01 August 2011

Heidegger on Frege

From "New Research in Logic" (1912, when Heidegger was 23), translated in "Becoming Heidegger", p. 33. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only time Frege is mentioned in Heidegger's corpus. I would be interested to learn otherwise, if I'm wrong about this.

Nevertheless, we ourselves are inclined to attribute a far-reaching significance to Husserl's penetratingly profound and very propitiously formulated Investigations, for they have truly broken the psychological spell and brought the above-mentioned clarification of principles into play. Husserl here does not hesitate to express his gratitude for the influential suggestions that he received from the Wissenschaftlehre (1837) of the Austrian mathematician and philosopher Bernard Bolzano. The planned reprint of this now rare book will probably soon appear. In this connection, the name of a German mathematician cannot be left unmentioned. Gottlob Frege's logical-mathematical researches are in my opinion not yet appreciated in their true significance, let alone exhausted. What he has written in his works on "Sense and Meaning" and on "Concept and Object" cannot be disregarded by any philosophy of mathematics. But it is also equally valuable for a universal theory of the concept. While Frege overcame psychologism in principle, Husserl in his Prolegomena to a Pure Logic has systematically and comprehensively confronted the essence, relativistic consequences, and theoretical worthlessness of psychologism.

11 June 2011

Free Issue of Philosophical Investigations

The journal Philosophical Investigations has published a "virtual issue" that collects some of their best material from the past 30 years, without a paywall. It looks like a pretty good group. So far I've read the Stove review (which is fun fluff) and the Rush Rhees article, which I recommend to anyone who cares about Wittgenstein's views of what he was doing in (at least) his later philosophy. This bit in particular jumped out at me, given my most recent post:

There was something misleading about Wittgenstein’s use of the phrase Krankheiten des Verstandes: since we do not know what a Gesundheit des Verstandes would be. He certainly did not think that the unreflecting philistine was in a better state of mind than the person who knows genuine philosophical puzzlement. And the notions of ‘health‘ and ‘illness’ are not very helpful here.
Rhees also discusses the relationship between the übersichtliche Darstellung der Grammatik and the Tractarian say/show distinction, though at a disappointingly short length. This is an interesting bit though:
[The say/show distinction] was an idea which he did retain [in his later philosophy], in his account of recursive proofs or proofs by induction, for instance; and it had much to do with the discussion of generality.
Here we have a clear instance of a place where the thing "shown" has to have the shape of something like "how to go on". You can't add something propositional to an inductive proof that makes it into a deductive one -- there's no point at which "logic takes you by the throat" (and I think that the "What the Tortoise Said to Achilles" case is another example of this). If you try to add a premise like "If you've checked N cases and they've had results consistent with [x,y,z] then all cases will give results consistent with [x,y,z]" or "If you've checked N cases and they've had results consistent with [x,y,z], assume that all cases will have results consistent with [x,y,z]" then you have the problem of having to motivate those assumptions/imperatives, and there's no way to do that without falling back on induction. It's formally akin to the "interpretations" in the "rule-following paradox" of PI 201:
It can be seen that there is a misunderstanding here from the mere fact that in the course of our argument we give one interpretation after another; as if each one contented us at least for a moment, until we thought of yet another standing behind it. What this shews is that there is a way of grasping a rule which is not an interpretation, but which is exhibited in what we call "obeying the rule" and "going against it" in actual cases.

I think this passage from Rhees lends some support to Kremer's view of the say/show distinction as lining up with the knowing-that/knowing-how distinction. These aren't cases where you might (per impossible) be able to say something that "grammar" or "logical syntax" forbids you from saying, and have it do the work you want. There's something deeper to "showing" than that.

09 June 2011

A Better Sort of Reader: therapy

I think this is my favorite passage from Monk's paper:

One reason (not mentioned by Hacker) for being suspicious of the tendency to regard Wittgenstein's later philosophy as a kind of therapy is that, although in this context, the word "therapy" is used as the opposite of "theory," in almost all other contexts it is assumed that a form of therapy is founded upon and shaped by a particular theory. To psychoanalytic therapy, there corresponds Freudian theory, to Gestalt therapy there corresponds Gestalt theory, to "primal therapy" there corresponds Janov's theory of repressed pain, and so on. To call Wittgenstein's later work "therapy" is not, therefore, necessarily to assume that it does not express a theory; on the contrary, it might well invite the question of what theory this therapy is based on.
I suspect I have not been as attentive to this point as I should have been. It misses Wittgenstein's point to approach all philosophy as "sick" and in need of treatment, for one can rightly take up such a position only if one comes in already knowing a great deal about philosophy -- so that one can recognize illness for illness and not health. But one can't have this sort of knowledge; philosophy doesn't have the sort of unity a species of animal does, so there cannot be the same sort of distinction between illness and health you can draw in medicine. And anything a philosopher can do, they can do; it is not the Wittgensteinian's place to forbid them anything. It is important not to take the position of a doctor treating a patient when trying to "lead words from their metaphysical back to their everyday use"; doctors have knowledge that justifies their taking the stance they take. There is nothing analogous that could allow a Wittgensteinian to identify a "metaphysical use" of a word. All that there is to be done is to either learn what sense they attach to their words, and then proceed from there (beyond philosophy), or to come to a shared recognition that their words have no clear sense to them.

I think this is the irony of TLP 6.53
The right method of philosophy would be this: To say nothing except what can be said, i.e. the propositions of natural science, i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when someone else wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions.
when considered beside TLP 4.11
The totality of true propositions is the total natural science (or the totality of the natural sciences).

Reading 6.53 by itself, it might appear that Wittgenstein is advocating a sort of naturalism or positivism: we should take the natural sciences as a model for all thinking, and avoid philosophizing. This is a sort of perspective which it isn't hard to find proponents of; Dawkins comes to mind. But when a Dawkins praises science, he has in mind things like physics, chemistry, and biology. You can identify something as a science (in this sense) by its content. It is opposed to things like mathematics, history, and philosophy. (To say that life should be approached in a "mathematical spirit" or a "historical spirit" is very different from saying, with the naturalist, that life should be handled scientifically.) But this isn't how the Tractatus delimits "natural science": 4.11 tells us that by "the totality of natural science" Wittgenstein means merely "the totality of true propositions". You can't tell from the content of a proposition whether or not it's a scientific one; the mere fact of it having content settles all that one is concerned with, if one is trying to follow the advice of 6.53. To say nothing but the propositions of natural science is just to not talk nonsense.

But "Don't talk nonsense" isn't something one can accomplish by deciding to do it; it is a key thought of Wittgenstein's, both early and late, that it is easy to start speaking nonsense without realizing one has begun doing so. Even if one is aware that this is easy to do, one still slips into it from time to time. One can't follow "the right method of philosophy" because of this.

An analogous problem affects the other half of 6.53. It might seem that we can recognize someone's wish "to say something metaphysical" by the content of what they're trying to say. A "metaphysical" statement would be something about God, the soul, the nature of Reality, Being -- the sorts of things one finds badly handled in the "Metaphysics" section of a bookstore, and handled not much better in philosophy departments. But this isn't how the Tractatus thinks of metaphysics, either. Wittgenstein doesn't give us an account of what metaphysics is in the Tractatus (which is worth noting by itself), but the method he prescribes for dealing with it in 6.53 is clearly an echo of 5.4733:
Every possible proposition is legitimately constructed, and if it has no sense this can only be because we have given no meaning to some of its constituent parts. (Even if we believe that we have done so.)
which is a comment on 5.473, where we find
A possible sign must also be able to signify. Everything which is possible in logic is also permitted. (“Socrates is identical” means nothing because there is no property which is called “identical”. The proposition is senseless because we have not made some arbitrary determination, not because the symbol is in itself unpermissible.)
-- and looking at these passages together, it seems clear that "metaphysics" is just a label for nonsense.

So to follow the advice of 6.53, we would need to be able to tell when someone wanted to say something nonsensical. But we cannot tell when this is happening, as a rule: nonsense can slip us by. Nor are there any particular topics which we can know a priori will constitute a slide into "metaphysics" if they come up. TLP 5.557:
The application of logic decides what elementary propositions there are. What lies in its application logic cannot anticipate.
-- and since, in the Tractatus, all propositions are truth-functions of elementary propositions, logic cannot anticipate what propositions there are. And as a proposition is just what has sense, we cannot anticipate what will have sense. How, then, are we to tell whether something has a sense or not?

To answer this, I think it helps to look at TLP 3.326:
In order to recognize the symbol in the sign we must consider the significant use.
and 3.227
The sign determines a logical form only together with its logical syntactic application.
and 3.363
What does not get expressed in the sign is shown by its application. What the signs conceal, their application declares.
and, as a terminological reminder, 3.2:
The sign is the part of the symbol perceptible by the senses.
Our trouble, in trying to follow the advice of 6.53, is to determine from the signs (sounds, ink-marks) someone has given us whether or not we are dealing with "metaphysics". But nothing in a sign tells us what symbol we are to recognize in it: 3.21
Two different symbols can therefore have the sign (the written sign or the sound sign) in common—they then signify in different ways.
and 3.22 (my emphasis)
It can never indicate the common characteristic of two objects that we symbolize them with the same signs but by different methods of symbolizing. For the sign is arbitrary. We could therefore equally well choose two different signs and where then would be what was common in the symbolization?
So what we need to know, when presented with some signs, cannot be "read off" from the signs themselves. The sign does not tell us whether it is being used metaphysically, and neither does logic.

Consider now 4.002:
Colloquial language is a part of the human organism and is not less complicated than it. From it it is humanly impossible to gather immediately the logic of language.... The silent adjustments to understand colloquial language are enormously complicated.
which is followed by 4.003
Most propositions and questions, that have been written about philosophical matters, are not false, but senseless. We cannot, therefore, answer questions of this kind at all, but only state their nonsensicality. Most questions and propositions of the philosophers result from the fact that we do not understand the logic of our language.
It seems that here we get another version of the advice of 6.53: we are to state the nonsensicality of propositions which philosophers have often tried to put forth (which are, one presumes, "metaphysics"). But there is no temptation to think that this can simply be taken up as a "method" here: we are told that understanding colloquial language is "enormously complicated" and that it is humanly impossible to immediately gather the logic of such language.

To recognize nonsense as nonsense, we need to consider the significant use (sinnvollen Gebrauch) of a sign and recognize the symbol in it (recognize its application). If this is impossible, then we're dealing with nonsense -- but a verdict that this is impossible can only be a pessimistic induction over failed attempts to "consider its signifcant use". Logic always leaves open that we have simply, thus far, missed how the sign is being used.

So if we try to take 6.53's advice and follow "the only strictly correct method" in philosophy, we will quickly find that "there easily arise the most fundamental confusions (of which the whole of philosophy is full)": we treat as nonsense what is not, and as not nonsense what is; we take ourselves to be in possession of a method where there cannot be one. For we do not understand ourselves or each other as well as 6.53 makes it seem like we can: 5.5563
(Our problems are not abstract but perhaps the most concrete that there are.)

A Better Sort of Reader: the ethical

"A Better Sort of Reader", Ray Monk's paper from the conference, opens with a line from one of the preface drafts in "Culture & Value".

It is not without reluctance that I deliver this book to the public. It will fall into hands which are not for the most part those in which I like to imagine it. May it soon -- this is what I wish for it -- be completely forgotten by the philosophical journalists, and so be preserved perhaps for a better sort of reader.

His paper is an exploration of Wittgenstein's hatred for "professional philosophers" (which Monk takes to be what LW meant in this passage) and his rejection of the idea that philosophy could be done by means of "theses" or "theories".

This paper lead to the best discussions I heard at the conference. I think it's because what was being argued about was largely inside baseball: everyone there agreed that it was crucial to take seriously Wittgenstein's rejection of "theory", and that most "Wittgensteinians" have not done this. So what was up for debate was how exactly to get this part of Wittgenstein right. Things got down to brass tacks a lot more quickly than they often do at conferences.

Much of the paper is pro forma criticizing Hanjo Glock's claim that "The conflict over philosophical theories may be spurious, since Wittgenstein had a very restrictive conception of theory, confining it either to the deductive-nomological theories of the empirical sciences or to the attempt to provide an analytic definition of what he regarded as family resemblance concepts." But the real heart of the paper seems to be "Here is a collection of interesting Wittgenstein quotes on topics related to this area." Beating up on Glock was just an excuse to string together things to bring up for the benefit of discussion. I'm honestly surprised more conference papers aren't like this; I thought it worked very well.

I'll skip any real recapping of Monk's paper; anyone who's at all interested in this area of Wittgenstein should read it. It's short and punchy, and a copy could easily be gotten by asking someone who had one. (But be aware it's very much a draft -- many of his quotations still lack citations, and there are certainly places where Monk will revise things in light of the discussions at the conference.) So from here on I'll just note some things that seemed worth noting. And because the last post ended up crazily long and I suspect nobody's read it because of this, I'll be breaking this up into shorter posts.

Here's a quotation from Wittgenstein's discussions with the Vienna Circle that I found interesting.
What is ethical cannot be taught. If I could explain the essence of the ethical only by means of a theory, then what is ethical would be of no value whatsoever.
This is strikingly similar to part of Tractatus 6.41: "In the world there is no value -- and if there were, it would be of no value." I'm always interested in places where Wittgenstein seems to repeat the Tractatus outside of the limits of 6.54 (which tells us that the propositions of the book are nonsense), and the differences here seem significant.

The Tractarian version of the saying trafficked in a paradoxical notion of a "value" as a sort of thing which there might be in the world, but in fact there cannot be: for not only does the proposition get its sense only by negating the claim "There is value in the world", but the conditional has us entertaining this possibility, only to see that it would lead to "valueless values". The later saying doesn't have this same parallelism: the antecedent of the conditional is not identical with the negation of the first part of the claim. But this shift might just be loose talk on Wittgenstein's part.

The Tractarian saying is also attached to considerations about the accidental nature of all that happens and comes to pass in the world, and seems to say that this is why there can be no values in the world. This sort of thing I take to be attached to all sorts of other nonsense in the Tractatus that we're supposed to climb over in coming to understand its author. The Vienna Circle remark I think gives us more respectable reasons for thinking of "the ethical" in the way (at least the early) Wittgenstein did, in that it opposes two things which do make sense: One might think that ethics is something that you need to be taught, and one might think that "ethics" as a branch of philosophy is concerned with explaining the essence of the ethical. And getting these two points wrong seems to be possible, in an interesting way: it's not so much an empirical mistake as ethical self-deception. One obscures oneself, ethically, by thinking of ethics like this.

With regard to this first, Conant brought up "the footnote in the Groundwork where Kant says that his grandmother knew very well what was right and wrong, without ever having studied philosophy". I can't find any footnote which resembles such a remark in Kant (I think there's something similar in one of his letters -- anyone know what passage Conant had in mind?), but the idea is certainly something Kant is aware of. Here are some passages from the close of the first part of the Groundwork:
Here it would be easy to show how common human reason, with this compass in hand, knows very well how to distinguish in every case that comes up what is good and what is evil, what is in conformity with duty or contrary to duty, if, without in the least teaching it anything new, we only, as did Socrates, make it attentive to its own principle; and that there is, accordingly, no need of science and philosophy to know what one has to do in order to be honest and good, and even wise and virtuous.... Would it not therefore be more advisable in moral matters to leave the judgement of common reason as it is and, at most, call in philosophy only to present the system of morals all the more completely and apprehensibly and to present its rules in a form more convenient for use (still more for disputation), but not to lead common human understanding, even in practical matters, away from its fortunate simplicity and to put it, by means of philosophy, on a new path of investigation and instruction? [AK 4:404]

I think this bit from Kant is actually illustrative for both of the points I want to make: I think that Wittgenstein not only agreed with Kant that philosophy was not needed to appreciate the ethical, but he didn't think that any philosophical presentation of "the system of morals" could actually have the ethical in view. The idea that this could make ethics "more convenient for use" is an illusion. What is of ethical importance in our lives just doesn't lend itself to this sort of systematic treatment. Where there is "system" in the ethical, this is already apparent, and there is nothing to explain. And if a philosophical "explanation" brings out anything surprising, this can only show that it has clothed the ethical in robes that don't fit it. So where you have any sort of philosophical ethics, this "ethics" has no value -- it's not the thing one needs to actually attend to, if one is to be ethical. At best, it's superfluous; at worst, it's a distraction.

I find this sort of thought attractive, but I'm not quite sure what to make of it. It seems clear that most of what philosophers do under the rubric of "ethics" is not worth doing, but I'm not sure if this is inherent to the subject, or if it's just a result of 90% of everything being crap.

A sidenote: I think it's worth noticing Wittgenstein's use of "essence" here. I don't think he's using it with any sort of disdain -- the problem with a theory which would explain "the essence of the ethical" isn't that the ethical doesn't have an essence (because it's a "family-resemblance concept"), but that you're trying to use a theory to explain it. Sometimes the later Wittgenstein is taken to be "anti-essentialist" in that he's opposed to essences; what he is really opposed to is only looking for essences where there aren't any, and thinking you've found one when you haven't. (I recently picked up Wittgenstein Reads Weininger, and Szabados's essay gets just this point exactly wrong.)

06 June 2011

A Conference viewed Sub Specie Aeternitatis

The third day of the Wittgenstein conference was terrific.

I missed the first paper due to sleeping in a little late and then having to prepare for leaving town etc. It was about "Count Eberhard's Hawthorn", which is the poem of which Wittgenstein, in a letter to Engelmann, famously said "Uhland’s poem is really magnificent. And this is how it is: when one does not attempt to utter the unutterable, then nothing is lost. Rather, the unutterable is, – unutterably – contained in what is uttered." I would've liked to have heard the discussion of this, but I definitely needed the extra sleep for the drive home at the end of the day. If anyone reading this was at this part of the conference, I'd be interested to hear how it went.

The second paper discussed was a piece Michael Fried has published in Critical Inquiry vol. 33 no. 3, "Jeff Wall, Wittgenstein, and the Everyday". Fried is fantastically interesting to see speak, and his passion for this material is infectious. I know nothing about art history or art criticism, but here's some of what I took away from his talk:

The previous day of the conference, someone had mentioned that Gilbert Ryle and Wittgenstein had bonded over their love of movies. Wittgenstein claimed that there could not be a great British movie, and Ryle conceded that there had not yet been one (at this point Conant interrupted "And the evidence has mounted ever since!"). Wittgenstein blamed this on British actors being too theatrical: even in a movie, you could tell they were acting as if they were in front of an audience, etc. Fried said that a similar sort of worry had struck Diderot in the 18th century, that stage-acting was too manifestly stage-acting to really have the sort of impact he wanted it to have. So Diderot introduced the dispositif of the "dramatic tableau", basically an invisible "fourth wall" of the stage, with the actors acting as if there was nothing outside of the walls of the stage (while still being conscious of themselves as acting, and so not having this hinder their ability to project to the back of the room etc.) (I am sure my presentation of this is woefully inadequate, but I'm out of my depth here.) In this way you can portray "ordinary" life on the stage without it being obtrusively theatrical: you can put ordinary happenings in front of an audience and have them seem ordinary, not staged. But this isn't quite the right way to put it: ordinary events in life are not seen in this way (not usually), so the ordinary happenings which are seen "as ordinary" on the stage are in fact seen in a way different than how they would ordinarily be seen. To get the audience to see the ordinary as the ordinary, you have to give it to them on a stage which they don't notice. Fried also related this to the photography of Jeff Wall, an artist & friend of his, in particular his photo of Adrian Walker, where you see Walker absorbed in his work, but can also see both his sketch of a hand and the model he's sketching from. Many of the works Fried discusses in his paper are striking because in them we see figures totally absorbed in what they're doing, but (says Fried) before Wall this was not thematized, but merely taken advantage of: every decade or so, an artist would stumble upon the idea of depicting someone totally absorbed in what they were doing, and this would amaze everyone, and then people would get tired of it and forget about it until someone else discovered it a little later. In Wall's Adrian Walker photo, Wall both takes advantage of the aesthetic appeal of absorption and shows us an artist copying something, thus making us realize that we are not seeing the everyday, but an artificial copy of it. (I suspect that this paragraph is worse than a freshman Art History major could write. Fried's article is good.)

Fried has been a friend of Stanley Cavell's for years, and it was through Cavell that he became interested in Wittgenstein. Fried stressed that he is "not a philosopher, and couldn't do philosophy", but that Wittgenstein (Cavell's Wittgenstein) was still hugely important for him and his work. Fried said that while he was working on his Diderot book he wished that Diderot and Wittgenstein could've met each other, somehow -- "and then when I read this passage from Culture & Value, I realized that they had!" -- here Fried proceeded to read the following passage C&V 6e-7e, from 22 August 1930. I wish someone'd been filming it, his reading was so animated; he noted and emphasized each punctuation mark with little hand-gestures. Delightful. Anyway, the passage, as he has it in his paper:

Engelmann [Paul Engelmann,Wittgenstein’s close friend and faithful
correspondent] told me that when he rummages round at home in a drawer full of his own manuscripts, they strike him as so glorious that he thinks they would be worth presenting to other people. (He said it’s the same when he is reading through letters from his dead relations.) But when he imagines a selection of them published he said the whole business loses its charm & value & becomes impossible. I said this case was like the following one: Nothing could be more remarkable than seeing someone who thinks himself unobserved engaged in some quite simple everyday activity. Let’s imagine a theatre, the curtain goes up & we see someone alone in his room walking up and down, lighting a cigarette, seating himself etc. so that suddenly we are observing a human being from outside in a way that ordinarily we can never observe ourselves; as if we were watching a chapter from a biography with our own eyes,—surely this would be at once uncanny and wonderful. More wonderful than anything a playwright could cause to be acted or spoken on the stage.We should be seeing life itself.—But then we do see this every day & it makes not the slightest impression on us! True enough, but we do not see it from that point of view.—Similarly when E. looks at his writings and finds them splendid (even though he would not care to publish any of the pieces individually), he is seeing his life as God’s work of art, & as such it is certainly worth contemplating, as is every life & everything whatever. But only the artist can represent the individual thing [das Einzelne] so that it appears to us as a work of art; those manuscripts rightly lose their value if we contemplate them singly & in any case without prejudice, i.e. without being enthusiastic about them in advance. The work of art compels us—as one might say—to see it in the right perspective, but without art the object [der Gegenstand] is a piece of nature like any other & the fact that we may exalt it through our enthusiasm does not give anyone the right to display it to us. (I am always reminded of one of those insipid photographs of a piece of scenery which is interesting to the person who took it because he was there himself, experienced something, but which a third party looks at with justifiable coldness; insofar as it is ever justifiable to look at something with coldness.[)]
But now it seems to me too that besides the work of the artist there is another through which the world may be captured sub specie æterni. It is—as I believe—the way of thought which as it were flies above the world and leaves it the way it is, contemplating it from above in its flight.

Fried seems to be entirely right to connect the Diderotian tableau, his theme of absorption, and this passage: Wittgenstein's imaginary scenario about a theater is pretty much what Diderot wanted. And then the final lines connect all of this back with the Tractatus and the 1916 Notebooks. Lot of stuff going on here.

One thing to note: the passage I underlined is italicized in Fried's paper. Joachim Schulte noted that this was a place where "Culture & Value" had an unfortunate critical apparatus: the passage is underlined with a squiggle in the manuscript, but C&V has it underlined normally (and then Fried converted all the underlinings into italics). But squiggly underlines are how Wittgenstein marked words he wasn't sure about. So when Wittgenstein says "the work of art compels us to see it in the right perspective", "right" is a word that's not quite right, here.

Another thing to note: Fried thinks the shift from das Einzelne to der Gegestand is significant: art makes us see an ordinary Gegenstand as something Einzelne. This fits very well with the October 7 1916 Notebooks passage:
The work of art is the object seen sub specie aeternitatis; and the good life is the world seen sub specie aeternitatis. This is the connexion between art and ethics.

The usual way of looking at things sees objects as it were from the midst of them, the view sub specie aeterinatis from outside.

In such a way that they have the whole world as background.

Is this it perhaps--in this view the object is seen together with space and time instead of in space and time?

Each thing modifies the whole logical world, the whole of logical space, so to speak.

(The thought forces itself upon one): The thing seen sub specie aeternitatis is the thing seen together with the whole logical space.
One of the (many) ideas here is that seeing something as a work of art is seeing it not "from the midst of things" (as we ordinarily see things) but "from outside": with space and time instead of in them. The object is seen as with the whole world, not as part of it: it stands out from the whole world, which recedes as into a background.

This is redolent of the way Schopenhauer thinks of artworks: the importance of artworks is that in viewing them my individual will is quieted, and I apprehend things as a "pure subject of knowing", as a non-individual subject.

The third book of "The World as Will and Representation" is Schopenhauer's aesthetics, and begins with a lengthy discussion of "the Platonic Ideas". The Idea which a particular object manifests is always one and unchanging, but the objects which manifest the Ideas are always many and changing. Schopenhauer takes this Platonic distinction between the Many and the One to be at heart identical with the Kantian distinction between the phenomena and the thing-in-itself: plurality, change, duration, extension are all mere forms of our awareness, and do not condition the things themselves (Plato's ontos on, the proper objects of episteme as opposed to doxa, knowledge rather than opinion). Schopenhauer takes as one of his main additions to philosophy the idea that we can become aware of this distinction not only "in abstracto" through philosophy, but also "in exceptional cases" intuitively: the work of art shows us the truth of transcedental idealism/Platonism. Spelling this out and making it plausible is the task of book three of WWR.

I think the best way to make sense of this is to look at how artworks function, on Schopenhauer's account. In most artforms (music is an exception), Schopenhauer thinks that we see the art-object not as the particular object it is, but as the Platonic Idea which it manifests. Architecture gives us Ideas of hardness and rigidity, landscape paintings of various species of plant-life, portraiture the Ideas of various human types, etc. These are very odd claims to make, but I think I've found a way to make Schopenhauer's view look non-insane: the trick is to think of artworks as opposed to ordinary objects.

Normally, the way I apprehend objects is in terms of their practical significances for my purposes: I see the clearing as a good spot for building a fire, the fire as for cooking over, the pot as for making soup in, the soup as for eating, eating the soup as for satisfying my hunger, etc. Schopenhauer is withering about the endless nature of these fors: "satisfying" desire is an endless task, and he thinks it fundamentally misguided. The way to deal with a desire is not to satisfy it (since this brings more desires in its tow), but to stop desiring. (The Buddhist influence on Schopenhauer is obvious and self-conscious here.)

So, when we perceive an ordinary object, for Schopenhauer, this is entirely at the service of our will: we see it as for this-or-that task which we care about. We see it only in relation to ourselves (our tasks, our desires) and other things (to use it with/for). But perceiving an artwork is not like perceiving an ordinary object. So if you think about ordinary perception in the way Schopenhauer does, it's natural to think that what this means is: we see a work of art as not in relation to ourselves or other objects. We just see it by itself, not as an element of a totality which is spread out around it. We see it as One, not as one-among-many. So the idea that an artwork presents us with a Platonic Idea is not the pure rubbish it initially appears as, seen in this light. (Music is said to present us with "the will itself", and not an Idea, because music does not involve representing a particular sort of thing in the way that painting or sculpture does (or architecture, where the represented thing is identical with its representation) and so there's no particular sort of Idea it could be presenting. But the contrast is still present: listening to music involves perceiving the world in general in a way that is not related to our will or other things.)

From section 34 of WWR:
Raised up by the power of the mind, we relinquish the ordinary way of considering things, and cease to follow under the guidance of the forms of the principle of sufficient reason merely their relations to one another, whose final relation is always the relation to our own will. Thus we no longer consider the where, the when, the why, and the whither in things, but simply and solely the what. Further, we do not let abstract thought, the concepts of reason, take possession of our consciousness, but, instead of all this, devote the whole power of our mind to perception, sink ourselves completely therein, and let our whole consciousness be filled by the calm contemplation of the natural object actually present, whether it be a landscape, a tree, a rock, a crag, a building, or anything else. We lose ourselves entirely in this object, to use a pregnant expression; in other words, we forget our individuality, our will, and continue to exist only as pure subject, as clear mirror of the object, so that it is as though the object alone existed without anyone to perceive it.... It was this that was in Spinoza's mind when he wrote: Mens aeterna est, quatenus res sub aeterinitatis specie concipit [The mind is eternal insofar as it conceives things from the point of view of eternity.]

To be fair to Schopenhauer, he thinks this is a place where he's going to be misunderstood (and taken to be ridiculous). He prefaces the above remarks with the plea that "the reader must suspend his surprise at it for a while, until it has vanished automatically after he has grasped the whole thought to be expressed in this work." So this is a place where Schopenhauer is aware that he's having a hard time saying what he wants, and doesn't think anyone will understand him unless they're in a position to understand his work as a whole: the claim about what Spinoza meant by conceiving of things sub specie aeternitatis is key to all of Schopenhauer's philosophy. And it's doubtless that Schopenhauer is where Wittgenstein took the phrase from (there being no evidence he ever read Spinoza). I am still working out what to make of this, but the conference was helpful for stimulating thinking on it.

...so with all that said, back to Fried: the contrast he sees between Einzelne and Gegenstand can easily be worked out along the lines I did above, but the German also allows for der Gegenstand to just be a pronoun that refers back to das Einzelne. And the Notebooks passage talks in terms of Gegenstand throughout, except for the line where Wittgenstein says "Jedes Ding bedingt die ganze Logische Welt" (where I can't help but feel the pun as doing work). So Fried might be reading too much into that particular word-choice. The German doesn't demand his reading.

Shifting focus: Someone asked Fried if the pleasure taken in seeing a work of art in which someone is totally absorbed in their doings was not a voyeuristic pleasure. Fried was adamant that it was not: A voyeur is a hidden spectator, and there is nothing like this in viewing an absorptive work of art. One does not view an absorptive work of art as a spectator at all -- there is no place in the picture that one is supposed to be viewing from (though of course it has to be drawn/shot from a visual perspective, this is not part of the content of the picture).

Here Conant added some remarks related to his work on film (he's part of the Film Theory group at Chicago): In an ordinary objective shot in a film, the question "Where is the camera in this space?" is something he says "has no application". There are ways of shooting a scene such that this *is* a question you can ask, like with point-of-view shots or tracking shots, but it is not a question you can intelligibly ask about an objective shot. Fried added that you can splice together things shot with different cameras or at different times, such that no camera in any location could've taken the shot you end up with in the film, which I think makes Conant's point more vivid.

In an objective shot, we are not seeing things from a place in the space of the film: thus it is natural to say we are viewing it from "outside" the space. But it is easy to be misled by this: Saying we view things from "outside" the space of the film is not to answer the question "Where in the space of the film is the camera located?" but to refuse it: viewing things "from outside" is not viewing them from any place. "Viewing things from outside the space" isn't a matter of having the things in the space being related to some point outside it, but is a matter of how the whole of the space is arranged. Shooting something "objectively" is a style of shooting, not a special position you're shooting from. To view things "from the point of view of eternity" is not to view them from a special point of view, eternity's, but to have the way one views things differ from the normal in some other way.

Conant related this to what he sees as the central concern of Wittgenstein: he is criticizing the idea that we need (or could have) a "view from outside", what McDowell calls a "sideways-on view", of our lives/thoughts/practices, in logic, in ethics, and in aesthetics. ("Skepticism is not irrefutable, but is obviously nonsense" is a pregnant Tractarian slogan here, for those familiar with Conant's writings.)

A sidenote: Someone asked Conant how the C&V passage relates to part two of Philosophical Investigations and its discussion of aspect-seeing, given that one thing Wittgenstein says in C&V is that Engelmann is "seeing his life as God's work of art". Conant's "gut reaction" was to say that this was a metaphor, and that you could push it too far, but that there was a similarity here: In both cases you see things the same, and you see them differently. The same drawing is now a duck, now a rabbit; similarly, Engelmann's life is not different when he views it as God's work of art and when he views it as he normally does, but there is a difference between those two. I'm not sure how Conant thinks you could push this line too far (and in fairness, he said this was only his gut reaction, not a considered opinion). Perhaps what he had in mind was that you can capture the aspect-changes of a duckrabbit by making different judgements: "I see a duck" vs. "I see a rabbit". It's not clear you can do this with seeing Engelmann's life normally and seeing it as God's work of art -- and more to the point, I think the author of the Tractatus would adamantly deny that any differences in judgements would capture the distinction he wanted. ("In the world there is no value -- and if there were, it would be of no value.")

That's about all I have noted for Fried's talk (and I've missed/left out a lot -- it was a very fun two hours), but I'll close with a Walter Benjamin quotation that David Wellbury drew our attention to, because I don't have it quite right and I'm failing to google up the source: "What is the difference between this world and the world messianically redeemed? The difference is everything, but miniscule."

This post is probably already too long, so I'll leave my notes on Ray Monk's paper for another post. It was easily my favorite paper of the conference. Skipping past it: I really enjoyed the reception at the end of this day. I feel like this was the first conference reception that I really "got" how these receptions are supposed to go; the socializing was fun and stimulating and I didn't end up sitting in a corner sipping on a drink. I spoke to Ray Monk for around half an hour about Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein, which was good times. He thinks that when Wittgenstein refers to his first philosophy as "a Schopenhauerian idealism" he probably is referring to something he'd outgrown before he ever met Frege or Russell, since his interests had by then shifted to the foundations of mathematics. (Before he'd written to Russell he wrote a letter to Philip Jourdain about the axiom of choice.) But there's no knock-down evidence about this. More interestingly: I mentioned in passing that there wasn't any evidence Wittgenstein had read anything beyond the first volume of "The World as Will and Representation", and he said that he was pretty sure he'd mentioned "On the Fourfold Root of Sufficient Reason" once. I pressed him on this, and his best guess was: He thinks that Anscombe had told him in conversation that Wittgenstein had mentioned it in conversation!

Also, Irad Kimhi said that the first "Twilight" movie was "beautiful", but he didn't like the second one. I just want this to be out there in the public record: Kimhi liked the first "Twilight" movie. He also seemed to be really enthusiastic about "Cowboys and Aliens".

03 June 2011


Day two of the Wittgenstein conference was better. On reflection, part of my trouble yesterday was just that I was tired from the previous day; I was in a bad mood to start with, and then little things bugged me more than they should have.

I got to the first presentation about halfway through, because Hyde Park is hard to find a parking spot in. The paper being discussed was just what I wanted, though: It included a discussion of Ramsey's remark about double-meanings I posted about a while ago, and much ado was made of Wittgenstein's personal aesthetic demands (which were always serious and severe). A welcome shift from the previous day's discussion, which just spent too much time explaining how the resolute readings of the Tractatus are supposed to work, and not enough actually poking at Wittgenstein or his weird little book.

The line pitched about Ramsey's remark seemed to be a very general one: Wittgenstein really liked puns and wordplay, and apparently often took quite seriously a pun he would notice in something he'd written, or would reorganize his remarks to emphasize the repetition of certain words, etc. The main example discussed was something from the middle period: Wittgenstein started a few typescripts with a discussion of "übersehen" and its dual meaning of "miss" and "get an overview of". ("Overlook" has some of the same ambiguity, in English, though generally in descriptions like "a scenic overlook".) I can buy this. It would mean that Ramsey was probably talking more about the things Wittgenstein was saying/writing while he was visiting him than in the Tractatus itself, but it wouldn't surprise me to find some German wordplay in the Tractatus with a deeper point to it.

The discussions about Wittgenstein's aesthetics seemed to not really reach a resolution, or at least I didn't write down much. I suspect there were some points made in passing that I either was already aware of, or just didn't think to write down. We seemed to spend a good deal of time today just looking very hard at passages from "Culture & Value", then having someone mention their original context, then doing it again. Amusingly, one of the presenters had been meaning to read "Culture & Value", but hadn't gotten to it yet because he was trying to buy a German copy. ("Culture & Value" is a collection of various coded remarks from across his corpus, so it doesn't correspond to anything specific in the German edition of his works.)

David Wellbury claimed that Wittgenstein's aesthetics were responding to/criticizing Schopenhauer's aesthetics, or something like that (it was a very broad and vague claim, made in passing). I asked him about literature on the Schopenhauer/Wittgenstein connection. Basically all he could think of was one chapter of Brian Magee's "The Philosophy of Schopenhauer" (which was one of the first things on Schopenhauer I read). He told me to ask Ray Monk about this.

Monk was good to talk to. The first thing that came to his mind was the chapter from Brian Magee's book. I told him that I'd read it, and some other things, and that I'd had trouble finding anything other than pieces that just list all of the places where it looks like there's some connection between early Wittgenstein and Schopenhauer (and there are a lot!) -- that nobody ever has much of a story to tell about what this comes to. He mentioned "Insight and Illusion", which (in fairness) I should look at again, but we both wished there was something that told a story about this which was tied to a better reading of the Tractatus than Hacker gives. Monk asked if any of the "resolute" readers had discussed Schopenhauer, and I realized this was something I should've already asked.

Monk also said he thought Michael Tanner's Schopenhauer book had something about Wittgenstein; Amazon search-inside says it's just a brief note that Wittgenstein thought music was important. He also said that the Blackwell Companion to Schopenhauer has probably commissioned an essay on Wittgenstein, which is probably true: I'll find out when it comes out in 2012.

The Blackwell "Great Minds" volume on Schopenhauer does have a brief chapter on Wittgenstein, though. The reading of Wittgenstein isn't very good (I just read it, while writing this post), but it does make a suggestion that I can't remember if I've seen before (Holbo's dissertation might have made it): Just as Schopenhauer replaced Kant's architectonic (the categories, the forms of intuition, Reason and Understanding etc.) with his (fourfold) Principle of Sufficient Reason, Wittgenstein replaces Schopenhauer's PSR with modern formal logic. And just as Schopenhauer's shift lead him to deny things of the thing-in-itself that Kant had affirmed (at least problematically), like that practical reason could be causally efficacious, so Wittgenstein denies even more than Schopenhauer did of the thing-in-itself: he now denies everything of it (since there is nothing "outside" logic), so the thing-in-itself shrinks to an extensionless point.

I don't think the story can go this quickly, but there's probably something to it. Wittgenstein had told Frege he still believed there was a "deep and true core in idealism, an important feeling that is wrongly gratified, hence a legitimate need" in a letter lost in WW2, and Frege brought this up again when Wittgenstein complained about "The Thought" attacking idealism on its weak side instead of its strong side (Frege's reply was, in effect, to wonder why Wittgenstein was defending those dorks, since he agreed with Frege that they were dorks, right??). And the 1916 notebooks have Wittgenstein saying "There are two godheads: the world and my independent I". You can take the story we get in the Tractatus about the solipsistic self shrinking to an extensionless point, apply it to the other "godhead" of the thing-in-itself, and get the sort of picture the Blackwell "Great Minds" book paints. (This is probably moving too quickly, but I'm just thinking aloud here.)

Weirdly, the "Great Minds" book says that Schopenhauer's ending in mysticism is just inconsistency on his part, and should be jettisoned. The worry is that if Schopenhauer allows that there are mystical truths that he can't talk about, then they might include things like "The thing-in-itself isn't actually Will, it's this other thing, Pwill" and this would make his metaphysics inconsistent. But surely this is putting things backwards: I don't doubt for a moment that Schopenhauer would abandon his metaphysics, if he could be assured of the sorts of mystical bliss he thinks the Vedic sages had. It also means you lose what's surely the most striking parallel between the Tractatus and "The World as Will and Representation": they both end by saying "Oh yeah, there's also stuff I can't talk about. It's really important. It's called the mystical. The book is over now, bye!"

One thing that's obvious now that I think of it, but which had slipped from my view: The Tractatus at least nominally says there is value outside of the world (and not in it). Schopenhauer says this. Frege never says anything like this. I doubt Russell ever said anything like this, though I'd need to check. (I suspect he generally just went with Moore's "non-natural" property of goodness as part of the world, or else just denied that there is value to be found anywhere -- but I really don't know. Surely Russell wrote about moral philosophy at some point during his early work, at least in passing?) So this is a big area of the Tractatus that can't have been meant to be appealing to either Frege or Russell. Today I saw Conant and Kremer not have much of interest to say about the "Death is not lived through" parts of the Tractatus, and I am feeling more and more firmly that the "New Wittgensteinians" need a story to tell about Schopenhauer. (That the world ceases with death is something Schopenhauer has to say, since the world only exists as long as the subject exists, and the subject is mortal. This is not the most awkward thing Schopenhauer has to say about the subject.)

Kremer noted that "In death the world does not change, but ceases" is said in a book dedicated to a dead friend, David Pinsent. I thought this was a cute thing to notice. I suspect that one of the things Wittgenstein is playing with in the Tractatus is an ambiguity in the notion of "world". There can't be more than one world of "the totality of facts", but "the world of the happy is quite another from that of the unhappy". Relatedly, the metaphysical subject is the limit of the world, but (if good or bad willing changes the world) willing changes the limits of the world. Our ordinary talk of "world" is ambiguous in a way that allows this, of course (two people who share an apartment can live in different worlds), but it's also an oddness you get in Schopenhauer: the world as representation is a correlate of the subject, so there should (it would seem) be as many worlds (as representation) as there are subjects. Schopenhauer dodges this by claiming that all of us are one subject. And also different subjects. We're each two subjects, one of which is the only subject. (You can see why a Schopenhauerian young Wittgenstein could be attracted to solipsism: it lets you keep the world-subject correlate without the weirdness about how many subjects there are. Incidentally, Schopenhauer's argument against solipsism is literally "It's crazy". He admits it's theoretically irrefutable, but only crazy people could hold it, so he passes it by. And then gives arguments that only work if solipsism is false. Schopenhauer's a glorious mess.)

So anyway: Next I asked Michael Kremer if there was any good work on Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein. He said he wasn't the one to ask, as he'd never read Schopenhauer(!), but mentioned Brian Magee's book. He also said there was a really bad book about Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein, but he couldn't remember the title. He said Conant would probably know what it was called.

This is pretty much how the conversation went after this point:

Kremer: Hey, Jim, what was that book called? The small one? Wasn't any good?
Conant: ... you need to give me more to go on.
Kremer: The one about Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein.
Conant: Oh, that one. It was small. No idea what it was called.

Kremer later guessed "Art and Talent". I've since figured it out: "Genius and Talent: Schopenhauer's Influence on Wittgenstein's Early Philosophy" has to be what he meant. It's 138 pages, according to Amazon. I figure I should read it, even if it's not any good, since it's small.

I then asked Conant if there was any good work on the Schopenhauer-Wittgenstein relationship. His answer: No. Everything he'd seen just read the Schopenhauer into Wittgenstein.

So, I now know why Schopenhauer hasn't been coming up in these discussions: Nobody's done any good work on his relation to Wittgenstein, and some first-rate Wittgenstein scholars haven't bothered reading him. These both seem fair excuses.

Oh, I should probably say something about the other two papers discussed today. One was by a French guy and used Flaubert for some purpose, and Michael Fried tore him a great many new assholes. I honestly don't remember much else about this paper. But know this: Do not claim that Flaubert was responding to a crisis in the French novel if Michael Fried is within earshot. He will end you.

(It was fun to watch.)

The third paper of the day was about a little travelogue Berkeley wrote about visiting Vesuvius, and also Martin Gustafsson suddenly realizing his daughter would outlive him, and also Wittgenstein's remark "Philosophie dürfte man eigentlich nur Dichtung", which remark's translation was discussed so much that I didn't have to look up the German to type that. It was actually a really good discussion (until they opened questions up to the floor), but I'm not sure I took much away from it. Other than "Dichtung is hard to translate" and "Holy crap, Berkeley almost got killed by a volcano".

And then I went to Powell's and got a hardback of "Science and Metaphysics" for $20. Good day, all in all.

02 June 2011


I am currently in Chicago for this, and I found myself feeling bothered about how the first day's discussions went. So this is a rant post, more or less.

One thing that Conant said at the workshop today was that the Tractatus is "a book at war with experience" (or something close to this), and noted that Wittgenstein doesn't talk about experience or epistemological matters in the book. This is in stark contrast to Russell, who considered certain sorts of acquaintances as foundational for logic: acquaintance with logical constants was what let us use symbols like "and", "not", etc. This is fair enough, so far as it goes. The idea that some sort of experience is (or could be, or would have to be) important for logic is something Wittgenstein is fighting against in the 1914 Notebooks, and it's something that Russell held.

Kimhi raised a question about this in connection with the "Lecture on Ethics". In the Lecture, Wittgenstein talks about a certain sort of experience which he calls "ethical", wondering at the existence of the world. This is clearly not a particular sort of experience in the sense of an experience of a sort of particular, but Kimhi said that it was a sort of experience that Wittgenstein thought you needed to have, or else you'd be deficient somehow, ethically. Conant objected that he didn't think that Wittgenstein would've been willing to say this sort of thing at the time he wrote the Tractatus, and that starting to talk about "experience" is something he does only once he returns to philosophy and starts moving away from the Tractatus. Kimhi said he thought there was the same sort of stuff in the Tractatus, but Conant said there wasn't. Conant then tried to think of what was closest to what Kimhi was saying, and starting talking about the world of the happy man and the unhappy man. Conant said that the world of the happy man and the unhappy man was the same world, and this was objected to: he then clarified that he meant there aren't two worlds. The workshop ended shortly after this, due to time.

I should've brought up 6.45: "The contemplation of the world sub specie aeterni is its contemplation as a limited whole. The feeling of the world as a limited whole is the mystical feeling."

True, Wittgenstein doesn't talk about experience (Erfahrung, Erlebnis) in this passage. But the word for "contemplation" here is Anschauung. This is the word rendered "intuition" in Kant and Frege, and "perception" in (the Payne translation of) Schopenhauer. These are sorts of experiences, as are feelings. This seems to be precisely what Kimhi had in mind. It's even preceded by 6.44: "Not how the world is, but that it is, is the mystical." A dead ringer for the Wittgenstein of "Lecture on Ethics". It looks like even in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein in some sense thinks there is a certain sort of experience (feeling, perception) that is ethically significant. It's not an experience of some particular fact about "how the world is", but it's something. And Kimhi was right to bring it up: it doesn't fit in at all with anything Conant or Kremer says about the ethical importance book. Neither of them has any sort of special experience as part of the story.

One aspect of Conant's reading of the Tractatus is that it draws the reader in by having sentences that the reader recognizes as being sentences she would like to use to express thoughts, but then (through further reading of the book and thinking about it) they fall apart on her: she realizes there was no such thought as she thought she wanted to express, only confusion on her part. Conant mentioned Frege and Russell in particular as people Wittgenstein wanted to have read the book in this way. Russell could see "The world is all that is the case" and think "Ah, yes, this is what I call 'the totality of atomic facts'". But I don't see how this can work with propositions like "As in death, too, the world does not change but ceases." Nor with the other solipsism passages: Frege and Russell are two of the most adamant opponents of idealism you can find. I don't know who Conant thinks these could've been written for, unless Wittgenstein was writing for himself circa the 1916 notebooks. What other sort of reader is supposed to have wanted to say "Of the will as the bearer of the ethical we cannot speak"?

Conant also said some false things about Frege and elucidations, but my notes are too brief for me to be fair to him. The impression I got was that Frege's "Concept and Object" was supposed to be one of the chief things Wittgenstein was reacting to, and that in it Frege had thought he was communicating unsayable insights into the deep ontological structure of reality by saying paradoxical things like "The concept horse is not a concept." But there are three big problems here. One is that Frege doesn't introduce the notions of concept and object by saying paradoxical things; he introduces them in the preface of "Foundations of Arithmetic", in the three rules he says will govern his inquiry. (I don't have my copy on-hand, so I won't quote it, but I'm pretty sure it's the second rule: Don't confuse the subjective with the objective, don't confuse concepts and objects, and don't ask for the meaning of a word outside the context of a sentence, if memory serves me.) "Concept and Object" only gets written because Kerry misunderstood Frege, and Frege wanted to take the opportunity to try to get more people to care about his project. It's not an essential part of Frege's project, and Frege didn't take it as essential to making the object/concept distinction clear. He's already using what he needs from it in Begriffschrift (the book), insofar as he distinguishes between two slots you can quantify into, and it shows up explicitly, with no fanfare, in the preface to "Foundations". Saying "The concept horse is not a concept" and lamenting that your language misses your thought is a later addition Frege makes, not something there at the outset. The second big problem is that a lot of things Frege says are "elucidations" aren't remotely paradoxical. The prose from the opening sections of "Basic Laws of Arithmetic", where Frege is introducing the vocabulary of his Begriffschrift, is characterized as elucidatory remarks. (I don't have this text on me, either, but you can look it up: the opening stuff is straightforward Fregean prose, not paradoxes.) "Elucidation" is Frege's blanket term for any way vocabulary gets introduced when it's not introduced by explicit definitions. (Kremer seemed to get this part straight, but he seemed to agree with Conant about the first thing I objected to.) The third problem is that some of the things that seem like they should count as paradoxical elucidatory remarks can be expressed in a (slightly) expanded version of Begriffschrift: it's easy to express "Everything is an object" in Begriffschrift, for example. The weirdness in Frege doesn't attach to elucidations, but to the specific terms "function" and "concept" (and possibly a few others -- Frege doesn't tell us much about thoughts, for example, and there's no clear way to talk about them in Begriffschrift, but there's also nothing that looks similar to "Kerry's Paradox" there). Conant seemed to just be getting Frege wrong, and I don't see Wittgenstein getting Frege similarly wrong. But, again, my notes are very sketchy and it's possible I just took Conant wrong on some or all of this.

The only time Schopenhauer came up during today's workshop discussion was when Conant was summarizing his essay "What Ethics in the Tractatus is Not": he mocked those who try to say what Wittgenstein thought about ethics in the Tractatus by saying what Kierkegaard or Schopenhauer thought about ethics. But the curious thing is: a lot of people writing on Schopenhauer's ethics quote the Tractatus to explain what Schopenhauer thought about ethics.

I continue to feel strongly that Schopenhauer is somehow really important for the Tractatus in a way I can't nail down, and that this has been largely neglected by commentators on the book.

Aside: I found it incredibly frustrating how little Conant and Kremer had to say about the propositions of the Tractatus which are nominally about ethics. I don't see how it can be reasonable to have a general story about how "the ethical" works in the Tractatus without being able to say anything about "Ethics and aesthetics are one", for example. Hopefully the other presenters look at those parts of the book more!

Appendix on an incredibly minor textual issue:
Here are some things I learned from the article "A Note on the Text of the Tractatus" (C. Lewy, "Mind" 1967): One of the revisions Wittgenstein marks in Ramsey's copy of the Tractatus is to change 6.522 from "There is indeed the unexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical." to "There is indeed the inexpressible. This appears; it is the mystical." Wittgenstein doesn't say to change the German, and the verb used in this proposition is the same one translated as "show" throughtout the rest of the book (Ramsey and Wittgenstein were marking places to change the text for the 1933 reprint of the Ogden-Ramsey edition.). He also changes 6.23 in the same way: Whether it is the case that two expressions can be exchanged for one another "must appear from the expressions themselves". He doesn't mark the other appearances of the same verb, and there are occurences between these two instances, which he doesn't change, such as 6.36, "If there were a law of causality, it might run: There are natural laws. But that clearly cannot be said. It shows itself."

I don't know what to make of this, but these are corrections made in Ramsey's copy of the Tractatus that weren't incorporated into the 1933 revision. The other two such changes as in 3.33 Wittgenstein wrote "the object meant by" above "the meaning of the sign", but without crossing anything out, and in 5.557 he changed "The application of" to "Applied". The first change seems to me reasonable to skip: he didn't mark out the original. The second strikes me as inexplicable: the revised proposition would begin "Applied logic decides what elementary propositions there are." My guess is that Wittgenstein thought this sounded like better English,
which it doesn't, and that this is why it wasn't incorporated.

I can't shake the feeling that the revision to 6.522 is significant. Even though I can't see any significance in changing 6.23 in the same way. And despite the fact that (for whatever reason) it wasn't incorporated into the 1933 revision. I am perhaps overthinking this: Wittgenstein might have just toyed with changing the translation of "zeigen" and only marked the two spots, then changed his mind.

15 May 2011

The Metaphysics of Lobstergod

DR linked to a silly "New Apps" post, "In Praise of the Incredulous Stare", and I'm proud enough of my comments on his comments on the comments to that post that I'm making a post out of them.

Here is a defense of philosophers who boldly go against common sense. It's weird (not exactly unusual, but disorienting) to see things from that point of view. In comments there, dmf writes that "If memory serves Rorty reads Davidson, after Kuhn, on "living" metaphors as non-sensical creations (perhaps provoked by encounters with the unassimilated) that evoke paradigm shifts and then are slowly incorporated into everyday use and slowly “die”." I don't know whether Rorty would have liked calling such things nonsensical (maybe that's just the word that Davidson uses, I don't know), but otherwise this idea sounds fine to me. It's hardly the same thing as philosophers claiming that possible worlds are real, though, or that nothing is a part of anything. Or so it seems to me.
Rorty wouldn't have been entirely happy with calling such things nonsense, and Davidson didn't. The problem with doing so is that the question of sense/nonsense is orthogonal to the issue of something's functioning as a live metaphor. A true sentence such as "Obama puts his pants on one leg at a time" or a false one such as "Love is a battlefield" can function as metaphors, and so can sentences like "Metaphor is the dreamwork of language" where I don't know what to say about its truth, falsity, or sensicality (does it presuppose that language can sleep? is "of language" an objective or subjective genitive?). And then some sentences of patent nonsense ("Books are rhomboid fluorine") and some sensical sentences ("There are black dogs") would be hard-pressed to do any work as metaphors. Sense/nonsense and good metaphor/bad metaphor are just independent axes of assessment.

Davidson says that metaphors function in the way that pictures do, and that "a picture is not worth a thousand words, or any other number. Words are the wrong currency to exchange for a picture." A picture can lead its viewer to think of certain things alongside one another, or in connection to or contrast with one another, which he would not have otherwise done. But the way it does so cannot be reconstructed as by supplying things which can serve as premises in a valid inference to the conclusion which is the thoughts inspired in the viewer, or anything along those lines -- pictures are not the sort of thing that can have the sort of content a sentence has (that is "the wrong currency"). Not all of our thoughts are arrived at rationally (in a way codifiable in valid inferences), and this is a good thing: creativity is a lovely and useful part of our lives, for example, and it is not a rational process. To say of some connection between thoughts that it is merely causal, not rational, is not necessarily to denigrate it.

"It's hardly the same thing as philosophers claiming that possible worlds are real, though, or that nothing is a part of anything. Or so it seems to me."

I'm actually not sure that this isn't a profitable way to think about those guys: they're providing new ways of talking, ways which are initially (at least somewhat) metaphorical (thus their air of paradox), but which can sediment into just being one more optional vocabulary we can take up at leisure. I don't think that this is how *they* think of what they're doing (though I'm less sure of David Lewis than of Sider or van Inwagen), but then the Idealists, Realists, and Solipsists of PI 402 don't think that they're working in the way Wittgenstein there says they are, either. But it seems to me that the shoe fits: Lewis wants to make it no longer seem pressing to answer questions like "What are modal claims about?" by talking in terms of "real non-actual worlds", and a lot of opposition to "modal realism" attacks this shift of vocabulary as if they were attacking something they already were talking about, but which (before David Lewis) everyone knew was false ("There is only one world!"). What looks like (can look like) disagreements in metaphysics are actually disagreements about metaphysical vocabularies: there's only a show of there being some theses which one side accepts and the other rejects, since there's no agreement in how any such thesis is to be understood (even where, among the supposed theses, are theses which look like "...and we understand by this claim that...." or "...which is meant in the sense of..."). The two "metaphysicians" disagree with one another not over the truth-value of a proposition, but over how metaphysicians should talk.

I think this is quite contrary to the spirit of the "New Apps" post, but I'm not sure it isn't closer to what Deleuze & Guatarri actually saw as the value of their work: as I see them, they were providing new vocabularies we could take up (or not), not trying to make us better "understand" "common sense" in the way that "conceptual analysis" or Hume's psychological speculations were meant to. Guatarri said that what he really wanted to do was "say stupid shit. Barf out the fucking-around-o-maniacal schizo flow", and it seems to me that any value in such a project would be very different from anything Hume could see as the value of *his* project, let alone Sider or van Inwagen. "Creating concepts" in the D-G sense is saying "God is a lobster" and then talking about the God-lobster in geological terms, not "God is an entity possessing maximal greatness" and then trying to derive as many conclusions from this as possible. The point is just to get us moving in different directions and see where that takes us. The bizarre style of Deleuze/Guattari's work is not an accidental feature of their philosophy.

(This is an extension of my short post on Andy Clark's extended mind thing from a while back.)

01 April 2011

Ramsey's Testimony regarding the Tractatus

I find I have spent the past four or five hours reading "Wittgenstein in Cambridge: Letters and Documents 1911-1951". I blame the fact that the letters are almost all very short, so it always feels like I can read just one more. I am stopping after 100 of the 439 in the book.

Anyway, I found these two passages striking. They're from a letter of Ramsey's to his mother, p.139:

[Wittgenstein's] idea of his book is not that anyone by reading it will understand his ideas, but that some day someone will think them out again for himself, and will derive real pleasure from finding in this book their exact expressions.
This probably only looks remarkable if you've been spending the past few weeks grappling with Schopenhauer (which I have); it is puzzling what one is doing in writing an avowedly incomprehensible book. This quote doesn't really tell us anything that wasn't already stated in the preface to the book, but I found it noteworthy that he'd repeat it in conversation.
It’s terrible when he says “Is that clear” and I say “no” and he says “Damn it’s horrid to go through that again”. Sometimes he says, I can’t see that now [—] we must leave it. He often forgot the meaning of what he wrote within 5 minutes, and then remembered it later. Some of his sentences are intentionally ambiguous having an ordinary meaning and a more difficult meaning which he also believes.
I don't know quite what to make of that last bit. I can't tell from the context if Ramsey is talking about sentences of the Tractatus or sentences Wittgenstein was using in their conversations about the book. In any case, it's an interesting thing to see said.

26 March 2011

A Link Post

I haven't been keeping my blogroll maintained, so here's some links to blogs the reader might not have known of:

Early Modern Experimental Philosophy is about reading the early moderns along an experimental-speculative dichotomy rather than an empiricist-rationalist one. This has the merit of being a distinction actually in use at the time, rather than being one which first comes into full flower with Karl Reinhold. I continue to be impressed with how much of what "everyone knows" about Kant and Kantianism comes from places where Reinhold varied from Kant.

OLP & Literary Studies Online regularly links to/mentions new work on Cavell and Wittgenstein.

The Renaissance Mathematicus is a history of science blog. I should probably read more of those. They're fun.

Child's Play is a psychology blog that regularly says nice things about both Wittgenstein and "A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs". They also had a nice post on the "Knobe Effect" a while back that I can't recall if I ever got around to linking.

Extrablogically, I am currently going back and forth between Schopenhauer, Frege, and Wittgenstein, looking for term paper ideas. Lots of connections slip in and out of view. Still in search of something term-paper-sized to poke at.

14 March 2011

Wittgenstein: Bacon and Potatoes

I record this quotation for Google, because I'm happy to finally run across it again. (It's something Anscombe told Bryan Magee in conversation, apparently. This is why I never could find it in "Culture & Value" when I looked for it there. The context is Magee's wondering why Wittgenstein doesn't mention Schopenhauer more.)

From Brian Magee's "The Philosophy of Schopenhauer":

[Wittgenstein] used to say that if a man had been physically nourished on bacon and potatoes we should all see the folly of trying to identify which bits of his person derived from bacon and which bits from potatoes, and yet we make exactly that mistake with regard to whatever intellectual nourishment he may have metabolized into himself.

10 March 2011

"And then there’s Kuhn’s philosophical concept – the incommensurability of meaning - ...."

A claim in one of Eroll Morris's footnotes bugged me, specifically the bit I made my title.

Using Google Books, here are the things Kuhn calls "incommensurable" in "Structure" (with the page numbers in parentheses): ways of seeing the world (4), traditions (103), "the world of his research" (112), traditions (148), paradigms (150), solutions to problems (165), viewpoints (175), theories (not said in his own voice -- this is part of a view philosophers have attributed to him) (198). viewpoints (200). Here are things of whose "incommensurability" he speaks: traditions (148), standards (149), paradigms (150), paradigms (157).

Not in the book: "incommensurability of meaning".

In the collection "The Road Since Structure", we find the following called "incommensurable": theories (34) the hypotenuse and side of an isosceles right triangle (35), the circumference and radius of a circle (35), theories (36, twice), terms (36 -- he does mention "the meanings of incommensurable terms" here), "parts of an older scientific vocabulary" (53), portions of French and English vocabularies (56), points of view (124), theories (163), theories (164), theories (189), the hypotenuse and side of an isosceles right triangle (189), theories (204).

Not in the book: "incommensurable meanings".

"Incommensurability" shows up 50 times, says Google Books, and this doesn't count repeated hits on a single page. Often it's occurring without being clearly "of" anything in the immediately context, where it's something like a watchword for Kuhn's ideas about the history of science broadly. Where it does seem clear to me that the text allows for a citation of what "incommensurability" is of or between, I get these results, tabulated by page first now:

34: theories

36: theories, a local claim "about language, about meaning change" (this is introduced with "insofar as incommensurability was a claim about...").

49: natural languages

60: theories

97: theories

188: pairs of theories

189: theories

And here are some passages that seem especially relevant:

p. 34, footnote 2: "Both Feyerabend and I wrote of the impossibility of defining the terms of one theory on the basis of terms of the other. But he restricted incommensurability to language; I spoke also of differences in "methods, problem-field, and standards of solution" (Structure, 2nd end., p. 103), something I would no longer do except to the considerable extent that the latter differences are necessary consequences of the language-learning process." (He notes in footnote 1 on the previous page that Feyerabend and he had arrived at the metaphor independently at around the same time.)

p.36 : "'meaning' is not the rubric under which incommensurability is best discussed."

p. 93: "Incommensurability thus becomes a sort of untranslatability, localized to one or another area in which two lexical taxonomies differ."

p. 309 (the final interview): "...but it struck me very forcefully that all of them entirely dropped the problem of meaning when they made that [historicist] turn, and that they therefore dropped incommensurability...."

p. 237-8: "In Structure I spoke of meaning change as a characteristic feature of scientific revolutions; later, as I increasingly identified incommensurability with difference of meaning, I repeatedly referred to the difficulties of translation. But I was then torn, usually without quite realizing it, between my sense that translation between an old theory and a new one was possible and my competing sense that it was not.... I was wrong to speak of translation. What I described, I now realize, was language learning, a process that need not, and ordinarily does not, make full translation possible."

So, Kuhn usually speaks of the incommensurability of theories. He used the term more widely in "Structure", and never for anything narrowly linguistic. Post-"Structure" he does emphasize language more, but he realizes before too long that meaning is not the aspect of language that matters most for his purposes. That's not the way to frame the problem, if he's to make any progress.

But, Morris is no innovator, as Googling "incommensurability of meaning" easily shows. I did like that Reed & Sharrock put that phrase in the mouth of their "mainstream critic" of Kuhn. And it is still nice to see some real philosophy discussed in the NYT, and Morris is a fine writer. But what bugs me bugs me. And I'm not even touching the "relativism" rubbish. Or the straight-up depressing fourth part, where Morris misses that the thing about the two Kuhns is a joke. (Kuhn notes, immediately following the bit Morris quotes, that he "lacks the wit to further develop the fantasy" and so drops the gag. Morris's misreading is so striking that I suspect it's genuinely out of malice. I can't even bring myself to care about the absurd charge that Wittgenstein is a relativist, at the end of the piece, due to how sad that opening is.)

Also, the entire third part of Morris's series is ridiculous: Kuhn never says anything about getting his metaphor from the legend of Hippasus. He gets it from the boring mathematical fact: You can't say what the square root of two is if you're limited to expressing numbers as ratios of whole numbers. To talk about the square root of two, you need to learn a new way of thinking about numbers. And once you have, you still can't express the square root of two as a ratio of whole numbers. I don't see how he missed this. It's not a complex metaphor. But the imaginative fiction he weaves to suggest "that Kuhn’s entire theory of scientific change might be an imaginative fiction" does make for a more gripping yarn than something about irrational numbers.

01 February 2011

Conference Announcement: "The Philosophical Relevance of Hegel's Subjective Logic"

Thought this might be of interest. It's certainly a topic that could use more discussion, especially with the use McDowell & Brandom have made of Hegel with regard to judgement.



“The Philosophical Relevance of Hegel’s Subjective Logic”

I am pleased to announce that applications are now being accepted for the Second Annual International Summer School in German Philosophy, hosted by Bonn University, Germany, to be held July 4 - 15, 2011.

This year’s topic is “The Philosophical Relevance of Hegel’s Subjective Logic.” The course will be led by Markus Gabriel (Bonn University) with keynote addresses by Michael Forster (University of Chicago), Rolf-Peter Horstmann (Humboldt University, Berlin), and
 Axel Hutter (LMU, Munich). Course readings and discussions will be in English.

There are no registration or course fees for the summer school. A limited number of travel stipends are available for students coming from outside of Germany.

Application is open to graduate students and recent PhD recipients with backgrounds in philosophy. For a full course description, application instructions, and further information about the summer school, please visit our website:


The application deadline is MARCH 15, 2011. Application materials (CV and short letter of intent, plus a separate letter explaining financial needs if applying for a stipend) should be sent via email to idealism2011@gmail.com.

23 January 2011

It turns out the new translation of "The Science of Logic" came out last year

I didn't notice when this happened, so I figure others probably missed it, too: di Giovanni's translation of "The Science of Logic" is out now. From what I've read of it so far, it's not radically different from Miller's translation, but the mere addition of some modern critical apparatuses is very welcome. Like, just having some more footnotes is a great addition. As is changing the font. The Miller is just an ugly book to look at. So even if this doesn't end up being a radical change, it's definitely welcome. (Now they just need to print it in paperback so I can own a copy of the thing legally.)

It looks like there are actually three volumes of the Cambridge Edition of Hegel's Works out now. I'd only heard about the Heidelberg Writings (which I haven't had time to think about looking at yet), and I just found out they were working on (and have already published) another translation of the Encyclopedia Logic earlier this evening. I'm not sure why they did this one, especially this early-on; the Hackett edition is from 1991, and strikes me as perfectly serviceable still. I would've thought that they were working mainly on unpublished or out-of-date materials, based on the fact that they started with the Heidelberg Writings volume. I suppose they might have been trying to get the major works out there (with Pinkard's translation of the Phenomenology presumably destined to come out in this series), but it still strikes me as odd. The other volumes of the Encyclopedia are badly in need of either new translations or a reprint of the Petry editions in a format that people other than major research libraries can get access to. (I've not seen them outside of reference collections, even there. Amusingly, Amazon offers the third volume of Petry for $2.30 as a Kindle edition, but this is actually just the version you can find online at places like Marxists.org, not even the Miller edition that has the Zusatze etc. So save your $2.30, nature-philosophers!)

Anyway, I'm reading di Giovanni's preface to "The Science of Logic" now. One bit that leaped out at me when I was reading:
"In this respect, since [The Phenomenology of Spirit] is governed throughout by the idea of spirit, it also constitutes the First Part of the System of Science, as Hegel surnamed it in 1807. This is a title which was dropped in the second edition of 1832, because it no longer corresponded to the subsequent publication history of the then planned System, and because Hegel later incorporated a much abbreviated version of the Phenomenology in the Encyclopedia as part of the Philosophy of Spirit."

I was very happy to see someone established say this; I've never actually seen it stated in print before (though I've said it on blogs). I have seen the opposed view (both in print and online), that the Phenomenology elevates its reader to the status of Absolute Knowledge and thus enables her to make sense of the System Of Science which begins with "The Science of Logic", which has always struck me as nuts.

Unrelated note: My handwritten McDowell notes gnaw at my soul like a beaver on soft wood. They demand to be typed up. I am not very good at blogging.