Rödl’s Key Ideas

Rödl’s Conceptual Tool-kit:

Form of Reference: A form of reference is a manner of thinking of an object, or how one grabs hold of something in thought. One may think of reference as denotation or designation; thus referring is a means of picking something out from a manifold of other things. The kind of thing to which one refers will be reflected in the way in which one predicates it, that is, determines its properties in thought. Rodl follows Gareth Evans in holding that forms of reference can be discerned by their corresponding forms of predication. “As aspects of thinking a predicative thought, referring to an object and predicating a concept of it bear a unity, which suggests that formal distinctions in one are linked to formal distinctions in the other.” (Rodl, Self-Consciousness, pg. vii) According to Rodl, the notion of reference would be empty unless it were deployed in tandem with the notion of something, an object, which was referred to, something which was real or actual. Thus, the forms of reference and their corresponding forms of predication are forms of knowledge or ways of knowing “how things stand with the object” (pg. vii). Another way to put this is to say that the kind of concept used to describe an object will reflect both the form of the object in question, and the way in which we know it. A form of reference tells us the nature of the relationship that obtains between a thinker of a thought and the object thought about. Examples of reference types and the epistemic relationships they code for include demonstratives (this, here, now, etc.,) which relate a thinker and an object perceptually; names (Kurt Godel, Kurt Cobain), and rigid designators (the present king of France, the author of ‘Leviathan’) which relate the thinker to its object via an order of analytic definition, identity-dependence or deductive inference.

Self-Consciousness: For Rodl, self-consciousness is not an object per se but a form of knowing objects, that is to say, self-consciousness is a form of reference. And because reference provides a window onto how things stand with that which is being referred to, self-consciousness is also a form of knowledge. If thoughts comprise forms of reference and predication as means of gaining knowledge concerning that which a thought is about and towards which a thought is directed, then thinking which refers to itself and is its own object will have a unique form of referring to itself in this way. Self-consciousness is just that form of reference. It is self-reference, the way a thinker of a thought thinks of herself, and thus acquires knowledge of herself insofar as she is a thinking thing. Thus, self-consciousness is a means, the only means, of obtaining self-knowledge. Only in self-consciousness are subject and object joined in unity. The first-person pronoun ‘I’ is the proper notation of self-conscious reference in English. When we examine any kind of thought, comprising any form of referential and predicative unity, we discover something strange and noteworthy: all thoughts are self-conscious thoughts and all thinking is done in the first person. How do we discover this? By examining the logical dependence of other forms of reference on the predicative unity of first-person thought. We can assess the logical dependence of one concept on another by showing that the one must be deployed whenever we use the other but that this dependence relation is not reciprocal. First-person thoughts, we will notice, can be employed intelligibly without recourse to demonstratives or designation by deductive inference. Rodl uses the example of Oedipus. When Oedipus says “I hereby banish the murderer of Laius” he knows that he is the person who is doing the banishing without needing to know at the same time that he is the one who is being banished. In order to refer to himself successfully, he is not required logically to perceive himself speaking nor to infer that ‘the man who is speaking’ is identical to ‘the man who is thinking “Laius must be banished”‘. These will be further judgments, whose validity, as the tale tells us, have no bearing on Oedipus’ ability to gain complete self-knowledge of himself even if he does not in this way have complete knowledge about himself. Self-conscious reference always hits its target. The relationship it describes between subject and object is one of identity, or being. This means that when I think a first-person thought, my knowledge is its own object, and there is no mediation between thinking and knowing. To understand how this form of reference works, it is necessary to analyze those concepts which figure prominently in self-conscious or first-personal thoughts, thoughts which cannot be formulated by demonstrative or inferential reference. Such concepts turn out to be action and belief concepts. This reveals self-consciousness to be not only a logically primary form of reference but also the nexus of theoretical and practical reasoning, that is, rational thought in general.

Action: Action predication brings a subject under a movement form in a tripolar unity of aspect. Action concepts, like their theoretical counterparts, beliefs, bring out the logical priority of first-person thoughts. An action cannot be directly perceived through sensory intuition but can only be known spontaneously in thought. This is because sense perception only applies to a bipolar predicative unity of a past and present state of a material substance. Actions, on the other hand, apply a tripolar predicative unity. Thus, the logical form activated by judgments regarding the senses is insufficient for judging actions. Following G.E.M. Anscombe, Rödl discovers an interesting fact about the causality of actions. Whenever one engages in practical reasoning – discerning what is best or most appropriate to do – a reasoner gives an identical answer to the one she would give if she were to explain what she would be doing if similar circumstances prevailed. When one reasons what one should do, one reasons what one would do. And the relationship can be reversed: if I look for a reason that explains to myself or to another what I am doing, I simultaneously look for a reason to explain what one should be doing. The cause of an action is the reason represented in one’s mind answering the question ‘what to do?’ In other words, an action is the conclusion to a practical syllogism. But the premise of a syllogism must be of the same logical form as the conclusion. The logical form of an action is the predicative unity of tripolar aspect applied to a substance concept which persists through time. Thus, the cause of the action must be of equal or greater logical scope. The premise and the conclusion must be of the same logical order and represented as such. Thus the cited cause, the reason for doing something, must itself be an action concept (“I am reading because I am studying”) or it must be a time-general concept that explains an action as conforming to a practical law or what Rödl calls a “practical life-form” (“I am reading because I, a student, study”.) A desire or habit can not satisfy the syllogism because they do not contain the adequate logical temporality to confer causality upon the action. “Because I feel like doing X” is never an answer to the question “why do X?” or “what to do?” because a feeling or a desire is a state and a state only predicates of a bipolar tense and thus is incapable of explaining an action whose predicative structure is tripolar. Instead, citing a desire as a reason for doing X is really just a cagey way of representing X as a manifestation of the general law ‘to do whatever one pleases in the moment’. The point to realize is that a practical reason is always traceable to a norm or law which is assented to whenever action occurs. And the only form of reference that can represent the requisite temporality is the first-person.

Belief: Like actions, beliefs are a form of judgment that are only available to the first-person. Whenever I assert something I represent it as true. How so? Because truth is not a property or a predicate that one adds to a proposition but rather in making a proposition I bring it under the proper order of reason and represent it as manifesting that order. When I ask myself what to believe I find myself ascertaining what it is that I believe. Thus, a belief like action is a normative concept. This is important because Rödl is offering a picture of belief that is grounded neither in sensation nor in coherence with other beliefs. The first alternative succumbs to the Myth of the Given while the second postpones the acquisition of knowledge indefinitely. If the justificatory belief ‘p because p’ cannot produce knowledge then ‘p because q because r because s’ will produce nothing else but more non-knowledge. Inference tells us how knowledge content can be connected to other knowledge content but it is silent on the production of knowledge itself. Foundational knowledge for Rödl is necessarily spontaneous knowledge or self-producing knowledge. Does such a spontaneous power exist? When we examine the possibility that such a power does not exist we run into a paradox: the assertion that such knowledge is impossible follows the logical form of spontaneous knowledge. Any assertion is presented as conforming to a normative order, as being true or false, correct or incorrect; but the assertion itself is not a two step process. I do not first form a belief and then present it to myself or others to be evaluated. The assertion and the evaluation are one united act. Thus, it is the case that thinking is inherently not only intentional but also normative.

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