Saturday, January 28, 2006

philosophy, the history of one problem

After reading Fodor and Fichte, trying to avoid schizophrenia, I invented a coherent way to interpret all (or pretty much) of the history of philosophy. I'll be simple and state the interpretational claims in a rather easy way:

1) There is one and only one main question: what is the content of a sign?

2) There are at least two subordinated questions: how does something become a sign and have the content that it does? And what is the content that makes such a sign the sign that it does?

3) Answers to this questions give place to all the problems philosophy deals with. The most natural answer is to say that there is a causal relation, but since we can 'actually' mean something beyond what 'actually' exists, this has not been a satisfactory answer.

4) So we get different accounts:

a) Parmenides (very sensibly) eliminates change in the world and so eliminates change in the causal relations and errors in the content of signs. The problem here is not that there is no change, but that there is no time and no freedom (or so some claim).

b) Plato wants both sides of the coin. So he eliminates time among the ideas and assumes time among experience. So we get the content from the ideas, and time, change, and freedom from the empirical world. Problem: this is inconsistent. We cannot fix content from a world (topus uranus) of which with which we have not causal relation. So Plato assume innate knowledge.

c) Aristotle wants both sides of the coin but within the actual world. So he gives us the actual content of representations by means of the 'actual' properties of things and the other non-actual contents by means of the 'potential' properties of things. So we start getting close to possible worlds, but not quite, since everything exists in the actual world.

d) Jump to Descartes (sorry!) and you get that everything is back to the mind, but this time without the topus uranus. So this is some kind of regress for what we are looking for is the world. The world as the content of our representations, at least. So, naturally, what Descartes gives to us is nothing, literally nothing. We are certain that we know, think, believe, or desire absolutely nothing.

e) Then you get the fabulous Hume. The problem is that we have been assuming a very strong connection between our expressions and the world. But there is no such relation: all there is to semantic relations is a mere 'association' between ideas. There are, as it seems, no causal relations between signs and content, mainly because there are no causal relations at all.

f) So Kant wants to save the disaster by claiming that it is, in fact, a mixture of all these ideas, but without the topus uranus. There is in fact a causal relation between our signs and their content. But 'causal relation' is a human (subjective) notion. Thus, what we refer to is the world of experience. Problem: we want to know the world, not just the world of the experience: paradoxical solution, there is such world, but we cannot know it.

g) So we get Hegel and so everything is solved; but no one has decided how everything is solved. Either it is all mental, or it is all physical. What is clear is that everything is solved within the world that Hegel talks about. What is not clear is what world is Hegel talking about. The threat is that he is not talking about the actual world.

h) For brevity's sake let us jump to our contemporary philosophy. After the so called linguistic turn (as if everything was not linguistic since the beginning) we have philosophers of mind, metaphysicians and philosophers of language discussing whether the relation is causal, logical or what. Whether it is possible worlds, biological functions or informational (or computational) states that work around here. We still don't know.

5) What we know is that whatever is an answer to the question of how the content is determined, implies an answer to what is the content. You might as well be sure that if you solve the how (e.g. by solving the mind-world relation, perhaps by means of causal relations), you will therefore get the what.

The problem nonetheless, has been, from the very beginning, the how...

6) If you wonder why, think of the following consequences: if there is no how, then there is no knowledge, no morals, no aesthetics, no theory, and no meaningful expressions whatsoever. And if there is no 'what' then...

What am I talking about?