A failure of ‘Analysis’

A problem with mainstream Analytic philosophy, is that it is reliant on ideas that are outmoded and long weakened by critique, both by outsiders, like Wittgenstein, but insiders like Quine. Its fundamental problems are reducible (inclusively, but not conclusively) to:

The assumption that experience reduces mentally to representations;
Representations are mentally categorized (computationally) as concepts, which are learned with inculcation (imagistic representations are correlated to verbal concepts through education);
Language is an attempt (requiring logical clarification by philosophers, scientists, and other educators) to communicate concepts.

This is complete nonsense. People have images in their brains; certain language uses communicate conceptually; language is learned through various processes of inculcation, and education is one of these. But none of this, nor all of this combined, add up to an exhaustive explanation of language as we actually use it in daily life.

“Wha’s up, baby?”
“Please don’t?”
“Don’t what, man?”
“Yo, buzzkill, chill out!”

Analyze this.

I could, but I would need the context. And none of it would look like logical analysis of language.

The brain does not work computationally, and it is not a library of ready-made files.

My twelfth year was rather an ‘annus mirablis’ – I read Homer, worked through a 9th-grade algebra text-book, and even developed a theory of continental drift – from genealogical rather than geological sources ( the inheritance relationship between Native Americans and Asiatics was a-buzz in magazines at the time; given that, and given the shape of the continents, there just had to have been a land bridge to the north that allowed relatively large migrations, since the cultural dissemination revealed through Heyerdahl could not explain biological family resemblance.) I had one teacher – Alan Zito – who encouraged my thinking; unfortunately when I moved on to a conservative Junior High, I was back-stepped by teachers convinced that learning could only follow prescribed methodology; my mathematics books (bought from a used book store) were confiscated – “algebra is taught in 9th grade, not before” – I was consigned to the the ‘problem child’ curriculum of the day, until a handful of English teachers realized that I was reading way above my assigned class….

I mention this because this experience well-prepared me for the Pragmatist theories (there are more than one) of knowledge, conception, education, and discourse.

The fundamental principle I experienced (before I could articulate it), is: ideas are not ‘composed’ but develop as relationships – therefore cannot be ‘acquired’, but generated – learning is not a ‘taking-in,’ but a ‘reaching-out’ (necessarily involving the social) – when we stop to think on it, how else can we account for the evolutionary development of conception? Certainly not by assuming that the mind is floating in some sensual stasis until called upon to account for sensory experience.

The Analytic tradition seems impoverished in such matters.

The computational theory of mind hinges on a prior representational theory of mind, which unfortunately has been devastated by criticism over 3 centuries – a fact largely ignored by cognitive scientists and others trying to ram computationalism into the mainstream of thought and research practice: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mental-representation/ : The references cited in the SEP article on Mental Representation were largely written in the past 30 or 40 years. Unfortunately, again, the critique of representationalism has been ongoing for 300 years; much of it remains unanswered. Problem? I think so….


(BTW: Let’s stop using the terms “Analytic” and “Continental” for the apposites of contemporary philosophy. What we should really say is, the (Frege-to-Carnap) GERMAN analytic tradition (however disguised with reference to Hume) and the (Brentano-to-Heidegger) GERMAN phenomenological tradition. The notion that the Analytic tradition is primarily “Anglo-American” is silly. But there is an American philosophical tradition: Pragmatism.)


3 thoughts on “A failure of ‘Analysis’

  1. I mostly agree with this.

    It has long seemed to me that “ordinary language philosophy” really means “philosophy of the ordinary language used by the kind of ordinary philosopher who publishes in ordinary philosophy journals”.

    That isn’t what Wittgenstein meant, but it seems to be what most philosophers mean.

    It seemed obvious to me as a child in elementary school, that language does not work by rules of logic or rules of syntax, but is instead driven by semantics (meaning). Chomsky never saw it that way, yet he has many followers. I’ve actually been surprised at how many people seem to not see what was obvious to me.

    So, sure, I’m some kind of pragmatist though I probably don’t fit into any of the named schools of pragmatism. And I do appreciate the later Wittgenstein, though PI is not an easy read.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A separate comment on conservative teachers.

    In high school geometry, I noticed that my teacher was critical of students who gave geometry proofs, if those proofs did not closely match the ones in the textbook. Yet he never did that to me, when I came up with my own ways of proving things.

    I think he must have sensed that the other students had only a shaky grasp, and needed to follow the textbook proofs as a kind of crutch to help them along. It sounds as if your conservative teachers might have been doing the same thing, but failing to recognize that you did not need that crutch.


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