Emotive Realism Ch. 2

Here is the (rough draft) of the second chapter of the dissertation. Again, comments are welcome!

Emotive Realism Ch. 2 –Language and Metaethics

A propos of all the recent discussion of Berkeley, here is an excerpt

It had been long recognized that language can be used to do more than to merely describe the world. This is explicit in Berkeley, especially in Section 20 of the Introduction to his Principles (Berkeley 1710/1998). He there says,

Besides, the communicating of ideas marked by words is not the chief and only end of language, as is commonly supposed. There are other ends, as the raising of some passion, the exciting to, or deterring from an action, the putting the mind in some particular disposition…I entreat the reader to reflect with himself, and see if it doth not often happen either in hearing or reading a discourse, that the passions of fear, love, hatred, admiration, disdain, and the like arise, immediately in his mind upon the perception of certain words, without any ideas coming between (p 99)

He even suggests that ‘good’ and ‘danger’ are examples of words that do not stand for ideas but rather serve to excite passions or exhort to action. This is mentioned in Warnock’s Ethics since 1900 (Warnock 1960, p 64) but what she does not point out is that Berkeley is much more radical than this. He goes on in Section 20 to argue that even proper names “do not seem always spoken, with a design to bring into our view the Ideas of those individuals that are supposed to be marked by them.” Sometimes they are used “to dispose me to embrace his opinion,” as when I say that Aristotle held some view simply as a way of getting you to accept it. So, it had been a long standing view in the empiricist tradition that language could be used in ways that went contrary to their meanings and for more subtle purposes than to describe the world.

A Random Thought about the Oscars

So, I was watching the Oscars last night and I was struck by the fact that there is a separate prize for best actor and best actress (in both lead and supporting categories). It seems to me that there is no reason to have separate awards for these, I mean we do not have separate racial awards (best Black actor, best Hispanic actor, etc), nor do they have seperate awards based on sexual preference (best gay actor, best straight actor). So why on Earth should they have seperate actor/actress awards? It seems to me that they should drop ‘actress’ altogether and group everyone under ‘actor’. That way men and women would compete for ‘best actor’.

Has Idealism Been Refuted?

So, I have been having a very nice and informative discussion with Brandon about Berkeley’s so-called “Master Argument” which got me to thinking. Has immaterialism been refuted? It seems to me not. Here is a brief, and no doubt sketchy, survery of some of the better known ‘refutations’.

I. Kant

Kant famously argued as follows:

I am conscious of my own existence as determined in time. All determination of time presupposes something permanent in prception. This permanent cannot, however, be something in me, since it is only through this permenent that my existence in time can iteself be determined. Thus perception of this permanent is possible only through a thing outside me and not through a mere representation of a thing outside me…(B276)

Let us leave aside the problems with applying the concept ‘thing’ to noumena. It seems clear that this is question beging against the immaterialist, for they will gladly admit that there is something outside their mind; namely immaterial ideas. Kant’s argument only establishes, if it establishes anything, that our experience is not possible if we are solipsists

2. Moore

Moore, as I understand it, argued that the nature of judgement refutes idealism. Our hudgments are about things that are outside our minds and this fact shows that not everything is in the mind. But again, this is nothing more than question beging for the same reasons as given above. What argument has been given that the things outside the mind are not themselves mental?

3. Armstrong

Armstrong identifies materialism with the view that only the postulates of physics are ultimately real. He then argues against immaterialism using something that is closer to my heart; namely the causal clusure of the physical. We have no reason to believe that there are immaterial substances because it would be utterly mysterious how they would causally act in the world. But yet again this is just question beging against the immaterialist from the get go. The immaterialist can happil;y admit that the only things that are ultimately real are the postulates of physics but then maintain that electrons and quarks are simply ideas out of which more complex ideas are composed.

So it seems to me that idealism is far from being refuted. Rather it just seems that people are sick of arguing about it…Now, I don’t mean to say that it is true (or that it is false; I am agnostic).

Are there any other refutations of idealism that I don’t know about?

Email and Speech Acts

There are broadly speaking two conceptions of how we perfrom speech act. One, the Austinian one, is that speech acts are purely conventional. So to promise is simly to utter the words ‘I promise…’ because there is a convention in English that says that saying ‘I promise…’ counts as making a promise. The other view is that (at least some) speech acts are performed via a kind of Gricean intention. This is the view that Strawson defended in his famous paper ‘Intention and Convention in Speech Acts’. On this view what makes something a promise is the intention that the speaker has in uttering it. In other words if I intend to be making a promise (and other conditions are met) then I count as making a promise.

 Now, one thing I have noticed, is that when communicating via email it is easy to misinterpret what someone has ‘said’ (hence emoticons), which can lead to a quick escalation of tensions. How is this possible? It seems that the only way that this is possible is if the Strawsonian conception of speech acts is right. If performing a speech act is a purely convention act then there should be no question of whether a certain token, say of ‘I promise…’, is a promise, or a threat, or a guarentee, or what. 

One may think, ‘ah, but there are different conventions governing that sentence type’ then one still needs to know what convention the ‘speaker’ intends to be conforming to. Either way the purely conventional nature of speech acts is brought into question.