Seventh Centrepiece lecture by Jude Sutton, from “The World Explored, the World Suffered: The Exeter Lectures”

Hits: 98

Jude walked into the lecture room with Harry and Glynn who had requested to be present earlier in the week. Surprisingly Jude felt more comfortable knowing that they would be there. Harry and Glynn sat with Robert and Sophia:
“Welcome ladies and gentlemen to today’s lecture which will be about Philosophy and the Human Sciences. One of my theses today is going to be that Philosophy is not itself a human or social science but that philosophical reasoning and understanding is needed if we are to characterize the kind of knowledge involved in the understanding of judgments in the arena of human science. I want to begin with some brief remarks about what Philosophy is not. It is not what Locke referred to as an “under-laborer” or a “gardener” in the garden of knowledge attending to the different regions of the garden in accordance with different skills. Philosophy, ladies and gentlemen is about what is in the garden, and why it is there. Philosophy is logic, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, and all five are concerned with man’s relation to reality. The under-laborer or gardener conception is confused: it identifies Philosophy with a method: the method, namely, of studying the statements made in the different regions of knowledge, trying to identify contradictions and then leaving the science in question to carry on doing whatever it is doing. Let me just say quickly in parenthesis that such a view in relation to education, namely that education was all about the methods of learning and teaching, would turn teacher training into a course for mechanics rather than a course for architects. One readily sees how the above reduction of Philosophy to Logic diminishes its role in the discussion of the nature of man’s relation to reality. The early Wittgenstein we spoke of in the beginning of this course, ladies and gentlemen, was guilty of such a conception. As we saw, he believed that Philosophy was the philosophy of language and that what we could sensibly say was determined by the language, of the individual and not the language of generations developed over time in many different communities. According to the Tractatus, Philosophy was not an autonomous discipline with anything to say about reality. It mysteriously was only able to show reality. Fortunately this conception was corrected by his later view that would revolutionize philosophy, get it out of the hole it had dug for itself. The human being of the Tractatus was a lonely language user, a linguistic solipsist. As we have pointed out in relation to his earlier view, all value and self- consciousness stood mysteriously outside of the world defined as the totality of facts. The unsurprising consequence of this was that nothing could be said about ethics, religion or society. In his work “Philosophical Investigations” he realizes that his earlier views were untenable and we get an account of language that is less metaphysically pretentious. Language is in its very essence social, determined by a history and community of language users. Yet in being social there is still a fundamental philosophical question haunting his discussion: the question namely of our understanding of reality and what difference this understanding makes to our lives. Wittgenstein has learned his lesson in the later work and there is no quick and easy answer to the question of the relation between language and reality. In a discussion about a triangle Wittgenstein discusses seeing firstly this part of the triangle as an apex and that as a base, and then subsequently, seeing different parts of the triangle as a base and as an apex. He asks what makes this seeing of aspects of a thing possible and gives himself the answer that the substratum of this experience involves the experiencer having mastered certain linguistic techniques in relation to the conceiving of triangles. He has, that is learned certain rules, and his experience of the world has changed as a consequence of this learning. Man, in Wittgenstein’s later work, has been transformed from a linguistic solipsist to a rule constitutor and follower in a community of language users who play language games determined by communally agreed upon rules. A number of followers of Wittgenstein’s earlier work rejected this view with the following thought experiment: surely, they argued, one could imagine someone growing up on a desert island and having had no contact with any society or language, deciding to invent a language of their own, and surely one could then also imagine a scientist arriving on the island and learning such a language by formulating hypotheses about the meaning of the sounds that are being uttered. That we can imagine such a state of affairs, it is claimed, means that it is possible for language to be invented or constructed by one individual linguistic solipsist. So language may not have a social essence after all, since saying something has an essence entails that if that essence is not present, the thing it is an essence of, also is logically impossible: for example if Socrates is essentially human and he loses his humanity because of damage to his brain, then Socrates as such no longer exists. We can see from this example that the agenda of understanding reality is vital to the activity of Philosophy. The 64,000 pound question here of course is whether knowledge and the reality knowledge is of, is a seamless robe or a coat of many colors. The jury is still out on that question but until it has fully considered its verdict Modern Philosophers subscribe to the following views: that the scientist seeks understanding of the aspect of reality he believes to be important: the artist, psychologist, theologian, social scientist, historian all seek understanding of the aspects of reality they are concerned about. If Aristotle is to be believed, there is a more natural divide of the kingdom of reality running between the theoretical, practical and productive sciences and Kant’s more transcendental view is that the divide runs between theoretical reason, practical reason and judgment. But I digress: to return to the plot, we learn rules and play language games and are both constituters and participants in forms of life. You will not find reference to any of this in social science writers, some of which are dedicated followers of Durkheim who insist that the insider view of participants in a society will very likely not refer to or even understand the underlying causal mechanisms which are responsible for what we are conscious of or experience in our societies. Other sociologist’s also insist that sociology must disregard the cultural aims of the members of society and all agree that we must examine the manner in which individuals gather into groups independent of their subjective cultural aims. The philosopher’s role in this discussion is to ask, for example, whether it makes any sense to talk about the reasons why individuals gather together in communities independently of their experience or of the aims they are striving toward. The philosopher also would wish to ask metaphysical questions relating to the truth, especially if he were told of individuals and groups that are ruining their individual or collective lives by not acknowledging certain truths: for example truths such as that murdering Jews is wrong. There are great metaphysical and ethical truths about what we ought and ought not to do, both individually and collectively, and the sociologist can talk all he likes about the causes of the mass murder of the Jews, the truth of his scientific hypotheses about such a matter will never exceed the great metaphysical and ethical categorical imperative which says “never murder, whatever the causes”
“Except in wars, or if the circumstances make the deeds committed “killing” and not murder”, Sophia’s friend Valery commented
“Very good comment, my dear. My answer may seem surprising but goes back to Socrates and Jesus:” It is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong”. Killing someone on that categorical imperative is wrong. War is a collective ethical mistake, according to this maxim of Socrates.”
The Science major, Mark Cavendish, interrupted:
“Come on! Surely if I am attacked and I kill someone in self- defense it cannot be said that I have done anything wrong!”
“And yet if you cannot prove in law that firstly, you did not intend to kill your attacker and secondly that the act which killed your attacker stands in proportion to the violence of the attack, you will be sentenced to prison for his slaughter. Of course killing in other circumstances “appears” to be legitimized in war situations but even here there are bans on killing civilians, killing children, enemies bearing white flags etc. Here we don’t refer to law but to conventions. Conscientious objectors do not invoke cowardice or fear as a ground for their objection but the Socratic imperative, and with all the courage of Socrates, I might add”
“But”, insisted Mark, “if everyone in Britain were conscientious objectors in the last war we would have been overrun and you would be lecturing in German!”
“Are you sure about that prediction? What strategic geo-political significance could there have been in occupying a little island that would have refused to cooperate with its invaders. As far as lecturing in German is concerned, this presupposes, in this imagined atmosphere of non-cooperation, that universities would have been open for normal business.
I have talked about the importance of rule following and in doing so have incorporated the social value of cooperation. According to Wittgenstein’s later conception of Philosophy, the approach to talking about value is by taking the route of meaning which is a broader notion involving truth in a complex relation which philosophers have no agreed upon formula for as yet. Peter Winch in his work “The Idea of a Social Science” which is one of the inspirational sources of today’s lecture, introduces the following thoughts:
“The notion of following a rule is logically inseparable from the notion of making a mistake. If it is possible to say of someone that he is following a rule that means that one can ask whether he is doing what he does correctly or not…the concept of a rule is that it should enable us to evaluate what is being done.”
Or in other words the concept of a rule establishes a standard similar to that of “Murder is wrong”. A practical mistake, seemingly contradicting the rule is best explained not by abandoning the rule but by judging, using the rule as a standard, that the behavior in question ought to have followed. Our evaluation resides in the ought-system of concepts: we say X ought to have followed the rule or it was wrong of X not to follow the rule.
Communication with language is a form of cooperation. We live in a realm of ideas or rather we live in different realms of ideas: scientific, religious, psychological, artistic, philosophical, economic, and political. Wittgenstein thought of these as forms of life, as fundamentally social, and suggested investigating these philosophically not by imposing a network of scientific concepts and “explanatory” theories upon the “data” of this human behavior, but rather by using the method Weber referred to as “interpretation” which involved understanding the meaning of the social phenomena we are investigating. Wilhelm Dilthey pointed out that the concept of “meaning” is a concept or category of thinking which is only relevant to the life-world and the historical world. The idea of “meaningful behavior” emerges as a non- observational concept, where observation means theoretically determined by scientific concepts and theories. “Meaningful in this context refers to the comprehension of certain concepts and ideas from within a form of life from a first person point of view. Weber, in giving his account of “meaningful behavior” uses two important concepts: “motive” which he defines as “a meaningful configuration of circumstances which appear to the agent or observer as a meaningful reason for their behavior” and “reason”. He points out that if an agent votes Labor and his “reason” for doing so is that he believes a Labor or socialist government will ensure the industrial peace which is needed for the prosperity of the country, then this of course is a meaningful socio-political act. Such an act logically implies that, if the agent does not have the concept of, or know what industrial peace means, or if he does not have a concept of the relation between his act and what the government he votes for will do when it comes to power, it cannot make sense to say that he voted in order to preserve industrial peace. The Freudians amongst us of course might want to insist that it is notoriously difficult to know the motive of anyone and whilst the agent might say that he voted for industrial peace, he might have voted against the conservatives for the reason that his hated father was a conservative politician and he did not wish to vote for his fathers’ party. It is important to see that this does not affect Weber’s point that there is a type of action that is meaningful because there is a reason for doing it. It might look as if the latter agent was in a sense not conscious of what he was doing and we need a “scientist” to settle the matter. Well, if that is the case it will need to be a scientist who “interprets” the meaningful behavior he sees and uses “verstehen”, or understanding, to bring about acknowledgment of the real meaning of the behavior by the agent who voted labor in order to avoid voting for his father’s political party. Furthermore it is important to realize that this latter “action” has taken place in a divided or dissociated consciousness and for this reason it probably deserves to be placed in a different category to that of the purposive-rational behavior of the agent who genuinely voted for the political party that would provide industrial peace. Perhaps the “dissociated action” will fall into Weber´s category of “expressive” behavior that could be reserved for those agents, whose social capacities have been for various reasons disturbed. In the case of purposive rational action it is important to acknowledge how important the knowledge of social institutions is in the decision to vote.
English Philosophy has been dogged for many centuries by naturalism, empiricism and positivism. The English tradition opposed the hermeneutic interpretative tradition of “verstehen” and instead supported naturalist explanations. One tradition recommends understanding from within and the other explanation from without. Hobbes, for example, thought that we could study behavior as we study the external natural world: by adopting an objective position outside the events to be studied. Hume thought we could separate reason from passion: in his account: reason obeys intellectual laws but yet also mysteriously obeys the commands of the passions. J S Mill believed that there was no such thing as the logic of the moral sciences or the Philosophy of social science since both of these were basically scientific forms of life in which the scientist ought to be observing regularities and conjuring up causal generalizations to explain these regularities. Mill believed that Laws of the minds of individuals, rather than physiological laws, are needed to explain the connection between motives and behavior and also explain why societies change. One of the great aims of the scientist is to be able to predict what is going to happen in the future given firstly, the laws of the universe and generalizations as he comprehends them, and secondly, a description of the current situation where all the particular facts about the situation have been collected by systematic observations. Mill acknowledges that explaining human behavior and social change is going to be much more complex than say explaining the behavior of the sea but he does not acknowledge there to be a logical difference. But leaving aside the concerns of the above British gentlemen for the moment we can say it is not, for example, possible to predict theoretically what a person will practically do, given certain antecedent conditions and theoretical laws of the mind. But if it is not, then the prediction made by scientific theories was a mistake, and the laws need revising or the observations need to be more meticulous. But the prediction might not have been a mistake. Someone asks me what I am intending to do this afternoon and I reply: “spend the afternoon reading in the library”. On the way to the library I get involved in a discussion with Dr. Samuels and we spend all afternoon discussing what I was going to research into at the library. Does it make sense to say that my “prediction”, if one can call it that, was “mistaken”? J L Austin points out that the practical logic of a mistake involves asking what was mistaken for what. I shot your donkey thinking it was mine: they resemble each other and one can easily see how the mistake could have been made. But in saying I was going to spend the afternoon in the library, what was mistaken for what? I had no idea I would chance to run into Dr. Samuels. Of course expressing intentions are not predictions because in our practical life it is the making of promises that more resemble predictions but only because of a practical moral commitment to the proposition “one ought to keep ones promises”. In this universe of discourse if I do not keep my promise it is not a mistake to make the promise, rather, the mistake is in the behavior that is judged to be in breach of a moral law. It is not the law which is evaluated, rather, the law is the source of the evaluation of the behavior.
Now Karl Marx was a sociologist and “political scientist” who did not flinch from making predictions. Capitalism would fail and world socialism would prevail until the state withered away. Well, as we speak capitalism appears to be thriving, and there are predictions abroad that socialism will fail. If that does happen will Marx have made a mistake? Will he have mistaken capitalism for socialism? If Marx did make a mistake it was perhaps not in making the specific predictions he made. But rather in thinking that any prediction at all was possible in the circumstances. In thinking, that is, that economic theory and structural institutions such as classes can determine the freedom of actors and states in real circumstances. He talked, if we recall, about two classes, one of which will take control of the economy by taking over the means of production and which will triumph because of this strategic advantage over an exploitative class which invests its capital: his was a purely economic model. The ancient Greeks, who believed that oeconomos was the practice of keeping order in one’s private household by saving money in good years to be able to continue to flourish in poor years, would have been amazed at Marx’s hubris in imagining that this kind of quantitative economic calculation could determinate the fate of civilizations. For the ancient Greeks, phronesis or practical wisdom of a political kind would have been far more important. Aristotle already in his own time realized that the battle between the rich and the poor was destroying the unity of the state and pointed to the operation of phronesis in the finding of a middle way between the extremes. In our times we may point to capitalism and socialism as being the extreme forms of political organization. According to Aristotle a middle class, in such an extreme situation, would emerge possessing phronesis. Now here is a prediction based on practical reasoning, If it is correct, we should in the future begin to see the continued emergence of this middle class and a resultant improvement in the state of the world. Kant of course believed in this type of progress of reason in the species but he believed the process would take one hundred thousand years and he made no reference to classes.
An Economics major raised their hand:
“Marx was also a historian and claims historical fact as evidence for his theories. Could it not be conceivable that one could use his method of dialectical materialism to postulate welfare liberalism as a synthesis of the thesis of capitalism and the antithesis of socialism?
“Excellent point. History, however, is not just a totality of the sum of historical facts. It requires interpretation and understanding of a kind that uses political and ethical concepts as well as perhaps economic”
“And why not religious concepts”, interrupted Glynn with a good natured laugh
“And why not “Anthropological” Harry added.
“Why not indeed” Jude responded. “There are only two lectures left in the series before the examination which will take the form of an essay and a viva voce for a selected few. The next lecture will follow up some of the themes discussed today. Its title will be “Political Philosophy and Education”. The last lecture will be entitled “The Arts and Education””.
The student common room was filled with students milling around in their blue tracksuits, waiting for their various practical lessons in physical education to begin. Jude, Robert wearing his track suit, Sophia, and the Philosophy students found a place to sit together. Mark Cavendish began the discussion:
“The behavior of rule following is connected with the behavior which is being judged by the agent concerned, but what about the rule? Can that be questioned and reflected upon?”
Jude responded
“It must be a given in the system. One cannot adopt the position of a user of the rules of chess whilst playing the game and simultaneously question the rules by moving in ways that break the rules. My moving my knight to checkmate the king is being guided by the rules of chess. Of course I might wonder why the game has to end so arbitrarily and imagine another game in which there were no rules governing “checkmate” but this would be a different game to chess, if indeed one thought that a game without an end was a game at all. If my opponent makes a mistake and carries on playing after I have checkmated his king, I do not celebrate his invention of a different game and join him in playing this game without an end. I correct his mistake by appealing to the rules concerning checkmate. Similarly, in mathematics we count in accordance with the rule n plus 1 and if we happen to skip a number we don’t let the mistake alter the formulation of the rule to n plus 2. We correct the mistaken behavior by appealing to the rule”.
A Mathematics major known to Sophia asked her:
“But then how do we submit the rule to philosophical reflection?” Surely critical reasoning goes all the way up in the system and does not stop at a particular level.”
Sophia looked around for assistance in answering the difficult challenge but Robert came tentatively to her rescue whilst looking to Jude for support
“We have had a similar discussion earlier but perhaps a more nuanced answer is possible now. I don’t know enough about mathematics to be certain of this but on what we have heard so far, Mathematics is a form of life with its own rules which allow game-like moves which are its calculations, to be made by the agents engaged in the form of life. These rules have been formed by the calculations and the point of the game, over a long period of time….”
Jude acknowledged that Robert was in difficulties, nodded in acknowledgment of Robert’s point, and continued.
“….by the dialectical process exploring extreme alternatives which have detracted from the point of the game. If the point of counting is more to do with the measurement of time than the quantification of a number of objects in our environment then n+1 rather than n+1/2 or n+2 would seem to have many advantages when using a clock for example to measure time. The Greek idea of 12 hours being one day then serves as a system or framework for the counting of units of time rather than the decimal based- system that of course allows calculations to be done more easily. With the introduction of the decimal-based system the point of mathematics becomes more complex and more capable of measuring a continuum by the division of numbers into decimals and those decimals into decimals. So if time is an actual continuum it becomes theoretically possible to chart continuous changes. In the old dozen -based system, the second was the resting point. Theoretically one could have divided it into 12 parts but this would not have been a manageable system. The reason that 12 was selected as an important unit had to do with the fact that light and day at the equator appeared to be equally distributed in 12 hour periods.”
An Economics major, threw up their hands in desperation:
“I don’t know, I cannot get the hang of this philosophy lark. It seems to fly in the face of the facts”
Which facts?” Jude asked
“The fact that we have a collision between capitalist and communist systems which will probably be decided by either military or economic means. The fact that economics, whether one likes it or not, rules. The reasoning process of politicians seem very clear to me money-in through taxation and money -out in accordance with some principle of distribution.”
“I do not think Philosophy has any interest in denying the facts if they are the facts, but it seems to me that there are ethical questions to be asked about the conflict between world powers and there are political/philosophical questions to be asked about the justice of any distribution principle. Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether economics ought to rule, that is, whether economics has any mandate to rule over people’s lives” Jude replied.

Leave a Reply