“The way in which a person discovers his own long-term motives is the same as the way in which he discovers those of others. The quantity and quality of the information accessible to him differ in the two inquiries, but its items are in general of the same sort.” G. Ryle, The Concept of Mind, Penguin Books, 2000, p. 88.
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original posted dd. 24-01-2009 (that’s 2009!, my stash of old posts is running out slowly so I’ll need to do new stuff before long). Too much self-praise at the start of this post, but it would be unfair to remove one of many of my weaknesses. Also: it would be impossible to remove all those weaknesses so why start with removing misplaced arrogance. In re-reading the below I fear it combines all my weaknesses and adds nothing as far as strength.]
‘Ha-ha, just what I discovered all on my own!’ I find this regularly and – although it may well be a trick played by my brain confusing current sensations with long term privately held memory – I am sure (in this case as in others) I did discover this on my own. One of the reasons in support of this specific belief of mine would be that I wrote a dissertation featuring this thought (alongside others) well before I ever read this book or heard this quote. To be more precise and skip the ‘believing’-bit: just read the dissertation (linked somewhere from this site).
I assure you I had a discussion with a professor that, on hearing this thought expressed by me (quite less perfectly than above), did answer, rather dismayed, that ‘I had to be one of the last Mohicans of sophisticated behaviourism’. His answer (better: the tone of voice with which it was expressed and the facial expression accompanying it) stopped me in my tracks. He gave lectures on ‘Philosophy of Mind’ – if I ever re-read this I will have to go through my notes to add precision – but Ryle, if mentioned, was only mentioned cursorily.
[Obviously I can’t be bothered to go through my notes.]
So why do I all of a sudden get all autobiographical on you? The truth of course is that I don’t know: these writings do not start from premeditating on what I want to think in the context of a particular quote. It may therefore be best for me as well as for you not to read too much into it with respect to my personality and to read a great deal more into it regarding the personality of the thought.
Let me help: insofar as it is crucial – to me or to you (and at least to me it is) – that I discovered the above on my own, the only reliable evidence for it is evidence that’s available to the both of us. Now, it may well be that no-one ever reads this (not even myself at later points of time given I do not seem to have a propensity to re-read anything, whether from my own hand or that of another) but the odd fact is that it is not crucial that the evidence is effectively inspected, the only crucial element evidence-wise is that it can be inspected, that it is in some sense at least ‘social’.
But I stray from the plan that I ‘think I’ had in my head last night before sleep took over (allowing me now to type this being rather refreshed). The plan, as I remember reciting it to myself, struggling against my sleepiness, was to reflect on: whether it’s of any consequence whatever I discovered such-and-such on my own. Whether, to be more honest, the emotion (‘thrill’ is the word, I believe) I registered in reading the above was anything more than one of those human reflexes that keep up one’s self-esteem in order to remain functional in absence of external praise.
Fortunately enough for the structure of this piece of writing, there are two sides to this that need to be considered.
No doubt I could boast about my originality uncritically in absence of a live (or other audience) criticizing my boasting. But that won’t do because – even if left to my own devices – I am not uncritical of myself. The values of criticism have been established in me quite regardless of the absence of external watchers-on. The values of criticism are a defining characteristic of what it is to be me (if that is to be anything at all – but that’s best left for another contribution). Thusly the boasting starts to be silenced as it has to be conceded that – whatever the extent of my previous and direct exposure to Ryle – his thing was ‘out there’ before my thought was ‘in here’.
Even more prudence gets in the way of my little thrill knowing that I read quite some Wittgenstein as well as Dennett even before starting to even think of my dissertation. I can try to dig an earlier trench because obviously I started thinking of these things long before I had even the remotest idea of ever writing a dissertation but this will do little good as far as saving my little warm fuzzy feeling; behaviourism is one of my 1st private hypes, not long after the religious phase that Kierkegaard had to cure me of – indoctrinated as many of us are by the modern soft appearance of this age-old form of fascism.
That’s that it seems: the unbearable lightness of originality and authenticity.
But here is the second side in need of consideration: whatever the antecedents, I did have it as a thought (certainly nobody ordained this was the only thought that was to be had, in fact Chomsky and Fodor have made the opposite thought rather more of the measure – at least with the scientistically-minded individuals that are intellectuals-wise doing better numerically). In fact, the fact that there are antecedents does not discredit my merit at all but rather enhances it as long as it is not my interest to ‘claim’ the thought but to do something with it. I think I quoted a bit of Carnap elsewhere here on the virtue of preferring the building on previous thinking rather than on revolutionizing thought (and, after all, the tale of the tower of Bable doesn’t show it’s impossible to build high towers but only that it’s impossible to continue to build together when we have become unable to speak with each other).
[and talk of paradigm-shifting does cause rather basic allergies in me.]
Not only do I want to do something with it but I have done something with it. More still: I am doing something with it (to wit: this). That fact doesn’t establish that what I did and do has any merit but it does establish that my emotion wasn’t uncalled for and that I shouldn’t be ashamed to boast about it. It may not be very good to do what I do with it but it is certainly good enough if people do the things I try to do. It is not the success of the individual that is a measure of progress but her inspiration of other individuals to grasp, redistribute or build on former successes (I fear that last thought is still half-baked – the correct balance between individual and social is the challenge that keeps me going in this since I first started thinking on it all – it is not met, I am just in the phase where I need to shed some toxic attributes of individualism).
[Oh well, Sigh!, individuality is a collective good and the collective good can be achieved only through individual contributions. The problem is that in things intellectual and artistic people can only recognize the ‘big’ influences whereas in all other things it is common knowledge that anything that is something results from a combination of many ‘small things’. This paragraph kind of sums it up. I am sorry I had you wade through all of the above murky mud for it. Still, thanks for getting to this point ;-]
[Whilst writing this I was listening to ‘handel arias’, Danielle de Niese, Decca.]