• Michael
    9.5k
    I stumbled across a short article that summarised Dummett's views on Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations and its implications for the debate between realists and anti-realists and thought it might be interesting to discuss. The key section is this:

    Michael Dummett has claimed that Wittgenstein's Investigations view of the linguistic sign is incompatible with a recognition-transcendent notion of truth, which in turn rules out realist metaphysics.

    In regard to the linguistic sign, Dummett's argument is, in outline, that recognition-transcendent truth-conditions could attach to our statements only if such conditions could play an active role in language use. The key Wittgensteinian thought that drives the argument is the idea that if we did suppose ourselves to be able to grasp a particular meaning for our words that attached to a recognition-transcendent condition then the whole practice of language use would go on the same even if we had got it wrong. But this, the argument goes, is to posit a difference that makes no difference. Consequently, it drops out of consideration as irrelevant (Dummett 1993, pp.312-14).

    The principal connection with metaphysics is via the notion of bivalence—the semantic principle that every statement is determinately true or false. If the truth of our statements depended on the obtaining of a worldy state of affairs (as the realist maintains), then our statements would have to be determinately true or false, according to whether or not that state of affairs obtained. However, given that we cannot guarantee that every statement is recognisable as true or recognisable as false, we are only entitled to this principle if our notion of truth is recognition-transcendent. By the above argument, it is not, and hence bivalence must be rejected and metaphysical anti-realism follows (Dummett 1963).

    The part in bold is the part that I think needs greater clarification. As I understand it, it can be explained by the following analogy.

    Let's say that we are each put in a shared simulation that may or may not represent the world outside the simulation. We assume that the simulation is an accurate representation of the outside world, and so assume that when we talk about it raining when it rains in the simulation we are talking about it raining outside the simulation, and that our claim is true if it is raining outside the simulation and false if it isn't. The issue, however, is that the actual practice of our language-use when the simulation is accurate is indistinguishable from the actual practice of our language-use when the simulation isn't accurate. Whatever happens outside the simulation, we say "it is raining" when it rains inside the simulation.

    Dummett's claim then is that because Wittgenstein's account of meaning is such that it is to be found in the actual practice of using language, and that because the actual practice of using language is not affected by what happens outside the simulation, it follows that whatever's happening outside the simulation has nothing to do with the meaning of the words we use inside the simulation.

    Dummett then goes on to claim that the principle of bivalence – an essential part of realist metaphysics – requires that what happens outside the simulation does have something to do with the meaning of the words inside the simulation. As an example, the statement "there's a cat in the cupboard" is either true or false, even if the inside of the cupboard isn't being simulated. This only works if the world outside the simulation has something to do with the meaning of this phrase when used inside the simulation. But the argument above is that the outside world is irrelevant. As such, the statement cannot be either true or false as nothing in the simulation determines it to be one or the other, and so the principle of bivalence fails, and along with it realism.

    So is Dummett's argument valid? Does the Philosophical Investigations refute realism?
  • darthbarracuda
    3.2k
    I'm not finished reading Braver's book yet, but as I recall Dummett equated realism with the principle of bivalence because he wanted to steer as far away as possible from "metaphysical" notions. So once I finish or get around to Dummett maybe I'll have more to say. But for now:

    Dummett then goes on to claim that the principle of bivalence – an essential part of realist metaphysics – requires that what happens outside the simulation does have something to do with the meaning of the words inside the simulation. As an example, the statement "there's a cat in the cupboard" is either true or false, even if the inside of the cupboard isn't being simulated. This only works if the world outside the simulation has something to do with the meaning of this phrase when used inside the simulation. But the argument above is that the outside world is irrelevant. As such, the statement cannot be either true or false as nothing in the simulation determines it to be one or the other, and so the principle of bivalence fails, and along with it realism.Michael

    What does it mean that the "external world" is "irrelevant"? If we're talking pragmatic use, then truth claims are valuable only by how they help us accomplish our goals. But something can be useful and yet still be completely wrong. Or we might have purely accidental knowledge, and not even realize it.

    So if we talk about it raining, our behavior might be identical regardless of how the external world actually is, but it still stands that our belief, that it is raining, is either true or false. True knowledge just becomes epiphenomenal.
  • Michael
    9.5k
    What does it mean that the "external world" is "irrelevant"? If we're talking pragmatic use, then truth claims are valuable only by how they help us accomplish our goals. But something can be useful and yet still be completely wrong. Or we might have purely accidental knowledge, and not even realize it.darthbarracuda

    It's irrelevant in the sense that it has no bearing on how we use language. And Wittgenstein's point was that the meaning of our words is to be found in their use. Therefore these supposed recognition-transcendent things are irrelevant when it comes to the meaning of our words. And if they're irrelevant when it comes to the meaning of our words then they're irrelevant when it comes to the truth of our words.

    So if we talk about it raining, our behavior might be identical regardless of how the external world actually is, but it still stands that our belief, that it is raining, is either true or false. True knowledge just becomes epiphenomenal.

    The point is that the external world has nothing to do with the meaning of the phrase "it is raining", and so nothing to do with the truth of the claim that it is raining. Only the things that play a role in how we use the phrase are relevant, which in my analogy is the simulation.

    Incidentally, this is similar to Putnam's remarks in his Brain in a Vat argument (which I believe influenced Dummett).
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k
    Only the things that play a role in how we use the phrase are relevant, which in my analogy is the simulation.Michael

    I looked up the reference in The Logical Basis of Metaphysics, which I've not yet read, and you're on the right track here. (He does a thing, like your simulation, with glasses that invert your visual field.)

    We shall say that someone knows the meaning of the word 'yellow' just in case his judgements of what is yellow agree, by and large, with those of others. If, then, we call this his 'capacity to recognize the colour', his having that capacity is not a hypothesis which serves to explain the agreement of his judgements with those made by others; the agreement is that in which his having that capacity consists. — LBM, p. 314

    (Wow, Dummett's prose produces both awe and horror in me.)

    Off to work, but I'll come back later.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k
    Only the things that play a role in how we use the phrase are relevant, which in my analogy is the simulation.Michael

    I think it has to be "could play" rather than "play" there: what's being rejected is any role for something in principle inaccessible.
  • Michael
    9.5k
    How so? Surely if the word "squiloople" is to mean something then there has to be an actual use for it, not just something that in principle could measure its use. Else every word would mean every thing. For example, let's say we'd never seen or heard of two particular kinds of animal (but that we could in principle meet some day). Which of the words "A", "B", and "C" (if any of these) refers to which animal? It seems to me that the notion of any of these words referring to any of these animals in lieu of these animals actually directing our use of these words doesn't make sense. It is only when we meet these animals and decide to name them "B" and "D" that it is meaningful to talk of the meaning of the words.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k

    Alright I'm confused.

    The meaning of a word is determined by its use. What use? Its use in sentences. What sentences?

    The answer to that cannot be just whatever sentences have already been uttered. That would be absurd. It has to be something like whatever sentences the speech community might utter.

    Just as they currently agree on how to use the word "yellow" and agree on what things are yellow, they will, faced with new objects, continue to agree on whether they're yellow or not. (Although you can imagine new objects requiring some revision.)

    But if you tell me there are invisible yellow unicorns, what am I to do with that? That's not how we use color words.

    I want to say it's "use" in the sense of "way of using" that matters, not "use" in the sense of "what people have said", if that makes sense. And a way of using a word takes in utterances in situations and for purposes like the ones we're familiar with from our actual uses of it, but not "uses" so called in situations that that differ fundamentally from these.

    I'm sure that's not clear, but we'll get it.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    I'm not quite sure what's being said, but it seems wrong. The idea that the use of words has nothing to do with the world is ridiculous on its face. Why believe it?
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    The key Wittgensteinian thought that drives the argument is the idea that if we did suppose ourselves to be able to grasp a particular meaning for our words that attached to a recognition-transcendent condition then the whole practice of language use would go on the same even if we had got it wrong. But this, the argument goes, is to posit a difference that makes no difference.Michael

    This seems to say no more than that we might say things that are false and not realize it. So what?
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k
    The idea that the use of words has nothing to do with the world is ridiculous on its face.The Great Whatever

    Agreed. It's also not clear to me that either Wittgenstein or Dummett held such a position, if that matters.
  • apokrisis
    5.1k
    But if you tell me there are invisible yellow unicorns, what am I to do with that? That's not how we use color words.Srap Tasmaner

    It is hard to give up the commonsense-seeming notion that words refer to things. So the way you talk about this philosophically looks to presume the two realms of the mental and the physical. And then we can point to objects in both realms - real qualia and real things. And that reality then allows true correspondence relations. There is the experience of yellow in my head. There is the yellowness or wavelength energy out there in the world. Words can then safely refer - ostensively point to - some thing that is a fact of the matter. Whether out there or in my head.

    So commonsense defends a dualistic paradigm of realms with real objects - both mental and physical. Then words are simply labels or tokens. All they do is add a tag for talking about the real.

    But another approach - pragmatic or semiotic - would be to give words a properly causal role in reality. So now rather than merely pointing - an uninvolved position that changes no real facts - words are a habit of constraint. Speaking is part of the shaping of reality - mental or physical (to the degree that divide still exists).

    So to speak of an invisible yellow unicorn is to create constraints on possibility (physical or mental). It restricts interpretation in a way that is meaningful. We are saying this unicorn, if it were visible, would be yellow (calling anything yellow itself being a general interpretive constraint on experience).

    Of course unicorns are fictions. Invisible colour a contradiction. So the actual set of invisible yellow unicorns would be very empty indeed.

    But that is not the point. It is how words actually function. And their role - as signs - is not to point from a mental idea to a material instance, as is "commonsense". Their role is to place pragmatic limits on existence. Or rather, restrict the interpretive relation we have with "the world" in some useful or meaningful goal achieving fashion.

    So with yellow, it doesn't matter what we each have privately in our heads. What matters is that there is some reliable social habit of communication where "yellow" is a sign that acts to constrain all our mental activity in a fashion where we are most likely to respond to the world in sufficiently similar ways.

    The big change here is from demanding the need for absolute truth or certainty - the pointer that points correctly - to a more relaxed view of word use where word meaning is only as constraining as useful. The fact that there is irreducible uncertainty - like do we all have the same qualia when we agree we are seeing "yellow" - becomes thankfully a non-issue. This kind of fundamentally unknowability is accepted because we can always tighten shared definitions if wanted. But more importantly, not having to sweat such detail is a huge semantic saving of effort - and the basic source of language creativity. You want slippery words otherwise you would be as uninventive as a machine or computer.

    So it is a paradigm shift. Words work by restricting states of interpretation or experience. They don't have to point from an idea to a world, or connect every physical object with its mental equivalent object in "true referential" fashion.

    But words do have to be effective as encoding habits of thought. They have to produce the kinds of relational states of which they attempt to speak. An "invisible yellow unicorn" is an example of the kind of word combination that is perfectly possible, but which could have no meaning as either something we could physically encounter or properly imagine.
  • Shawn
    11k
    The assertion made is somewhat a tautology, and what about the redundancy theory of truth of things just is?
  • creativesoul
    9.8k
    Yeah, I don't know.

    There's seems to be quite a conflation going on here between truth and meaning. The two are joined at the hip, but...

    Indeed, there are many many reasons to say that meaning is determined by use. However, what's not being taken into consideration, is how meaning is first attributed...

    No world... no meaning.
  • apokrisis
    5.1k
    However, what's not being taken into consideration, is how meaning is first attributed...

    No world... no meaning.
    creativesoul

    Again, that just restates the metaphysics that leads to the blind alley of dualism. Sure, in simple-minded fashion, we can insist the world actually exists - just as we experience it. And just as words socially construct that experiencing.

    It has the status of unquestioned pragmatic utility as a belief. Kick a stone, and it should hurt.

    But philosophy is kind of supposed to rise above that as an inquiry. The issue is not really whether there "actually is a world". Instead it is what "meaning" really is in "the world". And neither realists, nor idealists, have a good approach to that.
  • Janus
    10.1k
    It is hard to give up the commonsense-seeming notion that words refer to things.apokrisis

    It's hard to think of any coherent sense in which (at least noun) words could be said not to refer to things.
  • apokrisis
    5.1k
    Yeah. I already said it is hard to see that. Dualism is that deeply rooted in the folk view.

    So reference and representationalism is just taken for granted. You literally "can't see it" due to a background of presuppositions that is also not being acknowledged.

    Yes, nouns name things. And within a certain metaphysics - a metaphysics of thingness - that is a perfectly self-consistent stance. But once "thingness" is brought into question, then we can start to wonder at the things we so happily give a name.

    Isn't that Wittgenstein 101? Many of philosophy's traditional central puzzles are simply a misunderstanding of language use.

    But then why Wittgenstein is inadequate - despite Ramsey whispering Peircean semiotics in his ear - is that rather than this making metaphysics bunk, it is why better metaphysics is demanded. The proper focus of philosophy has to shift to semiotics - a theory of meaning - in general.

    (And not PoMo with its dyadic Saussarean semiotics, but proper triadic or structuralist semiotics. :) )
  • Janus
    10.1k
    Yeah. I already said it is hard to see that. Dualism is that deeply rooted in the folk view.apokrisis

    It's not really dualism, though. You have the word, the thing, and the 'referring' relation between the two. It's triadic. Hegel is explicit about this if I am not mistaken, and I have no doubt it had been widely and well recognized before him. Trinitarian thought is rife in all cultures. In any case, how else could we make sense of our talk about things, other than to accept that our talk is indeed about things?
  • creativesoul
    9.8k


    Hey apo...

    I'm not much on 'isms'. That said, on a whole, I reject many a common but inadequate dichotomy.

    I'm not sure what you're getting at and/or talking about, given what was written.
  • creativesoul
    9.8k


    How is meaning first attributed?

    The correct answer to that question gleans much. What counts as a correct answer to that question? To what do we turn our attention?

    I say that there is only one place to look... for starters.

    We pay very close attention to the common denominators extant within all cases and/or examples of meaning by virtue of isolating and assessing all the prevalent senses of the term "meaning" - all the while setting aside the aforementioned commonalities. Then, we further discriminate between these by virtue of establishing relevancy to the task at hand. Next, we see if what's left satisfies a bare minimum requirement for an initial attribution of meaning.

    Something to become symbol, symbolized, and an agent capable of drawing a mental correlation between the two and/or itself.

    All meaning consists entirely of mental correlations drawn between 'objects' of physiological sensory perception and/or oneself(state of 'mind'). Syntax finds no place here.

    So...

    Does that make me a realist or an idealist?

    X-)

    Good to see you here.
  • apokrisis
    5.1k
    You have the word, the thing, and the 'referring' relation between the two. It's triadic.Janus

    That's not it at all because it doesn't do sufficient justice to the "mind" with its goals and meanings. You are only talking about two physically real things - a physical mark and a physical thing - and then throwing in the "third thing" of some vague "referring relation". And everything that is troublesome is then swept under that rug.

    In any case, how else could we make sense of our talk about things, other than to accept that our talk is indeed about things?Janus

    And you did it again. Who is this "our" or "we" that suddenly pops up? You just ticked off the three things that are just two physical things in interaction - a mark and a thing - and now it is back to dualism where it is a mind that hovers over the proceedings in some vague fashion.
  • Michael
    9.5k
    I'm not quite sure what's being said, but it seems wrong. The idea that the use of words has nothing to do with the world is ridiculous on its face. Why believe it?The Great Whatever

    It doesn't say that the use of words has nothing to do with the world. It says that it has nothing to do with recognition-transcendent things. The recognised world is the world that has something to do with language use as it is that which influences and measures it.

    This seems to say no more than that we might say things that are false and not realize it. So what?

    No, it's saying that whether or not our words attach to recognition-transcendent conditions has nothing to do with their meaning, given that our language use is identical in the situation that it does and in the situation that it doesn't, and that language use is all there is to meaning, and so nothing to do with their truth.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    What is a recognition-transcendent thing? What is a recognition-transcendent condition?

    Is a recognition-transcendent condition a recognition-transcendent truth condition? Is a recognition-transcendent truth condition a truth condition where we can't figure out whether something is true or not? Or whether something makes it true that's beyond our capacity to figure out in some way? None of these seem to be a problem to me. Is there a way you can better convey why they seem to be a problem to you? If this doesn't adequately characterize what you mean, can you explain what recognition-trnascendence is in layman's terms?
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    It doesn't say that the use of words has nothing to do with the world. It says that it has nothing to do with recognition-transcendent things. The recognised world is the world that has something to do with language use as it is that which influences and measures it.Michael

    This, if taken seriously, is tautological: swapping in the definitions for each other, we get: "language use has nothing to do with things that have nothing to do with language use." That's obvious and uninteresting, but surely you can't mean that, so I must be making a mistake somewhere in translation; but surely you see how that interpretation comes about from the above paragraph.

    The more substantive claim seems to be something like: "it's not possible for language use to have to do with things we don't recognize [meaning what?]." Well, that's just false on a charitable construal: language use can conventionally allow us to make reference to all sorts of things we have little to no understanding of, and the truth conditions that follow may be ones we aren't equipped to figure out or deal with. For example, to use the word gold we need only isolate some substance by its extremely superficial properties – yet in doing so we refer to that substance, in all its chemical complexity, and can make true or false claims about it, even though we have no idea what that complexity is, or what it entails.

    We can even not know what certain words mean, despite their use committing them to mean certain things – for instance, we may use 'Hesperus' and 'Phosphorus' to refer to the very same thing, yet not recognize we're doing so, and so fail to realize the words mean the very same thing.

    our language use is identical in the situation that it does and in the situation that it doesn't, and that language use is all there is to meaning, and so nothing to do with their truth.Michael

    But language use isn't self-contained – use of a word to refer to a thing, for example, depends on the thing. If the word's use arises with respect to two different things, the usage is different – in one case it refers to one thing, and in another to the other. Again, you deny that it's about use having nothing to do with the world, but what else am I to make of your claim here? Different external circumstances, different uses.
  • Michael
    9.5k
    From here, "to say that the notion of truth involved is potentially recognition-transcendent is to say that (G) may be true (or false) even though there is no guarantee that we will be able, in principle, to recognise that that is so." (which actually seems to be what @Srap Tasmaner was getting at earlier). Dummett's argument is that such recognition-transcendent conditions don't play a role in the practice of language use, and so have nothing to with meaning of our claims. And if they have nothing to do with the meaning of our claims then they have nothing to do with the truth of our claims.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    to say that the notion of truth involved is potentially recognition-transcendent is to say that (G) may be true (or false) even though there is no guarantee that we will be able, in principle, to recognise that that is so.Michael

    Why should we think that something's truth or falsity should always be recognizable? Surely there are things we get wrong without knowing it?
  • Michael
    9.5k
    I don't know if any of that makes sense in the context of Wittgenstein's account of meaning. Consider the earlier example of the simulation, but assume that the people in the simulation don't know that they're in a simulation. Now let's introduce a third party who is aware of the simulation and is able to see both the simulated world and the outside world. He doesn't speak English but is asked to observe the people in the simulation to learn their language. Learning and understanding the language amounts to just being able to successfully use it, which is a practical matter that is measured by agreement and achieving intended goals (as per "block!" or "pass the block"). To claim that the phrase "it is raining" has something to do that happens outside the simulation, rather than what happens inside the simulation, and so is only true if it rains outside the simulation, isn't consistent with this meaning-as-use account of language.
  • Michael
    9.5k
    Why should we think that something's truth or falsity should always be recognizable? Surely there are things we get wrong without knowing it?The Great Whatever

    If truth is bivalent, sure. But Dummett is arguing that bivalent truth requires recognition-transcendent truth conditions, that recognition-transcendent truth conditions do not work under Wittgenstein's account of meaning, and so that truth isn't bivalent under Wittgenstein's account of meaning. So a statement that does not have a recognisable truth value doesn't have a truth value at all.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    I'm not sure I follow. If the people grow up using the language in the simulation, then indeed the use of their language will result in its truth conditions having to do with things inside the simulation.

    But so what? How does this show anything about realism? The truth conditions are what they are, and they depend on what they depend on (viz. happenings inside the simulation, which are still external matters). That there is also something going on outside the simulation is as irrelevant to the entire matter as if there were another reality beyond ours, that consisted not of the objects we speak about, but of something else entirely.

    Perhaps this is your point – but I fail to see how it refutes, or has anything to do with, realism.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    [btw, even growing up in the simulation, it would be possible for language use to have relevance for things outside of it as well, even if the core of the truth conditions had to do with simulation-internal things. so for instance in referring to a simulation-tree, one would in fact be referring to a certain programmed object made of information of a certain sort, or whatever you like, though the ppl in the simulation might never figure this out. nonetheless in the context of the simulation, the tree is not 'informational.' thus a brilliant metaphysician in the simulation might realize that the tree is made of information, and utter something true by claiming that it is, even if no one else believed him, and even if he could never prove it! in fact many metaphysicians in our world make such claims!]
  • Michael
    9.5k
    I'm not sure I follow. If the people grow up using the language in the simulation, then indeed the use of their language will result in its truth conditions having to do with things inside the simulation.The Great Whatever

    The people inside the simulation were put inside the simulation late in life.

    Perhaps this is your point – but I fail to see how it refutes, or has anything to do with, realism.The Great Whatever

    Because realism, according to Dummett, requires truth to be bivalent. But truth is only bivalent if truth-conditions are recognition-transcendent, and meaning-as-use doesn't allow for recognition-transcendent truth conditions.

    It's similar to Putnam's argument regarding the brain in a vat. Realism entails that "we could be brains in a vat" is true, the causal theory of meaning entails that "we could be brains in a vat" isn't true, and so the causal theory of meaning entails that realism isn't the case. In both cases the issue is that meaning doesn't allow for the type of truth conditions that realism requires.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    The people inside the simulation were put inside the simulation late in life.Michael

    Then there's a fork, and a lot of ambiguity. Early on, it might be reasonable to say that they all start saying false things w/o realizing it (and indeed they'd recognize they'd been saying false things on waking up!) It might also be correct, tho, to say the use of the language changed via the changing circumstances, meaning they continue to say true things because the changed use, due to changed external circumstances, means changed truth conditions.

    Either of these sounds plausible, and there's probably no hard fact of the matter about which obtains. Tho the longer you remain in the simulation, the more the 'truth-changing' scenario seems plausible as the use of the language genuinely changes.

    Because realism, according to Dummett, requires truth to be bivalent. But truth is only bivalent if truth-conditions are recognition-transcendent, and meaning-as-use doesn't allow for recognition-transcendent truth conditions.Michael

    Again, I just don't see how it has anything to do with anything. Even in your simulation example, there can be facts about the simulation that are recognition-transcendent, too, and the lang. will potentially have truth conditions dealing w/ things beyond the simulation anyway. So the existence of a simulation is an irrelevancy.

    I see nothing about bivalent truth or realism here – just an insistence that truth conditions have to deal only with things that language users recognize. So it's some kind of verificationist account of meaning & truth conditions, which as I've already argued in a couple points, is wrong (& if you don't believe those points, look up Fitch's knowability paradox).
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