HISTORICAL REPRESENTATION (.doc 94KB)
Twentieth century philosophy is, mainly, a philosophy of language. Why is this so? The explanation is that we need language in order to express knowledge: no language, no knowledge as well. So we must understand language if we wish to understand knowledge.
Description and representation
Language is a very complex phenomenon. So if we wish to come to a satisfactory understanding of language we had best begin with the simplest examples of the use of language. And from there we can proceed to the more complicated uses of language - as is the unexpressed but universal assumption. Now, the most simple use of language is true description (‘this cat is black’). So one tried to deal with the three main problems of philosophical semantics – 1) truth, 2) reference and 3) meaning – by investigating them from the perspective of true description. But the assumption is wrong: there are uses of language that cannot be reduced to, or properly analyzed from the perspective of true description. This is what makes representation so very interesting. For there is a logical gap between true description and representation – and this gap can never be bridged. For in true description you can always distinguish between a part that refers (the subject-term) and a part that attributes a certain property to what the subject-term refers to (the predicate-term). No such distinction is possible in the case of representaion (think, for example, of a portrait). So, representations cannot be said to be ‘true’, or to ‘refer’ to the world, in the way these things can be said of true descriptions. This is where the arts, the humanities, and large parts of daily life differ from science – and where every effort to bridge the gap between the two is hopeless.
Two theories of representation
There are two theories of representation: the resemblance theory and the subsititution theory of representation. According to the former theory a representation must ‘resemble’ what it represents. Problems with this theory that were mentioned by Goodman in his Languages of art (1968). The substitution theory takes its point of departure in the etymology of the word ‘re-presentaion’: i.e. to make something ‘present’ again that is ‘absent’. With the implication that the representation is a substitute or replacement of the represented. Ernst Gombrich’s formulation of the substitution theory. In order to compare the two theories we should focus on where they might overlap. Such an overlap presents itself if you would say that ‘resemblance’ is the condition for something being an acceptable substitute fro something else. Elaboration of this. It then becomes clear that ‘importance’ or ‘relevance’ can never be formulated in terms of truth and resemblance. This is, then, where the substitution theory proves to be superior to the resemblance theory.
Representationalist rules and style
Back to Goodman: according to Goodman the resemblance theory is naive (or incomplete) since it does not take into account that you can only speak of resemblance if you have certain 'representationalist, or projection rules’ defining what is to count as resemblance. Maps as examples. The absolutely crucial fact about these representationalist rules (or what other name one might wish to give to them) is that they have no basis in what the world itself is like (they lack a fundamentum in re). It’s merely a matter of what you expect from a representation, or of what you wish to do with representations. This is what these representationalist rules share with the notion of style.
The representation, the represented and ‘the world’
The world is given to us independent of what we decide to say about it (or not) in terms of true description; it simply does not care what we decide to say, or not to say about it in terms of true description. But this is different with representation: there is no represented without its representation. So, the representation precedes the represented in a way that one could never say that the world preceeds what is being said in aboutit in terms of true description. Cf. the Danto-example of the use of the proper name ‘USA’.
There is an indeterminacy in the relationship of a representation and what it represents not having ist analogue in the relationship between the true statement and what it is true of. This where representation is similar to metaphor (metaphors are utterances such as ‘John is a pig’ or ‘the earth is a spaceship’ and that are literally false, while nevertheless expressing something meaningful – and that can, hence, not be reduced to, or fitted within the model of how the true statement relates to what it is true of). Metaphors are utterances of the form ‘a is b’ (example, ‘the earth is a spaceship’) and where something is said about a in terms of b. This is also true of representation – and hence, it follows, that representation is metaphorical. There are good and bad metaphors. And the qualities of metaphor can rationally be discussed. Hence, in spite of this indeterminacy between representation and the represented, representation does not necessarily hand us over to scepticism and irrationality.