With an ‘L’ on his Forehead…

There are more values available for response in human life than anyone can possibly be responsible to.

I think of this as the Not World Enough and Time Problem:  we are all missing out on things that are objectively such as not to be missed.  That is the human predicament.

I am strongly tempted to think that a lure to relativism, and to psychologizing the values of others, is our desire to deny the Problem:  we are never missing out; we just made different decisions, believed or desired different things, than so-and-so did.  We aren’t missing out and neither is he, neither is she.  But we know–and we do know–that in many cases we are missing out and that we will have to miss out.  It may not be our fault, but it is always our loss.

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.


Revelation–M. B. Foster

How then are we to understand Revelation in its relation to thought?  Belief in Revelation is belief that ‘God has spoken’.  What does this mean?  Or rather, what is it to believe it, if to believe involves something more than assent to a factual proposition?  Just as to apprehend God’s Holiness is to repent (‘Now mine eye seeth thee.  Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes’); so belief in a divine Revelation seems to involve something like a repentance in the sphere of the intellect.  Certainly it cannot be meant that we, with an unbroken intellect, are somehow privileged to talk about God.  Talking about God is one of the things which the Bible hardly permits us to do.  When Zechariah says, ‘Be silent all flesh before the Lord’, this is not wholly different from Wittgenstein’s ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent’.  What Wittgenstein seems not to believe is that God has spoken.  But what is it to believe this?  –Mystery and Philosophy

Hell Hath No Fury…

Hell hath no fury like a romantically oriented reader of the Tractatus who has thought of the early Wittgenstein as an enchanting mystagogue, but gone on to read the later one and realized subconsciously that the project of the thaumaturgic Tractatus is fundamentally the same as that of the quotidian Investigations.  — T. P. Uschanov, “The Strange Death of Ordinary Language Philosophy

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.

Resolute Reading–New Paper Intro (Draft)

Below is the draft intro of my new paper, “Resolute Reading”.  I will post more as I finish the draft.

The Resolute Reading of TLP exerts a willy-nilly but mesmeric fascination. Its fans try to substantialize it; its opponents try to prevent its substantialization. We all know about food fights. But this is a recipe fight. Before the cake has been baked, indeed before the batter battered, the bakers fall on each other, rending and tearing.

Well, ok, so it is not quite as bad as all that. But it is bad, bad enough. Perhaps the worst of it is the seemingly interminable character of the debate. How is it to end? What are the (are there?) conditions of winning? What kind of debate is it, really?

I want to provide an answer to that last question. I hope that doing so will allow me to shed some light on the previous two. –When I say I want to provide an answer, I do not mean to say that I want to dogmatize about the answer. I want instead to suggest an answer that strikes me as helpful. If it turns out not to be the final answer, that is fine with me, so long as it helps us to the final answer.

Here is how I want to reach my suggestion of a helpful answer: I want to backtrack to a debate about Philosophical Investigations between O. K. Bouwsma and Gilbert Ryle. After reconstructing that debate, I will talk a bit about why it seems hopeless, why it is that Bouwsma and Ryle resemble two blindfolded fencers back-to-back, each lunging to deliver the final blow to his opponent, but each stabbing nothing but air. –Well, ok, so it is not quite as bad as all that. But it is bad, bad enough.

Say Show Elucidate

(Another class handout. Last one for a while, I promise.)

Let’s think more about saying and showing—and about elucidating. To do so, I want to use an example of Edmund Dain’s but to situate it in a little more detail.

Imagine that you have been thinking about metaphysics.  After a long, brow-knit silence, you intone:  “There are objects.”  I have been sitting next to you, drinking coffee and losing to myself at tic-tac-toe.  I close my notebook full of x’s and o’s and look at you, puzzled.  “Huh?”

Again you intone, with increased metaphysical drama:  “There are objects.” 

I can tell that you regard what you are saying as urgent, so I try to understand:  “Huh?”

You sigh, shaking your head at the hardness of mine, and you explain:  “Descartes, you know doubt recall, quested heartily for something that was clear and distinct, indubitable.  He hit upon ‘I think, therefore I am’.  But I have hit upon something at least as good, likely better:  ‘There are objects.’  That, my good man, is a true metaphysical principle.  It survives even the furies of the evil genius.  After all, if the evil genius fools me, then HE fools ME.  There are objects, you see, him and me.  I cannot be mistaken if I believe that there are objects.  And notice how cleverly I have escaped Cartesian subjectivity.  No need to talk of thinking at all.  No need to find a path from in here to out there.  I start out there.  Me, the good genius, and him, the evil genius.  Just objects, only objects; there are objects.  There are objects.”

I say that I do not understand.  “What do you mean, ‘objects’?  I don’t get it.  If you tell me that ‘There are objects that fell’ in answer to my question, ‘What made that noise?’ I would understand.  I would know how to symbolize it even, after taking my logic class:  ‘(Vx) (Fx)’.  Or if you said, pointing to the fruit on the table here, ‘There are apples’, I would understand that, too:  ‘(Vx) (Gx)’.  But you don’t seem to be telling me anything about objects—like, they fell—or telling me that there are certain sorts of objects—like, apples—you are telling me what?”

You look disappointed.  As usual, I have failed to match the seriousness of your thinking.

“I wish you had never taken that logic class.  It has ruined you for thinking.  You now just monger symbols.  –Anyway, when I say ‘There are objects’, I mean that there are objects.  And if I must resort to symbols to explain this to you, then I symbolize my indubitable thus:  ‘(Vx) (Ox)’.”

“Huh.  So you mean ‘There are objects’ to be like ‘There are apples’.  But then what is the variable in your symbolization doing?  In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein says something about how ‘object’ talk, when used rightly, is expressed symbolically by variable names.  So, if I want to say ‘There are two objects which…’ I say it by ‘(Vx, y)…’  I can thus predicate something of the ‘objects’.  For example, when I symbolize ‘There are apples’ as ‘(Vx) (Gx)’ I can elucidate that by saying ‘There’s an x such that x is an apple’.  So your symbolizing of your indubitable could be elucidated in a parallel way:  ‘There is an x such that x is an object.’  But notice that your use of ‘object’ there is predicative, as my use of ‘apple’ is.  Is that what you want, to predicate ‘( ) is an object’ of some x?’

You look puzzled.  “Well, I am not quite sure.  That seems like what I want and it does not seem like what I want.  I am unsure that I want a predicative use of ‘object’.  That seems to make the objects I am talking about too robust, too spatio-temporal, too ordinary.  When I say that there are objects, although I am glad to be right because there are apples or because there are alligators, I take it that such objects as apples and alligators are not the best examples of my objects.  I want objects that are less robust, less spatio-temporal, less ordinary.  The more I think about it, I am not sure that I really mean to be using ‘object’ predicatively.  I am using ‘object’, not to predicate, but rather to indicate that which is the subject of predications.  I want to symbolize it in a way that resembles the symbolization of ‘There are objects that fell’, ‘(Vx) (Fx)’.”

“Oh.  Huh.  But what do you want to predicate of your ‘objects’?  The sentence you mean to be analogous to your indubitable predicates ‘fell’ of the ‘object’.  But your indubitable lacks any such predicate.  I don’t understand what you want.”

“Well,” you say, now becoming exasperated, “this is what happens when you mix logic and metaphysics.  Philosophy consists of two parts, metaphysics and logic—and the metaphysics is the basis of philosophy.  How do I want to symbolize my indubitable?  Like this:  ‘(Vx) ([ ]x)’.  There.  That. Says. It.”

“It does?” I ask.  “I don’t think that says it.  I don’t think that says anything at all.  I understand that you want it to say something, in fact, to somehow say your indubitable.  But, as it stands, with the  ‘[ ]’, it is a propositional variable, not a proposition.  We need a predicate.  I also understand that, as it stands, it seems indubitable, but that is because, since it fails to be a proposition, no one can take a propositional attitude toward it. Cheap indubitability, as it were.”

“Ok.  I suppose I concede that.  I must want something else:  maybe ‘(Vx)’, just that.  But that looks weird.”

“Yeah.  Frege would’ve regarded that as a monstrosity.  But I see, in a way, what is happening to you.  But there isn’t really anything you are saying when you say ‘There are objects’.  You are drawn both to what Wittgenstein calls the ‘pseudo-concept’ use of ‘object’—the one replaced by the variable—and to some other use of ‘object’, a use on which it means something like ‘anything that can be carried’.  But the problem is that neither of those is really what you want.  The first won’t let you say anything, and so won’t let you say enough; the second lets you say something, but it says too much.  An isolated quantifier is a monstrosity; it says nothing.  A propositional variable says nothing; but it at least provides a kind of stencil for saying something.  But the predicative use of ‘object’ seems wrong too.  I wonder if part of the reason why your indubitable seems indubitable to you is that is not only seems to say something, it seems to say more than one something and, oddly enough, more than one nothing, all at once.  Depth, indeed.”

You meet this with a profound frown.  “Huh!”

Comment:  I do not take the argumentative movements in this little conversation to be obligatory.  The point is not to establish anything seriously about ‘There are objects’ but rather to provide an incarnated example of elucidation.

Much that is said in the conversation is what I call “ladder-language” (borrowing a term from Sellars).  It is language that is meant to help to show (transitively) what shows (intransitively) or does not show (intransitively) in some sentence or sentence-like structure.  Thus the language is didactically useful, but is not meant to stand—constatively—on its own.  The language is unformalizable but nonetheless tied to formalization, tied to (intransitive) showing or its failure.  (Remember, in nonsense, nothing (intransitively) shows.)  When someone comes to see clearly the symbols in a genuine sentence or when someone comes to see that there is nothing that he means by some sentence-like structure, then what was said to get him to see that has no further role to play.  All that matters is the person’s clear recognition of the sense or the nonsense.

Beginning and Ending: TLP


“In my beginning is my end.” –T. S. Eliot

Arthur Schopenhauer, who was an early, deep influence on Wittgenstein, says of his own masterwork, The World as Will and Representation, that it is a book necessary to read twice. His reason: not only does the book’s ending presuppose its beginning, but its beginning presupposes its end. This structure of reciprocal presupposition makes two readings crucial, since the beginning’s dependence on the ending cannot be appreciated until the beginning has been read after the ending.

Something of the same is true of both TLP and PI. I will not just now go into structural detail about the two books–I will do that soon enough–but I will insist that the beginnings of each of the two books presupposes its ending. And radically so: it is not that the ending supplies a premise, say, that is necessary to explicate an early enthymeme, and so the question of the beginning’s truth is undecided until the end. Rather, it is that the ending supplies the point, the point, of the beginning, and so the question of the beginning’s meaning is undecided until the end.  This happens differently in TLP than it does in PI of course.

Consider TLP. On a first reading, the book begins by speaking light into the face of the deep: “The world is everything that is the case.” But it ends with a darkling hush:

My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)

He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

Notice that the world figures in both beginning and ending, but more importantly (at least for now) the ending tells us something about the point of the beginning. On a second reading, the beginning that seemed a triumphal metaphysical revelation, a sounding of horns, is revalued as elucidation, hushed. “The world is everything that is the case”: a rung on a ladder, ladder-language, to be surmounted, not proclaimed.

We will of course talk much more about these last lines (6.54-7) of TLP. For now I just want to make clear how the book’s beginning presupposes its end. I harp on this by way of warning you. Do not assume that you know what Wittgenstein is up to as he opens either of the books. TLP opens as if it were metaphysics. PI opens as if it were philosophy of language. But Wittgenstein is no more doing metaphysics in TLP than he is doing the philosophy of language in PI.

Wittgenstein is doing something original in each book, something that is neither metaphysics nor the philosophy of language. And what he is doing in TLP is not the same as what he is doing in PI, despite the fact that what he is doing in each is like what he is doing in the other, and despite the fact that in neither is he doing metaphysics or philosophy of language.

In practical terms, this does not mean that you should be agnostic about what Wittgenstein is saying as he opens the books. You have to try to understand what he is saying as he is saying it; you cannot read the books otherwise. But you should regard any understanding you have as potentially sacrificial, as an “understanding” that may be taken from you later. The path up Mt. Moriah is long. Who knows what, among our possessions as we begin, may be demanded from us by the end of the climb?

Chump Change: a Thought on TLP 1


What should we say of TLP 1, what should we do with it?  We could note, I guess, that it plays an interesting role in a song by New Pornographers, Chump Change.  But that’s scarce help.

One odd feature of 1 is its Eliotic dual-aspect as Bang-Whimper (of course this at the beginning, not, as Eliot’s was, at the end).

Bang:  The world is everything that is the case!  Whoa!  Who woulda thunk it?  Everything, everydamnthing!  The world, man, the whole frickin’ world!  This must be the near end of a gargantuan Metaphysical Buffet!  Upcoming dishes:  God, The Soul, …Who Knows?  I can’t stand the suspense.  What next?

Whimper:  The world is everything that is the case…  Well, yeah.  What else would it be?  “Everything that is the case.”  Less exciting even than the Times’ “All the news that is fit to print”.  The world is–the world.  Whoopee…  Wake me at 1.1.

Why begin with a proposition that is somehow both thunderclap and cricket’s chirp, new news and old hat?

It is incredibly tempting to read TLP as follows:  The 1’s tell us What There Is.  The 2’s and 3’s tell us How Language Hooks onto What There Is.  The Bang aspect rules on this reading.  But is there another reading, one that perhaps allows the Whimper aspect to rule?  And if there is, what would we make of it, and of the 1’s, 2’s and 3’s?

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