (of wisdom) which dare not speak its name", which reminds me of how crazy the history of the University of Sydney's philosophy department is. I recall reading an article about it online once upon a time: at one point Althusser wrote a letter to one of the two(!) departments, reminding his "comrades" that philosophy shouldn't be entirely collapsed into political engagement. I don't know where I read that. I recall the site also having an article about how "in Australia" was a sentential operator which functioned as a form of negation: Thus "There are black swans in Australia", "Christmas is celebrated in the summertime in Australia", "Some mammals lay eggs in Australia", when of course there are no black swans, Christmas is celebrated in the winter, and mammals give birth to live young.)

14 November 2008

"The point of the book is ethical"

I've occasionally been annoyed at how rarely Wittgenstein interpreters try to flesh out the "ethical point " of the Tractatus. I recall Insight and Illusion particularly annoying me on this point: Hacker clearly had no problems "effing the ineffable" on every other point where there was supposed to be something which "couldn't be said, but only shown", but when he got to "the mystical" he suddenly hits something which really can't be said, and so he just compares it to "feeling absolutely safe" and "wonder and amazement at the existence of the world" -- the only original note Hacker seems to offer as an interpretation of what Wittgenstein was whistling here is that it's "a romantic ethics of the ineffable." "Resolute" readings of the book generally don't leave me greatly more satisfied -- there's often some gesturing to the virtues of avoiding confusion & thinking clearly, but it always seems like thin gruel as ethics.

Kremer's "The Purpose of Tractarian Nonsense" explains Wittgenstein by a preliminary discussion of Saints Paul and Augustine, attributes the showing/saying distinction to pride, and claims that the book aims to promote humility & love of one's neighbor. Now that's "not chickening out"!

(Kremer also moves seamlessly from a discussion of "justification" in Romans to a discussion of "justification" in epistemology, which is something I'd always wanted to see done. They're the same word, after all -- we can seek to justify all sorts of things, not just beliefs. Paul's not using "dikaiosune" as some weird technical term; it just means "being right/good", like in normal Greek.)

(I am also reminded here of Isaac Levi's attack on "pedigree epistemology"; Levi's rejection of a justification component in knowledge appears even more radical, in this company. I suppose this sort of thing should be expected when one wants to break down the "theory/practice" dichotomy, like a good pragmatist, but it's still striking when one notices it.)

Kremer's essay is good in general. I like this piece more than "The Cardinal Problem in Philosophy", but I suspect that's partly because I read that one first. "Cardinal Problem"'s central claim about LW's letter seems more plausible now that I've seen more of how Kremer would want to tell this story. Some of the details still seem sketchy -- Kremer likes to claim that "We can't say that p" is nonsense, where it just looks like a contradiction to me (and thus like something with a sense). But his responses to Hacker on the specific points he looks at in the later portions of the paper seem pretty compelling. They require Wittgenstein to have spoken ironically in his letters at some points, but it doesn't seem to me to be a great stretch to think that Wittgenstein didn't talk "straightforwardly" when rushed, since he clearly doesn't in his published works. His writing is just always like that.

Also Kremer quotes an amazon.com reviewer at the start of the paper. The kind of reviewer that spells "philosophy" wrong.

04 November 2008

An Observation

I had my suspicions while reading Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, but reading Sellars's Autobiographical Reflections confirmed it for me: Sellars is a terrible prose stylist. Sellars complains in the piece about how difficult he found writing for publication, and I can easily believe that it didn't come naturally to him. This essay makes me want to go back and re-read Davidson's Autobiographical Sketch a third time, just to appreciate how pleasant a read it is.

(Holy crap, there's a used copy on Amazon for $36! That is like $90 less than the last one I saw on there, and I haven't seen one on there at all in months! Library of Living Philosophers volume Get. Alibris actually shows a cheaper copy, in hardcover, but the seller doesn't appear to be reliable and I prefer having Amazon back my transaction.)

One thing that leaped out at me from Sellars's autobiographical essay: He specifically notes that he studied everything but ethics to begin with, but one of the central segues in the piece is Sellars's desire to cash out "deontological intuitionism" in naturalistic terms, partly by means of an appropriation of emotivist insights. It's hard to avoid ethics entirely.

I had no idea that Sellars studied under Quine; I had always thought of them as contemporaries. I guess Quine did start teaching when he was pretty young; he's only Davidon's senior by nine years.

02 November 2008

Bashing My Head Against Objects

Haugeland, "Having Thought" p.262, "Objective Perception":
"[Suddenly you see something that looks like your sister, sounds like your father, moves like your grandmother, and smells like your little brother. Then it has your mother's head on your uncle's body with a baby's limbs, then it has two heads and no torso or limbs and smells like a watermelon and sounds like a truck.]And moments later, [it changes] again, with new divisions and new participants. What would you say? Surely something like: 'Egads! Am I going crazy? Am I being tricked or drugged? I can't really be seeing this -- it's impossible.' That is, you would reject what you seemed to perceive, you would not accept them as objects."

I have no idea what I should say. I suspect I should stare blankly. I might say that I was "seeing something impossible", but I doubt it; that sounds like an idiom I am uncomfortable with. Rather, I suspect I should say (or at least think, since I suspect I would be going catatonic) "I must be seeing things". I wouldn't reject "what I saw" as not being "object(s)"; I would reject what I saw as not being veridical. (Perhaps more properly: I would reject the notion that I was seeing anything at all, rather than hallucinating.)

I should think that I would do exactly the same thing if I were to "see" my great-grandparents standing at the door. They've all been dead for some time, and so I regard it as impossible that they could be at the door (or anywhere else, aside from buried). This is not because the "objects" I "see" as seeming to be my great-grandparents would fail to satisfy some standard qua objects or qua persons, or even qua the persons whom I regard as being my great-grandparents, but simply because I don't think my great-grandparents have risen from the grave. (Perhaps I would revise this judgement if they started making conversation with me, and I became convinced that either they had not died, or they had somehow been resuscitated from their eternal rest. If I did revise my judgement as to whether or not my great-grandparents are/remain dead, then I should now probably have no problem with changing my mind further, and deciding that they had been standing at my door back then, after all.)

In fact, for me to reject the shades as actually being my great-grandparents, they have to satisfy whatever standards I might hold for some objects to be my great-grandparents, in a sense. For the experience I reject as non-veridical is an experience which seems to be of them standing at the door. And so Haugeland's non-objects must satisfy some standard for objecthood, for they seem to be impossible objects. If they have properties which cannot coherently exist in a single object, then they have properties and so have at least that much coherence to them. (I suspect that pressing this line would lead Haugeland to simply reject the example entirely. But it seems to me that he has to have something to replace it, and I don't see that anything can.)

There's no need to come up with counterfactuals this strange: If I were to see Barack Obama riding alongside me on CTA 172 some morning, I should have no doubt that I would decide I was hallucinating (probably from lack of sleep). Is "does not use overcrowded public transit" part of what constitutes a senator? (That seems an odd thing to say. And I could certainly come up with any number of other reasons Obama would not ride my bus, even if it wasn't so crowded. Which ones would be the ones I use to judge whether or not the fellow who looks like him next to me on the bus is actually him?) And in a sense it's possible that Obama might walk down a few blocks and get on the bus. There's a stop less than two blocks from his house, and it's faster than walking.

In each case, I can imagine that (mirabile dictu) further circumstances might incline me to simply accept the wild appearances as veridical. Perhaps the Large Haldron Collider has started to have catastrophic effects, and among those is creating things with two heads that sound like trucks and smell like watermelons, and are prone to sudden shapeshifting. (Perhaps these things only seem to have heads, but really they're just lumps with the shapes of heads, like with statues. Or perhaps the LHC actually creates monsters which exist only for a moment before dissolving, and what Haugeland describes as a kind of shapeshifting is actually many monsters replacing one another in a series. I don't see why it matters what we should say about things like this. Our ordinary ways of talking are perfectly servicable in the workaday world, but words might simply fail us when we come across LHC-derived monstrosities.) [Everything in this paragraph seems like an overwrought version of Austin's bit about the finches that suddenly explode etc., and what we should say about them. I can't recall where that passage is. I need to read more Austin.]

The very idea of giving a "constitutive ideal" for "thinghood" strikes me as inadvisable. It seems obvious to me that here there just aren't rigorous rules for how we talk (and so no such rules for how we regard entities as standing-forth for us, or anything like that). How we handle "things" varies depending on why we give a flip about them in a particular instance.

"To perceive objects is to insist upon their coherent integrity -- the constitutive standard for thinghood -- just like insisting on legality in chess, rationality in interpretation, and ordering with precision and scope in empirical science."

(Emphasis mine.) I think this is a fine place to focus on in saying what seems wrong with how Haugeland approaches these topics. In interpretation one doesn't insist that the speaker one interprets is rational. The presumption of rationality has the character of an "analytical hypothesis", to speak Quinean; one begins by assuming that the interpretand is rational, with the hope of figuring out what it is that they're saying and doing, what they believe and desire, etc. -- the hope of coming to understand them. Without such an initial hypothesis, there's simply no way to get traction in interpretation: Anyone whom I am able to understand I take to be largely rational (since any irrationality requires a background of rationality to be intelligible as irrationality, and whatever I can understand in them I understand to be either rational or irrational), and it's my standards of rationality that I use to winnow down what I regard as possible ways to take what it is they're saying and doing etc. I don't insist that whoever I try to interpret be rational -- perhaps they just aren't and I end up giving up the idea that there's anything there to be understood. Rationality is constitutive of anyone I understand not because I insist upon it, but because without perceiving rational patterns in someone's behavior I have no way to make sense of them as a person. (And what is "constitutive" here may shift and alter; the standard of rationality I use is always my standard of rationality at the moment, and there's nothing sacrosanct about that.)

I continue to dislike the chess example. As given here (and this is typical, both in Haugeland's writings and in what he says about chess in class), it is impossible to cheat at chess. For anything which is cheating is in violation of the rules of chess, and anything in violation of the rules of chess just isn't chess. And so anything which is cheating isn't chess -- a "move" which is illegal (say I castle despite my rook having moved since the start of the game) isn't a move of any game of chess (because an illegal move is a square circle), and so it can't affect the state of the board in any game of chess, and so if this "move" leads to one player "winning" they in fact did not win, since they were not playing chess. For Haugeland, "cheaters never win" is thus a priori true. In fact, cheaters never finish a game at all (and so never lose either).

I can easily imagine a game of chess in which neither player remembers the rules for castling (and so never castles, as they don't want to admit their ignorance). For Haugeland, these people can't be playing chess (since castling is among the rules of chess). Though many games of chess can be played without either player ever castling. (Suppose one of the players knows how to castle, and the other doesn't -- he can never remember which piece he switches with his rook. It seems that for Haugeland, these two can't play chess, since only one knows the rules. The fact that they might sit across from one another, move carved ivory figures around on the board, etc. would not change the matter -- one Can't Play Chess If One Doesn't Know The Rules. And one of the "players" doesn't, and so no chess is played. The fellow who does know the rules for castling (and so can play chess, even on Haugeland's view) is then unable to tell what he's doing, since he surely thinks he's playing chess.)

I can easily imagine a game of chess in which both players cheat -- when either gets up to go to the bathroom or get a drink, the other alters the board slightly. Haugeland is emphatic that such a thing Would Not Be A Game Of Chess; I can't see why it matters what we say about it. (My inclination is to call it a game of chess, since understanding how one plays chess is how one makes sense of the ways in which each player is cheating -- why they don't replace rooks with pawns or remove their own king from the board. But if one is counting games of chess played for some reason, say there's a chess league going on and each game played is worth some points, then I can see why one wouldn't count this game, if one knew about the cheating.)

A larval thought about why I can't abide Haugeland's way of treating these matters: Haugeland treats objects initially, and truth falls out later -- in "Truth and Finitude" the primary locus of truth is getting an entity right, with the truth of a sentence being something derivative. This is putting the cart before the horse: Truth and falsehood are properties of sentences. (In "Two Dogmas of Rationalism" Haugeland claims that "There was no truth a billion years ago" is true in some sense stronger than just the fact that there were no speakers (and thus no sentences or utterances etc.) back then. This strikes me as a foreboding, and impenetrable, claim. If "truth" is supposed to be something other than a property of true sentences (/utterances/propositions etc.), I don't know that it exists now.)

Edit: The response to Conant in the paragraph that bridges p.255/256 is painful to read:

The arguments that matter, therefore, are those to the effect that chess itself presupposes language, either for learning it or for playing it. But to those, I think, a simple reply is decisive. It is certainly no harder to learn and play chess than it is to learn and speak a natural language. Quite the contrary: games are clearly less demanding than languages by all counts. In particular, languages are just as constituted by standards, hence just as dependent on speakers' insistence, as any game. Yet, it must be possible to learn and speak a language without benefit of (any other or prior) language, on pain of regress. So, in principle, it's possible for games as well.
Learning a first language comes effortlessly to toddlers; learning a first game takes a modicum of work (it doesn't happen at all if no one makes an effort to teach the kid a game). Languages are not "as constituted by standards" as games -- if I "break the rules" in chess I cheat (or at least have to take the move back); if I "break the rules" in English I might be the next Joyce (or if I just speek unlovilily, then still I speak and might make myself understanded). And the argument here is just a non sequitur: Even if learning a language is generally harder than learning a game, and learning a language is possible without a prior language, it doesn't follow that learning a game is possible without a prior language. (Learning to play "Pictionary" is certainly easier than learning to speak Arabic, and learning to speak Arabic is possible without a prior language, but learning to play Pictionary is impossible without a prior language. So there's no "in principle" reason to think chess can be learned without a prior language -- especially given the stuff about having to be able to make it known that one regards a move as illegal, which is what Conant's point seems to have been.)

Happily, the paragraph on p.255 (which is footnoted as being due to a conversation with Conant) makes the points I would want to make about most of this essay.

Another howler, p.257: "The rules of a playable game must be consistent, complete, and followable". "Magic: The Gathering" is thus not a game, or at least wasn't a game in the first several years it was around, because it didn't have firm rules. (I'm told that even the current rules aren't consistent & complete -- there are places where the game is held together with spit and bubblegum, basically. That's why there are rules updates every few months.) The "Illuminatus!" card game had a rule that said that cheating was allowed, unless you were caught -- is this even intelligible on Haugeland's conception of a game? (It's certainly easy to make the rules inconsistent, if cheating is allowed.) Certainly people played Illuminatus!; that's how they were able to cheat, and how people were able to catch them cheating, etc.

I very much dislike the chess example.

Haugeland's class is wearing on me. At least the analytic class is going well. (We finally hit Two Dogmas on monday. Last class was entirely taken up by trying to make sense of Kripke's positive picture of reference in "Naming and Necessity"; it was fun.)

27 October 2008

"There are here hugely many interrelated phenomena and possible concepts."

First off, Brandom's Hegel course has started, and so his website has been updated with several handouts, sets of notes, and some new readings of parts of the Phenomenology by Brandom. I'm linking this at the top of the post so that I can remember to check it for updates; I have no idea how long the class website will stay up once the term ends.

For a similar reason, I've added links to the websites for various workshops to my sidebar. It's surprisingly hard to google up the Contemporary Philosophy Workshop's blog. (Incidentally, the Philosophy of Mind workshop is wonderful, and someone should update their blog. This year it appears we're reading various articles on referring to oneself -- so far we've read Anscombe's "The First Person" and Strawson's "The First Person and Others", plus an extract from "The Bounds of Sense". Finkelstein is great. Also at the last meeting a female grad student yelled "CHICKEN SEXERS!" at an inappropriate time. It is a good workshop!)

I just finished listening to the McDowell-Davidson interview again, and it's still good. I picked up on a lot of things that I'd missed the last time I listened to it. For instance, I'd missed the point of the chicken-sexing discussion here (or at least I'd forgotten it was about just this point). One thing that leaped out at me was that, in an attempt to get Davidson to see what his story was missing about perception & the first-person, McDowell opposed the thing he thought was missing to what is "discursive". Davidson was saying that he could see the guy behind the camera, but that there was a guy there was a belief he held, and he couldn't see what was missing from his story about perception, since it looked to him like there was just his being caused to form a certain belief, here. McDowell tried to draw attention to the fact that Davidson was talking in third-personal terms of himself, and mentioned that anything he could say that way would be "discursive". (He just said it as an aside, it seemed to me -- this part of the interview has McDowell struggling noticeably to find a way to put the point.) I had thought that the opposition between "intuition" (in the Kantian sense of what McDowell thinks Davidson needs to account for) and the "discursive" (in the sense of what's articulated) was something recent -- new to "Avoiding the Myth of the Given" -- but it's present in this interview, which (according to a citation in "Reading McDowell") is from 1997.

Recently I've been re-reading some of Davidson's stuff from the nineties, i.e. post-Mind and World, with an eye to making sense of McDowell's revisions to his views in "Avoiding the Myth of the Given". It's easy to miss just how subtle the issue of what McDowell thinks is wrong with Davidson's picture is.

Incidentally, I've finally gotten a copy of "John McDowell: Experience, Norm, and Nature" via ILL; some of the things McDowell says in his responses there do nicely resolve some of the things I found puzzling about the book's lead-essay; McDowell refers to "Avoiding" in several of his responses. For instance, from his response to Houlgate's paper, p.232/233

But [that sensory experience takes in that things are as they are represented to be by the sensory content of experience] does not eliminate the possibility of a position according to which we do not strictly see cars and trees. Sellars distinguishes what we see, as common ways of talking would have it, from what we see of what we see, the proper and common sensibles that what we see instantiates. For instance, when in ordinary speech we would say we see a car, what we see of the car is something other than the car itself, perhaps its colour, shape, and motion or lack of it. It would be possible to introduce a notion of what we see, strictly speaking, that coincides with this notion of what we see of what we, ordinarily speaking, see. And for some purposes it would be a useful notion. Houlgate cites Hegel[*] saying one can bring something's qualities before the eyes, but not the something itself. I think that belongs in this kind of context, not the kind of context determined by Houlgate's explication of Hegel's talk of 'positing'. What we see of what we see is not something taken in by our visual sensations, from which we would need to go on, in an act of 'positing', in order to arrive at something with the form of thought. In seeing what we see of what we see, our seeing is already informed by our conceptual capacities. What is in question here is a restriction, well motivated for some purposes, on what conceptually informed content can count as strictly speaking sensory content -- not a gesture in the direction of content that is not yet conceptually informed at all.

I think this sort of example is very helpful in making sense of Avoiding the Myth of the Given, since it gives another example of how McDowell wants to distinguish between the conceptual capacities he thinks are involved in the content of an experience (the common and proper sensibles) and those he doesn't (those involving recognitive capacities). I'm inclined to find this example problematic -- I don't think that "the car itself" is something other than what one sees when ("ordinarily speaking") one sees a car, except in the sense that there is always more to see -- more perspectives one might take in of the car, more ways one might view it. What one sees in the "color, shape, motion or lack of it" sense is just the color of the car, the shape of the car, the motion or lack thereof of the car. One might not see the car as a car, if all one sees of it is describable in this manner, but I still want to say it is the car that one sees. (If one's perception is of a "red thing", and a red car is what one is looking at, I don't see what could possibly be the object of one's perception if not the car. I suppose one could say "the paint on the car" or somesuch, but i) I'm inclined to count that as part of the car, and so perception of it is perception of the car and ii) this sort of answer seems to tempt one into saying things like "all we ever perceive are the surfaces of things", which strikes me as bad phenomenology.) Suffice to say, I think that the only reason to say "we don't strictly see cars or trees" is that one has been lead astray by philosophy.

(I remember this came up in the discussion of Boyle's "Sortalism and Perceptual Content" paper at the workshop last week, and he clearly thought the issue was a mess -- he wanted to avoid saying anything one way or the other (the example was whether one can see a beach when one looks at it, since after all there is a great deal too much beach to take it all in with a glance). The fact that McDowell doesn't seem to hesitate like Boyle did gives me pause. Incidentally, Boyle was great the second time, too. I've not yet finished this paper -- it's longer than the logic one was, and I'm tripping up trying to get through the ending sections. He mentioned in the discussion period that his paper is "programmatic"; perhaps that's part of why I'm finding it so damned hard to follow. I should probably read Evans.)

Perhaps I'm just reading McDowell with the wrong emphasis -- certainly there are some purposes for which a "restricted" view of what's sensed makes sense. (See PI section 11, especially p.196 on putting the "organization" of a visual impression "on a level with colors & shapes". To be able to say what stays the same when you see the duckrabbit shift from a duck to a rabbit, you have to draw some such distinction as this.)

More from PI section 11:
Then is the copy of the figure an incomplete description of my visual experience? No.—But the circumstances decide whether, and what, more detailed specifications are necessary.—It may be an incomplete description; if there is still something to ask.

This seems just right: An account of the content of an experience solely in terms of "common & proper sensibles" seems both an exhaustive account and to leave something out. ("And now just look at all that can be meant by 'description of what is seen.'")

At a minimum, McDowell's modification of Davidson needs to be able to distinguish chicken-sexing from perception -- this is just the thing McDowell used as an example of what Davidson couldn't account for, in the interview. It seems to me that McDowell's setting of "recognitive capacities" outside of the passive actualization of conceptual capacities which he conceives experience to be leaves seeing a chicken as a chicken on the same level as chicken-sexing. It's a belief which is causally formed by having the chicken in view, but there's no way to give a justification for the claim by appeal to anything which is given in experience.

"Here we are in enormous danger of wanting to make fine distinctions", says Wittgenstein; it appears to me that McDowell has succumbed to the danger in his limitation of what conceptual capacities can be involved in the content of an experience.

(It occurs to me that I still don't know what to do with the Thompson-inspired bit about "intuitional forms". I still need to finish "Representation of Life"; I set it aside when I had to reboot a while back, and haven't thought to finish it. I doubt it answers the object I put here, but perhaps it'll shed more light on what motivated McDowell's revision.)

*Houlgate's Hegel quotation is from Vorlesungen uber die Philosophie des Geistes, which doesn't appear to have been translated into English yet, so I can't tell if context changes its import. It sounds like the sort of thing I think Hegel shouldn't say -- it sounds to me like the sort of thing one would say in a reductio of the idea that what one is given in experience is "sensible qualities" of objects rather than the objects themselves. But Hegel says a lot of things in "Subjective Spirit" that I don't think are quite what he should have said; Houlgate brings a lot of them up, and McDowell spells out why he doesn't want to follow Hegel on those points. McDowell claims that holding on to a lot of Hegelian insights requires jettisoning some of the stuff Hegel says about (e.g.) what Hegel calls "sensations" and "intuitions", and I think he's right about that, for the reason he gives (among others). When reading "Subjective Spirit", the relation between "Thought" and the earlier chapters which referenced it (i.e. nearly all of the chapters in "Subjective Spirit") was often a bit mysterious; Hegel seemed to both insist that everything before "Thought" could only be on the scene when thought was (since the "content" of sensations/intuitions/representations was of the sort proper to thought -- only in thought did the form fit the content), but also allowed that it could be on the scene (in infants for instance) when thought was not. He also seemed to offer a psychological account of how thoughts were to be built up from representations (and representations from intuitions, and intuitions from sensations) through habits & various secret workings of memory, and that seems like that has to fall prey to the criticisms of the Myth of the Given. It's one of the thornier patches of Hegel's system. Lots of good stuff in there, though; definitely not like the "Philosophy of Nature".

14 October 2008

Update on Professor Callard

From e-mail:

Could you maybe add a post saying something along the lines of--"I talked to Ben Callard, and while his situation is clearly very serious indeed, he doesn't have a prognosis yet, so (to paraphrase Mark Twain) reports of his imminent death have been exaggerated."

Yes. Yes I could. I talked to Ben Callard, and while his situation is clearly very serious indeed, he doesn't have a prognosis yet, so (to paraphrase Mark Twain) reports of his imminent death have been exaggerated.

No doctor has said anything like "terminally ill", "inoperable", or "not long to live" (if any such thing is to be said, God forbid, it would be said at the prognosis, which is apparently due this friday). Professor Callard also says it's probably a a thyroma or a lymphoma, not lung cancer.

(I know I heard in the MAPH office that it was lung cancer, because someone doubted that Professor Callard "had ever had a cigarette in his life". The consensus in the room was that he did indeed seem like the sort of guy who has never had a cigarette.)

So, everything except "pretty bad cancer" was erroneous. I apologize for the errors.

The Callard children remain cute. I stand by that part. (And the rainbow-colored backpack/sling/wrap thing that the younger kid gets carried around in is adorable. Though it's the most impractical-looking thing I've ever seen; I have no idea how the kid gets in or out. Maybe it just looks complicated, and it's actually held together by velcro or something.) And the class was starting to get good; I'd heard a lot of uncertainties expressed about the course after the first class or two, but everyone seemed to like last monday's class. (And the post-doc that's currently teaching the class decided to skip to Frege, so I'm sitting in on it for at least a while longer*.)

But it's good to know I was wrong about the worst of the details.

*I'm really not sure whether this or Non-Deductive Inference is the course I should be registered for; I suppose being registered for NDI forces me to get out the door earlier on tuesdays & thursdays, which is good because the buses run more often then. It would feel weird to not show up for the analytic class, though. It felt weird to not show up to the Darwin class today, and I was mainly sitting in on that to see how many classes I could stand to sit through -- and I only missed it today because I had a doctor's appointment!

10 October 2008

Boyle's paper on Kant's logic is terrific

I am sick as a dog at the moment, but I managed to haul myself to the Modern Philosophy Workshop this morning. The paper was "Kant on Logic and the Laws of the Understanding", and it was very illuminating. Boyle's presenting a paper on sortals at the Contemporary Philosophy Workshop on monday; that also looks good, though I haven't read the paper for it yet.

Conant was at the workshop this morning, which was nice; he mentioned that the paper seems to slide between two sorts of oppositions: Kant's view of logic vs. Frege's view of logic and Kant's view of logic vs. the "post-Hilbertian" view of logic that Conant actually thinks is what you most commonly come across nowadays (he specifically mentioned Brandom, Belnap, and some other guy at Pitt that Boyle studied under). Boyle conceded the point, modulating the claim of his paper to the claim that Frege's view is an illuminating waystation between Kant's view of logic and the post-Hilbertian view which is not regnant.

I found the notion of a "post-Hilbertian" view of logic very agreeable, and the term is apt. The idea is that logic is a "purely prescriptive" science; you have the various axiom systems etc. and the question of whether a given system has anything to do with things like "truth" or "reason" or "inference" is a concern which is outside of the purview of logic. The parallel is of course to Hilbert's view about geometry: You have the various geometries that geometers study, and the question of which (if any) describe a physical space is not something geometry is concerned with. (I recall hearing that Frege wrote a letter to Hilbert complaining about this, and Hilbert basically rolled his eyes in response.)

I took a good deal of other notes, but I mainly wanted to just throw a post up before I forgot, and in case the paper isn't online forever. Easily the best paper on Kant and logic that I can recall coming across.

edit: Note the strikethroughs.On a jarringly unrelated note, newly-hired U Chicago professor Ben Callard is terminally ill. Cancer. He just found out, apparently; he held class on monday, and didn't seem that sick to me then. (He'd said he had a doctor's appointment right after class; he wasn't sure if he was going to end class early or what, since he really felt terrible. He did not end class early, and the general consensus was that the class was starting to take form and looked like it would be fun -- I know of at least three people who weren't enrolled in the class who were planning on continuing to sit in, just because the discussions were good -- including me. Callard was doing a good job leading the discussion, keeping it going interesting places, etc.) But, apparently he has inoperable lung cancer, and not very long to live. (The longest I heard was "less than a year". I won't repeat some of the things I heard, but I heard nothing good on this front. edit: Practically everything I heard on friday was groundless. See above post.) The Callards had their second child this August. Cute lil' guy. Suffice to say, today's news was horrifying, is horrifying, on all sorts of levels.

Friday was an eventful day.

06 October 2008

In Which I Wonder if I am "Out of Touch"

Because I am free to read and comment on the use that has no link (and because I am putting off reading Von Mises) I reread Hauerwas's article on Macintyre from "First Things". I was particularly struck by this passage early on:

To understand MacIntyre takes work. Indeed, he intends for it to be a daunting and challenging task to understand him. I suspect he assumes most of his readers, possessed as they must be by the reading habits of modernity, cannot help but refuse to do the work necessary to understand him. Which is but another way to say, as he makes explicit in the last chapter of Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, that those who think they must think for themselves will need to undergo a transformation amounting to a conversion if they are to understand “that it is only by participation in a rational practice-based community that one becomes rational.”
I immediately thought "But that's a truism!"

Perhaps I have an inordinate acquaintance with philosophy of the Wittgenstein/Heidegger/Hegel/Haugeland/Brandom/McDowell/Davidson/Rorty/Gadamer/Sellars... sort, where that sort of claim looks totally reasonable and not like the sort of thing anyone would stumble over. (Though "rational practice-based" looks pleonastic to me.) I suppose there are tenured philosophers who would think something like that claim is false.

Hauerwas apparently thinks that "academics" have some problem with this sort of thought, as do people who "think they must think for themselves". (It's not clear to me why he thinks this; I gather it has something to do with "capitalism" and with the ghostly things Yoder got himself so exercised about. Hauerwas seems to have some wacky ideas about "academia" generally; I suspect his own presence might distort how he sees things. I doubt things are as they would be otherwise when Hauerwas is looking around.)

On "thinking for oneself" I side with Hegel: No one else can think for me, as no one else can eat or drink for me, so I don't need to worry about "thinking for myself". If I think at all, I think for myself. Trying to do something above and beyond thinking, so that I might "think for myself", is liable to be a hindrance to thinking. But there's no harm in saying that everyone should think for themself, if all that means is that they should think instead of just parroting what they recall hearing once-upon-a-time. Though even this sort of "unthoughtful" behavior requires that one has become acquainted with thinking, for one must have some facility in discriminating among all the things one might parrot. So the injunction to think (for oneself) is always really just the injunction to think some more. Which is rarely bad advice.

Hauerwas seems to associate "thinking for oneself" with thinking from some Olympian height, removed from other people and from the tawdry affairs of humanity generally. But this is silly. If I am to think for myself, I should do my thinking where I am. Which is down here in the muck of history, with everyone else, enmeshed in all sorts of practices and norms and cultures and language-games and etc. -- if anyone is in a position to think for themself outside of all this, they aren't me. I'm right here.

When I see this sort of rhetoric employed by the likes of Hauerwas, I worry that the denigration of "thinking for oneself" is going to slide into an affirmation of "not thinking for oneself" -- of accepting dogmatically some "base" to "start thinking from". It's not clear to me whether or not Hauerwas (or Barth, or Macintyre) are guilty of this charge (though I have my suspicions). But I think this use of the rhetoric is a real worry in any case. The idea that we need to establish or choose a starting-point for thought strikes me as an egregious error -- if we are in the market for looking at possible "starting points" then we're already thinking, and so we don't need to find a "starting point" to think from, since that point is already in the past. Dame Understanding invites us all to come as we are to the Hermeneutical Circle-Dance, to put the point clumsily.

(The right response to "Whose justice? Which rationality?" is, I think, the same as the answer to "Which conceptual scheme?" -- to quote Putnam, "You want I should use someone else's conceptual scheme?" The joke being, of course, that a "conceptual scheme" is supposed to be something which is Given, and so not something one could pick up or discard. And the same holds for "rationalities" -- I can shift my standards for what's rational or not as it seems just to me to do so, but I can't discard my rationality and take up "something else". Indeed, I was surprised when I found out that Macintyre's book really does seem to take its titular question seriously.)

On not reading Macintyre: I've tried to read several of his works. I don't like his style, so the going is hard. At one point, it occurred to me that Macintyre sounds like he's peddling some doctrine which depends on the scheme/content dogma. So I checked his indexes to see if he'd ever mentioned Davidson. He had, and his discussion of him was so inept that I haven't looked at him since. (I think it was in "Whose Justice? Which Rationality?" but the book's not searchable on Amazon, and I don't own a copy.) I figure if I ever manage to get through "After Virtue" it'll be because I have someone beside me that I can constantly gripe to, to ease the pain. (It was how I got through all the Barth I had to read. Read him the night before class, complain about him during and after class, repeat. The trick is to have someone to complain to who doesn't dislike whatever you're complaining about -- otherwise the whole game is rather masturbatory.)

On an unrelated thematically relevant point, I've finally started reading Micheal Thompson's stuff. So far I've made it through the introduction of "Life and Action", and about a quarter of the way through "The Representation of Life". Definitely interesting stuff, and definitely wish I'd gotten around to looking at this stuff earlier. I do suspect that Thompson might be the source for some of the odder form/content distinctions McDowell draws in "Avoiding the Myth of the Given"; Thompson stresses in the introduction the formal nature of his project. Though it's a formality which doesn't "disregard the particular characteristics of objects". Which is an odd sort of formality. (I doubt that the success of Thompson's work actually hinges on its being "formal" -- certainly nothing he's said so far has struck me as wrong, apart from his self-characterization of his project. I'll need to read more to get a grip on what's going on, I'm sure; these are early impressions.)

P.S.: Haugeland opened up registration for the "Being and Time" course again, so I am a formality away from enrollment in the course. Hooray~

P.P.S.: The syllabus for Finkelstein's "Later Wittgenstein" seminar is online (in the Chicago system). They read chunks of PI, chunks of The Claim of Reason, two McDowell essays, Diamond's "Realistic Spirit" essay, and various things from Zettel. Didn't look too world-shaking. But they read a lot more Cavell then I would've guessed.

28 September 2008

In Which Hegel is Straightforward

But not straightforwardly spoken-of. It's a theology post :o

I have hidden it so you don't read it by accident. It's a screenshot from the Derrida movie.

(and now that you know that, you can skip the movie. Total letdown.)

Given my background in theology, one of the first things I tried to figure out when I was getting into Hegel was whether he was some sort of atheist/pantheist/proto-Marxist radical/gnostic (etc.), or if he was a Lutheran of more or less orthodox stripe. All of the secondary literature I came across came down pretty strongly in favor of the former: Hegel was a modern Simon Magus, an Arch-heretic for a new age, or else he was secretly a Marxist before Marx, or some sort of pagan nature-mystic, or he was a follower of Valentinus, or... (there wasn't a clear consensus on what Hegel was, only that he wasn't a plain ol' Lutheran). The textual support for these claims was never particularly clear to me -- Hegel clearly opposed certain theological positions and certain conceptions of God, but then so does every orthodox Christian thinker. And when Hegel considers the question, he certainly doesn't seem to mince words: the longest paragraph in the "Philosophy of Spirit", §573, is dedicated to taking down those who "know" that philosophy promulgates a pantheistic doctrine. (He also devotes a great deal of attention to the topic in the introductions & prefaces to the Encyclopedia; Jacobi had claimed that all philosophy leads to pantheism, by which he meant Spinozism, since Spinozism is the only consistent philosophy.)

(An aside: I think it's clear that Spinoza is fairly counted as an atheist; the author of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus clearly wanted to convince his readers to give up their (Judaeo-Christian) religion in favor of a modern, natural science-minded philosophy. Strauss's reading of Spinoza here is, I think, blatantly correct. And so, by the standard Hegel refers to in §573, Spinoza is rightly considered an atheist by Jewish/Christian thinkers -- Spinoza is opposed to their religious conceptions, and intentionally sets out to undermine them. I don't think it's inconsistent to say all this while still allowing Hegel to be right in claiming that Spinoza is more properly viewed as an "acosmist" than an "atheist". For by §573's standard, someone can be a "theist" in some sense while still being an "atheist". Which is where Spinoza seems to fall. For in Spinoza's positive doctrine, he does posit a deus sive natura, and he does deny that "the world" apart from this monad has any reality. (I am aware that this is sketchy; I need to read more Spinoza.) Hegel's aufhebung of Spinoza here sets aside the polemical purpose Spinoza had in the Tractatus, just as it sets aside the acosmism -- insofar as Hegel is a Spinozist, he's a Spinozist who is not fairly counted as an atheist.)

It's become clear to me that many of Hegel's interpreters simply want him to not be a Lutheran. For if they regard themselves as Hegelians, they don't want to be seen as endorsing Christianity (or religion generally -- certainly not any sort of orthodox Protestantism); if they regard themselves as anti-Hegelians, they don't want to be seen as opposing Christian thought. I've noticed this in some of Pippin's stuff: whenever Hegel's religion is mentioned, it's always "Hegel's heterodox Christianity". (I'm not even going to go into what it would mean for a Protestant thinker to be heterodox -- if there's just one way to be an orthodox Protestant, than either Luther or Calvin or both are heterodox, for they disagree with each other over what each took to be foundational matters of doctrine. To say nothing of all the other branches of Protestant Christianity, such as Anabaptism or the various American phenomena. If you want to find some common core of Orthodoxy among all these groups, it's going to end up being pretty darn thin. And so it's going to become less and less plausible that Hegel rejects it.)

I recently read Hegel's foreword to Hinrich's Religion in its Inner Relation to Science. It's good. Really wish I'd encountered it a few years ago -- would've saved myself a lot of effort. Hegel even praises the Scholastics, which is really strange. Normally he says good things about Anselm, and then there's a few centuries of Deep Darkness under those Fiendish Papists and their retrograde "philosophy" which consisted of bungling Aristotle and contributing nothing positive. (It's not clear that Hegel read any medieval philosophy, apart from Anselm.) But when Hegel has his face set on arguing against Schliermacher-and-friends that speculative philosophy and theology aren't innately opposed to each other, well, he's clearly trying everything he can think of to show that they are dumb and wrong. Hegel writes a pretty decent polemic when he takes a mind to it.

But anyway, on to the impetus for my writing this post. I've been skipping around in "Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition", which is agreeably crazy and fun. (Yes, Hegel really liked Jacob Boehme. He also admitted that it's hard to figure out what the heck he was getting at, and that you can't read him for long before putting the book down because it's too darned strange.) In the introduction, in a footnote, Magee quotes from Hegel's letters. I'll just reproduce the entire footnote:

In a July 3, 1826, letter to Friedrich August Gottreu Tholuck (1799-1877), Hegel writes, "I am a Lutheran, and through philosophy have been at once completely confirmed in Lutheranism." See Hegel: The Letters, trans. Clark Butler and Christianne Seiler [citation details omitted]. In 1826 a small controversy erupted in Berlin when a priest attending Hegel's lectures complained to the government about allegedly anti-Catholic statements made by Hegel. Hegel responded: "Should suit be filed because of remarks I have made from the podium before Catholic students causing them annoyance, they would have to blame only themselves for attending philosophical lectures at a Protestant university under a professor who prides himself on having been baptized and raised a Lutheran, which he still is and shall remain."
Pro Tip: Don't respond like this when someone threatens to take you to court for being a bigot.

So far, Magee's book is trying too hard to find "hermetic" elements in Hegel. There's certainly some weird stuff in there -- Magee's right that "anti-theological" readings of Hegel have to excise a lot of stuff -- but sometimes he goes too far. For instance, the quotation at the head of his introduction is itself a quotation; I remember chasing down the reference once (it required a good bit of work to figure out who "C.F.G." was), and it didn't turn out to be anything earth-shattering. If memory serves, he was a theologian. He certainly wasn't anyone who I wouldn't expect to be quoted as expounding Christian ("revealed religious") doctrine. Magee holds back on the fact that his header is neither original to Hegel nor Hermetic in origin.

Magee's exposition of "hermeticism" is also tilted in favor of his conclusion. He positions it between Christianity and pantheism, ignoring the fact that 1) Hegel doubts that anyone has ever held the latter position and 2) Christianity is a bigger tent than he lets on. He implies that Hermeticism spoke of "moments" in the way Hegel did; it did not. Hegel took the term from contemporary mechanics. (I'm positive that this is mentioned in an endnote in the Hackett Encyclopedia Logic, but "moment" is not in the index and I can't find it by skimming. The point was credited to Findlay.) He claims that Hegel's philosophy of nature spoke of nature "emanating" from God; this was a point at which Hegel criticized von Baader (see the third preface to the Encyclopedia, ps.15/16 in the Hackett Encyclopedia Logic, footnote. The relevant paragraph in the Philosophy of Nature, which is what von Baader was discussing, is admirably clear, considering its subject-matter).

I've not gotten to his attempt to claim the Phenomenology as a sort of hermetic "initiation" to the System yet. I'm pretty sure that my antecedent commitments about the relationship between the PhG and the Encyclopedia system are going to outweigh whatever evidence he can dredge up for that conclusion. I'm curious if he has anything more to back up his claim that Hegel is "not a philosopher", past that one line about raising "love of wisdom" to "wisdom itself". Certainly Hegel continued to refer to what he was doing as "philosophy"; he seems to use "philosophy" and "science" interchangeably when referring to his System. Magee requires "science" to mean something very specific, and very peculiar; Hegel seems to be using it in that good ol' super-broad sense it has in German.

Magee does have a section on Hegel and Mesmer (animal magnetism and all that); that should be fun. Hegel really did have some weird views there -- though most of them are presumably unremarkable for his time, they really do look crazy now. This is one way I can tell that most slanderers of Hegel haven't read him: they never mention animal magnetism. (A short version: Hegel thought that mind-reading was real. He cites a slew of sources to back himself up on the point, which tells me that the view was at least a little crazy at the time. But, in his theoretical account of how it might work, he only allows that feelings might be communicated from one body to another -- not thoughts. Communicating thoughts requires language (or gestures, or writing, or something cultured like that).) There really is some flat embarrassing stuff in the "Subjective Spirit" section of the Encyclopedia -- I'm curious how much of the "cures for insanity" section in the Zusatze to ss408 is credible and how much is credulous. Incidentally, in Findlay's introduction to Miller's & Wallace's translation of that volume, he claims Hegel's openness to "E.S.P." phenomena as one of the good parts of Hegel. Findlay was a theosophical nutcase -- Magee is at least right in connecting his reading of Hegel to Findlay.

PS: Classes start in a matter of hours! :o

27 September 2008

Some Brandom Links

Robert Brandom's faculty webpage has a whole lot of downloadable content that I hadn't noticed before. The "Untimely Review of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit" is pretty cute. The conclusions Brandom's Hegel ends up drawing strike me as pretty agreeable (and genuinely Hegelian). Brandom's idiosyncratic reading of "mediation" and "determinate negation" (as, respectively, material inferential relations and relations of incompatibility) continues to irk, but otherwise I like the little essay. It probably helps that it's only nine pages long. No room for detailed misreadings; sufficient room for high-altitude cleverness.

The class page for his Making It Explicit seminar features a pretty ridiculous number of papers responding to Brandom/papers where Brandom responds to his critics. If anyone out there is interested in Brandomism but lacks institutional access to journals: There you go.

Several of his scattered Hegel papers are apparently being reworked as chapters of a book titled "A Spirit of Trust", which he's teaching as a course. All of the papers are available via the class website; the ones I've read are certainly interesting. At least his book-title is good. "A Spirit of Trust". I like that.

Brandom's also put several extracts from the Miller translation of the Phenomenology online. I don't know why he did this, since the book's a cheap paperback, but if you want to have Sense-Certainty/Perception in .doc form, well, you can get them like that this way!

I have to admit that I'm impressed: Chapter eight of "A Spirit of Trust" is 236 pages long. Looks like Brandom's Hegel-book might rival MIE in sheer hugeness.

The full title of that chapter is "From Irony to Trust: Modernity and Beyond". Certainly a nice speculative-sounding title to stick on top of two hundred and thirty six pages of material. Oddly, Rorty's name doesn't appear in the chapter. Rameau's nephew doesn't show up, either. I'm curious how Brandom actually discusses "irony", now. Not going-to-read-236-pages-to-find-out curious (well, not right now), but curious nonetheless.

On an unrelated note, John MacFarlane's "What Does It Mean To Say That Logic Is Formal?" is pretty good so far. I've just started the Kant chapter. It's a quicker read than I was expecting.

22 September 2008

Something I should probably ask Haugeland about, if I get the chance

(The "Being and Time" class filled up in the first three hours of registration today. Hopefully somebody drops, or that I just end up being so gosh darn endearing he overrides the registration cap. Thus the conditional in the title.)

From "Truth and Finitude" part II, p.5 in the PDF. Haugeland is describing two "popular conceptions" of death, to which Heidegger opposes the existential sense of "death":

The first of these he calls perishing. This is the ubiquitous and all-too-familiar biological phenomenon that is the cessation of systematic biological function in an organism (and, typically, the onset of organic decay). All organisms eventually perish: plants, animals, fungi, and what have you, including all specimens of Homo sapiens. But Dasein never perishes -- not because it is immortal or everlasting, but because it is not a living organism in the biological sense at all.

The second popular conception of death Heidegger calls demise. Unlike perishing, demise is not a biological phenomenon, but pertains exclusively to Dasein. It is instead a social-cultural phenomenon. Roughly speaking, demise is that social event upon which you cease to be countable in the census, your spouse becomes a widow or widower [etc]. Although demise typically coincides with the perishing of an organism, these are not at all the same. The relationship between demise and perishing is loosely analogous to that between marriage and mating (which likewise are not at all the same).

Is the reason Dasein never "perishes" just because Dasein is a class noun -- i.e., does Dasein-in-each-case perish? If so, then why didn't Haugeland just say that? Or is Dasein-in-each-case supposed to be distinct from a specimen of Homo sapiens sapiens (which would be weird)? What are "specimens of Homo sapiens" if examples of Dasein-in-each-case are not? Pre-linguistic infants, I guess?

Since "all specimens of Homo sapiens" perish, I feel compelled to infer that the reason Dasein never perishes is because Dasein-in-each-case is the thing that perishes (as a specimen of Homo sapiens). But that doesn't seem to be what Haugeland meant. If it were, it'd be clearer to just note the Dasein/Dasein-in-each-case distinction, rather than just say that Dasein is "not immortal or everlasting". Hmm. Maybe I'm just reading too much into it.

The existential sense of "death" is the only one that's said to "individuate" Dasein. That much is clear. But it seems that non-individuated (fallen) Dasein can suffer "demise" but not "perish". But then what's the "specimens of Homo sapiens" doing there? (It also makes me wonder how far we're supposed to be able to take the analogy with mating and marriage. It strikes me as reasonable to say that human beings don't "mate" -- mating is a bestial behavior, to put it pointedly. So, by analogy, human beings wouldn't "perish" -- we don't die in the way that animals and fungi and plants die. But Haugeland explicitly says that "specimens of Homo sapiens" perish just like animals and plants and fungi.) Frown. I am puzzled.

Unrelated note that didn't deserve its own post: I read the introduction to Hegel's Philosophy of Nature the other day. It was a lot better than I expected. Hegel's goal in the Naturphilosophie is to reconcile the "practical approach" taken in everyday life with the "theoretical" point of view typical of the natural sciences. It seems clear in retrospect that his attempt did not work out. But, that's clearly a reasonable thing to want to try to do. It also explains a reference I once saw to McDowell as a Naturphilosopher.

21 September 2008

Briefly Noted

Truth and Predication is now available in paperback. The "Predication" part is okay. I'm not sure I quite get how Davidson thinks Tarski (unwittingly) solved the problem -- it wasn't clear to me if he meant to distinguish Tarski from Frege on any grounds other than the fact that Tarski doesn't posit entities to correspond to predicates (whereas Frege did). I may have rushed through that last part, though; the book was due back at the library.

The book is notable for a few things, though. Davidson discusses Sellars and Strawson at more considerable length than he does elsewhere, for one. He doesn't discuss Wittgenstein at length. An editorial footnote:

[Davidson added the following note about this chapter: "My decision not to talk about Wittgenstein's view needs a comment. The reason is simply that try as I may I cannot satisfy myself that I have a sufficiently justified opinion what his views on predication were. I lament my failure here (as no doubt elsewhere) to fill in an important piece of the picture. There were clearly portentous exchanges between Frege and Wittgenstein, and between Wittgenstein and Russell. I have touched on some of the consequences of these exchanges, though of course I do not know exactly what they contained."]
I suspect Davidson had similar reasons for not discussing Wittgenstein much of anywhere else: He wasn't satisfied that he had justified opinions as to just what Wittgenstein thought.

The book's probably not worth reading unless you just like reading Davidson, or you haven't read "The Structure and Content of Truth" elsewhere. As posthumous works go, I guess it beats the Opus Postumum, but it's no Philosophical Investigations.

Also, as a trivial note, Davidson finally is satisfied by an account of non-referring terms:"[Parsons comments (in his notes on the original manuscript): "Davidson conditionalizes the whole truth definition with ('p' is true or 'p' is false) > ('p' is true IFF p)." Davidson remarks: "Wonderful! This also takes care of names that don't name."]" -- I remember Davidson admitting in a few essays (as an aside) that he didn't know what to do with non-referring singular terms. Seems he's happy to go paracomplete; I have no objections.

Next note: "Mr. Strawson on Logical Theory" was pretty good. I wish I'd read it a few months ago, when N.N. et al were discussing analyticity. I really need to read McFarlane's dissertation some day.

I confess that until recently I thought Strawson's "Introduction to Logical Theory" was just a logic textbook. An ordinary-language critique of modern symbolic logic sounds pretty interesting. (Though Geach notes in a brief review in "Mind" that Strawson is insufficiently critical about the fit between the traditional syllogistic logic and ordinary language -- I gather that the book is, in part, a defense of the virtues of the Old Logic. I found both of these essays about Strawson while trying to find "On Referring", which I have not read because, really, who does things that they set out intending to do? That is boring.)

Sudden transition: Finklestein's Wittgenstein seminar this term is limited to PhD students. I was leaning away from it anyway, since it conflicts with Haugeland's class. Apparently it's the first course at Chicago on the latter Wittgenstein in five or six years -- Conant's TLP class last term was the first time the early Wittgenstein was taught in about as long. Apparently this is something the PhD students at Chicago often complain about: you have to get your Wittgenstein subterraneanly/extracurricularly.

The Wittgstein Worksop is also limited to PhD students (or others with special permission), and I have a conflict with it this fall anyway. Hopefully I can manage to at least hear Price and Murray talk in February; I want to know how Murray's paper ends, and Price's paper is a lot of fun.

On a further not-good-note, Leiter Reports notes that Haugeland is retiring after this year. Well, I guess it's a good time to take a Heidegger course with him, then. :v

I'm halfway through "Truth and Finitude: Heidegger's Transcendental Existentialism". It's great so far. As a bit of idle speculation, I wonder if what Haugeland identifies as "ontological sofindingness" might be useful in formulating an argument against dialetheism. (See, ontological sofindingness is the rejection of impossibilities in Dasein's projecting-on of the possibilities of entities. Which works out to be a rejecting of inconsistent characterizations of entities. So at least on the surface, this looks like it might be a ground for denying that there can be true contradictions without relying on Explosion. If there's some "ontological" reason to reject inconsistent possibilities, then maybe that can be useful other places where Just Saying No To Contradictions crops up.)

An aside that probably could've just been a short e-mail to Duck: Isaac Levi can't really think that beliefs about set theory are incorrigible. For the first few beliefs of that sort that Frege & Russell had lead to inconsistency, hence they were revised in fact, hence they must have been corrigible in principle. So his exclusion of logic/set theory/mathetmatical beliefs from consideration in "The Enterprise of Knowledge" seems like it has to be (at least in part) for simplification.

A happy note about Chicago: There's a conference on (if memory serves) practical philosophy in the spring. McDowell will be there. So will several other people I know I was somewhat excited about when I heard about their attending, but whose names I now am forgetting. Hooray McDowell~

Another happy note: The guy on the faculty who studied Spinoza left last year. So, the Early Modern Philosophy Workshop suddenly had no one to run it. It has since been retooled into the "Modern Philosophy Workshop". Note that the page says it has been "expanded to cover the entire modern period". This is a bluff. All of the fall speakers are talking about Kant, except for Sally Sedgwick, who's talking about Kant and Hegel. Apparently the Early Modern Workshop generally had people talking about Spinoza and Leibniz. I am totally happy to make that trade.

Another happy note: I don't have to read any more Freud! Hooray!

A note on Chicago (not that one): I like the view from my apartment, and the weather's gotten a little better. Still not good weather, but not as bad as it had been. I still hate buses and think anyone who honestly likes the public transportation here must never have lived someplace where it was easy to get around by car, like Dallas. I miss Dallas. (Getting around by bus here is easier than trying to drive around and find a place to park, but I count that as a strike against the city generally. Getting anywhere takes forever here, no matter how you go about it. I suspect this will just get worse once it gets colder out and the nights come earlier.)

Only one more week until real classes start! The stupid theory class will keep going, but at least Freud will be done! Yeah for not-Freud!

13 September 2008

A Puzzle about Hornsby

I've read some more of Hornsby's "Simple Mindedness" -- I'm up to the fifth essay. I'm not sure I see why she's so well-liked by other people who like the sorts of things I like. She's okay? I don't feel like I've gained much when I finish one of her essays; the depth of argument always feel a bit shallow. (Though the conclusions are generally agreeable.) I suppose I generally don't get excited about philosophy of mind/action stuff that much, but I'm not sure if that accounts for it. I think I might be missing something.

Anyway, I'm not sure I understand her account of action. Here's two quotes from essay five in the book.

The first quote: "We have an event which is both someone's trying to do something and her actually doing something."

The second quote: "In the philosophy of action, I have claimed that an action (when it has effects beyond the agent) is a cause of a bit of the agent's body moving, and that an action (very nearly always) is an event of the agent's trying to do something."

She uses the example of hammering: "Suppose that her hammering of the nail is her trying to fix it in the wall. Then we have (in my view) the identity of her hammering... with her trying to... [sic, elipses in original]".

So: when Jill hammers, there is an event which is her action, and which is her trying to hammer. I would be inclined to say that (if she is hammering successfully) that this event is also her hammering of the nail, her moving of her arm, her arm's being moved, her driving of the nail into the wall, the nail's being driven into the wall, etc. Which seems to be a way the first quote could be read. But it seems to me that Hornsby wants to say something different: When Jill hammers, ithere is an event which is her action, and which is her trying to hammer, and which is the cause of her hammering, her moving of her arm, etc. This seems to be what's clearly stated in the second quote.

So, to make the two consistent, the "actually doing something" of the first quote seems to just be "actually trying" -- which is not unreasonable in itself, since a trying is a doing-something. But in her example, she seemed to identify the "trying" and the "hammering", so the "actually doing something" seems like it has to be both the hammering and the cause of the bodily movement that is the hammering. Is the hammering/trying supposed to be causa sui? That would seem odd -- I'd think it right to say that they were caused not by themselves, but by the reasons Jill had for hammering. I don't know why Hornsby would want to say something else.

In general, I don't see why she wants to say that actions cause bodily movements, rather than (certain sorts of) actions just being (kinds of) bodily movements, these being two ways to describe the one event. I don't see why anyone would want to say "Actions are inside the body", as Hornsby did in 1980 (and only semi-retracts in "Simple Mindedness", p.232 n.1). What's the point of that sort of slogan, if one doesn't want to try to stick actions "inside", where "mental" things are -- and surely Hornsby is innocent of that urge?

Does Hornsby just want to say that actions (which are bodily movements) generally cause other bodily movements? I suppose that's true, but I don't see why it's worth drawing attention to. Actions cause all sorts of things.

So, I'm puzzled. Some help?

On a side-note: Chicago is cold and wet so far, except for when it's hot and wet. At least my allergies are doing better up here. Less then 24 hours until class-related things start: watching Romeo + Juliet sunday afternoon, then dinner.

06 September 2008

The Late Davidson

I've finally gotten around to looking at "Truth and Predication", which is Davidson's first and posthumous book. Up until now, the only place I've seen the book so much as mentioned was in its NDPR review from when it first came out; I've wondered why it seemed neglected.

It turns out that the first half of the book is a reprinting of Davidson's Dewey Lectures, previously published as "The Structure and Content of Truth". I had thought it was odd that these lectures hadn't been included in any of the Davidson essay collections; mystery solved. This also explains why the book hasn't been mentioned much: Half of it is old material.

Davidson mentions in the Introduction that he's left the lectures basically untouched, since they've already been widely cited & commented upon; he says that the few changes he's made have mostly been in footnotes. Apart from one marginal note at the end of the third lecture, I only found a single revision of possible substance.

Here's the footnote as it appears in chapter three of "Truth and Predication", p.51: "The step from observed assents to inferred attitude [sic] of holding true is not, I think, in Quine."

And here it is in "The Structure and Content of Truth" p. 318: "The step from observed assents to the inferred attitude of holding true is not, I think, explicit in Quine." (my emnphasis)

Now, given that the sentence has lost an article in the transition from article to book, it's possible that this is just a printing error. If so, it's an amusing one.

(Well, I was amused.)

The marginal note at the end of the third chapter (which equals the last of the Dewey Lectures) is obscure; Davidson was noting some things he wanted to incorporate "in chapter 2 or 3". But there is this rather nice bit in it: "I want to make clear that my 'solution' isn't a basic one. It is an alternative to deflationary, epistemic or correspondence theories not in proposing a better definition (or short summary) but in suggesting a different approach which relates the concept of truth to other concepts."

I haven't gotten around to reading the "Predication" parts of the book yet, though the introduction makes clear that Davidson thinks that something Tarskian will do the job (and nothing else has -- most of this part of the book is historical/critical).

The introduction also features Davidson excusing himself from addressing the semantic paradoxes. I'd wondered what he had to say about those; it did seem a little odd that he'd written so much about truth without addressing "this sentence is not true". I'll just reproduce the passage, because I am too tired to summarize and I have to get up early in the morning to move things into a truck:

I have been chided more than once for leaving out the semantic paradoxes. The honest reason is that I have nothing new to say; I like the proposals of Burge and Parsons. How can I say the concept of truth is so clear? Well, relatively clear. The paradoxes don't intrude in our ordinary talk. Why not? They arise when we try to assign truth values to sentences containing the concept of truth. But sentences are already a long way from most ordinary speech. We don't utter sentences, but rather tokens of sentences. Since communication depends on what we make of the tokens of others, and communication often succeeds, we can normally assume that others mean what we would mean if we uttered those sentences. This is something we can and do check up on, consciously or not, all the time. But it remains the case that we succeed only to a degree (there are many dimensions). Truth, whether of sentences or of utterances, is relative to a language, and we never know exactly what the language is.

It is not my view that therefore the concept of truth is ambiguous. No more, anyway, than in the case of any word. Our words are clear enough in the circumstances in which they have been used. When we test the limits, we are typically not asking "what does it mean?" but "how shall we use it now that these difficulties have come up?"

As for sentences without a truth value, and names without a reference: again, this is a topic on which I do not feel I have any serious and original thoughts. We know the semantic role of names that do refer; it's one of the first things we learned. But this is of no help in deciding whether sentences containing proper names have a truth value. Our intuitions, based on our knowledge of their role when they do refer, prompt one (me) to hold a sentence like 'Zeus does not exist' as true if there is no one who fulfills certain usually adequate properties, and false if someone does. But I intuitively treat the sentences in Homer that recount some of Zeus's sexual misbehaviour as neither true nor false. But of course the context is all. I do not mean it is pointless to consider seriously the semantic role of proper names. Just as this book illustrates two different routes into the simplest sentential structures, starting with reflections on the role of proper names might end up doing the same thing. "The Problem of Proper Names" might then have taken the place of "The Problem of Predication." [marginal note here: "Certainly, for Quine; maybe for Russell."]