Thursday, March 04, 2010

A Slice of Cake and a Side of Representation

A quick thought before moving on:

Quoting Rorty again, "Contingency Irony and Solidarity" Pg. 5:
We need to make a distinction between the claim that the world is out there and the claim that truth is out there. To say that the world is out there, that it is not our creation, is to say, with common sense, that most things in space and time are the effects of causes which do not include human mental states. To say that truth is not out there is simply to say that where there are no sentences there is no truth, that sentences are elements of human languages, and that human Languages are human creations.

Truth cannot be out there - cannot exist independently of the human mind - because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there. The world ii our there, but descriptions of the world are not. Only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world on its own - unaided by the describing activities of human beings - cannot.

The suggestion that truth, as well as the world, is out there is a legacy of an age in which the world was seen as the creation of a being who had a langu4ge of his own. If we cease to attempt to make sense of the idea of such a nonhuman language, we shall not be tempted to confuse the platitude that the world may cause us to be justified in believing a sentence true with the claim that the world splits itself up, on its own initiative, into sentence-shaped chunks called "facts." But if one clings to the notion of self-subsistent facts, it is easy to start capitalizing the word "truth" and treating it as something identical either with God or with the world as God's project. Then one will say, for example, that Truth is great, and will prevail.

I’m starting to get the feeling that this is all Pragmatism really needed to do in order to satisfy its urges – just replace truth. Notice that statements like, “That car over there is silver.” whether you have a proclivity for truth being in the world, or truth being just a product of language, our propositions stay the same. For example the pragmatist doesn’t say, “wait, we shouldn’t say it like that, because that suggests that that’s actually true of the world.” But one doesn’t.

So why then does Pragmatism dump the idea of representation and the appearance/reality distinction? A representative statement for a Platonist (one who sees truth as existing in the world) is a truth about the world itself. However, representative statements about the world for a Pragmatist is a truth that exists only in language – following above. The only distinction that needs to be made between the two sorts of representation (if we keep it on both sides) is between the idea that one discovers truth (for the Platonist) and the idea that we create truth (for the Pragmatist). In another way, from a Pragmatist point of view the shift between different representative characters (i.e. the idea that a given metaphor represents a certain fundamental idea) isn’t to say that we’re saying something fundamental about the world in itself, but a suggestion to shift between certain ways of thinking about concepts because a different way has more “cash value” and/or allows us to obtain more predictive power - on the one hand anyway.

In this way it’s fair enough to say (for example) that people have fundamental affective states, and that things we say and do are reflections of those affective states. To make the argument that this sounds like Platonism would beg the question as to why one would not consider the belief that, “That car over there is red.” is also Platonism because both can rightly infer that one believes that truth to be true of the world in itself. All we need though, is the statement above from Rorty to make the proper distinction (or simply the idea that Truth transcends language, but I’ll get back to that later). In this way our talk about these affective states gains it’s cash value not in the truth it speaks about the world but in the cash value we gain from the predictive insights we may or may not gain from having that sort of dialogue.

In summary:
All we’re really saying is that it helps to think of people as having affective states (and whether they do or whether they don’t is not something one can prove), and it helps to speak and behave as though they do, even if it means implying that certain metaphors are representations of those states (refer back to my post “Hierarchies of Thought”). To say that that’s true (again, from a Pragmatic perspective) is not to actually say that that’s True of people.

Of course this all raises other interesting points in my mind that I’ll tare apart in a post to proceed.

1 comment:

    It occurs to me that I'm flip-flopping around a bit here. I feel that I'm on the cusp [finally] of dumping a whole lot of old dogma, and perhaps picking up some new. Of course, the old stuff isn't going to go without a fight.

    I need a symbol or a sign, like some screaming and gnashing, followed by me puking up some putrid black tarry sort of substance.