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How Normative Is the Greek Chorus? Spinoza, Rorty, Davidson and Sophocles

Geometry of Know

A passing comment recalled to me a certain conceptual break through. I was studying Davidson’s “Three Varieties of Knowledge”which presents his theory of Triangulation while at the same time studying narratology, and looking into Bakhtin. For some reason discussion of mimetic and deitic elements suddenly struck me as revealing of the elemental Greek Tragedy structure (Hero, Chorus, Audience), and I realized that Greek Tragedy exemplified Davidson key epistemological point, that we attain objective knowledge due to our largely coherent, belief-veridical, intersubjective knowledge of others (with Wittgenstein’s Private Language argument playing an integral part). The Tragic Chorus formalized an essential epistemo-ontological ground, a necessarily reflective element within the field of the real which indicated to us something of what the real was, as if it were us. And just as quickly it seems, I realized that Davidson’s Triangulation was the same sort of argument  Spinoza put forth which grounded the “social” within the imaginary powers of an imitation of affects – E3p27 (we feel what others we take to be like us are feeling). That is, there is a bio-kinesthetic linking of affective capacities with perception ordering itself which allows affects to ripple through and across bodies in  a reportive, if imaginary way. The broadcastive behavioral forms of other things condition our own experiences, determining them along a causal vector, in a sense normatively and charitably making rational, affective wholes without which the world could not coherently exist.

The Normativity of Truth

Thought comes to mind about Rorty’s wonderful reversal of a decade of dispute with his ally Donald Davidson, wherein he realized that indeed there is a place for a Theory of Truth in Philosophy. His realization was that without a community of users, there is no language game, and a community requires normativity (presumably of use, behavior and experience). As he put it, Prescription precedes Description. It was here, in prescription, in normativity, that the powers of our descriptions lie. So to complete full circuit, if indeed Greek Chorus performs the middle (intersubjective) leg of Donald Davidson’s Triangulation of three knowledges, just how normative is the Greek Chorus?

Bioethics, Defining the Moral Subject and Spinoza

An Ecology of Persons

I would like to take this opportunity to delve into Morten Tønnessen‘s essay,  “Umwelt ethics,” [download here] (Sign Systems Studies 31.1, 2003), which I could only afford to mention in passing in my post Umwelt, Umwelten and The Animal Defined By Its Relations. I suggested then that Tønnessen had not provided a rigorous connection between Uxeküll’s notion of Umwelt and Næss’s Deep Ecology ethics, but rather gave us a fine juxtaposition. It could be said that Tønnessen gives us a topographical study of the ethical landscape confronting those that want to argue for a moral authority when treating environments and other species. I also suggested that such a landscape could be well-aided by the kinds of ethical arguments provided by Spinoza’s ontology/epistemology (explicitly), and the normative epistemology of Davidson. Here I would like to pursue more of the former rather than the latter, but I do believe that they are well connected, conceptually.

Key to understanding Spinoza’s gift to this question I believe comes from the way that he treats human relations. Much of environmental ethical argument is bent toward shaping moral framing out toward a much broader sphere, thinking about how the reasons why we treat other women/men/children well also apply to ecological questions. Spinoza has an advantage here, for largely we do not have the problem of how to get out of the human-realm (moral reasoning), and into the natural realm (brute forces) – humans do not form a kingdom within a kingdom, as he says. In fact, Spinoza’s treatment of ethical questions (and we do need to watch how we move lexically from ethical to moral and back) among human beings is at core an ecological question. Human beings are for Spinoza resources. One does not waste  the possibilities of combining with other persons, and the freedom of other persons is necessarily a contribution towards our own freedom. Because the human realm is shot through with utility reasoning the bridging towards a utility of environments forms a much more natural aptitude for analysis and moral positioning.

But let me step through Spinoza here as an entry point into Tønnessen’s article, for he does a very good job of laying out the priority of questions to be answered. What really is at stake is the ultimate question of how to resolve the islanding tendencies buried in the phenomenological heart of J. von Uexküll’s notion of Umwelt.

This difficulty – and I am only now coming to grips with the literature – has largely been attempted to be answered either on the functional, or semiotic level. Some combination of a network of functions (for instance various “functional cycles” between the organism and the environment), and then more, their semiotically distilled expression, serve as a sometimes loosely proposed nexus between what von Uexküll apparently conceived of in much more isolating, organism-bound, apparitional terms. Umwelten  are supposed to give rise to a kind of shared Umwelt, or an interface called a Semiosphere, which is seen to connect up all these treatening-to-be  solipsistic bubbles of informational life. (Previously, here and here, I have proposed an alternate resolution which involved disbanding the phenomenological core of the idea altogether, and redefining the organism in terms of an Exowelt, composed of the very differences that make a difference. These following arguments dovetail with this notion.) Tønnessen feels well the difficulty of von Uexküll’s phenomenology and seeks to give us a platform from which to view these bubbles of experiential outer world, not only their epistemological connections, but also their moral footing. And to do so he turns to the work of Hoffmeyer.

Now I have not read Hoffmeyer’s discussion of bioethics, and rely mainly upon the aspects brought up by Tønnessen himself. So this critique has to be taken as internal to this particular essay, and runs the risk of repeating points that Hoffmeyer may have prodigiously made or rigorously countered. Nonetheless, I want to trace out the ground that is raised in “Umwelt Ethics,” for I sense that Tønnessen turns to Hoffmeyer to alleviate something of the pressure put on by the difficulties of a phenomenological world view.

“Code-duality” and Dual Attributes: Where is the seam?

Tønnessen discusses Hoffmeyer just about at the vital point of clarifying what a moral subject is, via the influence of Jon Wetlesen, himself oriented strongly towards a Spinozist implicit definition of a subject:

Hoffmeyer’s justification of the attribution of moral status is inspired by the Norwegian philosopher Jon Wetlesen, for whom Spinoza’s definition of subjecthood acts as a point of departure. According to Spinoza (1951: Pt. III, Prop. IV), “everything, in so far as it is in itself, endavours to persist in its own being”. Wetlesen (1993) argues that all non-human individual organisms and supra-individual wholes that resembles moral agents by showing self-determination, or striving, can be regarded as subjects with a moral standing. Hoffmeyer’s equivalent of the Spinozean perseverance is his own concept code duality (Hoffmeyer 1993: 165). Organic code-duality, a property common to all living beings, can be understood as the semiotic interplay between the analog (cell) and digital (DNA) versions of a living being (cf. Hoffmeyer 1996: 44).

I’d like to discuss this link to Spinoza with a bit more richness, confronting as directly as possible Hoffmeyer’s guiding principle of code duality in terms of Spinoza’s position. I think we can get something very productive out of this. First of all, as is obvious but perhaps needing to be said, all things, that is, every single body in composition expresses itself with a conatus for Spinoza. If we are to use Spinoza’s notion of the conatus  as an ethical signpost we are going to have to be rather explicit in the justification our claims that distinguish strongly between the animate and the inanimate, or the organic and the inorganic. For Spinoza, in somewhat fine panpsychist fashion resembling Augustine’s best panpsychic moments, conatus  pervades the entirety of Being. Anything that exists exists because it is striving. (Perhaps Wetlesen takes this whole-hog, but it is good to make this point quite explicit.)

More interesting is Hoffmeyer’s notion of  “double coding” which he specifies with reference to analog and digital cell ontologies. We must ask, if we are to make a Spinozist critique, is there an homology in Spinoza to “double coding”? The most obvious connection of course is Spinoza’s assertion of two Attributes, thought and extension, wherein digital coding is taken as Ideational expression, and analogical coding as Extensional. I’ve tried to trace down the fundamental thought in Hoffmeyer’s idea of dual codes, and it seems that he is most interested in the differential between the two, using the DNA code of an organism as placed in relation to the supervenient meta-code of analogical spatiality:

Every single crocodile embodies both the essence of being a crocodile, “crocodileness” (the message handed down to it through the genetic material), and the elements that make it one particular crododile. The second message is a kind of meta-message supervenient to the bloodline’s digital message. The crocodile is an analogue code in the sense that it enters, among other things, into a mating semiosis which, in principle, involves a good many crocodiles (through competition, etc.). Ostensibly, the message is transmitted by the fertilized egg cell the crocodile once was, but it also involves the egg cell’s spatial interpretation of another message, the digitally coded message that, at one time, lay tucked away inside the crocodile egg’s own genome. And, as the mating semiosis runs its course, this message is received – and interpreted – by other members of the same species. Generally speaking an organism convey’s a message about its evolutionary experience (45)

Signs of meaning in the Universe, Hoffmeyer and Haveland

Spinoza distinctly would refuse both supervenience and meta-status for the Attribute of extension, for he argues that Idea and Thing are in strict parallel, each expressing themselves with “the same order and connection”. So, one must question from a Spinozist point of view: by what measure is the spatial said to supervene upon the digital? In fact, I suspect that here Hoffmeyer is constructing a differential between separate layers or registers, for the spatiality of the crocodile (in Spinozist terms, its extensional expression) is not expressive just of its DNA, but rather of the digital state of all its cell structure. And the DNA molecular “code” is not expressed by the crocodile as res, but rather in the very spatial configuration of its very molecules. If I am understanding Hoffmeyer and Haveland correctly, it seems that, in Spinozist terms, they are selecting out the Ideational expression of DNA, and the Extensional expression of a Crocodile, across domains, and putting them in hierarchical relation to each other. One might as well take the molecular spatiality and the digital state of the crocodile and cross-weave them back. In any case, while the double coding that Hoffmeyer suggest is quite revealing, and an interesting take upon the Mind/Body, Meaning/Form dualities, it is but a cross-section of interpretation. A Spinozist would want to see a fuller picture, embracing both Attributes at any particular register.

It is enough to say though that such Double Coding would not select out only organic processes from all other expressions of Nature, for under Spinozist lights, all things are of dual codes, expressed in Thought and Extension.

The “Positioning” of an Imitation of the Affects

Tønnessen continues on with the benefits of a Hoffmeyer approach, careful to note how the ethics being built from dual-coded theorizing differs from Umwelt thinking in that it incorporates species specific, genomic Umwelten of a kind:

In conclusion (Hoffmeyer 1993: 173), “all living systems deserve to be considered as moral subjects, but some of them more so than others”. As a parameter that might eventually be used for grading among moral subjects, he suggests semiotic freedom, i.e., the level of richness or depth of meaning that a being is able to communicate. Hoffmeyer (1993: 172; cf. 1996: 139) attributes true subjectivity, and, consequently, moral status, at the individual level to all animals possessing a complex nervous system. Primitive organisms, on the other hand, such as amoebas or mealworms, are moral subjects only at species level. A premise for this judgment is that human beings are “perfectly capable of identifying with any entity that might occupy positions similar to those we occupy ourselves in the bio-logics of nature” (Hoffmeyer 1993: 172). In Hoffmeyer’s interpretation, this means that we are capable of identifying with “umwelt-builders in the broadest sense of this term, i.e. even species of lower level organisms lacking neural systems but which, qua species, nevertheless create a kind of (genomic) umwelt through their evolutionary incorporation of ecological niche conditions into the future” (Hoffmeyer 1993: 172) [Footnote: As this passage exemplifies, Hoffmeyer departs from Uexküll’s understanding of the Umwelt concept. In an Uexküllian setting, it makes no sense to talk about “genomic Umwelten”, since each and every Umwelt is in fact the privilege of the subject in question. Consequently, although evidently founded on biosemiotics, Hoffmeyer’s ethics cannot be regarded an Umwelt ethics.]….

This is where it gets very interesting for we enter the realm of Spinozist ethical theorizing that departs from mere conatus claims of moral standing. All animals with complex nervous systems are afforded such a standing due to their ability to “[identify] with any entity that might occupy positions similar to those we occupy ourselves in the bio-logics  of nature” (bolding the important concepts). Here we come right up to the braiding of Spinoza’s principle of the imitation of affects and my own thinking of Exowelten. To repeat the vital Spinozist proposition that we are imaginatively, and affectively connected to all human others through our projection of “sameness”:

E3, Proposition 27: 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.


 [If one wants an in-depth reading of the sociological and political consequences of this proposition, see Balibar’s treatment of the reasoning behind sociability: Here] But let us remain at the bio-logical level. It is important that the seemingly implicit experiential/ideational sameness within human beings that Spinoza posits, in Hoffmeyer becomes a positional one (with these two positions not being mutually exclusive to each other). What distinguishes the moral subject here, is the ability for the organism to read another organism as positioned as it might be in. I would go further, and more explicitly say: the ability for the read organism to be affected by the same differences in the world, that is, in terms of my thoughts on Exowelten, to share differential nodes, the same points as organs of perception. This capacity is, at the highest levels of human rationality, expressed as Triangulation: the ability to read through the assumed coherence of another’s beliefs and those causal relations, the coherence of states of the world. But this capacity is primarily an affective  capacity, to which the depths of one’s organic coherence read the states of other things, objects, beings in the world, such that the causal powers of the world itself come into greater clarity.

Importantly, by stretching his criteria beyond the mere nervous-system-endowed animal, out to genomic expressions of organisms, the breadth of reflective capacities can be contributed to a far greater number of phenomena, something that Tønnessen notes. But with significance he raises the question of just what importance code-duality plays in this “same position in the bio-logic” definition of moral standing, in particular, why should our identifications be restricted by Hoffmeyer’s description:

…To Hoffmeyer’s credit, his criterion for deciding which entities we are capable of identifying with is so vague that it allows for a certain flexibility. This vagueness, or flexibility, however, is not mirrored in his conclusion. If we are capable of identifying with any entity that might occupy positions similar to those we occupy ourselves in the bio-logics of nature, then why not a mountain, or an individual mealworm? And, more generally: if interpretative processes are to form the basis of attribution of moral status, why should code-duality be considered the relevant property? In what way is organic code duality related to the actual well-being of a creature or a living system, in the same sense as self-determination or perseverance is?

This raises a very important question of just what are the evolutionary and epistemic benefits of reading in two terms, Thought and Extension? This is to say, if we agree with Spinoza and all things express themselves in Thought and Extension, in what manner is the gain of focusing our attention upon one or the other?

Triangulation and the Internal of Cause

Donald Davidson has an elementary answer to this question, but we have to translate out of, and down from, his attempts to parse out the explanatory power of mental causation, (that is, or attribution of causal properties to beliefs and reasons), from physical causation.

[Mental concepts] 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…The causal element in mental concepts helps make up for the precision they lack; it is part of the concept of an intentional action that it is caused and explained by beliefs and desires…

“Three Varieties of Knowledge”, (216-217)

When reading the behaviours of other persons as behaviours,we necessarily attribute to them all sort of mental predicates such as “he desires, she wants, she fears, he hopes, they think…” which help us isolate the important internal states which allow us to sensibly make use of those behaviors as significant. In fact, as we make these projective attributions, it is not just that the agent we are reading who becomes clear (under a normative framework), but also and more importantly, the world itself. By making mental-causal attributions “within” the agent, events in the world “outside” the agent are also selected out as significant  because the agent and I are regarded as somewhat the “same”. This sameness can be understood as a kind of internal, affective/ideational sameness: I would feel/think the same things if I were like that; or, and more importantly, I would feel/think the same things if I were in the same “position” (Hoffmeyer’s denotative standard for moral subject).

But one must not stop at the rational belief level of attribution to fully understand the pervasiveness of Triangulation, the way in which the internal states of others reveal for us the character of external states of the world. In fact, I would go further and say that the “double code” that Hoffmeyer presents is primarily the heuristic difference that an reader makes upon another organism (or even a field of consistent boundary conditions):

Are the most important events going on Inside the organism/field, or Outside in the world that we share?

Those events when read as internal  are understood as mental, while those read as external are understood as physical, with the understanding that a relevant interal events are signficant in how they confirm or deny pre-existing internal/external orientations the reader has already established with aspects of the world. Ultimately, this is how differences in the world become Organs of Perception.

Why not a Mountain?

So Tønnessen is dead-on when he asks, “why not a mountain, or an individual mealworm”? It is precisely so that a blade of grass might present some significant inside (mental) interpretant, as may an entire field of grass. And yes, a sudden splitting of a mountain face, or the soft curve of its erosion wear might prospectively direct us to its internal coherences to isolate what is causally significant. “Was it a faultline crack, or a meteor that struck?”, just as we might ask, “Was he mentally unstable, or was he coerced?”. These are homologous questions. Mountains too have a semiosis  of internal consistency, and only the acclaimed need for a subject-center Interpretant prevents this from becoming obvious.

The statement will be made: Well, you can project your anthropomorphisms onto mountains and ponds all you like, but they themselves are not Triangulating, not reading states of the world off of the internal states of other things/beings!

To this I would want to assert that these projections are not just anthropomorphic but come from the affective organization of our body plans down to a fair ancestral level. The animism is not just a retarded vestige to be thrown off, but rather makes up some of the most powerful capacities to organize ourselves in the world and to communicate with it. In a sense, it forms the contrapuntal base rhythm of our perceptions and rationalized descriptions, something whose slow, essential musicality must be harmonized with, or quietly, somatically altered, if we are to experience coherence in our views. Secondly though, I am unsure how one would decide upon which external factors a mountain or a pond is responding to when we epistemically project onto its semiotic states of coherence. Sun’s light might be warming a rockface, but just so is the atmospheric condition allowing it. Are bacteria “triangulating” when they quorum sense: some thoughts here: Davidson’s Triangulation and the Swarm. I would say that the internal coherence of any one organism or field registers significant differences out beyond it in the sense that its Exowelt meets with ours, sharing nodes. And which of those nodal features, whether they be primary difference that make a seemingly direct difference between the internal states of the organism/field, and ourselves, or secondary ones, which may be inferred from the former, is something that plays itself out in pragmatic terms. This is to say, the very coherence that is maintained in an organism/field is not composed of one-to-one mappings of internal-event-aspect/external-event-aspect, and that the very causal constellation of external events can be said to be expressed in the internal response coherence.

In this way, human beings are very good at telling us what they are responding to in most circumstances, and in reasoned discourse this results in them telling us what they “know”. But knowing goes very deep into the organism/field, far below what we can say, and “what” we know in our very coherence has no delineated correlate.

The “Ontological Niche”

Tønnessen then, upon returning to a less than satisfying and phenomenologically informed concept of Umwelten, raises the concept of the ontological niche, something approaching my Exowelt correction to the same. By virtue of Uexküll’s criterion of the “function cycle” a division is made between animal and plant, those that have an Umwelt and those that have merely a Wohnhüllen

Phrased in modern terminology, Umwelten can be attributed to protists, bacteria and animals (including the animal that does not want to be an animal, i.e., man), but not to plants and fungi (Uexküll, Kriszat 1956 [1940]: 111). Instead, they have Wohnhüllen, which the objects of Umwelten are replaced by meaning-factors. These must, along with Umwelten, be understood as a category of individual phenomenal worlds.9 While only Umwelt-carriers take part in functional cycles, plants and fungi, as well, partake in contrapuntal relations, i.e., subject-object-relations characterized by a mutual correspondence between the two entities. There are at least two kinds of contrapuntal relations: Relations between two meaning-utilizers (e.g. a flower and a bee, or a predator and its prey), and, more generally, relations between a meaning-utilizer and a meaning-carrier or meaning-factor in its phenomenal world (e.g., an eye and the sun). Functional cycles can be regarded as special cases of contrapuntal relations. The known phenomenal world, therefore, consists of Umwelten and Wohnhüllen that, through the interconnectedness that the various contrapuntal relations result in, comprise what we call nature. In this intricate web — of life, of semiosis, of world — we occupy an ontological niche.

The ontological niche of a being can be defined as the set of contrapuntal relations that it takes part in at a given point of natural history. [Hoffmeyer (1996: 140): “The character of the animal’s defines the spectrum of positions that an animal can occupy in the bio-logical sphere, its semiotic niche”.] The ontological niche of a being delimits the “area” that this being occupies in the phenomenal world. Simultaneously, through its ontological niche, the phenomenal world of a being is intertwined with other phenomenal worlds, thus integrating this being into the society of phenomenal subjects…

As I have argued, there is no way in which to make a categorical distinction between the two contrapuntal “meaning utilizers” and “meaning-carriers,” though we can assume a differential. At times it is best to focus on the binary rhythm between the eye and the sun, but then at other times to see that this binary is expressive of other coherence-field relations (the sun “carriers” its participation in a “utilization”). In any case though, as the contrapuntal rhythm weaves a primary mat of life (including its inorganic forms), it is the Ontological Niche (for me Exowelten) determinations which give life to the very substance of our coherent thoughts and communications, the way in which regularly read and affectively inhabit a diversity of forms whose internal (field) states reflect and express states of the world. And it is our mutually enfleshed  sharing of nodes in the world which privileges any organic or inorganic state, as important. It is because of this that the very musicality of connection between the internal parts of the world to other external parts of the world, is what is at stake in the very maintenance of the coherence of our thought and capacity to speak to each other. The resource is in the very affective and dexterous capacity of others (other things, other beings) to feel and report back upon what condition the world is in.

Total Umwelt and Biosphere Split

In his essay Morten Tønnessen steers somewhat clear from Hoffmeyer’s wider embrace in order to return to the rich heritage of Umwelt-thinking, and he tries to heal any solipsistic phenomenological drag from the concept by postulating various zones of “total Umwelt” expression. These are still phenomenological states, but simply totalized by some measure. Personally, I don’t see the advantage of returning to Idealism’s internal preoccupation and anchoring, something which ever must return to the notion of a subject. Yet, Tønnessen also extracts from von Uexküll the important idea that the animal and its Umwelt are inseparable. While this still leaves us on the wrong side of the ledger, Tønnessen transfers from a terminology of “Tier-Umwelt-monade” to a more comprehensive “bioontological monad,” which he reads as couterpart to the biosphere:

A different type of abstract phenomenal entities can be termed total Umwelten. By a total Umwelt, I understand the sum total of the manifold phenomena appearing in the Umwelten of a particular group of subjects. An example that is mentioned by Uexküll (1928: 181) is the total Umwelt of a species…Noteworthy, according to Uexküll, the subject and its phenomenal world are not separate entities, but, as illustrated by the functional cycle, together make up one unit. One could call this belief ontological holism. To signify this unified entity, Friedrich Brock (1934) introduced the term “Tier-Umwelt-monade”. However, Uexküll’s ontological holism is not restricted to Umwelt-carriers, and I therefore suggest to replace Brock’s term with the more general expression bioontological monad…The phenomenal counterpart to the biosphere, i.e., the sum total of all living beings of Earth, is the known phenomenal world. Taken as a bio-ontological entity, it represents the inseparable whole of life and world. In lack of a better designation, it might be called the bio-phenomenal sphere.

By my thinking the very concept of monad existence must entail the nexus points of differences that make a difference in the world, as those terminus differences become organs of perception for the animal/plant/being/field. It is not enough to simply posit whole internal worlds which grow in size supposedly connected to whole bio-physical states outside of them. Rather, the very connections between organism and world must count as part of that recursive boundary. The bioontological monad is constituted by, and inconceivable as operative without, the differences that make a difference it its terminus limit (and which it shares as terminus limit with other things).

Morten Tønnessen ends his essay with a careful consideration of Deep Ecologist Arne Næss’s eight bio-ethical principles. Only the with first of which will I concern myself:

1. The well-being and flourishing of human and non-human life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent worth). These values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purposes…

His response to this first point is worth quoting at some length because it has many of the factors we have discussed:

According to Næss (1993: 198), the first point in the deep ecology platform “refers to the biosphere, […] individuals, species, populations, habitat, as well as human and non-human cultures”. Næss also mentions landscapes and ecosystems. Given an Uexküllian framework, all of these must be understood as bio-ontological entities. A culture, for example, can be defined as a certain common-Umwelt that allows for a certain total Umwelt. The fact that the flourishing of human life rests on the flourishing of concepts should result in political and cultural tolerance. As for ecosystems and inhabited landscapes,one could probably reach a bio-ontological definition by way of the concepts of contrapuntal relations and total Umwelt. A habitat might be regarded as the subjective space, or perhaps Heimat (home), of an individual or population.

The reason why it makes sense to regard all semiotic agents, i.e., bio-ontological monads, as moral subjects, is that in respect to these entities, our actions make a difference. Only for semiotic agents can our actions ultimately appear as signs that influence their well-being. In capacity of meaning-utilizers, all semiotic agents, be it the simplest creature, are able to distinguish between what they need and what is irrelevant or harmful to them. As Kull (2001: 361) says: “Everything alive has needs per se, not so the lifeless nor the dead”. Wherever there is semiosis, there are needs, and even though actual moral treatment is also a question of practicability, attribution of moral status is a principal one.

But why regard higher-level bio-ontological entities as moral subjects? Because a living being is not an isolated incident. In a profound sense, a subject is what it relates to. The contrapuntal relations that it takes part in do, largely, define what being this subject is all about. The individual self branch off into the society of phenomenal subjects and into the phenomenal world, it is already social, already worldly, already more-than-individual. You cannot really value a subject without at the same time valuing the web of contrapuntal relations that it takes part in.

One can guess where my quarrel with this reasoning lies since I read as “semiotic” much further down then the author grants, and this is due to the substance of the last of his three paragraphs: “The contrapuntal relations that it takes part in do, largely, define what being this subject is all about.” If we follow Spinoza’s notion of conatus with which we began our discussion, Kull’s point at to “needs” evaporates or is at least severely challenged. Sedimentation preserves itself against what is irrelevant or harmful through its very coherence until over come. This is not a mere theoretical side-step. It is the very stabilized contour of avoidance and perseverence that turns a meaning-carrier into a meaning-utilizer. If we accept that even rock sedimentation layers strive to persist, then they too have “needs” (however qualified, however dim), and if rock sedimentation layers form part of the contrapuntal music of our own reading capacities of the world, by what measure do our own defining contrapuntal relations which take part with such rhythm, exclude them from some place of importance? Change the music and change the person. This is not to say that one should not cut into rock formations in order to build train tunnels, but one should do so knowing that one is making a cognitive, resonant, musical change.

Last to end, Næss’s claim in point one, that the values of non-human things are independent from human purposes defies Spinoza’s utility approach to an ecology of persons (and world). In fact, it is the very usefulness of non-human things, not just as appropriations, but as participations, which should drive us towards their care. Only a rich concept of purposes and utility can nurture the epistemic responsibilities and capacities of the human species.

[See Morten Biosemiotic Weblog: Utopian Realism]

Differences in the World as Organs of Perception

Organs of Perception

In my last post I began reasoning how the usually assumed limits of an organism (a physical boundary to which other boundaries are thought to more or less correspond) might be extended far beyond where skin, bone, nerve ends, each organism expressing itself to an outer-limit of an Exowelt. In this approach I sought to assert that the differences in the world to which an organism attends actually operate as organs of perception for the being. This raises the question, what would it mean for parts, aspects or features of the world to act as organs of perception for the organisms that they affect?

Perhaps we can start at the roughest of sketches so as to disabuse this thought of merely a metaphorical status. What Aristotle told us is that organs have their unique objects, objects that they specialize in, and in which they do not err in reporting:

Each sense has one kind of object which it discerns, and never errs in reporting that what is before it is colour or sound (though it may err as to what it is that is coloured or where that is, or what it is that is sounding or where that is.) Such objects are what we propose to call the special objects of this or that sense.

De Anima Book II Part VI (418)

What would be the “special objects” of differences that organisms attend to? How is it that we see though differences in the world unique other objects? We can suggest that the unique objects that are perceived through the object differences we attend to, are those objects that form part of its Exowelten, those differences that indeed do affect it. In this way the states of the world which are revealed by my attending to the behaviours of my dog, are those that necessarily affect my dog, and those that are shown through my attending to states of a mountain, are those that affect the mountain. Both the dog and the mountain become organs of perception for my organism, inhabited locations in which my awareness, if fleetingly, resides.

[If one wants a fuller sense of how I am picturing this kind of epistemic trianguation, the way in which we combine with other things in order to perceive the world, my essay on Wittgenstein, Davidson and Spinoza might make a few things clear The Trick of Dogs: Etiologic, Affection and Triangulation, Part I of IV ]

It is as Davidson argued of inter-subjective rational belief in his “Three Varieties of Knowledge” , and then deeper, as Spinoza argues in regards to the affectuum imitatio, frequently cited on this site:

E3, Proposition 27: 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,

That we regularily read the world through the “sameness” of other aspects of it, such that the organs of truth and of perception must be extended beyond any isolated island of unitary substance. Taken to its literal truth, organisms themselves must extend beyond and combine with aspects of the world itself. What this alternate model of the organism means is that while we might investigate the connections between otherwise assumed to be discrete units by looking at what is inside of them (be they thoughts, concepts, affects, images, beliefs, etc), we would do better by appreciating the connections by the very overlap of Exowelten, and the sharing of nodal points as differences in the world. In short, you and I communicate because we share Exowelt nodes in the world, specific real differences which make differences in our organisms. And the same is for the communications between me and my dog, and even between me and my desk.

Not Balls or Bubbles

Key to this model is the non-intuitional appreciation that boundaries overlap. For very good causal reasons we take the best descriptions of what is real to be the apparent physical boundaries which create specific exclusionary pictures. Like bouncing balls there are imagined to be private interiors, and then external laws of relations which connect them. (Much of this stems from the social private/public cultural developments of the West. Metaphysics of privacy, and its problems, seem to play out in projective fashion social concerns.) Such a world picture is clear in Uexküll’s concept of Umwelt (experiential outer world), as explained by his son Thule, who compares our individual world to “sharply delineated but invisible bubbles”:

Reality, to which all things must yield and from which everything must derive, is not “outside” in infinite space that has neither beginning nor end and that is filled with a cloud of elementary particles. Nor is it “inside,” within ourselves in the indistinct, distorted images of this “outside” that our minds create. It reveals itself in the worlds (Jakob von Uexküll calls them Umwelten) with which sensuous perception surrounds all living beings as if with bubbles that are sharply delineated but invisible to the outside observer. These “bubbles of self-worlds” are like Leibniz’s “monads” the bricks and mortars of reality.

What I suggest is that despite the cultural appeal of imagining hermetically sealed objects, bubbles sealed off from each other, we take such bubbles and extend them out into the world itself, such that the world itself (aspects of it)becomes “organs of perception”. And concordantly, that instead of mutually exclusive bubbles sealed off, these are necessarily overlapped, partially mutual exo-bodies, siamese and conjoined. The “problem” of communication is pre-existingly foreclosed. The “bricks and mortars of reality” are webbed.

Deleuze in this study of Spinoza, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, speaks to just this intimate connection between organism and environment, under an explanation of “ethology”:

Ethology is first of all the study of the relations of speed and slowness, of the capacites for affecting and being affected that characterize each thing. For each thing these relations and capacities have an amplitude, thresholds (maximum and minimum), and variations or transformations that are peculiar to them. And they select, in the world or in Nature, that which corresponds to the thing; that is, they select what affects or is affected by the thing, what is this animal unaffected by in the infinite world? What does it react to positively or negatively? What are its nutriments and its poisons? What does it “take” in its world? Every point has its counterpoints: the plant and the rain, the spider and the fly. So an animal, a thing, is never separable from its relations with the world. The interior is only a selected exterior, and the exterior, a projected interior. The speed or slowness of metabolisms, perceptions, actions, and reactions link together to constitute a particular individual in the world (125)

What Deleuze does not follow up on because he is concerned with the production of kinds of affects qualified by speed and intensity is that because organism and world cannot be separable, defined rather by their relations, organisms themselves must share nodal points in the world (and it is this very mode of sharing that brings together the mutuality of their bodies). My relations to this part of the world are those which place value (epistemic and also ethical value) upon your relations to this same part of the world. Our bodies are in a mutual form of conjunction that may be best imagined as an overlap of Exowelten. The same things in the world make a difference to us (though the difference made may not the similiar), and the same things in the world potentially reveal other aspects of the world. The “same” in Spinoza’s affectuum imitatio is a same of relations.

So when Deleuze asks on the following page,

How do individuals enter into composition with one another in order to form a higher individual, ad infinitum? How can a being take another being into its world, but while preserving or respecting the other’s own relations and world?

The answer must presume the very mutuality of material confluence and overlap between organisms, the richly conjoined nature of epistemic/affective end-points, a sharing of “organs of perception” which cannot err.

Having a Beer with Philosophy

Sometimes I regret that philosophy is not done this way, in conversation (was this not the meaning of the Socrates method before it was formalized and staged in dialogues). Tim Thornton tells of a fond memory he had, when he had the fortune of sitting with Davidson in a pub, passing from intermittent dialogue to Dionysus.

Interestingly, this was a conference when Davidson finally came out and said IT, animals don’t have minds:

It was at a conference in Reading in 1996, a last chance to see Quine in this world, an opportunity to watch Dennett get the better of Searle and to hear Davidson say he was tired of being subtle about the matter and that animals really didn’t have minds.

Its interesting because I find in Davidson’s thinking the roots for a pan-psychic presupposition, founded upon a Spinozist grammar of affects. For me such a momentary lack of subtlety is perhaps less of note, for philosophy at times requires subtlety (here, how “mind” is restrictively defined). In this case Davidson seems merely to have claimed something of the order: beliefs cannot be categorically ascribed to animals, an issue he skirts in “The Three Varieties of Knowledge”. As I have argued elsewhere, such ascription must be context dependent, and as such only is a rational linguistic framework upon an already working triangulation that readily occurs in animals, and in us (as we are animals as well). I do though find it significant how we read philosophers when they just come right out and say something that otherwise in theory they were quite careful to step around, it is something like, “Enough with philosophy, this is what I think!” It says something about the authority we grant to thinkers, perhaps like how we do to painters. You have been there, you have looked at it, what do you think (not, what would you argue)? I think that this is the charm and substance of Tim Thornton’s recollection. We can see ourselves there. 

I often think how nice it would be to sit with philosophers of influence, how disappointing perhaps, the knight without his chainmail and shield, but also, so much more understandable.

Davidson’s “Three Varieties of Knowledge”

Here is an on-line copy of Donald Davidson’s remarkable 1991 essay “Three Varieties of Knowledge”. As far as contemporary philosophical essays go, it is perhaps the finest, far-reaching essay in my memory. In terms of style it employs a jargon-free, clear language approach reminiscent of Wittgenstein’s straightforward  problem solving (without the hypnotic aphoristic gloss over of aporias). In terms of content, here is a Davidson’s powerful concept of Triangulation, and the application of the Principle of Charity in the context of Wittgenstein’s Private Language Argument. Here is the rational, yet still historically contingent process of growing knowledge, guided by communal relations. I find there to be much of Spinoza in this, and a nexus point between both Continnetal and Analytic Schools. I urge you to read this elegant, modest and yet resounding essay. I have the distinct impression that despite the 18 intervening years, philosophy has not caught up with the full consequences of Davidson’s subsuming argument.

page: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. [click on each photo there to enlarge]

At this point, this important essay is not easy to find, but is published in Subjective, Intersubjective and Objective, an excellent collection. This, and The Essential Davidson  would give you a great proportion of his bridge-building thought.

I apologize for the messy margin notes, and underlines as I didn’t imagine that others would be reading this copy, but I feel that this is an important essay, significant enough to post here for those just coming in touch with its arguments and view of the world. If you want some sense of the kinds of arguments that stem from this essay, look to my The Trick of Dogs: Etiologic, Affection and Triangulation.

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]