Tag Archives: language

On Charitability

There is no such thing as a private reality.  By private reality I mean any portion of reality that you alone can experience, that no one else could possibly understand.

There is, however, reality that is yet unexperienced and unknown to you.  Others may have experienced it before you, like explorers who have been to a far away place.  If a philosopher is clever, it is possible that she found a way to imbue her words with such an experience.  Since there are no private realities, it is also possible that you may be able to extract those experiences.

The allure of philosophy is then the allure of the unknown, the exotic and unexplored.  To be charitable is to approach philosophy in search of some yet unknown bit of reality.

Under these circumstances it is futile to give specific instructions on how to be charitable; each of us must understand how to prepare ourselves for adventuring beyond the relative comfort of what we know.

If anything, have faith in yourself and do not make assumptions (even charitable ones) about what you are doing.

There is no such thing as a private reality.  By private reality I mean any portion of reality that you alone can experience, that no one else could possibly understand.

There is, however, reality that is yet unexperienced and unknown to you.  Others may have experienced it before you, like explorers who have been to a far away place.  If the philosopher was clever, it is possible that she found a way to imbue her words with that experience.  Since there are no private realities, it is also possible that you may be able to extract those experiences.

The allure of philosophy is then the allure of the unknown, the exotic and unexplored.  To be charitable is to approach a philosophical treatise in search of some yet unknown bit of reality.

Under these circumstances it is futile to give specific instructions on how to be charitable; each of us must understand how to prepare ourselves for adventuring beyond the relative confort of what we know.

If anything, have faith in yourself and do not make assumptions (even ones considered to be charitable) about what you are studying.

Posted in language, metaphysics, ontology, philosophy. Tagged with , , , .

Do We Understand the Principle of Charity?

When trying to understand an unknown philosophy (or philosopher) we are taught that we should give that philosophy every possible opportunity to say something relevant.  This practice is called using the Principle of Charity and there are various ways philosophers go about implementing it (via Wikipedia):

By believing

  1. The other uses words in the ordinary way;
  2. The other makes true statements;
  3. The other makes valid arguments;
  4. The other says something interesting.

I do not believe using any of these methods is sufficient if you want to be charitable.

Case 1:

We can be charitable by believing the other uses words in the ordinary way.

Even if the oracle (speaker or text) uses words in the ‘ordinary way’, it may be that those words are irrelevant to the current topic.  Conversely the oracle may not use words in the ‘ordinary way’ but those words could still be relevant to the current topic.

For instance many people do not use English words in ways I consider ‘normal’ as a native English speaker, but it’s rather common that those folks have something very relevant to say about philosophy.  On the other hand there are many people who speak English quite fluently without anything interesting to say.

Case 2:

We can be charitable by believing the other makes true statements.

Even if the oracle makes true statements, it may be that those true statements are irrelevant to the current topic.  Conversely the oracle may not make true statements, but those false/ambiguous statements could still be relevant to the current topic.

For instance someone could be wrong but for the right reasons, i.e. he or she may have identified many of the critical presuppositions that underlie a topic.  Though the person has made a mistake in deriving the conclusion, he or she may yet progress our understanding.  On the other hand is a machine that continually prints out true statements of the sort “The sky is blue iff the sky is blue” and “Grass is yellow iff grass is yellow.”  We wouldn’t find such a machine to be making relevant statements.

Case 3:

We can be charitable by believing the other makes valid arguments.

Even if the oracle makes valid arguments, it may be that those arguments are irrelevant to the current topic.  Conversely the oracle may not make valid arguments, but those arguments could still be relevant to the current topic.

For instance a person may be right but for the wrong reasons, i.e. he or she may somehow have arrived at brilliant conclusions using the shoddiest reasoning practices.  Just because this person has bad technical execution does not mean we should ignore his or her interesting results.  On the other hand is the machine from the previous example that has perfect logical execution, but says nothing worthwhile.

Case 4:

We can be charitable by believing the other says something interesting.

This is question begging.  We cannot use the concept of interesting to explain what makes something interesting or relevant.

These examples show that the scheme illustrated above is insufficient to provide a charitable understanding of a text or philosopher.

Posted in language, philosophy. Tagged with , .

Equinumerosity

Why should anyone believe that the concept of equinumerosity is any more fundamental than any other concept?

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This has bugged me for years….

Posted in Frege, language, philosophy. Tagged with , , .