I can see we're at an impasse. I just want to take up a few points of the
many where we seem to disagree, and then I'll retire. You're welcome to have
the last word.

On 8/17/09 10:41 PM, "jeremy hunsinger" <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> 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?

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. 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. 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.

> 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.

> some languages can likely be used only for use, but
> I've never seen one.

So language has other uses than its uses? :-)

>> 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.
> 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 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. Sure, we can each say whatever we like about human beings, about
what human beings 'are'. And we can debate 'views' endlessly and idly, as
you and I are doing now. 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'.
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


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

This has been a stimulating discussion. Thanks for your time.