Category "Investigations"

July 6, 2005

Tractatus, Proposition 4.002

"4.002 Man possesses the capacity of constructing languages, in which every sense can be expressed, without having an idea how and what each word means--just as one speaks without knowing how the single sounds are produced.

Colloquial language is a part of the human organism and is not less complicated than it.

From it it is humanly impossible to gather immediately the logic of language.

Language disguises the thought; so that from the external form of the clothes one cannot infer the form of the thought they clothe, because the external form of the clothes is constructed with quite another object than to let the form of the body be recognized.

The silent adjustments to understand colloquial language are enormously complicated."

--from Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus*

The fourth sentence is particularly intriguing, as it makes an assertion that might be investigated empirically. Most of Wittgenstein's statements in the Tractatus are intended to be purely logical statements, and therefore exempt from such scrutiny. (Which is not to say that the purely logical statements escape scrutiny, but that, being a priori claims, they are subject to a different sort of test entirely.) Wittgenstein's attempt to define a relationship between thought and language, however, begins to tread the ground covered by the science of psychology.

There are two easily discernible positions here. Wittgenstein, in the above quote, considers language merely as the garb of thought--a relationship reminiscent of Plato's distinction between the real Forms and the merely phenomenal objects of perception. Thought is (logically) pure, and language is simply our best available method for transmitting it. Language serves as a sort of procrustean bed for our ideas; that is, when we attempt to express a thought, the vagaries of our particular language warp the ideas in a certain "enormously complicated" way.

The second position denies any logical purity to thought. Instead, language influences thought as it happens--thought is, in other words, determined by language. If one's language contains a number system incapable of describing numbers greater than 3, then one cannot think numbers greater than 3. Of course, there are varying degrees to which one might believe thought is influenced by language, but the positions may be grouped together in opposition to the aforementioned "pure thought" position. (Many readers will be familiar with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which is one variant of this position.)

There is an extent to which this is a metaphysical question. Certainly, it has metaphysical repercussions. If thought is logically pure, then attempts at developing a logically perfect language are definitely desirable; after all, only when such a language is developed could we perfectly express ourselves. Wittgenstein's Tractatus might be seen as a treatise on the construction of such a language. If, on the other hand, thought not only shapes but is shaped by language, the quest for linguistic perfection becomes nonsensical--the best language is not perfect and timeless, but adaptive, interactive, and natural.

The position of the linguistics and psychology communities varies according to their level of committment to these metaphysical statements about language.

(My actual familiarity with the intellectual histories of these communities is minimal, and I welcome comments by those who know the field with some depth; my statement is merely an observation about the assumptions/commitments of these fields.)

*Passage 4.002 is mislabelled as "4.022" in the linked text.

Posted by tiet0024 at 8:24 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

June 2, 2005

Wittgenstein's Students: Stephen Toulmin

Taking a break from the usual discussion of specific passages, it might be fruitful to discuss the impact Wittgenstein had on specific contemporary philosophers/theorists. A review posted recently to the London Review of Books reminded me just how influential Wittgenstein had been on some of the greatest philosophers of the past few decades. (And then there are philosophers such as Tyler Burge, who refuse to read any Wittgenstein at all.) At any rate, here is a link to the review, by Steven Shapin, of Stephen Toulmin's latest.

Some notes on the reviewer, Steven Shapin: One of the most influential proponents of the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK), Shapin has worked extensively on various case studies in contemporary scientific experiments and methods, emphasizing the major impact--both positive and negative--that social considerations have on the success of scientific practice.

Some notes on the author, Stephen Toulmin: Wittgenstein's influence is evident in Toulmin's works, especially his "therapeutic" focus. As Shapin notes in his review, Toulmin wants to point out those places in which theory has lost touch with reality--those places which Wittgenstein would say have "no friction". Of course, the real problem with continuing scholarship in this vein is that one needs to show where problems are arising out of a disconnect between theory and reality; as Shapin points out, much of academia has become aware of the problem, and Toulmin is in many ways (somewhat ironically) out of touch with this fact. Choice quote:

" really believe that philosophical and social scientific Dreams of Rationality and Certainty are disrupting basically healthy lay patterns of judgment and action, then you've got both a case to make and a case worth making. You've got to show, as Toulmin doesn't quite manage to do, that Rational expertise fails in general as a guide to real-life practical action, and that it does so not merely because it is in the service of unjust or uncaring agents but because it is abstracted from the world it is supposed to regulate. In which case, your message might take on a rather simpler quality: 'Don't prescribe a solution before you describe the predicament'; 'When you confront the real world, be suitably modest about your powers and your knowledge'; or, with Montaigne, 'Que sçais-je?'"

Questions arise: Does Shapin's point threaten Wittgenstein's work? And, if so, does Wittgenstein illustrate the theory/reality disconnect sufficiently to make his points valid?

In any event, Toulmin is an intelligent and interesting author, and I think his attempts at reintroducing history to philosophy will be important in the development of philosophy in the coming years. One of my former professors, Ronald Giere, contends that the linguistic turn in philosophy has begun to dry up--that is, as a research program, it has been turning up fewer and fewer philosophical insights. I would bet that some type of "historical turn" will take its place fairly soon, which is certainly in line with Toulmin's efforts. (This is also indicated by the recent surge in interest in Hegelian thought.)

Posted by tiet0024 at 2:37 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

May 29, 2005

#124 (The limits of philosophy.)

"124. Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it.

For it cannot give anything a foundation either.

It leaves everything as it is.

It also leaves mathematics as it is, and no mathematical discovery can advance it. A 'leading problem of mathematical logic' is for us a problem of mathematics like any other."

-from Philosophical Investigations

I post this partly as a response to questions that have recently been raised about the relationship between Wittgenstein's philosophy of language and contemporary naturalistic explanations in the field of linguistics. I should also note that, in spite of my interest in Wittgenstein's work, I have not studied much philosophy of language; philosophy of science and mathematics is where I find myself most at home, so I may slip into that mode in discussing this question.

The first statement, that philosophy may not "interfere" with the use of language, but only describe it, is in line with investigations into questions such as "How are we able to construct such a range of meaningful sentences when we have not been explicitly taught to do so?" (And other questions of this sort.) It does not seem to me that Wittgenstein would object to the question. The question makes sense to ask.

Shane referred me to a paper considering the compatibility--or lack thereof--between Wittgenstein's and Chomsky's views. (That paper can be found here.) The general conclusion of the author was that the two views are not incompatible, but that they have wildly divergent aims and methods, a conclusion with which I agree wholeheartedly. Chomsky pursues the question from a scientific standpoint, which immediately places his thesis outside of the bounds of what Wittgenstein would consider philosophical. (We can easily read his above statement about mathematics as applying to science as well; and this is a point that will arouse contention, I think, because many people do believe that various scientific and mathematical advances have also advanced philosophy.)

Of course, the question that Wittgenstein's work so often leaves us with is still hanging in the air: just what is philosophy of language supposed to do, if not what Chomsky is doing? My feeling is that Wittgenstein would have philosophy of language act as a foil to linguistics, gently reminding people like Chomsky of the realities of language-use, the importance of the social character of language. But this is just an initial reading of the situation, and I could easily be convinced of a different one.

Posted by tiet0024 at 1:06 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

May 20, 2005


"120. When I talk about language (words, sentences, etc.) I must speak the language of every day. Is this language somehow too coarse and material for what we want to say? Then how is another one to be constructed?--And how strange that we should be able to do anything at all with the one we have!

In giving explanations I already have to use language full-blown (not some sort of preparatory, provisional one); this by itself shews that I can adduce only exterior facts about language.

Yes, but then how can these explanations satisfy us?--Well, your very questions were framed in this language; they had to be expressed in this language, if there was anything to ask!

And your scruples are misunderstandings.

Your questions refer to words; so I have to talk about words.

You say: the point isn't the word, but its meaning, and you think of the meaning as a thing of the same kind as the word, though also different from the word. Here the word, there the meaning. The money, and the cow that you can buy with it. (But contrast: money, and its use.)"

-from Philosophical Investigations

Much of what I might say about this passage I have already said, in the discussion of passage #107.

This passage illustrates well the combination of philosophical argumentation and literary affectations (so to speak) that was the style of most of Wittgenstein's later writing. Two points especially stand out here. First, this passage seems representative of the explanation put forth by Cavell, that these "debates" between two nondescript people are really descriptions of Wittgenstein's internal debates on the topics. "And your scruples are misunderstandings." These are the words of an older and more mature Wittgenstein looking at the work of his youth and shaking his head in dismay.

Travel-Money.jpgSecond, the comparison of words to money is intriguing. As has become more and more apparent with the globalization of economies, money's true value is not the amount of gold for which it can be exchanged. Nor is it necessarily dependent on the backing of a government (though this often helps). It is, rather, a function of the ability of the money to be used effectively in trade. A dollar is worth a lot when (many) people think it is worth a lot.

An interesting question is how the comparison holds up for, say, rare collectible coins. They cannot be spent at Target, but if you go to the right person you can get a great deal in exchange for them. The analogies that come to mind: dead languages, coded languages. (You cannot use Morse code at Target, either, except under the strangest of circumstances.)

Posted by tiet0024 at 7:42 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

May 19, 2005


"107. The more narrowly we examine actual language, the sharper becomes the conflict between it and our requirement. (For the crystalline purity of logic was, of course, not a result of investigation: it was a requirement.) The conflict now becomes intolerable; the requirement is now in danger of becoming empty.--We have got on to slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk. We want to walk: so we need friction. Back to rough ground!"

-from Philosophical Investigations

During the later period of Wittgenstein's tenure at Cambridge, easily the greatest period for what is sometimes called "ordinary language" philosophy, many other great philosophers at the time looked down upon the work of Wittgenstein and those who followed in his style. One of the major reasons for this was that the "crystalline purity of logic" was (and in many cases still is) seen as a result of investigation. Wittgenstein seemed to be flouting this time-tested wisdom (and indeed he was).

When one is taught formal logic, it is always within the context of formal logic as a way of lending mathematical rigor to arguments. And, at more advanced levels, one is taught to see the contradictions that arise out of certain translations of ordinary language into formalization ("I am lying"; "This sentence is false").

This tends to make one think, "If only our language were more logical! How could it be fixed?" But this is impossible; as Wittgenstein says in another passage (perhaps tomorrow's entry), "Is this language somehow too coarse and material for what we want to say? Then how is another one to be constructed?" (#120)

In yet another passage, he emphasizes again that the language-games he has described in various places in the Investigations are not "preliminary studies" meant to point the way to building the perfect language. Rather, they are simply examples meant to be held up in contrast to our ordinary language, and, in this way, to illustrate certain facts about our language.

This section, from #107 to around #133, has fascinated me lately. I'm sure I'll be posting a few more from this area soon.

Posted by tiet0024 at 10:01 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

May 17, 2005

Silences Noises Voices (excerpt).

"The silence in which philosophy begins is the recognition of my lostness to myself, something Wittgenstein's text [Philosophical Investigations] figures as the emptiness of my words, my craving or insistence upon their emptiness, upon wanting them to do what human words cannot do. I read this disappointment with words as a function of the human wish to deny responsibility for speech. The silence in which philosophy ends is the acceptance of the human life of words, that I am revealed and concealed in every word I utter, that when I have found the word I had lost, that is, displaced from myself, it is up to me to acknowledge my reorientation (Wittgenstein describes the work of philosophy as having to turn our search around, as if reality is behind us), that I have said what there is for me to say, that this ground gained from discontent is all the ground I have, that I am exposed in my finitude, without justification. ('Justifications come to an end' is a way Wittgenstein says it.) That the end of philosophy here occurs as a punctuation within philosophy, that it is dictated neither by the conclusion of a proof nor of a system, that philosophy is brought so inconsequential a form of peace (to bring which to philosophy Wittgenstein pronounces with pride) is the hardest news for Wittgenstein's readers to accept. The news is expressed by his announcing that philosophy has no place to advance theses."

--Stanley Cavell, "Silences Noises Voices", in Future Pasts: The Analytic Tradition in Twentieth-Century Philosophy, ed. Juliet Floyd and Sanford Shieh, New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. (p 353)

When I asked my epistemology professor why we wouldn't be reading any Wittgenstein, he replied that it would be best to ignore Wittgenstein's criticism for the class. Of course, I immediately asked why that was so. He replied that, in the aftermath of Wittgenstein's criticism of philosophy, it isn't at all clear what is left for philosophers to do.

Ever since that class, I have absolutely hated this response (though I should mention that the professor who spoke it is very intelligent). Cavell's discussion of the difficulty we have accepting the real end of philosophy--"that I am exposed in my finitude, without justification"--is, I think, a wonderful description of the confusion that lies behind such responses.

Again, I am reminded of Hume: philosophical problems obsess us for a time, while we sit alone by the fire (as Descartes), but they are inevitably pushed away when we rejoin the company of friends and go out into the world.

Posted by tiet0024 at 12:51 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

May 16, 2005


"114. (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 4.5): 'The general form of propositions is: This is how things are.' --That is the kind of proposition that one repeats to oneself countless times. One thinks that one is tracing the outline of the thing's nature over and over again, and one is merely tracing round the frame through which we look at it."

--from Philosophical Investigations

I recently asked Shane what his favorite passage was. A loaded question, of course, too broad to have a real answer. If I had to answer it for myself, though, I might do so with this passage. It succinctly connects his two major works, and describes the change he underwent between them.

Cavell has suggested that the many passages in the Investigations that consist of a series of questions and answers (cf, for example, #303) can be seen as conversations Wittgenstein is holding with himself, one-person dialogues that reflect both sides of Wittgenstein's philosophy. This passage is a concrete example of a confrontation between those two sides.

To hardcore analytic philosophers, the quote from the Tractatus expresses an axiom so basic that it needs no defense (read: goes unquestioned). "There is a book on the table." This is how things are. From this the idea develops that, as Wittgenstein writes, "the general form of propositions" is to express the way things are.

But what about: "Put the book on the table!" Or: "Why is there a book on the table?" Declarative and conditional sentences do not comprise the whole of language. "One thinks that one is tracing the outline of the thing's nature..." Even in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein recognized that there was a problem with this view of language.

You might explain what you see using a sentence, and it was (he believed, circa Tractatus) a logical relationship between your words and the actual state of affairs that gives meaning to the sentence. So far so good. But what about my investigations into this relationship connecting words to world? Will I explain this, too, with words? And will my explanation here have the same structure as my other statements? It cannot, in order to serve as an explanation. But it must, or it is false.

Why is this a problem? asks the Wittgenstein of Investigations...we use language, and it's logical inconsistencies are not problems as long as it works. More importantly, if it is a problem, it is not a philosophical problem. Perhaps it is a problem for computer science, the field of natural language processing, and such.

Too many words...when I began this entry, I told myself it would be short because the passage was so self explanatory.

One last thought: "the frame through which we look at it" references the "it". What was a thing's nature to Wittgenstein, then? Why not: "the frame through which we see"? Troubling.

Posted by tiet0024 at 1:07 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

May 4, 2005


"226. Suppose someone gets the series of numbers 1, 3, 5, 7,... by working out the series 2x + 1. And now he asks himself: 'But am I always doing the same thing, or something different every time?'

If from one day to the next you promise: 'To-morrow I will come and see you'--are you saying the same thing every day, or every day something different?"

--from Philosophical Investigations

It sounds as though Wittgenstein wants to treat the first question as the second, so to answer the first we should see what answers we come up with for the second.

"...are you saying the same thing every day, or every day something different?" There is an obvious sense in which I am saying the same thing every day, in the latter example: I make the same utterance each time. If I asked my friend whether the day before I had said the same thing, she would (in usual circumstances) say, "Yes, exactly the same thing." So it seems that I am saying the same thing each time.

But there is another sense in which I seem to be saying something different with each utterance: the referent of the word 'tomorrow' changes each day, that is, each day I speak the words, I am referring to just the next day after that day, not any other. And again, were I to point this out to my friend, she might rethink her position and agree that I had not in fact been saying the same thing after all.

There is something important about the point that my friend's first inclination--prior, we might say, to any philosophical training--would be to say that my statements had been the same each day. The two answers ("yes, you said the same thing" and "no, you referred to different things each time") come from different language games. The first language game is our ordinary ordinary one, in which the meaning of the words is related primarily to their effectiveness in a certain use. That is, my friend understood that I had the same intentions each time I said "tomorrow I'll come see you", despite it being a different "tomorrow" each time.

Kripke interpreted this as the beginnings of a philosophical problem, but I don't think Wittgenstein saw it as such. It is just a question, the answer to which is easy enough to discover once you decide on a language game.

Posted by tiet0024 at 12:07 AM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

April 27, 2005


"203. Language is a labyrinth of paths. You approach from one side and know your way about; you approach the same place from another side and no longer know your way about."

--from Philosophical Investigations

The Investigations themselves serve as a wonderful example for this passage; before we take up reading the Investigations, we believe that we understand certain philosophical terms, terms that are called into question during the progression of the Investigations: language itself being the primary term that is so problematized. Before entering Wittgenstein's work, we are content in our mastery of a certain (philosophical) technique. As we work our way through the Investigations, we lose our satisfaction, our certainty, and we begin to see that, when approached from another side, our philosophical thoughts no longer make sense.

Philosophy is the business of finding the path that makes our current problems disappear. Some paths create more problems than they solve; all paths create some problems. The most important thing to remember about philosophy is that, at its most basic level, it shows us that there is always another path to be found.

Posted by tiet0024 at 9:18 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

April 26, 2005

From the Introduction.

"For more than one reason what I publish here today will have points of contact with what other people are writing to-day.--If my remarks do not bear a stamp which marks them as mine,--I do not wish to lay any further claim to them as my property.

I make them public with doubtful feelings. It is not impossible that it should fall to the lot of this work, in its poverty and in the darkness of this time, to bring light into one brain or another--but, of course, it is not likely.

I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking. But, if possible, to stimulate someone to thoughts of his own.

I should have liked to produce a good book. This has not come about, but the time is past in which I could improve it.

January 1945."

--from the Introduction to Philosophical Investigations

Posted by tiet0024 at 10:17 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"


"445. It is in language that an expectation and its fulfilment make contact."

--from Philosophical Investigations

I give you an order. You do as I tell you to, or not, as you choose. Contact has been made between my expectation that you should do something, your fulfillment of that expectation. This deceptively simple, vaguely sexual picture of language is a succinct statement of Wittgenstein's favored way of understanding language: as a tool used to bring about desired effects, in all areas of life.

People often called Wittgenstein a behaviorist for his emphasis upon action and practice, but this passage illustrates why that is not the case. He speaks of expectation and fulfillment of expectation, neither of which would be part of the vocabulary of any behaviorist worth her salt. Wittgenstein knew that humans had inner lives--it would run counter to common sense to deny this. But he didn't think it was nearly as important as the ways in which we used language to manipulate others and ourselves.

A clarificatory question arises: what does it mean for an expectation to "make contact" with its fulfillment? I don't know that Wittgenstein answers this question, or if he doesn't answer it because we should already know the answer, or if he simply can't answer it. Its interpretation clearly has important ramifications for any reading of this passage, however, so it merits consideration.

Posted by tiet0024 at 10:08 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

April 23, 2005


"491. Not: 'without language we could not communicate with one another' --but for sure: without language we cannot influence other people in such-and-such ways; cannot build roads and machines, etc. And also: without the use of speech and writing people could not communicate."

--from Philosophical Investigations

Language does not just entail communication, but the whole apparatus of representation. All manner of different forms of representation fall under the purview of language, for Wittgenstein: speaking, painting, gestures, models, hypotheses, theories, and so on. The only real line to be drawn in this picture of language is between all these forms of representations, and the intent of the person making use of them. A question raised in other passages is: what is the relationship between language and the intention behind its use? Language, Wittgenstein repeatedly answers, is a tool.

This passage puts emphasis on the point that straightforward communication between people is only one of the myriad ways in which language is used--and perhaps not even the most important. The point that Wittgenstein wants to drive home is that we can't establish a formal model to describe our language, because our uses of language are so disparate.

Posted by tiet0024 at 12:28 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

April 21, 2005


"499. To say 'This combination of words makes no sense' excludes it from the sphere of language and thereby bounds the domain of language. But when one draws a boundary it may be for various kinds of reason. If I surround an area with a fence or a line or otherwise, the purpose may be to prevent someone from getting in or out; but it may also be part of a game and the players be supposed, say, to jump over the boundary; or it may shew where the property of one man ends and that of another begins; and so on. So if I draw a boundary line that is not yet to say what I am drawing it for."

--from Philosophical Investigations

Writing laws, discussing philosophy, compiling a report on the results of an experiment, cutting random pieces of newspaper text to assemble surrealist poetry: these are all acts of language, language games, in which the "sphere of language" is bounded for various purposes. This is a powerful conception of language because it applies not only to idealized propositional language (like mathematics) but also to communication through multiple levels of noise (like talking with your mouth full or via text message).

We draw boundaries around certain words, labelling them "technical terminology", making them in a sense unusable by uninitiated outsiders; for example, if a quantum physicist is talking about the "color" of a particle, she is not referring to anything we nonphysicists normally conceive of as color. When we enter conversation with this physicist, our vocabulary is twisted, and if we are unable to follow its curvature we become lost. In this way, boundaries placed upon language can "show where the property of one man ends and that of another begins".

Posted by tiet0024 at 11:39 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

April 20, 2005


"521. Compare 'logically possible' with 'chemically possible'. One might perhaps call a combination chemically possible if a formula with the right valencies existed (e.g. H-O-O-O-H). Of course such a combination need not exist; but even the formula HO2 cannot have less than no combination corresponding to it in reality."

--from Philosophical Investigations

When is something "logically possible"? We tend to use this phrase to describe some hypothetical state of affairs, the only limitation of which might be that we can imagine it. This is the space in which most philosophical discussions take place.

Even though there is a vast space of "chemically possible" states, we do not care about them; chemistry does not study these combinations unless they are (at least potentially) actualized in some chemical. Why this difference between the treatment of "logically possible" and "chemically possible"?

The interesting thing is that so many philosophical discussions take place in the region of "logically possible" space that has no experiential correlate.

Posted by tiet0024 at 10:38 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

April 19, 2005


"525. 'After he had said this, he left her as he did the day before.'--Do I understand this sentence? Do I understand it just as I should if I heard it in the course of a narrative? If it were set down in isolation I should say, I don't know what it's about. But all the same I should know how this sentence might perhaps be used; I could myself invent a context for it.

(A multitude of familiar paths lead off from these words in every direction.)"

Of course we say we understand the sentence. The first question is rhetorical. It's the second that catches our attention: we understand things differently according their context, of course. But in both cases we say we understand the sentence. This is an argument for a certain theory of meaning. Namely, it is an argument for conceiving of meaning as arising out of the use of language (as opposed to being a function of the mental sense and physical reference of a proposition, as espoused by Frege).

There is a brilliant double meaning to the parenthesized closing statement. Of which words is he speaking? The words in his example sentence, or the words in his discussion of it? He is speaking not just of German (or English) sentences, but of language games in general; and this includes the language of mathematics.

Something that preoccupied much of Wittgenstein's thoughts on mathematics were questions such as this: what is the difference between the sentence "two plus two equals four" and the sentence "I have two apples, so if you give me your two apples I'll have four." The simple answer is that there is a difference with regards to quantification (one is universal, the other is instantiated). But what does this really mean? Wittgenstein wrote much on this (and many have since considered it), which we will see when we get to the notes on his lectures on the foundations of mathematics.

Posted by tiet0024 at 11:59 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

April 17, 2005


"517. The question arises: can't we be mistaken in thinking that we understand a question?

For many mathematical proofs do lead us to say that we cannot imagine something which we believed we could imagine. (E.g., the construction of the heptagon.) They lead us to revise what counts as the domain of the imaginable."

--from Philosophical Investigations


If we can be mistaken in thinking that we understand a question (or, more generally, that we understand a certain language game), then many of the possible-worlds type arguments that are often involved in philosophical rhetoric are defunct. For example, suppose I ask you whether you believe space to be a substance or a relational property. You, having (let's suppose) a classically-trained Newtonian mindset, might be inclined to respond, Space is a substance since it would be around even if there were no objects to have it as a property. I might respond, I see, that's an interesting point; can I imagine a universe without anything in it? Just a whole bunch of empty space?

In fact, it seems quite easy--one imagines an empty room, then removes the walls from the mental image. And yet there is a very solid argument that this cannot be the case: see The Hole Argument.

Now it looks as though we cannot use arguments based upon examples we have made up (because these can often go either way), and that we must stick to examples we have experienced in real life. I don't think that this is a good interpretation, however; philosophy is of necessity engaged in some theory in addition to its praxis, and theory is similarly engaged to some abstraction and construction of hypotheticals. What is important is that we should try to keep our examples tied to our forms of life, and remember that hypotheticals are not a priori, though we are often tempted to call them that.

And when we "revise the domain of the imaginable", do we say that we didn't really experience our initial imagining as we thought we had? Or just that the picture we imagined initially did not have the reality we thought it did at first?

From one point of view, I can say that I am still able to imagine a space with no objects in it, in the manner outlined above. From another, I realize that in that imagined picture there is always at least one object, the one who is watching the empty space. The position of the speaker varies in importance depending upon which language game one plays.

In retrospect, this reading has wandered somewhat from the original passage; any comments on the original passage would be more than welcome...

Posted by tiet0024 at 9:54 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

April 14, 2005


"303. 'I can only believe that someone else is in pain, but I know it if I am.'--Yes: one can make the decision to say 'I believe he is in pain' instead of 'He is in pain'. But that is all.--What looks like an explanation here, or like a statement about a mental process, is in truth an exchange of one expression for another which, while we are doing philosophy, seems the more appropriate one.

Just try--in a real case--to doubt someone else's fear or pain."

--from Philosophical Investigations

Doubt can conquer all, if we let it. Anyone who has studied analytic philosophy has encountered the solipsistic view at one time or another; a view, specifically, that we can know nothing but what occurs in our own thoughts. All other humans may be elaborate replicas, after all--mere robots devoid of true human feelings. We might be hooked up to simulated realities, a la The Matrix. The only things we know for sure are the thoughts we have ourselves...and even those can be suspect, in certain cases.

Most traditions in analytic philosophy have attempted to give some response to the points raised by solipsism, and Wittgenstein (at least in this case) follows suit. His argument: when we want to doubt, for example, other people's pain, we can certainly do so. But what we are actually doing in such a case is switching language games, from our normal, everyday language game to a specialized one we use when we are doing philosophy.

In this specialized game, the rules allow us to doubt other people's pain. But we should not allow ourselves to think this actually has any deep meaning, because in the context of our normal language game we do no such thing. We have sympathy in some cases, empathy in others--in either case we might even feel another person's pain so acutely that it becomes our own. Again, the "depth" of the philosophical problem presented by solipsism is illusory, and only presents itself when we are twisting our language up in the way we do while working on philosophy. But this twisted-up language is not the way we actually think or act; when we go about our daily lives, the "problem" of solipsism vanishes of its own accord. (This again is reminiscent of Hume's thought, but with the opposite conclusion.)

Posted by tiet0024 at 10:51 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

April 13, 2005


"109. It was true to say that our considerations could not be scientific ones. It was not of any possible interest to us to find out empirically 'that, contrary to our preconceived ideas, it is possible to think such-and-such'--whatever that may mean. (The conception of thought as a gaseous medium.) And we may not advance any kind of theory. There must not be anything hypothetical in our considerations. We must do away with all explanation, and description alone must take its place. And this description gets its light, that is to say its purpose, from the philosophical problems. These are, of course, not empirical problems; they are solved, rather, by looking into the workings of our language, and that in such a way as to make us recognize those workings: in despite of an urge to misunderstand them. The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have always known. Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language."
--from Philosophical Investigations

There are two ways to open up this passage for discussion. The first way is to note Wittgenstein's insistence upon the investigation proceeding based only upon a reorientation or rearrangement of what is already known. This is placed in contrast to a scientific inquiry, which would (Wittgenstein implies) proceed on empirical lines to gather new data and reveal new information. The purpose of philosophical inquiry in this picture, then, is to steer us away from confusing, muddled, and otherwise dead-end lines of thinking; in other words, the philosophical project is therapeutic, an attempt to "battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence".

The second way to look at this passage is to query its emphatic denial of any theory, any hypothetical considerations. This is where I want to look. What would it mean to trade in all explanation for description? Perhaps we could conceive of it as ceasing to look for causal relationships, and just looking, without any particular kind of relationship already in mind. But what would this even mean?

Remember also what he is talking about here: the way in which we use our language. The linguistic conception he is opposing considers our language to function as a fragmented depiction of a perfect, timeless set of propositions. The reason he opposes this view is that there is no reason to suppose the existence of such a set of propositions; meaning may lie simply in the way we all already use language, it does not need to establish a correspondence to the world.

This, then, is our first example of a philosophical problem: what is meaning? The above passage outlines Wittgenstein's thoughts on how to go about solving such a problem. One does not gather new data, but looks only at what one already knows--intuitions are key. Nor does one formulate a theory dealing with hypotheticals, but only a description that includes the ways in which the problem actually manifests in our world. The actual solution of a philosophical problem will simply be a particular arrangement of our understanding of it, in light of which the problem ceases to exist.

Analysis of this passage allows the clearest understanding of the limits (and limitations) of Wittgenstein's project. It makes me think of Hume's discussion of the problem of free will, with the added twist that (for Wittgenstein) all of philosophy is to be done similarly.

And yet, this interpretation is problematic as well. Wittgenstein emphasized that he wanted to avoid adopting a general theory or method. Can all philosophical problems really be solved in the manner described? If so, it sounds like a general philosophical method.

Posted by tiet0024 at 8:33 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

April 11, 2005


"683. I draw a head. You ask 'Whom is that supposed to represent?'--I: 'It's supposed to be N.'--You: 'But it doesn't look like him; if anything, it's rather like M.'--When I said it represented N.--was I establishing a connexion or reporting one? And what connexion did exist?"
--from Philosophical Investigations

This passage describes an interesting event that most of us have probably experienced at one time or another. Suppose that after the event Wittgenstein described, he continued by saying: "Yes, I see what you mean. It's much more like M." Prior to this communication, he had not seen the drawing to be at all like M. (whomever M. happens to be). The moment of recognition takes place as an attempt to make a connection between the physical image and a mental image.

It's important that people will have conversations following this general format about normal images and also about very abstract images. The best example of this is, of course, looking for people's faces in clouds. My answer to Wittgenstein's question would have to be that we are establishing the connection; it doesn't exist before we make it. I don't think that there's any reason to separate things down the line Wittgenstein does, though: I might establish the connection by reporting it.

It reminds me of this picture:

Kuhn described his 'paradigm shifts' as being like these changes in perception. This is a very similar concept.

There's a connection to be drawn here with aesthetics. Suppose we reframe the above conversation as a question of the beauty of the drawing; "It's supposed to be beautiful" instead of "It's supposed to be N." There are times when, after examining a picture for a while, we change our mind about it, saying "I can see a certain beauty in it after all."

Posted by tiet0024 at 6:29 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

April 10, 2005

#621 (with consideration of #618).

"621. Let us not forget this: when 'I raise my arm', my arm goes up. And the problem arises: what is left over if I subtract the fact that my arm goes up from the fact that I raise my arm?
((Are the kinaesthetic sensations my willing?))"
--from Philosophical Investigations

Continuing the thread of philosophical discussion of will, Wittgenstein here seems to be pointing out another seemingly empty psychological characterization--"willing" an action. In #618, he points out that we would not normally say "my will does not obey me", and my initial reaction was that he was suggesting that the concept 'will' is subsumed by the concept 'me' or 'self'. Also, he alludes (very bluntly) to Augustine--who I have not read, so any comments regarding Augustine's view of human will would be very welcome.

Reading #621, it seems more likely that Wittgenstein wanted to look at the actions that we normally conceive of as the result of an act of will, as actually being that in which the will consists. But this isn't quite right either. It seems that that is the point of his example: at first glance, there is no difference between saying that I raised my arm and saying that my arm went up. We almost always use these two forms of expression interchangably.

But it's not quite right to say that our will is simply what we do. There are certainly cases in which our bodies do not obey us, as Wittgenstein mentions in #618. So though my initial answer to the question "what is left over if I subtract the fact that my arm goes up from the fact that I raise my arm?" is "Nothing", that's not always correct.

There are situations in which the distinction between the two descriptions is quite sinister: imagine a story in which we know that the protagonist's arm has been possessed by a malevolent ghost, who takes control of it at random intervals. In this context, when the protagonist reports "My fist began to clench...", there is all the difference in the world between that statement and "I began to clench my fist..."

Yet here, at this moment, when I say "My fingers began to type a response...", of course I simply mean "I began to type a response..." The meaning of a statement is dependent upon its use, and its 'use' must include the context of the statement's utterance. This is the point of the problem Wittgenstein outlines in #621; one cannot simply extract the meaning of a statement describing an intention/action combination by "subtracting" action from intention. Of course, this is what makes such statements so difficult to parse. In some cases, yes, we could say that the kinaesthetic sensations are the willing; but not in all cases.

I am likely to reinterpret this passage at a later time, though. This (and #618) are both very tricky.

Posted by tiet0024 at 4:00 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

April 8, 2005


"618. One imagines the willing subject here as something without any mass (without any inertia); as a motor which has no inertia in itself to overcome. And so it is only mover, not moved. That is: One can say 'I will, but my body does not obey me'--but not: 'My will does not obey me.' (Augustine.)
But in the sense in which I cannot fail to will, I cannot try to will either."
--from Philosophical Investigations

This is a difficult passage, and I have nothing to say about it yet.

(Edit: see entry for #621 for discussion.)

Posted by tiet0024 at 9:19 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

April 6, 2005


"515. Two pictures of a rose in the dark. One is quite black; for the rose is invisible. In the other, it is painted in full detail and surrounded by black. Is one of them right, the other wrong? Don't we talk of a white rose in the dark and a red rose in the dark? And don't we say for all that that they can't be distinguished in the dark?"
--from Philosophical Investigations

This fragment makes our question from #514 a little easier to answer: we need not immediately conceive of both pictures of the rose in the dark to be able to say that we know what "a rose in the dark" means. The phrase might be used with either picture, depending upon the context, and our knowing what it means just requires that we be able to use it should such contexts arise.

Color has been understood as a so-called "secondary property" at least since Locke; that is, color exists as a relationship between the colored object and its observer, and is dependent upon both. So clearly it is not strictly accurate to speak of a rose being red in the dark--it may emit radiation of the same wavelength, but if no one is looking at it, it isn't red.

But at the same time, we do think of roses as being either white or red, and if we have a white rose, and somebody asked us "Is that a white rose?", we would answer "Yes" even if we could not see it. Is this a mistake? Is there such a thing as a mistake in structure of the language?

One way such a mistake (if that's the word I'm looking for) might manifest is in the form of linguistically sanctioned (or even provoked) oppression of a certain social group. For example, if we have a grammar that prohibits assignment of certain desirable adjectives to feminine subjects--for example, if our grammar made it nonsensical to say "She is strong"--then we should want to say that that grammar has a mistake built into it.

This is the inverse of the kind of mistake occurring when we speak about the rose, however. It is important that we don't feel any urgency in the first case, but the second case (at least for me) is disturbing.

To state that a certain turn of phrase or topic of discussion is nonsense is just to deny a particular discursive framework--that is, to deny a particular method of and context for discourse. It is only done for political reasons; a good deal of what we can visualize is "nonsense", but we only call nonsense that which we have reason to dislike. The point is that we have no such political reasons to bother ourselves about the use of constructions such as "a red rose in the dark", despite the fact that such a thing does not exist in practice. We still imagine it, envision it, and so we are able to incorporate it into our language.

Posted by tiet0024 at 9:18 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"


"514. A philosopher says that he understands the sentence 'I am here', that he means something by it, thinks something--even when he doesn't think at all how, on what occasions, this sentence is used. And if I say 'A rose is red in the dark too' you positively see this red in the dark before you."
--from Philosophical Investigations

What do you say? Can you see the red rose in the dark? I can, somehow.

The comments about the understanding of the sentence "I am here" relate to the earlier criticism of considering a language only in terms of its grammar. In what sorts of cases might one use the expression "I am here"? Answering the telephone, as a warning to your roommate (in case they haven't heard you enter), in the manner of consolation, speaking of your avatar when playing a game with a group of others, etc. Were I to claim this an exhaustive list, someone would always be able to come up with an additional use of the expression.

And the grammar of our language allows us to use these three words in so many different ways, but it does not guide our understanding of which of these ways is appropriate in a given situation.

My question really is why the example of the rose is related to all of these grammatical considerations. When we consider #515, perhaps things will be more clear. I'll make that entry today, since I missed yesterday.

Posted by tiet0024 at 11:28 AM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

April 4, 2005


"199. Is what we call 'obeying a rule' something that it would be possible for only one man to do, and only once in his life?--This is of course a note on the grammar of the expression 'to obey a rule'.
It is not possible that there should have been only one occasion on which someone obeyed a rule. It is not possible that there should have been only one occasion on which a report was made, an order given or understood; and so on.--To obey a rule, to make a report, to give an order, to play a game of chess, are customs (uses, institutions).
To understand a sentence means to understand a language. To understand a language means to be a master of a technique."
--from Philosophical Investigations

Though it is framed negatively ("It is not possible..."), this passage is probably representative of the most constructive of Wittgenstein's thoughts. Most of the passages in PI are dedicated to highlighting the problems with analytical philosophy, and do not proffer an alternative. The section I immediately focus on is in the latter two paragraphs; language is a custom, or a technique. As he emphasizes in other passages, words and sentences are tools.

Switching gears for a moment: the typical conception of mind is in opposition to body, as though our mental lives existed incoporeally and distant from our flesh. This is the Cartesian picture; most of you who have gone through Philosophy 101 will be familiar with it. I think that this is one of the traditional pictures that Wittgenstein was trying to throw off. He did this by way of demystifying language...his view, as I understand it, was that the "problems" of philosophy were the result of mystifying language, the result of giving it a life outside of its use.

Something important to notice is the similarity between this point of view and that of many of the pragmatists (Pierce, Dewey, James, etc). I don't know right now whether or not Wittgenstein ever read any of the works of the pragmatists; his reading habits were hit-or-miss: if he was caught by the thoughts expressed in a text, he would read it front to back, but otherwise he'd set it down without a second thought.

"To understand a sentence means to understand a language." I'm not sure if I agree with this, but I might be interpreting it too narrowly. Couldn't we understand a sentence in translation? I mean, couldn't I learn a sentence of Italian, and really understand it by learning its English translation, without knowing the rest of the language? Or perhaps I know only the past tense. Because I cannot speak in the future, present, subjunctive, etc, I surely can't "speak Italian".

Maybe he means something different--there are degrees of freedom in interpreting "understand", as well as the scope of "a". Perhaps all he is saying is that in order to interpret a sentence in any language it must be the case that we already understand at least one language.

Reading Wittgenstein is difficult, in that it actually requires active thought from the reader; to read Wittgenstein successfully is to do philosophy, so to speak.

Posted by tiet0024 at 4:26 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

April 3, 2005

#141 (from Preliminary Studies for Part 2 of PI)

"141. If there were a verb meaning: to believe falsely, it would not have any first person present indicative."
--from Last Writings on the Philosophy of Psychology, vol. 1.

This entry is somewhat confusing without a bit of a backstory. While Wittgenstein was teaching at Cambridge, he worked with the philosopher G.E. Moore, who was also on the faculty at the time. It's hard to imagine to two together, actually; Moore was a very precise fellow, insistent that his students, when expressing their ideas, utilize absolute clarity of language. Wittgenstein was, of course, unclear the vast majority of the time, even in his writing.

At any rate, one day Moore delivered a brief presentation to the Moral Science Club (of which Wittgenstein was chair, I believe) regarding a sort of paradox he had discovered. The paradox, now commonly referred to as Moore's Paradox, was just this: Though there are no rules of logic that prevent me from saying it, it is nonsensical for me to utter a sentence of the form "Not X, but I believe X. That is, I would never say "It is not raining, but I believe it is raining," or anything of that sort.

This is an interesting point if only because it runs counter to Frege's insistence some years earlier that the laws of logic were "laws of thought". Wittgenstein was immediately fascinated by this semantic paradox, and discussed it over the course of several paragraphs in Part II of Philosophical Investigations (see #x). (The introductory quote above was taken from a collection of manuscripts that Wittgenstein used as notes for the actual compilation of part II of PI.)

It is strange that we have such an expression as "I believe" in our language. On the surface it appears that there is a differentiation to be made between "I believe that I am hungry" and "I am hungry". However, Moore's Paradox shows us that this appearance is misleading. It makes absolutely no sense (in a normal context) to say "I am not hungry, but I believe I am hungry."

We may only speak of our own false beliefs in the past tense.

Note that the verb "is true" fills a similarly vacuous role in our everyday language. "It is not raining, but it is true that it is raining."

I think that the most important realization to come from all this is that we implicitly understand sentences in our language not as disembodied propositions, but as situated statements--that is, as actual sentences uttered by humans. If, when I said, "The sky is blue," I meant it as a tautology, then there would be some content in saying "I do not believe the sky is blue." It would be as though I said, "I do not believe God is omnipotent," though that appears to be part of the definition of God (by many accounts). This statement is different from the statement, "I do not believe in God."

Posted by tiet0024 at 1:10 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

April 2, 2005

#23 (Language games.)


"23. But how many kinds of sentence are there? Say assertion, question, and command?--There are countless kinds of use of what we call 'symbols', 'words', 'sentences'. And this multiplicity is not something fixed, given once for all; but new types of language, new language-games, as we may say, come into existence, and others become obsolete and get forgotten. (We can get a rough picture of this from the changes in mathematics.)
Here the term 'language-game' is meant to bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or of a form of life."

Clearly the emphasis in this passage is on the lived practice of language, as opposed to the abstracted and stultified description of language in propositional terms, as is usually focused upon by analytic philosophers. This is a very interesting departure, though from an analytical standpoint it is hard to get a grasp on. So-called natural language is not adequately described by any set of formal grammatical rules G, because no such set can ever encompass the labyrinthine idiomatic linguistic structures that comprise the actual use of language in our daily lives.

Chomsky wrote of this, making the point by actually constructing a sentence that was grammatically correct but nonsensical: "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously."

colorless green ideas.png

But what is Wittgenstein suggesting when he states that language is "part of an activity"? Cavell has written extensively on the concept of a "form of life", the general idea being an emphasis on lived experience--getting dressed in the morning, tasting a candy bar, sexual attraction*, reaching the last page of a good book and knowing you will soon have to put it down, etc. I think that all Wittgenstein wants to say here is that we should not look at languages in a priori terms, but rather as an activity or behavior similar to any of these other "forms of life". [What is the difference between an activity and a behavior? Would Wittgenstein have agreed with my use of the two as synonyms? I don't know.]

The remark about the "changes in mathematics" is interesting as well. Much of Wittgenstein's work on mathematics was directed towards highlighting the fact that mathematical proof is not ahistorical, but evolves as a kind of language-game.

*Cavell does not mention sex or gender in his explication of "forms of life". I only mention this because there are feminist philosophers who have criticized Cavell's reading for this very reason, and it is an important shortcoming.

Posted by tiet0024 at 2:31 PM | Investigations

Category "Investigations"

April 1, 2005


"The problems arising through a misinterpretation of our forms of language have the character of depth. They are deep disquietudes; their roots are as deep in us as the forms of our language and their significance is as great as the importance of our language.--Let us ask ourselves: why do we feel a grammatical joke to be deep? (And that is what the depth of philosophy is.)"
--Philosophical Investigations, #111.

Wittgenstein's words here convey both his contempt for and fascination with philosophy as it was and is practiced in academia. I feel a very similar repulsion-attraction, and I don't believe myself to be the only one. What is this picture of philosophy?

Imagine a philosopher. One tends to imagine an old white man, sitting next to a fireplace in a comfortable armchair, constructing questions about what really is the nature of reality and knowledge, and so on. The reason these questions are not considered the fevered dreams of madmen is simply that they hint at some sort of depth, a depth that is not accessible by the meagre language we use in our daily lives. This is the "character" of philosophical problems that Wittgenstein is describing in paragraph #111 of Investigations.

The depth is produced by our inability to describe the connection between words and reality--we realize that there is a connection, since language works, yet we are unable to talk about it in any descriptive way. [Is it a contradiction that I seem to be speaking of it right now?]

A grammatical joke: "Call me a cab." "You're a cab." It does feel, in a sense, deeper than a joke based upon "mere" situation. As though the joke is built into the vagaries of our language. Is it fair to compare this kind of joke to the depth we attribute to philosophical questions such as "Do humans have free will?" This question does seem to me to have a depth to it. Is this depth inspired by my wanting a "deeper" meaning for the concept of free will?

Posted by tiet0024 at 12:46 PM | Investigations