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Monday, 18 May 2015

The frictioning 'we's

In the last talk I saw at the Hegel-McDowell conference in Belo Horizonte, Jack Samuel took up Crispin Wright's communitarianism and the private language argument read together in consonance with section 185 of the Wittgenstein's Investigations. Wright bites the bullet that if there is a private language problem there is a public language problem too. Yet the latter problem signals the limits to any notion of correction: norms cannot be considered correct (or incorrect) beyond the pale of a public language. The thrust of communitarism is that correction (and normativity) springs from a friction between a merely private content and an independent stance of judgment. Samuel criticizes Wright's position for its limited resources to criticize the burn of the itches, say. Friction can be the key here too: there is no outer, independent stance to assess what is correct in the case, and therefore what seems correct is correct. But there is a sense where there is such a stance - the very stance that makes us judge what happened as incorrect. Normativity is an issue of frictioning stances, of frictioning spheres - sometimes of larger spheres but also often of alternative spheres, of alternative public standards. New 'we's are new communities that endorse different norms ("met the norms and they are (this new) us"). When different spheres come in, different standards of correction emerge.

When the 185 pupil learns how to add 2, she's learning what is expected to be repeated and what is not - that a certain rhythm is preserved although it doesn't matter how it is preserved. It is indifferent to the rhythm which instrument is used in carrying the beat on. It is also indifferent how one states the number in the sequence - 'thousand and two', say, or '1002'. She is, in a sense, learning what is important. If a different mathematics comes along and understands "add 2" as we understand "add 2 up to 1000 and then add 4 up to 2000 and so forth", There is a sense where then we can say that crossing 1000 (or 2000 and so forth) has for this mathematics some previously unknown importance. But this new importance can only be expressed from the point of view of a matrix of (differences and) indifferences associated with the standard mathematics.

The new spheres that introduce the ingredients of normativity could be something like extended communities - extended to include more elements. For example, the can include people living other lives, actants with different sense of importance, points of views disconsidered in a narrower community. They could also be alternative projected communities, like one could appeal to judge correction of an action from, say, a feminist, a non-whitesupremacist or a transsexual standard. Povinelli's insistence on Chippel (that could seem like a rock formation, a geotic being) as a form of life is an insistence that she entertains a standard of correction - a set of norms - that is different from one that emerges from a human-only community. To be sure, she needs mediators - and human agents are natural candidates - so that her standards can be considered and expressed in terms of norms. But she confronts a set of norms with the norms accepted in the currently established (post-colonial) communities. She operates a correction conflict. And she deals in matters of importance.

If communitarianism is right, it ought to embrace a cubist turn.

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