T(r)ue Class

These posts are largely randomly generated depending on where the mind (this mind) happens to be going, but sometimes one runs directly into an issue that prompts a thought requiring expression. In this case it is a basement-level consideration, one that perhaps can help to show whether any kind of philosophical mindset is available to anyone aiming to apprehend it.

There is a form of error familiar in philosophy, one which is largely conceptual, and so although not a great indicator of any real-world confusion is at least a good indicator of when our use of language or conceptual categories may be leading us astray.

The famous example of this error, known as a ‘category error’ or ‘category mistake’ is given by this analogy. Suppose one is showing a tourist (presumably a tourist because one cannot expect foreigners to get things right, or, more charitably, just as someone likely to be unfamiliar) around a university. Upon showing them the halls of residence, the admin block, the lecture theatres and playing field etc. the tourist then asks ‘yes, yes, but where is the university?’. That an error has occurred is usually obvious. We all understand that there is no such thing that is the university over and above its constituent parts, their organisation, and their functions. So the question strikes us as odd. Or it should.

The example above was raised notably as an argument by analogy to show how crude dualistic notions on mind and body separation are mistaken. To say it is a mistake of logical categories to imagine that in addition to the structure (brain) and function (mental activity) we understand to constitute mind there is still yet another thing which is Mind, or a mental substance entirely different in nature to the physical. Which is fair enough, though we are dealing with a question of conceptual ordering and logic which is posterior (that is, both after and, in comparison, arse) to the actual make up or ontology of reality.

I have come across objections less cogent than whether an issue of logical or conceptual ordering can genuinely tell us about the nature of a real object or event. The best example being on the lines of if one cannot find an exact one-to-one mapping of the parts of a university to the parts of a mind then the argument fails. Which is unfair of me. This is a failure to understand what an analogy is, as a method of highlighting, explaining, pointing one in the direction of the actual argument or point to be made. This is not a failure of philosophical thinking as such, it is simply a failure.

Worse, philosophically speaking, is a reaction to a further example which was added to this argument by analogy, that of a sporting team. Again, one can talk about the various players, the equipment and so forth, but perhaps our dense tourist makes the same mistake, and asks about where the team spirit is. This is both an extension and an elucidation. It maintains the same issue of a category error, and yet derives much more from the function of the team, rather than the more obvious example of the organisation of a university campus. It also brings in an idea closer to the one being argued against in the dualistic conception of mind. People quite naturally feel there is something mysterious, something other, unusual, unique, about mind, especially in humans, that they do not as naturally assume about something also fairly nebulous such as team spirit. Far fewer want the ontological commitment of a separate entity which is team spirit.

The first part of the philosophically poor reaction was to contend this was not at all the same kind of argument; even that because a university is nothing like a cricket team it makes no sense as an argument. But again, this is unfair, because this has failed to even engage or reach any level of philosophical enquiry. The second part is of this reaction was to even suggest the argument has brought up the consideration that perhaps something such as team spirit does has a separate, over and above thing-like existence than a simple function of a team.

I do not make much of the category error consideration in debating why crude dualism (or any dualism, not sure why I qualify myself there) is false. There are many more and much clearer objections to that view. But if one cannot even grasp the place, intention and function of the points within an argument what hope is there for any clear understanding of any philosophical consideration?

I often come across the contention that philosophy is empty. I often decry swathes of it myself for being so. But it is an earned dismissal.


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