I love that paper. It's so incredibly good.
But also note how in talking against incommensurability Rovelli does not shy from "conceptual structure" -- that's still a working metaphor in trying to describe knowledge. So he's not exactly a friend to Davidson either.
It's been a minute since I've read that Davidson paper, and I'm finding myself more able to respond this time around. So I'm going to post first my response to Davidson, then go through Wang as a way of participating.
Feyerabend is quoted by Davidson:
Our argument against meaning invariance is simple and clear. It proceeds from the fact that usually some of the principles involved in the determinations of the meanings of older theories or points of view are inconsistent with the new . . . theories. It points out that it is natural to resolve this contradiction by eliminating the troublesome . . . older principles, and to replace them
by principles, or theorems, of a new ... theory. And it concludes by showing that such a procedure will also lead to the elimination of the old meanings.
I'd say there is such a thing as Kuhnian loss through meaning change as the scientific practices change -- "phlogiston" doesn't have the same meaning now that it used to because we don't use it as a serious scientific concept, but rather we use it as an example of how science undergoes changes and abandons concepts. We don't need to go along with Davidson's rendition of conceptual schemes as intertranslatable languages, and treating language meaning as something an individual can "check" strikes me as the wrong way since language is a collective practice. But I can't help but note that this "wrong way" is a common way of thinking so there's still something good about the paper's argument -- it forces a person to make sense of conceptual relativism while making the distinction explicit (be it scheme-content, or something else).
I find historicism adequate to the task of understanding concepts -- it's the historical method, as applied to texts, which allows us to differentiate between concepts, at least (I'm less certain about "schemes", though -- I'd rather talk about the structure of an argument or a philosophy than a conceptual scheme). And rather than Saturnian and English I'd just note that even German and English have problems of intertranslatability, and that this is commonly known among translators as a kind of irresolvable problem. Against the extensional emphasis I put forward poetry translation as a case where we are able to differentiate meanings such that we can partially translate one language into another language, even if we don't know how
it is we do this. But then if we have an example of partial translation (and so the case against partial meaning translation can be set aside as being factually wrong), and a method by which we can differentiate concepts, then the question of how it is we're able to make the claim for conceptual-relativism is made explicit and doesn't rely upon an implicit scheme-content dualism: Just as we can learn English and German and translate meanings between languages so we can learn concepts which differ, and it is through that knowledge
, rather than a criterion or a duality, that we are able to judge the meanings of sentences. Then it's just a matter of being acquainted with more concepts -- having more knowledge -- which would allow one to make a judgment -- one that could be false! -- that scientists are at least using different concepts (if not inhabiting different worlds -- being-in-the-world, perhaps, but even that doesn't follow by necessity).
And if we can do that then it seems that Davidson's objections are addressed, albeit not with the conceptual tools he chose to set it out with. We abandon scheme-content, and make the heady and exotic doctrine explicit. The question for me would be whether this still counts as a conceptual relativism, or not? In addressing Davidson's concerns do I, by that addressing, make conceptual schemes and relativism to conceptual schemes moot, or at least reducible to the predicate "...is true"?
The problem I feel is that while I doubt schemes, I don't doubt it on the basis of a criteria for translation due to even mundane examples of translation being known to not be able to fully translate meaning. In a way I'm accusing Davidson of having a philosophically pretentious theory of meaning in relation to how we actually use these words.
But I also doubt our ability to tabulate schemes very effectively such that we can make the relations between the elements of a scheme explicit. It seems to me that each time we try to render such a scheme it comes out slightly different -- or, at least, the meanings of sentences we use in describing such a scheme changes with each iteration, and so the task of articulating a scheme becomes incompletable, or at least artificial as we decide to hold some meanings constant in order to specify relations between them. At which point I begin to wonder-- why even call it a scheme if we are unable to articulate a structure without fiat? Why not just "a set of concepts", rather than a scheme, with the attendant difficulty of specifying what "concepts" means?
But now onto Wang's paper, which I've never read until now. So it's fresh, and therefore more of a first reaction to the paper (but I didn't want to post before having read the paper, so here it is)
I'm pleased to find Wang's statement:
A radical conceptual relativist can respond to Davidson on two fronts: either to defend the translatability criterion or to separate conceptual relativism from the Quinean relativism as Davidson construes it by removing the translatability criterion out of the equation. The first route is a well-worn path that I will not belabor here. The second route, for me, is more effective and will be discussed in detail in section 3.
Mostly out of vanity as it gets along with how I've managed to think through relativism in light of Davidson, and we seem to agree that separating conceptual relativism from Quinean relativism is an effective strategy for making the case.
I found this paragraph to be similar to my strategy above talking about English and German:
However, neither natural languages per se nor scientific languages construed as sentential languages can be identical with conceptual schemes. A natural language per se such as English or Chinese is in no sense a conceptual scheme. Does any conceptual relativist really seriously think that all Chinese would inherit a unique conceptual scheme different from the scheme that all English speakers are supposed to possess simply because they speak different natural languages? A natural language is not a theory. A natural language like Chinese or English does not schematize experience, nor even metonymically predicts, fits, or faces reality. Although part of a natural language, i.e. its grammar, does in some sense determine the logical space of possibilities (Whorf, 1956), it is the theoretical assertions made in the language that predict and describe reality and in so doing assert that which logical spaces are occupied in the world. Furthermore, a natural language is not even a totality of beliefs. It is absurd to assume that people who speak the same natural language would have the same belief system.
And this line of argument to get along with my notion of historicism being adequate to the task of differentiating concepts:
My major reservation with the Quinean notion of conceptual schemes is not just about many theoretical difficulties it faces, but rather with its basic assumption QT; for it does not square with observations of many celebrated conceptual confrontations between opposing conceptual schemes revealed in the history of natural sciences and cultural studies, especially those under the name of incommensurability. Examples include: Ptolemaic astronomy versus Copernican astronomy; Newtonian mechanics versus Einsteinian relativistic mechanics; Lavoisier's oxygen theory versus Priestley's phlogiston theory of combustion; Galenic medical theory versus Pasteurian medical theory; and so on. These familiar conceptual confrontations are, to me, not confrontations between two conceptual schemes with different distributions of truth-values over their assertions, but rather confrontations between two scientific languages with different distributions of truth-value status13 over their sentences due to incompatible metaphysical presuppositions. The advocate of an alien conceptual scheme not only does not hold the same notion of truth as ours, but also does not agree with us on the truth-value status of the sentences in question. These scheme innovations, in the end, turn not on differences in truth-values (different truth-schemes), but on whether or not the sentences in the alternative conceptual scheme have truth-values (different truth-value schemes).
I'd say that these arguments highlighted here are well and good enough in that they highlight an underlying assumption which a relativist does not need to accept, which in turn gives room for the defender of conceptual schemes to come up with a different way to speak about conceptual relativism -- but Wang goes on to articulate a competitor all the same to give some credence to the idea that there are other ways of talking about conceptual schemes.
I found this potent:
. On the contrary, it is exactly due to the abandonment of the concept-neutral content and the denial of a fixed and absolute scheme-content distinction that turns Kantian conceptual absolutism upside down and thus makes conceptual relativism possible.
A good bit of philosophy is accepting the conclusions of another philosopher, but then working out a different or opposite set of implications for that conclusion. His use of a thick/thin-experience distinction is good in that it gives a believable basis for thinking through concepts as relative: it's our thick experience of the world, the very one Davidson seems to care about in his closing remarks, that gives rise to the belief we are "in different worlds" due to the beliefs or concepts which shape our thick experience.
And I found this insightful:
Although Davidson realizes correctly that scheme-content dualism could well survive after the fall of the analytic-synthetic distinction, he is wrong to allege, ‘giving up the analytic-synthetic distinction has not proven a help in making sense of conceptual relativism’ (1974, p. 189). On the contrary, it is exactly due to the denial of a fixed, absolute analytic-synthetic distinction that makes alternative conceptual schemes possible. Quine's rejection of the analytic-synthetic distinction (Quine, 1951) leads to abandoning the rigid distinction between concept, meaning, or language on the one hand and belief, thought, or theory on the other. It is no longer a novel idea today that all concepts themselves are empirical and none a priori; concepts we deploy upon experience are themselves the products of empirical inquires. In other words, concepts are theory-laden, fact committal, and change with theories. Accordingly, conceptual schemes change and evolve with corresponding theories. Thus, the Kantian absolute conceptual scheme gives away to relative, alternative conceptual schemes.
In that he's making way for a post-Kantian conceptual relativism that makes sense in light of Quine. That's a great way of rendering the very idea at least coherent.
... I find this bit at the end relying upon evolutionary theory odd:
We can safely assume, based on Darwinian evolution theory, that there are some basic experiential concepts shared by human cultures and societies.16 In this sense, they are global or universal.
Because I don't think we can safely assume that, nor should we assume it, and even more so I don't think we need this assumption to make the case for a fuzzy distinction between scheme-content. And, even more, it would seem we'd have less reason to believe in conceptual relativism if we had some basic experiential concepts which are shared! If, in articulating a relativism we end up saying there's something the same between us it almost sounds like we're conceding the point to Davidson, that we do share concepts, and its this basis of shared concepts which makes it possible for us to articulate difference? Perhaps the difference here is one of degree, though -- which shouldn't be downplayed because sometimes the degree can at least be intense, and perhaps intense enough to want to use the word "radical" -- but it's at least similar to the notion that we have some kind of agreement from which we can articulate disagreement, putting the conceptual relativist in a shakey position if we want to express ourselves in terms of criteria.
The section in Wang on WMT vs CMT is by far the weakest in the paper. We could exercise charity ourselves here and agree to ignore it! — J
I'm not so sure, here. One of the things that's nice is that it's an actual example. And differences or changes in meaning are frequently the way this thought works out, and here what's nice is that Wang points out that the difference of meaning isn't one of distributing "...is true" across sentences, but rather is a different kind of difference. Whether we ought to call this a radical or incommensurable difference I'm still on the fence about -- but I can at least recognize that the kind of meaning Wang is talking about isn't the same as Davidson's project of translation through truth. It's whether a sentence counts as truth-functional at all
to a practice that marks the difference, rather than a distribution of truth-values.