Wittgenstein: Philosophy in an Hour

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One can simply wonder both how possibly we could know the minds of others and how actually we do, in fact, do so. Both of these strike me as important and interesting questions. The former is the kind of question that you'll find a philosopher more likely to be asking. I could say a lot about the nature of how possibly questions. Think of what you're doing when you ask and try to answer a how possibly question like this. You've got an initial budget of concepts -- maybe concepts of mind, knowledge, self, others.

And reflecting on these concepts you find yourself puzzled as to how these concepts "coordinate" with one another. You can see how possibly a thinking being can know itself, but your puzzled about how a thinking being can know the contents of the mind of another thinking being. You start to imagine the possibilities. In so doing, you are, as it were, taking an imaginative walk through a range of alternative possible worlds, trying to see if there are any in which one mind knows the contents of another mind.

If you find one, and if it's not too far away from the actual world, you conclude that yes one mind can know the contents of another mind. If you don't find one, or if the ones you find are very very far from the actual world, you become a sceptic or conclude that one can only know the contents of one's own mind. You can read Wittgenstein as arguing that we don't really have any discplined way to walk through the range of possibilities in any way likely to produce stable conviction.

Instead of trying to take unconstrained and undisciplined walks through a range of imagined, but un-ordered possibilities, we should just look. Look at how we actually talk about mind, self, knowledge and other in the actual language games we play when we do so in the context of the lived forms of life that give those games point.

I think there is something to this advice. But not everything that Wittgenstein seems to think. Consider the practicing cognitive scientist. What we do when we walk through a range of alternative worlds in the imagination can feel a lot different from what we do when we do science. Take your practicing cognitive scientist who wants to know how minds actually cognize one another. How does she go about constructing a theory of how people actually manage to know the minds of others. Well one thing she doesn't do is to simply look at how words like "knowledge" "mind" "self" "others" etc are used in ordinary language games.

She might take such use as data points. But she's perfectly prepared to find out that people don't actually have much of a clue as to how we actually go about figuring out what other people think and believe. So what does she do? She deploys more or less tried and true methods of hypothesis generation and testing. She does experiments, she builds models, etc.

That is, she draws on all the ways and means of empirical inquiry to try to figure out exactly how, in fact, we so regularly, reliably and systematically figure out what other people feel, believe, and desire. But what about the poor philosopher? The psychologist cum cognitive scientist in her attempt ot answer the how actually question about our knowledge of other minds is armed to the teeth.

She has all the ways and means of empirical inquiry to draw upon. But what do we poor philosophers have to draw on in trying to answer our how possibly question? One worry might be the one we discussed above. We philosophers really don't have much to draw on except our own unconstrained philosophical imaginations. But philosophical imagination unmoored to the everyday forms of life that give our language games point, is a paltry thing, a thing more likely to mislead than illuminate.

So perhaps what Wittgenstein is trying to do by suggesting that we look at how language actually works is simply to give us a way to constrain the imagination in ways that prevent it from just running rampant. I applaud that instict, if that was the instinct. But take it a step further. Why restrict ourselves to just in tact "language games" in which the problematic terms and concepts supposedly have their homes? You wouldn't recommend that procedure to the practicing psychologist cum cognitive scientist would you? You wouldn't say look only at what people say.

Don't do clever experiments designed to ferret out the hidden inner mechanisms or regularities not immediately evident in our everyday practices and our everyday descriptions of those practices. WHy should the evidential base for our philosophy be more restricted than the evidential base for the construction of psychological and other theories. Because philosophy is, well, different, and sui generis? I don't think so. Philosophy, on my view, is very much continuous with science.

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I don't mean to say that philosophy is just one science among others. It isn't. For one thing philosophy really is much more concerned, often, with "how possibly, if at all" sorts of questions than the sciences typically are and less concerned with the "how actually" than the sciences typically are. But how possibly questions should really be thought of as "how possibly, given what we know" questions. And as science increases our knowledge of the actual, we get greater and greater resources for constraining our answers to the how possibly questions that are our stock and trade.

Since I'm writing at sort of break-neck pace because I want to get this up before I leave for the studio, I'm not sure if I'm being clear. So let me try a quick statement of a kind of anti-Wittgensteinian bottom line, that concedes something but far from everything to Wittgenstein. Just starting out bare, with a bare "how possibly question" isn't likely to get you very far. All you have to go on, from square one, is one's own philosophical imagination. But an imagination unconstrained is probably not a reliable guide to anything very deep.

Looking at actual language in practice can be one source of constraints. There is a way we actually do talk about the minds of others. There is the actual evidence that we do use to support our actual conclusions about the contents of others minds. And its wise advice that we start out by looking at such things. But we should also be prepared to look eslewhwere -- at, for example, the deliverances of cognitive science -- and constrain our imaginations by those deliverances as well. And we should also be prepared to find that our everyday practices are sometimes infected with all sorts of illusory material, founded on all sorts of historical mistakes and misdiagnosis that achieve through the mechanisms of cultural transmission the status of received wisdom.

That is, we should be prepared to find that common sense and ordinary usage may themselves stand in need of thoroughgoing reformation. But once we see that we can constrain our imaginations in lots of different ways, from lots of different sources, in its walk through a space of possibilities, why believe that we are prevented from even beginning the walk? Why despair that we will only end in confusion and chaos and intractable fruitless debate? Maybe we will, but we are not bound to. Of course, another worry is that if we make more and more progress on the how actually questions, the how possibly questions will eventually cease to grip us.

And at least that part of philosophy will come to an end. But we are often gripped by how possibly questions when we cannot even begin to get a grip on how the thing actually works. I don't know what mechanisms are actually in there, but let's see what mechanism might be in there. And once we consider which ones might be there, let's see if we can eliminate some of the possible ones and hone in on the actual ones. Is the elimination of possibilites a scientific or a merely philosophical undertaking? I think the answer must be really both and. And as long as there are domains ripe for conceptual reconfiguration, there will always be room for philosophy.

Philosophy will end only when conceptual puzzlement itself comes to an end. Karl Popper Oct 08, Karl Popper is a landmark figure in the philosophy of science. His notion of "falsifiability" endures to this day and even appears in arguments about creation versus evolution. Language in Action Aug 22, How do we communicate ideas with language? Where does the literal meaning of a word end and the subtle connotation begin? Language and Thought Oct 22, You might think our thoughts simply determine what we say. But maybe the language we speak is what really determines the thoughts we can have.

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March Fear! Live Blogging! April Journalistic Ethics? Beyond the Cartesian Moment? To blog is to forgive? I tend to have a somewhat deflationary view of why Wittgenstein was so influential. He was one of the few who was really expert at the new logic when it was first becoming a big deal, and at that time there was a perception largely accurate, I think that the new logic was enormously philosophically important and so a tendency on the part of those who didn't quite understand it to be extremely deferential to those who did understand it.

If that is the origin of Wittgenstein's influence, it would explain why his star has fallen so far; mere competence in logic no longer impresses people the way it used to. This is partly because it is more widespread, but also, sadly I think, partly because people have become complacent. Still, while I think the familiarity which has made it harder for modern philosophers to see some of the more dramatic philosophical consequences of post-Fregean logic has produced some retrograde philosophy, I tend to think that to the extent it has undermined Wittgenstein's mystique, that's been a good thing.

Saturday, March 3, -- PM. Not being a Wittengenstein is this just based on the philosopher at the bottom, but at the same time rising toward the middle of the totem pole? To much or too little thinking? One book or books? What makes the great Philosopher stand out in the crowd?

What make not being a Wittengenstein a Wittengenstein, a Plato, or even a Socrates? You be the judge. There are many living who profess philosophy. Not one is a philosopher. The last living philosopher died in August His mind had been dead since January Like Wittgenstein his native language was German. Who in the 20th or 21st century is fit to untie Nietzsche's bootlaces? Certainly not the misshapen growths suffering from hypertrophy of empirico-logico-linguisticism transplanted into Anglophone seedbeds from decaying and destroyed empires.

Only a Kafka could spin such an absurdist libretto, with bloated score by Mahler. LW is "queer. LW required acolytes. He was oracular. He needs hermeneutics. Surely, Kenneth, there are a few gaps in Wittgenstein's method. But it is useful, anyway. And I would like to comment on some of your ideas using it. You say that philosophy, in contrast to science and anything else , is engaged in questions "how is it possible? Let us look when such questions arise.

You see a trick say, David Copperfield's Laser Illusion and ask "how is it possible to do that? I guess, it is not. We need a trick, anyway. But I think we need something else, as well, to make questions about tricks the philosophical questions: they should be answered by clarification of our concepts only. I believe, you would agree with that.

But are there any tricks which could be solved as a result of clarification of our concepts? I don't know, but if they exist, I doubt we wouldn't able to describe such clarification in terms of Wittgenstein's vocabulary. Indeed, how is it possible: to clarify our concepts? By looking at the use of the terms attached to them, first of all. If it turns out that our concepts are imprecise, why not invent new concepts, new language games? I see no contradictions here with what Wittgenstein had proposed.

Monday, March 5, -- PM. It seems like the deflationary view of Wittgenstein's influence, chalking up Wittgenstein's influence just to proficiency with logic, gets things wrong. The people he influenced early on included Bertrand Russell, Frank Ramsey, and the Vienna circle, which had Carnap and Reichenbach in its ranks. These people were all top notch logicians who wouldn't give someone that much of their time just on the basis of being able to handle logic. Since then Wittgenstein has impressed people like Michael Dummett and Saul Kripke, again great philosophers. I think they saw more in Wittgenstein's thoughts than proficiency with logic.

If Wittgenstein's influence is waning, there are probably other sociological or philosophical reasons for it. It seems like cognitive science is not at odds with being a Wittgensteinian by itself. Other commitments might make one think that Wittgenstein was wrong, but the idea of cognitive science by itself seems compatible. Part of the reason for thinking this is the list of the most influential books in cognitive science published by a group of cognitive scientists from Minnesota.

There are authors on there that are certainly hostile to Wittgenstein, but not all. Hi Shawn: Hope you're enjoying Pitt. A hotbed of at least neo-Wittgensteiniansm I suppose if there ever was one. About Wittgenstein and cognitive science. My point wasn't that cognitive science refutes Wittgenstein. I used cognitive science only to show that "theorizing" about the mind in a way that goes beyond the deliverances of common sense is a perfectly legitimate enterprise.

We do it all the time. And we think we're getting at something deep about the mind when we do. Wittgenstein must think that somehow philosophy isn't entitled to theorize in this way, that when it tries to it's bound to fall into error and confusion. But why think that?

Why think that is any more true of philosophy than of cognitive science? If one thought that philosophy's methods weren't broadly empirical or weren't broadly continuous with empirical methods, you might think something like that. Of course, philosophy isn't exactly science. That was what I meant when I said that philosophy is more likely to be concerned with how possibly questions than science is.

But that's not to say philosophy is only concerned with how possibly questions. But the point of comparison was to say that philosophy has at least as many sources of evidence and sources of constraint on its theory construction as science does. It can, after all, take the entirety of science on board as a source of evidence and constraint.

Wednesday, March 7, -- PM. Saturday, March 10, -- PM. Wow, Ken, I found this an incredibly insightful post. It is both generous to Wittgenstein and also probing in its disagreement. A couple of small points. What you describe--an imagination that is not entirely free, but constrained by science, etc. Also, I think there are two kinds of philosophical "how-possibly" questions. I talk about this distinction in a recent paper of mine, "Molinism", which I can give anyone who is interested.

I'll spare you the details here, out of mercy. One kind of question is answered by the contents of a "how-to manual", whereas a deeper as it were kind is answered in a way that may include this sort of content but also engages the most powerful worries of the skeptic about the phenomenon in question. So, consider time travel. One kind of how-possibly question gets answered in terms of the skeptical worries about the coherence of time travel, the fixity of the past, the direction of causation, the paradox of the power to kill one's grandparents, etc.

But another gets answered in terms of a "how-to manual"--first you build the time-machine, etc. Or consider the recent Denzel Washington film, "Deja Vu" for further ruminations on the mechanism of time-travel!

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I think sometimes even philosophers mix up the two kinds of "how-possibly" questions, settling for an answer suitable to a "how-to manual", where an engagement with skeptical challenges is in order. Again, let me just say how helpful and insightful I found your post.


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  • Monday, April 2, -- PM. I am a bit of a Wittgensteinian, although rather out of practice, having left grad school a few years ago. I would like to offer an answer to the question raised above: why might LW object to philosophical theorizing about the mind, but not to cognitive science? It may be because LW understands philosphy as attempting to deal with necessity and, in his last work, certainty.

    The philosopher's arguments and theories would concern how things must be, while the scientist's arguments and theories would concern how things in fact happen to be. Certainly if one looks at the Tractatus, this sort of division between science and philosophy is quite prominent, while in On Certainty it reappears as the distinction between what we know and what is certain for us.

    Sunday, April 15, -- PM. If Wittgenstein's goal is not yoursif you are correct that his goal is some kind of release from the conundrums of philosophy-- then why should you follow his path? Still, it is useful to see how he did try to get out from under the sway of philosophical conundrums. But ultimately, if we evaluate his writings from the point of view of his writings--if we apply his own perspective to his own writings--we can see that his problem--that philosophy deals with pseudo- problemsseems itself to be a pseudo-problem. Because certainly ordinary language has no opinion, either way about whether philosophy deals with pseudo-problems or does not.

    Ordinary language does not seem to agree that his problem is a problem. And certainly Wittgenstein doesn't give us any arguments that ordinary language as a whole has some built-in resistance to being used by philosophers in the way that they do. If one doesn't share what seems to be his annoyance at being somehow "trapped" by conundrums of a philosophical sort--then I don't see any compelling reason to think his problem any less pseudo than the unnatural philosophical constraints he insists ordinary language is subjected to by others.

    Surely, he could not deny that he bends ordinary language to his own very philosophical uses within a very philosophical context. He is not exactly down at the corner store exchanging gossip as he buys tomatoes--right? Tuesday, January 19, -- PM. Ken wrote: "Wittgenstein is for those who can find a resonance in his vision before reading his work" This is a very insightful comment! Saturday, November 24, -- PM. I'm a bit frustrated maybe ignorantly with the entry, perhaps five years too late.

    I think the first objection ludwig would have is that you are using the phrase "mind" like its a word like "apple. We use "mind" to mean something, and removing it from that context reduces it to nonsense. You sublimated the word to a frictionless plane where it's useless or confused. Sure, cognitive scientists can investigate the physical brain and its processes, but that is not an exploration of the "mind," it's an exploration of the brain's physical processes.

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    The superficial resemblance between the two is clear, but its only a superficial similarity. Monday, July 13, -- PM. Tuesday, April 26, -- PM. Skip to main content. Search form Search. Why I am not a Wittgensteinian. Kenneth Taylor. With that, I really gotta go, as Ian Shoales is found of saying.

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    Failing Successfully. Do we live because it is somehow practical to live? No; we live because we instinctively feel that living is better than not living; " lives are good for you ," as the Liverpool poet Roger McGough puts it. Wittgenstein's magic realism and "quickening the sense of the queer" rescue the familiar concepts of our own form of life by pointing out that they could be otherwise. This is a central way in which the "realistic spirit" of the Diamond—Conant interpretation combats the chimerical "realism" of philosophers with true realism; the unencumbered and sane understanding.

    I mean: it is not based on grounds. It is not reasonable or unreasonable. In May Russell wrote to Ottoline Morrell: "I told him he ought not simply to state what he thinks true, but to give arguments for it, but he said arguments spoil its beauty, and that he would feel as if he was dirtying a flower with muddy hands.

    His future student Theodore Redpath 16—17 , who had first became acquainted with the Tractatus at the age of sixteen, had formed an image of Wittgenstein as "a kind of prophet I endowed him with the facial appearance of a 'prophet', with a thin long sensitive, El Grecoish kind of face, framed by long strands of silvery hair and set with large, dark, expressive eyes". We can only imagine Redpath's shock when he first met Wittgenstein. As an example he mentioned the metre of Longfellow's Hiawatha i.

    Drury Acknowledging the permanence of his overtly compressing tendencies, he said that if it was up to him, the Investigations would be only about a quarter of an inch thick, just like the Tractatus Anscombe It stands there like a natural monument, the result of superlunary dictation. In the eighties an interesting document written by Wittgenstein in January came to light; it suggests that the amount of destroyed material has often been exaggerated, and that the temporal gap in the published notebooks does not necessarily refer to a missing notebook McGuinness According to Stenius, the "picture theory of language" depicted in the Tractatus is preserved in the later philosophy as a limiting case of Wittgenstein's later conception of language.

    Stenius quotes a notebook entry from MS , pp. A configuration can be made up by balls which are spatially related in a certain way; but not of the balls and their spatial relations. Lichtenberg on Wittgenstein's thought experiments seems to be clear; often there are almost uncanny similarities between his aphoristic style and Wittgenstein's. It might be fruitful to look at the relationship between the Tractatus and the later Wittgenstein as analogous to the relationship between expressionism and magic realism. It creates new literary forms by voluntarily limiting the exploitation of language.

    Bouwsma, who had strongly emphasized the tranquilizing qualities of Wittgenstein: "Well! He electrified us. Whom did he ever tranquilize? Sahlins Wittgenstein would undoubtedly also have opposed this inverse phenomenon. This act, as a sign of piety, is just as understandable as the different one of keeping the scores untouched, accessible to no one.

    And if Schubert's brother had burned the scores, that too would be understandable as a sign of piety" Wittgenstein a: Even though the various possible signs of piety are mutually contradictory, it is easy to imagine a way of treating the scores which would be a clear sign of lack of piety Clack a: But the existence of interpretations like this proves just how deep the myth of Wittgenstein as a quintessentially analytic philosopher still is is some circles.

    Aagaard-Mogensen, L. Haller ed. Ackermann, R. Wittgenstein's City. Amherst, Mass. Anscombe, G. Klibansky ed. Florence: La Nuova Italia: — Bandman, B. Brandl eds. Barnett, W. Barrett, C. Bataille, G. Inner Experience , trans. Albany, N.

    Meaning is use: Wittgenstein on the limits of language – Philosophy for change

    Bearn, G. Waking to Wonder: Wittgenstein's Existential Investigations. Bouwsma, O. Wittgenstein: Conversations — Indianapolis, Ind. Broyles, J.

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    We want to walk: so we need friction. Back to the rough ground! A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably. The structure of our grammar holds out illusory representations to us, tempts us to assimilate kinds of discourse which have quite different uses. Wittgenstein and Derrida are alike in suspecting all philosophy of immediacy, all grounding of discourse in the experience of a subject.

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