MD A Brief Proposal for a 5th Level

Date: Sat Aug 09 2003 - 20:26:13 BST

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    Sam and stuff,

    Call me bored, but I thought I'd add my agreement with Sam's Wittgensteinian reading of the structure of the MoQ.

    Sam said:
    The tenor of Wittgenstein's thought was against 'internal' meanings, at least as the primary foundation for language (which is why I see language as operating at the social level). His 'private language' argument, for example, famously demolishes the idea that the sense or meaning of a language is restricted to individual perception - on the contrary, it is public. So thinking is foundationally a public activity, rooted in a shared public life (the 'language game'). Hence: "If a lion could talk, we could not understand him" - because we do not have a shared society with the lion, whereas we do with our fellow human beings, more or less.

    I've struggled a long time with Pirsig's description of the levels, dating all the way back to my "priest" days. For simplicity sake, I would normally make language synonymous with the 4th level, since for Sellarsian philosophers of mind, where there is thinking, there is language. But where does that leave the 3rd, social level? I ignored that for the most part, but I kinda' thought it might some form of primitive social level, like that which lions and ants might have. I always thought reducing all animals to the biological level was a bit strong. To me, there's a big difference between a gorilla and an amoeba. But I never really had anything concrete to propose, other than the hack-and-steal job I did on Ayn Rand in one of my earlier essays.

    Since Sam's proposal for a 4th level as eudaimonia and his reassertion of Wittgenstein's view of language, it makes perfect sense to make language a social type level. However, as long as we're making a mess of Pirsig's MoQ (or, rather, cleaning it up), why are we keeping to 4 levels? Because its symmetrical? Pooey, I say. We're not engaged in a dialectical, phenomenological, or transcendental deduction, we're engaged in a historical analysis. I say, let there be five levels. (And no, the MoQ doesn't count as a fifth level.) I say, let there be an inorganic level (including rocks), a biological level (including cells, trees, and amoeba), a social level (including monkeys and lions), an intellectual level (including primitive humans and babies), and an eudamonic level (including the rich North Atlantic countries). The distinguising mark of the inorganic level is non-replicating persistence, the biological level replicating persistence, the social level prelinguistic s
    ocial behavior (non-solipsistic awareness), the intellectual level linguistic social behavior, and the eudamonic level autonomous human flourishing. To my mind, the Enlightenment marked the movement into a new level (despite my use of Sam's title of "eudamonia," which is anachronistic).

    As a side point about the Wittgensteinian view of language, Sam said, "Hence: 'If a lion could talk, we could not understand him' - because we do not have a shared society with the lion, whereas we do with our fellow human beings, more or less." This is misleading after Quine and Davidson. Quine and then Davidson trace out the consequences of Wittgenstein's later views of language and say that, theoretically, all langauges are translatable because translation is simply a matter of predicting which marks, noises, or movements a langauge-user will make next. If a lion already was making noises predictable enough that we would say he was talking, then we are already on are way to understanding him. Because societies are open, because languages are not closed, they are always interpenetrated by other languages and societies. Part of translating the lion's language would include the introduction to his society. Its possible that his society is so foreign from ours that we w
    ould understand very little, but given certain similarities of biological and social evolution, I doubt we couldn't make a few rudimentary translations. And as we continued our efforts at translation, we would continue to be immersed in their society and culture.

    The only way a "language" wouldn't be translatable is if it weren't made up of marks, noises, or movements. The only one I can think of is something like the telepathy used by the buggers in Ender's Game (by Orson Scott Card). But even then, some form of translation was made possible (after excrutiating attempts) because differences weren't that astronomical based on our similiarities as biological creatures.

    But this has nothing (immediate) to do with Pirsig, and Sam probably already readily agrees with this.


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