Friday, 11 August 2006

Fewtril #113

Is it not a downright cheek for those philosophers who tell us that we cannot represent things as they actually are to complain when others misrepresent what they actually say?

17 comments:

Cirdan said...

Only if representation is necessary for knowledge.

Deogolwulf said...

Thus, what you would say is: "If representation is not necessary for knowledge, then it is not a downright cheek for those philosophers who disavow representation to complain about misrepresentation."

Not at all; for this is a matter of what a philosopher maintains about representation, and not of whether representation is necessary for knowldge or not, the point being that, whether representation is necessary for knowledge or not, when a philosopher who claims that nothing can be represented complains that he is being misrepresented, he is complaining about something that he says cannot be otherwise.

Cirdan said...

1. Is it not a downright cheek for those philosophers who tell us that we cannot represent things as they actually are to complain when others misrepresent what they actually say?

(1) could mean at least two things:
1a. If the philosopher is right, nobody can represent things as they are in themselves, so the content of his views cannot be represented, therefore there’s no possibility of a mistake, and therefore misrepresentation cannot happen.

1b. alternatively, if he means that all of our representations fall short of things as they are in themselves, he shouldn’t complain when someone else’s representation of the content of his statement falls short.

2. Replies on behalf of the philosopher.
Call the misrepresenter, m, and the utterance which is supposed to misrepresent mu.

2.1. ‘Represent’ is plainly ambiguous in (1). In the first instance, it means something like form concepts of things in the world, since its object, things, (presumably) refers to external objects. In the second half, it means something like express a judgement, so that if I misrepresent you, my utterance is deficient in some way, relative to yours.

2.1.1. But there are lots of ways an utterance can be deficient, which need not involve truth, hence needn’t enter into questions of representation. This is because, first, there are various standards of correctness for assertions: truth, aptness, sincerity, felicity and so on. So, the philosopher can argue that the mu fails to satisfy these conditions, and therefore misrepresents, without thereby being committed to the view that mu is false. In short, misrepresentation is independent of truth-value. (Anyway, it doesn’t follow from the uncertainty of knowledge about the external world that there is no standard of correctness for communication. Not without a few other premisses.)

Cirdan said...

2.1.2. Also, even where mu is true, it might still misrepresent, because it might convey something unflattering without representing it; consider the famous example of the first mate who wrote the captain was sober today in the ship’s log.

2.2 Also, if the philosopher is right, and there are none, or only imperfect representations, he can still legitimately complain along the following lines: Misrepresentation requires (at least) attempted representation. But representation is impossible, or always flawed. Hence any attempted representation is in bad faith; hence misrepresentation is unwelcome because it entails a bad-faith attempt at representation.

2.3. If m thinks that knowledge requires representation, and that knowledge is the norm of assertion then m ought not to misrepresent. Hence, the philosopher can run a dialectical argument against m on the grounds that m is misrepresenting and m believes that assertion should preclude misrepresentation.

2.4. I haven’t read Kant for a while, but I think his claim that we can’t know things as they are in themselves is to be understood as the claim that we can only know things insofar as they enter our experience. But since (presumably) our experience doesn’t constitute the things, we cannot know the things as they are when they’re at home. But that claim is quite different from the skeptical allegation that we have no secure knowledge of the world (of which 1a and 1b are variants?)

2.6. The philosopher might hold that the standards of correctness for mental and linguistic representations vary. This is acceptable to common sense, e.g. we’re able to visually distinguish more shades of red than we can name; the standards for visual representation will therefore be finer.

Professor D.C. Warmington said...

Gentlemen --

Quote:

"There was a kind curate of Kew
Who kept a large cat in a pew.
He taught it each week
A new letter of Greek:
But it never got further than mu."

I trust this is helpful.

Yours, &c.

A. de T.

Deogolwulf said...

"1a": No, if no one can represent things as they are in themselves, then every purported representation is a misrepresentation -- misrepresentation is all that can happen.

"2.1": "Represent" is used to mean (A) "have in mind (and its external products) things as they are", such that "misrepresent" means (B) "have in mind (and its external products) things as they are not". If the philosopher does not beleive that A is possible, and accepts only the possibility of B, then why complain that another is "guilty" of B as regards his views when he says that that is the only possibility? That is the sole point I am making.

"2.1.1": "But there are lots of ways an utterance can be deficient, which need not involve truth, hence needn’t enter into questions of representation."

But this is about the philosopher's belief that a true state of affairs cannot be represented, and his complaint about a false representation.

"the philosopher can argue that the mu fails to satisfy these conditions, and therefore misrepresents"

How might the philosopher claim to represent (have in mind (and its external products) things as they are) what is the case in regards of the failure or otherwise of the mu to meet certain conditions?

"2.1.1": How might the philosopher claim he has in mind what is the case here?

"2.2": "But representation is impossible, or always flawed. Hence any attempted representation is in bad faith"

It is in bad faith only if one believes that representation is impossible. It is thus the philosopher who is guilty of bad faith, in the first place, by claiming to represent how representaion is impossible; his critic is not guilty of bad faith, presuming he does not share this belief and is sincere in his attempt at representation of the philosopher's belief.

Deogolwulf said...

A. de T,

Your timely contribution is much appreciated.

Cirdan said...

3. If represent means have in mind things as they are then you’ve given the game away. I assume by have in mind you mean know or something similar, and by things as they are you mean truths, or facts, or states of affairs, or something of the sort. Fitch’s proof is a rigorous demonstration that either there is some unknown truth, or every truth is known. So, for every non-divine person, there is a truth that person doesn’t know. Hence, no non-divine person can have in mind things as they are. Hence, none of us can represent things as they are, given your meaning of represent.
If representation takes all and only truths or facts as objects, then it is absolutely correct to say that it is impossible to represent the world as it is in itself. (In fact, even as weak a mental state as rational belief will succumb to the paradox.)

4. Represent behaves like a dynamic verb; seeing as it takes the progressive form - one can grammatically say he is representing N. But have in mind looks non-dynamic; one can hardly say he is having in mind N. Hence, we’ve some reason to think that they're distinct relations.
It's worth noting too, that non-minded things can represent one another e.g. we can intelligibly say Smoke represents fire.
This is just as you’d expect from commonsense; where represent means something like stand for; this is probably the sense in which we can say an impressionist painting and a photograph both represent the very same thing.

Cirdan said...

Now, presumably the philosopher thinks either:
4.1 Representations happen but it’s impossible to get a perfect fit between whatever it is we’re using to do the representation and whatever it is we’re representing, (representations fall short, per (1b)) or,
4.2. Representations never happen at all (1a); for
4.2.1. Representations cannot happen. We can’t get mental items to stand in for worldly objects.
4.2.2. Representations cannot succeed in giving us even partial information. We can get things to stand in for worldly objects, but they don’t tell us anything about the worldly objects.

The philosopher who holds 4.1 can quite reasonably say that, while it is true that we cannot represent the truth ‘completely’, we have still an obligation to speak as we find – we ought to speak that truth which we have. Hence, he can criticise mu’s sincerity.

The philosopher who holds 4.2.1 owes us an alternative analysis of our knowledge of the world. He can, as some have, identify knowledge and action. In which case, he’s justified in urging us not to do badly what, by his lights, cannot be done. Likewise the philosopher who holds 4.2.2.

Presumably the nihilist will argue that since we cannot know anything about the external world we ought not to say anything about it at all, so mu, ostensibly an utterance about the world, is deficient just in virtue of being an utterance about the world.

Cirdan said...

A. de T.:
Delightful stuff, thanks.

Deogolwulf said...

You are imputing that “have in mind (and its external products) things as they are” must mean total representation. But when I know or say there is a man standing on my lawn, I do not mean to suggest that my knowledge or my sentence represents everything about him or the lawn or everything in relation thereto. It represents only the fact that there is a man on my lawn. I have in mind a mental map of my route from my house to my local shop, but that mental map does not represent the totality of things on that route, and their relations to other things, and by extension, to the rest of the universe. I don’t think I would bother getting out of bed if that were the case. “Represent” as “have in mind (and its external products) things as they are” does indeed mean something like “stand for”, and does not suggest total representation.

Now, our philosopher is saying that nothing can be represented; he does not accept that beliefs or sentences can represent to any degree of accuracy anything in the world. Now, in that world are included other sentences about his own sentences – these too are things in the world. Now, if he complains that those other sentences misrepresent his own, he is not justified in doing so; for not only does he thereby claim to be able to represent to his mind and to other minds the actual deficiencies in those sentences – something that is inconsistent with his purported belief – but also he traduces the author of those sentences for something that he says cannot be otherwise.

But you say: “The philosopher who holds 4.1 [“Representations happen but it’s impossible to get a perfect fit”] can quite reasonably [complain on the basis of sincerity, etc]” – but you’re missing the point entirely. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone claiming a perfect fit, let alone a philosopher! The philosophers with which I am dealing do not believe that representations happen, and are subject to the criticism as detailed above. We are dealing here with those philosophers (such as Rorty or Derrida) who do not believe there is any fit between our representations of the world and the world itself. Did you believe I was taking realist philosophers to task?

But perhaps you're right: the fewtril isn't very good - too ambiguous.

Rob Jubb said...

Deogolwulf,

isn't your critique basically that you can't escape normativity? And also, you might perhaps want to be a bit more careful about what counts as the world as it is: presumably you're not particularly troubled by your inability to see medium sized dry goods as shifting masses of molecules on a daily basis.

Cirdan said...

Deogol, Rob's questions are good ones, I want to press a different objection.

I’m not sure I’ve made myself as clear as I could have. Throughout the discussion, we’ve been assuming that knowledge of the world requires representation of some sort. That is, for any knowledge of the world, there must be some sort of corresponding mental item in the knower’s mind. Since everyone else does, let’s call the mental item a concept.

The assumption ought to be bullied, for knowledge in the phrase knowledge of the world is ambiguous. It could refer to knowledge-how, or knowledge-that. Consider abilities, say my ability to ride a bike. If ordinary usage is anything to go by, one can reasonably call it knowledge. After all, N knows how to ride a bike is a completely sound piece of English.

But possessing the relevant concept is neither necessary nor sufficient for exercising the ability to ride a bike. Likewise the ability to use a language. If it’s possible to have abilities without possessing the associated concepts, and if one counts abilities as knowledge-how, then we’ve reason to think that (at least some) knowledge doesn’t require representation.
(Some very distinguished philosophers think, however, that even abilities are a species of conceptual knowledge)

Abilities can be deployed more or less well; there are, after all, good and bad ways of using one’s language. Perhaps these standards are determined by the community itself, explicitly or otherwise. Hence there are standards of correctness for ability-knowledge, and these standards are not mind-independent.

Suppose the anti-realist is also an anti-representationalist. Then if he can reduce knowledge to non-representational states, he will have a theory of knowledge that preserves the distinction between correctness and incorrectness, without invoking mind-independent reality. If that’s so, he can make the distinction you want to deny him the ability to make.

Deogolwulf said...

Mr Jubb, thanks for the comment. You say: “you might perhaps want to be a bit more careful about what counts as the world as it is: presumably you’re not particularly troubled by your inability to see medium sized dry goods as shifting masses of molecules on a daily basis.”

Indeed I should be. And no, I’m not troubled at all, as my previous comment tries to make clear, but quite possibly doesn’t.

Cirdan, thanks as ever. Now, on to the matter:

(1) “Know” in “know-that” and “know-how” may have different senses (leaving aside the assertions of your distinguished philosophers (thanks for the link, by the way)). Such can lead to ambiguity. (In Old English, for instance, the senses would be distinguished by different words: “cunnan”, to know how to; “witan”, to know (that), the senses of which are preserved in some modern languages (“kennen” and “wissen” in German; “connaitre” and “savoir” in French).) But I rather thought that we were both able to distinguish the two by context.

(2) Now, doesn’t knowledge-how presuppose knowledge-that? If you don’t know *that* an object is such-and-such, how could you know *how* to deal with it? You’re telling me that one need not know *that* a bike is such-and-such in order to know *how* to ride one, which strikes me as preposterous. If you didn’t know that it had peddles, and not ears, wheels and not envelopes, a sturdy frame and not custard, then you wouldn’t know how to ride one! Moreover, I cannot see how knowledge-that can be said to obtain without representation. As you say, “for any knowledge[-that] of the world, there must be some sort of corresponding mental item in the knower’s mind.” If knowledge-how presupposes knowledge-that, then there must be some correspondence between the rest of the world and the knower’s mind in order that he has knowledge-how.

(3) Does our non-representationalist philosopher claim to know *that* a person has misrepresented him, that there is a mental item in his mind that corresponds to what is the case independent of it, out there in the world? If representation - this mental item of correspondence - is necessary for knowledge-that, then he is claiming what he denies.
But you say: “if he can reduce knowledge to non-representational states, he will have a theory of knowledge that preserves the distinction between correctness and incorrectness, without invoking mind-independent reality.”
Knowledge of what? He cannot claim it is of mind-independent reality. Presumably then he claims knowledge of mind-dependent reality. But what does that mean? Why, nothing more than a knowledge of his own mental state! (It is important to remember at this point that if one claims that there is no knowledge of mind-independent reality, then one cannot claim to know of the existence of other minds.) But then in complaining of another whom he claims misrepresents him, he must for the sake of consistency claim to know only the state of his own mind, and not that there is actually a sentence formulated by another mind and uttered independent of his own mind, such that, if he is consistent and sincere, he is complaining about – his own mental state!

Cirdan said...

[Now, doesn’t knowledge-how presuppose knowledge-that…]. Call this thesis 1

[I cannot see how knowledge-that can be said to obtain without representation. As you say, “for any knowledge[-that] of the world, there must be some sort of corresponding mental item in the knower’s mind.”] Call this thesis 2

5. Consider thinking about the blue chair before one. One directs one’s attention to the chair, and then has a thought about the chair. In order to know of the blue chair, one has to direct one’s attention to the stream of experience and bring it under the concept BC. The sequence is:

Perceive that blue chair- Extract the concept BC – Know BC.

6. Suppose that knowledge of concept-extraction is a form of knowledge-that. If it’s a form of knowledge-that, it requires prior representation (i.e. conceptualisation). If, before extracting BC from experience, one has to possess the concept extracting BC, then we have a vicious regress, because in order to have the concept extracting BC, one would have to have already extracted the concept extracting extracting BC and so on ad infinitum. Hence the regress - no concepts would ever be formed. However, concepts are formed. So, if knowledge-that always requires prior conceptualisation, knowledge of concept-extraction can’t be a form of knowledge-that.

7. Hence, a dilemma. Either
7a. there are forms of knowledge-that which don’t need prior representation, or
7b. there are not.
But if there are forms of knowledge-that which occur without prior representation, then your thesis 2 falls. Alternatively, if there are no forms of knowledge-that without prior representation, then, either nobody knows anything, or knowledge-how is basic. In which case your thesis 1 falls.

Cirdan said...

8. In your (3) above, you seem to assume that the alternatives are subjectivism and realist-style mind-independence. The anti-realist will probably argue that there is a third option – some form of constructivism. So, suppose a group of people gets together and agrees to treat gaudily-coloured pieces of paper as stores of value and media of exchange.They also determine standards of correctness of use for the bits of paper – sometimes very pernickety ones. These standards are probably independent of any person, but not of the group of persons. If the group had ever existed, then their form of money never would have. But it’s clearly not true that any member of the group can decide entirely on her own what to treat as money.

Hence, the antirealist can argue that mu misrepresents his utterance without thereby being committed to realist mind-independence.

Deogolwulf said...

You suppose that we know (BC of)x only if we possess the concept of extracting (BC of)x, and the concept thereof, ad infinitum. But why would you suppose this to be the case? There appears here a confusion between concept and process, wherewith a vicious regress is created. An organism need not possess the concept of digestion in order for that digestion to operate. Its operation requires neither knowledge-how nor knowledge-that – it is a matter of process. Similarly for the process of the brain in its concept-extraction – in its perceiving x, the concept-extraction thereof is a process that requires no prior conceptualisation – neither a knowledge-that or a knowledge-how. Why would one think it requires such a thing? Such a requirement seems to me to be the plaything of philosophers. It is a little like arguing that we are not conscious because we are not conscious “all the way down”, as it were - that is to say, conscious of our consciousness, conscious of our consciousness of our consciousness, ad infinitum.

“[Y]ou seem to assume that the alternatives are subjectivism and realist-style mind-independence. The anti-realist will probably argue that there is a third option – some form of constructivism.”

The antirealist, having declared himself (in your third option) an inter-subjectivist, still claims to have no knowledge of mind-independent reality, but adds that mind is now inter-subjective rather than subjective, and knows nothing of reality except that which is constructed by that community of mind (how he – or the community of mind – can claim to know any of this, is anyone’s guess, as it goes beyond what he – or it – can claim to know about it). Now, in order that our antirealist inter-subjectivist may claim to know Mu and his utterance, or that Mu and his utterance have misrepresented him, he must claim that both are part of his inter-subjective community of mind, or constructs thereof, a claim that goes beyond what our antirealist can claim to know; for it is as a fact about the community and not as an inter-subjective construct thereof.