Vignettes on Recognising
Laitinen,[*] in his enlightening commentary of Ricoeur's The Course of Recognition, takes up the two senses of recognition discussed in the previous page as:
“identification of anything as the thing that it is”.
apparently innocent, this formulation is quite loaded with implications regarding both to "identification" and "the thing that is". Regarding the former, as Laitinen observes "It emerges that identification is threatened not only by mistaking some individual thing for some other individual thing, but also by a failure to construe something as an individual thing at all". These threats are discussed in depth by John Searle when dealing with what he calls the Principle of Identification [**]. The following quote from Laitinen points out to a sense of 'identifying' which may be operative in recognising landscapes:
A more informative sense, though, is to identify (for the first time perhaps) on the basis of distinguishing marks as this individual, or to categorize something as having these particular features, or as belonging to this generic kind. This also includes to re-identify something, either on the basis of distinguishing marks again, or typically with familiar objects or individuals, more holistically on the basis of the individual’s style or Gestalt.
We now turn to the second part of the phrase: “the thing that it is”. When applied to the case of landscape leads to similar troublesome considerations as those discussed in preceding vignettes; if a term stands for a definite, neatly delimited , concept, "the thing that it is" admits only two answers, i.e., "it is that thing" or "it is not that thing" ( A or not A). Since, as noted repeatedly, the landscape concept is far from being a definite, neatly delimited one , we are led almost to change it for "the thing that it may be" [***]
Although the expression "the thing that it is" is questionable for the case of landscapes... That people does recognise some things as landscapes appears to be an empirical fact. Moreover, the vast majority can do this recognising without having to resort to landscape definitions or concepts or other niceties. So, how do they manage? In my opinion the so-called Prototype Theory of Concepts puts forward a reasonable account of how people recognises or fails to recognise without resorting to concepts and definitions.
[*] Laitinen A., (2011) Paul Ricoeur’s Surprising Take on Recognition. Ricoeur Studies Vol 2, No 1, pp. 35-50
[**] Searle J.A., Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language, Cambridge Univ. Press, London (1969) pp. 85 ff.
[***] Actually, it is debatable whether it is proper to talk of "the landscape concept". The alternatives are to say either that " there are many landscape concepts" or that "landscape is an open concept". Throughout these pages I have chosen to talk of " the idea of landscape" instead of "the concept of landscape". After all, as Locke and Hume would put it, particular ideas are derived
from impressions; having a particular, personal, idea of landscape is
not quite the same as having a concept of it.
The inquiry into the question of “Recognising a Landscape”, as expounded so far,
seems to confront us with a paradox. On
the one hand, as I have repeatedly pointed out, the idea of Landscape is markedly
vague and ambiguous. On the other hand, in spite of that vagueness, people
within our culture seems to be able to easily recognise certain things as landscapes.
So the challenge is: Can we give an account of how people may recognise a thing as a landscape while abiding with vagueness and
say that a very promising venue to
confront said challenge head-on is that of applying the so-called Prototype
Theory. One of the main tenets of that theory is that our concepts are
structured on the basis of their similarity to some central prototype
representation Within it, vagueness and ambiguity are included as integral
factors of conceptual representation; even more , within this approach,
vagueness is taken as a central characteristic of human thinking. [*] Concepts though are not taken up as well
defined and neatly delimited, but merely
as an idea or notion by which an intelligence is able to understand some aspect
of the world. Thus put, “idea of landscape” may be used instead of "concept of landscape"
as I have been doing
throughout these vignettes.
“Understanding something as
being of a particular type here means being able to make some connection with
previous knowledge, from which plausible inferences can be made. If an object
is taken as instantiating a particular concept, then a range of plausible
inferences can be drawn, subject of course to the contextual constraints in the
situation.”[ *:3] . The connections between “understanding something as being of
a particular type” and “recognising
something” (recognising as expounded in previous vignettes) are obvious.
As opposed to “classical” or “formal” categories with clearly delimited borders so that either a thing is or is not a member of the category and in which all members have equal status, according to prototype theory some things, may be clearly members of a category while others less clearly so; members of a category do not have then equal status. The theory takes into account that people consider some cases as better examples than others (goodness of example). The people that considers each case are the members of a linguistic community. There is no presumption that some cases are better or poorer examples of a concept, only that they are considered thus by a given community.
"The central insight of prototype theory is that word meanings, and the conceptual classes that the words name, are distinguished one from another not in terms of an explicit definition, but in terms of similarity to a generic or best example." [** ]
Ambiguity here is taken up as related to multiple meanings of a given word or phrase, so that ambiguous words or phrases have more than one extension. Landscape is an ambiguous term since a diversity of meanings has been ascribed to the same word. Vagueness on the other hand is related to the question of to ‘what a degree’ an instance belongs to a certain category. Vague concepts allow for the state of affairs where it may be neither clearly true nor clearly false to say that an instance is in the category.
How then would a member of a certain
linguistic community come to build a category labelled Landscapes, so that, in the
presence of some thing, it may
be judged as an instance of the category? To answer the question we’ll have to
introduce two terms which relate to the “goodness of example”: typicality
and graded membership. Both are designed to address vagueness and, though
tangentially, that of ambiguity. I present an account of how prototype theory might
be used to describe the activity of “recognising a landscape” in a separate webpage.
If I have aroused your curiosity and want to read it CLICK HERE.
J.A., & Dubois, D. (1993). Psychological models of concepts, in Van
Mechelen et al, (Eds.) Categories and concepts: Theoretical views and
inductive data analysis (11-34), London,
[**] Hampton, J.A. (2006). Concepts as Prototypes. In Ross, B.H.
(Ed) The Psychology of Learning and Motivation: Advances in Research
and Theory, 46, 79-113.
having spent much space and ink on the subject of how we come to recognise
certain things as landscapes, I feel it is time to turn to another
subject announced in the Introduction: that of how we may come to recognise
some landscapes as being of certain sort. First we might re-cognise a thing
(space, view, place, scene, prospect, etc.,) as a landscape and then we
might, yet again, re-cognise it as a sacred landscape, a pastoral one, a
hilly one, a landscape of power… or any other sort.
question of recognising a landscape as…is of major consequence in
landscape appreciation. We value a particular landscape in the context of being
an instance of a certain category; in this sense we don’t think of the merits
of a forest landscape compared to those of a desert landscape but of its merits
compared to other forest landscapes. This, much in the same way that, in
appreciating a musical composition, we ponder on its merits contrasted with
other compositions of the same sort, say ‘baroque’ or ‘romantic’.
The term ‘kind’ is used sometimes interchangeably with type, sort, class, style or genre; sometimes though each of the terms is given a definition that sharply differentiates one from the other. I’ll leave this question aside for the time being and, I’ll just say here that I’ll use the term ‘category’ as an umbrella term standing for all the others and, accordingly, the term ‘categorisation’ to include classification, typification, grouping, etc. It should be noted also that the expression “being of a kind or sort” is taken here far from its literal meaning and merely implying that given landscapes are ascribed to certain categories created ad-hoc.
The mental activity of categorizing landscapes may be said to arise, from our intention of better apprehend and comprehend them . As such, the question of structuring landscape categories is dealt with separately under Vignettes on Understanding. Here I limit myself to the topic of recognising a particular landscape as a member of a certain category or, if you wish, ascribing a landscape to a certain category. There is quite a variety of ways of forming categories of landscape and each poses the question of how, on seeing a particular landscape for the first time, we re-cognise it as a member of one or another category. (*)
Categories of landscapes come in all sorts
of forms and packages and persons who are interested in landscapes have been
able to acquire quite a variety of them. Thus a person well accounted with
landscapes may, on encountering one, judge whether or not it may be ascribed to
one or another category. This activity of categorisation is in line with recognising
a landscape as… of this sort or that other sort.
Within the above mentioned multiplicity it may be
useful to distinguish between two general sorts of categories: types and
genres. I have dwelt on this distinction in more detail elsewhere (see From Landscape Types to Genres) and just a few points will be taken up here. Some
categories are based on which geophysical features are predominant in the view; thus
categories like mountain landscapes, forest landscapes or prairie landscapes. I
have chosen the term kinds for landscape categories of this sort. Kinds
pose relatively few problems to recognition since it is easy to discern which
features are predominant. It should
be noted though that kinds of landscapes
are not neat, well defined, categories; in borderline cases it is difficult to
establish when certain features cease to be predominant, an important source of
vagueness. Other categories are based,
not on geophysical features, but on thematic ones, that is particular
themes which we choose to associate with landscapes; thus categories like mythical
landscapes, poetical landscapes, landscapes of power or conflict, etc. I have chosen the term genres for
landscape categories of this sort. Genres pose arduous problems to recognition (and
hence to appreciation) because they are categories that exhibit marked
ambiguity and vagueness.
regard to genres it might be even improper to say that we are able to
recognise a landscape as ‘belonging’ to a certain genre. To say, for instance,
that a certain landscape is a ‘mythical’ one does not imply that we can discern
in it certain features related to a particular myth; it is rather that we
happen to know that a particular myth originated there and hence we tend to associate
that myth with that landscape. If we are not familiar with the myth no
recognition as mythical will occur. Similarly, to say that a particular
landscape is ‘a landscape of power’ (**) does not imply that certain of its features make it so but
rather that we may associate that
landscape with a particular narrative of power or conflict. Again, if we are
not acquainted with that narrative there is no necessary connection between the
(*) The following example may clarify somewhat what we are after: once we recognize some particular thing as a painting we might we motivated to ask ourselves – what sort of painting is it? -- What we usually intend in posing that question is –to which, of the various categories of paintings that I have stored in my mind, could this painting belong? Within this multiplicity of categories we may distinguish ‘kinds’ of paintings (watercolour, oil, murals, etc.) from ‘schools’ baroque, impressionist, cubist, etc.) or from ‘genres’ (equestrian, sacred, pastoral., etc.) What’s operative here is that, although I’m seeing this painting for the first time, I’m able to decide from the set of the required features, whether it belongs or not to the said category. If I am doubtful, unable to decide, it is usually because some conditions are met but not others
(**) see for instance various contributions in Landscape and Power , edited by W.J.T. Mitchell, Chicago Univ. Press (2002)
Quite a different question for recognition (and
appreciation) from those posed by the categories mentioned above is the one posed
by the hypothetical category ‘beautiful landscapes’. To have this
category means, for the person that has it, to be able to decide whether a particular landscape is beautiful or not. A
positive decision or judgment entails recognition of the landscape as beautiful,
a negative one entails a failure to recognise it as such. I tend to side with the position that a landscape (or any other thing) is not beautiful or ugly by itself, but it is considered as one or the other by the person that experiences it.
above may be taken up as asserting that to recognise a landscape as
beautiful is a purely subjective action (“beauty in the eyes of the beholder”),
the assertion is tempered by the empirical evidence that certain landscape
instances tend to be considered beautiful by a large majority of the clients of
Western culture and others as not-beautiful by about the same majority. This
may be taken to imply that a majority of clients of said culture construe in
their minds a category of ‘beautiful landscapes’ along pretty similar mental processes.
The question of which landscape features might
determine the judgments about beauty to go one way or the other will not be discussed
here. The question belongs properly to the subject of the aesthetic experience
of landscapes and, as such, it is dealt in vignettes on experiencing landscapes
( not yet online). What is pertinent
here is not the question of why some landscapes may be recognised as
beautiful but that of how that recognition might take place.
Regarding the question of how we come to recognise given landscapes as beautiful, what is somewhat puzzling is the matter of the agreement noted earlier whereby certain landscapes are judged as beautiful by most people of our culture. I keep introducing the proviso “in our culture” because I share only the first half of Kant’s claim that “aesthetic judgments are grounded in the feelings of individuals and yet are universal”; instead of his ‘universal’ I’d write ‘largely shared by individuals of a certain culture”. We have no reasons to assume that people from different cultures consider beautiful what we do and not even that they construe aesthetic judgements as we do. With these considerations as a preamble let’s consider the following hypothesis:
of landscape is not innate but it develops gradually during the course of what
may be loosely called our education; within the generalized idea of
landscape the predominant one is that of landscape as scenery, which results from
a spectatorial conception (with its implied separation of subject from object).
Now, scenes, being scenes, are either pleasant or unpleasant to the eye; among
those pleasant what pleases us most are those in which we discern harmony,
peacefulness, order in the sense that nothing strike us as out of place or
alien, and the play of colours ( colourful scenes). We are exposed since
childhood to images representing scenes which are labelled as ‘beautiful’ by
our elders, teachers and the media. Out of these images we form in our minds
what in cognitive science is called a prototype ( prototype theory is discussed
in a separate web page ) On seeing a particular landscape for the first time
its image is compared with the mental image of the prototype of beautiful
landscape stored in our minds; if it is sufficiently similar we recognise it as
a ‘beautiful landscape’ and it then becomes a member of the category; accordingly,
the recognition of a landscape as a beautiful one reflects a cultural