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poetix
01-12-2008, 12:24 PM
From a post at Limited Inc (http://limitedinc.blogspot.com/2008/11/on-ludwig-hohl.html):


This is a story from Ludwig Hohl’s Notices – I don’t know if this has been translated. Hohl has his supporters in English – George Steiner calls him the secret master of German 20th century prose.

“Story

Three men had a fearful fight, each struggling against each. The fight raged over the question of what kind of parts a house is divided into.

The first said: “a house falls into: the cellar, the ground floor, the second floor, the third, etc.”
The second cried: “out of wood, stone, mortar, metals – this is what constitutes a house!”
The third, raging against the first true and treating them as liars and scoundrels, as they collaborated between them and against him, observed that a house falls into lines, and referred to an outline and a profile, on which the length and thickness of every wall, the breadth, length and height of the rooms were giving. Everything else was nonsense, only such projections show the exact parts.
Is it necessary to add that the three men fought to the death, because none would concede that the other was right? One died after the other – as an idiot and hero.”

poetix
01-12-2008, 12:27 PM
Note that this differs from the usual "blind men with elephant" scenario. The antagonists don't have different partial perspectives; they have different final vocabularies (and are all, in their own way, greedy reductionists).

vimothy
01-12-2008, 12:37 PM
Quite

poetix
01-12-2008, 01:35 PM
Three wikipedia entries of possible interest:


Greedy Reductionism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greedy_reductionism)
Mereological Nihilism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mereological_nihilism)
High and low level (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_level)

nomadthethird
02-12-2008, 04:56 AM
Right...because language doesn't matter, houses are just houses.

They exist in an ideal pre-Kantian (pre-Xenophanesean?) realm outside of language, where language and resulting belief systems and/or cultural "values" systems are just footnotes to objects that are real.

I thought this was a sort of reductionism that was not useful a few threads ago.

Hey I just came up with a little poem about this:

There once was a time when
it was cool to say that
Language is die Ursprung des Seines.

nomadthethird
02-12-2008, 05:00 AM
Thanks for those links that are all pointing out that abstractions are real...and that in some systems, there are higher level abstractions...whodathunkit?

What none of these links explain (or explain away) is how higher level abstractions are somehow immune from criticism on the basis of more "molecular" analyses that may contradict the "logic" or "conceptual basis" of these higher level abstractions.

Most people are all for high level abstractions--at least, ones that make some sort of sense to them according to what they perceive about the world.

Funny how easy it would be to use this idea of "greedy reductionism" to simply explain away any rational opposition to one's own "higher level" abstract ideas.

Self-flattery?

nomadthethird
02-12-2008, 05:13 AM
I suppose "politics" doesn't count as a "higher level" abstraction.

Too messy.

nomadthethird
02-12-2008, 05:42 AM
I could link to the wikipedia entry on solipsism, but I suppose that would be a waste of time.

It's real because I think it's real.

I saw that space ship with my own eyes.

Race is real because some people think it is, and perception is reality. Even if others actually perceive that race is not a fact, but a fiction.

nomadthethird
02-12-2008, 05:45 AM
Maybe "solipsism syndrome" would be a better reference, even.

poetix
02-12-2008, 07:30 AM
What none of these links explain (or explain away) is how higher level abstractions are somehow immune from criticism on the basis of more "molecular" analyses that may contradict the "logic" or "conceptual basis" of these higher level abstractions.


It's a familiar enough phenomenon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leaky_abstraction) in my line of work.

tryptych
02-12-2008, 02:24 PM
Three wikipedia entries of possible interest:


Greedy Reductionism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greedy_reductionism)
Mereological Nihilism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mereological_nihilism)
High and low level (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_level)


This is like Dan Dennett's "intentional stance" theory on consciousness:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intentional_stance

poetix
02-12-2008, 02:35 PM
Right...because language doesn't matter, houses are just houses.

They exist in an ideal pre-Kantian (pre-Xenophanesean?) realm outside of language, where language and resulting belief systems and/or cultural "values" systems are just footnotes to objects that are real.

I don't follow. Am I supposed to have said something to the effect that language doesn't matter and that houses are just houses? How might you have gained the impression that I said that?

As for "ideal pre-Kantian..." - isn't it Kant who's the (transcendental) idealist?

nomadthethird
03-12-2008, 12:21 AM
Yes, remember, the race discussion?

It's only PC zealots who dare question the biological validity of "race" as it's commonly understood? Or is that not what you meant?

I said "pre-Kantian" because according to Kantian transcendental idealism, perception of an object in a mind is the only sense in which an object is real. Take minds out of the world and there'd be no world.

There were brands of idealism before Kant or Berkeley where only objects were real and language or minds that described objects did not exist in this same realm...I'm thinking mostly of Malebranche but there were tons of em. After Kant the favored forms were different and took the subject as the most basic metaphysical unit.

I'm not a big fan of Fichte, either. Searle I can deal with.

nomadthethird
03-12-2008, 12:25 AM
Anyway, what I was responding to was that poem/story about the three men describing the same phenomenon with different language.

The implication being that it's silly to focus on descriptive language, or to argue about one type over another, when we're all describing the same objects? Or is that not the implication of that story?

poetix
03-12-2008, 07:55 AM
Yes, remember, the race discussion?

It's only PC zealots who dare question the biological validity of "race" as it's commonly understood? Or is that not what you meant?

Why would that be what I meant? It's certainly not reasonably inferrable from what I actually said.

nomadthethird
03-12-2008, 08:32 AM
Maybe I'm confusing your words with Jambo's.

That thread was a mess. It's really not worth wading through again to get someone's exact wording.

But I believe it was you who said that overly enthusiastic Butler readers are being merely PC when they suggest that gender is a sort of fiction, as is "reality" as a set of universalizable principles...there were three propositions that were supposedly held by these sorts of people that were ridiculous because they didn't recognize things like "race" and "gender" as being "real" in the same way that cells and molecules are...this idea was further illustrated by some sort of cartoon about "fake swords based on pretend swords" or something ...

In my opinion this was a misreading of Butler at very least, who never said that "race is not real, gender is not real, reality is a social construct"... for Butler and most of her fans race is a social construct in much the same way "reality" is...

jambo
03-12-2008, 10:37 AM
Thanks for the paralax(ative) poetix.

For the record I didn't read this post as a criticism of abstraction or language, I read it as a gentle reminder that different abstractions may coexist and be simultaneously valid.

jambo
03-12-2008, 10:42 AM
Maybe I'm confusing your words with Jambo's.
If you are then you mistook what I was saying there in a big way. I'm sure I explained that at the time. But yes, let's not go back to that.

poetix
03-12-2008, 01:44 PM
Here, very schematically, is what I think about race and reality. I apologise for going over it again, because what I think about this is actually very boring and unoriginal. However, it may be useful to attempt to be clear about things.

Because the "folk" or ideological notion of race is incoherent at the level of social appearance, racist ideology tries to ground it in a deeper, "biological" concept of racial essence. There is obviously some value in debunking the latter. But racism is only "biological" racism in the last resort; the racial science of the 19th century was the handmaiden of imperialism, not its originating cause.

(Incidentally, although this is a bit of a digression, I don't think one can simply dismiss C19th racial science as "pseudoscience" here: racial science was ideologically motivated and untrue, but a scientific theory can be both wrong and scientific, as well as both ill-motivated and broadly right. It's radically unscientific to use "scientific" as a synonym for "God's own blessed truth". So the things that were wrong with racial science - that its theories were wrong and its motivations were bad - can't usefully be characterised as deviations from a normative model of scientific practice, unless one thinks that science done properly always produces true theories and is always politically progressive in its guiding motivations. There was and is also racist pseudoscience, of course - cargo cult invocations of scientific rigour being used to back up claims that were wholly confabulated - but that doesn't cover the whole field).

Reading the autobiography of Malcolm X recently, I was struck by the quite schematic progression from racial subjectivation (the "hustler memoir" part of the book, a fairly stereotypical account of a certain sort of racialised existence) through transvaluation of race ("the white man is the devil") to a recognition of the ideological character of racial categories (Islam as transversal). Race is subjectively real in at the start of the book, objectively real in the middle, and politically real at the end. We might also say that it becomes first subjectively and then objectively unreal: "X" marks the spot where the racialised self is rejected and discarded as an inauthentic phantom, Mecca is the place where a "higher" reality is revealed that demonstrates the incoherence of racial categories. But none of this has very much to do with biology: it never really matters either way whether or not "genetically" there are such things as "Negroes" and "Caucasians".

PC assertions of the unreality of race are "well-meaning and ineffective" because they don't account for either racial subjectivation (the fact that people really are "raced" by racism, although they are also able to resist and reject this process) or the political reality of race as part of a nexus of power relations (imperialism, class, gender and so on). Arguments over the scientific status of race are to my mind tangential to the real area of contention, which is political first and foremost.

If it happened to be the case that human beings were neatly divisible into discrete "races" in terms of their genetic makeup, and that these "biological races" mapped more or less closely onto the racial categories employed (inconsistently, by various warring parties) in contemporary society, it would nevertheless not necessarily follow that any of the other things racial supremacists believed about race was true. The "races" might have turned out to be genetically indistinguishable except in terms of a small set of totally socially insignificant ("cosmetic", say) characteristics. Race could have turned out to be "biologically real" but irrelevantly so; my understanding is that it is in fact "biologically unreal", but also (largely) irrelevantly so.

nomadthethird
03-12-2008, 08:46 PM
Of course, I agree with you entirely except on one point:

I think the token left is very strong on the idea of race as an intersubjective "truth" while being soft on the idea that race is not a biological fact. I've actually never heard anyone who qualifies as "PC" over here dispute the facticity of race, just the ethos/identity politics that swirl around race-based stereotypes and racist caricatures. And this bothers me, because in the U.S. the oldest and still the most predominant fantasy (via fundamentalist Christianity) among racists relies on that old "curse of Caan"/"blacks are genetically inferior" line. This is especially strange to me, that the PC establishment (by which I suppose we're talking about academia and certain media outlets) glosses over biological arguments here when it invariably jumps to the "gay is genetic" argument to combat homophobia and anti-gay speech. Of course, there is not much evidence yet that sexuality is "genetic" or some kind of phenotypic trait (and even if it were, environmental factors could still exert quite a bit of influence over genes as phenotypic plasticity is always a factor to consider). In fact, the idea that "gay is genetic" is often used by the religious right to defend the notion that being gay is some kind of hideous birth defect. I don't know which is worse--this one, or the notion that being gay is always the result of sexual abuse or some kind of "perversion"/fetish/paraphilia like pedophilia.

P.S. I'll avoid boring anyone further, but I definitely agree that it's not quite right to say that the old "race science" of the 19th century wasn't "scientific"--it's certainly true that at the time, according to what was known, the hypotheses regarding "race" met the same set of standards any well-regarded theory now meets. But this is part of why I find science so interesting, because it's never finished revising itself...

nomadthethird
03-12-2008, 08:56 PM
Thanks for the paralax(ative) poetix.

For the record I didn't read this post as a criticism of abstraction or language, I read it as a gentle reminder that different abstractions may coexist and be simultaneously valid.

Right, Jambo. But there's no science, or theory, or philosophy without constant re-evaluation of technical/descriptive language. Some of the most interesting developments in theory, philosophy, and science, imo, have come on the heels of arch exchanges and all-out jargon warfare.

For most philosophers or students of philosophy, it's differences between theories that are more interesting than broad similarities. When it comes to the sort of transversal dialectic between science and metaphysics/philosophy, you can only expect a heated debate, right?

What kind of scientist is going to say "well, I imagine we're just talking about the same thing, even though your metaphysical claims contradict x, y, and z"? Not a very interesting one. And a theorist who says "well, scientific abstractions are just as valid as my own, even when they are entirely averse to my own ontological/metaphysical/etc ones"...?

nomadthethird
03-12-2008, 09:24 PM
It's very few people, outside fundamentalists, who limit themselves to one sort of "abstraction" when it comes to describing the world, isn't it? I know there are greedy reductionists, but I don't think most of the people here qualify for that kind of dubious honor.

My personal favs when it comes to higher level abstraction are biology, biochemistry, organic/inorganic chemistry, psychoanalysis, and psychiatry. Maybe very broadly these count as "medicine." But I don't think I try to reduce everything to any one set of abstractions...maybe I try to find the interstices and work from there...

Most people here seem capable of acknowledging the validity of many different abstract systems. As far as I can tell...