Sunday, January 27, 2013

Common Sense and Good Sense

In Repetition and Difference Deleuze makes the distinction between "common sense" and "good sense."  (See also the post "Semantic Consistency" on this blog)
"At this point, however, we must refer to the precise difference between these two complementary instances, common sense and good sense.  For while common sense is the norm of identity from the point of view of the pure Self and the form of the unspecified object which corresponds to it, good sense is the norm of distribution from the point of view of the empirical selves and the object qualified as this or that kind of thing (which is why it is considered to be universally distributed)." [p.169]
First of all, I think we have to look at both common sense and good sense as assumptions, since they are normally understood within a given community and often not made explicit. Common sense, then, would have to do with the commonly understood reference of a concept or diagram, the kinds of things it refers to or its extension; while good sense would have to do with commonly understood attributes or consequences of that concept or diagram.

Examples of common sense are not that difficult to come by.  For a concept like "market" the extension might (or might not) include farmers' markets, shopping markets, buying and selling in some kind of wholesale markets, stock markets, and so on.  And, of course, all sorts of games can be played by assuming one kind of reference while actually employing another.  But examples of good sense can't really be just any kind of attribute or consequence of the concept.  They have to be assumed, unquestionable, and taken as universal.  Donald MacKenzie (in in An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets) provides an example of good sense with regard to at least on kind of "market".
"Some are convinced that markets are sources of human freedom and prosperity; others believe markets to be damaging generators of alienation, exploitation and impoverishment. [p. 25]"
These to characterizations of "markets",  representing the "good sense" of different communities, are assumptions generally left implicit that can do as much to distort our understanding of the concept or what is said about it as any of the various assumptions made by common sense.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Contextual Interpretations

Richard Peet in "A Sign Taken for History" considers a plaque, erected in 1927 in the town Petersham, Massechusetts commemorating Shays' Rebllion from a perspective that seems to follow Erwin Panofsky's structure of interpretation as set out in the "Introduction" to his Studies in Iconology.  There is what Panofsky called the "secondary" or "conventional" interpretation of this plaque in terms of the linguistic categories by which we understand what it says, that it commemorates the daring, hardships, and success of General Benjamin Lincoln in suppressing Shays' Rebellion in 1787.  We could also include the implication that his deed had some bearing on the writing of US Constitution and the general assertion that "OBEDIENCE TO LAW IS TRUE LIBERTY" within this conventional understanding of the plaque.  And, this conventional understanding would seem to correspond to what Peirce thought of as an interpretant.

But Peet goes on to consider what Panofsky called the "intrinsic meaning" of this plaque, the actors producing the plaque — the New England Society of Brooklyn, the Petersham Historical Society, and Petersham's elite — within the historical context of its production — America in the late 1920's and their concerns with politics, immigration, and economics at that time.  This provides a much deeper understanding of the plaque, resolving, if nothing else, my own surprise at reading there was a plaque commemorating Shays' rebellion and then seeing that it actually commemorated the suppression of that rebellion.  Peet also notes a second plaque, more in line with my expectations, commemorating Captain Daniel Shays and asserting more generally that "TRUE LIBERTY AND JUSTICE MAY REQUIRE RESISTANCE TO LAW" that was erected in 1987.  But the intrinsic meaning in this case revolving around 1987 America would be just as enlightening as the original set in 1927.   Are these intrinsic meanings another form of interpretant in Peirce's terminology?  Doesn't Shays' Rebellion remain the object to both of these signs and their interpretants?

But if we were to characterize Shays' Rebellion as an object, I think it would look a lot like the intrinsic meanings associated with these plaques.  There would be the various actors in the historical context of 1787 America with its different influences and their different responses to those influences.  While objects within that context could be understood in terms of a single diagram, such an object taken in context, or the situation as a whole as an object in its own right, would have to be understood in terms of interacting diagrams in a much more complex and intricate kind of evolution.