[hist-analytic] Privacy and Anomalous Monism

Scott Holbrook scott.holbrook at gmail.com
Thu Sep 22 06:27:16 EDT 2011

I guess I'll share some thoughts from my own "notebook" that I think
are related to what Steve has shared.  My thinking on these matters
are related to recent interest in Cognitive Science, especially the
"grounding problem" in Embodied/Situated Cognition.

Embodied Cognition holds, among other things, that acts of cognition
are shaped (in various ways) by physical features of our body (our
perceptual systems etc.). Central to the idea is our interactions with
the environment.  In fact, even offline cognition is body-based.

In any case, if the major theses of E.C. are correct, then a
consequence is that the meanings of our words are also body based
(this need not be the case for the related approaches of situational
cognition or "extended mind" supporters).  For example:  Humans have
eyes in the front of our skull.  As a result, we can only see things
in front of us.  Thus, to navigate our environment from point A to
point B, we must turn our heads in a specific direction...namely, we
must "look forward."  As it happens, we say a person who plans for the
future (that is, one who traverses from temporal Point A to B) is
"forward-looking."  Hence, one may argue, the meaning of
"forward-looking" is stems from the way in which humans navigate their
environment.  In fact, one may even argue that the meaning of
"forward" is itself grounded in the simple anatomical fact of our eye

So, the "grounding problem" is more or less how our bodies and
interactions with our environment, imbue meaning to our words.

A solution I've been toying with makes use of what Dummett has called
(Origins of Analytic Philosophy) "proto-thoughts."  These are
sub-linguistic thoughts of which any linguistic formulation we may try
to give them is "conceptually too rich."  These are the sort of
thoughts that Frege attributed to animals.  For example, a dog can't
think "There is one dog blocking my path" because a dog doesn't have
access to the concept of "one."  But dog may very well adopt of policy
of not continuing upon a certain path if more than one dog is blocking
his way.  A dog may very well stand his ground against a single
aggressor but flee from multiple aggressors.  These are
proto-thoughts.  Another example is navigating traffic.  When driving,
we don't verbally formulate (in our heads or out loud) the actions we
plan to take to avoid obstacles.  We just avoid the obstacles.  Both
of these examples represent complex, problem solving
abilities...neither of them make use of language to do so.

I think there is a case to be made for a sort of "proto-truth."  When
engaging in proto-thought, it seems as if we are making affirmations
and denials.  In plotting our driving path, the path we embark upon is
just the one that we think offers the greatest chance of avoiding
obstacles.  Hence, there is a sense in which we affirm what we may
linguistically state as "this path offers the best chance of
successfully avoiding obstacles."

I take it as not all that controversial that the meaning of a word is
related to the truth conditions of it's use (at the very least, if
someone consistently made false statements with a  particular word,
we'd be inclined to say he doesn't know what the word means).

I think it not all that far-fetched to say that cognition, in general,
evolved in organisms as a problem solving mechanism.  So, proto-truth
becomes something like "that which enables successful completion of
the task at hand" or maybe "the proper course of action/response"...It
has not gone unnoticed by me that this is very close to a Pragmatist
conception of truth.)  Thus, truth has been given a grounding in terms
of our bodies and interactions with our environment.  There is a link
between truth and meaning.  So, it certainly seems as if there may be
a solution to the grounding problem lurking nearby.

A consequence of all this would be that the physical language is NOT
the only intersubjective language.  Actually, I think the E.C. thesis
itself entails this as well.  Since cognizing is shaped by the form of
our body, and all humans have, more or less, the same bodily form, all
humans, more or less, are capable of cognizing the same stuff.  In
which case, there is no reason, in principle, why we couldn't be
taught any language.  Thus, the notion of a "private language" has
been abolished (i.e., all languages are intersubjective and it's
merely an empirical matter whether only one person speaks it or not).
(assuming that one does speak a private language, in accordance with
E.C., that language must be grounded in one's bodily form...but since
all humans share the same bodily form (in all relevant aspects), in
principle your so-called private language could be taught to
another...which means it isn't really a private language).
Incidentally, it also means that language can't be completely divorced
from publicly observable phenomena, inasmuch as the from of the human
body is publicly observable.


P.S.  The E.C. exposition was pretty brief and I likely mangled a few
parts.  So, I encourage readers to do a quick read (wikipedia or the

P.P.S.  I hesitate to give this response to Steve's last question,
cause I haven't thought out whether or not it's consistent, but I find
it interesting.  I assume Steve is thinking along the lines of "If
temperature is mean molecular energy (i.e., the movement of atoms),
then why shouldn't velocity and acceleration (both of which describe
movement) be micro-properties?  I want to say no, neither of them are
micro-properties, even if it turns out the temperature is.  Reason
being, velocity and acceleration are intrinsically relational, whereas
it doesn't seem as temperature need be relational (in fact, it doesn't
seem as if it is (of course, we must use another body to determine a
temperature, but, presumably, there is already a temperature to be
determined).  The temperature of a body depends upon nothing other
than the body itself whereas the other two require at least one other
body in order to give a reference frame.  In other words, I don't need
to ask about a frame of reference when determining temperature,
whereas I do when determining velocity.  (I'm talking about
macro-bodies...for some reason I find it funny to talk about the
temperature of a single atom).

P.P.P.S.  I think there's an important difference (though I'm not
really sure what it amounts to) between Kim's removal of the mental
and Wittgenstein's beetle.  In Kim's case, we know, a fortiori, that
the mental has been removed.  Presumably, we also know, or can know, a
good deal about the mental redistribution.  At the very least, in
order to redistribute the mental, and nothing else, we'd need to know
exactly what counts as mental.  If this is the case, then we could
certainly find out a good deal more about the distribution (viz. who
got what after the process was complete).  The beetle, however, in
principle, cannot be identified, ergo, not redistributed (we'd have no
way to target anyone's beetle in order to redistribute it).
Wittgenstein's point is that whatever the beetle is simply doesn't
matter.  It cancels out whenever we try to make use of it.  But
canceling out (not mattering) in this sense isn't quite the same thing
as "removing" the beetle like Kim was suggesting (in fact, it's
impossible to remove the beetle).  The important point, is that in
Kim's case we know a lot more than we are allowed to know in the
beetle case.

On 9/22/11, Baynesr at comcast.net <Baynesr at comcast.net> wrote:
> Rather than let the list die, I'm gonna post a few things from my notebook.
> These are things I am not firm on; just things in the notebook. Here's
> something relating Davidoson, Kim and Schlick.
> Davidson was getting at when he proposed in his frequently cited paper
> "Mental Event" (Davidson [1980]) that there are no strict laws connecting
> mental and physical events. The state of affairs where mental events are not
> rejected but where the correlations do not exist would be precisely one
> where it is possible that "mental properties were arbitrarily redistributed
> over events of this world, of even if mentality were removed…" (Kim [1998]
> p. 34) One is reminded here of Wittgentstein’s discussion of the "beetle" in
> the box: "…the box might even be empty…" (Wittgenstein [1953] 293) Thus, the
> private language issue and supervenience become linked, even though the two
> are seldom if ever discussed at once. We add this speculative proposal: If
> there were laws connecting the mental and the physical, then freedom would
> be at risk. Mental causation would be an illusion; but if there are no laws
> connecting the mental and the physical then, as Schlick suggests, we would
> have no way of directing our actions with the expectation of affecting the
> world according to our intentions. If the privacy goes even deeper, as
> Wittgenstein suggests we would be unable to even think of action, ours or
> anyone else’s behavior qua action. If we are unable to describe our actions
> volition is as blind as an unconceptualized Kantian intuition. Taking a
> Davidsonian line we eliminate the private language problem by denying the
> mental, whence his monism, but the basis of this maneuver has its historical
> roots in the private language problem.
> If all languages are public, as Wittgenstein argues, then the language of
> physics does not own an advantage as an intersubjective language. (cf.
> Schlick [1935] p. 399) Is it by accident or design that the physical
> language is not only the language in which all facts can be expressed but
> is, also, the language the only intersubjective language? Or if this is not
> the case, why not? Whereas for Schlick (and Carnap) the intersubjectivity of
> the language of physics was empirical, for Wittgenstein the
> intersubjectivity of any language was necessary. (ibid)
> Temperature may be a micro-based property, but what about velocity? Or
> acceleration?
> Regards Steve Bayne

"Conventional people are roused to fury by departures from convention,
largely because they regard such departures as a criticism of
-- Bertrand Russell

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