• Marchesk
    2.8k
    Wittgenstein's analysis of philosophy was that problems arise from not understanding the role of concepts in their language games. This leads to a misuse in a philosophical setting, resulting in conceptual muddles which appear to be deep questions.

    Take the example of the problem of universals. A philosopher might ask why language is full of universal concepts if the world is full of individuals. This leads to attempts to resolve the paradox such as nominalism, conceptualism, and platonism. But the Wittgenstein approach would be that attempting to answer such questions is pointless. Instead, the question should be dissolved by understanding that universal talk is a generalizing short-cut for having to specify everything about an individual.

    However, this misses the point. The problem of universals is asking the question what is it about individuals, if anything, which makes generalizing useful or even possible? And that leads to talk about properties, essences, similarity and what not. So we see that the problem isn't an abuse of language, it's a question about language's relation to the world.

    Here we need to ask ourselves how did philosophy arise? Was it that some ancient folks starting taking words out of context? Or was it because there is a loose fit between language and the world, leading to all sorts of interesting puzzles? If it's the latter, then the problem is ordinary language, not philosophy.
  • god must be atheist
    956
    Take the example of the problem of universals. A philosopher might ask why language is full of universal concepts if the world is full of individuals. This leads to attempts to resolve the paradox such as nominalism, conceptualism, and platonism. But the Wittgenstein approach would be that attempting to answer such questions is pointless. Instead, the question should be dissolved by understanding that universal talk is a generalizing short-cut for having to specify everything about an individual.Marchesk

    I don't understand this. I frankly admit it. What's universalism? Nominalism? Conceptualism? Platonism?
  • god must be atheist
    956
    So we see that the problem isn't an abuse of languageMarchesk

    What IS the problem? Shouldn't we spell out in plain, simple language, what the problem is, before attempting to solve it?

    And who is abusing the language? The OP? Nobody else has said anything yet, so he must be referring to himself. And he'd be referring to me too, based on "nobody else said anything", except he'd have had to accuse me proactively, in the opening paragraph, since that came before my post. Verrrry complicated matter.
  • god must be atheist
    956
    Here we need to ask ourselves how did philosophy arise?Marchesk

    What is the need? What unfulfilled desire eggs us on ot ask ourselves how philosophy arose? And why precisely here?
  • god must be atheist
    956
    If it's the latter, then the problem is ordinary language, not philosophy.Marchesk

    Ah! the problem again. What IS the problem?
  • Bitter Crank
    8.4k
    Ah! the problem again. What IS the problem?god must be atheist

    Philosophers playing with their feces.
  • god must be atheist
    956
    Philosophers playing with their feces.Bitter Crank

    Shit! Who took my colonoscopy bag? It was here a minute ago.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.4k
    I was going to congratulate you on being the first to use "colonoscopy" in TPF discussions. But no, it has been used before. Then I thought maybe you meant "colostomy" bag. Unfortunately, that has already been used too -- several times, in unflattering ways.
  • Valentinus
    561

    Your way of framing the question is interesting. If Wittgenstein is right that a certain use of language is misleading, how did that start?

    It is a very different approach from those who tell you where and when things went south.
  • god must be atheist
    956
    I burn in shame. Misuse of words is an abuse of language.

    Misusing the language in philosophical circles is like scattering scatological fragments in the heating and air conditioning ducts. Like disseminating semen that has gone bad in an artificial inseminating clinic. Like distributing disturbances into disturbed minds. Like handing out pro-abortion propaganda leaflets at a Baptist Barbie-doll Brutally Bruising, Smashing and Shredding Convention. -- Hey. This last one does not apply here.
  • god must be atheist
    956
    If Wittgenstein is right that a certain use of language is misleading, how did that start?Valentinus

    He had said the opposite?
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    Here we need to ask ourselves how did philosophy arise? Was it that some ancient folks starting taking words out of context? Or was it because there is a loose fit between language and the world, leading to all sorts of interesting puzzles? If it's the latter, then the problem is ordinary language, not philosophy.Marchesk

    Philosophy was once all there was. It was science, politics, morality, psychology, religion, and all the other things where intellectual investigation might help clarify what the heck is going on. Although it seems often to be unrecognized, I think the only important question is "what do I do now?"

    It seems like philosophy has been denatured. The life has been taken out of it. Some of that certainly is because important functions have been broken off and addressed elsewhere, e.g. science. I think there are still a lot of valuable contributions philosophy can make. For me, it all comes down to two things 1) Epistemology - not so much what we know, but how do we know what we know. 2) Recognition that all the things we think we know and see are human constructions. Stories. That seems to be more the realm of eastern rather than western philosophy. Whenever I read western philosophy, or the weak tea simulations that often show up here on the forum, I just see the unruly tangle of words you are discussing.

    I come here to figure out these things for myself. There are people here who see some things more clearly than I do. The conversations I have here have been really helpful.
  • Forgottenticket
    162
    Wittgenstein might be considered an eliminativist. Anyway I'd probably say the meaning of words are how they are used (that part is correct) but the functions exist prior to the language and that can be examined for philosophical analysis. Applying it to everything is just silly. I also would say that words don't create new ideas in themselves they are referencing something existing that the person simply hadn't considered.
    A lot of times in philosophy, I stumble upon something I came up with before on my own but didn't know the communal terms to describe it.

    Something interesting about category errors.
    If one asks "what color are orgasms?" people might say it's nonsensical. Yet people do have synesthesia so it's possibly a real phenomenon for some people and not others.
  • tim wood
    3.2k
    Baseball is a well-defined game. How do you play baseball. Ans.: you learn the rules and watch some games to get a feel for what is going on and how it works, and then you play. In playing you are bound to get some feedback that will guide your playing and your appreciation and growing understanding of the game. But at all times you have to keep somewhere in your mind that it's a game and in particular the game of baseball. These things in mind, there is wide latitude and opportunity to play at different levels and to develop different skills.

    Philosophy is a well-defined game.

    The problem with philosophy is that people forget what game they're playing - or never learned in the first place; they don't know the rules and aren't interested anyway; they cannot/will not accept critical feedback; they think they're major league material when in fact they're still in the sandbox - or even that they never had any intention to play the game, but are instead playing a different game.\ and don't care if they wreck the game they're in.

    Philosophy is not language on a holiday; rather it is language put to the hardest possible work. What is on a holiday is the attitudes of some people who are not qualified for the game, but who want to be on the field anyway, and often screw-up a good game in the process.
  • Marchesk
    2.8k
    I don't understand this. I frankly admit it. What's universalism? Nominalism? Conceptualism? Platonism?god must be atheist

    The problem of universals. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/universals-medieval/

    I used it as an example, because it's easy to say how it might be stated as philosophers playing with feces while missing the deeper point it raises.
  • Marchesk
    2.8k
    What IS the problem? Shouldn't we spell out in plain, simple language, what the problem is, before attempting to solve it?god must be atheist

    The NY Times had a good article on this a few years ago: https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/was-wittgenstein-right/
  • Marchesk
    2.8k
    It is a very different approach from those who tell you where and when things went south.Valentinus

    Descartes seems to be the big bad of philosophy, but I think he's just rephrasing what arose in ancient philosophy. And I don't think it's unique to Western Philosophy. The context and language might be a bit different, but the general ideas are there. Debates over idealism, realism, materialism, skepticism can be found in Indian and Chinese philosophy.
  • tim wood
    3.2k
    The title of the Stanford piece is misleading. The Medieval Problem of Universals is a theological and not any other kind of problem. Their discussion being mainly of philosophical difficulties raised by notions of universals, they should have titled the piece differently and more informatively.

    Lest you scoff at theological notions concerning universals or think them quaint, know that they (the issues) concerned every philosopher and are interwoven into every religious war - most of the European wars - of the middle ages, which for brutality yield nothing at all to the horrors and brutality of some modern wars.
    .
  • Marchesk
    2.8k
    but the functions exist prior to the language and that can be examined for philosophical analysis.Forgottenticket

    That's a good way of putting it.

    A lot of times in philosophy, I stumble upon something I came up with before on my own but didn't know the communal terms to describe it.Forgottenticket

    Yeah, long before I read about p-zombies or even solipsism, I remember sitting in a busy dinner with a friend, and I started focusing on the clang of silverware and dishes with the buzz of conversation all around me, and the thought occurred to me that everyone else could just be acting as if they were experiencing the diner, yet I was the only one. For a few minutes, it actually seemed believable.
  • Marchesk
    2.8k
    I don't care about the theological application of universals, only the philosophical problem, which goes back to Plato, and still exists today. It's just an example where it's easy to see how one might dismiss it on grounds that philosophers are abusing language, while failing to see what gave rise to it.

    Here's maybe a better link to the problem: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nominalism-metaphysics/
  • Marchesk
    2.8k
    Philosophy is not language on a holiday; rather it is language put to the hardest possible work.tim wood

    I like that. Turns out that a lot of everyday notions are problematic, and don't stand up that well under inquiry. Science backs philosophy on this.
  • tim wood
    3.2k
    If you'll allow that most of this starts with the ancient Greeks, then it's useful to know that for the Greeks, nature was a world of imperfection. In as much as they felt they ought to be looking for and finding some kind of perfection, they placed that perfection in universals and supposed them real, in the sense that as perfect, they possessed the perfection that they felt they should have found in nature, but that nature, as nature, did not itself possess.

    (And the Christian understanding of nature as being created by God upended this view because the apparent imperfections of nature, having been created by God, could not be imperfections but must instead be perfections, and that it was the business of the scientists of the middle ages to figure out just how they were perfect.)

    That is, universals were an attempt to solve a problem that the ancient Greeks had with their understanding of nature.
  • Marchesk
    2.8k
    That is, universals were an attempt to solve a problem that the ancient Greeks had with their understanding of nature.tim wood

    That's a good point. I could have used free will or skepticism, it's just they seemed harder to express simply in this conversation.

    We could say that the problem of free will can be dissolved by looking at how free will is used in ordinary language, until we realize the free will is expressing a view of human agency that many people implicitly hold. And this isn't simply a language game. It's more of an experience people have of being able to make what seems like undetermined choices originating with the person. And that's why people can be held responsible for their actions.

    Now that might be partially cultural, owing to Judea-Christian influence in the West. And maybe one would say the Jewish-Christian language games have come to predominate in certain cultures.

    Buy I'm skeptical that casting philosophical problems as misunderstanding language games really gets at the issue those concepts are expressing in the language game. Free will wouldn't be part of a language game if we didn't experience some sort of freedom in making choices.
  • god must be atheist
    956
    Marchesk
    2.6k
    I don't understand this. I frankly admit it. What's universalism? Nominalism? Conceptualism? Platonism?
    — god must be atheist

    The problem of universals. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/universals-medieval/

    I used it as an example, because it's easy to say how it might be stated as philosophers playing with feces while missing the deeper point it raises.
    44 minutes ago ReplyOptions
    Marchesk
    2.6k
    What IS the problem? Shouldn't we spell out in plain, simple language, what the problem is, before attempting to solve it?
    — god must be atheist

    The NY Times had a good article on this a few years ago: https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/was-wittgenstein-right/
    Marchesk

    I am awfully sorry, Marchesk, but in my favourite universe when someone introduces a topic, they describe the situation in their own words, and not simply insert a link to a (probably) very lengthy script.

    If you introduce a topic, do that, please, in your own words, and describe the problem or topic in a few (the fewer the better) paragraphs. Linking external documents and demanding we discuss their contents, is not fair on a conversational website, at least that's how I feel.

    I mean, it gives me a sense of unbalanced trade-off. We do the reading, we do the debating, and we do all the work, while you simply insert a text written by someone else. Yes, this is my main beef about it: it's not fair to do so.
  • tim wood
    3.2k
    But I'm skeptical that casting philosophical problems as misunderstanding language games really gets at the issue those concepts are expressingMarchesk
    Me too. At a first cut into the notion of language games, understood in the pejorative sense, I submit that most problems arise out of a failure to approach the question with circumspection. First is to understand the question, which involves either understanding the words or (re)-defining them as necessary so that at the least folks know what the subject matter actually is. Next the history, if there is one, and there usually is, and its effects on the subject. Then perhaps a statement of purpose and goals. And so on.

    Often these steps do not require to be made explicit in themselves as steps, but a survey - or for those that read, recollecting - how most good philosophy is structured, will show that most of these steps are indeed taken.

    Indeed it is an axiom of mine that there are very few areas of real disagreement in the world, but plenty of failure on the part of the party of the first part to define his terms, and of the second part to engage with those definitions and either accept them or argue them. But if the groundwork is completed, often the problem is solved almost inadvertently. Or the so-called real problem starts to become unearthed.
  • Marchesk
    2.8k
    I am awfully sorry, Marchesk, but in my favourite universe when someone introduces a topic, they describe the situation in their own words, and not simply insert a link to a (probably) very lengthy script.god must be atheist

    I did, and you responded by saying you didn't understand the well known positions in the example used, so I posted links for you to familiarize yourself. The problem of universals isn't the point of this topic, it's Wittgenstein's approach to dissolving philosophical problems by saying that language goes on holiday when philosophers fail to understand words in their proper language games. This is also well known in philosophy, but The NY Times article sums that up nicely, and it's not a long read.
  • god must be atheist
    956
    topic, it's Wittgenstein's approach to dissolving philosophical problems by saying that language goes on holiday when philosophers fail to understand words in their proper language games.Marchesk

    This is precisely what went on with me then. My language skills do not measure up to the presented topic. I have no clue what universalism is, and much less could know what Wittgenstein said something about a topic which I don't know anything about.

    But did that stop me from showing via an empirical example that Wittgenstein was right on the button? No, it did not. My language went on holiday while I read your posts, and failed to understand the words in their proper language games.

    What a preciously insidious genius this Wittgenstein guy was.
  • god must be atheist
    956
    I mean, he predicted in his life, pretty accurately, what I will do X years later, without knowing me, my parents or anything about me. He just knew I were to be a human, and that was enough for him to make an exact and precise prediction what I would do today, EDT, at around 11 o'clock or so.

    This is wow. I am reeling in the awe of his predictive genius.
  • Wayfarer
    8.6k
    However, this misses the point. The problem of universals is asking the question what is it about individuals, if anything, which makes generalizing useful or even possible? And that leads to talk about properties, essences, similarity and what not. So we see that the problem isn't an abuse of language, it's a question about language's relation to the world.Marchesk

    I agree! I think the issue of the nature of universals is still a really important issue, and unsolved to this day.

    My reading is that the Platonist/Aristotelian current in Western philosophy accepted the reality of universals, but that this attitude fell into disfavour in later medieval times, as a consequence of the rise of nominalism, principally by figures like Bacon and William of Ockham. And as they were the antecedents of what later was to become empiricism, then their attitude towards universals won the argument, as a case of history being written by the victors.

    Myself, I think the notion of real universals is essential for grounding meaning, because language is structurally dependent on universals. Whenever we use general terms, in some sense we're invoking universals. Now, I think the reason that the nature of universals is no longer understood, is because the understanding of them was intimately connected to the broader Aristotelian tradition, wherein everything that exists has its four causes (material, efficient, formal and final). So the relationship between 'formal cause' and 'reason' underpinned the entire system of thought, indeed an entire philosophy. This is what was undermined by the advent of nominalism, and with it, went any real sense of metaphysics. (And that's why practically the only school of philosophy that understands metaphysics in those terms nowadays are the neo-thomists.)

    But another point about Wittgenstein is that he didn't dismiss metaphysics in the way that the later positivists understood him to. The Vienna Circle adopted his ideas, believing that he thought metaphysics was essentially nonsensical verbiage. Whereas if you read the concluding passages of the Tractatus, leading up to the famous 'that of which we cannot speak', it is definitely animated by a sense of the mystical, of what lies 'beyond speech', which is completely alien to the Vienna positivists:

    6.52 There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical.

    6.53 The right method of philosophy would be this. To say nothing except what can be said, i.e. the propositions of natural science, i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when someone else wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would be unsatisfying to the other—he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy—but it would be the only strictly correct method.

    **

    His work is opposed, as he once put it, to “the spirit which informs the vast stream of European and American civilisation in which all of us stand.” Nearly 50 years after his death, we can see, more clearly than ever, that the feeling that he was swimming against the tide was justified. If we wanted a label to describe this tide, we might call it “scientism,” the view that every intelligible question has either a scientific solution or no solution at all. It is against this view that Wittgenstein set his face. 1 — Ray Monk (biographer)

    So I think his criticism of metaphysics was not that there is nothing beyond what can be validated by science (as the positivists believed) but that to speak of what is beyond science is to also go beyond the limits of language itself. That's the sense in which Wittgenstein's philosophy is more like Protestant than Catholic mysticism, but it still has that mystical side to it.
  • Marchesk
    2.8k
    That's the sense in which Wittgenstein's philosophy is more like Protestant than Catholic mysticism, but it still has that mystical side to it.Wayfarer

    Or like Zen Buddhism. It's interesting that Witty said concerning consciousness and the beetle in a box not that it's nothing, only that we can't speak about it. Which is something Dennett noted and disagreed with Witty about, because obviously it must be eliminated!

    Which makes me wonder, is language under Wittgenstein's understanding equivalent to a p-zombie? I'm digressing from universals here, but I heard on a recent panpsychist podcast discussing Wittgenstein where the philosopher guest stated that there was no hard problem because Witty showed us mind is public because language is public.

    Anyway, the point of this discussion is whether philosophical problems such as universals, free will or consciousness can be dismissed by analyzing their use in language games and subsequent misuse by philosophers. But in the case of universals, if you're right that meaning is grounded by them, then we can't so easily dismiss them, since it goes deeper than playing language games. Universals make language games possible, if I understand you correctly.
  • Marchesk
    2.8k
    Let's take another example. Do ordinary objects like tables and chairs exist? This is a bit different from external world skepticism. The problem arises by noticing that the scientific explanation of ordinary objects leads to contradictions with our notions of what ordinary objects are supposed to be. The problem of many is one such contradiction. Science says that a table is a collection of particles bound together by the electromagnetic force. But the surface of an object is not well defined on a molecular level. This leads to the realization that we can't say for sure which exact collection of particles is the table, meaning that there could be many tables where we conceive of one.

    But if we look at how ordinary objects are used in everyday language, then we can dismiss the problem as misunderstanding the role ordinary objects play. Tables and chairs are meaningful and useful for us.

    However, what if I want to know whether our understanding of ordinary objects is backed up by science? Then I'm back to the same problem. Because then I'm not asking about the usefulness of tables and chairs, I'm asking whether they exist as we think of them. I'm asking a question about the world and our commonsense understanding of it. My conclusion is that our ordinary language is simply mistaken. The problem is with our everyday concepts, not the philosophical inquiry.

    Ordinary objects are a good example of the loose fit between language (or mind) and world (or science).
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