• StreetlightX
    4.4k
    One potentially interesting philosophical puzzle is the distinction and connection between what a thing is called, and what a thing is. This roughly accords to the distinction between language (what a thing is called) and world (what a thing 'is'), but things are slightly more complicated, as we will see. Stanley Cavell raises the question thus: when we encounter something new we've never seen before (a distinctive Inuit boat, say), what do we want to know? What it is, or what it is called? If one says: "oh, that's an umiak", what kind of answer is this? An answer about how we use our words, or an answer about things in the world?

    One potential way to disambiguate the issue is by reference to what Hanna Pitkin calls variables or dimensions of meaning. In general terms, a variable or dimension is something extra to take into account. A 2D map has two variables, for instance, longitude and latitude. It takes both to find out where you are, or where you are going on the map. Pitkin suggests that meaning is similarly defined by variables (not exactly, but we'll qualify this as we go on). Pitkin gives the example of three different kinds of words, each of which requires taking into account one more variable than the last: (1) Delicious; (2) Green; and (3) Justice.

    Beginning with 'delicious', Pitkin argues that calling something 'delicious' doesn't name a set of foods, so much as it is a way of saying something about that food. That an Inuit might find rotten whale blubber delicious, but you find it disgusting, does not tell us that the Inuit is using the word 'disguising' in the wrong way. It means the Inuit has a different idea of what is delicious. We both agree on the meaning of delicious, just not what is (called) delicious (we can call different things delicious). 'Green', however, is not like 'disguising'. For the meaning of green is tied directly to what is green. We cannot dispute what is green, without disputing what is "green". Were the Inuit to say, "that, to me, is blue", while pointing to a green thing, he either does not know how to use the word blue, or he is colour-blind in some way. An understanding of the meaning of 'green' requires taking something of the world into account in a way not necessary with the word 'disguising'. It has an added variable of meaning.

    Finally, 'justice' adds yet another dimension of meaning. As Pitkin says, "to learn a concept like justice, [one] must master not merely two but three variables, or dimensions of variation: the meaning of the word, the facts of the world, and the standards for what is considered just": for to argue that something is 'just' requires that one show how a certain action or another is just. It requires ... just-ification.

    Now, I don't want to linger too long on the details of the examples (which may be neither here nor there), but I do want to take away from it this idea that the meaning of different kinds of words depends on the kinds of things that count as being relevant to it. And that what counts as relevant may be all sorts of things. To master a language is, in turn, to master what counts as relavent for a word to mean as it does - be it something in the world, the word's relation to other words and actions, or certain institutions and standards (this list is incomplete). Importantly (and unlike maps), what (can) count for meaning is wildly 'modular': unlike maps, which always begin with at least 1 dimension to which others are added homogeneously, there is no 'base' variable of meaning to which we simply add others. One must look to see, with each word, what counts and does not count as relevant.

    I really ought to say how this answers the 'puzzle' posed at the beginning of the OP, but for the sake of space, I'm going to leave it as an exercise to the reader.
  • StreetlightX
    4.4k
    Appendix: The White Knight's discussion of Haddocks' Eyes, from Lewis Carroll's Through The Looking Glass:

    “You are sad,” the Knight said in an anxious tone: “Let me sing you a song to comfort you.”

    “Is it very long?” Alice asked, for she had heard a good deal of poetry that day.

    “It's long,” said the Knight, “but it's very, very beautiful. Everybody that hears me sing it - either it brings the tears to their eyes, or else -”

    “Or else what?” said Alice, for the Knight had made a sudden pause.

    “Or else it doesn't, you know. The name of the song is called ‘Haddocks' Eyes.’”

    “Oh, that's the name of the song, is it?" Alice said, trying to feel interested.

    “No, you don't understand,” the Knight said, looking a little vexed. “That's what the name is called. The name really is ‘The Aged Aged Man.’”

    “Then I ought to have said ‘That's what the song is called’?” Alice corrected herself.

    “No, you oughtn't: that's quite another thing! The song is called ‘Ways And Means’: but that's only what it's called, you know!”

    “Well, what is the song, then?” said Alice, who was by this time completely bewildered.

    “I was coming to that,” the Knight said. “The song really is ‘A-sitting On A Gate’: and the tune's my own invention.”
    — Through The Looking Glass
  • StreetlightX
    4.4k
    Another way to think about the 'puzzle': why it is that in some circumstances, we say: 'oh, that's just what she calls it, don't mind her', and in others 'No, you are wrong to call it that'; and in yet others, "I don't think you know what that word means'?; in others still: "that's not what it is".
  • Fooloso4
    1.1k
    In Classical Chinese philosophy there is the School of Names. One of its dialogues is "White horse is not horse". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_a_white_horse_is_not_a_horse
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    Beginning with 'delicious', Pitkin argues that calling something 'delicious' doesn't name a set of foods, so much as it is a way of saying something about that food. That an Inuit might find rotten whale blubber delicious, but you find it disgusting, does not tell us that the Inuit is using the word 'disguising' in the wrong way. It means the Inuit has a different idea of what is delicious. We both agree on the meaning of delicious, just not what is (called) delicious (we can call different things delicious). 'Green', however, is not like 'disguising'. For the meaning of green is tied directly to what is green. We cannot dispute what is green, without disputing what is "green". Were the Inuit to say, "that, to me, is blue", while pointing to a green thing, he either does not know how to use the word blue, or he is colour-blind in some way. An understanding of the meaning of 'green' requires taking something of the world into account in a way not necessary with the word 'disguising'. It has an added variable of meaning.StreetlightX

    Nothing to do with the philosophical point there, but "disguising" is bound to throw some folks off as they read the above.
  • bongo fury
    181
    To be fair, if your Inuit says "delicious" while throwing up, you will object along the same lines as when he calls "blue" what we call "green". So you can treat (1) and (2) merely as sorting different domains (psychological responses to foods vs foods, respectively) in much the same way, which is good old classification.

    Or you can treat them as sorting the same domain (foods) in systems maintained on different social scales: standard usage vs idiolect. (Or dialect, somewhere in between.) Both classifying, once again, just with different criteria, if any, and at any rate effecting different divisions of the domain. I.e. disagreeing, as people do.

    Also, why any need to distinguish type (3), as though classifications of colour, psychological responses and anything else aren't all subject to social agreement, dispute and negotiation?
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    Anyway, re the philosophical point, sure, people expect different sorts of words to be used in different ways relative to how other people use those words . . . although that's not really uniform for different sorts of words, but there are expectations that are more or less common.

    Re the supposed "puzzle," it doesn't strike me as anything puzzling.

    Re this question: "when we encounter something new we've never seen before, what do we want to know?" That really depends on the person and the exact scenario. Not everyone is curious about the same thing there. And wanting to know what something is called is going to also only occur if the person has some reason that they believe that others would be familiar with the thing in question and they figure that they probably have a word for it, probably have some idea of how it relates to other things, some notion of its history, etc.
  • Number2018
    292
    One potentially interesting philosophical puzzle is the distinction and connection between what a thing is called, and what a thing is. This roughly accords to the distinction between language (what a thing is called) and world (what a thing 'is'), but things are slightly more complicated, as we will see. Stanley Cavell raises the question thus: when we encounter something new we've never seen before (a distinctive Inuit boat, say), what do we want to know? What it is, or what it is called? If one says: "oh, that's an umiak", what kind of answer is this? An answer about how we use our words, or an answer about things in the world?StreetlightX

    I think that Cavell’s intention is different. “What seemed like finding the world in a dictionary was really a case of bringing the world to the dictionary. We had the world with us all the time, in that armchair; but we felt the weight of it only when we felt a lack in it. Sometimes we will
    need to bring the dictionary to the world. That will happen when
    (say) we run across a small boat in Alaska of a sort we have never
    seen and wonder-what? What it is, or what it is called? In either
    case, the learning is a question of aligning language and the world.”
    Our permanent position is to have the world in a dictionary while sitting
    in the armchair. So, we need to bring “our dictionary” to the world. Further, the relation between an unknown (single) thing and a meaning of a corresponding hidden word (while traveling) has just preliminary importance. All in all, Cavell’s question is about problematization of what we need to say in a particular ordinary context.
  • StreetlightX
    4.4k
    Yeah, the point I was making (via Pitkin) is different from Cavell's, but different by way of what I understand as an elaboration and extention of what he says. Cavell's general point is that yes, language and world are always elaborated together, and that we bring the world to our words (or vice versa). What I take Pitkin to add is that words and world are themselves plurivocal, and that exactly which bits of the world, and how it is that our words come to bear on it are essential to pay attention to. This is what I take from her idea of 'axes' or dimentions of meaning, which can be comprised of other words, bits of the world, standards of justification, or whatnot. This allows one to bring out, in a way not possible with Cavell's general point, the idea of differing kinds of words (although of course Cavell goes into this sort of thing elsewhere and at length).
  • StreetlightX
    4.4k
    To be fair, if your Inuit says "delicious" while throwing up, you will object along the same lines as when he calls "blue" what we call "green". So you can treat (1) and (2) merely as sorting different domains (psychological responses to foods vs foods, respectively) in much the same way, which is good old classification.bongo fury

    This is true, and it reinforces what I was getting at re: variables of meaning. In the case of the Inuit who throws up or scrunches up his face while calling the food delicious, we know that those reactions are relevant to his use of the word in a way they are not when it comes to the word 'green'. On this basis, and with the mastery of langauge that we have, we would question whether he knew what the word meant.

    On the other hand, the Inuit who throws up at the mention of the word Green likely doesn't have an issue with the meaning of the word green, but some kind of pathology.

    Also, why any need to distinguish type (3), as though classifications of colour, psychological responses and anything else aren't all subject to social agreement, dispute and negotiation?bongo fury

    I'll quote Pitkin on this who puts it most clearly: "If a speaker considers a situation just, he must in principle be prepared to show us how it is just, what is just about it. We have no corresponding expectation about "delicious" or "green". Unlike "delicious", justice is not just a matter of cultural habit or personal taste, but implies standards of justification. Unlike "green", it allows for a kind of disagreement that is neither merely verbal (different definitions), nor merely factual (different perceptions). Though some of our quarrels about justice may result from disagreements about what the word means, and some from disagreements about the facts of a situation, many concern differences in our standards of what is just".
  • fdrake
    3k
    I think it's a good account for a static library of terms, but I don't think it gets at novelty very much. All words come from somewhere, and the component criteria of relevance that go into their meaning probably also fall out as patterns of use. In this regard, the standards that subtend the words are probably also in flux like the words, but are relatively stable compared to them.

    Once you can take the standards for granted, I think the account in the OP makes a lot of sense, but in that regard (as stated) it's quite ahistorical.
  • fdrake
    3k
    Though I can imagine a fitting response which uses the 'counts as' the other way, so that an exemplar of a 3 variable word can change the standards it embodies through the use of the word, but the overall weight of the original standard tends to damp innovation; all word use of that type carries with it the standard as a norm of use; sort of like writing in English reinforces the shape of letters and the syntax more than the specific words used to phrase things. So you can exploit the reciprocity in reverse while attending to the different rates of change (standard with respect to word change((misuse/creativity)) is low, word with respect to standard change ((new domains of application, strong analogies, technical use...)) is high).
  • bongo fury
    181
    To be fair, if your Inuit says "delicious" while throwing up, you will object along the same lines as when he calls "blue" what we call "green". So you can treat (1) and (2) merely as sorting different domains (psychological responses to foods vs foods, respectively) in much the same way, which is good old classification.
    — bongo fury

    This is true,
    StreetlightX

    Hooray!

    and it reinforces what I was getting at re: variables of meaning.StreetlightX

    Boo!

    In the case of the Inuit who throws up or scrunches up his face while calling the food delicious...StreetlightX

    But bear in mind I was suggesting (first, in the bit you quoted, an alternative coming the paragraph after) that we interpret his "delicious" as sorting the domain of subjective reactions to foods, not the foods. He is calling his reaction a "finding-it-delicious"; describing a reaction not a food.

    ... we know that those reactions are relevant to his use of the word in a way they are not when it comes to the word 'green'.StreetlightX

    Bearing in mind the choice of domain, you wouldn't be saying that, would you? A reaction's being a throwing-up would be relevant to his use and our use of "finding-it-delicious" in exactly the clear and obvious way that an object's being (reflecting) a certain physical shade is relevant to his use and our use of the word "green".

    On this basis, and with the mastery of langauge that we have, we would question whether he knew what the word meant.StreetlightX

    Well, yes. But now you've flipped and are (with me) assuming a sorting of subjective reactions. Which is great, but you think you have implicated the "relevance" business into the scenario. I don't agree. Allow that "relevance" into the idiolectic sorting of foods, sure.

    On the other hand, the Inuit who throws up at the mention of the word Green likely doesn't have an issue with the meaning of the word green, but some kind of pathology.StreetlightX

    Ha ha, but seriously, and notwithstanding that this is based on the foregoing misunderstanding, I disagree. Your (Pitkin's) theory seems to me founded on an easy but unhelpful distinction between negotiable and non-negotiable systems. Your use of green might well turn me a funny colour, and, far from being pathological, this could obviously matter to future usage.
  • StreetlightX
    4.4k
    I think it's a good account for a static library of terms, but I don't think it gets at novelty very much. All words come from somewhere, and the component criteria of relevance that go into their meaning probably also fall out as patterns of use. In this regard, the standards that subtend the words are probably also in flux like the words, but are relatively stable compared to them.

    Once you can take the standards for granted, I think the account in the OP makes a lot of sense, but in that regard (as stated) it's quite ahistorical.
    fdrake

    Yeah that's fair. I tried to give myself some wiggle room here by speaking of such variables as modular, but it's true that one could go alot further here. One thing that comes to mind here is that tracking the variations of such changes (of 'dimensions') through time might correspond to the practice of conceptual genealogy, in the sense practised by Nietzsche and Foucault.

    Though I can imagine a fitting response which uses the 'counts as' the other way, so that an exemplar of a 3 variable word can change the standards it embodies through the use of the word, but the overall weight of the original standard tends to damp innovation; all word use of that type carries with it the standard as a norm of use; sort of like writing in English reinforces the shape of letters and the syntax more than the specific words used to phrase things. So you can exploit the reciprocity in reverse while attending to the different rates of change (standard with respect to word change((misuse/creativity)) is low, word with respect to standard change ((new domains of application, strong analogies, technical use...)) is high).fdrake

    Yeah, they'd be something of a two-way street here, although why a certain innovation may 'take', and why another won't (or can't), would be for, again, reasons to be divined by an appropriate genealogy. I guess one of the nice things a 'meaning variable' approach can do is to bring out in stark relief how such innovations can, at least in principle occur - when we add, or remove, alter, any such variable; when we change what it is to count as that kind of thing, alter the relevant thing(s) to take into account. Here is where I think creativity also comes into play: the ability to discern the available paths of projection, and then to take those steps.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    6.3k
    For the meaning of green is tied directly to what is green. We cannot dispute what is green, without disputing what is "green". Were the Inuit to say, "that, to me, is blue", while pointing to a green thing, he either does not know how to use the word blue, or he is colour-blind in some way.StreetlightX

    There is an undisclosed assumption here which disguises the real issue. The assumption is that there is a real, undisputable, boundary or principle, separating green things from blue things. If instead, you accept as a fact, that there is no such thing as "what green is", or "what blue is", because this assumption is only supported by Platonic Realism, then you might allow that some people see the colour of a thing as blue, while others see it as green, and this is just a fact of life. There is no need to dispute what green really is, only a need to respect individual differences and the reality of idiosyncrasies.

    Your (Pitkin's) theory seems to me founded on an easy but unhelpful distinction between negotiable and non-negotiable systems.bongo fury

    It's unhelpful because it's an incorrect representation. "Negotiable" implies a medium between the two, by which the issue would be resolved, resolution of debt through a payment medium, money, for example. But such a medium in this case would be reducible to a Platonic Form. We cannot assume that the medium is some form of negotiated convention, because the issue is whether or not there is a basis, or foundation for such conventions. Therefore this would be a vicious circle, the reason to agree with another, is that the agreement has already been made. But that's nonsense.

    So when we move to "justice", from "green", what Streetlight calls "the facts of the world", needs to be rejected because it is only supported by Platonic Realism, which bases these facts in a realm other than this world, the Ideal. And there is no such thing as "the facts of the world", to be considered here.
  • Number2018
    292

    Yeah, the point I was making (via Pitkin) is different from Cavell's, but different by way of what I understand as an elaboration and extention of what he says. Cavell's general point is that yes, language and world are always elaborated together, and that we bring the world to our words (or vice versa). What I take Pitkin to add is that words and world are themselves plurivocal, and that exactly which bits of the world, and how it is that our words come to bear on it are essential to pay attention to. This is what I take from her idea of 'axes' or dimentions of meaning, which can be comprised of other words, bits of the world, standards of justification, or whatnot. This allows one to bring out, in a way not possible with Cavell's general point, the idea of differing kinds of words (although of course Cavell goes into this sort of thing elsewhere and at length).StreetlightX
    It could be interesting to compare Cavell's project with Pitkin’s one in more details.
    (Though, it is possible that my understanding of your account of Pitkin's approach is quite distorted). It looks like Pitkin wants to stress out
    that different words can be classified according to their proximity and direction towards the poles of "meaning" and "thing." (Both terms are ambiguous; therefore, Cavell and Pitkin probably apply them differently). Pitkin's
    "meaning" could be apprehended as an intellectual, cognitive operation
    of thinking or an act of perception; whereas "thing" would designate an independently existing object ("the fact of the world"). Your example of the word "green" could affirm the correctness of this account: "the meaning of green is tied directly to what is green." In short, some words directly point to activity of mind, and there are words, firmly tied with "things." The relation between the two categories is maintained by the third dimension of just-ification, relating "the meanings of the words with the facts of the world." One could easily find all the three dimensions at the center of Cavell's project: "We need to remind ourselves of what we should say when. When the philosopher asks, "What should we say here?" "What would be the normal thing to say here?" or perhaps, "What is the most natural thing we could say here?" …the point of the question is this: answering it is sometimes the only way to tell others and tell for ourselves what the situation is." For Cavell, the meaning is our state of mind,
    when we face a particular context (and not a single "thing"). And, "should" functions as the Pitkin's third dimension of justification, it is an ethical-political imperative of what must be said. The essential linguistic element of analysis is not a single word, but a sentence, articulating the encounter between the "dictionary" and the "world." Pitkin could effectively articulate the existence of the three dimensions. Yet, the task of classifying and categorizing single words could be exhausting, unproductive, and static. At the same time, Cavell's philosophy combines the most general notions with the rigorous analyses of ordinary language
  • Number2018
    292
    I tried to give myself some wiggle room here by speaking of such variables as modular, but it's true that one could go alot further here. One thing that comes to mind here is that tracking the variations of such changes (of 'dimensions') through time might correspond to the practice of conceptual genealogy, in the sense practised by Nietzsche and Foucault.StreetlightX
    It may look like Foucault’s genealogy is the development of Nietzsche’s one. Yet, he could not avoid the influence of Austin’s
    discovery of performativity. Further, the problematization of the Foucault’s encounter of “words” and “things” become a central theme of Deleuze’s reading of Foucault, as well as of his philosophy of language. Accordingly, both two Pitkin’s dimensions are taken as the two form-substance complexes. Pitkin’s “Delicious,” as well as “green,” can be considered as related to the state of mind and the state of things expressions. As per the state of mind, “delicious” would designate a variable of particular uses, having more social-collective, than an individual, cognitive character. As per the state of things, “green” would express the complex of bodily effects and perceptions, also having the collectively shared functions. And, according to Deleuze, the third dimension of “just-ification” is necessitated with the enunciation of any sentence; it is a diagram that acts as an immanent cause, coextensive with the whole social field.
    When we say: “It is delicious,” or “Green,” we effectuate the three dimensions simultaneously. The expression has an ultimate performative character. If we say what we should, or ought to, or must (Cavell’s just-ification), our minds and bodies are becoming related and activated by the regimes of social, collective, and individuating presuppositions. We continuously “do things with words,” practicing the illocutionary force of language.
    “The transformation applies to bodies but is itself incorporeal, internal to enunciation. In expressing the noncorporeal attribute, and by that token attributing it to the body, one is not representing or referring but intervening in a way; it is a speech act. The warp of the instantaneous transformations is always inserted into the woof of the continuous modifications.”
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