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

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.

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”)

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