Thursday, September 03, 2009

Bilgrami's critique of the Platonistic urge (or: why reject the very idea of semantic normativity?)

The previous post was a bit of a bear, wasn't it. (By the way, if you liked it, you may vote for it here - once they work out the bugs, that is.) Let's back up a bit, and see if we can't get clearer on the various players. The dialectic here is quite complicated, with strange bedfellows all over the place, and a number of distinct yet overlapping positions on the issue(s). (When we get back to vagueness, we'll see that there too the teams have a somewhat unusual alignment, which is what provoked Marinus's remarks about Wittgenstein in the LL post.)

Why would anyone deny that there were linguistic norms? If there were no such norms, it is easy to assume, there would be no constraint on meaning. An agent could mean anything by anything, simply by intending to do so (that is, that whatever "norms" constrained his meanings – if we still want to call them "norms" at all – are merely "internal"). But maybe this is correct. This position is called "internalism" or "individualism," and its Cartesian flavor is undeniable, thus attracting criticism from all across the philosophical spectrum (including from closet or residual Cartesians themselves). Rejecting internalism seems to require that there be external linguistic norms, and thus that I can make errors in meaning as determined by others.

But what is it to make an "error in meaning"? On one view, whenever I refer to an ocelot as a lynx, I make an error in judgment (i.e. get the world wrong/say something false), and in so doing, I misuse the word "lynx," which should only be applied to lynxes, and I thus "use the word wrongly" in this way. What determines that this is the "wrong" use of the word? Answer: linguistic rules ("norms"). Among those who take this view, there is some variation about what constitutes the linguistic norms in question: obviously other English speakers have something to do with it, but there is also some role to be played by ocelots and lynxes themselves (what role this is exactly will depend on how you feel about natural kinds and Kripkean metaphysical realism more generally).

Now we can respond to this conception of meaning errors in a few ways. A natural way is to object to a conflation between two cases: 1) using a word "wrongly" (coming out with the wrong fusebox), and 2) using it correctly to express what happens to be a false belief (I perfectly correctly characterize how things appear to me, but as it happens I am mistaken). In one sense, Davidsonians will be happy to make this distinction, as one of their (our) main concerns here is the holism of belief and meaning: that in attributing the two together, we have some interpretive leeway (or even indeterminacy) in saying what falls under what. This doesn't mean there are *no* constraints on interpretation – that someone's meaning may swing free entirely from what both subject and interpreter see as observable evidence for it; it just means that we have a better sense of how content is attributed in interpretation than do those with non-Davidsonian accounts of meaning.

However, even after distinguishing in this way, the question remains how to characterize the first case (and the sense of "correctly" in the second). We are nowhere near out of the woods. It can be a further Davidsonian point that we fall directly back into the Platonistic soup if in making this distinction we carve out a realm of purely or sui generis semantic normativity, or in other words, those same "linguistic norms." On this view, we need nothing so robust (or theoretically questionable) as linguistic normativity so construed to account for the actual constraints we make on meaning attribution. We can perfectly well, for example, think of such "mistakes" as prudential ones, in which the sound I make is inconveniently chosen to convey my perfectly determinate (and indeed often perfectly intelligible) meaning – a prudential "error," not a contravening of "linguistic norms" in the disputed sense.

This is the point Bilgrami is making in "Norms and Meaning," in which he criticizes Kripke and Burge, not for opposing "internalism" or "individualism" per se, but for not getting at the root of the problem, and thus perpetuating it in a new form. In hurrying to explain my attempted moderation of Bilgrami's rejection of semantic normativity, I kind of skipped over his reasons for rejecting it in the first place. So let me go back and say more about that.

In Kripke's and Burge's discussions, the "individualist" is pretty much someone with a "private language," someone whose inner intentions determine his meanings no matter what other people say, which is why the issue comes up in Kripke's book on Wittgenstein's rule-following considerations. Naturally Wittgenstein rejects this view; and so does Kripke, who takes the RFC (whether or not Wittgenstein himself does so) to require an appeal to a "social theory of meaning" to save us from the meaning-skeptical paradoxes to which "individualism" so construed famously leads. On Kripke's picture, if we are to account for meaning at all, *something* must provide the norms manifested in linguistic rules. In distancing itself from mere linguistic nihilism, individualism promises to locate the source of normativity in the speaker's linguistic dispositions. However, as the paradoxes show, such dispositions cannot do this, as they are compatible with *any* subsequent behavior. Nor, Kripke argues (following Wittgenstein at least this far), can we find the source in Platonistic "rigid rails" or whatnot; so "[w]hat then can the source of the desired normativity be but the social element?" ("Norms and Meaning," p. 126). The result is Kripke's "skeptical solution" to the meaning-skeptical paradox, an appeal to the dispositions of the surrounding linguistic community.

Akeel in a typical poseHowever, Bilgrami rejects this forced choice (dare I say "dualism"?) between anything-goes-if-I-say-so "individualism" on the one hand and external linguistic normativity on the other, such that we must locate a source for it in this way. Bilgrami frequently qualifies his criticism of Kripke and Burge, rejecting normativity "in the sense demanded by" K/B, or "such" normativity. (This is what encourages me to risk re-expansion of the concept into the semantic realm, or that is, recognizing a properly semantic component to our normative commitments.) Yet he is determined to pull the objectionable picture out by the roots, and takes so doing to require a stronger line against "linguistic norms" than has seemed feasible until Davidson's criticism.

Bilgrami's diagnosis goes like this:
[I]n rejecting the abstractions and metaphor of [platonistic] Meanings and 'rails' on the one hand and the internalistic mentalism of inner facts of the matter on the other, one has not yet succeeded in rejecting what in Platonism underlies the search for these things being rejected. Without rejecting this deeper urge, one will no doubt find another such thing to gratify the Platonist urge and indeed one has found it in society. This deeper urge underlying Platonism is precisely the drive to see concepts and terms as governed by such normativity. (p. 127)
John McDowell has of course also criticized Kripke's diagnosis and attempted solution to the paradoxes. In particular, McDowell too criticizes Kripke on his own terms - that his "skeptical solution," locating semantic norms in community practice, fails to do what it promises. And he too wants to dissolve the problem and allay the skeptical anxiety, just as does Bilgrami, only without giving up semantic normativity entirely. It is in trying make sense of McDowell's approach not only to this issue, but to normativity generally (especially in response to Davidson), that I am motivated to moderate Bilgrami's flat rejection of semantic normativity in the way I did the other day.

But let's see what Bilgrami says about McDowell. According to Bilgrami, McDowell says
that the way Kripke brings in the social is just an extension of the normativity-denying position of the dispositionalist because all Kripke does is bring in the dispositions of other members of society to account for an individual's meanings. So if he says something was missing in the individual dispositionalist account in the first place, then it will be missing in the social extension as well. This criticism seems to me to be fair enough, if one accepts the normativity demand as one finds it in Kripke and as one finds it in these others who think that Kripke has himself failed to live up to that demand. But I do not accept the demand in the first place. So mine is a much more fundamental criticism of Kripke. In my view, one should repudiate the 'Platonism' altogether (even in its ersatz forms) and in so doing give notions like meaning and concepts a much lower profile, whereby it does not matter very much that one is not able to say [referring here to the familiar examples in Kripke and Burge] that KWert is making a [properly semantic, or as Bilgrami puts it, "intrinsic lexical"] mistake on January 1st 1990 or that Burge's protagonist has all along made a mistake when he applies the term to a condition in his thigh. [...] [I]t makes no difference to anything at all, which answer we give. His behaviour is equally well explained no matter what we say. There is no problem, skeptical or otherwise. (p. 128)
Because of the holism of belief and meaning, we can attribute either concept, adjusting the belief component accordingly, and equally well explain the agent's behavior, which is after all the constitutive function of interpretation in the first place. This is the sense in which Bilgrami's is a Davidsonian view (and in response to this article, Davidson agrees heartily).

In this sense, again, I have no problem with this view. However, I think that here too (that is, w/r/t this view itself) we have other options in explaining the anti-Platonism we are after, options which leave the concept (or again, *a* concept) of "properly semantic normativity" in place. I was no doubt remiss in the previous post not to stress that it is only after the point has been understood that we safely can go on and try to accommodate McDowell's way of talking, with its characteristic stress on normative rather than (as readers of Mind and World will recognize as the criticism of Davidson there on analogous grounds) "merely causal" (or again, descriptive) relations between mental contents and the world they are about. When we do this we can see how McDowell's criticism can be properly directed. Davidson is not making a "Platonistic" error, as Kripke et. al. are, but in recoiling to a picture devoid of properly semantic normativity (properly construed), he misses a chance to tell a better story about normative commitment generally speaking, and thus recover gracefully from the error he really does make which results in his "coherentism," dismissed by McDowell as "frictionless spinning in a void" (again, see Mind and World, esp. ch. 1-2). I hope that helps place the other post in dialectical space (if not actually vindicate what I say there, and I still have some more fast talking to do on that score as well).

Okay, that's enough for Bilgrami. Next time: Davidson.

25 comments:

Daniel Lindquist said...

Long, rambly thoughts about McDowell. Split into two because I hit the character limit again. I swear, it used to be higher.

I'm still not sure quite what to say about McDowell's response to Kripkenstein. There does seem to me to be an appeal to "custom" or "socialization" or something like that that I don't quite know what to do with.

I think "Wittgenstein on Following a Rule" is just flat guilty of giving the sort of answer Bilgrami says McDowell gives, though there are enough other excellent points in that article that I can easily forgive it a few flaws. McDowell admits later that the essay is "too hospitable" to that sort of reading ("Meaning and Intentionality in W's Later Philosophy", footnote 6, p.275 in Mind, Value, and Reality). (I think that this was the main article Bilgrami cited; I can't seem to find my copy of "Norms and Meaning" at the moment.) But, even in "Meaning and Intentionality in &C.", there are things that looks problematic to me.

This paragraph is the one I keep returning to (p.276/7 in MVR), discussing PI ss198:
"If the concept of custom figured here as the beginning of a constructive philosophical account of how the meaning of sign-posts, and our understanding of their meaning, are constituted [as Crispin Wright claims we need], the custom that Wittgenstein mentions would need to be characterizable in terms that do not presuppose meaning and understanding. But the concept of custom can do the work it does here without being capable of being put to that sort of philosophical service. The concept of custom can do the work it does here even if the only answer to the question "What custom?" is "The custom of erecting and following sign-posts", or perhaps more specifically "The custom of erecting and following sign-posts of just this style and configuration"; that is, an answer that, with the talk of following, simply presupposes the supposedly problematic notion of accord. What made the notion of accord seem problematic was the regress of interpretations, and the first move in the passage, the appeal to training, has ensured that we need not begin on the regress of interpretations. The point of the appeal to custom is just to make sure that that first move is not misunderstood in such a way as to eliminate accord, and with it understanding, altogether."

Daniel Lindquist said...

I've bolded the sentences I have questions about. Firstly: It seems clear to me that the relevant "customs" are going to have to include things that haven't existed before the particular place they're needed to be called on, for basically "Epitaphs" reasons. You might need to appeal to a "custom" of "erecting and following sign-posts of just this style and configuration, of which this sign-post is the first instance in the history of the world". What we need to block the regress of interpretations is for the initial response to the sign-post to be intelligible as a move which is a manifestation of the subject's rationality. It needs to be a rational, and not a merely causal, reaction to the sign-post. And if the way we do this is by describing the reaction as instancing behavior guided by custom, then the customs are going to have to get pretty radically fine-grained, since appeals like "the custom of reacting to some sign-posts" won't stop the regress (since the reaction then just looks like a blind disposition, when it comes to this sign-post). And they'll sometimes be the sorts of things no one could have learned in advance. Which seems to sap the notion of "custom" of any real force, just as "Epitaphs" does to the notion of "linguistic competence". "Acting in accord with a custom one has been trained in", in the sense in which McDowell says we appeal to here, seems to dissolve into "acting as accords with what one is responding to"; the talk of training and custom does no work, except to remind LW's reader that our normal human lives are filled with reactions which are not brutely causal: It does the same work, in longer form, as does LW's remark that "Commanding, questioning, recounting, chatting, are as much a part of our natural history as walking, eating, drinking, playing" (PI ss25).

The second sentence I bolded seems to me straightforwardly problematic. Certainly McDowell is right that the way out is not to start the regress in the first place, but it seems wrong to me to suggest that we need to appeal to "training" (or anything like that) to avoid the regress. We can just refuse to start it by flat-footedly saying "This is what accords with the rule". LW mentions "custom" here just as an example of a place where our reaction is simply what is in accord with a rule. I can read McDowell here as agreeing with me, and I'm not sure he would disagree if I put the question to him, but I'm not sure that he isn't still making "bildung" do more than it should. In "Mind and World" the stated goal is to enable the reader to see rational actions and reactions as natural happenings, but the way to being able to see that is to be reminded that "second nature is nature, too". But what we should be able to see as manifesting rationality needs to exceed what can be trained up or learnt. Reactions to novel affordances can also be reason at work; cleverness and imagination are as important as simply having learnt good habits. But reacting in ways one hadn't been prepared for doesn't seem to fit very well under the heading "second nature". (It's not first nature, either; I just am not familiar enough in the Aristotelian framework to find my footing here. Maybe "second nature" is supposed to cover cleverness and imagination, too; but then these have only a sketchy link to being raised in the right way, to bildung. One wouldn't be clever in the way one is if one had been raised differently, perhaps, but it's not just the raising that made one clever. Someone else might get raised the same way, but not be clever in the same way. As Kant said, good judgement can't be taught, but it's not as if it happened as a biological regularity, like a bird's molting.)

Daniel Lindquist said...

What really brought this out for me was reading Finkelstein's account of the rule-following stuff in "Expression and the Inner". Finkelstein takes himself to be largely following McDowell (and he does largely follow McDowell), but he never mentions "customs" in the way McDowell does: instead he talks of "the weave of our life" as the context we need reminding of. What we need, Finkelstein says, is to recognize that some of our animal reactions are also rational reactions, that some of the mere noises and ink-marks we produce are also expressions of our rationality; there he follows McDowell. But the sort of background presumption that the way that happens is after initiation into a preexisting "way of life" (set of norms, institutions, customs) is simply absent. Here's Finkelstein:

"'So what you're saying is that, while Wright's Wittgenstein thinks stipulation is what connects a rule with its correct application, your Wittgenstein thinks it's 'the weave of our life'?'
The point is not that "the weave of our life" (or customs or institutions)*-- rather than stipulation or interpretation -- is what bridges the gulf between the statement of a rule and what would satisfy it. It would be better to say that when rules are seen as situated within our lives, it becomes apparent that such gulfs are exceptional. In general, nothing bridges a gulf between a rule and its application because no gulf opens up.... A philosopher who asks 'How is it that the statement of a rule is connected to its meaning?' has--even before she's offered any answer to the question-- already succumbed to the idea that some link is needed if our words are to have significance; she presupposes that there is always a gulf between words and their meaning."

and the footnote:
"*At PI ss99, Wittgenstein writes: "To obey a rule, to make a report, to give an order, to play a game of chess, are customs (uses, institutions)." One will misunderstand Wittgenstein if one takes passages such as this one to be offering an answer to a question like 'What bridges the gulf between a rule and what it requires?'... Wittgenstein speaks of customs and institutions in which our words have a life for the same reason that he speaks of the weave of our life -- not to answer such questions, but to bring out what is wrong with them."

Clearly, this is very, very close to McDowell.

Daniel Lindquist said...

But I think there really is a difference that makes Finkelstein's presentation preferable to McDowell's: It's easy to take McDowell as saying that the reason there is no gap is because the response is the result of one's bildung-acquired second nature, one's intitiation into a tradition, one's being brought up in a Language (in the sense of a "suprasubjective power that dominates history" -- "Engaged Intellect" p.149). All of these seem like reasonable things to flesh out and give an account of; one would then have an account of the conditions of possibility of rationality in our lives. Where, and only where, these are present, can rationality be at work. The analogue for Finkelstein is to take him as saying that there is no gap because the reaction is part of "the weave of our lives". This doesn't seem like the sort of thing one can flesh out: it's purely a gesture to all of the stuff, whatever it is, that is part of our lives as rational animals. No interesting story about the conditions of the possibility of rationality seems to be forthcoming -- it's just whatever in our lives makes sense as a move in the space of reasons, makes sense as a move in the space of reasons. And then copious examples are called on to remind the confused that rationality is constitutive of "the weave of our lives" -- our special sort of existence, as thinking things, can only be explicated by seeing ourselves as embodied minds, minded bodies. This strikes me as being the same aim as "Mind and World" had, but a superior means to it.

Daniel Lindquist said...

So, Finkelstein's way of seeing reason at work in nature seems cleaner to me. He manifests a greater refusal to see the idea as problematic. The sorts of creatures we are just do get around in a way that manifests rationality. There's not an interesting story (about socialization or second nature or suprasubjective powers) to tell about why, in general, we do, while other creatures don't. But why would there need to be?

Also, it took more than two comments.

Duck said...

Wow, that's going to take some time to process. Why don't you unramble these thoughts a bit and put them up on Soh-Dan?

BTW, thanks for the Finkelstein article, which was great. I will definitely get his book (sometime). I was planning to reread his article in Crary (NW, not the recent one), so I think I'll do that sooner rather than later. But I may be able to say something anyway.

I assume the stuff about Bilgrami here is fairly clear then, as I pretty much just follow his article without messing it up with my own stuff...

Daniel Lindquist said...

Your reading of Bilgrami seems to me non-tendentious. Only thing I noticed was in paragraph seven, "someone whose inner intentions determine his meanings no matter what other people say" is ambiguous: in a sense, that IS what Bilgrami/Davidson endorse. It's just that they reject the notion of "intention" at play there, where an "intention" is supposed to be something that can fly radically free of what one thinks about one's intended hearers etc. (Where an "inner intention" seems to be like a resolution one states in one's head: "Now I shall mean "nice knockdown argument" by /glory/".) But it's certainly possible, on particular occasions, for you to mean "P" despite everyone else saying you must have meant "Q", and to know that you meant "P" in the way one generally knows one's intentions (with first-person authority). But I think this is merely a verbal quibble; in the next paragraph this view is in scare quotes -- "individualism".

I probably should rewrite those comments in a format where I can use, like, tabs to indicate blockquotes. Also I probably need to say something about why "Wittgenstein on Following a Rule" seems problematic to me.

I looked at Finkelstein's other articles after I finished his book, since I had liked the book so much, and his earlier three articles seem to all be essentially repeated in the book. Looking at the Platonism article, it seems that there's a lot of word-for-word repetition. (The paragraph I quoted occurs verbatim on the last page, for instance.) I think the only really new topic in the book is the chapter against McDowell's concept of "inner sense"; the rest is just (sometimes greatly) expanded versions of those three articles.

Ben Wolfson said...

It's just that they reject the notion of "intention" at play there, where an "intention" is supposed to be something that can fly radically free of what one thinks about one's intended hearers etc. (Where an "inner intention" seems to be like a resolution one states in one's head: "Now I shall mean "nice knockdown argument" by /glory/".)

Interesting given that, afaict, for Davidson intentions to do things (other than communicate with others) can fly at least somewhat free of what one thinks about one's actions effects; that is, I can imagine Davidson saying, by way of denying that one knows what one is doing when one acts intentionally*, that he will perfectly well allow that when he says "glory" his hearer may not take him to mean "a nice, knock-down argument", but if he does communicate successfully (which is also possible, one never knows what one's interlocutors have read), he certainly does it intentionally.

*here we have moved from "intention" to "intentionally", obviously.

(Since there was a question about the clarity of the post, I will say that I didn't find the McDowell-oriented part of it clear, but that can be explained by the fact that I haven't read the McDowell, something that, as the "of course" attests, was, presumably, part of the assigned reading for yesterday.)

Daniel Lindquist said...

Davidson does say some unfortunate things about "knowing what one is doing". I think Michael Thompson showed what went wrong there: Davidson failed to note the perfect/imperfect distinction. Davidson's argument (in "Intention" I think?) that the guy didn't know that he was writing on ten sheets of paper only showed that he didn't know that he had written on ten sheets of paper. So I think he would've distinguished between "knowing the intention which one is acting on in saying /glory/" and "knowing what one is doing in saying /glory/", as you say.

I can't remember if Thompson's point was in "Naive Action Theory" or if it just came up in the discussions at the Anscombe conference. I know Jon said that the point about Davidson's slip was an old one in the literature, but I have no idea where it was first made.

Ben Wolfson said...

That seems odd: Davidson does say that what the person doesn't know is that he is writing; while he does turn around and say that what he did did intentionally was to have written, at that point the action is complete and that should be fine. Hornsby pointed out in her paper at the conference that most of Davidson's examples are in the perfective aspect, but this one actually isn't.

Davidson does overlook features of the progressive (which he does employ) in his example, which I think undermine it, but it's also not so cut and dried how to go about showing this (IME). I didn't know this point was well-established; if it is, it certainly seems to be widely ignored. (If it is, it's also too bad for me, since I'm currently attempting to write something going into it in some depth.)

Ben Wolfson said...

I think I misread part of your comment.

It's still striking to me how unabsorbed, at least in some quarters, the point is.

Ben Wolfson said...

Anyway, the question wasn't about whether Davidson was right about knowledge of intentional action, but about what seemed like a tension: it seems that Davidson, with his "Agency" and "Intending" hat on, should say that I can intentionally say, mean, etc "we've had enough of this topic" by saying "impenetrability" regardless of what I think about my audience's familiarity with Through the Looking-Glass, and probably also intend to mean that in that fashion, and then, with his "Epitaphs" hat on, say that that cannot be.

Duck said...

I'm not familiar with Davidson's early writings on intention, so that "well-established" point you mention is new to me. From what you say it does sound like there is at least a tension between that and what he says in "Epitaphs." If so, it wouldn't be the first time he's changed his mind (if that's what happened). "Epitaphs" strikes out in new directions, so I wouldn't be surprised if he left some earlier stuff behind. Even the stuff I know about (the main truth-theory project of the 70s) that got left behind is never explicitly rejected that I can see; he just doesn't talk about it any more.

I'm reading Finkelstein right now. Good so far. Boy I wish I could write as clearly as he does. He makes it look easy, when in fact it is not. I have to say, the more I see of Wright, the less I can understand why he thinks he's following in LW's footsteps at all. I mean, you're allowed to write about people you disagree with and all, but it really works better if you recognize this. The guy is in this respect entirely tone-deaf.

Ben Wolfson said...

Even the stuff I know about (the main truth-theory project of the 70s) that got left behind is never explicitly rejected that I can see; he just doesn't talk about it any more.

Boy, is that annoying.

Might I ask what the Finkelstein article(s) you're talking about is(are)?

Duck said...

Actually, it's not so bad. That project was looking like it was more trouble than it was worth anyway. And if what he says in "Epitaphs" is right, that attitude - not repudiating it exactly, but shifting focus to more promising areas - seems right. Why beat a horse to death when it's just going to wander off? (Or something.) Anyway, that never bothered me that much about him.

The Finkelstein article that I'm reading right now is ""Wittgenstein on Rules and Platonism," in Crary and Read, ed., The New Wittgenstein. The one I thank Daniel for sending me is "On the Distinction Between Conscious and Unconscious States of Mind" in American Phil. Quarterly Vol. 36, No. 2, April 1999. Apparently all this material is in his book Expression and the Inner too, but the book is not just a collection of articles (you know the drill).

Daniel Lindquist said...

"Davidson does overlook features of the progressive (which he does employ) in his example, which I think undermine it, but it's also not so cut and dried how to go about showing this (IME). I didn't know this point was well-established; if it is, it certainly seems to be widely ignored."

Yeah, I can't say I've personally seen it discussed anywhere; I'm just going on what Jon Kurinsky told me. (He was pretty deeply into the Anscombe literature, so I took his word for it.) I just recall going back and looking at the argument, taking care to note the tenses, and thinking it was invalid on its face. You can probably ask Jon and find out more about how widely the point has been discussed; for all I know it's only common in the Anscombe secondary literature, which is not really the mainstream action stuff.

"it seems that Davidson, with his "Agency" and "Intending" hat on, should say that I can intentionally say, mean, etc "we've had enough of this topic" by saying "impenetrability" regardless of what I think about my audience's familiarity with Through the Looking-Glass, and probably also intend to mean that in that fashion, and then, with his "Epitaphs" hat on, say that that cannot be."

Did early Davidson really allow intentions to float that freely from means-ends rationality? I thought that he always held that you can't intend to do something you think is impossible. I suppose I might be wrong there; I read the early stuff concurrently with Anscombe's book.

@Duck: Finkelstein is an excellent writer and an excellent speaker; I regret not getting to take any classes with him. (AFAIK he only taught two courses last year, one a seminar I couldn't take due to schedule conflicts and the other an undergraduate class on stage magic -- yes, stage magic. For philosophy credit. They also read "On Certainty" and I think some Russell.)

Davidson discusses the 70s truth-theory project a little in one of his responses in one of the fechtschrifts I looked at last year (helpful, I know). The article he was responding to was a new attempt to handle some phenomena, I think it was indirect discourse, in the Tarskian framework. Davidson's response was just "Good to see some stuff is still being done there; I hope the project works, though I shan't hope to contribute more to it." I think there he really did just lose interest in the project, more than anything. And I don't think "Epitaphs" makes the older project impossible or anything; Davidson seems to think that Epitaphs's idiolects have the same sort of structure as the languages he was looking at in earlier papers. They still have adverbial things, indirect discourse, etc. It's just less interesting to say precisely how any one language does all those things, since there are so many "languages" one could look at.

The early action stuff I think he did become more detached from; all he really seemed to care about holding onto was that reasons can be causes. (Here I'm going largely by tone in how he handles criticisms of the early action stuff in the "In Conversation" videos, which are from the late 90s. I need to finish watching those videos; lots of nice tidbits in 'em.)

Also, all of Finkelstein's articles (but not his book) are available on his faculty page.

Duck said...

I don't think "Epitaphs" makes the older project impossible or anything; Davidson seems to think that Epitaphs's idiolects have the same sort of structure as the languages he was looking at in earlier papers. They still have adverbial things, indirect discourse, etc. It's just less interesting to say precisely how any one language does all those things, since there are so many "languages" one could look at.

Yes, I was going to say this; but that latter fact is pretty significant here. Not only would it be less interesting (and more difficult) for that reason, but it also distracts from the consequences of the triangulatory picture, which (i.e. hearing about same) is what makes the later work so key. At that point I really don't want to hear about a tweak to the account of moods or indirect discourse.

Ben Wolfson said...

I thought that he always held that you can't intend to do something you think is impossible.

Well, you don't have to think it's impossible—as I said, who knows what one's audience has read? Quite possibly Through the Looking-Glass!—just not a certainty (one doesn't think it's impossible that one is hereby providing for one's children, in writing the will—this is actually a better example for some of Davidson's purposes because it evades the progressive stuff better (I still don't think it works)).

Duck said...

I haven't gone back to McDowell's (1984) article for a while; what I remember most about it is his clear demonstration that Kripke has misread the dialectic of Wittgenstein's discussion (and thus ignored W's own conclusions), and not so much M's positive views about the role of custom. It does seem possible that he is leaning too heavily on Bildung, or misconstruing what exactly it is that it does (although, as you say, Finkelstein is "very very close" to M. in any case). I wonder if there isn't some confusion about the regress image, such that we aren't all on the same page regarding the difference between "stopping the regress" (is a Platonic superentity the only way to do this?) and avoiding it in the first place. It does seem that there could be, let's say, iterative processes such that we left off not because we had reached something particularly special (and here I wonder about what "bedrock" might mean in this context) but because of diminishing returns or exhausted patience with what has turned out to be dogmatic skepticism rather than real honest doubt. I think a parallel to the (epistemological) skeptical problem can be helpful here (which is why I spend so much time on it in the diss). It seems to work better (my approach does, that is) when we engage the skeptic (to show that it is dogmatism which is his enemy, not mere belief) rather than deflecting him too early on.

Also, someone should post (not necessarily here where no one can see it, that is) about early Davidson and intention so I know what you're talking about.

Daniel Lindquist said...

(Character limit is my nemesis.)

@Wolfson: Okay, I think I see the tension better now. In the early action stuff he would've said you could have the intention to do the thing while having no way to know if you were doing the thing, while later on the intention seems to carry over more into determining what one is doing. So knowing the intention which one is acting on seems to suffice for knowing what one is doing (at least in the case of speech acts, which is all he discusses later). That is an interesting point.

@Duck: Right, the points against Kripkenstein's version of the dialectic (which is also Wright's version) are golden. I just don't think (in the 1984 article) McDowell ends up taking his own point quite to heart. And I'm not positive he gets it quite right later, either.

There still seems to be this urge in McDowell to have something which makes {certain bodily motion} be {casting a vote}, or whatever example you want to use. The emphasis on tradition, bildung, second nature etc. I think obscure McDowell's own point that there's nothing you can add to "fill the gap" to make {certain bodily motion} into {casting a vote} beyond such things as "that bodily movement is a casting of a vote". Which isn't the sort of thing you can add to the one to get the other; it's just flat saying that the one is the other. The point of the bildung-second nature-tradition stuff should, I think, be to make us feel comfortable with there not being something to "fill the gap" (since we no longer see any gap to be filled - we recognize that there are natural happenings which are also minded, meaningful, rationally constituted). I'm not sure McDowell is sufficiently comfortable with what he wants to make us comfortable with. There shouldn't be any need to mention things like second nature or tradition or bildung or "suprasubjective powers" or anything like that to make us comfortable seeing reason at work in nature, in general; we should just be comfortable seeing reason at work in nature. Bildung etc. should be a ladder we can kick away once we see nature as (partially) "re-enchanted".

Daniel Lindquist said...

I think Finkelstein gets the dialectic the same as McDowell, but pulls it all off without flaw. I think he's perfectly comfortable with seeing reason at work in nature. (As was Wittgenstein himself.)

There's no need to have every particular bit of reason-in-nature be intelligible in the light of a capital-'T' Tradition, or Language, or be clearly second- (learned) as opposed to first- (unlearned) nature. In the sense in which they all are happenings within a tradition, within a language, as part of an animal's second (learned) nature, I think "tradition" and "second nature" have to be stretched like "language" does post-"Epitaphs". They can be individualistic. And it might be merely a human (sociological, biological) limitation that keeps this from being the norm: it could be possible that there be mostly individualistic languages, traditions, customs, educations, etc. and yet agents get around with one another because their individualisms are close enough for that (though not to make for what people usually mean when they talk of shared languages, traditions, customs, cultures, practices, educations, upbringings; what is shared is the ability to understand each other, more or less, often enough, for there to be meetings of minds).

"I wonder if there isn't some confusion about the regress image, such that we aren't all on the same page regarding the difference between "stopping the regress" (is a Platonic superentity the only way to do this?) and avoiding it in the first place."

I think there's agreement there: our ordinary events, states, etc. are enough to stop the regress, or to keep it from starting, which I mean as the same image. In the Kripkensteinian cases, at least, where the regress goes forever if it begins at all; the cases where you can have a finite regress, i.e. with genuine doubt and inquiry about what a rule requires or what an utterance means, or where a dogmatic skeptic is preventing real inquiry from happening at all, are different matters. I agree that one helpful way to get at the matter is by seeing how real questions about whether a certainly bodily motion is a casting of a vote or just a stretching, but I don't think that's how Wittgenstein runs the dialectic (at least, not in the passages that mostly concern Kripke/McDowell/Finkelstein).

I probably do need to write up just what bothers me about McDowell's 1984 paper; it seems less apparent than I'd taken it to be.

Duck said...

I can't find anything to disagree with or even complain about in Finkelstein's article. I wish McDowell had said just that in 1984, but I guess he had bigger fish to fry (and maybe even those fish escaped their fate if what you say is right).

About "regresses": I'm fine with "regress" meaning "unacceptably infinite regress" rather than "iterative process which may or may not turn out to be unacceptably infinite." My worry is that perhaps some of us are reluctant to allow the latter, and thus that "avoiding the regress" *has* to take the form of "all questions about meaning are to be disposed of in one fell swoop right at the beginning." I sometimes tell a story where we allow a few "but what does *that* mean?" questions and then run out of patience with what has turned out to be dogmatic skepticism. Or is that just what I said above.

About the dialectic: both McDowell and Finkelstein point to the key passage, PI §195, which might serve to sum up the attitude of the whole book: "Really the only thing wrong with [Platonism] is [the Platonistic "switch"]; the rest [the commonsense "bait"] is all right." But now I wonder if there's such a big honking categorical difference between 1) this attitude – that we snatch the bait off the hook and accept the perfectly natural sense of objectivity, denying only the Platonist distortion of same – and 2) McDowell's characterization of Wright, who he says "attributes to Wittgenstein [...] not an outright abandonment of the idea [of objectivity] but a reinterpretation of it."

In general, it seems to me that *whenever* we choose among views, we say: not this, but that; where "this" includes all the commonsense stuff we want and "that" has whatever philosophical extra stuff we think we don't need.

I looked on Blogger help and I can't find anything about a comment character limit. Maybe I myself will be truncated now; let's see.

Duck said...

Whoops, I see I got that backward: if we want "this," then it's "this," not "that," that's commonsensical. Naturally. Right; carry on.

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