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”)

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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