The Sublimity of Logic

PI 89:  A nodal point in PI–a point where numerous intimate connections can be traced.  I am not going to trace them now, not all of them.  But one is that the problem of the sublimity of logic is, at least partially, the result of our subliming of logic, of our relationship to the problem.  We are not wholly confused in subliming logic–logic is sublime.  But its sublimity must square with its not supplying us with new facts, with its investigation of the hardly memorable and easily forgettable.  –Can we so square the sublimity of logic without feeling that Wittgenstein has changed the subject?

These considerations bring us up to the problem: In what sense is logic something sublime?

For there seemed to pertain to logic a peculiar depth–a universal significance. Logic lay, it seemed, at the bottom of all the sciences.–For logical investigation explores the nature of all things. It seeks to see to the bottom of things and is not meant to concern itself whether what actually happens is this or that.—-It takes its rise, not from an interest in the facts of nature, nor from a need to grasp causal connexions: but from an urge to understand the basis, or essence, of everything empirical. Not, however, as if to this end we had to hunt out new facts; it is, rather, of the essence of our investigation that we do not seek to learn anything new by it. We want to understand something that is already in plain view. For this is what we seem in some sense not to understand.

Augustine says in the Confessions “quid est ergo tempus? si nemo ex me quaerat scio; si quaerenti explicare velim, nescio”.–This could not be said about a question of natural science (“What is the specific gravity of hydrogen?” for instance). Something that we know when no one asks us, but no longer know when we are supposed to give an account of it, is something that we need to remind ourselves of. (And it is obviously something of which for some reason it is difficult to remind oneself.)

13 responses

  1. Your question here reminds me of “How are synthetic a priori judgments possible?” (Something I’ve been thinking about — or at least trying to think about — since you asked your HofP III class in 2004)

    I think our relationship to the problem of subliming logic is rooted — much more subtly — in attempting ‘To think of logic as X’. The structure of that proposition has no sense, but that the structure of that proposition has no sense is extraordinarily difficult to sense. It’s what’s super-sensible (I’m not sure if that’s what Kant had in mind, but that’s the only reference I can figure the phrase having).

    ‘To think of logic as X’, as anything, implies that logic-as-something-brought-into-relief can be separated from the employment of logic. It’s like trying to think of matter as literally extricable from form or form as literally extricable from matter, motion de-coupled from object or object de-coupled from motion. ‘To think’ is already to employ logic and to bring it into relief — necessarily simultaneously and whether one recognizes it as such or not. That’s how — or at least why — synthetic a priori judgments are possible.

    Wittgenstein isn’t changing the subject, but instead — as you say — de-creating the problem. To do so, he’s first re-configuring our relationship to the problem. Put crudely: he re-positions us from the outside of the problem to the inside of problem. And from there he demonstrates that there is no outside to the problem. Once that is sensed — or as I think Kant would have it: super-sensed (since it has no ‘sense’ as the word is ordinarily played) — we see that the problem was a confusion from the outset, an impossible impression that it’s grammar — the structure of ‘To think of logic as X’ — connected to reality, or even that it could be connected to reality. That’s how he reminds us of logic’s role.

    Only the knot was real. —- All judgments of what is the case are already synthetic a priori judgments. Synthetic a priori judgments are only possible because judgments of what is the case — true or false — are possible. They’re possible because judgment per se is possible. Nothing empirical could be true or false if not for synthetic a priori judgments. It would all be gobbledygook. So would we. So would everything. ‘World’ would have no reference. There wouldn’t be a place to make empirical judgments. ‘Being’ would have no reference. There wouldn’t be a way to make empirical judgments. But that we can make empirical judgments — even those as trivial as ‘There is something going on’ — presupposes the super-sensible because it allows for the very possibility of empirical judgments per se.

    To even ask a question of natural science assumes the very possibility of sense per se. And it’s difficult to remind ourselves of that because it’s the precondition for truth and falsity. It’s so elemental that even the possibility of remembering depends on it. That’s why it’s so difficult to remember. —- I think that’s Kant’s spark and Wittgenstein’s light out of darkness.

    Am I correct in thinking that ‘Now I can go on!’? And if so, then why is it that McDowell says the super-sensible is incoherent? What’s incoherent about — as I read it — the sense of ‘sense’? Or is that not how Kant meant it? And even if he slides into two different uses of ‘super-sensible’, then how is McDowell justified in — as I read him — implying that both uses are incoherent? I can see how Schopenhauer might side with McDowell, saying that, if super-sensibility were coherent, then it would entail an infinite regress: there would be a sense of super-sensibility and a sense of the sense of super-sensibility, and so on. But, I don’t see why Kant — with some nudging from Wittgenstein — couldn’t simply note that super-sensibility is to sense as the language-game of philosophy (or perspicuity per se) is to the language-games of the ordinary/everyday…

  2. Michael, thanks for this thoughtful note. I sympathize with what you say in the middle of the note, but I confess I am unsure what you are doing with Kant and in particular with ‘super-sensible’. Is there a language-game of philosophy–as Wittgenstein sees it? If there is no outside, what is to be made of the ‘super-sensible’? Maybe, if you have the time and inclination, you can help me out some more here; I will, at any rate, mull over what you have said and see if I can do better with it.

    • If a criteria for distinguishing sense from nonsense is always operative (whether we’ve forgotten it or not, or ever recognized it or not), then that criteria itself has a sense (one that I’m thinking of as a sort of second level sense). It may just be confusing or confused to call that sense of the criteria ‘super-sensibility’, but, for me at least, it helps highlight the limits of experience. And, I think I hear you: if the super-sensible stands outside the limits and points those limits out, then how could it have a sense in the first place?

      But I don’t think of the super-sensible as standing outside the limits. I think of it as something like the sense of experience/thought per se. I think of it in terms similar to PI 47. The chessboard is simple by some criterion and composite by another. Experience/thought as simple is the reference of super-sensibility, while experience/thought as composite is the reference of the merely sensible. And I think that any attempt to talk about synthetic a priori judgments per se — naturalized logic per se — requires us to think of experience/thought as a simple. Does that make super-sense? 🙂

      • A lot turns on whether you think that PI theorizes nonsense or not. What do you have in mind by the criteria for distinguishing between sense and nonsense? Are the criteria supposed to be part of a theory of nonsense, one developed in PI? Where? Of course the distinction between sense and nonsense matters in PI, but the question is how it matters. –Anyway, your final question in the first paragraph is the right one to ask, as you realize.

        I don’t understand your second paragraph at all. But that’s probably my fault. Sorry!

      • A lot turns on whether you think that PI theorizes nonsense or not. What do you have in mind by the criteria for distinguishing between sense and nonsense? Are the criteria supposed to be part of a theory of nonsense, one developed in PI? Where? Of course the distinction between sense and nonsense matters in PI, but the question is how it matters.

        I suppose I’m thinking of ‘nonsense’ as synonymous with ‘ineptness’ (131) and ‘senseless’ with ’emptiness’ (131). So, if I understand it correctly, a sentence/word/act etc. has substance only within the context of a model, a criterion, a schema, or against a measuring-rod — where there’s friction (107). Sentences/words/actions will have substance within germane models (e.g. the ordinary/everyday and natural science), will be nonsense in the wrong model (e.g. rule-entanglement and jokes), will be senseless without a model (e.g. sense-data and blind will), and will be senseless with only a model (e.g. TLP and Hegel).

        Anyway, your final question in the first paragraph is the right one to ask, as you realize.

        I think, in the spirit of PI, the next question is: against which measuring-rod would ‘super-sense’ avoid ineptness and emptiness (131) without bringing philosophy itself into question (133)? — But I’m wanting to equate super-sense with the broadest possible measuring-rod. I want to say that super-sense is the measuring-rod against which all schemas are measured — even if the schemas are only measured for coherence. I mean, when one is thinking about the preconditions for experience (conceptual content, the employment of reason, receptivity, spontaneity, etc.) then those thoughts have to be within some model or else they’re senseless. I want to say that super-sense — the inextricability of experience/thought/speech (McDowell) — is that model. I’m not sure that I see what’s wrong with talking about a sense of the model. Especially if the (super) sense is of that against which models themselves are measured. That would make super-sense function as second-level friction — friction for the infinite schemas, a paradigm for paradigms. Maybe this all just amounts to the Default. But why can’t one have a sense of the Default qua the Default? And if one can, then isn’t there reason to signify that sense as superior to all other senses?

  3. Is there a language-game of philosophy–as Wittgenstein sees it?

    I mean — according to Wittgenstein (I think) — philosophy is a game of assembling reminders for a particular purpose: to clear away all confusion that prevents us from seeing things as they are. If it weren’t a game, then — contra his explicit intention — the propositions of philosophy would amount to theses. It wouldn’t leave things as they are. No?

    • I don’t know. A game of assembling reminders? It is the assemblage of reminders–but does that count as a language-game? Still, I see no reason to dogmatize here. Call it that if you will. What I find most puzzling is the conditional, namely that if it weren’t a game, then the propositions of philosophy would amount to theses. I can’t sign onto that; at least I don’t think I can. –Let me try to put my hesitation in brief form. If we think of philosophy as assembling reminders (whether we call that a game or not), then why worry about theses? Isn’t anything that genuinely counts as a reminder going to fail to be a thesis–the kind of thing not everyone agrees to? (Isn’t this part of the reason why the theses remark (128) appears immediately on the heels of the reminder remark (127)?)

      • If we think of philosophy as assembling reminders (whether we call that a game or not), then why worry about theses? Isn’t anything that genuinely counts as a reminder going to fail to be a thesis–the kind of thing not everyone agrees to? (Isn’t this part of the reason why the theses remark (128) appears immediately on the heels of the reminder remark (127)?)

        Yeah, I’m with you. As long as a return to the Default is the aim of philosophy and that isn’t considered a thesis but something like an absence of confusion, a restoration of sanity, etc. then my conditional is certainly wrong.

        I don’t know. A game of assembling reminders? It is the assemblage of reminders–but does that count as a language-game? Still, I see no reason to dogmatize here. Call it that if you will.

        If philosophy is to the Default as following traffic signals is to one’s destination, then I think there’s a family resemblance to games. If philosophy is to the Default as light in the room is to seeing the room, then it wouldn’t make much sense to call it a game. I stand corrected. But I do have a question: Wittgenstein says (132) that it’s not philosophy’s business to reform language for practical purposes. But it seems like a set definition for philosophy (light itself instead of signals) would be awesome. Who’s business is it to reform language for practical purposes?

      • Michael, I fear that I am now somewhat lost in your remarks. About all the orientation I now possess is this: Your reading of PI is peculiarly Tractarian. Now, I have no general objection to seeing in PI much that can be seen in TLP. (I guess I tend to think of PI as the fulfillment of TLP, and of the commonalities as complicated commonalities of the Type/Anti-type sort.) But one thing almost no one believes is that ‘the theory of sense/nonsense’ that TLP wrestles with (I am trying for phrasing that will not offend either standard or resolute readers) is among the desiderata of PI, as it would seem to be as you read the book. Much of what you say seems to come to wreck on the shores of PI 97. Don’t you at least find that remark, well, discomfiting? –I will let this be my last word. Again, thanks for your remarks.

      • Don’t you at least find that remark, well, discomfiting?

        Yes. I even have written in the margins by 97: “ultimate criteria as constant variable.” My attempt to foreclose the kind of thing I’ve engaged myself in here. As always, thank you for the therapy. I’ll work on further developing my taste for emotions of recognition.

      • I hope you’ll allow a last remark mulligan.

        Your reading of PI is peculiarly Tractarian.

        I hear you now: I’m still tangled up in Tractarian concepts. Let me try to follow your guidance and free myself. “Ultimate criteria as senseless” ignores the way those words are used in ordinary life.

        Defense attorney says to the jury, “If the glove does not fit, you must acquit.”

        Prosecuting attorney says to the jury, “If the blood trail is his, you must convict.”

        Judge says to the jury, “Regardless of what the attorneys have told you about what determines guilt or innocence, the ultimate criterion is whether a reasonable person would reasonably doubt the defendant’s guilt.”

      • Yes, you are moving in what I regard as the right direction. On ‘criteria’: look at the early sections of Cavell’s The Claim of Reason, pp. 5ff. Look especially at the discussion on pp. 7-8.

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