Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Critique of Gauker's Critique of Grice, from Words Without Meaning

The problem of comparing the alligator with wings to the issue of meaningnn something by something is that with items or entities like alligators and rabbits and winged creatures we already know what these things are. This is not a settled case (at least by the time of Grice’s analysis, hence his theory) with what conditions are satisfied when communication takes place. There is also the obvious difference with the fact that alligators and rabbits are things that are concrete, and meaningnn is at least not a concrete entity in the same way, and more than that it seems to Grice to be some function on some thought or proposition that is in itself moodless. These are points under consideration in the philosophy of language, and thus not known prior like how we in our culture know an alligator and a rabbit. Any idea or image we have of what goes on in or during meaningful interaction or communication seems mostly intuitive or at least the process of justifying and even falsifying aspects of our theories relies more on intuition than being strictly empirical. So we can see why Grice’s relies on intuition in his examples of the handkerchief and Herod having intention but not having meaning. Not only does it seem true that an important part of our analysis of meaningnn is on an intuitive level and that this process of communication can not be reduced to mere observation, but also the way we verify of falsify the various conditions is different for the two different kinds of examples. For alligators and rabbits and winged creatures we merely look and see, or base our judgments on looking and seeing, that alligators don’t have wings and are not rabbits. With meaningnn or communication by meaningnn this is something that we do and that we might perceive ourselves as accomplishing, but we certainly don’t observe these things in the same way that we observe alligators and rabbits, and that’s because these are two different kinds of entities. In fact one of the questions Grice is trying to answer is what kind of entity meaningnn actually is.
            If the above reasons do not show that the fallacious way of reasoning that Gauker points out (which reasoning itself is a part of Grice’s persuasive strategy, where the persuasive strategy is a piecing together of items that are deemed necessary for U to meannn p by some utterance s given some audience A) is not in fact fallacious, it may achieve giving at least an approximation on why there is a difference in intuitive plausibility, where we see off the bat that winged alligators are absurd and yet some can see Grice’s persuasive strategy as having more intuitive plausibility. I think the fact that there is some who see a more intuitive plausibility for Grice’s analysis of meaning something by something than the winged alligator example is seen in the reaction of the graduate students to Gauker’s illustration of the alleged fallacy Grice makes. In fact, and moving for a minute away from what was just said in the previous sentence, we can think of examples and culture where a winged alligator might not be thought implausible, for instance, perhaps in some fourteenth century Amazon hunter and gather society. Perhaps certain people have worshiped such fictional entities, or the like, as a deity, and even if they didn’t, we might find that it is intuitively plausible that there might have been such people or such a society.
These considerations, so far as I can tell and intend, don’t really get at the heart of Gauker’s objection. His objection is, at the heart, that every step of Grice’s persuasive strategy incorporates a fallacious way of reasoning in order to fix some previous oversimplified account of how we meannn something by something. I see little reason to take this objection seriously if Grice is merely giving us an account of what we do when we perceive ourselves as having or getting at communication. Perhaps it is strictly fallacious for me to think that there are other minds in light of insufficient evidence and not the best kind of arguments that there are, but I just intuitively and naturally think that there are other minds and I take myself and all others who think that there are other minds as acting rationally in so believing. Me believing in other minds is just how I behave, and I just take it for granted, perhaps without persuasive arguments and evidence, that this is rationally okay for me to do. So it seems to me that Gauker’s argument is irrelevant if we are describing how the activity or cooperative endeavor that we call communication or meaningnn something by something actually takes place. Perhaps Gauker’s objection is that we shouldn’t communicate this way but rather we should communicate or meannn in a way that doesn’t involve a fallacy, but this objection isn’t that we don’t in fact reason this way but rather that we shouldn’t and so the objection doesn’t seem to undermine Grice’s analysis if Grice is giving us an analysis of what we in fact do in meaningnn something by something. So Gauker’s objection might be taken as indicating that Gauker thinks there is a way that we could do it better than the way we actually do it. If Gauker really wants to knock down the argument, he probably should show that these are not steps we actually take in communication, and then his fallacy adds plausibility that Grice’s analysis isn’t how we in fact meannn something by something else.
I think that the more promising route is for Gauker to give arguments that this isn’t in fact how we mean something by something. This Gauker does by saying that this is an over intellectualizing what goes on in communication. In spite of what Grice intends, says Gauker, his analysis is “peopling all our talking life with armies of complicated psychological occurrences” (386). This objection isn’t terribly persuasive to me because of how much of human rational structures we take for granted in our everyday life of the mind. For instance, we just take it for granted that there is some rational “structural” relation between what is and what is knowable, and that having some sort of value is necessary to move forward rationally. Certain rational items are terribly complex in themselves, and when spelled out in relation to other rational items we might have an even more complex analysis of what goes on in human thought and communication and at first sight the mere elaborateness might seem unrealistic. However there is little that I see from keeping us from thinking that these rational items are so up in front of our rational processes that we take them for granted. Taking them for granted means that these interrelated rational structures are so obvious to us as to be difficult to bring them and the details of their procedures into focus. Yet we seem to have certain processes and relations in the front of our minds in every instance of thought to the extent that the average and the brilliant wield them the same way and take them for granted in the same sense. So just because an analysis is complex or seems to involve many steps doesn’t falsify an analysis of human behavior, even if it seems that humans are not conscious of the processes, if the items in the analysis are necessary for human rationality and language.

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