Completed Draft of New Talk

Since I posted bits of this already–its first part yesterday and its last part a while back–I thought I would go ahead and post the whole thing.  I find writing talks for audiences that will include both philosophers and non-philosophers especially hard.  I wish I were better at it.

Philosophical Investigations and Three Kinds of Illusion:  A Talk

Final Paragraphs of New Talk: Philosophical Investigations

[I’m unsure how much sense these paragraphs make without the preceding 15 pages or so. First draft material.]

Allow me to reiterate my thinking about the three illusions in PI As I have said, I think that transcendental illusions are central to PI, central to understanding its conception of philosophical problems. But I do not mean to deny that the other two types of illusion make appearances in PI. They do. If they didn’t, the other two readings of PI I have discussed would probably never have tempted anyone. But I do not think either of those other two illusions is central in the way transcendental illusion is central. Even more, although I do not have time to detail this now, I also think that the other two types of illusion can metastasize into transcendental illusions, and that what seems merely an empirical or logical illusion can itself be revealed to be or involve a transcendental illusion.

Still, I suspect at this point that you may be less interested in this nicety of housekeeping and more interested in the spirit-sinking midwinter bleakness of the picture of philosophical problems that I have been presenting. Haven’t I said that philosophical problems don’t get solved? —Yes. Haven’t I said that the best we can hope for is to cope with them, and that only temporarily? —Yes. Isn’t that an incredible downer? —Yes. —No. —Yes and no.

Let me revert to Kant once more, while also recalling my opening remarks. At least from his early 20’s, Kant is vexed by the uncanny fact that for so long and so often philosophers of equal education and gifts, each deeply serious and sincere, persist in apparently irreconcilable conflict. Kant regards this as a disgrace to reason. We can think of Kant’s entire philosophical career as driven by his passionate concern to settle conflicts in philosophy—not by entering a judgment in favor of either of the conflicting philosophers, but rather by entering a judgment on the conflict itself, by finding a way to end it. Kant first pictured these conflicts as between philosophers; but he later came to picture them as conflicts between arguments; and still later he came to picture them as reason in conflict with itself, as reason having fallen out of agreement with itself. This became Kant’s new picture of the uncanny fact: reason can fall into apparently irreconcilable conflict with itself.

Wittgenstein we can think of as accepting and, in a sense, extending this movement of Kant’s. He comes to see philosophical problems as manifesting my having fallen out of agreement with myself. It is this uncanny fact about me—and about you too of course—that is the mainspring of PI. Philosophical problems are all at once conceptual, i.e., invulnerable to the empirical, and also deeply personal, personal in the sense that I am at stake in them in various ways, personal in the sense that the problems encroach upon me. My desires and longings, my needs and fears, –my whole affective being potentially is part of the problem. Because it is, we cannot take a simply objective approach to the problems. We must instead always and everywhere approach the problem subjectively, attending to our mode of involvement in it. And there is always already one of those whenever we reflect on a philosophical problem. (Reflecting on a philosophical problem is not an empty holding of something, of the problem.) I am a part of, involved in, every philosophical problem that I take up, like it or not. You too are part of every philosophical problem you take up. The mode of involvement in the problem matters and is, in fact, itself a part of the problem. When we see this, we are also position so as to see what PI is showing each of us: I am susceptible to transcendental illusion. I can, with practice, develop a discipline of response to such illusions. I can teach myself—-with the aid of PI—-to push back against the pressures of transcendental illusion, to stick to ordinary realities. But learning this discipline neither ends philosophy itself for me nor ends any philosophical problem permanently. I have to recognize that I am tempted and I need to find a way of responding to the temptation other than yielding to it. And I have to recognize that there is no way simply to end temptation. I should expect to be tempted until my last breath. But none of this makes much sense if we think that philosophical problems can be independent of modes of reception. To care about illusion as Wittgenstein does is to care about modes of involvement and vice-versa: To use `illusion’ as a term of criticism as Wittgenstein does is to bring the mode of involvement in a philosophical problem into work on the problem.

Philosophy, as Wittgenstein teaches it to us in PI, is transcendental dialectic, but Wittgenstein’s transcendental dialectic is self-critique. Philosophy is self-critique. Philosophy is a form of self-knowledge. Is that a downer? No: there is philosophy to be done. There is always philosophy to be done. Self-critique has no endgame. Even more, there is progress of a sort that can be made. I can become better at resisting temptation, better at recognizing its onset; I can discipline myself to push back harder and for longer and with better focus. That is, I can come better to know myself in such a way that I become better at controlling myself. I cannot make myself impassible, invulnerable to temptation. But I can respond to it better, yield to it less often or less easily. Still, isn’t that a downer? Yes: since such self-knowledge is, face it, almost always bitter. (What I discover will not be things of which I have been ignorant, simply epistemically blank, but things I have refused to know, to acknowledge.) We would all rather not do philosophy as self-examination, self-critique. We would rather do it as distinct from the self, as objective investigation in which my self does not count. We would like to be the investigators of the investigation but not the investigated. We want to be neither shaken nor stirred.

One quick parting comment: We can understand the similarity and difference between Kant and Wittgenstein and their transcendental dialectics in this memorable way, even if it may be slightly misleading: for Kant, we see things aright philosophically when we come to see that the solutions to philosophical problems must be transcendental idealist solutions. For Wittgenstein, we become what we need to be philosophically when we become `transcendental idealists’ about the problems themselves. Wittgenstein’s Copernican Revolution (PI 108) revolves the problems—and, thus revolved, we can see past the apparent need for a solution to them. So, since I have been talking about downers, let me end with a hurrah: Vive la revolution!

Dick Moran Keeps it Real

There’s much to profit from in Moran’s recent interview at 3am magazine.  The section on Experimental Philosophy is a tour de force.

As to ‘experimental philosophy, I can’t claim to be very well versed in it, but it seems to be a research program in its early days. I think that by now, even its practitioners are beginning to realise that simply asking people, outside of any particular context, about their “intuitions” about some concept of philosophical interest is not really going to be informative since without any philosophical background to the question, the respondents themselves can’t really know just what question they are being asked to answer, what their responses are responses to. There are just too many different things that can be meant by a question like, “‘Was such-and-such an action intentional or not?”, for example. And without further discussion or further analysis, the experimenters themselves can’t know what answers they are being given by the respondents. It’s not good data. So I can imagine experimental philosophy evolving in a way to account for this, and starting to include some philosophical background to the investigation, perhaps even some philosophical history, to provide the needed context to the particular intuitions that they are trying to expose and test for. At that point, the experimental situation might also become less one-sided, with a researcher examining a respondent, and could allow for the experimental subjects themselves to ask questions of the experimenters, including questions of clarification and disambiguation, and perhaps even challenges to the way the experimenter has framed the questions.

Later it might be found useful to conduct such experiments in small groups rather than individually, with one experimenter and one subject, and instead the respondents could be encouraged to discuss the questions among themselves as well as with the experimenter. People could meet in these groups two or three times a week and perhaps some relevant reading could be assigned, to clarify and expand upon the question, and the respondents would be given time to do the reading, and asked to write something later on about the question in connection with the reading and the discussions they have had. Then the experimenter could provide “comments” on this writing for the experimental subjects themselves. I think grading the results would be optional in such an arrangement, and probably of no experimental interest, but other than that I think something like this could be the future of experimental philosophy. It’s worth trying anyway.

The Transcendental Way with Solipsism

A favorite passage from my teacher, Lewis White Beck.  It is from his book, The Actor and The Spectator.

Only A. C. Ewing, I think, has indicated a possible transcendental argument against solipsism.  He said, “If solipsism is true, there are no solipsists, since I am not one.”  This short way with solipsism, almost a throwaway that Ewing consigned to a footnote, seems to me to be profoundly important.

The solipsist position has never been maintained if it is true, because if it is true I alone could have maintained it, and I have not done so…

I believe this argument, invented by Ewing, is likewise usable by others and not discountable when extended to others.  This argument will carry no weight, of course, with another person if he is a genuine solipsist who knows his business.  But, if there is such a person, I know that solipsism is false since that person is not I.

Why Might Not the Unintelligible Happen? (Royce,Tractatus)

(A class handout.)

In an earlier handout I urged that we cannot distribute Frege’s Three Realms across the Pix Theory.  In particular, I urged that we cannot treat the picture as in the Third Realm while the pictured is in the Outer Realm.  As I said, since the pictured is itself logically formed, it is hard to see how it could be a denizen of the Outer Realm, a thing.  (Rather, it is a fact.)

Picture and pictured are both in logical space.  One reason this may seem hard to accept is that it may seem that the pictured is just the world, and that the world could just as easily (maybe more easily) be bat shit crazy as be logically formed.

Think about this passage from Josiah Royce, in which he is posing the problem to which Immanuel Kant’s transcendental deduction is the response:

Why might not the genuine world simply ignore our categories?  If it did so, and experience failed to conform to our ways of conceiving things, which could we do to enforce our conceptual constructions?  Present experience, in any case, is not mere conceptual construction.  Why might not the unintelligible happen?  Why might not experience break away from the forms of my intellect?  Why might not chaos come at any moment?  That such chaos does not now occur, what is that but itself a merely empirical fact, neither a priori nor necessary?

This is forcefully put, a credit to Royce.  But what is the response to this problem in TLP?  To answer, one passage you should consider is 3.03-3.031.  I will leave that passage to you.  I want to think about something else, but something related.

Royce summarizes Kant’s response to this objection in a fascinating way:  “What experience itself is…you cannot learn through experience.  That you must learn by reflection.  –The concept of experience, strange to say, is itself not an empirical concept.”  This strikes me as something we can “restate” in Tractarian terms.  But to do so, we need to develop some of those terms.

At 4.126 (as we discussed yesterday), Wittgenstein distinguishes proper concepts from formal concepts.  A proper concept can be presented by a function.  So, to use an  example, Silver is a horse, we can say that the proper concept, (  ) is a horse, appears in it.  A proper concept is such that an object saturates it–in our example, Silver.  To say that an object saturates the function is a way of saying that the object, Silver, falls under the proper concept, (  ) is a horse:  symbolically, Hs.  A formal concept, on the other hand, is such that nothing falls under it in the way something falls under a proper concept. When something falls under a formal concept, it is the value of a variable:  a variable is a sign for a formal concept.  The H in Hs falls under the formal concept of function, since it is the value of a function variable; and the s falls under the formal concept of name, since it is the value of a name variable.  A formal concept we might think of as a method of representation; a proper concept as a predicate (cp. PI 104).

When can “restate” Royce’s summary of Kant’s response in these terms.  Experience is a formal concept, not a proper concept.  In its way, Experience as a formal concept is like Picture as a formal concept.  To see something as a picture is to see it as the value of a variable, not to see it as such that it saturates a proper concept, (  ) is a picture.  Similarly, to see something as an experience is to see it as the value of a variable, and not to see it as such that it saturates a proper concept, (  ) is an experience. (If experience was a proper concept, then it would presumably be an empirical concept, one that I would have to learn from experience itself.)  Seen as the value of a variable, an experience has the sort of bi-polarity that propositions do.  Experiences face reality-ward.  (Kant would say they are objectively valid.)  But this means that experiences cannot be understood as the problem posed above would have it.  Experiences, as bi-polar, do not themselves have predicates or enter into relations.  The problem though requires that we conceive of experience as experience all right, but as somehow completely alien to a world that is bat shit crazy (and, odd as it sounds, this would require us to think of experience as taking predicates or entering into relations).  But in such a situation, my experience would not even rise to the level of falsity:  in such a situation, I get nothing right and get nothing wrong.  There is just me, over here, with my orderly but beggarly experience, and the world, over there, in its alien and chiropteric chaos.  Experience no longer is understood as facing reality-ward.  It is really not facing any way at all. It has no face, and so no orientation.

(HT/James Conant:  “The Problem of Error”)

Sellars on Kantian Receptivity

The task of “transcendental logic” is to explicate the concept of a mind that gains knowledge of the world of which it is a part.  The acquisition of knowledge by such a mind involves its being acted upon or “affected” by the objects it knows.  There are, of course, any number of stages at which one can go wrong with respect to the structure of Kant’s thought–and Kant himself is not always a reliable guide–but the sooner one makes a wrong choice of roads, the more difficult it is to get back on the right track.  And the first major “choicepoint” concerns the concept of “receptivity”.  What is it, exactly, that is brought about when our “receptivity” (inner or outer) is “affected”?  It has always been easy to answer, “impressions of sense,” and to continue by construing these as nonconceptual states, states that belong to the same family as tickles and aches, but differ in that unlike the latter they are constituents of the perceptual experience of physical things.

Even though there is an element of truth in this interpretation, its total effect is to distort Kant’s thought in a way that obscures its most distinctive features…  “Some Remarks on Kant’s Theory of Experience”

Kant and Frege and Objectivity and Objects

I’ve been thinking actively again about Frege. I was puzzling through his apparent Platonism, wondering about Tom Ricketts’ way of responding to that (in his masterful paper, “Objectivity and Objecthood”), and I recalled this passage of Karl Jaspers. It strikes me as useful on Kant (as it was intended to be) but also as useful about Frege–and as marking a deep similarity in the problematic each faces.

The fundamental difficulty is that Kant, in striving to disclose the conditions of all objectivity, is compelled to operate within objective thinking itself, hence in a realm of objects which must not be treated as objects. He tries to understand the subject-object relationship in which we live as though it were possible to be outside it. He strives toward the limits of the existence of all being for us; standing at the limit, he endeavors to perceive the origin of the whole, but he must always remain within the limit. With the transcendental method he strives to transcend while remaining within the world. He thinks about thought. Yet he cannot do so from outside thought, but only by thinking.

Frege does not use Kant’s transcendental method. But his symbolism can be understood as striving to transcend thought while remaining within it, to disclose the conditions of all objectivity while operating within objective thinking itself.

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