3.30.2002

Naming is one kind of language game, is that what you're saying? Makes sense to me. I've always been suspicious of poets & theorists of poetry who name naming as the poet's primary role. In contemporary poetry, this fallacy can be traced back to the wonderful Chilian poet Pablo Neruda, who remarked once (as poets will) that the Latin American poets of the 20th century had an advantage over their North American brothers & sisters because "there are still birds in our forests that do not have names." It's a lovely & romantic notion, but in fact it is ornithologists or local folk who give names to birds, not poets. Poets, of course, will put those names to uses that were perhaps never envisioned by the scientist or hunter.

3.29.2002

[26,27] An edenic account of the relation between language and world indeed. "To repeat -- naming is something like attaching a word to a thing. One can say that this is preparatory to the use of a word. But what is it a preparation for? When we go back to the metaphor of the tool box, language, here the act of naming can be seen as the preparation for acting upon what is named. We saw in Augustine that it is also preparation for adult membership in the community of language-users. Augustine's error was seeing it as the only form of preparation.

What is interesting in 27 is that we we see the creative side, as opposed to what might be called the regulatory side, of language-games. "And there is also a language-game of inventing a name for something." Wittgenstein suggests here, I think, that naming something is not to be regarded as a basic component of language since the primitive languages of the worker [2] and the student [8] did not have the capacity to ask the name for something or invent a name for something new. Naming is narrow; it has a single use.

Chris, sorry to have missed your talk last night. Thursdays are long days for me in any case, but we're also dog-sitting Lew H's Golden Retriever this week & I didn't want to leave him by himself longer than necessary. And once I've driven home, it's pretty hard to get me to turn around & drive the 14 miles back into town. Anyway, I hope it went well.

3.24.2002

I'm putting a manuscript to bed and so I'll be brief here. If animals could think we could not read their minds. But of course they do think -- they calculate distances in attacking prey or avoiding becoming prey. What we call instrumental rationality -- the thinking behind going from A to B as quickly, efficiently, and as safely as possible -- is not unique to humans (or engineers). Beyond this we fall into anthropomorphism. I tend toward anthropomorphism as precaution. I would prefer to wrong on the issue then to be responsible for an animal suffering.

Let's think about two-part structures some more. Whenever I hear a philosopher say there are two or three essential points or ways to go, I wonder: Why not five or six?

Are two-part structures themselves suspect, whether binary or causal?

Logics: I think we can agree that different language games have different grammars. Use of the word logic seems . . . too determinative. One of the underlying structures of human thought--perhaps the underlying structure--is grammar(s). Logic comes along later, I think. William Barrett, in The Illusion of Technique, spends a good deal of time early in his text exploring the ways in which W's conception of logic came out of & diverged from Russell's & Whitehead's. Wittgenstein in the Tractatus, writes Barrett, takes the idea of logic to its , , , logical conclusion: "Any one thing can either be the case, or not be the case, and everything else remains the same." This is a logic in which the statement "If twice two is four, then snow is white" is a perfectly formed proposition. Barrett notes, of this proposition, that it "jars our habits of ordinary speech," but adds that "it is precisely this kind of device that provides mathematical logic with its unique powers of manipulation and calculation." [TIOT 43] I remarked a couple of weeks ago to my Imagining Science class that scientific reductionism has proved to be boat a powerful intellectual tool & a deceptive intellectual trap leading to a callow kind of confidence in one's own powers of understanding. Reductionism is an instance of mathematical logic, no? Let's say the Greeks invented logic & that Russell & Whitehead completed the project. Did no one think before the Greeks? Did no one think rigorously before the Principia? Hardly. Human thought, emerging from & blending back into animal thought, surely precedes logic. Which must mean that logic is based on . . . what? Animal thought & human grammars? [Note: I need to go back & look at Santyana's "Skepticism and Animal Faith" again.]

[26, 27] The consciousness of animals & naming as a human activity. Garden of Eden, anyone? (I'll copy the Eco essay I mentioned recently & put it in your mailbox.) In 25 Wittgenstein dismisses another two-part logical structure: that animals do not talk because they lack the mental capacity. Instead, Wittgenstein notes, all we really know is that they do not talk. (The evidence suggests that animals do think, but that's not W's concern here.) The question arises--& it is a tricky one--as to what we mean by thinking. Just for clarity, I'd suggest that there is a biological activity that we humans share with at least the "higher" animals & then there is something we might want to set apart & distinguish as human thinking, which is shot through with language. Thinking & human thinking probably grade into each other over some region of evolutionary space, but the consequence of seeing things this way is the recognition that while we share a great deal with our non-speaking cousins, language--for good or ill--also distinguishes us from them, radically. We are, in Auden's memorable phrase, "their lonely betters."

3.22.2002

I find your post this morning illuninating. As a writier, I have found myself at various times veering toward the romantic, then back toward the skeptical. Seeing these two modes, not as binaries, but as regions on a topological surface provides a richer & more satisfying picture. Sorry for the short posts this week--I'm trying to catch up with several projects, bith domestic & academic.

Great! I was hoping you would return to the Klein bottle image. It is really suggestive: what is finite becomes infinite by turning back on itself. This gives me a way of thinking about language. More precisely: this gives me a way of thinking about the difficulties of returning to ordinary language. Cavell puts it in terms of skepticism and romanticism, where the skeptical side of us confronts what we take to be the limitations of language, while the romantic side seeks unity. The romantic is drawn by the "uncanniness of the ordinary" (Freud's felicitous phrase), while the skeptical resists settling for this. Romanticism is an achievement of the human; skepticism is the aspiration for the divine. Together, they reveal the difficult of the path Wittgenstein commands from the metaphysical or logically ideal ice world to the friction of the ordinary.

3.21.2002

"There are as many logics as there are language games" you say, summarizing Wittgenstein & I agree; except, don't the logics all share the quality or attribute of being a logic? I keep making arguments that are shaped like Klein bottles. That's the way I've thought about phenomenal reality since that bus ride between Bellingham & Seattle I mentioned a while back--as an infinite closed surface always turning back on itself. About the same time as my bus ride I remember pointing out to my students that definitions of beauty vary markedly from culture to culture, but that all cultures seem to have some notion of beauty. In the present discussion, this turn of mind leads me to my notion that there are many different logics, but that all of them have something in common--something perhaps unnameable, something that can only be indicated, pointed to.

I think philosophy and poetry share a similar division in approaches to the enterprise. There are philosophers like Hegel who come to epitomize the abstract character of philosophizing. Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Wittgenstein attack the "craving for generality" evident in metaphysics and other epic brands of philosophical activity. They tend to be called poetic for their critical efforts. And there are poets who convey abstraction with silence or minimalism. They tend to be called philosophical for their (tacit) critical tactics.

Deep irony today: I am working a paper pertaining to Wittgenstein and political theory. Today I managed to tie myself up into so many conceptual knots that I have lost the central tenet of my argument. Oh, it's in there somewhere, but I have coated it with a bunch of clever crap. Let me pop a couple of Advil, check my mail, and when I return with a hopefully clearer head, I would like to turn to 24 and 25.

[24,25] In a letter to his friend Maurice Drury, Wittgenstein said "Hegel seems to me to be wanting to say that things which look different are really the same. Whereas my interest is in showing that things which look the same are really different. I was thinking of using as a motto for my book a quotation from King Lear : 'I'll teach you differences.' This goal is no more clear than in remark 24. The multiplicity of language-games offered in 23 serves to undermine the essentialist grammar of "What is..." questions. The answer always depends on how and where you are using whatever the "what" is. However there are boundaries around the forms of the various language-games that serve to distinguish them. Wittgenstein writes, although there are "many different kinds of thing ... called 'description,'"a description can never be transformed into a question. Alterations do not "bring the different language-games any closer together." A question cannot be a description, nor vice versa. A description can be transformed "into descriptions of my inner life," by placing "I think" or "I believe" at the beginning of a statement. Wittgenstein promises to develop the implications of this transformation at a later time when he takes up the question of Solipsism.

One way of thinking about 24 is, and here let me leave it open as a question, that it is not that there no logic to language; rather, it is that there are as many logics as there are language-games. This would be another way of seeing some connection between the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations.

25 is another shot at breaking the habit of thinking that thinking occurs prior to speaking. "Think before you speak!", is an expression you might use in the heat of an argument, but it betrays a deeper belief that there is an internal, editable argument that is simply made public. Thinking and speaking are united in the language we use. We can surmise, then, that animals may think and speak if they have a language. Cora Diamond sees this possibility of thought/language in animals as a basis for arguments against vivisection and meat eating.

Poets have need of philosophers nevertheless. It was Wordsworth, in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads, who pointed out that poety is more "philosophical" than history, by which he menas that poetry & philosophy are more generally applicable than the mater-of-fact of history. Paradoxically, philosophers & poets have historically come to that generality by different routes: philosophers have deployed abstractions whereas poet have tended to get to the general through the specific.

3.20.2002

Poets don't need philosophers to tell them it is okay to play with language. That this comes as a minor revelation tells me how steeped I am in the Kantian tradition. Kant's whole point was to respond to the cultural ascendency of science and the decline of religious authority by placing philosophy on universal grounds for judging what counts as knowledge. Ever since, philosophers have this odd belief that the world awaits their next word.

I am prepared to talk about resistance as having a pre-modern history in all forms of dualism. This is a strand of argument in Derrida. Whether we are talking about reality versus the world of appearance, universal versus particular, or heaven versus hell, all dualisms are asymmetrical: one pole is preferred over the other. Aristotle was the first to oppose these binary arrangements and his criticism leads me to think of him as the first ecologist. What Aristotle knew was that Plato's world of forms entailed a denigration of this world. Descartes' project reifies these kinds of oppositions. The preferred side of his dualism bolsters the claim to individual agency in both religious and scientific matters. This was immensely appealing. Hobbes's materialism -- the contention posed against Descartes that there is no mind, only brain -- never stood a chance. Had Hobbes won, the philosophy of mind and epistemology would never have achieved positions of primacy among the activities of philosophers. We would have started down the neurophysiological path hundreds of years ago. (I love making sweeping claims.)

A goal for philosophy is that philosophers be as free as poets in their language play. It is one reason why I like hanging out with you.

Last year was the year of Merrill. His collected poems were published and there was a biography. I found my way into his writing through this popular reception and I am moved by the perspective he offers. He is one of those that finds and illuminates the sublime in the pedestrian (the title of my masters thesis).

I should move on to commentary but I have a full schedule of Wittgenstein ahead for the day. If I can I'll turn to 25 this evening or respond to your foray. Your insight on a boundary between the philosophical and poetic forms of life has me reeling a bit.

3.19.2002

You read Merrill? I get six lines into any poem of his & nod off. For Celan & Auden I share your reverence. I think it is in Life Studies, in a poem about Delmore Schwartz, that Lowell calls Freud & Marx the "prophets of joy." I'd better go look this up--I have the feeling I'm misquoting badly. Joy, clearly, is one of the functions of poetry--& as you have noted, certain kinds of philosophy. I'd even go so far as to suggest that philosophy that becomes divorced from the personality of the philosopher is somehow defective, denatured.

And that philosophical tradition of resistance begins where? I'm tempted to say Descartes. Isn't that where the wedge gets driven in between subject & object, between mind & body? Descartes' project is brilliant & even intellectually courageous; it has been immensely powerful in making dualism the dominant philosophical doctrine of the modern era; that Descartes' project ends in error yet remains so forceful is a kind of philosophical Tragedy.

[22, 23] Okay, these are in some sense difficult remarks, but the difficulty comes from a philosophical tradition of resistance rather than any intrinsic obscurity of the remarks themselves. There are places where I find W's language difficult to understand, but not here. Most poets, myself included, will find these remarks intuitively on the money. Poets are less likely to kiss the page than to yawn at this point in the Investigations. Old hat, comfortable.

[22,23] These are supremely difficult remarks that oppose a reductionism evident in Frege's analysis of language with a holism that argues for the sentence as the unit of meaning or thought. You can reduce sentences to their parts, Wittgenstein says, but only when they are written or utter as a whole do sentences tell us anything. Frege's project was to devise a conceptual notation that would enable the philosopher/scientist to analyze the defects of ordinary language without the logic itself becoming afflicted. One of Wittgenstein's responses is that this conceptual notation is itself an extrapolation of ordinary language (that comes later). Here, however, Wittgenstein indicates that to understand ordinary language you need to study ordinary language and not some underlying logical structure. This is a self-criticism that is made more explicit in the next remark where he identifies himself as the author of the Tractatus. I guess what needs to be emphasized here is Wittgenstein's turn against a larger philosophical tradition of distrust for ordinary language. Frege's logical analysis of language has the effect of depriving the sentence, assertion, question, command of its life. As I write this, I think about the tradition in my field, political theory, of distrust for politics. (Forgive the aside, but I am writing on Wittgenstein and political theory -- a reason why my blogs have been relatively short.)

[23] The point about the life of a sentence is underscored here: "Here the term 'language-game' is meant to bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or a form of life. He then offers the famous laundry list of language-games and delivers a stern rebuke of logical positivism/empiricism, of Frege, Russell, Whitehead, and the early Wittgenstein's belief that there is an underlying, uniform logical structure to language. The philosophers I admire most are those who engage in self-criticism and express this self criticism as a kind of self-creation. Plato, for me, inaugurated this tradition with the logical implosion of his ideal state in Book Eight of the Republic, St. Augustine's Confessions engage in the kind of self-reflection that shows an inseparability of the philosophy from the philosopher. Nietzsche and Kierkegaard intersperse life and philosophy with remarkable courage, and with an eye toward complete honesty. Wittgenstein belongs here by employing Aristotle's belief that philosophy should have the effect of making the practitioner a better person by eliminating dogmatism.

In my imagination, I see poets reaching this point in the Philosophical Investigations and kissing the page. Wittgenstein is giving permission to play with language. You raise Eco in this fascinating light. When the logic of categories is breached by God, the effect is liberating. When Wittgenstein berates the very idea of underlying logical structure to language the result is playful multiplicity.

Why do I read Merrill, Celan, Auden with reverence? Why do I read Whitman, Hughes, and Ginsberg with joy? Why does such a smart guy like Fish insist on making a fool of himself in public?

You ask about the ethics of distance in Wittgenstein, and this is an argument I have constructed. My main texts are Wittgenstein's critical remarks on theory and on the problem of other minds. But I have also been reading the Investigations with you with an eye toward the anti-dualisms that Wittgenstein offers. His critique of Frege is an opposition to the dualism of logic and ordinary language. It "kills" the life of the sentence. I can give you chapters of the book if you'd like. Sunhee says you should wait for the movie.

3.18.2002

[23] This remark seems pivotal--it summarizes the territory that we have traveled so far. By use of examples it suggests the poverty of the Positivist view of language. Rhetorically, it functions at this point in the text as a clearing of the field. Now that we've gotten that out of the way . . . Wittgenstein seems to be saying.

[24] We only know what we mean in a given utterance because that utterance is part of a language game, which is a social practice. Games, practices--as you pointed out earlier--come & go. This is true for individual lives as well as communities of language users: I don't play the same language games I did ten years ago.

In eliminating the space between language & the world, Wittgenstein could almost be seen as returning us to a prelapsarian linguistic state. Umberto Eco has an essay in The Role of the Reader (1979) called "Aesthetic Messages in an Edenic Language" that is relevant here. Eco sets up a little world with Adam, Eve, God, Serpent, Apple, & a "language" consisting of simple terms & semiotic chains:

red = edible = good = beautiful
blue = inedible = bad = ugly

But then God sets a condition the the red object known as an apple is bad. According to Eco, it is from this contradictory state of affairs that language as we know it emerges, particularly metaphor, irony, narrative: poetry. I've drastically over-simplified Eco, one of my favorite writers--the essay is both analytically powerful & funny. Did I ever tell you about the time I watched Stanley Fish attempt to humiliate Umberto Eco at a public lecture? Okay, another time.

In 22 I am really grabbed by this: "It is only a mistake if one thinks that the assertion consists of two actions, entertaining and asserting . . . " What should we name this pervasive fallacy? And your comment regarding W's introduction of an ethical componant to his view of language has had my brain buzzing all day. You wrote, "Wittgenstein says is that distance gives the illusion of objectification -- others are treated as objects. The illusion is that we can somehow step out of language. The dehumanizing result is real enough." This is something I have often felt & it ties back in, for me, to the fallacy that there is a difference between "entertaining and asserting." We have no place to stand outside of language, but centuries of philosophical & political damage have been done by pretending that such a stance exists somewhere, somehow. John Dewey is relevant here as well: his theraputic move in Experience & Nature is related to W's in PI. Dewey points out [in one example] that because human beings are weak & faced with daily struggle, we become acutely aware of the fininte nature of our existence; out of this we construct the Infinite & set it up as an absolute. The absolute then becomes the measure of our finite existence. The Infinite, in this case, has become a stance outside of language, outside of human reality. Perhaps I am conflating fallacies here. Where, in Wittgenstein, do you find the source for your comment about the ethical failure of Positivist views of language? (I ask, not becuase I don't believe you, but because I want to go more deeply into this.)

What Wittgenstein eliminates is space between language and world. Nietzsche considered this space a zone of duplicity -- language can never get reality quite right. For Positivists, as you said, language is a reflection of reality -- a mirror image that is distorted by vocabulary that does not conform to word/object symmetry found in nouns. There is no "myth of the given" in Wittgenstein. Our reality is linguistic and this linguistic reality is varied. Wittgenstein takes the criticism of Positivism one step further: posing a separation of language and world is unethical. Positing an achievable distance from the world by reducing language to nouns or fashioning an synthetic ideal language is to eschew our responsibility toward others. Within this idea is the idea that Kant put forward that it is unethical to treat others as means to an end. What Wittgenstein says is that distance gives the illusion of objectification -- others are treated as objects. The illusion is that we can somehow step out of language. The dehumanizing result is real enough.

I'm not sure about the philosophy of language supporting Strong AI. Where Dennett and Searle concur is on a view of Strong AI as possible given the complexity of neural nets (as opposed to the von Neumann computer design) coupled with natural language or semantic-based programming. Before this view, Dennett and Searle opposed one another on the issue of whether a syntactic-based or algorithmic program can produce consciousness (Dennett) or only a simulation of consciousness (Searle). Strong AI has been refashioned because of neural net or connectionist innovations and the promise held out by quantum computation. Indeed, Strong AI might better be dropped for AL (Artificial Life). AL emerges where connectionism, quantum computation, robotics, and virtual reality come together. Not surprisingly, there is growing interest in the implications of Wittgenstein's view of language for this new technology.

Solitaire is an interesting game to think about in regard to private language. I'm afraid I don't know enough about the game. Aren't you playing against an imagined house? There are rules to the game, and so it is a product of pre-constituted social practices. We can talk about strategy. I remember my father teaching me the game. We can cheat at it. None of this is changed because we play on a computer. If anything, computers offer new ways of cheating and imagining an audience or opponent.

I want to take remarks 22 and 23 together. In response to Frege, Wittgenstein is extending his idea that the sentence is a unit of meaning. I'll try to return to this later today.

3.14.2002

[22] "Of course we have the right to use an assertion sign in contrast with a question-mark, for example, or if we want to distinguish an assertion from a fiction or a supposition. It is only a mistake if one thinks that the assertion consists of two actions, entertaining and asserting (assigning the truth-value, or something of the kind), and that in performing these actions we follow the prepositional sign roughly as we sing from the musical score." 22 seems clear enough in its main emphasis, that the punctuation is a transcription of an already existent meaning, not a determinent of the meaning. But I also get the sense from this remark that Wittgenstein is working against the language-as-transcription-of-thought cognitive model. That is, we do not transcribe thought into language so much as make thought (meaning) through the use of language. This is a relatively uncontroversial notion for a poet, but I suspect it raises the hackles of certain scientists & analytical philosophers.

3.13.2002

Final stray thought: Language games imply language communities--at the very least, groups of users who hold a game in common. (Can one play a game alone? Is there such a thing as solitaire? What about games on the computer?--I know we'll get to Private Language later, just seemed relevant to think about briefly in this context.) Okay, but what I'm really thinking about tonight is this: What are the effects of emotion within these groups / communities? That is, to look at it one way, what differences are there for behavior & consciousness between sympathetic & unsympathetic language communities? Language games can be "played" selfishly or alturistically.

[21] "What makes it one or the other?" That's the question that devastates a positivist view of language. Language, it appears, only means anything within a particular context. More in the morning. It occurs to me just now as I'm signing off that most of the proposals for stron Artificial Intelligence rely on a positivist, propositional view of language. Need to think more about this.

[20,21]The magic of 20 is that the site was down for a couple of days last week. I was having withdrawal symptoms. Perhaps there should be a support group for bloggers when they are unable to log on. "Hello, I'm Chris and I'm a ..."

In 21, Wittgenstein is talking about meaning again as a residue of the way utterances are used, and also of the context (language-game) in which the utterance occurs. He asks: How is the report when asked how many slabs there are, "5 Slabs!" different from the command "5 Slabs!" There are two distinct language-games here. The difference "is the part which uttering these words play in the language-games." There are two levels to be considered in ascertaining meaning: the sentence or utterance and the language-game within which the sentence or utterance is used.

3.12.2002

I've just returned from a writers' conference in New Orleans, where the language games are played a little differently. I read a couple of interesting essays by the poet C.K. Williams in the airport on the way home that bear on our discussion here--I will post some thoughts on these tomorrow. In the language game we are playing here, in / on this blog, this post represents a ritual taking up of temporarily dropped threads. And is there something magical about the number 20 (as in PI 20) that wants to prevent us from passing over the threshold?

3.05.2002

That I emerges from we is, as you have observed, recognized and celebrated in Vietnamese society. I emerges from we in American culture, but the recognition is tenuous. Indeed, if de Toqueville's observations still pertain, no I emerges from we in American political society. The forces of conformity -- the tyranny of the majority -- are too strong. Nevertheless, we have a rhetoric of rugged individualism issuing from the Jacksonian Era that was sustained through the 19th century, nourished by transcendentalism, and challenged severely by the Great Depression. Individualism continues to resonate as the foundational agency animating American liberalism. When I approach Wittgenstein, I do so with the aim of teasing out the nascent strands of anti-liberalism in his thought. Some confuse this anti-liberalism with conservatism. But I can think of no more radical a political enterprise than de-naturalizing the individual, while illuminating the conventions undergirding all forms of human life. The political consequences of Wittgenstein's critique of metaphysics, his opposition to ontological and epistemological dualism, and his return to the "rough ground" of ordinary language, is what I have been working through. Politics is a neighborhood Wittgenstein did not travel through in his exploration of the city of language. But he could have. I extend Wittgenstein into politics with the sense that politics as a form of life, as a distinctive language-game and set of conventions, is threatened with extinction. Politics emerged in history -- Aeschylus gives us the drama of its creation -- and it can have an end in history. Bureaucracy appears to be the form of life most likely to supplant politics.

3.04.2002

"The starting point for a unique "I" is a "we" of a form of life or language-game." This is what is true about Vietnamese society & false about American society. That is, Vietnamese society understands that the "I" emerges from the "we" & not the other way around. I had a lovely conversation with our student Tu Trinh this afternoon in which she told me a little bit about her family. Our conversation. mostly in English, alas, was supposed to have been a Vietnamese lesson, but another language game seemed more important: that of getting to know each other a little better. Trinh did, however, give me a little translation exercise that she had written out. I think she wanted to know if I really knew any Vietnamese or was just bluffing. The paragraph was about her family. Trinh had written, for my first exercise, about living near the Saigon River, her family poor but happy; about playing with her siblings along the river's bank. There's an expression in Vietnamese (that I can't reproduce here because of the lack of a font) that means "happy [as in having fun] and contented with life." I have come to understand that "contented with life" for most Vietnamese means something like "with family at home." Later, Trinh told me that because her father had abandoned them they were ostracized. "My brother and sister & I cried a lot," she told me. But it was clear--& this is important--that the unhappiness occurred within a larger (or smaller?) happiness. Here we enter into the territory in which language games & identity seem to fuse into a single system. In any case, I cannot help but see the Western, capitalist conception of the autonomous self as a kind of pathology. At the same time, I'm not terribly happy with the critique(s) of that conception that have been offered by the various schools of Postmodernism.

"But these games and/or forms must have a start in time." Some have astonishing stability, like the red spot on Jupiter; some are swirls of cigarette smoke in a nightclub in Hanoi.

Okay, now I have that Australian song in my head and it is slowly driving me insane. Thanks Joe! "Forms of life as "patterns of regularity" into which we settle." This has a striking limitation. It "works" for forms of life that are preconstituted and that we are either born into or happen upon. Can we initiate a form of life? This will be a question to ponder as we read further on.

It is important because of the relation between "I" and "We" in the work. There is an "I" in the Philosophical Investigations, but the unit of analysis is the "we" of language-games. The "I" exists as a product of the language-games the person has traveled through. Some of these games are incommensurable (religion and science, as examples). The starting point for a unique "I" is a "we" of a form of life or language-game. But these games and/or forms must have a start in time. They require a founder or, perhaps, a group of founders. Does Wittgenstein account for the historical origin of language-games? He has been taken to task for the ahistorical, purely synchronic, character of his examination of language-games. How does a new language-game come about? Can it be an "I"'s creation? Or do new language-games and forms of life emerge from the overlap of pre-constituted games? I am thinking about a hybrid sport that emerges from two distinct games.

3.03.2002

Forms of life as "patterns of regularity" into which we settle. Yes, I see this. "The world here sounds as if it exists outside the form of life," you write. I see this too. And yet I have also been thinking of forms of life as a kind of analytical tool. I realize that Wittgenstein sets himself against method & technique in philosophy, but the language-game can be employed as a sort of anti-method method for understanding the use of language. This is what I was driving at when I was talking about "tiles" & "overlapping" games. But this sort of analysis must be carried out with due respect for what some have called "fuzzy logic." That is, language games, if they are an analytical tool at all, are not positivistic tools: there is always a zone of uncertainty or transformation around the edges of a particular l-game. This I think accords with Mark Taylor's description of the skin. The skins around l-games are transitional zones, just as the human body / consciousness are pools of probability & uncertainty.

Tie me kangaroo down sport,
tie me kangaroo down.
Tie me kangaroo down sport,
tie me kangaroo down. [ . . . ]

Tan me hide when I'm dead, Fred,
tan me hide when I'm dead.
So we tanned his hide when he died Clyde,
[Spoken] And that's it hanging on the shed!
Altogether now!

[© 1960 Castle Music Pty, Ltd.Words and music by Rolf Harris]

Chris, the inside / outside dualism of course predates Descartes, who nevertheless gave it its modern shape; because it is perennial it perennially needs deconstructing. It remains useful (as in the phrase inside the language game of science) as long as it doesn't come to dominate the way we make & understand concepts. I have to admit, though, that I hadn't reaally taken the idea down to its biology, though--hadn't thought except superficially about the skin as the final delimiter between the inner world & the outer. In my existentialist & biologically unsophisticated youth I might have named the skull surrounding the brain as the boarder that cannot be crossed, but that would have been mostly a metaphorical conception anyway. But by citing Taylor, you transform the construction of outer / inner without denaturing it. This is helpful.

I have meditated on this theme topologically. Years ago, riding on the bus between Bellingham & Seattle in Washington State, I was struck by the fact that in order for me to be in the world, my consciousness had by definition to extend out into the world. That is, I realized that consciousness is extensive. On that bus ride I also remembered something I had seen a couple of years before in a museum Edinburgh: a Klien bottle. As you no doubt know, a Klien bottle is a three-dimensional single-sided surface--its outside is its inside. The Klien bottle became my private metaphor for the extensiveness of consciousness.



3.01.2002

This is a meta-blog. A blog on the earlier blog. I say that I am apprehending the world from a form of life -- a pattern of regularity I have settled into. This is okay for a start, but there are problems. When I say I have settled into a form of life, it sounds like I stepped along a surface and then stopped. I continue to travel, and carry with me residues of earlier forms of life. As you noted, last week we went from talking about teaching to engaging in teaching. The tendency is to think this a hierarchy where thinking about teaching is somehow above, hovering over, the activity of teaching. It is more accurate to see these distinctive practices as partially concentric circles. The boundary between them is invisible for the most part. The boundary could be raised by a mistake. Talking about the substance of my subject when I should be describing where my subject fits into the curriculum and being called pedantic by a colleague would do the trick. How are these two language-games related. They do overlap, but remain distinctive. And you and I add to the interrelation by walking from one activity to another. Carrying over might be thought of as being energized for teaching by listening to others talking about their teaching methods and experiences in the classroom.

I apprehend the world from the form of life I have settled into. The world here sounds as though it exists outside the form of life. Why we retain elements of Cartesianism, why dualism is such a difficult habit to break, is because it feels accurate. There is this dead barrier between me and you. Epidermis. Mark Taylor is worth citing at some length here (sorry!): "The skin, which is not a simple covering or container but is the body's largest organ, is internally differentiated into the epidermis and the dermis. As such, the skin is forever doubled and hence unavoidably duplicitous. Hide hides hide, which hides nothing...nothing but other hides. Not all hides, however, are the same. The basal cells of the epidermis, which are internally differentiated, are the progenitors of other epidermal cells. As new cells form, old cells die and drift away. The very mechanism of differentiation through which life emerges also leads to death. When epidermal cells become radically differentiated and migrate to the dermis, their nuclei are destroyed and the cells die. The outermost layer of the body consists of proteinaceous debris that is dead. Death, like life, is not a momentary event but is an ongoing process whose traces line the body. At the point where I make contact with the world, I am always already dead." (Mark C. Taylor, Hiding U of Chicago Press, 1997, pp.12-13). Inner/outer is not an ontological dualism; rather, it is a snapshot of a complex, emergent process more accurately described in terms of life and death.

The combination of hide and skeletal structure gives physiological form, an isomorphism that, pace Wittgenstein, we share with the lion. We are quadrupeds all. The biological form that life can take must be different than what Wittgenstein calls forms of life, then. This is a path we can pursue when wondering why we retain the distinction between language, language-games, and forms of life.

We have come to a most difficult area in Wittgenstein's thought: The relation between forms of life and language-games. This area has produced more commentary than almost anything other issue in Wittgenstein's philosophy. One reason is that he does not provide us with much direction. In remark 23 we see that the language-game is part of a form of life. At the same time, we spent a good deal of time on remark 7, where Wittgenstein tells us that "to imagine a language means to imagine a form of life." This relatively stable image of language gave way to the more playful realization that what we call language is, itself, a language game. It follows, then, that forms of life are language-games. I may be reinventing the wheel here, but I want to think this through as if no one has ever thought about the relation of language-games to forms of life before.

Forms of life can be thought of as the forms human life takes. A human life, mine for example, is composed of language games and forms of life. At this very moment, I am apprehending the world from a form of life -- a pattern of regularity that I have settled into. This pattern is shared and related to the question of what it means to be human. What is unique about me, what is the source of my individuality, lies in the relation of language-games to this form of life I find myself in at this moment. That is, I am the product of a unique constellation of language-games. This constellation undergoes change throughout a life: language-games are added even as I enter middle-age. The rate of change has slowed, to be sure, but I continue to learn or have revealed to me perceptual vantage points I have not seen before. The form my individual life takes, in turn, alters my relation to the larger form of life I inhabit. We can call this larger form of life "culture." Wittgenstein suggests this in the Blue and Brown Books, p.134. To understand our culture as a totality of the individual constellations of language-games is to retain the character of language-game on this larger level. Culture, too, is a product of a unique constellation of language-games that changes with time. But the rate of change would be necessarily slower, even imperceptible, unless there was crisis or attack from another cultural form of life.

This gives me a framework that I can work within. Language-games are themselves patterns of regularity. What are the language-games that compose my particular form of life? This is the question that animates the "examined life" demanded by Socrates and it is probably unanswerable because of the areas of imbrication uniting language games. There are language-games I am probably blind to or ashamed of and so dishonesty or self-deception and myopia keep the reduction of life incomplete. As Saul Bellow said in Ravelstein, it may be that only the examined life is worth living, but it is also true that examining your life could make you want to kill yourself. Wittgenstein probably left the relation between language-games and forms of life ambiguous because ambiguity cannot be eliminated.

There are two helpful metaphors offered by Wittgenstein. One is the relation of a river to the river bed. The flow of language-games is contrasted with the relative stability or "bedrock" of forms of life. Nevertheless, there is erosion and shifting sand and banks on the level of this bedrock. The second is the idea of "patterns in the weave of life." The weave is the (incomplete) totality of forms that human life can take. Within this totality are patterns -- language-games, individual forms of life -- that we take to be regular, but alterable. The weave can be damaged or snipped or supplemented. We can, for example, imagine a new, highly technical, neurophysiological language-game that arises to replace older language-games for describing human conscious experience. Snip, snip; sew, sew. We can imagine a fading pattern reinstilled with color, as the phrenology language-game is reinvented to fit contemporary games pertaining to modular minds and notions of intelligences. (As I write this a piece from Phillip Glass came on the radio. The repetition and slow exploration of possible permutations of a single pattern of notes is precisely what I want to get at in this idea of language as weave, river, form of life, language-game.)

What do I mean by "we" when speaking of how language-games are altered, erased, or reinvigorated. We-ness, here, is a product of a form of life that permits an "outside" look onto a particular language-game or smaller form of life. Since the weave is flat, there is no privilege involved here. That is, the form of life does not offer a "higher" point of view. We do not get to see the weave in its entirety from a transcendent perspective. Rather, the position is immanent. We are like Quine's shipbuilders in this respect. We repair our boat plank by plank while at sea. (This metaphor works on a few levels -- especially the idea of being "at sea.") We arrive at a position of relative truth -- defined in terms of agreement over the way the surrounding weave should look -- by consensus.) Forms of life are wider, communal patterns of agreement. We understand that while we are snipping and sewing from one direction, there can be another pattern of agreement going at the same area of the weave in a different way. Let me stay with the philosophy of mind here where within a larger pattern of agreement there are smaller patterns that perceive the area differently. Materialists are cutting and sewing from one side, while functionalists and dualists are cutting and sewing from others. There can come a point where the area is so ugly and unwieldly that a larger (or qualitatively more authoritative) form of life weighs in and cuts the whole piece out. How long before the philosophy of mind realizes that it has been pulled apart from the larger clothe?

This may now sound like a non sequitur, but I want to close by saying that forms of life and language-games are distinctions that can be retained, but that it would not be an error to mistake a language-game for a form of life or vice versa. Such a confusion emerges from our inability, at times, to see the extent of an agreement. This limited perspective is overcome by travel around the pattern in question.

Why would we want to retain these distinctions between language, language-games, and forms of life? An easy answer is that Wittgenstein retained them. The more difficult answer is something we can talk about before moving on to remark 21.

I am so glad to be on The Wittgenstein Portal along side Brian Carver's website. Carver's Wittgenstein website is a work of art and useful. I've always wanted to thank Brian for all his efforts.