Subject Object Cognition. V A Lektorsky 1980

Chapter 3
“Alternative” Worlds and the
Problem of Continuity of Experience

1. Objectiveness of Knowledge and the Possibility of a Gap between Perceptive and Conceptual systems

In our analysis of the Kantian conception of the cognitive relation between subject and object (see Part One) we have noted that the continuity of experience or, as Kant puts it, its unity, is an important indication of the objectiveness of knowledge. For Kant, this is even the only indication. And yet, a type of experience is imaginable that would be internally cohesive, continuous and consistent and at the same time entirely subjective. Something of this kind probably happens in the case of the illusory worlds which some mental patients create and live in. The events occurring in these worlds are subject to a definite inner logic, but it does not correspond to the real connections of the real objective world, which becomes clear from the patient’s behaviour and his relation to reality and to other people. A most important condition of objectiveness of experience, as shown in Marxist philosophy, is therefore its connection with practical object-oriented activity, for it is this connection that allows man to correct experience itself, to separate illusions in it from that which corresponds to the objective real state of affairs. The latter in its turn assumes the inclusion of the subject in a system of adequate social communications. As for mental cases, they are evidently incapable of any of these things.

However, as far as socially accepted norms rather than morbid deviations are concerned, the unity or continuity of experience and its correction through practice appear to be inseparable to the subject himself. In this connection it becomes clear that Kant touched on a very important problem indeed. Consider this: if experience is discrete, if its subsequent stage does not follow from the previous one and is not conditioned by it, we have no grounds at all for regarding it as objective. Of course, I cannot observe one and the same object continuously and infinitely long. Different things keep intruding on the field of my perception and passing beyond it. Objects may be given in the experience of other men with whom I communicate which are not given in my own experience. All these facts, however, do not prove discreteness of experience. Incorporated in the very mechanism of my perception is the realisation that the object’s existence is not discontinued simply because I cease looking at it. The objects of experience of one subject may simultaneously or after some time become part of the experience of another.

Objects which are not perceived by any subject at the given moment also exist in reality. If some object disappears, if it ceases to exist, that happens only due to certain events at a previous stage of experience. At the same time, the disappearing object always leaves some trace, which is expressed in the transformation of some objects into others, so that there is a definite continuity of events and processes relating to different stages of experience. The realisation of the continuity of the objective processes to which experience relates is not merely a product of interpretative reflexion, a result of reasoning, but a direct condition of the givenness of experience itself as a kind of knowledge. In other words, the process of perception assumes the action of an amodal objective scheme of the world, which makes possible the realisation of the independence of the objects from the act of their cognition (see Chapter 1 of Part One). This scheme also underlies scientific theoretical thinking which starts from the premise that the world of objects is independent from the subject’s cognitive activity. If there are gaps in experience, we have every right to doubt its objectiveness, to suspect that we deal with hallucinations, illusions, etc.

The question arises, however, whether we might not assume the existence of experience distinctly different from ours, that is, one that would relate to objects of an essentially different kind, so that there would be no direct transition from one type of experience to another. That would mean a gap between these two kinds of experience. At the same time this experience of an unusual kind would be quite normal and objective, that is, not only internally cohesive and continuous but also included in a definite type of object-related practical activity — true, an activity different from ours. Such experience might be characteristic of beings different from man (e.g., the inhabitants of other cosmic worlds). Kant accepted this possibility, but he believed this question to be insoluble, for any answer to it involves going beyond the domain of human experience, and this step is absolutely inadmissible, in his view.[59]

Even a very preliminary contemplation of this problem compels one to doubt the justifiability of posing it. Indeed, if there is only one objectively real world, there can hardly exist types of experience pertaining to this world that are so different that there are no transitions between them and that are at the same time objective. Of course, the experiences of every subject are unique and different from those of other subjects. At the same time the existence of my experience includes the possibility of understanding the statements of other individuals about the data of their experiences, for our different experiences objectively belong to one and the same world and, moreover, they subjectively comprise one and the same world of objects. I can know less about this world than another subject, or more, but the types of objects themselves remain the same for both of us. Those objects that are comprised in the experiences of another subject can also be included in my experience. In other words, our different experiences are essentially commensurable: the overall system of objects ensures continuity between them. It is quite another matter when different types of objects are subjectively present in experiences objectively belonging to the same world. If that were possible, a gap would obviously exist between these different types of experience. Inasmuch as cognition is reflection or reproduction of reality, gaps are impossible not only in the framework of the given type of experience but also in the relations between experiences of different types (and consequently, the existence of fundamentally incommensurable experiences is also, impossible). It would therefore appear that if we encountered such fundamentally incommensurable cognitive experiences (although it is not quite clear how that is possible), we would have to admit, first, that all of them could not equally be referred to cognition and, second, that some of them are apparently only a subjective illusion. Kant could accept (albeit only as a hypothetical possibility) the existence of different types of cognitive experiences only because, in his view, the substantive structure of experience is constituted by consciousness and, consequently, the existence of different types of consciousness determines different types of experience. If we reject this subjectivist premise of Kant’s philosophy, we have no right to argue the possibility of different types of experience.

This line of reasoning appears to be well substantiated. However, scientists in different fields have now encountered facts which they deem it necessary to explain in terms of hypotheses of the existence of different types of cognitive experience, different perceptive and conceptual worlds.

Let us begin our exposition and analysis of these conceptions with a reminder that, according to Piaget’s theory, there are different stages in the development of perceptive structures, so that at the early stages of this development the continuity of experience is as yet nonexistent for the child (the object that passes beyond his field of vision disappears for him in an absolute sense) and there are gaps of a certain kind between different stages of perceptive and intellectual development, each stage being characterised by its own structures and the subsequent stages replacing the previous ones. At the same time all these stages, in Piaget’s view, express different phases of the development of cognition in the intellectual ontogenesis.

True, Piaget deals with perceptive and intellectual structures which characterise only different stages in the genesis of the adult’s cognitive activity rather than the activity itself.

And yet Kuhn, the well-known specialist in the theory and history of science, in his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions substantiates the existence in science of fundamentally different “paradigms” replacing one another in the course of historical development of scientific knowledge. Kuhn points out extremely important facts: the impossibility of presenting the structure of scientific theories as a system of purely formal relations between language constructions (that was the interpretation of scientific theory by logical positivists); the immersion of theoretical systems in certain meaningful cognitive schemes determining both the character and the paths of further development of the theory as well as the mode of setting up and interpreting experiments; the existence of continuous links between the descriptive function of the paradigm (it is the paradigm that determines the ontology of the theory, that is, the type of real objects to which the given theory or a whole system of theories relates) and its normative, methodological, and heuristic functions. Kuhn indicates that paradigms may be viewed as definite systems of prescriptions shared by the scientific community that accepts a given paradigm. These prescriptions are not usually formulated as a system of clear-cut rules or formal algorithms. (apparently, such a kind of formulation of the prescriptions is even impossible), being incorporated, as it were, in the content structure of the paradigm itself.

it is the paradigm, Kuhn insists, that determines the cohesion of a scientific study at all of its levels, its inclusion in a definite semantic context. The mode of organisation of the given integral whole is reminiscent not so much of formal mathematical or logical structures as of the structures of perception, the perceptive “gestalts.” The transition from one paradigm to another may be regarded as a kind of switching to a different “gestalt.”

We shall not consider in detail the characteristics which Kuhn ascribes to a paradigm, or his conception as a whole. Let us note merely that he has drawn the attention of specialists in the theory, methodology, and history of science to a whole series of problems which have mostly been overshadowed by others but are nevertheless quite real and, moreover, essential for understanding the structure and functions of scientific knowledge, for an understanding of the actual historical process of the development of science.

It is important here to single out only one aspect of Kuhn’s conception, namely that which provoked accusations of subjectivism. It is also a point that has caused the greatest amount of argument. The transition from one paradigm to another (that is what a scientific revolution is about, according to Kuhn) is regarded as passing into a different conceptual and perceptual world in which the scientist works. What the scientist observes in experience is determined by the content of his theoretical paradigm, states Kuhn. At the same time the paradigms being integral wholes similar to perceptive gestalts are different from one another, there are no transitions between them. After a scientific revolution, the scientist sees the world in a different way: he observes those objects which previously did not exist for him, while that which previously seemed self-obvious and directly given no longer forms part of his experience. The new paradigm may use the same terms as the old one, and it usually includes most of the symbolic generalisations present in the old paradigm (formulations of scientific principles and laws) as well as the procedures of measurement, the rules for using apparatus, etc. However, in the context of a new meaningful whole, these terms, formulations, and rules are given a qualitatively new meaning.[60] “... During revolutions scientists see new and different things when looking with familiar instruments in places where they have looked before. It is rather as if the professional community has been suddenly transported to another planet where familiar objects are seen in a different light and are joined by unfamiliar ones as well. Of course, nothing of quite that sort does occur: there is no geographical transplantation; outside the laboratory everyday affairs usually continue as before. Nevertheless, paradigm changes do cause scientists to see the world of their research-engagement differently. In so far as their only recourse to that world is through what they see and do, we may want to say that after a revolution scientists are responding to a different world.”[61] Different paradigms are mutually intranslatable and incommensurable with each other, asserts Kuhn. Adequate communication between representatives of different paradigms is impossible: the same words are given different meanings. There exists a gap between the paradigms.[62]

To substantiate the thesis of the possibility of different conceptual and perceptive worlds, some theoreticians go even farther than Kuhn in some respects, linking up these worlds not only with certain theoretical systems but also with the modes of dissecting the world which are embodied in everyday language. The American linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf, generalising the results of ethnolinguistic studies (in particular, Whorf’s studies in the language of the Hopis, an Indian tribe) came to the conclusions formulated as the so-called hypothesis of linguistic relativity, or the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. (Kuhn mentioned the influence of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis on the shaping of his own conception.) According to this hypothesis, the world we perceive and interpret is unconsciously built on the basis of definite language norms. We break up reality into elements in accordance with classification rules (embodied in lexical units) and grammatical structures inherent in the given language. Inasmuch as there are no two similar languages, different societies may be said to exist in different worlds. “We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages,” writes Whorf. “The categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they stare every observer in the face; on the contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds — and this means largely by the linguistic systems in our minds. We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way... We are thus introduced to a new principle of relativity, which holds that all observers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe, unless their linguistic backgrounds are similar, or can in some way be calibrated.”[63] According to the hypothesis of linguistic relativity, different language pictures of the world can implement different categorical structures, thereby affecting the norms of thinking and, in a mediated way, the norms of behaviour of the given collective. In modern European languages of the Indo-European family, there is a division of words into nouns and verbs, into subjects and predicates. Whorf believes that this circumstance determines the ontology shared by the speakers of these languages — the division of the world into objects and their actions, processes. In Whorf’s view, in the Hopi language there is no division into subject and predicate, and in that of the Nootka tribe, no division even into verbs and nouns. In this latter case, the habitual division of the world into objects and processes is non-existent.[64]

The Hopi language does not categorise time the way European languages do . It will be found that it is not possible to define ‘event, thing, object, relationship’, and so on, from nature, but that to define them always involves a circuitous return to the grammatical categories of the definer’s language.”[65]

The most radical and at the same time logically polished formulation of the possibility of alternative conceptual worlds has been suggested by Willard Quine, an outstanding modern American logician, mathematician, and philosopher; this formulation is linked with his theory of the so-called ontological relativity.

2. The Conception of Ontological Relativity

Quine started out from the fact that there are alternative, i.e., logically incompatible, interpretations of a formal system.

For example, to define what kind of objects are numbers, we must give an interpretation of the formal system of arithmetic that would satisfy the arithmetical operations and laws; in particular, the primitive term O must be defined and the operation S the application of which to any element of the given system generates the next element Sn Two versions of number are known. Ernst Zermelo chose the empty class X as O and the singular class {x} for every x as Sx. The numbers 0, 1, 2, 3.... become respectively l, {l}, {{l}}, {{{ l}}} , etc.

In Neumann’s version, the empty class l is chosen as O and the natural number is defined as the class of all preceding numbers, that is, Sx appears as x V {x} . In this case, the number 1 will be { l }, the number 2– {0, 1}, i.e., { l { l}} the number 3– {0, 1, 2,} or {l, {l , {{l}}} etc.[66]

Both versions satisfy arithmetical laws and operations. But they are alternative. To demonstrate that, let us ask this question: does the number 3 belong to the number 5? According to Zermelo, the answer must be negative, and according to Neumann, positive. “Indeed, according to Neumann’s theory, for any two numbers x and y, the number x is smaller than the number y, if and only if x belongs to y and x is a proper subset of y. Symbolically: x < yxy. Since the number 3 is smaller than the number 5, the number 3 belongs to the number 5. According to Zermelo, this argumentation leads to an incorrect conclusion, inasmuch. as one number, x, belongs to another, y, if, and only if, y is the number following the number x. Symbolically: x ∈ y ≡ y = Sx. Since the number 5 is not the number following the number 3, the number 3 does not belong to the number 5. Thus we come to contradictory assertions.”[67] This contradiction is explained by the fact that the concept of the number following some x differs in the two theories.

In considering objects to which a theory relates, we must give an interpretation of the corresponding formal system, that is, we must translate the terms and propositions of the given system into the terms and propositions of another. At the same time, we have seen that a given formal system admits of different translations characterised by alternative ontologies. “We may accept that translation of a theory entails a change in ontology: e.g., one may go on from a universe of numbers to a universe of sets. The new objects must satisfy the laws of the old theory, and it becomes necessary to explain in what way translation of the theory can yield incompatible systems with different ontologies. It might be asserted that the new object is an explanation of the old in the sense that the ontological status of the former is clearer than the status of the latter so that the latter is reducible to the former. But how is one to understand that the old object is also reducible to another, new object included in an alternative theory?”[68]

Quine attempts to explain these facts in a philosophical-logical conception touching on a wider range of problems than the logical foundations of mathematics only.

He asks: what is, in general, translation from one language into another? Imagine that a researcher in anthropology has discovered a tribe absolutely unknown to science and is trying to learn its language. To do that, the researcher must translate the terms and other linguistic constructions of a foreign language into his native one. Each language, as Quine sees it, is an ensemble of terms and grammatical forms that are not only connected with one another by definite dependence relations but also “attached” at some points to the objects and phenomena of extralinguistic reality. It is exactly this latter circumstance that permits us to use the language as an instrument for the description of what occurs in the world. It is important to understand the manner in which the language constructions are “attached” to what happens in the real world, Quine continues. Man can know something about reality first of all because he gets certain information about it through his sense organs. But sensory information by itself does not yet carry a definite division of the world into a system of objects of a certain type. This dissection, Quine believes, is given by language, by the entire totality of its lexical and grammatical means. Different languages can apparently solve this task in different ways. For example, in order that different objects might be discovered in the world, standing in definite spatio-temporal relations to one another and subject to definite processes, there must be more in the language than the division of words into nouns and verbs. Subjects and predicates must also be differentiated in the utterance, and there must be linguistic methods of distinguishing between and identifying objects: “this,” “that which,” “the same,” expressions of the singular and plural number, etc. A language is possible in which all these linguistic means are absent. For carriers of such a language, external objects do not exist in the same manner as those to which speakers of European languages are accustomed (the character of these languages is doubtless connected with a definite type of culture). Each language is characterised by its own system of dissecting the world and by the type of meanings which are ascribed to these objects. (Quine believes that meanings are the dependences in a given linguistic system). For this reason, not only meanings but also objects or referents of linguistic expressions cannot be given extralinguistic ally.

Quine tries to assert a behaviourist, naturalist view of the psyche and language. He believes consciousness to be a kind of fiction. All psychical phenomena may and must be described, in principle, in terms of the physiology of higher nervous activity. Meanings as phenomena of the world of consciousness or of a supra-individual ideal world do not exist. There are only rules for “attaching” definite language expressions to stimuli of the given sort and methods for transforming some language expressions into others. It would be inaccurate, however, to draw the conclusion that Quine interprets language as a purely formal system. Quine believes it to be fundamentally erroneous to divide language expressions into those which describe experience (meaningful or synthetic propositions) and those which record purely linguistic relations (analytical propositions, that is, propositions empty of meaning). All elements of a language system are mutually connected, he believes, and this system as a whole serves as an instrument of describing experience. It is this “attachment” of the language system to experience that makes it impossible to single out those relations within the language that would be purely formal and have no definite semantic meaning. In actual fact, any relation between the elements of a given language system may be regarded both as a relation between meanings (it is important to bear in mind that meaning, according to Quine, is not an extralinguistic entity but belongs to the given language and expresses the mutual relations between its elements) and a fixation of a definite extralinguistic content, that is, knowledge of the world. The meanings of language elements do not exist outside knowledge of the world. In its turn, knowledge of the world can only exist through internal relations of the elements of the linguistic system, that is, through their meanings. Choosing the angle from which to consider the relations of language expressions to the knowledge of the world which they carry is purely conventional: the choice is determined by the goals of analysis. (True, taking into account that meanings are neither extralinguistic nor intralinguistic entities — we shall touch on this point below — Quine thinks it best to stop all discussion of meanings and discuss only the relations within the language and the relations of the language to the world of objects or referents). Thus any language system is at the same time a definite system of knowledge about the world, a definite theory with an inherent ontology. In particular, a natural language is also a kind of theory.

The need is sometimes asserted for distinguishing between language and theory in view of the following facts: first, different theories may be formulated with the aid of identical language means, and even at the pre-theoretical level the carriers of the given language may hold different views on a number of questions; second, it is well known that one and the same theory may be expressed in different languages, the term “language” being applied not only to the natural languages (English, French, etc.) but also to artificial ones, as the language of mathematics.

In his reply to these arguments Quine deems it necessary to stress the conventional nature of the division into language and theory: every language is a kind of theory, and any theory may be presented as a language. One must only remember that the theories themselves (and, correspondingly, the languages) may belong to different levels, they may possess a different degree of generality, etc. An everyday natural language expresses the broadest theory possible, embodying certain general orientations of “common sense.” One may agree with these general orientations and at the same time differ in the understanding of relatively more special problems. It is therefore possible to formulate in terms of one and the same natural language different systems of views, among other things, different scientific theories. As for the translation of the given theory from one language into another, it may be regarded as practically realisable only in some cases, but theoretically, that is, in the proper sense of the term, it is unattainable, Quine believes, for theoretical content unrelated to the language means of its expression does not exist. Any translation changes the content of a theory to some extent or other, and in some cases the change may be rather significant, affecting its ontology. Quine’s proposition concerning the impossibility of “radical translation” will be considered in detail somewhat later.

The question of the types of objects presupposed by the given language is not a purely formal one for Quine, it is not merely a question of conventionally adopting a certain mode of expression, as in Rudolf Carnap’s theory. (The latter assumed that ontological questions, being “external” relative to the language system, do not admit of theoretical solution and are merely identical with accepting or rejecting the given modes of expression.) Quine insists that accepting a given theory (viz. language) signifies adopting not only certain modes of expression but also a conception of the world, or an ontology. He therefore regards ontological problems as extremely important and belonging to the content of a theory (or language). If a theory is logically formalised, the objects permitted by it are the values of its variables. (For theories of this kind, Quine formulates his famous thesis: “The ontology to which one’s use of language commits him comprises simply the objects that he treats as falling within the subject matter of his quantifiers — within the range of values of his variables.”[69] In this case “to exist” means “to be a value of a bound variable.”)

Let us go back to the above example with an anthropologist. If this researcher observing the life of an unknown tribe speaking an entirely unfamiliar language attempts at the very beginning to translate into his tongue expressions unrelated directly with what is given in experience, he will hardly succeed: that much is obvious. Indeed, he has no instruments for establishing the meaning of these expressions. He should obviously first of all try to establish the meanings of those words and expressions which are closest to experience, recording what is given directly. In doing so, he will apparently assume that he observes the same objects of the environment as the natives whom he studies. Further, the anthropologist will bear in mind that the neurophysiological apparatus responsible for receiving information from the external world is common to all men. He will thus conclude that stimulus meanings of words and expressions and, consequently, those meanings which directly characterise the “attachment” of the language to the objects of the external world (the referents) and which differ from meanings as a system of intralinguistic relations, can be relatively easily singled out and must be common to different languages. (True, they will pertain only to those expressions which are more or less directly correlated with experience.)

The anthropologist will here start from the premise that referents are extralinguistic entities, namely, the objects of the external world.

Our researcher will endeavour to apply his theoretical orientation in practice. Supposing that he observes that each time a rabbit scurries by, the native emits the sound sequence “Gavagai.” The anthropologist surmises that “Gavagai” denotes, in the language of that tribe, the same thing that is denoted by the word “rabbit” (or rather the expression “Lo, a rabbit”) in his native language. Our researcher is not fully confident that the surmise is correct. Could it be that “Gavagai” relates not to rabbits at all but to all rapidly moving objects? Or it may be that “Gavagai” is a rabbit but not any kind of rabbit — only a fast-running rabbit. To test his conjecture, the anthropologist continues his studies. On the one hand, he extends the range of observation, and on the other, establishes contact with the natives: pointing to a rabbit sitting still and pronouncing the sounds “Gavagai,” the researcher observes the reaction of the members of the tribe and tries to establish whether they regard the pronunciation of this sound combination appropriate to the given situation. Observing for some time the behaviour of the natives and communicating with them through gestures, the researcher will settle on “rabbit” (or, to be more precise, the short phrase “Lo, a rabbit”) as a translation of “Gavagai.” In this way the anthropologist, Quine states, can translate a series of words and expressions of an unfamiliar language directly correlated with the experientially perceived events.

Translation of language constructions correlated with experience in a more mediated fashion is a more complicated matter. In translating these constructions, says Quine, the anthropologist will take into account, first, the connection between them and those expressions that he can translate already, second, their inclusion in “verbal behaviour” which stands, in its turn, in definite relations with objective, experientially fixed situations, and third, certain fundamental features of such a specific object as “language” with which he is familiar from his mastery of his own language. In this way the anthropologist will finally solve the task of formulating the instruments of translation from the natives’ language into his own.

The model for formulating a scheme of translation described here is, of course, extremely general and idealised. Still, Quine believes it to be a sufficiently precise expression of the main traits of the current practice of ethnolinguistic studies and, more broadly, the practice of translation from any language to any other in general. Quine has no intention at all of criticising this practice, for in his view it is impossible in any other form. However, he tries to show the theoretical untenability of those precepts which are usually associated with it and without which this practice can and must do, in Quine’s opinion.

Indeed, Quine argues, what proves that the referents, the objects to which linguistic expressions, refer, are extralinguistic entities? It is true, of course, that stimulus meanings are common to all men. But objects are by no means identical to stimulus meanings (whereas the anthropological researcher discussed above identifies the two). Different objective dissections may correspond to one and the same stimulus meaning, these dissections being determined by the properties of the language. When the anthropologist establishes that the sound sequence “Gavagai” refers to the same stimulus meaning as the word “rabbit,” that does not mean that both these linguistic units have identical referents. Pointing to a rabbit and pronouncing “Gavagai,” a native may mean a rabbit in a sense different from ours, e.g., those aspects of the rabbit which are at the given moment within his field of vision rather than a separate integral object characterised also by aspects that are not perceived at the given moment. “Gavagai” may be used in the natives’ language to denote something different from a kind of objects that are similar to each other in their “general rabbity” characteristics, each of them being at the same time unique; it may rather denote the phenomenon of some general “rabbitness” in the given area of space and at the given moment (in this case, the language will not possess any means of expressing the grammatical form of number or a division of nouns into abstract and concrete).[70] Generally speaking, there are many modes of objective interpretation of the stimulus meaning corresponding to our word “rabbit,” and enumerating them all is not the main thing. The main thing is, according to Quine, that it is impossible to establish from observation of the natives’ behaviour what types of objects are the referents of a given unknown language. (Let us recall once again that Quine strictly distinguishes between objects and stimulus meanings. It is not too difficult to establish the latter.) One and the same group of stimulus meanings, one and the same external behaviour may be reflected in different language systems characterised by different dissections of the world of objects. But if that is so, it is in general impossible to establish unambiguously the system of objects to which the foreign language refers. It also means that there is no unambiguously correct (Quine calls it “radical”) translation from one language to another. In practice the anthropologist studying a foreign language will take into account the coincidence of objects as referents of language expressions. As for the translation of those expressions which have no direct stimulus meanings, it will be attained, first, only by taking into account the connections between these expressions and those that have stimulus meaning, and second, on the analogy with grammatical and lexical constructions of the translator’s native language. Quine believes that even if one assumes that the ontology of the translator’s language is common to both languages (though this assumption cannot be substantiated at all, in his view), different analytical schemes are possible of the correlation of separate language expressions in the two languages, that is to say, different variants of translation exist. In other words, radical translation is indeterminate. As a rule, the translator does not fully realise this fact, considering the analytical scheme of translation of his choosing the only possible one. As for the mutual relations of those languages that have a sufficiently firmly established tradition of translation (e.g., translation from German into French or from English into Russian), the existence of an analytical scheme of translation may not be realised at all, for there is no question of searching for such a scheme: it was found a long time ago in the work of previous generations of translators, and the possibility of a fundamentally different scheme does not even occur to translators.

In this connection, Quine asks this question: how can we determine the ontology of a given language or theory, that is, the system of objects to which this language or theory refers? For the carriers of the given system, the language modes of expression and the ontological content are inseparable from each other: the world is given them through a system of meanings, and meanings embody knowledge of the world. To separate that which belongs to language from that which pertains to the world itself, we must go beyond the framework of the given language system and compare it with the world. Quine believes, however, that we have no way of penetrating the world as such, for the world as an ensemble of objects is always given to us only through some language system or other. (Quine does not negate the objective and real existence of the world, that is, its being independent of man and language, but he insists that the world is given to man only through some linguistic or theoretical system.) We cannot therefore speak of absolute ontology of the given language system but only of its relative ontology. When we ask what are in reality the objects of the given language or theoretical system the role of the “world of objects” with which the system under study is compared is played by another language or theoretical system and not the world as such. The ontology of such a system is not discussed here: the system itself and the world of its objects are given as something undifferentiated. In other words, in defining the ontology of the given linguistic or theoretical system, we perform in actual fact translation from one language into another. The language into which we translate defines the world of objects of the language from which we translate (that is to say, the object to which the word “Gavagai” refers, to recur to the above example, is a rabbit, i.e. that which is denoted by the appropriate word of our language). We should not forget, however, that depending on the language into which a text in the given language will be translated, the latter will be ascribed different ontologies, in Quine’s opinion. But even if we refer to two given languages only, here again one may accept different analytical schemes of translation (let us recall Quine’s thesis about the indeterminate character of radical translation).[71] In this case, when the question arises about the ontology of the language into which we translate, here again we run into the same problem: we can say something about this ontology only in relation to some other language. Quine concludes that there can be no answer of absolute value to the question of what the objects of a given theory are. The ontology of a given theory can only be established in relation to some other theory. If we want to know, for instance, what kind of objects are in fact numbers, we must translate the system of arithmetic into some other mathematical system, e.g., set theory, and one of the theories (Zermelo’s) will provide one answer to this question, while Neumann’s will give another. As a matter of fact, the reverse procedure is also possible. To answer the question about the kind of objects sets really are, we may try to translate the propositions of set theory into the language of arithmetic. On the analogy with the relativist theory of space and time, Quine believes it possible to speak of a relativist theory of the objects of theory, or of ontological relativity.[72]

An important point of Quine’s conception is that each language has its own mode of dissecting the objective world. This assertion, however, does not entail, in Quine’s view, that each language has its own ontology, into which we cannot penetrate from the outside, being therefore compelled to interpret it on the analogy of the ontology of our own language. Quine believes that one cannot discuss the ontology of the given language as long as it is considered by itself: although a language carries a definite world picture in itself, the interrelation between language and the world of objects is not singled out in it. To find out in what way language expressions are correlated with objects, i.e., to single out the ontology of the given language, we have to speak about it in some other language, the ontology of which is not discussed in the context of this discourse. The problem of ontology is one of mutual relation or mutual translatability of different languages or theories. We therefore do not know the ontology of our own language, says Quine.

The ontology of the latter can only be discussed in some other language (and the ontology itself will look differently depending on the language into which the texts in our own tongue are translated). True, one may attempt to reveal the ontology of our language while remaining within its boundaries, and such attempts are made both in everyday life and especially in logic and philosophy. In this case, however, our language must figure twice, in different capacities: once as an object language (that is, the language whose ontology is elucidated), and another time as the language in which we discuss the ontology of the object language. Here we translate the sentences of our language into sentences of the same language. The sentences we translate need not be equivalent to those that result from translation. Generally speaking, even in this case, according to Quine, we can choose different analytical schemes of translation. And that means that the ontologies ascribed to our language will differ depending on the scheme of translation.

When we communicate with another person speaking the same language as we do, we are convinced that we refer to one and the same world of objects. We believe that in this case, at any rate, our own object dissection of the world and that of our partner must coincide.

But why are we so confident about it? Quine asks. Is it solely because our interlocutor pronounces approximately the same sounds as we do in similar situations? How can we make judgements about the meaningful world picture which our partner associates with these sounds? We ascribe to his words a relation to definite objective referents only because we translate his speech into the language which we use ourselves. From Quine’s standpoint, our language as a system of predispositions to definite verbal behaviour appears to us in quite a different light than any other language which we always treat as an object language: that is true not only of the language of a foreign people but also of that of our countrymen.

Quine believes that the conception of ontological relativity is applicable to all language systems or theories: not only to natural, ordinary (national) languages but also to theories in mathematics and other sciences. True, we should bear in mind the following important factor. In mathematics, we can do more than translate the theory of arithmetic into the language of set theory: we can also perform retranslation. Each of these theories may appear as an object one (the theory whose ontology is established) or the one that functions as the premise (the theory specifying the ontology of the object theory). The reason for this freedom of action is equal mastery of both theories. The situation with natural languages is different. Only one of them is our native or mother tongue. We therefore usually judge of the ontology of other languages on the basis of translating them into our own: it is the latter that specifies the object dissection of the world in terms of which we understand and interpret other languages.

In natural scientific knowledge the problems of ontology are settled, in Quine’s view, in the same way, i.e., through translation of the terms and propositions of one theory into the language of another. For instance, if we ask ourselves the question what really is the object referred to in physical theory as the atom, we must translate this theory into the language of another, e.g., that which operates with the “sense datum” terms, or uses the terminology of laboratory operations, or else applies terms referring to non-observable objects: it will be shown in the last case that such and such substantive processes of objective reality correspond to the word “atom.” The process of translation may reveal that some language expression of the object theory does not correspond to any real entity from the standpoint of the premise theory: that is the position, e.g., with the term “ether” if we try to translate the theory of classical physics into the language of modern science. It may also happen that we shall be unable to find any modes of translating one theory into another. In this case, Quine thinks, we cannot make judgments about the ontology of the given theory. Yet, Quine believes, the attempts to reduce the content of natural scientific knowledge to the content of “sense data” and protocol statements (something that was intensely practiced by logical positivists) are untenable. At the same time he regards conceptual theoretical gaps, the emergence of fundamentally new systems of knowledge, and scientific revolutions as a rare and undesirable phenomenon in the development of natural science. Here he differs strongly with Kuhn, as we see. In Quine’s view, natural sciences develop through gradual changes and restructuring of theoretical constructions, so that questions of ontology arise here fairly rarely. (Quine believes that even metamathematical studies, dealing with problems of interpretation of formal systems, can in some cases do without solution of ontological problems.)

According to Quine, the experiences of each group of subjects that are carriers of a given language or theory are more or less continuous, and the experiences of each individual subject are even more so. Everything that appears in the field of his experience, including other languages or theories, is interpreted in terms of the world picture embodied in this experience. The question of how other subjects that are carriers of other languages or theories see and understand the world is meaningless, according to Quine: one ascribes a certain ontology to other languages proceeding from the properties of one’s own. At the same time, this conception starts out from the premise that different language or theoretical systems implement different object dissections of reality. And that means that, although experience is continuous within the group of carriers of the given language, it is discrete in the relations between different groups using different languages (or theories).[73] Groups of carriers of different languages or theories live in different worlds. Accepting this thesis, Quine concurs with Sapir and Whorf as well as Kuhn. A substantive addition Quine makes to this thesis is his assertion that the subjects themselves that are carriers of different languages or theories usually do not notice that

they live in different worlds, as they interpret other worlds on the analogy of their own. They can learn another language (translating it into their own) and even communicate with the carriers of another language and yet remain outside this other world. Different worlds exist in different dimensions and do not therefore come into contact or interact. The carriers of different languages or theories in Quine’s interpretation remind one of Leibnitz’s monads which reflect the whole world, yet “have no windows” and do not actually interact with other monads, although they have the impression that they do participate in such interactions.

That does not, of course, mean that a person cannot master another language so that it will become his second native language (that is only possible when a person is included in a different cultural system). The subject will in this case master the mode of object dissection of the world which is characteristic of the new language. However, for Quine the main point is that one cannot simultaneously use two languages. When the given subject speaks the new language and thinks in it, his native language functions as an object one, and vice versa. Two languages (and correspondingly two world pictures) cannot come into contact in one experience field. The transition from one language to another as the basis of conversation and thinking may in this case be viewed in the same light as transposition into a different dimension.

Kuhn and Feyerabend, as we recall, insist that different paradigms and major scientific theories carrying different visions of the world come into conflict with one another; it even happens in the consciousness of an individual subject, as a result of which one of the paradigms replaces others. According to Quine, however, different language or theoretical conceptions characterised by different object dissections of the world cannot come into this kind of conflict, lying as they do in different dimensions: whenever the interrelation of two theoretical systems is elucidated and their ontologies are established, one of them acts as an object theory and the other, as a premise theory.

Quine does not specially consider the problems of scientific revolutions. His assertion, however, that conceptual changes in the development of science can only be gradual shows that he does not accept the existence of such revolutions. Reasoning in abstracto, we can, of course, imagine an attempt at describing successive replacement of paradigms in the language of Quine’s conception of ontological relativity. In this case, however, we would, first, have to reject the assertion of the gradual

character of conceptual changes in science and, second, give an interpretation of the paradigms themselves and the process of their successive replacement that would be essentially different from Kuhn’s.

3. Translation and the Problem of Understanding

Let us begin a critical analysis of the conceptions of alternative worlds with Quine’s theory. That is all the more convenient since the latter sets this problem against the broadest philosophical background.

Let us note from the start that the existence of alternative theories in metamathematics, which was the premise of Quine’s theory, is in itself indubitable and requires serious philosophical study. Quine is also right when he says that the problem of substantiation of scientific theory cannot be solved through ontological and epistemological reduction (thus, it is impossible to reduce the theory of arithmetic to set theory; the problem of substantiation of mathematics cannot be formulated or solved within the framework of reductionism). But we are first of all interested in the analysis of the conception of ontological relativity in its general epistemological significance.

It is easy to show, however, that its basic propositions can hardly be regarded as acceptable. Indeed, Quine notes that sensory information (that is precisely what his term “stimulus meanings” refers to) does not carry in itself any object dissection of the world. He is, of course, right here. But he errs on another score, namely, in asserting that the existence of objects is not inherent in the world outside man, and that the subject singles out external objects only at the language level, the grouping of “stimulus meanings” in the objects of a definite type being entirely determined by the structure of the given language system, so that it must be fundamentally different in different languages. According to Quine, the initial content information about reality is restricted to an ensemble of “stimulus meanings,” and human behaviour is determined by this information rather than the objective properties of the objects themselves. As a matter of fact, what we have here is a kind of revival of the subjectivist empirical theory of “sense data,” hard as Quine might try to dissociate himself from it. He is also close to the subjectivism of logical positivism (although he believes to have overcome the latter) at another point of his conception — in rejecting the existence in objective reality of objects that are referents of the given language expressions. For Quine, just as for Carnap, the subject cannot in a certain sense break away beyond the confines of language to the objective world itself: the meanings through the relations of which the world is given to the subject are, in their view, only a system of intralinguistic relations. Therefore the world itself as an ensemble of objects is only the product of language.

This line of reasoning, consistently and logically implemented, inevitably leads to conclusions which are in them selves enough to make one doubt such conceptions. (For instance, it is exactly that interpretation which Quine gives of subjective “stimulus meanings,” taken as the starting point of cognition, that determines the emergence in this conception, in a new variant, of the difficulty which subjective empiricism would never solve: the imaginary impossibility to cognize the state of consciousness of another person.) The main point, however, is that Quine’s conception cannot provide an adequate explanation of a whole series of important facts which the modern sciences of cognition cannot ignore.

The basic fact is that the subject is capable of singling out the objects of the external world before he masters the language, though Quine asserts the opposite. The modes of singling out objects are directly correlated with definite forms of object-related practical activity worked out by society; assimilating these forms, man assimilates the specifically human cognitive relation to reality, that is, that relation which assumes the givenness of the world of objects to consciousness and differentiation of the latter from the inner world of the subject, his consciousness. The assimilation of language itself implies that the subject has mastered definite “reference mechanisms,” that is, the modes of referring knowledge to reality: these mechanisms are included in the basic perceptive structures. The main types of referents and systems of meaning are not constructed by the language system but are its premises.

That is why expressions of different languages may have common referents and, moreover, common meanings in a narrow sense of the term, i.e., they may be synonymous. Quine’s conception compels one to reject the possibility of synonymy, which contradicts elementary language intuition. These fundamental facts are recognised in all more or less serious theories inquiring into cognitive activity in general and perception in particular.

Inasmuch as perception structures are linked with definite forms of object-related practical activity, one may make judgments, from the knowledge of the given subject’s mastery of these forms, about the character of these structures and the degree in which they are formed, i.e., judgements about the form in which the object dissection of the world appears to the subject. That is the method of inquiry used by. Piaget, among others. (We ignore here the fact that Piaget deals with spontaneous development of structures and actions in the child and not with mastering socially evolved forms of object-related activity.) Piaget draws conclusions about the forms in which external objects appear to the subject from the child’s behaviour, e.g., from its searching for an object that passed beyond its field of vision. It is through external object-related activity that knowledge which the subject has is actually combined with the real objects. The forms of this activity are of course determined not only by the objects but also by the historical traits of social practice: those aspects are singled out in the object which became particularly significant for the given types of object-related activity. At the same time it is essential that, first, we are dealing here with the real aspects of the objective things themselves, and second, that the essential structure of human practical activity remains invariable, however diverse and historically changeable types of practice may be. Therefore, the principal types of objects with which humans deal in ordinary life are the same regardless of the languages they speak and the stage of cultural-historical development. (Only we must not confuse the types of objects given in knowledge with what the subject knows about these objects.)

If we break the real ties between systems of knowledge and forms of practical object-oriented activity, it is, of course, impossible to assess the extent to which the object dissection of the world given in knowledge corresponds to what exists independently of cognition and consciousness. But that is exactly what Quine does, insisting that judgments cannot be made from behaviour about the system of referents to which the given language expressions relate, and that different systems of object dissection of the world implemented in different languages can be associated with one and the same type of behaviour, the latter being, in Quine’s view, oriented at an ensemble of “stimulus meanings” and not at a system of objects.

It is obvious, however, that the most meaningful and essential connections of reality are implemented precisely in the object picture of the world. The knowledge of an object assumes cognitive mastery of a whole system of substantive connections in their complex mutual dependences, the connections being not only actual but also potential. If man’s activity were directed at an ensemble of “stimulus meanings” rather than at objects and their mutual relations, his behaviour would hardly differ much from the behaviour of animals. It should be assumed that if a rabbit were perceived as a set of actually given aspects or as a phenomenon of “rabbitness” (to use Quine’s example), this would affect in one way or another the behaviour of the carriers of this kind of perception. True, Quine himself underlines that the anthropologist trying to translate a text from one language into another must deal with relatively short stretches of “stimulus meanings” and correspondingly with relatively small fragments of natives’ behaviour. But this restriction is hardly justified. It may be assumed that it is this restriction that makes it hard to define the object referents of some language expressions and that, consequently, its elimination does away with a whole series of imaginary difficulties to which Quine refers in substantiating the thesis that radical translation is indeterminate.

Further, Quine’s conception of language itself also gives cause to certain objections. In Quine’s view, language is a definite ensemble of purely conventional (associative, in his terminology) links between separate sound complexes, some of which stand in conventional (associative) relations with “stimulus meanings.” Language is definite more or less stable connections of verbal behaviour, or predisposition to verbal behaviour of a definite kind. Alterations in verbal behaviour change language too, in Quine’s opinion. He believes that the relations of different sound complexes to one another and to external stimuli in the framework of the given language system are not determined by the object dissection of the world. Meanings are only mutual relations of language expressions. For Quine, it is therefore quite natural to infer that the existence of a common object environment, of a common neurophysiological apparatus in carriers of different languages, and even the substantive community of different kinds of practice associated with different languages are no indications at all of the existence of essentially common structures in different languages.

However, the conception of language which becomes more and more firmly rooted in modern linguistics is based on fundamentally different notions. The point is that a language system is not determined simply by a set of sentences similar in certain respects and produced within a given time interval, that is, by verbal behaviour. This set will always be finite. Yet any language system contains the possibility of generation of an infinite set of acts of verbal behaviour, including those that do not reproduce any of the past acts. Generation of new sentences does not necessarily entail changes in the essential characteristics of the given language system (whereas, if language is a set of conventional connections between sentences the emergence of new sentences must change the language itself). An essential feature of language is the phenomenon of synonymy — that very phenomenon which Quine treats as a pseudoproblem. Modern linguistics works out theoretical models of generative grammar proceeding from the fundamental premise that language serves to express a system of definite meanings and that this system is basically common to all the different languages (having an extralinguistic nature). Apparently, such grammatical categories are universal as names of objects (nouns and nominal phrases), names of situations — sentences, and the so-called transformers, that is, linguistic objects changing linguistic objects of one class into other linguistic objects of the same or different class.[74] And that means, for instance, that singling out objects in reality and distinguishing them from processes and actions, that is, from situations, is common to all languages, being determined by extralinguistic circumstances which inevitably affect all languages.[75] The existence of invariant grammatical structures in all languages is also an argument against the universalist claims of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. The grammatical structure of a given language assumes a definite object dissection of the world specifying a definite very general sense of each sentence generated by the given system of grammatical rules. Therefore, if lexical semantic connections in a sentence are disrupted but the sentence itself is constructed grammatically, it is meaningful in a wider sense, though properly speaking nonsensical; at any rate, it is understandable. Noam Chomsky cites in this connection the sentence “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.”[76]

But even if we deal with a completely foreign language, the grammar of which is not known to us and may prove to be quite different from the grammar of our native tongue, the existence of language universals does not permit us to interpret that language as a simple set of sounds conventionally connected with stimuli from the external environment and allowing an almost unlimited spectrum of incompatible interpretations. Quine makes a universal and an absolute out of a definite procedure that is justified in metamathematical studies. In the latter, the need indeed arises to view a given theoretical system as a purely formal structure (a set of symbols on paper) functioning as an object language meaningfully discussed in metalanguage. Under ordinary circumstances, however, the attitude to natural language and even those languages which express the content of theories in the factual sciences, i.e., those that differ from mathematics, is different. If I come across a language spoken by beings physically similar to me and interacting with the external world in a basically similar way (and that is expressed in their behaviour), I must assume at once that the semantic fields of our different languages have essential features in common.

According to Quine’s conception, only those acts of verbal behaviour are ultimately given to me on the semantic plane whose agent I myself am. A dissected picture of the object world is given to me by the language which characterises my predisposition to definite verbal behaviour. As for the language of any other subjects, including those that speak apparently the same language as myself, this language functions, according to Quine, merely as an object language, i.e., a set of sounds allowing different interpretations. However, an individual that merely receives from the external world a set of impacts in the form of “stimulus meanings,” holding other individuals and their actions also to be mere external stimuli, cannot be the starting point of epistemological or even psychological and psycholinguistic: study. Such a study must have for a starting point the subject included from the outset into real connections of communication with other subjects representing society and the accumulated social-historical experiences. From the very first days of its life, the child is involved in a meaningful interaction with an adult. At first, the ties of semantic communication are established directly through practical activity with external real objects (and not at all with a set of “stimulus meanings"! ) and later through the use of language, too. The latter thus actually expresses not only a definite relation of sound complexes to external objects but also the relation of the subjects using it to one another. The types of objects to which the expressions of the given language and the principal types of relations between these objects, i.e., the principal systems of meanings, relate are therefore common to all the carriers of the given language. The question, discussed by Quine, of what the ontology of the language is which my compatriot speaks cannot for this reason arise in reality and is a typical pseudoproblem.

The difference between the object dissection of the world given to me through the language I speak and the ontology of this language does not have the character ascribed to it by Quine. Of course, this differentiation has some sense in formal analysis, when we have to discuss an object language in terms of a metalanguage, but it can hardly be so essential in all the other cases. As far as natural languages and the languages of the theories of factual sciences are concerned, their ontology is substantively determined by the object dissection of the world given in them and cannot be viewed as something determined only by the relation of the given language or theory to another arbitrarily chosen language or theory. Therefore in non-formal contexts the ontology of a theoretical system may be regarded as inbuilt.

That does not, of course, mean that all semantic shadings included in the perception of the given object by myself and another subject are absolutely identical. Indeed, if two subjects look at the same object, the latter will present to them its different aspects if only because their angles of vision may not coincide, as they occupy different positions in space. That means that the backgrounds against which the given object will be perceived will be different, to say nothing of the differences in perception determined by the specific traits of the personality and the life story of each of the subjects. The situation is essentially the same with their utterances. One and the same word necessarily calls forth different associations in them conditioned by their unique life experiences. For this reason, if we accept that understanding another person assumes complete and absolute comprehension of the entire system of the subjective semantic shadings of behaviour and speech essential for that person, we may conclude that such an understanding is in general impossible and that, consequently, semantic interaction or meaningful dialogue between two subjects are in general nonexistent. That is the conclusion to which Quine comes. But, as we have tried to show, the difference in semantic shadings characterising the experiences of different subjects is itself possible only against the background of essentially common semantic structures underlying real practical, object-directed and language communication. Real understanding and dialogue do not at all rule out certain semantic differences in the details and shadings that are inessential for the needs of communication. Moreover, communication presupposes these differences, for no subject can cease being himself or transplant himself into the body and consciousness of another.

Therefore, if we interpret understanding another person as complete coincidence of semantic fields, as absolute merging with the subjective states of another through a kind of direct empathy, we may deduce that any understanding is in actual fact non-understanding. It is another matter that this interpretation of understanding is untenable. To distinguish between the general structure of semantic fields essential for communication and the subjective system of semantic connections in which this structure is implemented in the consciousness of each individual subject, A. N. Leontyev draws a distinction between the categories of “meaning” and “personal sense.”[77] It does not follow from the above that the access to another subject’s system of personal senses is absolutely closed to me, and that I cannot to some extent assimilate his characteristic mode of interpreting the system of general meanings. Every real dialogue performs this task, enabling one to see the World through the eyes of another person and to allow the possibility of a standpoint different from mine. As for the perception of the object from the same angle of vision as it presents itself to another, it is enough to take up the same spatial position which was earlier occupied by another subject. It is a different matter that absolute merging of the systems of personal senses of two subjects is impossible, since they remain different.

The situation is much more complicated, of course, in trying to understand the behaviour and speech of the carriers of a foreign language absolutely unknown to us. We have touched on the existence of grammatical universals common to different languages. But a great deal in the grammatical structures of different languages is indeed different, and this fact, though raised to an absolute by Sapir, Whorf, and Quine, cannot be ignored. For instance, there are three cases in Arabic, fifteen in Estonian, and no declension in some languages at all. Systems of lexical meanings vary particularly strongly from language to language. If we recognise the community of different types of objects assumed by different languages, we shall have to consider the fact that the ways of grouping these objects in classificatory systems (and it is the latter that are expressed in the lexical units of the given language) distinguish one language system from another and are determined by the specific traits of that kind of practice which is characteristic of the carriers of the given language. “As studies in most diverse languages have shown, the visible spectrum is ‘distributed’ in different ways by different languages. Let us consider the designation of colours: ‘green’, ‘dark-blue’, ‘light-blue’, ‘grey’, ‘brown’. In Welsh, three words correspond to this part of the colour spectrum: qwyrdd, glas, and elwyd. The last word denotes that part of the spectrum which is termed in English ‘brown’ and ‘grey’ or, to be more precise, ‘dark grey’. The word glas covers the part named in English ‘light-grey’, ‘blue’, and ‘green’. The word qwyrdd also refers to that part of the spectrum which we call ‘green’... And in the language of one of the Negro peoples living in Liberia, all colours of the rainbow are designated by two words only: one refers to the colours which painters call ‘warm’ (red, orange, yellow, etc.), and the other, ‘cold’ (blue, violet, etc.).[78] Inasmuch as language is directly connected with thought, not only serving as a means of expressing cognitive structures evolved in object-related practical activity before language but also creating for the first time the possibility of the emergence of new cognitive structures, it may be assumed that the difference between the grammatical and lexical means indicates a difference in definite cognitive schemes (although these differences do not involve the principal schemes of reasoning expressed in language universals). One may even go still further, assuming that the difference in language structures determines to some extent the difference in perception. It is, for instance, possible that the Negro tribe living in Liberia referred to above perceives colours in a different manner from the carriers of modern European languages.

To evaluate this line of reasoning, let us consider some facts. A difference in the grammatical structure of two given languages does not by itself predetermine the possibilities of rendering certain senses with their aid. It is well known, for instance, that the category of determination-indetermination is very essential for Romance and Germanic languages and is expressed in them grammatically, through definite and indefinite articles. There is no system of articles in Russian, but the category of determination-indetermination can be expressed in this language too — by lexical rather than grammatical means (through the pronouns etot, tot in one case and kakoy-to, nekotoriy in the other). Generally speaking, identical senses are expressed in different ways in different languages: in some the sense is expressed grammatically, in others, lexically (the phenomenon of lexico-grammatical synonymy). The vocabulary, being continually renovated, is the most flexible and dynamic part of the language system, a kind of complement to grammar. Inasmuch as there are no essential obstacles to the development of the vocabulary, one may keep introducing new senses and types of senses while remaining within the framework of the given grammatical structure, which is the most conservative part of the language system. It would therefore be rash, to say the least, to infer the characteristic world picture of a language and the cognitive schemes specific for its carriers directly from the grammatical structure, neglecting the study of lexical systems. The study of actually existing natural languages rather provides arguments in favour of recognising the community of their semantic fields in their basic essential features.

As for the undoubtedly existing differences in vocabulary, and consequently in certain classificatory and semantic systems, their influence on the perception of the world needs careful investigation. In any case one must bear in mind that the main perceptive structures take shape already before language is mastered. Therefore the absence in the given language of words for certain objects and their aspects does not necessarily mean that the latter are not perceived at all. Indubitably, language also affects the semantic characteristics of perception structures, although the nature and extent of this influence have been quite insufficiently studied.[79]

Let us note, finally, that the social-historical changes and the actually growing affinity between the cultures of different regions necessarily lead to the addition of words to the vocabulary of the given language which allow the expression of new systems of meanings, which results in the affinity of the semantic fields of different languages thus growing.

However, as long as differences between cultures and the underlying types of practical activity continue to exist, certain differences between the semantic fields of language systems continue to exist, too. All of this creates actual difficulties both for translation and for understanding. True, these difficulties are not at all insurmountable, being eliminated in the course of social progress and cultural interaction. At certain stages in history, however, they still exist and have to be taken into account.

One-to-one translation from one language into another is in general impossible. Separate elementary meanings of one language often have no equivalents in another. But combinations or systems of meanings of different languages may on the whole correspond to each other. If the languages are very dissimilar (owing to the difference in cultures), translation of some meanings at a given stage of social, cultural and language development is sometimes simply impossible, but that does not mean that this possibility cannot arise in the future. Thus the actual difficulties of translation are quite different from those outlined by Quine in his theory of the impossibility of radical translation and, which is the main thing, they do not warrant Quine’s philosophical conclusions.

Let us now imagine that we have to deal with a reasonable being whose physical make-up, the modes of obtaining and processing information from the surrounding environment, and the type of interaction with the world are essentially different from the human (extraterrestrials are favourite characters in science fiction, as we know). Assumedly, it will be extremely difficult to understand the language of this being. It is this case, rather than what we usually observe in ethnolinguistic studies, that is closest to Quine’s view of the situation of an anthropologist studying the language of an unknown tribe. Yet even this case does not fully answer Quine’s interpretation. Assume that the extraterrestrial’s system of perception of the world was formed under conditions essentially different from terrestrial ones, that his environment did not include solid bodies, that is to say, it was something like liquid or gas. (Of course, this assumption is highly hypothetical if not improbable. We temporarily accept it entirely as a kind of “mental experiment.”) In this case, the extraterrestrial will either have no means of perceiving the world of objects with which we deal or will perceive these objects in a specific manner different from ours. If we observe, however, that our guest out of space fairly successfully orients himself in our terrestrial world, we must conclude that he perceives, in one way or another, our system of objects. And if we consider as well that object dissection of the world characterises definite systems of dependences of reality itself, far from merely expressing the properties of our language (and we tried to show the necessity of exactly this interpretation of the facts), we inevitably come to the conclusion that a reasonable being different from ourselves perceives, under terrestrial conditions, essentially the same types of objects as we do. This conclusion may serve as the basis for the search for the modes of understanding the language of extraterrestrials. It also allows the assumption that we shall be able to translate a certain part of this language, though this apparently does not obtain with reference to the extraterrestrials’ language as a whole, for the modes of existence of the Earth’s inhabitants and of the guests from space differ too greatly. Success is more likely if we deal with messages containing scientific information: it is through science that we acquire knowledge about real objects and their dependences regardless of their being included in some form or other in direct practical activity at the given historical stage. It is not accidental that it is hoped to establish communication with extraterrestrial civilisations (if they exist! ) through transmitting scientific texts.

We recall, however, that Thomas Kuhn believes that in science itself the assertions about laws assume essentially different senses in different paradigms, so that adherents of such paradigms in science do not understand one another. So, if the inhabitants of the Earth engaged in one and the same undertaking scientific study of the given phenomenal domain, accepting a whole series of assertions as true, and using the same apparatus, still do not fully understand one another, according to Kuhn, how is science to ensure understanding between ourselves and the hypothetical reasonable inhabitants of remote worlds differing from ours?

Can we accept Kuhn’s thesis about the incommensurability of different paradigms?

To answer this question, we shall have to do a certain amount of analytical work.

Let us start by stating that the existence, at different stages of the development of science, of various ways of semantic organisation of systems of knowledge implemented in different paradigms appears quite likely. The irreducibility of one paradigm to another is expressed not only in that identical formulas are given different meanings in them, as emphasised by Kuhn himself. Even if we ignore the problem of semantic interpretation of assertions expressed in symbolic form and forming scientific theories, it is apparently impossible to perform the operation of formal deduction of all propositions of one theory from the propositions of that theory which came to replace it and which, it would appear, must fully supplant the previous one. (we have in mind here sufficiently global theories, that is, close to what is termed paradigms by Kuhn.) Reduction of one theory to another mostly proves impossible not only on the content plane but also on the formal one.

Mario Bunge shows that even thermodynamics is not fully reducible to classical mechanics, although the relation between these two theories is often cited in philosophical literature as a striking example of reduction. “In fact, no rigorous derivation of the second principle of thermodynamics is known: only the thermodynamics of the ideal gas — a very special case — has so far been reduced to molecular dynamics. As to rigid bodies, particle mechanics cannot account for their existence, since the ‘particles’ concerned are quantum-mechanical systems and they are glued by fields, which are extraneous to particle mechanics. Nor does quantum mechanics yield classical mechanics in some limit: it retrieves only some formulas of particle mechanics, none of continuum mechanics, which is the bulk of classical mechanics. Finally, some relativistic theories have no non-relativistic limits while others have more than one.”[80]

Does that mean that communities of scientists adhering to different paradigms live in different worlds and cannot adequately communicate?

The fact itself of the existence of paradigms hardly proves that the mode of vision of the world is entirely restructured in their successive replacement. Of course, the framework of what is observed in scientific experiment is determined by the content of the theory adopted. But the principal structures of perception, just as interpretation of the world in terms of natural everyday language, take shape at the pre-scientific level and hardly change to any essential degree throughout successive scientific theories. One may rather assume that many semantic systems characteristic of pre-scientific knowledge constitute, in a transformed shape, part of science essentially determining its content aspects. The replacement of fundamental scientific theories or paradigms thus takes place against the background of definite constant strata of knowledge implemented, at any rate, in the structures of perception and in the propositions of the so-called common sense expressed in ordinary language.

Let us note further that in the actual practice of scientific research theory is not, as a rule, applied directly to experience but through the mediation of another (“interpretant”) theory, as has been indicated above. The replacement of one substantive theory by another does not, as a rule, coincide with the replacement of interpretant theories. Besides, as we have just noted, new theories never fully oust out old ones. The actual multilevel structure of scientific knowledge, the existence in it of a number of systems (not a single one! ) at each given stage, changing in different ways and at different rates, and finally the “immersion” of scientific theories in everyday pre-scientific knowledge, allow actual comparison and assessment of different paradigms in terms of external criteria, so that the assertion of their incommensurability has no basis at all.

The existence of a common background for different paradigms makes it possible to apply common measuring rods or standards to them. That does not mean that they are mutually fully translatable, since that would imply the existence of common referent systems and common meanings. But paradigms are characterised precisely by different contents, by giving different interpretations to identical formulas and sometimes even by different referents. Even if we assume that there is no complete semantic break between paradigms but merely a certain difference (we shall touch on this point somewhat later), complete mutual translatability of different paradigms is impossible. finder criticism, Kuhn gave a less rigid formulation of the thesis about that draws a parallel between paradigms and “alternative worlds,” asserting in the “Postscript-1969” that, although different paradigms are mutually translatable, they are still incommensurable.[81] In actual fact, the reverse is true, as we have tried to show: paradigms are commensurable but not mutually translatable.

Recently, specialists in scientology have been greatly interested in the so-called thematic analysis of scientific theories, that is, the study of those content components of theoretical constructions which are passed on from one stage in the history of scientific thought to another, linking up different paradigms and ensuring continuity of development of scientific cognition. For example, the concept of force has certain characteristics invariant both with regard to the Aristotelian and Newtonian paradigms. The theme of conservation (of matter, motion, electricity, etc.) is passed on from one paradigm to the next. Some themes, accompanying scientific thought from its inception, are grouped in relations of antithetical couples: atomism vs continualism, holism vs reductionism, etc.[82] The existence of such common themes would be clearly impossible if different paradigms indeed implemented “alternative worlds,”

The emergence of a new paradigm certainly changes the semantic interpretation of a number of scientific concepts. However, this change should hardly be understood as complete replacement of the old meaning. If we recognise the existence of common themes in the history of cognition, this kind of replacement is apparently impossible. Besides, the changes obviously do not involve all concepts. In general, it is not any appearance of a given concept in a new context that entails the replacement of one meaning by another or others, otherwise we would be unable to communicate and to understand one another, since language involves, among other things, generation of utterances which cannot have been made previously. In the theory of relativity, the interpretation of mass differs in several important points from that of classical mechanics. It does not follow, however, that two paradigms using one and the same word operate with different, concepts, as Kuhn asserts. The systems of objects to which these paradigms refer are sometimes common for the two.

Finally, we must not forget that a new paradigm may only be adopted if, apart from everything else, it explains why the paradigm that is replaced could function successfully, until a certain moment, in a domain that is common to both.

This explanation is only possible if there exists a meaningful interpretation of the old paradigm, which is ensured by the fact that some sense units and separate senses of the old paradigm are immersed or form part of the new content structure expressing the new paradigm. Kuhn’s error stems from his failure to distinguish between paradigm as an integral structure and the separate semantic systems that form part of it. In his view, destruction of a paradigm is tantamount to completely discarding all systems of old meanings. In reality, it is the comprehensive incorporation of the semantic systems of one paradigm in the integral structure constituted by the new paradigm that makes mutual understanding and real communication between their representatives possible at an inter-paradigmal. level, Importantly, not all the systems of meanings which are ascribed to identical terms and formulas coincide: that is excluded since different paradigms cannot be fully translatable into each other’s languages. It is sufficient for inter-paradigmal understanding and communication that meanings forming part of different paradigms should coincide in certain essential components. The existence of a common constant background of knowledge allows the comparison of different paradigms and a choice between them.

Therefore a scientist studying the history of physics can understand not only the Newtonian but also Aristotelian paradigm. To do that, it is not at all required to forget the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics and, through a kind of mystic empathy, to grasp precisely the same meaning of all the concepts in these paradigms as was attributed to them in times long gone. On the. contrary, it is in the light of modern scientific theories that the historian can see that content in the old paradigms of which their carriers themselves were not aware (e.g., to establish the fact that Newton did not distinguish between inertial and gravitational masses). The psychologist studying the stages of the formation of perceptive structures undoubtedly cannot see the world in the way a small child sees it. The researcher does not only describe the child’s external behaviour but also surmises how the world looks to the child. The psychologist has the right to formulate these surmises (and they are of considerable significance to him) because the child’s perceptual structures, different as they are from the corresponding structures of an adult, are not discarded in psychical development but, after restructuring, become components of mature perception structures. The psychiatrist, in an interview with a mental patient attempts to reconstruct his subjective world from the latter’s behaviour and speech. The success of these attempts does not at all mean that the doctor must in some way assume a condition similar to that of the patient. That is impossible as long as the doctor remains a sane person, and as soon as he ceases to be one, he can no longer be a doctor. The point is that the difference between a sane person and one with abnormal mentality does not exclude the existence of common psychical structures and functions in the two. Here the doctor apparently understands the patient better than the patient the doctor, and then the doctor understands himself better than the patient understands himself.

Thus, the problem of continuity of cognitive experiences proved to be more complicated than Kant once believed. In the course of the development of cognition conceptual structures emerge which cannot be reduced to each other, and that means that that process really includes semantic gaps.

Even ordinary natural languages express systems of meaning somehow differing from one another. Therefore, there is no unambiguously determined translatability in this case either. On the whole, however, translation from one natural language into another is fully realisable, and it is all the easier. the closer the cultures of the carriers of these languages. The explanation lies in the basic community of the conditions of life and practical activity of communities employing ordinary national languages. As for the relations of different theories emerging in the development of scientific knowledge, the situation here is quite different. A new scientific theory, and, still more so, a fundamentally novel paradigm emerge precisely because they carry substantively different content inexpressible in terms of old conceptual instruments. Naturally there can be no complete translatability in this case. As we have seen, it is even absent where special attempts are made to express one theory in the language of another to attain greater precision in expressing the content of the former (e.g., in putting the theory of arithmetic in the language of set theory).

At the same time there are relations of continuity and cohesion of definite meanings between different theories and paradigms, a general background of knowledge, so that paradigms cannot be equated with absolutely different “alternative worlds.” Being mutually intranslatable, different paradigms are nevertheless commensurable.

The problem of continuity and alterations in the meanings of concepts in the course of the development of science has so far been but little studied. However, the understanding of the meaningful side of scientific theoretical knowledge largely depends precisely on the solution of this problem. It should be recognised that, although there are certain gaps in the development of the conceptual systems of science, they can hardly exist in perception structures — at least in adults. True, if we should believe, as Sartre does, that a cognitive orientation does not underlie experience, and that the latter is not marked by the division into subject and object, we shall have to admit that there are complete gaps not only between the experiences of any two subjects but also in the experience of each of them. The subject continually manifests himself in unique situations, Sartre believes, and separate situations have nothing in common. The subject, too, is each time unlike himself. This interpretation can only be accepted if one agrees with Sartre’s general philosophical and epistemological conception. We showed its untenability in the second chapter of Part One of the present work. Abstractly speaking, certain perception structures (though by far not all!) could, of course, change if the type of man’s object environment should radically change, or the type of his practice, or the set of sensory modalities inherent in his perceptual system. In this case gaps could appear in the structures of direct experience. We may recall that Gregory admits the theoretical possibility of man creating a super-complex artificial environment that will demand the formation of new ways of perceiving objects. If man does not solve this task, he will be unable to see. And if he solves it successfully, gaps will emerge between old and new experience.

As for the results of changing the set of modalities, they can be assessed by the results of actual successful operations of removing cataracts owing to which men begin to see. The perception of the world in such individuals is originally formed on the basis of the tactile sense. At the same time, an amodal objective scheme of the world was built in the system of perception of the formerly blind person. The blind man is confidently and correctly oriented in the system of objects, but the appearance of a new (visual) modality disrupts the well-formed system of orientation: the formerly blind person cannot at first correlate the visual information with the tactile perceptive images he has, and the earlier developed modes of tactile orientation cannot function as successfully as before. Only gradually new perceptive structures are developed which link up visual and tactile information. Apparently there is a gap (though not complete here either) between old and new experience. The amodal objective scheme of the world remains constant, and the new experience structure is formed on its basis.

The development of cognition is thus characterised by extension and deepening of the content of knowledge, the emergence of new semantic systems and the singling out of new types of objects. In this process, the characteristics of objective reality itself existing independently of cognition and consciousness are reflected and reproduced in more and more precise and differentiated ways; that is to say, objectively true knowledge is produced. As we see, the complex dialectical interrelations between discreteness and continuity in the development of cognition are one of the modes of concrete expression of the dialectics of absolute, relative, and objective truth, a classical philosophical analysis of which was given by Lenin.[83]

4. “Other Worlds” and the Successive Replacement of the Forms of Objectification of Knowledge

We have noted earlier that most kinds of knowledge are, in one way or another, objectified and consolidated in a system of specific mediator objects — implements, instruments, symbols of oral and written language, scientific texts, schemes, diagrams, drawings, etc. There are also kinds of knowledge that exist in a subjective and not objectified form, such as perception. But, as we have tried to show, they are also genetically and functionally mediated by the man-made world of artificial objects embodying social-historical experience. Qualitative changes in the content of systems of knowledge are not necessarily expressed in the successive replacement of the means of their objectification: as a rule, that is exactly what does not happen.

Reading a text (if “text” is taken to mean any mode of objectification of knowledge, and “reading” — any form of its interpretation by the subject) always implies differentiation between the semantic content embodied in it and those specific traits of the material of implementation which do not have the function of differentiating meaning. In practice, this differentiation is usually subconscious, so that what is directly given to the subject is the semantic content of knowledge, that is, what the text says about the real objects themselves. Modern linguistics draws a clear distinction between the value of a language unit and the material of which it is built. The material of different units may vary while their values expressed in interrelations are constant. When a person hears someone’s speech (and this case may be included in reading a text in the broad sense accepted here), only the content rendered by that speech is given to consciousness and not the way sounds are pronounced or the separate sounds themselves. (That is, on condition, of course, that all the existing variations in pronunciation do not go beyond the limits where the meaning will be distorted.) In reading a printed text, I do not notice separate letters, the kind of paper on which the text is printed, I can miss a misprint, for consciousness is at that moment directed at reproduction of semantic connections. If my task is searching for misprints, however, the perception of the given text is quite different: working as proof-reader, I cannot grasp the meaning of the semantic phrases reified in the text. Basically the same thing happens on decoding any semantic content objectified in some form or other. For example, if I perceive a work of art, I do not see the canvas or the paint spots but the content expressed with their help. Even “reading” photographs, which at times appear as good as “natural replicas” of the real objects, is only possible if one ignores the quality of paper, the fact that the picture exists in two dimensions, unlike the three-dimensional real objects, and that the objects in the picture are motionless while in the world of real objects all kinds of changes continually take place, etc.

Singling out the properties which have the function of sense differentiation in the means of objectification of knowledge, and distinguishing them from the characteristics indifferent to meaning, are not determined by any physical properties of these objects directly given in their bodily form. This singling out is entirely determined by the culture in which the given objects function. If one has not assimilated this culture and has not mastered the modes of communication accepted in it, one is incapable of expressing the semantic content objectified in the mediator objects. Speech in an unfamiliar language is perceived as a jumble of sounds, a scientific text in which unknown terms and systems of symbols are used appears as an agglomeration of incomprehensible signs, etc. Even works of art and sculpture that are aimed at presenting reality in the form in which it is ordinarily perceived, can be correctly “read” only if we have the language of art, that is, in particular, if we take into account the specificity of the given style, the modes of presentation accepted in it, etc.

However, the fact that the physical properties of the mediator objects do not directly determine the functional role they play as instruments of objectification of knowledge, does not at all mean that the former are completely indifferent to the latter. They are independent of each other only within certain limits. The need for expressing basically new cognitive content may in some cases produce the requirement for other types of mediator objects, those whose physical properties would be more adequate to the solution of the given task. These mediators make it possible to express in knowledge a new system of objective meanings, of such aspects of the real world which it would be hard to grasp and express in terms of the existing means. The discovery of new types of mediators signifies the rising of cognition to a new content level. Of this nature is, for instance, the transition from gesture language directly linked with object-related activity to sound language, or the transition from oral to written speech.[84] (Written speech creates new possibilities for reconstructing the object in its entirety. The development of science is obviously impossible without writing.)

Absolutely identical content cannot be rendered in terms of different types of objectification of knowledge. We have already noted that verbal formulation of the content of perception introduces something new in knowledge. This kind of alteration of content happens even where there is apparently nothing but mere copying. If an artist paints from life, he is compelled to take into account the properties of the material in which he embodies his Work, the specific properties of paints (which are always different from the colour characteristics of the real world), and the modes of artificially creating an impression which would recall in some important aspects the impression in ordinary perception (which is an important condition of realistic art) and at the same time essentially deepen the latter. Ordinary perception and a work of art represent two different systems of content rendering. The content itself cannot therefore be absolutely identical. The potential of painting is not indifferent to the specific features of the material which is used in it as a means of content objectification. The history of this art is among other things also the history of experimenting with the material itself for establishing its representational potential, it is a search for the modes of reflection which are not directly prompted by mere perception of the object painted. A person that cannot draw cannot represent a familiar object on paper. The ability itself is not attained through spontaneous development but through learning in which cultural-historical experience is transmitted. The latter varies in different cultural regions and at different stages of the artistic and cognitive development of mankind. The possibility of “drawing from nature” thus assumes that the subject is included in a specific system of mediator objects, that is, he can operate with them according to definite rules. It is therefore extremely difficult to draw an object for which no modes of representation have been worked out in the given cultural tradition. E. H. Gombrich convincingly illustrates this point citing a mass of data from the history of art.[85]

Thus, the emergence of new systems of mediator objects also marks the appearance of new cognitive possibilities, of other worlds, in a sense. In this case, too, however, there is no complete disruption of continuity of cognitive experience, there are no alternative worlds absolutely excluding one another and mutually impermeable: it is rather a matter of enriching experience with qualitatively new content expressing previously unknown aspects of objective reality.