We see the world by using the mechanisms of language to characterize its elements—distinguishing phenomena according to the different observable relations which they present to us, their observers. We refer to the world in a myriad of ways, depending on the different relations we discern between observables. Things that are red aren't blue, large things aren't small, fast things aren't slow, soft aren't hard, etc., etc. Being soft or hard, fast or slow, red or blue depends on the context in which the observed qualities present themselves. Lighting conditions affect observations of color; textures and firmness are recognized in terms of our expectations based on other experiences—on what else is around to compare against. Something that feels hard is that only to the extent that there are things it is harder than. And these features of observed things are themselves observables (observed things).
The occurrence of observables implies something more: The phenomenon of observation and, thus, observers. The world before us consists of referents, of things we can see, count, report on and so forth—but it also includes us, the observers, the counters, the reporters.
Observing, counting, reporting, etc., begin with our sensory faculties. But these are not enough. We also possess certain systems for organizing the disparate sensations which our sensing equipment supplies us with. These organizing systems are rooted in the communication function, a capacity possessed by animals of a certain type which enables them to send information back and forth to other creatures capable of receiving it (that is, of responding behaviorally in ways that serve their needs). The communication systems we possess make it possible for us to pass on to others (or have others pass on to us) information of a complex sort concerning what we see or feel—touch or hear—smell or taste—information, that is, about what we know.
Our language, which is to say the practices we think of that make it up (and make up other systems like it, such as mathematics) enables us to organize our inputs into more than just an inchoate mass of sensory data. Language and systems like it (e.g., mathematics) enable us to turn sensations into things. It is only through such systems that we are enabled to know the things we know for knowing implies organization within a broader framework of knowns.
But communicating is a more basic function and it is on this foundation that language and systems like it rest.
Language and mathematics enable us to organize the inputs we receive as observers and, organizing them in various ways, making them known by and to us. But we are not only users of these systems but their products, as well, for we stand firmly embedded within them living in the world they enable.
Knowing assumes sensory faculties to give us the capacity to gather and make use of what we observe, of course, but it also requires organizing capabilities such as language, among other systems, provides. Within the parameters of linguistic practice we develop and maintain conceptual schemas, pictures of the world in which we stand.
Logic is the set of rules by which language operates, enabling language users to recognize things as being the case. It consists of the rules of possible relations between things in the world which, when applied through a system of true and false judgments, makes representation of the world and its elements possible. Truth and falsity are the criteria by which we discern the differences between correct representations of the world and those that fail to be.
If mathematics consists of the rules of relation on which counting and all forms of quantification rest, and is thus one vector of comparison along which observable phenomena can be known, so logic consists of rules of relation that make language as we know it possible by enabling us to formulate and express thoughts about things in the observed world.
Functions of Language
But language is not merely logic, i.e., that set of rules about relations which enable us to depict the ways in which observable features fit, one with the other, and so form the basis for assertoric statements (statements which report that things are this way and not that). Assertion, the possibility of representing through words, is only part of language. At its most basic level language is about communicating, an activity which consists of much more than the capacity to specify possible relations between observed phenomena. Language, at its core, rests on our species’ capacity for signaling to others via expressive sound and gesture.
At its most primitive level, language is about members of a species learning to recognize the expressed sounds and behaviors of others by reacting in ways beneficial to the individuals and to the species in general. A bird signals to its fellows by raucous shrieking at sight of an approaching predator and others in its flock react, excited by the sounds the “sentinel” bird makes, taking flight. This behavior reflects an instinctual inclination which those particular birds have, an inclination passed on through the generations from individual to individual, to the extent such signal “reading” favors species survival. Signaling requires the ability to read signals which is to say to react appropriately to them. Birds incapable of responding behaviorally to the “sentinel’s” warning, would not long survive as a species.
In humans, signaling becomes the basis for language, although the nature of our signaling will be considerably more complex because of the richer world we inhabit thanks to our capacity to describe a larger and more complex world. Humans do not just express alarm or call to mates in the fashion of lower animals who have evolved a signaling capacity, for they also command others to do or refrain from doing particular things, call attention to things, sometimes in quite complex ways, instruct others or frighten them away, make promises or tell lies or act in plays in a deliberately false way. We coax and cajole our fellows through praise and blame. All of these and more are much more complex forms of signaling than a bird’s sudden shriek at a predator’s approach. What makes these things akin to signaling is that their purpose is to prompt actions in others just as the bird’s shrieks are, although birds may not know purposes while we do. Humans can think about such things, understanding their world in ways unavailable to birds.
To have a world in which so much variation in behavior is possible (beyond the basic alarm and attraction signals found in lower animals) requires a cognitive capacity capable of constructing the world conceptually, i.e., in a way that consists of picturing complex relations that extend over time and spatially. Humans express their interests, wants and needs, that is, through the signaling function of language yet with a wider array of signaling possibilities than is available to birds and other animals on the planet capable of signaling. This is made possible by the richer world humans inhabit, a world made possible by the descriptive function humans can perform with language through reference and description.
Here communication moves from signaling to referring—which consists of describing and denoting, i.e., of deploying the elements by which humans represent their world. Representation depends on the greater complexity of a world than the one which non-human animals inhabit, a world that extends temporally and spatially beyond the present moment. Signaling through language is necessarily more complex than the kind of signaling the frightened or sexually aroused bird may engage in. This is not to say that we don’t also share more basic forms of signaling with other animals but only that, thanks to the cognitive capacity enabled by our language capabilities, we can and typically do much more.
Humans, having the capacity to identify and describe their world and so to express their many signals against a broader and richer canvas than is available to animals lacking the capacity to conceive of their world as a world, find themselves in a more extensive place, one filled with more things (and their variations), than do animals not gifted with the same kind of cognitive capacities. This capacity to see and describe a world that extends beyond any given moment (characterized by the more limited array of momentary experiences available to non-language using creatures) is made possible by possession of a capacity to represent experiences of the world in complex and interlocking ways. Representation means assertion about things using the tools of depiction which language provides (denoting, describing) which, as Robert Brandom of the University of Pittsburgh has argued, forms the core of human language, i.e., that part of our communication capacity which makes language more than a mere array of signaling modalities. Language, as we have it, makes representation of things possible, enabling us to do more than just send signals to others concerning what we are feeling at the moment. Indeed, to be language it must enable this assertoric dimension in our communicating behaviors.
Representation through language enables us to picture our world and so becomes the factor that makes the more complex signaling life of creatures like ourselves possible.
Logic and Meaning
Logic consists of those rules of language use by which we combine and arrange information gathered by our senses to represent the world we observe. Logic enables representation because it’s about truths and falsehoods, about which statements count as the one and which the other, because they accord or fail to accord with the represented aspects of our observed world. Logic is thus the aspect of language that makes representation possible, for the representing function can only be realized if we have the potential to distinguish words, as they relate to one another and to the world. That is, words that represent must have meanings and these are grounded in their representational capacity (the capacity to depict). If not, they cannot say anything at all about the world. Being able to be either true or false, or somewhere between, is essential to the capacity to represent. Truth and falsehood are functions of the meanings which terms have for it is their capacity to adequately and accurately depict the world that makes them meaningful or not. But what does meaning amount to? How do we define it and how does it manifest in what we do?
When I speak of a tree or stone or any other object of observation I represent that object through the word or phrase I use for it to those to whom my words are directed. This is not the same as signaling, where my utterances express my bodily feelings (what the world’s inputs prompt me to experience physically) and so prompt behaviors of certain types in others and whose purpose of prompting responses I may become aware of. For animals having signaling capacities only, that which they tell their fellows must be something about themselves which those who are receptive to such signals interpret in their own behaviors. And that is as far as it goes. But for us the capacity to articulate differences about the world we observe around us entails a further capacity to speak (and thus think) about things. For us communication is not just a matter of emitting sounds evocatively. Communicating of the sort we engage in involves reporting what we observe, i.e., notifying others of what they may also observe under comparable conditions. Reporting capacity enables us to have a more complex world than that of other creatures whose world only consists of momentary experiences and the effects these have on their bodies.
Combined with other rules of linguistic practice which characterize human languages and serve to differentiate particular languages from one another, the rules of logic enable us to structure what would otherwise be an inchoate influx of sensory experiences into the complex of things we think of as our world. Logic, that is, enables our world of many disparate and distinct things to be that, and these rules of logic, together with the various conventions of linguistic practice, render language more than a mere system of intra-species signaling—i.e., a means by which speakers make themselves known to one another in order to attract others or drive them away. With logic, representation through denoting and describing becomes possible and this capacity to represent makes a broader realm of existence possible for language users.
Language is thus primarily a communicative activity, grounded in the signaling mechanisms of our species, but it is only through its discursive functions, enabled by the dimension of linguistic rules we think of as logic, that it pictures a world. And it is through picturing our world, i.e., our having in mind more than what immediately impinges on our senses, that a world comes into existence as a world for us.
A flux of undifferentiated experienced sensation is not yet an actual world. To be that, there must be organization and, to have that, we must have something more than signaling capacity alone. We must have the capacity to report on what is: To represent in either words or gestures—or other kinds of symbols (written, pictorial, etc.)—the world.
We may report the world that is before us if someone says “what do you see?” and this already assumes that we see something. But this stands on a more basic capacity to see and differentiate in the moment as is the case with other animals. Thus to have the capacity to report about the complex world in which we live we must begin with the foundation shared by creatures lacking our reporting ability: the capacity to differentiate in the moment and within the range of our senses and then add to it the capacity to envision a world that continues beyond the moment and place in which we stand.
Logic is that set of rules that enables us to stand in such a world but for it to do that it must make meaning possible. Our words must become more than the signals of non-linguistic species. They must enable depiction, envisioning a world. And herein lies meaning as opposed to mere practical effect. Here our words become the world for us such that we may often have difficulty distinguishing between the word and its referent for the two meld into a single picture for the speaker. A word conjures a thought and one thought brings others and so a mental life. Without this dimension, meaning as such is impossible. It’s not enough to react to stimuli for we must also grasp what they mean so that they may be used most efficiently by us.
Meaning and Representation
Which come first in our world, things that are somehow present in themselves (even if we are unaware of them) or their presence for us via our representations of them?
Perhaps it’s fairest to say that we come to recognize things as things only as we come to be able to represent them in distinct and particular ways. That is, it’s the distinguishing itself, the differentiating, that makes reporting possible and it is through this possibility that the things reported become real, too. Yet we must have a sense of their presence as things before we can report on their presence if we are to develop a reporting capacity at all (a capacity that makes it possible to think about the world as a world). It is reasonable then to suppose that language and representing are concomitant phenomena that arise simultaneously and in tandem. To have a full blown language, one that is more than mere signaling, we must also have the capacity to represent what there is and to do that requires a logic-driven language (a language that makes description via distinctions possible). It is this which makes language more than so many signaling mechanisms. Language and, to some extent, mathematics (which we may think of as language, too: a language of counting) make possible our capacity to think about the world in toto—and not just about this or that immediate experience which we happen to have of it.
Language, for it to be language, must be seen to imply the availability to the speaker of more than the expressive use of sounds and gestures, the sort we employ when signaling to others. It implies the occurrence of meaning, of semantics—those instances of understanding which any speaker has when confronted with a known word or phrase. Representing without understanding cannot be representation at all for representing is a function belonging only to those who can differentiate between the token (whether in sound, marking, symbol or gesture) and the thing(s) it stands in for. Representing, that is, implies semantics and semantics imply minds.
To fully understand the phenomenon of language, we must see it as more than just behaviors, reactions to words and phrases, for when any language speaker understands a word or phrase, that understanding may occur without any overt manifestation in the speaker’s behavior at all. Therefore, understanding, which implies the presence of meaning in words and phrases, cannot reduce to the behaviors observed in others or ourselves—though we may also be unable to dissociate behavior from meaning entirely. Understanding, or getting meaning, is certainly a kind of behavior, too, at least in a certain very important sense. When we understand a word we act in ways that recognize and reflect its meaning and someone who fails to do that, when everything else is in place for such behavior to occur, could not be said to have understood the word at all.
But we can also understand without acting and a language that goes beyond signaling activities—to enable assertion through description, through representation—implies just such a meaning precisely because representations occur when one sound, or set of sounds (or markings on a paper), mean some other thing to someone. That is there must be an experience of apprehension. The meaning of a word or group of words requires that something about them, as they are used that is, prompts in a hearer or reader a response of a certain kind, one that occurs in a predictable fashion and which tells listener or reader what the term refers to.
Once we recognize that language cannot be exhaustively explained in merely behavioral terms we must also recognize that meaning implies thought. It implies, that is, the thoughts we have about whatever is described or reported. And the very idea of thought implies the existence of a mental life, thought’s domain, which a language speaker, to truly be said to understand what is said, must possess.
Language does its job of conveying meaning then by enabling exchanges of information about the world between speakers through the effect of prompting in speaker and interlocutor, both, certain mental events. These we sometimes think of as pictures though they are hardly pictures in the ordinary concrete sense of that term. These mental pictures have motivating effects on the subjects having them. Thus, from thought comes action (and sometimes, of course, from actions thoughts). But if thoughts, or at least some thoughts, are describable as a kind of picture, it must also be seen that by “picture” we cannot simply mean a replication of what is depicted. A mental picture, or thought about something, is more functional echo of the sensory observations the speaker has made in his or her life. But it is not the same kind of thing as what has been observed. Our mental pictures differ from what they depict in that they have an ephemeral quality, a tenuousness that differentiates them from the real pictures we call such in our experienced world. Mental pictures shift in and out of focus as our attention drifts or re-positions itself but such instances of thought, mental pictures, must relate to what is depicted for, if they did not, they could not be thoughts about anything. In that case reference by language would be impossible and so, too, would be representation.
When a speaker uses a word—or hears or reads one—he or she does so with and through an assortment of mental images conjured through that word’s use. The meanings of the words to the speaker are then constituted by the panoply of images, of mental pictures, which the speaker experiences, all of which occur as associated echoes of real world experiences the speaker has had. As such, because each speaker will have different experiences in his or her life, there is no great likelihood that two or more speakers will share the same mental images on hearing the same word uttered, even if they understand one another. Indeed, given the vast diversity of individual experiences, such sharing must be all but impossible. It is thus absurd to suppose that any word or phrase has a fixed meaning in terms of one and only one possible mental picture. None of us can have precisely the same pictures because we do not have the same experiences, even where we may have lived in very close proximity to one another throughout our lives. It is these, our mental pictures however, which constitute our ideas of things and make representation through sounds and symbols possible.
Yet, if each of us “sees” in his or her mind a different image on hearing the same utterance, how can we ever be said to share the same meaning, how can we ever understand one another?
If you are to understand my words and I am to understand yours, we must have enough images in common to prompt recognizable behaviors on both our parts. What’s needed then for shared understanding is not the assurance of common mental pictures, mental images of matching elements or form, but enough commonality in our respective webs of mental pictures, which any utterance prompts in us, such that we will be on recognizable ground. That is, there must be some broadly shared comparability in our recollected experiences, a critical mass of similar images that represent a threshold of familiarity which then prompt us to perform mutually recognizable acts. Language (because it requires sharing meanings to be language) works when there is a sharing of the rules for word usage such that the rules both speakers are capable of following, and do follow, in making utterances, enable them to make the needed connections to mental images with enough commonality to also lead them to act in ways which meet the expectations of both speakers. Understanding, that is, happens (i.e., linguistic meaning, so-called semantics, occurs) when there is enough commonality in the web of mental images we each experience, when so prompted by linguistic exchange, as to enable us to act in ways which are in harmony.
If there is no understanding, then the speakers' behaviors will seem discordant to one or both. But if there is understanding, it will be manifested in a continued sense of familiarity in the behaviors evidenced by the speakers in question. The speakers will recognize the behaviors of the other and react in ways the other will recognize. Thus language may be understood to stand on rules of use just as Wittgenstein suggested; and understanding on a sufficient commonality in the mental lives of each of the speakers, a commonality which is triggered by shared rules of use and demonstrated by the coherence of the speakers' behaviors.
The rules of language which address the representing function are the ones we call logic and these tend to be shared across languages. That sharing, in itself, is evidence of a common world, one whose arrangement is susceptible to the same speaking practices in different language communities. Together with the practical rules which are specific to every language (tones, word order and such) they constitute the communicative activity of language use. But it is logic which enables us to go beyond signaling functions (such as expressing, calling, greeting, directing, warning, and so forth) for without depicting (the capacity to assert through description and reference) our language would be so impoverished as to lose the sense of being language at all. We would be deprived of the capacity to hold in thought, and so make use of, complex pictures of the world. Such pictures depend on the capacity to think about our experiences in an extended way, to see how they connect us beyond the present moment and place. It is this capacity that constitutes our ability to conceptualize (to create and hold concepts about things in our heads) and it is this ability to conceptualize that makes possible the more extended world in which we live, and of which animals, without comparable cognitive ability, can never be aware.
Reporting, the means of representing our world, rests on this possibility of conceptualization, just as conceptualizing itself rests on a rich and interconnected mental life of recollections of past experiences.
Telling It Like It Is
Reporting on the world means we are going beyond mere reaction to it (where our reactions are taken as signals by other members of our species—or members of other species). Logic is that particular subset of linguistic rules which we apply in speaking to enable us to depict the flow of inputs we experience in a systematic way, allowing us to represent them and so to distinguish when a thing is this but not that, large, not small, here, not there, transparent, not opaque, etc.
All the phenomena of observation, of which we are aware, must be capable of being captured through the logic of our language if we are to depict successfully; therefore an effective language will comprehensively capture the potential relations in the observed world (although, of course, what is potentially there may be greater than we know—but this will make itself known, to the extent required, in evolutionary terms, occurring and being passed on according to its contribution to species survival and what is missed will not matter to the extent it does not adversely affect our survival prospects). But the world we observe is more than just the externalities of our senses, that which is observed, for we are present in it, too, and our presence is manifested by the very act of observing. The observing subject is, therefore, also an object of reference for itself, the reporting subject. It is part of the world it depicts and this implies at least two dimensions in the picturing function which language enables:
1) The set of possible horizontal relations which occur within the observed world (those relations which delineate and distinguish all possible observables); and
2) The set of vertical relations which occur between the observed world and the observing subject.
The language of reporting is geared to capturing information that represents the reported phenomena of the world, its logic being that which determines when things are the same, according to their observed features, and when they are different, and how. The logic of differentiating, the logic of the "hows," contains the possible logical connectives: "and", "or", "if/then", "existence", "negation", etc. All reportable facts stand on the different ways in which observed phenomena can exist in relation to other observed phenomena according to these possible relations. That is, they reflect and exhaust the logical possibilities we require to navigate the world of our experience. What is true of a statement about something will be so to the extent those logical possibilities allow connections to be made which effectively match the observed phenomena in question. A thing cannot be different than itself nor can it be red if it is blue and so forth. These are logically determined facts, dependent on the possibilities of linguistic representation as expressed through the rules, the logic, of descriptive discourse and the facts which they make possible in reflection of how the world is. Facts are dependent on observations, which is to say on the extent to which any given observation statement adequately reports the phenomena observed. But the reporting, itself, must accord with the relational possibilities of things in the world, reflecting the manner in which things can occur in our world, fashioning the choate from the inchoate.
Logic makes reporting possible, truth and falsity being the particular value dimensions of logic, reflecting the possible ways in which things being reported may be discerned as distinct and separate and how they may be consolidated. Thus language, through the logic of depiction, enables representation which is the designation and use of any term as stand-in or proxy for something else. A word that names X represents it in language to other language users just as a photograph that captures the image of a nearby bridge represents that bridge to its viewers.
Representing must be understood as activity, as something we do with words or other physical phenomena (such as the photograph). The representation is not, itself, the distinct thing it represents but only that by dint of the role it plays for us—that is, the role we assign it as proxy, under certain conditions, for that which it represents. A photograph of a tree is not the tree but represents it in a visual way, its medium being the paper on which it is printed. That paper, of course, is itself a distinct thing. But as a representation it is nothing but the use to which we put that piece of paper. The word “tree” represents the tree at which it is directed by the speaker who uses the word (or the idea of trees in the abstract which will consist of whatever array of mental pictures speaker and listener may possess between them). But the sound which we pronounce as “tree” or the configuration of markings which we use in lieu of those sounds, only does the work of representing insofar as users of the word in question share rules in common to enable both to direct the word to the same sort of referent.
The word “tree” and the configuration of shadings and markings on the paper that is the photograph each become representations in virtue of the role they play in the practices engaged in by their users. And such use depends on the capacity of the users. A photo of a tree may depict a tree for one kind of user but be no more than an object of interest (or disinterest) for another (a dog does not see the tree but an object to take in its teeth when shown the photograph, after all, and to carry it away or rip it to shreds).
This idea of representation should not be confused with the idea that our thoughts are themselves distinct representations of whatever they are thoughts about, as if they are a shadowy rendering of their referential objects in the world. Unlike words or photographs, thoughts are not entities in their own right, like the things in the world that prompt them in us, but an entirely different sort of phenomenon, one that is not amenable to descriptions as objects but which are said to represent in a somewhat different way, in this case by virtue of their role in our mental lives (i.e., they make possible associative connections between different mental pictures which, connecting, enable us to use words and images on pieces of paper as representations).
Thoughts are complex and dynamic, a flowing experience of associated recollections which a thinker has in response to stimuli. A thought of a bridge seems like a remembered picture to us, a mental image of the bridge but it is not, itself, a faithful rendering of that bridge as a photograph might be but only bits and pieces of remembered sightings of it, or of similar things, held in the mind as connecting fragments in a web of more broadly associated recollections. Thoughts, unlike photographs, do not depict by embodying certain features in a different but equally physical medium as the thing depicted. Thoughts of things work instead by prompting in the thinker a dynamic display of recollections which will match, to varying degrees, some, but not all the features of the pictured items. If I think of a bridge at any given moment it may not come close to the way the bridge actually appears to me if I happen to look at it, or even to its appearance in a photograph of it which I may hold in my hand. My thought of the bridge may only include this or that remembered element of the actual bridge. But that thought serves to represent the bridge if I articulate the thought in words that name or describe the bridge or if I use my camera to capture its image or render the image in a sketchbook, etc. Here representing occurs through the medium of whatever physical elements I am associating it with (whether an actual image or a photo of one or something else). That is, it is not the thought, itself, that represents (or is, as a thought, even some particular thing) but the physical phenomenon which I use to prompt in others, or others use to prompt in me, the mental phenomena of recollected mental pictures which we have learned to connect with the actual bridge, itself, and which each of us has also learned to recognize as an expression of sufficiently comparable webs of associated recollections in others. When their behaviors match what we expect, then we suppose the relevant aspect of their mental lives do, too.
Where the photograph captures certain visual elements that replicate the way the thing looks to us on visual observation, from the same perspective as the photo was taken, mental images excite in us a flow of image-instances which become the momentary remembrance of the bridge in question. This remembrance may vary from time to time and may pick up other associated images along the way—each time it is recalled—and it may connect in various and often different ways with other images we recall. To the extent the remembrance belongs to the visual image of the bridge at the time that we actually observed it, it does so by the use we put it to when it prompts in us associations which lead us to bridge-relevant behaviors.
I see the photo and think of the bridge and perhaps recall the weather on the day I saw it, or some other feeling or experience I had in connection with it. Perhaps I also recall other bridges, some like it, some not, or I remember something I once learned about how such bridges are constructed or how they are supported. The picture of the bridge reminds me of the bridge it is a picture of in many ways because of its likenesses with the visual observations of the bridge itself which I have made or can make and this I associate with many other thoughts derived from my own experiences and held in memory as such. The thought of the bridge of which I am reminded by the photo (or the apt word spoken), is dynamic and multivariate, an ongoing flow of other recollections as my immediate thoughts at sight of the photo, and other things such thoughts connect me further with, play out.
To have mental images, of course, observers must possess thinking capacity which is nothing less than mental life, a part of our experience that consists of so-called inner experiences, introspectable, for observation implies awareness (whatever it is that may make that possible ) and, of course, awareness implies subjectness: the condition of being a subject in the world, an entity capable of receiving and processing sensory inputs.
Such entities will have internal as well as external awareness, both the recognition of sensory inputs such as the sights and sounds of experience, but also of the needs, expressed in terms of feelings of want or avoidance, desire or fear, that accompany the mental life of a subjective entity. Such entities, when they have the capacity to render their world in representational form (having a sufficiently sophisticated cognitive functionality such as ours) will have more than the needs and wants of the moment, however, for they will have both a picture of their world in terms of the particulars of each moment and, more broadly, through recognition of a past, present and future and of what is here and what is not. And, of course, being an aware subject, they will also recognize their own place within it at some level for every experience implies an experiencer.
A level of cognitive capacity that enables a creature to see the world beyond the current moment and place by virtue of the capacity to mentally picture it will also enable that creature to see itself within it.
Observers, given the complex conceptual apparatus made possible through language, become observed things, too, part of the picture conceptually constructed out of the panoply of all observed phenomena. This picture, as it becomes more sophisticated, adds to itself other pictures, within which the picture of the observing self takes shape—and here pictures of what moves, or may move, the observer, i.e., what prompts him or her to act, occur.
This implies a dimension which is characteristic of representing that is not, itself, just the logical dimension of relations between things. It implies a dimension that regards the relations not only of things observed to one another, differentiated in all their detail, but also the added dimension of valuation, how things observed relate to us.
That is, objects of observation, the referents observed by subjects, exist not only as observed things but for the observers observing them. As observed phenomena, they occur in more than a merely neutral way, more than mere things in the world. They occur in a way that connects them to the observer in terms of their potential to draw the observer's attention or prompt his or her actions (either to approach or flee, to consume or reject etc.). The observed things are something for the observer and not merely something observed. That is to say, the observer may care about things it observes—if not about everything observed, at least about some things—and it is this caring about which focuses the observer on some observables but not others.
Interests and Concerns
Valuing requires caring observers but caring isn't enough. Other animals may care, too, yet it never seems right to speak of non-human animals as valuing—or of having values. For valuing we need more, namely the capacity to conceptualize, to organize the observed world and sort it according to elements of desirability, according to preferences. Animals without the capacity to conceptualize can care because they can have preferences but, to the extent that they cannot conceptualize the objects of their preferences, they cannot sort them and so cannot be said to value.
Valuing requires the capacity to arrange and organize phenomena according to degrees of preference and this cannot be accomplished unless we can also conceptualize a thing, think about it in a way that enables us to insert it into other milieus, into imagined scenarios that we visualize, thanks to our capacity to discern and distinguish, i.e., to represent. To value anything, we must also be able to think about it in a conceptual way that allows it to be considered relative to other possibilities. For this, a subject needs the ability to conceptualize its world in terms that go beyond the immediate moment and place in which it finds itself: the way we conceptualize the world. Representing a world is a key condition to being able to apply the notion of value to its components and it is an ineradicable co-occurrence with representing when the representing function achieves a level of capacity that enables the representing entity to include itself in the world it represents.
If observation implies observer, the capacity to conceptualize the world implies the observer's participation in it as an observer and this means the observer's presence as one more observable phenomenon in a world of observables which exist beyond the observer itself. That is, valuing will be seen to be that function in our conceptual apparatus which occurs when we can see our world at a certain level, i.e., in terms of more than immediate experience, in terms of a pictured world that extends beyond this immediate moment in space and time with ourselves firmly placed within it.
For valuing to occur, we must be able to sort as well as report and to do the former we must have a complex conceptual picture of a world that goes beyond any particular moment's experience via the senses. Including ourselves in the realm of sortables, further, introduces the possibility of valuation which is more than the mere expression of likes and dislikes. This valuing capacity is not available, as far as we now know, to other species on the planet. Thus, an observer may be said to value when he or she (or it) can hold a complex conceptual picture of the world in its mind, a picture which necessarily includes itself and, thus, the relations between it and the world. This requires certain cognitive capabilities which, in creatures like ourselves at least, means language of the sort we have (i.e., a system of communicating that is more than just intra-species signaling capabilities).
A language that enables valuing must depict observables by enabling construction of its depicted elements within a broad, complex and unified array of elements within which to place the things that are to be valued. These must be examinable by means of introspective consideration, i.e., they must be conceivable within an array of facts characterized by a range of possible relations which can be thought about. Such a language must enable the holding, in the observers' minds, of a world picture, a view of what and how things are.
Thus the logic of depicting enables us to represent but, to enable valuing, itself, to occur, such representing must also involve depicting observer-to-observed relations. Thus logic, to the extent it just is the system of relations which reflect our observational possibilities (what are both actually and potentially observable), as captured and conveyed through language (our shared communicating systems), implies another depictable relation: valuation.
Logic may be the tool we have for conceptual construction of ideas from observed phenomena, a construction which makes our kind of mental life possible, but it cannot do that without also taking account of the observer-to-observed relations which make language and the logic that underlies it a reality and which characterizes our mode of being in the world. Logic without the value dimension is nothing but blind relations between things, cause and effect connections which have no use or purpose beyond themselves. The universe can be understood as a complex natural system of physical relationships between the phenomena that constitute it but these relations, taken by themselves, are without purpose. They have only effects. But with the advent of a user of logic, an observing subject with the requisite cognitive capacity, the added dimension of value is realized as a tool for acting in, and so manipulating, the world.
Here logic and value unite in the cognitively capable subject to establish the dimensions of knowledge, i.e., the horizontal relations between things observed, which determine what's possible in the world, and the vertical relations between observers and observed. Without the possibility of horizontal relations there is no world and without the vertical there is no observer to see it.
With both there is the knowing, desiring subject. Where logic enables what we know to be known, valuing enables what we know to matter. It is this dimension of cognition, the capacity to value, which is as intrinsic to a knowing subject as the logic of truth relations which enable us to distinguish and report on our world. As such, valuing is not an alternative to fact (the things we can know to be the case, i.e., to be true) but a co-equal element in the underlying capacities which make linguistic assertions about the world possible.
Because they are co-equal in this fundamental way they cannot be reducible one to the other, even though we can assert facts about values and value facts.