To understand the significance
of common sense realism and ultimately the linguistic
arguments used to support it, we need to briefly talk about two kinds of facts.
There are facts that are
based upon experience, and these facts, according to Wall, "...tell
us only of appearances and not reality." These would include facts of about perception
and what is immediately given in experience or what we have experienced.
There are also facts about
Wall notes, "As it turns out, thoughts or beliefs can only
be understood by means of the language we use to express them."(223) 'Understood' in this
sentence is ambiguous. Some think we can understand our own personal perspective
without language, such as the vividness of a beautiful sunset. He is gesturing against that
idea of a personal experience, but I think 'understood' here is far more public. My
thoughts and beliefs can only be understood by you if we have language of some kind.
I think he is making the intersubjective claim here to set up common sense realism and
the linguistic arguments.
The following quote from
Wall is very important to understanding the linguistic arguments.
He states, "Let us think of knowledge as a set of symbols within our minds, symbols that
are supposed to represent reality. These symbols are of various sorts, such as individual
sense data like sounds, tastes, and odors (which represent sensory properties); perceptions
(which represent individual objects); concepts (which represents kinds of objects); beliefs
(which represent facts about these objects); and systems of beliefs (which represent
general ways of understanding our experience). If concepts, beliefs, and systems of
are what we use to understand our experience, and if they may be understood only by
means of the languages that we use to express them, then language itself also may be
seen as a way to represent the world." (224)
Translation: Wall is saying
that the very idea of language already contains a particular
metaphysic. Put another way, language represents the world, as the world. For
example, we know that the word 'chair' represents a particular thing, but also that
thing is actually in the world as a part of it.
One final idea. Wall says,
"Languages used to describe the world express ways of
understanding that are supposed to represent the world. This fact about language
that it is a shared, public way to represent reality is going to be important for
understanding each of our possible solutions."
The Egocentric Predicament.
Two assumptions: 1) To know the world is to mentally represent
it, and 2) We know only our own direct representations. Remember the internalist picture
of representation for 1, and the incorrigibility thesis for the second. We know only our
own representations and we cannot be wrong about them.
The Egocentric Perspective
is defined as: a) we cannot know the nature of reality because our
knowledge of the world is limited to our representations, and b) we have no way of knowing
if how we represent reality accurately reflects its true nature. (229) We might think of the
egocentric perspective as an extreme form of Nagel's personal or subjective
perspective. Nagel might allow (a) but (b) definitely goes beyond what Nagel would
agree to through his notion of objective detachment.
Be sure to notice the
differences in terminology with respect to 'predicament' and
'perspective.' They are not the same thing.
The Linguistic Turn. The
linguistic turn is made by contemporary philosophers who have
turned away from thinking about knowledge as the private contents of our minds. Instead
they focus upon what gets expressed in language, as a public vehicle of thought. (225-226)
The Linguistic Arguments
The linguistic arguments
are all going to attack the egocentric perspective. To reiterate,
the egocentric perspective is defined as:
a) we cannot know the nature of reality because our knowledge of the world is limited
to our representations, and
b) we have no way of knowing if how we represent reality accurately reflects its true
So, either (a) or (b) must dealt with by the linguistic arguments.
Wall sets this section
up very well. In the short section on "Ordinary-Language Philosophy
and Empiricism" he draws out some similarities and differences with classical empiricists
i) Believe the knowledge of the world arises from experience. Everything we know about
the world, we learn through experience.
ii) They are opposed to revisionistic metaphysics. What this means is that any
metaphysical system that revises our ordinary understanding of the world is
iii) OLP takes knowledge to be public and empiricism takes it to be private.
iv) OLP take public objects as being perceived directly and empiricism takes
private sensations as being directly perceived.
I will add the detail
and explain the following arguments in class. You will want to have read
these in Wall book to further increase your understanding of the relevant issues.
The First Linguistic Argument: Knowledge is Public
General Idea: "Language
is a social product that embodies not just words but also what the
words mean--the concepts or ideas they express. In acquiring these ways of thinking, we
have help from the entire community of language users. Like apprentices in a trade who
acquire from others the skills that a community of workers has developed over generations,
for us to acquire ordinary language is to learn from others how to understand and interpret
our experience as they have done for centuries." (232)
Against the Egocentric
Perspective: "Because the concepts embedded in ordinary language
have been developed as a shared enterprise, the must be developed in a public way, in
a way that uses them to understand what may be observed by all. Because of this, they
are designed to correspond to the way the world really is, not just how we individually
think it is. That is, how we name and describe public objects reveals how things are. If
it did not fit reality, language would fail to communicate accurately, and thus, would
need to be changed so that it did." (232)
First Linguistic Argument
LA1-If we represent the
world with a publicly acquired set of ideas, then there is no reason
to believe that they do not accurately represent reality.
LA2-We do represent the world with a publicly acquired set of ideas.
CLA--Therefore, there is no reason to believe that they do not represent reality.
The Second Linguistic Argument: Austin
General Idea: "When
we examine how we ordinarily speak about perception, however,
we find that the objects of perception are described as public objects, as things that
exist independently of our private perceptions. What we see, hear, taste, smell and
touch are described as things--and as things as they really are. They are not described
as subjective sensations that reveal how things appear to us." (233)
Against the Egocentric
Perspective: "Austin's careful analysis of language points out that once
again the egocentric perspective has things backward. The very notion of a private sensory
experience is itself derived from our knowledge of public objects....So our knowledge of
private objects, of how things appear to us, presupposes a knowledge of public objects,
of how things really are." (233)
Second Linguistic Argument
SLA1--If our ordinary
language is a public-object language, then we do not perceive private
SLA2--If we do not perceive private sense data, then there is no problem of whether or not
sense data represent public objects.
CSLA--Therefore, if our ordinary language is a public object language, then there is no
problem of whether or not sense data represent public objects.
The Third Linguistic Argument: Wittgenstein
General Idea: Wittgenstein
is arguing against the possibility of a private language. A private
language is one that only one person would have. "Now Wittgenstein's explanation
for why a private language is impossible must be clearly stated. It is impossible because
it cannot contain semantic rules. Private languages contain no semantic rules because
in a language used to refer to private objects, objects capable of being known only to
one person, there can be no public criteria that govern consistent word-thing relationships.
Who knows? What I call a sensation of pain, you may call a sensation of joy. What I call
a sensation of doglike barking sound, you may refer to it as the sweet sound of a bird's
Against the Egocentric
Perspective: "It must be abandoned because it assumes that we can
speak meaningfully about private perceptions in the absence of public criteria. To abandon
the egocentric perspective is to give up the view that what we know are private mental
states. Once this claim is rejected, then so is the problem that follows from it, namely, the
impossibility of knowing if such states accurately represent the world of public objects."(236)
Following Malcolm Budd, the private language argument has four primary theses:
(PLA1) if language is
to be a means of communication then there must be an agreement in
(PLA2) it is the way that we use a word that determines its meaning;
(PLA3) words for sensations are concatenated with behavior; and
(PLA4) a person does not identify their sensations via a criteria.
If you violate PLA1--PLA4, you are supporting a private language.
The Fourth Linguistic Argument: Strawson
General Idea: "Strawson
claims that any language that is used to refer to and describe the
world must implicitly contain a general idea of what the world is like, a general
conception of reality that all users of that language share. Such a general concept does
not readily show itself to all language uses, but it 'lies submerged,' as he puts it, and must
be uncovered. The concept of reality contained in ordinary language is basically the one
defended by commonsense realism and the one that we all accept in our daily lives. This
is the idea that the world consists of persons and material objects with all their primary
and secondary qualities, that these objects are related to each other in space and time,
and that they are also causally related." (238)
Conceptual Framework--a shared general idea about the nature of reality.
languages implicitly contain a conception of the reality that they talk
Against the Egocentric
Perspective: Reality is built into language. Strawson would definitely
go against (b) by showing that we have no reason to doubt that we know the world as it
is given our conceptual scheme and language. We learn about the world through language
and to claim that we may not know what it is like, is to dismiss what language has done
for you up to this point. Why would you start doubting that 'chair' doesn't describe the very
thing you were raised believing it to be?
Fourth Linguistic Argument
FLA1-If our ordinary conceptual
framework is epistemologically basic, then it is
FLA2-Our ordinary conceptual framework is epistemologically basic.
CFLA--Therefore, our ordinary conceptual framework is metaphysically basic.