The world against me rages, its fury I disdain;
Though bitter war it wages, its work is all in vain.
My heart from care is free, no trouble troubles me.
Misfortune now is play, and night is bright as day.

--Awake, My Heart, with Gladness (Auf, Auf, Mein Herz, mit Freuden), Paul Gerhardt

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Just to make sure I still remember how to do this....

Obviously, I do not have time to do this blog.  Good intentions indeed.

That said, I came across something I had written a while back that I think is kind of fun.

Getting PERSONal: MyAssumptions. YourAssumptions?
  • We exist! (or: “I exist. You exist” [kind of like "I'm OK. You're OK"])    
  • We share a world out there. 
  • Despite all the messiness, there is some order out there to be discovered (particularly in the minds of other persons).
  •  It makes sense (is worthwhile) to try to learn about this world  
  • Our "epistemological equipment" (senses and reason) also "makes sense", so we can rely on it to learn about the world out there.  
  • Our experiences of reality are analogous to other healthy persons (i.e. those who have received appropriate socialization - love).
  • People are universally endowed with at least some shared concepts: e.g. “thirsty”, “clouds”, “tears”, “sad”, “food”, “mother”, “father”, etc.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Barfield, Owen ; Poetic diction: a study in meaning, preface to the second edition (c) [1951]

Barfield, Owen ; Poetic diction: a study in meaning (1973, 1952 [2nd ed.], 1927)

Preface, 2nd ed. (c)

See last post in this series.  This, I think, gets rough.   
Since the Positivists "substituted syntax for the forms of perception, and scrapped the things as otiose [me: useless]", introducing words or phrases which appear to stand for the "thing itself", it should have been clear that syntax (rules for making sentences) would end up ruling not only by substituting for forms of perception (i.e. appearances, or phenomenal "things") but also when it comes to the things-in-themselves, or the "noumenal" [me: so there is no confusion, in Kant's philosophy, this is "an object as it is in itself independent of the mind"].  Since the mind seems to be such a real-world thing, Gilbert Ryle was able to conclude that it is an illusion that the mind is "an autonomous agent, distinguishable from the body" ("the ghost in the machine"), based as this is on "a confusion arising from men's misunderstanding of the 'rules' of the very language they themselves have made" (20). 

Ryle goes on to criticize words like "experience" and "consciousness" as "smacking of this illusion" and denies altogether... "the hallowed antithesis between the public, physical world and the private mental world", concerned as he is to "deny that there is such a thing as private experience at all". According to Ryle, the reason you can't say you feel the pain in my foot is not because you are excluded from the "peep-show open only to me," but because it "would make no sense to say that you were in my pain".  Barfield has some fun here, saying that for Ryle, "the theory is, that what is self-evident may for that very reason be profitably ignored" - here the palpable is dismissed by writing off the language in which it is affirmed as tautologous!  The mind as agent is said to not exist on grounds considered to be semantic. (21)

At this point, Barfield comments (in 1927) that he does not think the particular doctrines of linguistic analysis are likely to be a live issue, although he thinks what drives them will continue.  This is because:

Between those for whom 'knowledge' means ignorant but effective power, and those for whom the individual imagination is the medium of all knowledge from perception upward, a truce will not readily be struck.... Before he even begins to write, the Logical Positivist has taken the step from ‘I prefer not to interest myself  in propositions which cannot be empirically verified’ to ‘all propositions which cannot be empirically verified are meaningless’. The next step to ‘I shall legislate to prevent anyone else wasting his time on meaningless propositions’ is unlikely to appear either illogical or negative to his successor in title. Those who mistake efficiency for meaning inevitably end by loving compulsion, even if it takes them, like Bernard Shaw, the best part of a lifetime to get there. (22)

Barfield says that he respects Shaw, but points out his "mania" as regards his "reform" of spelling.  "I think that those...who are driven by an impulse to reduce the specifically human to a mechanical or animal regularity, will continue to be increasingly irritated by the nature of the mother tongue and make it their point of attack" (23)

My summary: Barfield says it best: "Between those for whom 'knowledge' means ignorant but effective power , and those for whom the individual imagination is the medium of all knowledge from perception upward, a truce will not readily be struck....".  In short, I think we can say that what drives this is the underlying belief that all language is simply a contextually-determined useful fiction.  This, however, as Barfield points out, does not logically satisfy... 
My critique/comments:  More comments will be in next post.  

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A truth capable of possessing men

As I look through donated books:

“The great need of our time is not for men who think they have the truth; it is for a truth capable of possessing men.”

I found that formulation interesting.  Hoping to post here more soon.  Intentions becoming reality.

Hazelton, Roger, Renewing the mind: an essay in Christian philosophy, Macmillan, 1949, p. 17

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Don't argue with an integrationist! (the radical Roy Harris)

In his book The Linguistics of History the linguist Roy Harris says the following (this will be my last post on Harris' book):

It takes a philosopher (or a historian?) to decontextualize 'truth' and treat it as an entirely person-neutral relationship between a sentence and a 'state of affairs'.  For an integrationist, that already removes any possibility of understanding the complexity of an important network of beliefs (about what is 'true') that enter into human communication in all kinds of ways, some of which have very little in common. 

By this time methinks I hear a clamour arising from enraged objectors stamping on the floor and complaining that the integrationist offers no definition at all of the term context, no explanation of where a context begins or ends, no formal identification of its 'parameters', no account of how we know whether something belongs inside the context or outside.  Quite right.  Well objected.

Alas, the reply will not satisfy the objectors, and may even fuel their fury.  The reply is that contextualization is what you are doing right now as you fulminate against such an unsatisfactory response, and the context is the framework in which you do it.  Whatever the context may be, you know more about it than I do.  But I do know that you have to be engaging in contextualization of some kind if you are to make any sense at all of what you are reading.  Otherwise your rage is inexplicable; or at least - dare I say - irrational?

Stop there, for a moment.  Has the integrationist already (self-defeatingly, some may claim in triumph) reified 'context', 'truth', 'idea', 'sentence', etc.?  If he appears to have done so, it is for purposes of engaging in discussion with those who deny they are guilty of any such misdemeanour.  Guilty or not, it does not stop me from going on to say that whether a government spokesman tells the truth about he current economic situation is not on a par with whether you tell the truth about who you were with last night, or whether a geometer tells the truth when claiming that the area of the square on the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the areas of the squares on the other two sides.  And anyone who cannot see the differences deserves all the theoretical confusions that ensure (222, 223).
From this I am confirmed in my conclusion that arguing with integrationists is hard work - perhaps impossible!  Still, I do, because I know one.  : )

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Linguist Roy Harris on history III: what should be expected of historians

Still am reading for duty right now more than pleasure….

Harris himself in his book, The Linguistics of History:

It is up to the historian to make clear at some point what kind of communicational authenticity the historia is presented as having in that particular case, which means explaining how its various components and materials are selected and integrated.  That is a considerable demand.  Historians are not accustomed to meeting it, because for generations they have coasted along on the built-up prestige that accrues to their discipline.  History is now prisoner to its own processes of historification. 

The demand I am voicing is not met by listing ‘sources’ in footnotes: that merely defers the accountability.  It requires the historian to come clean about, for example, what has been taken over unquestioned from earlier historians, what has been subjected to fresh research, what relationships have been reinterpreted through the perspective adopted, what has been ignored because deemed to be irrelevant, and what has been highlighted because it happens to have a bearing on contemporary concerns.  A historian may well protest that such a demand would require extensive expansions or annotations not just to every paragraph, but to every sentence, and perhaps to every other word.  So it might.  But if ‘truth’ is what is being claimed, a proliferation of caveats cluttering the text seems a small price to pay in the service of such a noble cause (223, 224).

I wonder if Harris is indeed asking too much.  And at the same time, it seems to me that many historians already take account of all of these things.  Then again, perhaps I don’t read enough history to really know. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Linguist Roy Harris on history II: the inexactness of language

Still am reading for duty right now more than pleasure….

Another quotation in Roy Harris’ book, The Linguistics of History:

Only in the individual does language receive its ultimate determinacy.  Nobody means by a word precisely and exactly what his neighbor does, and the difference, be it ever so small, vibrates, like a ripple in water, throughout the entire language.  Thus all understanding is always at the same time a not-understanding, all concurrence in thought and feeling at the same time a divergence  (Humboldt, On Language, Cambridge U. Press, 1988 [1836], 63)

Harris says of this quote: 

Here we see one of the most penetrating of post-Renaissance thinkers about language struggling against the traditional assumptions of the Western Language myth (NOTE: one would need to read Harris here to do justice to his understanding of this myth).  The passage I have quoted deserves in itself a chapter of explication and probably a whole book, to say nothing of the work from which it comes, which is the Introduction to Humboldt’s posthumously published Uber die Kawi-Spache auf der Insel Jawa....(185, 186)

Elsewhere in his book, Harris says that, “Do we know what we are talking about?”, a question of linguistic epistemology, is the fundamental question of philosophy (47) (this, he says, is what Plato saw and tried to answer with his doctrine of the forms, 48).  Undoubtedly related to this are his questions like the following, which are especially important for the historian: “How do I know that my words actually mean what I think I am saying?”, “How can I be sure that my words mean what someone else takes them to mean?”, and “How do I know that my words state what is really the case?”(8).  

It seems clear to me that Harris deserves credit here for making questions such as these explicit – it really would be good and salutary for more historians (and others) to reflect here!  But at the same time, for Harris, these questions are asked not with the intention of offering modern historians a minor course correction, but rather to help throw the supposedly venerable institution of which they are a part of into doubt.  In other words, these questions are meant to assist as show-stoppers en route to paving the way for Harris’ own intellectual program, i.e. integrational linguistics.

 What does this look like?  Here is a taste: 

 ...the question... arises for Humboldt as to whether history is the same for any two individuals whose understanding of the past is based on the readings of texts... An integrationist would go further.  The determinacy, if there is any, has to be sought at the level of the particular communication situation. (186)

Thoughts about this?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Linguist Roy Harris on history: “post-structuralist panic”

Am reading for duty right now more than pleasure…. (not that duty cannot be pleasurable)

Came across the following quotation in Roy Harris’ book, The Linguistics of History:

Narrative form in history, as in fiction, is an artifice, the product of individual imagination.  Yet at the same time it is accepted as claiming truth – that is, representing a real ensemble of interrelationships in past actuality.  Nor can we say that narrative form is like a hypothesis in science, which is the product of individual imagination but once suggested leads to research that can confirm or disconfirm it.  The crucial difference is that the narrative combination of relations is simply not subject to confirmation or disconfirmation, as any one of them taken separately might be.  So we have a second dilemma about historical narrative: as historical it claims to represent, through its form, part of the real complexity of the past, but as a narrative it is a product of imaginative construction, which cannot defend its claim to truth by an accepted procedure of argument or authentication.  (Mink, Historical Understanding, Cornell U. Press, 1987, 199)

(whatever you think of the above quote, isn’t this well put?)

This, Harris says, is “post-structuralist panic, with ensuing rush for the lifeboats” (162).  Harris says that “the problem [here] is generated by its location in a post-structuralist desert.  There the language-user is found wandering in a no-man’s land, where no one (male or female, historian or histopathologist) is quite sure about how words relate to anything at all”. (162)

What do you think of the problem that Mink identifies?  Is it a problem?  What about Harris’ diagnosis?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Popper, Karl ; Conjectures and Refutations, chapter 1(d): On the sources of knowledge and ignorance

NOTE: the hope is to do one post/week in the coming months. 

Popper, Karl ; Conjectures and Refutations - the growth of scientific knowledge (1968, c1963)

Chapter 1(d)

Popper begins to discuss Bacon's induction, mentioning his distinction between "anticipatio mentis" (attempts to "interpret what is manifest in nature in the light of non-manifest causes or of hypotheses"-Popper's words, 14) and "interpretatio naturae" (which Popper translates: "the (true) reading of nature").  The latter, Popper says, is "the spelling out of, the book of Nature" (me: basically, Nature is a book and we study its essential parts of God's language, the letters that it is composed of).  "Interpretation" here is not meant to be subjective (all understandings of "interpretation" in the modern sense here should be avoided), but a simple reading of the objective text of nature.  Popper says its original meaning was: "reading aloud for those who cannot read themselves".  Today, a judge interpreting the law implies a certain latitude ; not so in Bacon's day: one applied it in the one and only right way.  The latitude allowed is no more than that of a sworn interpreter translating a legal document (13, 14).

Popper further notes that for Bacon, his method of induction results in certain knowledge (episteme) and not in conjectures or hypotheses (me: What is manifest in nature can only be interpreted by that which is manifest).  Regarding "anticipatio mentis" Popper quotes Locke: "men give themselves up to the first anticipation of their minds", which leads to guesswork and a misreading of the book of Nature (doxa).  It is basically "prejudice" or "superstition" (related to 'anticipatio deorum", harboring naive or primitive or superstitious views about the gods).  Evidently, Bacon himself (according to the Oxford English Dictionary) introduced the verb "to prejudge" ("to judge adversely in advance") in the English legal context.   

Popper now states that what Bacon rejects, he accepts: a method of interpretation ; of conjecture, or hypothesis, that is.  Bacon says that we must purge our minds of false beliefs, or idols, and this includes all anticipations, conjectures, guesses and prejudices - for these distort our observations (Nov. Org. i, 68, 69 end, 97) - our ability to discern "the kind of thing whose true essence or nature we wish to ascertain".  For our souls "to face the eternal light of essences or natures" (Augustine, City of God, VIII, 3), "our impure prejudices must be exorcised by the invocation of counter-instances" (Nov. Org. ii, 16 ff).  Then, we can begin to diligently spell out the open book of Nature, the manifest truth.  Popper says that fundamentally, Aristotle, Bacon, Socrates (maieutic), and Descartes (systematic doubt) are all similar: destroying false prejudices in order to get at the "unshakable basis of self-evident truth" (14, 15).  

Popper collapses their views into one by saying that the natural state of man is an "innocent eye which can see the truth", and state of ignorance due to the injury of the eye has to do with man's fall from grace, which can be partially healed by this purification.  Therefore, this optimistic epistemology - "not only in Descartes' but also in Bacon's form" - "remains a religious doctrine in which the source of all knowledge is divine authority".  He does note that "one might say that", "encouraged by the divine 'essences' or divine 'natures' of Plato, and by the traditional Greek opposition between the truthfulness of nature and the deceitfulness of man-made convention, Bacon substitutes, in his epistemology, 'Nature' for 'God'" - which may be why when our minds have been purified , even our sometimes unreliable senses (for Plato hopelessly impure) will be pure (15).    

My summary: Socrates, Aristotle, Bacon and Descarte all believed that one could determine essences, and arrive at "the unshakable basis of self-evident truth".  This is a religious doctrine rooted in divine authority: the source of all knowledge.  Popper's method of conjecture or hypothesis is different, he says.  
My comments/critique: Popper evidently sees himself as being an advocate of a more secular epistemology - one not rooted in divine authority.  Again, it is interesting that so much good has come from these religious folks.  Popper does talk about how it is very difficult to get to the truth - but evidently, the method he will discuss will have little to do with "purification" in the sense he sees these men holding to it.  I wish that he would have said more about how all of these men - who undoubtedly had many differences - specifically advised people to purifiy themselves.  Was this an intellectual, or a mind-emptying kind of purification?  Was it a purification that took place by looking to something inside of man or outside of man?  I think this especially interesting because a man like Bacon, for instance, who evidently believed the Bible, also believed that when it came to the earth's natural history, the Bible should not control our inquiry at all.  At the same time, I am guessing that turning to God and His truth may have had something to do with His purification (although I am somewhat familiar with the teaching of "idols" Bacon used where he critiqued common superstitions or biases men had).  Or maybe not.  Inquiring minds want to know - and I suppose this may mean reading Bacon.