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PHD-DESIGN  August 2009

PHD-DESIGN August 2009

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Subject:

Re: Who Designs?

From:

jeremy hunsinger <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

jeremy hunsinger <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 08:53:01 -0400

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>>
>
> The 'structure' of language only has an implicit theory of persons
> if you
> take the 'surface' appearances of language--it's public uses in our
> lives--and read a theory back into them. But this is to take
> language use as
> a document of something deeper, something hidden.

no, not really, nothing hidden at all in any necessary sense.  I mean
there may be something hidden and worth uncovering, but then it
wouldn't be hidden anymore would it...  it would be right there in the
open.  here i'm thinking of theories of discourse and theories of
naming, language seems like systems of simple uses until you actually
research it and find it systematized as discourse and find normalities
in naming that have explanations.  it isn't that they were ever
hidden,  much like norms and conventions in society that surround
technologies designing things aren't hidden, but until we create a
model that lets us see them, we'll likely end up explaining them away
through models of delayed human agency, and then wonder what kind of
monsters those humans were that designed dam like that or allowed cars
to rule our lives like that.  The problem of course is that in all
likelihood the users of such technologies aren't being influenced by a
hidden monstrousness or 'evil intents'  they were likely merely
attempting to do what the thought was a good thing a desirable thing,
and in doing that thing and building monumental infrastructures around
it, they transformed the world into a slightly less livable one, that
we might explain better by looking at the way the infrastructures act
upon us, instead of looking at the way we act.  similarly with
language, we can see how discourse and naming frame and limit the
possibilities of expression and construct a theory of the person in
relation to the structural possibilities of the language.

> But there is nothing to
> point to in order to confirm the existence of the 'deeper' theory
> than the
> observable practices in which language has a use.

actually there are plenty to refer to here in those practices.   in
fact those practices do systematize and indicate all kinds of
interesting things.  that's part of the science part of research...
'individual human practices' do in fact participate in larger social
systems and if we looking at many of those practices, we can make
inferences about them, then we can experiment with the design of said
systems, etc.    i tend to think this is just a normal part of
science.... data yield theory, theory is tested, data is transformed
with new meanings, etc.  it is just standard realist empiricism.

> So you take the observable
> as evidence for the existence of something unobservable (and
> contentious).
> But your certainty of the existence of what is hidden can only be less
> certain that what we can all see, know and use. I'm recommending we
> can
> choose to stop subliming language in this way. There doesn't need to
> be
> anything 'under' the 'surface'. That's the point.

i'm sorry, personally that's not the way i do things, if you give me a
toy truck i'll take it apart eventually to see how it works.  I don't
think most people can even see a surface in language.   I do think
they can construct one in order to deny anything else, but  I don't
think there is a surface there, just a plurality of possible liminal
states that can be referred to justify one thing or another.

>
>> Language is not just for use.   language is part of identity and
>> subjectivity.
>
> Let's not create a caricature of use. Identity and subjectivity are
> practices, too.

they can be, sure, but they are not all practices unless everything in
our mind is a practice, and i have to think that memory is not a
practice, though there are memory practices.  but language is part of
how we remember and remembering is part of identity, and i'm not sure
remembering is a practice at all.
>
>> some languages can likely be used only for use, but
>> I've never seen one.
>
> So language has other uses than its uses? :-)

yes... given that any references to 'use' in the singular is
delimiting, there are likely to be other uses that the referree does
not admit to his or her model of use.

>
>>>
>>> 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.
>>
>> I'd think you are making an empirical claim there.
> --snip--
>> I tend to doubt that the neuroscientific tests are any more or less
>> empirical than harries expressions.
>>
>
> My original point of departure was your identification of intentions
> with
> brain states. Naturally, claims about the world are defeasible, and
> answerable to the world. Just not to the future results of some
> scientific
> experiment. That isn't how they're used right now. We already know
> what the
> criteria are for establishing Harry's thoughts about Whitehead. Those
> criteria aren't hidden from, or currently inaccessible to, us.

I certainly don't.  I've read some whitehead, but don't know harry.

> --snip--
>
>>>
>>> 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.
>>
>> 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
>>> choice,
>>> 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.
>>
>
> You speak as if we just pick concepts of persons off a shelf,
> inspect them,
> dust them off, take them up if they suit us for the moment, discard
> them at
> will, etc.

luckily, in research, we can do just that.  we can probably do it in
life in certain ways and do it.  for instance, one could argue that
professional relationships are a stripping bear of 'human relations'
as they tend, depending on your milieu, to insist on treating people
in a way that some consider less 'human'.  Thus there is always the
question for such professions of overcoming that....

> Sure, we can each say whatever we like about human beings, about
> what human beings 'are'.

don't think there is much debate about what humans are in the end.
there is of course debate about personhood, about what brain's
actually do, etc.    Intention for instance... I've talked to many
people about intention.   as best as i can tell everyone says they
have intentions.... until you ask them to be skeptical about them, you
ask them to really think.. did you have an intention when you
buttering the bread, and do you have it while driving the car, etc.
and usually after about 5 minutes or so people come to the curious
situation where they have this big list of things that they had no
intentions about at the start of 5 minutes ago, because they weren't
really intending anything, they were mostly just going about their
day.  occasionally more complex situations do arise and they do use
intention, and perhaps there is an intention there, sometimes they
report it, i'm sure or sometimes it is likely that it is better
described as them just 'wanting' something.  in any case, i have no
evidence beyond my own curiosities about intention and my inability to
actually find it in the world as anything other than shorthand for
other states of affairs.   Now i realize you say. 'just take the
shorthand at face value', to which I say... 'no', because the
shorthand actually ties into an ontological position and and
epistemological position which is based on 13th century theoretical
constructs, some of which I think have brought real harm unto this
world.

> And we can debate 'views' endlessly and idly, as
> you and I are doing now.

i wouldn't call it idle.  for me, this is a primary form of work.
debate is one way that we make progress and stake positions that
should be dealt with.

> We can paint whatever picture strikes us. But if we
> honestly try to treat another human being as if they are not
> accountable for
> their actions, as if their actions require no justification, as if
> they act
> without agenda, purpose or intention, we might see just how much of
> our
> socially organised lives are intertwined with a notion like
> 'intention'.

or we might not.   it really depends on the story you tell and are
used to telling as you are embedded in certain narratives in your
culture.

> Changing conceptions of personhood isn't like rearranging deck
> chairs, in
> spite of the fact there are so many flavours on the bookshelf to
> choose
> from. In practice, there are many fundamental agreements. We don't
> treat the
> impact of a fist with our head the way we treat that of an acorn
> from a
> tree.

well, again, you don't....  that doesn't mean everyone doesn't and it
is the different in those stories of the fist and the acorn that
matters, because there is no reason to think that the fist is hitting
you with intention, though we can easily imagine that as a possibility
within our current narrative frameworks,  but it need not be so.  It
could be the fist exactly parallels the acorn in some instances and we
shouldn't rule out the fist as an accident of nature.

>
> --snip--
>
>>> 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'.
>>
>> 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.
>>
>>
> Now I'm a mono-cultural globalisation-touting Western hegemonist.

sounded like it to me, as you keep referring to universals.  I
apologize if i'm wrong about your words, but it really seems as if you
are arguing that there are central cultural precepts derived from
human nature that all humans naturally share and have access to.   i'd
disagree with that general axiom.


> Oh well.
> :-) The point is not that there are no cultural differences (who would
> entertain that claim?) The point is that we have not discovered a
> human
> culture that does not e.g. raise children to be responsible for their
> actions.

umm, i'm not sure we haven't.  I see kids in the supermarket all the
time that i swear are going to end up on wall street some day.   we
actually have whole categories in western society where people are not
responsible.


> The relevant differences in culture here relate to what kinds of
> things can be invoked to excuse behaviour, what kinds of reasons are
> culturally acceptable and in what circumstances, what kinds of
> behaviour is
> sanctionable and by reference to what. The intelligibility of human
> action,
> the possibility of understanding other cultures and practices, is
> contingent
> on some fundamental human agreements.

see... doesn't that seem like you believe there are fundamental shared
concepts/agreements across all cultures?   i don't think there are in
any necessary way.

> Otherwise translation, communication
> etc. would not be possible.

In some ways translation is impossible.  yet we do it, and it is
sufficient, but it is like the problem of translating Nous or
Logos....  we never have the meaning, the translation... ever... we
just have possibilities.


> It is difficult, there are problems for sure,
> but it is doubtlessly possible. There certainly are very different
> ways of
> organising life, and some of those differences are cultural. They
> carry
> concepts different from our own. But the very fact of their
> intelligibility
> shows us how much we have in common.

I think we tend to assume intelligibility....  it is actually one of
the great failures and successes of the human isn't it, our pattern
seeking and generalization abilities, but sometimes they fail us.  not
every fist is a punch, not every cup of tea is for us to drink, and
not ever door opened is meant to be walked through.... we make
assumptions based on those narratives and metanarratives we live in
and we try to bridge those across cultures... sometimes that works,
sometimes not....  sometimes we think it has worked.... and it hasn't
in surprising ways.  intelligibility, out capacity to interpret,
doesn't ensure any necessary truth or reliable translation.
>
> This has been a stimulating discussion. Thanks for your time.
>
> Ben

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