Reading Mind and World – Note 1

I started reading McDowell’s Mind and World few days ago.

From what I understood so far (I’m near the end of lecture two) McDowell’s contrasts two views:

1.The idea that there is something given to us through our receptivity, something which serves as a constraint on possible conceptualizations of what we are experiencing, and further as a ground for empirical judgments. It is a way to make sense of how judging and thinking can have bearing on the reality.
2.Conherentist idea – that there is no such thing as Given which serves as a rational constraint to our thinking and judgments. The thought is not rationally constrained through experience, but only causally influenced. In such view nothing can count as a reason for holding a belief except other belief.

McDowell finds both views unsatisfactory, so his solution is that our experience is already conceptualized – that it represents things in the world as being thus and so. In that way he says we get the external rational constraint to our thinking (something which is required for the thought to have bearing on reality, and make sense of the apparent fact that there IS something in our experience which we can’t change as much our judgments or thinking changes), while avoiding the problems for which Given was rejected (like the problem that space of reasons can’t extend into nonconceptual Given – the Given would fall into the realm of pure sensibility, which can’t be connected to the normative nature of judgments).

I guess I don’t find this solution very interesting, as my beliefs kind of go in somewhat parallel direction.

First, I think it includes “experience” in philosophers’ sense, which I take to be just a myth. As I said before, instead of reifying experience as something that represents the state of affairs in the world, and which has some what-it-is-likeness to it, we should accept the everyday sense of the world ‘experience’, where it refers to events in the world in which we participate, and in which events we are somehow affected or from which we learn something, or in alternative sense where ‘experience’ refers to the knowledge gained in that way. When talking about our relation with the world we simply then change the talk from discussions of “experience” to discussion of seeing,hearing, and perceiving in general. The acts themselves are events in the world, which relate the things in the world to ourselves.

In such view, of course there is no reason to discuss any such thing as ‘conceptualization of experience’, as what is “external rational constraint” to our thinking is not any kind of experience, but the world itself – or what we perceive of it.

If one keeps on his mind the physical description, or neurochemical description of what we know is going on whenever we see, (hear, smell, etc…) something, this might seem as avoiding the problem. How does this solve the problem of the relating the normative aspect of the judgment to this scientific description?

The trick is here to think of those acts (seeing, hearing, etc…) not in terms of the physical, neurochemical or some other such scientific description, but in the way we are aware of them, and see the physical and neuro-chemical description of event only as a description of an aspect of whatever is going on. Of course this requires certain metaphysical view – it requires the view that the world in general is not reducible to those aspects, and further related to it – the epistemic view that through our perception we can be aware of those things in the world, even they are not reducible to those aspects. In such way all those things of which we can become aware, including our ability to become aware, language and so on, ARE genuine phenomena in the world, unrelated to our awareness of them, even as phenomena they are not reducible to the physical description. (If you are interested in more thoughts on relation between concepts, what we see and what-it-is-likeness here)

If this is still hard to understand, it is probably because someone might think that I’m saying something more complicated than what I’m really am – This is nothing but the everyday common-sense view of the world.

So, in that way, the “external rational justification” is the world, or at least whatever we perceive of it. There is no “experience” which is “already conceptualized”, there is the world and its aspects to which we can put our attention (or alternatively which can attract our attention). This ability to abstract, to put attention on aspects, is what is ground of our awareness of different phenomena of which we can further think, which we can name and talk about.

123 Meme

J.M.C.Dow of Spontaneity and Receptivity tagged me with the 123 meme. The rules are:

  • Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages)
  • Open the book to page 123
  • Find the fifth sentence on that page
  • Post the next three sentences
  • Tag five people

*Looks below the Wii Operations manual* – Aha! Here is the winner!

The book is Mapping The Mind – Domain Specificity in Cognition and Culture (editors:Lawrence A. Hirschfeld and, Susan A. Gelman) and is a collection of essays on, well, domain specificity. I started reading it the other day. Let me see what’s on the page 123…

Thereafter, each subsystem can develop in parallel. My discussion concentrates upon the first of these levels, mechanical Agency, and deals with the other two levels only to mark off what else I think comprises the core notion of Agency that is not dealt with at the first level. I begin then with the emergence of a processing mechanism (probably somewhere around 3 or 4 months of age) that equips the infant to attend to the mechanical properties of objects and events.

There is no excuse for mentioning the phrase ‘processing mechanism’ on this blog. I don’t have against processing mechanisms, but the idea that the people are some sum of processing mechanisms for different domains is just not something that should be included on a family friendly blog. I will tag this post as PG-13 or NC-17.

BTW, related to the topic of knowledge domains, I’m eagerly waiting for Young Children’s Thinking about Biological World by Giyoo Hatano. The description on Amazon:

This book is a study of young children’s naive biology. It examines such theoretical issues as processes, conditions and mechanisms in conceptual development using the development of biological understanding as the target case. Based on the review of recent studies in the North America and Australia as well as in Japan, the authors claim that children as young as five years of age, that is, before formal schooling, possess a naive theory of biology, which is differentiated from naive theories of psychology and physics. They characterize this initial form of biology as personifying and vitalistic. At a more general level, the authors try to offer an integrative and moderate model of conceptual development as a domain-specific construction of theory-like knowledge systems under cognitive and sociocultural constraints.

Exciting, right?

Back to the meme thing… As I seem to have been the last person on Earth that wasn’t tagged in this meme, there isn’t anyone else to tag, so I declare this meme FINISHED! *Applause*

The Book Of The Future

Shawn has post over at Words and Other Things, asking for philosophical books to be available as searchable .pdfs. That made me think, and I came up with the following scenario that I would like to be true. It might not be possible in the year of James Bond, but few years in the future… maybe.

In the scenario we all have e-paper devices (something like this, this, this, or eventually something that looks like being actually made after 1990) with access to Internet. The device connects to a book provider, to which we pay e.g. $10 a month.

Using that device we are able to search and choose books, papers, to click through the references to get to other books, etc… and the pages of the books/papers will be then streamed (not fully downloaded) to this reader device.

The amount of money we pay, is then divided per time we spend reading each of the books. If half of the month I spend reading some book, it gets $5. If I read just few pages, but find out it is not for me, it gets just few cents.

If such system exist, even bloggers might be able to fit in! – the provider might not just provide philosophy books, but also serve philosophy blogs, and bloggers could be payed for providing content, that other people read through such service (according to the time spent). As a reader I would be glad if part of my money goes to those bloggers whose posts I spend lot of time reading.

Of course, this kind of service doesn’t have to be limited to philosophy books. It can be for books in general, but there is one problem for this kind of generalizing… Some books are very specialized, and doesn’t have as much readership as others, and thus might not provide return of investment if the $10 are divided to all kind of books. It seems more plausible for the system to work if people pay separately for different types of books (e.g. I will pay $10 monthly for access to philosophy books, and then separate $5 if I want access to fiction).
Maybe the price per category can be even calculated by some formula, so that more readership some category of books has, the less money the reader should pay for the service.

With or Without Me

In Subjectivity and Selfhood, Dan Zahavi in the chapter 5 – Consciousness and Self, talks about the issue if there is an intimate link between self and self-awareness, and what is the nature of this link. In doing so, he focuses on the issue of different notions of self, which I think is interesting, so I will put it in this post.
He contrasts two different notions of self, namely:

1.The Self as a Pure Identity-Pole (Kantian Perspective)
The need of something to provide unity of consciousness through different experiences. All of the experiences through time are given as experiences of same self.
This self is theoretical self, and it is deduced in its necessity…

As Kant wrote in Kritik der reinen Vernunf: “It is… evident that I cannot know as an object that which I must pressupose to know any object” (A 402). (104)

2.The Self as a Narrative Construction (Hermeneutical Perspective)

According to this view… the self is assumed to be a construction… When confronted with the question “Who am I?” we will tell a certain story and emphasize aspects that we deem to be of special significance…, it is construction of identity starting in early childhood and continuing for the rest of our life… Who one is depends on the values, ideals, and goals one has… is conditioned by the community of which one is part. (105)

Zahavi then puts in front the third notion:
3.The Self as Experiential Dimension (Phenomenological Perspective)
This is the alternative that Zahavi considers, and which can be seen as a replacement of the first notion of self (Kantian perspective), and as a “necessary founding supplement for the second notion of self” (Hermeneutical perspective). About this, as Zahavi calls it, notion of minimal self  or core self, which is “conceived neither as an ineffable transcendental precondition, nor as a mere social construct that evolves through time”, he says:

To be conscious of oneself… is not to capture a pure self that exists in separation from the stream of consciousness, but rather entails just being conscious of an experience in its first-personal mode of givenness; it is a question of having first-personal access to one’s own experiential life. (106)

This notion, Zahavi argues, is what is by Merleau-Ponty, by Sartre and Henry called “ipseity“.

…More about this book in some of the next posts.

Husserl and Husserliana

In some future post I will give several quotes from the Dan Zahavi’s book – Husserl’s Phenomenology, which connect to things I have said (some inspired by Husserl through that book).  In that book Dan often gives references to Husserliana, so I thought I should say some things I learned about it.

Husserliana is a collection of books that are being published posthumously, based on 40,000 pages of manuscripts that Husserl left behind him (he died in 1938). Thirty-eight volumes have been published so far. Only a part of them are translated and published in English, seems that the last one is volume 12, published one month ago.  (on the bad side prices of the works are pretty high, and with some of the hardcover editions with costs around 400$, I surely will consult a secondary literature for some time, or will try to figure out things by myself :) )

husserliana explains this big amount of writings left behind by Husserl in this way:

Husserl was known, especially later in life, to rely on assistants to organize his “daily meditations,” which he would throw haphazardly to his left and right. These would be gathered up, collated, and placed in binders for his later re-inspection and revision.

This brings to my mind picture of the Jeremy Brett, playing Sherlock Holmes in the TV series, throwing the pieces of papers around,  and then I think of how Husserl could nicely use Sherlock Holmes in his examples of the intentionality towards non-existing objects and things. Anyway…

The manuscripts, those 40,000 pages were not safe in Germany, where because being Jewish Husserl was eliminated from the list of university professors, denied access to library (Heidegger, his former student, seems to have his part in this), and in general was more and more isolated in the last five years of his life.
Luckily for us, a Franciscan – Herman Leo Van Breda smuggled the manuscripts to Belgium, where first Husserl archive was founded, and the work on Husserliana has started.

By some coincidence, three days from now, on 27th of April, it will be exactly 68 years from Husserl’s death. So, I guess, this post can be small tribute to this big philosopher.


“Structure of Scientific Revolutions” by Thomas Kuhn

In an interesting and easy to read book, Kuhn brings before us picture of development of science based on a concept of paradigm. Paradigm is referring to commonly accepted things by a (specific) scientific community – things like theories, concepts, interpretations of measurements within those theories (or facts in particular paradigm). “Specific” there means that the science is not a whole, but different sciences (like physics, chemistry, biology etc..) have their own paradigms, and that even within one such “big” science, there are lot of sub-fields which have their own sub-paradigms. Those things are accepted in a community as a foundation on which science can advance in little steps, by process that Kuhn names puzzle solving. Such processes are named normal science.
But from time to time, the accepted paradigms get into an obvious inconsistencies, as the facts interpreted as they are in the particular paradigm, go against the theories in the paradigm – there is anomaly. This results with a crisis in the science, which results with search for new paradigms, and eventually replacing of the paradigm, leading back to normal science.

This is the story in short, and while it might be interesting put in few words, it is even more interesting when through Kuhn’s work you get to see each of the phases come to life before you, through big number of examples and anecdotes, particularly colorful when he talks about the state of crisis.

All in all, very exciting read, and for me probably one of the most important philosophy works. Because while it might have been conceived by Kuhn to be philosophy of science, it is more then that… certainly for those who think that the concept of paradigms can be used to tackle more general problems in epistemology.

I guess that most of the readers of this blog already know what Kuhn’s work is about. But I felt I need to have one post for the word (paradigm) I’m likely to use in considerable amount in some of the next posts. So, this post can serve as a short explanation, and reference to the book for those who are not familiar with this concept.

You can also check The Philosophers’ Magazine for synopsis of this Kuhn’s book. (copy)

Review of “Husserl’s Phenomenology” by Dan Zahavi

husserls phenomenology

It is probably very hard to write books like “Husserl’s Phenomenology“… Books about the deepest philosophical issues as seen by famous philosopher, working through the different stages of his philosophy, making sense of the changes that it went through, giving us references on every step if we want to explore further, giving references to alternative interpretations of Husserl’s philosophy (and why they are wrong), keeping us in suspense as for what is to come next, and all that in 150 pages!
Well, the author seems to have material to talk forever on this topics, so I guess he tried to put as much he could in this short book. It covers Husserl’s work from his early works on the issues of Logic, Epistemology and Intentionality, critics of psychologism (which seem to be common practice among lots of philosophers, no matter what -ism they come from), hist turn to the transcendental idealism, concepts of Reduction, Epoché and Constitution.
The concept of constitution is especially interesting, as it connects the subjective idealistic thought, to the things which constitute it.
And thatis where “Husser’s Phenomenology” was most interesting to me – when it starts to deal with the things which constitute the subject, and goes into the topics of Time, Body, Intersubjectivity, Lifeworld, Normality and Tradition.

Zahavi also in lot of places compares the transcendental idealism of Husserl, to that of Kant, and makes points of how are those two different (what is interesting is that Kant didn’t seem to see himself as idealist at all), and also to the successors of Husserl like Merlau Ponty and Heidegger trying to show how the ideas for which those philosophers usually are given credit, have their root, and that he even explicitly wrote about those.

All in all, this book is deep and easy to read, for epistemology/metaphysics lovers, I recommend this book.