Caveat Lector Sentences and The Right Way To Start Epistemology.

By Robert Hanna

“A Philosopher Reading” (Wikimedia, 2022)

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You can also download and read or share the complete longer essay from which the short essay directly below has been extracted, “Caveat Lector: Six Investigations in The Philosophy of Reading,” HERE.

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Let’s call any sentence that is (i) specifically about the act or process of reading, and that is also (ii) self-referring by means of the 2nd-person indexical description “you, the reader,” and the indexical description “this very sentence,” a caveat lector sentence.

Such sentences are so-named by me after the Latin phrase “caveat lector,” meaning let the reader beware; but I’m interpreting that phrase broadly enough so as also to include the meaning let the reader be self-consciously aware.

From a philosophical standpoint, here’s the paradigmatic example of a caveat lector sentence:

You, the reader of this very sentence, can’t either coherently or self-consistently deny that it’s self-evidently true that you’re reading this very sentence.

For convenience, I’ll call the sentence I displayed in boldface text immediately above,

THE SENTENCE

and for the purposes of this essay, it won’t matter whether THE SENTENCE is a universal sentence-type or a particular sentence-token.

Granting those stipulations, then what I want to argue in this short essay, the fourth installment in a series of thematically-interconnected short essays (the preceding three are available online HERE, HERE, and HERE), is that philosophically appealing to your reading caveat lector sentences like THE SENTENCE, is the right way to start epistemology.

Here’s my argument, in eight steps.

1. As the later Wittgenstein compellingly pointed out in Philosophical Investigations, language is inherently a set of social practices and more generally a social institution (Wittgenstein, 1953; Hanna, 2021: chs. XI-XV). Therefore, your reading caveat lector sentences like THE SENTENCE is inherently a collective, communal, or intersubjective phenomenon, and not an idiosyncratic, solipsistic, or otherwise subjectivistic phenomenon.

2. Whether a caveat lector sentence like THE SENTENCE is a universal sentence-type or a particular sentence-token, it’s nevertheless a physical phenomenon. Now, the act or process of reading is an essentially embodied phenomenon of conscious and self-conscious intentionality, like all forms of rational human cognition (Hanna and Maiese, 2009; Hanna, 2011; Hanna, 2015). And a caveat lector sentence like THE SENTENCE is inherently the intentional object of that specific mode of intentionality. Therefore, your reading caveat lector sentences like THE SENTENCE is inherently a psychophysical phenomenon, i.e., it’s inherently non-dualistic.

3. The act or process of reading is inherently a rational human activity. Therefore, your reading caveat lector sentences like THE SENTENCE is an actualization of all the cognitive-&-epistemic or theoretical, affective or emotional, and moral or practical sub-capacities that are properly contained in and jointly constitutive of the complex, unified capacity for human rationality (Hanna, 2006a, 2006b, 2015, 2018a, 2018b, 2018c).

4. Your reading caveat lector sentences like THE SENTENCE is inherently authoritative and rationally intuitive, precisely because it’s both intellectually and sensibly self-manifesting (Hanna, 2015: esp. chs. 1 and 6–8). Therefore, your knowledge of such sentences is skepticism-resistant (Hanna, 2022a), but without also requiring any vicious regress of knowing &/or knowers, according to which your knowing X requires that you also know that you know X, and that you also know that you know that you know X, etc., ad infinitum and indeed also ad nauseam, an epistemic sickness-unto-death.

5. Your reading caveat lector sentences like THE SENTENCE inherently involves using the 2nd-person indexical expression “you.” Therefore, it puts the burden of collecting evidence and providing proof on you, the reader of such sentences and also on all the other readers of such sentences, i.e., on collectives or communities of rational human animals, not on the individual writer of such sentences.

6. Your reading caveat lector sentences like THE SENTENCE inherently requires that, necessarily, you, the reader of such sentences, are embedded in an egocentrically-centered orientable real space. Therefore, it inherently requires (i) that you aren’t living in a digital simulation, (ii) that you exist, and (iii) that the external world exists (see also HERE and HERE).

7. In short, then, starting epistemology by philosophically appealing to your reading caveat lector sentences like THE SENTENCE effectively avoids all the dualistic, mechanistic, and rationalistic cognitive-&-epistemic or theoretical and metaphysical-&-ontological vices of classical Cartesian epistemology (Descartes, 1985a, 1985b, 1985c). At the same time, it also fully possesses some of the very same cognitive-&-epistemic or theoretical and metaphysical-&-ontological virtues that are promised by classical Cartesian epistemology — in particular, being a secure foundation for all sciences in the maximally broad sense of “organized bodies of knowledge,” including not only the formal sciences (e.g., logic, mathematics, and computer science) and the natural sciences (e.g., physics, chemistry, and biology), but also the social sciences, the “moral sciences” more generally, and philosophy itself. For without self-manifesting acts or processes of reading, and without rational human readers, how could there be any sciences? But these cognitive-&-epistemic or theoretical and metaphysical-&-ontological foundational virtues are now fully transposed into the radically non-Cartesian and indeed anti-Cartesian cognitive-&-epistemic or theoretical, moral or practical, and metaphysical-&-ontological framework of rational anthropology (Hanna, 2006a, 2006b, 2015, 2018a, 2018b, 2018c, 2022).

8. Therefore, philosophically appealing to your reading caveat lector sentences like THE SENTENCE, is the right way to start epistemology. QED

REFERENCES

(Descartes, 1985a). Descartes, R. The Philosophical Writings of Descartes. Trans. J. Cottingham et al. 3 vols, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

(Descartes, 1985b). Descartes, R. “Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and Seeking the Truth in the Sciences.” In (Descartes, 1985a: vol. 1, pp. 111–151).

(Descartes, 1985c). Descartes, R. “Meditations on First Philosophy.” In (Descartes, 1985a: vol. 2, pp. 1–62).

(Hanna, 2006a). Hanna, R. Rationality and Logic. Cambridge: MIT Press. Available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2006b). Hanna, R. “Rationality and the Ethics of Logic.” Journal of Philosophy 103: 67–100. Available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2011). Hanna, R. “Minding the Body.” Philosophical Topics 39: 15–40. Available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2015). Hanna, R. Cognition, Content, and the A Priori: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge. THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 5. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. Also available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2018a). Hanna, R. Preface and General Introduction, Supplementary Essays, and General Bibliography. THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 1. New York: Nova Science. Available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2018b). Hanna, R. Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics. THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 2. New York: Nova Science. Available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2018c). Hanna, R. Kantian Ethics and Human Existence: A Study in Moral Philosophy. THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 3. New York: Nova Science. Available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2021). Hanna, R., The Fate of Analysis: Analytic Philosophy From Frege to The Ash-Heap of History. New York: Mad Duck Coalition. Affordably available in hardcover, softcover, and Epub at URL = <https://themadduckcoalition.org/product/the-fate-of-analysis/>.

(Hanna, 2022). Hanna, R. “Analytic Philosophy, Rational Anthropology, and The Epigenetic Model of the Mind.” Unublished MS. Available online HERE.

(Hanna and Maiese, 2009). Hanna, R. and Maiese, M. Embodied Minds in Action. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. Available online in preview HERE.

(Wikimedia, 2022). Wikimedia Commons. “A Philosopher Reading. Oil Painting by a Follower of David Teniers the Younger. “ Available online HERE.

(Wittgenstein, 1953). Wittgenstein, L. Philosophical Investigations. Trans. G.E.M. Anscombe. New York: Macmillan.

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Mr Nemo

Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.