4.20.2002

I suppose it can be said that I have wandered into linguistic idealism, but I cannot see how we can step out of language in order to view physical reality in an unmediated way. (As I was writing this the earth shook. It is the first time I have ever experienced an earthquake -- Cool! Apparently, physical reality wanted to let me know how to experience it directly.)

You want to talk about mental states that accompany linguistic distinctions. This is really difficult stuff and your examples are compelling. Where do what we call mental events or states occur? Are they in the mind or are they created by naming (and here I have in mind William James's claim that "I cry not because I am sad; I am sad because I cry")? If we want to posit a location called the mind outside of language, that precedes language, we then raise the traditional question of how we can know this mind. Mind is more vulnerable to physiologically-based criticism than ever before. Eliminative materialism is an anti-mentalist argument that emerges with each new discovery in neurophysiology. The idea is to replace an older, occult vocabulary with one that offers more plausible, powerful explanation for phenomena like dreaming, hallucinating, creativity, spiritual beliefs, etc. Before eliminative materialism were the sustained attacks by linguistic philosophers --Ryle, Wittgenstein, Austin -- that sought to replace the philosophy of mind with the philosophy of language.

The older I get, the more interesting (read:perverse) my mind becomes. A memory can arise out of nowhere, a la Proust, and I will spend hours reflecting on it. I may not have been using language as a tool at that moment. I may have been still and silent. The memory arose of its own accord. It felt like it appeared suddenly in my head, as if it was beneath the surface and now emerged. At these moments, I find myself gravitating toward Heidegger and away from Wittgenstein. I am a tool of language and not vice versa. On deeper reflection, however, Wittgenstein offers a more compelling view of mental states and language because it avoids the onto-theological excesses of Heidegger. For Wittgenstein, what we experience as our mental life is the mental life of language. Conceived this way, our relation to language is seamless. Indeed, our relation to others is linguistically seamless. At least potentially. We can think of boundaries to understanding in terms of the plurality of language-games that construct our individuality. But there is no barrier to understanding or problem of other minds so intractable that it cannot be overcome with travel. If there is an inner/outer, then it remains a linguistic distinction and not an ontological duality. That traditional cranial wall between our minds and our language is shown to be far more permeable than what Descartes would permit.

[28,29,30] In 28, Wittgenstein offers the example of ostensive definition where to define "two" I point to two nuts. You could mistake the "two" for the nuts themselves. Ostensive defining, as an activity, has no claim to certainty. By pointing to the relation between word and object, misunderstanding can still occur. In 29, Wittgenstein asks if we can avoid the mistake with the clarification, "The number is called 'two'." "For the word 'number' here shows the place in language, in grammar, we assign to the word." What is interesting here is not the obvious point that Wittgenstein raises regarding defining "by means of other words!"

What is interesting is the condition that necessitates this act of defining. This is another glimpse at the pragmatic vein in Wittgenstein's thinking. "Whether the word 'number' is necessary in the ostensive definition depends on whether without it the other person takes the definition otherwise than I wish ... And how he 'takes' the definition is seen in the use he makes of the word defined." Even in the context of ostensive defining there can be more than one use of the word being defined. Do we want to talk about this as a context where there are two mental states?

Wittgenstein makes this question even more difficult to answer in 30. There has to be some initial agreement about the activity of ostensive defining. "...the ostensive definition explains the use -- the meaning -- of the word when the overall role of the word in language is clear." We have to grasp that a color or number term is being defined for us ostensively before we can see the meaning of the act of pointing to a color to define it. "One has already to know (or be able to do) something in order to be capacble of asking a thing's name. But what does one have to know?" What has to be known is that the two people are in the same language game. Or, and here we have to imagine this situation, I come to the boundary of a language game called political theory and there you are on the boundary of poetry. We are close enough to talk and both our language games have ostensive defining as part of the tool box. We can see here the grounds for understanding and the grounds for misunderstanding simultaneously. (I'd love an example here, but I'm running out of gas.)

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