Re: MD Intellectual level - New letter from Pirsig

Date: Sat Oct 11 2003 - 20:51:06 BST

  • Next message: David Buchanan: "RE: MD Intellectual level - New letter from Pirsig"


    You tagged me the other day about language. You said, "Is all experience a form of language? (Matt what d'ya think?)
    Does language speak Man?"

    Now, I haven't been following much of any of the conversations lately, for reasons that will become apparent in an hour or so. So, I simply comment on the language bit and what pragmatists think about that.

    "Is all experience a form of language?" That's a loaded question. First, I'm not sure what to make of "a form of language." If you had just asked me if all experience was linguistic, I would have a much easier time answering. So, I'm going to pretend you did. Pragmatists are partial to the Heideggerianism "language speaks Man", so in one sense, yes. And I think Pirsig shows the signs of agreeing with it when he says in ZMM (somewhere, towards the back I think) that man didn't create religion, religion created man.

    When a person says that all experience is linguistic, they are agreeing with Wilfrid Sellars' who said that "all awareness is a linguistic affair", what Sellars' called his psychological nominalism and Rorty called at one time epistemological behaviorism. What psychological nominalism means is that all of our knowledge is linguistic knowledge, it is internal to language. We do not have what Russell called "knowledge by acquaintence", knowledge of "raw feels", i.e. what Pirsig calls "the pre-intellectual cutting edge of experience". We don't have _knowledge_ of this cutting edge, though we are certainly effected by it. The pragmatist line is that to know something is to talk about. Knowledge is not what the mystics are after.

    Now, we are brought back to this issue of experience, though. Don't we have non-linguistic experience? Sure, all the time. The distinction the pragmatists want to make, following Davidson, is a seperation of "causes" and "reasons". Our experiences cause us to have certain beliefs, like "I see a tree." But non-linguistic experience does not give us reasons for belief. Knowledge is our set of beliefs that we call true, like "trees create oxygen" and "Shakespeare was a genius". Knowledge is justified belief. The justificatory process is a linguistic process in which you give _reasons_ for your belief. If you say "there's a tree outside" and person asks "how do you know?" you can reply "I saw it." "I saw it" is short-hand for "the world caused me to have this belief, 'There is a tree outside.'" It did not give you a reason to think it, it caused you to think it. Showing the person the tree, rather than telling him "I saw it", isn't a reason either. It is simply givi
    ng him the same experience you had that caused you to have the belief.

    The other objection to Sellars' formulation is that can't we say that babies and other higher animals have knowledge, like knowledge of when they are hungry and such. This is where Sellars distinguishes between "awareness-as-discriminative-behavior" and "awareness-as-knowledge". The baby discriminates between patterns such as non-hunger and hunger and tiger between food (humans) and non-food (trees). (Too bad for Roy that the tiger forgot to make that discrimination.) The tiger and the baby don't have reasons to believe these things (if we ascribe them beliefs), they are caused to believe them.


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