Saturday, September 06, 2008

Molding Life

After completing an activity I sometimes don’t know what to do next and think “what should I do now?” This is not only a thought; it is also an experiential state. I’ve become more conscious of this experiential state and named it the “what-should-I-do-now” state. The state is characterized by my looking outside myself to find the next thing I should do. The phrasing is indicative of what the state is and means. It assumes that there is an objectively right thing to do next and that I need to find it now. It is an attempt to guide myself by external pointers rather than internal guides such as desires or needs. And it presumes that I need to be occupied now and shouldn’t just be unoccupied or doing nothing.


The “should” phrasing and the felt-experience presuppose a particular conception of life and the world. This conception is that there is an objectively right thing to do now and that I will progress in life - get somewhere, be somebody - by fulfilling that objective. For me, getting somewhere has the sense of making progress towards a goal of being rated highly by an external standard held by others. It suggests a worldview in which there are external guideposts which can show me how to discover my next action and how to live in general. So instead of being connected to subjective desires and feelings and following their lead without approval from the outside, I ignore my internal desires and try to achieve an image of what I should be in order to attain attention for accomplishing a goal that others value.


A quite different experiential state is that of “having an inclination” or “being drawn to investigate” or “wanting to know” or “just feeling like doing” whose character contrasts with the “what-should-I-do-now” experience. This experience is one of looking inside myself and discovering what I want and following that inclination. The doing that results is motivated inwardly and so has less of the quality of being forced to act. The idea behind this way of acting is being my own person. It suggests that one lives better by not living outside oneself.


Thoreau wrote, “Every path but your own is the path of fate. Keep on your own track, then.”

10 comments:

Zetetic_chick said...

The “should” phrasing and the felt-experience presuppose a particular conception of life and the world. This conception is that there is an objectively right thing to do now and that I will progress in life - get somewhere, be somebody - by fulfilling that objective. For me, getting somewhere has the sense of making progress towards a goal of being rated highly by an external standard held by others. It suggests a worldview in which there are external guideposts which can show me how to discover my next action and how to live in general

Hi Jeff,

The above paragraph remember me the philosophical topic about realism. I've been reading arguments for and against it, and I tend to consider myself a realist.

I don't know if the above paragraph of you entails some type of realism, but I think many of our experiential and emotional states pressupose it. They seem to refer to a external reality, and external factors determined by others. (It doesn't entail that we should be controlled only by others)

Maybe a brief consideration of Mises' concept of human action be pertinent here. Leaving aside the discussion about libertarianism and economics, Mises' philosophical concept of human action is: a conscious and deliberate conduct, aiming to specific ends. (For Mises, that concept is a self-evident axiom)

All human action tend to suppress a disatisfaction; it tend to pass from a less satisfactory state to a more satisfactory state. (For example, I'm writting this comment because it makes me feel better, in that moment, than not write it)

Steven Yates argues that Mises' philosophy give a additional argument for realism, because human action pressupose a external world in which human beings act. The axiom of human action only have sense if we assume realism as truth.

The "what-should-I-do-now" state seems to motivate some type of action to suppress it. That action can be guided by external factors alone (e.g. what other people think) or by internal factors (e.g. following your own internal ideas or wants), but in any case it seems to pressupose a external world in reference to which act.

In any case, the action tends to suppress the former state to substitute it by another (better) one.

Obviously, human beings are falible, and maybe they estimate incorrectly their action (and the new state is worst than the former one). But it's irrelevant to the motives of a specific action in a specitic moment.

Currently, I'm seeing how to use Mises' concept of action to evaluate spiritual experiences and other topics not related to social sciences.

I hope my comment doesn't be off-topic.

ZC

Jeff Meyerhoff said...

Z Chick,

Actually I wasn’t raising the issue of realism in this post, but it is at issue in the post I’m preparing. So you’re a mind-reader!

It’s interesting how you use words like “presuppose” and “assume realism” and “the axiom.” This means the realism believed is not demonstrated to be the case but just taken to be the case. The realism/anti-realism debate is contentious in philosophy today and there are strong arguments on each side. I understand that it seems silly to deny the objective, solid reality out there, but when the arguments are made they have holes in them. But anti-realism is also problematic. There’s a nice collection of philosophical essays on the issue called “Realism/Antirealism and Epistemology” edited by Christopher B. Kulp. I like Richard Rorty’s contribution at the end best.

What’s the point of denying there’s a world out there? What purpose does it serve to deny it? Why assume that creating an intellectual argument will prove anything? Certainly mathematicians can prove things with words but I don’t think philosophers can, except maybe logicians. But we don’t seem to be able to prove things about substantive human issues, so the argument will just continue. And the language used which is historically and socially constructed will affect the conceptualization we have and use. If our language is intertwined with the creation of our worlds – so that even the reference to brains, vision, perception, sensation – require words with histories to create understanding, how do we separate out the language from “what’s really going on” or the brute, physical reality.

And there’s the further, pragmatic question: how do/did we become people who wanted to ask these questions? What kind of human conduct or action is that?

There are pretty big counterexamples to the statement “All human action tend to suppress a dissatisfaction”. Certainly there are a lot of human actions that do that, but there are also a lot of human actions that create dissatisfaction. Psychoanalysts call them repetition compulsions. People keep doing the same actions over and over that make them miserable. Also, millions of people go to work each day and it makes them miserable. Of course, it also enables them to live and satisfy themselves, but it does both. Also, there is the too common phenomenon of war where people create enormous dissatisfaction. But I guess you’re right in your statement that human action – in the moment – has the intention to create satisfaction even though it may not. Rarely do people think: “I’m doing this action to make things worse for myself.” Although there are self-destructive people who do think this.

My blog piece was describing two different ways of living life, or engaging in human action. One which I’ve discovered leads to dissatisfaction and another, new one that I hope will lead to satisfaction.

Jeff

Zetetic_chick said...

Hi Jeff,

I'll wait for your next post on realism, I'd like to know your opinion about it in more depth.

A problem that I see with constructionism and the idea that "our language is intertwined with the creation of our worlds – so that even the reference to brains, vision, perception, sensation – require words with histories to create understanding" is that it seems to confuse and identify lenguage and words with its referents.

When I think in Jeff Meyerhoff, I'm conscious that that name is a word representing and corresponding to a real referent: you. So, I can't say that Jeff Meyerhoff is a construction of language (even if my knowledge of Meyerhoff is affected by language and words; it doesn't imply identity between Meyerhoff as a name and you as a real human being. Thinking otherwise is simply absurd.).

I think it's the great hole in the constructionist basic argument. The constructionist can reply "but referents are mediated by language too", but that reply missed and miscronstruct the point: referents are mediated (for its understanding) by lenguage too, but it doesn't entail that language creates the referent.

If we push the constructivist position to its ultimate consequences, we should admit that the world was created with language. But science tell us that before language existed, world existed (in fact, language pressupose a previous existing world, because if latter doesn't exist, languaje can't exist either).

The only escape that a constructivist could have to that objection is to force the identity of words (and concepts) with its referents, and reply: "But the big bang, the universe, the planets, etc. are mediated by language too"; but it doens't refute the realist position, only establish a self-referential vicious circle (that not constructivist take seriously when he eats or go to a doctor; in these cases, the constructivist doesn't consider his disease as a product of language alone; and knows that the word "disease" correspond to a specific real referent that he feels in his body).

I admit that realism has serious problems too. In fact, I think many scientists (specially positivists) tend to have an uncritical realism about the world, and that type of realism have been exposed for philosophers since many years ago.

I think the counterexamples you quoted against human action, misconstruct that axiom, because all that imply that axiom is justly that any person "in the moment (of acting) – has the intention to create satisfaction even though it may not".

The axiom of action doesn't entail that the result of action can't be negative, or create dissatisfaction. But it's a posteriori evaluation of the results of the action, not its basic motive in the moment it's done.

Even a person conciously choose to injure herself, she prefers that conduct that be remain healthy or do other activity (e.g. play baseball).

The axiom of human action begins where psychology stop. Praxeology doesn't examine the psychological reasons that compels a person to choose any end (e.g. buy a car, or go the school); but the formal implications of the axiom of action.

While I agree with the axiom of action, I think there is some better objections to it:

-It's a tautology
-It's not easy to distingue in each instant when an action is conscious and when unconscious (so, it affects if we accept that a specific behaviour correspond to the axiom of action or to any involuntary reaction).

But I think both objections have been responded by Austrian theorists in a convincent way. I don't discard that other objections against it can be formulated; but if they exist, I haven't read them yet.

ZC

anomymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Meyerhoff said...

I’m not asserting that there is nothing but language. I’m saying that there is no disentangling absolutely the language part and the “what there is” or “stuff” or “substance” or “physical reality” or whatever you want to call the non-language stuff. Certainly there seems to be something out there that we interact with, but what is it in itself without any language additives? But even that way of speaking – “something out there that we interact with” – presupposes a lot. It presupposes a separation between me in here and the world out there, a very Cartesian dualism. It also seems to presuppose a basic materiality to what there is, yet idealists would disagree. Many mystics would say that Consciousness or God or something immaterial is the real reality and that you who focus on the real referents are mistaken.

You write as if there are two ways to think of it: either there is the world out there – reality - and so realism is right, or there is the belief in constructivism and no world out there. I don’t think those are the only two choices. There is the belief that it’s problematic to defend realism and constructivism and both lead to problems and contradictions. There’s the pragmatic view that conceptualizing a world out there that is separate from language is quite useful and commonly done by humans and is a conceptualization that we cannot do without, but that if we push it too far and start asking philosophical questions about the nature of reality and what the world really looks like apart from our language you’re going to get into interminable and unfruitful debates. The pragmatist would say: “Better to do something more useful.”

But there are defenses of constructivism that go all the way and say that everything is constructed. Nelson Goodman, the late Harvard philosopher, was quite skillful in arguing that we make stars. See his book “Starmaking” which has critical responses from others like Hilary Putnam. More recently, the philosopher Robert Schwartz has argued Goodman’s point in "Starting from Scratch: Making Worlds" Erkenntnis (2000).

You ask: “If we push the constructivist position to its ultimate consequences, we should admit that the world was created with language. But science tell us that before language existed, world existed (in fact, language pressupose a previous existing world, because if latter doesn't exist, languaje can't exist either).”

Here’s Goodman’s reply: “Now as we thus make constellations by picking out and putting together certain stars rather than others, so we make stars by drawing certain boundaries rather than others. Nothing dictates whether the skies shall be marked off into constellations or other objects. We have to make what we find, be it the Great Dipper, Sirius, food, fuel, or a stereo system.
Still, if stars like constellations are made by versions, how can the stars have been there eons before all versions? Plainly, through being made by a version that puts the stars much earlier than itself in its own space-time. As the physicist J.R. Wheeler writes:

The universe does not exist “out there” independent of us. We are inescapably involved in bringing about that which appears to be happening. We are not only observers. We are participators…in making [the] past as well as the present and the future.”

From "Starmaking" p.156.

Zetetic_chick said...

Jeff,

Reflecting on your post and the construstivism's position, I think definitions should be made clear.

Nobody denies that language plays a large role in our understanding of the world.

Since Kant, we know that the "noumenal reality" (sorry if my translation is wrong; I've read him only in spanish) isn't directly known, only indirectly through our cognitive capabilities.

Constructivism seems to be similar to Kant's thesis, but focusing in the language intermediation.

In any case, if we agree that "Certainly there seems to be something out there that we interact with", we're accepting, at least in principle, the thesis of ontological realism: an external reality exists.

In that point, the discussion is in any case epistemological (about how to know that reality or if it's possible or not), not ontological (about the existence of "out there" reality).

So, if I didn't misunderstand your position (or the contructivist position), I think your question but what is it in itself without any language additives? doesn't affect ontological realism, only its epistemological version.

But even that way of speaking – “something out there that we interact with” – presupposes a lot. It presupposes a separation between me in here and the world out there, a very Cartesian dualism

In fact, I do believe that it only presupposes a conceptual distintion, not necessarly an ontological separation (like Cartersian dualism). We could be connected with the external world, but it doesn't entail that external world and us are the same.

It also seems to presuppose a basic materiality to what there is, yet idealists would disagree

I agree. But an idealist could consider the external world a product of human mind (or of some type of universal consciousness), but it doesn't mean that he identifies the mind with the products of the mind (e.g. external reality)

Of course, it depends of the type of idealism under examination.

You write as if there are two ways to think of it: either there is the world out there – reality - and so realism is right, or there is the belief in constructivism and no world out there

Yes, I think that the core ontological question about reality implies the above dilemma.

Pragmatists, positivists constructivists give, in my opinion, only epistemological arguments about that problem; but I think there can't be third ontological alternative to the question "is there an external reality?".

I haven't yet read Nelson Goodman (I know he's a important philosopher), but I see in his argument the same problem: the word "created" is used in a way the identify concepts and ideas with their referents.

He seems to assume that a "created" linguistic model of the universe implies that the latter is ontologically created by language. It seems to mix up an epistemological problem with an ontological one; he seems to identify concepts and linguistic models with their ontological referents.

About the quantum mechanics and the problem of observation, I think it's very interesting topic; and I don't have a definitive philosophical view about its ontological implications. In any case, I'd recommend you the recent book titled "Quantum enigma: physics enounters consciousness" by physicists Bruce Rosemblum and Fred Kuttner:

http://quantumenigma.com/

It explains that problem in a scientific, not mystical mode. And it's very easy to understand and grasp.

I'll try to read in depth Goodman's books to know his position in more detail.

By the way, Jeff, have you thought about writting a post on scientism and positivism? I'd like to know your philosophical opinion about them in a separated post.

ZC

Zetetic_chick said...

Jeff,

In the online magazine anti-matters (www.anti-matters.org), a recent article titled "Facts and the self from a constructivist point of view" was published:

http://anti-matters.org/ojs/index.php/antimatters/article/view/89/82

The author of that article writes at the summary: "Empirical facts are constructs based on regularities in a subject’s experience. They are “viable” if they maintain their usefulness and serve their purposes in the pursuit of goals. In the course of organizing and systematizing experience, the subject creates not only objects to which independent existence is attributed but also Others to whom the subject imputes such status and capabilities as are conceivable, given the subject’s expe-rience. As in the case of concepts, theories, beliefs, and other more abstract structures, the facts a subject has found to be viable gain a higher degree of viability when success-ful predictions can be made by imputing the use of these facts to Others. This additional viability is the constructivist’s counterpart to “objectivity"

As far I don't fully agree with that view (by the reasons discussed in my earlier comments), it could be of your philosphical interest.

ZC

Jeff Meyerhoff said...

* Thanks for reading my response so closely.
>
> Reflecting on your post and the construstivism's position, I think
> definitions should be made clear.
>
> Nobody denies that language plays a large role in our understanding of
> the world.

* Plays a role and unclear how to disentangle it. And if you can't say: this is language and this is non-language then what do you know?

>
> Since Kant, we know that the "noumenal reality" (sorry if my
> translation is wrong; I've read him only in spanish) isn't directly
> known, only indirectly through our cognitive capabilities.
>
> Constructivism seems to be similar to Kant's thesis, but focusing in
> the language intermediation.
>
> In any case, if we agree that "Certainly there seems to be something
> out there that we interact with", we're accepting, at least in
> principle, the thesis of ontological realism: an external reality
> exists.

* Maybe I shouldn't have said "Certainly". I don't want to make an ontological judgment. I wanted to acknowledge that I understand the intuitive experience of something being out there. Or that we experience a solidity to the world. The problems start when you start to put words to that experience and then make
the words work together in a consistent fashion.

* In Buddhist meditation you examine closely the experience of that world through the sense doors and it's interesting to see experience that solidity
slowly melting. It gives one a different take on reality.

>
> In that point, the discussion is in any case epistemological (about how
> to know that reality or if it's possible or not), not ontological
> (about the existence of "out there" reality).

* But how do you make an ontological determination? How do you KNOW about the being of what's out there or "reality" unless the epistemological part is
settled? Where does the ontological knowledge or judgment come from? What justifies it? To justify is you have to talk about epistemology.

>
> So, if I didn't misunderstand your position (or the contructivist
> position), I think your question but what is it in itself without any
> language additives? doesn't affect ontological realism, only its
> epistemological version.
>
> But even that way of speaking – “something out there that we interact
> with� – presupposes a lot. It presupposes a separation between me in
> here and the world out there, a very Cartesian dualism
>
> In fact, I do believe that it only presupposes a conceptual distintion,
> not necessarly an ontological separation (like Cartersian dualism). We
> could be connected with the external world, but it doesn't entail that
> external world and us are the same.

* What's the "us" part? We could speak of consciousness or soul. Is that what you mean? Ontologically, what are the parts of reality? And there was my previous question: Whatever one believes about ontology, where does that knowledge come
from?

>
> It also seems to presuppose a basic materiality to what there is, yet
> idealists would disagree
>
> I agree. But an idealist could consider the external world a product of
> human mind (or of some type of universal consciousness), but it doesn't
> mean that he identifies the mind with the products of the mind (e.g.
> external reality)

* Yes, but when people speak philosophically they generally are talking about the really real or ultimate stuff. So idealists and mystics would say that Consciousness or some such is the really real stuff and they may say there "really" is only one stuff.

>
> Of course, it depends of the type of idealism under examination.
>
> You write as if there are two ways to think of it: either there is the
> world out there – reality - and so realism is right, or there is the
> belief in constructivism and no world out there
>
> Yes, I think that the core ontological question about reality implies
> the above dilemma.

* Well, maybe we can go beyond "it is or it isn't". Graham Priest is an interesting
philosopher who argues for dialetheism. This is the view that some contradictions
are true, specifically contradictions that you encounter at the limits of thought. So
maybe it could be that there both is and isn't a world out there. Probably not a very attractive position for you.
>
> Pragmatists, positivists constructivists give, in my opinion, only
> epistemological arguments about that problem; but I think there can't
> be third ontological alternative to the question "is there an external
> reality?".
>
> I haven't yet read Nelson Goodman (I know he's a important
> philosopher), but I see in his argument the same problem: the
> word "created" is used in a way the identify concepts and ideas with
> their referents.
>
> He seems to assume that a "created" linguistic model of the universe
> implies that the latter is ontologically created by language. It seems
> to mix up an epistemological problem with an ontological one; he seems
> to identify concepts and linguistic models with their ontological
> referents.
>
> About the quantum mechanics and the problem of observation, I think
> it's very interesting topic; and I don't have a definitive
> philosophical view about its ontological implications. In any case, I'd
> recommend you the recent book titled "Quantum enigma: physics enounters
> consciousness" by physicists Bruce Rosemblum and Fred Kuttner:
>
> http://quantumenigma.com/

* Thanks, that does look like an interesting book. I like popular science since I don't know the technical/mathematical side of science. Also thanks for
the von Glaserfeld link.

>
> It explains that problem in a scientific, not mystical mode. And it's
> very easy to understand and grasp.
>
> I'll try to read in depth Goodman's books to know his position in more
> detail.
>
> By the way, Jeff, have you thought about writting a post on scientism
> and positivism? I'd like to know your philosophical opinion about them
> in a separated post.

* I'm not sure what you mean by them, but I'm probably critical of them. Does scientism mean that science is the only or supreme way to knowledge? If so I would disagree. There's poetry and literature and wisdom and psychoanalysis and myth.
I'm forgetting what positivism is but years ago I read the Frankfurt School critique of positivism. I think it takes a current world-picture and mistakes
that for what there is.

Zetetic_chick said...

Hi Jeff,

Sorry for the off-topic, but I think it could be interesting.

I don't know what's your position about the mind-body problem, but surely you know that most philosophers accept materialism, and reject dualism.

However, recently (2007) the well-known philosopher of mind William Lycan, a materialist, conceded that "Being a philosopher, of course I would like to think that my stance is rational, held not just instinctively and scientistically and in the mainstream but because the arguments do indeed favor materialism over dualism. But I do not think that, though I used to. My position may be rational, broadly speaking, but not because the arguments favor it: Though the arguments for dualism do (indeed) fail, so do the arguments for materialism. And the standard objections to dualism are not very convincing; if one really manages to be a dualist in the first place, one should not be much impressed by them. My purpose in this paper is to hold my own feet to the fire and admit that I do not proportion my belief to the evidence"

http://www.unc.edu/~ujanel/Du.htm

It's very interesting, because many materialists accept their position as a default position: they see the serious flaws of Cartesian dualism (e.g. the interaction problem) as a support of their position.

But when we examine the arguments for materialism, we find out logical and empirical inconsistences and contradictions too.

ZC

Jeff Meyerhoff said...

ZC,

Thanks for the reference. Lycan's saying just what I explore in my paper "Arguments Beyond Reason" (And in a more developed way in Chapter 9 of "Bald Ambition").

Regarding the mind/body problem, I'd be interested in those who try to understand how these two words arose as opposed designations. The origins of "mind" from the earlier "soul", etc.

Are we taking concepts that arose for various reasons and uses and reifying them into things which then don't fit together and cause insoluble puzzles like the mind/body problem?

And why assume that the concepts "mind" and "body" refer to actual, well-defined entities? When we manipulate concepts are we also getting at the world we assume they refer to?

The above is a standard later Wittgensteinian position.

I like Richard Rorty's comparison of Daniel Dennett - a materialist - and Thomas Nagel - who believes in something irreducibly subjective - in his article "Daniel Dennett on Intrinsicality".

I looked at that Steven Yates article you recommended on relativism but need to look further. It's hard for me to read things that don't exactly correspond to my desires at the moment. But I appreciate your selflessness in referring me to articles that are exactly what I'm talking about.

(I see you chose a new thumbnail picture.)

Jeff