Notes for Today's Class
Objectivity: Naturalism and Rule-Following
A takeaway from our last class. Self-constitution is a principle about constitution, about the nature or the what-is of an entity (mental state, content, subject). It is not a causal claim: self-causation or self-production is an immediately problematic notion.
Production is a species of causation and causation is a relation between distinct entities. This is either because it is some sort of making-be, a dynamic relation (production would thus be the same with causation) or because it is some sort of dependence (without any ‘animating’ dimension) or because it is logically synthetic. This seems incompatible with the immediate reflexivity expressed by “self-“.
Individuation, by contrast, can be reflexive because it is question about nature (or constitution) and not about coming to exist. It is in this sense that we have to think of self-constitution: the nature of something is individuated or constituted by its very existence. It is internally and not externally demarcated. It is only in this sense that we can talk of something making itself be what it is.
I will now vindicate the view that a conception of objectivity is necessary for any understanding of significant and contentful individual items as self-constituting ones, by construction, are (personal identities and actions are the examples). To establish this, I will take into consideration two versions of a conception of objectivity. One is strictly naturalistic. The other deals with issues of rules and meaning. By showing how the demand for objectivity arises from different sides but takes (to some extent) similar aspects, we can show how compelling it is and how any theoretical construct that, like self-constitution, cannot satisfy it is bound to be paradoxical: to debunk what it postulates.
(1) T. Burge, Origins of Objectivity, Oxford University Press, 2010
There are three reasons why Burge’s work is important for us. (a) It provides an interesting account of objectivity and of the demand for it. (b) It points, if only by implication, to something like the conflict between objectivity and self-constitution. (c) It does all this after a thoroughly naturalistic fashion.
(a) (i) Burge, 9-10: Representation as primitive mental, cognitive kind, with epistemic (veridicality) and semantic (reference, truth) properties. Realized primarily in perception. Constitutively associated to objectivity.
(ii) Burge, 46-54: Modes of objectivity (from stronger to weaker). For subject matters: Mind independence, Non-perspectival character, Reality or existence (Quine). For modes of representation: Truth as correspondence to independent matter of fact, Truth as such, Law-likeness (this is strong but restricted), Sound procedural norms, Impersonality, Intersubjectivity. Vertical and horizontal notions; the vertical ones are more primitive.
(iii) Burge, 298-301, 308-309, 379: Explanatory and theoretical centrality of representational states that can be successful or unsuccessful. This is a constitutive condition for representation: representation must be objective (in correctness or error); thus, for objectivity as such. Possibility of error in representation vs. information (natural meaning) or biological function. This latter is closer but not the same as error in representation. Two different normative conditions. Representational functions are not biological functions; representational error is not biological failure. Objectivity is non-dispensable and non-reducible.
(b) Burge, 13-4: The possibility of objective representation requires that the subject of such representation have the resources for representing and applying the conditions of objective representation. While this does not immediately amount to a condition of self-constitution (it is a position that may be ascribed to Hume, the arch-anti-self-constitutionalist!), it is not only consistent with but paradigmatically realized in claims of self-constitution, especially Kant’s.