7.23.2002

In retrospect, I am unhappy with my "reductionism is a quality of reality" statement. I wanted to get rid of a dualism that is really only a logical distinction: a distinction between reality and the tools we use to study reality. Reductionism is such a tool, and it has garnered enormous appeal because of the perceived successes of science over the last couple of centuries.

In 50, Wittgenstein examines the privileging of naming activities as a form of reductionism. In the history of philosophy, someone must have described naming as the act of attributing being or non-being to an object. This is the origin of ontology, that branch of philosophy that tries to address the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" This is opposed to the division we find in Genesis between God's creative power and the power delegated to humans to name creation. What Wittgenstein observes is that in language we have a "means of representation," as exemplified in the colored squares of 48. We need to see that naming does not denote a word to object separation. Rather, it is an activity that is played out within a language-game: Naming and the thing named are created as needed to play the game. This formulation is so important for us theorists. There is a proclivity among philosophers of science to think of theory as a way of bringing facts into a coherent picture. What Wittgenstein says here is that facts are, in effect, creations of theories/paradigms. "It is a paradigm in our language-game..." We find Thomas Kuhn's debt to Wittgenstein most directly here.

I think we can agree that we have seen this move of placing naming within a larger group of activities composing a language-game before. In 51, however, Wittgenstein takes a closer look at the correspondence relation between words and things named by words. This is another rich remark that we can spend a lot of time unpacking. (Indeed, in 50 there is a whole line that anticipates deconstructionism.) "What does it mean to say that in the technique of using the language certain elements correspond to the signs?" The correspondences he looks at are those of R to red squares and B to black squares. For Logical Positivists/Empiricists, the challenge was to reduce language to these kinds of relations that are verifiable or falsifiable. The philosopher's stance is apart from ordinary uses of language; for logical positivists, their task as philosophers was to reform language and prepare it for the empirical certitude delivered by science. In this endeavor, nonsensical forms of language -- any form that does not adhere to word to object symmetry -- is removed as part of a larger scientific project to disenchant the world. Wittgenstein eliminates the philosophical distance posited by Positivists by looking at the relation of symbol R's correspondence to the black squares and asking "what is the criterion by which this is a mistake?"

One answer is that there is a rule etched into our mind's thinking process that produces a sense of correctness or incorrectness in symbol to thing correspondences. Wittgenstein, however, resists such general explanations for correctness or incorrectness. In so doing, he places philosophy into the games where correspondences are created. "We [philosophers] must focus on the details of what goes on; must look at them from close to ." The remark opens with a decision to look at correspondences more closely. It ends with a promise to look at correspondences more closely. How we go about this is apparently by asking a provocative question that undermines the naturalness or generalness of the relation in question. What would it mean to get it wrong? Getting a correspondence wrong could mean that we have moved away from naming and toward metaphor.

51 signals a turn toward a different investigation. Where we have been looking at the relation of language to reality in acts of naming and ostensive defining, Wittgenstein nows wants to engage philosophy itself. He opens with a great example of looking closely at a pile of rags and dust in order to, perhaps, show the idea that a mouse "has come into being by spontaneous generation out of grey rags and dust" to be a mistake. In philosophy, he asks, what obstacles are there in the enterprise itself that keep philosophers from accepting their all to human closeness to the details of things they wish to examine. What is the appeal of distance?

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