• Sam26
    I'm going to post some ideas from the PI as it relates to what's been talked about in this thread. However, before posting from the PI, I'm going to post some of my latest thoughts that I'm trying to work through.

    I believe Wittgenstein is correct in saying that use is the key to understanding meaning. This can be observed in the way children are taught how to use words, i.e., we observe how they use the word to know whether or not they are using it correctly. We certainly don't teach them definitions first, they learn definitions later as guides.

    If we think about the use of the word know we observe that it's used in a variety of contexts. Here I'm talking about everyday use, not how philosophers use the term. Many philosophers are looking for some definitive definition that describes knowledge precisely, and my reading of Wittgenstein is that this cannot be done. All we can do is look at what it means to have knowledge as it pertains to a particular use, context, or language-game. My take on this is that what it means to know is much broader than we might think. This of course is seen in Wittgenstein's example of trying to define the word game, i.e., if we define games as the moving of pieces on a board, then we are primarily thinking of board games, but as we know there are many different kinds of games that don't fit this definition. In fact, there are games that have no defined rules at all (mainly thinking of children's games). The interesting thing about this is that we can set up a definition of knowledge that is X, Y, and Z, and in doing this we then claim that anything outside our definition or theory is not knowledge. This is also seen in the discussion we've been having about the nature of a belief, again we're probably looking for something that doesn't exist, i.e., a precise definition that will fulfill our philosophical need or desire for precision. The problem is that there are no clear boundaries to much of what we talk about.

    Consider Wittgenstein's remarks in the following:

    "And if we carry this comparison still further it is clear that the degree to which the sharp picture can resemble the blurred one depends on the latter's degree of vagueness. For imagine having to sketch a sharply defined picture 'corresponding' to a blurred one. In the latter there is a blurred red rectangle: for it you put down a sharply defined one. Of course - several such sharply defined rectangles can be drawn to correspond with the indefinite one. - But if the colours in the original merge without a hint of any outline won't it become a hopeless task to draw a sharp picture corresponding to the blurred one? Won't you then have to say: "Here I might just as well draw a circle or heart as a rectangle, for all the colours merge. Anything - and nothing - is right." --- And this is the position you are in if you look for definitions corresponding to our concepts in aesthetics and ethics (PI 77)."

    This is interesting even apart from aesthetics and ethics, for it applies to many other areas of areas of thought in terms of how we want to define certain concepts. I don't think Wittgenstein is saying that it only applies to aesthetics and ethics. I think this is only one example, i.e., he is saying that it applies to many other areas of study, and the concepts used.

    The point of course is that many of our concepts are like blurred pictures with no defined boundaries, i.e. no sharp boundaries. As we look at the picture we can say for sure that it has a boundary, just not a sharp boundary. It's like saying stand here, we are only giving an approximation, there may not be an exact spot that we're referring to. This vagueness has a tendency to produce an unsettling feeling within us, especially if we want an exact response to, for example, what knowledge is. That said, it's still the case that there are definite areas that are outside the boundary, and definite areas that are within the boundary, so there is some clarity, but not the clarity that we may be hoping for. The confusion lies within the blurred boundary, i.e., we will disagree about this area because it's so vague, so unclear by its very nature. So there are only degrees of clarity.

    Here's one problem that arises, as I see it, one can have a definition/use of knowledge as X, Y, and Z, and that may be correct given some uses of the word, but there may also be a definition/use that takes into account more actual uses (correct uses), so it may include not only X, Y, and Z, but also A, B, and C. Thus, given one's particular use, one may make claims to knowledge that other people see as absurd, or at the very least questionable. This again is not to say that there are not clear cut correct uses, it only means that given the broad scope of use of this particular concept, it can be very difficult to make a definitive claim to knowledge of certain ideas or beliefs, i.e., the boundary between what is known or not known can be very blurred. So much of the philosophical disagreement happens in these blurred areas.
  • Sam26
    My conclusions about understanding what knowledge is, is to say that we must fight against dogmatism or absolutism. This is not to say that we can't be dogmatic about some things, but that we must be careful about what we're dogmatic about. For example, I don't think we can be dogmatic about whether God exists or not, so this is an area where both religious and non-religious people, it seems to me, are wrong-headed. Now I don't want to turn this into a religious argument, this is not the point, so don't start arguing with me about whether the concept God has an instance in reality.

    The point is that what we know, in terms of how we use the word knowledge expands and contracts as time goes on, i.e., we learn new things that change the rules of use. Remember that language is used to describe reality, language isn't reality, but is used to describe many of our sensory experiences. Very few of our descriptions turn out to be absolute, most of our descriptions work for a time, but then change over time. So that what we correctly say today, in terms of what we know, will not be correct tomorrow. Fdrake pointed out that this is true in terms of the very long view, but it's also true in the short view, viz., just a few decades, let alone a few thousand years, and things that you claimed to know with such a dogmatic view of reality, will have been shown to be false. If not false, then a very incomplete picture of what reality is, this happens within science all the time.

    Language can be a very precise tool (mathematics for example), but it can be very imprecise in terms of developing a world view that you want to force on others. Our tendency is to be very tribal in our world views, and this causes so many of the worlds problems. For example, why would we want to be so dogmatic about our world views that we shut out others, or even go so far as to want to obliterate those who do not agree with us?

    I think to have the correct view about what we claim to know, and in fact do know, given how we use the term in the present, is to have the long view. This I believe should reduce the amount of dogmatism, at least theoretically.
  • Sam26
    Wittgenstein talks about words having a family of meanings, and he gives the example of how we learn the word good. We learn it from a multitude of examples and language-games. So it becomes clear that the word good has a multitude of uses that cannot be fixed with an exact definition. So what does this mean in terms of doing philosophy? How do we incorporate these ideas into our practice? Moreover, how important is it to the practice of philosophy to understand these ideas?

    I think the following quote sheds some light on the use of certain words and their expansive nature in terms of their use. It also shows how difficult it can be to nail down what we me by certain concepts/words, unless we are willing to look at the wide variety of uses.

    "Doesn't the analogy between language and games throw light here? We can easily imagine people amusing themselves in a field by playing with a ball so as to start various existing games, but playing many without finishing them and in between throwing the ball aimlessly into the air, chasing one another with the ball and bombarding one another for a joke and so on. And now someone says: The whole time they are playing a ball-game and following definite rules at every throw.

    "And is there not also the case where we play and--make up rules as we go along? And there is even one where we alter them --as we go along (PI 83)."

    What strikes me here is that the use of the word game is clear in this situation, so there is clarity. Most of us wouldn't dare say that it's not a game simple because there aren't clearly defined rules. However, we tend to do this in philosophical debates, i.e., we look at the way someone uses a particular word, and we ask for a definition that will somehow encapsulate that particular use. We understand what we mean by game in Wittgenstein's example without a clear definition, so use tells us something more about the word than we might find in a definition. There are innumerable examples like this, so how is it that we know the right use in this situation if there aren't clear definitions of the word game? And yet there is clarity of a sort, but it's not the clarity that is encapsulated in one definition or theory.

    Is there an analogy here between the use of words and how we use numbers? This maybe a stretch, I'm not sure. So, there are a range of numbers that we use everyday, and there are some numbers that I rarely use, and still other numbers that I'm not acquainted with, and yet I can still identify the numbers I'm not acquainted with as numbers. Isn't this similar to how we use certain words, there are a range of normal uses that we see everyday, and there are a range of uses that I rarely see, and then there are a range of uses that I'm not aware of, and yet I can still understand what is meant by the word in these areas that I'm not familiar with.
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