[lit-ideas] Re: What is information?

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2006 10:01:49 +0100 (BST)

--- Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx> wrote:

> The difficulty is this: Paxton (Socrates) set out to investigate
> what
> fascism (virtue) are: in Paxton's case, this must be a historical
> investigation, which relies on facts about who did what and what happened
> when.
> Should one expect that from this he would be able to extract a concept of
> fascism, a concept such that something is fascism if and only if it has
> certain
> features, and not otherwise? Doesn't this already begin to look a little
> suspicious? It not only looks suspicious, but at a certain level, it
> strikes me
> as incoherent.
> 'The movements and governments we call fascistic seem to have certain
> features,
> some of them more salient than others.' 'Fascism must have these (this list
> of)
> features if it's to be fascism, rightly so called.' One might think about
> the
> different ways in which one might go about establishing these, for they
> will, I
> think, be different.

Yes, and this is true of 'triangles' also: what (in normal usage) "we call"
triangular will always have be three-sided, but there is no reason in logic
why we could not use the word 'triangle' to refer to a four-sided object
rather than a three-sided one. It is obviously true that a three-sided object
will be three-sided but it is only a convention of language what term or
terms we use to refer to such objects: insofar as we insist that triangle is
not "rightly so called" when used to refer to an object that is not
three-sided we are merely appealing to rightness in terms of such conventions
of usage. We can allow 'triangle' to be used otherwise without contradiction
but if it is used otherwise, say to refer to a four-sided object, we can
insist that certain consequences follow logically from this e.g. if the
speaker subsequently uses the term triangle to refer to a three-sided object
it is logically the case that they are not using the term 'triangle' in the
same sense in which they used it to refer to a four-sided object - they are
giving it a different meanning.

I once had a conversation with an Italian acquaintance that included politics
and went swimmingly until at the end I disclosed my Popperian sympathies. He
replied, 'But he is a fascist!' This left me bemused as it might anyone
acquainted with 'The Open Society' etc. as Popper's political philosophy is
as anti-totalitarian and certainly anti-fascistic as any. But in the 'OS'
though Popper speaks of democracy he does not _define_ it any essentialist
way: instead he proposes a view a democracy according to which its aim is not
to achieve perfect leadership but to ensure we retain the ability to get rid
of bad leadership without bloodshed. Totalitarians, e.g. Nazis, might oppose
this with a different view of democracy - one, for example, where true
democracy does not require having chance to vote the Nazis out but in having
the chance to participate and support the Nazi state. Popper's reply to this
kind of view would not be to berate the Nazi for misuing the term 'democracy'
because it has essentially a different meaning but instead to say that if
that is what they meant by democracy then he, for one, was not a democrat -
in fact, he is anti-democrat in their terms. 

There seems to me some wisdom in this approach, though of course - as Allen
Konigsberg has pointed out - whatever the nicieties of the conceptual
argument the deficiencies of the Nazi view are best pointed out with a
baseball bat.



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