Friday, February 26, 2021

Six Rounds with Wittgenstein (Part 4)

Mardsen Hartley, E (1915)

Wittgenstein. Philosophical Investigations (1953). Jibberjab. Back to it.

329. When I think in language, there aren't 'meanings' going through my mind in addition to the verbal expressions: the language is itself the vehicle of thought.

I don't have much to say about this, except that a recurring problem with traditional mentalistic treatments of behavior (verbal or otherwise) assume "thought" needs no definition nor explanation. Nor does "mind" or "meaning." The promiscuity and lability with which these terms are used accounts for much of the inconsistencies, quandaries, and errors Wittgenstein observes throughout the Philosophical Investigations—some of which he might have examined more effectively if he'd made more of an effort to interrogate some of the fundamental terms in his universe of discourse (and refine their definitions where necessary). A categorical prohibition on hypotheses in philosophy nips a lot of potential gibberish in the bud, true—but Wittgenstein's policy of not straying beyond "what we have always known" leaves him stuck with the reductionist descriptions of language and cognition that perpetuate a large portion of the mischief he describes. 

Not that traditional terms of language, intention, meaning, etc. aren't perfectly adequate for casual speech—we have to work with the language we're given, and take the assumptions and conventions baked into it.¹  But Wittgenstein is clearly interested in what's happening in the unexamined margins and interstices of common experience, and those assumptions and conventions hinder his examination.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Six Rounds with Wittgenstein (Part 3)

Arthur Dove, The Critic (1925)

Before we pull more commentary on Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations (1953) from the oven, I've got some notes and mea culpas.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Six rounds with Wittgenstein (part 2)

Arthur Dove, Nature Symbolized (1911)

Picking up from where we left off...

 101. We want to say that there can't be any vagueness in logic. The idea now absorbs us, that the ideal 'must' be found in reality. Meanwhile we do not as yet see how it occurs there, nor do we understand the nature of this "must". We think it must be in reality; for we think we already see it there.

102. The strict and clear rules of the logical structure of propositions appear to us as something in the background——hidden in the medium of the understanding. I already see them (even though through a medium): for I understand the propositional sign, I use it to say something. 

105. When we believe that that we must find that order, must find the ideal, in our actual language, we become dissatisfied with what are ordinarily called "propositions", "words", "signs".

The proposition and the word that logic deals with are supposed to be something pure and clear-cut. And we rack our brains over the nature of the real sign.——Is it perhaps the idea of the sign? or the idea of the present moment?

All right. I'm going to level with you here.

I wrote four or five paragraphs about the reification of concepts, and then stopped because I wasn't sure how any of it answered what Wittgenstein seemed to be saying.

Then I started over. I composed seven paragraphs (and transcribed a two-paragraph block quote from Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, and Roche's Relational Frame Theory: A Post-Skinnerian Account of Human Language and Cognition (2001) and then scratched it again. Not only was I unsure how any of it addressed Wittgenstein's points, I realized I have no idea what Wittgenstein is trying to get across—and I'm increasingly confident that he wasn't really sure, either. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Six rounds with Wittgenstein (part 1)

Charles Sheeler, Flower Forms (1917)*

Not long ago, the incomparable Taras T. showed me a couple of critical essays he wrote about Scott McCloud, which drew from the Philosophical Investigations (1953) of Ludwig Wittgenstein.¹ The very day after he recommended I read the book for myself, a coworker happened to mention Wittgenstein in conversation, and I asked him if he had a copy of Philosophical Investigations he'd be willing to lend me for a while.

And so now here we are.

Until now I've known next to nothing about Wittgenstein or his work. I seem to recall Apostolos Doxiadis portraying him as a temperamental clown in his graphic novel Logicomix (2008), and the impression I got from any number of times Wittgenstein's name fizzed up out of the ether is of a polarizing figure. Depending on who you ask, he's either the most important philosopher of the twentieth century or a pompous hack.

Come to think of it, these propositions are not mutually exclusive.