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Self-Knowledge, Rationality and Interpretation

Caloia, Brett (2012) Self-Knowledge, Rationality and Interpretation. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh.

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    Abstract

    A central concern in the philosophy of mind for the past half-century has been interpretation: what mental states should I attribute to someone else? Quine argued that providing a translation of an alien language required seeing that language as logically structured. Davidson and Lewis took this idea further. They argued that the project of providing a translation was part of a larger project of providing an interpretation of the subject. To interpret was to attribute mental states that made the subject‟s behavior rational. Thus they replaced the injunction to see the subject‟s language as conforming to logical laws with a broader principle of charity. The principle of charity constrains the activity of interpretation by the untenable assumption that the subject is rational. I propose replacing charity‟s injunction to maximize rationality with a principle that directs an interpreter to minimize inexplicable behavior. The positive argument for this new principle emerges from two sources. The first is empirical: there is a great deal of evidence that human beings are simply not all that rational. Moreover, their irrationality is predictable and operates in fairly well understood ways. The second is first-personal: each of us is aware of a variety of irrational tendencies in our own thought. These sources can be drawn on to make sense of behavior without offering a rational reconstruction. I understand why my frustrated colleague yells at his computer, in part, because I know what it means to be frustrated. I argue that taking a first-personal account of the subject seriously will mean seeing that the subject might consciously make transitions in thought that are not beholden to a rational ideal. The interpreter may use his own first-personal experience as a model for understanding the subject. This expands the evidential base beyond the observational. Doing this makes it is possible to recognize something as thought without seeing it as held in place by the rational ideal of the network.


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    Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
    ETD Committee:
    ETD Committee TypeCommittee MemberEmailORCID
    Committee CoChairMachamer, Peter
    Committee CoChairThompson, M
    Committee MemberSchafer, K
    Committee MemberSetiya, K
    Committee MemberMachery, E
    Title: Self-Knowledge, Rationality and Interpretation
    Status: Published
    Abstract: A central concern in the philosophy of mind for the past half-century has been interpretation: what mental states should I attribute to someone else? Quine argued that providing a translation of an alien language required seeing that language as logically structured. Davidson and Lewis took this idea further. They argued that the project of providing a translation was part of a larger project of providing an interpretation of the subject. To interpret was to attribute mental states that made the subject‟s behavior rational. Thus they replaced the injunction to see the subject‟s language as conforming to logical laws with a broader principle of charity. The principle of charity constrains the activity of interpretation by the untenable assumption that the subject is rational. I propose replacing charity‟s injunction to maximize rationality with a principle that directs an interpreter to minimize inexplicable behavior. The positive argument for this new principle emerges from two sources. The first is empirical: there is a great deal of evidence that human beings are simply not all that rational. Moreover, their irrationality is predictable and operates in fairly well understood ways. The second is first-personal: each of us is aware of a variety of irrational tendencies in our own thought. These sources can be drawn on to make sense of behavior without offering a rational reconstruction. I understand why my frustrated colleague yells at his computer, in part, because I know what it means to be frustrated. I argue that taking a first-personal account of the subject seriously will mean seeing that the subject might consciously make transitions in thought that are not beholden to a rational ideal. The interpreter may use his own first-personal experience as a model for understanding the subject. This expands the evidential base beyond the observational. Doing this makes it is possible to recognize something as thought without seeing it as held in place by the rational ideal of the network.
    Date: 31 January 2012
    Date Type: Publication
    Defense Date: 22 August 2011
    Approval Date: 31 January 2012
    Submission Date: 30 November 2011
    Release Date: 31 January 2012
    Access Restriction: No restriction; The work is available for access worldwide immediately.
    Patent pending: No
    Number of Pages: 133
    Institution: University of Pittsburgh
    Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
    Refereed: Yes
    Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
    Uncontrolled Keywords: Radical Interpretation, Self-Knowledge, Rationality, Emotion
    Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Philosophy
    Date Deposited: 31 Jan 2012 10:47
    Last Modified: 16 Jul 2014 17:03

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