09 March 2007

On Making Myself At Home

William James wrote somewhere (I'm feeling too lazy to look it up) that there is a class of cases where the word "it" has no clear antecedent, yet where this apparent ambiguity is perfectly acceptable as a matter of idiomatic English. "It is raining," after all, is a simple statement of fact. Nobody, hearing it, scratches his head and askes, "what is raining?" The phrase in question conveys the same meaning as "Rain is falling at this moment," yet conveys it in half as many syllables.

The lesson: we can't deduce a metaphysical fact from a grammatical subject.

So what of the pronoun "I" in the sentence "I think"? This is one crucial problem with Descartes' famous reasoning. The thoughts with which he tormented himself in the course of his methodical doubt, the thought that there might be a powerful evil demon, etc., and the thought "I think" itself, might all be rain, as it were, coming from no "substance" more specific than the atmosphere at large. Or much less specific than that. All we can really get from paraphrasing "cogito ergo sum" with such an understanding is this: "Thinking goes on, therefore a universe that includes thought, exists."

Okay, all of this is derivative. Not only have I stolen from James, I've stolen it from myself. I just posted the same thoughts on a listserve I run. But why should the first post on a new blog not be derivative? At least, in this way I don't set myself any impossibly high hurdle for future jumps.

I have been blogging for about a year and a half now at blog-city. Unfortunately, blog-city will cease offering us the cyber-real estate for free at the end of this year, and is already making various changes that seem designed to drive us out ahead of that. So I figured I'd begin my migration to blogspot today.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.