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?

How to Read TLP?

(Class Handout.)

(1) How to read TLP? –One proposition at a time, like a logiholic.
(2) TLP is a prose poem of logic–it complicatedly inherits a literary tradition inaugurated by Parmenides.

(3) Wittgenstein (from Culture and Value) around 1930, but apropos of TLP (and, mutatis mutandis, of PI):

Each of the sentences I write is trying to say the whole thing, i.e., the same thing over and over again; it is as though they were all views of one object seen from different angles.

(4) Wittgenstein considered titling TLP something else–Der Satz, The Proposition.  The book isolates the look, the physiognomy, the sound, the structure of the proposition–a literary and a logical task.  It prioritizes the proposition stylistically and philosophically.

(5) Ronald Gregor Smith wrote of Martin Buber’s I and Thou:

To the reader who finds the meaning obscure at the first reading we may say that I and Thou is indeed a poem.  Hence it must be read more than once, and its total effect allowed to work on the mind; the obscurities of one part…will then be illumined by the brightness of another part.  For the argument is not as it were horizontal, but spiral; it mounts, and gathers within itself the aphoristic and pregnant utterances of the earlier part.

Just so, exactly just so, of TLP too.  I have been stressing the necessity of allowing the total effect of TLP to work on your mind.

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”)

Frege and Wittgenstein on the Difficulty of Audience

Please excuse this letter as springing from my unsatisfied need for communication.  I find myself in a vicious circle:  before people pay attention to my Begriffsschrift, they want to see what it can do, and I in turn cannot show this without presupposing familiarity with it.  So it seems I can hardly count on any readers for the book I mentioned…  (Letter to Marty)

This book will perhaps only be understood by those who have themselves already thought the thoughts which are expressed in it–or similar thoughts.   It is therefore not a text-book.  (Preface to TLP)

Topsy-Turvy Frege

Davidson’s Truth and Predication–at least parts of it–have been in front of me this weekend.  Good stuff, although I am out of sympathy with many of the details of the stories he tells, both about the history of the problem of predication and about the solution of the problem.

But I guess my fundamental disagreement with Davidson centers on the reality of the problematic he investigates.  For Davidson, the unity of the proposition must be explained; explaining it requires solving the problem of predication.  Seeing things this way, when Davidson turns to Frege he understands objects and concepts as constituents of propositions, constituents fashioned, as it were, so as to constitute a propositional unity.  Predictably, Davidson is most fascinated with concepts, since they are–even more than objects–fearfully and wonderfully made:  they are incomplete.   Objects of course are complete–as are propositions (although in a different sense (Frege got confused about this, unfortunately)).  The beginning of wisdom in reading Frege is recognizing the varieties of incompleteness and completeness he thematizes in his thinking–but that is a topic for another post.  What I want to consider here is the way that Davidson turns Frege upside-down.  I believe Frege understands objects and concepts as abstractions from propositions, not constituents of propositions.  Objects and concepts are, shifting descriptions, made from propositions, not made for them.  The proposition, the propositional unity, is prior to objects and concepts.  There is no explaining the unity; and there is no problem of predication to solve.  Davidson’s problematic is unreal.

Of course there is a problematic looming here, but it is more metaphilosophical than metaphysical.  Namely, how do we philosophize without this problem?  What would it be to philosophize constrained by the unity of propositions, recognizing that ultimately our only grip on anything as an object of thought is as what we are thinking instead of as what we are thinking about?  Or, to put this in a more Fregean way, what would it be to philosophize constrained by The Context Principle–and its two companion Principles from Foundations?  Frege’s Principles, as I believe (and have argued elsewhere), are the methodological counterpart to the unity of the proposition.  Taken seriously–kept is Frege’s word–the Principles reorient philosophy itself.  Wittgenstein’s work, both in TLP and in PI, strives to keep Frege’s Principles.  Arguably, Davidson senses this.  Although he shies away from Wittgenstein (saying a bit about why in a long footnote) he does at one point talk of a “deep truth” in a “Wittgensteinian thought”–but he seems unable to see how really to entertain the thought.  That is unsurprising, since the thought impugns the problematic that provides the very structure of Davidson’s thinking.

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