4.10.2002

[26,27,28] Naming is tricky because we ask questions that presuppose dualities. In naming we might ask, "What is the relation of language to world or to thinking?" What we call language is composed of a wide array of activities, naming being one of these. What distinguishes these activities is the reality they engender. Naming might create objects, while commanding might create a context, and so on. Differences arise in language, and not in relations to reality. Thinking and language is a harder duality to throw out. There is an inner/outer relation in Wittgenstein, but the inner is not to be understood as a set of occult mental processes. Thought occurs in language, through language, and is evinced linguistically. Metaphysician, heal thyself.

What arrests arbitrariness in naming within a form of life is a combination of convention (tradition, habit) and a desire to communicate successfully. Mistakes can happen, or we can cleverly call our cat "Fido," but we use naming to disclose features of our world to one another. Proper names distinguish us along family lines. We are named by or parents or grandparents to show that we belong to them. If we think about this in reference to remark 26, we name a child in preparation for membership in a world where identity is an emerges from exceedingly complex social interactions.

Complexity is Wittgenstein's goal in 27. He looks at sentences and their various uses by starting with elemental, one word exclamations. "Careful!," I might yell out when it appears that you are going to bang your head on the cave ceiling. The exclamation is admonitory and compassionate. Then again, I might scream "Careful!" into your ear as you stand on the edge of a cliff. The result might lead one to say that the exclamation was designed to send you over the edge. It was anything but compassionate. You must look at the bigger picture that is created by the exclamation. Wittgenstein then extends this point to the simple language-game of naming. "And there is also a language-game of inventing a name for something." This bespeaks a growth to the language/world/person circle. In naming there is the activity akin to what Daniel Dennett calls "the intentional stance." I name my computer "Genevieve" (I have this adolescent thing for Genevieve Bujold--never mind). I speak to Genevieve and beg "her" for explanation on why she crashed just as I was completing a long letter of recommendation yesterday. In naming, we create a relationship with what we have named. This relation occurs within language, but we make the mistake of creating an ontological dualism where there is only linguistic distinction. (Would you pick up this point for commentary? I have been trying to say this for a while and I am closer here than in earlier formulations).

In 28, Wittgenstein suggests there is arbitrariness in even ostensive definitions. "...an ostensive definition can be variously interpreted in every case." In this, you might define "red" by pointing to my hair (before students turned it gray). Red can also be defined by pointing to Santa's suit. Clearly these reds are different and yet there is a reason why we define the word by pointing to examples of the range of shades we call red. We think we are pointing to something outside of language that has stability because it is outside. We are really pointing to something created in language.

Have you seen Jarman's film "Wittgenstein"? It is a strange and impressionistic film based on a screenplay by Terry Eagleton (although Eagleton had his name dropped from the project). In the movie, Wittgenstein speaks of the logic of the Tractatus as realm of ice, a realm of cold perfection. Barrett seems to tap into the same kind of imagery. As in the Yeats poem, we understand the impulse to escape from the messiness and madness of the world. But escape is illusory. Still, as in the case of Descartes, the certitude he found in what he took to be the realm of pure thought rescued him from the existential free fall he was in. Meditations on First Philosophy can fill me with a sense of dread. Here was a man, sitting before a fire, ravaged by existential solipsism. The certainty he had known, the purity of his faith, the hermeticism of the story offered by Christianity, was gone suddenly. The ground liquified and he plunged downward. As he fell he grabbed wildly for a branch. The cogito was the only branch that held. The Wittgenstein of the Philosophical Investigations tells us that there are no branches to cling too. Even if there were, we should avoid them and enjoy the creativity that is one with the friction-filled sensation of plunging.

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