Monday, April 11, 2005

Synchronicity, man

In my rant the other day about realism and relativism, I said, in part:
[People's statements] are (or are the result of) particular people's actions and judgments, which happen in a particular (e.g. cultural) context, with a particular (e.g. cultural) meaning, and are therefore to be judged with respect to the appropriate standards for that action, whatever they may be (something which is itself to be judged by the participants, not by transcendent "objective" criteria, whatever that means).

I wasn't talking about Wittgenstein specifically there, nor is the following quotation about realism and relativism in particular, but check this out. This is Michael Luntley, from a recent book called Wittgenstein: Meaning and Judgement (Blackwell, 2003), which I just started (looks really good too). Too bad it's like $35 for a slim paperback (try the library).

In chapter 1, Luntley says that in considering the question of intentionality (how can our words mean what they do?), one of Wittgenstein's main concerns was to reject what Luntley calls "animatory theories of meaning." We tend to see signs as inert inscriptions or sounds, which only "come to life" under certain conditions. "Animatory" theories attempt to explain these conditions. Luntley discusses three varieties of animatory theory: Platonic (signs "come to life" by making contact with the Forms), Cartesian (we animate them with our inner intentions), and communitarian (the meaning of signs is determined by community usage – an account that other interpreters, e.g. Meredith Williams, take Wittgenstein to favor). Rejecting all such theories, according to Luntley, is the task of the "negative phase of Wittgenstein's master argument."

Instead of these "bipartite" (I'd say "dualistic," but that's me) accounts, he (Luntley's Wittgenstein) says, we need to speak not of inert signs but of symbols, or signs-in-use; and instead of use as the animating of inert signs, we should speak of the use-of-signs as a practice. This is the point of the RFC ("rule-following considerations") in particular. But that's for later chapters, which I haven't gotten to yet. In this passage (p. 18; unsubtly, I have emphasized the key words, which make it look like we may be making the same point) Luntley is characterizing the positive task which remains after the negative demolition is complete. When we reject theoretical accounts of sign-animation, we do not thereby become anti-realists about meaning. The task is to account for normativity, to understand it, not reduce, eliminate, or ignore it. (This, not a commitment to metaphysical realism, is the force of Luntley's use of "realism" here.)
The basic positive move is to see use not as a pattern of signs, words, or expressions howsoever characterized. The realism about patterns is not about patterns of signs [but instead] patterns of actions. If you think of grammar [in Wittgenstein's idiosyncratic sense of the term] as a structure, then what we find at the nodes of the structure are not signs, but actions of agents as they use signs. [What we agents] are doing in using signs is, fundamentally, taking an attitude to the world, the attitude of a judge. [...]

[This] fundamental condition for the possibility of judgement is not capable of theoretical articulation. It consists in seeing the world aright, in taking the right attitude toward the world. Grammar is perspectival, for the structure of judgement is a structure of acts of judgement, things that cannot be individuated independently of the judge, the subject as agent. In short, the positive phase [of W's argument] shows that the subject never drops out of the picture in an account of intentionality. That is why the fundamental question is not: What are the conditions for the possibility of meaning? It is: What are the conditions for the possibility of judgement? The former question invites a perspective in which we forget to tell the story about our own role in intentionality. The thrust of the positive phase of Wittgenstein's argument is that we cannot and should not forget to give the account of our role in all this, on pain of getting it all wrong.

Again, though, that "account" cannot be theoretical in the traditional sense. It consists in part of (the action of) taking up the very attitude it illuminates, i.e., of "seeing the world aright." This means: seeing it as (we do) the locus and object of our everyday judgments, which are of course not inherently mysterious or in need of theoretical explanation. This is the sense in which, as I was talking about earlier, "philosophy only states what everyone admits" (PI §599). The proper philosophical "explanation" of intentionality would be one which brought about in the hearer the correct attitude (that of an agent or judge, i.e., a participant in the practice of judgment) toward it; but of course that's the one we ordinarily have. When we are confused, and demand that the attitude itself be captured "theoretically," we simply need to reminded of this. The trick will be to apply the "reminder" in the right way (that is, the effective) way – and of course this therapy will vary from patient to patient depending on how exactly the confusion is manifested. What this means is that ultimately we will need an account which is not broken down so neatly into "negative" and "positive" components, given that the former merely deals with symptoms and the latter is "not capable of theoretical articulation." We will always be left with "theory" in some form, even if its ultimate role is to put that role itself in the properly anti-theoretical context.

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