07 August 2007

The Big Picture

I realize that this blog must seem rather unfocused. Still, in my mind there is a Big Picture in back of everything, into which everything fits. Let me try to state it in "Tractatus" style, with numbered propositions.

1. To know is simply to be warranted in one's beliefs.
2. You are warranted in believing the evidence of your senses as modified over time by your own memory and your species’ records
3. The world is a place where a plurality of mutually irreducible (and, perhaps, incommensurable) forces contend, and where sometimes these irreducibles find themselves in co-operation.
4. Consciousness and life are inexplicable in terms of mechanism.
5. You are warranted in believing that the world as a whole is both conscious and alive, in just the sense in which you are conscious and alive.
6. There was no time without conscious material life, nor shall there be such a time.
7. Right and wrong don’t follow from commands or deductions. They follow from the great higgle-haggle.
8. This proto-ethical haggling is of necessity self-interested.
9. Self interest isn't itself an ethical judgment.


Not surprisingly, there is some room for further explication of these statements. Let's start with the thesis about knowledge as such.

1.1 A belief is a disposition to articulate a certain range of sentences in certain contexts
1.1.1 It is the sentence that is said to be “true” in the first instance, the “belief” that induces it is true by association only
1.1.2 Attributing “true” to either a sentence or a belief has no univocal meaning except that of approval
1.2 The common efforts to define knowledge as “warranted true belief” are too wordy. The adjective "true" can drop out and all of value in the definition remains
1.3 Warrant may be understood pragmatically, as a reference to the workings of the beliefs of particular people in particular contexts.

Then the second thesis, regarding knowledge of the external world? I'd expand it thus:

2.1 Even if life is a dream, it is a dream within which the senses provide evidence which in turn is modified by, etc., so the same inferences follow despite the re-labelling
2.2 The specious present allows for the continuity of our individual memories
2.3 Your own memories intermesh so conveniently with the accounts of others that you are warranted in the belief that those others, too, have minds
2.3.1 So if life is a dream, you aren’t alone in it.
2.3.2 So life is not in any significant sense a dream.
2.4 This intermeshing doesn’t depend upon bodily similarity or other incidents of the “argument from analogy.”

The third thesis describes the most general features of the world as we find it.

3.1 The “world” in the sense of this statement is the whole of what we can learn through the methods described in statement 2.
3.2 Whether the world is “everything that is the case” is an open question
3.2.1 but not a very interesting one.
3.3 The recognition of disunity is an imperative, precisely because the drive to unification is so tempting as an ideal.
3.4 The world consists of things and events, though both have very permeable boundaries.

And the fourth thesis rules out reductionism as a strategy of comprehension. Consciousness and life are inexplicable in terms of mechanism.

4.1 Neither of the three key words in this statement is obscure in its meaning. Each is understood to all fluent in the language.
4.1.1 “Mechanism” means the action of particles in motionm conceived of as pushing and pulling one another
4.1.2 “Life” means the delicate mutual adjustments and self-perpetuation of a planetary ecosystem
4.1.3 “Consciousness” means that which ‘comes on’ when you awake.
4.2 The relationships among the realities that these terms connote is often characterized as “emergence,” i.e. life emerged from matter/mechanism, and consciousness “emerged” from life.
4.3 But to speak of emergence is merely to state a puzzle, not to resolve one.

I'll conclude (for now) with some explication of the fifth thesis.

5.1 Perhaps matter itself requires explanation, or perhaps it may sometime be reducible to self-generating knots in space-time or something of that sort.
5.1.1 The philosopher must leave such matters to the advance of empirical science, knotty as that advance is likely to be.
5.2 Yet if we are open to that possibility, should we not (a reductionist might ask us) be open to the possibility that life shall be the next step up the ladder, knots in the knots in space-time?
5.3 To which we can answer fairly, "no." Because the order of explanation must be reversed, and the parts explained with reference to the whole, the species and organisms by the eco-system.

No comments:

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.