In the last two chapters we have explored several dimensions of the content of speech, but one topic has remained largely undiscussed and must be approached now: the fact that we also speak about things when they are not bodily present. In Chapter 7 we used as our paradigm the case of two people, Henry and Jane, speaking to each other about an oak tree that is present to both of them; Henry points it out and says something about it. But most of our speech and conversation is about things that are not present: about what we did last week or what we will do tomorrow, about Tokyo or Buenos Aires, Napoleon or Charlemagne, quarks or the center of the sun. The names that designate things before us can also be used to designate things that are absent. An essential strength of speech and thinking is that they can reach into the absent as well as respond to what is present. The ability to deal with the absent is a constitutive element in rationality. One of the important philosophical discoveries of Edmund Husserl was the role of absence in human experience, thinking, and expression. We can distinguish four ways in which absence enters into our experience and thinking.
We turn back to the distinction between accidentals and essentials, and more specifically to the distinctions among accidentals, properties, and essences. We have seen that the essentials of things must be distinguished into their properties and their essences, and both of these must be differentiated from the accidentals that occur to things and are predicated about them. More needs to be said about these three dimensions of speech and the interactions among them.
Step One: Predicating Accidentals
All three of these components – the accidentals, the properties, and the essences – can be predicated of things, but they are predicated of them in different ways. For that reason, they have classically been called the “predicables.” Thus, we might say to someone, “Susan was smiling when she entered the room.” In this case, we predicate “smiling when she entered the room” accidentally of Susan. Susan was smiling at that moment, but she might have been scowling or glaring instead. If we were to say, “But remember: Susan is capable of smiling,” we would probably be predicating the power to smile as a property of Susan. In the antique terminology, we would be saying that she is risible. (If we were reporting this as a mere fact, however, perhaps as the fact that she can now smile again after having been grieving for a month, the predication would be accidental; we would not be reporting on what she is essentially capable of doing, but on what she is now able to do in these circumstances.
Mental images require more discussion. In Chapters 9 and 11 we tried to show that perception is better described without the involvement of mental pictures that mediate between us and what we experience. Still, there clearly is something that can be called mental imagery; we do experience “images” of some sort when we dream or daydream, whether in memory or imagination. We have tried earlier, in Chapter 9, to clarify such phenomena by saying that they involve not the viewing of an internal image but the reliving of an earlier perception. If I remember a home run in a baseball game that I saw yesterday, what I bring back is not a picture of the event, but myself perceiving the event. I reenact myself seeing the batter hitting the ball. But even in that reenactment, there is something like an image at work, not only an image of the ball being hit but also an image of myself seeing it. Or rather, there is one complex internal image involving both myself and the event. What sort of imagery can this be? How can it be related to our physiology without being taken as the viewing of pictures? How is this imagery materialized?
The Problem of Mental Images
The problem of mental images is not just a local or temporary philosophical problem. It is chronic; it has persisted throughout the history of philosophy, in regard to perception as well as imagination.
It is a traditional doctrine in philosophy that predication or judgment is the central activity of reason. Aristotle calls it apophansis, and describes it with the cryptic phrase ti kata tinos legetai, “something is said of something.” In Kant's writings the term is Urteil, judgment; all acts of the understanding can be reduced to judgment. Bickerton agrees with this consensus and relates predication to syntax. He says, “If nouns and verbs are the most basic elements of syntax, then predication is its most basic act.” The most basic act in syntax, the most fundamental thing done in it and that without which nothing else can be done, is predication. Syntax is, of course, immensely rich and varied. There are in the world's languages untold forms of subordination, conjunction, correlation, reciprocity, reflexives and possessives, tenses and cases, adjectives and adverbs, infinitives and gerunds, but underlying all of them is the never-absent form of predication, in which something is said of something else. All the other forms dangle from this or crowd around it. The heart of syntax is predication.
Bickerton adds the further refinement that, in his linguistic theory, the subject and predicate themselves should be considered not as single words but as explicit or implicit phrases. This is an interesting claim, and it would imply that even single words are latent combinations, hence syntactically structured in principle.
We get a glimpse of the human person in the declarative use of the word I. For another perspective on the personal, we now turn to the phenomena of human choice and human intentions. To get a good view of these things, let us, like photographers, arrange a background, a context in which the target can be brought into sharper focus. We will not just speak about human beings, but will place them against plants and animals, and will discuss the logic of needing, wanting, and wishing. We will then explore the human person as an agent or an actor.
We will, therefore, highlight the human person by placing him against the background of prepersonal phenomena. Our procedure here will be analogous to what we did when we positioned language, with its syntax, against the background of protolanguage and mere vocalization. In this case, however, we will be dealing not just with cognition but with desire and conduct.
Needs, Wants, and Wishes
Plants need certain things: they need light, water, and nourishment. A plant takes in certain things from its environment and makes them part of itself in order to keep itself alive. It could not remain itself without metabolizing other things into itself; it needs these other things. Need is associated with life.
The human person acts as such, as a rational animal and as an agent of truth, especially in his use of language, when he thinks in the medium of words. We began our study of human rationality by focusing on the use of the word I, and specifically on the declarative form of such usage. Let us now locate declaratives within the wider employment of language. We can distinguish four levels in the way words are used.
Four Levels of Speech
The first level is prelinguistic or sublinguistic. Words can degenerate and can be used in a purely associative, sensory way, as part of a general reaction to a situation and a general expression of feeling. If I am in pain and say things like “Ow, stop, that hurts,” I am really not making a formal statement about things. My “words” are not very different from moans or, if the experience is pleasant and the words are happy, cries of delight, as in “Wonderful! That's just great!” They are expressions of pain or pleasure, not statements that could be quoted or verified. I am not putting an articulated thought on record; I am engaged in voice and not in speech. Although I may be making sounds that could serve as words in another context, here they have been deconstructed or dismantled as words; they are serving as mere sounds and are not very much different from expletives or exclamations. Both their syntax and their phonemic structure have been watered down.
We gain a number of philosophical advantages if we consider syntax as originating in an intersubjective exchange, not in an operation performed by and in a single mind.
Four Benefits of Taking Syntax as Intersubjective
First, we start off with an obvious realism in the use of language. We avoid the egocentric predicament. The very establishment of language occurs between two (or more) speakers, and both speakers are talking about a thing that is presented to them in common. Their speech focuses both of their minds first on the thing as a whole and then on some attribute that they articulate within the thing. It is precisely in this double disclosure carried on between speaker and listener that the thing shows up as a substance: as that which presents itself in and through a feature, and also as that which has an essential structure, something that belongs to it in itself, in contrast with things that belong to it accidentally. The thing shows up, in Aristotle's terms, both as a substrate and as “what it is for this thing to be,” the two central meanings of substance. We will clarify these dimensions of things when we examine the content of speech.
The speakers, therefore, do not operate on their private mental representations, but on the thing they present to one another, the thing they have in common. Mental representations are a deadly trap philosophically: if you start with them, you never get beyond them. They lock us into subjective isolation.
We have examined some of the forms that wishing takes on. It is obvious that we do not possess our wishes in internal solitude, as merely private experiences, nor do we express them only by our bodily conduct; we also say that we wish for this or that, and we use the declarative form of the term I as we do so. We will now discuss how declaratives function in the expression of our wishes. In some cases, our wishes become intentions, which in turn stimulate and govern our choices. These choices too can be expressed and appropriated by declaratives. In this chapter we will also study how the first-person pronoun is used in the expression of choice. We can declare our wishes and our choices because they both involve syntactic articulation.
How We Declare Ourselves in Our Wishes
In Chapters 1 and 2 we examined cognitive, emotive, promissory, and existential declaratives, and we mentioned the special kind of declaratives that occur in philosophy. First-person declaratives, which express the agent's engagement in what he articulates, can, obviously, be used in stating our wishes. We say, for example, “I do wish the rain would end,” or “I so wish to play soccer,” or “How I wish I were younger.” We formulate our wishes and declare ourselves as the ones wishing them.
If we are to explore what human conversation and thinking are, we must say something about the neurophysiology that underlies them. The brain, obviously, is involved in human experience and thought, and some people claim that thinking and consciousness can be completely explained as activities of the brain and nervous system. How shall we address this topic?
There are two ways of exploring the physiology associated with thinking. One is to pursue scientific research into the nervous system, to determine its structure and function, its chemical and electrical components and activities, and so on. Immense progress has been made in this project, and still greater advances are anticipated. The second way of exploring this issue is scientifically much more modest, but it has its own importance. It is to discuss how we speak about the brain and nervous system, and how our scientific speech about it can be integrated with our speech about ourselves as responsible speakers and agents. We can easily fall into confusion in this area; we might say, for example, that the brain feels pain, or that my brain recognizes my grandmother, or that the brain causes my thoughts. These statements are confused because it is not my brain but I myself who feel pain, recognize people, and think, just as it is I and not my brain that votes in an election or salutes an officer.
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