• Sam26
    782
    "If however, one wanted to give something like a rule here, then it would contain the expression "in normal circumstances". And we recognize normal circumstances but cannot precisely describe them. At most, we can describe a range of abnormal ones (OC 27)"

    As I read this it reminded me of the courts attempt to define pornography. One cannot capture every possible pornographic situation. The best we can do is describe a range of activity that would provide some guidance. There is just too much to describe. Many rules or definitions are not meant to be absolute, and the definition of pornography is probably one of those definitions. In many cases the definition just acts as a guide.

    However, if we want to get clear on the use of a word, one of the ways of doing it is to describe a range of normal uses against a range of abnormal ones. This will give us a sense of how to use the word in and out of its environment.

    "What is 'learning a rule'?--This. What is 'making a mistake in applying it'?--This. And what is pointed to here is something indeterminate (OC 28)."

    We give a rule, then we learn the rule by applying it in a variety situations. There are innumerable rules, which is why we cannot point to something determinate when talking about rule-following. This is probably also why it is hard for some people to understand this concept - among other reasons.

    Notice how vague some of these concepts are, i.e., normal, abnormal, learning a rule - this goes against what we tend to be looking for, i.e., we (especially philosophers) are always looking for precision where none can be found. This is an important insight, because it tells us that there may not be one thing, nature, or essence that will completely describe a word or phrase.

    Notice how this goes against the Tractatus, because in the Tractatus Wittgenstein is looking for an object that corresponds to a name. And although the words name and object as used in the Tractatus are not what you might think, it still demonstrates a departure in method from his early philosophy.

    I have been reading some of the ideas expressed by some contemporary philosophers as they try to form theories based on Wittgenstein's hinge-propositions in On Certainty; and they seem to be looking for the same kind of precision that Wittgenstein was expressly against, that is, they are applying the methods of the Tractatus to On Certainty. Are philosophers still not understanding Wittgenstein, or do they simply refuse to buy into his later analysis? Or is there still another reason? For example, it seems quite plausible that philosophers are so attracted to this method of precision, that it may be very difficult to break this cycle of thinking. Still another possible answer is that much of the tradition of analytic philosophy has incorporated this method of precision into their thinking, and it may take many more years to break the cycle. However, also keep in mind that being precise is important. It's just that we need to know when to be precise, and when to realize that precision is not possible.

    Precision is not only about definitions and theories, but precision is about how well we explain an idea. It may not be possible to define a word in an absolute sense, or a theory in an absolute sense, so in this sense we may not be able to be as precise as we would like. However, when it comes to how well an idea is explained, this is a different kind of precision, and it is a very important distinction to make when talking about being precise.
  • Sam26
    782
    "Practice in the use of the rule also shews what is a mistake in its employment (OC 29)."

    This what Wittgenstein is doing. He is showing us how we use the word know and doubt in language-games, thereby showing us the rules of the game. He is saying that Moore's use of the word know violates the rules; and he is showing us how the use of the word doubt by the skeptic also violates the rules. Therefore, practice in the use of words shows us something about the logic behind their use. The rules are implicit, so it takes some work to uncover them.

    "When someone has made sure of something, he says: "Yes, the calculation is right", but he did not infer that from his condition of certainty. One does not infer how things are from one's own certainty.

    Certainty is as it were a tone of voice in which one declares how things are, but one does not infer from the tone of voice that one is justified (OC 30)."

    This passage I believe harkens back to paragraph six where Wittgenstein first refers to "mental state." One does not (should not) appeal to one's own state of mind as a means of demonstrating that one knows. The example Wittgenstein points to, is that of checking one's calculation. One does not appeal to some inner certainty, but one appeals to what we normally do in such a situation - one checks the calculation. This is one example of how it is done in a language-game - the checking of one's calculation is a matter of following the rules of the game. It is not done by appealing to some inner experience.

    Moore's attempt to convince seems to do this very thing. He appeals to an inner certainty that many of us feel, which is why we want to agree with Moore. We all experience these subjective feelings of certainty, especially when we are sure of what it is that we think we know. However, this inner state of belief is quite different from the language-game of knowledge. I am sure though that Moore did not think he was appealing to an inner certainty. However, Wittgenstein seems to suggest that this is what Moore's claim amounts to.
  • Sam26
    782
    "The propositions which one comes back to again and again as if bewitched-these I should like to expunge from philosophical language (OC 31)."

    "It's not a matter of Moore's knowing that there's a hand there, but rather we should not understand him if he were to say "Of course I may be wrong about this". We should ask "What is it like to make such a mistake as that?"-e.g. what's it like to discover that it was a mistake (OC 32)."

    "Thus we expunge the sentences that don't get us any further (OC 33)."

    What does it mean when we say "We know...?" How is it different from a mere belief? And if we make a claim to knowledge, does it follow that we do indeed know? People make various kinds of claims about what they know all the time, and many times they are wrong about those claims. Hence, the phrase "I thought I knew." Knowledge claims by there very nature require something special, and it is not something subjective, i.e., the way I feel about a claim. If I say "I know...," the possibility of being wrong or incorrect is built into the way we use the word. It is part of the logic of use - the logic of the language-game. If this was not the case, then as Wittgenstein says, we could infer from one's claim of knowledge, that one does indeed know.

    Think about this in terms of what Wittgenstein says in paragraph 32. The examples that Moore gives do not seem to generally fall into the category of knowing. Why? Because as Wittgenstein points out, it is not clear what a mistake here would look like. In fact, it is difficult to understand Moore's statements at all. Do we even have a clear idea of what it would mean to be incorrect in Moore's case; and this is important to any idea of rule-following, or right or wrong, or knowing and not knowing. Do we have a clear idea of what it would mean in Moore's case to not know that I have hands? Do I have a clear idea of what it would mean to not know how to multiply or divide, to not know American history, etc. Yes! Understanding this is crucial to understanding what it means to have knowledge. So to have knowledge, one needs to know what it means to not have knowledge, which is the problem with Moore's propositions. This seems to be why Moore's propositions seem to be more of a reflection of how he feels about the propositions; and this maybe why Wittgenstein points out the mental state involved.

    What are the grounds for saying "I know...?" Why do we need grounds for statements like - "I know I have hands?" Doesn't saying "I know..." presuppose a justification, i.e., a way of knowing, and this seems to be why in Moore's case, the use of the word is out of place. No justification, then no knowledge. Why?

    If someone was puzzled about Moore's statement, we might think they do not understand what the word hand means, or that they do not understand English. However, in Moore's examples this is not the case; and if it is not the case, then how do I convince the skeptic that this is a hand. It would be akin to teaching someone the rules of chess, and finding out that they just refuse to believe you. They respond, "How do you know that that is a bishop?" Most people would not know how to respond. The skeptic seems to be using his/her own language-game, and it is out of place in this instance. It is as if the skeptic wants to apply his/her own rules, and use these rules to argue a point.

    Another way to think about it is this - (let's use the chess example again) there are rules to chess, but what if someone starts challenging the rules or questioning the rules - how do you respond? In a way this is what the skeptic is doing. Moreover, if the skeptic is doing this, it does no good for me to hold up a bishop and announce, "I know this is a bishop." You know it! - What!? It is not a matter of knowing - it is something more fundamental. In this case - "This is a bishop," is a hinge-proposition. My actions show that I believe it to be a bishop. How? By the way I use it in the game. Why don't you know it? For the same reason you do not need to justify the rules of chess. It is not a matter of knowing the rules of chess, viz., justifying the rules, as if there are good reasons why the bishop moves diagonally.

    In OC 33 Wittgenstein simply says that these kinds of propositions should be expunged from our thinking (generally).

    Many of the supposed difficult problems of philosophy are not real problems at all. However, that is not to say that there are not real philosophical problems - there are. It would be interesting to start a thread on what some of these bogus problems are. Then again, maybe saying they are not real philosophical problems is misleading. You have to come to understand what gives rise to these kinds of philosophical problems, so that you can move on. Many of us are still trapped or entangled in language.
  • Cuthbert
    216
    The chess bishop is a bishop just because we say it is. We can stipulate rules for a game such as chess. The question 'How do you know it's a bishop' is akin to 'How do you know your cat's name is really 'Puss'?' The cat's name is Puss because that's what I call it. But that is different from Moore's hand example. I can't put myself in possession of a hand by stipulation. The answer to 'how do you know you've got hands?' is not 'because I've decided that's just how it is.' Expunging propositions from our thinking is not always the same as solving the problems that they raise.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    3.9k
    The point that Wittgenstein seems to be making is that doubting the existence of one's hands, or doubting the existence of the external world, fall outside the language-game of use for these particular words.Sam26

    This doubt is not outside the language-game. The skeptic is asking what does the word "existence" mean here, what does it mean to exist. When we try to say what it means to exist, all sorts of logical problems arise. How can one say without doubt, "my hands exist", when one cannot say without doubt what it means to "exist"? So it becomes evident that we use words within language-games without actually knowing what the words mean. This casts doubt on language-games in general, because we can be fully engaged in a language-game, saying things without knowing what we are saying.
  • Sam26
    782
    It's true that I'm in possession of my hands in a way that I'm not when it comes to chess pieces. However, it's still the case that what I mean by hand is linguistically the same as what I mean by bishop, that is, the word hand and bishop are arbitrarily assigned to objects. However, this is beside the point because Moore isn't talking about linguistic justification, and neither is Wittgenstein. As we examine the use of the word know we come to see that there are various ways of justifying what we know. For example, we can have knowledge based on sensory experiences, we can have knowledge based on linguistic training (the e.g. above), we can have knowledge based on testimonial evidence, and we can have knowledge based on argument, inference, or proof; and it's the latter that Moore is doing, and it's the latter that the skeptic is arguing against. While it's true that we can know what things are called based on linguistic training, this is separate from much of Wittgenstein's analysis of Moore's propositions.

    I'm not sure if you're saying that my interpretation is incorrect, or if Wittgenstein is incorrect, or both. It seems you're saying that both are incorrect.
  • mrcoffee
    57
    When we try to say what it means to exist, all sorts of logical problems arise. How can one say without doubt, "my hands exist", when one cannot say without doubt what it means to "exist"? So it becomes evident that we use words within language-games without actually knowing what the words mean.Metaphysician Undercover

    I think this is near the heart of lots of philosophical issues. We know how to use words without being able to conclusively describe how or what that know-how is. I think it's non-controversial that this slippery entity 'meaning' is largely a function of context. It's not clear that some ideal meaning of exist would convenient snap together with some ideal meaning of 'hands' and 'my.' We would also need an ideal way of snapping our ideal meanings together for more complex but still ideal meanings.

    When you say we don't know what words mean, that seems true in one sense (we can ramble on forever about 'exist') and false in another (knowing what they mean is just knowing how to use them).

    If we criticize the use of language in the absence of an ideal justification (a definition of exist, for instance), then we are using that same unjustified language to do so, implying that we expect to be understood --implying that we trust the language in practice as we question it in theory.

    This is not to deny the strangeness of our situation. A person could say that we don't really know anything. But as soon as words move toward such absolutes they lose their power to distinguish situations in practical life. If I'm not even certain that I have hands, then of what use is 'certainty' except to mark the impossible hope of infinitely itchy philosophers?

    It doesn't seem possible to get 'behind' this know-how or form of life. I have to use it if I want to try to do so. My objections to the inexplicitness of my knowhow are also thereby made possible. If I demand a definition of 'exist,' why not demand a definition of 'definition' and 'demand'? Why not of 'hand'? Surely we can problematize the use of 'hand' with a little imagination.
  • andrewk
    1.2k
    If we criticize the use of language in the absence of an ideal justification (a definition of exist, for instance), then we are using that same unjustified language to do so, implying that we expect to be understood --implying that we trust the language in practice as we question it in theory.mrcoffee
    When we criticise the use of a certain word or phrase, we are not criticising the language as a whole, just that particular use of it. There's no inconsistency in regarding language use in general as a useful, meaningful activity while criticising the use of certain word or phrases as having no use or meaning. David Borland's advocacy of the language E-Prime exemplifies that attitude and I find it refreshing and helpful.

    You asked whether 'hand', 'demand' or 'definition' are as problematic as 'exist'. Empirically they are not, as people tend not to disagree over what they mean, whereas they constantly disagree over what 'exist' means - including non-philosophers. I like to use ostension as the root of meaning - that if we can trace the meaning of a word through a tree whose nodes are various other words until we reach terminal leaves, each of which is given meaning by ostension, then we know what the word means. Otherwise not.

    A simpler approach though would be that if everybody agrees on what a word means, and that agreement is borne out by experiment (e.g. Simon says 'raise your hand' and everybody raises their hand), then we can consider that we know the meaning.
  • mrcoffee
    57
    When we criticise the use of a certain word or phrase, we are not criticising the language as a whole, just that particular use of it. There's no inconsistency in regarding language use in general as a useful, meaningful activity while criticising the use of certain word or phrases as having no use or meaning.andrewk

    I agree, except with the that last part. If we are criticizing the use of a word, then it has a use, namely the one we are criticizing. Then, if we look to use for meaning, it must also have a meaning, since it has a use. Perhaps you meant an inferior use as opposed to a proposed new use or a cessation of use altogether, and a vague meaning as opposed to no meaning?

    Of course I've been criticizing certain uses and certain meanings myself, suggesting that words like 'certainty' and 'objectivity' are often used in a kind of absolute, impossible sense, at least on philosophy forums. For me this is a waste of good words and less than ideal in terms of style. Of course I realize that I am just sharing and explaining my own preferences against others' in this case.

    You asked whether 'hand', 'demand' or 'definition' are as problematic as 'exist'. Empirically they are not, as people tend not to disagree over what they mean, whereas they constantly disagree over what 'exist' means - including non-philosophers.andrewk

    True, 'exist' is more problematic than 'hand.' I imagine it becoming problematic in religion and physics. Is it more problematic than 'definition'? Being able to point at things helps, of course.

    I like to use ostension as the root of meaning - that if we can trace the meaning of a word through a tree whose nodes are various other words until we reach terminal leaves, each of which is given meaning by ostension, then we know what the word means. Otherwise not.andrewk

    I understand the appeal of that view, but what exactly happens away from the terminal nodes? How do you decide how to split a nonterminal node into other nonterminal modes? How does 'justice' split? How does 'rationality' split? 'God'?

    A simpler approach though would be that if everybody agrees on what a word means, and that agreement is borne out by experiment (e.g. Simon says 'raise your hand' and everybody raises their hand), then we can consider that we know the meaning.andrewk

    I like the idea that meaning is continuous with practice. There's no sharp line between the subjective experience of meaning and action in the world. What does it mean to be 'in love'? Of course certain feelings come to mind. But telling people that one is 'in love' with them is also like pushing a button. No one has to know exactly what is meant. Instead it's a typical objective occurrence (the 'materiality' of the words) that they have observed throughout their life in the context of the consequences of those words. 'If phrase X is uttered earnestly in situation Y, then A,B, or C has tended to happen, depending on E, F, and G.' From this perspective, knowing the meaning of the word would be getting these calculations more right than wrong, or rather applying these calculations successfully. Or perhaps it's best to view this calculation as continuous with 'meaning classic' and action in the world.
  • sime
    198
    The point that Wittgenstein seems to be making is that doubting the existence of one's hands, or doubting the existence of the external world, fall outside the language-game of use for these particular words.Sam26

    Presumably Wittgenstein would not want to imply that every or even any skeptic's epistemological malady is curable by merely insisting to them that their use of the word "hands" should conform to ordinary usage - especially considering, as you have mentioned, that Wittgenstein was against the reduction of word usage to precise definitions, whether they be formally stated rules or socially demonstrated rules of conformity.


    The Skeptic who doubts the existence of his own hands is generally the Humean skeptic who doubts the predictability of his hand's future behaviour. These doubts further bring into question the predictability of language games, the reliability of the linguistic definitions they serve to ground and the conceptual networks we derive from them.

    Like in your pornography example, I cannot give to myself a precise, explicit and all-encompassing definition of what I mean by "my hands". And it is imaginable that my hands will pass through this solid wall in front of me, and that in this event we might - or even might not - collectively abstain from referring to them as "my hands" .

    Of course a non-skeptic might remark that this event is in-ordinary and unlikely in the eyes of the community. But their remark which a skeptic will likely consciously accept, cannot be made into an argument of refutation against the skeptic's position, for the skeptic is consciously insisting on what is in-ordinary.

    The philosopher can only empathise with the skeptic who asserts the in-ordinary and try to publicly unravel the mystery that is the skeptic's private-language game of in-ordinary doubt. In other words the philosopher must try to understand the skeptic's doubting-behaviour as behavioural expression of a different sort.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    3.9k
    We know how to use words without being able to conclusively describe how or what that know-how is.mrcoffee

    Yes this is what Socrates is famous for demonstrating, many people know how to do things without really knowing exactly what they are doing. This might be applicable to someone's use of "hand". We know how to use "hand", but how many people know exactly what a hand is? If someone gave you a complete list of anatomical parts in your wrist area, would you be able to say which of them belong to your arm, and which belong to your hand. Would you even be able to accurately point to the division between your hand and your arm? Is your wrist part of your hand, part of your arm, both, or something completely distinct?

    If we criticize the use of language in the absence of an ideal justification (a definition of exist, for instance), then we are using that same unjustified language to do so, implying that we expect to be understood --implying that we trust the language in practice as we question it in theory.mrcoffee

    The thing is, that knowing how to use language is not an "all or nothing" type of knowledge, it increases by degree. So it is this very act of questioning the usage of others, which is itself an act of usage, that increases one's knowledge of language use.

    This is not to deny the strangeness of our situation. A person could say that we don't really know anything. But as soon as words move toward such absolutes they lose their power to distinguish situations in practical life. If I'm not even certain that I have hands, then of what use is 'certainty' except to mark the impossible hope of infinitely itchy philosophers?mrcoffee

    I would not claim that we "don't really know anything", unless you define "know" as requiring absolute certainty. But I don't think that knowing requires absolute certainty, and this is evident from the fact that I proceed with my endeavours, knowing how to proceed, despite the fact that I know that I may not be successful with any particular attempt. And, I never know at what time something may interfere and prevent me from being successful. This fact, that I am not completely sure of my success, inspires me to seek possible avenues of failure, to eliminate them.

    So the question, concerning "certainty", is what is meant by "certainty", and this has far reaching epistemological ramifications. Suppose we exclude the possibility of absolute certainty, and we still insist that when something is certain (in a less than absolute sense), its is beyond doubt. Now we have to be able to decide how to determine whether things are certain or not, in order to determine whether they ought be doubted. Once something is deemed as certain, it is called upon, and used in our actions, without question, just like a habit. Suppose we have a failure, we need to determine the cause of the failure. If "x" has already been determined as certain, then "x" will not be considered as the cause of the failure. But we've already excluded the possibility that "x" is absolutely certain, so ought we not consider the possibility that "x" is the cause of the failure, despite the fact that "x" has been determined as certain?

    In reality, it is the term "certain", or "certainty", which is a useless word. To say "I am certain that I have hands" really adds nothing to "I have hands", except to emphasize one's conviction. So the issue here is really the nature of conviction. To add "I am certain" to your statement, because you believe that this conviction which possesses you, will deter another's doubt, is not a logical thing to do. It will probably just induce the other to argument.

    It doesn't seem possible to get 'behind' this know-how or form of life. I have to use it if I want to try to do so. My objections to the inexplicitness of my knowhow are also thereby made possible. If I demand a definition of 'exist,' why not demand a definition of 'definition' and 'demand'? Why not of 'hand'? Surely we can problematize the use of 'hand' with a little imagination.mrcoffee

    Yes, that's exactly the point, we ought to demand such definitions, this is how we prevent misunderstanding and mistake. In daily usage, if we don't adequately understand, we simply ask the speaker to clarify what was meant. But in specialized fields of education, like medicine, and biology which deals with parts of animals, you cannot just point to your hand, and say this is a hand, because the extent of the object pointed to is vague. So we need to refer to things like fingers and the wrist, to create boundaries for that specific object, "the hand", and we do this with definitions.
  • Sam26
    782
    The purpose of this thread is to give an exegesis of On Certainty. So if you want to stay on topic try to keep your posts to what Wittgenstein is trying to convey to us. I don't agree with everything Wittgenstein says, but I do think he has something important to tell us about what it means to have knowledge.

    "If someone is taught to calculate, is he also taught he can rely on a calculation of his teacher's? But these explanations must after all sometime come to an end. Will he also be taught that he can trust his senses--since he is indeed told in many cases that in such and such a special case you cannot trust them?--Rule and exception (OC, 34)."

    Note that in this example Wittgenstein points out that we often start learning without the need to ask for a justification. In fact, it is hard to imagine learning taking place without accepting what the teacher says; and even though the teacher can be wrong from time-to-time, we still generally accept what the teacher says. This is also true of our senses, i.e., from time-to-time our senses fail to give us accurate information, but that does not mean we cannot generally accept that our senses are accurate. We learn when it is appropriate to doubt, and when it is inappropriate to doubt. This is part of the language game of knowing and doubting. Learning to doubt comes later as we progress in language. 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.

    In many cases the skeptic fails to understand how to use the word doubt, and it is also true that the non-skeptic fails to understand why this is the case. Therefore, the non-skeptic will argue against the skeptic making the same mistakes in their use of the word know. Both Moore and the skeptics have fallen into the trap of not understanding the rules of the game. The rules are not spelled out, they are implicit, one must come to understand the rules by thinking about the many uses of words like know and doubt.
  • sime
    198
    In many cases the skeptic fails to understand how to use the word doubt, and it is also true that the non-skeptic fails to understand why this is the case. Therefore, the non-skeptic will argue against the skeptic making the same mistakes in their use of the word know. Both Moore and the skeptics have fallen into the trap of not understanding the rules of the game. The rules are not spelled out, they are implicit, one must come to understand the rules by thinking about the many uses of words like know and doubt.Sam26

    I don't believe Wittgenstein would have supported this, as that appears to imply that skeptical doubts are largely symptomatic of bad English. I believe that Wittgenstein took the skeptic's malady much more seriously as a deeper psychological and epistemological problem, and disagreed with Moore precisely for this reason.

    In fact, I believe Wittgenstein would have taken more issue against the non-skeptic for misinterpreting what the skeptic is attempting to express, especially if the non-skeptic insisted that individual expression should be understood relative to, or worse, subordinate to essentialist ideas concerning language use in the form implicit community conventions. For this is platonism about rules in another disguise.

    Going back to your pornography example, not only doesn't the individual have a clear concept of what pornography is or is not, but neither is there any implicit essential idea of the concept in the general community. Every individual who joins a community proactively contributes via his actions and verbal behaviour to the community's ever-evolving meaning of its language. Like Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass, individuals are the evolutionary engines of community conventions, and shouldn't held to it for sake of philosophy. Why wouldn't Wittgenstein have held this more common-sensical view?

    Recall Wittgenstein's sympathy with what Heidegger was attempting to express in Being and Time. Rather than chastise Heidegger for failing to conform to our ordinary usage of the word "being", Wittgenstein said he understood what Heidegger was attempting to say even as Heidegger bumped his head against the limits of language.

    I believe that Wittgenstein strongly rejected logical-positivism on the basis that a community shouldn't get to decide the value of individual expression on the basis of linguistic conformity . For that leads to scientism, authoritarianism and the suppression of aesthetic expression.
  • mrcoffee
    57
    Yes this is what Socrates is famous for demonstrating, many people know how to do things without really knowing exactly what they are doing.Metaphysician Undercover

    Right. But what comes to my mind is this use of 'really.' If a poet or an engineer is functioning at the highest level and then a bum like Socrates comes along with questions that he himself can't answer and decides that the 'really' don't know anything, then this 'really' takes on an unworldliness. (I call Socrates a 'bum' as a joke, but there is something perverse about this hero.) We don't really know what it is to really know something, one might retort.

    I would not claim that we "don't really know anything", unless you define "know" as requiring absolute certainty. But I don't think that knowing requires absolute certainty, and this is evident from the fact that I proceed with my endeavours, knowing how to proceed, despite the fact that I know that I may not be successful with any particular attempt. And, I never know at what time something may interfere and prevent me from being successful. This fact, that I am not completely sure of my success, inspires me to seek possible avenues of failure, to eliminate them.Metaphysician Undercover

    Well this is basically my view. That's why Socrates is a bum when he suggests or implies that successful practice isn't enough. Did Coltrane really know what a saxophone was? Not for a certain kind of philosopher, even if this philosopher can't clearly imagine what 'really knowing' would look like.

    Once something is deemed as certain, it is called upon, and used in our actions, without question, just like a habit.Metaphysician Undercover

    Or we could say that we are implicitly certain about things that are called upon like habits. These implicit certainties can be made explicit by phenomenology or just ordinary conversation.

    Suppose we have a failure, we need to determine the cause of the failure. If "x" has already been determined as certain, then "x" will not be considered as the cause of the failure. But we've already excluded the possibility that "x" is absolutely certain, so ought we not consider the possibility that "x" is the cause of the failure, despite the fact that "x" has been determined as certain?Metaphysician Undercover

    I generally agree. But thinking takes time and energy. We might say practice indicates the certainty of beliefs through the things we check first when something breaks down. I am 'sure' it's not the new spark plugs that failed until I can't find failure among the parts I wasn't sure about. This connects to the probabilistic reasoning we discussed in another thread.

    Yes, that's exactly the point, we ought to demand such definitions, this is how we prevent misunderstanding and mistake. In daily usage, if we don't adequately understand, we simply ask the speaker to clarify what was meant. But in specialized fields of education, like medicine, and biology which deals with parts of animals, you cannot just point to your hand, and say this is a hand, because the extent of the object pointed to is vague. So we need to refer to things like fingers and the wrist, to create boundaries for that specific object, "the hand", and we do this with definitions.Metaphysician Undercover

    Right, and I think this is done successfully in the sciences. With philosophy, politics, and literary criticism, this becomes problematic. What is justice? What is truth? What is God? What is rationality? These aren't innocent, neutral questions. They are territory that is fought for rhetorically. When it comes to words like these, I try to pay attention and get a sense how different individuals use them and attempt to define them in a way that is binding for others.

    An anecdote for context: I don't call myself a 'philosopher' and those who don't read much philosophy because I don't want to be mistaken for someone who claims to have special access to the 'true' meaning of these master words. I know or trust that in fact I'll be perceived as someone with mere opinions that are dressed up with this demystified-for-them word 'philosophy.' Of course I like the genre philosophy, and I've learned much from it, in my own eyes. But I can also see a certain kind of philosophy from the outside as a kind of pseudo-profound self-important handwringing. At its worst, it pretends to be a kind of armchair science or word math. This isn't aimed at academic philosophy, but rather at a trait especially common in a certain kind of male human, not necessarily young. In short, my comments are largely the expression of a preference for one style of thinking and talking as opposed to another. To some degree I do philosophy to clarify intuitive or gut-feeling rejections of ways of thinking and being. I 'put my finger' on why this or that feels wrong.
  • andrewk
    1.2k
    Then, if we look to use for meaning, it must also have a meaning, since it has a use.mrcoffee
    Why do you think that if someone uses a word it must have a meaning?
  • andrewk
    1.2k
    I understand the appeal of that view, but what exactly happens away from the terminal nodes? How do you decide how to split a nonterminal node into other nonterminal modes? How does 'justice' split? How does 'rationality' split? 'God'?mrcoffee
    The split is determined by the definition used for the word. Every word in the definition that is not already clearly understood gives rise to a new branch leading to a node that is the definition of that word.

    I like your choices of other problematic words. All three of those are controversial, and have given rise to great debate over the years. The first part of Plato's Republic is devoted to debate over what Justice is. I find debate over such words as meaningless as debate over the use of 'exist', and I try to avoid use of those words as well. When I do use them, I use them with a meaning I prefer, to which I can give a definition, but it will be a meaning that many people would not accept.

    I'll add 'free will' as another example of something that people argue furiously over even though none of them know what they mean by the term. Hume offered a concrete definition that could avoid the confusion, but most philosophers vehemently reject that definition while being unable to offer anything to replace it.
  • mrcoffee
    57
    Why do you think that if someone uses a word it must have a meaning?andrewk

    I probably said something like 'if we look to use for meaning,..." I understand myself to be criticizing the sharpness of the distinction between use and meaning. I don't want to abolish the useful and meaningful distinction, only to caution against an insistence on its absoluteness. Or to express a distaste for where this insistence tends to lead thinking.
  • fdrake
    1k
    What do the resident Wittgenstein apologists make of Lewis Carrol?

    ’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.
  • mrcoffee
    57
    The split is determined by the definition used for the word. Every word in the definition that is not already clearly understood gives rise to a new branch leading to a node that is the definition of that word.andrewk

    I understand that, and I continue to see the appeal of the idea. But I still think there's a problem at the branching of the nodes. If I define a word in terms of three nonterminal nodes, for instance, then I have the problem of how those non-terminal nodes 'snap together.' I have to speak ambiguously here, but I want to say that meaning is distributed not only over sentences but over paragraphs and eventually over all practice and word use. As you read this sentence, these words are automatically snapped together for you into a complete thought. The meaning we might want to localize in a particular word is a function of all the other words in sentence. They all have one another as the foundation of their meaning. 'Holism' is a word I associate with this insight.

    I like your choices of other problematic words. All three of those are controversial, and have given rise to great debate over the years.andrewk

    Indeed. I've read and enjoyed some of the great systematic philosophers. I still 'believe' in parts of their systems personally. I'm not anti-metaphysical. It's an issue of style, really.

    The first part of Plato's Republic is devoted to debate over what Justice is.andrewk

    That's one of Plato's work that I truly enjoyed. I also liked the Apology. But Plato's dialogues can be annoying. 'Get to the point, Plato.'

    I find debate over such words as meaningless as debate over the use of 'exist', and I try to avoid use of those words as well.andrewk

    I can relate. I use them freely in ordinary life, but I have a sense of the bias and ambiguity that haunts them. I can even relate to the project of trying to squeeze them for their essential juices, except that I've tried that. When I returned to ordinary life among the non-philosophers, it wasn't clear to me that I knew anything important that they did not know. Indeed, a person can become hard to understand (or to like) once they've absolutized ordinary words. Or if they think reading a famous dead person's opinion on the matter gives them authority in their eyes of others on a word's meaning. Of course it will give them authority, if the others are also dazzled by that reputation. But then one is just quoting scripture, which is too easy and not particularly exciting.

    When I do use them, I use them with a meaning I prefer, to which I can give a definition, but it will be a meaning that many people would not accept.andrewk

    Right. For me objectivity also connects with an awareness of how my claims will be perceived. Difference in basic worldviews is palpable. Just as I want to be recognized as a shrewd consumer of claims, I especially value others who are shrewd or critically minded. The 'just the facts' ideal implies an openness to the differing uses that others may have for truth. It also suggests an awareness that one is not a flawless or authoritative interpreter of the situation. A person might say that 'there are no facts, only interpretations,' and this might be true in a particular sense, but only at the cost of wasting a distinction that is fundamental to practical life. Of course it's another one of those vivid hyperboles that serve to soften naively absolutized distinctions, so I see where its purveyor was coming from.

    I'll add 'free will' as another example of something that people argue furiously over even though none of them know what they mean by the term.andrewk

    Good example. I was troubled by this once for religious reasons. My failure to make sense of it was a big reason that I eventually doubted the entire theological framework I adopted as child. Our practice suggests that we believe in something like free will and something like determinism simultaneously.
  • Sam26
    782
    Wittgenstein didn't have much to say about poetry other than a few scattered remarks. For me, and I'm not really into poetry, it seems to touch a part of us in the same way music touches us. Doesn't it seem that music and poetry touch a part of us that's purely subjective, it reaches down into the depths of our being in a way nothing else does? It would be an interesting subject to investigate.
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