As of 2/18, I will not longer be using the following blogs:
I will be posting all new blog posts, of any type, on my new vehicle
As of 2/18, I will not longer be using the following blogs:
I will be posting all new blog posts, of any type, on my new vehicle
(This is another “religious pragmatics” – reimagining parts of the Biblical story that have never been told before. The sources I used to research this one are: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feeding_the_multitude for the general overview, and http://www.biblegateway.com/ to read each story. Other posts in the same inspiration are “An Iota of Thought” and “When They Saw the Schematics”.)
When I was younger, I remember a time of tumult for my family, of distress and strife that built and built until something, everything changed. The strife didn’t leave our family (we have a bigger family now). It just…transformed.
We met, or tried to meet, the man from Nazareth on the banks of a lake not too far from the town where we lived. Only later did we discover he went there to be in solitude. By the time we got there, there were already thousands of people waiting. We all heard he was going to be there, so we tried to see this Son of God in man-form. Many, many were sick, in need of healing, and some people didn’t look very sick at that moment but I guess they needed healing anyways.
We made a place for us to sit on the green grass, trying to be patient but also very eager. I remember my parents, smiling a sad smile, even though my father’s patience was getting cut short. We were concerned my mother was going to get sick again, that this time it would stay and wouldn’t leave.
Suddenly, there were loaves of bread coming from every direction, fish being cooked on fires. We saw some of Jesus’ friends walking around giving away completely free bread and fish. However much we wanted we could take, and I got full off of all the food. I remember the same friends taking big baskets of bread and fish back towards the bank of the lake; I wondered if there were more people that needed feeding over there, or if they were done feeding and taking the leftover food to the people that supplied it all. Only later did I learn there were only few suppliers, that Jesus made all of appear out of nowhere.
All of Jesus’ friends were very nice to us, but I noticed that some of the other people that had come to see him were very different from us. Some of the other people I saw there were very territorial, acting with contempt against some that tried to use the same area of grass, getting too close. Looking back, I know that I was fairly protective of my mother, combative against trespassers that could have harmed her in her weak state. But after that day, my mother never got sick again.
When I was only a little bit older, I had learned that the person that had so much compassion for all of us, he that would have so many friends that would feed us, had died, at Golgotha, Calvary, on a Roman cross, and once more I felt like my entire family had changed again. I thought back to the time at the edge of the lake and wondered if Jesus had known then, whether he had known that so many people were already lying in wait for him, whether he knew they were going to take him and crucify him. Those sorts of concepts lead me to question how much he had known; what sort of thing was he specialized in?
I don’t even want to guess at how much that day on the side of the lake cost. But I do know of that man’s sacrifice. What if what the other people convey a sort of asymmetry, like confirmation bias or memory limitations? What if they just didn’t put down every single thing they knew, perhaps we gave them far more credit than they deserve? Maybe we’re glorifying the wrong things?
Now I’m an old man. I have seen the beginnings of the time after Jesus was killed. The response of the early “church”, a reactionary revolution. Only later did it take more daunting overtures, what with the genocidal antagonism, war, and the homogenizing of a monotheistic imperialism.
In this very moment, our true numbers are being reduced ever so dramatically, such that I reckon we shall no longer exist in our pure form ever again. For this, I have faith that one day, pacifism will truly have an impact on others, a day when our voices have been made different, until more people have heard the true message once and for all…
(Here is a post that is meant to demonstrate one of the many explicit connections between relativism and absolution - the notion that you can learn something from everything. This could be an elaboration of a previous post - “Functions of Ontological Sophisticated Philosophy”, which is to immediately come after “Ontological Sophisticated Philosophy" and then another post of similarly phrased title. Also, here is a paper that I wrote for my cultural anthropology class from my primary blog Natural Politicks. The Douglas Rushkoff book that I specifically mention in the last paragraph is Program or Be Programmed. He is a man that we need to listen to even MORE often than whatever actually happens.)
There is little original rhetoric for me to say about the importance of pedagogy, except for that it’s an opportunity to tell you my thoughts about teaching. The intrinsic value of teaching and learning cannot possibly go overstated (unless for purely poetic purposes). Pedagogy is important not just because of what “teaching” is, but for how teaching relates to what learning is, a far more important concept. But for all the talk about what to do about the social systems which have been laboriously constructed in order to acculturate and educate our children, we have to get the values of our bearings straight.
We need to be more critically aware of what we conceptualize as a “teacher”. If the first thing that we think about when we think of “teacher” is a person at the front of the classroom with thirty or so kids sitting at their desks, we d an injustice to ourselves by minimizing what learning is. Before we think about the systematic education of our students, we need to think about our own understanding of what knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom actually are. Before we try to understand how to rapidly and effectively educate the youth, we need to be aware of how knowledge is developed, as well as how far we have come in our own pursuit of wisdom.
We have had the social need of education our children far longer than the national public school systems were in existence. Therefore, we need to critically examine how a child is educated in contexts outside of the classroom. Even before kids are put in school, whether pre-school (in the technical, institutional term), kindergarten, or first grade, they have to learn about fundamental things like language acquisition and employment, the nature of human relationships, and the abstract metaphysical cause-and-effect relationships that can inform how the world works.
How well do schooling systems provide the student/family with resources to learn about those things? How well can they provide the student/family with such resources? So it seems that focusing on the pre-schooling period of life is important because it is a time in which children are naturally open and receptive to internalizing the fundamentals of cause-and-effect relationships. And it is this that is truly a large part of what makes early childhood development so crucial, we need to examine how well we promote those values in all facets of society. We need to examine how well we are open to adaption, learning, and changing, as necessary, with the times.
This was true a century ago but is even truer today. A century ago we did not have so many people on the planet, did not know about all of the diverse cultures and belief systems, and did not have so much digital technologies which can so empower us to learn about the big ol’ world easier. It is with this sort of mentality that we need to approach the “traditional” role of teacher, the adult in front of the classroom of students. This role is one of the most prestigious and important jobs that exists. We need to think critically about what to do that will empower the student to be more participatory and critical during the in-class discovery process.
Douglas Rushkoff knows what sort of overall changes need to take place, recognizing that teachers are no longer the monopoly over all of information. What the teacher needs to do is to synthesize different veins of thought and interrelated information with the child instead of for the child. Rather than spoon-fed, in-out factory style teaching, we need dynamism and self-involvement from all of the students and the teacher. We need rigorous curricula which will provide in-depth consistency to unify the learning mentality in the child’s mind, raising the platforms available for the child to reach on their own.
(As a result of the systemic complexity of our symbolic culture, the creative things that we need to do, to get the economy on super-sure footing again, create more wealth and prosperity, are exceedingly difficult. But only by focusing on and studying how complex things are can we create the pathway forward. For more posts that deal with this systemic complexity, please see “On the Conservatism of Precedent" and especially "Discourse on Determinism”.)
The Financial Collapse of 2008 has hit us all incredibly hard – whether you lost your job, or your house, got your hours slashed, or even know someone who has fallen on hard times. In any case, the mere fact that so many people are having difficulties making ends meet should testify to a more pertinent source of concern.
In my own way of trying to understand how the world works, I’ve become opinionated as to what is truly necessary for us to begin reversing the adverse effects that happen to a society when so much value evaporates over a period of time. The opinion of the policy-wonk in me thinks along Keynesian lines, but with all of the advancements made by modern philosophy. The economics student in me wonders about the independence of the Fed, as well as the conflicts of concerns of the members therein, but to do anything because of it would be some kind of socialism (given that the two main theories of economic organization have traditionally been “the Government” OR “the Market”). But the civil philosopher in me tries to understand how deep the crash took us, the extent to which so many people falling on hard times in this day and age impacts the future, and the extent to which human action can affect the situation as a whole.
One thing I’m keen to observing, aided by my relatively young age and healthy amount of skepticism, is the extent to which true advancement depends on so much social complexity. The Financial Collapse, which would have never happened if private flows of capital did not sends ripples of panic throughout the whole global financial system, has a long history of events, people, and legislation leading up to the trigger. Because of the inherent complexity of financial markets and financial instrumentation, any single attempt to understand the precise lessons to learn from the mishaps were struck by both technical complexity of new-fangled mathematics, its history and relationship to the underlying commercial commodity, as well as the moral/ethical status of how this could all happen within a system of rule-by-law.
I’m under the impression that no single person, or single company, or single piece of legislation (that’s actually being talked about) can pull us up by our bootstrap and tie our shoes again. It needs to be a mass, collective effort. If we want not just jobs, but careers and the possibility of distinguished achievement, we need to propagate it to everyone you know and everyone they know. More people should know, everyone ought to know: we have to create our way out of this mess.
We need people to stop seeking employment and create employment. We need wealth creation on an unprecedented scale. We have to create, innovate, and invent our way to prosperity again. In the light of the horror and tragedy of Financial Collapse, we have an opportunity to think about the fundamental values we have as a society. If anything at all is learned we need to stop treating symbols and tools as if they are even more important than the results of what they are used for. We need wealth creation not by treating our mortgaged house’s equity as an ATM and base value on something concrete and real.
Complexity isn’t ever going to leave us, it’s been a hallmark of our species, and it moreover shouldn’t be eliminated. Yes, things might be incredibly complex, but that is only another occasion to rise to. The systematic complexity which is found as our symbolic culture means we have to work to create for ourselves our own equally formidable sophistication. So let’s turn to what we need to turn the economy around for ourselves: the structure, complexity, and difficulty of invention.
First, we, especially in our economically (and spiritually) depressed/recessed state, need more people to be able to have the critical thinking skills that we needed to determine the actual state of things instead of just accepting the world around them for what it appears like. This sort of skepticism would not only be good (and is necessary) for our economy, by how it enhances the individual’s ability to perceive/create novelty, but also for the broader state of civil politics in the more general sense. By being more critically skeptical on the way things seem to be, we can create the space to be open-minded to learning more and more information as we continue to grow and mature. Not only are these fundamental skills that all kids need to learn from birth, in the family, and from school, but it is essential to having and informed citizenry and for creating/innovating our way out of this socioeconomic mess.
Second, we need people who are very attuned to the general and specific states of the human conditions. The oft-repeated phrase is that “necessity is the mother of invention”. And more specific than determining the difference between reality and appearance is knowing what sort of reality is of concern. For the inventor, the individual needs to figure some sort of human necessity that a new sort of gadget, or service, or business can fulfill. Not only does this require a deeply introspective awareness of the nature of reality, but also insists on idealist imagination – knowing where to look in society, or in the world around you, where the actual particulars of what you’re looking for can tell you even more, better information. It requires an intuition of fundamental economic structures, such as the logistics of supply chain management, the beginning-to-end process of production and manufacture, and/or the mechanisms in which humans exchange of specialty services to one other. This brings focus and clarity to the asking/framing of the problem, essential to any sort of responding to the issue at hand.
Thirdly, as soon as some sort of problem-issue is faced, and the search for the correct questions is underway, the individual inventor needs to understand some of the hardest and most complex stuff: the history of their craft. As soon as the individual has the necessary competence to engineer some sort of novel product or service, as well as the critical awareness of where to look and why something should be different than it is currently, the individual needs to rigorously study the precedents which have been established for his craft. I fear that this is the most complex aspect regarding the difficult of invention. Before the individual goes out and tries to create something from scratch, or innovate on something that may already exist, they need to learn what has come before them.
In summary, critical examination of appearance versus reality, an in-depth intuition of the many states of human condition, and the cumulative history of invention and innovation are three things that are needed in order to empower true sources of value creation in society. We need this sort of mass-scale value creation in order to truly come back from the Financial Collapse of 2008. Though complexity may be inherent to understanding different aspects of social theory, there are ways of creating our own understanding, even if it isn’t as sophisticated as possible. Even trying can yield marginally positive results. But going forward, we need more research, critical analysis, and creatively dynamic industries in order to ameliorate the adverse effects of severe economic downturn.
(Here is a functionalist explanation of what I’m calling Ontological Sophisticated Philosophy. To learn the gist of what it is, read “Ontological Sophisticated Philosophy" and then read "The Principle of Ontological Sophisticated Philosophy: Modeling the Complex Interpretation of Moral Virtue”. I’m planning to write a post soon that deals with the implications on pedagogical theory a little more in depth.)
Enough of the description of what Ontological Sophisticated Philosophy is, let me try and demonstrate what the uses are in a more concrete fashion.
First, because of how it injects a notion of morality and virtue into the heart of sociological takes on philosophy, it can come a long way in informing us about the proper (and thus improper) role of power among people. And by power, I don’t just mean the “hard” power of military might and strength, but also the utter depths of “soft” and institutional power affecting our own ability to learn and interpret the world. And because knowledge is power, those who attempt to or succeed in manipulating systems of discovering, interpreting, or synthesizing information have an incredibly disproportionate affect on the ability of people to have freedom of mind. Any time politicians, legal experts, or financial gurus manipulate the situation and other people to do their needs with a proper consideration to the ultimate affect of their actions, justice and truth in the form of authentic honesty are forsaken.
Secondly, Ontological Sophisticated Philosophy doctrine has an incredible amount of nativist philological implications. Not only because it is based very strongly on classical Greek philosophy, but because of the direct implications it has in pedagogical theory. Because it attempts to construct a very holistic take on the relationship that metaphor has on our interpretation of abstract meaning, it can provide a way of challenging dominant paradigms of perception, examination, and instrumentation. Thus, by combining analysis and criticism of dominance and authority, we can provide ways of equipping the youth in being able to justly challenge the ethical merits and moral philosophy of the people around them. So not only does Ontological Sophisticated Philosophy have legitimate takes on pedagogical theory and practice, as in the teaching of children, but also can influence androgogy, as in the education of adults. This is achieved by setting and analyzing the rigid standards of understanding and levels of certainty within a near-infinite multitude of situations.
Thirdly, because of its holistic take on the community of all social theorists and scientists, not only can it readily call out sources of baseless authority, as well as have the capacity to educate a diverse number of people. But it can also point out how avenues of inquiry, research, and experimentation. As a practical, day-to-day measure, it can assess bias, misunderstanding, general ignorance, and a number of other types of asymmetrical information. In order to respond to the diverse complexity of all of history, there needs to be not only a rigorous and very critical take on the contemporary (and past) state of ethics, but also about how to take a purely creative stance in responding to that very state of ethics, as observed from the world around us. The purely unique creativity that it takes to generate new, inventive, and innovative hypothetical constructions of science are incredibly complex and take an incredible amount of sophistication. Ontological Sophisticated Philosophy can have an effect on construction of theoretical frameworks by assessing the capacities of our own psychological process in understanding physical phenomena.
The final observation to make is that, in the overall spirit of holism, there are even more examples of how to apply the notion of Ontological Sophisticated Philosophy. We need to weave the three broad examples of functional performance together. In most ways that the Ontological Sophisticated perspective can substantively enhance the understanding and behavior of institutions, all sorts of organizations, and the psychological composure of individuals, it requires even greater levels of specificity in order to determine the precise path forward. The specific form of action in any situation is dependent on that situation; it is determined more by the “local” conditions of which institution, organization, and individual psychology is focused on.
There are so many things that the concept of Ontological Sophisticated Philosophy can be applied to, precisely because it aims to be so holistic and interpret the awe-some extent of diversity and complexity that human experience rationally implies. A criticism of social theory can, and must, come from a focus on the rational certainty of how an individual relates to the world around them, especially considering the complexity of contextualizing the implications of an individual’s relationships with other people. As such, an anthropological examination of an individual’s pursuit of virtue and wisdom can and must inform a sociological take on the development of moral philosophy.
(Here is a third post of personal philosophic works, to follow “On the Relation of the Mental to the Material”, which is supposed to follow “On the Arbitrary Definition of Abstract Terms”. This post is about how systems of validation and accreditation are so inherently complex that we need a whole ton of open-mindedness and activist researching in order to learn more about the world.)
In contemplation of certain matters of social theory and philosophy, it becomes increasingly important that we focus on certain aspects of reality that have more relevance than other aspects. In talking about the role of abstract meaning in trying to come to a full understanding of the world, as well as the role of complex symbolism in communicating such meaning, there are many different ways to think about the issues. But in thinking about certain issues in one way versus another way, some issues are focused on instead of others. About meaning, we could discuss very “deep” and metaphoric aspects as to whether or not abstract concepts exist outside of the mind, or only inside, whether they exist despite the mind or because of it.
But focusing on such metaphoric aspects of philosophic meaning seems to be a long, complex, and arduous task. Instead, we can think of it in terms of present-day, 2012 society, not of the ~500 BCE time of Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato. We can think of certain constants of how humans relate to the world around themselves, such as the notion that children are (still) being born and have to be trained and educated as they grow up. Focusing on certain pragmatic realities, we can see how the reality of the deep metaphoric aspects of abstract meaning via symbolism reveals itself, or is revealed by us to us. The fact is that we presently exist in a world that has a very rich history of utilizing symbols to convey abstract meaning. Thus, it may be true that without the innate ability to understand and grasp abstract meaning and symbolism, we may not be able to have such rich sociocultural complexity, but it’s a very part of that cultural complexity of society that we don’t have to decide either/or in matters of social theory (re: Kierkegaard & Douglass Rushkoff).
In fact, it could be seen that it’s constantly choosing within the either/or mindset that obscures the underlying reality of matters. It’s not about being too-simplistic in such complicated social matters, but about the wrong sort of simplicity. Instead of thinking it has to be one or the other, such as either mind or behavior, or either rationalism or experience, we can get a better description and arrive at a better understanding by seeing how the distinct parts are all interrelated. Only in this way can we understand the impact that all of the systemic complexity and sophistication has on the nature of constant social evolution (such as new generations replacing old generations).
Returning to the pragmatic reality of children being born, we have to think of the political implications of the presence that systemic symbolic complexity has on the ability for us to pass on our wisdom to the future generations. It is a real concern for us to consider, as the extent to how complex we think things are has a direct implication on how well we are able to properly educate and prepare our youth so that they are able to contribute to productive society, respond to life in a creative way, or just find their own sense of happiness and contentment among the diversity of society (and the adversity of sociocultural complexity).
People aren’t mathematicians, professionals, or sophisticated from birth, we have to learn and practice these things in order to be good at then. Likewise for open-mindedness, being healthily skeptical, and critically-analytic thinking. Reflected in this constancy is the interconnectedness of all sorts of social theory. But far from this interconnectedness leading to or causing excess complexity and sophistication, we can train ourselves to come to some sort of in-depth and comprehensive understanding of the world around us.
(Here is my third post in a vein of thought attempting to place sociolinguistics on a more firm theoretical basis, trying to incorporate the transformational grammarian Chomksy’s insights and dominant sociolinguist William Labov. The first was “New Perspectives for Sociolinguistics: A Treatise on Symbolic Interactionism" and the second was "Discourse on Determinism: The Structure of the Historical Dialectic”.)
The word “lexicon” means vocabulary, of a specific discipline, vein of knowledge, or just in general. It, thus, also means dictionary, the sum total of knowable words. In fact, another term for “words”, or just the singular “word”, is also “lexical item”. So a word could be called a lexical item and a lexicon can be considered an accumulation of lexical items. In effect, the lexicon and thus the words that make it up form the physical basis of what language is. Look at any book, article, or pamphlet and the linguistic basis on which it is predicated will be just a collection of words, much like “society” is just a collection of people, and a forest is just a collection of trees and other greenery (re: “On the Arbitrary Definition of Abstract Terms”).
But is that really all that language boils down to? Of course not. There are significant mental components, such as grammatical and transformational rules, which don’t fall under the physically-based lexicon. They could be physically represented, but most of it is implicit within the words themselves. Chomsky calls to the reality of this mental component numerous times, such as in his 1965 Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, when he distinguishes between use of the lexical items for communicative purposes, and the proper role of a disciplined linguistics. I agree that “linguistic theory is mentalistic, since it is concerned with discovering a mental reality underlying actual behavior”, but I disagree that “[o]bserved use of language or hypothesized dispositions to respond, habits, and so on, may provide evidence as to the nature of this mental reality, but surely it cannot constitute the actual subject matter of linguistics, if this is to be a serious discipline” (4). There seems to be a distinct, conflicting tension between the substance of language as it relates to the mind, and the specific function of language as it relates to other people.
Why does it have to be so? Why cannot the systematic study of language use in society be the proper domain of some sort of linguistics? I will very well agree that such perspective of social language use is not all that the study of linguistics boils down to, no one would argue that, but it surely must be within the domain of the study of language. It doesn’t have to be so contradictory to combine both the intrinsic, innate substance of what language is with the functionalist perspective of what language can do (as it relates to communication between people in society). A common reaction against sociolinguistics understood as the micro-basis of language use in society is that it is dependent on theories of symbolism and abstract meaning in a way that linguistics proper doesn’t. But even linguistics proper relies on some sort of external theory of meaning. Chomsky’s 1965 Aspects is about English grammar and syntax, and even his earlier work on Hebrew language, as well as the work done with other languages, all rely on the words and letters of the language itself as symbols.
So it can be seen that perhaps all of analysis of language is dependent on an external theory of meaning, not just that which is needed to successfully interpret pragmatics, or the value of information contained in conversational exchange. This notion of semiotics, or the study of symbols and their use or interpretation, seems to be central to every sort of linguistics, reflecting the importance of the “underlying mental reality”. In fact, semiotics, as a theory of symbolic meaning, could be thought of as “superior”, or a priori, to a specific type of symbolism, the symbols of language, or “linguistics” proper. The entire notion of written text as a secondary medium of linguistic expression implies a radically easier way of communicative transmission, either with other people, which is called synchronic, or through time, which is called diachronic (referring to the popular sociolinguist William Labov’s influential methodology).
So perhaps rigorous study of social language use can inform us about the “underlying mental reality” of syntactic, generative grammars, at least as much as introspective analysis can. Although it is not necessary for language to be intended for communication, that doesn’t change the pragmatic observation that the majority of the time that language exists it is in communication with others. Therefore, language use in society must be a fundamental and important aspect of examining linguistics systematically. And there doesn’t even need to be so sharp of a distinction between the mental reality that sociolinguistics examines and the mental reality that linguistics proper examines, either. Linguistics proper and sociolinguistics can possibly bring to light different, supporting, equally valid perspectives of the “underlying mental reality”. But it should be obvious that linguistics proper, focused as it is on such “underlying mental reality”, can come a long way in discovering the true state of the mind as it relates to symbolic manipulation. It is fundamental that sociolinguistics pays attention to such developments and critically understands the extent of implications from the study. Just as linguistics proper can discover the “underlying mental reality”. Similarly, perhaps a properly framed sociolinguistics can provide us with insights into the underlying social reality that forms the fabric of that ties people together in society, as examined by their language use.
Much like psychological insights can also inform our understanding of the “underling mental reality”, as is the study of linguistics proper, it takes anthropological insights in order to frame the objective of sociolinguistics. And in all philosophic theories, it isn’t necessarily a one-way street. Psychological theories can inform our understanding of the “underlying mental reality” just as linguistics proper can; anthropological insights can inform our conception of the “underlying social reality” much in the way that sociolinguistics can. Along with this, archaeology can inform us of the “underlying political past” much like history strives to. This is not only a necessity on the part of all social theories to borrow concepts and methodologies from other areas of study, but ultimately reflects the inherent interconnectedness of all social theory.
First, we have to recognize the diversity and complexity of the external repository of symbols. This isn’t just the length and breadth of the lexicon, as the total accumulation of lexical items, or words. But in reality, the extent diversity and complexity of an external symbolic repository is more of a mere reflection of the total amount of symbolic meaning that could exist. For example, for English speakers, a bit of German can demonstrate how many unique phenomena are out there, but for which we lack English words for. Schadenfreude roughly means joy derived from another’s pain or sorrow; gemütlichkeit is a word that means a cheerful and/or delightful mood brought on by the feelings of social acceptance. So not only is there a great myriad of complicated English words (such as “ontological”), but there is a great number of non-English words that are very observant of natural phenomena and can thus enhance our awareness (think of the South American word “mamihlapinatapai”, eh?).
Secondly, what happens when we are able to view and understand something better than what is commonly understood, or can describe/explain it better than the dictionary definition does? In such a case, it is true that a complex philosophic case should or must be put together to change how this word is used and interpreted. There are numerous examples, as when someone tries to understand art as not just paintings and poetry, but that everything can, in a sense, be artistic. Rather than changing the actual definition of art, or of the artistic, the ultimate effect is of changing how people understand what art is. Philosophy is not just pondering the nature of abstract meaning and the deepest questions of all that life is and/or can be, but is just “the love of wisdom” and is thus bound in everything as well. Thomas Kuhn’s popularization of the word “paradigm” was likewise a major revolution in people’s capacity to understand the world around them (as well as the world in a macroscopic, global sense).
Thirdly, related to the second, we have the opportunity to create a word from scratch, or from other predisposed symbols, like letters. This is like when Charles Pierce devised “pragmaticism” as distinct from “pragmatism” in order to focus on that which is practical and not artistic. In this way, Pierce was able to take an older word, add a few letters, and distinguish himself and his ideas. Pragmatism, which deals with the nature of action of behavior, is thus distinct from pragmaticism, which emphasizes practical, every day affairs. In this way, even artists can talk about the practicality of their day-to-day work without getting too deep into the origins of unique creativity in their work, or the art of their art. Both instances would be talking about action and behavior, but only in the pragmaticist sense is the practical reality emphasized.
All three methods of interpreting symbolic meaning involve some sort of creativity. Along with an internal source of creativity, all three involve and aspect of pre-disposed, external repository of symbols, like letters and lexical items which make up the present lexicon. This is how symbolic interaction must be understood – as some sort of neo-Platonism, the notion that abstract mental entities might not exist without the human mind, but that contemporary reality dictates that children being born at this and future moments have to come to grips with the diverse and complex extent of external symbolic meaning, as it exists right now. But it is the nature of such symbolic meaning that we can create our own symbols to bring harmony and rhythm to what can, at first, seem like a daunting, clunky nightmare. If no humans existed, there would perhaps be no abstract conceptualization in the way of philosophy or science, and therefore our actions and ideas have an extraordinary effect on the structure of abstract concepts going into the future, just as the present structure of abstract concepts has an extraordinary effect on the next generation growing up.
In summary, there doesn’t have to be tension between the introspective methods of linguistics proper and the externally-based theories of meaning that a sociolinguistics must rely on. They can and should mutually support and reinforce one another. In fact, the linguist proper should support the sociolinguist to the most and best s/he can (and vice versa). If it is what language that is being studied, then all sorts of linguists should find each other’s specialized disciplines highly interesting. We should thus drop the conflicts that may be found between us, for the sake of the young grade schooler who is just learning and becoming interested in language’s power of conveying meaning and reflecting the structure of mind. In some way, we are all linguists just by being interested in language and open-minded to learning about it, and unless we drop unnecessary conflicts, realize we have way more in common than that which separates us, and come together to celebrate what diversity there is, then we threaten turning off the young quasi-linguist to the profession.
(Here is another post on some personal philosophic works I’m working on, a post to follow “On the Arbitrary Definition of Abstract Terms”. It is my take on combating the systemic complexity and excess sophistication that seems to be oh-so-prevalent in so many aspects of philosophic social theory.)
In how much complexity and confusion there can be in considering the arbitrarily defined nature of abstract terminology, what is there to bring cohesion, uniformity, focus, certainty? Not only were the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, as well as the numerous Eastern philosophers, very numerous, diverse, and complex, but also the 2000-plus year history since then has made life even more complex. Even in the last 100, 30, or 5 years have there been an incredible amount of sociocultural and technological change. People are still confused about how it’s changing the individual’s relationship to the world around them.
But it’s not s daunting. The nature f human existence is that of constant change – this much is not new. Even on an individual level, every sort of skill, like language long-distance running, or weaving/knitting, are not ours from birth. Rather, we have to constantly practice and grow the sort of competence required to perform adequately. The same is with philosophy – open-mindedness, a healthy amount of skepticism, and critically-analytic thinking are all skills that we have to develop. We might have the innate mental capacity for this sort of symbolic knowledge, but we can and should constantly work to increase the extent to which we can have more contact with, to learn from, symbolism.
And so in trying to determine the complexity of all the abstract terms that are by-and-large arbitrarily defined, we can and must rely on ourselves, egoism. The mind is the mechanism of how we make sense of the world. But what is the mind, this tool-like thing that is so valuable that it cannot ever be overstated?
It boils down to the nature of what is abstract – everything that doesn’t exist in a “three-dimensional”, physical way. Let’s take a moment to think about what the notion of successive dimensionality is – the notion of there being one, two, three, or more “dimensions”. The third dimension is everything in front of us, but what is the first and second? These dimensions don’t and can’t exist in a physical capacity, even the text on the page of a book or pamphlet isn’t technically the second dimension because the miniscule depth of the ink brings it into the third dimension. The first dimension is even harder to conceptualize because any sort of depth or width makes it technically two dimensional. We can see now that both the first and second dimensions are purely theoretical, hypothetical mental constructs, not based in any sort of physical reality.
How do we make sense of any sort of “dimensions” higher than the third? I can see how it is really tempting to explain all of the theoretical complexity that the natural world presents by claiming that there are ten, eleven, or twelve dimensions. But perhaps this sort of sophistication is wholly unnecessary, making the presence of arbitrarily defined abstract terms even worse? It could and should be considered scandalous that a physicist can just say that another dimension must exist in order to justify the necessity of ever-higher levels of energy that it takes to determine the existence of ever-smaller subatomic particles. Talk about the complexity of being far-removed from reality, making it difficult to pass on wisdom to the next generation.
I choose to think of the order of this “successive dimensionality” in three phases: there are the “first” and “second” dimensions which stand for our own innate mentalism, the “third” which stands for the physical reality all around us, and anything beyond that stands for everything else that can exist in an abstract way – concepts, strange mysteriousness, and the underlying structure of symbolic meaning in society. Only by realizing that perhaps certain things are just too complex and too sophisticated can we put the abstract in perspective and in balance with the physical reality of our world.
(Here is the beginning of a conceptual take on philosophic theories of meaning, or semiotics, especially as it relates to an individualistic pursuit of knowledge (epistemology) and wisdom (philosophy)).
I hear a clink of metal-on-metal as I put the gas nozzle into the tank. A beep as I press unleaded. A loud voice over the PA system saying I’m authorized for inside payment. Glug-glug-glug of the multiple-gallon hose-transfer. You could say I’m “filling up,” I’m making this car revitalized, rejuvenated, getting it fed to make it go. The point is, no matter what it’s called, it doesn’t change the essence of what is going on.
I’m a fan of bananas. (A fan-ana?) The delicious yellow-white flesh, a rush of potassium. But what happens to the yellow peel? It’s garbage, refuse, trash, basura, compost. There are many names for it, so which one is it? Well, no choice about what to call it needs to be made – it’s every single one all the time. But as time goes on, as natural biological forces take hold, the substance itself changes, which changes the possibilities of how it could change. If I happen to be a composter, I might throw the banana peel into the compost and it would continue to turn brown. If not, I would throw it into a garbage where it would still turn brown, still leave those nutrients for potential compost, although they would not be utilized.
This isn’t all merely philosophic conjecture – think of the word “society”. What is “society”? You immediately must recognize that it is an illusion. Any “society” is just a group of individuals. What is it about them that makes them a society? How many people make up a society? It’s the classic “trees versus forest” example. How many trees does it take to make a forest versus just a woodland? How about a jungle? Obviously are certain physical, biological principles which can clearly delineate the difference between all of the diversity that groups of trees can come in. But what sort of principles are there to mark the difference between all of the diversity that groups of humans come in?
Just because this purely descriptive take on sociology might be step or two up in terms of complexity, that doesn’t mean there aren’t principles which can work to classify and order diversity and bring definite theoretical frameworks to examine and explain specific examples. How big of a collection of people can be examined sociologically? A better question involves how small of a collection of people counts? It could be seen that even two people can demonstrate what can be interesting about sociological examination – namely the development of symbolic manipulation through speech, relationships of influence and power, as well as ideological considerations of individual growth, maturation, and learning. You can see how the same exact psychosocial considerations are in use no matter the size of the group of people, though there is a lot more stuff to talk about and explain as the size of the group increases.
Think about art, as well. No matter what sort of art it is, be it poetry, a novel, music, or painting, each may illicit some sort of emotional-intellectual response, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is art. The central driving force behind this may go by many names, such as a poetic device, plot, or drama, or merely be referenced as a “piece” or “work”, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t very broad, descriptive commonalities on a purely theoretical basis. One commonality that bring all of what “art” is under the same umbrella is a notion of coming from a place of purely unique creativity (re: “A Science of Beauty”). The importance is recognizing the difference between trying to describe what art is versus trying to explain what art is or does. Technically, all art can be described similarly, but how each piece of art is explained is relative to what sort of art is being considered, differing from piece to piece, situation to situation.
A third example is of philosophy itself. Philosophy roughly translates as “love of wisdom”, and as such all of the pseudonyms of what counts as “wisdom” is included in that. This automatically counts as “virtue” as well, but can take on any sort of connotations of the words “smarts”, “intelligence”, as well as “information” and “intellect” generally. The point of philosophy is that it is all sorts of knowledge, especially that which pertains to the pragmatic, practical reality of living in the world. There needs to be a book-smart-like approach to how we become street-smart, and a rationalist, logical philosophy can come a long way in examining how that is possible from situation to situation. Philosophy is the holistic, concise way to determine how to look at the world. Philosophy is how we can understand how much of language is predicated on the arbitrary definitions of abstract terms, as well as how to see beyond what the world may seem like in order to come to a metaphysical understanding f how the world actually is.
As you can see, no matter what sort of situation we are faced with or put in, that doesn’t change the fundamentals of how respond to it. No matter what we are faced with, we can respond with open-mindedness, a healthy amount of skepticism, and critically-analytic thinking. Our actions and how we proceed might differ from situation to situation, such as how conservatively we use our gasoline, whether we trash or compost that banana peel, or what sort of aspect of society, art, or philosophy we focus on.
No matter what sort of situation we are faced with, there are always certain things that remain absolutely unchanged, such as ourselves. The most important “abstract” term that has been arbitrarily defined is that of consciousness, egoism, exigency, experience. These immutable qualities are completely mental, and they bring overarching commonalities once we bring in the consideration of behavioral responses. Both egoistic-consciousness and behavioral responses are both universal constants, something that all humans have in common, even though there are differences of what sort of mentalism and behavioral responses there are (even in a single person throughout time).
(I thought of turning Chomsky’s notion of creativity into a purely artistic sort of creativity one day while driving home after class. I got home, went for my Moleskine, and eked this out shortly thereafter.)
One of the insights of the Chomskian paradigm of linguistics is recognizing how much creativity that language allows for every human being. But in the sense that he means “creativity”, he doesn’t necessarily mean the artistic, but in how language allows us to respond to an infinitely diverse set of situations given that we only have a select few number of “tools” to do it with. Even though we don’t know every single word out there, and might not have the perfect grasp of grammar, we can still respond to the world around us adequately (or at least semi-adequately).
But what about the other sense of “creativity”? The theoretical construction of Chomsky wasn’t specifically designed to handle artistic creativity but that doesn’t mean his formulations don’t bear heavily implications on theories of aesthetics. We can understand, describe, and explain artistic creativity by adopting the converse of Chomsky’s sense of “creativity”. Instead of something that everyone has as a matter-of-course, a purely artistic sense of creativity would rely on something that is purely unique in every instance – something that can only come from one individual.
I like this conception of artistry because it satisfies both necessary and sufficient conditions of the depths of human creativity. It recognizes that, to an extent, everything is artistic – down to the originality seen from any old chair in a coffee shop. Couches at IKEA are artistic, even though these things are mass-produced commodities, they still rely on some sort of entirely unique creativity. No matter how many copies of something that may exist, from books to sweaters or backpacks, the inherent design that each one is predicated on is entirely unique.
Yet this theoretical aesthetics can also touch on the more traditional sources of art – like music, visual arts, and the literary arts. The interesting part of aesthetic theories of beauty comes from trying to understand where the unique creativity comes from. Commodities may be artistic in some way, but it’s easily recognizable why such designs exist. When treating more “traditional” sources of art, the origins are incredibly more complex. Compared to commercial commodities, these sorts of arts are infinitely more interesting. In mass-produced “artistic” works, the source of reasons are by-and-large obvious – commercialism. But in more “traditional” forms of artistry, there are only a few copies of the works, and in many cases only one. The reasons for its existence are much more complex, and thus much more interesting.
Thus, this theory of aesthetics combines both absolutism and relativism – there is no way that people can say I’m too determinate. Bringing the examination of beauty more scientific certainty doesn’t make the beauty any less artistic. You need to think of how science itself needs a uniquely creative sense of artistry for its own sense of progress. Science needs expertly formulated questions in order to frame the issues correctly. There might be an industry of people trying to generate more and more brilliant questions, but those progressive questions must come from a completely unique source.
The claim that everything is artistic based on its inherent uniqueness doesn’t deprive us of searching for those reasons why and how something is unique and how unique something is. There can be some very broad categorizations of these reasons in order to distinguish between these different industries which rely on an inherent sense of unique creativity. This would separate commercial household items from poetry, as well as bringing standardized contexts for discovering the precise origins of purely unique creativity. It would be interesting to get at how one explains the depths of this uniqueness, but you can be sure that on a purely descriptive level, the purely unique sense of creativity can be a firm scientific basis to place aesthetic theory.
In summary, theoretical underpinnings of linguistics can come a long way in improving our understanding of what art is. Something that is unique can be very strange and mysterious, and this might be a requirement of great art, especially if you understand where David Lehman and Christian Wiman are coming from (re: “essential strangeness”). Just because something is strange and mysterious doesn’t mean we have to be confused about its artistic qualities. In fact, we can be fairly certain it’s art based on its strangeness, we can be scientifically certain. From this basis of description, we can start attempting an explanation of where the purely unique creativity comes from.