Sunday, February 12, 2006

Modes of Thought


Hume's fork (for the philosopher David Hume) says that
statements are divided up into two types:
  • Statements about ideas - these are analytic, necessary statements that are knowable a priori.
Hume's fork is incomplete because it addresses only statements about logic and facts. There are at least six other possible kinds of statement: intentional, instrumental, creative, incoherent, inconsequential, and exploratory:
  • An intentional statement says that "I" will cause something to happen. Such a statement is not about logic, nor is it about the world that is; it is about the world that will be after "I" take certain actions, either directly or through others.
  • To realize an intention, "I" may question, command, request, plead, or argue in an effort to get others to do what they must do to help me effect the intention. By contrast, a person who would be affected by the intention or involved in its realization may refuse to answer a question (or answer it wrongly) or issue a counter-command, -request, -plea, or -argument in an effort to thwart my intention or his participation in its realization. The truth or falsity of statements (pro or con) is secondary to their effect on the the realization of the intention. Some statements pro or con an intention may be "creative" (see next).
  • A creative statement is an intentional fiction. A novel, for example, is a collection of statements (some of which might be true in the knowable world) that, taken as a whole, depict a world that has not, does not, and will never exist. A political treatise (e.g., the Protocols of the Elders of Zion) may be a concoction of lies, falsehoods, and conjectures that is intended to persuade.
  • An incoherent statement is an unintentional fiction -- a statement about logic or the knowable world that is wrong because the person who makes the statement is ignorant or mentally impaired. Such a statement may be made simply "for effect," that is, not realize an intention but to signal one's (unfounded) views (e.g., the assassination of JFK was part of a larger plot for world domination by the Elders of Zion).
  • An inconsequential statement is a statement about the world that may or may not be correct but is of no import (e.g., "small talk" about the weather).
  • Finally, there is the exploratory statement -- a statement of the kind that one makes in the process of trying to frame a statement that is logical, factual, intentional, commanding, or creative. An exploratory statement may be incoherent, either because (a) the maker of the statement is probing for a logical or factual truth and has not yet found it, or (b) the maker of the statement is on a dead-end track and doesn't know or care that he is.