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Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Indexicals and dispositions: two varieties of perspectivism

It is common to understand opaque contexts as those where things appear as something - as opposed to transparent contexts where things appear as such. It is a tricky distinction, surely. But still sometimes a useful one. Descriptions of qualities or modes of presentation introduce a sort of opacity. Think of dispositions, for example.
When A is (physically) intended towards B, A intends a bill to be fitted that it happens to be satisfied by B. It doesn´t really matter what else B is, provided that it is, say, a mammal, a glass of water or a piece of solid ground that holds some weight. A sees B as something. I have been suspecting for a while that here we are very close to the talk of perspectives. There is a sense in which A has a perspective on B. Interestingly, it is not the kind of perspective that is brought about by indexicality.

Kit Fine, for instance, in his studies of perspectives focused primarily on tense, considers those perspectives brought up by the A-series of McTaggart (past, present, future). Fine´s approach could also tackle perspectives like that of the actual world (as this world) or the ones of my (first-person) view as opposed to a third person perspective. In all those cases, perspectives arise from indexicals - me, now, this, here etc. Similarly, when Viveiros de Castro diagnoses a perspectivism in the multinaturalism of the native Amazonians, he connects a perspective with a body: different bodies (like that of a human and that of a jaguar) have different perspectives. Perspectives has to do with the position one occupies, it is a point of view, a pointer towards something and, in that sense, it depends on being in a space, in a location - a view from somewhere.

Leibniz, in his late work Monadology, talks about the perspectives of a monad and, in section 57 compares these perspectives with the point of view on a single town available from different parts. It is a complicated comparison because he conflates two varieties of perspective. The idea of a point of view insinuates a location from which something is viewed. And yet monads have no location. They occupy no space in the system of late Leibniz. In a letter to des Bosses dated of 1709 Leibniz explains his shift from a notion of individual substance as souls that are like points (with a location in space but no dimention) to his later view that they are not spatial and have no location. It is part of his move from a doctrine of bugs all the way down to the doctrive of monads representing and expressing themselves in the bit of matter they govern - and that is itself governed by other monads. But if the monad has no location, it cannot have a perspective in the point of view sense, in the indexical sense. Leibniz´s monads have perspective in the former sense above, of taking something as something. Each monad takes the others to be something for it. It is a perspective on the world so far as there is a preestablished harmony. Monads have no body (they express themselves best in bits of the matter, but not for ever). To be sure, perspective in this sense is also related to location, but it is rather about location in the configuration of things (of monads). To have a perspective is somehow to represent something as something. The representation can be anywhere. Dispositions also represent. Dispositional perspectives are different from indexical ones.

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