12 Sep 2018

Dupréel (1.7) La consistance et la probabilité constructive, sect 1.7, ‘Hiérarchie des notions’, summary

 

by Corry Shores

 

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[The following is summary and not translation. Bracketed commentary is my own, as is any boldface. Proofreading is incomplete, so typos are present, including in the quotations. Please consult the original text to be sure about the contents. Also, I welcome corrections to my interpretations, because I am not especially good with French.]

 

 

 

Summary of

 

Eugène Dupréel

 

La consistance et la probabilité constructive

 

Part 1

“La consistance”

 

1.7

Hiérarchie des notions

 

 

 

Brief summary:

(1.7.1) We turn now to an examination of degrees of consistency in the second class of beings, namely, notions, which we divide into two categories: {1} sensible ideas, which are based more or less directly on perceptions, and {2} intelligible or rational ideas, which are applied to knowledge and conduct and which include fundamental notions of right, morality, economic relations, aesthetics, philosophy, and science in general. (1.7.2) Perceptual notions are grounded in sensory experience. They are assigned names, and given that we have and use our perceptual faculties in common, we can trust that when we refer to perceptual notions that they will be correctly understood by others. (1.7.3) Sensible notions can always be refined and divided when broadening applications lead one to distinguish species among a genus. (1.7.4) Intelligible or rational ideas are formulated (élaborées) notions, but in fact they have less consistency than perceptual notions; for, they undergo variations of their meanings depending on the context and circumstances under which they are formulated, and thus they can be considered confused ideas. (1.7.5) These intelligible notions, although being confused ideas, still make-up the fabric of human society; for, they include such notions as justice, right, morality, and so forth. Given their important role in keeping society together, we feel the need for our actions to accord with these mutually agreed upon notions. However, whenever we wish to act in a way that does not accord with the conventional meaning of the notion, we will insist on changing its meaning to suit our desired actions. So it is because each individual will insist on a different meaning for a commonly held notion that these notions will inevitably lack consistency. (1.7.6) These social-fabric forming but sense-varying notions can be fixed when particular groups settle upon just one definition for the notion. But that does not assure the continued fixity of that definition, because by the same process other definitions can be assigned instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contents

 

1.7.1

[The Two Types of Notions: Sensible and Intelligible/Rational Ideas]

 

1.7.2

[Perceptual Notions]

 

1.7.3

[Refinements of Sensible Notions]

 

1.7.4

[Intelligible Ideas as Having Less Consistency, Given Their Contextual Variances, and as Thus Being Confused Ideas]

 

1.7.5

[Intelligible Notions as Keeping the Social Fabric but Varying Inconsistently on Account of Individual Needs]

 

1.7.6

[Arbitrary and Unstable Definitional Fixations for Intelligible Notions]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary

 

 

1.7.1

[The Two Types of Notions: Sensible and Intelligible/Rational Ideas]

 

(p.14: “Sommairement, en vue seulement de ce que nous avons ...”)

 

[We turn now to an examination of degrees of consistency in the second class of beings, namely, notions, which we divide into two categories: {1} sensible ideas, which are based more or less directly on perceptions, and {2} intelligible or rational ideas, which are applied to knowledge and conduct and which include fundamental notions of right, morality, economic relations, aesthetics, philosophy, and science in general.]

 

[First recall from section 1.2.2 that the consistency of a being is its capacity to endure throughout a series of its vicissitudes. In section 1.5.1 we saw that a thing can only influence and be influenced by things of the same sort. So sensible, material things can only touch and be touched by other spatial objects. The same goes for abstract entities. Numbers can only interrelate with other numbers, pure ideas with other pure ideas, propositions with other propositions, and judgments with other judgments. And, as we saw in section 1.5.2, there are three main types of beings: {1} sensible or perceptible beings (which are also spatial and material), {2} notions, which are those things that depend on a subject to know or express them, like sensations, feelings, thoughts, reveries, and so on, and {3} values, which are dynamic beings, because they lead one to commit deliberative actions. Our concern at the moment is examining the “hierarchy” of beings in each category, meaning that we want to see how within each type of being, they can be scaled according to their levels of consistency. In the previous section 1.6, we examined spatio-temporal beings. The lowest sort (the ones with the least consistency) are “inconsistent” things, which are physical bodies that have properties that depend strongly on the consistencies of external objects. For example, the shape of a liquid or gaseous body depends on the shape of the more solid container enveloping it (see section 1.6.2.) At the middle stage are solids, which are things that are directly perceivable and that are capable of enduring for some time all while undergoing slow degradations, for example: stones, tools, jewels, and even whole planets (see section 1.6.1). And the highest sort of spatio-temporal beings are those that not only can resist and endure detrimental external influences but as well are able to repair themselves after undergoing such alterations, with the outcome of that self-repair often increasing their consistency to a higher degree than before the attack. Examples of the highest kind of spatio-temporal beings (those with the greatest consistency) are living beings, with thinking beings as the highest among them (see section 1.6.3). We now turn to the second class of beings, namely, notions. For the sake of examining their degrees of consistency, we divide notions into two categories: {1} sensible ideas, which are based more or less directly on perceptions, and {2} intelligible or rational ideas, which are applied to knowledge and conduct and which include fundamental notions of right, morality, economic relations, aesthetics, philosophy, and science in general.]

Sommairement, en vue seulement de ce que nous avons à en dire quant au degré de consistance, nous répartissons les notions en ces deux catégories : 1° les idées dites sensibles, fondées plus ou moins directement sur les perceptions, 2° les idées dites intelligibles ou rationnelles élaborées par le raisonnement en vue de leur application au savoir et à la conduite, telles sont les notions fondamentales du droit, de la morale, des relations économiques, de l’esthétique, de la philosophie et de la science en général (1).

(14)

(1) Les idées relevant des mathématiques et de la logique pure, trop incompétent pour aborder ici ce qu’elles peuvent avoir de particulier, je ne puis que les intégrer dans la seconde des deux catégories, au titre de notions élaborées en vue de l’expression de l’état de nos connaissances. A ce titre, et quelle que soit leur clarté immédiate ou leur simplicité apparente, ces idées ne peuvent que se régler quant à la signification qu’il importe de leur conserver, sur le progrès de la connaissance dont elles sont le moyen d’expression. Point donc ni d’idée à priori parfaitement immuable quant à la somme de ses propriétés, ni de système d’axiomes unique, péremptoire, imposant définitivement ses affirmations aux développements ultérieurs des connaissances. Une théorie de la consistance relative est donc du côté des partisans d’une « philosophie ouverte », telle, par exemple, que la représentent M. Gonseth et Dialectica.

(14)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.7.2

[Perceptual Notions]

 

(p.14-15: “Les notions à base de perception et leurs propriétés ”)

 

[Perceptual notions are grounded in sensory experience. They are assigned names, and given that we have and use our perceptual faculties in common, we can trust that when we refer to perceptual notions that they will be correctly understood by others.]

 

[Dupréel turns first to perceptual notions. I do not follow all this very well, so please see the quotation below. I will be guessing for now that the ideas are the following. My first guess is that Dupréel is saying that there are various different perceptual notions, and they are distinguished by a certain consistency that would group them altogether, with the consistency of that grouping being seen in how the word assigned to the grouping consistently refers to the same grouping regardless of the context of the word usage. As far as I can tell, this seems like something Hume would say about sensory impressions and how they are grouped by similarity and assigned by convention and habit a certain word. While I would have thought an example might be an impression of a color along with its word, like “red,” Dupréel gives the example of a thousand horse-power of a motor. No one will mistake this sensible notion, because it has a strong consistency, and that can be seen in how well the notion refers straightforwardly to the perceptions from which they originated and in how little variation there is in that reference to originating perceptions despite differences in the contexts of usage. I am not sure what those perceptions might be however for this horse-power example. Perhaps it is observing the motor operate all while a gauge displays its house-power. I am not sure, sorry. Next Dupréel seems to appeal to a notion of common sense faculties of all humans, because he says that we all have the same means of perception and that we are obliged to use them in a common way. On this basis we can be assured of the certainty of perceptual notions.]

Les notions à base de perception et leurs propriétés apparentes ou immédiatement déduites se distinguent par une consistance bien marquée. L’accord sur la signification du mot ou de la propo- | sition qui les exprime est assez facile et durable pour n’entraver qu’exceptionnellement la combinaison des besoins individuels et les relations entre associés. Autrement dit leur expression garde assez exactement la même signification quel que soit le discours dans lequel on les rencontre. Les autres mots de la phrase n’exercent sur cette signification aucune pression déformante. Ou si cela arrive le changement de sens qu’ils imposent est assez clair pour que l’on sache que c’est en réalité d’une autre notion qu’il est question dans ce cas. Personne ne se trompe sur la nature des mille chevaux d’un moteur. La raison de cette constance dont profitent les notions sensibles c’est que l’accord sur leur signification est facile à obtenir et à maintenir : il suffit de s’en référer aux perceptions qui sont à leur origine. Comme tous les sujets percevants ont les mêmes moyens de perception, on tombe d’accord en les exerçant en commun. La perception renouvelée, recours à l’expérience commune, maintient au profit de la notion et de son sens une sorte d’évidence assurée.

(14-15)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.7.3

[Refinements of Sensible Notions]

 

(p.15: “Si l’usage conduit à étendre la portée d’une expression ...”)

 

[Sensible notions can always be refined and divided when broadening applications lead one to distinguish species among a genus.]

 

[I will probably missummarize the next idea, so please see the quotation below. I am guessing for now the idea is the following. Often times we have a name for some sort of thing. For example, we see a wolf, and we call it such. But then we also see dogs, which seem at first to be wolfy enough to also call wolves, because in fact they are something like domesticated wolves. And we also see coyotes, and given how wolfy they are too, we call them wolves. But eventually as we find more wolfy things, like  jackals and whatever, we realize that our original term is being applied too generally, and it is missing important diversity. We certainly will want to distinguish a dog from a wolf in many cases, even though they are also similar enough to take a general name encompassing both. So we call any such wolfy thing a canis, being the genus, of which we have various species, like dogs, wolves, coyotes, etc. I do not follow Dupréel’s main point here, which he states at the end, but maybe he is saying the following, if I may guess wildly here. While sensible notions may lose consistency as they become over-applied, by making genus-species distinctions we see that they all along had consistency, only they were misnamed. Insofar as the notion was referring to the broader group, it gets the genus name and is understood to be a notion for that genus, and insofar as it was referring to the narrower group, it gets the species name and is understood as being a notion for that species alone. Please see the following to be sure of the idea here.]

Si l’usage conduit à étendre la portée d’une expression à un nombre de plus en plus grand d’objets, de plus en plus divers, l’accord sur une définition pourra rétablir la consistance menacée en écartant certains sens adventices ; lesquels auront à être pourvus d’une appellation particulière. Lorsqu’une espèce animale ou végétale plus complètement explorée pose aux naturalistes la question de savoir si la rubrique consacrée convient encore pour désigner indistinctement tous les individus observés, ils se décident à passer de la considération d’une espèce unique à celle d’un genre comportant plusieurs espèces distinguées chacune par quelque différence. La consistance propre aux notions sensibles assure donc à celles-ci l’avantage de ne pas varier de sens à travers la diversité des occasions d’en insérer l’expression dans un discours ou un raisonnement.

(15)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.7.4

[Intelligible Ideas as Having Less Consistency, Given Their Contextual Variances, and as Thus Being Confused Ideas]

 

(p.15-16: “2° En dépit de leur importance et de leur prestige, ...”)

 

[Intelligible or rational ideas are formulated (élaborées) notions, but in fact they have less consistency than perceptual notions; for, they undergo variations of their meanings depending on the context and circumstances under which they are formulated, and thus they can be considered confused ideas.]

 

[We turn next to intelligible or rational ideas. We normally give them greater importance and prestige than sensible ideas, because we call intelligible ideas “formulated” (élaborées) notions. This might make us think, then, that they have greater consistency than sensible ideas. However, normally the opposite is the case. Unlike sensible notions, which as we saw in section 1.7.2, maintain a high degree of consistency despite various contextualizations on account of our commonly held perceptual faculties, intelligible notions often undergo variances to their meaning, making them relatively inconsistent. We thus may say that the formulated notions of this second category are confused ideas in that their meaning is subject to variation according to the circumstances under which they are formulated.]

2° En dépit de leur importance et de leur prestige, les notions dites intelligibles ou rationnelles que nous opposons, quant à nous, aux idées sensibles en les appelant élaborées (1), loin d’être caractérisées par une consistance qui serait supérieure à celle des notions sensibles, sont au contraire affligées d’une propension à varier quant à leur sens, qui leur vaut une inconsistance relative | très caractérisée. Nous pourrons dire que les notions élaborées de notre deuxième catégorie sont en fait des idées confuses en ce que leur signification est sujette à varier selon les circonstances où elles sont formulées.

(15-16)

(1) En fait toutes les notions, même sensibles, sont plus ou moins élaborées. La distinction que nous faisons ici est donc pratique l’t provisoire.

(15)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.7.5

[Intelligible Notions as Keeping the Social Fabric but Varying Inconsistently on Account of Individual Needs]

 

(p.16: “Il ne s’ensuit nullement un manque de valeur ...”)

 

[These intelligible notions, although being confused ideas, still make-up the fabric of human society; for, they include such notions as justice, right, morality, and so forth. Given their important role in keeping society together, we feel the need for our actions to accord with these mutually agreed upon notions. However, whenever we wish to act in a way that does not accord with the conventional meaning of the notion, we will insist on changing its meaning to suit our desired actions. So it is because each individual will insist on a different meaning for a commonly held notion that these notions will inevitably lack consistency.]

 

[The variance of intelligible notions (also called confused ideas) that we saw above in section 1.7.4 does not mean that they are entirely devoid of any value. For, all social order and all individual conduct rest on a relative agreement on the meaning of such notions as right or law, morality, economic agreement, and philosophical and religious thought. The common sense (of a society) is formed entirely from these agreements, and the concern for promoting and preserving these mutual understandings is the source of social order and peace. So, for the sake of the social order, it is important that our actions accord with these socially agreed upon notions (like what is right, moral, wise, practical, etc.) But then, when we find that the actions we are inclined to make do not accord with the conventional understanding of the notions, then we often struggle to redefine those notions to conform with the actions we wish to take, as a sort of way to socially sanction and legitimize those actions. Thus we might want to insist on an understanding of justice that suits our own convenience, even if others insist on a meaning that inconveniences us. For this reason, despite the importance of such notions that form our social fabric, they will always be inconsistent on account of each individual’s insistence on a variation of their meaning that suits their own interests.]

Il ne s’ensuit nullement un manque de valeur qui serait totale ; tout l’ordre social et toutes les conduites individuelles reposent sur un accord relatif quant à la signification des notions du droit, de la morale, des ententes économiques, de la pensée philosophique et religieuse ; le sens commun est tout formé de ces accords et le souci de favoriser l’entente ou de la conserver est à la source de l’ordre social et de la paix. Mais c’est justement du fait qu’il y a urgence d’établir que nos agissements sont conformes aux accords fondés sur ces notions qu’il s’ensuit que chacun de nous est porté à les interpréter conformément à ses convenances personnelles : « Je n’appelle pas justice ce que mon adversaire prétend qu’elle est, la vraie justice, au contraire c’est etc . . . ». Ce n’est pas seulement la chicane sans probité qui ébranle de la sorte le sens vacillant des notions confuses, même les meilleures intentions incitent à proposer d’une même notion une interprétation particulière : la noblesse même de la cause qu’on défend incite à déduire l’interprétation qu’on préfère, et à repousser un sens qui la contredirait.

(16)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.7.6

[Arbitrary and Unstable Definitional Fixations for Intelligible Notions]

 

(p.16-17: “Ainsi, plus une notion est haute et prestigieuse, ...”)

 

[These social-fabric forming but sense-varying notions can be fixed when particular groups settle upon just one definition for the notion. But that does not assure the continued fixity of that definition, because by the same process other definitions can be assigned instead.]

 

[In section 1.7.2 we saw that sensible notions lend themselves to high degrees of consistency, because on account of the common sense faculties of all people, they will refer to the same sorts of perceptual experiences and thereby maintain their meaning across various contexts of application. More abstract notions, as we saw above in sections 1.7.4 and 1.7.5, are less grounded in such fixed referents, and on account of differing individual needs, they will take on various meanings for different people. Thus the more a notion is detached from the brute reality of fact and for that reason be considered to be of a higher worth, the more its meaning will diverge into opposite directions. (The next ideas I might get wrong, so see the quotation below.) However, a group may collectively decide upon a definition for an intelligible notion and exclude the other variations on it. But nonetheless, such a procedure for fixing a definition is an arbitrary one that leaves the notion open to other re-definitions.]

Ainsi, plus une notion est haute et prestigieuse, éloignée qu’elle est de l’expérience brute des faits, construite au contraire à partir d’autres idées déjà sujettes à interprétation, plus elle sera exposée à voir sa signification diverger dans des directions opposées. Mais cette analyse ne doit pas conduire à un pessimisme trop marqué : la vie sociale, qui souffre de l’imprécision de ses notions les plus élevées, réagit opportunément par des conventions renouvelées. Un sens moins équivoque sera reeconnu à telle notion importante par l’accord sur une définition expresse, faite à dessein d’exclure les sens multiples qui ont proliféré, au profit exclusif du sens retenu. Ce recours à des définitions renouvelées réussit dans certaines limites, fortifiant à tout le moins l’accord des membres d’un groupe. Mais les définitions des notions élaborées sont toujours un cas particulier du même système d’élaboration, elles emploient à leur tour des notions confuses sur lesquelles la discussion pourrait se prendre. Les définitions convenues, multiples et opposables, laissent chimérique la prétention de saisir de la | notion discutée un sens précis, unique et cohérent, définitivement exclusif de tout autre.

(16-17)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.7.7

[]

 

(p.: “”)

 

[x.]

 

[]

x

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1.7.8

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(p.: “”)

 

[x.]

 

[]

x

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1.7.9

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(p.: “”)

 

[x.]

 

[]

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[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.7.11

[]

 

(p.: “”)

 

[x.]

 

[]

x

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.7.12

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(p.: “”)

 

[x.]

 

[]

x

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dupréel, Eugène. (1961). La consistance et la probabilité constructive. (Classe des lettres et des sciences morales et politiques 55, no.2). Brussels: Académie Royale de Belgique.

PDF at:

http://www.academieroyale.be/fr/les-publications-memoires-detail/oeuvres-2/la-consistance-et-la-probabilite-constructive/.\

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