• yonlee
    1
    Hi friends,

    I am reading David Pear's book on Wittgenstein, and I am having a hard time understanding what this sentence means when he references Wittgenstein.

    The sentence is as followed:
    "Similarly, in Philosophical Investigations he rejects the theory that we might have developed a language for reporting our sensations without the help of the language in which we describe the external world, on the ground that such a language would fail to meet a requirement that must be met by any language."

    Where I am lost is, I can't tell apart the language used for reporting our sensations and language in which we describe the external world.

    Can anybody help shed a light on this?

    Thank you so much!
  • unenlightened
    4.1k
    Folks sometimes talk of the sensation of red, ''what it is is like to see the redness of something", and in talking of such one is, as it were, pointing inwards to oneself rather than outwards. But the first requirement for the development of a language is that it be shared, and thus about what is shared. Thus it must begin with the external; not the sensation of red, but the distinction between red stuff and green stuff. First we have to agree that this is a red bus, and that is a green bus, and only then can we start to say stuff like, 'I like red buses, green is dull'.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_language_argument
  • Harry Hindu
    2.6k
    "Similarly, in Philosophical Investigations he rejects the theory that we might have developed a language for reporting our sensations without the help of the language in which we describe the external world, on the ground that such a language would fail to meet a requirement that must be met by any language."

    Where I am lost is, I can't tell apart the language used for reporting our sensations and language in which we describe the external world.
    yonlee
    It seems to me that what he means is that language is composed of sensory impressions. Language is just sounds and visual scribbles - sensory impressions.

    The mind evolved to symbolize - to represent the external world with sensory impressions. The mind naturally knows that the impressions mean things. This knowledge is the requirement for learning a language - that impressions mean things. The sounds and scribbles refer to, or represent, other sensory impressions. Language is just a cross-matching of sensory impressions (this sensory symbol, "mom" refers to all the sensory symbols that represent my Mom. This is how we can talk about our moms.

    The private language seems to ignore the fact that we are members of the same species and have similar sensory systems which would allow us to have a shared internal language as well (the way we see the world is similar).
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    I'd agree with Wittgenstein only because if we're talking about reporting our sensations to someone else, we can't do that without having developed a language that we can both use, that we can share in its public aspects (which do not include meaning), and the only way we're going to develop that is by arriving at some agreed upon terms for observables--externals.
  • TheMadFool
    4.3k
    Folks sometimes talk of the sensation of red, ''what it is is like to see the redness of something", and in talking of such one is, as it were, pointing inwards to oneself rather than outwards. But the first requirement for the development of a language is that it be shared, and thus about what is shared. Thus it must begin with the external; not the sensation of red, but the distinction between red stuff and green stuff. First we have to agree that this is a red bus, and that is a green bus, and only then can we start to say stuff like, 'I like red buses, green is dull'.unenlightened

    Thanks for the explanation.

    I'm just wondering. How does one access the external? After all isn't it true that we only know what our senses (including our minds) provide us? How am I ever going to confirm that my red is exactly what your red is? It's impossible.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    I'm just wondering. How does one access the external?TheMadFool

    Look at it, for example.

    After all isn't it true that we only know what our senses (including our minds) provide us?TheMadFool

    You know what your senses provide to you, such as an external, which is presented by your senses to you. The mistake to avoid is thinking that means you only know your senses qua your senses. The mistake is analogous to thinking that a camera can only take pictures of itself. You need the lens etc, to take pictures, so it only takes pictures of what the lens provides it, but it's not taking pictures of the camera. It's taking a picture of something external to the camera.

    How am I ever going to confirm that my red is exactly what your red is?TheMadFool

    First of all, if nominalism is true, and in my view it is, then you can know that your red is NOT the very same red as someone else's. Likewise, if you have two copies of the Netflix envelope, the red on one envelope isn't the very same red as the other envelope.

    Just how different red might seem to you, phenomenally, compared to someone else's phenomenal experience is something you can't know, but it also doesn't at all matter, it's not important for anything practical.
  • unenlightened
    4.1k
    How am I ever going to confirm that my red is exactly what your red is? It's impossible.TheMadFool

    You ain't. You can confirm that we agree that the red bus is or isn't the same colour as the red hydrant; that we are using 'red' consistently. W's claim is that this is not only the only way we can begin to talk about red, but that to talk of 'my red' and 'your red' doesn't even make sense, though it seems to. It is the beetle in the box, that drops out of the conversation because nothing can be said about it even to oneself. If I say that my red is like an explosion of excitement, we are no further forward, because how we know that your explosion of excitement is exactly what your explosion of excitement is? And am I sure that I or you cannot have a blue one?

    We know that some people see differently, and cannot use 'red' consistently - they are colourblind, or some of them are just blind. But it's not that their red is different, it's that they don't have red. To have red is to have the same red in the same places that everyone else has, and your question is as unaskable as it is unanswerable, because red is the colour of fire-engines, not the colour of fire-engine-sensations.
  • sign
    245
    because red is the colour of fire-engines, not the colour of fire-engine-sensations.unenlightened

    Just wanted to pop in to say that this is a beautiful line...
  • Banno
    6.6k
    Un seems to be on fire at the moment.
  • sign
    245

    Indeed. I just singled out one line, but the quality is reliably present in other lines too.
  • sign
    245
    "Similarly, in Philosophical Investigations he rejects the theory that we might have developed a language for reporting our sensations without the help of the language in which we describe the external world, on the ground that such a language would fail to meet a requirement that must be met by any language."

    Where I am lost is, I can't tell apart the language used for reporting our sensations and language in which we describe the external world.
    yonlee

    One perspective that occurs to me is that red is the color of fire-engines because the socially synchronizing function dominates and maybe even produces 'subjective meaning' in some sense. What is time? I don't know exactly but I know that I will lose my job if etc. And I know that I care about having the rent without possessing the metaphysical truth about rent (which depends on the truth about language). So I do understand how to participate in the concepts of time and rent.

    The question might then become why we ever looked inside for meaning? And we have to do justice to being embodied and sometimes alone with our thoughts that we'd want to share with others, get them to participate in. The self is something like potential community in the midst of actual community. Why do I want to talk about red as pure red and not the red of firetrucks? An aesthetic motive, a philosophical motive. I 'thrust against language' especially perhaps when I want to share some high feeling, associated perhaps with the recognition that 'God as love' or 'an experience of the nature of language.'
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    The question might then become why we ever looked inside for meaning?sign

    If you don't look inside then you have to claim things such as the sentence I quoted above literally contain or are doing meaning. How could that be, though? Just what would meaning amount to re a set of pixel activations, say? Just how would pixels refer to anything?
  • sign
    245
    If you don't look inside then you have to claim things such as the sentence I quoted above literally contain or are doing meaning. How could that be, though? Just what would meaning amount to re a set of pixel activations, say? Just how would pixels refer to anything?Terrapin Station

    I'd say there are reasons to look inside, that it is indeed tempting to think of meaning as internal. The idea that meaning is on the inside gets something about the situation right. But further consideration shows that this doesn't make sense as the last word. The isolated subject gazing on pure signifieds (concepts apart from phonemes) and pure sensations is itself a product of embodied meanings (signs, words in context) and an enworlded community.

    Red is (mostly) the color of fire-engines because thinking (the 'pure' subject) is mostly directed outward toward the world it lives in with others. Philosophy can struggle endlessly to find the right words for what is going on with words, but all along philosophy is made possible by the survival of a community that primarily uses language to orchestrate the actions of its members. It doesn't matter if we see the same 'red' in our 'interiors.' Or it matters more that I can use 'red' to draw your intention to an object of threat or promise. 'Don't eat the red berries.' 'The robbery suspect was wearing a red jacket.' 'I'll pick you up at 7 PM. I'll be driving a red Prius.' We get used to referring to these objects successfully. For what it's worth, I do think there is an experience of 'redness' of some kind (even if this experience is only conceptually grasped or 'instituted' via signs.) But I can only point to this a 'redness' by relying on a trans-subjective experience of 'red' as a symbol used in synchronization. I name this 'private' red 'using' fire engines and roses, else why the word 'red' and not some other sign?
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    But further consideration shows that this doesn't make sense as the last word. The isolated subject gazing on pure signifieds (concepts apart from phonemes) and pure sensations is itself a product of embodied meanings (signs, words in context) and an enworlded community.sign

    No idea what this is saying.
  • Wallows
    9.6k
    It is the beetle in the box, that drops out of the conversation because nothing can be said about it even to oneself.unenlightened

    But, it can be shown.
  • sign
    245
    No idea what this is saying.Terrapin Station

    The thought of meaning apart from all public signs is problematic. The thought of the pure subject who experiences pure meanings apart from all public signs is problematic. Nevertheless the possibility of translation tempts us to postulate pure meaning. And the possibility of soliloquy tempts us to postulate a pure subject in proximity to meanings which 'shouldn't' therefore require the mediation of public signs.

    But the self is not transparent to itself. We create or shift meaning in a soliloquy. And it's not clear that we can think without signs that aren't already public. In some sense the 'I' depends on the 'we' and is always already directed toward the 'we' in its directedness toward truth and the world (as a making sense of the situation of the 'subject'.) And the then concept of a pure subject (a pure interior as the space of meaning) seems to depend on the non-subject. I use a public sign to distinguish between myself and what is public. I have to learn how to use the word 'I' and 'subject' and 'consciousness' by interacting with others.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    The thought of meaning apart from all public signs is problematic. The thought of the pure subject who experiences pure meanings apart from all public signs is problematic.sign

    Aside from strongly disliking the word "pure" there (partially because I have no idea what it's adding), why is that problematic?
  • sign
    245
    Aside from strongly disliking the word "pure" there (partially because I have no idea what it's adding), why is that problematic?Terrapin Station

    The living sign is something like a unity of signified and signifier. The four letters S-I-G-N are just letters in themselves. In German we would use the letters Z-E-I-C-H-E-N for approximately the same purpose. So we might think of or postulate the 'meaning' of sign 'behind' both 'sign' and 'Zeichen.' But do we have an experience of this 'pure' signified apart from its signifiers? We are admittedly directed away from the merely arbitrary toward a stable meaning 'behind' every arbitrary meaning-vehicle. I interpret this is a social desire, connected to the ideal subject as the space of the signified.

    If we are directed toward the telling of the truth of the situation, how does such a project initially understand the situation? I need something (a world) to tell the truth about and others to share the truth with. The truth must apparently be made of 'meaning,' and I think most philosophers presuppose the possibility of translation. It shouldn't matter that I first create the thought in English. And that thought should be open to assimilation by others (if it is not to become an elitist mysticism.) So along with our vehicle-independent meaning we need a situation-independent subject, a pure subject as space in which 'our' own 'meaning act' (the grasping of the truth) can be repeated indefinitely. In short, meaning and the idea subject are in some sense the essence of traditional metaphysics, and critiques of metaphysics that rely on them are returns to the origin that cast aside suspicious 'constructions,' leaving, however, the founding constructions untested and assumed.
  • unenlightened
    4.1k
    It is the beetle in the box, that drops out of the conversation because nothing can be said about it even to oneself.
    — unenlightened

    But, it can be shown.
    Wallows

    I think this is wrong. 'Whereof one cannot speak' is not the same as 'the beetle in a box.' There is a world, that is bigger than language; there is no beetle.

    Sensations of colour have no colour. It's not that one cannot say what colour they are.

    Imagine a camera (or an eye) that detects colour, and sends signals down some wires (or nerves). For the convenience of the eye of the electrician, the wires might be colour coded, but the signals are not coloured. Even if they were coloured, one would need an inner eye/camera to detect the colour, that would have to send its own signals down its own nerves/wires. There is no inner eye.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    This will be kind of laborious, but I'm going to start doing this with people who tend to always type in ways that are a bit inscrutable to me.

    So here's what happens when I read your posts. I'll just do the first paragraph, because this is labor-intensive, and I'm not a fan of long posts:

    The living sign is something like a unity of signified and signifier.sign

    I'm stumped why you'd use the word "living" there. I don't know what it's supposed to amount to re "what's really going on" when we're talking about signs, signifieds/signifiers/etc.

    I have little notion of what "a unity of signified and signifier" would amount to, or what "something like" that unity would amount to.

    The four letters S-I-G-N are just letters in themselves. In German we would use the letters Z-E-I-C-H-E-N for approximately the same purpose. So we might think of or postulate the 'meaning' of sign 'behind' both 'sign' and 'Zeichen.'

    No problem with either one of those sentences. :grin:

    But do we have an experience of this 'pure' signified apart from its signifiers?

    I don't understand what the word "pure" is doing there. Maybe the idea is just what you're saying there, that a "'pure' signified" would be the signified apart from its signifiers, but I don't understand what you're proposing/asking there really.

    If you're asking whether we experience the meaning that we assign to a term (or anything else maybe) when we're not thinking about the term, then "usually not," and I'm not even sure it would make much sense to say that we could experience that, although I wouldn't say it's necessarily impossible, either. Keep in mind that in my view, meanings are simply associations we perform, so asking about meanings sans what we're assigning meaning to is asking about associations sans what we're associating. I'm not sure the idea of that makes sense. (So in that case the answer to your question would be "no," but I also would have no idea of its supposed relevance to answering the question I asked you, which was that you were going to tell me what the problem with subjective/personal meaning is in your view.)

    However, it's not always clear to me that "signified" isn't being so that it's not the same as "referent," in the sense that can pick out something external to us (although it wouldn't necessarily have to be external--a concept can be a referent, too). For example, we can say that the referent of "moon" is the moon, the astronomical body, in which case the answer to your question would obviously be "yes," but that's probably not what you had in mind since the answer is so obvious (at least to me).

    We are admittedly directed away from the merely arbitrary

    So, I don't know what this has to do with the question you'd just asked. (I'm assuming it has something to do with it).

    If you're suggesting that meaning is arbitrary, I don't think it is. That doesn't imply that I don't think that meaning is subjective. I just don't think it's arbitrary.

    toward a stable meaning 'behind' every arbitrary meaning-vehicle.

    Presumably you do think that meaning might be arbitrary then. I don't know why you'd think that, though, or think that anyone would be suggesting that, perhaps. And I'd also want to clarify just what you have in mind with "arbitrary," as maybe that would shed some light on why you'd say that.

    I also don't know what "meaning-vehicle" is supposed to amount to. No idea what that might be a "cutesy" substitution for, or what it might be claiming otherwise.

    Re the idea of a "stable" meaning, you're probably referring to something else altogether with "meaning" than I'd be referring to (the act of making mental associations). I'd guess that maybe you'd be referring to definitions, which are different than meanings, definitions being, for example, the third-person observable strings of words that we're associating with something. (Those are not meanings, beacause the external stuff can't actually make the associations in question.)

    I interpret this is a social desire

    Are you talking about an individual's desire something-something-to-be-social (whatever the exact desire would be), or are you positing a desire that somehow obtains communally? The latter I think is nonsense. There aren't communal minds.

    , connected to the ideal subject

    Here, I'm not sure what sense of "ideal" you're using. If you're using the sense re "of ideas," then it seems like "ideal" is probably redundant--you could just say "subject" without the modifier.

    If you mean "ideal" in the sense of "perfect," then I don't know what that would amount to for you or why it would be relevant.

    Also, "a social desire connected to the ideal subject" would suggest that you probably had in mind a desire that obtains communally--because otherwise that would again be reundant, but I don't think there's anything like a communal mind.

    as the space of the signified.

    And I have no idea what this would be claiming. You're saying something about the location of signifieds? Are you using "space" metaphorically? If so, I have no idea what the metaphor is here.

    Also, it doesn't seem to me like any of this actually addresses what the problem is supposed to be, the problem that you alluded to earlier, re the notion of subjective meaning.

    Anyway, so the above is what happens in my head when I read a post like yours.
  • Mentalusion
    93


    I think what @sign is saying is that every subject (i.e. person) is an essential part of the process of meaning and signification and, to that extent, transform their own nature in accordance not only with the signs/meanings they use, but in accordance with the very process of signification itself. Since the subject (in many continental philosophical thought-modes) is the epicenter of metaphysical inquiry, the process and nature of signification as a linguistic phenomenon can offer insights into the process and nature of the world itself precisely to the extent it is taken as transformative of the "ideal or pure subject." (I take "ideal", "pure" subject to mean something like the form of subjectivity itself. Perhaps in this sense it could be seen as akin to Kant's notion of the transcendental unity of apperception.) In other words, an important aspect of the world itself is that it is by nature intentional.

    But @sign can correct me if that's not barking up the right tree.

    I should also add, obviously, that I'm not endorsing what @sign says, just offering a possible clarification of what s/he's trying to say.
  • sign
    245
    I think what sign is saying is that every subject (i.e. person) is an essential part of the process of meaning and signification and, to that extent, transform their own nature in accordance not only with the signs/meanings they use, but in accordance with the very process of signification itself.Mentalusion

    That's definitely along the lines of what I'm saying. We might say (never quite getting it right) that the subject 'is' the process of signification, and that this process is not just signs but also a kind of pregnant void from which we speak and listen. As Hegel might put it, 'spirit' or the 'subject' is its own product. We create our own nature to some degree. The pursuit of self-knowledge is also self-creation. And this 'self' knowledge might even include an insight into the fundamental sociality of reason. The 'inside' is a function of the 'outside' as much as the reverse is true. The 'I' can only understand its lonely self (explore itself) in terms of a public language that it always already directed beyond it, toward the world and others.

    the process and nature of signification as a linguistic phenomenon can offer insights into the process and nature of the world itselfMentalusion

    Indeed. The separation of world and subject is a product of signification in the first place, one might say (to some degree, anyway). A knowledge of the real that ignores its own genesis can only be a partial knowledge of the real. If the thinker or subject neglects himself in pursuit of the real, there's a kind of forgetting here. One assumes that one's own signification is somehow outside the real. One assumes a Kantian distance from the real, making an error perhaps out of the fear of making an error.

    In other words, an important aspect of the world itself is that it is by nature intentional.

    But sign can correct me if that's not barking up the right tree.
    Mentalusion

    Yeah, that's really getting at it. If we just look at what is always already there, we have dynamic intention and unveiling. One might say that we don't mediate the real but rather the real is mediation itself, or mediation mediating itself. I'm not saying this gets it exactly right, but I am trying to open the complexity of the situation.
  • sign
    245
    I'm stumped why you'd use the word "living" there. I don't know what it's supposed to amount to re "what's really going on" when we're talking about signs, signifieds/signifiers/etc.

    I have little notion of what "a unity of signified and signifier" would amount to, or what "something like" that unity would amount to.
    Terrapin Station

    Since you like short posts, I'll do my best to focus on this. Is the distinction of the signfied from the signifier ever perfect? A related question is whether the distinction of the subject from the world is ever perfect. A final question is whether the thought of the isolated ego is theoretical fiction taken as an axiom that blocks access to an 'experience of language'? While these issues might seem separate, I don't think they are.

    A last note is that any kind of rigid interpretation of the 'sociality of reason' (in terms of obscure but determinate entities) is missing the point. IMV, there's something like a fear of anything that smells 'spiritual' that encourages a kind of blindness to what it is to be 'in' language in our ordinary lives.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    I'll do my best to focus on this. Is the distinction of the signfied from the signifier ever perfect? A related question is whether the distinction of the subject from the world is ever perfect.sign

    <shrug> I have no idea what a distinction being "perfect" would amount to.

    A final question is whether the thought of the isolated egosign

    "Thought of the isolated ego"? You might as well be typing to me in Swahili.

    I wish you could write a sentence that I'm not stumped about.
  • sign
    245
    I have no idea what a distinction being "perfect" would amount to.Terrapin Station

    The point is whether you can do something like perfectly cut the sign's meaning from its material 'body.'
    Can I perfectly distinguish the meaning from its arbitrary vehicle? And this already forgets the massive dependence of that meaning on the context of other signs/meanings. We evolved to be quite good at language in practical contexts (or rather we've survived this long), so we have sufficiently clear meanings-apart-from-signs and sufficiently translatable texts in that regard. But does the situation allow for some exact formulation? Could the project of an exact formulation encourage us to ignore the nature of language as we usually live it?

    "Thought of the isolated ego"? You might as well be typing to me in Swahili.

    I wish you could write a sentence that I'm not stumped about.
    Terrapin Station

    The subject alone with meaning is perhaps the wrong place to start in thinking about language. For the most part I don't theorize myself. I glide through life responding to its significance, immersed in my doings, using language without being conscious of it. The others aren't alone in their heads gazing at the meanings of my words. We are in the words-as-world-together.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    The point is whether you can do something like perfectly cut the sign's meaning from its material 'body.'sign

    Well, the meaning is the act of association we perform, while the sign simply isn't capable of performing such an act. That act is necessarily a way that we think about the sign. It's not an issue of literally thinking "I am performing this act of association," it's simply that it's not possible for a sign, or some sounds that others make, etc. to perform it for us.

    It's just like it's not possible for others to perform the act of "translating" sheet music, say, into an instrumental performance for you. That's something you have to do. But when you're doing it, it's also not that you're constantly thinking, "I'm translating these marks into a musical performance on this instrument." Nevertheless , it doesn't make sense to talk about that process as if the translation could be public somehow rather than something you're doing--performing, as an individual.
  • sign
    245
    It's just like it's not possible for others to perform the act of "translating" sheet music, say, into an instrumental performance for you. That's something you have to do.Terrapin Station

    OK, I think I understand you and agree. Correct me if I am wrong. The sign as mark or noise is meaningless as it moves 'between' those who intend and interpret it. I don't object to this at all.

    it's also not that you're constantly thinking, "I'm translating these marks into a musical performance on this instrument."Terrapin Station

    This is what I meant by the 'transparency' of language for us. Our first person experience is something like a 'living' in these signs as publicly meaningful. Indeed, we can think about it and decide that 'really' the individual brain is interpreting and sending dead/arbitrary signs. That's fine. That vision of the real (something like the real of physical science) is too useful to ignore. It is still a metaphysical position, and it does neglect that the image of this scientifically real is determined within the signs in their virtual publicity. The scientifically real is established by a community. Science is only intelligible within a community linked by signs that can critically accept or reject candidates for objective truth. So the physical as the ground of the meaningful also has the meaningful as its ground (its very being even).
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