5.14.2002

Let me start with your question about the truth of propositions in the Tractatus. I think the answer turns on Meinong and Frege. Among other problems Frege worked on were statements like "The king of France is bald." This comes from Russell, of course, but the logical problem is obvious. To answer the question: Is this proposition true? false? nonsensical? does not get you any where. Frege put forward the argument that if the statement has or makes sense, then it must have reference. Wittgenstein never bought into the Logical Positivist plan to fashion an ideal language for science composed solely of word-object relations. The Tractatus is described by Wittgenstein as an ethical work. This idea is a source of unity between the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations. I agree, the whole argument for or against the young and old Wittgenstein is pretty bankrupt. There was a similar scholarly division between the young and old Marx. The young Marx was the revolutionary firebrand; the old Marx was a respectable economist and sociologist. The point of the division is clear: how do we deal with philosophers who occasionally engage in critical self-reflection? With simple before and after categories, for one. For Marx, from the 1844 Manuscripts to Das Kapital a unifying theme was alienation. For Wittgenstein, there was consistent concern with the description, as opposed to the reform, of ordinary language.

When I start a new language, it is with feverish obsession. It is kind of like the trajectory of romantic relationships -- you begin with infatuation, burn white hot, and then cool off. There is the adage that you know you have learned a second language when you start dreaming in that language. But I was dreaming in German weeks after starting to learn it. It was not very good German and some was absolute gibberish, but I was so reverent in my practice of simple dialogues that it felt like immersion. That was seventh grade. In my early thirties I began a correspondence course in Attic Greek. It became the center of my life for over a year. I would have dreams where I was reading Greek texts. Are these experiences what Chomsky described as switches being turned in the emergent grammar that we all possess? There does not seem to be any biological or genetic basis for Chomsky's claims. What is left but the experiential?

I have shared with you my struggles with Korean. This experience stands, for me, as a complete refutation of Chomsky. Or it was until I observed your impressive progress learning Vietnamese.

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