Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The 'a Priori' Method

Peirce present four methods for fixing beliefs ["Fixation of Belief," 1876].  One of these, the a priori method:
Let the action of natural preferences be unimpeded, then, and under their influence let men, conversing together and regarding matters in different lights, gradually develop beliefs in harmony with natural causes. … Systems of this sort have not usually rested upon any observed facts, at least not in any great degree.  They have been chiefly adopted because their fundamental propositions seemed "agreeable to reason."[CP 5.382]
gets short shrift in leading up to the scientific method and its concern with truth and falsity, but it is hard to see just how "conversing together" is necessarily a priori in this undervalued sense.

It would be a priori in this sense if we are conversing about things like logic, mathematics, or even metaphysics, since then there is little or no reference to "observed facts" and not much concern with truth or falsity.  It would also a priori in this sense if we are conversing analytically about and within the linguistic system of a science.
The ultimate goal of a positive science is the development of a "theory" or "hypothesis" that yields valid and meaningful (i.e., not truistic) predictions about phenomena not yet observed.  Such a theory is, in general, a complex intermixture of two elements.  In part, it is a "language" designed to promote "systematic and organized methods of reasoning." ["The Methodology of Positive Economics," p. 6]
But such sciences are also:
In part, it is a body of substantive hypotheses designed to abstract essential features of complex reality. [Ibid.]
and if our conversation were to wander over into this second part, it would be based upon "observed facts," and it would also, ostensibly, be concerned with truth and falsity.

But let's say we're "conversing together" in a sports book, because we want to bet on which team is going to win the NBA Playoffs this year.  Our conversation would clearly be based on observed facts — it could be full of detailed statistics and intricate arguments — and there would be a definite concern with truth or falsity — which team is going to win (actually, which team's odds of winning are better than the payoffs being given).  This conversing might be a priori in the sense we don't know which team will actually win, and we can't know until it's too late, but it doesn't come down to whatever is "agreeable to reason."  And, as a method, it makes up a lot more of our day-to-day reasoning, including virtually all major decisions, than does experimental science.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ideology and Denotations

Steve Wheeler, "Young Man Talking to His Mother-in-Law"

A Socratic preference for the spoken word, and a corresponding rejection of writing, is inherently nonideological. [Alvin W. Gouldner, The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology, p. 80]
Ideologies, I think, depend upon ignoring the denotations, and thereby the truth or falsity, of what is being said.  And writing, even the one-sided "spoken word" of a broadcast, cannot depend upon the denotations of what is being said.  The experiences of all the readers and/or listeners are too diverse to rely on how the terms and phrases will track to back to those experiences. Writing, along with all manner of broadcast communications, must operate within a context of "cascading" connotations.

Face-to-face conversations, on the other hand, are a different breed, an endangered species in this postmodern world, but one where denotations are naturally shared and tested as the words are spoken.  In an example from Peirce:

Two men meet on a country road.  One says to the other, "that house is on fire."  "What house?" "Why, the house about a mile to my right."  … It is not the language alone, with its mere associations of similarity, but the language taken in connection with the auditor's own experiential associations of contiguity, which determines for him what house is meant.  [CP 3.419]
Face-to-face conversations employ those "experiential associations of contiguity" that the writer and broadcaster cannot presume and that the ideologue willfully ignores.

It's not that the denotations cannot be reconstructed by those of us who are willing to do so.  In the text omitted above, Peirce writes:
Let this speech be taken down and shown to anybody in the neighboring village, and it will appear that the language by itself does not fix the house.  But the person addressed sees where the speaker is standing, recognises his right hand side (a word having a most singular mode of signification) estimates a mile (a length having no geometrical properties different from other lengths), and looking there, sees a house. [Ibid.]
But such reconstructions require a lot of effort, an effort that will be a waste of time if those denotations where intentionally ignored, obscured, or distorted in the first place.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Born Again

We are each born with our own diagrammatic conceptual system, that we build, nurture and develop to some degree, that is essentially monadic, sealed off from others in its own consistency.  We interact with others in ways that can modify both us and them, but we remain different and separate from them.

But we can also internalize objective diagrams by accepting the indexical roles and relationships of that foreign diagram as our own.  We initially like to pretend we take on the roles and play at the relationships while we maintain our own subjectivity.  But we can also — and being really good at a game demands that we — choose one of these objective systems, qualify for admission to it, internalize it completely, and make it our one and only.  That foreign diagram becomes us; the captain is the ship.  I would refer to this as a "living death," as a loss of one's soul.  However, the many, many who have done this, both materially and spiritually, are decisively animated about the virtues of it.  They refer to it as a new life, as being "born again."