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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 21:53:33 +0200

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Dear Jeremy,

Thanks for your quick and clear response. Perhaps David is right, this is
well-trodden ground on PhD-design, but I wasn't able to resist the
temptation to cross swords with you.

On 8/17/09 1:41 PM, "jeremy hunsinger" <[log in to unmask]> wrote:


>
> intention for instance from intentio which was said to
> be translated from  Avicenna's concept of ma'na which was a
> translation of nous.   now nous, is usually just translated as
> mind.... in contemporary translation.  Aristotle, nor Plato, nor
> really any ancient uses the concept of intention, unless someone
> translates it back into their text.
>
I had been thinking of the Mosaic Law (c.1400-1000 BC), into which was built
clear distinctions with respect to punishments for intentional vs.
unintentional commissions. The English translations I have at hand render
e.g. Numbers 15 in terms of intention. Nevertheless, a concept very similar
to the one that that we use today by 'intention' is clearly built into the
different practices stipulated in ancient law.

>>
>> I would suggest ordinary language is not, and does not contain, a
>> theory of
>> persons.
>
> I would say that it is based on a theory of persons and as such not
> only contains several theories of people.  It certainly has models of
> subjects and subjectivity in it, which has deep implications for how
> people can think about persons.  so yeah, most human language in its
> structure contains a theory of persons.  I actually think that
> linguistics shows this quite convincingly.
>
I struggle to imagine how linguistics could demonstrate such a claim: that
the 'structure' of language contains a 'theory' of persons. That theories of
persons can be constructed from the grammar(s) of concepts in language is
undeniable--this is the problem. But the claim that those theories somehow
inhere in language I can't quite buy.
I would also differentiate here between language containing the concepts of
subject and subjectivity, versus it containing *models* of those concepts.
Models are philosophical constructions. Language is for use.

>
>> It is not about the business of making empirical claims, or
>> hypotheses about phenomena that we as yet have no way of testing.
>
> umm?   generally, tons of people speak about such things quite often.
> we have a whole category of myth, supplemented with a category of
> religion, etc.

When I say something like 'Harry thinks Whitehead was a genius', I'm not
making an empirical claim that has anything to do with Harry's brain states
or processes. My claim about what Harry thinks about Whitehead will be
confirmed or refuted by Harry's actions, expressed opinions, authored
publications and other such criteria, not by the empirical results of
neuroscientific tests. We use terms like intend and think, and they have
very ordinary and public criteria for their ratifiability. They aren't
indexing hidden states or processes that we may one day know more about.
Myth and religion are red herrings here. Neither are variants of empirical
science, nor do they respect anything like the same criteria for
establishing 'truth'. They, too, are far from making empirical claims of a
scientific sort that await future experimental confirmation.

>
>> 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.
>
> and yes, they are, words like intend will likely eventually be
> surpassed, but currently it is built into the models of law that we
> have in the west.   it is going to take years to break that tradition,
> and the unfairnesses built into them, but i suspect intend and
> intention will eventually become 'archaic'.

I begin to see how differently you see things here. But I see much more
hanging on the possible future abandonment of 'intention'. I don't deny that
we could invent new concepts that give us different ways to explain human
action. But a whole network of concepts we currently have would unravel at
this point. Our concept of what it is to be a person is bound up with other
concepts: accountability, action, moral responsibility, individual choice,
constraint, compulsion, justification... If intention goes, a large part of
our concept of human being goes with it. These are not isolated concepts but
are inextricably related to each other. This is not a 'theory' of human
beings, it is rather our very concept of human being. We are not in danger
of simply losing or abandoning that concept. The organisation of social
life, raising children, learning language, etc. would first have to be
wholly other than it is now before any injury came to the concept of human
being. The idea that it will 'take years to break that tradition' is hardly
what is at stake. We're talking about a reinvention of human life, of
society. If we encountered a humanoid colony who operated a society without
personal accountability or anything like it, we would not consider them
human, and could not recognise ourselves in what passed for their 'society'.

>
>
>> '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.
>
> Actually it sort of is...  intention solves a very clear theoretical
> problem and that is why it was developed.  it allows us to
> differentiate two outcomes that have negative results, one of which is
> an accident and the other of which is a crime.  we use the model of
> intention as a narrative precursor to differentiate the two.

I agree with what you say about the concept of intention here, and its
pragmatic uses in our lives. I just fail to see how this is solving a
theoretical problem. It appears to be solving a very practical one to me,
and one that doesn't need a theory.

I've always found it helpful when people who represent different outlooks
have direct exchanges on this list. I hope the PhD-design audience doesn't
see this as too much of a diversion. I've enjoyed the dialogue.

Kind regards,
Ben

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