To get the final lilt of songs,
To penetrate the inmost lore of poets–to know the mighty ones,
Job, Homer, Eschylus, Dante, Shakspere, Tennyson, Emerson;
To diagnose the shifting-delicate tints of love and pride and doubt–to truly understand,
To encompass these, the last keen faculty and entrance-price,
Old age, and what it brings from all its past experiences.
Into the fullness of the problem raised by sensationalism, into the truth which underlies this ‘metaphor hardened into a dogma’, we are not prepared, nor indeed is it necessary, to enter here. We will content ourselves on the general question with the remark, that in the act of perception, it is not doubt true to say that the mind is passive. But to say this is to say one thing, and it is quite and altogether another thing to talk of sensations (in the signification of bare feelings) as though in themselves, and apart from the activity of the mind, they existed as objects of consciousness. That is to assert that a mere feeling is sufficient to constitute by itself the minimum required for knowledge and reality; and the proof of this assertion has been, is, and ever will be wanting. It cannot exist since the proof or even the assertion is a sheer self-contradiction; and it is a self-contradiction for the following reason. An assertion, and much more so a proof, is intellectual; it is a judgment which implies the exercise of the understanding; and the term united by the judgment must therefore fall within the sphere of the understanding. They must be objects for the intellect, and so, in a sense more or less entire, relative to the intellect; in a word, intelligible. But the essence of mere sensation was the entire absence of the intellectual, and hence to make one single affirmation with respect to sensation, as sensation, is to treat as relative to the understanding that which is supposed to exclude the understanding; and this is a contradiction.
To pursue with the reason an object which when found is to be irrational, to think the opposite of thought while fixed as opposite, to comprehend the incomprehensible yet without transforming it–such is the task of that which calls itself the ‘philosophy of experience’. It is the pursuit of a phantom for ever doomed to fade in our embrace, a mocking shadow beyond the horizon of our grasp, known to us as the unreality of all that we can hold, and whose existence must perish at the threshold of human possession.
Since [my] earliest days of philosophic study, I have remained concerned with the works of philosophers, not in themselves, but as helps to the understanding of experience. I study the works of philosophers out of an interest which subordinates theory to understanding. . . . It will be ever important to me to give attention to technical philosophy but I will never be able to take technical philosophy as the ultimate phase of a reflective life.
…I am convinced that I can be creative as a philosopher only for so long as my experience still contains unexploited and unchartered zones. And this explains at last what I said earlier on about experience being like a promised land: it has to become, as it were, its own beyond, inasmuch as it has to transmute itself and make its own conquest. After all, the error of empiricism consists only in ignoring the part of invention and even of creative initiative involved in any genuine experience. It might also be said that its error is to take experience for granted and to ignore its mystery; whereas what is amazing and miraculous is that there should be experience at all. Does not the deepening of metaphysical knowledge consist essentially in the steps whereby experience, instead of evolving technics, turns inward towards the realization of itself?
Can a philosophy be grounded on the considered experience of its author? –So grounded, we could understand it as open to analysis and to disagreement, but not as straightforwardly vulnerable to argument based on general principle. I ask because it strikes me that many of the philosophies I care most about can be understood as grounded in this way, as grounded in their author’s considered experience. Montaigne’s, of course; but Cavell’s too, of course. Many philosophers who turn in the direction of ’empiricism’, ‘experience’–can I think be best understood as appealing to his or her own considered experience. They are not best understood as appealing to experience (full stop), are not worried about (or much worried about) theorizing the rational or a-rational bearing of experience (full stop) on belief or knowledge. They are neither rationalists nor empiricists, although stretches of their philosophical terms, constructive or critical, sound empiricistic.
A give-away for the sort of philosophy with which I am concerned is a moment at which the philosopher talks of experience as something to which we can be loyal, something to which we can rally, something that can obligate us, something that can be educated. Another give-away is talk about experience as accumulating, as having weight.
(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”)