• fdrake

    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
    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
    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.
  • Sam26
    "But can't it be imagined that there should be no physical objects? I don't know. And yet "There are physical objects" is nonsense. Is it supposed to be an empirical proposition?--And is this an empirical proposition: "There seem to be physical objects"? (OC 35)"

    "There are physical objects." Do we deduce this from repeated observations? Do we deduce this from our daily experiences? One would think so, but is it a matter of something we deduce? Probably not, i.e., not in any epistemological sense, it is not a matter of knowing that there are physical objects. It would be just as wrong to say, "I know there are physical objects," as it would be to say, "I know this is my hand." It is a piece of nonsense because our ideas of nonsense are an outgrowth of this background information. Just as there would be no chess apart from the board and the pieces. No wrong or right moves would exist apart from the board and pieces. One could not say that that is not the best move, i.e., doubt whether one has made a good move. Moreover, demonstrating why a move is not good, is done by accepting the pieces and the board as foundational. The same is true of the reality of our background, viz., that there are objects (objects in the broadest sense), that they exist in space, etc. Without which there would be no rules of epistemology for example. It would be like doubting that which gives life to knowing and doubting.

    If we think that we have knowledge about physical objects, then it follows that we could challenge that knowledge, which is why the skeptic is able make the argument. Is not this how we test whether or not something is knowledge? If we understand what it means to have knowledge in a particular situation, then we must understand what it means to not have knowledge in these same situations. However, doesn't this hark back to paragraph 4... "'I know that I am a human being.' In order to see how unclear the sense of this proposition is, consider its negation (I don't know that I am a human being.)." As we consider the negation of this proposition we begin to see why Wittgenstein says the above proposition is nonsense. Each claim, however, must be considered on its own merits. Is it a real claim to knowledge? If it is, then doubting may be appropriate. If it is not a real claim to knowledge, then doubting is not appropriate.
  • Cuthbert
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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.
  • Sam26
    I'm going to give you Moore's own words on this topic, which I believe refutes the idea that is not claiming to "know this is a hand." When he states, "Here is a hand," he is claiming to know that "Here is a hand." Moreover, he offers a proof to that affect. The following quote is from Moore's Proof of an External World.

    "It seems to me that, so far from its being true, as Kant declares to be his opinion, that there is only one possible proof of the existence of things outside of us, namely the one which he has given, I can now give a large number of different proofs, each of which is a perfectly rigorous proof; and that at many other times I have been in a position to give many others. I can prove now, for instance, that two human hands exist. How? By holding up my two hands, and saying, as I make a certain gesture with the right hand, 'Here is one hand', and adding, as I make a certain gesture with the left, 'and here is another'. And if, by doing this, I have proved ipso facto the existence of external things, you will all see that I can also do it now in numbers of other ways: there is no need to multiply examples.

    "But did I prove just now that two human hands were then in existence? I do want to insist that I did; that the proof which I gave was a perfectly rigorous one; and that it is perhaps impossible to give a better or more rigorous proof of anything whatever. Of course, it would not have been a proof unless three conditions were satisfied; namely (1) unless the premise which I adduced as proof of the conclusion was different from the conclusion I adduced it to prove; (2) unless the premiss which I adduced was something which I knew to be the case, and not merely something which I believed but which was by no means certain, or something which, though in fact true, I did not know to be so; and (3) unless the conclusion did really follow from the premise. But all these three conditions were in fact satisfied by my proof. (1) The premise which I adduced in proof was quite certainly different from the conclusion, for the conclusion was merely Two human hands exist at this moment'; but the premiss was something far more specific than this - something which I expressed by showing you my hands, making certain gestures, and saying the words 'Here is one hand, and here is another'. It is quite obvious that the two were different, because it is quite obvious that the conclusion might have been true, even if the premise had been false. In asserting the premiss I was asserting much more than I was asserting in asserting the conclusion. (2) I certainly did at the moment know that which I expressed by the combination of certain gestures with saying the words There is one hand and here is another'. I knew that there was one hand in the place indicated by combining a certain gesture with my first utterance of 'here' and that there was another in the different place indicated by combining a certain gesture with my second utterance of 'here'. How absurd it would be to suggest that I did not know it, but only believed it, and that perhaps it was not the case! You might as well suggest that I do not know that I am now standing up and talking - that perhaps after all I'm not, and that it's not quite certain that I am! And finally (3) it is quite certain that the conclusion did follow from the premise. This is as certain as it is that if there is one hand here and another here now, then it follows that there are two hands in existence now."

    From my reading of Moore he is doing exactly what Wittgenstein attributes to him
  • Cuthbert
    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
    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.
  • Sam26
    "'A is a physical object' is a piece of instruction which we give only to someone who doesn't yet understand either what 'A' means, or what 'physical object' means. Thus it is instruction about the use of words, and 'physical object' is a logical concept. (Like colour, quantity,...) And that is why no such proposition as: 'There are physical objects' can be formulated. Yet we encounter such unsuccessful shots at every turn (OC 36)"

    It's important to keep in mind that Moore is standing before an audience, and he is holding up one hand and saying "Here is one hand," and "Here is another hand." The reason this is important is that there is a tendency to put Moore's propositions in a different context in order to show that they can be doubted, but to do this is to miss the point.

    In paragraph 36 Wittgenstein says that this kind of proposition, "A is a physical object," which is the same kind of proposition Moore is using, can only be given in certain contexts. Our reply might be to give a counter-example: For instance, maybe it is dark outside and we are debating whether or not what we are looking at is a physical object, so I might say, "Such and such is a physical object," and you might counter by saying that you have been here before and you are sure that it is not a physical object. However, to counter Wittgenstein's reply with this, is to fail (I believe) to understand that Moore's propositions are not like this, i.e., they cannot be doubted in this way. It is clear that Moore is showing his hands, and it is in this context that we must consider these propositions. Therefore, to give an example where Moore's propositions can be doubted, is not the point, i.e., Wittgenstein points out that in certain contexts they can be doubted. However, we are examining Moore's propositions within the context of his demonstration.

    If we go back to the chess example we can clearly see that in the teaching of the game of chess, it would be appropriate to point to the chess board or chess pieces and say, "This is a chess board," or, "These are chess pieces." However, if we have both been playing chess for a while, and I make the same point, then you might look a bit puzzled. Later I tell you that I was arguing with John earlier in the day, and John who has been playing chess for quite a number of years was expressing his doubts about chess boards and chess pieces; but, does it even make sense for John to doubt in this situation? Would it make sense to tell John that I know that this is a chess board? It seems that John's problem needs to be addressed in a different way. What is it that John is failing to recognize? John does not seem to understand what it means, i.e., what it means to have a legitimate doubt. And my declaration that I know it does not accomplish anything. In fact, my expression that I know is merely pointing to a state of mind, a subjective certainty. This brings us to the inner process, which is of no consequence in terms of Wittgenstein's point.

    Moore's confidence that he knows, is more a reflection his inner certainty, which is why Wittgenstein brings up the idea of states-of-mind. This seems to be where much of the confusion lies, i.e., confusing one's inner certainty with knowledge. It is an easy mistake to make. One is expressing confidence in one's certainty by using the expression I know. However, one is a subjective feeling, and the other is based on objective facts.

    One might object to the idea that Moore is expressing an inner certainty, after all he offers a proof in support of his claims. This is why at the very beginning of On Certainty Wittgenstein says, "If you do know that here is one hand, we'll grant you all the rest." Of course Wittgenstein goes on to point out that Moore does not know what he claims to know, i.e., it is not a knowledge claim at all. Moore has inadvertently pointed out something special about these kinds of propositions, viz., that they have a special place in our language. On Certainty is a look at Moore's propositions from a different vantage point.
  • Sam26
    "But is it an adequate answer to the scepticism of the idealist, or the assurances of the realist, to say that 'There are physical objects' is nonsense? For them after all it is not nonsense. It would, however, be an answer to say: this assertion is a misfiring attempt to express what can't be expressed like that. And that it does misfire can be shewn; but that isn't the end of the matter. We need to realize that what presents itself to us as the first expression of a difficulty, or of its solution, may as yet not be correctly expressed at all. Just as one who has a just censure of a picture to make will often at first offer the censure where it does not belong, and an investigation is needed in order to find the right point of attack for the critic (OC, 37)."

    Wittgenstein calls Moore's propositions and the propositions of others, who make similar errors, misfiring attempts to express what cannot be expressed in this way. In the case of Moore, it is the use of the word know that results in the misfire. And equally so, the skeptic misfires when he uses the word doubt in the way the idealist uses it against Moore.

    Moore is trying to express the idea that physical objects, among other things, are real in the sense that they have an existence quite apart from what we think, i.e., they are objective things. Moreover, it is Moore's contention that he knows this. Wittgenstein is saying that Moore has not found the correct expression of this idea, so it is not correct for Moore to claim knowledge of the propositions he expressed in both Proof of an External World and A Defense of Common Sense. Wittgenstein in On Certainty tries to show why the use of the word know is incorrect (as Moore uses it), and he lays out his ideas as to why this is the case.

    Wittgenstein's ideas in On Certainty were not fully developed before he died two days after his last entry; however, we begin to see Wittgenstein trying to formulate a way of expressing Moore's propositions, and there are many examples of this:

    "All testing, all confirmation and disconfirmation of a hypothesis takes place already within a system. And this system is not a more or less arbitrary and doubtful point of departure for all our arguments: no, it belongs to the essence of what we call an argument. The system is not so much the point of departure, as the element in which the arguments have their life (OC 105)."

    Here may be one of the starting points where Wittgenstein leads to the conclusion that the propositions we are talking about are different. Moore's propositions are part of the very system that form the bedrock of our linguistic ability to form arguments. Similar to a chess board and pieces allowing us to construct moves according to the rules of the game. They are the backdrop for any game of chess, just as the world and our ability to think in the world form the backdrop for a language that allows us to construct epistemological statements. This leads to what Wittgenstein calls bedrock propositions, which to my way of thinking are not propositions at all. They seem to be very basic kinds of beliefs, foundational beliefs.

    "And isn't that what Moore wants to say, when he says he knows all these things?--But is his knowing it really what is in question, and not rather that some of these propositions must be solid for us (OC 112)?"

    "When someone is trying to teach us mathematics, he will not begin by assuring us that he knows that a+b= b+a (OC 113)."

    "When Moore says he knows such and such, he is really enumerating a lot of empirical propositions which we affirm without special testing; propositions, that is, which have a peculiar role in the system of our empirical propositions (OC 136)."

    It is here that we begin to look at these propositions as very basic beliefs formed empirically as we interact with the world. They seem to be beliefs that are causally formed, but this discussion is for later. The point in quoting these paragraphs is to try to get you to think of bedrock propositions as something foundational to our system of knowledge.

    "I do not explicitly learn the propositions that stand fast for me. I can discover them subsequently like the axis around which a body rotates. This axis is not fixed in the sense that anything holds it fast, but the movement around it determines its immobility (OC 152)."

    Again something stands fast for us, and this allows us to move on within the system. Just as the chess board and chess pieces stand fast so that we can play the game of chess. Wittgenstein seems to allude to a possible answer to what is foundational to our system of knowledge. It seems to solve the problem of circularity, and the problem of the infinite regress of reasons.
  • Sam26
    "In general I take as true what is found in text-books, of geography for example. Why? I say: All these facts have been confirmed a hundred times over. But how do I know that? What is my evidence for it? I have a world-picture. Is it true or false? Above all it is the substratum of all my enquiring and asserting. The propositions describing it are not all equally subject to testing (OC 162)."

    The ideas here are similar to Moore's propositions, i.e., there are some things that we just accept as part of a world-picture. In general we accept "...as true what is found in text-books...," and this is also true of the testimony of others; so in general, we accept as true what others tell us. However, testimony isn't as strong as something we might read in a textbook, at least, again, generally. Of course often it depends on the text book, or the person we're talking to. If I'm asking a question about biology to someone who has studied biology, I'm probably going to accept his/her testimony, unless I have good reason to doubt it.

    The point isn't that I just accept what's written or what's told to me. The point is that there are things that form a picture of reality for us, and for the most part we just accept that picture. And from time-to-time we make adjustments as the picture changes.

    Wittgenstein again points to a kind of "substratum" that supports what we believe, some of the substratum isn't as firm as other pieces of substratum, nevertheless it's there, as pieces of a foundation. Some of the substratum is more easily doubted or disputed. An example of two statements demonstrating this are the following: "I have never been on Mars," compare this statement to, "I have 237 books in my library." Which of these two statements lends itself to doubting more easily?

    "Does anyone ever test whether this table remains in existence when no one is paying attention to it?

    "We check the story of Napoleon, but not whether all the reports about him are based on sense-deception, forgery and the like. For whenever we test anything, we are already presupposing something that is not tested. Now am I to say that the experiment which perhaps I make in order to test the truth of a proposition presupposes the truth of the proposition that the apparatus I believe I see is really there (and the like).

    "Doesn't testing come to an end (OC 163, 164)?"

    Doubting must and does only make sense against what cannot generally or coherently be doubted. This is similar to the idea that illusions, delusions, or hallucinations only make sense against a backdrop of what's considered normal sensory experiences.

    We couldn't do scientific experimentation if testing didn't come to an end. Experimentation wouldn't get off the ground. This of course is similar to what's being said about doubt or doubting, i.e., that doubt or doubting wouldn't get off the ground if there weren't things we didn't doubt.

    "The difficulty is to realize the groundlessness of our believing (OC 166)."

    There are certain beliefs that have no epistemological foothold, we just believe them, we don't even inquire as to whether they are true or false for the most part. Only philosophers of a certain type even ask these kinds of questions. I do think it's important in some respects to work through these ideas. Just as having a clear understanding of the bedrock that supports a 100 story building gives us a sense of security, so too, does having a clear understanding of bedrock beliefs give us a clearer understanding of what supports our epistemological belief system.
  • Cuthbert
    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
    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
    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
    ...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 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
    "Is it maybe in my power what I believe? or what I unshakeably believe?

    I believe that there is a chair over there. Can't I be wrong? But, can I believe that I am wrong? Or can I so much as bring it under consideration?-And mightn't I also hold fast to my belief whatever I learned later on?! But is my belief then grounded (OC 173)?"

    Is it within our power to believe otherwise? Yes and no, there is no simple answer to this question. To answer the question, ask yourself if you can choose not to believe the Earth has one moon. You can certainly state that you don't believe it, but can you choose not to believe something so basic? Can you choose not to believe that your name is so-and-so? It appears that there are some beliefs that are so firmly fixed, that almost no amount of evidence will convince you otherwise. Bedrock beliefs fall into this category, but also other beliefs.

    There are also beliefs that we choose to believe or not believe for various reasons or causes, so beliefs can also be a matter of choice. For example one might believe, looking at a stack of pennies on the counter, that there are 68 pennies lying there, but after counting the pennies one's belief changes to, there are 69 pennies on the counter. Here one makes a choice based on the evidence. But what kind of counter-evidence would there have to be, to make the choice that your name isn't so-and-so in normal circumstances?

    "I act with complete certainty. But this certainty is my own (OC 174)."

    What does it mean to act with complete certainty? One acts with certainty in reference to what? Of course here Wittgenstein is talking about subjective certainty ("But this certainty is my own.")? One acts with certainty based on one's beliefs. One's actions, show one's belief, and this can occur quite apart from statements of belief.
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