Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Theory as Picture

Sometimes in the course of a discussion, you are able to see through the particular vocabularies that two different theories use, and you see how they can be cast in a common language so that the difference between the two theories becomes plain and clear. Take the following two sentences as an example.

"I must work to strengthen my willpower so that I can resist temptation."


"I want to do X, but I just can't get past my need to Y."

In the first sentence, a man is trying to improve himself so that he can combat something outside of himself. Perhaps we can imagine him trying to stave off whispering devils, or perhaps we can imagine him averting his eyes whenever something tempting comes into view to ensure that it has no power over him. In the second sentence, the man is divided against himself. There is nothing external, he makes a distinction between 'want' and 'need,' but both of these are a part of who he is.

Suppose we asked both of these men why they have not exercised today. The first man might say that he doesn't have the willpower to resist the temptation to spend all day on the couch watching TV. The second man might say that he doesn't want to exercise more than he wants to spend all day on the couch watching TV. In the end, the behavior is the same, but we have two different theories explaining the behavior. And if we put them into a common vocabulary to draw out their differences, we get something like this:

"I want to work out, but something other than me derailed me."


"I want to work out, but not as much as I want to not work out."

This is a simplistic example, but I see no reason why this could not be applied in other cases.

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