Monday, May 30, 2005

Stuff About Reifying

I've been taken for several years by the notions of memetics, memetic engineering, superorganisms subject to certain natural impulses and so on. But I've been worried that my thinking might be somehow fallacious because a number of people I like and respect have more or less dismissed this stuff on the basis that it involves reifying. I've thought about it, but the question basically was like a boil that needs to be lanced. So I took another stab at lancing this boil by posting a question on the sceptic forum and by spending the better part of a day reading various things about reifying.

In a nutshell, I feel that I've solidified by footing and validated my thinking, though I could still be wrong (and I'm sure I'm wrong from the points of view of some people). Maybe nothing has changed, really, but I feel better about the legitimacy of my thinking as influenced by the likes of Wilson, Blackmore, Bloom and lots of others down the years.

The following is nothing more than some notes I took while looking into this stuff. Maybe they'll come in handy down the road sometime.
Description: To reify something is to convert an abstract concept into a concrete thing. Reification is a Fallacy of Ambiguity. Reification is also sometimes known as a fallacy of "hypostatization".
Several definitions there. Most include the concrete aspect.
From the Wikipedia section:
Fallacious arguments based on reification may be committed when manipulations that are only possible on concrete things are said to be performable

on an abstract concept. A fallacy is also said to be committed when an abstract concept is referred to as if it bore no relation to the concrete

things of which it is an abstraction. Examples of fallacious statements arising from reification are:
* "That country doesn't have any democracy. We should give some of ours to them".
* "Just because we don't have any music, dance, paintings, drawings, or drama in this city doesn't mean we're devoid of art".

Also: hypostatisation

Alternate uses of 'reify' on the Wikipedia page don't have to do with fallacy.
Knowledge representation:
Statement: John is six feet tall.
Reified statement: Mary reports that John is six feet tall.
Computer science: Reification is the act of making a data model out of an abstract concept.
f. Reification
To reify something is to convert an abstract concept into a concrete thing. Reification is a fallacy of ambiguity. Reification is also sometimes called the fallacy of "hypostatization."
Description: To reify something is to convert an abstract concept into
a concrete thing. Reification is a Fallacy of Ambiguity. Reification is
also sometimes known as a fallacy of "hypostatization". reify means to change concrete historical social relations and processes into universal categories or eternal natural laws...
Not applicable to my questions. Something to do with Marx rebutting Malthus.
Perimeter Of The Medical Model
by Sohan Lal Sharma, Ph.D.
Need to read it fully, but he seems to find fallacy in application of the medical model of mental health, and writes in the section entitled THE LOGICAL FALLACY OF THE CONCEPT, "Moreover, it can be seen that if mental illness is like physical illness, which occurs in an entity, the body, i.e. a physical object, then mental illness must occur in an entity, the mind. The concept of mind, however, is acknowledged to be an abstraction; whatever else it may be, it is not a physical entity (Ryle, 1949; Szasz, 1966a). How, then, can a mind, i.e. an abstraction, be ill or sick in the same way as a physical entity (Szasz, 1966a)? If the illness or medical model is to be used, we must indeed first reify an abstract concept, and then treat such intangible non-entities as character neurosis as tangible disease entities. In so doing, the comprehension
and solution of human problems can be subject only to reductionistic and indirect approaches. This is evident in the numerous scholarly endeavors which attempt to comprehend social and interpersonal relations and group behavior by studying the biological or physiological substratum. It becomes obvious that in such a context where psychiatrists and psychologists continue to pursue an illness model, with its inherent irrelevancies and inconsistencies, the real worth and effectiveness of their professional contribution to social and human well-being must continue to be in doubt."
Looks like Dr. Sharma's definition of 'reify' does not necessarily include the 'concrete' part.
(The site is dedicated to advancing the debate about the ideas of Dr. Thomas Szasz, a "psychiatric abolisionist". Probably worth a return visit. (Lots there.)
"'There is indeed the inexpressible', Wittgenstein writes, 'This shows itself; it is the mystical [es ist das Mystische]' (6.522, my emphasis).

Traditional philosophy errs in its attempt to reduce das Mystische to language. It is guilty of misunderstanding the logic of language in ways foundationally damaging to itself. Fundamentalontologie and Naturalistic ethics (for example) violate the rules of logic by attempting to make language do something it cannot do: namely, to represent metaphysical, transcendental or existential ("Subjective") experiences adequately in intentional ("objective") or scientifically accountable propositions. Such linguistic attempts to hypostatise (or reify)
the metaphysical experience, as Wittgenstein says in the ante-penultimate proposition of the Tractatus, cannot signify; that is, the ambiguous signs of such language cannot do the work of hypostasis demanded of them. (Conversely, the Tractatus also shows that the positivist affirmation of the irrelevance of metaphysical, religious and aesthetic values from the episteme of philosophy is a facile and precipitate gambit.)"
From someone's personal blog about literature. I'm not sure what definition of 'reify' applies below.
"The one period of literature that I find emulated with less and less frequency is the very one that Peck cites as the source of all the trouble —
modernism, specifically High Modernism as practiced by Joyce and Eliot. Granted, some books still appear every year cited as paying homage to Ulysses but those aren't the one's winning the awards or capturing anyone's attention, not even the critics. Peck says that Joyce and his style were the bad influence that's ruined everyone since, and I'm tempted to agree, at least about Joyce. I find Joyce, even in Dubliners, nearly unreadable. Peck insists that his contemporaries
reify Joyce and High Modernism as the ultimate in literary art. What Peck fails to grasp is that each "age" of literature attempts to repudiate its predecessor more than embrace it. The early post-modernists with their tricks and absurdities were exploding the arch-seriousness and overblown ambitions of modernism more than completing the modernist project. Reifying the modernist project would have made it impossible to escape from, just as Peck laments, but I don't see anyone but critics doing this. Novelists, if they're any good, know better."
This is a philosophical critique of one E.E. Hirsch who wrote something called "Validity of Interpretation". It's actually chapter 5 of "Film and Meaning: An Integrative Theory" by Ian Douglas, which "is concerned with the intersection of film and philosophy". In this piece the critic says Hirsch reifies a process into an entity. It's all very highbrow, and seems to exclude the 'material or concrete' from the definition of 'reify'.
Several references to reification here (towards the bottom of the page in the section entitled A MEANING TO LIFE) apparently as a fallacious opening of the door to manipulation of people by denial of their self-transcendence. Something like that. The operative definition of 'reify' here also seems to exclude the 'concrete' or 'material' aspect of the 'thing' an abstract is considered.
Very similar to other sites such as Wikipedia, but since I'm here I'll snag the following:
"The term is often used pejoratively by epistemological realists as a criticism of epistemological idealists. Epistemological realists often regard reification as a logical fallacy. Fallacious arguments based on reification may be committed when manipulations that are only possible on concrete things are said to be performable on an abstract concept.
Epistomological realism is a philosophical position, a subcategory of objectivism, holding that what you know about an object exists independently of your mind. Opposed to epistemological idealism.
Epistomological idealism is a philosophical position, a subcategory of subjectivism, holding that what you know about an object exists only in your mind. Opposed to epistemological realism."

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