• fdrake
    6.1k


    The interesting part for me, especially about Lewis Carrol's Jabberwocky, isn't that it touches something purely subjective or inner, it's how reliably the poem produces images in people despite being some limiting case of use or indeed sense.

    Words like 'slithy', 'gyre', 'frumious' 'manxome' are easily understood, words like 'brillig', not so much. The words in the first list sound like their meaning in some sense, like this, brillig is more abstract and denotes a time of day (according to Humpty Dumpty) - people I've spoken about the poem with usually have 'brillig' connoting something like a frigid, frosty but clear starry night.

    Non-native English speakers usually have difficulty with slithy, gyre, frumious and manxome. Native speakers understand 'slithy' as 'slimy/lithe', 'gyre' as somewhere between 'gyrate' and 'flutter', 'frumious' as derived from 'furious' and 'fuming' and manxome as close to manly/tough (with tough being seen as close to 'difficult').
  • Sam26
    2.6k
    It would make for an interesting study. It's fascinating that the mind will take the word and associate it with what's closest in meaning or closest in sound. It reminds me of how the mind will fill in our blind spot with the appropriate surroundings.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    12.8k
    There are rules that apply to the language-game of knowledge, and there are rules to the language-game of doubt. One precedes the other, i.e., knowledge seems to come first, then the ability to question that knowledge.Sam26

    I think it's clear that the skeptic doubts the rules. And if this is the case then it makes no sense to say that there are rules to the game of doubt, because the skeptic would doubt those rules as well. That's the nature of free will, we don't have to follow any rules. We may suffer the consequences but we do not have to follow rules.

    You are simply taking a determinist perspective and trying to force it upon the free willing skeptic, insisting that the skeptic has no choice but to follow rules. If you accepted free will as a principle you would see that the skeptic does not have to follow rules. To follow rules is a choice which is freely made. The so-called private language argument exposes this. What is private to the individual (doubt) cannot be called "following a rule".

    It is a mistake to frame doubt as rational, just like it is a mistake to frame instinct and intuition as rational. These are more like feelings, attitudes, and we attempt to dispose of them with an attitude created by the conscious mind, the attitude of certainty. All doubts are irrational because if they were rational, they'd be certainties, but they cannot be quelled without creating certainty.
  • Cuthbert
    1.1k
    Thank you, Sam. I think your interpretation of W is spot on. But I don't think W's interpretation of Moore is quite on target.
  • Sam26
    2.6k
    Ya, there are those who think that Wittgenstein missed the boat about Moore's conclusions. My tendency is to agree with Wittgenstein's interpretation of Moore. Although in a larger sense it doesn't matter, because Wittgenstein's ideas have an importance that goes beyond what Moore is saying.
  • Cuthbert
    1.1k
    Yes, I agree with that. But I think Moore's use of performative utterances in the argument - not 'I know this is my hand' but 'Here is a hand', i.e. he makes a demonstration and is not merely stating a proposition - could be used to support W's views about meaning and truth embedded in our actions and way of life. To contradict Moore's premiss it is not enough to say 'No, you don't know that that is your hand.' The contradiction has to be: 'You produce a hand - so you say. But it isn't a hand.' I don't want to distract from the main topic, commentary on W and not on Moore, but for what it's worth that's my footnote on Moore.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    12.8k
    But I think Moore's use of performative utterances in the argument - not 'I know this is my hand' but 'Here is a hand', i.e. he makes a demonstration and is not merely stating a proposition - could be used to support W's views about meaning and truth embedded in our actions and way of life.Cuthbert

    I think that this is the only reasonable way to take Moore's proposition, as a demonstration. Then it is a type of justification, demonstrating, this is the type of thing which I call a "hand". But it doesn't serve to ward off the skeptic, because it can only be taken as a proposition, which is inherently a proposal, will you allow me to call this a hand. And the skeptic is free to reject the proposal, for whatever reason the skeptic dreams up. Wittgenstein's position hinges on the assumption that such rejection is irrational. But he puts forward no principles to distinguish irrational rejection of a proposition from rational rejection. Surely it's not always irrational to reject a proposition.
  • Cuthbert
    1.1k
    Yes, some propositions are true and some are false. Moore does not answer the skeptic and does not claim to. He puts the skeptic on the back foot, however, by using performative utterances (here is the hand) rather than abstract modalities (this table might be an hallucination). Here we are, in this place, having this conversation and here is one hand - or, if we are not, then we cannot begin even to argue about skepticism or its contradictory.
  • Cuthbert
    1.1k
    Yes. you're right, he does. I meant to go exploring the reasons one might have for choosing a performative utterance rather than a mere statement or proposition in tackling scepticism. But my points don't work as a gloss on Moore and probably not on W either. I think Moore is concerned to establish that we can know things without proving them and I was straying. Hope I'm not distracting from the main topic; really useful commentary, Sam, thank you.
  • Sam26
    2.6k
    I think it's important to understand Moore papers (Proof of an External World, 1939; and A Defense of Common Sense, 1925) in relation to Wittgenstein, so it's not a distraction at all.
  • Cuthbert
    1.1k
    Statements which cannot coherently be doubted in one world view can come to be doubted in another. There is no absolute 'beyond doubt' set of statements. For example, 'the earth does not move' is beyond doubt in a world view that holds terra to be firma, fixedness being part of the very concept of solid God-given earth. It makes no more sense to say the earth can move as to say that the number five is green. I'm thinking of Kuhn. Of course it's a barn and you can tell it's a barn just because it looks like a barn in the place where you'd expect to find a barn - until we enter fake barn country. And so skepticism oozes back.
  • Sam26
    2.6k
    Statements which cannot coherently be doubted in one world view can come to be doubted in another. There is no absolute 'beyond doubt' set of statements.Cuthbert

    What about the statement "I cannot doubt my existence," doubting my existence shows my existence. This statement cannot be coherently doubted in any world view. Can I doubt that my words are not changing of their own accord? Can I doubt, in any world view, that objects disappear when I'm not looking at them?

    The first example I gave cannot be doubted in any world view, nor can it be doubted in any possible universe in which there are rational humans. Thus it's necessarily the case that if there are rational humans, then they cannot coherently doubt their existence. The second example doesn't seem to be logically possible either, viz., that words could change of their own accord.

    In the third example, it's certainly logically and metaphysically possible that objects could disappear when I'm not looking at them, so this would be an example of a statement that would fit into your set of parameters. Now this depends not only on a changing world view, but it also depends on the laws of physics within a particular universe.

    There are beliefs and/or statements that cannot be doubted in any possible universe where there are rational humans.
  • Cuthbert
    1.1k
    I see that. Now, when we ask ourselves - 'What are those undoubtable statements - specifically?' - and we find that one by one we can reject plausible candidates in particular imaginable circumstances - then we have just embarked on Descartes' project. Shortly we end up with Descartes' rather too short list of one undoubtable statement, or we open ourselves to having to defend the undoutableness of statements such as 'There are physical objects' or 'Here is a hand'. And one good way of defending the undoubtableness of these statements is to show, for example, that we know we have hands even though we cannot prove it and so any doubts can be allayed, as Moore did. But I think W is inviting us to put the Cartesian project out of our minds altogether, because he holds that such a project is fundamentally incoherent and that there is no such thing as 'entertaining doubts' in such cases and therefore no such thing as 'knowing' either.
  • Sam26
    2.6k
    ...we have just embarked on Descartes' projectCuthbert

    There is very little to compare between Wittgenstein and Descartes. Wittgenstein's ability to do philosophy compared to Descartes is like comparing a high school runner to an Olympic athlete. Moreover, Wittgenstein looks at doubt from the view of what can be known, which is the correct place to start.

    And one good way of defending the undoubtableness of these statements is to show, for example, that we know we have handsCuthbert

    The whole point of Wittgenstein's criticism of Moore is that we can't know we have hands, especially in the context of Moore's proposal.

    But I think W is inviting us to put the Cartesian project out of our minds altogether, because he holds that such a project is fundamentally incoherent and that there is no such thing as 'entertaining doubts' in such cases and therefore no such thing as 'knowing' either.Cuthbert

    Yes, this is true, but Wittgenstein isn't looking at this from the Cartesian perspective. The important point to understand is that sometimes what can be coherently doubted in one setting, cannot be doubted in another setting. Thus, statements often times only make sense within the confines of a particular use. For example, doubting that one has hands in rare situations can be coherently understood, this is why one cannot easily fit these statements into a set of statements that cannot be doubted. However, there are some statements that cannot be coherently doubted in any possible world.

    there is no such thing as 'entertaining doubts' in such cases and therefore no such thing as 'knowing' either.Cuthbert

    I would reverse this, i.e., "...there is no such thing as knowing in such cases, and therefore no such thing as entertaining doubts either." Doubting follows necessarily from knowing, and epistemology rests on bedrock beliefs, which allows the whole system of knowing and doubting to function.

    There is still a problem with using brackets, I tried using brackets in Cuthbert's quote to show where I inserted a word or words, but it left the words out, so I just italicized the words.
  • Sam26
    2.6k
    Many Christians fall into the mistake of associating meaning with private sensation or private experiences. For example, many will often associate some inner experience with that of the Holy Spirit, or the idea of the soul as something private to each of us. Each of these examples are very similar to the beetle-in-the-box.
  • sime
    1k
    Many Christians fall into the mistake of associating meaning with private sensation or private experiences. For example, many will often associate some inner experience with that of the Holy Spirit, or the idea of the soul as something private to each of us. Each of these examples are very similar to the beetle-in-the-box.Sam26

    Supposing a Christian, Bob, associates some ineffable inner experience with the Holy Spirit, is perfectly happy, and never complains of experiencing confusion. Why would Wittgenstein, the philosophical therapist who hated substantial philosophical theses, think Bob is nevertheless making a mistake? what should be the criterion of correctness here? the opinions of the priesthood? or Bob's happiness?

    Supposing Bob compares his religious experiences with fellow Christian Alice, who also says that she identifies the Holy Spirit with her ineffable private sensations.

    Given that Neither Bob nor Alice can point to anything public playing the role of the "holy spirit", can Bob and Alice be said to be in agreement here about their ineffable experiences? or is there at most merely a delusion of agreement?

    Well from each of their perspectives, experiential agreement might mean "The other appears to perform similar rituals to me and expresses similar sentiments as I do, and that is my criteria for them having the same ineffable experiences of the Holy-Spirit as I do".

    In which case Bob and Alice's agreement isn't an illusion relative to their chosen criteria.

    The Beetle-in-the Box analogy therefore isn't applicable.

    Even I feel I understand what Bob is saying, and I'm an atheist who never practices religion. So am I under a delusion of understanding Bob? According to Alice's opinion and her criteria, the answer is probably yes. Relative to my own criteria? no.

    Wittgenstein's private language metaphors seem to provoke their own misunderstanding, namely that to understand a language is to have absolute criteria of correctness.

    Assertions must only be judged relative to independent criteria if they are to be interpreted as conveying truth-by-correspondence. That is all. And in my opinion, this is all Wittgenstein was pointing out.
  • Sam26
    2.6k
    Supposing a Christian, Bob, associates some ineffable inner experience with the Holy Spirit, is perfectly happy, and never complains of experiencing confusion. Why would Wittgenstein, the philosophical therapist who hated substantial philosophical theses, think Bob is nevertheless making a mistake? what should be the criterion of correctness here? the opinions of the priesthood? or Bob's happiness?sime

    While happiness may be important in our overall well-being, it has nothing to do with whether Bob is making sense when he associates the Holy Spirit with some inner experience. Your question, "What should be the criterion of correctness here?" is important, and that is the issue. There are lot's of people who are perfectly happy while making statements that are senseless, but this is not the issue.

    I will try to answer the question of criteria later in the post.

    Supposing Bob compares his religious experiences with fellow Christian Alice, who also says that she identifies the Holy Spirit with her ineffable private sensations.sime

    Yes, this example is what actually goes on in many churches, often Christians associate an ineffable experience with that of the Holy Spirit, and herein lies the problem of senselessness. This is not only true of Christians, but it happens in many other areas of life.

    Given that Neither Bob nor Alice can point to anything public playing the role of the "holy spirit", can Bob and Alice be said to be in agreement here about their ineffable experiences? or is there at most merely a delusion of agreement?sime

    I don't think they can be in agreement, since there is no way to know if my experience is the same as yours, or Bob's is the same as Alice's. How could we know that the experience is the same? This is why I believe it's the same as the beetle-in-the-box, because there is no way to confirm that what we're looking at is the same thing. Sure we're using the same words, either Holy Spirit in the Christians case, or Beetle in Wittgenstein's example.

    I probably wouldn't use the word deluded, I would just say that the words have no meaning. It's like comparing "patent nonsense with disguised nonsense," as Wittgenstein noted. The confusion lies in thinking that because the grammar of the sentence is the same, i.e., the grammar is similar to, "I'm experiencing pain." So we think that the same sentence "I'm experiencing the Holy Spirit," is also referencing my inner experience in the same way. However, the difference is that pain has something that is crucial to learning how to use the word, viz., pain behavior. Imagine trying to teach a child how to use the word pain without the outward signs of pain (crying, moaning, complaining, etc.). We don't teach a child pain behavior by pointing to some inner experience apart from the outward signs. The outward signs are crucial to learning how the word is used, without which there would be no correct or incorrect use of the word.

    We could ask ourselves what would be the incorrect use of the statement "I'm experiencing the Holy Spirit," especially if there were no outward signs that we could associate with correct usage, or incorrect usage. In other words, whatever you think is an experience of the Holy Spirit would be an experience of the Holy Spirit.

    Well from each of their perspectives, experiential agreement might mean "The other appears to perform similar rituals to me and expresses similar sentiments as I do, and that is my criteria for them having the same ineffable experiences of the Holy-Spirit as I do".sime

    Yes, they might suppose that, but the question is, is that correct? For example, suppose that a group of people believed that their inner experiences were from aliens. They all had similar rituals and sentiments, and they all talked in similar ways, pointing to their inner experiences as a way of confirming that aliens talk to them. We could also imagine these people developing complex beliefs regarding their beliefs just as Christians do. Wouldn't we think something was amiss in these kinds of beliefs?

    Even I feel I understand what Bob is saying, and I'm an atheist who never practices religion. So am I under a delusion of understanding Bob? According to Alice's opinion and her criteria, the answer is probably yes. Relative to my own criteria? no.sime

    Yes, I think many people feel they understand what Bob is saying. The reason that you feel you understand is that we all have inner experiences, and we experience private experiences, at least we think we do. But even the words inner experience wouldn't make sense apart from shared outward signs. If it was true that nothing outward was required, then we could suppose that rocks have inner experiences too. There has to be some outward manifestation that connects up with language and the use of words that are associated with such behavior in particular contexts. In other words, language has to have a social context where rules of use are observed, and where right and wrong can be delineated.

    Note that private experiences that are described using language, that have no way of determining whether one is using the words (Holy Spirit or Beetle) correctly, is the same as trying to devise your own private language. The problem of course, is that there is no way to know if you are following your own rules correctly. As Wittgenstein pointed out, whatever will seem right to you, will be right. Rules of usage don't happen privately. They happen as language develops within social settings where rules of use can be observed.

    Wittgenstein's private language metaphors seem to provoke their own misunderstanding, namely that to understand a language is to have absolute criteria of correctness.sime

    Wittgenstein would never say that there is some absolute criteria of correctness. In fact, just the opposite. Consider his example of the use of the word game, there is no absolute criteria of correctness, there are just a variety of uses in a variety of contexts. There is nothing absolute about it.

    Assertions must only be judged relative to independent criteria if they are to be interpreted as conveying truth-by-correspondence. That is all. And in my opinion, this is all Wittgenstein was pointing out.sime

    Actually this is closer to Wittgenstein's Tractatus, and is not something that Wittgenstein would have said in his later analysis of language.

    I would suggest reading PI 243-326.
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