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Monthly Archives: May 2008

A Worm in Cheese

Campanella and Spinoza On Perspective

It has long been my suspicion that Spinoza had read, and has a debt to the much forgotten Tommaso Campanella. There is evidence that Descartes’ most central contributions have in some way be under this influence, and Spinoza’s position indeed is in many ways a response to Cartesianism. But it more than this. There is in the thought of Campanella a particular panpsychic, and cybernetic understanding of what is epistemological, and power, which reads open, and corrects, the overly rationalistic reductive reading of Spinoza’s many propositions.

Here I take up only a tangential connection, one that moves from the sharing of a single, (if common), trope. It does not prove the influence of the one on the other, but at the very least it operates as a happy coincidence, or even an expression of a continuity of Geist, (however delineated), between thinkers and times. This is the figure of the “worm in cheese”.

It was a prevalent image Headly tells us, a part of the “folk culture” of the Late Renaissance, the cosmological idea that we are all severely limited in our perceptions and knowledge, locked within a localization of understanding, surrounded by our food source, on which we blindly feed. But Campanella lifts this picture of the world up to larger purposes, sharpening it to both epistemological and political effect, drawing forth the consequences of such an instructive image.

First, there is his famous sent letter to the Emperor of China. It should be known at first that Campanella really was in a worm-in-cheese predicament. He had endured acute torture at the hands of the Spanish authorities, in which he had to feign, and therefore prove his “madness”, and thus avoid an inquisitional burning at the stake as heretic. And then he had suffered multiple years locked away in the worst dungeon of Italy, chained and manacled in a nearly lightless cell of the formidable Castel San Elmo, where he worked would work free sonnets on bits of paper, and access his prodigious, certainly photographic memory, sketching out his metaphysics. It is a story I really do have write, but it is the not purpose here. Rather, only, if anyone knew what a worm in cheese was, Campanella had a sort of privileged view of the condition.

But back to the letter to the Emperor. Campanella was fast on the idea of restoring in the papacy some sort of universal, indeed Catholic, governance, one that put the whole world into communication with itself, so that there were to be a free flowing of knowledge and sciences that would help liberate men from their ignorance. Ming China, by Campanella’s understanding, had cut itself off from outside influences, and turned itself inward. This is something extraordinary that gives us a piece of the so-called “volcanic” mind of Campanella, that a monk of no importance, under years of imprisonment, would even concern himself with the notion of a world history, and take it upon himself to compose such a letter.

Campanella writes to the Emperor:

Those men [your subjects] are lacking in aspiration; they seem like men but like worms born inside a cheese, who reckon nothing more or better there to be in the world beyond their own cheese from which they are nourished, sustained, hidden, or as worms born in a man’s stomach who know nothing of man, nor his mind, but cocooned away, complacent, not wanting to be disturbed, jealous of their remove. So, oh King, [the monarch of China], you seem to us… Stick your head out beyond your cheese, beyond the stomach of your land (TC-QR, 221).

It is a powerful call somehow, extending far beyond the prison walls, and the walls of history, into history. Campanellla makes use of a similar worm-image, to a different effect in his utopian vision “The City of the Sun”. Here, describing the conceptions of the people of La Cità del Sole, ones who live in a kind of blissful perfection of knowledge, in a city that is shaped with concentric ramparts so that it is the shape of the Solar System:

They [the Solarians] assert two principles of the physics of things below, namely, that the sun is the father, and the earth the mother; the air is an impure part of the heavens; all fire is derived from the sun. The sea is the sweat of earth, or the fluid of earth combusted, and fused within its bowels, but is the bond of union between air and earth, as the blood is of the spirit and flesh of animals. The world is a great animal, and we live within it as worms live within us. Therefore we do not belong to the system of stars, sun, and earth, but to God only; for in respect to them which seek only to amplify themselves, we are born and live by chance; but in respect to God, whose instruments we are, we are formed by prescience and design, and for a high end.

Here we have the more benign, and perfecting simile of the world as an immense and sensate animal, with we but like parasitic worms, feeding on it, but also part of its expression, its system. And lastly, in concert with Campanella’s notion the importance of empirical knowledge, direct experience, the testings of science and observation, come from his study of Telsio, we have another use of the worm-in-cheese metaphor, that expressing the historical linking of observations, the importance of communicability:

Just as namely, through individual perceptions, the mind adds to truth, so too with what belongs to others. Otherwise one would be like a worm in cheese, knowing nothing, except those parts of cheese that touch it. Every narrator, whether by letter, or in mouth stretched, or in movements, a historian is.

And lastly, we come to the worm of Spinoza. Memorably, after writing to the founding secretary of the Royal Society, Henry Oldenburg, about his arguments and notions of God, as being both a totality and expression of parts, all of which fit together. If we, in our experience on thing or part as a complete entity, this is a kind of selecting out of the whole, from a perspective of ignorance. This he compares to the kind of knowledge that a worm in the blood of the body has, as it goes about bumping into something so vast it has no possibility of understanding. One has to keep mind that Spinoza was an early maker of microscope lenses (attested to be of rather high quality), and it is perhaps likely that he had stared into lenses, looking at blood and the what must have seemed infinitesimally small forms therein.

This was an extraordinary time, when the smallest and the most distant were coming into view (Spinoza would become a companion of Christiaan Huygens, the discoverer of the rings of Saturn, and it is imagined to be likely that he would then look through his telescope too, when they spent time together at Huygens’ country estate). It is said by Colerus, his first biographer, than he would lift his magnifying glass and stare at mosquitoes and flies. All the vastness was opening itself up, and closing in.

Let us imagine, with your permission, a little worm, living in the blood¹, able to distinguish by sight the particles of blood, lymph, &c., and to reflect on the manner in which each particle, on meeting with another particle, either is repulsed, or communicates a portion of its own motion. This little worm would live in the blood, in the same way as we live in a part of the universe, and would consider each particle of blood, not as a part, but as a whole. He would be unable to determine, how all the parts are modified by the general nature of blood, and are compelled by it to adapt themselves, so as to stand in a fixed relation to one another. For, if we imagine that there are no causes external to the blood, which could communicate fresh movements to it, nor any space beyond the blood, nor any bodies whereto the particles of blood could communicate their motion, it is certain that the blood would always remain in the same state, and its particles would undergo no modifications, save those which may be conceived as arising from the relations of motion existing between the lymph, the chyle, &c. The blood would then always have to be considered as a whole, not as a part. But, as there exist, as a matter of fact, very many causes which modify, in a given manner, the nature of the blood, and are, in turn, modified thereby, it follows that other motions and other relations arise in the blood, springing not from the mutual relations of its parts only, but from the mutual relations between the blood as a whole and external causes. Thus the blood comes to be regarded as a part, not as a whole. So much for the whole and the part.

Letter 15 (32), 1662

There are obvious wide-sweeping parallels, none of which create an argument of influence: comparison to worms living in the body, and the locality of perceptions which seal each person off from the rest of existence, and contingency of our immediate sense knowledge. And there is the political character of communications itself, the sharing of descriptions across countries and the globe, and the kind of epistemic building (albeit from a difference in emphasis or even process: Spinoza looked for a rational grasp of “common notions” which joined bodies and minds, Campanella appraised observation and a species of synthetic becoming what one observed), by grasping the larger and larger wholes, of which one is participating. At the very least there is something shared; it is that animate sense that one is within a psychic, sensate thing, when one is in the world, and that knowledge consists in identifying with, and constructing epistemic conjoinings, as part of an over-arching, and yet un-understood entirety. And in this service, a catholic freedom of exchange becomes the nexus for that building of communications, a Renaissance notion of political and ideal creation.

1. A notable annex to this comparison of worms in cheese and worms in blood is Kircher’s microscopic observation that the blood of fever victims was worm-filled:

The “dust” on old cheese was found to be not dust at all but little animals, and swarms of minute worms were discovered tumbling about in vinager (Fontana 1646, Borel 1656, Kircher 1646). Kircher announced that the blood of fever victims also teemed with worms, and there was talk that they infested sores and lurked in the pustules of smallpox and scabies. (Ruestow, 38).

This is likely the main triggering thought in Spinoza’s mind – though I have never seen it noted by scholars – as Oldenburg mentions the very same Kircher’s later work Subterranean World in the previous letter which Spinoza is answering.

The Trick of Dogs: Etiologic, Affect and Triangulation, Part II of IV

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A Davidsonian Completion of Wittgenstein: Two Pictures of Language

[continued from Part I, here is Part III]

The second part of this paper seeks to answer the vexing question: Given the widest of views that Augustine’s description offers, that of a panpsychic reality understood and filtered through our linguistic capacities to describe as real, how do we get our footing in the kinds of relations which make up our capacity to language in the first place? Wittgenstein’s critique, designed as it was to level certain Cartesian assumptions, as they had been preserved in the language of philosophy in his day, seems lacking in the ability to be applied beyond the ends of their means. Appeals to images of games played and rules followed only seem to take us so far. This is not due to any failing on his part, but rather to the nature of his project, and the kinds of discourse that he was rebutting. Here I will be concerned with approaches to languaging, and what they imply, such as to more fully embrace Augustine’s deeper vision, that of an active and affective world, in communication. And here will be presented prospective thoughts, not wholly in argument, but in illustration of what is occurring when we speak, both about ourselves and about the world, working towards the possibility of a theory, if only in the widest sense of the Greek word theōrein.

If there is a way to sketch out the bounds of Wittgenstein’s thought, perhaps it can be found in his illustrative examples, the nature of which are designed to bring forth certain aspects of language which he would like to emphasize. They do not really work so much as arguments, but rather conceptual signposts, thought-experiments, highlighting important characteristics of language which otherwise might be missed. In their very nature they must also in their emphasis suppress, or cause to fall into the background, other features not germane to his line of thinking. One could not say that Wittgenstein has brought out every salient point of language in his examples; rather, in taking his method seriously, one must assume that there are other ways of picturing and thinking about language than those he considered. It is my hope to take up just such a position, not as to say that Wittgenstein was wrong in the picture he painted of language, but rather that his explication is necessarily incomplete. By considering alternate pictures of language, a further light may be cast upon Wittgenstein’s own. Hopefully, by bringing into some relief the illustrative choices he made, so too will be made clear the nature and limits of the arguments they supported. So the ambition is to supplement an already rich oeuvre, so as to turn its explanatory power towards something more than what it already has achieved.

If Wittgenstein’s later philosophy could be characterized by a single picture of language, it seems to be that “rule-following” pictures would carry the day. Of course no philosophy can be summed in this manner, but certain thought-pictures can express the kernel of thinking which larger, over-arching arguments then explicate. In Philosophical Investigations, the picture of language that comes to mind, are those presented in the first sections of the book. It is they that establish a conceptual base from which he works. It is that they are not meant to be full or complete explanations of how language works, but as Ur-presentations, they suitably set the reader off in a direction. Perhaps one could say that they form the “ancient city” around which the more straight-lined suburbs of Wittgenstein’s descriptions of language and meaning will be built. Among these are the Five Red Apples game of section one, the Language of the Builders of section 2 (and 8-10, and 19-21). These are both designed to point up the rule-following dimension of language use, and lead up to the general concept of “language game” itself. What they present is a wholly public, and learned-by-rule picture of language. This is central to Wittgenstein’s conception. The question is: Are there other, fundamentally different pictures of language, thought experiments, which might shed other light upon the nature of language itself? And what is it that such pictures, as effective as they are, lose in their emphasis?

What I have in mind to contrast with these is the primary language picture used by Donald Davidson, taken from his professor, Quine: that of the field linguist, which shall be summarized shortly. Like Wittgenstein’s use of elemental language games, such as the Language of the Builders, such a thought-experiment is not here meant to be an argument per se; that is, one that proves Wittgenstein wrong, and Davidson right. Rather, it should be meant to be set beside Wittgenstein’s, so as to draw out the delineations of his thought, as it is presented in such examples that begin his work. As Freud once said of analogies, the do not prove anything, but they help us feel more at home. In proposing an alternate thought-picture of language, one can suggest that there is more than one way to feel more at home, in language.

Instead of a Language of Builders, Davidson, ala Quine, imagines as a fundamental picture of what goes on in language use, the occasion of a field linguist who is exposed to a native speaker whose language he knows nothing about. The reason for taking up such an example for Davidson is simple, we have no defendable account of how language is acquired, so we must make due with something more:

It might help if we knew how language came into existence in the first place, or at least could give an account of how an individual learns his first language, given that others in his environment are already linguistically accomplished. Failing such a knowledge or account, what we can do is instead ask how a competent interpreter (one with adequate conceptual resources and a language of his own) might come to understand the speaker of an alien tongue. An answer to this question should reveal some important features of communication, and throw indirect light on what makes possible a first entry into language (“Three Varieties of Knowledge.” 210)

When comparing these pictures of language, it is important to note that Wittgenstein’s language pictures of rule-followers operates somewhat rhetorically as mythic “primitive roots” of language use. He asks us for instance to understand The Language of the Builders as a “language more primitive than ours,” which nonetheless is “complete” (PI §8 ). In this way, such an imagined language operates in a mythical domain, one which conflates our unfortunate stereotype of one-word aboriginals who merely point, gesture and shout, with the very process we might ourselves undergo as children in a sufficient account of how we acquire language in the first place: how we might move from “training” to “thinking”. Apart from the cultural bias against such natives seen as “savages,” (perhaps ancient monument stone-stackers), upon which this example builds some of its satisfactory value, it is the way in which it subtly stands as a picture for aspects of language acquisition itself, that makes it both problematic, and effective. Davidson too returns to an idea of primitiveness, a seductive scene, but this time with the idea that whomever the interpreter is listening to (and in Wittgenstein’s example, we are invited to be interpreters, to understand how such a language is both like ours and not like ours, PI § 20), indeed has a complete and functioning, non-“primitive” language, just as we do.

As stated, the picture of language that Davidson begins from is that of a field linguist visiting a land with native speakers whose language is utterly unknown. It imagines a newly arrived anthropologist confronted with a native, who, in the presence of a rabbit which has just run by, shouts the word “gavagai” (Quine 52). Davidson is concerned, much like Quine before him but to much different ends (α), with what is it that is necessary to successfully interpret such a behavior/word. Quine will problematize even the translation of such a word “gavagai” into the one word sentence “Rabbit!,” but only insomuch as show the nature of an essential interdependence that does not rely on rule-following as a grounds for meaning (γ). There can be no appeal to rules between these languages. Davidson will find that what is necessary is not a specific training in language of the native, that is, an ostensive or rule-following pedagogy such that the field linguist can then justify his interpretations according to those rules, within that language, but rather, a generally assumed correspondence and coherence between his own speech (language) and that of the speaker’s (language), and the world it describes or responds to. He will follow a Tarksi-like conception of truth, such that the veracity of a sentence logically relies upon the veracity of another sentence in another language, such as in the classic example: “Snow is white” is true iff schnee ist weiß.

It is this fundamental co-incidence of sentences and effects in the world, which produces translation and meaning (β). What is important for our discussion here are not the immediate details of the justification of such an claim, but rather the elementary divergence between these two fundamental pictures of language. Each picture, those of a primitive language composed of orders and actions, and that of two language users coming to understand each other across the bounds of each of their languages, brings into clarity specific aspects of the nature of language use itself, as each thinker conceived them. Primarily, Wittgenstein’s Builders are rule-followers, Davidson’s linguist is an interpreter. These core pictures in this way allow us to see how much we are like each, rule-follower or interpreters.

Davidson in his “Three Varieties of Knowledge” thus offers a different sort of picture of what is going on at the primitive level of language use. What Davidson sees is that language use itself, even within languages that speakers share, is an occasion of interpretation. We are all, under Davidson’s picture of language, interpreters of others. All field linguists, by analogy. It is important that it be understood, much as Wittgenstein examples of rule-follower and game-players, that it is meant as an illumination, and not as a reduction, something that will “cast light” onto the nature of what we are doing (although Davidson’s example has the advantage of being something that actually occurs). What Davidson presents is a world in which people are not bound together in uses by the reference to shared rules or conventions which fix meanings and provide the sole process of justification, but rather one in which social relations are composed of a kind of immanent rationality, which displaces itself across a triangle of three domains. What Davidson will argue is that there is a trinity of knowledges of which or knowledge itself is composed: knowledge of ourselves, others, and that of the world; and that no one (or two) legs of this triangle can stand on its/their own. Any two assumes the third.

In a certain sense, Wittgenstein can be said to be, because he is arguing against a Cartesian framework of knowledge, still caught in the picture of Self/world, or Self/other, as he uses rule-following to upend one leg of the triangle or another. Adequately he plays one aspect of contiguity against another, but is yet unable to take them up into a whole, partly because he is not concerned with doing so. Philosophy has long found itself run aground upon the reefs of skepticism, either of other minds, or of the world itself, and Wittgenstein points clear of such reefs, articulating the wholeness of our communications, their fabriced interweave of interpenetrations. But perhaps because he seeks to bring out certain features of language, against mistakes made due to Cartesian pictures of bewitchment, he is confined within the space in which he engages others. The triangle cannot be taken as a whole. In a sense, Davidson’s view, when put besides Wittgenstein’s, subsumes it, and makes it more clear. It may be that within Davidson’s conception of triangulation, Wittgenstein’s standard of rule-following makes the most sense (δ).

Again, Davidson, like Wittgenstein, will turn to examples of learning, but here how one learns by what others are reacting to. Much as Wittgenstein’s primitive Five Red Apples language (PI §1) is meant to point up the poverty of ostensive definition explanations, and at the same time illustrate the kinds of elementary rule-following that indeed does appear to go on in language acquisition, Davidson will question, more conceptually, what happens when someone learns the use of words as meaningful in the world. The question is: Is there a fundamental acuity in interpretation, which is not reducible to rule-following? This will hopefully expose a primary facility of triangulation which will underlie rule-following itself.

Davidson begins with a larger description, when speaking about how objects and “aspect of the world’ get classified. All creatures indeed do classify objects, under our description, as one kind or another, but do so without language, in that they “treat stimuli as more alike than others” (212); a wolf is able to react to a sheep, as a kind of thing, just as an amoeba is able to react to either another predator amoeba, or a nutrient grade as a kind of thing. Davidson asks, what is the criterion for us saying that this is so, as observers?

The criterion of such a classifying activity is similarity of response. Evolution and subsequent learning no doubt explain these patterns of behavior. But from what point of view can these be called patterns? The criterion on the basis of which a creature can be said to be treating stimuli as similar, as belonging to a class, is the similarity of the creature’s responses to those stimuli (212)

This should be plain enough. What makes us call the behaviors of these creatures, “classification” is our observation that their behaviors before such stimuli have a similarity about them. When an amoeba is in the presence of what we might call a “predator” it behaves in a certain way, it “flees” or “hides,” but when it is in the presence of a nutrient grade, it “approaches” and “feeds”. But Davidson asks the further question, what is the “criterion of a similarity of responses” themselves? What is the standard by which we can say that their responses are similar to each other?

This criterion cannot be derived from a creature’s responses; it can only come from the response of an observer to the responses of the creature. And it is only when an observer consciously correlates the responses of another creature with objects and events in the observer’s world that there is any basis for saying the creature is responding to those objects or event rather than any other objects and events (212)

Our own classification of the similarity of another creature’s behavior, that is our own similarity of responses to that behavior, and its cause, grounds our interpretation of their behaviors, such that we can at the very least say that they are reacting to something that we too are. We are, in the most primitive sense, in agreement. And this sets up the fundamental conception of triangulation which Davidson uses to illuminate what is happening in language. An event or object in the world is taken to affect both us and another in such a way that we are able to make sense of the behavior of that other, as responding to that shared-world event. Thus there is a primary causal picture wherein the world is seen to affect both us and others.

Davidson goes on, and extends this essential relation to language use and interpretation itself, drawing forth what happens when we as language users encounter a foreign tongue we are attempting to translate:

As would be interpreters of the verbal behavior of the speaker of an alien language, we group distinct verbal acts of the speaker together: ‘Mother’, ‘Snow’, ‘Table’, when repeated as one-word sentences, sound similar if we are appropriately attuned. When we discover kind of objects or events in the world we can correlate with the utterances of the speaker, we are on the way to interpreting in the simplest of linguistic behavior (212)

Note how this picture subtly diverges from the kernel of Wittgenstein’s imagined picture of rule-following. It is not simply a matter of learning to repeat actions under command, but a larger idea of understanding that the world itself causes certain reactions, so much as to set up a connection between them. Like our interpretation of the behavior of an amoeba, what we do is correlate the behavior of the creature with events in the world assumed to be shared. In this view the events in the world have a causal relation to the behavior we are interpreting, even linguistic behavior. This is something that even non-linguistic beings do, in fact it seems, must necessarily do, and something that hence must lie very near the roots of what we do in language. When we interpret the occasions of the pronouncement of an alien word for “Table” in the presence of a regularity of an object of a recognizable kind, we are not just being given a “rule” for how to use the word “table”, as a Wittgensteinian might say. Although descriptively we can call the results of such learned behavior “rule-following” what is involved it is not reducible to such a description; rather, it is perhaps better to say that one is experiencing a causal relationship to the world and others, one in which events in the world are experienced to effect both the speaker and the interpreter. Just as we are able to correlate and interpret the behavior of an ameba as caused by the presence of an object to which we are both oriented, so too we are able to correlate the presence of an object in the world, especially in occasions of learned ostensive definition, such that object causes in some sense the behavior of the speaker. Against such a backdrop, rule-following gains stronger footing.

Davidson then turns to the supposed instance of actual language instruction, showing how as instructors we are governed by this sense of causal triangulation, such that the very orientation to a common cause in the world is the thing that helps one understand that behavior as meaningful:

If we are teaching someone a language, the situation become more complex, but more clearly interpersonal. What seems basic is this: an observer (or teacher) finds (or instills) a regularity in verbal behavior on the informant (or learner) which he can correlate with events and objects in the environment…For until the triangulation is completed connecting two creatures, and each creature with common features in the world, there can be no answer to the question whether a creature, in discriminating between stimuli, is discriminating between a stimuli at the sensory surfaces or somewhere further out, or further in (212).

In this way a causal relation to the world becomes principal in our understanding of the behavior of other creatures. The final sentences are paramount. The only thing that tells us that a creature (or speaker) is reacting to things in the world, and not to events occurring on the surface of his/her/its skin, or things below its skin (descriptions of which are readily available in science), is our correlation of their behavior with a causal connection to a shared world. What makes behavior, “behavior,” is that is can shed light upon the nature of the world itself, as an objective thing. And this stems from fundamental triangulation. It is the conceptual triangulation which at its basis gives our thought any content in the first place. Un-triangulated thought would not be “about” anything:

Without this sharing of reactions to common stimuli, thought and speech would have no particular content-that is, no content at all. It takes two points of view to give a location to the cause of a thought, and thus to define its content. We may think of it as a form of triangulation: each of two people is reacting differently to sensory stimuli streaming in from a certain direction. Projecting the incoming lines outward, the common cause is at their intersection (213)

Thus what gives thought its shape and form, and the world its confirmed substantiality is the triangulation of effects between the world, others and ourselves.

This triangulating approach to the nature of thinking, perceiving and interpreting, leads Davidson to a conception of belief that is causal. That is, because we understand others primarily through our ability to see their behavior as in some sense caused by the same things that cause our reactions as well, we come to understand the contents of the thoughts we attribute to others, as caused by events that surround them in the world. Programmed by language, events in the world can cause us to hold beliefs, fears, desires, and reasons (what can be classified as “mental predicates”). It is because we employ these predicates in our ability to get around in the world, and to understand others, this causal connection is fundamental to our knowledge of anything. And in this way, the same mental predicates conceptually act as causes of interpretable behavior themselves. To take one example of a myriad of those available, the fear I had of bees caused me to run into the house. It is core to our interpretations of mental predicates that they be understood as both caused by the world and the causes of our intentional behavior.

Yet there is a distinction to be made, for it does not seem that the way in which we speak of billiard balls is not the same way that we speak of fears and beliefs. Davidson explains that indeed there is a fundamental difference in the way that we relate to causes in the world, and the causal conception of mental predicates which govern our ability to understand the intentional actions of others (ε). Because we read the behaviors of others as interpretations of the world itself, our ability to causally connect those behaviors (the beliefs, desire and reasons) to the world presents a disjunction that makes our concepts about the world distinct from those that govern intentionality. To show how the causes of the world and the causal conceptions we have of beliefs and desires are distinct, he takes up the difference in the kinds of descriptions that may be thought of as causal, for instance those of physical properties such as “the rigidity of the wing caused its failure” and those of mental states, such as “his desire to be healthy caused him to go on a diet”:

In the case of causal properties like elasticity, slipperiness, malleability, or solubility, we tend to think, rightly or wrongly, that what they leave unexplained can be (or already has been) explained by the advance of science…Mental concepts and explanations are not like this. They appeal to causality because they are designed, like the concept of causality itself, to single out from the totality of circumstances which conspire to cause a given event just those factors that satisfy some particular explanatory interest. When we want to explain an action, for example, we want to know the agent’s reasons, so we can see for ourselves what it was about the action that appealed to the agent (216)

In this way, there is a divide in the manner in which we interpret the events of the world, and events of intention, though both are causally understood. “Descriptions of objects, states and events” fall under the capacity for “strict, exceptionless laws,” yet do not contain “causal concepts” (216).  Another way of putting this is that our language games about what occurs outside of us is fundamentally different than that which occurs within or between us, and with this Wittgenstein would have no problem at all-in many senses this is his main point. What Davidson adds to this though, is that these two ways of speaking, that of how the world is, and how we are, are related in that one employs causal laws in one (for instance the Newton’s Law of Gravity), and for the other, causal concepts (that is that our mental states can cause us to act in one way or another, and that these states can be caused by the world).

It is here that we stumble upon a very deep divide between the thinkers, for Wittgenstein makes a rather strong distinction between a reason and cause, in some sense vital to his criterion for what makes a language a language. In his rule-following vision, what is linguistic is the reference to an independent standard for correctness, without which we would not even have the idea of correctness in play. This lies that the core of his so-named Private Language argument. So when envisioning the possibility of a private language, he questions how a distinction one makes for oneself, in a wholly private way, could even be considered a distinction:

But “I impress it on myself” can only mean: this process brings it about that remember the connexion right in the future. But in the present case I have no criterion of correctness. One would like to say: whatever is going to seem right to me is right. And that only means that here we cannot talk about ‘right’ (PI §258 )

Davidson agrees with the impossibility of a private language, but grounds his perspective not on a question of rule-following, and justification, but upon an overall coherence of knowledge about the world and others, one such that enables language to get off the ground in the first place. What Wittgenstein importantly tries to do, instead, is place within the domain of the privately inner, a possible world of causation, events that may or may not happen in the head in a patterned manner, reference to which would only be like “buying several copies of the morning newspaper” to check for error (PI §265), or an empty “ceremony” (PI §258), or “a wheel that can be turned though nothing moves with it, is not part of the mechanism” (PI §271), which is distinct from the world of reasons, that which appeals to an outside, independent standards of use. It is upon this independent criterion of use that the possibility of a private language is foreclosed. In this sense, both thinkers agree that it is the connection with the outside world which makes linguistic distinctions linguistic, but in Davidson’s case it is the entire causal connections between world and fellow users, while for Wittgenstein the argument is narrowed to the idea of rule-following alone, something that requires him to entertain a primary difference between reasons (independently confirmed) and causes (internal events).


Wittgenstein puts forth his most clear conception of the difference between a cause and reason in the first pages of  The Blue Book. The difference is between something that just happens to happen in one’s head, in a causal fashion, and the appeal to a rule that has been taught you to:

Suppose I pointed to a piece of paper and said to someone: “this colour I call ‘red'”. Afterwards I gave him the order: “now paint me a red patch”. I then ask him: “why, in carrying out my order, did you paint just his colour?” His answer could then be: “This colour (pointing to the sample) which I have given him was called red; and the patch I have painted has, as you see, the colour of the sample.” He has now given me a reason for carrying out the order in the way he did. Giving the reason for something one did or said means showing a way which leads to this action (11).

Notice the distinct difference in language-picture Wittgenstein holds from Davidson, at this level. Where Wittgenstein imagines an elementary use of “samples” and “rules”, serving as a kind of template for how language operates, Davidson sees a causal picture wherein, for instance, in the presence of the color red, that similarity of stimuli, the subject is caused, due to being conditioned by language, to holding the belief that “that is red,” and hence led to proposing a rule to be followed. The student of red, who in Wittgenstein’s case is merely learning a rule, in Davidson’s case might still be said to be learning a rule, but a rule that is grounded in a larger triangulation of causes, which gives the world its objective appearance, (and also implies a necessary knowledge of other minds).

But let us turn to Wittgenstein’s example of what is not a reason:

[if you ask] “Why did you pain just this colour when I told you to paint a red patch?” you may give the answer: “I have been shown a sample of this colour and the word “red” was pronounced to me at the same time; and therefore this colour now always comes to my mind when I hear the word ‘red'”, then you have given a cause for your action and not a reason (15)

From this distinction one can plainly see the same distinction which works in Wittgenstein’s argument against private languages. The domain of the inner, is that of mental events seems to circulate without justification, or appeal to an outside standard. There is no sense of right or wrong, no difference between merely thinking you are following a rule, and actually following a rule.

And Wittgenstein clarifies the reasons why he is not concerned with statement of the kind “this colour now always comes to my mind”, a description of causes, that is, because he is not interested in science or natural history: “But our interest does not fall back upon these possible causes of the formation of concepts; we are not doing natural science; nor yet natural history…” (PI p 195). Quite rightly, Davidson would agree with not wanted to do science, for such an approach would be attempting to speak of the intentional, in the language of strict laws which mark out the way we speak of the world. There is a quintessential dividing line there, but such a line, for Davidson, does not cover mental predicates.

Wittgenstein’s strong distinction between reason and cause seems to cover over their relation. We would agree that saying that the this is the color that pops into my mind when I hear the word “red” tells us next to nothing, yet, we should also agree that “His belief that this color is ‘red’ caused him to paint such a color” not only makes sense (ζ), but also is illuminative. This is because, Davidson would tell us, there is a holism of beliefs, that is, we attribute beliefs (and other mental predicates) to others and ourselves in a rational manner, such that they cohere together in such a way that assumed beliefs shed light on other beliefs also attributed or expressed, and these beliefs are largely taken to be true about the world. Assumed beliefs is what positions us in a field of knowledge of others and the world. He puts it this way:

Any particular belief may indeed by false; but enough in the framework and fabric of our beliefs must be true to give content to the rest. The conceptual connections between our knowledge of our own minds [that is, to possess a first person authority] and our knowledge of the world of nature are not definitional but holistic. The same is true of the conceptual connections between our knowledge of behavior and our knowledge of other minds (214)

In the simplest of examples, the mental predication “I fear bees” may be thought of as coherent with other beliefs such as “Bees exist”, “That is a bee”, “Bees will sting me”, “It is difficult to escape bees”, “Bee are unpredictable” and a panoply of unstated others. In principle, it is this shift from definition to holism which allows Davidson to indeed say that our connections between ourselves, others and the world are not fully enough explained by any reference to “sample” and “rule”. Rather, it is the way that we indeed do understand others as having expressed, and very much non-expressed beliefs (desires, fears, etc.), such that they hang together, that gives us to understand “reasons” as caused. We may very well exercise the processes of justification which Wittgenstein champions, pointing to samples, evoking rules which justify our actions, but this can only be done in the larger context of a triangulation in which our beliefs and reasons are seen to be caused by a shared world, and cause (explain) our actions, for only in such a determination are the proper aspects of the world picked out between speakers.

Davidson finalizes his triangulation as an incorporation of both a Correspondence Theory and a Coherence Theory, wherein each plays its indispensable part in stabilizing discourse, an assumption which is regularly and necessarily made in the spirit of charity, maximizes the interpretability of speech.

The Principle of Coherence prompts the interpreter to discover a degree of logical consistency in the thought of the speaker; the Principle of Correspondence prompts the interpreter to take the speaker to be responding to the same features of the world that he (the interpreter) would be responding to under similar circumstances. Both principles can (and have been) called principles of charity (211)

We understand the world, and we understand others because we have formed, within the capacities of language, the possibility to hold beliefs about the world, and attribute beliefs about the world to others, even those with whom we share no language at all (in the case of the field linguist). Indeed there need not be reference to any rule (or sample) at all to understand others (though it can always help). This coherence of beliefs indeed provides something more than knowledge, either of ourselves, or others or the world. It has a normativity, in fact an inescapable normativity, which governs the interpretability of our actions. Apart from our ability to point to samples and rules, in occasions of justification, it is over all our ability to appear relatively coherent in our beliefs, such as others can ascribe them to us, that provides the backdrop for all our communicative action.

Whereas Wittgenstein might turn to the idea of whether indeed someone did or did not follow a rule so as to ascertain whether they were “right,” Davidson would say that the vital difference is between true and false belief about the world, in that, “…an interpreter must separate meaning from opinion partly on normative grounds by deciding what, from his point of view, maximizes intelligibility” (215).  It is not that one has incorrectly pointed to a sample, and played the rules of the game wrong, fundamentally so, but that one has expressed a belief in some way which has shown itself to be false or incoherent with others. Indeed there is an independent standard which justifies our actions, but this is the triangulation of the world, others and ourselves, as it plays out. And this shows itself in Davidson’s principal thought experiment about language, that of the field interpreter alone in a strange land. Missing are any of the recognizable references to rules which make up his own linguistic practices, but in fact he would be able to eventually understand the words and gestures of a native, across conventions. Interestingly, Wittgenstein himself alludes to such a capability at PI §206, “The common behavior of mankind is the system of reference by means of which we interpret an unknown language”. But Wittgenstein only has it partly right, Davidson would say. In invoking a “system of reference” found only in behavior, Wittgenstein is perhaps still a bit too much of a behaviorist, despite his self-inoculations against the position. There is no “system of reference” per se. Such a commonality is, rather than that of behavior alone, the linguistic capacity to hold beliefs, which hold together in a largely rational whole, such that others can ascribe them to us, and we to others; and such that they can be said to be caused by the world, and in turn cause our intentional actions. If Davidson is right, Wittgenstein’s behavioral “system of reference” is none other the capacity to triangulate the world.


α. It is important to note that Quine is an empiricist, and that his thought experiment is designed to isolate specific kinds of stimulus-meaning sentences, as privileged above others. Davidson see no such capacity, and attacks this empiricist line of thinking rather thoroughly in his “On The Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme” (196).

β. “Consider ‘gavagai’. Who knows the objects to which the term applies are not rabbits after all, but mere stages, or brief temporal segments, of rabbits? In either event the stimulus situations that prompt assent to “Gavagai” would be the same for “Rabbit.” Or perhaps the objects to which “Gavagai” applies are all sundry and detached parts of rabbits: again the stimulus meaning would register no difference. When from sameness of stimulus meaning of “Gavagai” and “Rabbit” the linguist leaps to the conclusion that a gavagai is a whole enduring rabbit, he is just raking for granted that the native is enough like us to have a brief general term for rabbits and no brief general term for rabbit-stages or parts” (52).

γ. Davidson’s crystallization of truth as interpretation, which he calls “Radical Interpretation” runs as follows: “The intrepid interpreter, working without a bilingual trot, seeks to assign a propositional content to the utterances of a speaker. In effect he assigns a sentence of his own to each of the sentences of the speaker. To the extent that he gets things right, the interpreter’s sentences  provide the truth conditions of the speaker’s sentences, and hence supply the basis for the interpretation of the speaker’s utterances. The result can be thought of as a recursive characterization of truth, by the interpreter, of the sentences, and hence actual and potential utterances, of the speaker” (210).

δ. Davidson himself addresses the Wittgenstein origin of such pursuits, but also suggests the incompleteness of that treatment: “Someone who has a belief about the world-or anything else-must grasp the concept of objective truth, of what is the case independent of what he or she thinks. We must ask, therefore, after the source of the concept of truth. Wittgenstein puts us on the track of the only possible answer to this question, whether or not his problem was as broad as ours, and whether or not he believed in answers to philosophical problems. The source of the concept of objective truth is interpersonal communication” (209).

ε. He stakes this difference upon Quine’s essential difference between the Underdetermination of Theory and the Indeterminancy of Translation, a specific argument of differences which I will not approach in detail here.

ζ. That is, sentences of this kind are part of the “grammar” of the word belief.

[Part III here]

Chalmers’ Rough Thoughts On Spinoza and Panprotopsychism

Below is a question and answer over the idea that Spinoza may have been the first to present the idea of a Zombie World, not while considering a logical hypothetical, but in describing our own world, expressed here Does Spinoza present a Zombie World? 

David Chalmers: Interesting. I don’t think that a spiritual automaton world is a zombie world, though. Such a world has consciousness, where a zombie world has none. Perhaps the spiritual automaton world is more like a world with epiphenomenal consciousness, or perhaps it is a world in which consciousness is governed by deterministic laws. I can’t tell for sure from the passages. The link between Spinoza and panprotopsychism is certainly interesting.

Myself: It would depend what you mean by Spinoza’s spiritual automaton world having “consciousness”. Viewed from the totality, it definitely “thinks” as a whole, but it has no “affects” (that is, it would have no qualia) ideas without qualia. Would you hold that things thinking without qualia are still conscious?

David Chalmers: Well, there’s a broad sense of “qualia” in which consciousness requires qualia. But then it’s not obvious that Spinoza’s “affect” means the same as qualia, in this sense.

Myself: I am not sure how one could insist that qualia exist under Spinoza’s description. Affects are either the thoughts (inadequate ideas) we have about the body being in a certain state, or one could say, the body being affected to be in that state (affection), under an inadequate idea. Because God-Substance has no inadequate ideas, it has no affects. There is no way to squeeze qualia in, it would seem. God-Substance (of which everything is just a modal expression) is a thinking-zombie, one huge non-affective expression. That is, God-Substance acts like it thinks (extensionally) and has thoughts (ideationally), but feels nothing. That you and I “feel” things is just an illusion of our inadequate state of being. I say this only because you seemed to deny that Spinoza’s was a zombie world on the basis that there was consciousness in it; but when asked if the thinking of a non-feeling being (Substance) still qualified as consciousness, you suggested that just because Spinoza denies affects, he might not be denying qualia. This would mean that unless someone could argue that Spinoza indeed embraces the reality of qualia, indeed Spinoza’s is a zombie world, a world where Substance “thinks” but is not conscious (has no qualia).

Here is a short essay by Lilli Alanen, (considered here: The Reality of the Affects: Spinoza’s Plotinian Real ), which is a comment on Michael Della Rocca’s essay “Rationalism Run Amok: Representation and the Reality of the Emotions in Spinoza”. In his essay Della Rocca argues that affects themselves are illusions for Spinoza, and he does so in a denial of qualia. Alanen takes on Della Rocca’s position, while also denying qualia for Spinoza, attempting to embrace some reality of what is felt. I think Alanen misses some important points in regards to how Spinoza qualifies “being real”, but in either case, qualia are denied as being held by Spinoza.

This would seem to put Spinoza’s depiction of the world to be a zombie world, under your loose definition of consciousness.

David Chalmers: Thanks for the paper. On a quick look, I don’t see much direct evidence that “affect” is being used as broadly as you suggest. It seems to be used for some fairly limited aspects of consciousness, tied to emotion and to the body. Also, although the author rejects qualia, I suspect that she is using this term in a narrower sense than you, i.e. for nonrepresentational states only (whereas consciousness may well be representational). Of course i am no expert, though.

Myself: I suppose to restate my thoughts: I agree that the author is speaking of non-representational states, but the difficulty comes when assessing Spinoza’s representational states (adequate ideas), and deciding whether to call them “qualia”. If you take “qualia” to be durative in nature, that is coming to and passing away, then I don’t think that Spinoza ideas qualify for this. If you take “qualia” to merely be representations (and necessary absence of feeling or affect), then perhaps yes, there are qualia in Spinoza’s world. But this seems like a very extended use of the term “qualia” for “what it is like” simply would not appear to apply.


[correspondence reproduced with professor Chalmers’ permission]

A Spoonful of Ought

Some Thoughts on the Is-Ought Distinction










Hume famously said that he noticed something very peculiar in the arguments of those making moral arguments. They would always conducted this curious kind shift, from “is” statements to “ought” statements. This is how he put it:

In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark’d, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surpriz’d to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not,that expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it shou’d be observ’d and explain’d; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.

– A Treatise of Human Nature

At first this seems quite formidable, for there does seem some kind of slippage. Suddenly one kind of thing seems to be talked about, and then another. And the assumption here is that these are really two kind of mutually exclusive things, that one really can’t go from one to the other. That is, one is really reefed on the one side of “is”, getting a glimpse of the sandbar of “ought” but just can’t agumentatively swim the distance.


But to change the metaphor (always exciting to mix metaphors, it makes the world turn), this apparent insolution is based a bit on a fork in the road, the so-called “Hume’ Fork”. He puts it this way:

All the objects of human reason or enquiry may naturally be divided into two kinds, to wit, Relations of Ideas, and Matters of fact. Of the first kind are the sciences of Geometry, Algebra, and Arithmetic [which are] discoverable by the mere operation of thought … Matters of fact, which are the second object of human reason, are not ascertained in the same manner; nor is our evidence of their truth, however great, of a like nature with the foregoing.  

– An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding


Moral “oughts” just don’t have place in this dichotomy of “objects”. There are, by his assertion, no “moral objects”. One can see floating behind such a fork the Analytic truths distiction which Quine worked to undo. The question is, if this strict and categorical distinction is not maintained, can the from is-to-ought (and from ought-to-is ) prohibition be maintained? Is there really such a fork in the road? As a side note, Wittgenstein went far in this direction turning “Relation of Ideas” into the “grammar” of words but also relatedly, the realm of criteria referring reasons, but was this When one starts treating the grammatical or criteria as if one is treating “facts”, Wittgenstein wants us to see that one approaches a kind of non-sense. But I would like to keep my eye upon the is-ought distintion.

I would say that what one has to understand is that this difference between “is” and “ought” is not a matter of deduction, that is, one can differentiate claims into kinds, but not make them mutually exclusive. That is, again, knowledge is not something that we “get” from an environmental “is” which then we do stuff to (empiricism). No sense data enters into our brains, which then gets mashed up into different forms by ideas and concepts, which eventually gets transformed (appropriately, or inappropriately) into “oughts”. If this were the case, this would be an empirical picture of the world, and in such a picture one can get the sense that is and ought do not coincide. But because the analytic (saying something about ideas alone) and emprical (saying something about the world) distinction does not strictly hold (beliefs and criteria must always be included in statements of fact about the world), the normative cannot be categorical excluded from any “is”. Further any “is” statement, pulls along with it a communitarian inforcement quite related to “ought”.


To show this conceptual inter-relationship: “That is a ‘cat’.” (A simple ostensive defintion), is certainly differentiatable from “You ought to call that a ‘cat'”. But the second form is wrapped up in the first. I certainly can tell the differences between them, but I can also see that the two are intimately related. Now, there is a very long way from “You ought to call that a ‘cat'” to “You ought not to murder”, but the essential, thought-to-be-unbreakable transition is already there. Prescription lies at the heart of description.

As one employs these ostensive, and otherwise established criteria, to describe the world, the normativity of use is subsumed in the process.

To argue the length of it, from the one (of use) to the other (of murder) is a perhaps worthy but lengthy task. One that I would not readily engage in this particular post, under this particular question. If one wants to get a taste of it, one can visit Spinoza’s Ethics. One can, as I have done elsewhere, put his “imitation of the affects” principle which governs sociability and conflict,

If we imagine a thing like us, toward which we have had no affect, to be affected with some affect, we are thereby affected with a like affect.

Spinoza, E3, Proposition 27:

in close relation to Davidson Principle of Charity and Triangulation (more on this in essay “Wasps, Orchids, Beetles and Crickets: A Menagerie of Change in Transgender Identification“). If one does, I believe they will see that because the Principle of Charity is not a wise adage, but a componented part of all interpretability and sense making, any description presumes a prescriptive. Any communicability of what “is” draws in with it the normatives of community, which enable it. The Deontic is a folded into the Ontic, so to speak. First at the level of performative force, secondly at the level of affective binding. The mistake is, of course, to think that any ONE prescriptive has deontological standing, which cannot be violated (this was Kant’s mistake of universal law-making). Just like beliefs where any particular belief can be false, but all beliefs cannot be false, any one rule can be broken, but not ALL rules can be broken, and one still remain a describer of the world.

The Trick of Dogs: Etiologic, Affection and Triangulation, Part I of IV

[Part II here]

Intentions: Deceiving Dogs, and Pretentious Infants

…and so it seems that, even though they themselves cannot know, they nonetheless wish to be known.

 Augustine, The City of God against the Pagans, Book XI, chapter 27







The purposeof this study is to investigate the possible connections between Wittgenstein’s approach to mind and language, and that taken by fellow philosopher Donald Davidson. Both men have been and can be read as “anti-representational,” that is, as finding that the meaning of language is not reducible to its ability to represent how reality really is, such that accuracy is derived from sheer correspondence. And both philosophers make the “horizontal move” away from reference, word/object thinking, expanding laterally, into the systems and relations which comprise, or one might say, underwrite reference itself. The ground upon which I will first train my eye will be the exact treatment Wittgenstein gives to the possibility of ascriptivesentience to non-linguistic beings, as he considers how and why we talk about things behaving in a way capable of simulating a state of mind. A close examination of sections 249 and 250 in Philosophical Investigations, a concentration their exact wording and subtle implications will be used to cantilever to a wider view of his position, an understanding of the kinds of delineations he is making, resulting in a question as to whether such distinctions, implied or otherwise stated, are necessary. The second portion of this paper will attempt to bring out the natural aporias in Wittgenstein’s thinking, by shining the light of Davidson’s thought back onto Wittgenstein’s approach. The point of contention will be the causal nature of mental predicate attributions, that is, the necessarily etiological way we talk about and conceive of the beliefs, thoughts and desires of others, such as Davidson affirms it and Wittgenstein appear to deny it. This is not meant to place Davidson against Wittgenstein, and suggest that one thinker is right and another wrong, but more to use the entire armature of their thoughts, in relationship to conceptual causation, to highlight was is possible in both. In so doing it is hoped that a bridge in thinking may be opened, a space for thoughts perhaps neither thinker would directly entertain: that is, a view towards an epistemic and panpsychic understanding of the world. In the final portion of this paper in this vein the prospective avenues of affective-thought are explored, modeled on Davidson’s conception of triangulation, opened up from his more strict analysis of truth and translation. It is suggested that beneath his conception lies a more fundamental perceptival experience of the world, that is, though experiencing others as like ourselves, and their causal relations with the world. Such a more primary triangulation, will be set, by example, into an aesthetic theory of interpretation, such that perhaps what is “revealed” is ever commenting on either an inter-subjective space of affective communicability, or an objective space of causal interactions. And while such a conclusion is not necessary, it is meant for the possibilities of thought, as both Wittgenstein and Davidson have presented them, a nexus for future understandings of how the world, our world, is both experienced and constructed as revealed and seen. 

◦                   ◦                   ◦

 How Wittgenstein Got Augustine “Wrong”


 249. Are we perhaps over-hasty in our assumption that the smile of an unweaned infant is not a pretense?-And on what experience is our assumption based? (Lying is a language-game that needs to be learned like any other one).

250. Why can’t a dog simulate pain? Is he too honest? Could one teach a dog to simulate pain? Perhaps it is possible to teach him to howl on particular occasions as if he were in pain, even when he is not. But the surroundings which are necessary for this behaviour to be real simulation are missing.

In these two sections Wittgenstein seems to return to his textual roots, that is, to the Augustinian question with which he begins his Investigation (what he calls “a particular picture of the essence of language”); for in the Confessions Augustine (re)tells of his behaviors as an infant, from the perspectiveof what he has learned as an adult, just preceding his ostensive description of language acquisition upon which Wittgenstein took his initial aim (α). Now that Wittgenstein brings up the smile of an infant, it is good to return to Augustine’s passage to see exactly the kind of line that Wittgenstein is attempting to draw. Augustine writes of his initial awakening of consciousness:


Afterwards I began to smile; first in sleep, then waking: for so it was told me of myself, and I believed it; for we see the like in other infants, though of myself I remember it not.  Thus, little by little, I became conscious where I was; and to have a wish to express my wishes to those who could content them, and I could not; for the wishes were within me, and they without; nor could they by any sense of theirs enter within my spirit.  So I flung about at random limbs and voice, making the few signs I could, and such as I could, like, though in truth very little like, what I wished.  And when I was not presently obeyed (my wishes being hurtful or unintelligible), then I was indignant with my elders for not submitting to me, with those owing me no service, for not serving me; and avenged myself on them by tears.  Such have I learnt infants to be from observing them; and that I was myself such, they, all unconscious, have shown me better than my nurses who knew it… (Confessions, 1.6.8).

In the figure of the “pretentious” infant (section 249, above), Wittgenstein causes us to encounter the nether-place where we, as linguistic beings, attribute seemingly linguistic capabilities and motivations to non-linguistic beings (be they infants, or later, dogs). He brings to light the curious ambiguity that such attributions involve, the way that we are prone to project onto the behaviors of other things, capacities they cannot justifiably be said to have. And while Augustine is satisfied with relegating these to an “unconscious,” though still willful and burgeoning state in the caseof his own infancy, Wittgenstein calls into question the very basis of such projections, asking upon what do they hang? He wants us to see that the projections themselves are completely contextual, and confined to a specific linguistic domain. That is, the criteria which comprise our justifiable attributions, for Wittgenstein, fall within our practiced useof language, the actual employ of words and nowhere else.

In section 249, he momentarily allows us to question whether smiles of unweaned infants can actually be “pretenses,” are they tricking us with their smile, but he is quick to close the door, for such an idea seems to lack footing. Instead, in investigating his own assumption that they cannot have pretension, he suggests that we may turn to any “experience” we have had that might work as evidence to deny pretension. In one sense, the appeal to experience proves empty, and that is because he wants us to see that such an assumption about the lack of deceptive capacities in infants, is not empirically based, something that one can point to, but rather is related to the way that the term “pretense” is used by us in language. There is no “experience” of the world, or infants in particular, in the sense of evidence, which supports this assumption. Yet alternately-and this is an unacknowledged aspect of experiencethat Wittgenstein draws on-there is the experience of language use itself. Each of us have used the word “pretense” in varying conditions, and that experience of use allows us to see, (or as a Wittgensteinian might wish us to see), that “pretenses” are language-game bound; that is, they are situationally governed by sense, by the way that we can informationally use words, like a game, in context. There are times it is appropriate to say something is so, and times not. This is what he means by the parenthetical conclusion: “(Lying is a language-game that needs to be learned like any other one),” as it stands in relation to the question asked above it, “And on what experience is our assumption based?”

While there is no direct evidence that infants cannot pretend, there is our experience that lying is like a game, and thus too, we have the experience of learning games themselves, that these games have to be learned. That is, there was a point when we did not know them, in the way perhaps that we did not know chess, or poker, and then a point when we demonstrably did. In the end, Wittgenstein would like to place confirmation of the intent to deceive within such a demonstrative domain, and not within anything that is supposedly going on or not going on in the infant. One can see the nature of the experience that might support such an assumption, that of the experience of use. Wittgenstein in this turn, answers his rhetorical question two ways: there is no experience upon which such an assumption is based, that is, it is not an empirical understanding, but, more subtly, there is our experience of use as a game, which informs our understanding of how our idea of “lying” works, and thus the nature of the assumption. 

He thus implicitly asserts the domain that “pretense” would fall within. That is, in that “lying” is language game, something we, as linguistic beings learn to do , it is implied that properly one can only be deceptive within those game constructs (β). This would of course relegate Augustine’s retelling of his original “the wishes were within me” and “avenging tears” to the rather more broad category of fanciful descriptions offered by a language-endowed creature upon subjects that cannot bear them, for they are not part of a game that has been learned, the proper domain of “pretense”.  Infants cannot “avenge” or “express wishes” any more than they can deceive. They do not know these “games”. Augustine seems to be over-stepping his bounds.

But something seems to be missing here, for clearly the use of the term “pretense” has meaning at times in regards to infants, for a mother in the presence of others could say to her infant who was all smiles, “Thank you for being such a good boy, even though you were hungry” and we all would understand what she meant, we would see the possible intentionality of such behavior, without skipping a beat; and we could meaningfully ponder at this “good” and ask ourselves, was the infant only pretending to be happy.







Is it not so, by example, that the assumption that infants cannot have pretenses, is certainly incompletely, and in a very real way, wrong? Wittgenstein is looking to affirm a public grounds for the knowledge of the internal states of others, and so for him to do so he feels he must produce a somewhat firm delineation for what does and does not qualify for the “knowing” of those states. We only project pretense onto infants, but know of pretense in others (adults). What serves as this delineation is the horizon of language use, supposedly attested to by our experience that such use must be learned and even that it is stage-sensitive (that is, that there is a point when learning has been accomplished and acknowledged). What is implied is that only when a subject becomes a user of language, and can make all the corresponding behaviors of confirmed “use,” are they affirmed of having “real” mental states. That is, when capable of playing the rest of the language game of correcting mistakes, attesting to experiences, seeming to choose between options of expression, do such states become properly known, not only to others, but also to oneself in self-reflection, and not merely projections (γ). What is deficient in this analysis-though it not directly stated by Wittgenstein, it is implied by his rhetorical move from “pretense” to “lying” and an appeal to the distinction between having learned to lie and not-is that although our experience of having learned language games may indeed support such an understanding of “pretense,” in no way is it clear that public knowledge of internal states is reducibleto such a horizon, for public discourse on intentional behavior–though certainly by context is responsive to a subject’s languaged confirmation, that is, for instance the ability to play the game and say such things as “I feel ‘y’ ” or “I meant to say ‘x'”–all that really is necessary for a “knowledge” of intent is the meaningful use of terms between observers of that supposed intention (δ).

In section 250 Wittgenstein moves to cement the fact that public knowledge is game-player-dependent by pointing out that dogs simply cannot be “taught” to simulate pain. And in fact, there seems something in the grammar of “simulate” that defies such a possibility. Attendant to the word appears to be all kinds of other behaviours which dogs do not possess. He poses with typical Wittgenstein humor the idea of “dog honesty,” assuming the prima facie absurdity of the idea. And he points out that even if we were able to train a dog to howl out in certain pain-implied-contexts (for instance those that might cause us to readily infer that the dog is hurt, perhaps a circus act where a cap-gun would go off, as to which a dog would then cry in pain), we still would not regard such yelps as the dog “simulating pain” in the sense of, attempting to deceive an audience. Yet, the grammars of the words “simulate,” or “pretense” for that matter, that is all the situations in which we can, and indeed do effectively use such words in description, do not seem to absolutely coincide with the capacity of the subject “to be taught” how to do it. In this sense, Wittgenstein diverges from the grammar of “pretense” when he seeks to apply the grammar of “to be taught how to”, to illuminate and to some degree restrict it, for indeed we can usethe former concept where there latter is missing. The two are not the same, and it is for this reason there are questions about the thoroughness of this misleading comparison. Though Wittgenstein’s picture of training a dog to perform pain-like behavior in certain circumstances is very effective in disabusing us of attributing “intent” in more obvious non-simulative situations, that is those in which we would not be tempted to do so, the overall question of the section, Can a dog “simulate pain”?, and the larger question upon which it can be based, Can a dog act in such a way that our ascribing belief in her is our best description of the behavior?, does not seem entirely answered by such a stark example.

Instead of a dog in a circus act, I have in mind my own experience of a bright Australian Cattle Dog who had gotten her front paw caught in a bench, a paw which was possibly broken. I took this dog to the vet, and we placed her on the table. She would put no pressure on the paw, and seemed quite injured. The vet examined her closely, and then, gently squeezed her front foot, to which she let out a sharp yelp. We can agree that no one “taught her” how to yelp this yelp, in the same sense that Wittgenstein means when asking if a dog can be taught how to simulate pain. She was not simulating. The vet announced, “Yep, it is likely broken,” and was about to take the dog off to get X-rayed. Yet being a good examiner he decided to double check the “evidence”. He then squeezed the dog’s rather healthy back paw, and to our surprise she let out the same “painful” yelp. He then squeezed another healthy paw, and the same complaint again. Now Wittgenstein’s rather tidy, “teach him to howl on particular occasions as if he were in pain, even when he is not,” seems to fall apart here, for no one had “trained” the dog to emit a “pain expression” even when there is no “pain”, yet she seemed quite capable of using the yelp in occasions that don’t seem to suit them in any simplified yelp = pain expression interpretation. In fact, if we turn around Wittgenstein’s self-question, “And on what experience is our assumption based?”, and we assume instead the capacity to hold pretenses on the part of the dog, the experiences that supported our interpretation of the first yelp seem quite divergent from those that support any interpretation of the next three. In fact, as language users, we can draw upon our linguistic senseof intention as an interpretive tool in seeking to explain the “meaning” of the subsequent yelps. The first yelp seems in keeping with “pain and its expression” (PI, 245)(ε), a typical animal response which we too it may be said to share when we say “ouch” or grimace; yet the latter three fall within another order of occasions, many of which involve our intentional use of signs. By circumstance, the dog was able to usea pain expression somewhat uniquely. Were her three “false” yelps “pretense,” it is hard to say. But it is equally hard to deny, or classify them as “pain expression”. Instead we encounter the power of mental predicate attribution as a meaningful description beyond the participant language game among language users. And it is our experience that tells us that. The vet and I could meaningfully use the term “pretend” and say to each other something like, “she’s pretending to be in pain, she must want out”. We would be clear to each other without having to consider whether she was “taught” to yelp when examined, as a simulation, as Wittgenstein comparison implies. The status of this “knowledge” or  of her “simulation” really is no more than a running interpretation of events.

At section 250’s close, where Wittgenstein would like to sew up his point about the inability of the dog to simulate pain, he determines: “But the surroundings which are necessary for this behaviour to be real simulation are missing.” The status of this “real” is interesting. What purpose does it serve? Quite apart from our example of the perhaps “falsely” signifying dog, he is pointing out that in the occasions of deceptive training, (that is a trainer that is attempting to teach deception to the dog), all the linguistic surroundings are missing. What are not present are those that would go beyond the particular shooting of the dog with a blank-loaded gun, perhaps, and its crying out, those that would precede and follow such an event to give context to such an “expression” as intentional. The dog for instance could not confess later that he was just joking. The kinds of attributions that condition our explanation of lying, for instance those that would require the dog to intend us to hold specific beliefs, do not seem to stick. All this means though, is that in such instances, more readily causes and not reasons seem to offer explanation for the behaviour. There is no need to decide that the dog wished for us to believe he was in pain.

But really Wittgenstein has grafted his concept of “real” simulation onto a narrowing of the complete grammar of pretense, that is, all the ways and circumstances in which the word can be used. What is not taken up by Wittgenstein’s example of training, but pointed out in the example of a dog’s “false yelp,” is the gradated way that we do, and in fact must, attribute mental states, those of both intent and belief, to linguistic and non-linguistic beings. And that the “real” status of such states relies only upon our relating to them as such. So when Wittgenstein asks for what experienceconfirms his assumption that dogs and infants cannot be deceptive, he is privileging one sort of experience, or evidence over another, our experience of game-like language uses, as definitive. In the caseof my dog who not only yelps when its injured paw is pressed, but also when its non-injured one is, only an imposed and mechanistic reduction of her behaviour would make of her “false” cry a completely non-intentional behavior, by definition. One is free of course to employ such a reduction, but only to the degree that it is able to cash out in meaningful discourse. More readily we can infer that she is using the same sign for two different internal experiences, both of which need not be reduced to “pain”. (It turns out she had indeed broken her foot). It is only because of Wittgenstein’s desire to confirm public knowledge of internal states, as something not just imagined, that he feels forced to deny them to a class of subjects, as unconfirmed, or as he puts it by implication “unreal” (ζ). There is a sensethat there must be a way to distinguish “real” from “unreal” simulation, if we are to affirm public knowledge of such states. I do not think that this is necessary. Buried beneath this ambiguity of interpretation of non-linguistic others is the fact of an ultimate indefiniteness of expressive behaviour itself, something that we glide over in our daily attributions and identifications. We regularly attribute, revise and reattribute both to ourselves and others, beliefs and intents that only have standing based on how well they work context by context, all of them as “real” as they can be.

And while we frequently attribute intent and belief to both infants and dogs, and it might even be argued that we do so only as a matter of habit, making them “like us” as a short-cut of explanation, and though we would like to accept Wittgenstein’s implied hard-line between the Language Game of Lying, and other non-intentional behavior, as a matter of knowledge, what this occludes is that the Language Game of Lying, among so many others, is based upon certain mental attributions (those of belief and intent) that are no more founded than the game itself. Affective attributions of belief, intent, experience and thought form the backdrop against which any particular game, such as “lying” can even take place. Such perceptual habits compose our knowledge. Attributions to dogs and infants must have as much public standing as those to full-fledged language users, insofar as they work, and the grammar of “intend” though certainly is related to, is not reducible to: “can one be taught to…”, a link that Wittgenstein tried to extend in his examples of dog simulation. It is rather the meaningful participation in a form of life called language that illumines the states of languaged and non-languaged subjects alike, as real.

Although, most correctly we would like to observe that the sentence, “That infant is smiling as a pretense” is only a fiction, we would be wrong to assume that within language games, there is any lessof a fiction occurring, for interpretations are only running descriptions. Wittgenstein is right that in most circumstances with dogs and infants the “surroundings which are necessary” are missing to meaningfully carry on with the attribution game in any over-arching narrative sense, beyond the particular context, but this does not mean that those attributions are unrightfully made, as interpretations, to their circumstances. Their status as “knowledge” remains. Indeed we commonly switch between a vocabulary of causes and a vocabulary of intents even when discussing the behavior of adults. Such vocabularies are worth only the degree to which they cash out in meaningful interaction. Wittgenstein would like us to see that mental predicate attributions of intent are the products of our language use, our experience of relating to others, and to privilege our experience of learning games as a threshold proof for public knowing of internal states, as if we could be so many chess players who are either playing chess, or not; but what is not questioned is the ultimate validity of those attributions beyond their simple use and efficacy. The question of validity floats up with use and efficacy itself, borne by that tide. For this reason it indeed makes sense that dogs can simulate pain, insofar was we can make such attributions meaningfully in real world conversations about dogs. There is no other standard. “Belief” and “intent” always bend back into use, behaviour, interpretation and experience.  In fact not only are shifting intent attributions and re-attributions part and parcel of all human interaction, but so is the ability to switch from a language of reasons to a language of causes. The explanations for behavior can involve alternately an intentionality or a causation: “He was wanting to murder me” can become “He was only drunk; it was the drink talking ” at a moment’s notice. The non-continuity of a description, the ability to switch from an intentional to a causal description, does not make the intentional description any less “real,” for an abandoned description can always be taken up again in new descriptions, as context allows. It is for this reason that the “status” of my dog’s “false yelp,” cannot definitivelybe confined to one category or another, intent or reaction, reason or cause, because the interpretation of “minds” where we seek to grant minds to be, however momentarily, is always a condition of use, and effect, and not solely the purview languaging status. The reason for this is not that dogs and infants trulypossess some hidden linguistic capacities that occasionally poke forth, but because our very own descriptions of linguistic capacities are underdetermined: the attribution of intent is always a provisional account, reliant upon subsequent events, even among speaking adults. Further, the intent-ful nature of linguistic interpretation, that is the way that we mustsee others as intending and choosing signs that “reveal” public facts about their internal states, points beyond the capacities of language itself. That is, language as it casts its light over the world, forming powerful, efficacious interpretations, cannot account for its own nature, but rather can only assume it. It is notable therefore that while Wittgenstein provides strong critique of philosophical explanations of language, he provides few or no explanations of his own, always pointing to context as a final arbiter of sense.

I think that this is what Augustine was trying to say when he describes his access to his own infant past, of which he was unconscious when he acted. From his observations as an adult, within the Language Game World as Wittgenstein would have it, he suddenly knew the intentions that infants had (η). As a languaged speaker he could come to say, by experience: “Such have I learnt infants to be from observing them; and that I was myself such, they, all unconscious, have shown me better than my nurses who knew it.”  His knowing nurses could tell him nothing of his infant states when he was an unspeaking infant, and it would be only after  they may have told him as a language speaker how he had been that unknowing infants could show  him how he once was. But for Wittgenstein, this is a kind of error, attributing game-playing capacities to non-game players. What Augustine puts forth, against Wittgenstein’s desire to draw a firmer line between languaged and non-languaged, is that language illumines the non-languaged, making clear through attributions of “sameness” what cannot be asserted by things in their own right, in their own sphere of expression. Rather than taking infants and dogs to be necessarily devoid of pretense as a fact of the matter, for us as language users, intent (and belief) become the light by which we see the linguistic and the non-linguistic world, as a matter of public knowledge. Augustine’s willing and wishing in infancy falls not to a point in logic, a “how can a non-language player language”-but expands upon the very linguistic capacities that inform them. And it is for this very reason that Augustine turns away from the sufficiency of the ostensive definition of language, that very thing that Wittgenstein critiques in his opening passage of Philosophical Investigations. Much as Wittgenstein turns to Language as a shared form of life, Augustine turns to God as the only thing that could make such capacities work: “I could seek for signs whereby to make known to others my sensations. Whence could such a being be, save from Thee, Lord?  Shall any be his own artificer? (1.6.10)”. In certain regard, “Shall any be his own artificer?” (θ) is Augustine’s own (anti-)Private Language argument (I do not know if Wittgenstein willfully, or blindly misses this).  Augustine speaks of his own capacities, but also the insufficiency of those capacities as an explanation. Only within an extra-linguistic framework, can Augustine account for the capacity to learn language in the first place. And it will be through the gradated extension of belief and intent to all things however dimly, through the light of language itself, that Augustine comes to comprehend the development of comprehension. The inter-subjective authority of others is combined with a will implicit in socialization itself, as Augustine’s God has formed it; and so we return to the original quotation that Wittgenstein opens up his Investigations:

And thus by constantly hearing words, as they occurred in various sentences, I collected gradually for what they stood; and having broken in my mouth to these signs, I thereby gave utterance to my will. Thus I exchanged with those about me these current signs of our wills, and so launched deeper into the stormy intercourse of human life, yet depending on parental authority and the beck of elders (1.8.13).

It does well to see the problematic nature of the last sentence, and why Wittgenstein does well to exclude it. While Wittgenstein would like to assign the capacity to have real intent and belief solely to the “stormy intercourse of human life,” that is the realm of Language Games, which we learn as specific capacities, Augustine sees in the capacity of language, the exchanging of signs, indication of a broader power to organize, which cannot be restricted to the capacity itself. It is rather in intent, that is even the intent that dogs and infants are said not to properly have, as “real” accept through the languaged attributions by human adults, that the widest conception of justification and experience is found; it is that intent, as it is a “really” epistemically, experientially and publicly known, which opens language use up to a domain necessarily larger than only participant games learned and played. The “will,” that is what Augustine calls the faciendi artifex, “the craftsman of making,” is both a product of language use, but also evidence for something more in terms of an explanation: for him a power not confined by the limits of language.

It is for this reason that the ultimate question of whether a dog can lie, is as profound as whether a human can. It is solely our relations with each other that determine it. The crux of intent attribution itself points not only to within language, but beyond it, to what language looks out upon, as it sheds a light over innumerable cognitive behaviors, for it is always conceivable that not even human adults can “lie” and it is only convenient to say so.

For if we were cattle, we should love the carnal and sensual life, and this would be our sufficient good; and when it was well with us in respect of it we should seek nothing else. Again, if we were trees, we could not, of course, be moved by the senses to love anything; but we would seem to desire, as it were, that by which we might become more abundantly and bountifully fruitful. If we were stones or waves or wind or flames or anything of that kind, we should indeed be without both sensation and life, but we should still not lack a kind of desire for our own proper place. For the weight of bodies is, as it were, their love, whether they are carried downwards by gravity or upwards by their lightness. For the body is carried by its weight wherever it is carried, just as the soul is carried by its love. (Augustine, The City of God, Book 11 chapter Twenty-eight)



α. To be clear, it is in the very first section of Philosophical Investigations that Wittgenstein cites Augustine’s Confessions, as he seeks to draw forth the inadequacy of any word-object account of linguistic origins or capacities. Notably though, as Wittgenstein frames his “Augustinian” picture of language, he leaves out that Augustine denies such a sufficiency of explanation, and also in quotation elides the final sentences of the paragraph which reads: “Thus I exchanged with those about me these current signs of our wills, and so launched deeper into the stormy intercourse of human. Life, yet depending on parental authority and the beck of elders”(1.8.13). Further, it is not at all clear that Augustine in this passage is holding that the essence of language is that “Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word” (PI, secton 1), for Augustine refers to wishes which may be unconscious, minimizing any strict meaning = object/sign relation.

β. There is a rhetorical slight-of-handequation of “pretense” (249) with “lying,” (250), from a host of non-linguistic behaviors to an entirely linguistic one, that goes unqualified here. And one should note that we will have inadvertently moved from the kind of question such as: Is it meaningful to speak of infants having pretenses, that is, is it sensical at all to usethe term “pretense” to describe infants, to the under-question: Do infants have pretenses? Or, more subtly, Are they “really” pretentious?, as will be shown in his use of “real” in the following section concerning dogs. The “reality” of pretenses comes into play, and not just our meaningful descriptive discourse. It is a quiet shift.

γ. By “know to oneself” I mean the capacity to reflect upon one’s own thoughts and make judgments about them as being of one quality or kind of another, and to linguistically express those differences, with authority, as relevant.

δ. Even if the two “observers” are oneself as an agent and an observer. In such a relation to oneself, an agent is an acting or experiencing person, and the observer is position of self-reflection upon those same actions.  Of course, and “observer” is also an agent, acting and experiencing, and can fall into that position within a higher order description, that is, by being described by another observer, whether it be oneself, or another.

ε. This phraseis a placeholder halfway housebetween cause and reason, one that pre-posits its own term. When Wittgenstein talks of pain and its expression he is negotiating a place that is neither entirely causal nor entirely reason based, where language, such as “pain language” can operate with right but no justification. In this way he uses the term “pain” without quotation marks, as if there is a pure speaking of pain, a sense of meaning that is grounded in experience. Such grafting points should be noted. As the example of this dog does show, the concept of “pain and its expression” is rather a convenient fusion of concepts, for ultimately, the only way to properly express this, is: “‘x’ and its expression” and not “pain and its expression”.

ζ. He does not use the word “unreal” but indeed does deny that they are “real”, a needless claim if he did not have some ontological stake in intentional behaviors.

η. Clearly the status of this “had” is complex, as descriptions waver between attributing intents or attributing causes of behavior, the ways in which we hold either infants and dogs liable for their actions. It would be wrong though to conclude that the liability of either falls on one side of the line or another. For Augustine, indeed, it is the comprehension of the intents that he had, as an infant, and which composes his knowledge of other infants now, which inscribes him in the order of God’s creation. The social order, that is the historical criteria of justifiable attribution, is secondary to the kinds of connections between beings which underwrites it.

θ. “an quisquam se faciendi erit artifex?” literally, “Will anyone be a craftsman of making himself?”

[Part II, here]

The Condensation of Specificity: Paul’s Use of “stoicheia”

Paul’s Rhetorical Use of “stoicheia” in Galatians 4:3,9


When contemplating the rapid spread of Christianity, thought often turns to the brilliance of Paul. How else can one account for the meteoric rise of what was initial a local Jewish cult, to the level of a pan-Hellenic spiritual force, if not for that particular conceptual brilliance found in his letters to the early churches? Part of this attribution is making much of what evidence we do have, in absence of other facts, in that the nature of early Christianity remains a mystery. Be that as it may, I would like to participate in this notion that there is something in Pauline writings, the unique way that he was able to handle the pre-conceptions and spiritual needs of a historically diverse audience, as he sought to apply a theology abstracted from the life and teachings of Jesus. In particular, I am taking up his use of a term, the stoicheia, whose translation has received much debate (α), in order to expose the very dextrous nature of his argumentative strategy, the condensed and conceptual subsumption that helped him translate a cult of Judaism into a universally applicable, yet historically defined, message.

My focus is found in the image of slavery that opens the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, (4:1-9) (β). Here Paul forms a powerful rhetorical condensation, one which expresses the status of those that were “under the law” hupo nomon (4:5). The occasion of his writing is that some of the church are being tempted to undergo circumcision in Paul’s absence (6:12), and Paul is arguing that in Christ no longer are followers subject to the dictates of the Torah. But something more complex is happening here. The nomos is not just the law, be it civic or religious, but the word also means “custom,” the way of doing things. Here he compares the past way of doing things to the status one has as a child, and an heir of an estate (4:1). Though in law an heir, one is also under the authority of “guardians and trustees” (epitropous, oikonomos), a status no different from that of slavery itself (4:1), a slave of slaves. Honing his image, he then tells the Galatians what we were slaves to from the start, the stoicheia of the universe (tou kosmou, 4:3). In seeking to circumcise themselves the people of Galatia risk falling back into a childhood imprisonment to the stoicheia which act as guardians and housekeepers. But what are, or who are the stoicheia of Galatia?

Around this term there has been controversy. For instance Eduard Schweizer has argued against the Revised Standard Version translation of the phrase, “elemental spirits of the universe,” by examining the way that the term had been used throughout Greek and Roman philosophy, from Empedocles to Plutarch to Philo (γ). At most it is to mean the elements of the natural world (for instance fire, water, earth and air), and as such the stoicheia are only powers “feared but not worshipped,” quite distinct from a “group of demons” or spirits governing the world through agency (46eight). In contrast to this sense of natural powers, Clinton Arnold points out that the term stoicheia had a very specific meaning in magical and astrological texts of the era (δ). He cites the Greek Magical Papyrii (PGM IV .40-41) where the term stoicheia are the demons that rule every ten degrees of the zodiac, called “astral decans,” and to which a letter of the alphabet was assigned (57-5eight). This technical meaning of the term was widespread in occult texts of the Roman empire, and is even found in the magical Jewish Testament of Solomon as referring to the same “36 decans also called ‘demons'” (p. fifty-eight) (ε). The question naturally arises: Is “being under law” simply being subject to the forces of the world, the material elements which threaten and batter our lives, or is it being subject to a hierarchy of demons which “by nature are not gods” (4:8)? I suggest that to attempt to answer this kind of question with some finality is precisely to lose out on the brilliance of Paul’s rhetorical, and also conceptual, strategy. 

In order to unpack the image of childhood and slavery before the law, one has to consider to whom Paul is writing, and the religious milieu into which Christianity has entered to compete. For instance it is tempting to assume that because Paul is writing about circumcision, and warding off of the implementation of Jewish Law, when he speaks of the Law, he is speaking solely of the Torah and its traditions. But in Galatia the dominant cult tradition for nearly the past millennium was the worship of Agdistis (or Roman Cybele), the Great Mother Goddess. Indeed, at the time of the writing of his letter, the cult of Cybele had long spread from Asia Minor, across the Roman Empire, been Hellenized, and had swept back into the region in a wave of re-insemination, as attested to by the excavations at Gordion (see Roller) (ζ). Indeed, if there were a single Hellenic and Asia-minor cult, it was the cult of the Great Goddess Mother, and Galatia at the time of Paul was a historical center; as Susan Elliott writes, “the ‘region of Phygia and Galatia” (Acts 16:6, 18:33) was dense with local expressions of the Mother of the Gods. The list of places in Phygia that show evidence of devotion to the Mother of the Gods basically covers the map” (673) (η). No reference to the law, custom and powers would not include at least a connotative reference to this proliferate deity.

Given this ubiquity, one should hold as relevant that the Mother of the Gods was, throughout the Hellenic world, strongly associated with the keeping of civic authority, at times literally holding that authority and documentation within her temple.

In a number of instances, her temple (Mētrōion ) housed the state’s written records or was associated with protective enforcement. The most prominent example is outside of Anatolia, at Athens, where the temple of the Mother of the Gods adjacent to the bouleuterion was the city’s archives for records such as property deeds and wills as well as laws (Elliott, 675)

 So when Paul talks of inheritance of an estate, and being subject to the law, there is not only a theological point being made, but rhetorical condensation of cosmological forces, and a literal and judicial reality, two things that the modern mind most readily keeps apart. Further, as Paul equates the spiritual minority of believers to slavery, a slavery that was to the principles of the universe, one would imagine that the people of Galatia would turn in mind to the temple state of Pessinus, holy to Agdistis, in Northern Galatia. For of it, as Elliott writes,

In such temple states, many of the residents were referred to as “sacred slaves” (heirodouloi). One especially significant form of a “slave” (doulos) of the goddess was the self-castrated gallus…While under possession of her influence, they castrated themselves. After they put on a special clothing interpreted as female garb (675) 

As we can see, while the immediate topic of Paul’s is circumcision and a “return” to Jewish law, the rhetorical condensation of images is that of falling under the rites and powers of the Goddess Mother, wherein circumcision becomes conflated with castration and feminization; telling then is Paul’s rather un-Christian sounding curse, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (5:12). The return to the nomos of a Jewish revival, among gentiles, becomes for Paul a falling back into the entirety of a previous Aeon, one in which civic authority, the ubiquity of Roman Law, and the castrating figure of the Great Female Goddess, a world ruled by elements of nature, and yes, even a hierarchy of astrological demons, the stoicheia, all collide into a rhetoric of very precise offices and states, which are nonetheless cosmological.

To the consternation to scholars it is not that Paul is vague in reference when he fashions the status “born under a woman, born under the law” (4:4) or the image “in slavery under the stoicheia of the universe” (4:3). Rather, he condenses in these phrases all of their exact and historical manifestations: thus, in image the nomos is both laws kept as records in goddess temples, and customs given by the Torah. He so concludes his reproach of stoicheia by calling them “weak and miserable” asthēne and ptōcha “beggarly” (4:9) (θ), because they are to be seen in their specificity, but as powers to be reckoned with. Paul’s final appeal is not ontological-that is, the stoicheia do exist, as would be obvious to his audience-but in terms of authority and historical change itself. Christ, in the end is a much better Lord to be the slave of (1:10), for he has the greatest power, having been born of a woman and the law, but having overcome them.


I argue that in the example of the stoicheia of Galatians, in its multiplicty of reference, we come in contact with two things. The first is that the minds of antiquity likely did not categorize things of fact in the same way that we as moderns do. The stoicheia of the universe could at the same time be simply the elements of nature, a fire that breaks out in the house, the crashing of waves on the sea that dash a ship, but also could be the influence of a demonic force, or even the agency of a decan of a specific astrological degree. These are not best seen as competing theories, one of which Paul might have had in mind. In the same way, the nomos is many things, none of which excludes the others. At times it is the Roman authority as much as it is the occult practices of a covenant made between a far-away people, and God. Paul was able, through his rhetorical brilliance, not only fashioned a theology which in its broadest conceptual terms, inspired diverse people, but also was able to speak in very concentrated tropes and images which subsumed a great variety of social facts, many of which would have had specific influence on the daily lives of converted believers. It is in this remarkable skill that some of Christianity’s capacity to convince resided.



α. The most natural English of the word is perhaps simply “element” as it applies fundamentally to parts put in a row, or an order, applying to sounds of speech, letters, components of matter, hours of the sundial, stars, principles of geometry, coins, to name a few. A Greek-English Lexicon. Compiled by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott., New (ninth) ed., henceforth, LSJ.

β. What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles [stoicheia] of the world. 4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. 8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God-or rather are known by God-how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles [stoicheia]? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? (all cited, all Greek text and biblical translations are from New International Version, found in The Interlinear NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament In Greek and English, ed. A. Marshall Zondervan Publishing House, 1993).

γ. Eduard Schweizer, “Slaves of the Elements and Worshippers of Angels: Gal 4:3 and Col. 2:8, 18, 20,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 107, No. 3. (Sep., 1988), pp. 455-468.

δ. Clinton E. Arnold, “Returning to the Domain of the Powers: “Stoicheia” as Evil Spirits in Galatians 4:3,9,” Novum Testamentum, Vol. 38, Fasc. 1. (Jan., 1996), pp. 55-76.

ε. Such evidence helps Clinton conclude that the stoicheia are best understood as deceiving evil demons commensurate with the “principalities and powers” of Ephesians 6:12 (75).

ζ. Lynn E. Roller, “The Great Mother at Gordion: The Hellenization of an Anatolian Cult,” The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 111. (1991), pp. 128-143.

η. Susan M. Elliott, “Choose Your Mother, Choose Your Master: Galatians 4:21-5:1 in the Shadow of the Anatolian Mother of the Gods,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 118, No. 4. (Winter, 1999), pp. 661-683.

θ. The term literally means something like a “cringer” as in one who bends. LSJ: “II. as Adj., beggarly, “ptwxw=| diai/t$” S.OC751; “p. stoixei=a” Ep.Gal.4.9: c. gen., beggared of, poor in, [“phgh\? p. numfw=n” AP9.258 (Antiphan.)”.

Works Cited

Arnold, Clinton E. “Returning to the Domain of the Powers: “Stoicheia” as Evil Spirits in Galatians 4:3,9.” Novum Testamentum, Vol. 38, Fasc. 1. (Jan., 1996), pp. 55-76.

Elliott, Susan M. “Choose Your Mother, Choose Your Master: Galatians 4:21-5:1 in the Shadow of the Anatolian Mother of the Gods.” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 118, No. 4. (Winter, 1999), pp. 661-683.

The Interlinear NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament In Greek and English. Translated and edited by A. Marshall. Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993.

A Greek-English Lexicon. Compiled by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott. New (ninth) edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. S.v. “ptwxo/j” and   “stoixei=on.”

Roller, Lynn E. “The Great Mother at Gordion: The Hellenization of an Anatolian Cult.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 111. (1991), pp. 128-143.

Schweizer, Eduard. “Slaves of the Elements and Worshippers of Angels: Gal 4:3 and Col. 2:8, 18, 20.” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 107, No. 3. (Sep., 1988), pp. 455-468.



Sharing a Form of Life? Section 241

241. “So you are saying that human agreement decides what is true and what is false?”- It is what human beings say that is true and false; and they agree in the language they use. That is not agreement in opinions but in form of life.”

And Davidson would tell us that they do not even agree in the “language” they use, but only that they each can be said to use language, and have beliefs.

You might jump up and yell in Quinianese “Gavagai!” And I might say, “Ah, Momentary Rabbit-part!” If this is sharing a form of life, I am unsure. Perhaps…but what makes it a form? There is no appeal to such a form which makes agreement justified. There is something about the word “form” that is so satisfying. And when one is satisfied, perhaps one should look closer.

Forms are seen (sometimes felt). Forms are per-formed. This is what captures the imagination here. But also, forms transcend, they some how stickout from the accidental, and the contentful. Forms are patterns: speaking this way invites us to imagine a huge larger pattern (for when does the sharing stop). My dog and I get along when in the woods, is this because we share a form of life? Does this mean that my dog, I AND the woods are sharing a form of life?

When does one stop sharing a form of life? When disagreement comes, are not we still sharing a form of life? What role does the phrase “sharing a form of life” play in explanation? If not-sharing-a-form-of-life fails as a meaningful description/explanation, what value does its contradiction hold? (I do not recall Wittgenstein ever writing “they failed to share a form of life”.)

How would the explanation change if the spade-turning phrase changed to “sharing a world”? What would be lost, and what gained.

I think, perhaps, the Behaviorist, bodily-action emphasis would be shifted, to more an experiential and causal understanding of the conditions of behavior.

The Operated Jew and the Thinking Machine

In support of the thesis that much of the Behaviorist inspired thought-experiment horror (Zombies, Swampmen, Inhumanly raised Marys, even soulless Chinese Speakers and HAL’s), in the field of Philosophy of MInd, is really a philo-sociological issue, and issue between the difference between a person and a thing, and the concordant fears of what might erupt if Behavior otherwise experienced to be coherent and “human” suddenly were exposed to be something both “less” and “more” than these, a reference: 

Eric Santner writes in his wonderful, My Own Private Germany: Daniel Paul Schreber’s Secret History of Modernity, of the story “The Operated Jew” which represents the very repressive projections which are involved in the case of such fears, the fear that what is more than perfect, seamless, is hiding a filth, flesh, or mechanism. 

“Published in 1893, “The Operated Jew” tells the gastly story of a Jewish medical student, Itzig Faitel Stern-a stock character in nineteenth century anti-semetic literature-who undergoes a series of surgical and orthopedic procedures in his efforts to transform himself, body and soul, into a true German…(113)

 “…The story culminates in the scene of Faitel’s wedding banquet, when, under the influence of alcohol and, it is suggested, anxieties about exposing his uncircumcised penis to his Christian bride, Othilia Schnack, Faitel’s body and soul regress back to their preoperative Jewish condition. The advent of the breakdown is signaled by the repressed linguistic repletion compulsion: “Those people who have a good ear could already hear could already hear now a few ‘Deradángs! Deradángs!'” Eventually Faitel’s entire “assimilation” comes undone:

‘Those people who remained behind watched with horror as Faitel’s blond strands of hair began to curl during the last few scenes. Then the curly locks turn from red to dirty brown to blue-black…His arms and legs, which had been stretched and bent in numerous operations, could no longer perform the recently learned movements, nor the old ones…Everyone looked with dread at the crazy circular movements of the Jew…Klotz’ work of art lay before him crumbed and quivering, a convoluted Asiatic image in wedding dress, a counterfeit of human flesh, Itzig Faitel Stern (Panizza, “The Operated Jew”)’ (115).

What lies beneath the surface of Behaviorist tellings of what constitutes “consciousness”, in the fears of those who protest that there must be something more than mere behavior, I suggest is something this most human of projective fears and capacities, that acceptable articulations will become malignant “speech particles”.   


John Donne’s Material Monism of Love, and Spinoza’s Eternity of the Mind

John Donne’s “Valediction Forbidding Mourning” articulates a metaphysics which makes of a death an anchor point, upon which a living being can compass itself, creating a death-defying eternity of affection. He speaks in seemingly dualist terms of a sublunary love “whose soul is sense” contrasted with a love “inter-assurèd of the mind”. In this he seems to compose a rarification of affects such that when stretched materially, thinly enough, become etherialized, though substantial:

Dull sublunary lovers’ love
-Whose soul is sense- cannot admit
Of absence, ’cause it doth remove
The thing which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to aery thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two ;
Thy soul, the fix’d foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th’ other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th’ other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

But here is a certain monist clue in the description of sublunary love. The love whose soul is sense “cannot admit of absence”, since the very elements of its composition, if absent, destroy the very love which might do such perceiving. Much as in Spinoza, the idea cannot be torn completely away from its object (knowledge is merely a privation, and there is nothing positive in knowing, which is false). In just a few lines Donne sums up a physicalist argument of a sort, the very recognition of absence is itself the testament of the physical preservation of that love’s elements. In a certain sense, there can be no such missing (or missing is merely a misconception, as Spinoza puts it, it has no Being). The elements which preserve a state prove to its perseverance. Instead Donne proposes an “inter-assured” love of the mind, a presencing in which any separation is necessarily an expansion, and not “a breach”. The transformation of “breach” into expansion is the view of a monist assemblage, and not of a dualism; “mind” is still composed. Despite the abstraction of such a love, its spiritualization (compared to gold beat thin) by the same reasoning of compositional elements, is a material endurance, made clear by mind.


Though the love after death is not of “eyes, lips and hands”, it seems it must still be physical (just as beat gold is still gold, just as the mind has the body for its object), made of the elements of which it is an expression. In fact, instead of anatomical body parts, it is made now in part by text, in part by bodily afffections, and the relational compositions which preserve. Donne here, in the compassry of two legs, the geometry of a circle, makes an argument against Time (as breach), as the material going out is subsumed in a deeper circle. Like Spinoza he proposes a world where absence has no basis, sub specie aeternitatis, which is experienced through memory, trace, but also the material expansion of those traces in Time, as understanding.

Place Donne’s notion along side what some have taken to be controversial and inconsistent, declaration of the eternity of the Mind:

5p23: The human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the Body, but something of it remains which is eternal.

Scholia: There is, as we have said, this idea, which expresses the essence of the Body under a species of eternity, a certain mode of thinking, which pertains to the essence of the Mind, and which is necessarily eternal. And though it is impossible that we should recollect that we existed before the existence of the Body-since there cannot be any traces of this in the body, and eternity can neither be defined by time nor have any relation to time-still, we feel and know by experience that we are eternal. For the Mind feels [sentit, senses] those things that it conceives in understanding no less than those it has in the memory. For the eyes of the Mind, by which it sees and observes things, are the demonstrations themselves.

Whereas Spinoza wants to make a distinction between memory trace, and “the eyes of the Mind,” Donne’s point seems a bit more refined, as he speaks of the experience of circular and timeless inscription, as compositional trace, the way that when one “foot” stops moving in time, the physicality that binds foot to foot moves it still, drawing it out, as it stretches so thin as to reveal a tremendous arc, the experience of ending where one has begun. There no absolute dichotomy of existence and Mind, memory and mental seeing. I believe that Donne captures something of Spinoza’s argument, that Spinoza himself is not here capable of.

To add to this account see Spinoza’s Letter 17 to Peter Balling (July 20, 1664):

…a father so loves his son that he and his beloved are, as it were, one and the same. According to what I have demonstrated on another occasion, there must be in thought an idea of the son’s essence, its affections, and its consequences. Because of this, the father, by the union he has with his son, is a part of the said son, the father’s soul must necessarily participate in the son’s ideal essence, its affections, and consequences…


Closely Related Post: Anselm’s Proof of God, Wittgenstein’s Lion, Davidson’s Belief

Skepticism refuted in Under Ten Minutes

Philosophy is part performance (as much as it would like to purge every element of the contingent from its expression). Without the performative of bodies, and affects of words, images, metaphors, analogies, meanings would circulate airlessly. Convicition is performed, and Peitho was a goddess.

Watch Randy Helzerman “disprove” skepticism using Davidson’s notion of a Principle of Charity like a rapier, and see the whole thing cohere. Impressive.

As a secondary, more philosophical note, I find it interesting that as the skeptically deprived subject is “drained” of substantive belief, he becomes a determined thing, something indistinguishable from a “taperecorder”, not at all unlike Spinoza’s concept of our own “spiritual automaton” status. It would merely be an automaton with whom we could not communicate. Something out of the order of our Form of Life.