Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Where It Lies

We must be able to see where a thing can actually lie, to know what we say can actually be modified by a predicate and what is only modified by a predicate as a kind of metaphor.

Suppose I said, "that is an angry mob." In a way I have spoken plainly. We understand what a mob is and we understand what it means when a mob is angry as opposed to, say, a rushing mob at Christmas time. In another way, though, I have actually used a metaphor. I have assigned an emotional state to a group of people, but there is nothing that it is like to be a group of people (if there is then it is an experience that is forever closed off to us because we only experience what it is like to be a person never any kind of aggregate consciousness). Only individual human beings experience the emotional state of anger, mobs do not experience anything they are just collections of human beings that do. In this sense, using the term "angry mob" is a metaphor.

We must be able to see where things actually lie to avoid falling into confusion. When we speak of aggregates having emotions we may be able to speak very usefully: companies lacking morale, countries in despair, families that are vengeful. We might say that we are speaking on a macro level for handling macro situations. But how does one improve a company's morale? Such a thing is not directly possible. You must improve the morale of the individual employees.

It appears to me that in statistics and sociology it is easy to forget that in a very real sense the whole enterprise is metaphor. You describe on a wide scale a story for a people group. But in the actual world there is not a wide story for a people group, there are stories for individual people and those stories happen to resemble each other.

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