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Entries in Everett Wesley Hall (6)


Hall, Wittgenstein and Dennett

Walter Horn, who from time to time posts here, is a former professor of philosophy and the author of numerous articles as well as at least two books dealing with philosophical questions. The first is a somewhat strange account of conversations with a mystical teacher of presumably eastern meditative practices which is somewhat hard to characterize. The other, more recently published and mentioned by Walter here, is an overview of 1950's philosopher Everett Wesley Hall who is little known today and who, Walter feels, deserves more recognition than he has gotten since his untimely early death. The book consists of various critical essays by others looking at his work as well as some of Hall's own work. A number of Walter's own essays are also included. Although the book is costly, Walter provides a substantive introduction to it which is available free on the Internet:


Having read one of Hall's books at Walter's suggestion, Our Knowledge of Fact and Value (apparently his last work based on a series of lectures he gave at a Japanese university and compiled and published posthumously), I can now claim some acquaintance with his thinking. Of course, I am no expert on the man, nor do I profess to fully understand everything he wrote in that book. Walter thinks I have missed quite a bit, in fact, and that may be. However, it seems to me to be at least somewhat worthwhile to consider some of Hall's ideas here, particularly because Hall seems to have been influenced, at least to some degree, by the early (Tractarian) Wittgenstein. Of course, there are significant divergences. I note that Hall is portrayed by some as a linguistic idealist though I don't think that would be a fair description of early Wittgenstein (though I have heard some make such a claim). If anything, it is probably right to say that Hall was somewhat influenced by the Tractatus but not that he was a Tractarian in the way Wittgenstein and some others who followed Wittgenstein can be said to have been. Walter, in his introduction to the book, offers the following by way of explaining Hall's relation to Wittgenstein . . .

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Toward a Comprehensive Account of Value Discourse

Still working my way through Hall, on the 12th chapter now and have reached a point, I think, where I have enough of a sense of where he is headed with his analysis to make some comments:

Hall builds his account of valuing, and moral valuing specifically, on the notion that valuing just is emotion and that it occurs in parallel (though intermixed with) occurrences of perception (perceiving). He proposes that there are parallel linguistic forms within what he calls our conventional language (ordinary language governed by a convention-based grammar) which reflect or express the underlying elements (emotion and perception), with each having its own distinct logic, also occurring in rough parallel. Thus he argues that the polarities of truth and falsity represent the dichotomies intrinsic to perceptive/descriptive language, as represented by the truth tables of logic, while a favorable/non-favorable/indifferent trichotomy characterizes emotional language. Both forms of language, he proposes, in keeping with their underlying (natural) basis, i.e., reflecting the two ways we relate to the world around us, have semantic content. That is, they refer to entities outside themselves. This referential trait, he holds, is an expression of the fundamentally intentional nature of both.

For Hall, then, the solution to the problem posed by Hume's is/ought dichotomy is to demonstrate that Hume missed the linguistic/semantic character of value claims and to show that oughts and is's are interconnected because of their parallel reliance on the intentionality of the language user. . . .

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Acts, Intentions and Agents

Writing at page 174 of his book, Our Knowledge of Fact and Value, Hall makes the point that

Our moral and aesthetic judgments are not about our emotions; they are renditions of our emotions, having the same object as our emotions have, saying (in part) exactly what our emotions say. They are expressions of emotions.

Here, it seems to me, is the crux of Hall's claims about value and our knowledge of it. He seems to want to say that valuing is just the expression of our emotions and that emotion language is like descriptive language (contra Hume) in that both are directed at objects, both refer and thus both types of language say something that is determinable from the facts. But there are certain differences in the logic he notes, for descriptive statements are true or false based on the adequacy with which they depict the facts which our perceptions capture for us while:

Evaluative sentences in conventional language receive whatever probability they have from their truthfulness to emotions.

He adds

I need not remark that the 'truthfulness' to which I refer is not correctness of depiction but faithfulness of translation.

In this way, Hall sets out to explode the Humean account which severs fact from value. . .

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On Intention

In order to avoid the possibility of granting the reality of "mental existents," Hall, on page 153, speaks of intentions as dimensional (or, as he had written earlier, of having the nature of being an aspect of something else). He writes:

I have already suggested an escape from this by confining 'events' to physical happenings, some of which (certain neural ones) have an intentional dimension.

This is a position that Walter on this list has sometimes espoused himself. Hall goes on:

We could now add to this that when we loosely speak of a total mental event or state, such as is involved in an emotional experience, what we correctly refer to is a total cerebral event with all its intentional complexity, from which perceptions can be considered as abstractions.

This raises the interesting question of how we are to think about whatever it is that we consider the core feature of what we call "consciousness" or "mind" or "the mental."

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So What Is "Representationalism" Anyway?

In a nearby post in which I have been referencing Everett Hall's work in his book Our Knowledge of Fact and Value, to which I was referred by Walter on this list, an issue arose concerning Hall's use of certain terminology. I had quoted Hall describing intentions as having an "ascriptive" nature rather than an "exemplified" one and proceeded to liken that comment to Daniel Dennett's claim that intentionality is not something found in any entity, as some particular feature, but rather something we ascribe to such entities based on their behaviors which, on observation, prompt us to take an "intentional stance" toward them (to treat them as intentional). It was suggested on that thread that there's a difference between Dennett's use of the "intentional stance" terminology, which I take as ascriptive and Hall's use of "ascriptive" when he asserts that that is how we should think about intentions.

The explanation offered was that Hall's use of "ascription" is roughly the same as what contemporary philosophers mean by "representation" as in the philosophical notion of "representationalism". . .

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Hall, Dennett and the Problems of Reference and Intentionality

I've taken up Walter's suggestion to begin reading Everett Wesley Hall's book on-line, pending a decision to obtain a hard copy from Amazon. I've found it quite interesting, as Walter suggested, though partly because of various synchronicities I've found with earlier highly energized debates some of us have participated in on other lists. Interestingly and in light of a longstanding argument on this and other sites, Hall, early on in his book, Our Knowledge of Fact and Value, uses "refers" precisely as I have often done, i.e., to pick out what one has in mind, rather than what actually is the case.

He writes:

A cognitive verb with a substantival clause as objective complement may be taken, then, to refer to an act whose object is a fact or a 'non-fact,' that is, a fact that does not obtain. (page 19, chapter 2)

Here he uses "refers" precisely as we do in ordinary language, and as I had done when I wrote, to the consternation of some of my interlocutors, things like 'a referent is what I have in mind when I make a referring statement, i.e., it's that to which I am referring by making the statement, gesture, etc., and can be understood based on my description of what I have in mind.' . . .

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