26 July 2007

Some Remarks on Resolute Form

Taking N.N. up on his challenge, I decided I'd try to find a way to read "Some Remarks on Logical Form" resolutely. This also gave me a reason to get around to reading the paper; I'd not bothered with it previously, since I recall that Wittgenstein regretted publishing it. It was fairly easy to find via Google, happily.

My first impression was that N.N. was absolutely right, and that the only way for resolute readers to maintain that they have Early Wittgenstein right is by some sort of "Jekyl & Hyde" story: Early Wittgenstein wrote the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, while a befuddled logical atomist who happened to also be Wittgenstein wrote "Some Remarks on Logical Form." If anything is supposed to be utter nonsense by resolute lights, then "Every proposition has a content and a form. We get the picture of the pure form if we abstract from the meaning of the single words, or symbols"seems like it should be utter nonsense.

On reflection, I'm not sure the case is quite so bad for resolute readers as I first thought it was. Reading "Some Remarks" alongside the Tractatus (which we are clearly supposed to do, as Wittgenstein's paper is largely concerned with revising the Tractarian view on how properties which admit of gradation would be handled in our logically clean-cut symbolism), it seems plausible to treat "Some Remarks" as essentially a series of errata to 6.3751 (and any others of the relevant numbered propositions; a cursory glance didn't show any others). The the issue of reading "Some Remarks" resolutely is simply assimilated to the general issue of reading the Tractatus resolutely when it gives guidelines for how a logically perfect symbolism should run. And here, I think, the resolute answer may be workable. According to Conant's article, Early Wittgenstein's method of "therapy" was to show his reader how to use a certain sort of symbolism, into which said reader could translate all and only those sentences which were not nonsense (though it may take quite a bit of work to analyze/toy around with our ordinary sentences sufficiently to be able to get their logical-language translation written correctly). Once the logical script had been learned, it could then be seen that what purported to be metaphysical propositions (such as those pretending to speak of a soul or a world-whole) were simply nonsense (as they were impossible to translate into the logical script, rather than it just being difficult to get this done correctly). But also unable to be rendered in the logical script would be many of the sentences which lead us to understand how to use the logical script in the first place; the talk about simple objects, complexes, mirroring the world etc. were, so to speak, illustrations used to make learning the logical script less painful, and were not in themselves more than flowery prose. "Simple Object", "Word, "Sentence", "Form", "Content" are not terms which find any equivalent in the logical script; they were tools used (in ordinary-language sentences, such as those of the Tractatus) to get ordinary-language speakers accustomed to the use of the logical script. Once the logical script has been mastered, it can be seen that many of the numbered propositions in the Tractatus (which had appeared to assert something or other) could have been replaced with propositions which appeared to be their contraries without the book having been rendered less suitable for teaching the use of the logical script (so long as certain other propositions were also altered; which needed altering is a matter of the rhetorical structure of the book). It is then seen that Early Wittgenstein did not mean to be asserting theses with any of these sentences, since he could just as well have said the other sentences without having had to have changed his mind on anything other than the way he wanted his book to read. We can then understand Early Wittgenstein's purpose in writing the book (imparting to we readers the capacity to render those of our sentences which are not nonsense into a logically proper symbolism) by seeing that what appeared to be assertions of doctrines in the Tractatus were no such creature. "Some Remarks", then, was intended simply to show how a recalcitrant feature of our ordinary language might be rendered in logical script, noting that the Tractatus's supposed way to do this wouldn't work. Sentences like "We get the picture of the pure form if we abstract from the meaning of the single words, or symbols" are then seen as a less graceful way to lead the reader to an understanding of the logical script, or at least enough of a capacity with it to make some sense of what "Some Remarks" was correcting from the Tractatus. A sentence like "I maintain that... the relation of difference of degree is an internal relation and that it is therefore represented by an internal relation between the statements which attribute the different degrees" merely reminds us of the sort of work our logical script will have to be able to do if it is supposed to be able to speak of gradations, viz., that it should not be possible to write out that a space is both N units and also N+1 units in some particular method of measure. We cannot make sense of such a thing, and so our logical script should not allow it as a possibility.

An aside: In introductory logic courses, many times things such as "Logic is the study of the laws of thought" or "Logic is the study of the general relations which hold between sentences" or "Logic is the part of science which is universally valid" are used to give some idea of what is distinctive about logic as compared to other areas of study, as a propaedeutic to learning what constitutes a valid argument etc. They are supposed to get students in a particular frame of mind, unlike what they would have in a course on chemistry or natural history or British literature etc. I should think that they might serve this purpose even if they are false about what is distinctive about logic, even if they are riotously false; their end is to get students in the right frame of mind to learn various logical practices (truth tables and such). I can imagine that a student might learn the rudiments of logic while being told that logic is what is absolutely general, and then their progressing in logic to the point where they no longer view "absolute generality" as a helpful way to characterize logic. This would not make the original claim about generality less helpful than it was, at the time. This may or may not be something along the lines of what resolute readers hold Early Wittgenstein to have been doing. (This may or may not be related to the fact that when I took Logic as an undergrad truth-tables were said to be a sort of "machine", which strikes me as a terrible way to characterize them; the way the professor emphasized the importance of trusting the truth-tables rather than our immediate intuitions as to the truth of a sentence was to "Let the machinery do your work for you".)

As a cover-my-ass maneuver: Resolute readers still strike me as hard-pressed to find which supports their reading of Wittgenstein if 5.64 is bracketed out. When a single paragraph is having to do heavy hermeneutical lifting in texts in which it is not included, there seems good cause to be suspicious that we are forcing the texts to say something they don't.


N. N. said...


I think the CYA in the last paragraph makes the objection I would raise. Resolute readers justify their reading of the Tractatus by appealing to the "frame" of the book (as Diamond calls it), i.e., the introduction and the concluding propositions. If there were no frame, there would be no resolute reading.

In RLF, there simply aren't any statements that suggest a resolute program. They must be imported from other texts. Given the obscurity of the Tractatus itself (an obscurity that Wittgenstein was well aware of), it would have been an incredible hermeneutical burden to place on the audience at the Aristotelian Society (the venue in which RLF was supposed to be delivered) to give them rungs on the ladder without so much as a word of caution.

Nevertheless, my sense of resolute readers is that they are not likely to be bothered by any set of facts. The frame trumps all.

H.A. Monk said...

Thanks for your remarks, Dan. Having written a thesis on W post-TLP maybe I can add a few words. SRLF comes largely out of the early 1929 manuscripts. Though he may have regretted publishing that article, with its dubious attempt to solve the color exclusion problem (he suggests that qualitative predicates contain numbers, so-to-speak "analytically"), he continued to work out the phenomenological ideas in it, along with other ideas, resulting eventually in the Philosophical Remarks (which he also hoped to publish at first). The manuscripts clearly show that W continued to take the TLP seriously, and indeed he continued to defend some aspects of the picture theory right through PR. He also sees himself as developing a "theory" (self-identified as such) of mathematics. The resolutists simply fly int he face of historical fact. There is no evidence of a historical nature for the resolute reading. Whether the ideas they falsely attribute to W make sense in their own right is a different story. Personally, though I have some differences with Hacker, I think his two articles on the Diamond-Conant interpretation pretty much destroy it. But I agree with n.n. - their attitude seems to be "I know what I think, don't bother me with the facts". And an awful lot of people have followed them down that road.