[hist-analytic] McPherson's Hobbes: 'possessive individualism'

steve bayne baynesrb at yahoo.com
Tue Feb 16 11:29:15 EST 2010


Let me get back to you on much of this, especially the
Lakoff stuff.

Keep in mind that Hobbes predates Locke. Locke has a very
involved theory of property, but Hobbes was the first to
integrate the emergence of a market view of the world
into a theory of government. HIs approach displaced
much of the theology that had preceded him. This was
somewhat anticipated by Grotius, who deserves a bit
more credit than MacPherson is will to admit.

Lakoff is a positively wonderful thinker and, from my
limited experience, human being. I met him once
at a cognitive science conference where I gave a paper
on modeling causal relations. Lackoff's rejection
of compositionality confirmed every suspicion I've
had about attempting this sort of modeling. Anyway,
he's very good and most impottantly intellectually



--- On Tue, 2/16/10, Jlsperanza at aol.com <Jlsperanza at aol.com> wrote:

From: Jlsperanza at aol.com <Jlsperanza at aol.com>
Subject: McPherson's Hobbes: 'possessive individualism'
To: hist-analytic at simplelists.co.uk
Date: Tuesday, February 16, 2010, 10:28 AM

In a message dated 2/16/2010 9:56:38 A.M. Eastern Standard Time,  
Baynesr at comcast.net writes:
Hobbes seeks,
as MacPherson points out, a  reduction of obligation to 
purely material principles related to the  "possessive 
individualism" in the "possessive market  place."


I would think this trades on Locke's (later) views  on 'property rights'. 
For what is to have a property right but a right to  _possess_.
-- Expansion on Hobbes's own terms here (not 'possess' I would  expect) a 
good thing.
-- One bit of a good area: if we are going to focus on  'reciprocality', or 
reciprocity, the idea of
-- the 'common good', or the  very 'common' or 'communal property', or 
'shared property'. This seems to be  something that cannot indeed be _reduced_ 
to 'individualistic  posession'.

-- The house that Jack built.
-- belongs to  Jack.
-- On Jack's demise the Jack belongs to  Tom-and-Jerry.

--Tom-and-Jerry own the  house.
Ergo Tom owns the  house.

--- I would accept the conclusion above as 'implicatural'. I.e.  the idea 
that we are asked to provide maximal informativeness seems irrelevant.  It's 
still true that Tom 'owns' the house. Sure, he cannot 'sell' it, but then  
perhaps he 'can' sell it (i.e. we are not saying that 'he only' can sell it). 

I love the idea ('idea') of obligation cashing out in desire, as it  were. 
And I'm ready to take the Lockean defense here! (the seamless connection  
Hobbes-Locke-Grice, if you wish!)

Looking forward to your defense of  Grice, I hope, contra Lewis. This below 
was posted elsewhere, and I'm  contributing it to the hist-anal files 

Begin forwarded  message below. Lakoff cajoled onto discussing Grice etc by 
_yours truly_.  


J. L. Speranza


===== begin forwarded message

Date: Tue, 26 Nov 2002  16:59:18 -0800 ( PST) 
From: George Lakoff <lakoff at cogsci.berkeley.edu>  
To: cogling at ucsd.edu 
Subject: Re: Convention and metaphor 
Errors-To:  cogling-errors at ucsd.edu 
Sender: cogling-relay at ucsd.edu 
Reply-To: George  Lakoff <lakoff at cogsci.berkeley.edu> 
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Grice, Lewis, and Metaphor Theory  

It is nice to see good ol'  topics from the 60's - Paul 
Grice's implicatures and David Lewis'  conventionality - taken up 
again. The phenomena need to reconsidered  seriously within the 
cognitive linguistics context. But when Sherman Wilcox  writes "I 
admit to knowing not a stitch of Davidson," I fear that he isn't  the 
only one, and that most folks in the cognitive linguistics tradition  
may also not know the context of Grice's and Lewis' work either. 
Since I  shared a history with them (they were friends of mine back 
when I was  working on logic), I think a bit that history might be 
useful - especially  since it is relevant to the current discussion. 
Their work cannot now be  taken at face value and has to be thought of 
in a historical perspective,  for reasons that will become clear below.  

Paul Grice's lectures on  implicature (Language and 
Conversation) were given as the William James  Lectures at Harvard in 
1967. I was teaching there at the time and I  attended. David Lewis 
was a grad student there and, I believe, he was in the  room too. 
Grice's intent was conservative. Strawson had given lots of  examples 
showing the inadequacy of Russell's symbolic logic in general and  his 
Theory of Descriptions in particular. Grice was defending Russell.  
His argument was that you could keep Russellian logic for semantics 
and  truth conditions, while getting the real natural language 
examples right by  adding a theory of conversation on top of the logic. 
Since I was trying to  incorporate logic and pragmatics into 
linguistics at the time (1967), I  became enamored of Paul's work. He, 
however, refused to publish it. I  managed to get a copy and 
distributed over 1,000 copies through the  linguistic underground by 
1973, and also managed to get chapter 2 published  in the Cole-Morgan 
volume on Speech Acts in 1975. (The story involves a bar  in Austin, 

Paul  was an objectivist who insisted that all meaning was 
literal. Nonetheless,  much of Paul's work was insightful - although 
his one metaphor example was  pitifully analyzed. The only way Paul's 
theory could deal with metaphor was  to claim that metaphors had a 
literal meaning conveyed via implicature.  Searle later tried applying 
this idea in his paper on metaphor in the Ortony  volume, a disastrous 

During the 70's, Paul's work  became taken very seriously by 
those trying to keep formal logic as a theory  of thought - with the 
result that it got reinterpreted - for good reason.  Gazdar did a 
formalization within logic of the maxim of quantity in his  
dissertation. Grice's student Deirdre Wilson (she had typed his  
manuscript) realized that all the maxims could be seen as instances 
of  relevance. Her theory of relevance also tried to preserve formal 
logic as a  theory of semantics. When Fillmore formulated frame 
semantics, I realized  that relevance - and with it Gricean 
implicature - could be handled via  frame-based inference with a 
cognitive linguistics framework. The formal  mechanism for doing this 
precisely did not exist then (the 70's), though it  does now - 
Narayanan's simulation semantics within NTL. It would be a great  
thesis topic for someone to work out the technical details now that a  
technical mechanism is available.  

David Lewis' Harvard  dissertation on Convention was a product 
of the same era - 1968, if I  remember correctly. David was also an 
objectivist - of the most extreme  variety. It's worth taking a look 
at his essay in the Davidson-Harman volume  of the Semantics of 
Natural Language, where he argues that meaning has  nothing to do with 
psychology - neither mind nor brain. For David, meaning  could only be 
a correspondence between formal symbols and the objective  world, 
where the objective world was taken as being modeled via  
set-theoretical models. The symbols were to be linked to the  
world-models via some mathematical function. For human languages, 
that  function he claimed was determined by convention - which is why 
he wrote his  thesis on the topic. But "convention" could not be could 
not be a matter of  human psychology for David; it had to be objective 
as well. David's idea was  to use the economic theory of his time - 
utility theory - to provide what he  took as an objectivist account of 
convention, since utility was seen as  something objective in the 
world. The irony here, of course, is that Danny  Kahneman, my former 
cognitive science colleague at Berkeley - now at  Princeton - just won 
the Nobel Prize in economics for proving that such a  view of 
economics cannot be maintained. The examples he used were cases that  
revealed how people really reason: by prototype, frame, and metaphor 
-  the staples of cognitive linguistics.  

David's work, like Paul's,  was insightful, despite the 
objectivist intellectual tradition in which it  was embedded. They 
were both super-smart people who transcended the theories  they were 
brought up with. Both theories were exemplary products of their  time, 
the late 60's (a period I enjoyed and am particularly fond of). But  
the intellectual tradition in which the theories were embedded cannot 
be  taken seriously today, and so the work cannot be taken at face 
value. The  theories were formulated before the age of cognitive 
science and  neuroscience. We now know from those fields that 
objectivism is false (see  the survey in Women, Fire, and Dangerous 
Things and the update in Philosophy  in the Flesh). We know that every 
aspect of thought and language works  through human brains, which are 
structured to run bodies and which create  understandings that are not 
objectively true of the world.  

Metaphor is an important part  of this story. The neural 
theory of metaphor (see PITF) explains how the  system of conceptual 
metaphor is learned, why certain conceptual metaphors  are universal 
and others are not, why the system is structured around  primary 
metaphor, why metaphor acquisition works as it does, why conceptual  
metaphors preserve image-schemas, why metaphorical inference works as 
it  does, and why conceptual metaphors tend to take sensory-motor 
concepts as  conceptual source domains and non-sensory-motor concepts 
as targets.  

Convention also makes sense  only in neural terms. What each 
of us takes as conventional must be  instantiated in our synapses. The 
question is, what is the mechanism? In  some cases, the usage-based 
theories of gradual entrenchment may make sense.  For other cases, 
they don't. Metaphor is a case where those theories make no  sense, as 
I pointed out in my previous note. The old entrenchment theories  
simply cannot explain what the neural theory of metaphor explains.  

Bill Croft aks, "How can a  linguist decide whether a metaphor is 
conventional?" and he claims, "There  is no easy way, and little or no 
that I know of on the topic  (please direct me to any!)." It is true 
that there is no easy way. The work  is hard. But there is a huge 
amount of research on the topic. I refer him to  chapter 6 of 
Philosophy in the Flesh (pp. 81-87), where nine forms of  convergent 
evidence are listed - and to the references at the end of the  book, 
where massive literature on the research is cited. Croft himself, for  
all his many accomplishments, is, to my knowledge, not a metaphor  
researcher. For those who are, there's a lot to know.  

In summary: Cognitive  linguistics is committed to being 
consistent with what is known about the  brain and the mind. That 
changes over time, and cognitive linguistics must  change with it. 
Entrenched ideas about entrenchment may have to change as  well. The 
ideas of Paul Grice and David Lewis from the 60's cannot just be  
taken over into cognitive linguistics as they were formulated. They  
cannot be taken at face value. They have to be rethought on the basis 
of  what has been learned since. This is not just true of Grice and 
Lewis. My  old work on generative semantics from the 60's had lots of 
neat insights as  well. But they too have to be rethought. Some can be 
translated into  cognitive linguistics - others cannot. None of this 
is easy or obvious. It  is important to know the history of all this 
work. Those who do not know  history are doomed to repeat it. 

Best wishes to all, 

===== end forwarded message

JL Speranza

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