|T O P I C R E V I E W
||Posted - Jan 23 2012 : 10:09:43 PM
I'd like us to extend our conversation from class today about whether or not we think in language. Most of us seemed pretty convinced that we do, but I am curious about exactly what that means. Does it mean that thoughts are somehow shaped or structured on the basis of how we understand and use language, and is this sort of phenomenon what Heidegger has in mind when he posits the possible link between our understanding of the thing as a bearer of properties and the form of propositions? Does thinking in language mean that every concept that "comes to mind" in the stream of consciousness is somehow very quickly articulated by an inner voice like the voice of a narrator? Does it mean that a part of our brain is constantly preparing linguistic versions of our thoughts that could be communicated should we feel compelled to suddenly share these thoughts with others? Language is a tool of communication, so if we think in language, is this our brain communicating with itself? I agree that in some sense our thoughts are affected by language, both in structure and in content, but I am on the fence regarding whether ideas are encoded in language at conception.
What would Heidegger say about all of this? I'd venture to guess that he was of the belief that language and thought are indeed coextensive. Tom, I'm sure you'll fill us in here.
And what of Wittgenstein? He believed steadfastly in the link between language and thought (the limits of language are the limits of philosophy), and he opposed the discipline of metaphysics for that very reason; he believed it could not be meaningfully talked about.
What do you all think?
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|9 L A T E S T R E P L I E S (Newest First)
||Posted - Feb 15 2012 : 10:33:46 AM
After our discussion on Monday, I would say that we do think in language. A large portion of our discussion was solely based on why we keep referring to the thing's 'thinghood'. For me at least, I feel like this cleared up a lot of the reading for me;
It was like a barricade was lifted out of the way. Because of the nature of languague, and how it continually evolves, it makes it harder to get to the heart of the philosopher's ideas (especially those written hundreds of years ago). The connotations of a certain word, such as idea, is completely different to us than it was to Aristotle, Socretes, etc. I guess it just reinforced the significance of every word and how we need to be very particular in how they are used.
||Posted - Jan 31 2012 : 10:20:27 AM
Brendan, remember that what Descartes means by the expression "mens sive anima" ("mind or soul" -- he uses the two terms interchangeably) is not the brain. Indeed, it's not any sort of physical thing at all and therefore cannot be a machine. When you ask how Descartes would characterize thinking, do you mean how would he characterize thinking in Kant's rather narrower sense of the term? You understand, I trust, that he (Descartes) uses the term "thinking" to refer to everything that goes on in the mind. That means that experiencing emotions is every bit as much a form of thinking in his (Descartes's) sense of the term as is judging.
I'm unclear about what you mean to ask towards the end of the last thing you posted. The last sentence ("Would Descartes make the divide thinking along lines of syntax vs. semantics (understanding the nature of the questions being put forth to the computer) in a way similar to that of John Searle?") makes no sense from a purely grammatical point of view. Did you perhaps mean to write something like this: "Would Descartes make the divide between thinking and emotion correspond to the distinction between syntax and semantics...etc."? If so, then I think that the answer is almost surely that he wouldn't. If he had the modern concepts of syntax and semantics to operate with (he doesn't), he'd probably see judgments as describable in something like syntactic and semantic terms. I can't imagine that he'd characterize emotion (say, an emotion such as fear) as having anything like either a syntactical structure or any semantic properties at all.
||Posted - Jan 30 2012 : 5:45:06 PM
Well, I think that explanation helps clarify what is meant by thinking. I can't say I agree with Descartes's description of animals as only operating like machinery though. It seems to me the human mind is no different in that sense; it's a complex machine that we do not fully comprehend yet.
I would be curious to know what thoughts Descartes might have on today's computers and certain forms of artificial intelligence that perform complex arithmetic, operate with abstractions, and seemingly know the correct answers. How then would he characterize thinking? Is emotion integral to thinking from Descartes's point of view? Would Descartes make the divide thinking along lines of syntax vs. semantics (understanding the nature of the questions being put forth to the computer) in a way similar to that of John Searle?
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||Posted - Jan 29 2012 : 2:52:12 PM
Back on the 23rd, the day Devon started this thread, Brendan wrote the following in his journal:
quote:and I replied as follows:
Heidegger’s idea that there can be no thought without language is appealing at first, but the more I think about the statement it seems not entirely true. Perhaps Heidegger is using the term “thought” in a narrower sense than I am, or perhaps I missed it in the reading, but it seems that other creatures—and human beings too—take action with intentionality without “thinking” about what they are doing in any particular language—e.g., when they act on the basis of subconscious thoughts.
quote:Since Brendan is now chiming in here as well, I think it may be time for me to chime in too in the hopes of further clarifying the ways in which we tend to use the terms "thinking" and "thoughts" in the early twenty-first century by means of some historical considerations regarding the ways in which Descartes and Kant used these terms.
I suspect that your hunch about Heidegger’s using the word “thinking” in a narrower sense than you are (and maybe in a narrower sense than that in which people generally use the word “thinking” in English these days) is right on the button. This is something it would be good for us to discuss further. Devon has just posted some things on this topic in the class forum. Maybe that’d be the ideal place to talk about it further if you’d like to carry on a discussion that could involve at least the three of us....
There's a really broad sense of these terms that's still alive and well, I think, that can be traced all the way back to Descartes. In this sense, all mental "activity" counts as thinking, and each and every mental content or occurrence therefore counts as a thought. Descartes makes it clear that this is how he intends to use the term "thinking" when he writes in the second meditation of his Meditations on First Philosophy:
quote:and then follows this up in the third meditation with this slightly different list:
[W]hat then am I? A thing which thinks. What is a thing which thinks? It is a thing which doubts, understands, [conceives], affirms, denies, wills, refuses, which also imagines and feels. (The Philosophical Works of Descartes, Elizabeth Haldane and G.R.T. Ross trans. [Cambridge: Cambridge U.P. 1931], Vol. 1, 153)
quote:upon which he subsequently comments further as follows:
I am a thing that thinks, that is to say, that doubts, affirms, denies, that knows a few things, that is ignorant of many [that loves, that hates], that wills, that desires, that also imagines and perceives; for as I remarked before, although the things which I perceive and imagine are perhaps nothing at all apart from me and in themselves, I am nevertheless assured that these modes of thought that I call perceptions and imaginations, inasmuch only as they are modes of thought, certainly reside [and are met with] in me. (157)
quote:Put all these passages together, and you get the following classification of thoughts in Descartes's extremely broad sense of the word:
Of my thoughts, some are, so to speak, images of the things, and to these alone is the title 'idea' properly applied; examples are my thought of a man or of a chimera, of heaven, of an angel, or [even] of God. But other thoughts possess other forms as well. For example in willing, fearing, approving, denying, though I always perceive something as the subject of the action of my mind, yet by this action I always add something else to the idea which I have of that thing; and of the thoughts of this kind, some are called volitions or affections, and others judgments. (159)
quote:Are there still other modes of thought on Descartes's view? It's hard to tell, but there may be. Remember: thinking, in Descartes's extremely broad sense of the term, includes all forms of mental "activity" -- every kind of mental event or mental process. On the other hand, it could be that everything we might be tempted to add to the list would be seen by Descartes as a specific form of one or another of the things that he's explicitly put in the list at one point or another in his discussion. For example: it's clear that he thinks of both remembering and fantasizing as specific forms of imagining (as you might expect, there's relevant terminological history here that goes all the way back to Aristotle).
Modes of Thought
I. Ways of Having Ideas (i.e., Modes of Ideation):
II. Ways of Exercising the Will (i.e., Modes of Volition):
III. Ways of Being Affected (i.e., Modes of Affection [or Feeling]):
IV. Ways of Judging (i.e., Modes of Judgment):
(This particular "quotation" -- this classification of the various modes of thought according to Descartes -- isn't a quotation from anything by Descartes himself; it's a slightly modified version of a table that's included in a commentary on the Meditations that I put together a number of years ago for the intro class I was teaching at the time. It represents my effort to systematize what's in the three passages I've quoted from the Meditations above. -- TKT)
In any case, the point is this: on Descartes's view, no matter what you're talking about, if it can be found in the mind and not in the "external world," it's a thought.
Kant, on the other hand, whose way of thinking and talking about the mind and its contents in the Critique of Pure Reason is what got Heidegger—and consequently us—onto the topic of the relation of language to thought in the first place, never (or almost never) uses the words "thinking" or "thought" in anything like such a broad sense. When Kant speaks of thoughts, what he has in mind is either (1) concepts or else (2) judgments, and by "thinking" he therefore means either (1) understanding (grasping things by means of abstract concepts) or else (2) judging. He also sometimes adds reasoning as a kind of thinking since he thinks inferences consist of judgments (on this point, Descartes would surely agree). And as for the relation of thought to language, it's almost certain, I think, that he would (1) see general words and phrases (common nouns) as the counterparts of concepts and (2) declarative sentences as the counterparts of judgments. Corresponding to inferences, then, we'd have certain sequences of declarative sentences. Hence the seeming "obviousness" of the way the grammar of thought is reflected in the grammar of language. Imagining, sensing, willing, rejecting, loving, hating, fearing, and approving -- none of these count as instances of thinking for Kant, and so he, like many of you, would see most if not all of those things as un-language-like, so to speak, and he wouldn't call any of them thoughts.
As regards the example of the dreaming dog: I don't think Kant would hesitate to describe the dog's dream in terms of images and feelings, but he'd certainly balk at the idea that the dog ever operates with anything like abstract concepts or that it makes judgments or carries out inferences. Descartes has reasons of his own (with which Kant doesn't agree) for thinking that the dog isn't even dreaming. For Descartes, the only bodies that have minds associated with them are human bodies. All other living things are, on his view, more or less complicated machines. On his view, no animals ever even sense things or feel anything like pleasure or pain. When we say that they do, we're making the mistake of thinking that their "behavior" cannot be explained in purely mechanistic terms.
Let me know if this helps -- or, of course, if it doesn't!
||Posted - Jan 29 2012 : 1:34:05 PM
Some of the thinking we do is structured by language, but not all the thoughts that we have require language to be called thinking. I'm no expert in psychology, but there seem to me to be different levels of thinking. The thoughts and discussions that we are having, and that Heidegger was thinking about I would consider to be the highest order of thinking, the sort of thinking that requires thought about the process of thinking. Higher order thinking would also include thought about abstract phenomena and the use of words to articulate beauty and form, and to achieve expressions of emotion in such things as poetry and music.
However, there are other modes of thinking that are not reliant upon the structure of our language. It is difficult to articulate this [i]loweri] type of thinking or to think about it in the way Heidegger has described. Andrew described the kind of thought I am thinking about as subconscious, but I believe there are thoughts that occur without the structure of language. For instance, we discussed in class some of the actions performed by a dog when it is asleep. It's clear that the dog is thinking of something (chasing a frisbee, chasing the mailman, etc...) when it is asleep, and it does so without the structure of language. Huh? I wonder if dogs have language? Is pack mentality language? Maybe I'm using a different conception of language from the one that's being used by Heidegger.
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||Posted - Jan 29 2012 : 01:38:08 AM
I was thinking about this topic all week, and I think I'm starting to believe that we don't think in language, but in images (at least I think I do). Maybe this is closely tied to how one learns effectively, and all of those time-squandering tests we took in high school to show us whether we were visual, auditorial, or kinesthetic learners. But, whenever I have wonderfully vivid dreams that I try to explain to someone, words always seem to fall short of the idea I am trying to share. Even now, I find myself at a loss for words to explain myself! I think this also has something to do with how I will my mind to work. For example, if we are in the middle of one of Tom's discussions, I know that I am going to have to stay on my feet to keep up with the pace of class, instead of taking time to create a visual association for the concept.
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||Posted - Jan 28 2012 : 4:28:20 PM
Andrew, I almost invariably get lost when the conversation turns to talk of the subconscious. A look at the Wikipedia articles titled "Subconscious" and "Unconscious Mind" (which I advise you to read with a considerable grain of salt, but which are nevertheless informative about a good many of the more or less familiar uses of these two pesky terms) may help you to see why. I can almost never tell whether it's Freud's idea of the unconscious mind (his idea of a part of the mind—or of all those mental processes—of which we are never at all directly conscious) or some other idea that's being employed or being appealed to, and I can almost never think of any way to think clearly and critically about what it is that's being said. I guess my first reaction to what you say here is to want to ask you whether you're offering what you say here in a spirit of pure speculation or whether you think you could support any of it with arguments or with any sort of actual evidence.
||Posted - Jan 27 2012 : 12:59:15 PM
I suppose I will throw my two cents in on the subject. As Tom said in class, many philosophers would argue that our brain is not the same thing as our mind, that our thoughts occur outside the realm of the body. Thinking about this, I had an interesting idea: what if there is a difference between how our conscious minds and subconscious minds work or think. Our conscious mind may begin thinking outside the realm of language, but since as we grow up in a society that values communication from one mind to another it begins to think only within the confines of language. Thus our conscious mind thinks in the structures of language automatically to allow us to quickly communicate with other minds instead of having to constantly encode our thoughts "manually." Thinking in language becomes almost a motor skill for the conscious mind. Language becomes reality for the conscious mind, or rather for the way the world works outside the mind: the realm of the body.
Meanwhile the other side of the mind, the subconscious, thinks without the constraints of language. The subconscious doesn't have language and so it becomes difficult for it to communicate with the conscious mind. Take dreams as an example: dreams typically take place in reality but with different rules or schemata (I can fly or Tom no longer has a beard -- weird, right?). The subconscious is not constrained with the structures of the outside world or language. The same is true for feelings that originate within the mind, which are typically difficult to describe or bring into the outside world or even our into conscious minds, which must use language to think. The subconscious then has a difficult time communicating with the conscious mind because it must attempt to encode its thoughts in language, in which it usually does not think.
Just a thought.
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||Posted - Jan 25 2012 : 11:18:27 PM
I would strongly agree that every language structures our thoughts differently, although it can't be the only mode of consciousness; simply look to animals and infants and you'll see that. However, for our thoughts, how could we possibly think without language? You bring up a very interesting point though, on whether thoughts go through some other route of inexpressible cognition before being prepared in linguistic terms we can represent. I feel it is difficult to try to attack this question without looking to the psychology of language though. If you consider victims of Broca's aphasia, a type of brain damage that causes language deficiency, you can see these people can think, though most of their thoughts are incommunicable. However, for thoughts that are expressed through language, isn't language the only way in which we can understand them?
If I say "This ball is red," then assuming you speak the English language, you know exactly what I am asserting when I say that. Now the question we would want to ask is whether the sound of the words, such as "ball," directly invokes the idea of the ball, or if, when we hear the word, our thoughts decode the sounds, giving us the idea of the ball (i.e., the idea of something that's round, bouncy, etc.).
These are all interesting ideas, and this is just a small start to the conversation. I can't wait to see what other people have to offer on this subject as well.
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