Friday, May 28, 2021

The poverty of positivism/ the poverty of originalism

"There is no better way of finding out what a writer meant than to attempt to state his meaning in different words, preferably in another language."

Gombrich, "Aby Warburg: His Aims and Methods"

We may accept the doctrine that associates having a language with having a conceptual scheme. The relation may be supposed to be this: if conceptual schemes differ, so do languages. But speakers of different languages may share a conceptual scheme provided there is a way of translating one language into the other. Studying the criteria of translation is therefore a way of focussing on criteria of identity for conceptual schemes. If conceptual schemes aren't associated with languages in this way, the original problem is needlessly doubled, for then we would have to imagine the mind, with its ordinary categories, operating with a language with its organizing structure. Under the circumstances we would certainly want to ask who is to be master. 

Donald Davidson, "On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme" 

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I Choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things." .
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—‘that’s all.”

I never paid much attention to Davidson—the argument itself was enough for me to laugh—but the Lewis Carroll connection above was clear. 

Carroll and Borges and Aaronson, Nabokov, Nino Scalia, and Scott Soames. Aesthetics is the manifestation of ethics. Hooray for induction.

I'd written "every writer knows language is the master", but that separates writers from philosophers and artists from illustrators: those who recognize that language is the master, and those who refuse to admit it. Writers are craftspeople.

"But art is not essentially content. Art is essentially form. Art is object, not subject." Ursula K. Le Guin
I know I repeat myself, but anyone finding one page would miss the full argument.

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