5.26.2002

[33-38] Let me get caught up. I've been working on a most difficult chapter pertaining to seeing and theorizing in Wittgenstein. I've been most unhappy with the results and I need a break. Going back to some early remarks from the Investigations might help. Then I'll try to pick up on some of your insights.

In 33, Wittgenstein opens up a new line of inquiry, it seems. When you point to an object, he asks, are you pointing to its shape, color, or number? Is the 'blue' of the object the same 'blue' of the sky? When philosophers speak of word to object directness, do they forget or overlook the differences hinted at here? There is a larger activity involved here when we look at shape, number, or color, that reveals the myopia of philosophers. "I want to say: This is the sort of thing that happens while one [a philosopher in the tradition of Logical Positivism/Empiricism] 'directs one's attention to this or that'."

Wittgenstein continues this example of attending to shape or color in 34, but he makes an internal case for the social-ness of philosophical questions. The context is always shared by two or more people (although we can also say that the other interlocutor could be imaginary). The answer to the question of what happens when one attends to the possibilities that arrive in ostensive defining is also social. "For neither the expression 'to intend the definition in such and such a way' nor the expression 'to interpret the definition in such-and-such a way' stands for a process which accompanies the giving and hearing of the definition." That is, we are interested in what goes on between the giver and the receiver of the ostensive definition, not what goes on "within" either individual. What we see is there can always be room for dispute on use or misunderstanding. There is no determinacy built into the grammar of the ostensive definitional context.

The word "convention" is not used in 33 or 34, but in 35 Wittgenstein talks about "characteristic experiences" (recurrences) that accompany the pointing to a shape or color. These increase the chance for correct communication, but they can also lead to misunderstanding (as when an expectation is not met --the element of surprise in metaphor). These experiences remain contextual, as in "pointing to a piece in a game as a piece in a game." Here --in the context of a chessboard -- I mean a King rather than a piece of wood. Along with 'meaning' in this sense, Wittgenstein also lists, parenthetically, "recognizing, wishing, remembering, etc."

In 36, Wittgenstein engages in a meta-reflection on the indeterminacy built into ostensive definition situations that leaves us with a sense of the origin of the concept of mind as a locus of certitude. If the bodily action of pointing results in unpredictability or mistakes, then we want to be able to fall back on some deeper, spiritual activity that will ensure that there is potential for truth, accuracy, perfect understanding, in this context. This spiritual, extra-bodily activity, is a regulative ideal. Descartes leaps to mind, but so does the ideal speech situation of Jurgen Habermas. Habermas contends that in every speech act, there is underlying it an ideal speech situation. Even where speech acts are systematically distorted by ideological coercion, the truth can still be revealed. (There are a lot of arguments like this in hermeneutics and various uses of Freudian psychoanalysis in social theory, literary criticism, film criticism, and so on).

After raising the issue of meaning or intending as a mental object, Wittgenstein continues to examine the relation between the mental image triggered by the naming or ostensive defining of of thing in 37. Where does the life of a sentence come from? Wittgenstein resists the idea that the life of the sentence is an extension of the mind. We need to look elsewhere-- not only into the social relation between the speaker and the hearer, the teacher and the student, the builders -- but also between the chessplayers and the chessboard.

You put some pressure on me to come up with a profound reading of "this" and "that" in 38. Let me stay with the idea of the life of a sentence. Some of the early programmers who were interested in Artificial Intelligence sought to create sentences that could mimic the self-reflectiveness of thinking. They turned to self-referential sentences like, "This sentence is false," and self-replicating sentences such as "When this sentence comes to the end, it will repeat itself." Like the programmers, we want to say that the sentences have a life of their own. Wittgenstein says as much in this remark. For ostensive defining to occur, a person pointing is not necessary. A sentence with "this" or "there" designating as in "this is called..." has a life of its own. It acts apart from a speaker or writer. When philosophers speak of naming the process becomes "queer" or "occult," Wittgenstein continues. A problem arises because philosophers have underappreciated the life or active dimension of language. "For philosophical problems arise when language goes on a holiday . And here we may indeed fancy naming to be some remarkable act of mind, as it were a baptism of an object." The irony of the use of the word "here" in the last sentence is unmistakable.

This stuff is so challenging intellectually that I feel tired after working away at it for a couple of hours. In the preface, Wittgenstein says that "I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking." Ludwig, you needn't have worried about that.

I think you provide a deeply useful image of what Wittgenstein was seeking to achieve by promoting a social life of language with the allusion to satori. Let me end with a joke: "What did the Zen Buddhist say to the hot dog vender?" "Make me one with everything."

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