Notes on Sellars, Plastic Forms, and Language

February 23, 2015

So, I wanted to think about the continuation of norms and their plastic form: First, I suppose I’d like to note the distinction between truth and meaning — in that something may be meaningful in manifest terms, but not strictly true (such as the statement that “I am seeing that red thing over there”). This would be a coherent statement to make, but so far as precisely decomposing what it means in the matter of factual terms of the scientific image, we cannot yet, because we lack the requisite scientific psychology to give an accounting on a more complete framework of what the requisite causal effects entail. Yet, we do have a more complete picture of how such a statement could be potentially decomposed, given the advances of science in the past thirty years or so. So there must be some correlative asymmetry between manifest normative statements, and scientific statements, else, how could we track the relationship between the two? The molar concepts of the manifest, and their explication in scientific terms remains always in some manner incomplete, so they may not be defeasible in the same way, but if they were utterly without merit, given a coherentist welding of manifest to scientific, we could not use them coherently, except as a negative index of the scientific image. For instance, the concept of the aether, while not true, is still meaningful in some sense, but in relation to the other concepts of the scientific image, can not be positively integrated into that image.

To turn then, to the question of the plasticity of language (whether developed through the arbitrary sounds of speech, or written words) — it as a medium is also not strictly true of anything, and thus, the meaning of the signs are not defeasible as a matter of factual object — it is only through the coherence of the concepts represented by the signs in relation to one another that it is capable of having meaning. If we attempted to deconstruct the plastic forms of the signs of language in purely material-causal language, we would only learn that this text I am writing is the result of the projection of electricity through a liquid crystal display. It requires an intelligence with the requisite capacities to make meaning of them in some normative sense.

If art too acts as a plastic repository of concepts — for we, could say that those who produce it do so with some normative conception of the constraints and potential of the material they work with, and its iconic and symbolic norms, and even its placement within some-kind of meta-framework — then, this conception is inscribed on the material as a result of how it is handled. It becomes a plastic sign of the intent of the intelligence which produced it. And when it is apprehended by someone, it is apprehended as a form of language, for, as we have argued with Sellars, all perception comes freighted with conception, but this must be doubly so with art, for it is something that is conceived with the express purpose of causing further reflection upon its creation, in whatever form that takes.

That it is only manifestly apprehensible is true, yes, but if we have a critical tradition which integrates the scientific image, than it seems it would change how we receive the manifest norms which may be implicit in the reading of the art object, and thus, could judge them according to that coherent picture, in a way that a tradition which is blind or resistant to that image of the world could not. Artworks then — let us say about the fundamental truth of phenomenal experience (such as minimalists works) — become decomposable in light of their aims. Historically, while this debate raged, I don’t see this as problem, it is (as Reza has noted about much of the postmodern dialectic) an avenue that needed to be investigated, but once we have upgraded our commitments, and accepted the new framework, to still be making this claim in regards to what the object is doing should be regarded as a fundamental misconception on the part of the artist and/or whomever is apprehending it. This is not to say that this idea could not be referenced by art, but it must be handled with some critical felicity (See my point about Aether, above).

I am of course, disregarding a whole complex of ideas about the abductive potential of art that I think should be important to this conversation, and how that complicates this whole story between artist>material