Thursday 27 February 2014

Who are we?

This is the first section of a short article published in Splijtstof, the student philosophy journal at Radboud University, Nijmegan to coincide with the Philosophers' Rally 2014.

Who are we?
Wittgenstein, rule-following and the 'whirl of organism' 

We learn and teach words in certain contexts, and then we are expected, and expect others, to be able to project them into further contexts. Nothing insures that this projection will take place (in particular, not the grasping of universals nor the grasping of book of rules), just as nothing insures that we will make, and understand, the same projections. That on the whole we do is a matter of our sharing routes of interest and feeling, senses of humour and of significance and of fulfilment, of what is outrageous, of what is similar to what else, what a rebuke, what forgiveness, of when an utterance is an assertion, when an appeal, when an explanation – all the whirl of organism Wittgenstein calls ‘forms of life’. Human speech and activity, sanity and community, rest upon nothing more, but nothing less, than this. It is a vision as simple as it is difficult, and as difficult as it is (and because it is) terrifying. [Cavell 1969: 52]

In this influential passage, Stanley Cavell offers an interpretation of Wittgenstein’s discussion of shared language. It is offered in part to undermine the assumption that language use is governed by formal rules. So it aims to correct the idea that linguistic usage just is rule following. But that is not to say that Cavell thinks that following formal rules, in logic or mathematics, are underpinned by anything more than is described in this passage. Neither language use nor logic or mathematics is underpinned by extra-human, or extra-rational-subject, platonism.

We are able to learn and teach words or rules because we share routes of interest and feeling, senses of what is similar to what else etc. But who are we? What light does Wittgenstein’s discussion of understanding meaning and following rules shed on who we are? In this short note I will compare three contemporary philosophers who have attempted to address this question...

Thursday 20 February 2014

Adam Carter and Duncan Pritchard on knowledge-how

I’ve been reading a couple of forthcoming papers by J Adam Carter and Duncan Pritchard downloaded as pre-publications from Duncan’s website (so I assume quoting is OK). I found the two together very helpful, not least because of some general stage setting about possible responses to Stanley’s views on Gettier examples and knowledge-how (the nested dilemma in one paper is particularly helpful).

(For anyone who is not familiar with the recent literature, Ryle famously argued that knowing-how and knowing-that were distinct with knowing-how more basic. Ryle argued against what he called the ‘intellectualist myth’ - which was the idea that the intelligence implicit in knowing-how could be explained as deriving from grasping a proposition, ie a bit of knowing-that - by deploying a regress argument against the idea. But Jason Stanley and Timothy Williamson published a paper in 2001 attempting to counter the regress argument but also sketching a model of knowing-how as a matter of grasping in a proposition a way to do something, but grasping it under a practical mode of presentation or sense. Knowing-how is thus, on their picture, a particular form of knowing that. If, however, knowing-how is a form of knowing-that and if knowing-that is susceptible to Gettier inspired counter examples then so should knowing-how be. Since they – and many others afterwards – focus on examples in which the original instruction from which one derived the know-how has the mix of good and bad epistemic luck that characterise Gettier cases but which leaves intact the underlying ability, there has been some disagreement as to whether the resultant putative know-how really has been undermined: really is not knowledge.)

This is the debate into which Carter and Pritchard enter, attempting to argue that knowledge-how and knowledge-that are distinct without this escalating to forms such as knowledge-where. I’m less sure that I share enough of the basic intuitions that drive their papers to follow the detail of the argument.

Both papers (referenced below) argue that the idea of skill-like cognitive achievement doesn’t capture or codify intuitions about knowledge both because one can have knowledge (eg via testimony) without much achievement (when knowledge rubs off on one like an infectious disease, in Evans’, I think, phrase) and because cognitive achievement can survive one kind of luck (environmental rather than intervening) whereas knowledge in general cannot. This helps to motivate the idea that knowledge-how is genuinely distinct from knowledge-that which in turn is akin to all the other forms of knowledge-wh... (who, what, where, when etc).

One tool they use is a comparison between knowing-why and understanding-why where the latter is an achievement. But initially they sketch a rougher sense in which understanding-why is harder to achieve than knowledge-that. It’s here in this paragraph from ‘Knowledge-How and Cognitive Achievement’.

Campbell has a good grasp of how faulty wiring might cause a house fire, one that is sufficient for him to be credited not just with knowledge-that, but also with understanding-why. But imagine that he passes on his knowledge of what caused the house fire to his young son, and that while the son knows what faulty wiring is, he lacks a solid conception of how faulty wiring might cause a house fire. Campbell’s son can come to know that the house burned down because of faulty writing by receiving this information from his father, at least so long as he is capable of being reasonably circumspect about who he receives testimony from and what he believes on the basis of testimony (i.e., such that he doesn’t believe everyone about everything). Of course, he will be to a large extent trusting his father’s word in this regard, but in these circumstances, and about a subject matter like this, such trust seems entirely compatible with the acquisition of testimonial knowledge. But given that Campbell’s son lacks a solid grip on how cause and effect might be related, can he be rightly said to understand why his house burned down? We suggest not.

The suggestion seems to be that even if one knows why the house burned down (because it had faulty wires), if one’s grasp of the causal nexus into which this fits is poor – one lacks a solid conception of how faulty wiring might cause a house fire - then one fails to understand why it burned down. An understanding is fuller than mere knowledge. This distinction seems pretty much carried by an intuition about everyday language use although it isn’t discussed more in either paper (“He knows but he doesn’t really understand”, we might say.)

On the other hand, they connect understanding with cognitive achievement in such a way that it is also easier to gain: it is not undermined by environmental luck. (I mean that it is easier, not their word, in this sense: there is one fewer thing to worry about.)

Though the environmental epistemic luck at play in this second version of the case would be enough to undermine propositional knowledge that the house burnt down, the same doesn’t hold for understanding-why. Indeed, that Campbell could so easily been given the wrong explanation seems perfectly compatible with him having gained an understanding of why his burned down in this case.  

This might seem odd or arbitrary except for the fact that there has been a prior connection made to skill.

Imagine, for example, that our archer’s shot could so very easily have been affected by freak gusts of wind but in fact wasn’t she just happened to fire at the precise moment to avoid the freak gusts, which would have otherwise affected her shot. The archer’s success is thus lucky, in that it is a success that could so very easily have been a failure, but where this luck is of the environmental rather than the intervening variety. Here is the crux: Is this archer’s success any less of an achievement in virtue of being subject to specifically environmental luck? We claim that the natural answer to this question is ‘no’. While intervening luck can undermine a genuine achievement, a success is no less because of ability if there is environmental luck in play.

With both these intuitions in play – that understanding is more than mere knowledge of a fact and that understanding is skill-like in that it is, unlike knowledge, immune to environmental luck – we get both the differences from knowledge. Understanding needs more than mere atomic testimonial transmission – it is harder to get than that – but it can survive a merely lucky provenance. These seem independent intuitions and there doesn’t seem much argument for them. I can imagine conceding the former but then denying the latter (because I think of understanding as merely a more thorough body of uber-knowledge and thus, knowledge-like, being undermined by environmental luck). Or I can imagine contesting one spin of the former. Let’s say you cannot understand why the house burnt down unless you know more than just the fact that the faulty wires caused it. You need to know the causal steps. But why could you not learn those steps through testimony? That is, why think that the extra achievement is of a different kind rather than degree for knowledge? It is not clear to me that this follows from the everyday usage. In other words, I worry that the account of understanding has not done enough to demonstrate the connection to skill that they need in order that this can serve as an example of something - like knowledge-how to come - that is immune to environmental luck.

At the end of the paper, we get a similar easier and harder (my rough description not theirs) spin on knowledge how but here it seems to pull the other way. That is, there’s insufficient connection between knowledge-how and skill.

It is natural then to ask whether knowledge-how is present in cases of knowledge-that which fall short of a cognitive achievement. Going back to the LUCKY LIGHT BULB case, suppose that Charlie finds out how to change a light bulb by receiving this information from what he knows to be a reliable information source (and that there is, in addition, nothing epistemically amiss in his acquisition of this information), and that Charlie passes this information onto his young son. Let us stipulate that Charlie’s son exhibits the same level of cognitive ability as we saw exhibited in the testimonial case considered above. That is, while he wouldn’t have asked just anyone or believed just anything that he is told, it is nonetheless the case that for the most part he is merely trusting the word of his father. Nonetheless, his father is indeed authoritative in this regard, and the environment is epistemically friendly in all the relevant respects (in particular, it is not the case, for example, that Charlie’s son could so very easily have been deceived by his father). As we saw above, on standard proposals regarding testimonial knowledge-that, Charlie’s son will come to have knowledge-that in this case (i.e., knowledge-that such-and-such is how one goes about changing a bulb). But does he know how to change a light bulb?

So Charlie’s son does acquire knowledge-that because, as long as there is no luck in play, knowledge is easy to come by. It needn’t be more than the most minimal achievement. So, for example, he knows that such and such method is the way to change a light bulb. Still this leaves open the question of whether he knows how to change one.

At this point they say something that surprised me:

Sure, he can change a bulb...

But, hang on, in the example we don’t know this at all. For all we know, he suffers from locked in syndrome. In such a case, it is at least possible to argue that he knows how to change the bulb but can’t. (This isn’t my view – because of the action at a distance of other views – but it seems that every day usage might allow it.) It is a further assumption that – in addition to knowing the way to change the bulb - he can actually change a bulb. Still if we pause to note the assumption, we can make it and see what happens. So suppose that in addition to having all that testimonially acquired knowledge-that by listening to his father in informal theoretical lectures in the kitchen he also has the practical nous to change a bulb. Does he know-how to change the bulb?

At this point, it seems a bit weird to me to ask the question. To say that he can change the bulb is not to say that he has been successful (it’s more general than that it though to have the ability may not require past actual success). Nor is it to say that it is possible, in the luckiest of circumstances, that the son, left in a room, would end up changing a bulb though hypnotic control by others. It is to say that he has the ability, a standing reserve. It is this which explains, when all goes well environmentally, his success. But in a post-Gettier world Carter and Pritchard go on:

Sure, he can change a bulb, but there is plausibly more required for knowledge-how than that. What we are after when it comes to know-how is not merely the ability to produce a certain outcome, but rather a particular kind of epistemic relation that the agent exhibits with respect to that outcome. And sure, Charlie knows how to change a light bulb, since he can vouch for the epistemic source of his information. But the key question is whether Charlie’s son can come to acquire knowledge-how in this case, given that he is for the most part simply trusting his father’s testimony. We suggest not.

Here’s a funny thing. We get to know that Charlie (the father) knows how to change a light bulb because he can vouch for the epistemic source of his information. This looks the wrong place to look for reassurance of his practical know-how because it assumes a theoretical view. Again: perhaps Charlie suffers from locked in syndrome and cannot move from his bed. This implicit assumption is also suggested in the distrust of an ability to produce a certain outcome in favour of a particular kind of epistemic relation (I should add I like the later comment which connects ability and outcome I think it is implicit in the first, distrusted, phrase here).

It seems to me that the challenge in this area of philosophy is to locate knowledge-how in the face of two possible assimilations:
* We can connect it to ability with Ryle
* Or we can connect it to propositional knowledge with Stanley and Williamson.
A too brute connection to ability threatens to remove the mindedness or conceptuality from it and thus threaten its genuine knowledge-status. But a too theoretical or effete connection to knowledge-that threatens to undermine its practicality. For that reason, Stanley and Williamson insist that the demonstratively articulated proposition that makes up the content that is ‘known-that’ is also entertained under a practical mode of presentation. But in this discussion, that safety net seems to have gone missing so that knowing the right propositions whether practically or not counts as knowing-how to do something. And that’s surely wrong in some cases. In some cases, that would lead to saying false things.

The analogy with skill is first deployed, then played down, and then returns at the end. Carter and Pritchard point out that Gettier-related problems which result by splitting ability and success and reuniting them through luck can be avoided by stipulating that the success is because of the ability.

If one successfully Fs because of one’s ability (vis-à-vis F), then one knows how to F. If this is right, and the converse holds i.e., that if one knows how to F, then one is positioned to successfully F because of one’s ability (vis-à-vis F) then we have an account of what it would be for knowledge-how to essentially involve cognitive achievement.

This emphasis on ability and its explanatory connection to success seems right. But when it comes to the examples they offer of knowing how to do something the emphasis is too effetely cognitive and not practical enough.

I have been increasingly having Travisian thoughts about these connections. Sometimes to say that someone knows how to do something is to say, roughly, that they know, of a way of doing it, that it is a way to do it whether or not they have a practical ability to do it. Sometimes, it is to say that they can do it. If so, their success, as Carter and Pritchard stress, is their achievement even if it takes the right environment. It’s the context that makes particular Gettier style examples relevant or not. So if the context concerns practical abilities, the relevant worry wouldn’t be a purely cognitive style of Gettier example (such as the lucky light bulb case) but rather something that suggested that a skill was, by bad luck, exercised in normally unforgiving circumstances although compensated for by further luck. But if the context is theoretical, the standard kind of Gettier example is the threat to knowledge.

So whereas Carter and Pritchard seem (though they express some reservations) to think that there are firm boundaries between knowledge-how, on the one hand, and knowledge-that or knowledge-wh..., on the other, I’m less sure. Take this paragraph from ‘Knowledge-How and Epistemic Luck’ in which they discuss whether Charlie really knows where to buy a light bulb in virtue of reading a guide book which, although reliable, was randomly selected from among unreliable alternatives. So there’s environmental luck in play.

Crucially, however, we maintain that it is far from obvious that knowledge-where is compatible with environmental epistemic luck, especially when compared with knowledge-how. In order to see this, try the ‘past self’ test on this case. If Charlie were to subsequently discover that environmental epistemic luck was involved in him gaining the right directions to the light bulb store, would he still regard his past self as knowing where to go? We think this is not at all clear. At the very least, it seems right to say that Charlie will be much less inclined to judge that his previous self had knowledge-where than before. In contrast, we noted above that there seems no temptation at all for Charlie to regard his past self as lacking knowledge-how in the corresponding case.

It seems to me that context is crucial here. If Charlie has acquired a reliable navigational skill in a confusing foreign city then the ascription that he knows where the shop is survives the lucky origins. But if the focus is on knowing the address in a regular grid structure, where the further skills concerning navigation are taken for granted by all, then it does not. So it is not a property of knowledge-where as such but the ascription in context.

Carter, J.A. and Pritchard, D. (forthcoming) ‘Knowledge-How and Cognitive Achievement’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research
Carter, J.A. and Pritchard, D. (forthcoming) ‘Knowledge-How and Epistemic Luck’ Noûs

Friday 7 February 2014

Final confused summary from Utrecht

Weirdly, although Dr. Raphael van Riel (Bochum)’s presentation on ‘Erklären vs. Verstehen - a merely conceptual distinction?’ was very carefully and logically set out, I became lost part way through. Although the main idea was to show that the only way to get a distinction between understanding and explanation was to reject even a very weak form of naturalism I am not sure how the argument actually went. I think the initial move was to take as a stalking horse a view that might fit with current epistemology:
x understands why p iff
1: there is some q such that x stands in some relation R to the proposition that p because q and
2: in the light if standing in R to p because q, p turns out to be integrated in x's first person perspective.

For there to be a fundamental distinction between explanation and understanding then there have to be propositions which fit this schema but which cannot be explained. Why might this be so? Metaphysically, it might be that there are some truths about worldly objects which cannot be explained but only understood. Or, epistemologically, there may be some truths about worldly objects explanations of which are not in principle accessible to us but which can be understood. The idea was then that either of these possibilities required the truth of strong dualism, or the falsity of weakly reductionist naturalism such as supervenience physicalism.

Recall the condition:
1: there is some q such that x stands in some relation R to the proposition that p because q...
Why might the proposition ‘p because q’ lie outside the remit of scientific explanation? There could be something special about q or something about the ‘because’. But weak naturalism is already a commitment inconsistent with this. It holds that for every true proposition about worldly objects, q, the is a proposition q* such that
1 q* is a true proposition about the subject matter of the natural sciences and
2 either q=q*  or q because q*.

So for every relation ‘p because q’ which is non-natural, there is 1) some lower level description of both elements in naturalistic terms which recapitulates the same ... because ... form and 2) the non-naturalist connection is true because of the lower level naturalistic claim. Hence weak naturalism is a commitment to the explanatory reach of naturalistic resources. For example, the supervenience base of intentional or reason 'explanations’ (I scare quote so as not to assume that these are explanations by contrast with something sui generis tied to understanding) itself explains those ‘explanations’. So the only way to block this would be to deny even a weak form of naturalism.

If this is vaguely right about the dialectic of the talk then it seems to beg the question about the nature of the potential relation of explanation and understanding by seeing it from the perspective of explanation (this is why I doubt that I followed it). Suppose we (rashly) assumed that Davidson’s anomalous monism were correct then the rational pattern of mental events picked out in accord with the constitutive ideal of rationality would supervene on a myriad of different nomologically structured physical patterns. So each token transition picked out at the mental level could be explained by the supervenience base. But that is neither here nor there for the view of understanding that is part of Davidson’s picture. It is not that particular transitions cannot be explained via the subvenient facts but that the pattern of relevant comparisons at the mental level goes missing at physical level.

This is not to deny the problems of either Davidson’s picture of mind or, relatedly, the shapelessness argument attached to the defence of moral realism against forms of reductionism but addressing them seems to go beyond this argument.

Now, however the pub calls with my good chum Floris so I will pass over the final session (on the particular case of linguistics).

Utrecht workshop, second day

Back at the second day of the workshop, Dr. Gottfried Vosgerau (Düsseldorf) (pictured) kicked off with ‘The role of Verstehen and Erklären for psychiatric symptoms. The case of thought insertion’. He began with a reasonably familiar outline of Kant’s characterisation of the unity of consciousness: The ‘I think’ must be able to accompany all my thoughts - and both Wittgenstein on I as subject vs object and Shoemaker on immunity to error through misidentification. In such cases of thinking that I am hungry, one cannot be wrong about to whom the predicate applies (though the predicate may be wrong).  It is plausible to interpret all three as including the production of thoughts as well as passive experience. But such a priori views seem to conflict with the pathological experience of thought insertion.

There followed some further ground clearing on whether just as the phrase "my movement" is equivocal between mere mineness and agency so might "my thought" also be equivocal. Since subjects with thought insertion do not deny the former sense of mineness their problem must concern authorship. But there seem no plausible analyses of authorship which concern the mechanisms, as it were, of thought production. Instead, and adopting an approach borrowing from Verstehen, we should ask what the purpose of ascriptions of authorship is. Responsibility? Praise? In everyday life it is connected to a social praxis: so it is not merely an individual matter. Authorship is not inherent in a thought but a social property like the value of a coin. I can only infer authorship. But if so, just as one cannot feel that one’s luggage is not on board a plane, so there is no feeling of authorship. Possible feelings are restricted to qualities such as: effort, coherence etc. So self-ascriptions of authorship are based on background beliefs: a higher order complex process applied post hoc.

With this (helpful and clear) background in place, a more familiar theory of thought insertion emerged. The reason for the denial of authorship was the experience of a thought that runs contrary to a subject’s sense of self coupled with a second factor (cf two factor models of other delusions) of jumping to conclusions.

As well as the fact that no such violation of a sense of self seems present in the famous Eamonn Andrews example quoted in the talk (though GV stressed that the available data was very poor), I worried that this is an overly intellectual account. Just as one might self-ascribe abilities or understanding that goes strictly beyond the facts available to oneself at a moment, so one might take oneself to be the author of some thoughts and not of others even on this broadly social reading of the facts that authorship comprises. If that were the case in non-pathological cases, then pathological cases might simply involve a breakdown of just that experience (or sense or feeling) rather than a post facto explanation requiring a mismatch between thought and self image.

Rejecting my worry of being overly intellectual, GV suggested that one might infer in normal cases one’s authorship from a 'sense of effort’ of thinking. But this seems both phenomenological nonsense (in flow, I feel no effort) and to highlight a restriction on the sense of 'feeling’ that drove the account (in the idea of a feeling or sense of authorship). If that were all that could immediately inform direct self ascriptions one would, eg., have to infer one’s understanding of a word and hence ability to use it in the future from the merely local and occurrent features of experiences. But this is hopeless. And in any case, one should always ask of the invocation of a sense of effort to pin down ownership: whose effort?

Next was Dr. Annemarie Kalis (UU): ‘Interpretationism as integrative method for the mind sciences’. Having sketched the general aim of psychology as aiming at causal explanation, she asked what kind of mental state ascription could be used in the mind sciences. What would balance the causal aspirations with a role for mentality? Her suggestion was some form of interpretationism but she argued that it faced an unpleasant choice between two versions: a strong version according to which ascription brings about or determines the possession of intentional states (Dennett's loose talk of the intentional states of thermostats welcomes this reading) or a weak version according to which interpretation merely uncovers states are are independently there. It is a merely epistemological view and thus intentionality does not need the interpretation.

AK advocated an intermediate position: possession of mental states depends partly, but not completely, on them being ascribed. The key idea was that there have to be, on the one hand, metaphysical criteria tied to a pattern of related phenomena. For example, in the case of someone feeling worthless, there has to be a relation between the physical phenomena of stooped shoulders, subjective experiences and response tendencies. But in addition, and on the other hand, this pattern has to be thought significant in some meaning-giving practice. The former pattern can be studied by traditional psychological explanatory methods. But this leaves a non-empirical question of why is our meaning giving practice the way it is? Which aspects have to be woven together to make up the metaphysical criteria? (This was an open question raised at the end of the talk.)

I realised only after the talk finished that I wasn’t sure about the relationship between the strong, weak and intermediate positions. Was the worry about the weak version that it might have been the case that intentional mental states might, implausibly, exist outside of any practices of interpretation? Or was it that on any given occasion of someone framing a thought that they might not then be interpreted by anyone else? And was the worry about the strong reading that each act of interpretation implausibly fixed, rather than answered to, an intentional state or more minimally that the practices as a whole determined meaning (eg so that the very idea of feeling worthless only became possible in a culture with the appropriate shoulder behaviour, subjective feelings and appropriate language). Interestingly, in questions, it seemed likely that the intermediate position combined a version for the strong and weak version rather than attempting not to choose. The originally extra-intentionalfacts exist anyway. But they are constituted as mental by the interpretation. So that sounds like a weak reading applied to what is originally extra-intentionaland a strong reading applied to the intentional facts. So the causal force of mental states is entirely determined by the metaphysical criteria independently of whether mentality is then read into them.  If so, I think I would prefer not to choose rather than combine them in this way.

I gave myself time off writing notes to listen to Rolf Viervant (EUR): ‘Hermes through the microscope' discussing biological research on micro tubules. There is an interesting challenge to such work, reminding me of colleagues' work on the sociology of contemporary science when I was doing my PhD. It needs to balance going sufficiently native to grasp the nature if the science itself whilst also standing back so as to be able to highlight how, for example, metaphors are deployed or how such ideas are represented in animation without being held captive by them. As an outsider, I in truth don't really get it, sadly. That is, I do not understand its normative standards.

Thursday 6 February 2014

Utrecht workshop on the contemporary relevance of the Erklären / Verstehen distinction in psychiatry, biology and neuroscience

I am at the first day of a workshop in Utrecht on the distinction between Erklären and Verstehen, or explanation versus understanding, organised by Annemarie Kalis (pictured). Interestingly, the first couple of talks played down the importance of the distinction.

Paul Ziche outlined the history of the distinction, arguing that the key philosophers we tend to think of as proposing the distinction and arguing for its importance had, in fact, a much more ambivalent view. Thus, for example, although Windelband distinguishes between the nomothetic and idiographic, he did so, we were told, in order to play down the distinction. It was not supposed to divide the natural from the human sciences. All sciences should involve both elements. Or, another key figure, Wundt, a professor of philosophy not psychology (and regarded as the most important philosopher of the time, conducted both experimental psychology but also descriptive social psychology which might be thought to fall on either side of the putative distinction. He opposed introspectionist psychology not for its intrinsic unreliabiliability but because, as a matter of fact, the introspectionist psychologists of his day were not careful enough in their experimental design.

Overall, the story PZ presented was a complicated one in which the distinction between explanation and understanding played no fundamental dividing role. What was more important were attempts to find some general abstract feature that science as a whole had in common.

What seemed a little surprising to me was that the suggestion that both of these instincts was broadly correct was not thought of as in tension. I would have expected that the general reasons for pessimism of successfully fitting sciences into two exclusive categories might also apply to the project of marking out the whole of science from the non-sciences as instancing one unitary category.

Albert Visser also argued against the importance of the distinction for shedding light on science. One general theme was that because explanation is just one aspect of scientific practice it should not bear the whole weight of individuating sciences. But further, explanation cannot be tightly characterised in the formal terms that would enable a sharp distinction from understanding. (He suggested it comprised a subjective as well as objective side though implied that no non-circular analysis could be offered.)

But perhaps the most interesting idea was that non-human sciences shared something akin to empathy or ‘inleving’. Of various examples given one was the way in which the early developers of non-Euclidian geometry explored it, with the aim of refuting it, from within. They dwelt within it as those engrossed in computer gains become absorbed in that.

Sanneke de Haan talking to ‘There's meaning everywhere - Beyond Erklären versus Verstehen in psychiatry’ gave a whistle stop tour of an embodied, embedded, enactivist view the distinction between psychological and physical symptoms . One lesson of the moral was that things are very complicated. But another was that it suggests that it is difficult to oppose the physical and the psychological. Both are aspects, she suggested, of a broader system: the physical processes being physiogical / biological processes that sustain life. But it also has consequences for thinking about causal relations. For example, being angry includes a number of phsyical processes and hence cannot be thought to be the causal effect of those processes. One theme picked up in questioning was why this wasn't a reductionist picture: what it was about the complicated picture was not just anti-eliminativist but also anti-reductionist.

Derek Strijbos spoke to the title Understanding the causes of mental illness: why Jaspers' distinction is still relevant. But he started by pointing out that there are a number of related distinctions in Jaspers. These include:
Inner vs outer
Conscious vs extra conscious
Meaningful vs causal
Revisable interpretations vs determinate laws
Particular vs general
Limited vs unlimited
Personally engaged vs detached.
But the key idea he - Derek - wanted to extract was the meaningful versus non-meaningful for fear of losing the subject matter of psychiatry or more particularly losing a vital source for generating causal explanations.

The background to the the talk was a comparison between Jaspers and Davidson. Both share, or seem to share, a kind of ontological monism but a methodological dualism. But whilst Davidson approaches this via anomalous monism, Jaspers makes things rather less clear by denying that understanding is causal. As Christophe Hoerl argues (2013), there is a tension between Jaspers’ view that understanding is factive whilst denying that it is causal. That makes it obscure the epistemic benefit of bringing understanding to bear. By contrast, Davidson attempts to save the 'because' of reason explanation through causal explanation. One feature of this, however, is that it trades on an impersonal notion of causation. The causation of general laws.

But DS suggested that a thinner notion of causation, such as interventionism, might equally accommodate the substance of understanding whilst allowing for a more personal and particular view of the relevant causation. Further, some tools in recent psychiatric research exemplify this approach such as experience sampling methods or van Os' personalised psychiatry. These suggest a space for a particular kind of particular causal factor.

I think I understood the negative element of the talk rather more than the positive. If by causation one means something like Hume’s second counter factual definition (that all things being equal, had the cause not occurred then neither would the effect) then denying that understanding is causal looks to deny it of much force. But the familiar problem of Davidson’s reconciliation of the competing constraints on understanding is that it does not provide sufficient force to the mental properties of events. It saves the causal effects of the events invoked in reason explanation but at the cost of making the mental properties irrelevant. But denying the denial of the causal efficacy of the states that are the subject matter of understanding, ie promoting their possible causal role (on this slim notion of causation) is not yet to say what they do aside from cause.

Gerrit Glas’ paper asked whether Jaspers was a methodological dualist. As often happens, by the end of the day my ability to concentrate was somewhat impaired but some key points included: Whilst at the level of science, Jaspers thought that where there as understanding there was always a basis in explanation, and hence he was a kind of dualist, at the clinical level the two forms were not merely juxtaposed. Rather, explanation was attuned to the kind of self understanding patients had of their illness and themselves. And, depicted in rather a complex diagram, GG argued that the relation of patient and illness was itself further affected by their own nature and that of the illness. Things were further complicated, however, by the idea that within different levels of analysis, both understanding and explanation have a role. (So it is not that they are apportioned or divided  by level.) For example, within scientific explanation there is a pretheoretical appeal to a notion of fit which is itself a matter if understanding.