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A defense of epistemic nihilism

sdavio
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5/10/2016 2:51:55 PM
Posted: 7 months ago
If we still are to hold sternly onto the ideals of rationality, justification, order and so on, while attempting to jettison the concept of "objectivity" which is so often seen as, not only the necessary precondition for, but the actual essence of these values, in what does our framework come to anything other than a game of language and definition? It's a question of what the concept of "objectivity" itself comes down to. Having a rigorous and central place in all systematic treatments of philosophy, we should expect it to have some essence, and the question is whether it is simply the bundling of these concepts together in a kind of family resemblance, or whether there is a groundwork which is separable, and holds together all of those secondary notions by controlling their use.

I think that, if we are to search for such a groundwork in the concept of objective truth, it is good to look near the idea of immediacy. That which has an undeniable, foundational reality is that which presents itself to us in a way which is impossible to ignore; this is often bound up with metaphors about "vision" and "seeing" (as in Descartes) which are not merely fortunate, since the idea of objectivity and foundational truth can never be far from the concept of sensation, although they have a complicated relationship.

What is immediate has two basic functions: it can come to us in a fully determinate way, and it can also regulate our dialogue and philosophizing by its determinacy. The analogue to visual experience is clear, since it is very difficult for me to see something directly, and also to deny that it is there in the moment of its presence. However, there is not a clear road from here to the kind of foundational determinacy which can ground philosophy and regulate the scope of possible disagreements. This is because, while a single visual experience has exactly the kind of certainty we have been looking for, we don't seem to have a framework for comparing experiences purely by way of sensation, since any two distinct sensations, are also so totally distinct, in being determinate, that their complete difference leaves no room for comparison. This is Hume's insight, in showing that necessary connections do not seem derivable purely from sense data, absent any conceptual framework.

So, where can the "realist" go from here? Well, although the precise content of any particular sense experience must be left indeterminate to some degree, we do not seem to be totally out adrift here. The total obviousness of the self-presence of that sense data must be good for something, since it was so arresting.. If we cannot totally know the content of sense data in general beforehand, regardless we must have established the fact of the determinacy itself, which we felt so powerfully in the moment of sense experience. Thus, the realist posits that, not some determinate content, but the framework of access is what is given in an absolute and undeniable way.

But it is just this move which is, I think, where realism goes wrong in principle. With the "immediacy of immediacy" or, the certainty that there is access to something, we have been left with a purely formal principle. That is a well known Hegelian point. But the problem goes deeper, since we cannot characterize sensation itself with a formal principle which precedes any given instance of sense experience. We do not sense the immediacy of our sense experience, but only its content, and so the immediacy therefore becomes a theoretical position without any of the determinate certainty which we were so enthusiastic about deriving from sensation in the first place. But also, furthermore, a formal principle which applies to all instances of anything, indeterminately, cannot be "sensed" - or intuited in anything approaching or analogous to an immediately sensed way - since it is not distinguished from anything.

It may be counter-intuitive, but I believe that this shows that frameworks which describe our access to objects are the most abstract and speculative of all. Thus, we cannot assume such a framework in advance, as the common, immediate axiom which precedes all debate, since any speculative principle is also doubtful and in need of debate itself. This includes both empiricist theories which attempt to legislate that all statements must in principle be reducible to sense-data, and rationalist theories which make theoretical propositions themselves immediately intuitable in their necessary connections. The fact that I used sense-data in my demonstration does not exclude such rationalist theories which claim to be accessing proposions "independent" of experience, since this is a point about immediate certainty which applies in principle to any such theory. A proposition cannot carry with it an immediate sense of its own determinate certainty, because the access to this certainty is a formal, abstract proposition which cannot be intuited, since we can only intuit differential values, whereas a principle applying unilaterally to all content would be impervious to any such experience of intuition.

The rationalist does not escape this problem whatsoever, since "sense data" had a dubious position from the beginning anyway (see: Sellars). This is a critique of certainty, and universality, and our access to it, not of sensation in general. The point is that the universal framework of judgment as such is, even though it is universal, not immanent to the content of each particular judgment, and therefore must be established through speculative theory and not an axiomatic legislation which precedes philosophical debate. Since our actual theorizing and debate happens in the "secondary" world of material acts of speech and writing, the transposition of the "necessary principles" which determine these must themselves be transposed from the indeterminacy with which they inhabit our everyday consciousness, into the determinacy of an actual set of propositions, and this itself is not guaranteed by any immediate certainty to be done correctly, so has none of that grounding function we were looking for.

This is the problem that the realist is presented with: we set out originally in search for a principle which we could grasp with an undeniable sense of concreteness, and which therefore could regulate our philosophical disagreements. However, since we can only differentiate in our immediate experience certain content, the immediacy itself always stands beyond any such mental event of direct grasping. The principle which describes the framework that must determine any given content of any given proposition, is itself something speculative and uncertain rather than immanent, and thus cannot have a pre-existing, regulative relationship with our disagreements.
"Logic is the money of the mind." - Karl Marx
sdavio
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5/11/2016 7:00:23 AM
Posted: 6 months ago
At 5/10/2016 2:51:55 PM, sdavio wrote:
The principle which describes the framework that must determine any given content of any given proposition, is itself something speculative and uncertain rather than immanent, and thus cannot have a pre-existing, regulative relationship with our disagreements.

While the experience or occurrence of this principle is immanent to our everyday experience, the formulation of this as an articulated set of propositions is speculative, and cannot be transposed directly from one form into the other. And it is the latter which would be necessary if we are to found a solid groundwork for a philosophical system; we can't just regulate disagreements on the basis of undifferentiated intuitions, since if their articulation is itself based on happenstance or intuition (ie, is infected by the arbitrary elements of language in an unregulated way) then disagreements could be exacerbated simply due to the differences in formulation of the same intuitions.
"Logic is the money of the mind." - Karl Marx
dylancatlow
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5/17/2016 6:23:41 PM
Posted: 6 months ago
At 5/10/2016 2:51:55 PM, sdavio wrote:
A proposition cannot carry with it an immediate sense of its own determinate certainty, because the access to this certainty is a formal, abstract proposition which cannot be intuited, since we can only intuit differential values, whereas a principle applying unilaterally to all content would be impervious to any such experience of intuition.

Perception amounts to cognition, and any meaningful conceptual system is obviously regulated by logical syntax insofar as its perceptions and thoughts are never seen in conjunction with their absence. If they were then the consciousness would split into two separate "realities". This means that at some basic level we are forced to know and recognize the rules that ensure the logical integrity of our awareness, since our awareness is defined with them in mind (no pun intended). Whether or not these rules can be categorically identified and articulated at the human semantic level is another matter, but you have no grounds on which to claim they remain entirely mysterious to us without undermining your own position.

The point is that the universal framework of judgment as such is, even though it is universal, not immanent to the content of each particular judgment, and therefore must be established through speculative theory and not an axiomatic legislation which precedes philosophical debate.

In order for something to qualify as "content" it must be differentiated from its logical complement, and differentiation requires that things conform to their distinct identities before a difference relationship can be defined. Since "identity" is an expression of truth, the argument is simply self-defeating: to the extent that we differentiate at all, truth is understood. In other words, for our consciousness to coherently exist it must know what's true *of itself* and therefore true period, because "reality" and "truth" necessarily conform to the structure of our minds to the extent that we can describe them.

But also, furthermore, a formal principle which applies to all instances of anything, indeterminately, cannot be "sensed" - or intuited in anything approaching or analogous to an immediately sensed way - since it is not distinguished from anything.

This is not a tenable position. In claiming that a general principle can't be cognitively meaningful you're essentially introducing a general principle of your own. Moreover, this argument precludes the concept of "meaning" itself, given that the term can't be meaningfully distinguished from something in which it is not already present. Thus, either you're not allowed to use the term in which case your argument falls apart, or meaning has to be defined in opposition to meaninglessness, the latter of which need not be regulated by a "general principle" and which could thus serve as its logical complement.
dylancatlow
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5/17/2016 6:32:21 PM
Posted: 6 months ago
*I should clarify that I'm not saying meaning can't be meaningfully distinguished from its logical complement, only that it can't be under Sdavio's framework.
sdavio
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5/19/2016 10:00:44 AM
Posted: 6 months ago
At 5/17/2016 6:23:41 PM, dylancatlow wrote:
At 5/10/2016 2:51:55 PM, sdavio wrote:
A proposition cannot carry with it an immediate sense of its own determinate certainty, because the access to this certainty is a formal, abstract proposition which cannot be intuited, since we can only intuit differential values, whereas a principle applying unilaterally to all content would be impervious to any such experience of intuition.

Perception amounts to cognition, and any meaningful conceptual system is obviously regulated by logical syntax insofar as its perceptions and thoughts are never seen in conjunction with their absence. If they were then the consciousness would split into two separate "realities". This means that at some basic level we are forced to know and recognize the rules that ensure the logical integrity of our awareness, since our awareness is defined with them in mind (no pun intended). Whether or not these rules can be categorically identified and articulated at the human semantic level is another matter, but you have no grounds on which to claim they remain entirely mysterious to us without undermining your own position.

If, as you say, the question of our semantic awareness of our rule following abilities is a separate question (from those abilities themselves), then that direct ability to follow rules cannot constitute a philosophical position. Just because we can experience this rule following itself, doesn't mean we can accurately identify or differentiate it later through pure intuition in the way required by rationalist theories. My transcription of an internal experience such as thought is just as "lossy" (that is, mediated by concepts, and to some degree speculative) as that of an experience of the speed of a car driving past.

The point is that the universal framework of judgment as such is, even though it is universal, not immanent to the content of each particular judgment, and therefore must be established through speculative theory and not an axiomatic legislation which precedes philosophical debate.

In order for something to qualify as "content" it must be differentiated from its logical complement, and differentiation requires that things conform to their distinct identities before a difference relationship can be defined.

If we are talking strictly about what is absolutely immanent to a particular sense-experience, then it would not even be an experience of identity. This is what I'm getting from Sellars here: My sense experience of a tree, for instance, is not an experience of a tree as "a tree". This is important in order to avoid bundling in conceptualization which actually comes later. For example, I might see the image of something that looks like a tree but is not actually a tree. In sort of Kantian terms: I do not have any access to the nature of what I experience, only its "appearance". But the important step is that this applies just as much to my "internal" episodes as to "external" ones.

Since "identity" is an expression of truth, the argument is simply self-defeating: to the extent that we differentiate at all, truth is understood.

My argument does not entail throwing out the ideas of differentiation, identity, sense experience and so on, entirely. Rather, it's to say that there isn't some separate realm of "axiomatic" conceptual data to which we have immediate, "lossless" access. Those concepts (differentiation etc) have a role, but this role is subsequent to our conceptual access to things in general making an entrance, and so cannot bypass the mediation involved in this.

In other words, for our consciousness to coherently exist it must know what's true *of itself* and therefore true period, because "reality" and "truth" necessarily conform to the structure of our minds to the extent that we can describe them.

In my opinion this is far too solipsistic to be allowable into a philosophical framework. If reality conforms to the structure of your own mind then there isn't much room for debate, so just as you're accusing me of a kind of performative contradiction, I'd retort with a similar accusation.

But also, furthermore, a formal principle which applies to all instances of anything, indeterminately, cannot be "sensed" - or intuited in anything approaching or analogous to an immediately sensed way - since it is not distinguished from anything.

This is not a tenable position. In claiming that a general principle can't be cognitively meaningful you're essentially introducing a general principle of your own. Moreover, this argument precludes the concept of "meaning" itself, given that the term can't be meaningfully distinguished from something in which it is not already present. Thus, either you're not allowed to use the term in which case your argument falls apart, or meaning has to be defined in opposition to meaninglessness, the latter of which need not be regulated by a "general principle" and which could thus serve as its logical complement.

What did I say about meaning? There actually isn't a single instance of the word "meaning" in my post. This isn't logical positivism, lol. I'm talking about possibilities here, and I'm making a very general assertion about the functioning of language in saying that it works with distinctions, and about intuition in saying that an intuition concerns a differential value insofar as there is a temporal "before" and "after" in any intuition. Thus, whether or not it is meaningless, the attempt to bypass conceptual mediation and make direct statements about the "structure of reality" by way of pure intuition surely ends up being faced with performative dead ends.
"Logic is the money of the mind." - Karl Marx
dylancatlow
Posts: 12,245
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5/23/2016 6:06:51 PM
Posted: 6 months ago
At 5/19/2016 10:00:44 AM, sdavio wrote:
At 5/17/2016 6:23:41 PM, dylancatlow wrote:
At 5/10/2016 2:51:55 PM, sdavio wrote:
A proposition cannot carry with it an immediate sense of its own determinate certainty, because the access to this certainty is a formal, abstract proposition which cannot be intuited, since we can only intuit differential values, whereas a principle applying unilaterally to all content would be impervious to any such experience of intuition.

Perception amounts to cognition, and any meaningful conceptual system is obviously regulated by logical syntax insofar as its perceptions and thoughts are never seen in conjunction with their absence. If they were then the consciousness would split into two separate "realities". This means that at some basic level we are forced to know and recognize the rules that ensure the logical integrity of our awareness, since our awareness is defined with them in mind (no pun intended). Whether or not these rules can be categorically identified and articulated at the human semantic level is another matter, but you have no grounds on which to claim they remain entirely mysterious to us without undermining your own position.

If, as you say, the question of our semantic awareness of our rule following abilities is a separate question (from those abilities themselves), then that direct ability to follow rules cannot constitute a philosophical position. Just because we can experience this rule following itself, doesn't mean we can accurately identify or differentiate it later through pure intuition in the way required by rationalist theories. My transcription of an internal experience such as thought is just as "lossy" (that is, mediated by concepts, and to some degree speculative) as that of an experience of the speed of a car driving past.

The point is that there's nothing in principle which prevents us from doing so, since the rules of thought are immanent in any thoughts we might have. So while our interpretations of our thoughts may be illogical, the thoughts themselves ensure their own self-consistency and are aware of what is true.

The point is that the universal framework of judgment as such is, even though it is universal, not immanent to the content of each particular judgment, and therefore must be established through speculative theory and not an axiomatic legislation which precedes philosophical debate.

In order for something to qualify as "content" it must be differentiated from its logical complement, and differentiation requires that things conform to their distinct identities before a difference relationship can be defined.

If we are talking strictly about what is absolutely immanent to a particular sense-experience, then it would not even be an experience of identity. This is what I'm getting from Sellars here: My sense experience of a tree, for instance, is not an experience of a tree as "a tree". This is important in order to avoid bundling in conceptualization which actually comes later. For example, I might see the image of something that looks like a tree but is not actually a tree. In sort of Kantian terms: I do not have any access to the nature of what I experience, only its "appearance". But the important step is that this applies just as much to my "internal" episodes as to "external" ones.

The point is that there is more to our awareness than just sensory content; there's also the logical structure through which our experience is regulated and made coherent. If we were not at some level aware of these rules -- if they were not inherent in our thoughts -- the merest act of cognition would be utterly possible.

Since "identity" is an expression of truth, the argument is simply self-defeating: to the extent that we differentiate at all, truth is understood.

My argument does not entail throwing out the ideas of differentiation, identity, sense experience and so on, entirely. Rather, it's to say that there isn't some separate realm of "axiomatic" conceptual data to which we have immediate, "lossless" access. Those concepts (differentiation etc) have a role, but this role is subsequent to our conceptual access to things in general making an entrance, and so cannot bypass the mediation involved in this.

In other words, for our consciousness to coherently exist it must know what's true *of itself* and therefore true period, because "reality" and "truth" necessarily conform to the structure of our minds to the extent that we can describe them.

In my opinion this is far too solipsistic to be allowable into a philosophical framework. If reality conforms to the structure of your own mind then there isn't much room for debate, so just as you're accusing me of a kind of performative contradiction, I'd retort with a similar accusation.

The argument is not solipsistic, as it's not saying that one's mind is all there is. Rather, it's saying that the structure of one's mind cannot be theoretically separated from anything it describes; that which violates the rules of thought cannot be part of "reality".

But also, furthermore, a formal principle which applies to all instances of anything, indeterminately, cannot be "sensed" - or intuited in anything approaching or analogous to an immediately sensed way - since it is not distinguished from anything.

This is not a tenable position. In claiming that a general principle can't be cognitively meaningful you're essentially introducing a general principle of your own. Moreover, this argument precludes the concept of "meaning" itself, given that the term can't be meaningfully distinguished from something in which it is not already present. Thus, either you're not allowed to use the term in which case your argument falls apart, or meaning has to be defined in opposition to meaninglessness, the latter of which need not be regulated by a "general principle" and which could thus serve as its logical complement.

What did I say about meaning? There actually isn't a single instance of the word "meaning" in my post. This isn't logical positivism, lol. I'm talking about possibilities here, and I'm making a very general assertion about the functioning of language in saying that it works with distinctions, and about intuition in saying that an intuition concerns a differential value insofar as there is a temporal "before" and "after" in any intuition. Thus, whether or not it is meaningless, the attempt to bypass conceptual mediation and make direct statements about the "structure of reality" by way of pure intuition surely ends up being faced with performative dead ends.

Your argument makes use of the concept when it refers to "sensed" and "intuited"; these terms do not make sense apart from "meaning", since they essentially describe ways in which meaning enters into the mind.
sdavio
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5/24/2016 1:16:42 PM
Posted: 6 months ago
At 5/23/2016 6:06:51 PM, dylancatlow wrote:
At 5/19/2016 10:00:44 AM, sdavio wrote:
At 5/17/2016 6:23:41 PM, dylancatlow wrote:
At 5/10/2016 2:51:55 PM, sdavio wrote:
If, as you say, the question of our semantic awareness of our rule following abilities is a separate question (from those abilities themselves), then that direct ability to follow rules cannot constitute a philosophical position. Just because we can experience this rule following itself, doesn't mean we can accurately identify or differentiate it later through pure intuition in the way required by rationalist theories. My transcription of an internal experience such as thought is just as "lossy" (that is, mediated by concepts, and to some degree speculative) as that of an experience of the speed of a car driving past.

The point is that there's nothing in principle which prevents us from doing so, since the rules of thought are immanent in any thoughts we might have. So while our interpretations of our thoughts may be illogical, the thoughts themselves ensure their own self-consistency and are aware of what is true.

One thing I'm wondering here is whether you see philosophical statements (about the structure of reality / thought etc itself) and empirical statements as two fundamentally, categorically different kinds of statement? Or do you see philosophy as somehow continuous with science a la Quine?

If you hold the former, that there are two kinds of statement, eidetic absolute kinds (as I guess yours would be something like "reality is God's self-definition" or something), and "lossy" knowledge like that of empirical science... then our knowledge of the first, absolute kind must also be somehow guaranteed in its transcription into an articulated theory.

Let's say I have an instance of 'following rule X'. It gives me an awareness of X, whatever that is. My immediate awareness of that instance is hypothetically concrete, eidetic, universal, whatever you want - we can take that for granted here. But now we need to turn that immediate awareness of a rule into a theory which can be communicated - and most importantly, can preclude opposing theories necessary and preemptively. And the form in which it is communicated is a proposition, and therefore it is infected by some arbitrary element. My point is: even if we grant the immanence of a rule to an experience or thought as you propose, we still have another level of separation at the level of communication which needs to be bridged very tightly if we are to ensure the kind of absolute solidity required of a form of knowledge which is valid while distinguishing itself sharply from anything empirical.

There are three levels:

- Thought
- Rule governing the thought
- Communication of thought & rule

We might say that the rules themselves are immanent simply at the social level, of communication, institutions, and so on. But that's just what (I assume) you wanted to avoid. You don't want to be some kind of uber-relativist version of Heidegger. Because we can't say that there is some element of our language which also transcends itself and presents something of thought which is utterly non-arbitrary, because we know in advance, by virtue of the way words work, that they contain an element of arbitrariness; they can be used in different situations, they are not totally tied down in terms of what meaning they can have, or what context they could be used in. Units of language are repeatable signs.

The empirical scientist is saved here because they claim that their theory is *general*. Thus, the form of their theory can be "isomorphic" with what contingently occurs and is identified linguistically, because they never made any claim to absolute knowledge - they didn't say that the content of their judgment was absolutely immanent to every single individual experience of it. There is still a totally open, dark future lurking implicitly on the horizon behind any given scientific theory, and that is what saves it from the kind of critique I'm giving here.

If we are talking strictly about what is absolutely immanent to a particular sense-experience, then it would not even be an experience of identity. This is what I'm getting from Sellars here: My sense experience of a tree, for instance, is not an experience of a tree as "a tree". This is important in order to avoid bundling in conceptualization which actually comes later. For example, I might see the image of something that looks like a tree but is not actually a tree. In sort of Kantian terms: I do not have any access to the nature of what I experience, only its "appearance". But the important step is that this applies just as much to my "internal" episodes as to "external" ones.

The point is that there is more to our awareness than just sensory content; there's also the logical structure through which our experience is regulated and made coherent. If we were not at some level aware of these rules -- if they were not inherent in our thoughts -- the merest act of cognition would be utterly possible.

We don't need to disagree about the idea that there is some structure behind the content of a thought which organizes it and makes it possible. What we disagree about is how this background structure relates to its content and its communication, and how we can relate to it theoretically. You do not only need to argue that we are "at some level" aware of the rules, if you're going to defend a view in which disagreements about these rules can be settled by way of a systematic philosophy which "sees" these rules playing their role, directly "in" reality. There must be an absolute connection, not only between our mind and the rule, but also between the rule and its articulation in the form of a theory.

In other words, for our consciousness to coherently exist it must know what's true *of itself* and therefore true period, because "reality" and "truth" necessarily conform to the structure of our minds to the extent that we can describe them.

In my opinion this is far too solipsistic to be allowable into a philosophical framework. If reality conforms to the structure of your own mind then there isn't much room for debate, so just as you're accusing me of a kind of performative contradiction, I'd retort with a similar accusation.

The argument is not solipsistic, as it's not saying that one's mind is all there is. Rather, it's saying that the structure of one's mind cannot be theoretically separated from anything it describes; that which violates the rules of thought cannot be part of "reality".

If the rules structuring our thoughts cannot be separated from their content, then how do you "separate" your theory from the kind of theory espoused by an empirical scientist, which necessarily involves some degree of speculation?

And the only way I see of interpreting your above statements as non-solipsistic would be by interpreting the "rules of thought" in an extremely broad sense, something like the rules of the thoughts of God, which again would seemingly make your theory speculative.

Your argument makes use of the concept when it refers to "sensed" and "intuited"; these terms do not make sense apart from "meaning", since they essentially describe ways in which meaning enters into the mind.

I don't see meanings as being intuited, only a "manifold" in Kantian language. That is, disparate pieces of "data" which are then joined together in a speculative way by our minds. If these connections are mirrored in reality, then these connections are "noumenal" - we can't straightforwardly assert them as such without getting on the slippery slope toward solipsism.
"Logic is the money of the mind." - Karl Marx
sdavio
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5/24/2016 1:24:32 PM
Posted: 6 months ago
There were two kind of separate arguments in that post which I think wasn't very clear, partly because I ran out of space.

To put it simply, where I distinguished three levels (content, rule, and communication of both) I have a problem with both the attempt to make the rule immanent to the content, and also the attempt to make both immanent to their communication in the form of a theory.

In the earlier part I granted for the sake of argument that a rule could be immanent to its content to make the point about communication, but then I sort of swapped over to start distinguishing rule and content again :-/.

Basically, I won't really grant any form of immanence in general, unless it is strictly "phenomenal" and transitory.
"Logic is the money of the mind." - Karl Marx
sdavio
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5/24/2016 1:40:28 PM
Posted: 6 months ago
At 5/24/2016 1:24:32 PM, sdavio wrote:
There were two kind of separate arguments in that post which I think wasn't very clear, partly because I ran out of space.

To put it simply, where I distinguished three levels (content, rule, and communication of both) I have a problem with both the attempt to make the rule immanent to the content, and also the attempt to make both immanent to their communication in the form of a theory.

In the earlier part I granted for the sake of argument that a rule could be immanent to its content to make the point about communication, but then I sort of swapped over to start distinguishing rule and content again :-/.

Basically, I won't really grant any form of immanence in general, unless it is strictly "phenomenal" and transitory.

If you try to make the rule immanent to its content, then you can't distinguish axoimatic principles from the speculations of empirical science, unless you want to propose a totally separate real of objects, and there's no way of applying the rules from one to the rules of the other.

If you want to make the rule and content immanent to their communication via language, then you end up in relativism because there are clearly arbitrary elements in language, which you'll then be building into reality itself.
"Logic is the money of the mind." - Karl Marx