Saturday, June 22, 2013

Peirce on Berkeley's Nominalism

Berkeley and nominalists of his stripe deny that we have any idea at all of a triangle in general, which is neither equilateral, isosceles, nor scalene. But he cannot deny that there are propositions about triangles in general, which propositions are either true or false; and as long as that is the case, whether we have an idea of a triangle in some psychological sense or not, I do not, as a logician, care. We have an intellectus, a meaning, of which the triangle in general is an element. (CP 5.181)

(Putting this here mostly so I can easily find the reference again.)

Frank Herbert, The Santaroga Barrier


Opening Passage:

The sun went down as the five-year-old Ford camper-pickup truch ground over the pass and started down the long grade into Santaroga Valley. A crescent-shaped turn-off had been leveled beside the first highway curve. Gilbert Dasein pulled his truck onto the gravel, stopped at a white barrier fence and looked down into the valley whose secrets he had come to expose.

Summary: Let's start with a little Heidegger -- don't worry, we won't need much, or need to get deeply into technicalities. Each of us finds ourselves existing in the world' conscious of the world, living in the world, I am Dasein, being-there. We should be careful not to assume at this point that Dasein is individualistic or atomistic. Indeed, more of Heidegger's account of Dasein makes the most sense if we take Dasein not to be some isolated consciousness but to be at the same time our being in a community. Dasein finds itself in the world. Mostly this consists in finding the things in the world handy, ready to hand, insofar as we use them, or else merely present and at hand, when they are detached from use. When we talk about the world of Dasein, we are talking about the totality of Dasein's involvement with handy things. What these handy things are will depend on a number of things: what's handy for a carpenter is different from what's handy for a teacher.

This involvement with handiness, however, has to be traced back to something, rather than just taken as primitive, and in particular we have to find its roots in the being of Dasein itself -- human nature, as we would often say. Heidegger isolates three key aspects of the being of Dasein, which he calls Befindlichkeit, Verstehen, and Verfallen. Dasein finds itself in the world, we are always already in it, and this is what Heidegger calls Befindlichkeit. One important way in which we find this expressing itself is in mood (Stimmung). Mood is our sense of how we find ourselves in our world. Verstehen or understanding is expressed in interpretation of the world; it is how we confront the possibilities of our world. And Verfallen or fallenness is our everyday-ness; we usually find ourselves in an everyday world, with everyday possibilities. These three together are aspects of one things, which Heidegger calls concern or care: Sorge. Sorge is the being of Dasein.

The Santaroga Barrier is story of Gilbert Dasein trying to uncover the mystery of Santaroga. The Santarogans report no mental illness, advertising has no effect on what goods are bought and sold in the town, all businesses are locally owned, any trade at all with the outside world is very limited. Because of this, major business concerns have approached the Department of Psychology at UC-Berkeley to try to figure out what creates this Santaroga Barrier between Santaroga and the outside world. Two men were already sent to try to figure it out, and the result was just another puzzle. Both men died, which is suspicious, but they seem to have provably died of natural accidents.

Dasein himself has a connection with Santaroga; he has feelings for Jenny Sorge, who had been Santarogan. The full nature of this background relationship is never completely revealed, which I think was the right move to make. We do learn that Jenny was a former student; at some point he had a relationship of some kind with her; and he had proposed to her. She had responded by asking him to come back to Santaroga with her. When he refused, she turned him down. Thus Dasein has personal as well as professional reasons for trying to figure out what the Santaroga Barrier is: it came between him and Jenny.

Coming into town, Dasein finds that people in the town are quite unfriendly. The hotel is actively hostile, only grudgingly giving him a room, and he has reason to believe that the hotel clerk wants to snoop around his papers. Sitting in the hotel restaurant, he meets the waiter, Winston Burdeaux, called Win; Win soon learns Dasein's name and knows who he is. "You're the fellow Jenny's sweet on." Win brings him some of the local beer and roast beef with potatoes Jaspers; he gets in trouble for bringing him Jaspers cheese, which Dasein at the time simply chalks down to the local xenophobia. The food turns out to be excellent -- a strange tang throughout, but very good. Because Win can't get him another mug of local beer, he brings a bottle of commercial beer, and after the local beer, the commercial beer tastes flat and metallic.

The reference to Jaspers (named after existentialist philosopher Karl Jaspers) is to the Jaspers Cheese Co-op, which is central to town life. The city limit sign on the way in refers to Santaroga as "The Town that Cheese Built", and Dasein quickly learns that the Santarogans put Jaspers in everything, and that they refuse to sell it. The whole town is concerned with it; they talk about Jaspers at the oddest times.

Going back to his room, Dasein has the first in a long string of accidents that nearly kill him; the gas had been left on in his room. It's obviously quite suspicious, but at the same time, it doesn't make much sense except as an accident. Jenny and her uncle, Dr. Lawrence Piaget, help him to recover. He begins to look around town and discovers that everybody in town knows who he is, and that the town isolationism is more considerable than he had previously thought. There are strange things going on at the Cheese Co-op, things that are at the bottom of the mystery of the Santaroga Barrier. And Dasein's life, as well as his relationship with Jenny Sorge are at stake.

The handling of mood throughout the work is quite well done. Sometimes the Santarogans seem menacing and sinister, sometimes warm and friendly, and the shift can take no more than a bite of Jaspers. At the same time, they are plausibly both. The Santaroga Barrier is an ambiguous utopia/dystopia, and exactly the same things look utopian or dystopian depending on the main character's mood. At the same time, the Santarogans serve as a negative reflection of us. After all, why do the Santarogans seem so xenophobic? It's because they are different, they are Other, and the surrounding American society has difficulty tolerating these people who refuse to watch television unless they have to and who are immune to advertising and commercialism. We tend to recognize xenophobia by contrast, which means that we tend to recognize it by contrast with ourselves. But this means that our interpretation of something as xenophobic may well be xenophobic itself. Because Santaroga has two different interpretations, depending on the mood in which Dasein approaches it, our society is shown also to have two different interpretations, depending on the mood in which Dasein approaches Santaroga. One finds oneself in the Santarogan world or outside it; and everything looks differently depending on which you are thrown into.

Favorite Passage:

His hands trembled as he lifted the cup.

All the time and matter had been reduced tot his moment, this cup, this Jaspers rich steam enveloping him. He drained the cup.

It was a sensation of rays spreading out from a pinhead spot in his stomach. Dasein groped his way to his bunk, wrapped teh sleeping bag around him. He felt supremely detached, a transitory being. His awareness moved within a framework of glowing nets.

There was a terror here. He tried to recoil, but the nets held him. Where is the self that once I was? he though. He tried to hold onto a self that bore some familiarity, one he could identify. The very idea of a self eluded him.... (p. 153)

Recommendation: An underappreciated science fiction classic. Recommended.

Frank Herbert, The Santaroga Barrier, Berkley Medallion (New York: 1968).

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Poem Draft

So I had just finished watching a movie from the Redbox when my neighbors and I had a spontaneous Get to Know Each Other Night, by which I mean that my apartment building was evacuated because it was on fire. It was all handled well; it was on the third floor with damage to two, perhaps three, apartments. None of the tenants were harmed. Give your prayers for the two Austin policemen who, in the finest tradition of fortitude, endured the smoke beat down some of the doors and make sure no one was in the adjoining apartments -- last word I heard before they went away was that they were doing fine. Being Brandon, I drafted a poem in my head as I was standing around waiting.

The Night My Apartment Building Caught Fire

The moon seemed to dance in the high, smoky sky.
Anon the wind rose, anon it would die.
A few stars shown clear, but the sky was dark,
no sound but the rustle of leaves in the park,
when, as a storm, first the sound, then the light,
pierced with a screaming the warmth of the night.
The firework-scent was strong in the air
as the smoke like a sheet floated down the long stair.
The breezes were fretting, the wind heaved a sigh.
The moon seemed to dance in the high, smoky sky.

My apartment was away from the fire, so I'm largely untouched by it all. There's still smokiness everywhere, and I'm allergic to smoke, so we'll see if I wake with a profound sinus headache in the morning, but that's the worst that can come out of it for me.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Thursday Vice: Susurration

Justice, according to Aquinas, divides into two kinds: distributive and commutative. Commutative justice deals with exchanges of some kind, and itself divides into two, according to whether the exchange in question is involuntary or voluntary. The vices that correspond to commutative justice are injuries against another person, which can be done by deed or by word. If the injury is verbal, it can be a verbal injury accomplished using the means of justice, i.e., the courts, or can be extrajudicial. It is in this last category, extrajudicial verbal commutative injustices against the will of another, that our vice today comes. Aquinas discusses five such vices. It's somewhat remarkable that such a precise category has five distinct categories devoted to it, but as it happens these vices -- contumelia, detractio, susurratio, derisio, maledicere -- are serious problems, being easy to acquire (they require no more than the ability to speak) and capable of doing some serious damage. Contumely is deliberately speaking ill of present people in order to ruin their good name; detraction is deliberately speaking ill of absent people in order to ruin their good name.

Susurration literally means "whispering" (it is onomatopoeic, of course, so sounds like what it means), and while it's not hugely common, we use the same word in the same way at times in English, as in the phrase "whispering campaign". Aquinas also says that the whisperer is bilingual, which he means not in our figurative sense but in the literal sense: the whisperer is two-tongued. The whisperer speaks ill of another person secretly. In this, it is very much like detraction, and the two can be easily confused. When we are talking about verbal injuries, the injury does not lie in the sound but in the sign, and signs are governed by the particular intention or aim involved in using them. The difference of intention here is that the detractor is out precisely to speak ill against another person -- that's the whole point, attack someone in secret by speaking ill of them. The susurrator is actually not interested in any direct attack, even in secret. The goal of the susurrator is to turn people against someone. As Aquinas puts it (ST 2-2.74.1), the whisperer "intendit amicitiam separare", is aiming at cutting off friendship. Whisperers isolate people against their wills by giving their friends reasons to withdraw friendship. In principle, the whisperer doesn't actually care whether it's by speaking ill or not, and one can imagine a whispering campaign that proceeded entirely by speaking well of them. Actually, I was just last night watching an episode of Yes, Prime Minister!, in which Sir Humphrey Appleby, a master of susurration, prevents someone from getting appointed as Director of the Bank of England not by panning him but by enthusiastically complimenting him on things that make the Prime Minister wonder if he is really good for the appointment at all. As Sir Humphrey puts it, you have to really get behind someone before you can stab him in the back. The whisperer, in other words, is only incidentally interested in speaking ill; what he really wants is to say something about another that others will find unpleasant, even if it is in reality good.

When we are dealing with sins against other people, the worst sins are those that harm them most, and as we are only capable of harming people by depriving them of some good, harm is determined according to the greatness of the good lost. Therefore the habit of whispering is a worse vice even than contumely and detraction -- reviling and backbiting, as they are often also translated -- because friendship is an extraordinarily great good. We cannot live without friendship; even the most barren life is only possible through at least some minimal kind of civic friendship that make life and survival possible. Contumely and detraction are both concerned with reputation; but reputation is a secondary good, primarily of importance because it facilitates friendship. As Aquinas says, "fama est dispositio ad amicitiam, et infamia ad inimicitiam" (reputation is a disposition to friendship, and bad reputation -- infamy -- to enmity). Contumely and detraction take away honor from others, but susurration takes away the love of others. It is the poisoning of other people's minds against a person, and thus, despite the fact that you can in principle do it entirely by saying only good things about a person, it is a more severe violation of love of God and neighbor, which is the ultimate standard of the grievousness of a vice in Aquinas's account.

St. Gregory the Great in the Moralia (Moral. xxxi, 45) lists susurration as one of the daughters of envy. Daughter-vices are vices that a capital vice naturally tends to create in those who have it. When Aquinas he talks about envy, he accepts this list, and explains it, and thus susurration's place on it, in this way. Envy covers a process, with beginning, middle, and end. I suppose you could say it's a vice with a narrative structure. At the beginning, one tries to lower someone's value in some way, and this can be done secretly (which is susurration) or openly (which is detraction). To the extent that one is successful, this leads to exultation at another's misfortune, and to the extent that it is unsuccessful, it leads to affliction from their prosperity. And the end of it all is simple hatred. We do have to be careful, though; these are Gregory's terms, and Aquinas is merely explaining. It's possible to argue that the 'susurration' mentioned by Gregory is actually Aquinas's 'detraction', and the 'detraction' mentioned by Gregory is actually Aquinas's 'contumelia'. The text is not precise enough to give a definite answer on the question.

You'll notice, incidentally, that with this vice rather than others I have no classical sources. There are, as far as I am aware, no significant classical discussions of the vices of verbal injury, although scattered identifiable references come up (particularly for contumelia); and there are certainly none of significant influence. Virtually all of Aquinas's references, for instance, are to the Bible, interpreted through the Latin Fathers of the Church (Augustine, Isidore, and Gregory especially). The emphasis on the sheer grievousness of vicious speech is something Christian philosophers and theologians inherited from the Jewish roots of Christianity, and one finds the same emphasis in rabbinical discussions. If you look at the books of Torah, you notice that there's a lot about leprosy, and one might ask why this occupies such an extraordinarily large space. The medieval rabbinical answer was that leprosy, in the Biblical sense, is associated with speaking evil of others. Leprosy, the visible blotting of oneself, is a fitting punishment for evil-speaking, the attempt to blot another invisibly; the one is actually in some ways a fairly decent analogy for the other; and when God is portrayed as actually striking someone with leprosy throughout the Tenach, it tends to be for evil-speaking. Everything the Bible says about leprosy, then, can be read as an indirect comment on evil-speaking. There is a Jewish proverb that when one speaks ill of another, it is as if one denied God. Christians and Jews both share proverbial associations of evil-speaking as a sort of verbal attempt to murder. The three most terrible sins recognized by the rabbis were idolatry, sexual perversion, and murder, and Maimonides (Hilchot De'ot 7:3) says, flat out, that evil-speaking is equivalent to all three. And one has only to look at how they talk about evil-speaking, lashon horah, that what Aquinas describes as detraction and susurration are front and center in their understanding of it.

When Aristotle talks about vices of speech, it's clear that he's mostly talking about social gracelessness. The moral weight of speech, the recognition of serious evils of speech, is something that in the West almost entirely derives from Jewish thought.

Fractal, Part IV

This is the fourth part of a short story draft. Part I. Part II. Part III.

I confess I was somewhat surprised when Morgan came through. Trisagion had a botanical research garden a few miles away, attached to a phytochemistry lab. The garden itself is quite lovely; they even give tours and hold events there, and that part of the research center makes an impressive profit, although dwarfed by the actual budget of the laboratory. Morgan arranged for a day's outing there. Because Morgan is Morgan, the security precautions were absurd, involving armed security guards and an armored van. But she was out of the lab, out in a garden, no less. I was happy to get out, myself, and even David was more like himself than he had been in a long time.

We walked along behind her as she rushed around from flower to flower like a little girl, sometimes literally skipping along. It was delightful to watch, but also very strange. I cannot remember Becky ever showing much interest in flowers at all.

I mentioned it to David. He was startled.

"Becky loved flowers," he said. "Especially tiger lilies -- you remember how many there were at our wedding. If I recall, you laughed at us because you said that no sane person has a wedding with that much orange."

"Yes," I said, "but there are always flowers at weddings."

"She used to love it when I brought home flowers. We also used to talk about having a flower garden, but never got around to it. That was a very long time ago." He was quiet for several minutes.

"Do you think we might get Stimson to get us a trip down to the marine laboratory? They have a nice beach."

"I doubt it. I was astounded he got us this. You know Morgan: generous when it does not matter and stingy when it does."

David said nothing, and we walked along as she skipped from flower to flower and, once, actually clapped her hands in delight over a butterfly. Our talked turned to research, and we were talking about iterative mapping, lost in technical details, when she came shyly up and, blushing, handed David a flower and skipped away as we both stared down at it. It was a tiger lily.

Everything had been obvious enough to that point, but it was only on the way back that I, stupid idiot that I am, saw it all plainly. The brain is an ecology, a climate, and cannot be copied exactly. I had always argued that. It is constantly adapting, shifting, changing, in myriad ways. All that you could possibly copy is an impression of similarity. Somehow David had gone far beyond what I had ever thought possible; the similarities, their specificity, were uncanny. But there was another problem I had never thought of before then. How do you know what you are copying in the first place?

There are objective tests, physiological and psychological, that can work as a guideline. But how much of you shows up in a test? If you put people with severe memory problems in a white room, they just sit there, not knowing what to do because nothing in their environment suggests any response; put them in a coffee shop, with the right resources, and suddenly they might well be as alive as anyone, doing the things anyone does in coffee shops. But the point is general. We are all different in different circumstances. You are sitting in a lab, hooked up to a machine, taking a test. How much of you is really there? And how much of you is dormant, latent, waiting to get back to friends and family and hobbies? No matter how good or thorough the tests, they are a framework, not the substance, the skeleton, not the life. Transfer it to a matrix and you do not have anything like a person, just a template, a portrait painting in code. To get more you would have to fill in the spaces between, the parts the tests cannot catch. These parts have to be extrapolated generically, from assumptions about the way human beings are, or they have to be put in by someone who knows you.

All this time I had thought I had such respect for David, and yet all this time I had underestimated his genius. Somehow he had done it, taken a person, and truly copied them over. But no human being knows any other perfectly, and no tests can compensate for it, and, each brain being different, nothing can be read with precision off of the brain. David had not copied Becky herself, but his idea of Becky. He had genuinely known Becky, so he had captured her correctly. Rebecca was Becky as David knew her, really and truly Becky. But Becky as David knew her was only a part of a person. Becky, throughout all her strange, manic swings of self-esteem, had always underestimated herself. Her character and temperament and life were far too rich to carry over; even David and I could not possibly do it.

When we had returned to Trisagion, and signed Rebecca back in, and David had gone home for the day, I remained, finishing my checklists in the matrix lab. It was slow going. I was only halfway through, and wondering whether, unbeknownst to me, Becky really did like flowers, or if, as I thought, she had merely liked David getting them for her, when Morgan Stimson walked into the lab.

"Charli," he said. "I'm glad you're here. Still doing your checklists?"

"It seems never to end," I replied, not really in the mood for talking with him. "I am seriously thinking of just not doing it any more."

He shook his head in a mock way, with a Stimson-fake smile, and said, "Your paperwork is always in perfect order; you are probably the only person around here who manages that. Always the careful one."

He hesitated and I looked at him. "Is there anything I can help you with?" I asked.

Still he hesitated a moment. Then he said, "Look, Charli, I know you can keep a secret" -- there was something about the way he said it that I found I did not like -- "so I will level with you. I am worried about David. I think he is going over the deep end."

I put down my clipboard. "What do you mean by that?" I said, in a tone more belligerent than I had intended.

He held up his hands, fake smile on his face. "Don't kill me," he said. "I know he's your friend -- who couldn't know it? -- and you've always stood up for him. But I need you to look past that. There is something going very terribly wrong with him."

"You have never liked David," I said. "You have been trying to get him out for years."

"I've never seen what you and Becky thought was so impressive about him, if that's what you mean," he replied. "But I've let him run. God knows that with your help, and Becky's, he's paid off more than a few gambles. You three always did make me look brilliant." Fake smile. Then it vanished. "But he's beginning to be unmanageable. He went to the president, over my head, and demanded changes to the project. Not unbelligerently, I might add. If he weren't worth so much to the company, and the president weren't terrified of a competitor snapping him up, he'd have been fired on the spot."

I looked at my hands. "I did not know that," I said, finally. "I think it is just that the success of the project has taken a lot out of him."

"That's what I told the president." Fake smile. "I think I made it pretty plausible, and after a success like you've pulled off, nobody is going to have any problem believing that he just needs some stress-relief. But he's off the project."

"You cannot do that."

"I have to," said Morgan. "Charli, for someone so smart, someone who has actually figured out how to make people, I don't know how you can be so clueless about them. You have to get past this blind loyalty. He actually thinks it's Becky."

I had nothing to say to that, and Morgan caught the fact. "You know I'm right. It's not a good situation. We need to nip it in the bud."

"He has been nothing but professional."

"Around you, perhaps. And nothing awful has happened yet. But he is not stable. His behavior is getting erratic."

"Just give him time. You do not understand what he is going through. This has all opened old wounds over the loss of Becky."

"I do understand, Charli," said Morgan. "I was Becky's friend, too, to the extent that you two let her have any friends at all...."

A curl of anger rose up inside me. "Excuse me?" I said.

"Oh, come off it, Charli. You two were always isolating her as if she were your special territory. I kept throwing things her way, things she could do herself, and she would never take them because it wouldn't involve you two. And the one time I managed to convince her to do something without David, you came around and browbeat her back. And all that '1, 2, 3, B, C, D' Three Musketeers nonsense, no one else allowed into the inner sanctum, and Becky never allowed out of it. I can understand you just not seeing it because of this inexplicable loyalty to David, but with David it was all intentional -- he just boxed her up and put her in storage...."

If I had had anything in my hands at that moment, I might have smashed his face in with it. "You know nothing," I shouted at him. "You have no idea what we were like. You have never been friends like we were friends. You have no idea how much we loved each other."

"You, maybe," said Morgan calmly. "David never loved her. David never did anything but make her feel like she wasn't good enough."

The curl of anger had become a knot in the chest and it was making it difficult to breathe.

"Get out," I finally managed to gasp. "Just get out before I throw something at you."

Morgan put his hands up as he had earlier and beat a retreat with one of his Stimson-fake smiles. When he left, I grabbed the clipboard nearby and threw it at the wall, where it broke.


to be continued

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Our Thoughts as Sweet and Sumptuous

On The Companionship With Nature
by Archibald Lampman

Let us be much with Nature; not as they
That labour without seeing, that employ
Her unloved forces, blindly without joy;
Nor those whose hands and crude delights obey
The old brute passion to hunt down and slay;
But rather as children of one common birth,
Discerning in each natural fruit of earth
Kinship and bond with this diviner clay.
Let us be with her wholly at all hours,
With the fond lover's zest, who is content
If his ear hears, and if his eye but sees;
So shall we grow like her in mould and bent,
Our bodies stately as her bless├Ęd trees,
Our thoughts as sweet and sumptuous as her flowers.

In Defense of Ordinary Language Philosophy

The middle of the twentieth century in the Anglosphere saw the dominance in philosophy departments of what we might call linguistic philosophy. This was an approach to philosophy that attempted to solve philosophical problems by appeal to the analysis of the language in which the problems were proposed. The major movements of this kind were logical positivism and ordinary language philosophy; they were in some ways Esau and Jacob, twins fighting from the womb. Both of them eventually fell out of favor. Logical positivism fell out of favor chiefly because it could not bear its own weight, in roughly the sense that formulating a version of it that was simultaneously non-self-defeating and non-pointless turned out to be more than anyone could do. Ordinary language philosophy fell out of favor for different reasons, and I want to argue that, while it was inadequate if taken as a complete approach, jettisoning it entirely was nonetheless a serious mistake, because it still has something to contribute. I would actually, if pressed, go much farther than this; I think its rejection was only prevented from being the beginning of the end for Anglo-American 'analytic' philosophy by the development of new ideas in modal logic. But I will not argue this last point here. What I will do is (1) give an explanation of ordinary language philosophy, which is often misunderstood, and in particular the Rylean approach to it, which is the approach I think has the best-thought-out philosophical foundations; (2) address some common criticisms of ordinary language philosophy; and (3) say something briefly about why deliberate embrace of OLP in its proper place is potentially important. This will not be a comprehensive argument, by any means, but laying down the basics will suffice for now.

(1.1) The 'Ordinary' in 'Ordinary Language Philosophy'

The most common confusion that arises when discussing ordinary language philosophy is to take it to be about everyday language. This confusion is clearly on display in Russell's poorly-argued attack on ordinary language philosophy, "The Cult of 'Common Usage'". As Ryle notes in "Ordinary Language", however, we have to distinguish between 'the use of ordinary language' and 'the ordinary use of an expression'. When we speak of ordinary language in the former sense, we mean common, everyday language, as opposed to things like technical language, poetic language, etc. One might take this as a starting point, but it is not the sense in which an ordinary language philosopher, and certainly a Rylean ordinary language philosopher, appeals to ordinary language. That kind of appeal is to the latter sense, the sense when we are taking about the ordinary use of language, rather than the sense when we are talking about the use of ordinary language. In this second sense, 'ordinary' indicates not 'common' or 'everyday' but 'stock' or 'standard'. One may use a fish-knife to cut up potatoes, but its ordinary, i.e., stock or standard, use is to cut fish. This means that technical terms have ordinary uses; there are stock or standard uses of terms like 'species', 'phylogeny', 'matter', 'information', and so forth throughout the sciences. Indeed, a great many philosophical discussions will require, at least in great measure, discussion of the ordinary uses of technical terms. (I am deliberately avoiding talking about this kind of discussion in terms of 'analysis'; see below.)

What we are looking at here is also dynamic rather than static, because it concerns active use of terms. Ryle notes that we often talk about the ordinary use of language in terms of ideas, concepts, or meanings. He prefers to talk about use because it conveys more accurately the active and dynamic character of what is being examined. Ryle recognizes, however, that it has its own advantages. It could be confused with talking about the usefulness of expressions, where usefulness is contrasted with uselessness, which is a relatively unimportant question. As Ryle puts it, when you go to a foreign country, you want to know the use of a peseta or centime, i.e., its purchasing power; you already know what pesetas or centimes are used for. Perhaps more dangerously, 'use' could here be confused with 'usage', which is a "custom, practice, fashion or vogue" (OL 174). To describe usages of words already presupposes that you have looked at the uses of those words in context.

What comes out clearly in Ryle's account in "Ordinary Language" is the instrumentality of language. Words are instruments, interpersonal instruments, in fact; they have their raison d'etre in being used in interactions. The Rylean approach in ordinary language philosophy is to take this instrumentality seriously and to examine the standard use of the instrument.

(1.2) The Unscheduled Logical Powers of Language

The major idea to which this Rylean account of OLP is opposed is that formalization provides the magic solution to all philosophical problems. The emphasis on instrumentality virtually guarantees such an opposition. Alexander 'untied' the Gordian Knot by hacking through it with his sword; but we all know that this means in a very straightforward way that Alexander did not untie the knot at all, but used a new instrument to do a different thing entirely. The Gordian Knot remained untied; Alexander did not really solve it, he only pretended to do so. And when we are formalizing problems and answers, we are introducing yet another instrument to the mix. It's certainly possible that we were making some mistake with the prior instruments, but it could also mean that we are simply confusing two different problems that our translation/formalization rules treat as if they were the same. It's certainly a point we need to consider.

Ryle prefers to put the point in terms of scheduled and unscheduled logical powers:

Of those to whom this, the formaliser's dream, appears a mere dream (I am one of them), some maintain that the logic of everyday statements and even the logic of the statements of scientists, lawyers, historians and bridge-players cannot in principle be adequately represented by the formulae of formal logic. The so-called logical constants do indeed have, partly by deliberate prescription, their scheduled logical powers; but the non-formal expressions both of everyday discourse and of technical discourse have their own unscheduled logical powers, and these are not reducible without remainder to those of the carefully wired marionettes of formal logic. The title of a novel by A. E. W. Mason 'They Wouldn't be Chessmen' applies well to both the technical and the untechnical expressions of professional and daily life. This is not to say that the examination of the logical behaviour of the terms of non-notational discourse is not assisted by studies in formal logic. Of course it is. So may chess-playing assist generals, though waging campaigns cannot be replaced by playing games of chess. (OL 184)

These 'logical powers' are the logical relationships of an expression with other expressions. However, when we are using words in everyday life, we do not run over the closure of all the logical relationships an expression has. Far from it: we only consider some of the simpler aspects of it. A schoolboy who knows 3x3=9 may genuinely understand it, but not know the full underlying rules governing the expression. (For that matter, a mathematician might not, either.) He uses the expression in the fields that he knows, letting it slide into a familiar groove rather than exploring the full range of its possibilities. Formalization does not get around this. As Ryle notes in "Philosophical Arguments", to get to the point at which you are able to give the precise skeletons of use requires that we already think extensively about this broader set of logical powers. All we do in formalization is put some of these logical powers, often the ones most amenable to very simple rules, on a schedule, so we can keep track of them more easily. This does not mean we have captured everything of importance in the original, however. We have made a toy model; we can learn a great deal from a toy model; but toy models are not the things they model, and sometimes that makes a very great difference. Moreover, one can never tell whether it does make a difference until one goes back to the original and thinks it through.

(1.3) Conceptual Cartography

We then are exploring the logical powers, scheduled or unscheduled, of language. One might be tempted to call this sort of examination 'analysis', but Ryle tends to emphasize quite strongly that this is not analysis in a strict and narrow sense. It would be more accurate to call it 'synopsis', which is neither analysis nor synthesis, since it involves looking at how analyses relate to syntheses of which they can be a part.

Ryle's favored way of talking about it is in terms of cartography: we are mapping the logical powers of ideas. Natives to a country may know the country quite well without ever actually charting it. We could talk, if we pleased, of the implicit map in the native sense of the land; but, at the same time, approaching an area from a different direction might throw them off entirely. Further, there may be quirks due to how people use landmarks and the light. I spent several years in Toronto, and, being an extensive walker, walked considerable portions of the city in that time. My 'mental map' of Toronto has a number of quirks. The primary landmark is the CN Tower, and I rarely looked at city maps, which means the 'top' of my mental map of the city is south; however, the details are filled out most clearly along the major subway lines, and my mental map of the subway system, derived as it was from actual subway maps, has north at the 'top'. This never caused me, personally, problem, since I would naturally reorient myself depending on whether I was thinking of walking or taking the subway, although it sometimes did make it difficult to give intelligible directions, and at least twice during my stay there I gave completely backwards directions to people because they had the misfortune of asking me how to walk somewhere just as I came off the subway, or because I, in grave error, tried to give them walking directions using subway stops as landmarks. In addition, lots of areas of the city -- mostly outskirts reached only by bus -- are very hazy. I could still get lost in Toronto, although never for long. I could also easily misjudge distances; distances I had actually walked I had a good sense of, but there were also lines of connection in the city I knew from bus or subway that I had never walked. For this and other reasons, there are almost certainly inconsistencies in my sense of how Toronto is laid out.

On Ryle's account, our everyday sense of the use of language is much like this. We can have a genuine grasp of it and still be subject to disorientations, confusions, inconsistencies, and haziness. If we were to set out actually to make a map of Toronto, we would not settle for this: orientation would have to be standardized, inconsistencies would have to be resolved, haziness would have to be filled in, confusions would have to be clarified. Finding a cartographical inconsistency would show us that something was wrong. To discover these, we would not just map out single buildings and landmarks but how they all related to each other. So too the Rylean approach to OLP is concerned not with mapping out concepts in isolation but a whole network, seeing how each concept is oriented with respect to the others. This allows us to discover paradoxes and category mistakes. This doesn't mean, necessarily, that we explore the entire network in detail; it does mean that we have to extract some of the logical relationships a concept has to other logical relationships. Mere analysis simply will not suffice: "Philosophical problems cannot be posed or solved piecemeal" (PA p. 211).

(2.1) Gellner's Fourfold Attack

Ernest Gellner's 1959 Words and Things was in great part an attack on OLP, and is one of the few attacks that manages not to be hopelessly vague, and thus most attacks since owe a great deal to it, whether they admit it or not. Gellner identified what he called four pillars of OLP, attacking each in turn:

(1) Paradigm case argument: In paradigm usages a word must be correctly applied.
(2) Generalized naturalistic fallacy: Linguistic norms can be inferred from actual usages.
(3) Contrast theory of meaning: Contrastless concepts are meaningless.
(4) Polymorphous account of language: A unified general model of language is impossible.

None of these are obviously applicable to the essence of the Rylean approach, although with some stretching one can perhaps stuff some specific Rylean arguments under the headings. Certainly none of these are pillars of Ryle's approach, nor would any of them clarify the issue that Ryle himself thought genuinely important, namely, the opposition to formalism. And (2), and possibly (1) as Gellner understands it, simply makes the use/usage error Ryle had already noted some years before.

The book became the center of one of the major editorial scandals of twentieth century philosophy when Ryle, who was editor of Mind at the time, refused to accept a review of the book, saying that abusiveness might sell books but disqualified it for serious academic consideration. Russell, who had written a very favorable introduction to the book, felt insulted by this and protested vehemently, which led to a large controversial correspondence. But it's hardly surprising that Ryle would think the book contentless: the book was supposed to be a refutation of OLP, and Ryle, one of the pre-eminent philosophers of the approach, could have recognized virtually nothing in it. It could hardly have looked like anything but a pile of insults on an ignorant foundation. T. P. Uschanov has a good discussion of some of the response to the book at the time. Suffice it to say that in Gellner, and in others who parrot the same kinds of arguments, we will find nothing substantial with which to oppose the Rylean approach to OLP.

(2.2) The Quasi-Gricean Argument

Perhaps the argument most worth taking seriously is an argument tracing back to Paul Grice, although Grice's own approach can be considered an OLP approach. Grice was interested in the relation between the formal and informal approaches to language, a technical issue that had become important in the dispute between OLP and its critics, and came to conclude that the difference between the two was not so sharp as some of the people on each side seemed to think. He argued that what we needed was a theory that could distinguish between some expression's being inappropriate because it was false and its being inappropriate for reasons having nothing to do with truth or falsehood. There are lots of things that might be appropriate to believe but that would not be appropriate to say in a given kind of case, so there are going to be limitations to any look at the use of terms. This is often understood to be raising a general problem for OLP, although it should be noted that it has always been quite unclear how much it should be taken as a general criticism of OLP itself rather than simply a correction to a common mistake being made in OLP. As Parker-Ryan puts it in her IEP article on OLP:

Pragmatic aspects of communication, according to Grice, must be distinguished from the strictly semantic aspects, and thus, according to him, meaning must not be confused with use. But this, on his view, is precisely what the Ordinary Language philosophers do, insofar as their ‘appeal to ordinary language’ is based on the view that meaning is determined by use (see the chapter entitled ‘Prolegomena’ in his 1989). Indeed, Grice here launches a detailed attack on many of the ‘ordinary language’ analyses put forward by, amongst others, Wittgenstein, Ryle, Austin, Malcolm and Strawson. In each case, Grice argues that where the Ordinary Language philosopher appeals to the use of the expression, especially in order to throw doubt on some other philosophical theory, what occurs is the failure to distinguish meaning (that is, ‘semantic content’ or ‘truth-conditions’) and use (that is, pragmatic aspects of communication such as implicature). Therefore, the argument that philosophical non-ordinary uses of expressions are a problem for metaphysical theses is itself at fault.

On a Rylean approach, however, this final conclusion can be the case without sacrificing the point that talk about meaning is, depending on precisely what we mean, either use or an abstraction from uses. And if one cannot identify an independent way to identify meaning that does not, in fact, involve recognition of use or abstraction from uses, then the argument simply fails to be a general problem for the Rylean approach, and becomes at best a cautionary tale in not jumping to conclusions too quickly.

(3) Ordinary Language Philosophy as Vocabulary Synopsis

None of this is to argue that Ryle was correct in everything. I think, for instance, that OLP in none of its forms had a good account of figurative language; Ryle's own view that metaphors and the like are non-ordinary uses is untenable, and I think (to give another example) Grice's attempt to handle them makes his account question-begging. This is a fairly serious flaw, and one that would cause problems sooner or later. Likewise, none of this is to argue that OLP is the One True Method, as opposed to a method for dealing with a set of problems that genuinely arise in philosophy (namely, those arising from the handling of vocabulary). Rather, my argument is that there was never any seriously good reason to reject a Rylean approach to OLP, and there are advantages to it that should involve it being taught and used as a legitimate philosophical method.

This should not be as controversial as it is. Speech-act theory, Gricean pragmatics, and discussions of category mistakes are all just fragments of OLP that have broken off and continue to be used under the table, so to speak. They are, however, fragments, and attacks on OLP have become virtually ritualized, to a serious detriment in systematicity of approach. The argument for a Rylean approach being very useful for at least some things is fairly simple:

(1) Rylean OLP consists of systematically identifying the ordinary use of expressions, which in turn consists in the systematic drawing-out of its 'logical powers' or relations within a contextual network of expressions.
(2) Something like this activity is necessary in many particular cases for handling the dangers of misleading expressions and confusion between different vocabularies (e.g., technical and colloquial expressions that look the same).
(3) It is beneficial if this is done systematically rather than sporadically or merely occasionally.
(4) Therefore Rylean OLP can offer a beneficially systematic way of handling an activity that is often necessary in philosophy.

The systematicity is a key issue here. The problem is not that philosophers do not do what Ryle would recognize as OLP; they clearly do. A philosopher of biology who looks at the standard uses of the term 'species' in biology and how they relate to each other, for instance, is doing ordinary language philosophy of some kind. Rather, the problem is that the prejudice against OLP means that people doing this do so as relatively isolated islands, and in an occasional way, rather than in a systematic way. Deliberate, conscious, systematic application is necessary, however, for not being misled in any number of ways it is possible to be misled.

(4) Bibliography

Gellner, Ernest, Words and Things. Beacon, 1959.

Parker-Ryan, Sally, Ordinary Language Philosophy, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Russell, Bertrand, "On the Cult of 'Common Usage'". The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 3, No. 12. (Feb., 1953), pp. 303-307.

Ryle, Gilbert, "Ordinary Language". The Philosophical Review, Vol. 62, No. 2 (Apr., 1953), pp. 167-186.

Ryle, Gilbert, "Philosophical Arguments" in Collected Papers, vol 2. Routledge, 2009.

Ryle, Gilbert, "Systematically Misleading Expressions". Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, Vol. 32 (1931 - 1932), pp. 139-170.

Uschanov, T. P., The Strange Death of Ordinary Language Philosophy, 2001.

In addition, those interested in the spat between Ryle and Russell over Gellner's book can read many of the letters to the editor that this spat created here.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Singing Beside the Hedge

Cheerfulness Taught by Reason
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I think we are too ready with complaint
In this fair world of God's. Had we no hope
Indeed beyond the zenith and the slope
Of yon gray blank of sky, we might grow faint
To muse upon eternity's constraint
Round our aspirant souls; but since the scope
Must widen early, is it well to droop,
For a few days consumed in loss and taint?
O pusillanimous Heart, be comforted
And, like a cheerful traveller, take the road
Singing beside the hedge. What if the bread
Be bitter in thine inn, and thou unshod
To meet the flints? At least it may be said
'Because the way is short, I thank thee, God.'

Monday, June 17, 2013

Man of Steel

I went and saw Man of Steel today. I was expecting it to be meh -- a good whiling-away of the time, but not much more. I was stunned to find that it was a genuinely good movie. It has weaknesses, mostly to do with pacing and an unexplained plot point or two, but this post by Ashok explains quite well why they aren't fatal. I'm pretty much completely in agreement with Ashok, actually. What makes this movie work is that it does very well with a fundamental principle most superhero movies (and comics) struggle with:

Superheroes cannot be heroic for us, but only with us.

This movie makes that point over and over again, in literally dozens of ways. And that is what a superhero movie requires to be more than just a super-action movie.

It is especially what a Superman movie requires, because Superman has a unique place even among superheroes. Chuck Sonnenburg mentioned fairly recently that Superman is effectively The Superhero, the very quintessence of it: he has every superpower, or something equivalent to it, and he has every superpower in such an overwhelming way that he can stand against any superhero on his or her own ground. He is the Superhero of superheroes. And thus to get him right, it is absolutely essential to understand the point: Superman cannot replace our own heroism. His whole point is to bring it out in us, by showing us what heroism is in its pure form, and making it clear that we are all called to be heroic when the occasion arises. It's why he needs to be Super Boy Scout. It's also why being Clark Kent is more essential to his character than being Kal-El: Batman in most of his iterations could cease to be Bruce Wayne without much change, Wonder Woman as Diana Prince is simply undercover, but Superman needs to be Clark Kent. It's the only way he can be The Superhero, and that is what it is to be Superman. Failure to grasp these principles, which was wholly a moral failing, is why Superman Returns was so awful, despite some nice points. This movie actually gets Superman, better than any big-screen version ever has, and because of it, it could make more mistakes than it does and still be a good movie.

I liked what we got of Krypton -- some of it was a bit over-the-top, but over the top is what Kryptonians should be -- and I especially liked that even when the movie was occasionally paying homage to classic Superman moments -- such as the famous fight in Superman II -- it does so in its own way, rather than just copying, and thus shows an actual understanding of what homage film is. (One can contrast this with the recent Star Trek movie, which repeatedly shows an inability to understand that paying homage to a classic film requires not copying it but building on it to create something new and good in its own right.) The fight scenes shouldn't be as hard to follow as they sometimes are, but, despite there being a very large amount of action, action for the most part takes second seat to character-building. The casting is quite good. And Henry Cavill steps into the role of Superman beautifully; part of it is a better script (by David S. Goyer, who is not usually this good, but here gets most things at least right enough), but Cavill is a better Superman than Christopher Reeves. Reeves' quiet reserve made him very endearing and likeable, which is why fans have long forgiven Superman and Superman II a legion of sins, but Cavill's resolute sympathy -- it comes out most perfectly when he faces Zod for the last time -- does much the same without making him seem like a Reeves clone. Again, it is partly because of the better script, but Cavill steps into that better script and doesn't let the audience down. Moments that could have broken down into cheesiness with bad acting are actually believable. And, holy moly, how is that I never realized how perfect Amy Adams is for Lois Lane? She herself says that she would never have played it right before she became a mother (Adams, that is, not Lane), and perhaps that's exactly right: there's a genuine humanity to her without any loss of the Torchy Blane side, empathy with strength. She's heroic in her own right, but her heroism is not just thrown in -- Hollywood's major sin when it comes to "heroic" women is throwing in a heroism that makes no sense for their character or the plot -- it makes sense. It's her own heroism.

There are some weird plot points that are never explained and seem to be there only for plot convenience, but (astoundingly, given a number of recent movies) the plot conveniences here actually manage to be genuinely convenient to the plot, furthering it in a genuinely worthwhile way, so they can easily be overlooked if you're just settling in to watch and have fun rather than poke holes. But in any case, while the plot is better than any Superman movie so far, the primary point of a Superman movie is not the plot but Superman, and this movie actually gets him right. As I said above, on that foundation alone, this movie could make a lot more mistakes and still be a good movie.

When I was coming out of the theater I overheard a woman talking to some friends, to whom I'll give the last word. I quote: "Damn! I don't even like Superman and I thought that was a great movie! I am an X-Man person, but I don't care what the critics say, that was a great movie."

Three Strongholds

The two foundational aspects of Elven, especially High Elven, life that make them seem magical are (1) artisanship at the limit and (2) immortal preservation. Almost everything about Tolkien's Elves that makes them different from Men comes down to one of these two, or both. We learn late in LOTR, and I think this is the only place it is actually mentioned, that Elves don't sleep and they don't dream. When Aragorn and Gimli settle down for the night, Legolas simply lays back and spends the night remembering ages past. Elven memory is such that they can remember events as if they were really there; that is the closest Elves generally get to dreams, although perhaps it would be better to say that dreams are the closest we get to Elven memory. Elven immortality is not merely a happenstance, but something that follows from their inner principle; everything they are involves the preservation of what was past. This is why the Elves who went to the Blessed Realm are so powerful: they preserve something of the Blessed Realm even into the changeable environment of Middle Earth.

We are told in The Lord of the Rings and elsewhere that at the end of the Third Age there were three major strongholds associated with the High Elves (although there were Elves elsewhere, most notably in Mirkwood): the Grey Havens, Imladris (also called Rivendell), and Lothlorien. Each of these represents a distinct kind of preservation. (In a letter somewhere, Tolkien explicitly points this out with regard to Rivendell and Lorien, so this is at least partly there even at the level of authorial intent.) Círdan, Elrond, and Galadriel have the positions they do in Elven society because they are the master-overseers of the Elven arts that involve these preservations.

The form of preservation that is represented by the Grey Havens and Círdan is escape from what destroys. A long time ago, I used to be puzzled about Círdan. Unlike Galadriel, he never went to the Blessed Realm and never saw the Trees. This is also true of Elrond, who is too young, but Elrond's place is not puzzling because he was the herald of Gil-galad the High King, who was the son of Fingon the High King, who had been to the Blessed Realm; and Elrond is himself the son of Eärendil, who had (and who had essentially saved the world). But not only did Círdan never go to the Blessed Realm, he has no family who had. But there is a reason for that. If you really pay attention to what is said of him in LOTR and The Silmarillion, it becomes clear that he is very, very old, so old, in fact, that it is strongly suggested that he goes back to the Awakening, or perhaps the second generation. And that this is indeed what Tolkien himself thought likely is clear from some of the works Christopher Tolkien has published since. Círdan may be so old he has no father, or at least no grandfather; he's one of the first Elves, perhaps the oldest Elf still alive in all of Middle Earth. He has spent much of that time interacting with Ulmo and Ossë. And over the years he has come to be the one maintaining the connection with the Blessed Realm, a spark of hope and a last way out.

Rivendell and Elrond, however, represent a different kind of preservation: that of memory and lore. In Rivendell Elrond is a master of lore, and his hall is a hall for telling and singing stories. This kind of preservation we know quite well, although here as elsewhere the arts of it are taken to a form greater than Men could possibly achieve.

Lorien and Galadriel represent another kind of preservation. To step into Lorien is like stepping into another world entirely. And that's the point. Lorien is not entirely this world. The Elves may have the ability to remember events as if they were really there, but Galadriel has outdone them all: she has remembered things so vividly that the world around her takes on something of their form. Lorien is Galdriel's memory of the Blessed Realm to the extent that changeable Middle Earth can bear it. She tells us this herself:

I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold, and leaves of gold there grew:
Of wind I sang, a wind there came, and in the branches blew.

While in Imladris life is preserved as memory, in Lorien memory is preserved as life. Memory flows through Imladris like water; in Lorien it is like the air you breathe.

These, then, are the three kinds of preservation, escape, memory, and life, and in the last strongholds of the Elves we find them each taken to their ultimate extent.

But, of course, in Middle Earth preservation does not suffice, and it does not save. It merely holds things off for a time.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Poem Draft


Astern old Väinämöinen sat,
casting waves aside.
Ilmarinen rowed the foremost oars,
Lemminkäinen rowed the back.
North they drove to Sariola,
to the Northlands cold.

In the cabins Lady Pohjola
as they came asked the question,
"What news brings you hitherward
to the Northlands cold?"

"To share the Sampo brings us here,
the bright-covered plenty-mill."

Then said Louhi, Lady Pohjola,
"Some things are best not shared.
It is well the Sampo churns
here in the Northland, making plenty,
good that it is my own."

Louhi rose, raised the Northland,
strong men with piercing spears,
but Väinämöinen played kantele,
music of long-lost winter days.
He sang of wives, flame-lit halls,
of children singing for the sun.
The young men laughed, then wept;
then Väinämöinen with his song
set all the Northland-men to sleep.

In a bright hall of solid copper,
by nine locks guarded,
behind a gate of iron hidden,
Väinämöinen found its light,
the bright-covered plenty-mill.
Ilmarinen made the hinges hush,
Väinämöinen sang them open,
Lemminkäinen sought to lift it.

Nine fathoms deep its iron root,
nine deep fathoms held it tightly
in the Northlands cold.

Then Lemminkäinen on the farmlands
found the greatest Northland ox.
He plowed the roots, deeply down,
made the Sampo swivel,
then lifted it with mighty strength.
Väinämöinen, Lemminkäinen,
Ilmarinen, they took their prize
aboard their ship and sailed away.

Astern old Väinämöinen sat,
casting the waves aside.
Ilmarinen rowed the foremost oars,
Lemminkäinen rowed the back.
South they drove from Sariola,
from the Northlands cold.

When Robin's Not a Beggar

by Christina Rossetti

Winter is cold-hearted,
Spring is yea and nay,
Autumn is a weathercock
Blown every way:
Summer days for me
When every leaf is on its tree;

When Robin's not a beggar,
And Jenny Wren's a bride,
And larks hang singing, singing, singing,
Over the wheat-fields wide,
And anchored lilies ride,
And the pendulum spider
Swings from side to side,

And blue-black beetles transact business,
And gnats fly in a host,
And furry caterpillars hasten
That no time be lost,
And moths grow fat and thrive,
And ladybirds arrive.

Before green apples blush,
Before green nuts embrown,
Why, one day in the country
Is worth a month in town;
Is worth a day and a year
Of the dusty, musty, lag-last fashion
That days drone elsewhere.

The reference to Jenny Wren is a reference to the folktale of Cock Robin and Jenny Wren, which also is found referred to in a number of nursery rhymes, most famously, "Who Killed Cock Robin?". It's one of those cheerful stories, about how Cock Robin and Jenny Wren get married and Cock Robin gets killed by a stray arrow on his wedding day. Fortunately for Robin (and Jenny Wren) here, Rossetti gets his part in the poem not from this story but from another nursery rhyme, "The Robin in Winter".