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Sunday, 5 June 2016

Accented concepts: the distorted Anerkennung

Three poles is likely to be better than two - at least they acknowledge that there are more characters in the knowledge plot than just the craving subject and the resilient and yet indifferent object. A third pole alleviates the tension providing a mediation - or perhaps the materials for a correlation. A third pole gives us a chance to know something at least a bit external while not being fully out there - if the object is not reached, at least we're not confined to one pole. Yet, this is what seems to me to be important, three poles are still not enough.

Davidson's efforts are the best presentation of a third pole: the intersubjective one that ensures that knowledge comes in three interconnected (correlated) varieties: knowledge of the external world, knowledge of one's own mental life and knowledge of the mental life of the others. Neither the first nor the second - and this is why strict Cartesianism is rejected - can be achieved without the third. Of course, the third needs the first and the second too because interpreting is an exercise in ascribing sanctioned truths to others. The triangle is very illuminating because none of the three poles is the mediating pole - as it is maybe in Kant. None can be taken in isolation from the other two - just like in a correlation, the links go in both direction. So, for instance, my self-knowledge is a route for me to improve my deployment of the conceptual capacities the others share and the external world I share with them is a route for me to reach my understanding of both the concepts around me and my own states. Also, intersubjectivity - us, and our conceptual norms ("we met the norms and they are us", would add Brandom - is the mediating route to reach the external world. That is, through practices associated to concepts I engage through thinking with the world.

Trouble is that contrary to what Davidson wished and expected, intersubjectivity fragments. He was adamant (and based on good arguments) that there could be no more than one conceptual scheme. Granted. Yet, he himself in "A nice derrangement" concludes (again with good arguments) that there is no such thing called language, at least something like language that we can be introduced to or acquire en bloc. It is a Wittgensteinian point and it is, I believe, his most Wittgensteinian writing. However, if we read further into what he was on about there, we could say that there is no intersubjective sets of conceptual practices that we can be introduced to or acquire, not even gradually. Practices do have commonalities but it is likely that they are understood through mechanisms like formulating something like "passing theories" with all the resources one has in store. Conceptual practices could be common to groups of humans, but only given a plethora of circumstances and favorable forces. In fact, it seems like this commonality had to be reached (has to be sponsored) in every instance. We engage in all sorts of different conceptual practices in different Lebensformen and in different surroundings. Why would these practices be confined in one single pole dedicated to our shared concept-monger condition? Further, it is not clear that some practices are not derivative from alliances some of us craft with units of agency that are not conceptual. Our mingling with the world requires alliances and agreements that are often done without conceptual niceties. I suspect these practices, among the many others that we share in the course of life, shape our use of concepts in a relevant way. If this is so, we have non-public accents in public (conceptual) languages. Also, we then have many poles, many mediations. Intuitions without them are blind, but then again everything can provide mediation. To mediate is to distort, sure, but it is also to provide new vistas. Whitehead would say: don't fear mediation, just make sure it is enabling you to see enough. (Meillassoux would add: of course, and he, Whitehead, would be sure that there is nothing else to be seen but mediators - just correlations, as the furniture of the universe. But then again, Whitehead would just insist that reality doesn't have to be understood as for ever bifurcated from experience.)

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