Early Wittgenstein pre-empts the Later Wittgenstein

Posted by on August 16th, 2007

There is a theory that the early Wittgenstein had provided a sophisticated and subtle defence of religion. Particularly individual and private religious experience.

6.522 There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.

The mystical is beyond words, quite probably ineffable. Wittgensteins theory of the mystical in the Tractatus is that the limits of what can be meaningfully said do not coincide with the limits of what can be thought. On the contrary there are things which ought not be said, or perhaps cannot be meaningfully said but which can nonetheless be shown or thought of, manifesting themselves in a non-linguistic manner.

Thus Wittgensteins view of religious experience, or personal (non-institutional) religion is very similar to the pragmatic approach of William James that concerns its analysis with “fruits not roots”.

The Tractatus explicitly rejects metaphysics as being meaningless. Wittgenstein consistently held this view, yet whilst defending the mystical which he insisted should remain unspoken of. The view of the Tractatus towards religion is that the more one attempts to elucidate religious/mystical experiences into words, the deeper one is entering into making metaphysical propositions, thus the more nonsense one is uttering.

The Logical Positivists, who were broadly speaking fans of the Tractatus, interpreted the anti-metaphysical nature of his work as the basis of an attack on religion. If religious doctrines are explained with reference to metaphysics, then non-empirical religious doctrines can be attacked as being meaningless and nonsensical. But Wittgensteins demarcation between the mystical (that can be known/shown but must remain unsaid) and the logical atomist approach that he championed (that what is said can be analytically de-constructed and atomic facts known) was actually an attempt to disengage from (for example) arguments concerning the existence/non-existence of God. Instead of attempting to solve the question he simply sidestepped it. The question is unresolved and dissolved. Because the experience of God is something that is mystical, something that cannot be spoken of, any attempt to prove or disprove God’s existence was equally meaningless and nonsense.

Wittgensteins theory on religion would appear to be very closely related to his personal experience. Religion is meaningful only in an existential way not in an intellectual way. Thus he attempts to shield it from the pitfalls of metaphysics (encouraging silence instead) and from the attacks of logical positivism.

The later Wittgenstein, as emerging from Philosophical Investigations maintains many of his earlier themes. Religion as an existential and private enterprise remains important to him, and likewise Metaphysics remains nonsense and should be discarded by Philosophy.

But the later Wittgenstein adds a technical distinction to the term nonsense, and seems to apply it towards metaphysics. Instead of nonsense, as in gobbledook or unintelligible rubbish, he begins to talk of non-sense as in not-sense. Here he begins to expound his language-games theory. Metaphysics instead of being meaningless nonsense, i.e. something that means nothing, becomes instead meaningful non-sense, i.e. something that means something outside of the sense language game.

Metaphysics is nonsense when judged by the criteria of the critico-rationalist language game. But it remains perfectly meaningful within the context of the metaphysics language game. The immunity from rational criticism that he once offered to mysticism now applies to other forms of language. The later Wittgenstein sought to analyse the content of these language games and no longer to judge their value. The key to this volte face is his rejection of the picture idea theory of words and his development of the ‘meaning=use’ theory. (More of which in the next post).

Wittgenstein and the Mystical

Posted by on June 11th, 2007

There is a great deal to get through here, so I will try to make every point brief (tractatus style again). There are three topics; (i) Wittgenstein’s experience of religion, (ii) Wittgenstein’s rejection of Metaphysics, (iii) Wittgenstein’s defence of non-sense and the Mystical.

1.1 Wittgenstein was born in Vienna, 1889, the 8th child of Karl and Leopoldine.

1.11 Karl’s parents were Jewish, but converted to Protestantism, Leopoldines father was Jewish and her mother was Roman Catholic.

1.12 Ludwig Wittgenstein was baptised as a Roman Catholic, as were his siblings.

1.13 Upon his death Wittgenstein was buried according to the rites of the Catholic church.

1.14 There is no evidence that Wittgenstein practised Catholicism.

1.15 Wittgenstein wrote the Tractatus-Logico Philosophicus whilst fighting in the Austro-Hungarian army in World War I. Following the war, he gave away all his money (he was a millionaire by inheritance), considered becoming a monk, before designing and building a radically modernist house for his sister.

1.2 His favourite book (which he always carried with him) was The Gospel In Brief by Tolstoy. He often said how moved and impressed he was by the book.

1.3 With regards his lifestyle (especially at Cambridge) it seemed that he was intent of living something like a religious life.

1.4 He once commented regarding fellow Christians that although being a baptised Catholic he could not bring himself to believe the same things they did.

1.41 He rejected Metaphysics, but not all forms of religion.

1.42 Pre-World War I he was an atheist. His reading of Tolstoy saw him embrace a form of Christian existentialism.

1.43 He was influenced and referred often too, Augustine of Hippo, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy and Soren Kierkegaard (whom he called a ‘saint’).

1.44 By 1937 the form of his belief had become less Christian and more or less deist. He would have rejected the notion of Ignosticism, but others may have characterised him thus.

2.1 Analytical philosophy is concerned with language.

2.11 Specifically the misuse and misunderstanding of language.

2.12 Metaphysics was criticised as a misuse of language.

2.13 Analytical philosophy became a critique of religious language.

2.14 It is not concerned with the truth or falsity of a claim in religious language.

2.15 Religious language is impossible to understand.

2.16 Religious language is unintelligible, not because it is complex or difficult but because they are without and outside of sense.

2.17 Religious statements are not strictly statements at all.

2.2 Pigs eat corn, is true.

2.21 Pigs fly by flapping their ears, is false.

2.22 Pigs gorban tove, is neither true nor false, it is nonsense.

2.23 Religious statements take the form of pigs gorban tove, but sometimes less obviously so.

2.24 Pigs gorban tove is nonsensical on the face of it.

2.25 My feelings weigh 1.74 pounds, is less obviously nonsensical.

2.26 As is the statement: the inflation rate is bright yellow.

2.27 ‘God sees everything’, is less obviously nonsensical than pigs gorban tove.

2.3 If ‘God exists’, is nonsense, so also is ‘God does not exist’, and ‘I do not know if God exists’.

2.4 When explicit thought is applied to the statement ‘God sees everything’ its nonsense becomes more obvious.

2.41 Seeing is a function, it involves persons seeing from a perspective viewpoint. All of which is incompatible with the concept of God as a non-physical being.

2.42 To say that something sees, and something is non-physical, appears to be a contradiction.

2.5 We can talk of a metaphor or a simile.

2.51 We talk of a CCTV camera ‘looking at you’, or of ‘Big Brother watching you’.

2.52 But as Wittgenstein states “A simile must be a simile for something. And if I can describe a fact by means of a simile I must also be able to drop the simile and to describe the facts without it.” (Lecture on Ethics 1929)

2.53 A CCTV camera does not literally ‘see’ but functions in a way which is certain respects is analogous to what human beings do, when they see.

2.54 One can drop the simile ‘the CCTV sees’ by explaining the function of photosensitive cells, impulses transmitted through wires, image projections onto a computer.

2.55 One can describe the actions of a CCTV camera by means of metaphor or fact.

2.56 One cannot factually describe what God does when he ‘sees’.

2.57 It is seemingly impossible to translate alleged metaphysical facts into non-metaphorical descriptions.

2.6 Religion is awash with imagery.

2.61 It seems that religion gains a certain vitality from its use of suggestive, metaphorical pictures.

2.62 Man through the ages, as witnessed by their burial customs, seems concerned with the concept of the ‘other world’, a world beyond this world.

2.63 Vikings (for example) laid their warrior dead within a long-ship, surrounded by provisions such as food, drink, clothes, weapons. The metaphor is about the journey from this world to the ‘other world’.

2.64 The metaphor is characterising the ‘other world’ in picture ideas similar to the ‘real world’.

2.65 Xenophanes (570 BCE) describes religion thus. “The Ethiopians make their gods black and snub-nosed; the Thracians say theirs have blue eyes and red hair. And if oxen and horses or lions had hands, and could paint and produce works of art as human beings do, horses would paint the forms of gods like horses, and oxen like oxen, and make them in the image of their several kinds.”

2.66 Metaphors in connection with Metaphysics are misleading.

2.67 The ‘other world’ is conceived of as a world of the spirit, a non-physical world.

2.68 It would be impossible for the Viking burial ship to literally sail from this world to another world, from the physical to the non-physical, as though it were crossing the sea from one shore to another.

2.69 Even Vikings must have been aware of this non-literal fact as they burnt the boat, that no actual physical journey was occurring.

2.610 The difference between the physical world and the spiritual world is an ontological one. It is a completely different type of being. Moreso than say a rock and a mathematical equation.

2.611 The Vikings can invoke the image of a journey in order to attempt to describe what they believe happens to the dead in the after-life, but the metaphorical image can only be maintained in the absence of critical scrutiny.

2.612 Once we ask questions concerning the nature of the ‘other world’, all descriptions concerning the ‘other world’ become meaningless and confusing.

2.613 This does not render the ‘other-world’ non-existent, it renders it as unintelligible as trying to imagine seeing without eyes, walking without legs, describing red to a blind man and music to someone who is deaf.

2.614 The unthinkable cannot be thought.

2.615 The questions for example between theists and atheists concerning the existence of a transcendent reality have not been solved but have been dissolved.

2.616 Statements such as “God exists”, “God does not exist”, “I do not know if God exists” cannot even be formulated into a question, they are but empty word shells. “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent“.

3.1 A rejection of the Metaphysical is not a rejection of religion.

3.2 “There is the inexpressible. It shows itself; it is the mystical” (Tractatus 6.522).

3.3 Wittgenstein in published conversation with Friedrich Waismann: “Is talking essential to religion? I can easily imagine a religion in which there are no doctrines, in which, therefore, no talking occurs. Obviously, the essence of religion cannot have anything to do with the fact that talking occurs, or rather: if talking occurs, the this is itself part of the religious act, and not a theory. And it does not matter, therefore, whether such words are true, false, or nonsensical.”

3.31 Religion is not a theory, it is a practice, an activity, a way of life.

3.32 Religion is not based on a theory, on a belief or a system of beliefs, but emanates from pre-rational and non-rational attitudes and dispositions.

3.33 People have the desire to worship.

3.34 The already existent desire is justified by stories that explain that desire.

3.35 Subsequent religious doctrines of beliefs are based on what people do, or what people want to do.

3.36 Religious practise:- rituals, prayers, fasts, meditations, are that beneath which one cannot go; religious practises and experiences are more primal than explanations and theological justifications.

3.37 Tolstoy has Jesus say “You do not believe me, because you do not follow me.”

3.38 Wittgenstein rejects that you must first have belief in order to act upon belief. In the beginning is not the word, but the deed.

3.39 Much human activity occurs independent of reason and language.

3.310 Wittgenstein paraphrases Nietszche by saying that humans are primarily physical organisms with largely non-rational needs and expressions, and only secondarily and even then in extraordinary circumstances are rational beings who follow their reasoning.

3.311 Despite the rejection of Metaphysics, the primacy of practise gives potential meaningfulness to religion.

3.312 Religious statements are not the foundations upon which religious life is based.

3.313 Religious statements can be understood as being like a ritual act within religion itself. Thereby rendering any attempts at a cognitive understanding of it as a fundamental misunderstanding of their nature.

3.314 A religious utterance is worthless as an attempt to describe transcendent concepts in a factual way.

3.315 A religious utterance is effective as an expression of feeling, a prompter of ecstatic experience, as an inspiring tool for social communion.

3.316 A religious act is not a theological speculation.

3.317 A religious act is not a metaphysical belief.

3.318 A religious act is an experience, the content of that experience is that which Wittgenstein calls “the mystical”.

3.4 Wittgenstein did not reject Logical Positivism for back-door metaphysics.

3.41 Logical positivism is concerned exclusively with those areas of life where scientific enquiry and rational calculation is most appropriate and relevant.

3.42 Wittgenstein was interested in those areas of life that are the domain of the artist, visionary and mystic.

3.43 Myths, poems, visions, symphonies, rituals of “primitive cultures” are neither true nor false, rational or irrational, but expressions of a different kind altogether.

3.5 The “mystical” is an openness to the world that is different from that of science and analytical enquiry.

3.6 From a letter by Wittgenstein to his publisher Ludwig von Ficker: “Once I planned to add something to the preface (of the Tractatus) which now is not in it. I wanted to write that my work consists of two parts: of the part which is actually there, and the other part which I have not written. And it is the second part which is the most important one.

In Defence of Language

Posted by on June 10th, 2007

A defence of the role of language in philosophy and in knowledge.

1.1 It is a truism that without a shared system of public-language we would not be having this conversation.

1.2 Similarly without a shared system of public-language it is unlikely that you would have been able to understand the Tractatus, and to express your critical opinions of it to me, and for me to understand your critique of it.

1.3 That all three events, your cognition, your expressed analysis, my absorption and response, could consistently be thought to occur through coincidence is counter-intuitive.

1.4 This shared system of public-language enables us to attempt to understand each others experiences of something.

2.1 Early Wittgenstein characterises a word as like a picture. It stands for an external reality.

2.2 Philosophy cannot interfere with language it can only describe it.

2.3 “When they (my elders) named some object, and accordingly moved towards something, I saw this and I grasped that the thing was called by the sound they uttered when they meant to point it out. Their intention was shown by their bodily movements, as it were the natural language of all peoples: the expression of the face, the play of the eyes, the movement of other parts of the body, and the tone of voice which expresses our state of mind in seeking, having, rejecting, or avoiding something. Thus, as I heard words repeatedly used in their proper places in various sentences, I gradually learned to understand what objects they signified; and after I had trained my mouth to form these signs I used them to express my own desires.”Augustine of Hippo, Confessions.

2.4 “These words, it seems to me, give us a particular picture of the essence of human language. It is this: the individual words in language name objects – sentences are combinations of such names. – In this picture of language we find the roots of the following idea: Every word has a meaning. The meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands.” -Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations.

3.1 Later Wittgenstein characterises a word as a tool, its meaning is discovered by the ways in which it is used.

3.2 Speaking a language is part of an activity.

3.21 “The Philosophy of symbolic forms starts from the presupposition that, if there is any definition of the nature of ‘essence’ of man, this definition can only be understood as a functional one, not a substantial one. We cannot define man by an inherent principle which constitues his metaphysical essence – nor can we define him by any inborn faculty or instinct that may be ascertained by empirical observation. Man’s outstanding characteristic, his distinguishing mark, is not his metaphysical or physical nature – but his work.” Cassirer, An Essay on Man.

3.3 Examples of the tools in language and the ways in which they are used. From How to Read Wittgenstein by R. Monk

3.31 Giving orders, and obeying them.

3.32 Describing the appearance of an object, or giving its measurements.

3.33 Constructing an object from a description ( i.e. a drawing).

3.34 Reporting an event.

3.35 Speculating about an event.

3.36 Forming and testing a hypothesis.

3.37 Presenting the results of an experiment in tables and diagrams.

3.38 Making up a story; and reading it.

3.39 Play-acting.

3.310 Singing Catches.

3.311 Guessing riddles.

3.312 Making a joke; telling it.

3.313 Solving a problem in practical arithmetic.

3.314 Translating from one language into another.

3.315 Asking, thanking, cursing, greeting, praying.

3.4 Language is fundamental to inquiry, to types of thought or to explaining our experiences.

3.41 The types of thought are the differences between ‘to say something‘ and ‘to mean something‘.

3.42 “There is an unmistakeable difference between organic reactions and human responses.” Cassirer, An Essay On Man.

4.1 Language is a collection of words in a sentence.

4.2 Language evolved.

4.3 Language is taught and learned.

4.4 “Between the receptor system and the effector system, which are to be found in all animals species, we find in man a third link which we may describe as the symbolic system.” Cassirer, An Essay On Man.

4.41 “By culture we mean an extrasomatic, temporal continuum of things and events dependent upon symboling…no other species has or has had culture. In the course of the evolution of primates man appeared when the ability to symbol had been developed and became capable of expression. We thus defined man in terms of the ability to symbol and the consequent ability to produce culture.” L.A.White, The Evolution of Culture.

4.42 “The human capacity to communicate by means of a ‘semantic symbol language’ does involve a genetically programmed predisposition to acquire such a language, and it is definitely known that no other species on earth shares the same predisposition… The behavioural implication of the unique language faculty of humans beings is that Homo Sapiens has a unique, genetically based capacity to override genetic determinisms by acquiring, storing, and transmitting gene-free repertories of social responses.” Harris, Cultural Materialism.

4.43 Where Chimpanzees have a potential for gestural communication (human taught sign language), this capacity has been manifested only through the intervention of man. Chimpanzees do not exhibit this capacity in the natural state.

4.44 Twitterings, moos, barks, miaows, grunts are examples of a language based on to say this does not infer the capacity for animal language to show meaning, to intend, or to know.

4.5 Wittgenstein has an anthropocentric view of language, which is not uncommon for a human.

4.51 There are thoughts which only a language-user can have, as well as thoughts which animals can share: a dog can believe that his master is at the door, but not that his master will come the day after tommorow, because he cannot master the complicated language in which alone such a hope can be expressed. (Paraphrasing PI II, 174).

4.52 “As compared with the other animals man lives in a broader reality; he lives, so to speak, in a new dimension of reality.” Cassirer, An Essay on Man.

4.6 It is possible to have thought and understanding without words, but only where the thought is one which could have been expressed in some way.

4.61 Some thoughts – e.g. about God and the creation of the world – seem to be incapable of expression except in language: one cannot take seriously the testimony of a deaf-mute to the effect that he had such thoughts before he learned language. (Paraphrasing PI I, 342)

4.62 We can imagine people who can only think aloud, as there are people who can only read aloud; but it is not possible to imagine people who spoke only to themselves and never aloud, since our criterion for somone’s saying something to himself involves what he tells us about himself. (PI I, 331, 344-8).

4.7 To understand a sentence involves understanding a language; and to understand a language is to master a technique: such mastery, unlike images, can be tested, and checked up on by others. This is one important difference between the criteria for having images and understanding. (Wittgenstein, The Blue Book 5).

4.71 A dog can believe that its master is at the door, but it cannot understand that the master may not be at the door in the future.

4.72 There can be thoughts without words, but thoughts with words indicate understanding.

4.73 Thoughts are processes, whereas understanding is a state of being.

4.74 The German language gives a a better example of the differentiation between ‘thinking’ (denken) and ‘belief’ (glauben).

4.75 “When I sat down on this chair, of course I believed it would support me. The thought of its collapsing never crossed my mind.”(PI I, 575).


Posted by on April 21st, 2007

Hi this folder is about providing an entry level to Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Who is he?

What did he have to say?

And so what?