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
C. (2015) 'Suffering intentionally?' in Campbell, M. & O'Sullivan, M.
(eds.) Wittgenstein and Perception
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.
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
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!
Sent: 10 March 2016 22:17
To: Peter Lucas
Subject: Travis on seeing-as
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
, 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.
14 March 2016 15:11
RE: Travis on seeing-as
Had a quick read
of Travis – will try to read it again more carefully. An initial reaction, for what
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”.
4 March 2016 16:20
To: Peter Lucas
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
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.
16 March 2016 15:42
For what they are worth...
…some musings on
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
depends on (1) successful reference and (2a) correct characterisation (in the case
of truth) or (2b) incorrect characterisation (in the case of falsity).
does not depend on any sort of representation (with a nod to Kripke).
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.
Sent: 16 March 2016 16:19
To: Peter Lucas
Subject: RE: For what they are
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
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!
Sent: 17 March 2016 12:24
To: Tim Thornton
Subject: RE: For what they are
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?
Sent: 17 March 2016 12:52
Subject: RE: For what they are
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
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.)
17 March 2016 14:24
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).
Sent: 17 March 2016 14:51
Subject: RE: For what they are
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.
17 March 2016 16:11
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
(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
Sent: 17 March 2016 17:34
Subject: Re: For what they are
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
18 March 2016 09:55
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.
18 March 2016 10:34
Subject: Re: For what they
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
“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
to the articulacy of judgements about that
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.
Sent: 18 March 2016 13:42
Subject: The harmony of thought
harmony of thought and reality: Wittgenstein and Davidson versus McDowell
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.
23 March 2016 16:40
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.
Sent: 23 March 2016 17:10
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
Finally summarised Travis though I’ll have to return to it when I’ve looked
again at some other stuff.
Sent: 24 March 2016 14:45
Subject: RE: The harmony of thought
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.)
24 March 2016 17:04
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
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.
Sent: 24 March 2016 17:39
Subject: RE: The harmony of thought
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.
24 March 2016 at 18:49:58 GMT
The harmony of thought and reality
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.
Subject: RE: The harmony of thought and
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
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
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.
04 April 2016 12:24
Harmony etc.: having it both ways
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.
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
Sent: 05 April 2016 09:27
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
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 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.)
05 April 2016 18:17
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.