Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dreyfus's Introduction - Part 1: Setting

There are three introductions in Body and World:

1) Dreyfus's Todes’s Account of Nonconceptual Perceptual Knowledge and Its Relation to Thought

2) Piotr Hoffman's How Todes Rescues Phenomenology from the Threat of Idealism

3) Todes's Author's Introduction

The one by Dreyfus partially sums up the main thrust of Todes's overall argument in the book and it seems like a good place to start.

Dreyfus begins by asking the question, "Are there two fundamentally different ways we make sense of the world?" Traditional philosophy (especially Kant) has argued that there is only one way: by bringing experience under concepts. That is, when we encounter a particular object, we subsume it under a general concept. (I see a chair and in order for it to have been present for me as a chair my mind must have applied the concept of "chair" to the object) The basic picture is that perception and conception unite in a synthesis to provide one form of intelligibility (that takes place in the mind).

Running counter to this claim is one that has been held (not always explicitly) by painters, writers, historians, linguists, romantic philosophers, Wittgensteinians, and existential phenomenologists - the claim that there is a second, more primary way of knowing or getting in touch with reality: bodily know-how. (Aristotle came close to holding this view)

Todes sides with the second camp by contrasting our two forms of intelligibility, conception and perception.

Dreyfus points us to page 100, where Todes sums up his project:
Kant attempted to understand how the functions of perception and imagination are effectively synthesized in actual human knowledge, as, somehow or other, they plainly seem to be. His attempt to do this, however, allowed for only one level of objective experience, so that the claims of conceptually imaginative experience had either to subordinate or be subordinated by the claims of perceptual experience. Because of the way Kant posed his basic problem, he committed himself to the former alternative, which, like its opposite, results in doing justice neither to the claims of conceptual imagination nor to the claims of perception. My solution is to
show that there are two levels of objective experience: the ground floor of perceptually objective experience; and the upper storey of imaginatively objective experience, which presupposes for its objectivity (i.e., for its dependability as living quarters) that the ground floor onto which it is built is itself on firm foundations. I attempt to show that the imaginative objectivity of theoretical knowledge presupposes a pre-imaginative, perceptual form of objectivity, by showing just how this is so.
Todes also parallels Kant's Table of Categories by producing a Table of Perceptual Categories - categories which Kant had missed because he failed to understand perceptual judgment.

At the same time that Todes seems to be engaged in dialogue with Kant, Todes's arguments about perception are relevant to current developments in analytic philosophy. This comes as no surprise when we take seriously Richard Rorty's point that
Frege and Rusell, as it were, reverted to Kant's picture of what philosophy was - namely, it did something with form instead of content; it rose above the empirical or it rose above the historical; or it rose above something and, you know, it had conceptual analysis or something. And the reason there's a great big analytic-continental gap is that, for the rest of the philosophical world, Kant is sorta dead. And, you know, Hegel and Nietzsche took his place. And so when they think of being a philosopher, they think Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche and of course you gotta read Kant because Hegel is unintelligible without Kant and all that. But still, you don't wanna do what Kant thought philosophy was. And the anglophones do wanna do what Kant thought philosophy was. And sometimes I think that we need both within the same discipline. Sometimes I think, no, the anglophones are caught in a time lag; that the rest of the world moved on and we let Frege re-Kantianize us - or Frege and his heirs re-Kantianize us.
That anglophone metaphilosophy was re-Kantianized does not mean, however, that anglophones reverted to a Kantian stance and became idealists. They simply accepted his metaphilosohy - that is, his idea of what philosophy is and should be concerned with. In the end, by rejecting Hegel, analytic philosophy rejected much of Kant's idealism and instead began with some variant of naive empiricism.

Then Wilfrid Sellars came along with his influential essay "Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind" (1956), arguing against what he characterized as the Myth of the Given, thereby reintroducing one of Kant's central theses, namely that experience is conceptual through and through.

John McDowell, an heir of Sellars's research program, repeats this point in Mind and World:
To avoid making it unintelligible how the deliverances of sensibility can stand in grounding relations to paradigmatic exercises of the understanding such as judgements and beliefs, we must conceive this co-operation in a quite particular way: we must insist that the understanding is already inextricably implicated in the deliverances of sensibility themselves. Experiences are impressions made by the world on our senses, products of receptivity; but those impressions already have conceptual content. (1994, p. 46; emphasis added)
So at first glance McDowell seems to be siding with Kant and traditional philosophy, but the matter is more complicated than that. When Dreyfus points to McDowell, he does so in the same way that McDowell makes use of Davidson:
Someone... might suppose Donald Davidson figures... as an enemy. I hope it is clear to less superficial readers... that I single out Davidson's work for criticism as a mark of respect. I define my stance against his by way of a contrast that it would be easy to relegate to the edges of the picture, with massive agreement in the centre. (McDowell, 1994, p. viii)
Indeed, in a subsequent essay Dreyfus (2005) points to the common ground the two seem to share with Merleau-Ponty:
An experiencing and acting subject is a living thing, with active and passive bodily powers that are genuinely her own; she is herself embodied, substantially present in the world that she experiences and acts on. This is a framework for reflection that really stands a chance of making traditional philosophy obsolete. (McDowell, 1994, p. 111; emphasis added)
In the context of a full-blown pragmatism, impressions can come into their own as precisely a mode of openness to the world. And something similar goes for at least some of Rorty's other "tertia." Conceptual schemes or perspectives need not be one side of the exploded dualism of scheme and world. Thus innocently conceived, schemes or perspectives can be seen as embodied in languages or cultural traditions. So languages and traditions can figure not as "tertia" that would threaten to make our grip on the world philosophically problematic, but as constitutive of our unproblematic openness to the world. (McDowell, 1994, p. 155; emphasis added)
McDowell is trying to overcome a problematic framework, the dualism of reason and nature, and in order to do so extends the sovereignty of conceptual normativity to encompass perceptual receptivity. His main concern is to ensure that (linguistic) judgments are accountable to the world. (That is, to make sure they are not simply in the world, but also about the world) After all, if he is to follow the Quine-Davidson line of thought that argues "truth" is not a matter of correspondence, but rather of coherence, a substantial word-world gap proves troublesome. For example, how can someone's claim that "the field of grass is green" be true or false if the truth conditions of the statement do not correspond to the world?

McDowell does not provide us with an account of how objects of perception become objects of thought. Todes does and in effect argues that the judgments of nonconceptual practical perception (judgments of this type don't figure in McDowell [1994]) can be transformed into judgments of thought. Part of the disagreement about the extent to which experience is conceptual rests on the different understandings of "conceptual" that McDowell and Todes employ. Rouse (2005) touches on this matter, but I'm not able to comment yet.

Ultimately, Dreyfus's point is that "Todes’s Body and World can be read as a significant anticipatory response to McDowell’s Mind and World." Hence the name change from the original The Human Body as Material Subject of the World to the posthumous Body and World.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

What to Read Before Todes

Todes's Body and World is first and foremost a study in epistemology. Much of the book can be loosely seen as dealing with the implications, consequences, and problems arising out of Kant's reformulation of the fundamental epistemological question.

Prior to Kant, that question was: (1) How do we come to know initially knowable objects? This question left open the possibility of there being more than one form of knowing since it was understood as the problem of “how we relate our perceptual kind of information about the object to our quite different conceptual kind of information about it.” (Todes, p. 92)

By positing that experience is a single synthesis of sensible intuition and conceptual understanding, Kant changed the problem to: (2) How do we make objects knowable? This form of the question makes the knowability of an object dependent on our [one] way of knowing (more on this transformation later) - in this case, through mentally subjective concepts (a.k.a. the information processing model of intelligibility, whereby concepts - and therefore, meanings - are superimposed onto raw sensible data). Hence, we are led to believe we can never know things-in-themselves.

Todes's treatment of the topic argues that question (2) is the result of an improper understanding of practical perception. One of his main theses is that Kant imaginizes perception - that is, Kant makes perception too mental.

In order to make sense of Todes's analysis, a background in Kant and phenomenology is invaluable. Husserl, Heidegger, and [especially] Merleau-Ponty are all important for getting the most out of Todes. For those looking to get a strong introduction into these subjects, here is a list of accessible readings:

Dreyfus, Hubert. 2005. "Overcoming the Myth of the Mental: How Philosophers Can Profit From the Phenomenology of Everyday Expertise." Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 79 (2): 47-65.
--Dreyfus lays out the philosophical landscape and explains why Todes's work is important.

Kelly, Sean. 2003. "Husserl and Phenomenology." The Blackwell Guide to Continental Philosophy. Solomon, Robert C. and David L. Sherman, Eds. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 112-142. Alternatively available at Kelly's page:
--Quite possibly the best [short] introduction to phenomenology.

Scruton, Roger. 2001. Kant: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
--An easy introduction to Kant. For more in-depth analyses, see Paul Guyer's Kant (Routledge, 2006).

Wrathall, Mark. 2012. "Heidegger on Human Understanding." (forthcoming in the Cambridge Companion to Heidegger's Being and Time) available at:
--This is directed at those who have a background in Being and Time. Though Wrathall accepts "the pragmatist account of the vertical relationships between more and less deliberative acts, and between conceptually mediated and pre-conceptual acts," he argues that this type of story "fails to map on to Heidegger's account of understanding and interpretation" and that "Heidegger actually offers us... a horizontal account." In a way, this reading might bring Heidegger closer in line with Todes who claims that neither form of understanding (practical perception and conceptual imagination) is reducible to the other, though conceptual imagination nevertheless presupposes practical perception. It's all still an open issue for me.

My advice: Read Dreyfus (2005), then Kelly (2003) and (if you can) Wrathall (2012).