Frames /sing


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

[Finally posted, the meta-epistemic (is that what we call it?) conclusion of my engagement of Witttgenstein via Davidson and then Spinoza, (and back again). This final part is continued from Part III; and here is part I and part II]


I would like to end with a rather obvious example of a mental predicate attribution which by no means “should” be made, in the proper sense: that made upon a specific painting, (in this case by Medieval theologian Nicholas de Cusa). Taking up Wittgenstein’s thought about how it is that we might even get the idea a stone would have feeling, one might ask: However would we get the idea that a piece of wood, covered with pigmented oils has perceptions, sees things? Indeed, there is no “resembles (behaves like)” (PI §281) which would under Wittgenstein’s description would allow us to feel comfortable in saying that the painting thinks and feels. At the very most, it simply looks like us. But when interpretation is understood to be affective triangulation, the propriety of mental predicate attribution shifts its center. Instead of looking to justify attributions, one only experiences their effect, as they make the world a more sensible place. This is what Nicholas de Cusa writes of an icon of Christ that he encountered in a monastery:

In this [icon’s] painted face I see an image of Infinity. For the gaze is not confined to an object or a place, and so it is infinite. For it is turned as much toward one beholder of the face as toward another. And although in itself the gaze of this face is infinite, nevertheless it seems to be limited by any given onlooker. For it looks so fixedly upon whoever looks unto it that it seems to look only upon him and not upon anything else (“The Vision of God”, chapter 15) 

De Cusa is finding in looking at an iconographic image of Christ that his entire sense of the world and himself is changed. The deictic nature of its gaze, and the circumstances of its viewing inform. For instance, he experiences that there is even a changeability in the image, a way that it seems to pass in and out of shadow, something that for him reports back upon his own subjective state:

Your icon’s gaze seems to be changed and that Your countenance seems to be changed because I am changed, You seem to me as if You were a shadow which follows the changing of the one who is walking. But because I am a living shadow and You are the Truth, I judge from the changing of the shadow that the Truth is changed. Therefore, O my God, You are shadow in such way that You are Truth; You are the image of me and of each one in such way that You are Exemplar (ibid)

Here we have encountered a core experience of intersubjectivity and triangulation, the re-consideration of one’s own condition, but broadcast upon an inanimate thing. Surely many would claim that such an imagination on the behalf of a believer is a piece of fanciful dreaming, and has little to do with “reality”. But I suggest that de Cusa is experiencing something more fundamental, and profound. Profound, not in the religious sense, but profound in the epistemic sense. He is triangulating to the world, an objective world, within the parameters of reality itself.

He is seeing the face as it presents itself, in paint, as a kind of testament, and our two questions appear: How must the world be in order to have such a face, such an expression, for one’s own. In this way, de Cusa’s own affective experience of himself is changed into that which such a one with a face would have. He mirrors that face. The fixity of the Christ face attests to a fixity in the world, a surety of God, which for de Cusa becomes objective. And it results in a certain fixity in his own condition, to which his experience of mutability is contrasted. As well, de Cusa experiences the Christ face as looking at him, and reflecting how he, de Cusa, must be. De Cusa, as a thing in the world, becomes also the “truth” to which the pictured face is responding. And lastly one must assume that de Cusa knows that this painting is a real painting in the world, one that was produced by a human painter, and so the questions of triangulation can be replayed: How must the world be so that a painter would be able to paint such a painting? And what must a painter experience, so as to paint such a thing. Again, and again, at every level, the triangulation sews together a truth of existence.


The point here is not to prove a religiosity, for the very same triangulating experience can be undergone in viewing another subject matter, in fact one which would objectify an atheist condition in which there was no God, Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” might do. The point is that the power of triangulation is so pervasive, and so illuminating, so constitutive of both our sense of ourselves and of the world, that mental predicate attribution cannot be restricted to any one level of description. Rather, attributions of belief all rely upon a more principled affective understanding of the world itself, as we are invited to imagine ourselves as others experiencing the world, a fundamental operation of understanding the world as a real and objective thing. It is not similarity of “behavior”, nor even the linguistic capacity to attest to an understanding of belief and mistake, which illumines our knowledge of the states of others, but rather, a pre-condition for any attribution, is the affective imagination of other things to be like us, and we like them. And this comes, as Wittgenstein says, “if not without justification”, with right.

It is within this affective/causal field that we as living beings thrive and communicate with each other and the world. The causal nature of belief seems best described as the realm of the interpersonal as it is subsumed within the entire fabric of a world’s understanding, the dimension of comment upon that world, such that it and us become inseparable. If anything, this study in contrast between Wittgenstein and Davidson, is meant to show how each thinker shines productive light upon the other, in particular, in fields where neither focused their energies of inquiry. Wittgenstein brings to Davidson’s rationalism of belief, a contextuality of communication that extends beyond that of language itself, his thought containing the possibilities of communications that defy easy reduction. Words like “simulation” or “intension” illuminate the world. And Davidson places Wittgenstein’s powerful rule-following language pictures within a greater conceptual framework, one in which even mental predicates are conceived under the umbrella of causality. Brought together, what presents itself is a consummate thought of informing causation, one in which our ways of talking about ourselves and the world express more primary, physical, and necessary determinations. We become, epistemically and affectively, embodied, interconnected creatures of knowledge.



Appendex: A schema of Triangulation, understood as an aesthetic theory

Works Cited


Augustine of Hippo. The City of God against the Pagans. Trans. R. W. Dyson. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

–. The Confessions of Saint Augustine. Trans. Albert Cook Outler. 3rd Edition Series. Dover Publications, 2002.

Damasio, Antonio. Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain. Orlando: Hardcourt Books, 2003.

Davidson Donald. “Three Varieties of Knowledge”. Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Nicholas of Cusa. “The Vision of God”. Trans. Jasper Hopkins. Minneapolis: Arthur J. Banning Press, 1985. Retrieved May 7, 2007, from:

Quine, Willard van Ormand. Word and Object. Cambridge, Massachusetts: M. I. T. Press, 1960.

Spinoza, Baruch. The Collected Works of Spinoza, volume 1. Trans. Edwin Curley. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. The Blue and Brown Books. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958.

 –. Philosophical Investigations. Trans. Elizabeth Anscombe. 3rd Edition, Hardback. Cornwall: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2004.




5 responses to “The Trick of Dogs: Etiologic, Affect and Triangulation Part IV of IV

  1. ktismatics October 18, 2008 at 1:56 am

    It’s an interesting move to frame Nicolas’ mystical engagement of an icon in terms of Davidson’s triangulation. Both Lacan and Winnicott talk about the child coming to self-awareness by looking into his mother’s gaze and in effect seeing his own reflection there. I’ve not read theologian Hans Urs von Balthazar in primary sources, but he too contemplates the child’s reflection in the mother’s eye. For Balthazarthat maternal gaze also possesses iconic power, such that the child sees also the love of God passing to him through the mother. The triangulation does decenter the self significantly without denying either the reality of self or its distinction from other.

  2. kvond October 18, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    Thanks so much. I feel that Lacan certainly overstates his case, to imagine that a child suddenly, in some mythological, constitutive moment becomes co-ordinated by a mirror reflection. There is too much consolidation in this for me. What is often ignored in such inter-personal identification space, is that the sameness is also grounded in a perception of the world THROUGH others. This is something that the triangulation of Davidson can inadvertently bring out. It is not I – Other, but I – Other – World. I have not read von Balthazar, but perhaps I should look him up. Thanks for reading and your comments.

  3. ktismatics October 19, 2008 at 11:52 pm

    My pleasure; interesting stuff you’re working on. Loss of the world is characteristic of continental structuralism wouldn’t you say, where the link between words and their referents is indeterminate at best and nonexistent at worst. For Lacan the words destroy the Real, while the image mystifies the Real. Either way, contact with the world is lost. Winnicott doesn’t go this way: he regards the space that opens up between the infant and the mother as that part of the world where the subject is able to engage as an agent. If the mother-child separation goes poorly that space either closes up entirely and the person remains stuck in fantasy, or elso the space opens infinitely and the person becomes alienated and detached. But these are exceptions which occur under quite adverse circumstances; most mothers are “good enough” for normal object relations to develop. For Lacan, in contrast, neurotic or obsessive detachment from the world is the norm rather than the exception. I prefer Winnicott, not just because he’s more cheerful but because I think he’s right.

  4. kvond October 20, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    Ktismatics, I can see how one might say that Continental thought can “lose” the world, and that probably is because there is so much concentration on how we “create” the world. The world must be risked to be lost, if it is also to be created, and in a certain sense, Continental thought concentrates upon the positive half of the binary – hence, for instance, Deleuze and Guattari’s poeticization of Schizophrenia.

    What I like to see is how the world, through our perceptions with others, our daily hermeneutic interpretations of each and every thing/person, the world as a shared space comes radically into being, qua world, the brute force of its causal, organizing effect. Perhaps the “reality principle”. But it is more than a principle, it is a substantive relation. By and large I think that there is far too much binarism in philosophy. The analytic school has been to obsessed with the subject/object (proposition/world), and the continental, with either subject/object OR subject/subject. It is how we read the world, necessarily, through our prospectively rational imaginings of others that gives sense to us. Even in the most rich fantasy space, it is still the world which is seen to be actively causing the states of others, and of ourselves. And any time we wish to reach the “world” we do so to some degree communally. This is the kernel to both rationality and power.

    I can’t say that Lacan’s categorical division is tremendously helpful in this. It creates a world of veils, which is not the most productive, or even the most interesting I suggest. In the tunic of one’s own existence, I prefer to already see a connection, and a vitality, and a sense.

    Davidson’s trinity of knowledges does bring something of this about, the concreteness of our determinations, a substantial surety that at the same time is not fixed. The world comes into Being as an ultimate partner in any partnership. This I believe, is an expression of something he shares with Spinoza.

  5. Pingback: The Trick of Dogs: Etiologic, Affection and Triangulation, Part III of IV « Frames /sing

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