Truth suffers from too much analysis

Archive for October, 2011

The Way the World Is

Posted by allzermalmer on October 8, 2011

This is a blog based on a paper done by Nelson Goodman, which was called The Way the World Is. It appeared in the philosophical journal The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Sep., 1960), pp. 48-56.

Introduction: Right from the beginning of the article, he jumps out to us about what is going to happen. It deals with our language, which is what we use when we try to describe the world that we experience.

“[Humans] sometimes mistake features of discourse for features of the subject of discourse. We seldom conclude that the world consists of words just because a true description of it does, but we sometimes suppose that the structure of the world is the same as the structure of the description.”

We come to find that we use language, and we communicate with one another based on this language. And we apply our language to the world of our senses, of experience. This is usually called a description when we apply language to the world of experience. For example, I use the sentence “The cat is on the mat”. I communicate this to another person to describe an experience, or to be a description of something going on in the world. Which is the way the world is? Is it my description or is it the thing I’m trying describe?

What we say with our mouths, our spelling, or our verbosity of description don’t have parallel features in the world that we occupy and experience. Coherence is characteristic of our descriptions, and coherence is when our statements are logically connected with one another that they’re consistent. To be consistent means that a contradiction isn’t drawn from our description. This coherence isn’t part of the world, but a part of our description of the world. Therefore, the significant question isn’t whether the world is coherent but whether our account of it is. In addition, what we call the simplicity of the world is only the simplicity we are able to achieve in describing the world.

Goodman goes on to state what his “archnemesis” the mystic says:

“Yes, that’s just what I’ve been telling you all along. All our descriptions are a sorry travesty. Science, language, perception, philosophy- none of these can ever be utterly faithful to the world as it is. All make abstractions or conventionalizations of one kind or another, all filter the world through the mind, through concepts, through the senses, through language; and all these filtering media in some way distort the world. It is not just that each gives only a partial truth, but that each introduces distortion of its own. We never achieve even in part a really faithful portrayal of the way the world is.”

Nevertheless, Goodman wants to make a difference between himself and his “archnemesis”, and this is to be done by formulating the difference between them. But he’s going to go over some preliminary and related questions.

The Way of the World is Given: It was once thought that we can shed some light on the way that world is, and the way we do this is finding out what is given to us by experience. This have, in time, be changed into what the terms of “ground-elements” or “protocol-sentences”. These all share the same characteristic of trying to get down to the original, basic, bare elements that all knowledge is manufactured from. They’re the basic parts that we build a house from, like bricks used to make a house. So knowing is conceived of processing these elements into a finished product, and our understanding of knowledge is supposedly required that we discover what the raw materials are.

However, such a processes assumes that all knowing is a process of analysis. Some have thought that it’s a processes of synthesis, where we minimal particles have been combined with one another to form another way of knowing. Some have gone on to think that the world is full of medium-size pieces where analysis and synthesis are applied. These three ideas form a monism, atomism, and intermediate pluralism of metaphysics. However, we have to ask ourselves, which view of the given is right?

These three views previously given, they don’t differ on what is contained in the given or what can be found there. They all hold that a certain visual presentation, and agree that it contains certain colors, places, designs, and etc.; it contains at least certain particles and it is a whole. It’s not questioned if it is particles and it is a whole. It’s not questioned whether it is a single undifferentiated lump or contains many tiny parts, because it’s a whole comprised of such parts. The issue is not what is given by how it is given. Is it given as a single whole or is it given as many small particles? This captures the precise issue, and discloses how empty it is.

Goodman doesn’t think there is any sense that can be made of the phrase “given as”. He goes on to point out that experience is given as several parts doesn’t mean that the parts are presented disconnected, and there doesn’t seem to be any line of perceptual lines of demarcation. For, if there were such a line, then it would be within the perceptual, and yet we have many disagreements over where the line is. Thus, we find that we can’t really find one, or there is no agreement over such a line.  And so the question of what the world is given as is to say that it turns on whether the content of the question is captured with a feeling of wholeness or a felling of broken-upness. So the question evaporates into thin air when we realize this.

The Way of the World is to be Seen: Maybe we could ask, “How the world is best seen?” We might try a way of picturing the world according to a degree of realism, which means an absence of distortion or faithfulness in representing the way the world is, then we can learn a great deal of the way the world is.

We should take a look at our everyday ideas about pictures to recognize that this is what encourages us in this approach. We usually rate a picture according to how close it is to the way things are. Like when we take a picture of someone, and say it is realistic when it matches up to how the person is. But it departs from being realistic when it is less realistic to how they are and conventionalized or abstract, it would depart from our standard. This is a straightforward way that we like to view things and is like a 1-to-1 correspondence. The picture and reality match up exactly, or very similar to one another.

However, there is a black cloud that hangs over such a way to view the world. Imagine that I take a picture of someone’s feet pointed towards me the photographer. Their feet will come out larger than their torso. Is this the way that I normally see the person? If it is not, then it can no longer be said that the photographic view of the world is good standard view faithfulness.

This “distorted” photograph shows us something that we’ve ignored about trying to photograph the world, or create a picture of the world and thinking we’re capturing the world. This idea is also very similar to that of different styles of painting. Take the artist of Holbein, Manet, Sharaku, Durer, Cézanne, or Picasso all painting the same person. Do we think that one of them is more faithful to the way the person actually looks when they make a portrait of that person? They each give a different way of painting a representation of the person, or a different way of seeing that person. They all make a selection of where they’re putting emphasis, and uses their own vocabulary of conventionalization. But when we view all their paintings of the same person, we notice that they come to a somewhat same way of viewing the person.

Seeing is an activity and the way we performing this seeing is largely dependent on our training. However, the way that we view things is usually dependent on the way that we’re brought up to view things. For example, the way an African or a Japanese person would make different choices when asked to select a picture that most closely depicts what they see. We even have a resistance to new/exotic ways of paintings come from our normal way of retraining; but on the other hand, there is an excitement that comes from gaining a new acquisition of new skills of painting.

Goodman gives us an example of what he’s talking about with art, and it dealt with different cultures coming into contact with other cultures art.

“…the discovery of African art thrilled French painters and they learned from it new ways to see and paint. What is less often realized is that the discovery of European art is exciting to the African sculptor for the same reason; it shows him a new way of seeing, and he, too, modifies his work accordingly. Unfortunately, while European absorption of African often results in an artistic advance, African adoption of European style almost always leads to artistic deterioration. But this is for incidental reasons. The first is that social deterioration of the African is usually simultaneous with the introduction of European art. The second reason is rather more intriguing: that while the French artist was influenced by the best of African art, the African was fed no doubt on calendar art and pin-up girls. Had he seen Greek and Medieval sculpture instead, the results might have been radically different.”

Therefore, the good thing about all of this is based on that we cannot find out much about how the world is by asking about the most faithful or realistic, way of seeing the world or picturing it. The reason is that there’s many ways to picture it in various ways, which are many or potentially many. Some of them will be strong, effective, useful, intriguing, or sensitive. Some will be weak, foolish, dull, banal, or blurred. But even if we exclude the latter,  none of the others can lay claim to seeing or picturing the world the way it is.

The Way the World is to be Described: We come to ask ourselves a question, or two: “How is the world to be described? Does what we call a true description faithfully depict the world?”

The Polish logician Tarski came up with the remark of “it is raining” is true if and only if it is raining. Tarski also came up with the remark that acceptance of such a formula is what constitutes acceptance of correspondence theory of truth. This type of thinking makes us, naturally, come to think of truth in way of mirroring, or faithfully, reproducing the world. But we come to find us in shock when we find out that the statement “it is raining” is completely different from the rainstorm itself. This also holds with a false description. This is like taking the map for the terrain, or the menu for the food. We don’t, I would hope, eat the menu of steak but the steak itself.They definitely have a different taste and texture. As Goodman says, “What we must face is the fact that even the truest description comes nowhere near faithfully reproducing the way the world is.”

When we try to come up with a systematic description of the world, it is even more vulnerable to the charge presented. The description, or coherent way of describing it, has some primitive terms, routes of construction, etc., and none of them are features of the world described. Now some have contended that if systematic descriptions introduced are arbitrary and are an artificial order, then we should make our descriptions unsystematic so that they’re more in accord with the world.

He doesn’t think trying to make the descriptions unsystematic helps out, at all:

“Now the tacit assumption here is that the respects in which a description is unsatisfactory are just those respects in which it falls short of being a faithful picture; and the tacit goal is to achieve a description that as nearly as possible gives a living likeness. But the goal is a delusive one. For we have seen that even the most realistic way of picturing amounts merely to one kind of conventionalization.”

When painting, there is selection and the emphasis, of what you’re going to use and what you want to point out with the painting. In addition, the conventions also used in different painting styles are brought out. None of this is different from language that we use to describe the world. As he goes on to say, “the idea of making verbal descriptions approximate pictorial depiction loses its point when we understand that to turn a description into the most faithful possible picture would amount to nothing more than exchanging some conventions for others. Thus neither the way the world is given nor any way of seeing or picturing or describing it conveys to us the way the world is.”

The Way the World Is: Now, going through all of this, it might come to seem like Goodman is inline with his archnemesis says, the mystic. But this is only on the surface, but Goodman has it that he undermines what they have to say as well.

Therefore, he says that we no longer have any clear notion of what faithfulness would be. This means that he rejects the idea that there is some test of the realism or faithfulness of the picture, in addition to the test of pictorial goodness and descriptive truth. The reason is that there are many different equally true descriptions of the world, and their truth (within that picture) is the only standard of their faithfulness. We also say that they all, each of those pictures, have their own conventionalizations. In doing so, we’re saying that no one of these descriptions (within those pictures of the world) are exclusively true, because the others are also true. What this means is that these pictures don’t tell us the way the world is, but it does tell us a way the world is.

And here is a simple analogy of what Goodman is saying, as he himself states:

If I were asked what is the food for men, I should have to answer “none.” For there are many foods. And if I am asked what is the way the world is, I must likewise answer, “none.” For the world is many ways.”

The mystic, his archnemesis, states that there is a way the world is, but no description to capture it. But, as Goodman thinks, there are many ways the world is, and every true description captures one of them. This means, in his way of thinking, the difference between the mystic and him is absolutism and relativism. This means the mystic thinks there is one way the world is, while Goodman thinks there are many ways the world is. Thus, he shares a similarity with the mystic, but he also disagrees with them.They have one thing in common, but from that thing they go on to differ.

He gives another example of what he means about the difference between them:

“Since the mystic is concerned with the way the world is and finds that the way cannot be expressed, his ultimate response to the question of the way the world is must, as he recognizes, be silence. Since I am concerned rather with the ways the world is, my response must be to construct one or many descriptions. The answer to the question “What is the way the world is? What are the ways the world is?” is not a shush, but a chatter.”

Postscript: I’ll let Goodman end with is own words on what he did, or trying to express.

“Near the beginning of this paper, I spoke of the obvious falsity of the picture theory of language. I declared rather smugly that a description does not picture what it describes, or even represent the structure of what it describes. The devastating charge against the picture theory of language was that a description cannot represent or mirror forth the world as it is. But we have since observed that a picture doesn’t do this either. I began by dropping the picture theory of language and ended by adopting the language theory of pictures. I rejected the picture theory of language on the ground that the structure of a description does not conform to the structure of the world. But I then concluded that there is no such thing as the structure of the world for anything to conform or fail to conform to. You might say that the picture theory of language is as false and as true as the picture theory of pictures; or in other words, that what is false is not the picture theory of language but a certain absolutistic notion concerning both pictures and language. Perhaps eventually I shall learn that what seems most obviously false sometimes isn’t.”

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