Wittgenstein’s Three Living Principles

More of the fruits of cleaning–an old essay I forgot that I wrote.  I gave it at a Pacific APA, I think; anyway, I likely forgot it because it got anaphora’d (carried up) into my Concept ‘Horse’ Book.  But it now strikes me as usefully revealing the topography of that book.


A. C. Ewing’s F. H. Bradley

I have been on a Bradley kick of late, obviously. Yesterday, I received a used copy of his Principles of Logic in the mail. The volumes were clearly much handled and carefully annotated. There were a occasional words in the margins and frequent slim vertical lines alongside passages. I flipped to the inside of the cover and, lo!, it turns out that I have A. C. Ewing’s copy. Funny thing. I immediately recalled several lovely mornings with my teacher, Lewis White Beck, talking over coffee about Ewing’s* Idealism: A Critical Survey*.

A small event, admittedly, the finding of Ewing’s name, but one that brought me considerable pleasure.

Kelly Dean Jolley's photo.

What Does Husserl Want?

I am preparing for a seminar on Plato, the Sophists, and psychologism this Fall.  Among the texts we will read is (sections of) Husserl’s Logical Investigations.  I have been working on the early sections on logic this morning.  Husserl complains of the incompleteness of all the sciences; none have that “inner clarity and rationality”:  as theories, they are not “crystal-clear”, the functions of all their concepts and propositions are not fully intelligible, not all of their propositions have been exactly analyzed.  –My question is this:  is this crystalline clarity Husserl demands itself crystal-clear, fully intelligible?  If not even mathematics (to take the crucial case) exhibits this crystalline clarity, then what grasp of what Husserl wants do we have?  Do we want a more mathematical mathematics?  Hard to see how that would help, since it would presumably only apply the lack of inner clarity and rationality to itself.  (And presumably not in a “fight fire with fire”-ish way.)

Now it is true that, in an important sense, Husserl attempts to explain what he wants across much of the rest of the book, often enough by the example of his phenomenological practice.  But it remains necessary to be aware that we do not really know what Husserl wants in the early sections:  clarity is something about which we have to become clear.  (Consider how distant Wittgenstein’s desiderated clarity is from Husserl’s.)

Frege Betraying Frege

“We speak not only of the relation of a city to a country of which it is the capital or of a man to a child of which he is the father, but of the relation of an object to a function of which it is the argument.  But whereas the first relation finds expression in sentences that have in common the expression ‘capital of’ and the second have in common the expression ‘father of’, the function-argument relation finds expression in complex designations such as ‘the capital of Holland’ and ‘Rembrant’s father’, which have no expression in common.  For this relation is not one that can be put into words at all.  We might say, echoing Tractatus 4.121, that it is not something we can express by means of language, but something which expresses itself in language…

“Frege’s thesis that a concept is a particular case of a function embodies the fundamental insight that the sense in which we speak of the relation of an object to a concept it falls under is the same as that in which we speak of the relation of an object to a function of which it is an argument.  As there is no expression for the latter, so there is none for the former.  If therefore we use the locution ‘a falls under the concept F‘ and write ‘Gold falls under the concept malleable‘ in place of ‘Gold is malleable’, we do not express in words a relation that is expressed in the shorter sentence without words.  Frege thus betrays his own insight when we allows himself to be persuaded that because ‘falls under’ is a transitive verb, it stands for a relation…

“Since ‘falls under’ is not a relational expression, it follows that phrases of the form ‘the concept F‘ are not singular terms.  Unlike ‘the city of Leeds’, which designates a certain city, ‘the concept malleable‘ does not designate a certain concept.  Hence we cannot regard the verb and accusative of ‘Gold falls under the concept malleable‘ as signs in their own right.  In combination they form an expression for a concept, but in themselves are not expressions for anything.  Frege of course recognized that phrases of the form ‘the concept F’ are not concept-words, but if you take ‘falls under’ to be a genuine Beziehungswort, as Frege did in “On Concept and Object”, you have in consistency to construe such phrases as singular terms.  Frege was thus forced to equivocate:  as a singular term a phrase of this form must stand for an object, so by parity with ‘the city of Leeds’ it should stand for an object that (somehow) represents a concept.  –And yet how easy it is to go astray here!  For in our sentence there is expressed a relation between gold and the concept malleable.  So what is more natural than to assume that ‘falls under’ is an expression for that relation?  And yet the right conception is so close at hand!  For if ‘the concept malleable‘ is not an expression for a concept, it cannot stand for the second term of the relation of an object’s falling under a concept.  And so ‘falls under’ cannot itself be an expression for that relation.  We thus reach the conclusion that the relation expressed in our sentence is not expressed by it.”   (Peter Long, “Formal Relations”)

Philosophical Questions 1

I’ve been thinking lately about questions, philosophical questions.  It seems to me–although I admit to being unable to take this thought very far yet–that one useful way of gaining insight into a philosopher’s work is by working delicately to typify the relationship between the philosopher’s questions and her answers to them.  Perhaps, so stated, that seems obvious.  But what I mean is typifying the relationship as such (if that can be done), independent of the particular erototetic content or declarative content of the question and answer, respectively.  There are, I submit, a vast number of different typifying relationships to be discovered.  Part of the reason I began to think about this was re-reading a comment of mine on G. E. Moore:

Moore insists that we often ask a philosophical question without knowing quite what question our interrogatory words express.  But Moore does not ever seriously doubt that there is a philosophical question that the words express.  We can rightly say that Moore doubted the clarity of the questions that philosophers asked, and we can rightly say that he often doubted whether philosophers really believed the answers they gave to the questions; but we cannot rightly say that he doubted whether there were philosophical questions to be asked and answers to be given to them.  That Moore took this view of philosophical questions is shown by his deep unease with his own answers to them.  Moore, I think, believed his answers; but he also did not believe his answers.  (“I believe; help thou my unbelief.”)  His deep unease was the result of the mismatch between his understanding of the questions and the believability of his answers to them:  given his view of the questions, the very believability of his answers to them made the answers hard to believe.

Socrates’ questions and answers bear one sort of relationship to each other.   Augustine’s another.  Aquinas’ another.  Kant’s another–and so on.  Consider Heidegger, at least late:  he so absolutizes the question over the answer that it is no longer clear that there is, that there could be, even that there should be any answer to the question or even an attempt at an answer.  Such an attempt would violate the absoluteness of the question, allow us at least the hope of being able to end, at least for a moment, enduring the interrogative rack,  to stop bearing the question mark, to finish the forever-rising inflection–to scramble off the heath and into shelter, no longer exposed as mad Lear.  But Heidegger would have us stay.

(Ok, so I got a little carried away there.  Apologies.  But I plan to return–soberly–to this line of thought in coming days.)

Distinctions Among Distinctions

I posted the G. A. Cohen impersonation of Ryle (below) both because I thought it was funny and because it seemed to me to satirize moments in my own work.  Now of course I am not worthy to lace Ryle’s boxing gloves, but I have on occasion distinguished distinctions from distinctions–or tried to.  Here’s a short section from late in my book on the Concept ‘Horse’ Paradox.

At this juncture someone might object that the respondents whose responses I’ve been typifying end up looking quite a lot like Frege (as Wittgenstein read him) and Anscombe and Wittgenstein (early and late)—a lot like the philosophers I think we should follow here. I comment on this as Cavell does on a similar fact: The work of these philosophers forms a sustained and radical criticism of such respondents—so of course it is “like” them. It is “like” them in the way that any criticism is “like” what it criticizes. But ultimately, the work of these philosophers and of the respondents is radically unlike: to use an example of Anscombe’s, as radically unlike as soap and washing.

Why is that? Why this radical unlikeness? Well, I’ve done my best throughout the chapter to provide answers to that question. There is a gulf fixed between the work of these philosophers and the respondents, a gulf that closely resembles the gulf between constative language and ladder-language because it is that gulf. The gulf is another of these distinctions without a genus. The philosophers I think we should follow do not take themselves to be trying to bargain the absoluteness of the distinction between concepts and objects away—although I admit they occasionally slip from the strait and narrow onto the broad way. But, no, they are trying to make clear that we can come to see the CHP as no paradox at all only by letting the distinction between concepts and objects be the distinction it is. It is not a distinction with a genus. It is not a distinction of which we need to be informed; we need rather to be reminded of it. It is not a distinction which we recognize and then, having recognized it, impose on thoughts that were thinkable before the imposition. Again, it is know-how, not know-that.

The distinction is of philosophical importance not because it can be given as an answer, in some bit of constative language, to a deep philosophical question. The distinction is of philosophical importance because it is implicated as deeply in thoughts as any distinction could be. No matter how far into thinking nature we retreat, when we turn to think we find such distinctions retreating and turning with us. They are a part of what we are. They are elements in that tawny grammar, that mother-wit, that know-how, that we are initiated into when we are initiated into what Cavell calls “human speech and activity, sanity and community.”  They are what we do. They are what thinkers do.

There are distinctions and distinctions—and so of course the details make a difference. One of the things that reflecting on the CHP’s respondents reveals is how very hard it is to keep straight distinctions among distinctions. After we have distinguished quantitative distinctions from qualitative distinctions, we think we’ve finished distinguishing distinctions. But there are more distinctions to make yet. Is the distinction between soap and washing quantitative or qualitative? It seems to me to be neither. But it’s still a distinction, for all that.

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.)

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