File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1998/bhaskar.9802, message 7

Subject: Re: BHA: causal criteria of meaning
Date: Sat, 7 Feb 1998 09:52:56 +0200

Hi Howard--

Yes, as you suggest, final causes certainly relate to intentionality.  Which
supports my claim that meanings can be final causes.

>    Tobin, how do you deal with the contradiction between your
>assertion that meaning can be an efficient cause with RB's
>statement at RTS, ch 3, s4 (posted a few days ago), p197:  "It is
>methodologically incorrect to search for an efficient cause of
>society . . . ."  Meaning, I assume we agree, is a social form.  It
>is a piece of "society."  The meaning of a red light doesn't bring
>hunks of metal weighing several thousand pounds to a stop.  That
>would be some heavy duty telekinesis.  An agent, as a causal power,
>interprets the signal and acts to transform the world.

You seem to have inadvertently assumed that social forms have all the same
characteristics as society itself, which probably entails the converse, that
society is like any part of it.  That way lies treating society as if it
were an agent, and collapsing the society/agent distinction that RB
insistently (and rightly) defends.  Society is a sui generis outcome and
condition of agents' activities.  In particular, society doesn't have a
"meaning," it can't have an intention, and (as the Talking Heads say) it
doesn't even know what a joke is.  Yet meanings, intentions, and jokes are
all social entities.  (As are agents, of course, but *they* aren't the same
thing either.)  One *can* say that "society made me stop at this red light,"
but it's an exaggeration, since "society" is only one among several causal
forces at play.  But the driver pressed the brakes.  Insofar as the driver
acted in response to a traffic light, I think it's fair to call the light an
efficient cause of the driver's act (and my prevous post, though elliptic,
said no different).  Basically, if "reasons are causes," then they have to
be efficient causes (at the least; my suggestion that they are/can be all
four types still seems warranted).

>Also, social relations are intrinsically meaningful.  But what is
>the relation of meaning to the intrinsic structure of social
>relations?  Take the distribution of agents of production that
>gives rise to exchange.  This depends on a material isolation and
>a material specialization of production.  These together provoke
>necessarily exchange.  Does the structure of the underlying
>relationship depend on meaning?  So meaning would not there be a
>formal cause?  But probably exchange itself does depend on meaning.
>Does the intrinsic structure of marriage?  I don't think these are
>trivial questions.  They go to the heart of CR as a critical
>naturalism absorbing the lessons of verstehen without being trapped
>by those limits in social theory.

Probably a chunk of this depends on how one defines meaning and determines
its presence, but basically, since one of agents' basic capabilities is to
not only to monitor their actions, but to "monitor their monitoring," that
is, interpret and narrativize the purpose and course of their activities
(see PON2: 35, 81-82).  In the case of employment, for the employee the job
means the ability to eat, pay rent, etc.  But I don't think we need to
assume intentionality as being part of *all* aspects of social relations,
and your reference to "distribution" suggests an example: nobody "intended"
the post-WW2 baby boom, they just decided (as individuals) to have babies.
Nevertheless the baby boom is (now) a feature of U.S. social relations.
Intentions were involved in this outcome, yet the outcome was unintended.
My point is that we need to be careful how and to what aspect we attribute
meaning(s) to social relations and social structures.  In this example,
meanings (intentions) were arguably efficient causes of many people making
babies; there are formal causes involved in forming those intentions (e.g.,
grammar), but off hand, I don't see a formal *cause* in the outcome itself.

>Meanings as social forms are reproduced or transformed.  In that
>respect they can function as "material" cause of social
>transformation.  Beyond that, except perhaps for use in literary
>forms, I'm not sure I see meaning as any other type of cause.

But this is to say that meanings are basically *passive*.  If that were
true, they couldn't cause agents to act, and reasons could not be causes.
Obviously they are not causal in the same way that people are, but nothing
in CR stipulates that all causal forces act like humans do--I think that
would be something like animism.

Tobin Nellhaus *or*
"Faith requires us to be materialists without flinching": C.S. Peirce

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