[lit-ideas] Re: Valid-Some Thoughts

  • From: wokshevs@xxxxxx
  • To: jlm@xxxxxxxxxxxx, John McCreery <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 30 Dec 2007 18:09:21 -0330

Replies to John McC ---------->

Quoting John McCreery <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>:

> Dear Professor O.,
> First, I beg to correct your impression that I belong among those who regard
> dictionaries as being of philosophical worth. To an anthropologist a
> dictionary is, in effect, a set of field notes, data that belong in the
> third category W mentions, "the one [the rule] which he gives us in
> reply when we ask what his rule is." The anthropologist's task is to
> construct models that account for at least the shared assumptions those data
> reveal or, in more sophisticated analyses, the variations they exhibit.
> Judgements of philosophical worth are not part of the process.

----------------> ("Walter" is fine.) From this, I take it that we agree on the
view that anthropological evidence, like any other kind of empirical evidence,
is of no necessary relevance to the epistemic worth probity of philosophical
analysis. Specifically, it follows that the philosophical issue of the
conceptual relations between "being persuaded" and "being convinced" cannot be
settled simply via appeal to the authority of dictionaries or any other form of
empirically ascertained conventional practice. 

> Second, when you write,

> >  Typically, we each know when we're (not) abiding by a rule and when
> > others are (are not). If
> > this were false, then the issuance of traffic tickets would be seriously
> > imperilled.
> your example is, I suggest, naive. 

-----------> Always best to start with the simpler cases, and increase
complexity as we go along. But we must always be clear on what legitimately
serves as an "example."

> I recall vividly when Ruth and I arrived
> at our field site in central Taiwan. It was, I recall, a chastening
> experience to realize that we had less local street smarts than the average
> local two year old. Whether we were abiding by a rule or others were not was
> constantly problematic. 

------> That is an empirical (psychological)claim. Such claims do not provide
relevant evidence for or against the meaning and necessity of concepts or
principles that are transcendentally necessary for the possibility of inquiry
and argument. The latter is what the discipline of philosophy, as a distinct
form of inquiry, seeks to reconstruct and justify. The transcendental  may be
empirically illustrated, but it cannot be justified empirically - or
disproved empirically. 

> Even after two years in the field, we experienced
> directly the puzzle to which W refers. We had become fairly fluent in
> Taiwanese, but if asked to describe the rules that comprise Taiwanese
> syntax, we would have to refer you to a linguist.  We inferred rules
> governing local custom from observations. Still, we often had to seek advice
> and were frequently puzzled by the advice we were given, when we asked about
> the rules that applied to our situation.

------------> I don't find that your appeal to a natural language here is a
legitimate or happy one in this context for your assimilation of two different
contexts obfuscates the matters involved. Whether the meaning or the
pronunciation of a certain word in Russian is recognized by all Russian
speakers, or whether a grammatical rule is recognized as being a rule by all
Russian speakers, is an empirical matter. No particular linguistic community
bears privileged authority over such matters. (Quebec's governance over the
French language being a quite singular exception, of course.) And that is
because no community has any privileged authority over the "truth" or
"rightness" of conventions. Conventions simply aren't like that. 

But epistemic concepts and principles - such as the
ones involved in differentiating between truth and belief, valid and sound
inference, uninterestedness and disinterestedness, inference and implication,
ethical norms and moral norms - refer to transcendental elements of the very
possibility of inquiry and argument, and this at whatever slice of time and
space such activity is pursued. These are not matters to be decided via
convention, though of course communities of inquiry and argument may adopt
these concepts and principles within their conventions and practices. (Note
that the study of "phlogiston" does not falsify my claim here. And it probably
remains an interesting concept of study for sociologists in the tradition of
Latour and Woolgar, etc.)

An epistemic distinction of particular importance these days is that between
ethical and moral norms.  The fact that a culture or community does not
recognize some moral norm does not invalidate that norm. The fact is simply a
description of the behaviors of a group of people. Beat your kids with
hairbrushes or broomsticks and social services will take your kids away from
you. The justification here, as "justification" is not "We don't do that sort of
thing here" or "It's against the law" - rather it is philosophical, making
reference to moral principles and argumentation. And such justification trumps
epistemically the empirically operative beliefs of the offending community.
Asserting "But this is how we raise our children and we have the right to
freedom of religious expression" is of no philosophical (moral) worth and that
is ultimately why you end up in jail and/or fined for acting contrary to moral
norm. None of this has anything to do with anthropology, as far as I can see. 

> That is why W's questions make a lot of sense to me.

--------------> Do his answers actually contradict anything I have said above?

> Best wishes for a happy holiday.

-------------------> And to you and yours.

Walter O.

> John
> -- 
> John McCreery
> The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
> Tel. +81-45-314-9324
> http://www.wordworks.jp/

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