A question about rule following

I still have a problem with the pragmatist solution to the rule-following paradox, and I think I can reduce my problem to one question.  Consider two points:

a. There are an infinite number of functions consistent with any finite set of argument-argument-value trios.

b. If we are, as Rorty says, “good Darwinians”, then we will posit that rule-following ability is a kind of complex mechanical process, different in degree but not in kind from the vending machine’s ability to discriminate between a quarter and a counterfeit coin.

So here’s the question: If both a and b are justified, how can agreement and communication be possible? It would be easy if everyone had the exact same brain, so everyone had the exact same dispositions.  But each person’s brain is different, both in the hardware and the software.  My neurobiological process for adding will be very different from your neurobiological process for adding.  Yet the odds are that if we both do the same addition problem, we will arrive at the same answer.  Given that there are an infinite number of functions that we could have been computing, and that there is no such thing as “intrinsic meaning”, how is this not a giant freaky coincidence?


One Response to A question about rule following

  1. dmoerner says:

    This actually touches on the exact same issue with the pragmatist solution that I discussed with Joey a few days ago. There seems to be a difference between the vending machine and a person. The vending machine, while it may not be able to properly discriminate between a quarter and a counterfeit coin, at least seems to follow some general rule–in that you have to put in something shaped in a certain, loosely defined way, for it to output a can. (Of course, Kripke does say that appeals to machines don’t solve the problem, because machines can malfunction and wires can burn through, and we can’t say that the machine is producing the wrong result without presupposing an account of the rule. But I think that this doesn’t matter on this point, because Dennett’s example is not of a malfunctioning machine. It’s of a machine that can take many possible things, and we customarily only put one thing into it. But Kripke’s argument about malfunctioning machines may itself be a response to Dennett’s spin on the skeptical solution.) In contrast to this, it’s unclear to me how humans have any intrinsic propensity to use addition in a certain way. Your previous post mentioned something about evolution, but I think that’s a bit different. At the very least, there’s a gap here between inherited genetic features or traits (which is the analogy to what the machine receives from us when we build it), and acquired habits passed down by generations. Although addition might very well be hard-wired (a sort of strange thought to me), more complex rules would have to be passed down across generations. This seems like a relevant difference between the machine and us.

    But I think that if you’re a pragmatist you can’t say “isn’t this a gianty freaky coincidence”. I think you have to embrace that contingency. Which strikes me as sort of strange as well.

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