In a recent post I challenged Adam Robbert to elucidate his use of the language of conceptuality, and to make explicit his understanding of the ontological status of concepts. Adam’s response was, as usual, thoughtful and concise. In his response to a commenter on that exchange Adam asked a question I think gets right to the core of our discussion:
“From your view, then, are there anything like propositional statements?”
My response is as follows:
First, that human animals can make ‘propositional statements’ is uncontroversial. Humans are capable of all kinds of expressions. What is at stake here is how propositional statements come into being and whether or not they have a relatively autonomous existence beyond the interplay between neurological functioning and physical coding in texts, images and so on. The only requirements for statement-making are bodies capable of memory, recursion, articulation and mimesis, as well as the existence of socialized natural language (as learned reference and gestural flexibility) and a community of interlocutors. Until those statements become marks on a page or sound recordings (thus coded) there is nothing about making such statements that suggests the relatively autonomous existence of an object that can be called a ‘concept’.
Interactions between perceptive-sapient bodies and ambient information affordances unfold according to the skillful difference navigation and mediation (as you say) by bodies/assemblages phylogenetically and ontogenetically oriented towards coping-with-in complex causal and information rich environments. And this embodied communicative dance between complex expressive and/or potent entities conditions, but does determine, our active and reactive coping responses within particular ecologies via the formation of information rich brain patterns/habits instantiated in relation to prior and ongoing exposures to socially instituted references and speech-acts. Sapient-bodies generate, store and recall a range of neural-semantic associations that are communicable – and thus available to be captured in codes, text, images, etc. – between sapient bodies, therein receiving feedback and varying degrees of intensive expression and reciprocal activations and reactivations, in ways that coordinate subsequent thetic brain patterns (“understandings”) and behaviors.
Again, cognizing bodies (things A) are endowed with particular capacities and acquired brain habits. These bodies communicate with each other via natural language and personal memory/recall in relation to socially circulated semiotic tokens (things B) such as writing, images, materials, etc. The communicative (gestural, verbal, symbol-deploying, material) dance between things A and B generates informational complexity, and thus “meaning’ via consequential expression, expectation and response. There is nothing about communicative encounters that requires us to posit ghostly mediating entities (things C) such as ‘ideas’ or ‘concepts’. Semiosis is something that happens between material objects (things A and things B) within niches of differential assembly and potencies – affording various time-space possibilities (cf. Heidegger’s ‘clearings’).
In this onto-story, then, ‘ideas’ and ‘concepts’ are not autonomous entities circulating among humans and media, but words (nouns) created to describe and ultimately misrepresent enacted and consequential, and therefore “meaningful” relationships between bodies and semiotic tokens and media within situations (ecologies). And mistaking the semantic/informational aspects of the enactive realities these relations generate and maintain for relatively independent objects sets up what I believe to be a damaging onto-theology of transcendental meaning.
Herein we could enter into a discussion about the importance of a nihilistic (re)turn to primordial affection and a subsequent deflation of doxic thought, but perhaps this is not the appropriate context for that discussion. I will only suggest here that what drives the most sophisticated forms of nihilism – and thus post-nihilist thought – is realization that only relations and materials exist, and that semantically laden embodied experience is an emergent capacity and epiphenomenal expression – albeit phenomenologically rich and existentially significant.
I think the core issue I have with Adam’s model is the way he (and almost every other intellectual I know) reifies the relational patterns that obtain between brains, media, and/or social objects (i.e., texts) as things-in-themselves. As ontographers I think we need to be rigorous, precise and clear when distinguishing between assemblages, relations, processes, and flows. Our historical linguistic practices and semantic habits no longer work. We have an awkward and kludged semantic heritage that has become, in large parts, obsolete in the context we now seek to exist with-in. So we need to jettison certain aspects of existing semantic infrastructures and fashion (salvage and design) new semiotic compositions – if only because we need to adapt better to reality and design healthier niches. And thinking about and using words like ‘ideas’ and ‘concepts’ as objects is part of the rotted superstructure of reference and metaphysics I see as problematic.