Cover: The Institutions of Meaning: A Defense of Anthropological Holism, from Harvard University PressCover: The Institutions of Meaning in HARDCOVER

The Institutions of Meaning

A Defense of Anthropological Holism

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ISBN 9780674728783

Publication Date: 03/11/2014


392 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches


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  • Preface to the English Translation
  • I. Intentionalist Conceptions of Mind
    • 1. The Intentionality of the Mental
      • 1.1. The distinctive quality of psychological descriptions is to be expressed in intentional language. Any language that has a logic analogous to that of verbs of declaration is an intentional language.
      • 1.2. The psychological description of a person is as much the description of his environment as of his states. Thus, Achilles’s anger is only comprehensible when set in Achilles’s world.
      • 1.3. How are we to explain this intentional character of a mode of description? There are two possibilities: by means of a thesis regarding the transitive structure of consciousness (Brentano) or through an anthropological holism of the mental (Wittgenstein).
      • 1.4. The Scholastic conception of intentionality holds that the intention of a term is comparable to the direction of an arrow that a bowman sends toward the object aimed at. This image illustrates the fact that there are two possible relations between the thinking subject and the object of thought: an intentional relation (aiming at it) and a real relation (physically touching it).
      • 1.5. Wittgenstein evokes the distinction between these two relations to an object in an aphorism regarding the thief that can be looked for when he is not present, but who can be hanged only if he is present.
      • 1.6. “All consciousness is consciousness of something”: Brentano’s now-classic formulation seems to assimilate verbs of consciousness to the transitivity of action verbs.
      • 1.7. The transitivity of an intentional verb is paradoxical since such verbs must necessarily take a direct object, even if there is nothing in the world that is the object of the intentional act signified by the verb.
      • 1.8. If intentional verbs were really transitive, they would have an intentional passive form that would describe a real change in the object they aim at.
      • 1.9. Several French philosophers have sought to give substance to the idea of a real history of the intentional object by, for example, taking up Kojève’s claim that the word is “the murder of the thing” (Lacan) or by developing a form of social constructivism (Foucault). These theories rest on an illegitimate assimilation of intentional relations to real relations.
    • 2. The Paradox of the Intentional Object
      • 2.1. What Husserl calls “the paradox of the intentional object” is the fact that the perceived tree, taken as such, unlike the tree itself, does not have the natural powers of a physical thing (it can be seen to be burning up, but it cannot burn up). How is this doubling of the tree—into both an object of physical actions and an object of mental operations—to be avoided?
      • 2.2. According to Husserl, the only tree that can be seen in the garden is the intentional object.
      • 2.3. Intentional objects are not entities endowed with a specific mode of existence. It is meaningful to ask “Where is the tree perceived?” but meaningless to ask “Where is the perceived tree?”
    • 3. A Holistic Conception of Intentionality
      • 3.1. The question of the intentional passive is about knowing the conditions in which an active intentional form (“Romeo loves Juliet”) can be changed into an intentional passive form (“Juliet is loved by Romeo”).
      • 3.2. Intentional logic examines the function of intentional operators such as “it is said that…” or “it is believed by N that…” It shows that the intentional relation of the mental act to the object (when the object exists) necessarily depends on a real relation.
      • 3.3. “To look for” forms a system with “to find” (Wittgenstein). The verb “to look for” is always intentional, while the verb “to find” assumes that the intentional object sought coincides with the real object. Indeed, one cannot find what one was is looking for under a certain description without at once finding the object under all of the descriptions applicable to it, including those that did not form part of the definition of the object sought.
      • 3.4. Mental holism, which allows us to solve the Husserlian paradox of the intentional object, is not simply a rejection of psychical atomism. It is a holism that can be called “anthropological” in order to stress that it places the mind within the context of collective habits and common institutions.
  • II. The Anthropological Holism of the Mental
    • 4. The Question of Holism
      • 4.1. The question of mental holism is first raised regarding signs and subsequently about the mind manifested by those signs. Can there be an isolated sign? That is impossible, according to the holistic conception of meaning.
      • 4.2. Meaning holism appears incompatible with the fact of communication: how could one understand someone’s speech if his words were only intelligible when resituated within the whole of his language?
      • 4.3. Pierre Duhem maintained that the theories put forward by the experimental sciences were global in character. In the case of a conflict with experience, the entire construction is rejected and not an isolated hypothesis.
      • 4.4. Semantic holism does not bear on the confirmation of theories, but on the way in which units of meaning are to be defined. Quine maintains that the unit of meaning is not the sentence, but the whole set of sentences that constitute the discourse of a theory. For him, this discourse is a collective whole made up of sentences.
      • 4.5. Collectivist holism consists in conceiving the whole as a collection of individuals that together possess collective attributes.
      • 4.6. Structural holism consists in conceiving the whole as a system of parts that depend upon one another in virtue of the relations that define them.
    • 5. The Illusion of Collective Individuals
      • 5.1. A collective whole cannot be defined both as a collective being consisting of a plurality of individuals and as a higher-order individual.
      • 5.2. A proposition is collective if it has a collective subject. Nevertheless, a collective subject is not the name of a collective individual but a logical construction that allows the predicate to be related to several individuals by saying that together they are doing something or have a certain status.
      • 5.3. Methodological individualism is right to hold that collective individuals are fictions. However, concrete totalities are precisely not made up of individuals that are independent from one another, but of interdependent parts.
      • 5.4. Logical atomism cannot account for real complexity.
      • 5.5. Nominalist analysis cannot account for the diachronic identity of complex beings.
    • 6. The Order of Meaning
      • 6.1. There are three philosophies of structural analysis: structural holism seeks to understand the interdependence of the parts of a whole; formalism seeks purely formal characteristics that remain invariant between one domain and another; structural causalism seeks to reveal the action of the form of a productive process upon the product.
      • 6.2. A description of a whole made up of parts is not a description of several individuals through the attributes they collectively possess; it is a description of a thing as it presents itself in one or another of its parts.
      • 6.3. The material description of a meaningful totality is not sufficient to identify it. One must also describe the order that the elements must have for the whole to be meaningful. Formal description provides this order of meaning.
      • 6.4. A holistic analysis distinguishes two levels. At the higher level, the whole is identified in relation to other totalities. At the lower level, it is described in its internal differentiation into parts. At no point does a holistic analysis end up with individual elements.
    • 7. The Logic of Relations
      • 7.1. What are called internal relations are relations that enter into the reality of their terms. William James carried out a pluralist critique of the monistic idea of a universe organized entirely by internal relations: individuals must exist before they can have relations.
      • 7.2. Russell criticizes the monistic doctrine that the relation between two objects expresses the intrinsic reality of those objects and characterizes the whole of which those objects are the parts. He sets against this doctrine the fact that a change in the relation is not necessarily an intrinsic change.
      • 7.3. An intrinsic change is a change in the thing; an extrinsic change is a change in the environment exterior to the thing.
      • 7.4. The monism of internal relations and the pluralism of external relations do not distinguish between essences and accidents. This is why their discussion is general: either all relations are internal or none is. However, the distinction between internal and external must be relative to a description.
      • 7.5. Leibniz did not seek to eliminate relational propositions (as Russell believes), but to analyze them in their logical complexity.
    • 8. The Subject of Triadic Relations
      • 8.1. What Peirce calls a real relation is a relation whose description is irreducible to the conjunction of several propositions asserting facts that are independent from one another. When the description of a relation can be analyzed as such a conjunction, it is a relation of reason.
      • 8.2. Peirce does not merely note the irreducibility of relations to qualities, but he shows that within the very category of relations, triadic relations (grounded in intentional actions) are irreducible to dyadic relations (grounded on natural actions).
      • 8.3. Like Hegelian philosophers, Peirce criticizes the way in which logic is traditionally expounded. But the reform he advocates is both analytic and holistic and not dialectical.
    • 9. Essays on the Gift
      • 9.1. The act of giving something to someone is an irreducibly triadic fact: the three terms of the relation are linked to one another in virtue of a rule. The description of the gift cannot separate the link between the people and the thing given from the link between the people who are the giver and the recipient.
      • 9.2. Mauss, in his study of the obligatory exchange of gifts, aims to describe institutions as a system. Lévi-Strauss believes that such a description is insufficient and that ideological facts can only be explained by facts that are intellectual without being intentional.
      • 9.3. The structures of the mind cannot be conceived as the mechanisms of psychical functioning. They are schemata for the production of a meaningful order of human affairs. The anthropologist must account not only for the way in which individuals establish relations of equality among themselves by means of schemata of reciprocity but also for the way they establish relations of order among different statuses.
    • 10. Objective Mind
      • 10.1. The philosophies of language that want to stay within the speech acts of speakers run up against the problem of determining an impersonal meaning of discourse. If there is no impersonal meaning of words, communication would be nothing but perpetual misunderstanding.
      • 10.2. Phenomenologists accept the idea of an impersonal mind in the sense of objectified mind, as when an author’s thought can be contained in an object (his text). However, in order to account for communication, more is required: impersonal meanings must precede and provide the measure for personal meanings.
      • 10.3. Institutions constitute an objective mind because they rest on ideas. These ideas are common, not because they are in fact shared by a great many individuals, but because they are authoritative.
      • 10.4. The subject of the institutions of social life is not the individual but the system formed by the partners in a triadic relation and their common object.
    • 11. Distinguishing Thoughts
      • 11.1. The fact of having the same thought as someone else would be similar to the fact of having the same car if thoughts could be individuated in the same way that we individuate cars. This is not the case: thoughts are identified contextually, by their content.
      • 11.2. One could call a reflexive personal thought a thought by which the thinking subject conceives of itself according to a description. To compare the reflexive personal thoughts of two subjects is to bring out an intersubjective identity or difference.
      • 11.3. A social thought is a personal thought by which two (or more) subjects conceive of themselves as the members of a system founded on their relation. Thus, people thinking about an appointment they have with one another are having the same social thought.
      • 11.4. What would a translator do if he were working in a condition of radical ignorance of the language he was to translate from? It would be fruitless to engage in multiple observations of the natural circumstances in which sentences are uttered. Rather, he must establish a relation of interlocution with the people whose discourse he is to translate and do so by conforming to the local institutions of meaning.
  • Works Cited
  • Index

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