Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wraiths of Judgment

I sing aloud, or silently to myself: "I'm going to Graceland, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee". I do not judge this thing to be true, of course, as I say it. I don't really think I am going to Memphis. I can remind myself, if I like, quite explicitly and self-consciously: "I'm in Riverside, California, staying put". That, I judge.

Consider, too, another pair of contrast cases: "Schnee ist weiss", as uttered by someone who knows not a bit of German, vs. "snow is white" uttered attentively, with normal comprehension.

Might there be cases between the extremes defined by these pairs of contrast cases? Might there be cases of half-thought or half-judgment? Consider some candidates:

* "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands...", uttered ritually (but nonetheless by someone capable of understanding its meaning).

* A valued colleague accepts a job offer at another university, and I remind myself that there's nothing wrong with her doing so. Or an editor returns a submitted article with a slew of suggestions for revision, and I say to myself that that outcome is much better than having the warty thing accepted as-is.

* A student who is just starting to get an inkling of Kant reads "Pure a priori concepts, if such exist, cannot indeed contain anything empirical, yet, none the less, they can serve solely as a priori conditions of a possible experience". She feels that she agrees with this, though she only partly understands it.

* I endorse some truism I haven't really thought through but that has an appealing ring, e.g., "all men are created equal", "the only really important thing is to be happy", "human life has infinite value".

Whether judgment is constituted by a functional, cognitive role, or by a type of phenomenology, or by both, it seems reasonable to suppose that there will be such in-between cases -- cases in which some but not all aspects of the functional role are fulfilled or in which there is a mere glimmer of the phenomenology.

Now that I have become convinced that there are such cases, by reflecting on examples like those above, I am seeing them everywhere -- maybe even as a constant penumbra of my stream of thought: I am always, or at least frequently, half-aware of myself, half-aware of a dozen things, my cognition ringed by wraiths of judgment most of which never quite fully form.


Justin Coates said...

Whenever I hear that song, I always think to myself that it would be worth it to appear in print defending moral skepticism just to begin a paper with "maybe there's no obligations now."

Jon Rubin said...

I prefer 'penumbras of pandemonium' myself ...

David M Gray said...

"The Schnee ist Weiss" example bothers me too. There's also the cases of machine gun sentences heard as a string of words vs. a coherent sentence (e.g. 'Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo.' understood as claiming that the buffalo that (other?) buffalo outwit end up outwitting buffalo.) So do you think understanding is non-imagistic phenomenology partially constituting the understood buffalo or Schnee thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Maybe you've got reason to believe we all will be received.

Anonymous said...

Is losing love like a window in your heart?

Anonymous said...

The way she combed her hair and farted.

(And what if that's what someone actually understands the lyric to be?)

Anonymous said...

Despite the large number of girls in New York City, I doubt there is a single one who calls herself "the human trampoline."

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the comments, folks!

@ David: I find myself skeptical about the issue you raise. Good introspectors appear to line up on both sides, and I don't see how to adjudicate among them (yet).