Monday, April 28, 2014

Chickening out

I haven't been blogging much lately, one reason for which is that I haven't had much that I wanted to blog about. I have a draft of a post written about one of our students who appears to have committed suicide but it's a sensitive subject and I'm reluctant to say anything controversial publicly about it (and there's no point in saying something uncontroversial about it). That's one kind of chickening out: you see a cost to behaving a certain way and so choose not to do it.

Another kind is much less conscious. I tried to eat a tarantula once and dropped it as soon as I felt its leg hairs on my lip. I didn't decide or choose to drop it, I just chickened out. I failed to go through with what I had begun. More through disgust than fear, I suppose, but the two are pretty close in a case like this. Fear of creepy crawlies is in large part fear of what disgusts us.

And there's something analogous in cases of intellectual chickening out. For instance, take Nietzsche's "There are no facts, only interpretations." It doesn't take much thought to see that he cannot have meant this as a statement of fact. But how often is it presented as if it were a fact, and how often is it quoted in the problematic sense that it surely requires? I don't know, I have to admit, but I strongly suspect that it is most often treated unthinkingly as a bit of dogma. The alternative (for those who might want to quote it) is too unfamiliar, too uncomfortable. The difficult thing to do in cases like this is to go all the way, to follow through on the initial idea. And it's not difficult because of a consciously perceived problem but because it goes against intellectual habits. But if you're going to eat the spider you have to eat it hairs and all.    

37 comments:

  1. Great!
    So what would you say: Is Nietzsche's a transitional remark? And if so, what are we left with when we shed the dogma? -- A piece of nonsense? Something else? What other way is of taking that claim which is not as a statement of fact?

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  2. with no further thought to the alternatives i would first call it a 'provocation'.

    since the reflex response to the provocation is to try to establish that there are some facts that aren't interpretations, i would look to the point of doing so in light of the fact that there are also interpretations. say, to what could possibly (imaginably) be done by securing the existence of facts, relative to the presumably more volatile/troublesome/squirrely existence of interpretations.

    but that's just me.

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  3. It does seem provocative, but I think that in some sense he believed it. I'm no expert on Nietzsche, but apparently this sentence occurs several times in his notebooks. So he seems to have liked it, and perhaps had no intended audience for it to provoke but himself.

    I like the idea that it's transitional, but I can't say what comes after the transition. It seems like a kind of joke, but not a trivial one. A paradox, perhaps (not that this label really helps). Something like unavoidable nonsense, as if the world has become squirrely and we have to adjust but can't quite see how to do so. That's the sense I remember getting from Nietzsche, anyway.

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  4. We can also take Nietzsche at his word and read "there are not facts, only interpretations" not as a fact but as an interpretation of experience. Taking him at his word is not an easy thing to do, but difficulty is not an argument against it. (And, of course, this will require us to admit--readily!--that this "taking him at his word" is also an interpretation.)

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  5. Duncan,

    Just to make sure I understand, and using an expression from FC, am I correct in saying that you think that part of the problem here is NOT that it is HARD to take N at his word, but that it is not clear what taking him at his word would even be in this case? For there seems to be no such thing in this case as "taking N at his word." It is hard to take a conniving politician at his word; there is no such thing as taking a parrot at his word. To take someone at his words requires that this person utters WORDS, meaningful (what else?) words; but the worry in this case is that there is no obvious way of taking what N says as meaningful words. Is that a way to formulate the difficulty you are pointing out?

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  6. Reshef,

    I was offering my version of what j. had called a provocation. I am glad to see that it provoked something interesting from you. I would make a different suggestion about the anxiety of missing facts: the worry isn't that there is no way of taking Nietzsche's words as meaningful. The worry is that his words will mean too much, that there will be too many meanings, so we use a variety of interpretive apparatuses to limit and eliminate possible meanings (first and foremost, we read it as a saying from a particular author, Friedrich Nietzsche, and we use the author-function Nietzsche to limit the things this sentence could mean).

    I am, I have to admit, as interested in why Duncan was eating a tarantula as I am in the target of the metaphor.

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    1. I was in Cambodia, where tarantulas are a popular snack. And when in Rome...

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  7. Yes, I think it's pretty clear that there is no obvious way of taking Nietzsche at his word here. There may be a non-obvious way to do so, but it's far from obvious what that would be. What he says is paradoxical.

    I think he probably is, at least partly, trying to express something about experience. Not so much his or my personal experience but about the (post-Kantian) intellectual environment in which he found himself. The (simply) given seems like a myth, as do plain facts. But then if there are only interpretations, what are these interpretations of? Facts seem to be both necessary and impossible. I think that this was felt as a real problem by certain thinkers in the 19th century, and that Nietzsche might be expressing this difficulty. But that doesn't mean that there is no difficulty in his expression. Indeed, as I say, it is paradoxical.

    Why? Because if we take it as a statement of fact then it is self-contradictory. If we take it as the expression of one man's interpretation then we have no reason to care about it. And what could it possibly be an interpretation of if not facts? We could say experience, but then is this some kind of hallucination or genuine experience? If the latter then we have smuggled the idea of facts back in. If it's hallucination then, once more, we have no reason to care. And if he makes no distinction between hallucination and experience then we are apparently dealing with a kind of madness. If Nietzsche takes himself to be presenting us with an interpretation only then he might as well have added "but that's just me" at the end. Taking his words this way is to take them as a joke. It's a pretty funny joke when j. makes it, but it's not plausible as a reading of Nietzsche. (And if it is plausible, or simply correct, then Nietzsche is not someone to take seriously.)

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  8. Thanks FC,

    Even with your interpretation, the problem still remains (if i understand Duncan properly): there is no clear application to the idea that we may "take N at his word." I don't see one, at any rate. And if so, it seems to be misleading to say that we should take N at his word. It is misleading, if or as long as we do not have N's word--as long as we have no working criterion for what taking him at his word would amount to, and what failing to would amount to. In other words, the instruction "take N at his words here!" makes as much sense as the instruction: "tell me what color number 3 is!" - Or perhaps you meant s/t different by "taking N at his word"? If so, please explain.

    I propose that Duncan was eating a tarantula, b/c he was out of chickens--i.e. b/c he chickened out. (I apologize for this.)

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  9. Duncan,

    I like what you say about facts seeming both necessary and impossible. Facts are just as paradoxical as their absence, and that, it seems to me, is a very nice way of taking Nietzsche at his word.

    I am very suspicious about your claim that we don't care about interpretations if there are no facts behind them. First and foremost, that position assumes that there are facts: we don't care about mere interpretations because they aren't facts, and facts are currency of the land. If, on the other hand, there are no facts--and this is what Nietzsche claims--then we have nothing but interpretations, and we are unlikely to stop caring about everything altogether. If there are no facts, then we will care about interpretations because they are the stuff of our experience.

    If we take it as a statement of fact, then it is self-contradictory. If we take it as an interpretation--and not one man's interpretation; as you point out, Nietzsche makes this interpretative claim in a context of post-Kantian epistemology and ontology--then we might care a great deal about it. In fact, we might care enough to add our own interpretations, to take part in the play of language, to play very seriously with Nietzsche's interpretation, his affirmation of the value and seriousness of the play of language (Derrida argues that this Nietzschean affirmation "determines the noncenter otherwise than as a loss of center"). Nietzsche claims that we have no facts, only interpretations, and he refuses to mourn for the facts he thinks we never lost (because we never had them).

    In other words, I propose that we experience the absence of chickens as something other than the loss of chickens--i.e. as something other than being out of chicken or chickening out.

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    1. Facts are just as paradoxical as their absence

      I don't think facts are paradoxical. That is, I don't think N is saying that they are (and nor am I). If there's a problem here it's more in the fact-interpretation dichotomy, it seems to me, than in the idea of facts. And rejecting talk of facts in favor of talk of interpretations is not rejecting that dichotomy but using it, relying on it as a way to decide how to talk.

      I am very suspicious about your claim that we don't care about interpretations if there are no facts behind them

      I don't think I made this claim, did I? I did say that if N was merely giving his interpretation then we have no reason to care about it. I stand by that. If someone tells me there are no facts (or no tarantulas or whatever) and gives me no reason to believe this beyond "The way I see it, ..." then this will not change my mind about whether there are facts or not. I also said that interpretations must be of something. This implies the existence of something objective. And that is exactly the kind of thing people mean, it seems to me, when they talk about facts. Facts and interpretations go together as a pair, which is why it makes no sense that one of the pair but not the other exists. Or at least so it seems to me. It's like saying there is no reality, only appearance. Such claims are inherently problematic, paradoxical.

      If, on the other hand, there are no facts [...] then we have nothing but interpretations

      I think this misses a lot, e.g.: a) the relation between facts and interpretations (you can't have the latter without the former), and b) the fact that if we have nothing but interpretations then it is a fact that we have nothing but interpretations.

      If we take it as an interpretation--and not one man's interpretation; as you point out, Nietzsche makes this interpretative claim in a context of post-Kantian epistemology and ontology--then we might care a great deal about it.

      I'm not sure how the context in which N makes his claim makes it anything more than one man's claim, but I agree he seems to take it to be more than one man's opinion. It would be much less interesting otherwise. But then there seems to be some reason, something more than individual whim, to care about his remark. This might not give us as much objectivity as we want, or the kind of objectivity that we want (depending on what we want, obviously), but it's a nudge in the direction of objectivity, at least.

      In fact,...

      Indeed.

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    2. "Facts seem to be both necessary and impossible."

      Isn't that a paradox?

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    3. It's a paradox that seems to arise if we reject facts as a myth and try to believe in interpretations only for roughly post-Kantian reasons. Because then facts seem impossible (we have rejected them as a myth) and yet necessary (as what our interpretations are interpretations of). The paradox doesn't arise otherwise.

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  10. i don't know why you guys are putting this in terms of interpretations of experience—more offline conversation, or something in the source texts?—but i would not personally rush to specify that it is experience that is being interpreted, or at least that if it is, there is some kind of inherent separation between 'your experience' and 'my experience'.

    after all, we can share interpretations, and i can induce you to share mine. and we can talk about how 'we interpret…' (similarly to 'we understand…', and i suppose relevantly related in some contexts to a kind of stipulation/declaration of how something is to be done, something is to be read, etc.: 'we interpret these verses to mean that jesus was…').

    i'm not sure why the immediate application of the remark has to be reflexive, as it were to 'the fact that there are facts', so that the remark appears as an interpretation itself. it could just as well be applied to the 'interpretation of facts as facts', in which case counting them with everything else under the heading of interpretations seems less problematically to -be- an interpretation since it could be taken to bear more on our collective (shared? grammatical?) distinction between facts and interpretations than on the prior existence of what we take to be facts. (they're still there: just less facty?)

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    1. sorry, missed FC's reply before mine showed up, i think maybe we are nudging in a similar direction?

      i am reminded of the place in austin where he comments that talk about 'facts' is quite close to the use of the verb 'to exist' and relatives.

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  11. FC,

    You say: “Facts are just as paradoxical as their absence, and that, it seems to me, is a very nice way of taking Nietzsche at his word.”

    If I may, I would like to consider your saying that an answer to my question what you meant by “taking N at his words.”

    Now, I say I would like to take this as an answer to my question, but I admit that I am not sure if this is really what it is. It superficially looks like it would be the answer, but I don’t understand it. I used to just have a problem with understanding N, now my problem is with understanding you. I simply do not understand what you say. I don’t understand what it means for facts to be paradoxical. I need much more help.

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    1. FC,

      the more i think about it, the less i have a sense i know what your claim is. perhaps you are just using the words "fact" and "interpretation" in some way that i don't understand. I'm not sure what application the word "fact" would have in the way you are using it. or whether it will have any. For instance, if both you and i read a text and i gave it some interpretation, and you gave it a different interpretation, would we be able to say--in your way of using the word--that it was a fact that we gave different interpretations? would we even be able to say that it was a fact that I gave an interpretation? that you gave one? - I'm simply very confused. I'm trying to find a way to have this conversation, and I keep feeling as if I don't even have the language in which to have it.

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    2. A fact is a thing that we all agree is a fact. While many people assume that we all agree because it is a fact, there is no guarantee that causality only works in one direction. It is possible--and it often seems to be the case--that a thing becomes a fact when we all agree on it.

      In any case, we can only confirm that something is a fact--and not a hallucination, a private sentiment, an honest mistake--by talking about it with other people. That is, facts are things we interpret as facts.

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    3. I think you've got an important insight here, but this is a case where I would urge you to follow though with it. What we all agree on is very important. But we don't all agree that facts are things we interpret as facts. So that isn't a fact. (For the record: this isn't exactly what I think, but it's pretty close.) The insight in the first sentence of this comment shows the last sentence in the comment to be false. Indeed I think it undermines itself, but it isn't totally wrong.

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    4. FC,

      just to clarify, do we all have to agree for s/t to be a fact? If i say to someone: "global warming is a fact, whether you agree it is or not." am i saying s/t wrong?

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    5. Global warming is a fact whether or not I agree with it, but it is also a fact because lots of other people (people who we agree have expertise about climate) agree that it is a fact.

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    6. so if no one agreed it was a fact, it would not be a fact?

      Are you saying that even though we don't have the power to individually decide what is true, we collectively have that power?

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  12. This section from Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols, "How the 'True Wold' Finally Became a Fable (The History of an Error)" , seems relevant:
    http://www.austincc.edu/adechene/Nietzsche%20true%20world.pdf

    I would highlight two things. First, in his 6th and final stage, the "apparent" world is abolished along with the "true" one:

    "The true world we have abolished--what has remained? The apparent one perhaps? But no! With the true world we have also abolished the apparent one.
    (Noon; moment of briefest shadow; end of the longest error; high point of humanity; INCIPIT ZARATHUSTRA)"

    Nietzsche does not simply swap which term is privileged in the binary; he rejects the binary itself. He is pushing us to think of the world apart from the categories of "true" and "apparent," categories which are related (though not identical) to fact and interpretation as well as being and becoming.

    On the other hand, and this is my second point, the successful rejection of the true/apparent binary comes after stages 4 and 5, and--because Nietzsche reads the history of philosophy as privileging real over apparent, fact over interpretation--he argues that the "real" world is a concept to be sounded out and actively rejected. If we reject the "apparent" world, then we strengthen both the "real" world and the real/apparent binary. If we reject the "real" world, we work towards the end of the binary itself.

    So, one way of reading Nietzsche's claim that "there are no facts, only interpretations" is as "corrective pressure": the history of philosophy has a problem with "facts," and that problem needs to be rooted out.

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    1. thanks FC for the link. Was it for me? was it a response to my questions? - I'm not sure I understand how this is meant to be a response to my questions, so perhaps it is not.

      If it is meant for me, can you please explain it more slowly? i am not at all sure i understand any of this. i'm completely lost. i am not even sure what to ask.

      What does it even mean to reject the real-apparent binary? why is he trying to prevent us from using the binary? is he really trying to do that? what for? how can you make, and what can possibly convince people to, stop using certain words? is he policing out thoughts? why?

      Also, I'm not asking about the distinction b/w apparent and real now. I'm asking about the distinction b/w fact and interpretation. you seem to be connecting them somehow, can you explain how they are connected?

      also, why is it that whereas when we lose the real, the real-apparent binary goes, and when we lose facts, the fact-interpretation binary does not go?

      you are speaking in riddles. or perhaps this is only what i am able to hear. I feel like the more i ask, the more confusing and vague and misty it becomes. perhaps i am lost to this conversation. i really need help.

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    2. I was the one who wrote: "Facts and interpretations go together as a pair, which is why it makes no sense [to say] that one of the pair but not the other exists. Or at least so it seems to me. It's like saying there is no reality, only appearance. Such claims are inherently problematic, paradoxical."

      I had this passage from N in mind, in fact. Not that I meant to change the subject, but I agree with N that if we abolish the "true" world then the "apparent" one goes with it. In a similar way, if we abolish "facts" then I think "interpretations" go with them.

      I don't want to abolish anything or get rid of any words though. My point is that there is a mistake, perhaps several, involved in thinking that we can or even should reject talk of facts and stick to talk of interpretations. As I said above: "rejecting talk of facts in favor of talk of interpretations is not rejecting that dichotomy but using it, relying on it as a way to decide how to talk."

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    3. Duncan,

      I agree with your implicit diagnosis that many of our problems here can be traced back to the detachment of fact from interpretation. This would involve, i think, s/t like detaching a word from its logical surrounding or scaffolding, and expecting it to mean the same.

      but it seems as though this is what N wants to do: He recognizes the (logical?) dependence when it comes to the pair 'real'-'apparent.' but he then seems to be failing to recognize that the same dependence exists b/w 'fact' and 'interpretation.'

      i would expect him to say: "The world of fact—we have abolished. What world has remained? The interpreted one perhaps? But no! With the world of fact we have abolished the interpreted world as well." - But he doesn't. Or does he?

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    4. Well, I think he should say that. And we could read it as implicit in what he says in Twilight of the Idols. The line about no facts only interpretations apparently occurs repeatedly in his notebooks in the 1880s, but it's a bit unfair to saddle him with things he wrote in his notes. The mature version of the thought, as I see it, comes in the passage about the true world becoming a myth (and especially its ending, where the apparent world is rejected with it). And he may have realized the need for this completion of the thought when he wrote the condensed, paradoxical version in his notes.

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    5. I wonder how FC thinks about the relation b/w the situation with the real-apparent pair, and the fact-interpretation pair. I am not sure, but he at least seems to think that whereas the apparent disappears when the truth goes, interpretations do not disappear when the facts go.

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  13. FC,

    You say that facts are things we interpret as facts. – I’m not sure I understand that, but would that not imply that there ARE facts after all? And would that not contradict the first part of N’s claim that there are no facts?

    One thing I don’t understand is what is being denied when it is denied that there are no facts. If in some sense of the word there are facts, then in what sense of the term there aren’t? What are you, or N, say does NOT exist?

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    1. Reshef,

      When someone says that a thing is a fact, I want to know how that fact was constructed, and I don't want to assume in advance that it was constructed out of other facts (or that it is turtles all the way down). I don't share John Locke's faith in clear and distinct ideas. Facts, like other types of human knowledge, are constructed.

      In response to Duncan, I am not really interested in censoring words and policing language (although I'm beginning to suspect that this is what you think I am interested in doing). I am interested in being suspicious of concepts, particularly concepts that present themselves as if they are immediate and thereby authoritative (as well as concepts that have been problematic in the history of philosophy and in the struggle for social justice). Concepts like "fact," "truth" and "literal" happen to be near the top of that list.

      Nietzsche claims--provocatively--that "there are no facts, only interpretations." We have very little chance of understanding what he means if we begin by saying "But of course, he could not mean that there are no facts." (This is essentially how Duncan escapes the provocative paradox that Duncan points out--if we assume that there really are facts, then the paradox disappears). We cannot assume the existence of facts when the existence of facts is the question at hand. That is a form of question begging.

      To understand Nietzsche's provocation, we should try to understand his claim as if it were made in good faith--taking him at his word. What could it mean to say that there are no facts, only interpretations (and NOT "only interpretations OF FACTS"--adding facts to the back end is another form of question begging). One thing it could mean, I am suggesting, is that we should abandon not the word fact but the concept of fact as an immediate and authoritative presence supported by clear and distinct ideas. (Of course, it could mean more than this.) Nietzsche is offering a critique of Western ontology; we cannot unreflectively use a central principle of that ontology as our starting point for understanding his critique.

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    2. Facts, like other types of human knowledge, are constructed.

      What do you take facts to be, or the word 'facts' to mean? You seem to be presenting a theory without argument, and I'm not saying you are wrong but I'd like to understand your thinking. Do you, for instance, take the idea of an unknown fact to be incoherent?

      I am not really interested in censoring words and policing language (although I'm beginning to suspect that this is what you think I am interested in doing)

      Yes, I certainly had got the impression that you wanted to combat conservatives by denying them the use of some of their favorite concepts and the words used to express them. I'm all for social justice too, but not intellectual censorship.

      I am interested in being suspicious of concepts

      I'm interested in investigating concepts, too, but talk of suspicion suggests a measure of hostility. Is this a difference between us? Or am I reading too much into your words?

      I think that concepts like fact, truth, and literal are extremely important in the struggle for social justice. Truthiness is the enemy of this struggle, it seems to me.

      Nietzsche claims--provocatively--that "there are no facts, only interpretations." We have very little chance of understanding what he means if we begin by saying "But of course, he could not mean that there are no facts." (This is essentially how Duncan escapes the provocative paradox

      I'm not sure how to respond to this. Of course this is not how I begin to respond to N's remark (because to do so would be every bit as stupid as you imply). I am capable of making stupid mistakes, but a little more charity might be nice. If this is nevertheless what I am essentially saying, I think the onus is on you to show that that's the case. One question I might ask, if I can be permitted to (try to) turn the tables, is whether you have thought through what it might mean for there to be no facts? Would it, for instance, be a fact that there were no facts? Presumably not. So what would it mean? That's not a rhetorical question presented by someone who simply assumes that there are facts. It's a real question presented by someone trying to make sense of an odd claim and failing to see what it could mean. One thing I think it could be is an undeveloped version of the passage about how the real/true world became a myth/fable. But then the ending of that passage is very important. And as far as I can see you want to avoid the significance of the ending. I don't know why, though, and the fact that you brought up this passage and commented on the ending suggests I am misunderstanding you.

      One thing it could mean, I am suggesting, is that we should abandon not the word fact but the concept of fact as an immediate and authoritative presence supported by clear and distinct ideas.

      I don't know what it means to hold (or whatever the relevant opposite of abandon is) the concept of fact as an immediate and authoritative presence supported by clear and distinct ideas. I certainly don't claim that it is any such thing. Do you mean that N is suggesting we should not take the concept of fact to be unproblematic? If so, he wouldn't get any argument from me. Nor from many other philosophers who have come after him.

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    3. Duncan,

      I am sorry if I am misunderstanding you. I know that it is frustrating to read a representation of your ideas in which you do not recognize yourself, and I apologize if I have presented your ideas as other than they are. Some of my confusion comes from an earlier point in our (now quite long) conversation about interpretation, experience and meaning.

      I asked you earlier "what would you call the process through which we come to understand an utterance?" and you offered "understanding" as the process through which we come to understand. I could not quite grasp what you meant by that, but, in that context, you seemed to be arguing that our understanding of language was automatic and immediate. We go from not understanding to understanding without any mediating process (no time, no interaction, etc.). This strikes me as very strange, especially for language (something explicitly human and more obviously related to interpretation and meaning than our experience of non-linguistic phenomena).

      While I have been skeptical of my own interpretation of your claim, you seem to be arguing that there are some type of linguistic facts that appear to us automatically accompanied by understanding. Since you seem to treat these linguistic facts as generally unproblematic, I have been trying to determine if you take that position towards facts more generally. (Again, I don't trust my interpretation of your claim, and I would love to see your distance from it).

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    4. It sounds as though I haven't been clear enough, which I'm sure is frustrating for you too.

      I asked you earlier "what would you call the process through which we come to understand an utterance?" and you offered "understanding" as the process through which we come to understand.

      That's not quite what I meant. I want to deny that there is always, must always be, a process through which we come to understand things. A process takes time, after all, and sometimes we understand immediately. Of course certain things have to be in place for this to happen, but once they are in place we sometimes understand without the need for any further process. Indeed, this is how speech usually goes (although, of course, it sometimes breaks down, misunderstandings occur, etc.). You had said: If you want to reserve the term "interpretation" for the process of understanding particularly ambiguous utterances (and I can see some reasons why this would be attractive), then we need another term for "the process of coming to understand an utterance." and I responded, "Why not call this 'understanding'?" I did not mean to imply that I accepted the existence of a process in this case. (To forestall another kind of objection: I don't mean that there are no physical processes in the brain, etc. involved.)

      you seemed to be arguing that our understanding of language was automatic and immediate. We go from not understanding to understanding without any mediating process (no time, no interaction, etc.)

      I mean that when people have a conversation or read some of the time (I would say most of the time) understanding occurs without the need for any interpretation. Of course it takes time for words to be uttered and of course in a conversation there is interaction. It is a form of interaction. But usually there is no further time or interaction needed for one person to understand another's words.

      you seem to be arguing that there are some type of linguistic facts that appear to us automatically accompanied by understanding

      Again I'm not sure what this means. I don't take myself to be putting forward any argument at all about linguistic facts. I don't think in such terms. I'm saying something like this: listen to two people having a normal (non-philosophical) conversation, or talking to each other while working on some project, perhaps at quite high speed. Do they constantly stop to ask or figure out what each other means, or do they for the most part get along quite smoothly? At least some of the time it's the latter. That's my claim. Is this only possible because of all kinds of acculturation, training, etc. that has gone on before? No doubt. But now do they understand each other effortlessly (at least some of the time)? Surely the answer is yes.

      That's my claim, anyway, as far as these things go.

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  14. FC,

    if i understand correctly, what you take N to be rejecting is only a certain conception of "fact." That is, he is not rejecting ALL possible conceptions of this idea. - Is that right?

    The conception you say he is rejecting, if i understand, is that of "an immediate and authoritative presence supported by clear and distinct ideas." - have i understood?

    you say it could mean more than this, but i take it that you think that it means at least this. But I am not sure I understand what even this part of the conception (that you are rejecting) is supposed to amount to.

    1) why is "immediate" part of this conception? - If i feel cold, and it doesn't seem to me immediate that global warming is a fact, does that mean it is not a fact (according to this conception of the fact)?

    2) why does it need to be "supported by clear and distinct ideas"? - Is it not a fact if i am not clear about it? Is Global warming not a fact if I don't understand exactly what it is?

    3) We are left with "authoritative." - Are you rejecting it b/c you think that the actual situation in the world (say, about global warming) should not be my authority for deciding what to believe in? are you saying that i (or we) get to decide what the truth is?

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    1. Reshef,

      Given the relationship between fact and interpretation in N's claim, I have been thinking of "fact" as "object of understanding that exists prior to and apart from interpretation." 1) If a fact exists prior to and apart from cognitive processing, then it is immediate (unmediated by interpretation). 2) One description of experience that seems to correspond to this immediacy is Locke's reliance on "clear and distinct ideas" (there are others, of course; Locke came to mind, and his brand of empiricism does rely on sense impressions that have the force of immediacy). 3) If something appears as an object of understanding unmediated by any process of interpretation and without the need to seek confirmation from others, then it would necessarily be authoritative. It would force its way into your mind without any hope of checking the reasons that support it (because reasons would be a type of mediation). In simpler terms, a fact would be a thing in the world that we can know without constructing our knowledge of it. This is, I think, both a very common use of the concept "fact," and, as I noted in the first sentence of this comment, it fits the context of Nietzsche's claim.

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    2. so now you gave two definitions for “fact” (the kind of conception you want to reject):
      1 an immediate and authoritative presence supported by clear and distinct ideas
      2) an object of understanding that exists prior to and apart from interpretation
      Is one of those definitions better, or more important for you? Anyway, I think I can see a kind of common interest here. but I still see it very vaguely.

      About the unmediatedness of facts (allow me to use this other term; I’ll be less confused this way), i have a question: Since (a) you imply that facts do not exist prior to and apart from cognitive processing, and since (b) people in the 15th century were presumably not in a position to in any way cognitively process the idea that Higgs particles exist, is it therefore an implication of your claim that (c) facts are time-relative, e.g. that it is not a fact that Higgs particles existed in the 15th century?

      You also say that facts—in the conception that you want to reject—“would be a thing in the world that we can know without constructing our knowledge of it.” - I don’t understand that that means. In particular, I’m not sure what you mean by “knowing without constructing our knowledge.” Do you mean by this that on this conception (that you want to reject) we can know facts but at the same time fail to understand how we know them? Or do you mean that a fact (on this conception) would be something about which we can take ourselves to be in a position to say that it obtains, even without knowing what obtains? Or perhaps something else?

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