Re: [OPE-L] marx's conception of labour

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Mon Nov 27 2006 - 11:07:36 EST

Hi Ian,

This is a very interesting post and I cannot do it justice.  I must hurry an
answer.  Perhaps I can come back to it.   To begin, let me insist again, I
am open on all of this.

But . . . . I can agree with everything you say about reference and repeat
my question now by saying there are two ways we have to think about
reference.  We can think of reference in terms of following rules or in
terms of interpreting meaning.  It is not clear to me that things without
consciousness interpret meaning.  John Searles for example made what he
called a Chinese room argument.  Assume a person that does not understand
Chinese.  You put her in a room.  In the room are Chinese characters and a
rule book in a language she does understand.  Chinese characters come under
the door and she looks in the rule book and does what she's supposed to and
passes the results out under the door. The door is locked.  In fact the
characters ask questions and the actions she performs in response to the
characters provide answers.  From outside the room it looks as if a dialogue
is going on.  But in fact the person in the room understands nothing.

Suppose instead the questions came in in the language the person does
understand.  Then she would understand the questions and her answers would
reflect that understanding.

That is, nothing in your argument suggests anything more than rule
following.  Rule following can be as complicated as you like and this can go
forward without meaning.  Bhaskar gives the example of polishing an icon
without understanding the meaning of what one is doing.  The robot can be
exquisitely programmed without understanding.  In other words, following a
syntax does not mean we have a semantics of reference.

I quite agree with your point about the reproduction of a social relation
like value.  You capture an important point powerfully by saying the causal
processes are implemented by human subjectivity but are not reducible to it:

>For example,
> prices refer to labour-time due to the causal processes instantiated
> by the law of value, which happens to be partially implemented via
> human subjectivity but is not reducible to it.

I want to insist, though, that we can interpret and understand the processes
as they unfold, and what we do with our interpretation does not reduce to
rule following.  For example, the operation of value's causal processes
depends on a certain success in prohibiting theft.  Criminal penalties
ensure that human subjectivities implement the causal processes of value in
the right sort of way.  Suppose someone violates one of those rules without
understanding what they are doing.  They do what looks like (say, to somone
on the other side of a door) stealing.  But if they don't understand, you
don't punish in the same way or not at all.  You punish a dog.  What sense
does it make to punish a thermostat?


----- Original Message -----
From: "Ian Wright" <wrighti@ACM.ORG>
Sent: Friday, November 24, 2006 2:34 PM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] marx's conception of labour

> Hi Howard
> Sorry for delayed reply, have been away.
> > Later you refer to absenting an absence, and I don't have any problem
> > that.  But the key idea is reference.  I don't think the thermostat
> > "refers."  Reference takes an entity to interpret.   An interpreter is
> > essential to sign making.  And interpretation takes consciousness or
> > proto-consciousness.  What the thermostat gives us is a thing in
> My use of the example of the thermostat is intended to attack the idea
> that the route to understanding semantics and reference is primarily
> via conceptual analysis of human language and conciousness.  A better
> approach to understanding such issues is to build robots. One insight
> that immediately falls out of this approach is the idea that reference
> is ultimately grounded in causal processes between a reference and a
> referent. Human consciousness isn't immediately relevant to this
> issue. This is why Dennett, Sloman etc. employ the example of the
> thermostat: it is the simplest example of a causal process that
> sustains "intentional" descriptions. A thermostat has a sub-part that
> represents the ambient temperature of the room (it has a "belief-like"
> state), a sub-part that represents an absent temperature of the room
> (it has a "desire-like" or "goal-like" state), and causal connections
> that link the goal state to actions that change the state of the
> world. These causal connections instantiate "loop-closing" semantics.
> From a more Hegelian or Bhaskarian perspective, we can also use the
> example of the thermostat to understand how absence and negativity is
> real. The material world can be so constituted to represent things
> that do not exist, and entail processes that cause non-existent things
> to become existent. And this is not very mysterious because, for
> example, natural and artificial thermostats do this every day.
> Another example. Consider a machine-code program that increments the
> contents of a specified memory address. Let's assume it runs forever.
> Does it make sense to deny that a sub-state of the machine's memory
> refers to another sub-state of the machine's memory? My point is that
> reference is natural and ubiquitous.
> I think this is important from another perspecitve. For example,
> prices refer to labour-time due to the causal processes instantiated
> by the law of value, which happens to be partially implemented via
> human subjectivity but is not reducible to it. The semantics of money
> are in this sense objective and do not require human interpretation or
> consciousness. In fact, most of the time the human actors are not
> aware of these higher-level semantics. So I think social structures
> plus causal processes can instantiate semantic reference. More
> specifically, the law of value, considered at a certain level of
> abstraction, and in isolation from other mechanisms, is an equilibrium
> mechanism: it implicitly represents a goal-state in which social
> labour is allocated according to social need and prices are
> proportional to labour values. The transfers of money are
> labour-allocation control signals -- even if the human actors within
> the economic system are hypothetical robot zombies that lack the
> property "consciousness" -- because the semantics of the law of value
> are objective.
> > A ball rolling down a hill is a thing in process.  Dominos falling.
> > Mechanical things are processes.  We can interpret all such things as
> > oriented, but I think this takes interpretation and interpretation takes
> > consciousness.  I don't know anything about artificial intelligence,
> > and have no judgment on whether or not machine consciousness is
> "Consciousness" is what minds do, so it needs to be unpacked into
> claims about causal powers, for example the ability to self-reflect,
> to attend to one's own actions, to self-categorise one's own mental
> processes in terms of natural language, etc. etc.
> Clearly a ball rolling down a hill is a process that does not have
> these particular causal powers. But what about Sony's AIBO robot
> ( What cognitive powers does it
> have? For example, it knows where you are, and can decide to approach
> or avoid etc. It has a representation of you. It seems very natural to
> take the intentional stance to such an artifact: it has beliefs,
> desires etc. My guess is that the engineers who built this robot have
> a better understanding of the material implementation of semantics and
> reference than most pen-and-paper philosophers.
> > I do think that efforts to suggest that the activity of reference or
> > representation is peculiar to humans are wrong.  It is clear that the
> > capacity to refer exists in some at least crude form for many forms of
> > (all?) -- clyder's wonderful example of the spider makes this point very
> > clearly.  It follows that by saying intentionality is characteristic of
> > humans I do not mean to say that it is peculiar or exclusive to humans.
> > general we should be very suspicious of anything that looks to cut us
> > from the rest of the natural world.
> Yes agreed.
> Best wishes,
> -Ian.

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