How do you know what you are talking about?

Famously, as part of his indeterminancy of translation thesis, W.V.O. Quine opined that there could be no surefire way of discerning what the words of someone else are precisely referring to since two or more mutually exclusive though internally consistent interpretations could be constructed for any utterance or ostentation. One man’s “Lo! A rabbit!” could be another man’s “Lo! An undetached rabbit-part!” or “Lo! There goes a time-slice a-rabbiting!” According to Quine, there could be no way of distinguishing assent to one of these sentences from assent to another and thus, no way of clarifying which of these was meant when one’s foreign interlocutor shouts “Gavagai!” pointing at what you take to be a rabbit, scampering through the bush.

Fair enough. But what about words whose referent about which there can be no ambiguity? “I” or “me” for example. How do I know that when I say to myself “I’m thirsty” that it is not an undetached human part that is being referred to or a me time-slice? How do I know that when I say “I” I mean “me”? And “me” here need not even be opposed to another person but to any other possible individuating concept coextensive spatiotemporally with the entity that I mean when I say “I”. Clearly, “I” is a natural kind if there ever was one. Consciousness, subjectivity is such as to have its form innately, that is as a given. Perhaps the butcher or anatomist looks upon the rabbit and sees a collection of undetached rabbit-parts. Perhaps the physicist sees a time-slice a-rabbiting. But the butcher and the physicist cannot see themselves this way. For only as a unity of consciousness can one begin to divide the objects of perception into parts and carve nature at its endless web of joints. That is to say, the structure of consciousness is foundational; all reasoning, both practical and theoretical, is done in terms of the mind’s innate structure, it’s unity that is a self-constituting unity. When I say “I” there is no gap between the sense and the reference.

Is this structure conceptual or non-conceptual? It is both. To feel hunger is non-conceptual. To know the feeling as hunger is conceptual. To say “I” is to represent the concept as a concept. But to say (or better, to conceive) anything at all is to produce the very dimension of the conceptual itself in the mode of the ‘non-conceptual’, that is to say, in the mode of the actual, the factual, the thinking that is the case and must be the case in order for anything else to be the case at all.


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