Goodman and the Given: What Goodman Inherits From C. I. Lewis
What Does Goodman Inherit From Lewis?1
If C. I. Lewis’s work is rather underrated in the literature, Nelson Goodman was for a long time one remarkable exception. Goodman emphasizes its significance for both his work2 and the history of ideas. Lewis was Goodman’s advisor for his PhD dissertation, A Study of Qualities, whose revised version, The Structure of Appearance, was published in 1951. To define the relation of a quality to its instances in the visual field, the chosen atoms are Lewis’s repeatable qualia rather than Carnap’s complete segments of experience. Regarding the second aim of those books, building a “topology of qualities” displaying the similarity relations between qualia of each category (like color, space, and time), Goodman credits Lewis for having pointed out its importance (Goodman 1951, 217)? This influence is not limited to Goodman’s initial writings, as evidenced by the impressive footnote of the opening of Fact, Fiction and Forecast-. “My indebtedness in several matters to the work of C. I. Lewis has seemed too obvious to call for detailed mention” (Goodman  1983, 3). One of his main contributions is related to order: “on the basis of his crystallized version of [pragmatism], he treats the stubborn problems of the status and assurance of order with unprecedented brilliance” (Goodman 1972, 417)? We are “sure that what comes to us will be amenable to the ordering we invented (417),” since “chaos is impossible” (418). No letter I receive fails to be classified in my filing system. It is true of experience in general as Goodman rephrases the third thesis of Mind and the World Order*: “that whatever we encounter will fit our scheme depends upon no assumption about what we shall encounter but only upon reasonable care in devising our scheme - especially by providing a wastebasket” (417). When concepts are criteria for reality, “complete irregularity is inconceivable” (Goodman 1968, 261), because what fails to fit one category is classified as unreal and what fails to fit any is classified in the wastebasket of the unintelligible. There is no world-order or disorder without concepts, so “Lewis’s treatment of these problems will perhaps suggest the importance of his general position” (Goodman 1972,
419), his “conceptual pragmatism,” and “reflective method.” To consider the ways the world is involves reflections on our dealing with concepts: “If we use categorical schemes to make the world, the study of these schemes becomes a primary concern in philosophy” (419). In his Ways of Worldmaking, Goodman realizes this program, including, besides concepts, various artistic media.6
Although Goodman is deeply influenced by Lewis, “he would, however, drop one important ingredient of Lewis’s epistemology: the indubitable given” (Cohnitz and Rossberg 2006, 25). Phenomenal reports sometimes must be revised and the given element is a dubious remainder of the way the world is independent of our conceptual and symbolic activity (Goodman 1972,26). Goodman’s Ways of Worldmaking appears to be what becomes of Mind and the World Order, once any idea of givenness is left out. Goodman then amputates the essential from Lewis’s philosophy. For Lewis, this amputation leads to a doctrine he conscientiously attempts to avoid, that is a coherence conception of truth (Lewis 1952, 113). When there is nothing given that our constructions must fit, their rightness lies in nothing but their mutual fitting. This amputation is moreover nonsense, since the given is one condition for the use of concepts: “Qualia are universals, and they are universals such that without the recognition of them by the individual nothing presented in experience could be named or understood or known at all” (Lewis 1929, 123). On that ground, Cohnitz claims that rival influences are decisive.7 This stops the story too soon, when it becomes interesting in that it can be a precious source of understanding of Lewis and Goodman. What does Goodman inherit from Lewis, if he rejects what counts as a necessary element of knowledge for the latter? Of course, that one thinker makes a selection in what he learns from another is nothing surprising; it is the ordinary way of doing philosophy. Goodman’s relation to Lewis is one example among many others. But what Goodman keeps from Lewis and rejects can enlighten us about Lewis’s philosophy. It shows de facto what contributions are essential or extraneous and it suggests that the most interesting contributions can be independent of more dubious ones. It can finally suggest how some points of doctrine can be rejected on behalf of others. My main contention in this chapter is to show that Goodman’s criticisms against indubitability of report of experience and the given are rooted in some of Lewis’s chief assumptions.
For what reasons internal to Lewis’s conceptual pragmatism is it finally wrong to admit a given element and the indubitable character of its recognition? I start by focusing on the context in which Goodman rejects indubitability Lewis claims for reports of experience. In A Study of Qualities and The Structure of Appearance, Goodman first endorses Lewis’s way of understanding our speaking of properties of objects (Section 1). Far from committing us to transcending experience, the attribution of a property engages nothing but the prediction of some appearances of objects, and the difference between appearance and reality lies within experience. Goodman uses this clarification to leave out the indubitability of reports of experience (Section 2). Predictions involved in our attribution of properties are based on phenomenal reports but, conversely, phenomenal reports must fit our body of knowledge. When it is not the case, we can have good reasons for dropping one of them. Nevertheless, those criticisms fail to convince Lewis and could miss the core of the debate, Goodman confesses (Section 3). Then he indicates that Lewis is more interested in recognition of the immediacy of the given than in its certainty, because the relation of language to what it describes chiefly bothers Lewis. The truth of a descriptive sentence cannot be justified by another sentence, without end. To go through language to experience would require that some sentences in the present tense are true with regard to our direct awareness of the given. To answer Lewis’s reservations, Goodman shows how the relation of language to what it describes also lies within experience. Sentences in the future tense are defined as signals and sentences in the present tense are true when they fit past genuine signals. Lewis is not at all convinced but the debate continues in Goodman’s treatment of induction. His “New Riddle of Induction” embodies Lewis’s treatment of order (Section 4): if anything is in order (Lewis), then regularities can be found everywhere (Goodman), so the crucial issue is to know what regularities confirm their corresponding generalizations or projections. This interrogation on regularities extends to the repeatable character of qnalia (Section 5) and the repeatable character of qnalia is due to repetition of our projections of predicates. If his treatment of the problem of order is right, Lewis cannot consider the repeatable character of qnalia intrinsic.