Wittgenstein, the Solopsist and Moore

Posted by on April 29th, 2008

Various things occured to me recently regarding Wittgenstein and his latter day attitudes to Solopsism.

Firstly Wittgenstein had little time or respect for the history of philosophy and is said (most probably accurately) that he never even took the time to read Descartes, upon whose foundations most subsequent philosophies developed.

Secondly he wrote in some of his final works that the Solopsist was talking nonsense, on the simple basis that if one is to doubt everything then surely one must include the language, phraseology and logic of doubt itself within the schema of uncertainty. And this he said is self-refuting, the project cannot get off the ground. Remember this assertion is based on his lifelong principle that one cannot have a purely private language, and that meaning is found in use.

Thirdly he famously refused to deny to Russell that there was not a rhinoceros in the room, thus seemingly rejecting all common sense.

Fourthly he also refuted H.E.Moore’s common sense “here is a hand” discourse, accusing him of misusing terms like “I know”.

Wittgenstein says very little about the Solopsist directly, mainly because as already mentioned he had little time for established philosophy. But two things were made apparent, he rejected Descartes solopsist on account of the inexpressability of doubt, but he also it is said (and perhaps seems obvious when we consider the rhinoceros) had a great deal of sympathy for the solopsistic way of thinking. He once commented in private letters that life was very much like a dream only occasionally interrupted by reality, and the difficulty was in discerning which was which.

Wittgenstein criticizes Descartes Solopsist not for his suspicions and doubts of themselves, but for his vocalisation of this doubt. To doubt, one might say is human, but to vocalise, institutionalise, express and perhaps even objectivise that doubt is he believes to play a specific language game whose construction and internal logic is based upon a subjective and relative consensus and an experience-based internal logic that leads to the creation of a particular language game.

In other words to publically state that one doubts or cannot be certain of the real is to fall into the trap of using idioms and expressions that are defined by and which themselves are creators and constructors of the real.

By the same measure he rejects Moore’s common sense approach, “here is a hand” etc. To say that one “knows” that this is hand and that it is a part of me is to play an equally subjective and consensus based language game.

This subject deserves a much deeper analysis than I am going to provide right now, but the main point is that Wittgensteins sympathy for the solopsist, refusal to deny the presence of rhinoceros in the room (contrary to common sense) and yet rejection of Cartesion scepticism and Moorian common sense are all indicative of his radical subjectivism. If meaning is found in use (the central maxim of his later work) then our entire idiomatic perspective about the created world is therefore subjective and the real is a construct of our language games and not a fixed thing per se.

In conclusion i’d like to make two opposing points. Firstly in criticism one may be inclined to suggest that Wittgenstein is tending towards logocentrism, as he specifically criticizes the expression of objective doubt or knowledge in language and yet whilst accepting the validity of this uncertainty provides no alternative or meaningful outlet other than that provided by language. Secondly and somewhat more in support and perhaps as an answer to the first point, Wittgensteins sympathy for the solopsist and criticism of his ever daring to express his doubt, is an expression of his belief that like the solopsist trapped in uncertainty, we too are trapped by the languages that we use, trapped in subjectivity. Finally the more one considers these latter points in Wittgenstein the more apparent it becomes that his early Tractarian philosophy was a key developmental part of his later work. The more I consider his sympathy for the solopsist and his logocentric solopsism the more I recall his phrase in the Tractatus “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. (5.6)”

The Field of Language Games

Posted by on April 17th, 2008

It would be a vast understatement to say that I have a strong interest in the philosophy of language, and that this influences the way in which I approach other aspects of philosophy. But despite my many posts on language games I havent always clarified my views on the field itself. So this short post is to fill that void.

In my opinion a philosophy of language is broadly semiotic, i.e. a study of the systems of signs that we use in communication. And a comprehensive philosophy of language encompasses all the many different means of communication we have and ideally should also tackle non-human languages.

Crucially though a philosophy of language is not (or rather should not be) exclusively logocentric, i.e. focused solely on the spoken or written word, but should incorporate other systems of signification and signifiers.

Generally though most of the famous theories in the philosophy of language have focused predominantly on words, mostly for the sake of convenience. Wittgenstein and Lyotard mostly focused on these language games, though Wittgenstein was interested in proposing a broader semiotic theory. On the contrary Derrida focused almost exclusively on texts.

Historically the philosophy of language has studied natural languages i.e. linguistics, and semiotics has studied other language forms. But it is important to remember that the distinction is one of traditions rather than subject (one arising out of philosophy, the other out of science).

An example of how the two overlap struck me this afternoon. I was attending a funeral, conducted according to Christian rites. After much contemplation, discussion and protest I wore a black tie, black trousers, and “smart” black shoes. I protested because I find the neck-tie to be a non-functional and reduntant item of clothing and not a little restrictive around my neck. Similarly I dislike the “smart” black shoes as they are somewhat less comfortable than my usual footwear. And above all I resent the fact that in attending a funeral I should dress in anyway different from that which I would have done when visiting the person alive – particularly when that person had little time for such petty conventionalism either.

In my discussions two particular themes arose, firstly it was a sign of respect (both to the deceased and their immediate family), secondly it is the done thing to be respectful at funerals.

Part of me felt uncomfortable at this demand for conformity, after all most people (Christians included) believe that after death the body is an empty husk or shell. Whether you believe in a soul or not most people accept that the body of the deceased is lacking something. It is no longer the person we all knew and loved. And yet we still have traditions of showing respect to this empty vessel, perhaps partly this is a residue of much older belief systems, or perhaps again it is simply an expression of a more general respect towards both the deceased and the bereaved.

Ultimately I bowed to pressure and conformed, but it struck me as a pertinent example of Wittgensteins fundamental principle of language games. Language, and by this I mean any broad system of signification, gets its meaning from its use. Thus the emphasis on wearing black, a visual symbol if ever there was one, was based not on some sort of positivistic essence where black always means death, mourning, grief and so on. But rather the wearing of black has gained this meaning through consensus. It signifies mourning, or respect because society decided it did at some point in time.

Crucially though and again contrary to positivistic assumptions this is only one of many different significative meanings for the colour black. It can have many other different meanings and as a consequence many other associated values. For example in the US, Black Cats are symbols of bad luck, whereas in the UK they symbolise good luck. In Japan the colour black represents age, wisdom and experience, hence the highest grade that a martial artist can attain is usually signified by a black belt.

I’m sure there are many other examples, but as I sat awaiting the service to begin, tugging at the knot of my neck-tie and wincing in discomfort from my shoes, I took solace in the fact that my compromise was shared by many others in the same room, I was participating in a language game.

It is one of the tasks of the philosophy of language, particularly the post-positivistic traditions, to emphasise the cultural and cognitive relativism of language games. That the meanings we attach to signs are not fixed but are fluid and sometimes quite arbitrary.

With this in mind maybe next time I shall not wear black, or simply do without the neck-tie. Or maybe I will, who knows?

Why Dawkins thinks he’s not a fundamentalist

Posted by on December 21st, 2007

Here is the famous man himself explaining why he is not a fundamentalist, and defending himself merely as a passionate atheist.

The true scientist, however passionately he may “believe”, in evolution for example, knows exactly what would change his mind: evidence! The fundamentalist knows that nothing will.

An excellent riposte one may think. One problem undermines it, the assumption that theism/atheism can be ‘proved’ or ‘disproved’ by scientific evidence.
Its ironic that he challenges theologians for assuming the existence of God a priori to their ‘proofs’ – which as many theologians will argue are not at all proofs but prerational illustrations that say nothing more than ‘I believe in God heres a good reason why.’ It is ironic because he makes the assumption that the scientific method, which relies on evidence, is the method that proves atheism. How can it be so? Could it be that he did an experiment where he prayed to God for something and neither recieved an answer nor the object that he prayed for? Does this constitute evidence? What are his views on the claims of the mystics who believe they have had an ‘experience’ of God – is this admissable as evidence – is subjective experience in that sense testable? Or does he as I suspect find reasons to render the evidence inadmissable – no cant accept the claims of mystics its just their word against mine!

Altogether relying on scientific method to prove or disprove theism/atheism or any worldview of its kind is liable to be frustrating and disappointing – perhaps that frustration is a reason for his impoliteness? I was reminded by someone of the general applicability of Dawkins theory, can scientific method tell us anything meaningful about other kinds of truth that we take for granted.

is there only one kind of truth – one that is provable and scientific and that is the one by which religion must be judged” and they concluded by asking “what about other kinds of truth – such as artistic, emotional – which we find valuable and enriching?”

I’ve no need to re-write Wittgensteins point on language games that science trying to prove or disprove God is like explaining the game of chess by using the rules of tennis. This quote expressed the point far better than I ever could.

There is no conceptual foothold for trying to prove or disprove the existence of married bachelors or non-physical persons, nor is there one for wondering about metaphysical transcendence. Once this is clear, a great deal of chatter will stop, and a clear-headed silence prevail.

Thus Dawkin’s vulnerability to evidence of the scientific variety -as I assume he does not expect a personal revelation and that he rejects a priori the claims that others have had such experiences- closes him to the possibility altogether and only reinforces the notion (if he is aware of it) that he is a fundamentalist at heart.

Finally his assertion that fundamentalists know that nothing will change their mind is a nonsensical statement. To know something is to be able to test it, verify it and be open to doubt it – do fundamentalists test, verify or doubt their fundamentalisms? If they do then they are not fundamentalists! It would be better if Dawkins had said that a fundamentalist is impervious to even the possibility that their mind could be changed. If he had then he would be on firmer ground, to know something is to make an epistemological statement, fundamentalists go beyond epistemology, beyond knowledge and rest assured in their certainty which is a psychological state of affairs. Perhaps he doesnt want to say this for it would illustrate his own peculiar certainties about knowledge.

Wittgensteins later theory of meaning

Posted by on August 21st, 2007

The meaning of a word is given by its use in a language-game. A language game is a rule-guided social activity in which the use of language plays an essential part.

I shall also call the whole, consisting of language and the actions into which it is woven, the “language game”(sec7)… Here the term “language-game” is meant to bring to prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity or a form of life (sec23).

Wittgenstein illustrates this concept with the boss and worker on a building site. The boss shouts ‘slab’ and the worker has to fetch a slab. This constitutes the very basics for a language game. So what does the word mean? In this case the meaning of the word ‘slab’ is given by its use in the activity being carried out between boss and worker.

A brief note on terminology. Wittgenstein used the term language-games and in other analogies talked about the family resemblances between different types of games. However some have criticised the term for not being sufficiently serious or accurate, thus language-activity is often used as an appropriate substitute.

The early Wittgenstein pre-empts the meaning=use hypothesis in the Tractatus.

6.211 (In philosophy the question, ‘what do we actually use this word or this proposition for?’ repeatedly leads to valuable insights.)

Does the meaning=use theory give a meaningful status to metaphysical and religious language? In short it would appear to do so, although Wittgenstein still insisted metaphysics was nonsense (to philosophy and empirical language games).

Here is an example of its supposed meaningfulness. Consider a group of Catholic theologians who meet on wednesday afternoons to discuss metaphysical questions. These people use a number of curious words and expressions such as ‘essence’, ‘ground of being’, ‘grace’, ‘dialectic’, and so on. Yet the discourse in progress clearly is not arbitrary, but rule-guided. A beginner who uses an expression incorrectly is reprimanded, and may even be ostracized if he or she does not conform. Within the group it is well known who are the experts whose pronouncements are listened to with most respect, and so on. Here we could propose is a language-game, it is a rule-guided activity and probably (being religious) is a form of life. Within this language game, words and expressions have a use which is circumscribed by rules and conventions. On Wittgensteins later theory of meaning, therefore, we must surely say taht these words and expressions have meaning, and that the metaphysical discourse is (to its game-players at least) meaningful.

If only it were so easy though, some (ideologically predisposed according to Feyerabend) just cannot accept the language games concept. Or more importantly cannot accept that all lanagauge games are somehow critically independent from each other. There are three specific responses to this problem.

The first one concerns the paradox that language-games (where meaning=use) still rely on a language that has a picture idea quality to it. But Wittgenstein points out that this is simply how language is constructed, it is a series of picture ideas, but its meaning is derived from its use. Stop looking at the words look for the context and use. A good example is to consider paintings in art. For example abstract art or even religious art.

Let’s consider Michaelangelo’s painting of God creating Adam. The logicial positivist, stuck in the picture idea language game may attempt a variety of interpretations of the picture. He can say ‘it is a snapshot’ this is what God looked like, that is what Adam looked like. This the logical positivist can then reject because ‘who has seen God/Adam?’ Furthermore the logicial positivist can look at the picture and consider it as nothing more than a botched metaphor, an attempt to express something non-empirical rendering it incoherent. An emotivist logical positivist could also look at the picture and say that it has little meaning other than ‘wow! God!’ an equally meaningless expression. Wittgenstein rejects these interpretations wholeheartedly. The first two have made a massive mistake in their conception of language. Language has more than one purpose, more than just being a tool with which to make empirical claims. Just because the picture looks like a snapshot (this is God that is Adam) does not mean the picture is asserting such a proposition.

the picture has to be used in an entirely different way [than for example, a picture of an actual historical event] if we are to call the man in that queer blanket ‘God’ and so on.

In the words of Peter Winch:

what makes the picture a religious picture is not its pictorial relationship to some [actual] event.

If we were to accept the logical positivists limited rules of language use then religious language must be wholly nonsense. But (as an example of the variety of language games) God is relevant to a theist (who is engaged in the act of believing before the language game) just as pain is relevant to someone who is not under heavy anesthesia.

A picture does not have to designate per se, but rather it can show the role that religion has in someone’s life.

The Second response challenges the assumption of usefulness often proposed by logical positivists. Science and the scientific language game is useful, it produces results. Metaphysical discussions although perhaps meaningful to the metaphycisist who is conversent in its rules and practises, is of little practical use in the real world. Religion might be fine for those who believe, but it has little tangible worth beyond being a placebo.

The proposition that meaning=use but usefulness enhances the quality of the meaning can be shown to be untenable using the follwing counter-example concerning physics.

Let us suppose that a piece of pure mathematics is developed by a group of pure mathematicians. It is then taken up by a group of theoretical physicists, and used in the creation of a new physical theory. Finally this theory is used in a practical application – perhaps even in house building. Suppose, further, that we adopt the view that a term is meaningful only if it used in a practical, everyday social activity and not when it is used purely in a theoretical discourse. It then follows that the terms of the mathematical theory are meaningless while the theory is being developed by the pure mathematicians, that they remain meaningless when the mathematics is used to create the new physical theory, but then suddenly become meaningful for the first time when that theory is applied to house building. Such a consequence seems to me quite unacceptable. – Donald Gillies

This example is close to actual events in the history of science. For example tensor analysis was developed as a piece of pure mathematics by two Italians, Ricci and Levi-Civita in a groundbreaking paper in 1901. It was then used by Einstein in his general theory of relativity in 1915. Now the theory of general relativity find itself being applied to practical situations concerned for example with satellites. So then, at what point did the key terms of the tensor calculus become meaningful? It would appear to be the case that they were meaningful throughout the process.

Therefore the second rebuttal concerning the measuring of the value of meaning=use goes like this.

We cannot use the demarcation between practical discourse and purely theoretical discourse to distinguish sense from nonsense.

The Third rebuttal develops ideas from the first and second. The limited rule of language use that logical positivists attempt to use frustrates Feyerabend and epistemological anarchists in the extreme. In particular this rebuttal is critical of the idea that only science produces useful and true results.

This view (which could be termed scientism) assumes or even declares that the only things which science calls ‘results’ are TRUE results. Under this view, saving ‘souls’ (which are non-scientific objects) would not count as a result. Science’s inability to save souls, and religions ability to do so, does not indicate that science is lacking results which religion can provide. But as Feyerabend says this is absurd. It is obvious that there are certain things that science can do that other systems can’t, but it is equally obvious that there are things that science can’t do but that other systems can. Including the ‘irrational’ arts such as homeopathic medicine, magic, astrology and so on. The proposition that one system, one language game is superior to another is simply tyranny.

The liberation from this tyrannical tendency is described as epistemological anarchism. Feyerabend describes it thus:

While the political anarchist wants to remove a certain form of life, the epistemological anarchist may want to defend it, for he has no everlasting loyalty to any institution and any ideology. Like the Dadaist (whom he resembles in many respects) he not only has no programme, he is against all programmes. – For and Against Method.

The only method (anything goes) that Feyerabend and the extreme exponents of the language games paradigm propose is that of the open exchange of ideas. This entails the necessary equality of all language games and the forms of life they entail and the types of knowledge they claim to have.

An open exchange respects the partner whether he is an individual, or an entire culture while a rational exchange promises respect only within the framework of a rational debate. An open exchange has no organon though it may invent one, there is no logic, though forms of logic may emerge in its course. –science in a free society.

Thus we can see through these three rebuttals that certain forms of language, such as metaphysics or religious language, have (a) a meaning relevant to its game-players, (b) that has meaning regardless of its practical usefulness and (c) is capable of producing meaningful results (as in a tribe that has a non-scientific and mythological theory of the elements, a theory that it uses in its raindances and in other agricultural practises).

In conclusion it is worth noting that there are a variety of uses for the language-games concept. For Wittgenstein is dissolves the arguments between theists and atheists for example. It proposes that different forms of life are not in competition with each other. For Feyerabend it becomes the rallying cry for a revolutionary deconstruction of what he calls the propaganda of rationalism and reason. The individual should not let himself become absolutely dedicated to a particular programme, as no one programme can ‘truly’ or ‘fully’ describe the word. For Feyerabend one should explore all possibilities no matter how peculiar or seemingly contradictory, for in disbanding rationalism there is no peculiar and no negative implications in contradiction. Finally for pragmatic philosophers like Richard Rorty it becomes an exercise in Nietzschean re-creation to realize that our own worldviews (what he calls ‘final vocabularies’) are contingent. Once we have recognised this, then we can embark on a project of self-creation rather than attempting to provide explanations for the world around us and make them absolute (as has been done from Plato to Popper) one should create ones own descriptions of the world as we see it, pulling in elements from diverse systems to aid in our own project.

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).

Ethical Intuitionism

Posted by on June 20th, 2007

I wanted here to provide a brief addendum to my earlier pro-objectivist ethical viewpoints, through an outline of G.E.Moore’s ideas in the Principia Ethica.

Clearly there is a seeming difficulty in justifying my Wittgensteinian logical positivism and my appeals to objectivity. On the one hand with Wittgenstein I am arguing that metaphysical statements are nonsensical, on the otherhand I am claiming that just as there are analytic truths in logic and language so too there are objective values. Wittgensteins response would be to look at language games or perhaps even refer to the mystical, but I have in our discussions attempted to be a little more clearer about it.

The motif of inconvenience and incoherence in subjectivising Objectivity

Through the concepts of inconvenience and incoherence I have attempted to explain how subjectivism and relativistic morality came about. That they are interpretations, possibly even misinterpretations based upon an original objective value, wherein for reasons of convenience and coherence a new terminology has been substituted for the older one.

So for example pro-abortionists have justified their arguments by removing from the debate concepts concerning the ‘life’ of the fetus, and the ‘value’ of that ‘life’. As the idea that the fetus may be ‘alive’ and ‘fully human’ is inconvenient to those who would argue for abortion. Furthermore they may also argue that notions such as the ‘sanctity of life’, or the ‘soul’ and so on are incoherent, thus pro-abortionists talk of life as if it were a ladder with different levels of achievement, as though a fetus is somewhat less-alive than a new born baby.

But convenience and coherence are not always negative ethical motifs. If it could be demonstrated that in the history of human actions that a common action took place that was eventually discarded, I could then begin to use the motifs of convenience and coherence in a positive fashion. For example our evolving enlightenment concerning the different races and genders, have taken place because previously held values have become inconvenient and incoherent.

So there is in the history of normative ethics a twofold movement around objectivism. A negative reinterpretation where a Objective value is discarded or modified into a subjective and relative one. And vice versa, where a seemingly objective value (i.e. the primacy of the male) is rejected thanks to a more holistic understanding of ourselves.

Avoiding Logical Positivism

In investigating the meanings of the words involved in ethical statements I have become involved in a form of analytical philosophy. Also in providing a broad picture of the development of moral statements I have been engaging in descriptive ethics. I have therefore been sailing pretty close to Logical Positivism, a school of Philosophy that was influenced (not entirely to his satisfaction) by Wittgenstein among many others.

Logical Positivism suggests that language is descriptive and that its meaning is only justifiable with reference to evidence of those things it purports to describe. Ethical statements of course cannot be examined in this way, just like metaphysical statements about God. Logical Positivists describe these as meaningless statements. Although Wittgenstein as we have already seen did not, he defined them as non-sense, as belonging to a different language or sphere of knowledge. Unlike the Logical Positivists he was not content with discarding them to the dustbin as non-existent.

So if ethical statements (Wittgenstein aside) are meaningless, and are unable to give a picture of values and obligations as these are not objects that can be described, what could ethical statements do?

There are two answers generally posited. Ethical statements are either emotivist or prescriptive. An emotivist ethical statement was just a statement about how one felt about something. Something was good or bad, because you liked or disliked it. A prescriptive ethical statement on the contrary was like a recommendation of what one ought to do. Therefore when something is described as being wrong in ethics, what was really being said was ‘don’t do that’.

Both of these are attempts to escape the ought/is problem. Neither of them attempt to tell you what the case is, but express what we would like. Thus it was believed that the approach of natural theology had been avoided. A natural theology pointing to a series of facts in the world would attempt to make a statement about what is; i.e. it is wrong to commit X because it is contrary to the natural order that God has created.

But the problem with emotive and prescriptive ethical statements is that they both depend upon the addition of the term or concept because. I would like- because, or Don’t do that- because.

Once you get to because you return to descriptions and attempted references to facts. Take for example Utilitarian ethics, both – I would like, and – don’t do that, gain there force from the addition of because it will cause greater/less happiness/pleasure/pain.

Intuitionism: another way out

G E Moore in Principia Ethica argues that goodness cannot be defined, because it is quite unlike any other quality. Goodness is something you know by intuition not by deductive reasoning. When someone attempts to engage in such reasoning then one is commiting the Naturalistic Fallacy.

That “pleased” does not mean “having the sensation of red”, or anything else whatever, does not prevent us from understanding what it does mean. It is enough for us to know that “pleased” does mean “having the sensation of pleasure”, and though pleasure is absolutely indefinable, though pleasure is pleasure and nothing else whatever, yet we feel no difficulty in saying that we are pleased. The reason is, of course, that when I say “I am pleased”, I do not mean that “I” am the same thing as “having pleasure”. And similarly no difficulty need be found in my saying that “pleasure is good” and yet not meaning that “pleasure” is the same thing as “good”, that pleasure means good, and that good means pleasure. If I were to imagine that when I said “I am pleased”, I meant that I was exactly the same thing as “pleased”, I should not indeed call that a naturalistic fallacy, although it would be the same fallacy as I have called naturalistic with reference to Ethics. PE #12

Moore’s analogy of colour is quite a good one to explain the naturalistic fallacy. You cannot describe what yellow is, you just need to point at it and say ‘that’s what I mean by yellow’. In the same way we cannot express the meaning of goodness by trying to define it, or to reduce it to its constituent parts, you simply point to it, for goodness is exactly what it is. This is known as the theory of intuitionism and it is an approach that does not deny the reality of goodness (or of God) any more than it denies the reality of ‘yellow’, but it says that these things can only be known by intuition. It probably goes without saying that Wittgenstein was heavily influenced by Moore, and knowing this we can get a better idea of what is meant by the mystical. And how I can attempt to propose Objective moral truths without having necessary recourse to a divine lawmaker (although similarly without denying the possibility of the divine, which is a different matter entirely).

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.

The Moon is Made of Cheese

Posted by on June 11th, 2007

What, the moon is not made of cheese?! 🙂
On a serious note though, this is Wittgenstein’s deeper point beyond simple linguistics. There are (in a narrow definition) two types of language, sense and nonsense.
Sense language corresponds with sense-data, including specifically empirical forms of knowledge (I guess that covers your genre).
Sense language is that which we also know as rational and logical language. In other words it observes and follows extremely strict rules of verification and falsifiability and logical objectivity. Just think about the analytic/synthetic truth split.
All bachelors are unmarried (always true)/all bachelors are happy (could be but not necessarily true).
Non-Sense language (to give it it’s correct hyphenation) is types of language that do not necessarily conform to the strict rules of sense-language.
But although it denies the possibility that non-sense can be analytically true (as far as we know by sense-language rules) it does not exclude the possibility that non-sense can be synthetically true. As an example (Pascals simple formula) God may or may not exist (is true as stated). However I am not suggesting that non-sense is nonsensical language, or that it is simply conceptual risk-taking. For as the later Wittgenstein states: words are tools and their ‘full’ meaning (which goes beyond naming picture-ideas) is found within the context (language game) that it is used.
As a simple example: “NO”
Can be a command, a situationally emotive response, a simple inference of a negative, and so on.
A complex example, “God is love” is (in certain language games) not a description (as in ‘the entity that we call God is an embodiment/expression/synonym et al of loving forms of behaviour’) but is a rule for how the word “God” is to be used. (Specific here of course to the Christian language game as opposed to the Taliban Islamic language game). God (as is understood by the Christian theistic tradition is synonymous with the ideal of agape the type of sacrificial love characterised in the maxim ‘turn the other cheek’).

Incidentally a psycholinguistic game that probably brings us closer together is Wittgensteins later ideal that words do not always have a meaning of themselves, but it is the context in which they are spoken that applies a reason to them. Words are tools. Words are subject to the rules of the language games that are being played.

As a cheese-obsessed mouse with a precocious talent for analytical philosophy and for expressing my observations of the world around me, is it not conceivably possible that in my mousey language games the picture-idea represented by the word “cheese” is factually synonymous with the material structure of the moon (that you human non-cheese-obsessed creatures have given an alternative word-symbol for the picture-idea of the moon)?

The Moon is Made of Granite

Posted by Anti Citizen One on June 10th, 2007

As an initial response to your thoughts on language, there was an interest conversation in the play Insignificance by Terry Johnson. I heard it on Radio 4 on Saturday. Not that I have a grasp on later Wittgenstein, it might be a comment on separation of language and empiricism. (It’s a funny play: one scene has special relativity explained in 5 minutes by Marilyn Monroe.)

The Actress (Marilyn Monroe): So I try to know things, is that so wrong?
The Professor (Albert Einstein): If I told you the moon is made of cheese, would you belive me?
A: No.
P: If I told you it was made of granite?
A: Maybe.
P: If I told you I knew for certain?
A: I believe you.
P: So now you know the moon is made of granite.
A: Yes.
P: But it isn’t.
A: I only said I knew because you said you knew.
P: Precisely. But I was wrong. Knowledge is not truth. It is merely agreement. You agree with me, we agree with someone else, we all have knowledge. But we get no closer to the truth of the moon. You cannot understand by making definitions, only by turning over the possibilities; it’s called thinking. I know something I know is there are men, there are such men “I know of greed”, “I know of hate”, “I know of evil” but I do not, I will not understand these things. If I say I know, I stop thinking. But so long as I think, I come to understand, I might approach some truth.
A: This is the best conversation I ever had.

Anti Citizen 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).