Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Strings of Thoughts

Recognizing I’ll never have time to put in finished prose or verse all the things I’d like to explore, I’m starting some strings of thoughts unfinished as of the dates entered below.  I’d enjoy hearing others’ responses to any of the strings.

1/1/18 Since categories “hold” ideas, the metaphor of categories as containers or boxes easily suggests itself.  Boxes, however, segregate and their sides and lids conceal.* Since experience is often interconnected and viewable, the box metaphor therefore falters.  Looking elsewhere, webs and nets also hold. Unlike boxes, however, webs hang onto and flex with the world. Unlike boxes, nets and webs “hold” things without lids and sides that cut off and conceal.  Thus, from various threads at various lengths, spinners and others can look in or out of webs from various angles that ordinary containers or boxes would obscure. Unlike boxes, webs come from within those that spin them: the spider’s silk and the human’s thought.  This reminds us that categories come from us and not from nature. Signifiers also suggest this metaphor of webs.  “Text” is woven from the Latin “texere” (to weave). When constructing categories, shouldn’t we therefore default to webs?  Physics of course has no monopoly on strings.

*Were a fully-transparent (i.e., invisible) box imaginable, how could we sort with what we couldn’t see?

1/1/18 It irritates me that we still debate whether dogs are capable of complex, intentional thought. Dogs can no doubt interpret all three types of signifiers involved in complex, intentional thought: symbols (arbitrary signifiers such as "sit"), icons (resembling signifiers such as a smaller bone that recalls a larger one around the corner), & indexes (participating signifiers such as the leash that always participates in and thus indicates a walk).  Enough said.


                               To Gadamer

Though eye must squint, eye must explore the bird
Who plays at the horizon of the word,
Whose far tints flash, far notes lag as it hops 
Beyond and back from where the language stops.

Legislative Intent

1/30/18  Legislative “intent” lies in legislatures’ speech acts and not legislators’ speech acts.  That is, legislative “intent” is the speaker meaning of legislatures not legislators—confusing the two is a category mistake. For example, when the legislature adopts a rule requiring drivers to drive on the right side of the road, the legislature has performed a directive speech act adopting a rule to some end or purpose (such as changing driving patterns to enhance road safety).  When the legislature censures someone, it has performed an expressive speech act condemning someone for some end or purpose (such as discouraging future bad behavior on the part of public officials).  The different purposes (and the plans involved in such purposes) distinguish the different types of speech acts. Recognizing this distinction between legislature and legislator speech acts avoids pseudo-quandaries such as “How can we ever aggregate the subjective intent of countless legislators to determine legislative intent?” or “How do we include the intent of a legislator who votes for a bill for unrelated reasons?” Instead, we ask: “What is the objective bill or proposal (and the concomitant purpose or plan or both) properly adopted by the legislature?”  We also ask: “What are the objective concepts involved?” while acknowledging such concepts can have yet-to-be explored threads and extensions. 

1/30/18 A legislature typically speaks best when it adopts a bill or other proposal (and any concomitant purpose or plan) after reasonable debate by legislators.   Although individual legislators’ speaker meaning in such debates can be highly relevant evidence of the legislature’s speaker meaning, legislators’ speech acts are not legislatures’ speech acts.

2/7/18 A legislative bill or other proposal isn’t simply a string of words on a page. Instead, a legislative bill or other proposal involves concepts (the signified) to which words (the signifiers) refer with varying degrees of precision.  Legislators debate the concepts signified and the signifiers as signifying such concepts.  Justice Scalia therefore oversimplifies how language works when he claims that “the only thing one can say for sure was agreed to by both houses and the President (on signing the bill) is the text of the statute.”  (Reading Law, p. 376) Justice Scalia oversimplifies here because any such text was adopted as part of a greater whole, as signifiers of concepts involved in the bill.  For example, a statute reading “All cars must drive on the write side of interstate roads” adopted by both houses of Congress and signed by the President no doubt likely means “All cars must drive on the right side of interstate roads.” It’s hard to believe that both houses and the President agreed on “write side” instead of “right side” of the road. I at least cannot “say for sure” that they did. Justice Scalia concedes the same by acknowledging what he considers “the rare case of an obvious scrivener’s error.” (Reading Law, p. 57)  In the real world, of course, obvious scrivener’s errors are hardly rare.

Speaker Meaning 

1/21/18 “Original” speaker meaning includes the unexplored.  Imagine I buy a netted device I categorize as “my hammock” before I unbox and see it.  On the next day, I unbox “my hammock,” count its strings, and note their makeup and weave. On the third day, I tie “my hammock” between two trees.  I broadly gauge its new shape when tied into the world. On the fourth day, I refine “my hammock’s” new shape:  it contradictorily resembles both a canoe and a crescent moon. On the fifth day, I wonder whether “my hammock” now qualifies as a bed and tentatively conclude that it does. On the sixth day, I lie down in “my hammock” and see interesting new views from its vantage point. On the seventh day, I rest with no hammock thoughts in my head.  The “original” meaning of “my hammock” thus casts a wide and variable net not captured from day one. Instead, day by day through day six, I have obtained fuller and fuller understandings of “my hammock” including how it intersects with (and provides vantage points to) the world to which it is tied.  Thus, any “original concept” signified by “my hammock” is larger than any “original conception” (or first-day conception) of something boxed and unseen, is larger than any second-day conception adding counted strings, their makeup, and their weave, is larger than any third-day conception of the hammock as tied, and so on.  Furthermore, for those seeking speaker meaning, any “original concept” and any preceding daily conceptions don’t sleep the seventh day.

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