Step 2

Eve and Adam are out of Garden now, due to their dispute with their Landlord.  Eve has had a new idea.  Carrying around the abstract picture of a tree (the stick drawing) is a real hassle.  It keeps getting dirty and wrinkled and has to be redone again and again.  But, all of sudden Eve realizes that it really doesn’t matter what is on the paper or even whether it is on paper at all.  Anything will do so long as she waves it at some trees and gets Adam to realize this thing she is waving means (let’s just call it a “symbol”): “anything that sufficiently resembles these things I am waving this symbol at is a tree”.  This is a slightly different—but even more dangerous—version of the principle of sufficient reason.

The symbol could be anything.  It could be some marks on paper that need not resemble a tree in any way at all, say marks that look like this: tree (or this: شجرة).  It could be sounds, say three sounds that put together sound like [tri] (or [shajara]).  It could be a dance move, a gesture, or a string with a knot in it.  The symbol, whatever it is, signifies trees.  The set of trees that were waved at or the sorts of things which some later group takes as typical of trees I will call “the exemplars.” The meaning (semantically speaking) of the symbol (say “tree”) is: anything that sufficiently resembles the exemplars for “tree” (the things Eve waved at or the sorts of things later people take as exemplary trees) is (counts as) a “tree”.

Now, Eve and Adam at this point have been inventing symbols and waving them at top speed.  They have lots and lots of symbols (let’s just call them “words”).  And the words have begun to take on various relationships to each other.  For example, anything that sufficiently resembles the exemplars for “tree” also sufficiently resembles the exemplars for “plant.”  Or: Anything that sufficiently resembles the exemplars for “tree” does not sufficiently resemble the exemplars for “animal” to be counted as an animal.  Eve, with Adam, has created a “system,”  a map of things in the world, an “ontology,” a worldview.  The two of them have “cut the world up” in a certain way.

Now here is a question:  If we had not started with Eve and Adam, but with Moon

Woman and Wolf Man, would they have cut up the world in the same way as Eve and Adam did?  Did intelligent creatures on a faraway planet create symbols that are anything like Eve’s and Adam’s?  Did they categorize their world and its things and events in anything like the way Eve and Adam did theirs?

The answers to these questions are all “no.”  There are many ways worlds can be cut up into bits and pieces and boundaries.  And THAT has also been an endless source of misery, hate, fear, and warfare for humans, as has the principle of sufficient reason.  And the two (cuts and reasons) are related.  When we argue over whether THIS THING is sufficiently like THAT THING to be the SAME THING we are arguing over boundaries (cuts, waves), ontologies, worldviews, ways of being in the world.  People have long suffered and died because of such arguments, especially when they started naming things much less solid than trees. Ah, we have come to Cain and Abel.  [to be continued …]



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March 29th, 2018

The Interpreter System (7)

Let’s return to our diagram of a human being (or, “an enviro-human system”).  I want now to look just at […]

March 27th, 2018

Joint Actor Systems (6)

The diagram I used in the last post is misleading in that it makes things look more contained and bounded […]

March 26th, 2018

A Human Being (5)

Last time, we raised the question: “What is ‘Jim”?” (substitute your own name for “Jim” here).  We think of ourselves […]

March 25th, 2018

Jim and Identities/Discourses (4)

When we make a choice, who is making the choice?  We have already seen that there are lots of things […]

March 10th, 2018

Alternates (3)

When we make a choice about ourselves often that choice is vastly undetermined by the information we have available.  Say […]

March 7th, 2018

Flourishing (2)

It makes little sense to see a human being (or any other animal) as an individual making free choices.  In […]

February 25th, 2018

Free Will (1)

Note that the question of free will simply does not arise for animals.  We think that, even for intelligent species, […]

October 29th, 2017

The Principle of Charity

October 8th, 2017

Character Education

Recently, the College of Education at Arizona State University—where I work— received funding from the Kern Family Foundation to make […]

June 15th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 6 (The End)

What killed people’s sense of mattering was the growth of very high levels of inequality.  What caused such high levels […]

June 14th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 5

Many of us tend to think of history as a march forward and upward. So, we tend to interpret the […]

June 14th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 4

The Catholic Church declined in three stages. The same was true for many other institutions.  “The Sixties” (roughly from 1963 […]

June 12th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 3

Today, we have among the highest levels of inequality we have ever had.  Drug addiction, environmental degradation, flows of climate […]

June 11th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 2

The British economist John Maynard Keynes and “Keynesian Economics” were foundational to the Bretton Woods Agreement and to the world […]

June 10th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 1

Though neo-liberalism is the “usual suspect” for the miseries of our institutions and society, it is not nearly as relevant […]

May 30th, 2017

Main Points from My New Book

Teaching, Learning, Literary in our High-Risk, High-Tech World: A Framework for Becoming Human (Teachers College Press, 2017). Ignorance We humans […]

April 17th, 2017

The Importance of Discourse Analysis:
Step 10 The End

Neither love nor liking is necessary for the sorts of critical discussions among different frameworks that might lead to shared […]

April 15th, 2016

The Importance of Discourse Analysis:
Step 9 Interpretation

Goodwill.  What could possibly encourage people in a fractured and inequitable world to have goodwill?  I, for one, do not […]

April 14th, 2016

The Importance of Discourse Analysis:
Step 8 An Example

I want now to give an example of two different frameworks that certainly appear incommensurable.  My purpose here is make […]

April 12th, 2016

The Importance of Discourse Analysis:
Step 7 Discussion

We are at a critical juncture now in our attempt to understand why frameworks can cause us humans such grief.  […]