Conventionalism

Conventionalism

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Conventionalism is the philosophical
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 attitude that fundamental principles of a certain kind are grounded on (explicit or implicit) agreements in society, rather than on external reality. Although this attitude is commonly held with respect to the rules of grammar
Grammar
In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules, and this field includes morphology, syntax, and phonology, often complemented by phonetics, semantics,...

, its application to the propositions of ethics
Ethics
Ethics, also known as moral philosophy, is a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality—that is, concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, etc.Major branches of ethics include:...

, law, science
Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

, mathematics, and logic is more controversial.

Linguistics


The debate on linguistic conventionalism goes back to Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

's Cratylus
Cratylus (dialogue)
Cratylus is the name of a dialogue by Plato. Most modern scholars agree that it was written mostly during Plato's so-called middle period...

and the Mīmāṃsā
Mimamsa
' , a Sanskrit word meaning "investigation" , is the name of an astika school of Hindu philosophy whose primary enquiry is into the nature of dharma based on close hermeneutics of the Vedas...

 philosophy of Kumārila Bhaṭṭa
Kumarila Bhatta
' was a Hindu philosopher and Mimamsa scholar from Assam. He is famous for many of his seminal theses on Mimamsa, such as Mimamsaslokavarttika. Bhatta was an staunch believer in the supreme validity of Vedic injunction, a great champion of Purva-Mimamsa and a confirmed ritualist...

.
It has been the standard position of modern linguistics
Linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

 since Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure was a Swiss linguist whose ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in linguistics in the 20th century. He is widely considered one of the fathers of 20th-century linguistics...

's l'arbitraire du signe, but there have always been dissenting positions of phonosemantics, recently defended by Margaret Magnus and Vilayanur S. Ramachandran
Vilayanur S. Ramachandran
Vilayanur Subramanian "Rama" Ramachandran, born 1951, is a neuroscientist known for his work in the fields of behavioral neurology and visual psychophysics...

.

Geometry


The French mathematician
Mathematician
A mathematician is a person whose primary area of study is the field of mathematics. Mathematicians are concerned with quantity, structure, space, and change....

 Henri Poincaré
Henri Poincaré
Jules Henri Poincaré was a French mathematician, theoretical physicist, engineer, and a philosopher of science...

 was among the first to articulate a conventionalist view. Poincaré's use of non-Euclidean geometries in his work on differential equations convinced him that Euclidean geometry
Euclidean geometry
Euclidean geometry is a mathematical system attributed to the Alexandrian Greek mathematician Euclid, which he described in his textbook on geometry: the Elements. Euclid's method consists in assuming a small set of intuitively appealing axioms, and deducing many other propositions from these...

 should not be regarded as a priori
A priori and a posteriori (philosophy)
The terms a priori and a posteriori are used in philosophy to distinguish two types of knowledge, justifications or arguments...

 truth. He held that axioms in geometry should be chosen for the results they produce, not for their apparent coherence with human intuitions about the physical world.

Philosophy


Conventionalism was adopted by logical positivists
Logical positivism
Logical positivism is a philosophy that combines empiricism—the idea that observational evidence is indispensable for knowledge—with a version of rationalism incorporating mathematical and logico-linguistic constructs and deductions of epistemology.It may be considered as a type of analytic...

, chiefly AJ Ayer and Carl Hempel, and extended to both mathematics and logic. To deny rationalism
Rationalism
In epistemology and in its modern sense, rationalism is "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification" . In more technical terms, it is a method or a theory "in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive"...

, Ayer sees two options for empiricism
Empiricism
Empiricism is a theory of knowledge that asserts that knowledge comes only or primarily via sensory experience. One of several views of epistemology, the study of human knowledge, along with rationalism, idealism and historicism, empiricism emphasizes the role of experience and evidence,...

 regarding the necessity of the truth of formal logic (and mathematics): 1) deny that they actually are necessary, and then account for why they only appear so, or 2) claim that the truths of logic and mathematics lack factual content - they are not "truths about the world" - and then explain how they are nevertheless true and informative. John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill was a British philosopher, economist and civil servant. An influential contributor to social theory, political theory, and political economy, his conception of liberty justified the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state control. He was a proponent of...

 adopted the former, which Ayer criticized, opting himself for the latter. Ayer's argument relies primarily on the analytic/synthetic distinction.

The French philosopher Pierre Duhem
Pierre Duhem
Pierre Maurice Marie Duhem was a French physicist, mathematician and philosopher of science, best known for his writings on the indeterminacy of experimental criteria and on scientific development in the Middle Ages...

 espoused a broader conventionalist view encompassing all of science. Duhem was skeptical that human perceptions are sufficient to understand the "true," metaphysical nature of reality and argued that scientific laws should be valued mainly for their predictive power and correspondence with observations.

Legal Philosophy


Conventionalism, as applied to legal philosophy, provides a justification for state coercion. It is one of the three rival conceptions of law constructed by American legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin
Ronald Dworkin
Ronald Myles Dworkin, QC, FBA is an American philosopher and scholar of constitutional law. He is Frank Henry Sommer Professor of Law and Philosophy at New York University and Emeritus Professor of Jurisprudence at University College London, and has taught previously at Yale Law School and the...

 in his work Law's Empire. The other two conceptions of law are legal pragmatism and law as integrity
Law as integrity
In philosophy of law, law as integrity is a theory of law put forward by the legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin.- External links :*http://law.queensu.ca/facultyAndStaff/facultyDirectory/walters/legalHumanismAndLawAsIntegrityPublishedEd.pdf...

.

According to conventionalism as defined by Dworkin, a community's legal institutions should contain clear social conventions
Convention (norm)
A convention is a set of agreed, stipulated or generally accepted standards, norms, social norms or criteria, often taking the form of a custom....

 relied upon which rules are promulgated. Such rules will serve as the sole source of information for all the community members because they demarcate clearly all the circumstances in which state coercion will and will not be exercised.

Dworkin nonetheless has argued that this justification fails to fit with facts as there are many occasions wherein clear applicable legal rules are absent. It follows that, as he maintained, conventionalism can provide no valid ground for state coercion. Dworkin himself favored law as integrity
Law as integrity
In philosophy of law, law as integrity is a theory of law put forward by the legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin.- External links :*http://law.queensu.ca/facultyAndStaff/facultyDirectory/walters/legalHumanismAndLawAsIntegrityPublishedEd.pdf...

 as the best justification of state coercion.

One famous criticism of Dworkin's idea comes from Stanley Fish
Stanley Fish
Stanley Eugene Fish is an American literary theorist and legal scholar. He was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island...

 who opines that Dworkin, like the Critical Legal Studies
Critical legal studies
Critical legal studies is a movement in legal thought that applied methods similar to those of critical theory to law. The abbreviations "CLS" and "Crit" are sometimes used to refer to the movement and its adherents....

 movement, Marxists and adherents of feminist jurisprudence, was guilty of a false 'Theory Hope'. Fish claims that such mistake stems from their mistaken belief that there exists a general or higher 'theory' that explains or constrains all fields of activity like state coercion.

Another criticism is based on Dworkin's assertion that positivists' claims amount to conventionalism. H. L. A. Hart
H. L. A. Hart
Herbert Lionel Adolphus Hart was an influential legal philosopher of the 20th century. He was Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford University and the Principal of Brasenose College, Oxford. He authored The Concept of Law....

, as a soft positivist, denies such claim as he had pointed out that citizens cannot always discover the law as plain matter of fact. It is however unclear as to whether Joseph Raz
Joseph Raz
Joseph Raz is a legal, moral and political philosopher. He is one of the most prominent advocates of legal positivism. He has spent most of his career as professor of philosophy of law and a fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, and simultaneously as professor of law at Columbia University Law...

, an avowed hard positivist, can be classified as conventionalist as Raz has claimed that law is composed "exclusively" of social facts which could be complex, and thus difficult to be discovered.

In particular, Dworkin has characterized law as having the main function of restraining state's coercion. Nigel Simmonds
Nigel Simmonds
Nigel Simmonds is Reader in Jurisprudence at the University of Cambridge and Dean of College and Director of Studies in Law at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge....

 has rejected Dworkin's disapproval of conventionalism, claiming that his characterization of law is too narrow.

See also

  • phonosemantics
  • true name
    True name
    A true name is a name of a thing or being that expresses, or is somehow identical with, its true nature. The notion that language, or some specific sacred language, refers to things by their true names has been central to philosophical and grammatical study as well as various traditions of magic,...


  • Kumarila Bhatta
    Kumarila Bhatta
    ' was a Hindu philosopher and Mimamsa scholar from Assam. He is famous for many of his seminal theses on Mimamsa, such as Mimamsaslokavarttika. Bhatta was an staunch believer in the supreme validity of Vedic injunction, a great champion of Purva-Mimamsa and a confirmed ritualist...