A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Grounding the Inter-Subjective Transcendence

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on December 24, 2006

In every intersubjective practice, be it communication, game, or otherwise,  we necessarily accept the possibility of intentional content to show inter-subjective transcendence; possibility for it to transcend not only multiple intentional acts of different quality (or as it is also named – of different psychological type, as e.g. remembering/ imagining/ seeing /wishing and so on), but also the intentional acts of multiple subjects. For it to be transcendental, the content of our intentional acts need to differ from the contingent psychological acts in which it appears (or so to say, not to be defined or constituted by them), and to appear as same content within each of those intentional acts, be those in one subject or in number of subjects.
As I have noted several times (but I think it is worth repeating), denying the possibility of inter-subjective transcendence is impossible, as in the same act when one denies the transcendence, the transcendence is assumed. Namely one can’t deny “possibility of intersubjective-transcendence”, without assuming that the other person is talking about the same thing, when talking about “inter-subjective transcendence”. In similar way one can’t argue against inter-subjective transcendence of ANY intentional content, as by denying the intersubjective transcendence of that particular content, one is assuming the possibility to talk/think of that same content. So whatever is content of intentional acts, is inter and intra-subjectively transcendent. What one can deny though is that there is no inter-subjectively transcendent content (or meaning) of some of the words we use. Though a) this can’t be denied in general, as the denial itself put into words, will have to be inter-subjectively transcendent and b) for any word which is learned and used in society, in lack of inter-subjective content it is hard to see how it would be distinguished from any other such word, i.e. if we say that words W1 and W2 both lack any inter-subjectively transcendent content, it is hard to see in what way those two would be distinguished and used in different ways in communication.

As transcendental, this intentional content can’t be defined through subjective and contingent beliefs about the content, nor by subjective/psychological acts/events. As for the beliefs, the very notion of “beliefs about something”, should be enough to see that there is distinction between beliefs about the thing, and the thing itself.  But also if one takes beliefs as defining the content, it would a) render changing of beliefs about content impossible, and b) it would make it impossible for us to be wrong in our beliefs about the thing. Then, it seems to me, we should not buy into subjective idealism, nor we should buy into some forms of internalism, which would want to reduce intentional content to whatever is happening in the brain (e.g. concepts as some kind of ability/information within the brain). The brain processes are something contingent and individual, and are localized in time, so they can’t be proper ground of intra or inter-subjective transcendence.

One can try to search for the transcendental content in inter-subjective practices. The logic would be that as if the intentional content is supposed to be inter-subjectively transcendent then supposedly the “root” of that content might be in the inter-subjective practices in general, or language in specific. But how can subject get in touch with language or practices in general, if they don’t appear as inter-subjectively transcendental intentional content for him in first place? So to say, the language and practices can’t be held as ground for inter-subjective transcendence, as inter-subjective transcendence is required for those things to appear in first place. The meaning of the word will have to appear as intentional content in order to learn the word.

If the idea that intentional content is created or defined by whatever is there in the subject may be termed “subjective idealism” or “internalist physicalism”, this second view, that the intentional content is created or defined by whatever is there in the practices between subjects, may be termed “inter-subjective idealism” or “inter-subjective physicalism”.

If you agree with me that those two models are not sufficient to give ground of intra and inter-subjectively transcendent content, we need to search for intentional content in some other place.
One other idea is that the content is transcendent, by being connected to objective things in the world – this view might be called externalists physicalism. The intentional content of our thoughts about Venus is then the planet Venus. And really this view seems to provide the needed transcendence. In my numerically different intentional acts, where the intentional content is planet Venus, all of those are about the objectively existing planet Venus. And even when I speak with other people about planet Venus, the intentional content is same for us – being one and the same planet Venus. Further the account can be held to give account for concepts which are not singular (i.e. general notions), by connecting them to refer to the sets of particulars which satisfy given property. What is left for this account then is to explain and explicate the relation which makes certain intentional act to be about certain things/facts in objective reality.

However by this account, we can never know that certain intentional content is inter or intra-subjectively transcendent. The transcendence there is not something to which we have intimate relation, or of which we have intimate knowledge; by this account what we mean by the words, for all that we know might be not intra or inter-subjectively transcendent. When I say tree now, and when I say tree later, for all that I know, I might mean two different things – the knowledge if I mean the same thing by the same word is isolated from me, it is externalized in some kind of relation which is not fully accessible to me. Thus it appears that while I do mean something by my words, I can’t know what I mean by them.

And then, there is the model which I find plausible, where the transcendence is grounded in being-along in the (phenomenal) world, the being-along with other subjects in the same world, which presents a possibility for noticing the same things, be them concrete things, or also presents a possibility for noticing same abstractions – same abstract notions. Both concrete things and abstract notions in this being along in the world are given to us not as something which we create or own, but in publicly accessible world. Because they are in this publicly accessible space, we don’t need to imagine that other people can access them, it is normal that they can, and we need to learn special cases in which they can’t.
On this view, not just that the intentional content transcends the numerically and qualitatively different intentional acts of one or multiple persons, but it appears in every and each of those subjects as such, and knowable as such. Or so to say, the intentional content is present in our intentional acts, not as nothing, but as a concrete idea. In such way a simple identity is made between the idea and the intentional content. And as much the intentional content is something other (e.g. planet Venus), the idea is also something other – i.e. planet Venus.This is not to be taken (as might be common misconception about idealism), that the idea is something subjective, mental, or that because of being idea, the subject holds every and each possible truth about that idea (the things which were already denied). It just means that whatever intentional content is, it is thinkable as something other then the subject or in the case of some notions like “self” as same with the subject.

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