Resemblance and Representation

Resemblance and Representation: An Essay in the Philosophy of Pictures

Ben Blumson
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Open Book Publishers
Pages: 222
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1287k0p
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  • Book Info
    Resemblance and Representation
    Book Description:

    It’s a platitude – which only a philosopher would dream of denying – that whereas words are connected to what they represent merely by arbitrary conventions, pictures are connected to what they represent by resemblance. The most important difference between my portrait and my name, for example, is that whereas my portrait and I are connected by my portrait’s resemblance to me, my name and I are connected merely by an arbitrary convention. The first aim of this book is to defend this platitude from the apparently compelling objections raised against it, by analysing depiction in a way which reveals how it is mediated by resemblance. It’s natural to contrast the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance, which emphasises the differences between depictive and descriptive representation, with an extremely close analogy between depiction and description, which emphasises the similarities between depictive and descriptive representation. Whereas the platitude emphasises that the connection between my portrait and me is natural in a way the connection between my name and me is not, the analogy emphasises the contingency of the connection between my portrait and me. Nevertheless, the second aim of this book is to defend an extremely close analogy between depiction and description. The strategy of the book is to argue that the apparently compelling objections raised against the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance are manifestations of more general problems, which are familiar from the philosophy of language. These problems, it argues, can be resolved by answers analogous to their counterparts in the philosophy of language, without rejecting the platitude. So the combination of the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance with a close analogy between depiction and description turns out to be a compelling theory of depiction, which combines the virtues of common sense with the insights of its detractors.

    eISBN: 978-1-78374-074-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 1-4)
  5. Note on the text
    (pp. 5-8)
  6. 1. Introduction
    (pp. 9-30)

    It’s a platitude – which only a philosopher should dream of denying – that whereas words are connected to what they represent merely by arbitrary conventions, pictures are connected to what they represent by resemblance. The most important difference between my portrait and my name, for example, is that whereas my portrait and I are connected by my portrait’s resemblance to me, my name and I are connected merely by an arbitrary convention. The first aim of this book is to defend this platitude from the apparently compelling objections raised against it, by analysing depiction in a way which reveals that it...

  7. 2. Defining Depiction
    (pp. 31-50)

    “The aim of philosophy …”, according to Wilfrid Sellars,” … is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term” (Sellars, 1962, 369). One way of pursuing this aim is to pursue the reductive analysis of everything in terms of the more or most fundamental things. The aim may, for example, be a reductive analysis of everything in terms of the physical, or the phenomenological, or a combination of the physical and the phenomenological. As I conceive of it, the purpose of the philosophy of pictures is...

  8. 3. Depiction and Intention
    (pp. 51-66)

    Whereas the analysis of meaning in terms of intention is orthodoxy in the philosophy of language, it is highly controversial in the philosophy of art. So even if it is agreed that inserting resemblance into the analysis of speaker meaning in terms of intention escapes counterexamples to the sufficiency of resemblance for depiction, it’s likely to be argued that defining depiction as a kind of intentional representation draws too close an analogy between depiction and description. Counterexamples to the necessity and sufficiency of communicative intentions for depiction, it might be argued, are just as threatening as those to the necessity...

  9. 4. Depiction and Convention
    (pp. 67-84)

    The analogy between depiction and description is usually argued to undermine rather than support the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance. From the claim that depiction and description are both kinds of symbol system Nelson Goodman, for example, draws the conclusion that “Almost any picture may represent almost anything; that is, given picture and object there is usually a system of representation, a plan of correlation, under which the picture represents that object” (Goodman, 1968, 38). Because they are both kinds of symbol systems, depiction and description, according to Goodman, are supposed to be equally arbitrary.

    Defining depiction as...

  10. 5. Symbol Systems
    (pp. 85-98)

    It’s often argued that the theory of language ought to be subsumed by a general theory of representation, of which language is merely one kind. Ferdinand de Saussure, for example, writes “A language is a system of signs expressing ideas, and hence comparable to writing, the deaf-anddumb alphabet, symbolic rites, forms of politeness, military signals, and so on. It is simply the most important of such systems. It is therefore possible to conceive of a science which ... would investigate the nature of signs and the laws governing them” (Saussure, 1972, 15). Language, according to Saussure, is merely a special...

  11. 6. Depiction and Composition
    (pp. 99-116)

    Language has compositional structure. The meaning of ‘Theaetetus flies’ for example depends on the meaning of ‘Theaetetus’, the meaning of ‘flies’ and the order in which they are concatenated. In general, the meaning of a sentence depends on the meanings and arrangement of its parts. In contrast, depiction is supposed to lack compositional structure. The Mona Lisa for example is supposed not to be divisible into parts in the way that ‘Theaetetus flies’ is divisible into ‘Theaetetus’ and ‘flies’. In general, what a picture represents is supposed not to depend on what its parts represent in the way that what...

  12. 7. Interpreting Images
    (pp. 117-138)

    Just as it’s possible to understand novel sentences without having heard them before, it’s possible to understand novel pictures without having seen them before. But these possibilities are traditionally supposed to have very different explanations (Schier, 1986, 43-84; Currie, 1995, 79-136): whereas the possibility of understanding novel sentences is supposed to be explained by their compositional structure, the possibility of understanding novel depictions is supposed not to be. The last chapter argued that depictions have compositional structure; this chapter considers the further question of whether their compositional structure explains our ability to understand them.

    Just as how – and whether – the...

  13. 8. Intentionality and Inexistence
    (pp. 139-158)

    The intentionality of depiction is often cited as a reason for denying the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance. This chapter argues that the apparent problem posed by the intentionality of depiction for the platitude that depiction is mediated by resemblance is really a manifestation of the more general problem of intentionality. The best solution to the problem is to analyse representation in general and depiction in particular as primarily relations towards states of affairs, rather than objects. This solution, it’s argued, supports both the analogy between depiction and other kinds of representation and the platitude that depiction is...

  14. 9. Perspective and Possibility
    (pp. 159-178)

    Depictions, like thoughts and sentences, distinguish different ways things might be; the Mona Lisa, for example, represents Lisa by distinguishing between the various possible ways which Lisa might have looked. This suggests analysing the states of affairs depictions represent in terms of possible worlds: the state of affairs represented by the Mona Lisa, for example, may be analysed as the set of possible worlds in which Lisa’s appearance is as it portrays. This chapter argues that analysing states of affairs in terms of possible worlds addresses the lacuna in the last chapter in a way which is consonant with the...

  15. 10. Pictures and Properties
    (pp. 179-198)

    The following three theses are individually plausible, but jointly inconsonant:

    (1) The degree of realism of a picture is the degree to which it resembles what it represents (in relevant respects)

    (2) Properties correspond to (possible) predicates, so the number of properties is the number of

    (possible) predicates

    (3) The degree of resemblance between particulars is their number of properties in common divided by their number of properties in total

    This chapter argues for resolving this problem by revising the third thesis.

    The first thesis, that a picture’s degree of realism is the degree to which it resembles what it...

  16. References
    (pp. 199-206)
  17. Index
    (pp. 207-210)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 211-213)