Archive for the ‘communication’ Category

The virtue and vice of the analytic tradition of philosophy as it has developed (and floundered) in the 20th and now 21st centuries is its focus on dialectic, and this especially over and beyond rhetoric. This may in fact be considered its substantial difference from the continental tradition, for while the continentalists may concern themselves over the dialectic what they are really doing, as I am using the terms in their classical sense (and this will provide an etymology of “the dialectic”), is focusing their efforts on a rhetorical process.

Understood classically, rhetoric is “the art of speaking with persuasion.” It treats of the psychological mode in people as its fundamental category, to see why what is said has such an import on the ultimate ideas which people will implicitly or explicitly act upon. Dialectic, on the other hand, is “the science of treating meanings (ideas) as themselves.” It seeks to “get past” people’s psychological modes, to hash out for-itself that which is meant and what applies to the real.

That I treat one as art and another as science is, I hope, a rhetorical distinction not lightly glanced over, and I should be subject to it even if I were to pretend that I were being plainly and strictly analytic, or participating in mere dialectic. This illuminates the problem of communication, or speaking, in that our rhetoric remains a substantial part of what we say. I believe we can take this to mean that there is really no such thing as dialectic per se, void of rhetoric; likewise, though, there is no rhetoric per se. They are both intrinsic parts of the action we call communicating, the act of “meaning to another, beyond oneself.”

It is relevant to focus and dwell on rhetoric because, no matter the supposed analytic ideal of a “perfectly logical argument,” you cannot crack the egg of understanding in another without prying them open with rhetoric. Even the notion of a merely dialectic discussion is rhetorical. I believe the idea of a “non-rhetorical argument” should be treated as economic models: ultimately oversimplifying and not anything you can find out there in the world. Does this make it beside the point? No. It remains useful, but this to the extent that it does not make of itself the world. This is because the world is filled with people for whom rhetoric is substantial. This is not some cute sociological observation, but rather a description of people as they are. People are rational creatures, but they are also rhetorical creatures. The idea of the purely logical man is not something we can assume of reality. For while logic/dialectic is an essential element to who we humans are, and we would not be human without it, nor should we even attempt to go outside it, rhetoric remains a structure we are placed within and cannot go beyond because it is the very condition of meaning to another at all.

The rhetorical inheres to the dialectical, and the dialectical inheres to the rhetorical.

Logic is just another rhetorical game. It is not a wrong game, but its psychological attributes ought to be appreciated. It is something we undertake and understand from a psychological mode of being human, and were one to remove the psyche, one should also remove the care for logic at all. I am loathe to call it strictly a passion, but logic is a tool we use to fit our purposes. Logic cannot instruct of itself. Its explanation and reason is external.

I do not mean by any of this that dialectic can be done away with, as though we should simply drift off into the dialectic and cease trying to get anywhere. It is only that one cannot truly see the world without knowing something about the glasses they are wearing. But there is nothing to see without the glasses on, without an instrument facilitating the sense. The instrument cannot be left out of the equation! How one sees something is crucial to knowing what one sees.

I will admit that this creates a problem. If rhetoric is substantial and fundamentally colors our view of the world, how can we truly know of the world? For now, my answer is that truly knowing of the world does include rhetoric; one should be not themselves if they try to go without it, since it is an essential element of being oneself as a human. But then how do we get out of the rhetorical circle, with the rhetoric we adopt being arbitrary? After all, if the rhetorical circle cannot be escaped, then you cannot transition yourself to another rhetoric on a reasoned basis. Ah, but that is to miss the point of what I am saying! Rhetoric is substantial, and its substance can be examined for fault. No rhetoric leaves itself without some way of looking at itself, for the glasses analogy aside, rhetoric is truly an apperceptive sense. It perceives itself, such is the matter of the dialectical inhering to the rhetorical!

Therefore, I propose a new project. The study of rhetoric as substantial in facilitating what we are able to understand.

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I have long held the belief that the essay is the best form of art, because it is meant as a direct expression of some meaning. Any other form of art relies on the meaning being pointed towards by its expression, rather than the direct expressing of that meaning. And that is the general problem with art. Not that art cannot be good or contribute to a better life, but any form of expression that relies principally on art to get its meaning across is encumbered with the challenge of overcoming making the meaning known to someone else.

Art necessarily relies on interpretation. While this points to at least one good of art (namely, that art relies on a meeting of minds), it serves as an imprecise medium where ambiguity of meaning is omnipresent. And this is, I think, a bad thing.

I understand that some are prone to seeing this ambiguity as a good thing, because it allows the participation of the viewer, but I think that an artist who relies on their audience putting forth some undue effort in interpreting the meaning of the work is not fulfilling their own responsibilities as the one who means something to another. It realizes a relationship in which the one related to is expected to “take up the slack,” as it were, in embodying the meaning of the work for oneself.

It can be argued that there is a place for the audience to put forth effort at interpreting the meaning of some piece of art, and I’d agree. However, the audience’s place in interpreting art can only serve as a supplement to the general program of expressing meaning; this implicates that art is of secondary importance to the primary means of minds communicating, and this through direct communication i.e. speech, the bare expression of what someone means. Speech is when people say what they mean, and art is when someone says something that will mean something if you take it to have some meaning that it points to.

But if the meaning in art is hidden, then that means the meaningfulness (and I mean literal meaning, not significance) of art suffers. For if art relies on expressing a meaning through an imprecise medium that requires the interpretation of its audience, then art is like looking at the world through a veil. Rather than simply viewing something in itself, art casts a veil over it that is meant to direct our attention to certain elements of what the veil is cast over, but in the very process of doing so the object of intention by any piece of art is also obscured. In short, art as an expression of meaning operates through obscuring meaning, requiring the audience to put the pieces back together.

And that is the challenge for art to overcome. But I note that, in admitting just what the general problem art finds itself encumbered with, it gives us an objective measure of what is good art, at least in the sense where the artist is meaning to express a meaning (and if the artist isn’t meaning something, then it’s just masturbatory bullshit). Good art will be that which the meaning is made clear to the audience, and this with the minimal effort at interpreting by the audience. But if interpretation is something that will require the capability of success, then a form of art is required to rely on certain premises of form that allow a hermeneutic to pick out the meaning presented in it. In other words, we would see that modern art is only successful if it meant as an ironic expression of the vagueness of art, while iconography, on the other hand, is boundless in expressing all sorts of meanings.

You can keep looking at it and ask "What the hell is going on?" And that's the point of it.


If you know a little bit about St. Jerome, then you can understand what's going on here.

Of course modern art is not without some success at expressing meaning, but then this is usually because it would be relying on the old, non-modern paradigm of the interpretation of art found in paintings from any other era. For example, while the following isn’t an icon, it is still full of meaning, provided you have a little background knowledge of the characters involved.

The famous painting of Aristotle and Plato. See how Plato points up, while Aristotle points down.

So, to summarize;

The general problem with art is that it serves as a veil over the meaning it intends. Good art, then, is when the meaning is expressed in a clear and perspicuous way to the audience; and this requires some form or organization that is readily accessible to the audience. There is room for richness of meaning (as can be seen below), but it is supplementary to the primary mode of expression of meaning, that of direct communication between minds, i.e. speech.

I love this picture.

But even we see that the above picture relies on a dialog about theology, war and peace, religion, violence, death, and so on, for it to receive a contextualization of meaning.

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There seems to be a tricky problem of ignosticism when it comes to arguing for a particular definition of God over another (i.e. is God simple or not?). The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be anything objective about deciding for one definition over another; when it comes to deciding whether or not some definition seems to apply to a possible “God,” I think we usually operate off of intuition. But that isn’t very good; if all we have are our gut instincts that “God is like this, not like that” then that voids the possibility of arguing for the existence of a particularly defined God as opposed to another, because it would just depend on whether or not the same gut feeling is shared by two people.

However, I think we do not need to entertain the despair of ignosticism. Here is my argument for how we can objectively argue about particular definitions of God.

If we are left with ignosticism, it is not because verificationism is true. This is because verificationism is false. Verificationism asserts that we can only attribute meaning to concepts which are empirical in origin; this means that metaphysical concepts, or those assertions which would remain true or false no matter what was empirically the case (i.e. there is nothing you could observe with your senses that would tell you the proposition “murder is wrong” is true or false), are held to be meaningless in the void of their ability to be informed by empirical facts. The problem with this verificationism is that it is itself a metaphysical proposition, and so by its own virtue holds itself meaningless, a recalcitrant problem for any proposition.

It would then seem, in the self-contradiction that lies in trying to deny or give a substantial disdain to metaphysics, that our concepts, if they are not all themselves intrinsically permeated with metaphysics, at least some of our essential concepts are irremovably metaphysical. A primary conclusion which figures in my argument is that it is impossible to deny metaphysics without participating in metaphysics. As such, metaphysics is basic. We are simply unable to communicate without depending on the veritability of metaphysical claims to be equally known by other individuals.

Now of course, it is possible for people to misinterpret each other’s metaphysical concepts; so if we are going to communicate metaphysical concepts, then it follows we require some universal key, something which is true of all knowledge or all minds. Myself, I would tend to think that a universal component of knowledge and a universal component of minds goes together.

So, is there some “basic essence of concepts” or “basic programming of minds?” I think we have reason to believe so.

The concept of formal cause implies final cause. The formal cause, or just form, of a thing is in relation to what it holds at its end. For example, the form of the heart is to pump blood through the body. Likewise, the mind has as one of its end to know. I think there is something about knowing which would give us reason to believe that there is some pre-conceptual knowledge shared by all minds, in virtue of the universal form of what it is to be a mind. This pre-conceptual knowledge, if we could diagnose it and re-substantiate it with a concept, would allow us to argue for a particular definition of God. (I might note at this point that I’m not here arguing for any particular definition of God, only that it is, in principle, possible.)

Any knowledge we now hold is what has been learned. What allows learning is a combination of new experience or ratiocination and previous knowledge. For example, we are able to learn that 2 x 4 = 8 because we know that the multiplication symbol means to take the addition of some quantity to itself such an amount of times; in this case, to take 2 added to itself 4 times total. That 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 = 8 is how we know that 2 x 4 = 8. Likewise for other areas of knowledge, from biology to philosophy to computer programming. We always learn in respect to something else we already know.

How then can we learn anything in the first place? I hold that this is because the form of the mind includes not only the end to know, but more specifically, to know some particular thing.

What is this particular thing we as minds intrinsically know? I’m not sure; but if there is some thing which we all irremovably know, and if any item of knowledge is essentially tied to metaphysics (as I think it is), then this means that, at least in principle, we could objectively argue for a particular definition of God over another, and from that come to verify (or know, I suppose) whether God exists.

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A vaster question I have been struggling with that was tangentially related to my paper on Quine written for my class is precisely what makes interpersonal communication possible. Before I begin ruminating, let me lay out the groundwork my question if based on.

What do I mean by communication? I regard communication to be that act in which one person successfully transmits the essence of an idea to another person, such that each person are thinking the same thing despite numerical non-identity. Communication occurs when two minds think the same thing after the thing which both are thinking about has been relayed over a medium, typically speech.

I think that we can immediately head off part of the discussion by referring to the metaphysical problem of communication, rather than the verificationist problem of communication. Answering the question of how communication is possible would include demonstrating what it takes for one person to be sure that another person understands the same thing as another. It is demonstrated that myself and the barista at the coffee shop are thinking the same thing when, after I ask for a mocha latte, I receive a mocha latte. The reason such occurs is because when I think ‘mocha latte’ and say “mocha latte” the barista hears “mocha latte” and thus thinks ‘mocha latte.’ It is also understood that the exchange of money implies the reception of a mocha latte, and so on. But in all this, there is no non-empirical concepts which are being referred. If the barista and I were not communicating, that could be resolved by me pointing to some object (or the process that would conclude in its creation) and me informing her that that is what I mean by “mocha latte” and which should be thought of as a ‘mocha latte.’

The process of learning how to refer to empirical things in the same way as others seems predicated on a particular essential and intrinsic property of the human person, which is the necessary will towards pleasure and avoidance of pain. When it comes down to it, we first learn through behavioristic processes of reward and punishment which cause us to associate symbols as having a reference to some thing. This ability (or we might properly say, structure) to learn begins in the womb as the brain develops and it automatically imbibes sensory data into a system (so, for example, newborn babies have distinctive accents in the way they cry; French babies cry in a way distinguishable from German babies, due to language rhythm). A certain ability to receive attention for pressing needs that cause is displeasure and discomfort (i.e. hunger) from infancy to adolescence is what maturity involves. Even this unconscious ability to cause in others a feeling of relief or shame in order to cause them to “fit in” with our, and our culture’s, way of living is retained throughout our lives; hence the feeling of importance attributed to otherwise meaningless and visibly recognizable items of achievement, such as fine clothes in our culture or the wearing of dangerous animals’ skins in tribal cultures (this is an oversimplification, but I’m meaning to demonstrate the importance of something).

In short, there is something about being human that causes us to automatically perceive and accept certain things. It is just part of the human form, it is part of our psyche (or psychological makeup, if you think “psyche” is too suggestive) to learn how to interact with each other in a way that allows us to get more, in terms of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain (whatever, subjectively, we decide those to be). Even positively antisocial types (i.e. Marquis de Sade) in their rebellion against the norms and forms of their culture are still in communication with what they rebel against; that is what causes enemies to understand how they might win or cause anguish. No matter how little two people might see things the same way, they still perceive the importance of threats or the offering of bribes. This is what acts of terrorism are predicated upon; no matter how inhuman our (perceived) oppressors might be, they still understand pleasure and pain.

Thus, pleasure and pains are just givens. They are intrinsically what they are; no matter what a person finds their pleasure or pain in (some people enjoy Johnny Cash, others enjoy Rachmaninov, while others, for some enigmatic reason, enjoy Shostakovich), pleasure and pain are still something intrinsic to being human. No matter how psychologically, culturally, or subjectively removed from one another, pleasure and pain always have a hold over each human.

It seems we could not continue our discussion, in explaining how people in any way (here we are speaking to the empirical) are able to successfully explain to each other their ideas and have the other really think it, without therefore appealing to some human essence, or just some property of what it is to be human (which all humans just are; it’s what makes them human, in virtue of being conceived thusly), which all humans share. This elaboration on the intrinsic seeking of pleasure and intrinsic avoiding of pain (however perceived or chosen) by each and every person will help to solve the verificationist problem of communication, though we are not yet here finished. This seems a tangent to the problem of communication, but it must first come before we start speaking of minds and the fact that, to be a mind, is to think thoughts.

And I promise this discussion will then go on to the matter of the metaphysical problem of communication, all the while bringing in the topic of philosophical zombies, radical interpretation, and aliens. But that will be continued in the next part.

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In an upcoming paper for my 20th Century Philosophy class central will be a discussion on just what communication is, what its sufficient criteria are and how it occurs and what founds its possibility. Coming from my series on the Absolute Self, I’m apt to develop communication along the lines of the nature of the human substance. In other words, communication would be necessarily possible because of the essential property in sociability in man.

What is communicated are ideas, though the medium of this communication can be of many forms, though ultimately in words. The token of this medium, a proposition or idea, if it must be able to be communicated to another per the sociable property of man, seems to require that the very forming of a proposition includes it “outwardness” or its “possibility of being communicated,” that there can be no wholly “private proposition” unable to be communicated. I suppose this would mean that something I consider knowledge, viz. private experience, because it is fundamentally self-individuated, and hence non-propositional, cannot be communicated. I think I’m fine with this, really, since communication occurs in the exchange of ideas, not the exchange of private sense experiences.

What is interesting is that, in order for a proposition to be a proposition, it must be able to be communicated. Hence, communication builds from 1) human nature, particularly the sociable property, and 2) the building of propositions. If one of these are taken away, you have no ability for things to be communicated due to a lacking of identical “translating structures” in the mind that make it “sympathetic” to the thoughts of other minds and able to truly induct the essence of another mind’s proposition, or else nothing to be communicated.

Of course, I also think there are two types of communication that can be distinguished, namely that of approximate communication and ideal communication. What separates the two are the ability for a proposition to be referenced to something empirically verifiable. That which can be referenced to the empirical, that allows us to literally point at and sense what another is talking about, need only be approximate (though it could also be ideal). An example of this is that, if I go to the coffee shop, and I tell the barista what I would like, the very exchange could be facilitated by her pointing at, say, cup sizes and types of drinks and me giving affirmations.

Ideal communication, on the other hand, is necessary in order to facilitate whatever cannot be reduced to the empirically verifiable; so essentially anything with metaphysical content. Surprisingly, pretty much everything that doesn’t deal with brute exchanges of physical matter (i.e. my exchange of paper money for a mocha latte), there will be some metaphysical content. One might try and reduce the metaphysical content of a proposition back “down” to the physical, though I think this is blocked because the very act of reduction is itself a metaphysical element, which would itself require reduction, and so on to an infinite regress. Hence, reduction of the metaphysical to the physical is impossible, and therefore, unless this ideal communication is possible, there can be no sharing of metaphysical propositions between different minds, including the proposition that such communication is possible, pointing towards the inherent possibility of ideal communication, and hence also the existence of the human substance that determines the essential properties.

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