In Defense of Pure Reason, Laurence Bonjour, an attempted engagement.

The question whether or not a priori knowledge exists or not is difficult. There’s no clear way of reasoning around it that makes obvious the idea that knowledge can exist without basis in experience, or a given, pre-predicated experience. As I go into this text by Laurence Bonjour, I do not believe there is such a thing as a priori knowledge, I believe knowledge and meaning in general are dependent on experience for its content and justification. This is founded on the belief that all inference and knowledge claims can refer back to experience as what justifies the inferential steps or the belief in a particular proposition. Of course this is problematic and difficult to solve, as many philosophers have pointed out. Sellars being one of the major ones, writing about the myth of the given, basically claiming that experience cannot itself carry the terms for the set of sentences and categories that make up any knowledge claim. This is a retelling of the Kantian idea, “Thoughts without intuitions are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.” This is certainly not something I believe, I do not believe intuition without concepts are blind, quite literally the situation is the opposite of this, as far as I can tell. We do not experience through concepts, we experience and are able to categorize these experiences conceptually through referencing back to these experiences. We simply do not experience through reference to concepts, concept or no concept, we have a stream of conscious experience, of sensory impressions and inner experiences, and they are there before any type of explication of them, each term just listed is simply a reference to something extralinguistic. This would be about it, for me, if I were not to read this book, and challenge this view. Laurance Bonjour obviously sees things differently.

But he’s got a particular idea of what experience is. It is not confined to sense experience, but it does not extend so far as to cover inferential thinking. In fact, this would rule out a priori justification altogether, as Bonjour says. (p. 7) He posits his particular idea of experience on page 8 when he says:

My suggestion at this point is that the relevant notion for experience should be understood to include any sort of process that is perceptual in the broad sense of (a) being a causally conditioned response to particular, contingent features of the world and (b) yielding doxastic states that have as their content putative information concerning such particular, contingent features of the actual world as contrasted with other possible worlds. So understood, there would be no essential connotation that sensuous qualities or imagery are involved. And thus not only sense experience, but also introspection, memory, kinesthesia, and clairvoyance or telepathy (should these exist) would count as varieties of experience and the justification derived therefrom as a posteriori.

Mathematical intuition and things like it are not included in this definition of experience, despite being experience, since they do not concern an actual world as contrasted with a possible world. When we ask ourselves what kind of justification can exist without reference to experience, we have to think of it according to these terms Bonjour has constructed. At least if we want to follow his arguments. But are these conditions a fair definition of justification a posteriori? It seems odd to include (b) which wants experience to yield a doxastic state that have as their content putative information. Bonjour is making his work relatively easy by including these aspects to experience, since they all can be argued to involve a priori elements in a Kantian way. Doxastic states are reliant upon language, the categories of language may be seen as a priori true to some people. But regardless of the adumbration in these conditions, we shall see things through.

Bonjour does not actually deal with the problem of dependence of a priori on experiences, but reverts back once again to Kant, where what is a priori is determined by a propositions after it is understood, thus avoiding the claim that a priori propositions still need experience for the semantic content of the a priori proposition. To know a priori that a fully green surface cannot at the same time be red, you have to know what red and green are, and to know this you have to refer to experience, thus making the claim not a priori. But this is not the case according to Bonjour, since a priori propositions arise after their semantic content has been uncovered. Thus the claim that no fully green surface can at the same time be red is an a priori proposition, since it is determined solely through rational thought – its meaning taken as already established. This does not seem entirely justified, but at least this somewhat alleviates one of the problems that a supposedly a priori theory of justification would have to deal with.

The summation of Bonjour’s a priori justification runs as follows:

A proposition P is justified a priori if and only if that person has a reason for thinking P to be true that does not depend on any positive appeal to experience or other causally mediated, quasi-perceptual contact with contingent features of the world, but only on pure thought or reason, even if the person’s ability to understand P in question derives, in whole or in part, from experience. (p. 11)

Understanding being permitted on the basis of experience even for a priori judgments is a particularly interesting point, since it does seem to go against the idea that any semantic notion whose existence depends on a learning experience would be enough to infect an entire logical process. Experience-based semantics is compatible with the notion of a priori judgment in Bonjour’s view, which makes it far easier to go along with than if this was not the case. It is probably possible to go so far as to see this non-experience-based semantics as incoherent inherently, since the notion is inconceivable as well as unjustified empirically. It is a notion coming from nowhere, but let’s move on.

Bonjour proceeds to go through several potential versions of what an a priori statement could be, from differing points of views, in particular from the point of view of rationalism, moderate empiricism and radical empiricism (notably represented by Quine). One of the views radical empiricism puts forth, apart from the fact that they straight forwardly says a priori statements are not actually possible, is that the a prior statements are based on linguistic conventions, or conventions within a community of speakers. The meaning of two analytic terms are thus determined by the conventional semantics coupled to these. This, Bonjour says, makes it so that a priori statements no longer have any truth value, they lose their propositional character, and are instead some kind of imperative coming from said community of speakers. This seems to think that to say a meaningful statement does not entail an aspect of normativity. If we want to be understood, or produce statement that has an a priori character, do we not have to appeal to the imperatives and rules of the language of which the statement is expressed, and thus the community of speakers within this language? Unfortunately what really goes into a proposition is not lingered on in Bonjour, which would be necessary, since the existence of propositions is neither a clear cut issue. It seems easy enough to skip potential areas that could prove to be problematic for the rationalist, and this is more or less what Bonjour does, perhaps to avoid being bogged down by arguments that do not directly pertain to the a priori, but problematic nonetheless. We have to ask ourselves what would allow an a priori statement to be true if it is not based on the semantic conventions of a linguistic community or on some kind of set semantics for some speaker. If it is a priori true that an object cannot both be square and circular, what is it that makes this statement true, how is our interaction with this sentence something that causes us to assent to it? When we say “circle” there are certain criteria for what makes a circle, something which Bonjour also talks about, same goes for the square, and when they are compared the criteria of each we see that they are simply incompatible. But where do these criteria come from? Are they not conventional? Where else would they come from?

Bonjour does question what exactly a relation between a convention and a priori statement would be, which could be show itself to be of some importance if shown to inconsistent. But his argument amounts to a realization that a priori judgments – if seen as linguistic conventions – are not justifiable based on convention alone. It seems Bonjour forgets about the fact that convention supplies us with semantics, to a large extent, and this is what gives us the truth conditions for a priori statements. The answer here might be, which is what I believe, that we have no strong reason to accept a priori statements at hand, we accept them insofar as we follow the conventions posited by a community of speakers. This would most likely be in line with Quine. Bonjour, on his second point against conventional a priori statements asks: “What convention might be adopted that would make it possible for something to be red all over and green all over at the same time?” (p. 53) Is this not easily answered? It is answered by the convention that says that “red” and “green” denote the same color. This is how easily conventions are changed, and it shows us that they are not necessarily grounded in anything more solid than the whims of linguistic communities. Obviously we cannot have a functional language without a certain amount of conventional semantics, but it is entirely optional. This is especially highlighted in the article “Is meaning normative?” by Hattiangadi. Bonjour realizes this, though, and simply says that regardless of the changes of words that make up an a priori statement, we do not lose the a priori nature of the meaningful content of those a priori statements, like the principle of non-contradiction, or that things cannot be both red and green all over. The semantic content of a priori statements seems to transcend the actual word-usage for Bonjour. There is a definite propositional content behind the words that does not change, which makes a priori statements necessarily true regardless of the conventional words used to express them. The question then becomes what upholds this kind of propositional content, and whether or not there are such things as propositions. We shall see if Bonjour takes a stand here, or if this remains ignored.

Meaning as entities does become of import in Bonjour’s discussion of radical empiricism and specifically Quine’s Two Dogmas. For Quine this is obviously problematic, and in general we could see it as problematic from a metaphysical point of view, because what would a meaning-entity consist of? Since it – as Frege argued for – does extend across individuals, since meaning is in some sense shared, what do we make of it? To think that meaning is an atemporal and aspatial entity is slightly bizarre. Despite my husserlian tendencies I do worry about the notion of meaning as entities. We simply seem unable to refer to an entity when it comes to something like translation. We have a word in two languages, and we say they express the same thing. In this view we would then express the same thing insofar as this ”thing” is an entity that each of the two words represent. This does not seem to be the way translation works. But at the same time there seems to be something other than an environment and a dispositions towards assenting to sentence-use involved in meaning. Appeal to Grice by Bonjour is a very good thing, since speaker intentions does seem to be very involved in meaning. And on top of that, speaker intentions still remain within observable behavior a lot of the time. From my knowledge of Grice (which is not very extensive), there is nothing to say that Quine and him would be incompatible. Quine simply seems to state that the deciphering of speaker intention is a very complex ordeal.

Meaning being constituted by eternal entities is something Quine deals with, as is brought up by Bonjour as well, in a footnote. The meaning of a language is determined by its current speakers, but how a language once was spoken is still remembered and understood. In a sense this is an eternal understanding, we say “at this point in time this word was used in this and that way”, and we say that with our current usage. When we give up a meaning of a word for another, we do this with our current semantics. A priori statements are meant to be eternally true, but the words that make up such a statement are subject to change, according to Quine. But the meaning itself remains, according to Bonjour. A change in the individual words that make up an a priori statement is not of concern according to the latter, since the meaning does not change. But does it not? Is that not what causes a change in the words being used? Are not all statements subject to a change in meaning, or have inherently in them the potential for change? Non-entity semantics can still determine word-usage, clearly, because in linguistic interaction with people we do not refer to entities as we speak, we refer to the world, and we perhaps have ways of thinking about this world, or have associations to certain places and their objects linked to our words, but we simply do not communicate entities to each other. If we allow for these entities there comes a whole slew of metaphysical problems that we have no way of resolving. They’d serve minimal explanatory purposes, but they are far from necessary. Take Kripke’s rigid designators as another example, his account of meaning in terms of causal processes do show how a non-necessary situation can create a necessary meaning coupled to a term, in that the meaning was determined and causally connected to this moment in time. Bonjour seems to deny that we can forgo these rigid designators, and at any point create a new ceremony to baptize or give meaning to a word or statement. It is a common occurrence to think of a word and find new aspects of the things we normally associate with those words.

Ultimately the argument does seem to work in some sense, because there is something that remains with us as the specific words of something we express changes. Exactly what this is can be problematic to specify, and to posit abstract entities is not the answer. If it is a matter of that perspective versus a perspective that deals with concrete behavior, the latter will prove to do more interesting things. Perhaps we can allow for temporary a priori statements, and not let change be a threat to the notion of analyticity. There seems to be no requirement for apriority to be eternally valid here. But if meaning is determined sensorily, as what a lot of Quine’s philosophy would suggest it is, then how can there be a priori statements proper? According to Bonjour this is obviously not the case, so the question is pointless. To him there seems to be non-observational beliefs that can be true. Perhaps it is once again best to move on. I do not think the account of radical empiricism Bonjour offered turned out to be fully convincing, but it has somewhat loosened certain convictions I’ve held on the notion of a priori statements. On we go to moderate rationalism.

Moderate rationalism denotes simply that there is a priori knowledge that is fallible and corrigible. Bonjour distinguishes two types of corrigible a priori statements: those that are external and those that are internal.

If a statement is “externally correctable” it is possible to correct a statement with appeal to external facts. For instance in the case of hallucination we refer to external criteria for what makes up a hallucination, we cannot come to a conclusion of this kind internally. Our mental state, reflections, introspections or perceptive state cannot be the source for the statement that is externally correctable. The correction stems from some kind of external criteria, basically.

The internally correctable is merely the process of coming to notice a mistake in past reflections or ratiocination. We simply replace the faulty part with a correct part, and thus we have a correction internal to our mental states. Bonjour includes perceptual corrections here as well. Internal correction can also be made through the notion of coherence, which is good to point out, seeing as coherence is, suitably, an a priori way of considering facts. The question is if coherence truly is an a priori ordeal, which seems unclear.

Another aspect of moderate rationalism is the ability for a priori statements to warrant belief, without the need to be incorrigible by way of experience, viz., that it is not necessary for an a priori statement to automatically disprove all experience-based statements simply due to it (the experience) not being coherent with an a priori statement. At the same time Bonjour claims that there is no a priori statement that could be corrected by an experience, and that there are no such examples. I lack any such examples as well, how would experience show that something can never be both red and green all over? For instance. But nothing, I think, can prevent this from being the case, as long as the a priori statement pertains to observable facts. However, it is likely that a priori statements are not about things which can be considered observable. We can never observe a surface that is at once both red and green all over, since it seems to reject how perception works in general. We cannot on a one-colored surface see more than one color. But this seems more like a problem with the language involved, or with pointlessly expressing something. To say that something cannot be both red and green all over is entirely excrescent. To proclaim that something is a certain way is obviously automatically a negation of it being all things that it is not. Is this not something we know due to perception? Is it just not the most fundamental fact of perception? It is directly evident, but only insofar as we experience things in this way, and thus cannot conceive of things being any other way. So perhaps, if not by this account then by some other, it is possible to question the a prioriness of supposedly a priori statements. If experience can inform or establish the meaning of what we say, then how is anything a priori? Bonjour’s initial definitions are puzzling and unproblematic in general, since they allow for experience to determine the meaning of the a priori statements (if I remember correctly), and perhaps here is where the problem lies. But on we go!

The final part – forgoing a lot of interesting parts of the book – is about inductive reasoning, specifically the justification of inductive reasoning. It grounds itself in the scandal of there not being any solution to the problem of induction. Bonjour claims every effort to solve the problem in recent times has been largely palliative, while conceding that the criticism against inductive reasoning holds strong. The schematic account runs as follows:

Suppose there is a situation A, and that out of a large number of observed instances of A, some fraction m/n have also possessed some further, logically independent observable property or characteristic B; in brief, m/n of observed As have also been Bs. Suppose further that the locations and times of observation, the identity of the observers themselves, the conditions of observation, and any further background circumstances not specified in the description of A have been varied to a substantial degree; and also that there is no relevant background information available concerning either the incidence of Bs in the class of As or the connection, if any, between being A and being B.

A standard inference would thus be that you go from the premise m/n of observed As are Bs to the idea that m/n of all As are Bs (regardless of observation, or as Bonjour writes: observed or unobserved, past, present, or future, even hypothetical as well as actual). Our problem here is that it is unsure how this leads to “the truth about the world”, and whether or not an inductive premise will increase the likelihood of the truth of the conclusion. Hume’s problem, is the problem of the Principle of Induction, which says that the future will resemble the past. This is the short version of Hume’s account of the problem of induction. We cannot prove that the future will be the same as the past a priori, since its justification works as good as its contradiction. Experience cannot help us either since it leads to circularity, we would prove the principle with appeal to its regular truthfulness, which will lead to an appeal to a further principle that needs to be proved, which would spawn another principle of induction, and so on.

We cannot have this, Bonjour says, it would lead to a very extreme form of solipsism, where our possible justification becomes limited to our own present experience. The main issue with this is its ridiculousness, seen prima facie or intuitively. I do not find this ridiculous, necessarily, not until there are good reasons for finding anything but a methodological solipsism to be possible. I couldn’t go through Bonjour’s a priori account of induction, so it is time to conclude this piece. Hopefully next piece be concluded properly and work as a whole.

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Jakob von Uexküll and Trans-/Post-humanism: The Hint of the Outside.

“A Foray Into the Worlds of Animals and Humans” by Jakob von Uexkull is startling. It opens up ideas that shoot past several philosophical boundaries yet it remains believable and seemingly accurate, with a basis in very basic observations of animal behavior. We are talking of entire worlds here, truly, worlds bound entirely by the set of sensory capacities the animal or human possesses. Thus the tick, for example, is determined by its initiation into movement by butyric acid emitted from mammals and the heat-levels of its world. Their world is simple, but nonetheless a world on par with the human world. This is the core idea, a non-hierarchical idea of worlds of subjects.

A sensory subject has so-called perception marks, ways to perceive its world, which act as a ground for the effect marks, which lead the subject into action. Everything is determined by these perceptive marks and effect marks, it seems, in Uexkull, for instance: “Without a living subject, there can be no time.” (p. 52) Time is different in each subject, and each subject is brought out of slumber by their own set of perception organs. We have a non-hierarchical idea of sense hidden here as well, where the scientists perception becomes the same as the tick’s, differing only in complexity. We deal here with “special biological significance”, where environments are delimited based entirely on the special significance its components have to our sensual experience; it is based on what in our environment can cause a perception mark. The notion that excites me about Uexkull’s is the idea of constructing an environment out of perception signs.

What perception signs are, exactly, is a fairly complex idea to deal with. I think it can be defined as the following:

A perception sign or mark is a perceptive quality that appears for a particular species as relevant to it in a particular way. So in an image, we can determine that an animal cannot perceive this and that color, that we cannot experience biological sonar, and so on, but we know there are animals that use these senses in behaving a certain way. We know this by eliminating aspects of our environment until we can specify exactly what acts as a perceptive mark for a species of animal. The bee will focus on flowers that would carry nectar and so on, and their perceptive field is determined by these shapes, according to Uexkull, whereas human beings have a less directly focused image, their focus is determined by a goal, which is not always the case in animals, mostly not the case, even. Animals are often determined by reflex arcs, as it’s called, but even within this reflexive behavior we have have the plan of Nature that guides whether or not this reflexive behavior actually functions. A plan of Nature is a very vague idea, bordering on being nonsensical, but the vagueness also leaves open more charitable interpretations.

What could a plan of nature be? It could simply denote how nature is schematized, how it functions in broad strokes. It doesn’t have to mean a plan in a human sense, but a plan as in “this is how things are”. Nature doesn’t have a plan, it just is, as far as I can tell. But the idea of a plan stems from thinking there is a reason for why a reflex arc works out the way it does causally, and that is because it is according to nature’s plan. In a way that is as far as our explanation of causal relations can ever go. We don’t know why something occurs just the way it does, we only know that it does. We don’t know why it is that salt is soluble in water, if we push the “why” far enough. We can say “because the chemical compound changes due to this and this aspect of the molecules X and Y”, but we cannot further explain why it is that these things happen in these circumstances in particular. I, at least, do not know of a final explanation.

But it is worsened by Uexkull saying: “And people deny them [the plans of nature] because they have no real idea of what a plan is, since it is neither a force nor a material substance.” (p.92) It seems that Uexkull leaves the door open for antique skepticism in a lot of ways. We are bound as subjects to our sensory organs and their interaction with an Umwelt, or the immediately surrounding world. Deleuze, for instance, builds on this by denying the human ability to transcend these. Language and knowledge are but virtual aspects of this groundedness in an experiencing subject. We do not apprehend anything as such, we use tools we have available to survive and prosper, like the spider’s web-building or the tick’s patience or particular time-consciousness (if it can be called that). The meaning of language is on the same level, it seems, as other physical, otherwise seen as mechanical, interactions. Perhaps it is right to deem it all physical, to deem ourselves unable to see a Nature such as it would be to nature itself. This is an impossible idea, it is unthinkable and has no arguments. It is a trans-species approach to psychologism. It is trans-human, post-human. We are not superior, we all act on the same level, within the same piece of music (Uexkull likes the music similes). We all act as notes in this grand melody, and so on. This by no means imply an interconnectedness of individuals, merely a speculative Nature which we are not in touch with. We can only decipher our environment through our tools, what transcends this also transcends all meaningfulness, thus all speculation and writing. If we don’t buy that there is a harmony that could bring us any comfort, but realize that one note is in reality insignificant to itself in all its possible perspectives, we find a deep existential insight. One that stings particularly. We see ourselves as stuck as soon as we start to see the borders of our subjectivity. We find the border through pure speculation, through an intuitive sense of what might be. While it is scary it is without merit. This requires more thought than I am able to give at this moment in time. Life in actuality is becoming increasingly difficult. The idyll of philosophy can only hold its border against so much of the outside. It will seep in, and it will hurt.

Husserl’s Experience and Judgment (incomplete)

What is the genealogy of logic? How do we perform judgments on what surrounds us? How do we explicate the prepredicative experience, the self-evident givenness constantly bombarding our conscious mind? These are the questions Husserl in one way or another dealt with these questions throughout his writing life, and is poses a very difficult problem. What happens in the process of our making linguistic of the non-linguistic? It is still unclear what language refers to, the ontology of language is uncertain, in a sense as well. Our attributes and references do not always include a demonstrative element, we cannot always find a referent for our phrases, but yet language functions quite well without this. In some sense we have a virtual way of understanding, removed from all concrete situations, like the earlier Wittgenstein would call pictures or images, what Husserl would call intentional objects, the noetic-noematic processes, and so on. How do move from the actual situation of objects before us to the logical structure of deductive reasoning? How can there be correspondence between language and world? What follows will be a text that goes through Husserl’s book Experience and Judgment, to hopefully find some kind of possible response to these kinds of questions.

The basic movement goes along these lines: we think back on what first appeared before us in our various cognitive acts, the act of perception, the act of imagination, etc., and we see through the process of retrogression to that very act. We have to realize the repetition that goes on here, the re-enactment of past acts that give rise to meaning – meaning in the sense of meaningful words, significance, reference, etc (although it might be problematic conflate meaning with reference, so perhaps disregard this point if it leads to confusion). We are to seek “the phenomenological genesis of judgments in the originality of their production”, it seems. (p. 23)

Here Husserl touches on something of great importance. We move from an active production of understanding to a mechanical reproduction. For language to function as we intend to, for knowledge to exist as explicable and communicable, we have to sort out the representative function and the function of reproduction. We see a change in intentionality, here, clearly, and this is something that needs to be accounted for and brought into light. What we find is the difference between immediate and mediate judgments. These are then always referred back to a set of immediate cognitions, they are the basis of which all other judgments are formed. There needs to be a line to and fro these forms of cognition, in other words, the mediate cognition is determined by the immediate, and is always related to it. The mechanical repetition is thus mediate, based on the immediate cognition that once gave rise to it. These immediate cognitions are “the most original.” They lay as the foundation to all other cognition. We see here Hume’s basic thought, the reduction to the most basal experiences, those that allow any interaction whatsoever beyond that point. Husserl’s starting point, this time, lies here.

I am starting to understand where Derrida came at Husserl from, the writing of Husserl in this text seem to stray a bit from the rigid place where he once resided. It will become clearer as I go through the text as well. A further distinction is made to clarify what has been said above, that is between objective and judicative self-evidence. We are both aware of object as they appear in our prepredicative experience, they are there as objects constituting a world (yes, a world, somehow). The judicative self-evidence is simply inner sense, you could say, the experience of our own cognition and deductive processes and so on.

“Original substrates are therefore individuals, individual objects, and every thinkable judgment ultimately refers to individual objects, no matter how mediated in a variety of ways.” (p. 26) In a way this is also in line with the talk of particulars that people like Strawson do, we always have terms that are reducible to individuals, as in particular objects in our life that we can share and in some sense interact with. Everything is derived from these fundamental interactions with particulars, or individuals. “The theory of prepredicative experience, of precisely that which gives in advance the most original substrates in objective self-evidence, is the proper first element of the phenomenological theory of judgment.” (p. 27) We start from the ground up, with the substrate, the prepredicative, the objects, the immediate particulars/individuals, this, if anything, should be clear at this point. It seems also that they are intermixed, the substrate is made up of individuals, and they are experience with immediacy. There is thus a relation between these term that should be kept in mind as we go through this.

So what exactly is this pregiven, the substrate? It is a set of objects in an environment. Every object here has a horizon. We are not immediately given a full situation, and every individual is determined by its indeterminacy, it is always possibly more. We can always walk around an object in our environment, it is not immediately apprehended. The horizon denotes possible experience in general, and this horizon of possibility is what is called the world, this is also included in the term “substrate.” Transcendence creeps its way in, here, each object experienced ends up including a set of transcendent not-yet set of experiences. This transcendence however is not truly known, as such. It is undetermined (p. 37), and undetermined generality, a not-yet particular grasping of individuals. But we trust the horizon’s ability to bring forth more individuals, in Husserl, and perhaps this is a general truth of how we interact with this indeterminate world, we move into it, we flip things over and realize that most things do, in fact, have a backside, etc.

This indeterminate substrate of objects is there as an “unfamiliar familiarity” (p. 37-38). We always experience this indeterminacy as something present and as a possibility-to-determine, thus we are familiar with the fact that it is not yet familiar to us. It is this movement from the unfamiliar substrate to the familiarity of genera that is part of the determination of these undetermined prepredicative objects. Still there is a principle of similarity that steers how individual experiences are synthesized into full predicates, or attributes.

Husserl’s critique of the natural sciences have always been intriguing to me. There are points that still hold up today, I would say. There are hidden assumptions behind many terms used in science, perhaps all terms, in one way or another. I’m coming more and more to this idea that Husserl is, in a weird way, a very extreme logical positivist – I do not think many people would consider this to be a correct assessment of Husserl, but still. All terms and categorial activity, he says, is grounded in prepredicative experience. The logical positivists would do the same, but not consider experience as such, but mostly deal with observation sentences. It seems they did not realize a whole world of relations still to be explored rested betwixt the sign and signified, the category and its experiential evidence, and the true self-evidential apodicticity of first-hand experience. As far as I know (not very far), the natural sciences have not truly dealt with this relation. At least we can trust Husserl’s criticism of the science of his own time, but I imagine the problem remains, when he says that science throws a garb of ideas over the life-world, viz., the world of actual experiences of the prepredicative kind. We are dependent on theory for observation sentences, something that is very much known in the philosophy of science. To rely on this structure itself is not yet to meditate on how the terms being used arose in the first place. Perhaps we only have Quine, and in some sense Wittgenstein, who tried to get at the core of how meaning can be linked to expression, meaning, then, is the description of the prepredicative world. Is there not a contradiction here? To express the inexpressible? Is this not why the earlier Wittgenstein, among other things, thought it best to not discuss it? Was it best to keep the “objects” or “things” of his image theory vague as they were? Can we truly find a denotative function for the prepredicative? I believe we can, but let’s continue with the text at hand.

One of the most important principles in philosophies, or for semantics, specifically, for the idea of predicates or attributes in general, or regarding the question of universals (however you want to phrase it), is the notion of similarity or repetition. Without true similarity there is no way to construct predicates of any kind, we cannot describe without predicates. This challenge to description is something Husserl spent a great deal of effort trying to solve. In a strange way you have to presuppose similarity to even talk about similarity, it is deeply ingrained in our way of living. Husserl refers to the notion of prominence, which is what Quine later would call salience, the prominent aspects of perception, the red square on the white screen, these letters against the background, etc. This is primary in the process of finding similarity, one prominent patch is measured against another, Husserl explains it accordingly:

“Let us now consider a unitary field of sense as it is given in an immanent present and ask how in it, in general, consciousness of a particular thing raised into prominence is possible, and, further, what essential conditions must be fulfilled in order to bring about the consciousness of a multiplicity of like or similar things raised to prominence.

Every such field of sense is one that is unitary in itself, a unity of homogeneity. It stands in the relation of heterogeneity to every other field of sense. A particular element in the field is raised to prominence in such a way that it contrasts with something; for example, red patches against a white background. The red patches contrast with the white surface, but with one another they blend without contrast Рcertainly not in such a way that they flow over into one another but in a kind blending at a distance, in which they can be made coincident with one another as being similar.Ӭ(pp. 73-74)

In other words, first we identify fields of homogeneity on their own, as they are prominently displayed against a background, then we extend this field of homogeneity to another field like it, where they “blend at a distance”. This is a brilliant description in that it takes away the abstraction of colors and removes actual distance. Similarity is simply the same as prominence, as contrasting colors, only understood at a distance, made possible through co-prominence that blends together. It is an ingenious solution. The only problem is to what extent memory can be thought to minimize this real distance. Can we really assume that the distance can be negated in this way? It is hard for me to find a preferable description, unless we want to move into pure nominalism. But even if we wanted to, we’d have to completely negate the idea of similitude, is this a possibility? We clearly can compare and find fields of homogeneity, even across far distances, even without direct comparison, so how can we deny it? The further question is whether or not these similarities are real or not, are they coupled with the objects or made by the mind? To think they are created by the mind, or simply are coupled together by association to a word, does not seem to hold up, but at the same time we can’t assume that they exist in themselves in the object. Direct comparison works, in that we could not distinguish the red square from the red square. Once we have a field of homogeneity, we cannot deny the similarity between two points of that one prominently colored shape. To extend that to a similitude over distance is not to jump too far, as far as I’m concerned. So similarity can be considered, but this does in no way imply a necessary connection between things similar, as Husserl says: “To be sure, one can say that similarity between particular data establishes no real bond. But we are not speaking now of real qualities but of the way in which sense data are connected in immanence.” (p. 74) What is “real” here is a difficult thing to consider. Is an immanent connection or notion of similarity not real? The only thing we discover here is that qualities are mind-dependent, but also object-dependent. We cannot deny either aspect.

I will keep going with this part of Experience and Judgment, I find it very important:

Affinity or similarity can have different degrees within the limits of the most perfect affinity, of likeness without difference. Wherever there is no perfect likeness, contrast goes hand in hand with similarity (affinity): the coming into prominence of the unlike from a basis of the common. If we pass from likeness to likeness, the new like presents itself as repetition. Its content comes into completely perfect coincidence with that of the first. This is what we refer to as blending.” (ibid.)

We fundamentally have the interplay of difference and similitude going on, similarity is what makes difference possible, as the heterogeneity that becomes prominent. In other words, we require a background for shapes to come about, this background will always be homogeneous, similar to its own points. To push this further, is there not always a texture? And does texture not imply a difference even among the homogeneous fields? Is Husserl’s account a simplification of similitude, or unified homogeneous fields? This possibility would destroy the entire system Husserl is building, so let’s leave it for now.

While there is not a coupling to a word, in the synthesis of homogeneous fields, there is an association between the fields themselves. Perhaps the denotative act does precisely this, it denotes the associative net of homogeneous and heterogeneous fields of synthesis. Husserl says:

What in a purely static description appears to be likeness or similarity must therefore be considered in itself as being already the product of the one or the other kind of synthesis of coincidence, which we denote by the traditional term association, but with a change of sense. It is the phenomenon of associative genesis which dominates this sphere of passive pregivenness, established on the basis of the syntheses of internal time-consciousness.” (ibid.)

This is a dense sentence, but what it goes through is very important. A supposedly static description is never entirely static. It implies or denotes already the movement of association that brings together these syntheses of the given, that is, movement. This is how you’d combat the Bergsonian problem of how something static can describe the non-static. It is by way of having the static denote not a static process, but a movement, here a movement of internal time-consciousness, the associative act, the coupling of similitude (I am aware of the strangeness of these terms). The static symbol serves merely as an indicator of something far more complex, this is a major part of what phenomenological studies elucidate. It’s also important to note that Husserl does not attempt to make of association some kind of psychological law, he does not make it “objective,” as such. Association in Husserl is always a specific interaction between particulars, or in concrete contexts, “Association comes into question in this context exclusively as the purely immanent connection of “this recalls that,” “one calls attention to the other.”” (p. 75) This is the “movement” of the associative act of consciousness, this is what constitutes indication. While Husserl does not want there to be a law-like relation coupled to the associative act, he still says things like “But all immediate association is an association in accordance with similarity.” (ibid.) This seems law-like, to me, not to say that it is incorrect. What else could form the association between two visual elements, if we adhere only to the immediate givens? Prominence will display only difference and repetition, heterogeneity and homogeneity.

To move away from this, there is a notion of double perception that needs to be discussed. In philosophy, especially certain neokantian philosophy, there is a notion that perception can be faulty. We misidentify things as what they are really not. In Husserl this is different, here we have the same perception, only additions in terms of anticipatory ideas. We see something from a distance, we project an idea of what this might be, based on the perception, but this is not the perception itself. The perception remains the same despite the identity of the object changing. When one notion of what the perception is of changes to another, the one that is not used does not simply disappear, it is still there, but suppressed, not used. Doubling is not a doubling of the perceptive experience itself, but a doubling of possible interpretations of this perception. An experience can be apprehended with different terms, in other words, and depending on this we will have possibly more than one term that could be applicable.

The interplay between explication and substrate is both interesting and important in Husserl. The mind operates through ramification, branching out into various focal points from substrates. Substrates can be specified into explications or determinations, which themselves can become absolute and serve as the substrate for further determinations or explications. This movement is very recognizable. The flower in the flowerbed stands out, becomes the point of focus that in itself allows for further focal points, the colors of the flower, its petals, the thorns, and so on. We operate through grounding ourselves in points of focus, starting out with the general horizon of experience, moving inwards. This is by no means an infinite process, though, luckily. To say this would be to transcend experience, which is prohibited in Husserl. There is simply a movement between different absolute focal points. The ray of attention changes, that is. We could simply call it our focused field of vision.

I am leaving Husserl for a while, I spent months finishing this book, about half of it was fruitless and didn’t stick with me enough for processing through writing. Time to move on.

P. F. Strawson, Individuals, A Good Book – A Poor Commentary.

“All identifying description of particulars may include, ultimately, a demonstrative element.” (p. 22) Identification is a difficult matter, usually. Descriptions alone do not always guide us where we need to be, since our various descriptive terms are not always bestowed with the same directionality, the same nodes of likeness or identification. What the quote above denotes is how identification and the descriptions that constitute it are in desperate need of an intersubjective demonstrative act. Pointing is not always it, as Quine sometimes seem to suggest. It is not an ostensive act, as such, but a demonstrative, that leads us to a correct identification of something. Demonstrations are more purposeful than pointing is, and can thus demonstrate a more specific type of identifier. So the imprecision of translation when you are outside of language, as Quine points out, with this emphasis on demonstrations, could be solved.

Strawson says thusly: “For by demonstrative identification we can determine a common reference point and common axes of spatial direction; and with these at out disposal we have also the theoretical possibility of a description of every other particular in space and time as uniquely related to our reference point. “ (ibid.) So we have here a system of demonstration based on reference-points and the relativity of things to a chosen point. Particulars in this way can always find security in that they hold themselves to whatever point we’ve chosen for ourselves.

Since we have to do with particulars, in particular, we have to also develop individuating principles. Strawson posits that to be truly individuating a description needs to lead to a particular A and this particular alone. The description and its demonstrative act will then serve as the core of such a process, where the end-point usually becomes a point in space and time, particulars are always in a substrate of spatio-temporality, Strawson says, and that this is the bottom line identifier. I wonder how warranted this is, since both temporality and spatial identification is based on something as well, is space and time not identified as well? Are these identified by the particulars and their interactions, or are they determined in themselves and later applied to the particulars? Perhaps it is of no greater concern for now.

To identify the particulars you need a datum of some kind, and there are logical individuating descriptions, Strawson gives the example of “the first,” and “the only,” as two of these. (p. 26) When these fail, due to whatever confusing circumstance we are in, where perhaps what came first or what is singled out as “the only” is uncertain, we rely on a principle of demonstration, an indicative act, as has been discussed above.

Then there is a description which relies on no specifics, called a pure individuating description. This relies on no specific date or place or name, it keeps things general. The example given is “the first dog to be born at sea.” It moves through general terms to find its particular, and it relies not on the context in which it is said to gain meaning.

When it comes to the latter, Strawson beautifully notes that there is always an aspect of probability when using generals to arrive at particulars. There is a level of frivolity in such a claim. (p. 27) It is uncertain whether or not there is an application for phrases that are general in kind but refer to a particular. We find thus an emphasis on the importance of directly knowing the particular in some way previous to describing it, at least if we want the description to carry meaning and ability to properly guide us to an object. Both when there is no object and when there are more than one object, the pure individuating descriptions fails. (p. 28)

There is frequent talk in Strawson of a “unified framework of knowledge of particulars” which carry no definition in the work itself, as far as I know. So when a description that is detached from this framework, what does that mean? (ibid.) I think Strawson is saying that to describe a particular sufficiently well, to identify it uniquely, would be to make it useful in general, since it wouldn’t play a part in the usual ways we acquire and use knowledge. A particular in its most precise description is isolated from the way knowledge normally functions.

Perhaps this, on page 29, serves as somewhat of an explanation of what this unified knowledge could be:

We may agree, then, that we build up our single picture of the world, of particular things and events, untroubled by possibilities of massive reduplications, content, sometimes, with the roughest locations of the situations and objects we speak of, allowing agreed proper names to bear, without further explanation, an immense individuating load. This we do quite rationally, confident in a certain community of experience and sources of instruction. Yet it is a single picture which we build, a unified structure, in which we ourselves have a place, and in which every element is thought of as directly or indirectly related to every other; and the framework of the structure, the common, unifying system of relations is spatio-temporal.”

This unification comes in part in how we synthesize descriptions or stories from other people with our own, this is how we create a world of relations. Your report relates to mine, and ours relate to objects in our shared space. These objects in shared space are shared in spatio-temporal space, we relate to specific points on both axes.

Strawson here explains the origins of the mistake, or fiction, when a description of some kind is made of a thing that cannot be located spatio-temporally. These things “do not really exist,” he would say.

The problem of identification of one unique particular, and not knowing if there is more than one out there, is discussed further, and the anxieties of which is removed. Strawson emphasizes our own part in a reference system, and that this helps the process of identification of particulars. We are not removed from a situation, ever, or the network of reference-points, we are trapped within it and have a sphere of particulars which create itself a delimitation of what can be referred to properly. He wants to deemphasize the privacy of such reference as “here and now” and “this”, “that”, and so on. These are not entirely private in that we share them spatio-temporally with others around us, with as many individuals as there are in the current situation. The vague and private aspects of language are still useful, to Strawson, since they do succeed in indicating various particulars, and direct our attention to them.

The problem of continuity is of high importance when it comes to identification. To identify, properly, requires the ability to re-identify, as Strawson says. Life is discontinuous and we cannot only be certain of things as long as they are within our field of vision, what kind of knowledge would that be? It simply wouldn’t be, it would be a confused perpetual living in the presence. But to have identity be continuous, even when experience is not, you have to be able to re-identify. This is something Husserl very adamantly wrote about, that a general term always needs a way back to its particulars, or its presently experienced self-evident core. Identity needs to on some level transcend the immediate experience, it seems. This is a dangerous path to walk along if you are privy to the skeptical mindset.

The same discontinuity exists in my writing, two months have past between this sentence and the last. But Strawson moves on, and the problem becomes that of solipsism. The question is, why do we ascribe out conscious states to anything other than our conscious states? We can only see a causal relationship between our own body and consciousness, and our own body is discovered only in discovering its causal relationship to our perceptions or consciousness. We close our eyelids and our visual perception disappears, thus our own body becomes supreme amongst the various bodies in our subjective experience. Through this we land at a sort of empirical solipsism. However, we do not find ourselves in this supreme body. The experience itself only shows it as a particular body, a special body with special traits, but Strawson does not seem to think we have a reason beyond this to ascribe the body we experience as causally related to our perception to any subject in particular. (p. 93)

We find ourselves with the problem of inner and outer experience, and how it relates to other people and the signs of things like conscious states. Strawson differentiates between P-predicates and M-predicates, where the former denotes states of persons, the latter states of things, things elsewhere called primary qualities, or simply “quantitative.” It draws back on the notion of outer perception not quite reaching inner states. Strawson discusses this in a semantic sense, where the meaning of “pain” must include the outer sense, the behavioral aspect, for it to carry meaning. The behavior that leads one to ascribe to a person the predicate “is in pain” is thus the criteria for that logical category. Strawson is unraveling the language involved in the mind-body problems and the problem regarding the existence of other minds. To clear up the language here will lead to the discussions being far more fruitful. These are powerful distinctions, even if they do not solve the problem automatically, it might even show how the problem is impossible to resolve. If all we view from other mind’s are the signs or behavior of inner states, that we discover only in the analogous behavior we ourselves partake in while in these inner states. For communicative purposes, this is a fundamental criteria for something like “pain” to have meaning. But in a genuine sense, getting close to the actual experience, is it possible to communicate various sensory states sufficiently? Are they inherently private, thus meaningless? If they are meaningless, are we meant to simply avert our gaze from these genuine states of being? It seems we fall into a disingenuous theory of meaning if we forgo these genuine first-hand experiences.

We base a lot of ascriptions of ourselves on how we ascribe it to others, Strawson emphasizes, but there are many times where our ascriptions do not share criteria in any kind of intersubjective or objective way, and we lose a crucial portion of our experience if we solely deal with the semantics of intersubjectivity. We’d be ignoring phenomena! Strawson knows this in that he explains how a self-ascriber always have a primary role in ascribing things for themselves and a supreme ability to correct the person ascribing things to others. So the solution, for Strawson, is to simply, in thinking about P-predicates, or states of a person (the nature of a person, or the definition of a person, is as of yet not decided upon in Strawson’s book), is to have self-ascription and other-ascribability both be considered, and have both be criteria for the understanding of these types of predicates. For them to be meaningful, they must have knowledge of the behavioral criteria and the inner criteria. “Feelings can be felt but not observed, and behavior can be observed but not felt,” is an important paraphrase, I believe, to illustrate this basic point. (p. 108)

Something like the concept of depression would be defined as: that which “is something, on and the same thing, which is felt, but not observed, by X, and observed, but not felt, by others than X.” This a beautiful deconstruction of problems of this kind, we simply find a fundamental different in how we view others and how we have a sovereign role in our self-ascription and self-knowledge. If we let either be primary in any sense, though, we seem to fall into logical gaps, as Strawson calls them. What exactly this means is uncertain, but there seems to be some kind of point involved. Strawson tries to get at the meaninglessness of something that is privately determined, as something like my feeling of depression, for instance. If this is only my definition, then it is nothing at all, it is non-communicative. This is a scary problem, because it does not seem to have an automatic resolution. Strawson seems to think that simply considering the two types of ascriptions will solve the problem of meaningfulness here, but between them there is a huge gap, no matter how you put it. We never go from one to the other properly speaking. We can only see behavior as signs of something, or as criteria in themselves, and we can only view feelings as something self-sufficient and invisible in themselves to an observer. We do not see the feeling of pain, we only see signs. We can feel feeling, but they cannot be observed, we can observe behavior, but we cannot feel it. The resolution seems to be to simply accept this as a fact and ascribe predicates to others based only on behavioral criteria, and self-ascribe through feelings, through testimony. It seems like a lackluster conclusion, but perhaps it’s the only genuine one there is as of now (TO MY KNOWLEDGE!). We just need to keep in mind the totality of the ways meaning can vary depending on the perspective of the observer, because meaning is not one or the other.

It becomes problematic when we try to create a single individual out of these disparate ascriptions, however. And it is the final problem of this section of Strawson’s book. He admits the impossibility of resolving this problem, but thinks a way to perhaps get closer to it is to view people as actors, as acting entities, with intentions that show themselves in the ascription of future behavior, or a future development of action. We know what people will do before they do it, sometimes, it is possible to predict the movement of people, based on inference from their intentions. Perhaps there is something to this, perhaps there is not. The question arises for me whether it is not simple enough to just accept the testimony of a conscious mind. “I am having thoughts, I am having inner experiences.” What right do you have to doubt this? And would your doubt be sensible? We can accept there is no connection that would allow you to experience my experiences, so why is my testimony not good enough in this matter? A testimony is by no means a perfect proof, to say or emit the sounds “I am conscious.” is not the same as being conscious, but is there sufficient reason to doubt it? Each person could simply view a definition of automata and explicate “I am not this.” It seems the skepticism towards this is based entirely in nonsensical conjecture about counterfactuals. Perhaps I am missing something.

Strawson has a tone I like a lot. I don’t entirely understand his project in this book, but I followed most of it, and never saw any problems with what he was doing in a severe sense. I write this discontinuously, so I may have contradicted myself in the above-written text, but I am not in the mood to check for any such contradictions. My ability to engage with philosophical writing is dwindling, I love it, I love the process, but my ability to focus at all sufficiently is disappearing. I hope something changes soon, I’ve lost track of everything.

William James and Radical Empiricism: A Glance

“Consciousness connotes a kind of external relation, and does not denote a special stuff or way of being. The peculiarity of our experiences, that they not only are, but are known, which their ‘conscious’ quality is invoked to explain, is better explained by their relations – these relations themselves being experiences – to one another.” (p. 25)

“Radical Empiricism” is something that appeals greatly to me. It’s a term I naturally came to call Deleuze’s philosophy, which naturally gave me a way into William James’ book “Essays in Radical Empiricism”. If anything, we get a much clearer justification on what leads one to denounce consciousness, or the ego, and so on. We see the similarities to Husserl as well in reading someone like William James. Consciousness is always consciousness of something, thus experience is never directed at “consciousness” as such, consciousness become a non-entity, a non-something, a nothing. Things and thoughts are equivalent to experience, although different, both are special types of somethings in an experience. William James talks less of “experience to a consciousness” than Husserl, however, and goes for the approach where experience, both mediated memory, retained actual experience, and perceptual experience, are both immediate in their particular forms.

To fully go into this mindset we have to figure out what it means to forgo consciousness and supplant with it the idea of relations, relations between what? If relations are always external, or only external-internal by way of concept-percept, can we explain all of the functions we otherwise attribute to consciousness? We explain the object of our experience strictly by the way they relate to other experiences. That is what the initial quote, as I take it, says. Experience is always in its peculiarity within an assemblage of other experiences, this is Deleuzian, and this is what William James seem to be getting at. Experience relates only to other experiences, concepts are experiences, flows, that converge and diverge with other experience, find relations and break away from others. I believe this thesis is a very good one to start with in philosophical matters.

This kind of radical empiricism rejects substance-philosophies, also akin to Deleuze in some sense, although he sometimes speak of matter in a very fleeting manner. James says: “there is no general stuff of which experience at large is made.” (p. 26) Who would in modern day buy this thesis? Experience comes from the material substance that make up our bodies, right? Is it not this straight forward? Experience, let’s say visual experience, is dependent on eyes, for instance. We have to ask ourselves if eyes, and everything else involved in a visual process, optic nerves, fovea, etc, are not also simply a part of experience, a relation within, where we find a dependency of the experience on these other parts of experience. Again, we find a relation of experience, when we find dependency, even when we consider things that make up the so called genesis of experience. This is something Derrida didn’t understand in his essay on the problem of Genesis in Husserl.

When we say there is no general stuff that experience is made up, however, you have to say what is actually there. James answers this by saying that what is there is exactly what we say there is, a heaviness, a brownness, an intensity, and so on. Always a specific particular relation or appearance. “Experience is only a collective name for all these sensible natures, and save for time and space there appears no universal element of which all things are made.” (p. 27)

In “World of Pure Experience”, the second essay of the book, solipsism is brought up, and James promptly criticizes it, as almost everyone does instinctively with the faintest arguments imaginable. James goes the Merleau-Ponty route, though, and it is fair. “Why do I postulate your mind? Because I see your body acting in a certain way. Its gestures, facial movements, words and conduct generally, are ‘expressive,’ so I deem it actuated as my own is, by an inner life like mine.” By a radical empiricist, however, this surely is not good enough. The inner life, like ours, in others, is not available to experience, the pure actual experience. There is always some kind of leap involved in acknowledging the mind of others. Not to say this makes solipsism true, instead it makes for an interesting springboard into questions of how to know that which is immediately unknowable. How do we work around this? Husserl did it by the material of objects, its most general directionality. We both point to an outline in space, this is our shared object, despite the phenomena of the two persons differing, sometimes greatly, sometimes disjunctively or incongruously. I would say this is a fair way to go about talking about shared objects, about conventional outlines, pointing, etc. As we know Quine would make this ostensive act problematic on some level, because to know another mind is in a way to break into a whole other language. The imprecision of translation in Quine’s thought experiments lies in the inability to get into the mind of the speaker, we do not know as outsiders their specific references, especially not if “reference” itself is not shared as cultural behavior. So what we are left with are objects shared, but objects unspecified, objects indefinite. Objects with non-overlapping phenomena, but with a shared directionality. If we want to make it more physical we can simply say that we do not in any way share nervous systems, thus making any shared experience in its minute precision and full purity impossible. This is von Wrights way of going about it.

William James is worth studying, he is a good thinker and a pleasant writer.

I can’t muster a single word past this.

Essays Critical and Clinical, Deleuze: My Lacking Vitality.

Today I’ll write with disillusion. I give many thinkers a pass, and I build up what I sense a lack in. If I am the one who creates an understanding out of ambiguity, what is it that actually is done in the act of writing philosophy, on the behalf of the philosopher. Is there always an aspect of this? That is, audience participation.

So to turn to the French thinkers, you have to endure a lot of ambiguity, propped up only on the moments of clarity, hidden deep within the quirkiness of eloquence. Writing, after all, is not a form imposed on the matter of lived experience, as Deleuze initiated his book “Essays Critical and Clinical” with. Literature is never finished, as philosophy, you could safely say, but is instead in a constant state of becoming, multiplicitous and changing, distinctive in its everlasting differentiation between various concepts.

“Writing is inseparable from becoming: in writing, one becomes-woman, becomes-animal or vegetable, becomes-molecule to the point of becoming-imperceptible.” (p. 1)

There is a specific type of becoming that Deleuze keeps in mind here. One does not become Man, he says, man is the supposed dominant form of writing, the imposing figure onto matter, a virtuality which twists the actual into its form. The conjecture of that is again to misrepresent Deleuze, but I suppose I can never quite solely present a thinker as they appear in themselves. In any case, woman, animal and molecule are not imposing, in Deleuze’s mind, they constitute lines of flight from the imposing figure of Man. This is how Man becomes, in moving from the confused idea of writing the lived into writing as experience, as becoming, as process, etc. Writing is a becoming-minor, you could say, a becoming indiscernible. But when deleuze says:

To become is not to attain a form (identification, imitation, Mimesis) but to find the zone of proximity, indiscernibility, or indifferentiation where one can no longer be distinguished form a woman, an animal, or a molecule – neither imprecise nor general, but unforeseen and nonpreexistent, singularized out of a population rather than determined in a form.” (ibid.)

Does he not stumble? To become is not to attain a form, but how is indistinction possible if that is the case? Is form not what makes possible an indiscernible quality? That is, a similarity? “Becoming is always between or among: a woman between women, or an animal among others.” What Deleuze is getting at, it seems to me, is the explication of the unique, the true becoming of an individual within a species. Literature makes this possible through the expressiveness of the author’s becoming of different beings, his movement in and out of characters and entities, from the movement of the insect to the seduction of a woman, none of which are the author, or lived experience as such, but a description of qualities and movements.

We describe in Deleuze’s literature entities which are not solid, which are not rigid, you could say. They are indefinite, always, always in a process of becoming, always incomplete. The animal is never an animal as properly defined and outlined, but animal as line of flight, as deterritorialized animal. What kind of animal is this? Have we not lost all semantic value here? What kind of woman is not a defined woman? Is woman the name of the entity we point to, “this woman here,” without actually saying anything about this woman in a holistic sense? Deleuze’s literature seems to be always open for any name to mean anything. But proximity implies a point to be proximate to, and how is that identified without a definite identity? We have to question this blabbering, it seems.

But there is undeniably sense in what Deleuze writes. What seems senseless is either a confusion on my end or on his end; it is unclear where the delirium lies, if not everywhere. “Language must devote itself to reaching these feminine, animal, molecular detours, and every detour is becoming-mortal. There are no straight lines, neither in things nor in language. Syntax is a set of necessary detours that are created in each case to reveal the life in things.” (p. 2) What is referred to here? Literature is becoming close to life, life as indefinite, life as impossible to universally or transcendentally describe. Life is amorphous, free even, to some extent, and it cuts through every definitive designator. Being mortal is life, here, or being mortal means there is a unique movement that escapes all territorial thinking. The Husserlian question would be to posit the same kind of argument Deleuze puts forth directed at the argument. How is this concept of a line of flight not just another territorialization, another rigid concept, another definition? Ambiguity is not fully equivalent to indiscernibility or the indefinite.

But there is an identity, however, it is de-oedipalized, it is ahistorical, in a way. It goes from “my father beats me” to “a child is being beaten.” The identifiers are always impersonal. This contradicts somewhat what was said above. The individuality explained in the concept of becoming is perhaps not that of a person, as in subjectivity or for an ego, but the individuality of traits, of the indefinite names of proximate entities. One have to ask what these refer to, in Deleuze, if not to actual entities with these traits of becoming-X and Y.

In this sense literature becomes symptomatology:

We do not write with our neuroses. Neuroses or psychoses are not passages of life, but states into which we fall when the process is interrupted, blocked, or plugged up. Illness is not a process but a stopping of the process, as in ‘the Nietzsche case.’ Moreover, the writer as such is not a patient but rather a physician, the physician of himself and of the world. The world is the set of symptoms whose illnes merges with man. Literature then appears as an enterprise of health: not that the writer would necessarily be in good health, but he posses an irresistible and delicate health that stems from what he has seen and heard of things too big for him, too strong for him, suffocating things whose passage exhausts him, while nonetheless giving him the becomings that a dominant and substantial health would render impossible. The writer returns from what he has seen and heard with bloodshot eyes and pierced eardrums. What health would be sufficient to liberate life wherever it is imprisoned by and within man, by and within organisms and genera? It is like Spinoza’s delicate health, while it lasted, bearing witness until the end to a new vision whose passage it remained open to.”

What a writer thus finds in lived experience and brings to literature is not the lived experience itself, but the sense or affect of that lived experience. The symptoms of those experiences. It’s a meekly escape from the lived, you could say, a being overwhelmed that turns into a less intense and more organized syntax, a grammatology, through an effort of the weak, the shamed, the animal, etc. Writing sounds like cowardice, at this point, but I am aware that this is not Deleuze’s intended end-point (there is no such thing). Writing as escape, and the writer as schizophrenic escapologist, works very well in my mind. (Whose mind?)

“Literature is a disease, the disease par excellence, whenever it erects a race it claims is pure and dominant.” (p. 4) This is one of those points of clarity. But it is as revealing as it is confusing. We realize the illness in erecting races, that is, generalities. Health is the opposite of this, the continual and healthy process of becoming. Disease stagnates in the formation of races, too broad generalities, etc. This has always been my take on Deleuze’s writing, a fight against rigidity in a Bergsonian manner. Literature is part of this fight, clearly. Literature needs its health to create a healthy removed people, a minority separated from the people as such. This shows the absolute creativity of literature as well, that it is fabulation as such we are dealing with, not fabulation in its relation to a real people or the main people. The writer is always removed from this process and writes in solitude, creating a people that is nowhere.

This minorization of language is also what creates a language within a language, the idiolects of the writer, one might say. “Syntactic creation or style – this is the becoming of language.” Language is thus in a way limited to itself, in Deleuze, which is clear from other books of his, perhaps especially in The Logic of Sense. A distinction is always made between the expressive act and the intuitive act (as far as I can remember). It seems Deleuze is moving very close to a holism here, which is very interesting! “The creation of words or neologisms is worth nothing apart from the effects of syntax in which they are developed.” (p. 5) So language becomes dependent on the over all syntax and the general language for its distinction, a Saussurean notion as well.

Literature has two aspects, Deleuze says: “So literature already presents two aspects: through the creation of syntax, it brings about not only a decomposition or destruction of the maternal language, but also the invention of a new language within language.” And he quotes: “The only way to defend language is to attack it. . . . Every writer is obliged to create his or her own language. . .” (p. 5 quoting Proust).

The third aspect touches on something very strange:

It stems from the fact that a foreign language cannot be hollowed out in one language without language as a whole in turn being toppled or pushed to a limit, to an outside or reverse side that consists of Visions and Auditions that no longer belong to any language. These visions are not fantasies, but veritable Ideas that the writer sees and hears in the interstices of language, in its intervals.”

Now what can be made from this? It seems as if Deleuze is here referring to not something beyond language, but something connected to but from the outside of language. Visions can mean a whole lot of things, but what kind of vision is this? It sounds naively referential at first glance, a reference to sense-data as some would say, a reference to a sense of movement or Idea that could be at the same time be seen as a writer’s Vision. Deleuze does not explain these terms, so what is there really to make of them? The important part is perhaps to realize that the writer seems to move as much inside language as outside, creating syntax with a coupling to Visions that are understood through the interstices of language. Where are these interstices? What are the intervals of language? Something mysterious is being referred to, and it can to my mind only be a brute experience of some kind, a sense for something as Deleuze would say. It’s not sense in the Fregean way, I do not think, nor the meaning of Husserl. “The writer as seer and hearer, the aim of literature: it is the passage of life within language that constitutes Ideas.” (ibid.) It seems to be a coupling here with sensual life and language, between life and its deep relation to language and literature. I fear it’s not so straight forward, but I have no way of getting around this ambiguity.

We sometimes congratulate writers, but they know that they are far from having achieved their becoming, far from having attained the limit they set for themselves, which ceaselessly slips away from them. To write is to become something other than a writer. . . . we see that, among all those who make books with a literary intent, even among the mad, there are very few who can call themselves writers.” (p. 6)

All these becomings lead us to an impersonal, still, a non-imposing singularity without identity. We are doomed to perception, to perceive and to be perceived, and to perceive ourselves as perceived. We are identified and distinguished in this, and we are made virtual and spiritual, we are removed from our vitality, our life, and we become Platonic Ideas (p. 26), as Deleuze puts it. A writer is concerned with becoming that is impersonal, that is impossible to congratulate, it is not possible to apprehend. There is an imperceptibility to us, that is us, that is our life, it seems:

When the character dies . . . it is because he has already begun to move in spirit. He is like a cork floating on a tempestuous ocean: he no longer moves, but is in an element that moves. Even the present has disappeared in its turn, in a void that no longer involves obscurity, in a becoming that no longer includes any conceivable change. The room has lost its partitions, and releases and atom into the luminous void, an impersonal yet singular atom that no longer has a Self by which it might distinguish itself from or merge with others. Becoming imperceptible is Life, “without cessation or condition” . . . attaining to a cosmic and spiritual lapping.” (ibid.)

Is Deleuze getting at an essence of existence here? One without perception, an attack on the Berkeleyean view that perception is essence. Is this imperceptibility immanent? Is this dark duration, this corkness in a moving element what constitutes our existence? Is this the ontology of Deleuze? The dark precursor, as he once put it. It seems like it. And it doesn’t seem transcendent, it seems to be immanent in that it is the perception of a non-perception. Is this not contradictory? We can say that “I do not see anything.” But is that to say that you see that you do not see anything? Language-confusions are arising very quickly at this point. At its core it seems to be a reference to something present before the clearcut perceptive qualities we impose on what appears in our experience.

To further go with this impersonality Deleuze says:

The ego has a tendency to identify itself with the world, but it is already dead, whereas the soul extends the thread of its living ‘sympathies’ and ‘antipathies.’ Stop thinking of yourself as an ego in order to live as a flow, a set of flows in relation with other flows, outside of oneself and within oneself. Even scarcity is a flow, even drying up, even death can become one.” (p. 51)

Symbolism is apparently related to this flow of the living, as well. The sexual and symbolic are the life of forces and flows. The soul is going through a process of flows continually, passively, as is highlighted likewise in the essay on Kant in the book. “The inalienable part of the soul appears when one has ceased to be an ego; it is this eminently flowing, vibrating, struggling part that has to be conquered.” (p. 52)

We remove the ego to be supplanted by the flows of pure life. Is this not a radical phenomenological reduction, if there ever was one? The flows of life is what constitutes the qualities of literature and knowledge alike, these are what truly in and of themselves are what directs all other activity. These flows are what lead to conjunctions and disjunctions between flows, thus for relations of life, relations between the flow of symbols and the flow of experiences, for instance, the flow of love and the experience of the loved. “Artifices matter little. But whenever a physical relation is translated into logical relations, a symbol into images, flows into segments, exchanged, cut up into subjects and objects, each for each other, we have to say that the world is dead, and that the collective soul is in turn enclosed in an ego, whether that of the people or a despot.” (ibid.)

So when I skirt the line of flows being connected, the symbolic act being connected to the experience-act, it is with extreme carefulness, so as to not confuse them in their forms, in their quality or matter, as Husserl would say in the Logical Investigations. But they do coincide, they are connected flows of experience, all immanent, with perhaps an arbitrary connectivity, but a connectivity nonetheless. This connectivity does not mean equivalence or necessary correspondence, but it means recognizing and not being discouraged by a great difference of acts of the mind and receptivity of the mind.

The connectivity is not natural, per se. In the essay on Whitman we find the notion of fragmentation, the world is a patchwork of heterogeneous parts, none of which belong together necessarily, none of which are same, none of which are totalizeable. Whitman, according to Deleuze, claims all the writer does is explicate the specimens, the examples, the samples, of their worlds. “Spontaneous fragments constitute the element through which, or in the intervals of which, we attain the great and carefully considered visions and sounds of both Nature and History.” (p. 60)

The essay on Heidegger and phenomenology pushes this fragmented aspect of being further. Deleuze goes beyond Husserl in making phenomena not something for a consciousness, thus intentional, but a world showing itself, “a world made up of remarkable singularities, or a world that shows itself.” (p. 92) It is a pure Being that arises in the phenomena, and it is self-evident, self-showing. “The Being of the phenomenon is the ‘epiphenomenon’, nonuseful and unconscious, the object of pataphysics. The epiphenomenon is the Being of the phenomenon, whereas the phenomenon is only a being, or life.” It is not Being, but the phenomenon that is perception – it perceives or is perceived – whereas Being is thinking. No doubt Being, or the epiphenomenon, is nothing other than the phenomenon, but it differs from it absolutely: it is the self-showing of the phenomenon.” (ibid.)

What do we make of this nonsense? Why is there an assumption of what Being is, underlying, or co-present with phenomenon? If Being is the self-showing of the phenomenon, is Being ever self-showed? Why is it assumed to be in play? A phenomenon shows itself, it is self-showing and it is exactly that, it is not mediated through a consciousness in the sense that we’d otherwise say, it is simply self-present, self-showing, self-evidently what it is and nothing more. “Metaphysics is the error that consists in treating the epiphenomenon as another phenomenon, another being, another life.” We are to think of it as nothing, a non-being, this Being in itself that is the self-showing. But why think of it at all? There is no way to make sense of, to me, something like: “withdrawing or turning away is the only manner by which it [Being] shows itself as Being, since it is only the self-showing of the phenomenon or beings.” (ibid.) How do we know it turns away, how do we know it withdraws itself? What does it even mean to refer to such a thing as Being? It is absolutely senseless, and that begs the question of why it is discussed by people like Heidegger and those that want to partake in his kind of discourse.

This pure immanence is something Deleuze gets back to in the portion on Platonism, making the strange Heidegger references somewhat pointless:

Every reaction against Platonism is a restoration of immanence in its full extension and in its purity, which forbids the return of any transcendence. The question is whether such a reaction abandons the project of a selection among rivals, or on the contrary, as Spinoza and Nietzsche believed, draws up completely different methods of selection. Such methods would no longer concern claims as acts of transcendence, but the manner in which an existing being is filled with immanence (the Eternal Return as the capacity of something or someone to return eternally). Selection no longer concerns the claim, but power: unlike the claim, power is modest. In truth, only the philosophies of pure immanence escape Platonism – from the Stoics to Spinoza or Nietzsche.” (p. 137)

This transcendence is the transcendence of judgment, putting the quality before the thing, before the experience, for instance. Having a transcendental sphere which is fulfilled by immanence, by immanent thing-experiences that only find their meaning in its relation to the transcendental judgment. This is the absolute enemy of all true and genuine philosophy, for Deleuze, and I think also, for me.

When Deleuze gets to Spinoza, things get awfully complex, but more lucid than normally. Signs are always effects, “the trace of one body upon another” (p. 138). We come into contact with these types of signs through sensations and perceptions, ideas. This sensual or perceptual contact with various states in duration are intensive, and move in gradients; differentiation comes from changing states, the movement from a preceding state to the current one, and so on. “These are passages, becomings, rises and falls, continuous variations of power that pass from one state to another. We will call them affects, strictly speaking, and no longer affections. They are signs of increase and decrease, signs that are vectorial (of the joy-sadness type) and no longer scalar like the affections, sensations or perceptions.” There is a difference between affections of bodies and affects on the duration, a change in the relation joy-sadness, hot-cold, more-less, and so on.

“Signs do not have objects as their direct referents.” (p. 141) Signs refer to signs, Deleuze says. Signs now in the sense of effects, effects in the sense of bodies interacting with bodies. Signs are again signs of bodies affecting other bodies. Is there room for language with its ordinary use here? What does it mean for epistemology? “We have knowledge of bodies only through the shadows they cast upon us, and it is through our own shadow that we know ourselves, ourselves and our bodies. Signs are effects of light in a space filled with things colliding with each other art random.” (ibid.) Does he mean this quite literally? A movement of things, a causality that always in current situation carries the sign of the preceding cause? The preceding casts a shadow on what follows from it, creating a sign. Do we find here a new type of causality as well, removed entirely from naivety and Humean skepticism? Bodies can only appear to us through their “casting of a shadow”, meaning the bodies as such are not what we experience. We experience affectations. This is right, it seems to me, but is it right to assume there is an object or body which casts a shadow? There is no Dark precursor, as Deleuze says as well, in Spinoza there is only light. It all is a matter of intensity, the degree of which we are affected by shadows.

Between signs and concepts lies an irreducible gap, Deleuze claims, an insurmountable distinction. The point is very fine, and hard to grasp for me. It all comes down to: “But insofar as concepts refer to concepts, or causes to causes, they follow what must be called an automatic chain, determined by the necessary order of relations or proportions, and by the determinate succession of their transformations and deformations.” (p. 143) What is this necessary order of relations? Relations involve all other relations, they are all immanent, the order of which varies with each relation, but relates to the rest nonetheless. That is the relation of all relations. The way we relate to various relations of bodies is through the passions, we come into agreement with a body, we find joy in our relation to a sign, it sparks or gives us a vitality, a life-force. Thus we come back to the notion of literature or signification as force, as joy and sadness, as power and weakness. This is the same idea explored in Proust and Signs, where we were as spiders in the web when dealing with language, a small touch in one way or another jolts us into action, into attempted discourse, into material cries.

Deleuze is a thinker that draws me in and puts me in a perpetual state of confusion. I follow a thought, then I am spun around and I land on my head; there is no way to make sense in such a state of spinning and nausea. I have no way of apprehending or even criticize a thinker like Deleuze in a consistent manner, I falter again and again in being critical, I am carried away by a great vital force, but don’t go all the way. I am left in the middle; inadequate. Funnily Deleuze ends with “The Exhausted”:

Being exhausted is much more than being tired. “It’s not just tiredness, I’m not just tired, in spite of the climb.” The tired person no longer has any (subjective possibility at his disposal; he therefore cannot realize the slightest (objective) possibility. . . . The exhausted person can no longer possibilize.” (p. 152)

I’m a perpetual failure. Exhausted at this point, philosophically, societally, without future. To keep writing even in misunderstanding, to further nonsense, to not kill it as it sprouts, that is contemptible. To attempt the again and again, to take up again and again the effort to do something, to produce, to become-machine. I use Deleuzian terminology without any grasp of its nuance. I talk shit. I produce shit. This writing is pure and rigidly pigshit, and not much else. Hopefully one day I can be done with it, I can’t make sense of anything as of yet.

Merleau-Ponty’s Primacy of Perception, a short commentary on a short essay

Merleau-Ponty was one of the earliest philosophers I found tried to get at the core of the history of metaphysical problems philosophy have dealt with. He didn’t fully get into either the postmodern French school of thought proper – although I believe he was part of its foundation – nor the analytic tradition of going fully into language philosophy. In general I think Merleau-Ponty could be described as an incredible moderate, he never quite falls into transcendentalism nor pure immanence as Deleuze, for instance, did. He had a clear guide, and this guide was perception, as our true interaction with being and existence, as in itself a showcasing of existence and being. Perception is always “in the world”, it is part of the world, it is the world. Thus, as human beings, perception becomes primary.

“The perceived world is always the presupposed foundation of all rationality, all value and all existence. This thesis does not destroy either rationality or the absolute. It only tries to bring them down to earth.” (p. 13)

There are endless complications within perception, however. Object-synthesis is a huge problem, as it was in Husserl, it is again in Merleau-Ponty. When we see one perspective of an object, the others become dormant. What is this mechanism, what is our relation to the unseen? Since they can be apprehended again, and experienced fully, they are not as such mere representations. Perhaps we can see them as such if we imagine them, but then they are imaginations, not experience, thus not objects in the world. This is a distinction Husserl was less worried about, but that Merleau-Ponty gave a lot of time to. The unseen side is exactly what it is, as we experience it, it is in our vicinity, it is in the horizon, it is in the moving of the lamp, the turning of the cube, etc. (p. 14) Our interaction with objects unseen is entirely practical, it is present in a sense that is more or less immediate (maybe that makes it not immediate, but close enough). This unseen is apprehended through a setting, an environment.

Something very interesting is said on page 15:

We observe at once that it is impossible, as has often been said, to decompose a perception, to make it into a collection of sensations, because in it the whole is prior to the parts – and this whole is not an ideal whole. The meaning which I ultimately discover is not of the conceptual order. If it were a concept, the question would be how I can recognize it in the sense data, and it would be necessary for me to interpose between the concept and the sense data certain intermediaries, and then other intermediaries between these intermediaries, and so on. It is necessary that meaning and signs, the form and matter of perception, be related from the beginning and that, as we say, the matter of perception be ‘pregnant with its form.’”

Can we make sense of this? Is there truth in it? Merleau-Ponty certainly gives way to the whole many times, to a kind of holism. A perception cannot be reduced to its sense data, since there is not necessarily something that lets us recognize in the silent sense data something conceptual or linguistic. It is very often the case when we look at items that they are recognized immediately as their setting, as their different modes immediately available. But how is such an availability of the object built up in the first place? Why could this not be a gradual process founded in the sense data? Or in the experiences of perspectival part-objects. We learn of a setting through experience, right? Is Merleau-Ponty trying to refer to something more mysterious here? Or he simply referring to the atomistic aspect of perception? That we cannot decompose a perception simply means that we cannot reduce it, it is immediately exactly whole and what it is. To decompose would be to go outside of experience, thus to no longer be faithful to its primacy.

I believe he is simply saying that the synthesis of perspectives that make up the setting of objects in the world is a passive synthesis. “What prohibits me from treating my perception as an intellectual act is that an intellectual act would grasp the object either as possible or as necessary. But in perception it is ‘real’; it is given as the infinite sum of an indefinite series of perspectival views in each of which the object is given but in none of which is it given exhaustively.” (p. 15) There is no completion of the object, thusly, and no objectivity in a true sense. There are only modes of an object, a directedness and its variations, perspectives on a point, a delimited object. And it cannot be intellectual, because it is immediate, and it is not grasping at the object itself as a real relation of the world. This is in part my conjecture.

This strictness of perception means that there cannot be such a thing as a thing in itself. It makes absolutely no sense for us to think it. “If I attempt to imagine some place in the world which has never been seen, the very fact that I imagine it makes me present at that place, I thus cannot conceive a perceptible place in which I am not myself present.” (p. 16)

So we are in some sense aware of the paradox of perception, as Merleau-Ponty calls it, that here is both an immanent aspect of it, and a transcendental aspect, objects appear and disappear, but we cannot necessarily say that the transcendental aspect doesn’t exist, since it is possible to re-apprehend it.

The world, then, becomes the “totality of perceptible things and the thing of all things, must be understood not as an object in the sense the mathematician or the physicist gives to this word – that is, a kind of unified law which would cover all the partial phenomena or as a fundamental relation verifiable in all – but as the universal style of all possible perceptions.” (ibid.)

If we follow this, we are finding that our worlds and thus our sensations become private in their most genuine form. How does our perceptions relate to other people’s perceptions? “If I treat them [perceptions] as acts of the intellect, if perception is an inspection of the mind, and the perceived object an idea, then you and I are talking about the same world, and we have the right to communicate among ourselves because the world has become an ideal existence and is the same for all of us – just like Pythagorean theorem.” (p. 17)

He continues:

“But neither of these two formulas accounts for our experience.” And this might just be a collection of quotes for a while.

“I will never know how you see red,” he says, “and you will never know how I see it; but this separation of consciousness is recognized only after a failure of communication, and our first movement is to believe in an undivided being between us.”

For this to work, Merleau-Ponty claims it is vital for us to see others as another “myself”, as another being whose world is available to us in the same way our world is available to them. “I espouse my thoughts because this other, born in the midst of my phenomena, appropriates them and treats them in accord with typical behaviors which I myself have experienced.” This is what constitutes the perceived world inhabited by intersubjective beings. We see ourselves in others, as they do in us. Our behavior is similar enough for recognition and ability to grasp the thought and directionality of objects that lead us to having practical and functional communication. This is a very pragmatic viewpoint, only it operates without neglecting the whole sphere of experience that people like Rorty sometimes do. The failure to communicate an experience is a failure in communication, not in the truthfulness of what is experienced. If two people are unable to experience the same truth, though, what do we make of such a situation? Is that simply due to an irreducible difference of perspectives or perhaps of physiology? Merleau-Ponty does not go into this in the current book. We confer on objects a new dimension, the dimension of intersubjectivity. These are “the elements of a description of the perceived world” (p. 18).

Another important aspect comes from the relationship between the notion of unreflected and reflected experience or thought. It seems closely related to intellectual and perceptual consciousness, it would be a different way of wording it. “It is true that we discover the unreflected. But the unreflected we go back to is not that which is prior to philosophy or prior to reflection. It is the unreflected which is understood and conquered by reflection. Left to itself, perception forgets itself and is ignorant of its own accomplishments.”(p. 19) This is the simple relationship of the reflected and unreflected, at the core level, they do not oppose each other, but the reflection is simply a directness towards the unreflected, as it always is in its pointedness towards the world. However that’s also in part my conjecture and completion of a thought solely for my own sake. Merleau-Ponty simply wants to point to the origins of reflection, which in genuine knowledge always lie in the perceptive acts and the unreflected aspects of our experience. The reflection serve mostly to add things to this experience and make it into something intersubjectively or subjectively knowable.

This reflection ultimately finds a cogito, a self, a self which Merleau-Ponty describes as: ”I am a thought which recaptures itself as already possessing an ideal of truth (which it cannot at at each moment wholly account for) and which is the horizon of its operations.” This self is in a constant progress of working itself out, it is not truly in touch with a truth, immediately, it creates it. The self feels itself as a thinking entity, it notices itself in its acts.

Such is the basic outline of the phenomenology of perception. There is much more depth to this idea, that shall be explored once more in the future, surely, if it comes.

Hope in place of Knowledge?

Another pragmatist book by Rorty. Truth becomes replaced by descriptions and warranted assertibility. It is justification which leads us in thought, because there is no final way to become satisfied, no way to end discussions and arguments, no way to finally prove the correspondence between knowledge and nature, or whatever else. It is difficult to disagree with this, because when we do study representationalism and correspondence theories and verificationist theories, there are always quite severe problems.

There are many ways to come to a pragmatist conclusion. One would be simply through defining truth, like Davidson seems to do, through its way of coming about. Truth is the process of coming to a true statement in regards to something. In that way, truth is always in the process. The process is more or less made up of justification. To replace truth with justification is to in a way make philosophy wholly atheistic, and do remove any notion of essentiality, which is another aspect to Rorty’s book. There is no essence in the world we can come across that cuts through the limitations of mankind in relation to a thoughtless universe. Instead there are people justifying things in a free democratic society, with only each other as judges, no Gods, no Nature, no correspondence to and fro man and object, or subject and object.

In a way there is a monism underlying this as well, buttressed entirely by intersubjectivity. The ridiculousness of pragmatism, in the way presented by Rorty, is that we have no way of knowing what it is that makes up justification, or what in us determined thinking a statement is justified or not. What exactly is there to guide us in this endeavor, if we have nowhere to look for security? What assumptions operate under this philosophy? An object’s variability between people does not matter to a pragmatist, since the description of it will be what guides our relation to it. We suspend the will to know it in itself. It seems to prop itself up on intuition, though, the intuitive way we relate to objects in our shared space. Knowledge of an objects is knowledge of what can be done with it, what kind of tool it can be, how it can be described, what kind of manipulations it allows for; all this is what Rorty calls relational. Our way of talking about objects is not truth-based or relating to a Nature in itself, or an Absolute way that thing are, but is simply talk about our way of relating to it and our ways of using those objects. Likewise, our talk of the objects is teleological in kind, it’s done with a specific purpose or function in mind. “I want food” is not some kind of attempt to describe the physicality of hunger, it is simply the description of a certain wish. Obviously the example is in some way slanted.

If we were to make a final justification our goal, a Rortyan pragmatism would end up calling it useless and hopeless. Mostly on the ground of past failures. It seems like Rorty is looking for some kind of happiness outside of the bitterness that philosophy harbors against the failures of epistemology. This same bitterness is what Rorty thinks fuels the fight against pragmatism. Perhaps a good way to turn pragmatism on itself is to look for its justifications. When Rorty uses pragmatism as a way to get away from epistemology, he doesn’t as such solve anything, he simply devolves to quietism, in a beautiful way, but nonetheless in a dissatisfying manner. Is happiness an automatically justifiable endeavor? Why not remain in the torture of an epistemological attitude? What justifies the absolute freedom of justifiable statements?

Objectivity was described as the ease of which somebody can agree to something, or the degree of agreeability of something. That which has a lesser degree is more subjective, that which has a higher degree of objectivity holds a higher chance of being accepted universally, or at least with more ease. But is objectivity even an ideal for a pragmatist? Is science something to hold dear in this pragmatist sense, where all it does is create a way of walking, unveil ways of using things, and a method of justification. Justification does not seem detached from epistemology, it seems the same problems remain, with the sole difference being that useless terms like “truth” have been curtailed.

What is it that we should hope for in the future? What is this “happiness”? Is it material contentness we are speaking of? Intellectual satisfaction? Pragmatism again operates through some kind of pleasure principle. I really don’t quite understand what fuels it. Does this reflect poorly on the state of my mental health? Or is it simply not a good justification for a move to hope, where certainty and knowledge become jettisoned?

The hope for the future is indeed a hope to gain tools where we can approach the inapproachability of certain off-limit aspects of reality. This hope is put on science, I imagine, since it is the only methodical approach that seems to attempt knowledge of a non-human kind, an entirely machinic-objective approach. An approach that claims to unveil the reality of nature itself. But what is the point in hoping for such a future, and not participating in it actively, alongside science, if need be, but in reality simply through an epistemology? Why shut down the enterprise? Who do we leave it to? I don’t understand the usefulness of hope.

But I think it’s easy to agree with the pragmatist denial of essences of certain kinds. Pragmatism seem to stand for an openness to a changing variety of justifications, or a becoming. It moves along with the new. It denies the Greek notions of a human essence (p. 39) and leaves humanity indefinite, always “improving”, developing, gaining more and more pleasure, happiness, freedom, and whatever other value is highlighted and held as important in pragmatism.

A thing I really agree with however is the notion that there is no essence, as should be clear. Our relational way of being in the world without any necessary way of telling which relation is “correct” or the most true makes it so that relationality is something characterized by a great amount of freedom. That which we know of objects is made up of our descriptions of them. This relationality itself is infinite, says Rorty, but to say “indefinite” would be more accurate in this sense, since we know nothing of infinitude, we know only a limitlessness. In this sense I do not think Rorty’s attempt to appeal to numbers in showing how nonessentialist thinking works, since all you have to do is ask the essentialist “where is the essence, and what constitutes it?” You will find their answer is never going to be satisfactory, since it will be entirely arbitrary without any sliver of self-awareness, thus not justified, thus not necessarily true in any conceivable sense, either, if we are to remain in that mindset.

Relationism is not simply descriptive, in my mind, but it holds true for an empirical or phenomenological approach as well. That all experiential relationships are at their core non-hierarchical, they are all immanent and to some extent differ perhaps mostly in how much they can inform what is said about the object, or inform the descriptive statements. This is something lacking in Rorty, which I am not sure I like.

Because we have to ask ourselves, what does a relational description refer to? It surely is referential, so what is referred to here? Is each relation not an essence, as it is in Husserl? This kind of essence would then what a description refers to. But this is not an essence in the sense of being the one true essence of an object, but simply the essence of a descriptive act, the foundation of a descriptive statement. It is simply the grounding of a description in something other than itself, in something other than the syntactical structure, it is grounded by its linkage to an essential relation betwen word and experience. Without this I would say a description is senseless, but it still maintains the democratic and non-hierarchical view of knowledge or relations that Rorty seems to value.

If we want to explore the world, or explore the way we explore the world, what does pragmatism suggest? Science is one description among many, it seems, according to Rorty. But how do we explain our descriptive behavior? How do we explore what constitutes a referential act, and so on? What would pragmatism allow for? Everything? Everything is open in the war of ideas, and they will live and die in that war, through some kind of historical dialecticism. I have no way of navigating this kind of space.

“We seem to have become more than human, to have distanced ourselves from our own humanity and viewed ourselves from nowhere.” (p. 49)

This is a very important aspect, in this case in regards to psycho-physical explanations of the world. We should always be wary of describing the world from outside of our own human groundedness and our needs. I mostly stand for such a statement in an epistemological sense, that we are never not human, our concepts are never devoid of a body, etc. We are always human, no matter how much we try to think the inhuman. What “human” in this sense means to me simply the experiencing entity we can see ourselves as, the way things appear to us, and how we interact with things with a particular directness and relationality. This is very important to realize, and to not lose track of in the psycho-physical scientific world explanations. All our scientific concepts are constructions, a constructivist social order.

“Is this description useful to show whether or not something is true?” could be the pragmatic epistemological questions. “Is this useful if we want to know this object?” In a way that is already how anyone interested in these questions operate, we’d spot it right away if something was not fruitful. But does “truth” have utility in itself? For philosophers like Descartes it was the starting point for a whole geometrical edifice, a ground from certainty that could build almost anything, in a mathematical manner, a move from axiom to elaborate proofs, and so on. Is this not still possible? Have we absolutely forsaken this notion? Obviously there is no need to follow in the footsteps of mathematics, but would it not be possible to build proofs based on core truth-concepts. If there is a truth such that “when we see X we say ‘Z’”, is that not something we could work with? A solid knowledge of a predictable behavior. Or are we to skeptically approach this as well? Could there really be an axiomatic theory of truth with appeal to the self-evident? Whatever it could be it would be subject to the same pragmatist view of justification-based discourse, and I don’t see that as necessarily a problem, it simply displaces the goal of philosophy, a goal I don’t think is actually active in the mind of anyone doing philosophy, since all philosophy involves itself with is textual analysis and argumentation, even when it exlaims to unveil truth, the former is its actual societal act.

Pragmatism does seem to be liberating to a large extent, however, especially the therapeutic kind that Rorty posits, but it seems equally a simple acceptance of failure, or an attempt to avoid hardship for the sake of comfort or happiness. Perhaps it is strange to want to remain in a state of discomfort or intellectual torture, but it seems more interesting to stumble and fail than to accept a non-satisfying arbitrary set of descriptions and justifications based on nothing but the propositions that constitute them. Pragmatism doesn’t do enough for me, but that is not to say that it couldn’t. I suppose we shall see, but not yet.

Derrida’s “The Problem of Genesis in Husserl’s Philosophy,” a weak commentary by (me)

Attempting to deal with Derrida is an arduous task. Despite his clear direction at times, his expressions delve into, or at least very close to, nonsense, or contradictions inherent to language, but where you need to make up for it with his particular sense. To properly make something out of Derrida, I imagine it’s best to do as much as possible with the moments of clarity.

Derrida’s earliest major piece regards Husserl’s philosophy, in particular the problem of Genesis. Husserl’s major claim is that he wants to restart philosophy with a proper ground, a new beginning based on the self-evidence of the phenomenologically reduced experience. This was to be the start of philosophy and a more so a start for a philosophically informed science. Derrida understood this notion very well, and as with many good philosophers, they used the starting point of another philosopher to overthrow that very philosopher. I believe Derrida did just that, he radicalized Husserl, and made the acts of the Husserlian philosophy into what they truly were. Husserl never did put an emphasize of what it meant for an act to be descriptive, and how it would truly work in regards to what it is he tried to describe, and all the difficulties that would arise in such an endeavor, and much worse, the infinitude of such an endeavor. These are among other things what Derrida elucidates in his preface to The Problem of Genesis in Husserl’s Philosophy. “How can philosophy, if it is engendered by something other than itself, lay claim to an originary autonomy?”, he asks. How does philosophy look outside of itself to create itself? Of course there are answers we could give based on a study of Husserl, but for a moment let’s suspend these thoughts to see what Derrida is attempting to do.

I sense many misconceptions of Husserl in the way Derrida writes, unfortunately. At least they are misconceptions to my mind. In the preface again, Derrida speaks naively of being, and having the originary philosophy reveal being, which is never really the case in Husserl. What is presented in Husserl is never anything metaphysical, to my mind, or from what I know of Husserl, but it is simply what it is, in its self-evident nature. What we do with it beyond that point is all subject to bracketing, which is something Derrida also writes, but still uses words like “reality” and “being” with a fair amount of liberty. The same goes with “dialectic”, which seem to have little meaning in regards to Husserl, since there is no dialectical process going on in Husserl’s philosophy. Derrida is clearly coming at Husserl from a very strange angle. But Derrida conjures dialectics through the following relationship, “it unites in one single act the originary transcendental subjectivity and the transcendent ‘sense of being’ that it constitutes, with, on the other hand, that absolute which is of a piece with every originarity.” So in reality it seems more like we are talking about a synthesis, ignoring what it is he says in its content and just looking at the conjunction. First of all, how does the transcendental subjectivity constitute a sense of being? What could this possibly be mean? In Husserl we do not need a sense of being to know what is being presented to us, but if we have to call something “being”, it would be this very transcendental subjectivity of Husserl, if we are to follow phenomenological traditional thinking. I cannot give a sense to “that absolute which is of a piece with every originarity”, however, unless he simply means that every originary sense of being, that is every experience of the egological kind (that is experience of the self, in the reduced sense of late Husserl), is absolute in the sense that it is independent and self-sufficient. But in Husserl there is no difference between the former and the latter of this supposed “dialectic”, so what guides Derrida in saying this? Again, I have a sneaking suspicion that Derrida is confused about something, and it is turning me off to this whole project.

Again, further difficulties arise with the next line (p. xxix in the preface):

In a word, the question we will put to Husserl could become the following: Is it possible to ground, in its ontological possibility and (at the same time) in its sense, an absolute dialectic of dialectic and nondialectic? In this dialectic, philosophy and being would blend together the one in the other, without definitively alienating themselves one in the other.

First of all, what is absolute in dialectical relationships? Secondly, Husserl never tried to ground anything ontologically. To think being is to no longer think phenomenology, I would say, at least not in accordance with Husserl. So what makes this a good question to “put to Husserl”? Derrida is thus far quite upsetting to read.

Derrida still attempts to criticize the Husserlian doctrine, but it seems he is basing them mostly on misunderstandings:

For example, in order to be totally intelligible, the transcendental reduction, reversal, and recommencement of the naive attitude must cancel or remove from its effective existence the whole history that has made its way toward it; the transcendental reduction, to live up to its phenomenological value, to appear to itself as the act of a transcendental freedom, must suspend everything which could have seemed to have “motivated” it. But the paradox is that in order to be intelligible in its very “demotivation” and to give itself as intentional originarity, it is, in its very actuality, reduction “of” something which was and still is effectively “already there.”

So the problem with this is a fundamental misunderstanding of Husserl, and the reasons will be laid out. Obviously it is hard to cut through the density of Derrida’s writing, but if you know Husserl, things appear somewhat clearer. Basically what is said here is that Husserl, in his attempt to remove “improper” claims to knowledge, reduced knowledge-claims to their essences, which would be the direct experience, subjective experience, this is all that could be seen as self-evident and thus proper knowledge. When Derrida thinks he is making anyone stumble in his reference to a preceding world in which the phenomenological reduction, in reality he is just showcasing his poor understanding of the Husserlian philosophy’s goal. The goal is not to ground existence or reality, Husserl does not say things such as “phenomenology is the study of being as it is in itself,” as far as I can remember, but this is what an argument that Derrida is taking issue with would sound like. Husserl does the opposite, in fact, and there is not “dialectic” between existence and non-existence, positive experience and negation of those experiences, or whatever else. What is at stake in Husserl is PROPER knowledge, justified knowledge, knowledge of the kind we can hold for certain. So when Husserl performs a phenomenological reduction, he does not suspend his belief in a preceding world, he suspends the preceding world’s philosophizing claim to hold proper and genuine knowledge. To not understand this nuance of Husserl is to not understand him at all, in my mind. I hope for my own sake that this is not something which Derrida continues to hold on to, or maybe, even more likely, that I am misunderstanding Derrida. It just seems to me that Derrida is under the impression that originarity has to do with metaphysical or some kind of origin of a natural kind. It is solely and entirely the origin for genuine knowledge that is in question here.

Further on he goes: “the genetic interpretation of Husserl’s thought which would attach itself only to the creative or ‘radical’ aspect of genesis would disperse it in an infinite multiplicity of absolute beginnings that are neither temporal nor atemporal nor historical nor suprahistorical. This interpretation suppresses what every genesis constantly implies and what it refers to as to one of its foundations: the essential rootedness in the continuity of being, in time, in the world.” (p. xxxii) For something to be neither temporal nor atemporal is a simple logical error, something Derrida partakes in often. It’s an attack on the notion of bivalence without justification. Going further into it, what would it mean for the beginning to be an infinite multiplicity? Clearly there is no such beginning in Husserl, since the beginning does not come from the phenomenological reduction itself, but the decision to perform it and view life through a phenomenological lens. The best criticism of such a position would be that there is no phenomenological experience that constitutes the beginning, and it would be correct, but this is not exactly what Derrida is saying here. Derrida is, it seems, claiming that each phenomenological experience is of their own a beginning, an originary experience of being (which is nonsensical, as has been explained already). In this sense there would be an infinite multiplicity of beginnings, but the beginning is in reality One, and it is the directionality towards the phenomenological description as a mode of thought, as an intentional object, as a descriptive task to be performed. Still there is an adherence in Derrida to something more metaphysical, without properly being warranted or justified. It is unfortunately unclear whether or not Derrida is describing a misconception of Husserl or if he is partaking in one, since it seems when he explains the issues with how others interpret Husserl and when he himself takes a position, they both falter in some fundamental way, only Derrida with a bit more subtlety. Derrida speaks of a antepredicative world, and this is where the notion of origin arises within. This is something Husserl is aware of, he clearly writes about the prepredicative world, but this world has no value to a search for knowledge, which still is the intention of Husserl, not to ground us metaphysically in the pre-predicative. There is no antepredicative notion that is not predicative, that is the problem with this kind of talk in itself. It’s in itself a contradiction to speak of the silent world, to some extent, unless you first build a proper system of reference, the possibility of which is highly uncertain.

Derrida’s search for a Husserl to follow, and his expressing that it is very difficult to synthesize Husserl, since a lot of what he does seem to change. But even in this effort, I am unclear on where it is Husserl changes so radically that he cannot be synthesized more or less with ease, nor why it is necessary to do so. Husserl does not necessarily need to be reduced to an origin, or one system, however. We can either agree with certain notions of his or we can dismiss them. There is no sense in holding a thinker together in this sense, I say this even knowing that I have the tendency to do so. In Husserl’s case it takes a different kind of genius to keep all the nuance in mind to be able to clearly differentiate the different Husserls. In my mind the directionality of Husserl is clear, and very consistent, in the same way Deleuze is, in that they express the same notion throughout their life with very few nuances, but mostly with the same directionality. What changes is the various applications and implementations of their system of thought, and what different concepts that can be created through this initial directionality.

This will be another work of pure repetition on my end, since I will belabor endlessly about the fact that knowledge and existence are two separate categories of thought. Epistemology and metaphysics are not the same. “But the attempts [the attempts at phenomenological reductions] are unfaithful to him to the degree that these reductions end in a pure and simple expelling of existence, in the methodological destruction of empirical facticity.” (p. xxxviii) Again, I have to question this, since in Husserl there is never, that I know of, an attempt to grasp existence as such. There is never talk of existence, there is talk about presentations and what can be known, about self-evident qualities, about experience, egology, etc. There are no metaphysical determinations in Husserl’s philosophy, because his goal is epistemological, he wants to know. So there is nothing unfaithful to Husserl in expelling the notion of existence, the opposite is in fact true. While we can invoke the notion of existence like Derrida does, in the sense that no originary sense of phenomenology can be thought in any other way as existing, I would say the interesting thing about Husserl is that this is a superfluous movement. In reality, we cannot deny the existence of that which presents itself to us as self-evidently there, making any determination of existence purely formal and dependent on that which fills up this concept. All those things which we put into existence are things apprehended through experience, they are one and the same, at least in the Husserl of the Logical Investigations. “All that exists can be experienced,” is the phrase, I believe. It denotes the epistemological notion of existence as that which is available to us and knowable by us, as opposed to the antepredicative brute world that Husserl is clearly aware of, but not interested in.

Surely these naive misunderstandings cannot really be ascribed to Derrida. His research of Husserl is chronological, to an extent, and every change is described on a historical level, in a way, the move from the “disappointed mathematician” to the transcendental egologist.

If we really get down to it, what is meant by Derrida’s “Genesis”? Because so far I’ve made ungrounded assumptions of what it is Derrida means. The Genesis is used in a more concrete sense than I first imagined it, as I keep on reading. It’s not only the genesis for knowledge or a genesis into the world as such, the latter of which is the naive position I’ve been criticizing. There is no One genesis in this book. There is a genesis of concepts, one for intentionality, one for synthesis and unity of the multiplicity. But I still can’t make sense of what it is Derrida means by the term “genesis”, or why it is problematic in Husserl’s philosophy.

Derrida nonetheless goes through Husserl’s philosophy in a competent way, he shows the crucial relationship between concrete and abstract, particular and general; importantly that there cannot be a generalization without a set of particulars. This is of note because our use of abstractions can only have a sense with its relation to a set of particulars with similarity. Concepts, as intentionality, is always about something, even the abstract concepts: they are related to their concrete multiplicities, and serve as a kind of totality of them. Of course this is quite easily attacked, Merleau-Ponty for example argued against this quite effectively, and showed that there was in fact no such thing as a general “red”, only the redness of each object we perceive as red. The redness of our jacket, the redness of that car, etc. This may be true in general, that there is no red that is not particular, but there is something going on that allows us to identify redness, and that, I think, is what Husserl elucidates with his notions on generality and its relation to the particulars. So in that sense you could easily fault the more direct notion of particularity in that it makes it impossible to direct the assent or dissent of redness unless you had some kind of identifier of that quality. The identifier could perhaps be a comparison with past particularities, but clearly this is not what we do when we recognize a quality, we do not play past experiences in our mind and compare the current one to them, it is more immediate and readily accessible. Of course there is room for more arguments here, but this text might have more to do with Derrida’s Husserl. Let’s see if we can do something with this.

Derrida chronicles the movement of Husserl quite well. How intentionality goes from being psychical to being phenomenological, the problems that lead up to Husserl making that development. Intentionality must be that which is originary for objects to arise, if we are to properly understand what it is that gets created. Totalities appear already as identifiers of a multiplicity of phenomenological experiences, they all refer to and link back to one intentional object. This is one important aspect of Husserl’s phenomenology you have to bear in mind, that objects are not immediate, but always implied to some extent.

In the Logical Investigations Derrida tells us, which is also clear from volume 1, that Husserl breaks off from the psychologism of The Philosophy of Arithmetic to replace it with Logicism, with a logical normative science. A science of sciences, that which orders and sees over other sciences, that which tries to unite them and provide a sort of completed picture of things. Derrida does not mention another important aspect of this work, however, which is the notion that before any science of whatever kind, there is already a logical order of things at work. This is what prevents psychology from being a proper science to Husserl, because before any of their descriptions, we already have the logical-phenomenological experiences to deal with. To say that we are a subject experiencing the world is to go one step beyond – a disingenuous step – what we naturally experience and logically apprehend. Before there is a subject, there is experience and logic, and that which determines subjectivity is already existing, logic, and thus phenomenology later on, predates any science of the subject. Psychology gets things backwards, you could say, in this sense, according to Husserl.

Derrida does provide some new information to me, since I have not been able to get all the texts of Husserl yet, which I appreciate. Husserl’s writing on time, for instance, is something I have not studied. But, which is beautiful, Derrida’s account of Husserl’s notion of time is very much in line with Husserl in general. That is truly the beauty of a consistent thinker. Again, all transcendental notions, like objective time, are suspended and made pointless, subsided by the rigidity of a concrete lived time, a subjective time. “It is not clear how an originarily atemporal experience, identical to itself in an absolute and flawless present, can afterward receive a temporal determination from the outside.” (p. 59)

The future and past would further, in Derrida’s account of Husserl’s account, be hopelessly confused, in that the future and past would both be based on imagined scenarios, where a sign of the past would be a sign of a past event and non-accessible existence, and the future would be a baseless projection. It is only the present which cannot be imagined or construed falsely, at least no in the sense that the future and the past can be. We have to identify the degree of confusion that could be ascribed to each temporal direction (ibid.). It is unclear if the present truly is as straight forward as we think it is, as Donald Davidson it was not, we could easily be mistaken in perceptive matters (of the present).

The ‘eidos’ of lived time is itself temporal, constituted in a temporality. It appears static only if it is uncoupled from the temporality where it is founded.” (p. 60) Here Derrida prematurely appeals to the noema-noesis relationship, where time is seen as noematic as related to a noetic experience. This basically means that time apprehends something statically as a noema, as constituted object, through the noesis, the constituting conscious act.

At first I was worried about Derrida’s ascribing ontological traits to Husserl’s philosophy, but as I go through the writings of Derrida, more and more signs arise that Derrida actually does ascribe a lot of ontology to what Husserl does. “Are not the empirical or ontological geneses both essentially implied in the analyses of lived experience?” (p. 61) Is this for pedagogical purposes? Or does it imply Derrida thinks they should intuitively be considered both implicative in experience? In either case it’s ridiculous to claim to know what somebody means in this sense, especially with someone like Derrida, so perhaps there is no real point in this exercise.

There are so many things Derrida says that you could break down with a simply “why is that?” I am not sure at all what justifies many of his statements. But some statements hold up as justified through Husserl: “Subjectivity is time that itself is temporalizing itself. Time is subjectivity fulfilling itself as subjectivity.” (p. 66) This denotes the freedom and acts that constitute our notions of time in the concrete sense.

Quickly things fall back into demands for ontological grounds, however: “In order for the immanent consciousness of time not to be a subjectivist illusion, in order for the essence of time not to be a concept, for them both to be consciousness and essence of an actual time, they must be linked by an originary synthesis to time and to being constituted a priori.” (p. 69) Why is this? What does Derrida here mean by “essence of an actual time”? And what is it to link consciousness and ‘actual time’? Is not what Husserl tries to do to avoid this notion of ‘actual time’ for something more solid? I will have to acquire this book and research this myself, but it seems very un-Husserl-like to talk of things like ‘actual time’. Actual in this sense seem to denote that real substrate that underlies our subjective illusions or appearances, something that Husserl, to my knowledge, always opposed. Have I missed something crucial in Husserl, or is Derrida adding these requirements of his own will? Transcendentality in Husserl never seemed to take this form, in my mind, the discussions of transcendental egos and such are never put as something that is not immanent expressly. I have a hard time understanding where Derrida is coming from.

He seems to still want to fault Husserl for a psychologism, even in the Ideas, when bracketing and the epoché really starts to form. But when Husserl writes:

Because the reader already knows that the interest that dominates these meditations regard a new eidetics, he surely should expect that the world as a fact is struck by the disconnect, but by no means the world as eidos, likewise neither any of the spheres of essences. The disconnection of the world does not mean for example that the series of numbers and the arithmetic that adheres to this is disconnected. This road we however do not fall in line with, neither in this direction is our goal, that we could also characterize as to win a new, in its uniqueness heretofore never delimited sphere of being, which in likeness with each genuine region constitutes a region of individual being.

Derrida takes this to mean that Husserl is still within a mindset that consciousness is still consciousness within a natural world, thus an empirical psychology. But if the world that we use in epistemological purposes is eidetic, thus reduced to the experiences of consciousness, not in a world, but a consciousness as constituting the experienceable world, as the world reduced to the assemblage of experiences, how is this so? What idea of the world is Derrida using here to make Husserl seem to perform a relation between consciousness and world? Because clearly, if you read carefully in Husserl, the “sphere of being” has strange implications, but is secondary, if not tertiary or even completely irrelevant, to the notion of reduction of natural attitudes in favor of a phenomenological analysis of consciousness.

The problem Derrida finds in Husserl is the same problem I seem to find in him, the pedagogical efforts. Husserl’s genesis in the relation between a natural world and a reduced phenomenological description of experience, is simply there to carry with him the people still stuck within the natural attitude. There is no “beginning” in the natural world, as such, it is a reference to an attitude of human beings, a naivety, etc. This needs to be understood, and should be clear from Husserl’s writing, since never does he speak of the natural world as being originary, it is simply there as that which we in attempting to genuinely ground knowledge, have to no longer utilize. It is not a negation, there is no dialectic involved, there is simply a reference to an attitude that needs to be cut away, reduced, delimited, delineated and so on.

Derrida must understand this to some extent, so it is unsure if he is confused or simply moves along a line of progressive understanding in a chronological reading of Husserl. He shows signs of understanding when he says: “The noematic objectivity replaces real objectivity. In the same way, the time of the world, which is harmonized with immanent time through the intermediary of ‘temporal objectivities,’ is not real time but noematic time originarily in correlation with a noetic time.” (p. 79)

But could what is a nonintentionality be only a product? That’s impossible, and in contradiction with the fundamental principles of phenomenology?” Noetic experience is direct and actual, it is also the most genuine and full experience you can have. It is immediate, whereas the intentional objects that arise out of these sections of real immediate experience are secondary and products of this first hand experience. This is the fundamental principle of phenomenology as Husserl has developed it from the Logical Investiations. Derrida is once again showing some kind of confusion in his attempt to criticize Husserl. The distinction between noema and noesis is not clear, by any means, but it is clear enough to avoid this misguided question. “What is going to be the status of the moments of lived experience which are ‘real’ but not intentional? Where, when, and through what will they be constituted?” (p. 86) Do they need constitution? Is this not a misguided question? Why do we need to look for an origin or genesis? The question is irrelevant for phenomenology, but it could nonetheless be answered through phenomenology. To look for the origin phenomenologically would be to look for the moment where actual direct experience first arise, and it would be to finally close the circle of phenomenology, but it is entirely unnecessary, since the goal is not a genesis, but a secure ground for knowledge. Even if it might be true that we are subjects within a material world, whose experience is explainable through scientific descriptions and explanations, it would do nothing to reduce phenomenological experience. Husserl’s decision to attach himself to these notions are again their self-evident nature, and their genuine presentation to us, their automatic presentation, their innate and incorrigible appearance. To look for their origin is to assume there is something constituting the immediate experience. There might very well be such a constituting event, but it would be ridiculous to assume it is something we can know before the deepest of studies of it, and it would be premature to assume it does anything to weaken phenomenology.

This is the first argument that I found truly compelling from Derrida, though, and that does serve as a proper problem. The question is not too out of line, “What is it that constitutes immediate experience?” But is this not a question that would be scientific in nature? “What is the origin of the universe?” and so on. If we put this question at the forefront of philosophical research or epistemological efforts, we have already lost our ability to create a method. And perhaps this is Derrida’s ultimate goal. But to ask the question without the possibility of answering it, without a method of which to use to understand the meaning of such a question, is senseless. The core of Husserl’s philosophy lies in this: whether it is constituted or not, whether it stems from a consciousness as seen by psychology or neurobiology, whether it is a consciousness given to us by God (obviously I do not believe this), it is irrelevant, because what is presented to us is there in its full form regardless of what traits we happen to ascribe to it. Derrida never truly leaves the natural attitude when he poses this question, and in that he makes his entire enterprise shaky and again, senseless. We could follow Hume in this also, and simply claim that in an atomistic view of consciousness, this immediate experience is what constitutes the bottom level of any methodology whatsoever. To look for a further primordiality is to assume too much. If there is distinction between constituting and constituted, then the constituting blocks of which the constituted are built, cannot be themselves made up of building blocks endlessly. I believe Hume does have some very compelling arguments along these lines, but they are also based in empiricism, or perception alone. Derrida seems to be looking elsewhere, towards something wholly transcendental. But what justifies this other than the ability to ask for a further ground for the ground already offered by Husserl? I do not see it as justified as of now, but it is compelling nonetheless.

Is not neutralization originarily a ‘disappointment,’ that is to say, the moment when the ‘I’ ‘removes itself” from facticity, without however denying its existence? Does not the predicative judgment presuppose a certain negation of the sensuous antepredicative, subsumed under one or several concepts?” (p. 117)

Without the possibility of negation or disappointment, intention or intentionality would not be possible.”

Derrida is infuriating, since he does not explain statements like these. In what way would negation at all take place in moving from antepredication to predication. It’s simply a change in form, it is not a dialectic. What is Derrida getting at? What am I missing? Is it right for me to view this as absolute nonsense? One activity does not exclude the other, atemporality does not exclude temporality, since atemporal experience can clearly be viewed temporally. A simple sensuous experience is atemporal, it might have duration, but it is not immediately retentional or protentional, or past and future, it is merely present. This present is retained, what is retained becomes a retentional experience, thus there is a difference between present experience directed towards an object and retentional experience of the same object. “Same” in this sense simply denoting a similarity in direction, a pointedness, etc.

It might be the case that Derrida confuses contrasts with contradictions. Experience is not always immediate in the sense that would make mutual exclusion a necessity. Life as temporal can include what we’d otherwise consider to be mutually exclusive experience without acting as a kind of mediative negation (whatever that means). It’s not even certain that there is mediation between these different types of experiences, the atemporal and temporal, for instance. What provides their difference could simply be a simply adjustment in perspective, a change in focal point. Extreme points by no means exclude each other by any sense of necessity, and they certainly do not lead automatically to a dialecticism. What is Derrida trying to get at?

The same goes for active and passive experience, which I am unsure whether or not is a properly Husserlian way to put it. They do not exclude each other, but the important aspect of Husserl’s philosophy is how they interact with each other and how the active experience is constituted by the passive, and how they are synthesized and assimilated and intermixed. This is an immense oversight from Derrida, it seems, which spoils my possible enjoyment of this current book. He seems confused, and perhaps for good reason, Husserl often confuses me, but he does not seem even sure of the rigidity of which he uses his own terms. The flailing around with the term “Genesis” is still something that threatens to undermine his whole project. His search for an ontological ground and confusion of it in regard to a philosopher’s work whose main goal was not an ontological but epistemological ground is certainly quite tragic. But this cynical view I am positing seems to mostly show that I surely have to be still caught in some kind of misunderstanding, but it does not stem from an unwillingness to see greatness in this work, it is due to the inability to have terms be clear and consistently utilized.

There are many things I am still unclear about. The term transcendence in Husserl has always been puzzling to me. The “transcendental ego” was never clear to me. When Husserl describes historical teleology as the movement of philosophy in his Crisis, it likewise confused be greatly, it seemed to broaden phenomenology to a cultural level. It was not enough for him to on a personal level restart our epistemological efforts, but it was necessary to understand it from the beginning of a phenomenologically grasped history. In this sense, when Derrida takes issue with the genesis of Husserl’s epistemology, I can see the confusion. There is a great deal of confusion in Husserl’s various attempts to basically do the same thing. His directionality was always the same, but he perpetually failed and restarted. I am still yet at a point where I think this confusion spoils phenomenology, and I believe its core direction is genuine. The only thing which binds us to a world is our experience, and the experience is what should be adhered to, all else is nonsense. How we do this, or whether it is possible or not, is another question. But if we deny the possibility of this, we deny any further philosophizing, and we might as well stop writing.

I’ll end as Derrida does, with a quote from Husserl:

I did not know that it might be so hard to die. And yet I have tried so hard right through my life to take out all futility . . . ! Right up to the moment when I am so penetrated with the feeling that I am responsible for a task, to the moment when, in the Vienna and Prague lectures, then in my article (Die Krisis), I have exteriorized myself with such complete spontaneity and where I have realized a weak start – it is at that moment that I have to interrupt things and leave my task incomplete. Just when I am getting to the end and when everything is finished for me. I know that I must start everything again from the beginning. . .

Derrida does not, in most cases, spew nonsense. I think he gets confused at times, as we all do, but his direction is clear. I take issue with his ontological focus, when nowhere that is the main focus of Husserl. This text could be summed up with just that. Perhaps that is also what it should have been summed up as. To take out all futility. . . to avoid the otiose. That could be my goal, as well. . .

Is philosophy futile?

Dummett’s The Seas of Language and my Moronic Skepticism.

It’s difficult to go from philosopher to philosopher and try to get an idea of what it is they are trying to do in general. After getting into philosophers you think get to the core of epistemological problems, to delve back into strange metalanguage studies is quite tiresome. Michael Dummett does not seem to be a straight forward thinker. The Seas of Language prefaces itself with the fact that the views expressed in several of the essays contained within are no longer accepted by the writer himself. That makes problematic the attempt to really get into a thinker with the idea of any consistency or ground that drives the thought of the thinker. Instead, it seems, the analysis will have to consist of attacking or bolstering specific lines, without necessarily relating any of it back to a system of thought.

Even in disparate or non-coherent essays you can find some key thoughts or sentences that spark something, or can be worth considering. Even in the worst of thinkers there can be points of salience, there can be accidental genius, great expressions, and so on. Despite not wanting to, it might be good to read through the torture, if only to better know what makes the experience so miserable.

Dummett does have his moments: “To give an adequate explanation of the capacity in question [the capacity for knowledge], the account must do more than simply specify the fact that must be known: it must indicate how, in particular, awareness of that fact must have been attained, that is, what process of derivation is required for it to count as knowledge, in the strict sense.” (p. 10) Of course, this is something I can agree with and something many philosophers try to respond to. What is the causal progress towards knowledge, and what, more than awareness, is required for it to be counted as such? It is not enough to simply become-aware of something, that is not communicable or interesting on its own. It seems Dummett have a similar idea, and that it is closely linked to language-use. To know is not simply to be aware of or apprehend mentally (whatever this could mean), but it is to talk about and talk about it correctly. A lot of Dummett starts from a point of view from the Wittgensteinian behavior approach to language. You know a language when you know how to use it. But this does not solve the notion of meaning. What does each component of a language mean, and how is it determined? When Dummett speaks of metalanguages it really does nothing to get closer to an answer to this question. To understand the truth of something like “’The earth’ denotes the earth” is entirely tautological and pointless to say. It does absolutely nothing. Things like this are what make philosophers of the analytical tradition quite tedious at times, since it seems they create a level of problems that are no longer connected with the core problematic. Although this might not be an analytical problem, just a problem with confused philosophy.

So when Dummet writes “anyone who knows the use of ‘denotes’, and who knows that ‘the Earth’ is a singular term in English, must know that the sentence “’The Earth’ denotes the Earth” is true, even if he does not know what, specifically, the phrase “the Earth” means or what it denotes.” (p. 12) he does nothing but show that people can understand a sentence that has nothing to do with knowledge or meaning proper. It’s on par with knowing that 1+1 = 2, it has no real value for any type of knowledge theory other than to make a distinction between truths of the mental kind, thoughts corresponding to each other logically, and meaning as it is created concretely in the world as relation to a world. But you have to also ask yourself if it’s even true. How can you know the truth of a term if you do not know what it means? Does just saying “The Earth” denote anything? It seems to me that a phrase does not necessarily have to be intended as directionality towards an object. How can we know how to use the Earth if we do not know what it means? There is something about the above-mentioned sentence that just doesn’t work. It seems devoid of concretion, and very far removed from the world of actual language-use.

“One can say only that the knowledge of the entire theory of truth issues in an ability to speak the language, and, in particular, in a propensity to recognize sentences of it as true under conditions corresponding, by and large, with those stated by the T-sentences.” (p. 16) But again, what exactly does it mean to be able to speak a language, and what does it mean for truth-sentences to correspond to particular conditions?

His first essay “What is a theory of Meaning?” does not in fact go into the notion of what that would be. But seem to be a preliminary dealing with various forms of meaning and the criteria which would then later, once you’ve been guided by these criteria, lead to an idea of meaning. Holism cannot be it, since it does not sufficiently ground meaning. Holistic semantic views seem very difficult to understand in any concrete sense, to me. I am not quite sure what it means to talk about holism. A one-word sentence surely carries meaning on its own, to some extent, if only to notify somebody of the existence of some thing in their field of experience. We explain meaning through reference to or with further language-use, but if we keep testing the meaning of what we are trying to get at, we are eventually coming down to very basic observation sentences, and the notion of denotation, where what is denoted is no longer language, but some kind of truth-condition, or condition, state of affairs, experience, observation, etc. Surely this is where meaning is formed as its most primitive and fundamental core, as the atoms that then give meaning to larger attempts at language-use. This progression is how we acquire language, and thus the meaning (if meaning is language-use, that is, proper language-use) of speech acts. Dummett seems to hold a similar view, based on his concluding words in the essay, but I am not at all sure about what lead him to this point, although there are phrases I can get behind (p. 21):

I am not objecting to the idea of a theoretical representation of a practical ability as such, and certainly not to the representation of a mastery of language by means of a deductive theory: I am saying only that such a representation is devoid of explanatory power unless a grasp of the individual propositions of the theory is explained in terms of a specific practical capacity of the speaker. I do not know whether this is possible; I do not know that holism is an incorrect conception of language. But I am asserting that the acceptance of holism should lead to the conclusion that any systematic theory of meaning is impossible, and that the attempt to resist this conclusion can lead only to the construction of pseudo-theories; my own preference is, therefore, to assume as a methodological principle that holism is false.

I would agree with this by virtue of what was said before the quote. But even more important is what precedes it, which also informs the quote above:

In many contexts, we may take as unproblematic the ascription to someone of awareness of some fact, since we may credit him with an understanding of language, and the manifestation of his awareness will consist primarily in his ability to state the fact or his propensity to assent to a statement of it. But, where we are concerned with a representation in terms of propositional knowledge of some practical ability, and, in particular, where that practical ability is precisely the mastery of a language, it is incumbent upon us, if our account is to be explanatory, not only to specify what someone has to know for him to have that ability, but also what it is for him to have that knowledge, that is, what we are taking as constituting a manifestation of a knowledge of those propositions; if we fail to do this, then the connection will not be made between the theoretical representation and the practical ability it is intended to represent.

So to say you have knowledge and proper language-use, you have to have some kind of theoretical approach on how this could come about. There cannot simply be coherence without any way to determine coherence, obviously. Understanding is not clear whatsoever, and it does not come about through assent alone, I don’t think, despite the partial agreement I have with Quine’s notion of it. Because one always have to ask what informs the assent or dissent, and I am not too sure I’d be happy to leave this answered by intuition alone, since there are conscious ways of explicating this process, first-hand, even. Again, recourse to Husserl would be suitable. One context of language-use is understood, despite being removed from other contexts where similar or the same words are being used, in my view. And this is a core principle, because it makes language possible to ground somewhat outside of itself, in a way that incorporates experience, apperception and thus intentionality. We clearly often forget past language-use, and that is not always what grounds our use of language. Although it might be included in how we see a language’s meaning in general, as a collection of different times of use and their respective contexts, in each moment we do not recall each such past moment. There is something much quicker in place, a habitual speed, a much more accessible thing, which informs our use. It is not as such the past contexts that inform our use, it is whatever remains of these past usages that can be carried with us in everyday language-use that makes expression and meaning possible. Dummett makes similar comments on page 31, the appendix to the first essay “What is a theory of Meaning?” on the second paragraph. It might be worth quoting:

If a speaker’s mastery of his language consists in an implicit grasp of a theory of meaning for that language, then, if the theory is holistic, he must be aware of the judgements which comprise the base totality. Even when the language is his own personal idiolect, therefore, that totality cannot contain a multitude of casual judgements which he has made but has subsequently forgotten; it can, at any given time, contain only such judgements as can be elicited from him at that time. This still makes it grossly improbable that the totality can be sufficiently extensive to determine the references of all the words in his language.

But of course I am fucking flailing helplessly trying to understand this, and it would be a lot nicer if I was not a complete idiot with no ability to properly focus and retain philosophical concepts in a way that is necessary to even remotely have worthwhile things to say regarding these topics.

Dummett comes closer to an idea of meaning that is constructive in his second essay, “What is a Theory of Meaning? (II)”. Here meaning are things like inductive specification, which is the same as reference, it seems. “The meaning of a sentence is the method of its verification” is another way Dummett puts it. So in this essay Dummett decides to fall completely into the systematic approach, where meaning is more clearly defined. That the meaning of a sentence is the method of its verification means it is possible to create a rigid definition of specific meaning in specific sentences. To say “this is a tree” can be verified by pointing to a tree. Or “this is what we call a tree”, would perhaps be more suitable example. The truth-condition is then the ostensive act coupled with the speech act, and so on. He simply wants to denote by this kind of view that there is a commonality to the ways we use language, and perhaps even, although not quite expressly said, that there is a structure to the way we form sentences in relation to various conditions: “there is some uniform means of deriving all the other features of the use of any sentence from this one feature, so that knowledge of that one feature of a sentence is the only specific piece of knowledge about it that we need to know its meaning.” (p. 41)

Holism does need to be considered in a different light, because it’s unsure whether or not the view Dummett calls holism is the fairest one. The problem with an idea of meaning having to relate back to the entirety of a language is quite obvious, Dummett puts it: “there can be nothing between not knowing the language at all and knowing it completely.” (p. 44) And this is right. But is the idea of holism not that language as explained, as language of explicated meaning, that it needs more language to do so? That further justification is always carried within the language itself, and that there is no real way to atomistically butcher it up. And does it need to be “language as a whole” in the sense of langue (Saussure), why not just the full scope of possible language-use in each individual, which would then carry each individual’s ability to justify and explain what they mean, exactly insofar as their language ability reaches. I don’t see as many problems with a modified holism, since it is in line with the pragmatism of Donald Davidson, by way of Rorty, which operates under very different assumptions. This does not make it a decent or true idea by any means, but it seems that the holism Dummett talks about is a wildly naive one. It might be one held by people, but I am unsure how they would not see the obvious flaws in it. So the core notion is instead here that to determine the meaning of one sentence, you usually have to refer back to other sentences and your language-capacities as a whole, sometimes, depending on the complexity of meaning. A meaning of a word, when attempted to be explained in a social setting, requires more words, further justification in the form of added sentences. This seems far less ridiculous, to me, at least. Even with this view, of course, you have to question what it means to truly justify something, and if it’s not entirely circular and spurious to go from language game to language game. Where would the meaning finally arrive at? This is why Quine went into the observations and experience, or at least that is where I think we find the resting place of finding more meaning. The atom of language lies in the experience that prompts certain responses, you could say. After that point, we are in a very complex web of expressions and justifications, that might lead us to some kind of holism, albeit buttressed by something much more solid (experience, observation-sentences, etc.).

Dummett makes use of terms like “recognition” and “verification”, but we really do not go further with these terms than bolstering them with assent/dissent. When we recognize something as true, what is it we recognize? Where is the correspondence, what objects do we imagine we recognize? This is especially egregious when you think about the fact that each situation is unique, and the problems that come with that fact. So in reality, do we not need an explanation of what it is we verify and what it is we recognize? If this is entirely intuitive, then I am not sure we can truly claim we know what it is we are doing when we partake in verificationist theories of truth. It works, practically, obviously, without marking each of the traits that make up our recognition, but I would not call this practice knowledge of truth-conditions. Nor would I say meaning is clearly put in such a theory. Meaning comes before verification. Meaning is in my view what makes verification possible, you mean to claim something, a statement carries a meaning, this meaning itself is what is tested. Meaning can thus not be linked to the notion of truth, since truth is what applied to a meaningful statement. This subsequently makes it hard to follow anything Dummett does in his essays on meaning. But then again I am entirely clueless on the nuance of his writing, and clearly we do not share the initial starting point, since he seems Fregean at his core. Dummett nonetheless shows signs of agreeing with the lackluster nature of a theory of reference, at least: “. . . a theory of sense is needed to characterize that in which a speaker’s knowledge of the meanings of expressions of the language, as determined by the theory of reference, consists.” (p. 85) There is a requirement to explain firstly what a speaker knows in his referencing, but also how this knowledge manifests itself, that comes from Dummett’s modification of the Fregean point of view.

To answer this, with recourse to Frege, Dummett writes:

In knowing the sense of the sentence, he knows that it expresses a certain thought, i.e he knows that the sentence is true if and only if a certain condition obtains; so, in coming to accept the sentence as true, the thought which he takes as expressing represents the information he has acquired, the information, namely, that the condition for the truth of the sentence is satisfied; how that information was obtained in the first place is an altogether different matter, which belongs to epistemology and not the theory of meaning at all.

It’s curious how often Dummett uses the word “know” without thinking meaning relates to epistemology. We just assume the information is there as such, and that it can be conveyed without issue, it seems. If we are not questioning this knowledge, what can we say about a theory of meaning? Knowledge and meaning seem to be inextricably linked concepts to me, that is, if we do not assume a correspondence theory of truth or a verificationist theory of truth. And even things like “thought” and “information” are wildly vague terms. But at the same time I can’t help but think of it in Husserlian terms, where intentional objects that are synthetic and thus non-actual correspond to and find its obtainment in the actual perceptive acts. And that is where you obtain the truth-conditions that inform the noematic objects, or the virtual objects, the one we “carry” with us, the ones we use as a basis for meaningful expressions in most language-scenarios. And to be really pedantic we may have to question the idea of reference as well, in this sense. How do we ascertain the ability for one human being to convey information to another? Where a linguistic act refers back to a piece of cognitive information, how do we for certain see that it remains similar enough for recognition? To answer things like this we’d have to go deeply into the ways human beings relate to objects in our supposedly shared environment, and a notion of recognition on an intersubjective level would have to be created. How would such a thing take place? It is not enough to say that we share language, because that would be to share only the surface of what language does, to have similar enough word-sounds, etc. To say we share cultural objects and ways of living would be to get closer to it, but then you’d have to get into how we share these objects that make up the intersubjective world, or the objective world, even. To what extent are they shared? And how does it correspond with cognitive content, or information, or thoughts (to use Dummett’s terms)? If it does not correspond, what does language truly consist of?

To move on:

On either a verificationist or falsificationist theory, we should have to say that a grasp of the sense of a name consisted in a capacity to recognize whatever is to be taken as conclusively establishing, of a given object, that it is the bearer of the name. On a realistic theory, however, even this is too restricted an account: we must say, rather, that a grasp of the sense of a name consists in a knowledge of what has to be true of any given object for it to be the bearer of the name; and, since the condition to be satisfied by the object may be one our apprehension of which will transcend our capacity to recognize, in special cases, whether or not it obtains, an understanding of the name, as so conceived, will not, in general, be something that can be fully manifested by the use of the name (p. 92).

Here there is an interesting point, which has been brought up before in different words, in Dummett’s essays on meaning. “The sense of a name consists in a knowledge of what has to be true of any given object for it to be the bearer of the name”. So I know for a tree to be called a “tree”, it has to have leaves, a trunk, bark, etc., and that makes up the sense of the object which for me bear the name “tree”. But these things also need to be true, in this view, which seem besides the point, because each of these objects of sense all make up objects with their own sense, and so on ad infinitum. Perhaps that is what brings on a holism. But there might be a stop somewhere, and it would most likely stop with the inability to further see any difference between objects being described, or whatever other atomistic theory we’d end up supporting in this line of thinking.

The quote above also serve as an alternative to Wittgenstein’s idea of meaning being determined by language-use. What knowledge of what has to be true of any given object for it to be the bearer of a name consists of is very tricky. And it is not something Dummett tries to go into properly. His initial essays on meaning seem mostly to outline the shaky ground of which philosophers stand on in these matters. And ultimately, that might be worthwhile, but it does not do much more than that. Destructive theories are tedious, to some extent, even if they are important. Their relevancy, however, is unfortunately very limited. Perhaps only ones which propagate the various theories discussed here will have a proper insight into the elucidation of their respective shakiness.

In the essay “What do I Know when I Know a Language?” Dummett goes deeper into the ideas brought up in the ones dealing with meaning proper. Some distinctions between different types of knowledge are brought up, for instance one between things like learning a language and learning to swim, where knowledge of what it is to swim can exist without knowing how to swim, according to Dummett, but language cannot be known without speaking it. This is not something I agree with, since clearly you can think of what it would mean to speak a language that is foreign to you in different ways without engaging in it, the same way you can do with swimming. “To speak Swedish would be the thing you would most likely be doing if you were from and lived in Sweden,” for instance. While there are distinctions of what it means to know, there is clearly more interesting examples than this. The difference between practical and theoretical knowledge is clearly a good one, since they are of very distinct kinds, where the practical involves a more behavioristic and explicit act, while the theoretical can be kept entirely implicit but still hold firm as a mere possible behavior, or as holding the explicit aspect of it latent. This is more or less what Dummett gets at, but I am not sure if it’s precisely the same thing he is getting at. The distinction is mainly between explicit and implicit knowledge, and different ways of manifested knowledge, where one is a manifestation of an implicit already-existent knowledge, the other a manifestation of the knowledge as such, which only exists as explicit.

An interesting explanation of the goal of the philosophy of language is offered, though, one that I agree with:

What the philosophy of language has to explain is what gives this character [the significance of word-sounds] to the sounds they utter what makes their utterance expressions of thought and all these other things?

Which he then responds to with:

The natural answer is that what makes the difference is the fact that both speakers understand or know the language. Each has, so to speak, the same piece of internal (mental) equipment, which enables each to interpret the utterances of the other as an expression of thought, and to convert his own thoughts into sentences that the other can likewise understand. It thus seems as though the key to the explanation of the expressive power which makes a language a language is an individual speaker’s mastery of the language: and this mastery, as we saw, requires the notion of knowledge for its explication (p. 96-97).

The first half of this quote seems like a naive but not very uncommon view of language. What is this “internal equipment”? And how do we know it corresponds between people? Obviously this is something I ask over and over again, and it gets tiresome, but it is never answered to (as if me writing here is going to answer it, I’m sure as hell not answering it). A philosopher by the name of Georg Henrik von Wright talks about the possibility of shared “mental equipment” quite well, and came to the conclusion that there cannot be such a thing as the same pain for two different people, and this is something I’d like to extend to any sensual activity. It cannot be the same because there is no sameness to be found. There is resemblance and likeness, but that is different, and operates under different principles, and most importantly, has a lot more leeway when it comes to discussing conveying of information. But the key of expressive power does lie in explicating the mastery or knowledge we have of language, that much I can agree with. Because where else would it lie? If we want to explicate what is meaningful or expressive in an expressive or linguistic act, we have to explain what it is we know or what it is we do when we use language as a practical tool.

But as he says this about shared mental equipment, and ability to convey information and expressive power, he still wants to conflate language use with its significance or meaning. Not to say it is not for good reason. Meaning without language is expressionless and mute, it does nothing, it is of an entirely brute existence. And this is a compelling argument, because despite the possible existence of such a thing as prelinguistic concepts or whatever else, we can make no use of it, since it is outside of our sphere of practice: “thought requires a vehicle.” (p. 99) The vehicle here being language. It’s a more invasive thought, that to study thought or experience, is to study language. But this cannot be exactly what Dummett is saying, because that would mean language is self-contained, which it isn’t. Our “thought” or conscious experience seem to always point to things outside of language, objects in shared space, emotions, etc. But all the things I could list here that I claimed were outside a language, are in a language, because they have to be, because that is currently what I am doing. But if reference works as intended, if language if functional, it is functional in the sense that it can show how it is not self-sufficient, which I do not think it is. I do not think thought requires a vehicle, but I do not think “thought” is a good term. Because we don’t as such “think” a concept that is later expressed through language. The much simpler example would be experience, let’s say visual experience. It is right there in front of us before and linguistic attempt to describe or apprehend it, I think we can all to some extent assent to such a claim. And when we try to describe our experience, it is not a straight forward affair whatsoever.

Yet Dummett attaches himself to this strange notion of Fregean sense, but modified into a psychologistic sense: “The principle which Frege opposes to psychologism is that of the communicability of sense. Of some inner experience of mine, a sensation or a mental image, I can tell you what it is like. But, in the case of thought, I do not have to confine myself to telling you what it is like to have a thought that I have had: I can communicate to you that very thought. I do this by uttering a sentence which expresses that thought, whose sense is that thought, without any auxiliary contact between mind and mind by any non-linguistic medium.” (p. 102)

So there is something Dummett and others like him find very obvious in the use of language. But I can’t seem to see the obviousness. Sure there is a shared experience to some extent, in that we understand ostensive acts and references efficiently and these lead us to practical similarity or satisfaction. But satisfaction is not necessarily the same as knowledge of the same kind of the same object: “the assumption, which is, indeed, required if we are to be able to communicate by means of our utterances, that we are talking the same language, a language that we both understand: but that in which our understanding of the language consisted would lie open to view, as Frege maintained that it does, in our use of the language, in our participation in a common practice.” (ibid.) A common practice. I am not sure if I can buy the impossibility of referring to or expressing implicit knowledge. To express something implicit is not to make that implicit thing explicit and thus linguistic, let’s say to say: “I see a tree”, or “I am holding a ball”. Both of these instances of explicit language are not at all the same thing as actually doing those things. We can even express the difference linguistically, but only by reference to something not inherently linguistic. We have to understand this difference between sense-experience and linguistic acts, it is very clear. And I do believe we may have to take the issues that come with such a decision to allow for private concepts. It would be absurd to reduce pain to explicit or expressed pain, and it would be to forgo a large aspect of experience to only let that which is intralinguistic be discussed. But perhaps there is an extralinguistic aspect to this common practice. Perhaps the commonality of objects is also a thing, and the commonality of pain, due to shared “mental” equipment, but we have no way of determining such a thing, as Dummett also writes. So what is it that we share, what is common to us in language use? The form of the language? The prompting of similar responses in similar circumstances? Ultimately Dummett seems to claim, in the essay on “What do I Know when I Know a Language?” that there are answers to these questions. And that language use, and its subsequent aspects that are knowable, are available to reflection. A lot of his concluding words are words I agree with:

If this is right, it follows that the notion of knowledge cannot, after all, be extruded from the philosophy of language. It has also a further consequence for the criterion of success in constructing a theory of meaning for a language. For it follows that such a theory is not open to assessment in the same way as an ordinary empirical theory; it is not judged correct merely on the ground that it tallies satisfactorily with observed linguistic behaviour. Rather, the only conclusive criterion for its correctness is that the speakers of the language are, upon reflection, prepared to acknowledge it as correct, that is, as embodying those principles by which they are in fact guided. Such a theory cannot be arrived at by observation alone, but requires reflection; and it is by reflection that is must be decided whether it succeeds or fails (p. 105).

Again, the problem is shifted, and we are left somewhat unsatisfactorily with the notion of reflection as a “what?” I am not sure who it would be clear to, through reflection, what a theory of meaning could be. In reflection alone, in its most radical form, which would be a form of phenomenology, we do not find answers that lead to a genuine practical language. But that more often than not, if we can ascribe people like Deleuze with a type of radical empiricism or phenomenology (they are different, but can sometimes have similar results in their applications, it seems), leads to language not having its intended function. Reference does not work as intended, since we can always say we see the two aspects of reference, let’s say word and visual perception, but never the link between them. Husserl claimed we could, but it is not at all a vivid experience of the same kind, and clearly not self-evident, which would to some extent leave it open to the later Husserl’s epoché.

In the essay “Language and Truth” Dummett tries to explicate the relationship between language-use and its deep connection to truth in a more rigid sense than what has been attempted in the earlier essays. Firstly he takes up the idea of “thoughts” again, in their full vagueness (thoughts about what?). Sentences are expressions of thoughts, or better, thoughts are what different language-acts stand for. “We could not grasp what it is for a sentence to be true if we did not regard it as expressing a thought and understand what it is for a thought to be true.” (p. 128) The truth of a thought seems simply determined by recognizing it as such, a thought is recognized as true or false. This recognition, however, does not seem to be explained in any real manner. This is all with the help of Frege, and it is sometimes unclear where Frege ends and where Dummett begins. All we get in ways of explaining recognizing something as true is that it consists solely in assertoric statements, that is, in explicit sentences.

There is an interesting distinction created in all this confusion, though. Truth-predicates as they relate to what language stands for and the sentences themselves:

True” in the sense which Frege considered primary, as a predicate of what sentences stand for, is expressible in his formal language, and, even if not taken as primitive, would be definable in it. “True in what he considered the derivative sense, as a predicate of sentences, is not expressible in it, principally because the language does not contain a means of expressing the relation between symbols and what they stand for.

This to some extent echoes what I mentioned earlier on the notion that it is not possible to within language validate language. If language is not about something, or does not stand for something, it does nothing whatsoever, and no truth can be gathered from its sentences.

But to avoid the circularity of a holism, and to still find an extralinguistic aspect of linguistic acts, Dummett comes to say:

[A]n explanation of the meaning of a sentence may presuppose the meanings only of sentences of a lower complexity, and will perhaps be given simultaneously with the explanation of certain sentences of equal complexity: it will never involve explaining or presupposing the meaning of any sentence of higher complexity. An understanding of any sentence will involve, on this hypothesis, an understanding of some fragment of the language, a fragment which could, moreover, exist as a language on its own; but an explanation of the language as a whole could be constructed without circularity by starting with sentences of minimal complexity (the observation sentences) and completing the explanation of the sentences of any degree of complexity before proceeding to the explanation of those of the next degree (p. 139).

This mirrors (excuse the imagery) wonderfully the acquisition of language, and this is very important. And I do not at all think this would be something Quine would object to awfully, which is something Dummett thought. A holism based in originally atomistic sentences, that started in observation sentences, thus in sense-experience, is something very valid to me. In this sense, we can only find meaning in one sentence by referring to another, and ultimately, by referring to objects in shared space. What complexity here means, though, is unclear. If degree of complexity is the same as degree of elaborateness, then I might have some clue on what is going on here. But we still have to refer to extralinguistic behavior, such as pointing, and the implicit grasp of such acts by children. So the atoms of a holistic language would be just these things, the ostensive acts, the observation sentences and what is built upon this foundation. Obviously the problem still exists on what it would mean for an observation sentence to correspond with the respective sense-experience, and how they relate to each other when the behavior is not there. What does the link consists of? To invoke Husserlian intentional objects of reference and association would be an easy way to go about it, but it would leave us open to the vagueness and difficulty of actually obtaining such an experience of linkage. The experience in a natural or real sense would be the one of pointing and being directed towards salient points in space, in the way described by Quine. If we suspend skepticism for a moment, it is hard to see the flaws of such a system, since it seems to run in tandem with how language is acquired and how it is used in everyday life. When you are confused about the meaning of something, what resolves the confusion usually ends up being a demonstration of some kind, which in other words would mean forming an observation sentence through an act of observation. “This. . . is what ‘Red’ is”, “This . . . “ being the ostensive act and all the implicit aspects involved in such an experience.

To keep constructing such a notion, we could form almost a natural Husserlianism. The intentional objects as such would simply be the observation sentences’ objects, and their directionality, this directionality then being represented by the ostensive act. This directionality is clearly carried with us beyond the ostensive act itself, which make the object of our directionality outside the actual act something internal to us. This would, it seems to me, mean that there is some kind of intentionality in the Husserlian sense, which should not be denied in general, but I know it is by many philosophers of the Wittgensteinian tradition (the later Wittgenstein, that is).

But in this view of lower complexity sentences to higher complexity sentences, Dummett gets closer to an idea of meaning and verification. A more complex sentence finds its meaning in lower complexity sentence. And you verify the meaning of a sentence by looking into what a full sentence’s constituents are. “A direct verification of a sentence like “There are nineteen eggs in the basket” will consist of counting.” (p. 142) So here we have a structure based on observation sentences on a very basic level. And verification comes about through understanding what goes into creating a complex sentence, and especially what goes into its lower level sentences. I may be extending Dummett’s view here, but you obtain the meaning of things like this through a phenomenological analysis, really. That is exactly what is going on here, in my view.

Ultimately this view might just be possible to work with, but it may not be unproblematic enough to fully develop. And Dummett, in his version of it, is still not ready to adhere to any of the possible theories he describes. Yet again focus is shifted away from solid answers, and the focus is on destructive philosophy and lamenting the inability to come to a conclusion:

I am not asserting that the notion of truth, as employed in the theory of meaning, cannot be wholly explained in terms of those of verification and of consequences. I hope very much that it will prove to be able to be so explained; that would constitute a final resolution of the philosophical problem of truth. If, however, the notion of truth can be explained in terms of those notions, it can also be replaced by them, and would be better so replaced. More exactly, in such a case a truth-conditional theory of meaning could, and preferably should, be replaced by one in terms of verification or of consequences. If this cannot be done, we have the alternative of accepting, as essential to an account of our understanding of our language, a notion of truth which in principle resists complete elucidation, or of admitting radical error in accepted modes of reasoning. Perhaps fortunately for our peace of mind, we are not yet in a position to say whether we need face this choice or not (p. 146).

In “Truth and Meaning” Dummett continues his attempts to respond to what meaning, truth and language-use is all about. He gets closer to a behaviorist view this time, similar to Quine in fact, in that he refers to the situation where a child is taught to use a word or phrase in the “right” circumstance. But what is unsatisfying in such a reference is that we still do not have any sense of what is the connection between what is said and the supposedly correct circumstance other than, again, the word “recognition” and assent from a parent. Surely, again, and again and again, we need to go into what recognition is and how language at all can evoke these different responses, and how language is even connected to the state of affairs at hand. When we talk about it in this roundabout way we do not actually explain what is going on with the people involved in these games.

But it seems as if with each essay, Dummett gets closer to a proper statement regarding the issues and guidelines of our problem: “A theory of thought must give an account of whatever is involved in the activity of thinking; a theory of meaning must describe the practice of speaking a language.” (p. 159) But the activity of thinking, or mental acts, on their end is explained through their mental content, which are the thoughts, and the sense of sentences. So in what way is this not just a circuitous circularity? What do we actually gain from these movements back and forth between terms? I don’t see it. The wonderful thing about it, however, is that it apes after the interesting aspect of Davidson’s philosophy, again, as I wrote about above, in that it wants to make the description of practice a vital part of meaning. And this is more than a mere “meaning is use” kind of ordeal, it is a self-reflexive source of knowledge, a direction towards one’s own actions and usage as explanation. But the question turns around on this entire situation as well, and we have to ask how the language we use to explain these things work, still, for the explanation of our practice – which comes about linguistically – can hold any power. And to go further, it also applies to what I am doing now, in writing. Isn’t it tiresome?

According to Dummett, it seems as if he does not want to be interpreted in a “crudely behavioural manner.” (p. 161) At least he does not want the specific theories he is trying to ground to be seen as such. “That is to say, you could not, by observing the speakers of a language you did not know, decide what they treated as justifying the assertion of any given statement, or what they regarded as involved in accepting it: you would have to know quite a lot of the language before you could discover that.” (ibid.) So if this is the case, what is the point in appealing to language acquisition scenarios and things that have been talked about above? An argument against this would be the easy question of: How does a child acquire language if it is impossible to penetrate from the outside? Are we going to pretend that thought and language are so similar that there is a straight forward move from the one to the other? If thought is highly linked up with language, now using Dummett’s terminology for the sake of it, how would we ever acquire language? If language cannot be explained through the non-verbal signs of intersubjectivity, how does it arise? What internal process leads to its manifestation? I don’t see how language can come from anywhere but the outside. Surely we have a predilection towards acquiring it, since we can and other beings cannot. This seems more like an ability to understand non-verbal communication intuitively to a higher degree than other species, than it seems to be a sign of some kind of innate language springing out of nothing. Clearly this is not the case. So what is Dummett getting at?

Sure, justification is a complex process which require a deep knowledge of language. But lower level justification, which comes about through simple reference, is surely a behavioristic process. The justification of calling something you perceive as red as “red” is not justification in any philosophical sense, but simply an establishment of rules, guided by parental decree and assent/dissent. Perhaps it could be claimed that this lower level language is not justified in its use. But if this is the core of language, how is what is built upon this acquired language justified whatsoever? I am clearly confused in some kind of way.

In “Language and Communication” the notion of thought becomes more prominent. Finally Dummett provides the reader with some notion of what thought is, and how it can be properly seen: “For a thought does not resemble a mental image or a sensation: it has the distinctive feature of being, or at least of being capable of being, true or false, and thus relating to reality external to the mind.” (p.170) So thought is thus a relation to an external event or object, that is, external to the mind. This relation seems to come either from a direct relation or an indirect relation by way of an object in external reality causing a mental image which then represents the object that caused it. Dummett does not think this explanation suffices for them to carry a truth-value, however, which should be clear to anyone invested in these philosophical problems. Obviously objects change around the mental image we have of them, if we can now assume that mental images are one-to-one correspondences with objects, which is uncertain. And then we can even question the notion of imagery being possible mentally, as if the mind carried photographs, which is clearly not the case either if you just spend some time with introspection. The word “image” is wholly unfit for a discussion like this, since we are not dealing with mental images. This doesn’t even take into account the antirepresentationalist views of people like Rorty and Deleuze which would entirely break down a correspondence theory of truth before it could be established.

Dummett moves on from a representationalist view as such, and talks of language as expressive, as opposed to coding thought. This is an attempt to make language closer to what it refers to and its meaning.

There is a fundamental difference between expressing a thought and using some conventional means to identify it. Given an invalid argument, the phrase “the weakest additional assumption needed to render the argument valid” picks out a unique thought; but it does not express that thought, since it is possible to understand the phrase without knowing which thought it picks out. A sentence expressing the thought, on the other hand, cannot be understood without knowing what thought it expresses. It is an essential feature of anything properly called a ‘language’ that its phrases and sentences genuinely express their meanings. That is the difference between a language and a code; and that is why the mastery of a language enables a speaker to grasp new thoughts expressed in it.” (p. 173)

The meaning for Dummett of language lies in knowing what thoughts are being expressed, then. Meaning seems to be the respective thoughts that are expressed in any sentence and its content. In following Frege, however, sense is always expressible fully. A difference in sense also means a difference in language, as when two people use the same proper name but have disparate sets of knowledge about the object or person in question. Let’s say we are looking at the same square, but on your side it is yellow, in my side it is red, we have a conception of a cube in front of us, and can call it “The cube in front of us”, but what constitutes its sense differs to the point where we are not truly speaking the same language, in that language is constituted always by its content, thus its set of senses.

In the essay “Frege and Husserl on Reference” Dummett discusses the difference between Frege’s and Husserl’s ideas of reference. For some reason Dummett is motivated to conflate the two. Specifically the Husserl of the Logical Investigations is what Dummett thinks can be seen as similar to Frege, when it comes to reference. But the difference is simple to state. Even in the Logical Investigations, Husserl avoids hierarchical existence, and it does not seem he even wants to admit such a thing as non-existence. “Everything that exists can be experienced” is the phrase that resonates most strongly in accordance with this. Frege and Husserl have similarities in that sense and intentional objects are apprehended somewhat similarly, they are at their core almost descriptive. And they both refer to specific objects. But when we think of the term “object” between the two philosophers, we have to really look at the nuance. It was a while ago since I read Frege, but if I recall correctly, his reference is in regards to actual objects in the world. Whereas this would be to say too much for Husserl. The objects of Husserl are not objects in this naive sense that Dummett conflates his objects to be. There is an intended object, and this is what determines an experience’s materiality (again, try not to think of this in the naive ontological sense), but all of these objects are of equal validity in experience. So even if you think of something that cannot be actually or directly perceived visually, you cannot claim that it does not exist, but what you can claim, according to Husserl (and I agree with this), is that there is a fundamental difference in quality of experience. Direct experience is self-evident, and it comes closest to the intended object, since it’s the first-hand experience of the object, but this is by no means the only way of apprehending or experiencing an object, or even the same object. I think the fundamental difference, though, between Frege and Husserl’s references, is the depth of which they go into it. Husserl is not content with simply thinking that the object is what is referenced as such, but explains what the object is in great detail and how it is synthesized through experience. Frege is more straight forward, and does not avoid ascribing ontological attributes to experience. Husserl’s notion of experience is all there is to the world within Husserl’s experience, since the fundamental question is what knowledge is and how it finds it foundation in experience and is then developed and manipulated from that point on. Reference then, is also something that exists as an intentional object, which I don’t think is something Frege’s philosophy could arrive at. Then again, I do not know Frege very well, so all of this might not be particularly worthwhile. In any case, Husserl’s reference is not exactly a reference to the world as such, but a reference to meaningful intentional objects that are apprehended adverbially, or through description. It’s a description of experience we are dealing with, and thus a reference to various acts and objects that are presented to us; but nowhere in experience do we find non-existence or a sense without reference, because in Husserl, what the equivalent of sense would be, could be referred to as an object of experience. Hopefully this would be some kind of elucidation of the difference between the notion of reference in the Husserl of Logical Investigations and Frege’s conception of reference to objects in a very ordinary sense, unmediated or unproblematically.

At this point I’ve lost all interest in writing as a starter, and likewise all interest in Michael Dummett, and thus especially writing about his philosophy. But in Testimony and Memory, I found the reason why. He is trying to escape cognitive solipsism. Dummett wants to uphold the past and future as proper aspects of knowledge. But he does not seem to want to discuss what is genuine knowledge and what isn’t, all knowledge is just knowledge. It’s tiresome to write about for that reason, since there is no nuance in a term like this. Either we know everything we claim to know, or we know only too little for knowledge to be a term worth talking about. But is this not a fine position to end up in? We would have simply just came to a point where the incessant philosophizing lead to something. To me, if knowledge can decay, it is not genuine self-evident or “proper” knowledge. Our relation to the past is very distinctly a special kind of cognition, and I think Dummett knows this, but wants to uphold its relevance, for some reason. He is under the impression that if we cannot hold the past as proper knoweldge, we cannot have a self, that we cannot almost know who or what we are. He does not want to reduce us to momentary subjects. But many would claim that is exactly what we are. Our most genuine and true relation with a world is through the direct and actual experience of it. That is where we look when our other forms of knowledge falter. Clearly things are changing, and the past is different from the know, so what kind of knowledge is accurate, that is based on the past? We find it in constants, we find it in the unchanging. And all past experienced are unchanging and true in and of themselves as exactly what they are. But it seems that Dummett wants to carry the past into the moment, and want there to be a correspondence between the two, which there simply is not in the vast majority of cases, despite the fact that we do act as if that is the case. It is most practical to approach things this way, and it is an approach that has been bestowed upon us simply through our capacity to apprehend things with a memory.

But if we are to follow Husserl’s kind of knowledge, what makes these objects of knowledge possible, and genuine, is the ability for us to obtain them again and again through actual experience. So you say, “there is a tree in my backyard”, this statement once said when you are not there, is uncertain, we move away from our backyard, and talk about our tree in other scenarios. If we come across a skeptic, that asks us to prove that we have this tree, we take this skeptic to our backyard and show our tree, which then leads to dispelling of any doubts, hopefully. We do this exactly because a memory is never of the same quality as an actual experience is, and because we can always direct a fair amount of skepticism towards memories, whereas the same is not true for direct experience (if we don’t go overboard with the Cartesian skepticism, which I do not). At the same time, knowledge seen as apprehended cannot be a momentary thing solely, since that would make it impossible to say you knew anything in a real way. But knowledge is not contained solely in the memory alone, it is in the possibility of obtaining its meaning again, through experience, that we find knowledge. Our language that directs these is part of what makes up knowledge, our mind, our sense of directionality, and so on. A characteristic of knowledge is that it is obtained and apprehended, thus carried with the person. And that might be the fundamental problem with knowledge that claims to be about something not within its sphere of apprehension. To be fair, I am not myself sure yet on how to approach knowledge, but I am not so quick to defend a position I have no way of defending other than with an appeal to “oughts”.

This also leads to distinguishing between two kinds of knowledge of past events (there are probably more):

In one sense there is the unique events of the world. These cannot be apprehended again, and their knowledge seem to consist in mostly the linguistic description of them. Knowledge of this kind of non-demonstrative and thus, I think, should be of a lower kind, a less certain knowledge; although nonetheless it is important and very useful.

On the other than there are predictable events, which would then mean that events are repeated to some sense. The repetition in question is constituted by similarity between events. In autumn, leaves fall off the tree, for instance. We identify the similarity between individual trees, we identify the season of autumn as that which comes between summer and winter, and whatever signs make up the signs of autumn, and we thus form a prediction of past knowledge, a matter of fact, in the Humean sense, about deciduousness. Each repetition is an affirmation of the description, and it is demonstrative.

In short, one is possible to corroborate, the other is not. Or, better yet: One is possible to corroborate only through sociality, through communication (the former), the other you can obtain through observation alone. But the question is if this distinction is genuine or not. Since in some sense I’d like to follow people like Hume and Bergson in saying that there no way of apprehending the future through the past, and also that each event is in some way unique, if only temporally speaking. This, I think, puts a particular question forward on what it is knowledge of this kind actually does, or what it is directed towards. And I suppose both Husserl and Quine have their answers, to some extent, that they are directed towards either objects, material objects in the Husserlian sense, or salient qualities, in the Quinean sense.

I have a great deal of philosophical concerns that Dummett simply does not respond to. He does a lot of great analyses, in almost a Merleau-Pontean manner, where he does not strive too far into either “camp” that is being discussed. He tears down, but I am unsure how much he ever constructs. This leaves a lot to be desired as somebody who is looking to learn. Of course, a lot went over my head, I’m a worthless idiot, but in the essays that did engage me, I found nothing to properly hold on to. Dummett will not be a person I’ll read more of, most likely. I shall direct my efforts to things that affect me more greatly, and have a more constructive quality to them. Or maybe I’ll just do whatever comes to mind, maybe I’ll torture myself more in the future. Since this is, in fact, all an exercise in intellectual and emotional torture. A perpetual sense of stupidity and inability to hold on to any sense of security. Philosophy is a doldrum when you read as I do, and jump from thinker to thinker, who all repeat the process of coming to a conclusion, most of which end up in a wildly dissatisfying place. And I know I am doing the exact same thing going through these thinkers, subjecting myself to thoughts that bear no impact whatsoever on anything whatsoever, barely even on myself and my intellectual process. But on we go.

(Also, sorry for the repetition and dull writing, I hope nobody reads this.)