On Aug 17, 2009, at 3:53 PM, Ben Matthews wrote:
> 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:
> 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
> e.g. Numbers 15 in terms of intention. Nevertheless, a concept very
> to the one that that we use today by 'intention' is clearly built
> into the
> different practices stipulated in ancient law.
I'm not familiar with this basic text, but the history of the concept
of intention doesn't seem to go back that far. So I'd be suspicious
of the translation. I don't read ancient Hebrew, but i might find the
Ancient Greek if you give the paragraph number. which looks to be say
22? in the latinate bible, which is likely where the origin of the
mistranslation comes from, intentio for 'mind' again, or something
similar. hmm. interesting. Still looking for the original
paragraph that mentions intention in the pre-latinate text, dunno if
i'll find it.
> I struggle to imagine how linguistics could demonstrate such a
> claim: that
> the 'structure' of language contains a 'theory' of persons.
it is part of reference and how one refers to people, and their
relations to each other. Almost all languages have a built in model
of person or group of people/family' In english, the structure i/me/
you/they, etc. indicate elements of the theory of the person embedded
in the language. The system of reference beyond referring to people
also has implications for what a person is, so I'd say yes, the
structure of a language has an implicit theory of a person. Now there
is probably debate, as there always is, but people don't have to
believe this for it to be the case, nor does disbelief seem to
disprove it, the evidence either fits into your model of language and
people or it doesn't.
Seems to be part of the basis of linguistic anthropology doesn't it?
> 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
> inhere in language I can't quite buy.
don't have to buy it, but i'm thinking that this is one of the major
twists and turns that led from the linguistic turn to the practice turn.
> I would also differentiate here between language containing the
> concepts of
> subject and subjectivity, versus it containing *models* of those
> Models are philosophical constructions. Language is for use.
Language is not just for use. language is part of identity and
subjectivity. some languages can likely be used only for use, but
I've never seen one. some people also think primarily in their own
languages or in a plurality of languages, as opposed to other modes of
>>> 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
> making an empirical claim that has anything to do with Harry's brain
> or processes.
I'd think you are making an empirical claim there.
> 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.
I tend to doubt that the neuroscientific tests are any more or less
empirical than harries expressions.
> 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
actually they are, they are pointing at something people likely
believe. some people will claim up and down that intention exists and
matters, because it is the basis of their work, and that's fine, but
we shouldn't deny that if it isn't the basis of people's work and if
the concept need do little or no work in the analysis or research that
it needs to exist. That is the problem with the debate on agency.
People have to have it there, but they don't need it for any part of
their analysis or research, it is just an axiom they point to, that
they don't necessarily need.
> Myth and religion are red herrings here. Neither are variants of
> science, nor do they respect anything like the same criteria for
> establishing 'truth'.
here i would disagree... because it depends very much on what you
think truth is, and that varies. most people are foundationalists,
some are coherentists, some are pragmatists, and there are likely
others. I tend to think that religion and myth are varieties of
science, not very successful varieties, but they point to the same
basic thing, which is a systematized pursuit of knowledge and
description of the world. Now, today we do it differently and we find
more success on our terms with it, but before our time and elsewhere
in the world there may be people that have success with other models
> They, too, are far from making empirical claims of a
> scientific sort that await future experimental confirmation.
Actually i think most myths i've heard are about empirical claims. X
happened to Y causing Z, etc. perhaps more literary, but when i look
at Works and Days for instance, i see quite a few claims about how
things in the world are and how they can be explained.
>> 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
>> 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
> 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
> action. But a whole network of concepts we currently have would
> unravel at
> this point.
actually many of them are unraveling, then people reconstruct them if
they so desire, we go through this quite often actually. Call it
conceptual analysis or theorizing, but this is not an uncommon
situation to have in academia where we are at once trying to describe
a very complicated chain of relations on the one hand, and trying to
make it interpretable by others on the other hand. Those two values
the explaining/describing of empirical data and the construction of
ways to understand that data are frequently at odds.
> Our concept of what it is to be a person is bound up with other
> concepts: accountability, action, moral responsibility, individual
> constraint, compulsion, justification...
Mine isn't so much most of those, i tend to strip the person pretty
bare. I assume they have a mind and that has certain implications but
not all of the ones above, and that they can act in the world.
> If intention goes, a large part of
> our concept of human being goes with it.
Not really, certain things will go with it. such as the concept of
Human Will, and likely certain constructions of freedom that are tied
to the same model, but other parts of freedom will likely stay.
I remember when I was in undergraduate ethics... My professor a recent
grad from UChicago told us to do a little experiment. go around
campus and assume that everyone was robots, as complex as robots could
be imagined by you.... Do that for a week, then write down what you
think is different between you and the robots.... The idea is that
you of course are one of the robots and thus there should be no
difference, but that you can explain all actions as programmable
behavior if you really try. Even randomness and pseudorandomness can
be modeled and considered. The problem then becomes those people who
see that there are differences, fundamental differences, and those
differences usually centered around some 'spark' or 'will' or
'intent'... It was always something that you couldn't observe or
measure that made all the difference to some people. Now don't get me
wrong, I believe in the Flying Spagetti Monster as much as the next
guy, but at a certain point when you are observing people being
ethical or not ethical in the world, you have to explain it and in the
end, you don't need intention to explain it, there are other models.
> These are not isolated concepts but
> are inextricably related to each other. This is not a 'theory' of
> beings, it is rather our very concept of human being.
I'm not sure i share it, i share elements sure, but I think you might
have more commitments in that arena than I do, things that i likely do
not find necessary, nor likely real.
> We are not in danger
> of simply losing or abandoning that concept. The organisation of
> 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
don't see why, there are already a plurality of ways of doing that in
the world. and believe me... most of the ones that exist are fairly
successful and many do not accept the same premises.
> 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
> personal accountability or anything like it, we would not consider
> human, and could not recognise ourselves in what passed for their
not really, we are just talking about describing the world and human
society as it seems to exist within one model, if that model proves
successful, grand, it seems to be doing ok in some accounts. I don't
see it as a threat to anything like the 'way of life'. I'd hope
perhaps better decisions can be made when there are more models
available to consider.
Umm, there are people in this world that have no sense of the personal
in regards to accountability. Seems like every year someone else says
this same thing... that we are a global individualistic
monoculture.... and i have to say that no, people elsewhere do
sometimes think differently about this system of relations. They are
increasingly rare, but individualism and personal accountability
aren't 'human nature' they are one culture. There are plenty of
other possible ways of being without needing to demand the absolute
reality of one. That said, the current western discourse and
culture seems to be either gaining in some respects or losing in some
respects its hegemony, there is much debate about this in the class of
cultures literature, fascinating stuff.
> 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.
perhaps i studied too much jurisprudence....
> I've always found it helpful when people who represent different
> have direct exchanges on this list. I hope the PhD-design audience
> see this as too much of a diversion. I've enjoyed the dialogue.
It is a good discussion, i agree. I don't know if it helps
necessarily on phd-design, but then again. i originally came on this
list to study the list and the development of doctoral programs in
design as a cross-national phenomena, though i never did, as i got
distracted by other things.
Center for Digital Discourse and Culture
Information Ethics Fellow
Center for Information Policy Research
Imagination is the one weapon in the war against reality.
-Jules de Gaultier
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