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Tag Archives: Triangulation

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?

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.

A River Runs Through it: Scotus, Spinoza and then Davidson



In recent conversation the connection between contemporary philosopher Donald Davidson and Spinoza has come up, a connection which I have felt runs in several directions. Previously the only thing I had strictly read on this is Davidson and Spinoza: Mind, Matter and Morality by Floris van der Burg, which in my view aside from its conclusions on morality, is very instructive to the matter. Yet today I stumbled upon another source, this one more accessible (only 13 pages): From Duns Scotus to Davidson: Anomalous Monism, Supervenience and the Formal Distinction  Pascal Engel, Conférence, Universita di Verona, 1998, Inédit [or here]

(I am coming to think that in order to fully understand the heritage of Spinoza’s treatment of the attributes they will have to be related not only to Scotus’s formal distinction, but also to the Scotus/Aquinas debate, along with its Neoplatonic influences (both Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius). Here is a thread of Medieval panpsychism which constitutes another story. Spinoza’s treatment of epistemology has strong Augustinian or Pseudo Dionysius principles, in synthesis with Duns Scotus’s univocality of Being, formal treatment of the “names of God”. A synthesis whose ultimate informing sources I have yet to track down.)

In any case, I was looking into the Duns Scotus-Spinoza connection, one written about intriguingly by Deleuze in ’68; I posted some relevant and extensive quotations from Deleuze here:  Spinoza as a Scotist: Formally Distinct and Univocal, for there is very little internet presence of this idea, and not everyone relishes wading through Deleuze.

So it was nice to run into this essay which draws the thread straight through from Duns Scotus to Spinoza’s treatment of the Attributes to Davidson’s distinction between causal relation and a causal explanation. I feel that there are even more important and productive connections between Davidson and Spinoza, mostly found in the homologous order of the Triangulation of Knowledge in Davidson and Spinoza’s grounding of the social within the Imiations of the Affects, but this essay is an excellent source of the armature of Spinoza’s treatment of the same, identity and causation such that it can be effectively read in contemporary terms.

Key to the interpretion is Scotus’s notion of the Formal Distinction, which is something found neither in the intellect, nor even fully in real things, but one could say, in the real of their expression (something that bothered Occam to no end). It is a formal individuating difference, as it is presented here by Engel:

To summarize Scotus claims about distinctions. Entities which are separable by divine power, in the sense that one can exist while the other does not, are “absolutely really” distinct, and those which cannot be so separate are “absolutely really” the same. But within the class of entities which are “absolutely really” the same, we can find pairs of entities which are “qualifiedly” distinct. For example where a and b are absolutely really the same but each is definable independently of the the other, a and b are “formally” distinct. The formal distinction is, as Duns Scotus says, “on the side of things”; it is not a mere conceptual or rational distinction. Thus formal distinction is compatible with real sameness. This is the doctrine which is important for my purposes here: certain things which are true of an entity can be distinct although they belong to the common nature of this entity. The individuating difference is in the individual in question really the same as the common nature that it determines, but nevertheless formally distinct from it (4)

It was just this formal distinction within an identity of Same which allowed Spinoza to make his Attribute distinctions of parallel expressions. For those interested even in one aspect of this trinity of thinkers, Engel does a succinct job of expressing each thinker’s position, and then clearly relates each as a heritage of the next.

The “Picture” behind Intention: What Lies at the Center of Perception

Some Considerations of Objecf-Object Oriented Philosophy

Recent engagement with Graham Harman’s “Object-Oriented Philosophy” as it stems from Brentano and Husserl, stirs in me a terrible disagreement (I use “terrible” in the Greek sense). It comes from the “picture” that for me lies behind phenomenological preoccupations with the object, and I think also is core to Heidegger’s, at least rhetorical, notion of hiddenness (dear Sophocles, your Aias  meditation on Time!)…this is the intensely visual metaphor for how the mind works, and thus how we are to orient ourselves philosophically towards the imagined “object”, philosophically equated with Being. The entire heritage in my view suffers from this essentialized orientation to the object, the thing that reveals itself only in part.

In a soon to be published text Graham Harman quotes to some effect Husserl’s object orientation in Logical Investigations:

“every intention is either an objectifying act or has its basis in such an act.” 

“whether I look at this book from above or below, from inside or outside, I always see this book. It is always one and the same thing, and that not merely in some purely physical sense [which plays no role in Husserl’s philosophy- g.h.], but in the view of our percepts themselves. If individual properties dominate variably at each step, the thing itself, as a perceived unity, is not in essence set up by some over-reaching act, founded upon these separate percepts.”

As I have argued elsewhere (linked far below), and found in my research into Spinoza’s optical theories and practices, this modern conception of a picture of consciousness as somehow oriented towards the object, in a sense, being composed by its object, is something that has its modern origin in optical metaphors drawn from the rise of dioptics, the science of the lensed refaction of rays. The transition from the Perspectivist tradition which matched linear rays from points on an object to points in the back of the eye, to the philosophical meditation on what it takes to have “clear and distinct” ideas (Descartes), led us to understand consciousness itself as oriented towards a central clarity, a clarity which, however obscure the borders, as the object of the mind composes a kind of “truth”. Under such a view it is the very nature of consciousness to be somehow defined by this centrality, this clear picture, and the obscure boundary spaces do nothing more than “serve” this center (Kepler, Descartes).

The “Clear and Distinct” Center

As just suggested, Descartes is responsible for bringing to the fore this notion of consciousness through a pursuit of the “clear and distinct” idea. It is important to note that this phrasing comes directly from dioptrics where it carried a specific meaning. In an age wherein refraction was barely understood (the law had just been identified), the quality of glass incredibly fogged and bubble-ridden, and methods of glass grinding unsettled and under continual invention, an image in a lens that was “clear” (clare) was one which was bright, and one that was “distinct” was one which, if bright enough and the properties of the glass and curve optimal, all the parts could be made out. A bright idea was one that struck one with obviousness, a distinct one one that struck with detail, that is, as being sufficiently differentiated. When looking through a microscope a “clear and distinct” image was a good image. In keeping with his preoccupations with the future science of the dioptrics of microscopes and telescopes, Descartes felt that mentally the “clear and distinct” idea was the focus of mental perception, just as the clear and distinct image is the focus of visual perception. Emotions and sensations were indistinct quite often. A pain might be very “bright” (obvious) but indistinct as to its cause or nature.  


In my studies I find, following Graham Burnett’s inspiration, that Descartes’ hyperbolic lens, designed as it was to bring a central object into view as clearly and distinctly as possible, was related to his hyperbolic doubt, which was meant to help focus the mind on the most bright and disguishable ideas. In both Descartes hyperbolic lens and imagination, it is the visual center of consciousness which stabilizes truth. It is the object of one’s eye and mind. I argue that Spinoza’s objection to the efficacy of Descartes’ optical hyperbolic lens contains also an objection to the notion of a central clarity, a clarity that works to anchor the mind to truth.

The Dissonance Hole

Now back to the inheritors of a concept of consciousness which finds at is center an (object) clarity. These are the phenomenological sons of Descartes’s preoccupations with the optical metaphor. To this inheritance I would like to raise a deeper question than simply exposing a central metaphor (and its possible contingent relationship of the validity of arguments that depend on it: chose another metaphor, like for instance how Plotinus uses sound, and possibly end up with different conclusions). I want to suggest that if one attends to consciousness itself, and looks to the very center of consciousness, one doesn’t find a stability there at all. In fact, there is hole at the center of vision.

Richard Sennett’s recent, and thought-provoking The Craftsman  includes the importance of this “hole”:

The capacity to localize names the power to specify where something important is happening…Localizing can result from sensory stimulation, when in a dissection a scalpel unexpected hard matter; at this moment the anatomist’s hand movements become slower and smaller. Localization can also occur when the sensory stimulation is of something missing, absent or ambiguous. An abscess in the body, sending the physical signal of a loss of tension, will localize the hand movement…

In cognitive studies, localizing is sometimes called “focal attention.” Gregory Bateson and Leon Festinger suppose that human beings focus on the difficulties and contradictions they call “cognitive dissonances.” Wittgenstein’s obsession with the precise height of a celing in one room of his house [citing that the philosopher had a ceiling lowered 3 centimeters in a house he had designed just the construction was being completed] derives from what he perceivedj as a cognitive dissonance in his rules of proportion. Localization can also occur when something works successfully. Once Frank Gehry could make titanium quilting work [citing the design of a material of specific relfective and textural capacities], he became more focused on the possibilities of the material. These complicated experiences of cognitive dissonance trace directly, as Festinger has argued, from animal behavior; the behavior consists in an animal’s capacity to attend to “here” or “this.” Parallel processing in the brain activates different neural circuits to establish the attention. In human beings, particularly in people practicing a craft, this animal thinking locates specifically where a material, a practice, or a problem matters.

Pay attention to the dissonance that lies at the center of one’s attention. As the eye plays over the surface of an object, the gaze is not upon the “object” but at the living line which erupts out of the sense of it.  If we take up Husserl’s book, we don’t even have to look at its inside, outside and bottom. We merely need to look at its cover. The eye flits across it, an electric line that traces out the variations of its color, its choice of title typeface, its wear on a corner, its color that reminds us of a dress we saw. Yes, we are “seeing” the book, but it is an eruptive book. These are not accidents to the essence of the book, but rather are produts of our engagment with it. But more than this, the “book” is not a center of our consciousness, it is is not the “object” of our consciousness, or even intentionality. In fact there is no object at all which is the focus of our altering gaze. But it goes further than even this, for if the living line does erupt from the book, we understand that the book itself is present to us as a ground of sense for which this line depends. It is not that the book is somehow constructed out of these in some “over-reaching act” but rather that the book already serves as a ground, an under-reaching ground. The dissonance of our awareness depends upon an awareness of consonance. And this consonance is not though made up of the object of the book either, for the book is perceived as a book against (or in coherence with)  a vast array of other boundary perceptions and beliefs (I see that it is a book because that is a table, and I am in a room, and “I believe that writing exists, that there are authors” etc.). Not only is the “object” not at the center of our gaze, but neither is it the whole of the sense from which we do derive our center. Our awareness is a breadth. We say that we are “looking at the book” or “thinking of the book” as a kind of short hand for mutitudnal effects which are only understood as layers or degrees. And we also “picture” (retroactively) a stability of what we are looking at, paying less attention to what it is that we are attending to (a living line of dissonance, and a counter-boundary of outer sense) .

Intentional and Other Objects

When “object-orientation” concepts of Being flow from this notion of central apparition (and also for Heideggerians necessary hiddenness), the full sense of what the mind does, what consciousness is, I think gets lost. I have not read Graham Harman extensively (only an unpublished essay, a lecture listened to, and some informative comments), but I cannot help but have the sense that there is something of a central clarity conception of consciousness that he has taken from the sons of Descartes. What is interesting to me though is that tool orientation, a craft understanding of consciousness, actually is what calls our attention to the very hole at the center of vision. A craftsman is the one that focuses on the eruptive amid an organized sense, plan or workability.

So when we consider what Graham Harman takes to be the “object” of philosophy…

1. Intentional objects (such as phenomenal trees) exist in uneasy alliance with their accidents

2. Real objects (such as real trees) exist in uneasy alliance with their qualities

3. Real objects are deeper than the phenomenal qualities that emanate from them in relations

4. Intentional objects are unreal but are made up of real moments

This fourfold of accidents, relations, qualities, and moments can be restated in cosmologically more interesting fashion:

1. The tension between an intentional object and its accidents is precisely what we mean by TIME

2. The withdrawal of a real object from any relation is what we call SPACE

3. The duality between a real thing and its own real qualities can be called ESSENCE

4. A merely intentional thing’s possession of genuine qualities can be called, in a Husserlian sense, EIDOS

I feel that we need to ask how much of this falls back upon the essentialized notion of central clarity, the idea that our minds should be directed (philosophically) towards the focus upon “intentional objects” or “real objects” (or the interplay between them); how much does this direction rely upon a mistaken over-simplified “picture” of consciousness, and the historical inheritance of conceptions derived from Descartes fascination with refraction and the correction/enhancement of vision? It seems that when we realize that it is rather the “accidents” of an object that actually compose our intentionality, the eruptive semiotics of a dissonance that flows out from a ground of sense-making, the game of recapturing the buried “essence” of an object, the “real” object, apart from its intentionality loses its footing. It is the accidents themselves that connect us to the object, the flash of light across a surface that redirects our orientation to the object and causes us to care about it in a new way, to encamp it with a cathexis of our informing affects, and understand the world differently through these connective effects. When the intentionality of consciousness is understood not directed towards a clarity, an object (however present or hidden), but rather towards the breakdown of that object, not through an attention to the regain of an eidos behind it, but through a bodily reconfiguration of ourselves in orientation to the world itself wherein there is no accident for each accident signifies, then we understand the mind much more as an activity rather than a representation device (an important step I feel). It is in this constant re-vectorialization of the self through reporting others and a world that gives knowledge its uumph, its power and freedom. I am unsure how far Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Philosophy deviates from my thoughts on this, for we share a distinct interest in the post-human, a sense that flat ontologies should be in some ways deepened, and would work toward a cybernetic understanding. I look forward to a continual and edifying communication with Graham Harman’s writings, in particular the coming book on Latour, Prince of Neworks. These thoughts come out of what for me was a strong sense that he yearns for a solidity behind (or in front of) the orientation of philosophy, a solidity which he reads as “depth”, yet an anchor point which by my brief reading takes its cue from a tradition that pursues a central clarity in what for me are misleading metaphors of vision, a tradition which works to stablize and centralize the human self (soul) which he looks to de-centralize.

In addition to this, as a last remark, there is in modern philosophy a tendency to think in irreducible dyads, that is: How do we get from here (let us say, that intentional object) to there (the real object); or how do we get from here (a true proposition) to there (a state of the world); or how do we get from here (thoughts in my mind) to there (thoughts in your mind); or most generally, how do we get from here (the self) to there (the world). This binary thinking which haunts much of representational analysis is a continuation of the primary problem of much of theology, how to get the soul back to God. All kinds of mediating paths are offered to what is imagined to be a fundamentally binary relationship (we expect the mediations to vanish). Many of these philosophical conundrums disappear when the dyad turns into a triad (and not a Hegelian triangle), that is, when the A/B line becomes a triangle of orientations. This is part of Latour’s philosophy of the “same”, but also central to Donald Davidson’s triangulation. It is not self/world, but self/self/world. I think part of the problem of thinking in terms of mind/object-essence dyads is that the triangle does not become properly emphasized. What happens when we find a fissure at the center of consciousness is that the third term (be it another informing person/object, or a causal state of the world) comes into view to help consolidate the fissure, bringing it into a clarity which then erupts. The fullness of a philosophy should be directed towards the necessity of the third term in any binary preoccupation, the way in which the third completes the sense. Not Object-Oriented Philosophy, but Oriented Object Philosophy, perhaps.

As Plotinus tells us:

If they are two, the knower will be one thing, and the known the other, and contemplation (theõria) has not yet made this pair akin to each other (õieiõsen) (Enn. 3.8.8). 

For thoughts related to these:

1. A Diversity of Sight: Descartes vs. Spinoza

2. The Hole at the “Center of Vision”

3. Deciphering Spinoza’s Optical Letters

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.



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.

Davidson, Spinoza, Aristotle: Veridicality and Organs

A ruminating thought floats behind these considerations.

Is there a connection between a). Davidson’s world thought to be the cause of our beliefs which assumes an inherent verdicality of belief, making of a triangulating community of language users a kind of organ of truth, b). Spinoza’s (proposed) expectation that interactions with his Ethics, that would cause increases in our power to act along a vector of Joy, the proofs of which serving as organs of mental perception, within a cohering affectively bonded sociability, c). and Aristotle’s functional defintion of the products our sense organs as incorrigable.

Further, aside from any imposed normativity, projected upon funcationality, such and organ bound communication of veridicality would open the question up along biological valences of affect and power. Organs can open up to an analysis of the Body Without Organs. Communicated action across functionality.


Secondly, perception of special sensibles is incorrigible for Aristotle because it is constitive of the very notion of veridicality. Vision under optimal conditions is the only criterion we posses by which to judge whether something has a particular colour: for example to view something under optimal conditions is to meet all the relevant conditions by which colour is determined. On this account, to distinguish between something really being red, and just looking red to someone with excellent eyesight who views the object under optimal lighting conditions, would simply make no sense…This is not an epistemological account of perception, in the sense of an account that tells of how the veridicality of our knowledge of the natural world can be secured…it is not just that the proper use of our sense organs automatically gaurentees the verdicality of what we perceive, but rather that, given their proper use (i.e. the proper use of normal sense organs operating under optimal conditions) the question of our being mistaken simply makes no sense (159-160).

– Intellectual Biography 159 – 160)

Aristotle, De Anima Book II Part VI (418):

In dealing with each of the senses we shall have first to speak of the objects which are perceptible by each. The term ‘object of sense’ covers three kinds of objects, two kinds of which are, in our language, directly perceptible, while the remaining one is only incidentally perceptible. Of the first two kinds one (a) consists of what is perceptible by a single sense, the other (b) of what is perceptible by any and all of the senses. I call by the name of special object of this or that sense that which cannot be perceived by any other sense than that one and in respect of which no error is possible; in this sense colour is the special object of sight, sound of hearing, flavour of taste. Touch, indeed, discriminates more than one set of different qualities. 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.

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]

Skepticism refuted in Under Ten Minutes

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

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

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

Spinoza’s Human Core: Proposition 27, Ethics Third Book

Spinoza wrote, founding his theory of social effects upon a rationality of imagination. It is an underestimated, yet profound, significant observation (brought to the fore in analysis by, among others, Balibar in his excellent Spinoza and Politics). This is called the affectuum imitatio, the “imitation of affects.” When combined with Davidson’s theory of triangulation, it produces a plane of communication which is hard to deny. From it flows a muliplicity of the ethical, both rational and imagined. Something to be thought about; in brief:

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.



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