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PHD-DESIGN  August 2009

PHD-DESIGN August 2009

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Subject:

Re: Who Designs?

From:

Ben Matthews <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Ben Matthews <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 17 Aug 2009 10:40:07 +0200

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

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text/plain (101 lines)

A couple recent posts have suggested that ordinary language is theoretical.

On 8/16/09 4:51 PM, "jeremy hunsinger" <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> I tend to think that
> intention and intentionality, which refer to some state of the brain/
> mind/nous are much like 'will'... they are concepts that solve a
> particular theoretical problem of the middle ages or modernity, but
> alas don't exist.


On 8/17/09 9:12 AM, "Terence Love" <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> The central issue in this discussion is that some of us are working on the
> basis of an awareness that research over the last 20 years strongly suggests
> that the established meanings of such words as ³think,² ³know,² ³intend² or
> ³act² can no longer be taken for granted. Many would argue that these new
> understandings means these terms  incorrectly represent the activities to
> which they are traditionally applied and as which they are commonly defined in
> dictionaries. 
> 
> Science and new knowledge has moved our understanding of the world on.

While I agree with both Terry and Jeremy that much of the difficulty here
relates to our concepts, I think it is a trap to view ordinary language as
containing a rival, and potentially mistaken, theory of human beings. The
terms that are in view here: intention, design, think, know etc. are not
ordinarily used to address theoretical or philosophical problems, and these
are not words that were invented by philosophers. They were used in ancient
literature long before western philosophy got their hands on them.

I would suggest ordinary language is not, and does not contain, a theory of
persons. It is not about the business of making empirical claims, or
hypotheses about phenomena that we as yet have no way of testing. Ordinary
language is useful, or not. It has uses, and in the ways that it is useful,
it is meaningful. When it stops being useful, it can no longer do work for
us. 

Words like 'intend' and 'know' are not concepts that solve particular
theoretical problems, and they are not words that are in danger of being
superseded. 'Phlogiston' was a concept that was invented to solve a
particular theoretical problem, and has since been superseded, but
'intention' is not an analogue here. Of course, intention has since been
appropriated to do theoretical work in certain cognitive sciences, but this
is where the problem lies, when we take an ordinary concept that has a
variety of everyday uses and try to squeeze a scientific phenomenon out of
it, or employ it in a way that it is not ordinarily employed. Not all human
action is intentional, but theorists will be tempted to employ the concept
to do that kind of theoretical work. At this point we have distorted the
concept, and we will find it inadequate for the (philosophical) job. Then we
might (mis)conceive our task as having to 'transcend' ordinary distinctions
as if they were (or could be) mistaken, and we might think a new vocabulary
or conceptual landscape will save us. But we cannot transcend a landscape we
haven't yet mapped, and that is the real problem here--getting a clear
picture of the way language is already used.

Terry's quote above suggests that ordinary words like 'think' 'intend' etc.
function incorrectly as names for or in reference to "activities".
Presumably, the argument is that because we now know more about the
activities (brain states?), we are now in a position to reform our
understanding of what these terms mean. But this is only the case if we
first have made the mistake of assuming that 'think' 'intend' etc. are words
that are ordinarily used in reference to brain states/processes. I'm
reminded of (who else?) Wittgenstein again here. "How does the philosophical
problem about mental processes and states and about behaviourism arise?--The
first step is the one that altogether escapes notice. We talk of processes
and states and leave their nature undecided. Sometime perhaps we shall know
more about them--we think. But that is just what commits us to a particular
way of looking at the matter. For we have a definite concept of what it
means to learn to know a process better. (The decisive movement in the
conjuring trick has been made, and it was the very one that we thought quite
innocent.)" Investigations, §308.

Ordinary language does bequeath us very compelling pictures (not theories)
that can be difficult to free ourselves from. The fact that 'mind' is used
as a possessive noun, the fact that there are different rules for what I can
say about my mind versus what I can say about yours, etc. can draw for us a
picture of 'mind' as a private entity that can and often does lead to
confusion about what a mind "is". But this confusion is addressed not by
inventing new theoretical terms, nor by awaiting the results of brain
science, but by trying to get a clear picture of the existing use of the
terms in question. For those interested, two recent and incisive examples of
the view I am propounding are:

Sharrock, W. W., & Coulter, J. (2004). Theory of mind: a critical
commentary. Theory & Psychology, 14(5), 579-600.

Hutchinson, P. (2008). Shame and philosophy. Basingstoke: Palgrave
Macmillan.

Kind regards
Ben    

-- 
Ben Matthews
Associate Professor
Mads Clausen Institute
University of Southern Denmark
+45 6550 1675
[log in to unmask]

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