Friday, 8 April 2016

Dialogue with Peter Lucas on experience, concepts, judgement and the world

Over the last few weeks, I had a rare email conversation with a colleague from another school in this case Peter Lucas from HSS about the philosophical role and nature of experience and its place, or not, in accounting for what Wittgenstein describes as the ‘harmony of thought and reality’. We began with a chance discussion at a seminar of aspect perception which might or might not be a point of agreement between Heidegger, Wittgenstein and McDowell. But what prompted the conversation was me looking at Charles Travis’ chapter Travis, C. (2015) 'Suffering intentionally?' in Campbell, M. & O'Sullivan, M. (eds.) Wittgenstein and Perception, London: Routledge. 

I have put this - warts and all - on ‘In the space of reasons’ for two reasons. First, at the risk that neither of us will ever get other academic jobs having displayed our less than polished first reactions to arguments, I think it helps show the way in which the ship gets put in the bottle. That said, it is fairly obvious from our mutual incomprehension that we could never collaborate or co-author anything! (Amazingly we did, once, many years ago.)

Second, and related to that last point, Peter and I belong to opposing sides of the main schism in Western philosophy. I’m a kind of Wittgensteinian-McDowellian therapeutic version of an analytic philosopher. Peter’s work is situated in the phenomenological tradition of Husserl and Heidegger. And hence our discussions typically reflect both the clarity and blind-spots of our opposing traditions. Looking back, it is possible to get a bit of critical distance on how options are picked up or ignored. 

If there is a single underlying issue here it is how to reconcile experience and conceptual judgement and the hunch that there is more to experience than can be put into words. At its most extreme, I take a Travisian line in which this latter thought is simply false and Peter locates the resources for saying it is true initially in Husserl though he moves quickly on to Heidegger. A middle ground is John McDowell’s 1994 book Mind and World according to which experience has content, the content is conceptually structured, but the content can be formed from demonstrative thoughts picking up on, eg., particular shades of colour. (In a couple of emails I call this McDowell’s ‘trick’ though that isn’t meant critically.)

If nothing else, the dialogue shows moves both attempted within, and at the same time attempting to analyse (an aspect of), the space of reasons. In fact what it most clearly demonstrates is the following occasional aspect of academic life. You bump into someone in a seminar, make a chance remark, follow up with a quick email and then write hundreds or thousands of words for no formal research purposes at all!

From: Tim Thornton
Sent: 10 March 2016 22:17
To: Peter Lucas 
Subject: Travis on seeing-as

Peter,

It was good to bump into you today at the seminar. Here’s the pdf of the Travis chapter I was describing on aspect perception. Travis, C. (2015) 'Suffering intentionally?' in Campbell, M. & O'Sullivan, M. (eds.) Wittgenstein and Perception, London: Routledge

With respect to your earlier worry about Travis helping himself to the intentionality of pictures in an account of seeing-as, I guess he feels the right to assume that just as one assumes the intentionality of signposts although against a further assumed background of practices.

T

From: Peter Lucas
Sent: 14 March 2016 15:11
To: Tim Thornton
Subject: RE: Travis on seeing-as

Tim,

Had a quick read of Travis – will try to read it again more carefully. An initial reaction, for what it’s worth:

I am struggling to see how mere seeing could be any kind of “success”. If I am successfully to see x it must be the case that there is something akin to an act of judgement involved in the seeing.

There is no success involved in seeing Sid drink lager unless the context is such that (e.g.) recognising that it is indeed lager that Sid is drinking (or Sid that is drinking lager) counts as a success. Inferring that he is drinking lager might be another way of succeeding. But absent everything akin to an implicit or explicit judgement, how can we speak of success? (Merely to watch Sid drinking lager is no sort of success.) If someone should respond that it can be a success to see the ship on the horizon whether or not I happen to be looking for ships I would reply that it can count as a success only in relation to the activity of scanning the horizon for ships and the like.

So, in short, if seeing can be a success seeing must be (broadly) intentional.

The underlying mistake, it seems to me, is that of construing success terms as if the relevant sort of success did not depend upon something akin to judgement. It is assumed that if it makes any sense to construe “see” as a success term then it must follow that seeing what is not simply there to be seen is not seeing but hallucinating. But even “knowing” doesn’t behave like that. When I know that oranges are not the only fruit I don’t simply know what is there to be known. When I find that a student has committed plagiarism I don’t simply find what is there to be found. And when I see that there is a coal tit on the bird table I don’t simply see what is there to be seen. In all of these cases, success depends on seeing, grasping, finding what is not simply there. They all involve something akin to an act of judgment; and in the sense in which a judgement can be a success (i.e. we judge correctly) the judgement reflects (and must reflect) more than is simply “there”.

Peter

From: Tim Thornton
Sent: 14 March 2016 16:20
To: Peter Lucas 
Subject: RE: Travis on seeing-as

If I get time, I’ll see whether there’s a clear account of Travis’ official position of what seeing is / amounts to. I should know so I feel stupid. But he thinks that seeing affords subjects with things to think by putting them in direct contact with their surroundings. So seeing seems to involve a relation between the subject and the environment. Further, he doesn’t think that there is any conceptual content in the experiences one enjoys in seeing: the closest there is to that is actual worldly looks, the way say the Muller Lyer lines look different lengths, or the way Pia looks like her father, shares his looks. Content enters the picture in the judgements the subject makes. Where I am being dense today is that I don’t know whether someone seeing something is relation plus uptake or not. My problem is that if I saw the murderer but didn’t realise I had, the uptake / judgement I make isn’t how someone else would report my seeing and not recognising. So I’m not sure what limits there would have to be on a relation plus uptake / judgement model. (Too much uptake slips out of seeing and into the judgement of seeing-that.)

I suspect that ‘success’ was an unfortunate word for Travis. Factivity would have been better. He seems to gloss ‘success’ as factive: one cannot see what wasn’t there. That goes for me and the case of the murderer even if I don’t judge her to be a murderer. So ‘success’ seems wrong.

I’m not sure I follow your intuitions in the final para. It seems to me that what one knows was there to be known. (That’s the basis for Bernard Williams’ ‘absolute conception’.) Either simply seeing the coal tit (whether or not one knows what it is) or knowing that it’s a coal tit implies that it is a coal tit and hence that was a fact there to be known. I don’t think that that implies it’s easy. (If we now know there was a Higgs Boson at Cern...) My worry is that the opposite may be making things up.

T

From: Peter Lucas
Sent: 16 March 2016 15:42
To: Tim Thornton
Subject: For what they are worth...

…some musings on Philosophical Investigations paragraph 429:

Wittgenstein seems to be saying:
Talk of a harmony between thought and world comes to this: a belief (expectation etc.) may represent or misrepresent a state of affairs. Misrepresentation may be the more instructive case, since we are then not tempted to think that some individual element of the belief (etc.) must successfully represent some element of the state of affairs.

I see nothing to dispute in that, but what does it really tell us? Granting that misrepresentation does not depend (paradoxically) upon some kind of successful representation, let’s agree that:
Successful representation/misrepresentation depends on (1) successful reference and (2a) correct characterisation (in the case of truth) or (2b) incorrect characterisation (in the case of falsity).
Successful reference does not depend on any sort of representation (with a nod to Kripke).

Successful reference depends on the existence of the right sort of historical link between belief and object. The noun phrase “the red door” may successfully refer to the red door. The noun phrase “the blue door” may also successfully refer to the same red door (since the fact that the door in question has recently been repainted may be irrelevant provided the historical link is not thereby upset).

By contrast, correct characterisation depends on faithfully representing the object to which we have (successfully) referred. “The blue door is unlocked” is true just in case the item in question is unlocked. The item need not be a door and need not be blue. The elements of the noun phrase pick out but do not characterise the item in question in any significant way. It follows that successful characterisation is not a matter of simply picking out a simple or complex item as we might pick it out using a more or less complicated name or noun phrase. It matters that the door really is unlocked in a way that it does not matter whether it really is a door.

It also seems to me to follow that if we are to know that a state of affairs is successfully represented by a belief the state of affairs must be articulate in a manner that the referent of a noun phrase need not be. Of course, no weird metaphysical process takes place in the door when we switch from asserting that “the broken blue door is unlocked” to asserting that “the unlocked blue door is broken”. The door does not go from having an offhand relationship with its brokenness to having a studied relationship with its brokenness. Nevertheless the unlockedness of the door (first case) or the brokenness of the door (second case) must be evident in a manner that the blueness of the door need never be. Evidence in the relevant sense involves more than simply seeing (feeling etc.) the door and its properties. Simply seeing the blue door may be sufficient to establish a historical link for purposes of reference, but for it to be evident that the statement “the door is blue” is true we must be in a position to see that the door is indeed blue. (Merely noticing the blueness of the door will not do because it is quite compatible with failing to notice that the door is blue.)

Talking as if the state of affairs were itself a complicated sort of object would take us back to square one, so best avoided. But those who are committed to saying that we perceive/intuit states of affairs do not seem to me to be committed to saying that. Rather, their point is that the world does not consist primarily of objects but of states of affairs.

Peter

From: Tim Thornton
Sent: 16 March 2016 16:19
To: Peter Lucas 
Subject: RE: For what they are worth...

In passing...

I’m not sure that ‘The blue door is unlocked’ is true just in case the item in question is unlocked. The item need not be a door and need not be blue. I don’t know whether you are familiar with it (given your different philosophical tradition) but there’s a flow of papers from Russell’s account of definite descriptions, to Strawson, to Donnellan to Kripke. Donnellan says of a similar example that the speaker says something true but doesn’t say that the sentence itself is true. Kripke distinguishes what the speaker means by the phase and what the words mean. Without some further qualification, I think one would misinform someone if one simply said that Jones’ utterance of your sentence was true, if the door isn’t blue. The best is that they said of a particular object that it is unlocked where in the retelling, a different noun phrase has to be employed to pick out said object.

When it comes to seeing that (and the notion of evidence you begin to outline), I think we on safer ground if we say that every seeing-that is a judging. That’s why the state of affairs corresponding to the seeing-that has the right articulacy. It is as articulated as the judgement. It’s intensional. Seeing isn’t. (My cat sees Clark Kent if she sees Superman. She sees-that almost nothing.) Seeing-as is where we can then have a disagreement!

T

From: Peter Lucas
Sent: 17 March 2016 12:24
To: Tim Thornton 
Subject: RE: For what they are worth...

Back at yer…

Not sure we need worry too much about the first point. I would probably still try to argue it as a limit case but it can also serve to illustrate ways in which a statement can be true but potentially misleading.

On the second point: I guess I want to say that experiences can have the articulacy of a judgment. Not all seeing is intensional in the relevant way, evidently. However, some seeing is seeing-as, and seeing-as can be, in effect, seeing-that. Seeing-that is not judgement so much as evidence (in the relevant sense). An invitation to judgment?

Peter

From: Tim Thornton
Sent: 17 March 2016 12:52
To: Peter Lucas
Subject: RE: For what they are worth...

On experience: you’ll face some of the problems of the McDowell of Mind and World. If the content of experience has the articulacy of judgement and if judgement is the active exercise of concepts, presumably concepts are passively drawn on in experience (this is what McDowell says). But if so, which concepts? On the basis of an experience there seems to be a very great number of conceptual judgements I could make. Are all those concepts ‘in’ the experience? Or just a subset? If the latter, which? And is it the experience construed as a representation which is conceptually structured? Or the world so experienced?

The advantage of saying that seeing-that isn’t a perceptual verb but is a judgement (and so just names a judgement made on the basis of non-intensional seeing) is that one can answer the question of which concepts: the concepts actively selected for any particular judgement: all the judgements one takes oneself to be making. That move just seems safe to me. (Take the Muller Lyer lines: although one seems longer than the other I do not see-that one line is longer than the other. Perhaps I see one line as longer than the other. I’m happy to debate seeing-as.)

T

From: Peter Lucas
Sent: 17 March 2016 14:24
To: Tim Thornton
Subject: RE: For what they are worth...

I hoped you are not tired of running over and over this? I sometimes feel pretty dense. But then that also seems to happen to you.

I just re-read sections 32 and 33 of Being and Time. I guess I want to provisionally dig my heels in on the basis of what Heidegger says there – particularly in section 33. He portrays judgement as a derivative mode of understanding that fails to capture the richness of the experience that understands (in practice, various forms of experiencing-as and experiencing-that). The relative poverty of judgement is due to the fact that it is forced to operate with concepts. It would thus be no good (from his point of view) to ‘discover’ those concepts already in experience – the effect would be to impoverish experience to the same level. Of course it is only the concepts we deploy in judgement that we can explicitly list. But none of that shows that he is not right when he says that experience itself embodies primary understanding. (And, naturally, he does not think of such understanding as a matter of mental representation.) So, I will tactically shelter behind the big H and ask: what reasons do we have for thinking he is wrong? (Not purely a rhetorical question. I am genuinely concerned that he might be wrong. It is just that at the moment it seems more useful to say that I take myself to be hazarding – for better or worse - the kind of view that he sets out in the above.)

For Heidegger (though not of course for Wittgenstein) we see the table as a table, the door as a door. Seeing-as thus seems to be pervasive, and seems to go hand in hand with seeing-that. The standard Wittgensteinian cases would then be untypical: cases in which we see-as, but do not see-that (I see the duck-rabbit as a duck, but don’t see that it is a duck). Perhaps Heidegger would say that these are the sorts of cases in which we fall back on present-at-hand modes of understanding: our usual easy commerce with the world fails us and we have to employ the cumbersome procedures associated with judging that (which, as a derivative mode, must themselves have their foundation in non-atypical experiences of seeing-as – when e.g. we see the ruler as a ruler in preparing to measure the lines).

Peter

From: Tim Thornton
Sent: 17 March 2016 14:51
To: Peter Lucas <PLucas1@uclan.ac.uk>
Subject: RE: For what they are worth...

No I never find trying to understand the basics again and again dull. Perhaps one day I will succeed.

I hear your comments about MH [Martin Heidegger] on the richness of experience through the lens of those who claim - like Peacocke - that experience has a content but a non-conceptual one. So there is a sizeable number of philosophers who hold this. I don’t know how they would answer the question I want to address to you and MH: if experience isn’t carved up into concepts on the model of a sentence / judgement, in what sense is it articulated? What do we mean by articulation outside something quasi-linguistic? ((The modern analytic philosophers would hold, unlike MH that experience is a representation. I don’t think that that changes much.))

It seems to me that the hunch about richness and the hunch about articulation pull in different directions. One might hold that experience is rich but not articul*ated* and then that judgement articulates it into poorer conceptual chunks.

You also connect seeing-as and seeing-that. So what of the Muller-Lyer case (I realise that hard cases make bad laws but...)? I would here say that we don’t see ‘that’ one line is longer than the other (we cannot because seeing that is factive) but I can imagine we might say we see it ‘as’ that.

T

From: Peter Lucas
Sent: 17 March 2016 16:11
To: Tim Thornton
Subject: RE: For what they are worth...

Well, MH would say that experience is articulated by the “existential-hermeneutical ‘as’” of circumspection (as opposed to the “apophantical ‘as’” of judgement). If attention then moves to what lies either side of this ‘as’, the richness comes from the fact that the existential-hermeneutical as reflects a totality of involvements which the apophantical as cannot capture. Admittedly, saying that (existential-hermeneutically) we see the hammer as a hammer doesn’t sound very rich or informative. But that’s because expressing it in that way reduces it to something indistinguishable from a judgement. The ‘as’ accounts for the articulacy, the totality of involvements accounts for the relative richness; thus, in practice, seeing the hammer as a hammer manages to be articulate, rich and informative.

(I suspect H’s point is closely related to the point he makes about “essence” in “On the Essence of Truth”: if we try to capture the essence of something by relating it to others of the same type we end up with something relatively impoverished (what all hammers have in common). Whereas if we capture it by reference to the (in the broadest sense) historical context (which includes but is not limited to its relations to others of the same type) we grasp something much richer.

I tried to deal with the Muller-Lyer case in the second paragraph of my last: perhaps in these untypical (for MH) cases of seeing-as, seeing-as and seeing-that do come apart (we see the duck-rabbit as a duck, but do not see that it is a duck). But then we must rely on seeing-as to arrive at our judgement-that (we need to see the ruler as a ruler if we are to measure the lines). Ordinarily seeing-as and seeing-that don’t come part.

P

From: Tim Thornton
Sent: 17 March 2016 17:34
To: Peter Lucas
Subject: Re: For what they are worth...

Hmm. I think I would need to suspend quite a lot of my own disbelief to buy into this. Two different sorts of articulacy with the crucial one being ineffable though in some sense related to an object’s history, but not the history as articulated in language or judgements. I take the point that there is always more to say or that could be said about a hammer but why isn’t that there waiting in the world for all my subsequent judgments. (The totality of the hammer’s relationships doesn’t have to be presented to me all at once.) Why does it have to be built into my non linguistically ‘articulated’ take on the world?

You say that that we need to see things as things to arrive at the judgment but I am not sure that the excursion into Heidegger has yet made that more than a shared assertion (of him and you). So, at present, I prefer the idea that what we mean by articulacy is what we can explain that word to mean clearly on the model of the conceptual articulacy of a sentence or judgement. For the other notion, if there is one, let’s use a different word so as not to get confused. I promise not to deny that experience is []{}#%^*.

T

From: Peter Lucas
Sent: 18 March 2016 09:55
To: Tim Thornton
Subject: RE: For what they are worth...

Well, as I say, that’s what Heidegger says…

Most of it follows directly from the idea (which is characteristic of the phenomenological tradition as a whole) that experience has its own proper articulacy, which language can only reflect in a partial and haphazard way. The point is not that there is always more to say, but that what is articulated in experience can only be roughly translated into language. What might be thus translated into language is, in a sense, all there “waiting in the world” – but of course what Heidegger means by world is the articulate world, not the inarticulate world of modern physicalism.

I think it would be more faithful to the text to say that Heidegger thinks that linguistic articulateness is in fact dependent on pre-linguistic articulateness. He is more interested in explaining how articulateness occurs than in asking how it is possible – the latter would be too Kantian for him, I think.

I suspect that the stand-off between us is likely to centre on the fact that you feel there is no meaningful philosophical work to be done in getting from the inarticulate world of physicalism to the articulacy of judgements about that world, whereas Heidegger (and, to the extent that I am interested in exploring his claims, I) think(s) that there is – that’s where the problem of being resides.

Peter

From: Tim Thornton
Sent: 18 March 2016 10:34
To: Peter Lucas
Subject: Re: For what they are worth...

Well I see that if we could grant that experience has its own form of non-linguistic articulacy other aspects of the story would follow. But that is my sticking point. I don’t know what to do with that idea. For that reason, I want simply to invert your sentence:

“The point is not that there is always more to say, but that what is articulated in experience can only be roughly translated into language.”

The points isn’t the gnomic second half. All that is correct is captured by the first part.

But I want to cry “Steady on old chap!” about the next thought:

“What might be thus translated into language is, in a sense, all there “waiting in the world” – but of course what Heidegger means by world is the articulate world, not the inarticulate world of modern physicalism.”

Is that you accusing me of subscribing to physicalism!?! I have just the same qualms about gnomic articulacy and just the same confidence in conceptual articulacy in aesthetics or morals as physics. My qualms aren’t about a prior metaphysical or scientistic assumption being made or not made. Rather they concern the idea that there is any sense of articulacy outside the conceptual or judgement. But the conceptual or judgement ranges much wider than physics (obviously!).

I suspect it’s hard to put what the standoff depends on. In one sense I do want to say that in any particular case of judgement linguistic articulateness is dependent on pre-linguistic articulateness in the sense that my cat was in the airing cupboard where I found her before I got home. My judgement answers to her prior location. The words in the utterance reflect the objects in the situation. But the way I describe that bit of worldly articulation is always going to be linguistic. (Pointing at the cat in the airing cupboard isn’t going to do it.) Where I differ is in a kind of transcendental view that the one sort of (conceptual) articulacy in general can be explained at all by anything extra-conceptual. Conceptual articulacy is where we start and finish.

“there is no meaningful philosophical work to be done in getting from the inarticulate world of physicalism to the articulacy of judgements about that world.”

Well that’s what the rule following considerations are about. There’s no good explanation. It’s again a primitive. But it does seem to call for philosophical reflection to get this right.

T

From: Tim Thornton
Sent: 18 March 2016 13:42
To: Peter Lucas
Subject: The harmony of thought and reality
Attachment: The harmony of thought and reality: Wittgenstein and Davidson versus McDowell

Peter,

Further to recent conversations, this is the chapter I’ve been working on. It doesn’t have an ending yet (among other faults), but I thought you might be amused by its minimalism. Thought makes contact with reality only in language.

T

From: Peter Lucas
Sent: 23 March 2016 16:40
To: Tim Thornton
Subject: RE: The harmony of thought and reality

Thanks. I feel I am groping my way with a lot of this (my unfamiliarity with the material rather than your way of presenting it). It looks to me as if there are two types of harmony at issue here:

1. The particular harmony that might be said to obtain when on a disjunctivist view our beliefs manage to hit their target
2. The general harmony that obtains on a Davidsonian view as an inevitable consequence of the application of the principle of charity: we could not successfully individuate and attribute beliefs if we assumed that the believer was systematically out of touch with reality. (W’s view seems compatible with this.)

But I now think that issues with disjunctivism don’t have much to do with Heidegger. If I have understood correctly, disjunctivism models “harmony” on successful reference. It then seems a struggle to say what disharmony amounts to (what would a “false” belief refer to?). On the Davidson-inspired view the absence of general harmony seems unimaginable.

If I have read him right, Heidegger is much more interested in how objects are interpreted in experience. Successful interpretation of an object grasps it in its practical and historical context. (Seeing the bridge as a bridge.) We might also misinterpret the bridge by contextualising it wrongly (seeing it as wall, perhaps?) In both cases (successful interpretation, and misinterpretation) we succeed in seeing the bridge (so, this isn’t a disjunctivist view), and we have the “harmony” of successful reference. In the case of successful interpretation there is also the “harmony” of correctly understanding the relevant bit of the world (being in touch with reality). When we misunderstand there is a kind of disharmony (which nevertheless is compatible with still seeing the bridge.) Judgement is not required for experiential interpretation/misinterpretation. It comes on the scene later and endorses an interpretation (or misinterpretation) quasi-linguistically – though in doing so allowing much of the original content of the interpretation to slip through the net.

Though it seems to make your hair stand on end I am struggling to see what’s not to like in that. I can see that one might object to disjunctivism, and consequently object to the doctrine that experience itself is interpretive to the extent that it seems to entail disjunctivism. But if interpretive experience is modelled on seeing-as the problem doesn’t arise: one experiences the bridge, and either experiences it as it is or as it is not. When we experience the bridge as it is not we don’t fail to experience the bridge.

Peter

From: Tim Thornton
Sent: 23 March 2016 17:10
To: Peter Lucas
Subject: RE: The harmony of thought and reality

I’ll read and reply properly tomorrow (writing teaching slides now). Disjunctivism may have something to do with Heidegger. On McDowell’s view of it, in the good disjunct one takes in how things are. Not just successful reference but a successful glimpse of the facts. A direct relation to the things themselves.

(McDowell is criticised for not being a good enough disjunctivist because he thinks that experience has a representational content and this makes it seem to have the same content in good and bad disjunct and hence isn’t direct Heideggerian openness. I think these are good criticisms and recently McDowell has made things even worse by accepting that the content of the experience is the same in good and bad disjunct: what differs is the way it is had, its epistemic significance. But before he changed, he used to argue that having a content and being directly open to the world were consistent.)

In general, disjunctivism is taken to oppose a view that because experience is the same in veridical and non-veridical illusory cases, experience is never more than what is shared between the good and bad case. And hence - and McDowell used to be good on this - experience could never be sufficient for knowledge. So if the idea that experience is limited to what can be conceptually articulated seems a limitation (it doesn’t to McDowell but it does to you), I think one could be a non-McDowellian, disjunctivist where in the good disjunct, one is in direct perceptual contact with the world.

Finally summarised Travis though I’ll have to return to it when I’ve looked again at some other stuff.

http://inthespaceofreasons.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/travis-on-seeing-aspects.html

T

From: Tim Thornton
Sent: 24 March 2016 14:45
To: Peter Lucas
Subject: RE: The harmony of thought and reality

Further….
I think that my qualm concerns the fact that I cannot grasp what the nature of the state is which you take for granted. If I follow at all, an experience is an interpretation in practical and historical ‘terms’ but at the same time it isn’t a judgement, which is an intellectual act downstream and one which loses lots of detail because it is cashed out in, say, linguistic conceptual terms. But the first use of ‘terms’ in that sentence (which of course is mine not yours) isn’t the right word because it would imply modelling on linguistic conceptual terms like the second, which is just what you resist. So what on earth is it? What is both an ‘interpretation’ but not a judgement?

I can see that there could be other things going on. A violinist might pick up bow and violin and make music in a way I couldn’t no matter how much I could judge that there was a bow and violin present. I can also imagine a claim that a kind of spectator judgement of the world might depend on prior practical interventions in it (there’s a reading of Wittgenstein’s private language argument which claims this). But neither of those seem ripe/right for the word ‘interpretation’.

One wouldn’t want to fall back on just gesturing at one’s surroundings and saying “well all this is an interpretation”. (Cf PI: 261: What reason have we for calling “S” the sign for a sensation? For “sensation” is a word of our common language. not of one intelligible to me alone. So the use of this word stands in need of a justification which everybody understands. -- And it would not help either to say that it need not be a sensation; that when he writes “S”, he has something -- and that is all that can be said. “Has” and “something” also belong to our common language. -- So in the end when one is doing philosophy one gets to the point where one would like just to emit an inarticulate sound. -- But such a sound is an expression only as it occurs in a particular language-game, which should now be described.)

T

From: Peter Lucas
Sent: 24 March 2016 17:04
To: Tim Thornton
Subject: RE: The harmony of thought and reality

I should probably just put my cards on the table then and say that, for me, Wittgenstein’s position only seems to make sense if there can be no such thing as private “seeming” (an experience in which something privately seems to one to be thus and so). But there are private “seemings”, and the dawning of an aspect exemplifies this very straightforwardly. If I suddenly see a face differently because I see its likeness to another face there is something that I see (there is some content to my experience) even though someone who (in a sense) sees exactly what I see (the face) might not see what I see (have an experience with the same content).

It might be that I can express what I see linguistically (e.g. the face now seems to me Churchillian). Or it may be that I can’t (I can say no more than that I see the likeness to another face, though I cannot put a name to it). Either way though, I see the face “interpretively”; and either way there is (it seems to me) no way of fully capturing what I see in language.

I suppose someone could say that what can’t find its way completely into language could not function as a reason for anything (e.g. describing the face as Churchillian). I would say that that flies in the face of everyday experience: we just do experience the world interpretively (aspects colour our experience, and dawn on us), such experiences provide reasons for judgements (“this face is Churchillian”), and language can capture the content of such experiences only incompletely (the experience would be different for a member of Churchill’s immediate family, though they might describe it in exactly the same way as I would). One of Heidegger’s best thoughts is that consciousness is not closed in on itself but amounts to openness to an (intelligible) world. I like to think that language is similar – “experience” is not restricted within the closed circuit of language, rather language enables us to express experiences that are originally articulated extra-linguistically.

Peter

From: Tim Thornton
Sent: 24 March 2016 17:39
To: Peter Lucas
Subject: RE: The harmony of thought and reality

Can you just give me a little bit more?

I can see a face which looks in some sense like Churchill’s, even if it is say that of a baby. So that’s fine. I see a likeness and subsume it under a concept. Seeing that = judging. Other faces, too, can look like him. Perhaps I see a face which only suddenly looks like Churchill in a particular orientation. Or perhaps I only suddenly notice the likeness. It is a baby after all. If so, at first I lack that interpretation of the scene but then I have it and can make that judgement. This is all fine and connects seeing to judgement. But only see-that. Non-perceptual seeing. (Of course, often I see-that as a result of seeing. But I needn’t look in the same place. Travis suggests I can see that meat has fallen on the rug by seeing the horror in Pia’s face, not seeing the meat at all.)

(There may be a sense of the word ‘Churchillian’ which doesn’t mean looking like Churchill? I assume you don’t mean figurative uses.)

But suppose I see a likeness of one face to some other face which I cannot name. You say I still see the face interpretively. Perhaps I could say: I have seen a face like this before. Perhaps I can say that it is likely that I will get the name later, it is on the tip of my tongue. Suppose that never happens. Is that still seeing that face under some specific interpretation? I incline to say not. One thought there was a past generality but it turns out not. One thought one had such an interpretation but one didn’t. Of course, I may now baptise that face a particular type: 5:35pm Thursday type, say. But whether that baptism has content depends on the way I am then able to compare and contrast it with others. (One way might be: faces which might be genetically related to it. Another: faces equally stern.) This would be like baptising a colour sample. Not so much seeing this sample interpretively but rather using this sample to set up future interpretations of found colours.

Perhaps what matters more to you isn’t the reasons and judgements that seem fine by me in the above examples but something more primitively experiential. Even when I see the duck aspect of the duck-rabbit I see that it is a picture of a rabbit too. I am able to make that judgement, on the basis of what I see, ie. visually. I think you think that seeing-as is ubiquitous but I don’t know whether you think that that visual experience is. (I think it makes no sense to say that an essentially contrastive experience is ubiquitous.) You say: we just do experience the world interpretively (aspects colour our experience, and dawn on us). But it isn’t obvious to me that that happens aside from the fact that we can make judgements that a picture looks like sheep, or a face like Churchill. And, to repeat, that is still within the conceptual. Churchill’s family may be able to make finer discriminations than us. But if so they are not restricted to just using the word Churchillian. They have other words too they can use on the basis of what they see. And they can coin concepts by saying “a nose shaped like that!”. Still that’s all conceptual.

The good bit in your final thought - as far as I’m concerned - is: consciousness is not closed in on itself but amounts to openness to an (intelligible) world. The bad bit is suggesting that you can say what is ‘intelligible’ brutely, extra-linguistically. By contrast I think that in, eg., seeing-as, it’s the ‘as’ that expresses what is intelligible. The ‘as’ is followed by a concept not an inarticulate grunt.

Tim

From: Peter Lucas 
Date: 24 March 2016 at 18:49:58 GMT
To: Tim Thornton 
Subject: RE: The harmony of thought and reality

Somewhat hastily…

If we say that all seeing-as involves subsumption under a concept I would say that concepts are not narrowly linguistic (the concept under which the family member sees the face is not the concept under which I see it, though we both use the same word). I’d be happier though conceding that concepts are essentially linguistic and saying that the interpretation that occurs in the dawning of an aspect is pre-conceptual: the concept imperfectly (and linguistically) expresses what experience grasps.

(Husserl gives the example of seeing a tool as a drill. One might not be able to put what one sees into words (the word will not come, or perhaps is not known), but that need not impede our seeing it as a drill.) Of course one would usually expect that someone who can successfully interpret what they see could perform the usual tricks with samples, paradigms etc. But on my account those tricks supervene on the basic ability to see and interpret, rather than making it possible. (What licences the attribution of the interpretation to someone else is another matter – but why fixate on that?)

On my view seeing-as is more or less ubiquitous. But that doesn’t rule out contrasts. When an aspect dawns it is usually the dawning of a new aspect – rather than the appearance of an aspect for the first time. Having said that, much of what Heidegger says about the present-at-hand is suggestive of the idea that what is merely present-at-hand is simply seen and not (or no longer) seen as anything. (The broken hammer is just a dumb bit of world-stuff) – untypical, but not impossible.

Of course, the “as” is usually followed by a concept rather than an inarticulate grunt, when we put it into words! But why assume that what cannot be put (completely) into words cannot be? LW notwithstanding, it just seems daft to me to say I cannot see something “as…” what I do not have a concept for – though naturally I won’t (usually) confidently attribute the ability to someone who doesn’t have the relevant concept. (That said, if they can pick the drill up and use it to make accurate holes I won’t really worry that they don’t know its name).

Will have to sign off now – might get back to it over the weekend or next week, but can’t be sure.

Peter

From: Tim Thornton
Sent: 1 April 13:02
To: Peter Lucas
Subject: RE: The harmony of thought and reality

I think my qualms in all this are as follows: a tension between 1 and 2.

1) The intuition that one ‘grasps’ more in experience than one can (hence imperfectly) put into words is something for which some therapy is needed. One cannot just dismiss it. McDowell’s suggestion is that one can create concepts via demonstratives to say: “that shade! is ...” This still seems a good idea to me (even if one thinks that they only play a role in active judgement). But in any case, there seems something right about the idea that experience is rich in some way that might create problems for those who think nothing is missed by sticking to what can be described. Pushing this thought is an emphasis on the passivity of experience. I cannot help but drink in a richness to experience (which *may* go beyond my language without, say, McD’s suggested trick). What I ‘grasp’ *may* be more than I can understand (again unless we’re happy with the trick). ((These days, as the Travisian I’ve become, I’d avoid all this talk. But I want to record a sympathy to it. Travis owes an account of richness and he does it by outsourcing it to the experienced world, not the experiencing.))

2) But, the idea that one sees something *as* something seems to me to pull the other way. This isn’t just passive but already some sort of making of sense of the scene. Two takes on this:
i) On McD’s trick I gain a concept by saying “this shade of colour” and hence I can express a fully conceptual judgement or thought: “I’ll paint my house this! shade (of red)”. But now, what do I achieve when I see the shade as something? The best is that I see this shade *as* this shade. I’m not sure that this does any work. Perhaps the first this picks out the particular and the second is a general concept extracted from the particular? I’m ill at ease in calling this a seeing-as, though, because the concept is defined by the particular.
ii) But I’m assuming that you’d prefer to think of my grasp as non-conceptual though still some sort of ‘grasp’. In that case whatever stands in for the thought ‘this shade’ is more like the shade itself, not my conceptual articulation of the shade. So now I passively stare at the shade and take it in as this! (Not even this shade.) And that seems even worse because there’s no chance of conceptual generality in play in the second ‘this’.

I could see the point of being Hanson and thinking that all seeing is seeing-as where what follows the ‘as’ is a concept. Or rejecting that and thinking that seeing is an experientially richer notion than concepts allow but thus reject the idea that seeing is seeing-as. But I’m baffled by trying to have it both ways.

T

From: Peter Lucas
Sent: 04 April 2016 12:24
To: Tim Thornton
Subject: Harmony etc.: having it both ways

Tim,

I think what looks to you like trying to have it both ways stems from viewing all of this ultimately from a phenomenological standpoint.* For phenomenologists, the “object” of perception is never a simple particular. Whereas for Travis “seeing that” can only ever be a type of judgement (I “see that” I was mistaken, but do not literally see my mistake), for Husserl etc. I (literally) see that such and such is the case because what I see are not objects but states of affairs. For Husserl such states of affairs are not particulars but ineliminably involve universals: if I see that the door is red I do not simply see the door along with the particular shade that the door happens to be, I see the door (and a fortiori the shade) as being a shade of red. For Husserl, I could not possibly have this experience unless redness itself (the universal) featured in it directly.

Heidegger replaced Husserl’s notion that the states of affairs we see are articulated in terms of universals with the idea that they are articulated temporally or historically. To see that a hammer is a hammer is not so much to see it in terms of a universal “being-a-hammer” as to see it in terms of its history and possibilities (which include but are not limited to its relationships to other hammers). One might say then that whereas for Husserl we never simply see the particular but see the particular in terms of the universal, for Heidegger it is seeing the particular in terms of its history that gives the experience its articulacy and (restricted) universality. “Seeing” can still for Heidegger be a success term because the hammer really is a hammer. For the Heidegger of Being and Time, all of this is going on pre-linguistically. Informed linguistically-articulated judgements are only possible because experience itself is already articulate.

*Heidegger is still in key respects a phenomenologist, even in his critique of what Derrida terms the “metaphysics of presence”. Unlike Husserl, Heidegger regards presence as fundamentally historical (thus presence is always crucially dependent on what is not yet or no longer present).

Peter

From: Tim Thornton
Sent: 05 April 2016 09:27
To: Peter Lucas
Subject: RE: Harmony etc.: having it both ways

Interesting. It sounds to me as though Husserl subscribes to a view which Travis finds significant in a criticism of it in Wittgenstein’s Blue Book.

(a) The tendency to look for something in common to all the entities which we commonly subsume under a general term. . . . The idea of a general concept being a common property of its particular instances connects up with other primitive, too simple, ideas of the structure of language. It is comparable to the idea that properties are ingredients of things which have the properties; e.g., that beauty is an ingredient of all beautiful things as alcohol is of beer and wine. (Wittgenstein 1958: 17)

Travis stresses a difference between recognition meaning re-cognising the same individual and recognition as a kind of active judgement that something should count as something (like a court recognizing someone as having particular rights). Suddenly as I type this I’m less sure that I’m getting him right but let me try this. Whilst one can recognise in the first sense an individual or thing (that one has seen before), one can only recognise properties in the second sense. So, eg., if the property is being green, knowing the meaning of the word ‘green’ is not enough to know whether it would be correct to call leaves painted green ‘green’, or an object green on the outside but not the inside etc. One also needs to know the context and what it would be reasonable to say and think in that context. This is his occasion sensitivity (of the truth of judgements). Since in different contexts leaves painted green would and would not count as green (contrast film sets and biology class), there’s no property to be recognised in the first sense, no property as an ingredient of things.

Of course, that’s not to say Travis is right to claim this!

Still, if I follow, you’ve told me this as a way of reconciling what seem to me to be two contrasting intuitions: that experience is more fine grained or richer than (conceptual) judgement but that we see things as things. So I suppose that the universals are what dissolves the tension. If seeing the red door were a matter of just seeing that object and that particular instance of the shade, that wouldn’t be seeing it as something because there would be no hint of generality in the particular experience (?). But seeing the universals and in the experience counts as a form of seeing-as, as a variant on the Hanson / younger McDowell picture where the seeing-as is in linguistic concepts. So I assume that the universals are like the ontological shadows of concepts given to us by the world itself.

If so, I have two qualms. First, it seems hard to know what to make of the idea that the world divides itself up for us into generalities. How do its divisions relate to our linguistic conceptual divisions? How does a red door signpost all the other shades of red as the same universal? Or does it not? Does it only signpost that precise shade? If so, does the world take a view on whether shades are relative to lighting conditions or surface properties of things? Second, I know you don’t believe this because of your comments about taxonomy after my session on truth the other day. So I cannot have followed your intent here. (Ie invoking Husserl to shed light on dissolving my felt tension. If so, it should at least make sense.)

T

From: Peter Lucas
Sent: 05 April 2016 18:17
To: Tim Thornton
Subject: RE: Harmony etc.: having it both ways

Re. occasion sensitivity: I have to say that Travis’s point seems correct but fairly trivial – what one is looking for experience to confirm in a biology class and a film set will no doubt be different, but that does not seem to entail that on each occasion there is no specific universal feature that is looked for (nothing that counts as “being-green” in that context). It will not be an “ingredient” in the sense of a part though. The idea that beauty is an ingredient of beautiful things as alcohol is of beer and wine would be rejected by a Platonist, let alone Wittgenstein.

My suggestion is indeed that making universals objects of experience (rather than simply features of judgements) would dissolve the tension (between the idea that experience is richer in content than judgement, and the idea that seeing-as is ubiquitous). However, given where (on my view) the richness lies, it might be more accurate to say that concepts are the shadows of universals.

I agree that the above makes it sound as if the world itself divides itself up into generalities – and that is (a) incompatible with what I said about taxonomy, and (b) pretty implausible (some of Husserl’s remarks about essences seem hair-raisingly implausible). But that’s why I recommended progressing via Husserl to Heidegger. Husserl establishes the idea that universals are directly present in experience (and it is the task of phenomenology to isolate and map them). Heidegger develops the idea by insisting that the “essences” Husserl claims to identify are historical through and through – the world does not divide itself up into generalities, but nor are “essences” the nominal essences of empiricism (the effects rather than the bases of judgement). The essences we experience grow out of our historical commerce with the bearers of those universals - out of a variety of forms of life. There will no doubt be some dialectical interplay between language / judgement and experience (since our commerce with the bearers of essences will be partly linguistic). But the centre of gravity of Heidegger’s attempt to read knowledge and truth back into forms of life ultimately lies in an appeal to experience and historical activity rather than to a set of linguistic practices.

Peter