Friday, July 7, 2017

Winch on understanding other people

This paper needs quite a bit of work, but for anyone interested here is an only very slightly (so far) revised version of the paper I presented at the conference on Peter Winch last weekend in London.


  1. Quick comment as I am reading this: If I can shed some light on aesthetic sense, I'm not sure art historians are such a good example. At least, their general appreciation misses specifically what the artists themselves experience.

    I am also an artist, and from my own history I can see that I had to navigate from one idea to the next, sometimes building on ideas and sometimes moving away from them. The curious thing about being an artist is that when you look back at things you've done, sometimes you don't even remember what captivated you then. It is almost as if in order to see what you see now, you CANNOT at the same time have a feel for these other values.

    I would qualify it in that sometimes we *are* schizophrenic, can switch between different points of view, but that at other times we are simply incapable of standing again in the shoes we left behind. As if we only get to see these new things in the absence of our former values. In other words, it is sometimes *essential* that we DO NOT understand what we knew before. We are as foreign to our former selves as vegetarians are to meat eaters and atheists are to bible thumpers.

    Not sure if that helps your discussion, but I think it suggests that art historians do not have as clear an appreciation of artistic values as is often assumed. Whatever they *feel*, they do not feel the effects of schizophrenia and dislocation that the artists themselves necessarily experience.....

    1. that only seems relevant if we are interested in the experience of artists as opposed to the experience of art...

    2. Isn't that the point? You are saying (as in fact am I) it is one thing to understand the experience of artists and *another* to understand the experience of art historians? In other words, the art historian DOES NOT understand the experience of artists? It is a DIFFERENT understanding? Isn't this precisely the point I was making? It "only seems relevant if we are interested...", when artists are on one page and art historians on another?

      Isn't it simply a pretense that the 'objective' view from art history necessarily understands what artists do? But (almost inevitably) instead more likely *entirely* misses the point of the art itself? Because the *point* was the furthest thing from something 'objective'?

      Of course we are tempted to think looking at things 'from above' gives us certain advantages, but isn't this PRECISELY what Wittgenstein was warning us against? That we can be TOO obsessed with with the view from eternity? Isn't this specifically why he was unstinting in his efforts to get us to SEE what people were doing up close?

      I took Duncan's paper to be an attempt to show why the view from 'outside' had issues matching up with the perspective from 'inside' (If I am wrong, that too is instructive). I was simply making the case that the art historian was often like a poor anthropologist imagining that 'magic' was an attempt at 'science'.

      If the view from inside is as complicated as I am describing for artists, isn't it more than a bit preposterous making claims that there is any one *definitive* understanding? Or, that any attempt which leaves out what the people *themselves* understand themselves to be doing has at least one serious ground on which it fails? (Maybe this conversation being a case in point?)

      Consider this: We so often start from the position that what makes sense to us makes sense to others, that if it doesn't, it should. But what kind of presumption is that? Doesn't it make more sense to start from the position that what makes sense to me *does*not* make sense to others? That if by some miracle it does, that *these* are 'special' circumstances? What threading of the needle has to go right to escape the shoals of misunderstanding and navigate toward a sense of agreement?

      If I have a sense of what Duncan's essay is about I would say that it is one thing to focus on what obtains in understanding, but something different (and also important) to focus on what was necessarily avoided to make it happen. We have a survivorship bias towards understanding, in other words. We take our own understanding as the model of how others are deemed to make sense of things. And from the outside it simply makes the most sense *to*us* that things seem objective. Its the mistake bad anthropologists make, most art historians, and far too many philosophers, I'm afraid.....

      Did any of that make sense?

    3. The curious thing about being an artist is that when you look back at things you've done, sometimes you don't even remember what captivated you then. It is almost as if in order to see what you see now, you CANNOT at the same time have a feel for these other values.

      This strikes me as being a very good point. I wouldn't want to say that an artist cannot do art history, but I'm sure many art historians have a different feel for art than artists do.

    4. ... I dealt with this issue in my first book, p90 and 92. I saw art itself as being a craft looking at a craft. And so in jurisprudence, you have really excellent judges for their time (e.g., Holmes), and you have the appreciators of this handiwork (legal philosophers) who curate and critique it. This is different from other kinds of connoisseurship, as where a mother learns what her child wants but reading the face. That is aesthetics, too. It's just not being appreciated and taught by a field of experts who also share (have learned to see) this same aspect.

      And so yes, the appreciators of art and the artist share a connected vantagepoint -- that is what connects them -- but creating specimens and and appreciating them are technically separate arts. LIke I say, art is a craft looking at a craft.

      (Sorry, said it better in the book. ) uh, i hope.

    5. Thanks, Sean. I'll have to re-read those pages

  2. Rupert Read: "Seeding a civilisation to succeed this one"