back to the beginning: the limitations of language

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Sean » Sat May 14, 2011 7:53 am

iambiguous wrote:he assassination of Osama bin Laden. What in your view are the limitations of language [of philosophy] in discussing it? What can words tell us about the worlds Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden lived in? What can words tell us about the morality of this particular killing?


A philosopher would be most useful in treating this as a proportionality dilemma. Proportionality is a term used in ethics of armed conflict.

Proportionality is a requirement we place upon military action, wherein we weigh the pros and cons of a particular military action. Civilian casualities: bad. Destruction of the enemy's capacity to fight: good. Proponents of an ethics of proportionality say use of force should be proportional to the enemy threat. We don't firebomb them because we can resolve the conflict with less force, and avoid killing civilians.

Proportionality dilemmas arise here: Sometimes its hard to tell what deaths should count as "bad" casualties, as cons to the use of force. E.g. What if a Blackhawk's missile blows up a bridge. If the bridge is intact, the enemy will be able to attack your beachhead. However, civilians need to to cross the bridge to obtain food. This bridge is very helpful to enemy combatants, but it is also necessary to civilian lives/livelihoods. Is bombing the bridge a proportionally appropriate action.

You want to neutralize Bin Laden. If he is at large, he might be organizing terrorist attacks. He is a multiplier force when it comes to the enemy capacity for destruction. However, in order to safely neutralize Bin Laden, you may have to kill his family (ambiguously ?innocent?) and you may have to kill him in order to safely neutralize him (we suspect he won't come quietly or we claim he could've had bombs strapped to him). Also, if the international community suspects we have executed a "Kill Mission" on Bin Laden, then we lose credibility as a civilized combatant. We violate Geneva protocols or something like that. This is a bad outcome that you will hear in critiques of the Bin Laden kill mission.

Clearly you are faced with a proportionality dilemma. I do not think that it is appropriate to say at this point, "Oh Sean, that may be so, but the way you frame the problem, this is just a question of tactical/strategic outcomes, thus not actually appropriate for philosophy. You're just talking politics." Au contraire. I think it is very important that the people who interpret this dilemma best be the ethicists. The military is going to consider similar pros and cons and even use words like "proportionality", but it's the ethicists who are going to actually write published papers articulating the ins and outs of the dilemma.

This is where a moral ought comes into the picture.

The rule of proportionality may or may not actually accurately describe what the military ends up doing (for Heidegger, the averaged everydayness). However, an ethicist can write a paper placing this event in a proportionality context, in order to make a claim about what the rule of proportionality implies should be done. Thus, there is philosophical work to be done, regardless of whether proportionality is an absolute law of human conduct (of course it isn't).
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Sat May 14, 2011 6:09 pm

Sean wrote:
iambiguous wrote:the assassination of Osama bin Laden. What in your view are the limitations of language [of philosophy] in discussing it? What can words tell us about the worlds Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden lived in? What can words tell us about the morality of this particular killing?


A philosopher would be most useful in treating this as a proportionality dilemma. Proportionality is a term used in ethics of armed conflict.

Proportionality is a requirement we place upon military action, wherein we weigh the pros and cons of a particular military action. Civilian casualities: bad. Destruction of the enemy's capacity to fight: good. Proponents of an ethics of proportionality say use of force should be proportional to the enemy threat. We don't firebomb them because we can resolve the conflict with less force, and avoid killing civilians.


Watch the documentary The Fog of War. That will introduce you to the reality of "proportionality" as it was embedded in real wars. Civilian casualties, bad? Right.

Anything can be rationalized. Especially in war. It is rationalized by both the Ayman al-Zawahiris and the George W. Bushes, the Osama bin Ladens and the Barack Obamas. It is rationalized by those who embrace God and by those who embrace the almighty buck.

In war, the language of philosophy is just another pawn in their game.

In other words, it is calculated more as a means to an end than as an end in itself.

Or as you put it:

Sean wrote:I do not think that it is appropriate to say at this point, "Oh Sean, that may be so, but the way you frame the problem, this is just a question of tactical/strategic outcomes, thus not actually appropriate for philosophy. You're just talking politics." Au contraire. I think it is very important that the people who interpret this dilemma best be the ethicists. The military is going to consider similar pros and cons and even use words like "proportionality", but it's the ethicists who are going to actually write published papers articulating the ins and outs of the dilemma.


How many ethicists are employed by those who make the world go round? And how would they weigh in the balance the assassination of Osama bin Laden against the manner in which American foreign policy thrives on the blowback that reinforces all the more the need for a national security state? After all, how many ethicists are, in turn, employed by Wall Street and the military industrial complex?

Or is that the function of MSNBC, Fox News and the Tea Party?

In theory I agree: what you say makes sense. In reality however it is an illusion.

Sean wrote:The rule of proportionality may or may not actually accurately describe what the military ends up doing (for Heidegger, the averaged everydayness). However, an ethicist can write a paper placing this event in a proportionality context, in order to make a claim about what the rule of proportionality implies should be done. Thus, there is philosophical work to be done, regardless of whether proportionality is an absolute law of human conduct (of course it isn't).


Do you know of any actual ethicists who have tackled the Osama bin Laden killing? Proportionately, was it the right thing to do? How in the world would one determine this?
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Faust » Sat May 14, 2011 8:52 pm

In other words, it is calculated more as a means to an end than as an end in itself.


Haven't you spent the last several months complaining about philosophy that is an end in itself?

How many ethicists are employed by those who make the world go round?


Firstly, you never tire of telling us how much you dislike philosophers. Secondly, you don't have to be a professional philosopher to employ ethical considerations, so what difference does it make?

And how would they weigh in the balance the assassination of Osama bin Laden against the manner in which American foreign policy thrives on the blowback that reinforces all the more the need for a national security state?


That's a loaded and therefor rhetorical question, of course.

You're not really discussing this in good faith.

In theory I agree: what you say makes sense. In reality however it is an illusion.


No, it's not. Students of history can see how violence between nations can escalate. Proportionality speaks to managing that. "An eye for an eye..." and very rough calculations of justice as fairness employ the same considerations. Moral philosophy does, that is.

Do you know of any actual ethicists who have tackled the Osama bin Laden killing?


See above.

Proportionately, was it the right thing to do?


Moral philosophy examines "proportionality" itself, and not just what exactly is "porportionately right". Really, you might want to stop reading secondhand accounts of third-rate philosophers written by fourth rate commentators - you might learn this on your own.

How in the world would one determine this?


Read something worthwhile for a change. It took John Rawls two books to give his view of this. Oh - but I forgot - all your questions are rhetorical.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Sat May 14, 2011 11:22 pm

iambiguous wrote:

In other words, it is calculated more as a means to an end than as an end in itself.

Faust wrote:Haven't you spent the last several months complaining about philosophy that is an end in itself?


Only in the sense there are those who imagine philosophy can disclose actual Kingdoms of Ends.

iambiguous wrote:

How many ethicists are employed by those who make the world go round?

Faust wrote:Firstly, you never tire of telling us how much you dislike philosophers. Secondly, you don't have to be a professional philosopher to employ ethical considerations, so what difference does it make?


I do not dislike philosophers. I merely question the philosophy of those who espouse philosophical realism, political idealism, objectivism, essentialism and/or deontological ethics. And those who have little or no understanding of Karl Marx's rendition of "political economy".

Ethical considerations are always situated out in a particular world and viewed from a particular vantage point. And they are always subject to change in a world that is bursting at the seams with contingency.

iambiguous wrote:

And how would they weigh in the balance the assassination of Osama bin Laden against the manner in which American foreign policy thrives on the blowback that reinforces all the more the need for a national security state?

Faust wrote:That's a loaded and therefor rhetorical question, of course.

You're not really discussing this in good faith.


I am merely putting the "limitations of language" in an existential [political] context. Over and again I make it clear that I am only interested in discussing the language of philosophy out in the world. And my point is "loaded" only in the sense it reflects my own narrative, my own political prejudices. On the other hand, I never try to argue they are [or can ever be] more than that. I merely suggest this holds true for all others in turn. Language can only go in so far in explicating human moral and political interaction. And in explicating human emotional and psychological reactions. And in explicating the nature of any particular flesh and blood dasein.

Faust wrote:Students of history can see how violence between nations can escalate. Proportionality speaks to managing that. "An eye for an eye..." and very rough calculations of justice as fairness employ the same considerations. Moral philosophy does, that is.


All of this will be seen from different [conflicting] vantage points as men and women weigh means and ends pertaining to particular conflicts.

Why then as a moral philosopher don't you propose the optimal manner in which to approach proportionality with respect to the killing of bin Laden. Was this particular attack proportional to this particular target? And how would you discuss this without putting global capitalism, 9/11 and the fake "war on terror" in historical perspective?

Here for example is my own take on that from another thread:

....American foreign policy has little or nothing to do with the pursuit of freedom, justice, democracy or human rights. It has everything to do with the pursuit of markets, cheap labor and natural resources.

Like, for example, oil.

In other words, American foreign policy is predicated on the Bilderberg Group agenda. Go ahead, Google it.

The Bilderberg agenda aims to carve up the 3rd world [and in particular the Middle East and South Asia] in order to secure from it access to plentiful natural resources. It is an imperialistic foreign policy in this sense. And when your foreign policy revolves around imperialism and you plunder 3rd world nations for all you can get there is going to be what is called “blowback”.

And that blowback will include Osama bin Ladens, 9/11s, shoe bombers and undie-terrorists. But if your whole frame of mind is twisted by the folks [in the military industrial complex] who profit from imperialism you can easily be duped into believing we are in Iraq and Afghanistan [and now Libya] only because we are peace-loving, freedom-loving purveyors of democracy around the globe. You might then fail to figure out how these relationships really work instead.

Colin Powell:

What is the greatest threat facing us now? People will say it’s terrorism. But are there any terrorists in the world who can change the American way of life or our political system? No. Can they knock down a building? Yes. Can they kill somebody? Yes. But can they change us? No. Only we can change ourselves. So what is the great threat we are facing?

and this:

These are dangerous criminals, and we must deal with them. But come on, this is not a threat to our survival! The only thing that can really destroy us is us. We shouldn’t do it to ourselves, and we shouldn’t use fear for political purposes-scaring people to death so they will vote for you, or scaring people to death so that we create a terror-industrial complex.

It’s not for nothing that bin Laden and Al Qaeda chose to blow up the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They symbolize to many around the globe the utterly pecuniary relationship between Washington and Wall Street as they plot [through the Council on Foreign Relations] how to use folks like Osama bin Laden and 9/11 to perpetuate a global economy that strives always to perserve the interests of the ruling class.

Or don't you believe there is one?

Now, I don't personally subscribe to many of the "truther" [and now "deather"] conspiracy theories. But I have little or no doubt that 9/11 and radical jihad are being used as the latest bogeyman to replace Fascism and Communism in perpetrating and perpetuating America's imperialist foreign and economic policy.


Or is it your argument here that "proportionality" has nothing to do with this? Or perhaps you concur with BlurredSavant that my points are extraneous to what she wanted to discuss? But what she wanted to discuss could only [in my opinion] be grasped more clearly by exposing a larger context. The one embedded in "political economy". And Marx always took that out into the world even if you don't share his take on it. Which in some respects I don't.

Faust wrote:Moral philosophy examines "proportionality" itself, and not just what exactly is "porportionately right". Really, you might want to stop reading secondhand accounts of third-rate philosophers written by fourth rate commentators - you might learn this on your own.


Proportionality itself? But: What in the world does that mean. Ah, but for some, that's the whole point: To take the word out of the world. To examine it "theoretically". To define it. To tell us what it [purely] means.

But it will always mean different things to different people in different contexts and at different times.

And you are the one who perfers things rhetorical. Always intent on explicating the proper use of language. I always [at least try] to weight the words down with the world in which they are actual used to motivate behaviors.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Faust » Sun May 15, 2011 6:15 am

Firstly, I think Marx was one of the "inventors" of the 20th Century, and that his work on political economy was one of his greatest contributions.

Secondly, try explainig what

Ethical considerations


are without using the "language of philosophy".

Thirdly, in the context of

Language can only go in so far in explicating human moral and political interaction.


you haven't said much until you tell us what those limits are.

Why then as a moral philosopher don't you propose the optimal manner in which to approach proportionality with respect to the killing of bin Laden. Was this particular attack proportional to this particular target? And how would you discuss this without putting global capitalism, 9/11 and the fake "war on terror" in historical perspective?


What does "proportional to this particular target" mean? If it's proportional, it's proportional retaliation to acts by him. You can't and don't need to take into account the entire history of the world to do this.

I get it - I am one of the few who agrees with you. I wouldn't call 9/11 terrorism. I'm not even that upset by it. It's still the act of a mouse that roared. The wounds it caused to our national psyche show how childish and spoiled we are. We'd already hurt them more than they could ever hurt us - but oops - that's proportionality. But I'm sure it's okay to use the word when I am agreeing with you about politics. That's makes it "in the world", doesn't it.

What you're not getting is that I agree - we're imperialist pigs. We're so far ahead no one could ever catch up. I got it with Vietnam, the entire farce that was the Cold War, with the first Gulf War and the second. All of them rife the stupid and greedy acts of an imperialist nation. Where I disagree is only in that I have no objection to the US being an imperialist power - I just wish we were smarter about it.

What I also disagree with is that you need to use political propaganda, twisting the truth as much as those you criticise, and ignoring facts, (and the counterpoints that I and others make here) to make your point.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Sean » Sun May 15, 2011 7:53 pm

Faust wrote:Why then as a moral philosopher don't you propose the optimal manner in which to approach proportionality with respect to the killing of bin Laden. Was this particular attack proportional to this particular target? And how would you discuss this without putting global capitalism, 9/11 and the fake "war on terror" in historical perspective?


This is not a limitation for philosophy, instead this is a philosophical argument. You're claiming that proportionality is an empty concept, because we could not possibly determine all of the outcomes of a particular action. Thus proportionality claims will always be viciously incomplete.

Like Faust says, the job of philosophy is not to claim x is proportionally acceptable, but instead to discuss proportionality itself. You have just made a philosophical argument about what proportionality itself is/not, and you did so by placing it in the real world. QED.

Another way to philosophically examine proportionality is not to ask what proportionality "really is," but rather to ask what "proportionality" means to a given person or group of people at a given time. This is the sort of philosophy that Foucault does. This brand of philosophy is even more embedded in the real world. Most of Foucault's works "i.e. History of Sexuality, Madness and Civilization" follow concepts (perversion in the first, madness/unreason in the second) through their employment in the real world. In Madness and Civilization we follow the use of madness/unreason through several centuries' depictions of madness in paintings (ex. Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights) and descriptions/prescriptions of madness from texts written by public officials or physicians.

Likewise one could ask a question about proportionality: What does it mean for Hammurabi? How is it employed in US foreign policy? After all, proportionality IS employed in our conventions and policies of combat. It is simply riddled with loopholes or manipulated.

It is also an interesting aspect of mass media reporting concerning the war. I.e. On your account, proportionality is more important than ever. Lacking sufficient racial prejudice against Arabs in a society which prides itself on tolerance, we reinforce people's fear and anger over 9/11, using it to provoke fear of the next attack which makes all actions permissible, as long as it hurts the terrorists. After all 9/11 is infinitely bad, so the terrorists have infinite capacity for damaging us, thus the amount of force permissible to disable their capacity for violence is itself infinite

In this way we could do philosophical work comparing proportionality and resource acquisition as two justifications for violence whose importance in foreign policy discourse has fluctuated among different peoples at different points in history.

The point I'm trying to make here, is that when you feel language/philosophy has reached it's ultimate limitations, perhaps it's more likely that you just need to get creative, instead of focusing on what can't be done.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Sun May 15, 2011 8:56 pm

faust wrote: try explainig what

Ethical considerations

are without using the "language of philosophy".


In using the language of philosophy we reach a point where all sides bump into the points that other sides raise and cannot necessarily [objectively] refute. In this case we bump into the manner in which political economy creates a world where those with wealth and power prevail. But those who thrive on this wealth and power are not necesarily naive...or fools. They can readily create an ideological rationalization to champion the world they thrive in. Thus the killing of bin Laden has nothing to do with the narrative I espouse, it revolves instead around fighting terrorist thugs and preserving the civilized world. And though some [like the Henry Kissingers] are simply opportunists here, others genuinely believe this to be true. The puzzle that is "human existence" is so complex and has so many pieces, anyone can find a way to fabricate a design of their own choosing...of their own liking. Then we are back to William Barrett's preferred narrative of conflicting [legitimate] goods.

faust wrote:....in the context of

Language can only go in so far in explicating human moral and political interaction.

you haven't said much until you tell us what those limits are.


The limits revolve around whatever particular narrative you subscribe to. But that always revolves around what you think you know about something---compared to all that can be known about it. Did bin Laden deserve to die? Well, what is he accused of doing? What was his motivation for doing it? What were/are the historical events that played/play out predisposing him to embrace one set of motivations rather than another?

Some argue he deserved to die because he was a mass murderer of inncoent people. Is that reasonable? Others argue those who worked in the World Trade Center acted to advance the interest of the amoral rich and powerful---and thus were not innocent at all. Is that reasonable?

Same with Barack Obama [and you and I] and all the other players in this unfolding human drama. My contention then is that we have no choice but to acknowledge the implications of this. We can only speculate about the present and the future based on what we think we know about the past. But, then, as Orwell conjectured, He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.

Can moral philosophers then sift through all this in order to distill the conflicting narratives down to the "the truth" here? Is that reasonable? What would we need to be certain about [to know] in order to determine definitively if it was?


faust wrote: What does "proportional to this particular target" mean? If it's proportional, it's proportional retaliation to acts by him. You can't and don't need to take into account the entire history of the world to do this.


Yes, precisely: Who gets to say what that means? Yet we are confronted with decisions like this all the time. Perhaps not on this scale, but we find ourselves being pulled in conflicting directions. Which, of course, is why so many choose instead to escape this quagmire by taking a leap to one of the many either/or frames of mind that suffuse our moral and political landscape.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Faust » Mon May 16, 2011 2:36 am

In using the language of philosophy we reach a point where all sides bump into the points that other sides raise and cannot necessarily [objectively] refute. In this case we bump into the manner in which political economy creates a world where those with wealth and power prevail. But those who thrive on this wealth and power are not necesarily naive...or fools. They can readily create an ideological rationalization to champion the world they thrive in. Thus the killing of bin Laden has nothing to do with the narrative I espouse, it revolves instead around fighting terrorist thugs and preserving the civilized world. And though some [like the Henry Kissingers] are simply opportunists here, others genuinely believe this to be true. The puzzle that is "human existence" is so complex and has so many pieces, anyone can find a way to fabricate a design of their own choosing...of their own liking. Then we are back to William Barrett's preferred narrative of conflicting [legitimate] goods.


Sure. Politicians propagandise. But this propaganda doesn't convince everybody any more than philosophical arguments do.

The limits revolve around whatever particular narrative you subscribe to. But that always revolves around what you think you know about something---compared to all that can be known about it. Did bin Laden deserve to die?


That's a moral consideration. Which you have said repeatedly is useless.

Well, what is he accused of doing? What was his motivation for doing it? What were/are the historical events that played/play out predisposing him to embrace one set of motivations rather than another?


I mean this in all sincerity - who gives a shit? He could have stayed in Saudi Arabia and fondled slave girls all day.

Can moral philosophers then sift through all this in order to distill the conflicting narratives down to the "the truth" here? Is that reasonable? What would we need to be certain about [to know] in order to determine definitively if it was?



You're asking a specious question. There is no truth. Moral philosophy is not restricted to considerations of "objective truth".

Yes, precisely: Who gets to say what that means? Yet we are confronted with decisions like this all the time. Perhaps not on this scale, but we find ourselves being pulled in conflicting directions. Which, of course, is why so many choose instead to escape this quagmire by taking a leap to one of the many either/or frames of mind that suffuse our moral and political landscape.


I don't find myself being pulled in different directions very much at all. Funny thing is that I'm a perspectivist, an atheist and almost completely apolitical.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby PandnotP » Mon May 16, 2011 7:12 am

..all that language can do is to indicate with the utmost generality and in the broadest and crudest of terms what it is that I see. Even something as simple and everyday as the sight of a towel dropped on the bathroom floor is inaccessable to language----and inaccessable to it from many points of view at the same time: no words to describe the shape it has fallen into, no words to describe the degrees of shading in its coliurs, no words to describe the differentials of shadow in its folds....I see all these things at once with great precision...with clarity and certainty, and in all of their complexity. I possess them all wholey and surely in direct experience, and yet I would be totally unable...to put that experience in words. It is emphatically not the case, then, that 'the world is the world as we describe it', or that I 'experience it through linguistic catagories that help to shape the experiences themselves' or that my 'main way of dividing things up is in language' or that my 'concept of reality is a matter of our linguistic categories'.


I don’t know if this has been addressed here (I tend to skim through the postings on these threads, as we philosophers can be a long winded bunch). I apologize if this is redundant.

The above quoted paragraph looks to me to describe what has been called (notably by Christopher Peacocke) the issue of fineness of grain in perception. It is said that since the fineness of gain in perception outstrips our conceptual capacities—that is, perception has (phenomenal) properties beyond what can be specified by concepts—the contents of perception are thus nonconceptual .

Here is an excerpt from the Stanford Encyclopedia article on “Nonconceptual Mental Content”:

“With my limited conceptual repertoire, I will correctly judge both color chips to be red. However, I will so judge on the basis of experiences whose contents are much more specific and fine grained in a way that cannot be captured by my conceptual capacities. (The same is true, mutatis mutandis, of shape concepts.) My ability to perceive and discriminate the determinate shades and shapes that I do outstrips my conceptual capacities. As such, my experiences do not seem to depend on my conceptual repertoire. Thus, in specifying the content of perception, its accuracy conditions, we need not limit ourselves to the concepts available to the subject — hence, perceptual content is nonconceptual (e.g., Peacocke 1992, Heck 2000, Tye 1995, 2006. DeBellis 1995, and Luntley 2003, argue on similar lines for the nonconceptual content of music perception).”

Of course, the debate over nonconceptual content concerns the nature of the contents of thought (broadly speaking), rather than the abilities of language to portray the intricacies of experience. However, language is a wholly conceptual construction. In fact, it seems to me that language is nothing more than a means of phenomenally relating syntactically formed compositions of concepts to one another in order to convey ideas. It is inherently limited to conceptual specifications. Therefore the debate over the ability of mental concepts to capture so called nonconceptual elements in perception concerns the same ability in language directly.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Mon May 16, 2011 6:37 pm

Sean wrote:
Faust wrote:Why then as a moral philosopher don't you propose the optimal manner in which to approach proportionality with respect to the killing of bin Laden. Was this particular attack proportional to this particular target? And how would you discuss this without putting global capitalism, 9/11 and the fake "war on terror" in historical perspective?


This is not a limitation for philosophy, instead this is a philosophical argument.


But I am suggesting no moral [or philosophical] argument regarding the killing of bin Laden is sensical [to me] unless it is subumed in a particular political narrative. And I say subsumed because without it an argument is just a world of words.

Sean wrote:You're claiming that proportionality is an empty concept, because we could not possibly determine all of the outcomes of a particular action. Thus proportionality claims will always be viciously incomplete.


Like many such words, proportionality must be situated out in a particular world and expressed from a particular point of view. Otherwise how can we realistically compare it to discussions of proportionality relating to other conflicts and from other points of view. There is no one size fits all proportionality.

After all, there are folks who insist 9/11 was a proportionate response on the part of Islamic jihadists given the manner in which they view the destructive nature of American foreign policy.

Claims of proportionality can never be complete. They can only be argued for and against given certain assumptions that are made.

Sean wrote:Like Faust says, the job of philosophy is not to claim x is proportionally acceptable, but instead to discuss proportionality itself. You have just made a philosophical argument about what proportionality itself is/not, and you did so by placing it in the real world. QED.


Folks can discuss "proportionality itself" and after they have reconciled any differences come back and apply their conclusion to the killing of bin Laden. The point of the OP however is to focus attention on the limitations of any conclusion reached if the goal is to actually resolve this. And there are philosophers out there convinced that, deontologically, it can be.

My aim is always to point to instances where there are inherent disjunctions between words and worlds. Inherent because definitive conclusions cannot be derived when there is a gap between what each of us purports to know about a particular situation and all that needs to be known in order to dispense with existential narratives altogether.

Sean wrote: Another way to philosophically examine proportionality is not to ask what proportionality "really is," but rather to ask what "proportionality" means to a given person or group of people at a given time. This is the sort of philosophy that Foucault does.


Exactly. Me too.

Sean wrote:The point I'm trying to make here, is that when you feel language/philosophy has reached it's ultimate limitations, perhaps it's more likely that you just need to get creative, instead of focusing on what can't be done.


In my view, being "creative" involves striving where at all possible to embrace moderation, negociation and compromise when confronting moral and political conflicts. But, given just how precarious living in this world can be, there is often an equally wide gap between what is possible and what actually gets done. In other words, what actually gets done is for those who can effectively get it done to say. The politics of power in other words.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Faust » Mon May 16, 2011 9:52 pm

But I am suggesting no moral [or philosophical] argument regarding the killing of bin Laden is sensical [to me] unless it is subumed in a particular political narrative. And I say subsumed because without it an argument is just a world of words.


And argument is always just words. Do you suppose that The Republic was written in a political vacuum? Leviathan? Any work of social philosophy?

Kant was a social contractarian. Rousseau's natural rights were rights against the king. There's always a political narrative, and about this you cannot criticise even Kant.

Like many such words, proportionality must be situated out in a particular world and expressed from a particular point of view. Otherwise how can we realistically compare it to discussions of proportionality relating to other conflicts and from other points of view. There is no one size fits all proportionality.


This point, you are just not getting. We have tried.

After all, there are folks who insist 9/11 was a proportionate response on the part of Islamic jihadists given the manner in which they view the destructive nature of American foreign policy.


That's a tough point to sell. It was a puny effort. I think the even the jihadists themselves think they still have a lot of catching up to do. I don't think any serious student of world politics thinks otherwise. You are talking against about american Republicans, rhetoriticians and politicans and not philosophers.

Folks can discuss "proportionality itself" and after they have reconciled any differences come back and apply their conclusion to the killing of bin Laden. The point of the OP however is to focus attention on the limitations of any conclusion reached if the goal is to actually resolve this. And there are philosophers out there convinced that, deontologically, it can be.


Politics doesn't resolve disagreements, either. It just provides a way to move forward. I'm not sure exactly what about the killing of bin Laden needs to be resolved, however. He's dead. Some say it's a good thing, and some a bad. So what? He's still dead. You seem to think that people want to resolve their differences. Certainly the warrior class among Muslims do not. They want to fight.

In my view, being "creative" involves striving where at all possible to embrace moderation, negociation and compromise when confronting moral and political conflicts.


The compromise is a function of politics, and not of morality. The two basic moral stances on abortion won't "come together" somehow. if they did, then there would be nothing for the political realm to compromise about.

Morality and politics are not the same thing. Lumping them in together is just another indication that you don't understand morality very well. Since you seemingly refuse to learn, and get your criticisms of it second-hand, by the likes of Barrett, of all people - and I am just guessing, but I cannot believe otherwise - you will never know.

We don't need to, as a nation, "resolve" opposing moral views about abortion, or about anything else. We need to make laws. But all the noise about abortion is in the political realm. How's that been working out so far?
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Wed May 18, 2011 12:25 am

Faust wrote: Politicians propagandise. But this propaganda doesn't convince everybody any more than philosophical arguments do.


But my point is this: however sincere one's moral and political convictions may be, they are still just existential narratives reflecting a particular point of view.

And, thus, it is to those convinced their own values are not a narrative at all but, instead, a wholly objective truth that I address my arguments.

iambiguous wrote:

The limits revolve around whatever particular narrative you subscribe to. But that always revolves around what you think you know about something---compared to all that can be known about it. Did bin Laden deserve to die?

Faust wrote:That's a moral consideration. Which you have said repeatedly is useless.


No, not "useless". Instead: situated out in a particular world as understood from a particular point of view.

How could asking questions about right and wrong behavior ever be considered useless? My point is only that given how I understand the relationship between these particular words ['did bin Laden deserve to die?"] and the manner in which I understand their use out in the world we live in it is useless only to suggest the question can ever be answered objectively.

That's why I ask these questions:

...what is he accused of doing? What was his motivation for doing it? What were/are the historical events that played/play out predisposing him to embrace one set of motivations rather than another?

People will answer them [can answer them] only as particular moral or political narratives.

Here, however, is your answer:

"I mean this in all sincerity - who gives a shit? He could have stayed in Saudi Arabia and fondled slave girls all day."

Not to get too technical here, but, "Huh?". Would anyone be asking the question at all had he done so?

iambiguous wrote:

Can moral philosophers then sift through all this in order to distill the conflicting narratives down to the "the truth" here? Is that reasonable? What would we need to be certain about [to know] in order to determine definitively if it was?

Faust wrote:You're asking a specious question. There is no truth. Moral philosophy is not restricted to considerations of "objective truth".


But what of those philosophers who, instead, insist it is my answer that is specious? This is what I aim to probe.

Faust wrote:I don't find myself being pulled in different directions very much at all. Funny thing is that I'm a perspectivist, an atheist and almost completely apolitical.


Fine. I, on the other hand, have often been drawn and quartered emotionally and psychologically by any number of moral and political issues. Again, that's what prompts me to raise these questions in the first place.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Faust » Wed May 18, 2011 2:20 am

But my point is this: however sincere one's moral and political convictions may be, they are still just existential narratives reflecting a particular point of view.

And, thus, it is to those convinced their own values are not a narrative at all but, instead, a wholly objective truth that I address my arguments.


I know. But you continually throw the baby out with the bathwater. You say in one breath that you are arguing with absolutists and in the next, you claim the the "language of philosophy" itself is inadequate to the task of parsing moral problems. It is this claim that i am arguing with.

No, not "useless". Instead: situated out in a particular world as understood from a particular point of view.


See above.

How could asking questions about right and wrong behavior ever be considered useless? My point is only that given how I understand the relationship between these particular words ['did bin Laden deserve to die?"] and the manner in which I understand their use out in the world we live in it is useless only to suggest the question can ever be answered objectively.


But no one does this. You have failed repeatedly to give a specific example of what you are talking about.

Not to get too technical here, but, "Huh?". Would anyone be asking the question at all had he done so?


I don't know anyone who is asking the question. Do you? Sure, his supporters think he should not have been killed, and his enemies think otherwise. But no one is asking the question. If they are, could you please give one example?

But what of those philosophers who, instead, insist it is my answer that is specious? This is what I aim to probe.


But you're not probing it. You're just saying the same thing, over and over.

Fine. I, on the other hand, have often been drawn and quartered emotionally and psychologically by any number of moral and political issues. Again, that's what prompts me to raise these questions in the first place.


And you will continue to be torn apart until you decide on some values for yourself. Until you do, you are missing the entire point of philosophy.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Sean » Wed May 18, 2011 5:20 am

There is a paradox in philosophy.

[devil's advocate] On the one hand, philosophy is work that we do. In this sense philosophy should not be expected to "change the world." Philosophical ideas about social policy should not be expected to find their way into actual policy. Philosophical work done on concepts need not actually work its way into the way these concepts are actually employed. There is nothing wrong with philosophy remaining in an ivory tower of critical analysis.

This may sound repugnant to you, but thing about it. The alternative is repugnant as well. If all philosophical work is meant to lead to actual improvements in the world around us, resolutions of the moral conflicts we face (i.e. abortion, bin Laden, foreign policy, etc.) then philosophical work is expected to produce a philosophical product. An argument which is logically sound and has persuasive power.

But then, this is ultimately even more repugnant. This is the commodification of philosophy. After all, who best benefits from a philosophical product which effectively describes the self? Marketing firms. Who best benefits from a philosophical product which effectively describes social structures? Those who would subjugate the social to do the will of power.

There are dangers to bringing philosophy down to earth. Expecting philosophy to change the world is to expect philosophy to produce a product just as every other enterprise is expected to produce a product. The relentless assault on the Ivory Tower does liberate thought, but at what cost? We free the natives from their dictator, only to assimilate them into our global system.

Kantians do not assert moral rules in order to enforce them on the world. There are no card-carrying Kantians in congress. Kantians assert moral absolutes in order to think more clearly about Kant, and about the thinkers who have come before and after him. [/devil's advocate]

On the other hand, the experience of thinking philosophically about things really does change your opinions. You become unsettled. This is the basis of Richard Rorty's work. He's such a nihilist, he's decided the only way to decide anything is just to be a liberal democrat and take a vote. But then philosophy changes other people's opinions in other ways. You claim philosophy has made you unable to decide on anything, but try and think back on all the philosophical decisions you must've made to come to this point where you have some actual relevant choices to make.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Thu May 19, 2011 7:33 pm

Faust wrote: I know. But you continually throw the baby out with the bathwater. You say in one breath that you are arguing with absolutists and in the next, you claim the the "language of philosophy" itself is inadequate to the task of parsing moral problems. It is this claim that i am arguing with.


But I am not arguing with absolutists by becoming one myself. I am certainly not suggesting my argument against objective morality is itself objectively [necessarily] true. I am inviting arguments instead that suggest objective morality may well be true.

But: It is in the use of language itself that we get bogged down here. Why? Because philosophy apparently does not have the capacity to line up words and worlds in the manner in which science is regarding relationships between mindless matter. Matter as mind is able to switch from either/or to is/ought---and is stymied time and again in all its efforts to embrace the language of deontology.

Or, in the case of objectivists like Ayn Rand, metaphysics itself!

iambiguously wrote:

How could asking questions about right and wrong behavior ever be considered useless? My point is only that given how I understand the relationship between these particular words ['did bin Laden deserve to die?"] and the manner in which I understand their use out in the world we live in it is useless only to suggest the question can ever be answered objectively.

Faust wrote:But no one does this. You have failed repeatedly to give a specific example of what you are talking about.


Yes, we go around and around regarding this. But any number of apologists embracing any number of ecclesiastic and secular dogmas insist their answer is objective. It is objective because it is derived from God or it is objective because their ideological spin on the world is impeccably rational.

Faust wrote:I don't know anyone who is asking the question ["did bin Laden deserve to die?". Do you? Sure, his supporters think he should not have been killed, and his enemies think otherwise. But no one is asking the question. If they are, could you please give one example?


Sure. Go to google or yahoo or msn etc. and type in "did bin Laden deserve to die?" I did. There are lots and lots of opinions about it. But what they all share in common is the fact they are just opinions. Political narratives derived existentially from points of view.

Faust wrote:And you will continue to be torn apart until you decide on some values for yourself. Until you do, you are missing the entire point of philosophy.


But it can only be an existential leap subject always to change as I encounter new experiences, meet new people, come into contact with new information. That's the point of existential philosophy: To remind folks that meaning is always situated [and evolving] out in a particular world viewed from a particular vantage point.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Faust » Thu May 19, 2011 7:40 pm

Here's the first thing I found when i googled your question:

"I think he did.
If the Americans kidnapped him, then the arabians would have invaded USA to get him back and it would cause a war.

People are saying "no, you can't take a life" and "you can't rejoice the death of someone". I understand that, but EVIL people do deserve to die.

hitler was a discusting horrible inconsiderate man, just like stalin. so i think it is 100% fine to rejoice the death of them.

and I don't care if you think 911 wasn't caused by OBL so don't give me all your other theories please, I'm just sticking with this theory"

This is an "argument" that we, as philosophers, are to take seriously? Are we really to consider every offhanded comment made in every barroom worth the effort to analyse? Hitler was inconsiderate?

Dude, you worry too much.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Fri May 20, 2011 12:24 am

Faust wrote:Here's the first thing I found when i googled your question:

"I think he did.
If the Americans kidnapped him, then the arabians would have invaded USA to get him back and it would cause a war.

People are saying "no, you can't take a life" and "you can't rejoice the death of someone". I understand that, but EVIL people do deserve to die.

hitler was a discusting horrible inconsiderate man, just like stalin. so i think it is 100% fine to rejoice the death of them.

and I don't care if you think 911 wasn't caused by OBL so don't give me all your other theories please, I'm just sticking with this theory"

This is an "argument" that we, as philosophers, are to take seriously? Are we really to consider every offhanded comment made in every barroom worth the effort to analyse? Hitler was inconsiderate?

Dude, you worry too much.


But your point was to note no one [you knew] asked the question. So I pointed you in the direction of folks who did. Then you offer me your own political narrative just as they did. Just as I did.

Which, ironically, is entirely my point about the inherent limitations of philosophical language in discussing issues that revolve around human identity; and around the value judgments of daseins.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Faust » Fri May 20, 2011 2:12 am

Political narrative? I don't think this guy can spell "narrative".

"...the arabians would have invaded USA..."

Really?

This is a "political narrative"?

This exemplifies the limitations of philosophical language?

The arabians would have invaded the USA?
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Hate Speech » Fri May 20, 2011 2:30 am

Some people need to brush up on their Wittgenstein.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Faust » Fri May 20, 2011 3:08 am

Iam - maybe I'm misreading you. Do you mean to say that if I say:

"Usama satan. me hate satan. Satan dead. me glad."

that this is my "political narrative", born of my own existential dasein, and that you're worried that it can't be "reconciled" with, say, the US government's official statements about bin Laden's death?

Are you really worried about this?

Because you're right - there's not much that philosophy can do about this sort of thing.

Sadly.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Sun May 22, 2011 11:54 pm

Faust wrote:Political narrative? I don't think this guy can spell "narrative".

"...the arabians would have invaded USA..."

Really?

This is a "political narrative"?

This exemplifies the limitations of philosophical language?

The arabians would have invaded the USA?


Again, not to get too technical, but: "Huh?!" :-k
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Mon May 23, 2011 12:03 am

Faust wrote:Iam - maybe I'm misreading you. Do you mean to say that if I say:

"Usama satan. me hate satan. Satan dead. me glad."

that this is my "political narrative", born of my own existential dasein, and that you're worried that it can't be "reconciled" with, say, the US government's official statements about bin Laden's death?

Are you really worried about this?

Because you're right - there's not much that philosophy can do about this sort of thing.

Sadly.


Osama was but one of many authoritarians who, in embracing a Kingdom of Ends, felt that, then and only then, is nihilism fully justified in order to secure it. For him there are absolutely no limitations whatsoever in the use of language. Why? Because whatever he said about the world was to be taken literally.

Or else.

And my only worry is about those who think like this. Now, you don't...do you? But others do...don't they? I'm here merely to disillusion them. And perhaps down the road to save lives if my philosophy is ever understood by those in power.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Faust » Mon May 23, 2011 1:14 am

Again, not to get too technical, but: "Huh?!


My point is that you can't really waste time with someone whose "argument" for killing OBL is "the arabians would have invaded USA"

What does that even mean?

And perhaps down the road to save lives if my philosophy is ever understood by those in power.


If those in power ever took you to be a serious player and also understood you, they'd just kill you.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Only_Humean » Mon May 23, 2011 9:03 am

iambiguous wrote:And my only worry is about those who think like this. Now, you don't...do you? But others do...don't they? I'm here merely to disillusion them. And perhaps down the road to save lives if my philosophy is ever understood by those in power.


Don't get me wrong, iam, you are very welcome on ILP. But the question that springs to mind is "why are you here to disillusion them?" They're not here. Or if they are, they're few and well-hidden. If your philosophy is ready to go out into the world, take it to the people who aren't on Philosophy forums, make them understand. As far as I know, there are no G8 leaders or radical mullahs browsing here.

This is a great place to test your arguments, meet people who think differently, come into contact with new ideas. It's not so effective for evangelising to authoritarians.

To get back to the OP, I still haven't been able to come up with an example whereby language is fundamentally inadequate to resolving a dispute between two people who want to co-operate and find a best solution.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Mon May 23, 2011 8:00 pm

Only_Humean wrote:
iambiguous wrote:And my only worry is about those who think like this. Now, you don't...do you? But others do...don't they? I'm here merely to disillusion them. And perhaps down the road to save lives if my philosophy is ever understood by those in power.


Don't get me wrong, iam, you are very welcome on ILP. But the question that springs to mind is "why are you here to disillusion them?" They're not here. Or if they are, they're few and well-hidden.


Go into most philosophy venues and you will bump into realists and rationalists...essentialists and objecvtivists...epistemologists and abstractionists...religionists and dogmatists.

ILP is no exception.

I bring philosophy out into the world and I expose its profound limitations regarding what many construe to be the most important question of all: How ought I to live my life?

Well, I'm here to suggest that philosophy has just as many conflicting and contradictory answers as any other approach to the human condition.

Only_Humean wrote:If your philosophy is ready to go out into the world, take it to the people who aren't on Philosophy forums, make them understand. As far as I know, there are no G8 leaders or radical mullahs browsing here.


Oh, I did that for nearly 30 years. I was involved in radical politics in every capacity imaginable. From RCP and SWP to the New American Movement, DSOC and DSA I had been "fighting the powers that be" for a long long time. Even today I spend most of my time in political venues.

Unfortunately, I live with disabilities today that preclude my getting out and about. I live in a virtual world for all intents and purposes.

But I majored in philosophy at college and I always come back to.

Only_Humean wrote:This is a great place to test your arguments, meet people who think differently, come into contact with new ideas. It's not so effective for evangelising to authoritarians.


Perhaps we see authoritarians in different shapes and sizes.

Only_Humean wrote:To get back to the OP, I still haven't been able to come up with an example whereby language is fundamentally inadequate to resolving a dispute between two people who want to co-operate and find a best solution.


Yes, if two people are ready, willing and able to embrace moderation, negociation and compromise when their behaviors come into conflict, language is more than capable of fitting into the democratic process and the rule of law. As longs as the folks who use it are willing to acknowledge the fundamental reality of wealth and power in human transactions that make it into the headlines.
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