Partially Examined Life tracks on Soundclound

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Plato's Forms in the "Parmenides" (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

We get down to the specific questions considered in this perplexing Platonic dialogue: Are there Forms for all adjectives? Does the Form of a property itself have that property? (Is the Form Large itself large?) How do Forms connect with particulars? How can we mortals have any connection to heavenly Forms anyway? Why even think there are Forms outside of particulars? Listen to part one first or get the full, ad-free Citizen Edition; your Citizenship will also get you access to the follow-up episode to be released this week where Mark and Seth hash through the second half of the dialogue. End song: "Young and Lovely" by Jherek Bischoff, feat. Zac Pennington & Soko. Listen to Jherek interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #65.

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Plato's Forms in the "Parmenides" (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On the most peculiar Platonic dialogue, from ca. 350 BCE. Are properties real things in the world, or just in the mind? Plato famously thought that for a property like "large," there's a Form that causes all the large things to be large, and which enables us to recognize those things as large. These Forms are not material things, and hence aren't the objects of ordinary sensation. In other dialogues like "The Republic," we get a picture of Forms as being in a true, heavenly realm, known explicitly only to the enlightened and perhaps to all of us before we were born. In this dialogue, Plato provides critiques of his own theory, as an aged Parmenides confronts a youthful Socrates. What exactly is the relationship between Forms and the particulars that have the properties? If the Form is broken up so that a bit of Large is in every large thing, then wouldn't those pieces of Large be (relatively) small? If on the other hand every large thing has the whole of the Form of Large in it, then how can the Form be in multiple places at once? Even if the Form is sort of draped over all the things, it would only be one part of the Form that touches any given thing. Then there's the famous "third man" argument: We're supposed to recognize that large things are large because they all resemble the Form of Large. But then how do we recognize that the particular large thing and the Form Large are both Large? There must be a second Form that we consult to make this comparison, and a third Form that we use to compare the second Form with the first one, ad infinitum. The most worrying objection, according to the character Parmenides, is that if Forms are so perfect and otherworldly, how could we with our human minds know anything about them? How could they even be in causal connection with material things? These are all objections that Plato has Parmenides put forward, and Socrates, being young and inexperienced, admits he has no good defense. So is Plato abandoning his own theory? Or maybe just presenting some challenges that one has to overcome to refine it? In the second half of the dialogue (which we don't discuss much here, though Mark and Seth get into it in a follow-up episode to be posted for Citizens this week), Parmenides gives a long analysis of what results if we assume either that The One does exist or if it doesn't. Either way, absurdities result. So perhaps Plato is trying to argue that while the theory of Forms has problems, Parmenides's monist solution (described in our last episode) is even worse. Or maybe saying that you have to change the theory of Forms in some way.

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Guest Simon Blackburn on Truth (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing with Simon on his book On Truth (2018). We move to part two of the book, where we get down to the procedures used to obtain truth in art, ethics, and science. Simon is well known for his meta-ethics, which is descended from C.L. Stevenson's emotivism. Just as he said in part one that he agreed largely with Strawson's view that to say a sentence is true is to advocate for it, the same goes for saying that ethical claims are true: You're not looking for correspondence of the claim with some ethical fact out in the world, but expressing your advocacy of the claim. And this doesn't make the claim simply a matter of your whim: Per Hume and Smith, ethics is a social enterprise, so when you advocate an ethical claim, you're making a pitch to the rest of humanity that what you're advocating jibes somehow with our human nature, our moral intuitions, our traditions. We might not be able to articulate exactly what all those things amount to, and in fact they're open to ongoing negotiation, but neither is ethics a matter of individual subjective whim or thoroughly relative to a particular culture. We still want out ethical claims to be true, to be not what society actually thinks, but what it should think, which is related to what we actually think in a complicated way (e.g., the "spirit" of our intuitions, so you could argue that slavery is immoral given intuitions a society has about freedom, even if that society doesn't currently extend that freedom to all people). This provides a good model of truth-seeking in general, and we talk about art (not a social enterprise in the way that ethics is, but also not just a matter of ""to each his own taste""), and then about scientific normativity: A claim is regarded as true if it has the proper pedigree, i.e., if we've used the right kind of procedures (like those of physics or biology or math) to justify it. So Simon is a pragmatist, but not like Richard Rorty, who (sometimes) denied that there really is truth, or like William James, who explicitly defined truth in terms of these concrete procedures. Simon is not trying to define truth, but to show us how truth claims actually work in ordinary use. He's in effect throwing away the traditional question and answering one that's more interesting. Listen to part one first, or get the unbroken, ad-free Citizen Edition, and also Wes's bonus conversation on Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. Please support PEL! End song: "with you/for you" from the new cold/mess EP by Prateek Kuhad, interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #79.

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Parmenides on What There Is (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing with guest Peter Adamson with "On Nature" (475 BCE). We finally get to the great "fragment 8," which describes why Being must be singular and eternal, given that the notion of Non-Being is nonsense. So does it make any sense to talk of this eternal, uniform Being as a finite sphere? Would this absolute unity of Being make it impossible for us to even be individuals engaging in this inquiry? Parmenides perhaps uses the "Way of Seeming" to explain the world of appearance, but it's unclear to what extent this view can approximate, say, the Kantian distinction between appearance and reality. End song: "Circle" by Gareth Mitchell, as discussed on Nakedly Examined Music #4.

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Parmenides on What There Is (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On the fragments referred to as "On Nature" from ca. 475 BCE, featuring guest Peter Adamson from the History of Philosophy without Any Gaps podcast. One of the most influential Pre-socratic philosophers, Parmenides gives "The Way of Truth," which is that there is only Being, and talking of Non-Being is nonsense. And guess what? Any talk of difference implies non-being, so that's right out too, which means all of what we perceive must be an illusion: There is only a singular Being that is everything, which, peculiarly, Parmenides tells us is a finite sphere. As a way of explaining the appearance, Parmenides also provides us with (in fragments; a lot of this has been lost) "The Way of Seeming," which is a two-element cosmology that he thinks can compete with those of the other Presocratic physicists, you know, if you want to stray from the actual truth and play their game. So there's the question of why P. felt the need to write this, how exactly it relates to his Truth account, and what the role of myth is in setting up the story: It's a goddess who's showing the narrator these "Ways" after he has been flown to an esoteric realm on a magic chariot, which is of course what you'd expect from the guy who's been credited with inventing logic and metaphysics! Listeners may want to listen to Peter's short introduction to the text from his podcast and also our previous discussion on Plato's ""Sophist"" that purports to solve the Parmenidean problem of how to talk about non-being. We recommend the Kirk/Raven/Schofield volume The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts. Here's an online version of the text (not the same translation). Among the secondary sources that most of us already looked at are the Parmenides chapter (p. 113) by David Sedley in The Cambridge Companion to Early Greek Philosophy and John Palmer's entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Also see Alexander Mourelatos's "Some Alternatives in Interpreting Parmenides" (1979). Wes mentioned the Philosophy Bites episode featuring Raymond Tallis on this text. Mark brings up this lecture by Angie Hobbs from U. of Sheffield. You can also listen to Peter's episode on Zeno and Melissus. Image by Solomon Grundy.

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Guest Simon Blackburn on Truth (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

The Cambridge/etc. prof best known for his neo-Humean meta-ethics joins Mark, Wes, and Dylan to discuss his book On Truth (2018). What is truth? A pragmatist like William James wants to define truth in terms of the procedures we actually undergo to confirm a claim. Simon instead buys into a performative/deflationist view of truth. The notion can't be defined in general, but we can describe how it works in a specific domain, like how we judge the truth of scientific claims is different than for ethical or aesthetic claims. Still, none of those domains are going to be "just a matter of opinion." We acknowledge that some people are qualified to make judgments in a particular area through their acumen and expertise with relevant procedures, and those are the people (and procedures) that we regard as reliable sources of truth, even though we're not defining truth as whatever it is they determine. This is the payoff for two episodes of threshing through the jungles of analytic philosophy, as Simon's book leads us systematically through the correspondence, coherence, pragmatist, and deflationist theories of truth. Then in the second half (both of his book and our discussion) we focus on those domain-specific procedures, making connections to Hume, Kant, Peirce, Collingwood (a new one to us), and others. Buy the book!  And his previous book, Truth: A Guide for the Perplexed (2005), is even more beefy. Sponsors: Listen to the Hi-Phi Nation podcast at hiphination.org, and explore Peter Singer's The Life You Can Save at partiallyexaminedlife.com/savealife.

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Truth-The Austin/Strawson Debate (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing on "Truth" by J.L. Austin and "Trut"" by P.F. Strawson, both from 1950. We proceed to the Strawson article, which critiques the notion of a "fact" as explaining why a sentence might be true. A "fact" is not a thing in the world! So what do we add when we change "The cat is on the mat" to "'The cat is on the mat' is true"? Addendum: We discovered after posting this episode that Austin did give a response to Strawson via the 1954 paper "Unfair to Facts""(you can read it in this volume), in which he argues that Strawson does admit that events, and not just material things, count as part of the furniture of the world, and that facts are relevantly similar to events to also then count as being in the world, and hence something that an utterance could truly or falsely (or misleadingly or vaguely, etc.) describe. End song: "Troof" by Shawn Phillips, as interviewed for Nakedly Examined Music #77. Strawson picture by Genevieve Arnold.

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Truth-The Austin/Strawson Debate (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On two articles in the "ordinary language" tradition of philosophy called "Truth" from 1950 by J.L. Austin and P.F. Strawson. This is a breed of what we've called the deflationary theory of truth: the idea that "is true" doesn't actually add any cognitive content to a sentence ("It is raining," vs. "It is true that it is raining," tell you the same thing). The "performance" here is the idea that adding "is true" is a signal in a conversation that you agree with something, that you're willing to assert it, that you believe it. So it serves a role in a language game, and in that way in using the term you mean something over and beyond just stating the sentence itself. Austin responded to Strawson's idea in outlining his theory of truth in his paper for the 1950 Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. According to traditional views, truth is a property of sentences or propositions, whereas on any deflationary view, truth is not going to be a property at all. Austin says that Strawson was right in saying that truth is not a property of sentences, but denies that it's not a property. On the contrary, says Austin, it is a property of utterances, i.e., statements made at a particular time by a particular person. Every such utterance involves two sets of conventions: descriptive conventions that correlate the words used with types of situations and things that are found in the world (for "It is raining," this would include an understanding of what "rain" in general refers to), and demonstrative conventions ("demonstrative" just means something like pointing at something) that correlate the words with historic situations in the world. When the state of affairs pointed out (demonstrative conventions) is "of a type with" the what is being described (descriptive conventions), then the utterance is true. Strawson responds to Austin that this idea that it's the utterance that's true or false is wrong: Clearly, it's not a particular speech act that is true or not, but what is said in that speech act that's true or not, and of course you and I can say the same thing at different times. You and I can both say "It is raining," and mean different things. This was the whole reason that the idea of a "proposition" was invented distinct from particular utterances or sentences: because the same meaning can be conveyed using different words, by different speakers at different times, using different demonstrative conventions. So it may not be the case that Austin and Strawson actually disagree on this point, but Austin is stressing the fact that meaning is set not in the abstract but by a particular performance. Being a performative doesn't mean that a speech act doesn't also have a true/false dimension; it just gives you other dimensions to talk about a sentence, and Austin thinks that we very much overemphasize "true" and "false" as opposed to "exaggerated" or "vague" or "misleading" or "too concise." These are all ways, according to Austin, that a sentence can serve or fail to serve desired functions. Strawson does not think that those other words are in the same class as "true" and "false." The latter are more fundamental, he says, and don't require as sophisticated a language. However, Strawson's main objection to Austin is that he thinks Austin is not deflationist enough: Austin has given a "purified" correspondence theory, but it's still a correspondence theory, and that's bad. What's wrong with correspondence theory? On the traditional picture (or on Austin's), you've got a sentence (or utterance, or proposition), and it corresponds with something in the world. But what are these "things" to which it corresponds? "The ball is green" doesn't correspond with the thing that is the ball; that doesn't sound quite right. It corresponds with "the ball being green," i.e., with the fact that the ball is green, or perhaps you'd prefer to say (as Wittgenstein does) the state of affairs of the ball being green. Austin image by Charles Valsechi.

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Alfred Tarski on Truth (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing on Tarski's “The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics,” (1944), Hartry Field's “Tarski's Theory of Truth” (1972), and Donald Davidson's “The Folly of Trying to Define Truth” (1977). What was Tarski really doing? What are the implications of his project? Does it even make sense to define "truth," and what should a definition look like? Listen to part one first, or get the ad-free Citizen Edition. Look out for the Citizen-only bonus discussion of Shakespeare's Tempest, posting soon! Please support PEL! End song: "In Vino Vertias" by Sunspot; Mark interviewed Mike Huberty on Nakedly Examined Music #64.

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Alfred Tarski on Truth (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On Tarski's “The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics,” (1944), Hartry Field's “Tarski's Theory of Truth” (1972), and Donald Davidson's“The Folly of Trying to Define Truth” (1977). What is truth? Tarski gives a technical, metaphysically neutral definition for truth within a particular, well-defined language. In short, a sentence is true if it is "satisfied" by all terms in the language. A sentence with a variable would be satisfied only by certain terms: "x is red" is satisfied only by the red ones. But a sentence without a variable, if true, is satisfied by all terms: "Rose (a) is red," where (a) is a particular rose, is satisfied by that rose, because it's red, but it's also technically satisfied by my dog, by you, by Trump, etc., because none of those things interferes with the sentence being true. He had some lengthy proofs and logical language to establish this, and yes, this is weird. One of his main reasons for doing this was to rule out things like the liar's paradox: e.g., "This sentence is false." On Tarski's analysis, a well-defined language doesn't allow this kind of sentence. As with Russell's analysis of the paradoxical "sets that aren't members of themselves," Tarski distinguishes a language from its meta-language: When you say "'Snow is white' is true," you're taking a sentence in the language (snow is white) and by putting it in quotes, you're making it an object and saying something about it, using a different language, the meta-language, which includes all the terms of the object language, but also semantic terms like "is true." Tarski's truth definition is only about an object language (which cannot include any self-reflexive terms of this sort), but is stated in a meta-language. To make this clearer, some explanations actually use different languages, e.g., "'Schnee ist weiss' is true if and only if snow is white." German here is the object language, while English is the meta-language. (But of course, as I said, everyday German couldn't really be an object language, as it's not well-formed in the required way. There would have to be no room for misunderstanding.) Tarski claimed to be capturing our everyday notion of truth and making it more precise, with the idea that this could be extended from the formal, logical languages he was dealing with to at least formalized vocabularies within the sciences. Field (treated along with Davidson in the second part of our discussion) charges Tarski with misunderstanding his own project. He says that Tarski was, like many of his peers in the era of behaviorism, wary of semantic notions, i.e., he wanted to reduce talk of mind to talk of matter. To explain: The definition I've given above applies to just one single sentence. The definition of truth for the whole language is just the collection of true sentences so defined. This is an "extensional" definition, kind of like defining "sheep" not by giving essential characteristics of a sheep, but by pointing to the whole collection of sheep. Of course, if a new animal comes along, this leaves you unable to tell if it's a sheep or not. So it's not a definition as you'd normally consider it. And Tarski's definition only then is talking about actual sentences in a particular language, and isn't giving a general definition for truth for all languages. This would require, e.g., the semantic notion of synonymy (meaning), which (on Field's analysis) is an off-limits for Tarski. Anyway, does just pointing to a bunch of (ultimately physical) objects and saying "those are the true ones" perform the reduction that Field says Tarski is trying to accomplish? No, because (Field says) there's still the semantic notion of reference smuggled into Tarski's procedure. We can better interpret what Tarski is doing by saying that he's defining truth in terms of other semantic notions, i.e., reference, definition, and satisfaction, which Field still thinks is helpful.

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The Theory and Practice of Liberal Education (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing with the current St. John's College president on articles on liberal education by Jacob Klein (former Dean of SJC), Sidney Hook (critiquing the SJC program), and Martha Nussbaum (critiquing Allan Bloom). What's the practical application of a liberal education? Is it really liberating or indoctrinating? How can we justify learning for learning's sake in a world with so many problems that need our attention? We continue discussion of the SJC model, where students are forced to grapple with texts without the benefit of a professor telling them what it means, and they study things like the history of science that even scientists don't generally study. As with the PEL community, the SJC program involves a group of students all literally on the same page, working through the same texts over multiple years. End song: "Preservation Hill" by The Bevis Frond; Mark interviewed Nick Saloman on Nakedly Examined Music #75.

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What is a Liberal Education? (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

Dylan returns to St. John's College, Annapolis to bring its president into dialogue with the PEL clan about Jacob Klein's “The Idea of a Liberal Education” (1960) and “On Liberal Education” (1965), plus Sidney Hook’s “A Critical Appraisal of the St. John’s College Curriculum” (1946) and Martha Nussbaum’s “Undemocratic Vistas” (1987). Ep. 192 got us talking about a great-books-oriented education, and this discussion tackles that issue head-on: What constitutes a liberal education? Klein (a former Dean of St. John's) describes the process of metastrophe (fundamental change), where you take the familiar and make it strange; you contemplate what you used to take for granted. Seeing thinkers of the past grapple with the concepts ancestral to the ones we use now, whether in the areas of science or politics or whatever, makes us question these current concepts and ultimately understand them better. Klein even has a story about how metastrophic questioning was necessary for these modern disciplines to be founded in the first place. Hook witnessed the first generation of Johnnies and was very critical of this idea of the same menu of ideas for all students, with a heavy emphasis on the history of science (rather than current, practical science) and learning ancient languages (as an exercise in translation and seeing how alien different languages are, not to be able to actually speak to anyone). He thought that study of the past should be guided by the concerns of the present, not insulated from them. What sense does it make for a student to know more about the political structure of ancient Greece than that of his or her own country? Nussbaum's article is a New York Review of Books article about Bloom's book. She stresses contra Bloom that a philosophical education is practical, and that it should be made available to everyone. The SJC curriculum was (as Hook describes) originally advertised as the model that all colleges should follow, but time (and/or realism) has seemingly dampened that ambition. So, is there a single history of the intellectual life of the West that we Westerners would be well advised to study, maybe just adding a couple of authors who are not dead white males to modernize it a bit, or is a more thorough break from this idolized past needed? Or is the whole idea of a "best" education for all just ill-advised? Do people really need to read the Western canon at all?

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"The Closing of the American Mind": Allan Bloom on Great Books (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing on Allan Bloom's 1987 book critiquing the current fragmented structure of the university that promotes technical and professional education over the ability to think philosophically. Does Bloom's vision require aristocracy, or can a Great Books education be available for all? Bloom thinks we lack a shared culture and consequently a sense of the common good. He gives us a history of the relationship between philosophy and society starting with Socrates's execution. The university, Bloom thinks, was established following the spirit of Socrates, and has had to negotiate with a more-or-less hostile society ever since. It does this by at least giving lip service to the values of the current society, which in our case means reflecting American values as diagnosed by Tocqueville: practicality, rejection of history, "common sense," all of which are antithetical (according to Bloom) to authentic, philosophical, humanistic thought. Listen to part 1 first, or get the unbroken, ad-free Citizen Edition. Your Citizenship will also get you access to an exclusive follow-up discussion that gets into more of Bloom's comments on Nietzsche, Freud, and Rousseau. This is also available at patreon.com/partiallyexaminedlife. Please support PEL! End song: "Greatness (The Aspiration Song)" by TC&I; hear Mark's interview with singer/songwriter Colin Moulding on Nakedly Examined Music #74.

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"The Closing of the American Mind": Allan Bloom on Education (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On Allan Bloom's 1987 best-seller about why students' disconnection from Great Books has led to relativism and ultimately nihilism. What is the role of the university in our democracy? Bloom relates from his many years' teaching the problem with kids today: They're subject to the evils that Tocqueville warned us go with American-style democracy: They're conformist, superficial, focused on the practical at the expense of the soul, and worst of all, the democratic ethos taken intellectually means that they're indiscriminate: Everyone's ideas are equally good. Bloom thinks that a liberal education should be the cure for this: By connecting with brilliant minds of the past, witnessing them speaking across history to each other, we become part of the great conversation about truth and virtue. People need to at one point in their lives seriously consider the question "what is man?" in relation to our highest aspirations as opposed to our common, base needs. We need to forget, at least temporarily, about training for a particular job or any other practical consideration, and just engage in thinking for thinking's sake, which is the thing that Aristotle said makes us most human. Bloom bemoans that incoming students for the most part no longer have favorite books, that their music is all instant gratification, and that they see truth and relative. While it is democracy itself that tends to support making people like this, ironically this condition means that we're no longer fit to intelligently participate in politics. Bloom thinks that we need to understand intellectual history to understand the foundations of liberty and so be able to defend it. In overthrowing elites like the church and the noble class, we should become independent thinkers, but what much more often happens is that we just go along with the crowd, and the crowd's ethos in our case involves an ignorant scientism that ignores the needs of the soul, a leveling of values the precludes any serious discussion of the good, and the related idea that every opinion is equally valid. Bloom includes Rawls and Mill in this condemnation. As you may recall, both of these thinkers were insistent that government shouldn't dictate the good to citizens (in Mill's case, this was a matter of not restricting speech), but Bloom is less concerned with the logical consequents of their philosophies than with the actual, social consequences, which in both cases Bloom diagnoses as nihilism: By denying values a central place in public norms, we promote mere legalism, pragmatism, i.e. a lack of values. The full foursome is on board to reflect on how we feel about these critiques. Have our society and our educational system really produced a bunch of Nietzschean "last men?" Does Bloom's suggested program of Great Books (which is pretty much what Wes underwent at St. John's) actually produce better citizens? The image is by David Levine, drawn for the New York Review of Books' review of Bloom's book by Martha Nussbaum, which is pretty scathing and well worth your time. She focuses on the elitism involved in Bloom's account; he's really only worried about the quality of education of his elite students, and recommends a regimen that will surely be out of reach of most people who actually have to worry about making a living.

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Conceptual Schemes: Donald Davidson & Rudolf Carnap (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Finishing Davidson's "On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme" (1974) and moving on to Carnap's "Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology" (1950). Carnap's paper comes 22 years after his Aufbau project that we covered in ep. 67, and is really a response to Quine's 1948 paper "On What There Is," which we covered in ep. 66. His point is that when we use a certain vocabulary, whether talking about physical objects ("the thing language") or mathematical objects or subatomic particles or whatever, we're not really (contra Quine) making metaphysical claims. So ontological questions like "Are there really numbers?" are just pretentious and don't really make sense. The vocabulary of mathematics involves numbers, so within that linguistic framework (that scheme), yes, of course there are numbers, but the question of whether, outside of a particular framework, "numbers exist," is a pseudo-question. (Bertrand Russell, for one, worried about this, trying to reduce numbers to sets, which he found less metaphysically problematic.) So even though the Carnap was written well before Davidson's paper, we can take it as a potential response: A conceptual scheme is most sensibly construed as a domain-specific vocabulary. I can talk about the same social phenomena, for instance, in terms of bio-anthropology, sociology, or theologically (as the interplay of souls), and there's no clear reason why all the words in each vocabulary need to be reducible or translatable into words from the other vocabularies. Now, there might be other reasons why you'd want to reject the use altogether of some vocabulary (I'm looking at you, theology!), but it's not clear that we need to reject it merely on grounds of untranslatability, and this sort of theory-specific untranslatability is what Kuhnians (maybe) and others are talking about.

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Conceptual Schemes: Donald Davidson & Rudolf Carnap (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On Davidson's "On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme" (1974) and Carnap's "Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology" (1950). What does it mean to say that we grasp the world through a conceptual scheme? Are schemes different between cultures or even individuals, such that we can't really understand each other? Davidson thinks that this doesn't make sense: For schemes to be really different and not just something like different coordinate systems that can be used to map a single plane, it has to be the case that you can't translate one scheme's concepts to concepts in the other scheme. But Davidson thinks total lack of translatability is incoherent: Just to be able to describe what the differences are between two sets of concepts means you're describing the foreign concepts in your own language, i.e., translating them. If a language were wholly untranslatable, we'd have to judge it not a language at all. The issue of partial untranslatability is more complicated, and we are rejoined by Lawrence "Dusty" Dallman (from our Sellars episode, which is relevant to Davidson's reasoning here) to help us disentangle the arguments and decide whether Davidson has characterized schemers like Thomas Kuhn plausibly.

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Film Analysis: mother!
Partially Examined Life

On Darren Aronofsky's philosophical 2017 film about humanity's relationship to nature. We discuss the philosophical content of the film (Gnosticism, anyone?) and explore the relation between meaning and the sensuous aspects of an artwork. Can a work be both allegorical and yet have fully fleshed out characters and the other elements that make a film feel real? This was a very polarizing film; how do the circumstances of viewing affect reception? Mark and Wes are joined by filmmaker Tim Nicholas (watch and read his work). As always with these filmic episodes, you should really see the film before listening to this. It's definitely worth your time, unless you are positively averse to artsy films or very sensitive to violence, as there are a couple of intense moments in it. Our discussion gets spoiler-laden after the first few minutes. This was selected as a good case study to explore what we'd learned about authorial intent in our last episode. Aronofsky is a quintessential auteur, and he's been very forthcoming about the meaning of the film, and we prepared for this in part by watching many clips, reviews, and interviews of him talking about it. Certainly having some idea of what to expect helps one to enjoy this film (which we all agree is very good despite pissing off many people), but is having the author tell you what it is the best way to achieve that? Tim at one point quotes David Bordwell. Here's the article that quote is from, and here's an article Tim wrote on Bordwell for the PEL blog. Late in the discussion Mark refers to Aronofsky's previous film, Noah. End song: “The Day of Wrath, That Day,” by Sarah McQuaid, as interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #72.

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Authorial Intent (Barthes, Foucault, Beardsley, et al) (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing on "The Death of the Author" by Roland Barthes (1967) and "What Is an Author?" by Michel Foucault (1969), and finally getting to “Against Theory” by Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels (1982). What could it mean to say that a text, once written, speaks itself, that it no longer really has an author? We get into the specific critiques Foucault has of the cult of the author and what kind of open-ended, reader-centric types of analysis he proposes in its place. And then on the weirdness of Knapp and Michaels's thought experiment about a poem written by natural forces on a rock that's supposed to show that the meaning of a work just is (i.e., is numerically identical to, it doesn't just resemble) the author's intended meaning. Listen to part 1 first, or get the unbroken, ad-free Citizen Edition; becoming a PEL Citizen will also get you access to part 3, in which Mark and Wes relate this to the philosophy of language, consider T.S. Eliot, and more. End song: "The Auteur" by David J (2018). Listen to Mark's interview with him soon at nakedlyexaminedmusic.com.

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Authorial Intent (Barthes, Foucault, Beardsley, et al) (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On four essays about how to interpret artworks: “The Intentional Fallacy” by W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley (1946), "The Death of the Author" by Roland Barthes (1967), "What Is an Author?" by Michel Foucault (1969), and “Against Theory” by Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels (1982). When you're trying to figure out what, say, a poem means, isn't the best way to do that to just ask the author, if he or she is available? Or maybe to see if the author wrote in a contemporary diary any notes about the poem? According to "New Critics" Wimsatt and Beardsley, no, we should forget about anything external to the work itself. Well, OK, yes, understanding things like the customs or use of language at the time something was written, or even how an author idiosyncratically used a particular phrase, can be helpful, but this is still different than relying on the author to simply tell you what it means. Do authors really have a privileged vantage on the meaning of a work? Barthes and Foucault likewise argue against the cult of genius that places the author's personality and intentions at the center of art criticism. Barthes stresses that the work is not the product of a singular intellect but is a "tissue of citations," i.e., artists are channeling everything they've been influenced by. These citations all converge on the reader, who should be in charge of determining the work's meaning, not the author. The work in itself always admits of multiple interpretations, whatever the author might have intended, and in fact once something is written down, it becomes in a certain way autonomous, independent of the author, in effect speaking for itself; Barthes says that "every text is eternally written here and now." Foucault agrees that we should lose the image of the genius behind the work, and compares this loss to Nietzsche's "God is dead," in that the task in so declaring in both cases is to figure out all the implications of this absence. He argues that the artist's name serves as a social classificatory function: "Aristotle" refers less crucially to a specific person (we're not even totally sure that all the texts attributed to him were by the same person) than to a way of marking certain texts with distinction and historical importance. He thinks that getting rid of the author as tyrant over a work's meaning opens up space for numerous kinds of interpretations. Knapp and Michaels first present E.D. Hirsch (who had responded to Wimsatt/Michaels in 1967) as a defender of authorial intent, but then say that both Hirsch and the New Critics have it wrong: The intended meaning just IS the work's meaning. It's not that the work gains its meaning from a meaning in the author's head; there aren't two meaning-entities (one in the work and one in the head), but just one, and it's right there in the work so long as it really is an authentic instance of language. To illustrate: even if some marks on a rock looked like language, if there was no author with an intended meaning, then we'd have to say that it was just a coincidental resemblance, that no language was on the rock at all. The authors conclude that because there is no distance between the meaning to be understood and the author's intended meaning, there is no role for literary theory at all. This seems to all four of us an unwarranted stretch; there's still the problem of figuring out what a work means, and there's still room for multiple interpretations, and theory is a matter of establishing different sorts of interpretations. Understanding that the utterance has an intended meaning is different than understanding what that meaning is. (Read the article.) Now, in part one here, we only thoroughly get through the first of these articles. Barthes image by Charles Valsechi.

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Discussing "Lysistrata" and Politics with Lucy and Emily (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Concluding our discussion of Aristophanes's play with Lucy Lawless and Emily Perkins. We focus on trying to connect its lessons to the here and now: Is Lysistrata's victory properly described as the ascension of some kind of ""feminine spirit"" over warlike values, and how does that actually relate to women's struggles now to attain positions of power? Is sex helpful to the state or a threat? Do people need to be oppressed to tamp down sex's destructive potential? Of course, what you've always wanted out of a philosophy podcast is to hear us spitball about the appeal of Trump and gloss over various feminist slogans that we'd have to actually read something about in the future to evaluate properly.

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