Theories of Knowledge and Theories of (Linguistic) Representation in Parallel Outline 3

0. In the previous posts in this series, conveniently listed in the one immediately preceding this one, I have spelled out parallel sets of defining theses of some fundamental theories of knowledge, on the one hand, and theories of, first, linguistic representation and then representation tout court, on the other. I have been spurred to do this because, having begun some initial investigation of the theory of literature, it has become clear to me that the field has piled additional mounds of obscurity in the treatment of those theories on the already formidable mountain of obscurity piled up by philosophers.

1. a. I have so far spelled out two sets of parallel theses. In the first, in “Theories of Knowledge and Theories of Linguistic Representation in Parallel Outline 1,” and then in “Theories of Knowledge … in Parallel Outline 1 Revisited Again,” I set out versions of the two defining theses of the most basic theories of knowledge, on the one hand, and of representation on the other. One of the two most basic theses in the theory of knowledge is that of epistemism, which I will for present purposes spell out as the thesis that:

There is an existent x and there is an existent y, such that x is a knowledge of y.

Making use of some techniques of elementary logic, and abbreviating the clause “there is an existent x” with “(Ex),” the clause “there is an existent y” with “(Ey),” and the clause “x is a knowledge of y” with “Kxy,” I abbreviated the whole statement as:

(Ex)(Ey)(Kxy)

(A note to the logically sensitive: I have had to express the quantifiers as I have because I do not know how to persuade WordPress to allow me to render them in the standard manner.)

Another of the two most basic theses in the theory of knowledge is the thesis that:

There is an existent x and there is an existent y, such that x is not a knowledge of y.

or:

(Ex)(Ey)~(Kxy)

One can then proceed systematically, using nothing but the three clauses given, their negations,  and some rules of logical equivalence, to spell out all the logically possible variations at hand. One such variation is the thesis of skepticism, that:

~(Ex)(Ey)(Kxy)

which is logically equivalent to

(Ax)(Ay)~(Kxy)

i.e.,

For any existent x and for any existent y, x is not a knowledge of y.

1. b. Turning now to the theory of representation, all that that needs to be done is to substitute an “R” for the “K” in “Kxy” and a “representation of” for the “a knowledge 0f” in “is a knowledge of y” or “is not a knowledge of y.” One can then systematically spell out all the logically possible variations at hand, including the thesis parallel to epistemism, that:

There is an existent x and there is an existent y, such that x is a representation of y.

or:

(Ex)(Ey)(Rxy)

and the thesis parallel to skepticism, that:

For any existent x and for any existent y, x is not a representation of y.

or:

(Ax)(Ay)~(Rxy)

2. a. I then, in “Theories of Knowledge and Theories of (Linguistic) Representation in Parallel Outline 2,” added another clause, “Ixy” or “x is identical with y.” The simplest thesis in the theory of knowledge including that clause in its expression, one held by none other than Aristotle, is the thesis that:

There is an existent x and there is an existent y, such that x is a knowledge of y and x is identical with y.

or:

(Ex)(Ey)(Kxy & Ixy)

One can here too then proceed systematically, using nothing but the now four clauses given, negations, conjunctions, and equivalences, to spell out all the logically possible variations at hand.

To illustrate, one such variation is the thesis that:

(Ax)(Ey)(~Kxy & ~Ixy)

or:

For any existent x, there is an existent y, such that x is not a knowledge of y and x is not identical with y.

2. b. Turning again to the theory of representation, all that that needs to be done is to substitute an “R” for the “K” in “Kxy” and a “representation of” for the “a knowledge” in “is a knowledge of y” or “is not a knowledge of y.” One can then systematically spell out all the logically possible variations at hand, beginning with the thesis that:

There is an existent x and there is an existent y, such that x is a representation of y and x is identical with y.

or:

(Ex)(Ey)(Rxy & Ixy)

One can here too then proceed systematically, using nothing but the three clauses given, their negations and conjunctions, and equivalences, to spell out all the logically possible variations at hand. To illustrate, one such variation is the thesis that:

(Ax)(Ey)(~Rxy & ~Ixy)

or:

For any existent x, there is an existent y, such that x is not a representation of y and x is not identical with y.

3. a. In the present post, I would like to offer a precise statement of a theory of knowledge which can be discerned in two passages in Idena Rosmarin’s article in Heart of Darkness. A Case Study in Contemporary Criticism,* “What is Reader-Response Criticism?” In one passage (p. 140), we read:

Reader-response critics take issue with their formalist predecessors. Stanley Fish, who in 1970 published a highly influential article entitled “Literature in the Reader: Affective Stylistics,” argues that any school of criticism that would see a work of literature as an object, that would claim to describe what it is and never what it does, is guilty of misconstruing what literature and reading really are. Literature exists when it is read, Fish suggests, and its force is an effective force.

Again (p. 142):

“The idea of such a procedure [i.e., that of describing “the reader’s way of dealing with the sudden twists and turns that characterize the dialectical text],” Fish has written, “is predicated on the idea of meaning as an event,” not as something “located (presumed to be imbedded) in the utterance” or “verbal object as a thing in itself.” By redefining meaning as an event, of course, the reader-response critic once again locates meaning in time: the reader’s time. A text exists and signifies while it is being read, and what it signifies or means will depend, to no small extent, on when it is read.

Assuming that an act of reading is an act of knowledge, perhaps no small assumption, I read the assertions that literature exists (only, I further assume) when it is read and that a text exists and signifies (only) while it is being read as a specific version of the more general thesis that the object of knowledge exists only in being known. That is, Fish has put forth a version of the compound thesis that there is a knowledge of some object and the object known is causally dependent upon the knowledge by which it is known. In the interest of precision, I will state that thesis as:

There is an existent x and there is an existent y such that x is a knowledge of y and x is ontologically prior to y.

I have inserted the “ontologically” into the “ontologically prior” in order to make it clear that the priority in question is not a temporal priority.

Maximally abbreviating, now, the statement just given, we have:

(Ex)(Ey)(Kxy & Pxy)

I will state the parallel thesis in the theory of representation as, of course:

There is an existent x and there is an existent y such that x is a representation of y and x is ontologically prior to y.

Maximally abbreviating this statement, we have:

(Ex)(Ey)(Rxy & Pxy)

3. b. The “Introduction to Theory and Criticism” of The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism** presents us with statements which are at least very suggestive of some additional variations on the above themes. In one passage (p. 7), we read:

In Republic … [Plato] has Socrates recommend that it [poetry] be banished from the ideal society, except perhaps for poetry that praises the gods and avoids representing them in an unseemly fashion.

Plato takes this severe position in part because he is reacting against the views of earlier Sophists such as Gorgias and Thrasymachus, whom he represents as less concerned with truth than with persuasion. They saw language as not simply representing reality but in effect producing reality by shaping the beliefs of an audience.

Thus put, the passage has the Sophists advancing the thesis that the beliefs of an audience immediately produce reality, while linguistic representation produces it through the mediation of the audience’s beliefs.

Another passage (p. 19) takes us from then to now and reader-response theory:

Some reader-response theorists see meaning as a production dependent on preexisting social codes and protocols of interpretation. In this view, every interpretive community—for example, psychoanalytic critics—employs a particular set of interpretive strategies for (re)writing (that is, producing) texts and for constituting their properties, intentions, and meanings. Such preestablished strategies determine the shape of meanings, which is neither prior to nor independent of the act of interpretation.

Clearly, let me remark somewhat parenthetically, if the reading of a text is the producing of the text, it is also the writing of the text, not just its rewriting.

3. c. That which I have written above (and much of what is written below) has for the most part sat unchanged for two or so weeks, patiently awaiting further attention. But then this morning (January 21, 2014), just before returning to this post to give it that further attention, I opened my email messages and found among them, much to my delight, a review*** by Alan H. Goldman of a book by Richard Gaskin, Language, Truth, and Literature: A Defense of Literary Humanism (Oxford University Press, 2013). The second paragraph of the review tells us:

The main part of the book begins with some spooky idealist metaphysics, albeit linguistic idealism developed also in an earlier book. According to this position, propositions as the referents of sentences are the primary constituents of the world. The “world is a product of language. . . . essentially propositionally structured . . . essentially the referent of language.” (7) Objects and properties exist in the world only derivatively as theoretically posited elements in linguistically structured propositions. The “world is the transcendental creation of language.  . . . composed of entities which are in some sense meanings.” (13-14) The world is constituted by our linguistic practices: the “ordinary world of objects and properties is not external to language.” (292)

Descartes’ observation that there are no theories too extraordinary to lack some defenders is fort a propos.

4. Having presumably done enough to show that the statements and formulae found above (in Section 3. a.) represent in a more precise manner the defining theses of the theories of knowledge held by some of today’s theorists of literature, at least at one time or another, I will observe here too that one can proceed systematically, using nothing but the four clauses given, their negations and conjunctions, and some rules of logical equivalence, to spell out all the logically possible variations at hand. If we start with the thesis presented in Section 3. a. above and proceed in minimal steps, we will see in front of us:

1. (Ex)(Ey)(Kxy & Pxy)

2. (Ex)(Ey)(Kxy & ~Pxy)

3. (Ex)(Ey)(~Kxy & Pxy)

4. (Ex)(Ey)(~Kxy & ~Pxy)

5. (Ex)(Ey)~(Kxy & Pxy)

6. (Ex)(Ey)~(Kxy & ~Pxy)

7. (Ex)(Ey)~(~Kxy & Pxy)

8. (Ex)(Ey)~(~Kxy & ~Pxy)

….

We will eventually reach and then, if we continue, pass beyond the thesis:

(Ax)(Ay)(Kxy ® Pxy)

or:

For any existent x and for any existent y, if x is a knowledge of y, then x is ontologically prior to y.

to which classical idealism is committed.

You will have anticipated that I will next say: substitute as appropriate an “R” and an “is a representation of” for, respectively, the “K” and the “is a knowledge of” in the formulations just given to express the parallel theses in the theory of representation.

5. Now there are yet additional options available in the theory of knowledge. Some among them are expressed by reversing the order of ontological priority, bringing in the clause, “y is ontologically prior to x,” as in:

There is an existent x and there is an existent y such that x is a knowledge of y and y is ontologically prior to x.

Maximally abbreviating this statement, we have:

(Ex)(Ey)(Kxy & Pyx)

I will observe once again that one can proceed systematically, using nothing but the four clauses at hand, their negations and conjunctions, and some rules of logical equivalence, to spell out all the logically possible variations at hand. I’ll leave it to the reader to do as much or as little as he or she desires. If done a sufficient number of times, however, one will arrive at a statement of the thesis in the theory of knowledge generally known as realism, that:

For any existent x and for any existent y, if x is a knowledge of y then y is ontologically prior to x.

Maximally abbreviated:

(Ax)(Ay)(Kxy ® Pyx)

Thus too for the theory of representation.

* Ross C. Murfin, editor. Heart of Darkness. A Case Study in Contemporary Criticism (2nd edition; New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989). There is a third (2010) and considerably expanded edition available; its purchase awaits another month’s budget.

** Vincent B. Leitch, general editor, The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (Second edition; New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010).

*** Alan H. Goldman, “Review of Richard Gaskin, Language, Truth, and Literature: A Defense of Literary Humanism (Oxford University Press, 2013),” Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, 2014.01.14. http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/45557-language-truth-and-literature-a-defense-of-literary-humanism/

About Rchard E. Hennessey

See above, "About the Author/Editor."
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