Friday, 4 October 2013

"Pain is not a dolphin" -misunderstanding analogies.



Arguments using analogy or comparison very often meet with a ‘but x is not y’ response. “So if a torturer claimed that there was a culture of torture in his country, and therefore he was not fully responsible..” “But I’m not a torturer!” 

Daniel Dennett, in Consciousness Explained, compares his initial way of classifying the phenomena of consciousness to “a menagerie that puts the bats with the birds and the dolphins with the fish." The analogy just reinforces the point that his taxonomy is one of convenience rather than essence, while implying that the objects of Phenomenology - pains, perceptions, dreams etc – are very different kinds of thing, which a single ‘method’ (Phenomenology) won’t do justice to. This leads into his discussion of the emotions, pains, perceptions, dreams which are the usual object of phenomenology. 

Anyway, it would of course take a real obtuseness to respond with “but dreams are not like bats”, “pain is not a dolphin” or whatever. But most misunderstandings of analogy are not too far removed from this kind of error, too hung up on the actual content of the analogy to see that an analogy is a short cut to a concept or a set of relations, or general rule (etc), all of which are independent of the example-paths used to reach them.

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