7.29.2003

[105,106,107] Just a final thought on remark 105. I have been concerned with the relation of Wittgenstein to political theory for a number of years. Traditional political theory's main problem has been one of creating a correct or just political order. My argument has been that the problem of social order has been "solved" by bureaucratic means. Bureaucracy has supplanted politics as the mode of collective order. Political theory, in turn, has failed to see the displacement of politics by formalism because its capacity for perception has been shaped by traditional theory. What theory needs today is an orientation that can respond to bureaucracy with arguments for increased political liberty. This takes the form of dissent. I have thought Wittgenstein a theorist of liberty and remark 105 substantiates this claim.
106 and 107 mark the turn in Wittgenstein's thinking toward the philosopher's relation to the ordinary. Terry Eagleton describes this turn felicitously as a turn away from the ice world of logical forms and toward the world that lacks the perfect (mathematical) beauty of the logical realm, but has a beauty of its own. Wittgenstein puts it this way: "We have got on to slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk. We want to walk: so we need friction. Back to the rough ground!" For Wittgenstein, this a call to philosophers to turn away from metaphysics and logical essentialism. For me, this is call to political theorists to renounce the panoramic perspective afforded by epic or heroic self-images of theorists of the past and accept the fleeting perspectives of the flaneur, the city walker.
In these remarks, Wittgenstein gives philosophy mobility -- legs for walking, bodily movement that permits glimpses around corners and other obstacles. Philosophy becomes a street scene.

7.28.2003

[104,105] The topography of the remarks are beginning to turn toward those justly famous inquiries into the purpose of philosophy. But 104 is grammatically enigmatic. It is difficult to gain a sense of what Wittgenstein is saying here. I think the idea is that by pulling concepts from contexts we (philosophers) heighten the comparability. We can represent "language," "thought," and "world" as synonymous. In engaging in this sort of comparison that reveals unities, "we think we are perceiving a state of affairs of the highest generality." Notice how "perceive" is used here. Perception is a product of the language-game of metaphysics; and it is a form of delusion. But the order is interesting: we do not describe what we see, we describe in order to see. (I'll return to this."
In 105, an epistemological turn occurs when are expectations about the purity of the ideal are not met by ordinary conditions. We cannot connect the sublime and the pedestrian. "And we rack our brains over the nature of the real sign. --It is perhaps the idea of the sign? Or the idea at the present moment?" The philosopher's expectation is that the ideal exercise authority over the ordinary. Episteme ought to translate into power. Pace Plato, and others, however, the ordinary proves recalcitrant and devious. It does not bow down to the illumination afforded by philosophical truth.

7.26.2003

[102,103] Our perception of the world is shaped by a belief that truth, perfection, certitude, and unity lie beneath the surface. If we look through the messiness of the surface, then we will be able to uncover perfection. We see this belief in everything from Platonic forms to Habermas's ideal speech situation. This belief, or habit, or convenience, writes Wittgenstein in 102 and 103 is ingrained in the culture. We cannot even see the habit to acknowledge it and break it. "It is like a pair of glasses on our nose through which we see whatever we look at. It never occurs to us to take them off."
How liberating would this be? We think we must step outside our form of life in order to criticize it. Wittgenstein claims that this is not an option. Criticism arises from within. I think here of Stephen Toulmin's distinction between formal logic and the logic-in-use of arguments. Our tendency is to accept formal logic as somehow refined. Because it is expressed mathematically or symbolically, formal logic escapes the limits and prejudices of ordinary logic in use. Toulmin shows that logic-in-use is basic, irreducible, and inescapable. Formal logic is merely an extrapolation of argumentative logic. To tie this into remarks 102 and 103, if you were to cut through the surface perfection of formal logic, what lies beneath it is the messiness of logic in use. And this is the point where you hit bedrock.

7.25.2003

[101] The purpose of a sign post can indeed change over time. Phrenology has some new currency as a result of modular models of mind/intelligence. The word "presently" has the dictionary definition of "in the near future," but how many use it in this "proper" way?
I put off writing on remark 101 because it is so very evocative. Wittgenstein moves from definite boundaries and precision in rules, to a claim about vagueness or fuzziness in logic. "The idea now absorbs us, that the ideal 'must' be found in reality. Meanwhile we do not as yet see how it occurs there, nor do we understand the nature of this "must." We think it must be in reality; for we think we already see it there." This is a fine criticism of the intuitions of perfection that give rise and support dualism. But I think of Einstein speaking of the general theory of relativity as necessarily correct because it is too beautiful to be wrong. Or of Watson and Crick's use of elegance as a guide to the structure of DNA. There are radioactive elements too unstable to be found in nature, but they must exist because of their proper place in the sequence of atomic weights.

7.24.2003

I haven't abandoned the project. In fact, I have just reread the series of remarks in the 80s & will have some more to say about them tomorrow, after I have read through your comments.

"The sign-post is in order if--under normal circumstance, it fulfills its purpose." But there is no final & founded reality to be ascribed to the sign post.

[99,100] Every sentence has "a definite sense." Here Wittgenstein again explores the notion of boundary, boundary thickness, and open and closed pictures/language-games. Is there a sense in which "an indefinite boundary" can be a real boundary? How else might language-games develop or engulf other language-games the way the philosophy of mind has been subsumed by the philosophy of language and neuroscience, for example? If definite boundaries, marked by rigidity and space that needs to be traversed before stepping into another language-game, are the only real boundaries, then transdisciplinary inquiries would be impossible. Our ability to see our face, ourselves, in childhood photographs, would be impossible too.
In 100, Wittgenstein moves from the boundary to the game itself. Can a game with vague rules still be a game? Wittgenstein answers as directly as possible that "we should call it a game, only we are dazzled by the ideal and therefore fail to see the actual use of the word 'game' clearly." As a kid, I was awful at conventional games like baseball and basketball. Because I was not good, I would not be selected for pickup games. So I developed an extraordinary skill at a game of my own invention. Using a tennis racket, I would hit and return balls off the roof of the house. It was a game because there were rules and boundaries (the top of the roof) and I could explain the rules to others. When they played they had fun, but it was clear that I was the best at the game (because of the longer hours of practice). What, then, do we fail to see in games when "dazzled by the ideal"? The inner relation between game and play (fluidity, joy, inventiveness), I suppose.

7.22.2003

[97,98] Somewhere Raymond Carver wrote a line about awakening and thinking those things that pass as thoughts in the morning. There is a cacophony in my head. Ideas, images, flashes of memory, and other forms of noise resist concentration and focus. And then I begin to write. The sensation is not one of translation from what is going on under my hat and behind my glasses to the linearity of the page. There is something of a disconnect. Wittgenstein wants us to see the connection. He opens 97 with the statement that could be gleaned from his Tractatus: "Thought is surrounded by a halo." As good heliotropes we turn inward for illumination. Our hope is that in thought the essence of language is revealed. The language of thought is pre-Babelian. It is the universal grammar; the one behind the plurality of ordinary languages; the perfect order beneath surface disorder. To fulfill this hope we remove thought from the particular language-game in which it is used. But what is the language-game that Carver was talking about? Morning thoughts seem liberated from constraints. That float about and intermingle incongruously. Where are the parameters that should separate thoughts about all I must do today from thoughts and images of sex, a growing desire for more coffee, and an underlying anxiety about how badly writing has been going these past few weeks?
In 97 and 98, Wittgenstein chides us (philosophers and morning thinkers) for seeking a super order beneath or superior to the order of "even the vaguest sentence." In pursuing an ideal language or essence to language, we miss the order achieved somehow despite the playfulness at language's surface(s). And there is only surface.

7.21.2003

[95,96] In these remarks Wittgenstein challenges the cognitive privileges afforded to thought by philosophers. I imagine he is attacking a range of epistemological assertions about thought. Rationalist intuitionism is the prime target, however. The idea that because we can imagine perfection exists it must exist (Plato, Anselm, Descartes, etc.) is challenged by Wittgenstein on two grounds. First, thought is not unique. The medium of thought is the language of everyday life. Second, "Thought can be of what is not the case."
In 96, Wittgenstein argues that philosophers attribute special qualities to thoughts by extrapolating thinking from the language-games that produce them. Removing thought from the specific contexts gives it the appearance of frictionlessness. Thought is indeed beautiful and can defy the physical laws of the universe. This quality of imagination is to be revered. But Wittgenstein wants us to see that the ordinary language that is the medium of thought is capable of the flourishes we attribute to thought alone. I'm not being abundantly clear here. What Wittgenstein is calling for in a not very explicit way is for philosophers to turn their attention from occult conceptions of thought and toward the creative aspects of language use.

7.17.2003

[93.94] Inquiries into the essence of language led to a privileging of the proposition and its logical form by analytic philosophers. Of course, this is another instance of Wittgenstein engaging in some self-criticism of his own tribute to the logical perfection of the propositional form in his Tractatus. In these remarks Wittgenstein returns again to the relation between words and things that marked so many of the early remarks in the Philosophical Investigations.
Remark 93 opens with the observation that analytic philosophers (the Vienna Circle, Russell, Moore, etc.) attribute mysterious properties and processes to the proposition. Wittgenstein agrees that propositions are indeed important, but he contends that "a misunderstanding makes it look to us as if a proposition did something queer." This misunderstanding rests on a belief that there is an underlying "logic of language." But this logic is instantiated by analytic philosophers by extrapolating the proposition from the larger context of language use. What Wittgenstein is leading to is the idea (revisited) that propositions are one linguistic tool among many.
More importantly, Wittgenstein continues in remark 94, the misunderstanding described above concerns the relation of words or signs to things. Where there is complexity in ordinary expressions there is philosophical mystery. The tendency among philosophers is to try to reform language in order to eliminate linguistic complexity. Wittgenstein describes this tendency of professional philosophy as "the tendency to assume a pure intermediary between the propositional signsand facts."

7.14.2003

[91,92] This is Wittgenstein's more general response to the question of exactitude in expression. We are trapped by a picture that perfect representation or perfect communication is possible is we reveal what is hidden in what we are trying to express, or express with such precision that all misunderstanding is eliminated. This impulse to achieve exactness is part of a larger impulse to eliminate contingency from the universe or to achieve perfect representation by creating the perfect language (symbolic or mathematical logic, esperanto, etc.)
These impulses take the form of essentialism. The essence of language lies beneath the surface, and some contend that it is the task of philosophy to uncover it. Wittgenstein might be referring to the syntactical explorations of Carnap and other members of the Vienna Circle, but this critique applies to Heidegger as well. Essentialist philosophers seek techniques that will reveal the truth by enabling philosophers to look into a thing. "For they see in the essence, not something that already lies open to view and that becomes surveyable by a rearrangement, but something that lies beneath the surface." Rearrangement of things on the surface is what Wittgenstein recommends. Delving beneath the surface, uncovering an occult truth (altheia) is what Wittgenstein warns philosophers away from. When we ask "What is...?" questions, our bullshit detectors should be sounding loudly.

7.12.2003

[88,89,90] In 88, Wittgenstein continues his examination of "explanation." How much latitude is permitted in an explanation? Eventually we run into the problem of "usability." Inexactitude is built into all explanations. In a mathematical language-game, perhaps there is a high degree of exactness required to be usable in the game. In an aesthetic language-game, the standard of exactness in explanation is less rigid. The idea of exactness in explanation emerges from a contrast between these two language-games.
This image of contrasting standards of exactness between two language-games raises an interesting problem regarding the boundary separating them. Is it a line? Wittgenstein says no. A line has "width." It is a space, therefore, that must share features of the abutting language-games. Instead of a line, Wittgenstein asks us to see it as the contrast between colors. The aesthetics game is yellow, and the mathematical game is blue. There is no shade of green created by imbrication.
Of course we could imagine language-games that do indeed share features of exactitude in explanation.
One feature all language-games seem to share is a preference for exactitude over inexactitude. Each language-game shares a goal of becoming more exact. Still, "No single ideal of exactness has been laid down ... [and] you will find it difficult to hit upon such a convention..."
[89] Wittgenstein turns next to the line between logic and aesthetics. Differing degrees of exactness demanded within these enterprises leads to a question of commonality: "In what sense is logic something sublime?" Wittgenstein suggests that aesthetics is something close to what he is doing (as opposed to logic). Logic arises "from an urge to understand the basis, or essence, of everything empirical." Conversely, what philosophers following Wittgenstein "want to understand [is] something that is already in plain view. For this is what we seem in some sense not to understand." Like Augustine's reflection on the concept of time, what is in plain view is something we know but cannot say.
[90] The contrast is with logic, but also with phenomenology. Our investigation leads to phenomena in plain view, but does not penetrate them. "Our investigation is therefore a grammatical one. Such an investigation sheds light on our problem by clearing misunderstandings away." I think here of Own Barfield's expression: "Saving the Appearances."

7.10.2003

[86,87] I don't mean to fall into a pattern of responding to two remarks at a time, but this series on rules is tough going. Wittgenstein seems to be going after a certain picture of language. In this picture we have a foundation of syntactical rules. Above this foundation is a closely regulated semantic plane. The subterranean plane of rules explain everything that occurs on the surface. In response to this dualism, Wittgenstein offers an image of language as a single plane, suffused with rules, but irreducible to some set of super rules. In 86, therefore, Wittgenstein returns to the simple language-game of remark 2. There builders make simple requests for "block," "pillar," "slab," and "beam." There is the linear rule at work of a request answered with a response. What could be easier? Wittgenstein devises a picture of the rule at work: four request/response lines. "Can we not now imagine further rules to explain this one/" Well, yes, we can. This line then encompasses the four simple rule-governed request/response relations. Can we imagine now a further rule that explains the meta-rule for the four simple rules? Wittgenstein does not do this. Rather, he leaves us to imagine this new problem: At what point are we satisfied that we have achieved the rule that explains all other rules? When do we stop?
In 87, Wittgenstein argues that explanations, schemas, and rules are not foundational. There is no bedrock of rules lying beneath the surface of multiple rules and meanings. Nor do these meta-rules repair gaps in the foundation of language. They can be used to prevent or repair misunderstandings, but this does not mean that because we have super-rules that misunderstandings cannot occur. All we can really say about rules is: "The sign-post is in order -- if, under normal circumstances, it fulfills its purpose." And the purpose of a rule is understood in the normal circumstance of a game.

7.09.2003

[84,85] These remarks on rules have received extensive commentary by philosophers and theorists interested in bringing Wittgenstein's work to bear on the discourses of social and political theory. Because this ground has been covered so thoroughly I tend to move quickly through this material and turn, instead, to the fecund ground of Wittgenstein's remarks on perception. One reason why my work here has been so sporadic of late.
There is an elegance to Wittgenstein's discussions of rules and meaning that should not go unremarked. In 84, he asks if we can imagine the application of a word "that is everywhere bounded by rules." Would this remove all doubt? No. The name of God in some religious sects and worldviews come to mind. Is it possible to limit use to the experience of the sacred without conceiving a profane contrary? That is what is proscribed by rules constructed to engender hermeticism. The bounding produces temptation.
In 85, Wittgenstein displays his intellectual rigor (and this is an implied criticism for those who argue that Wittgenstein's philosophy is conservative). The idea of an application bounded everywhere by rules leads to further inquiry into rules themselves. This sort of critical reflection is strongly reminiscent of phenomenology. Wittgenstein describes rules as "sign-posts." A rule, he continues, "sometimes leaves room for doubt and sometimes not. And now this is no longer a philosophical proposition, but an emprical one." That is, this critical inquiry into our relation to rules demands that we traverse the parameters of the philosophy game, and enter into the game of social science. At least this is how Peter Winch understands it in The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy.

7.08.2003

[82,83] More on rules and what it means to say that behavior is "rule-governed." Clearly "governed" is not synonymous with "determined." In confronting a rule (a stop sign), I could obey it, disobey it, or miss it completely. In remark 82 Wittgenstein wonders if we (philosophers? social scientists?) can ascertain a person's understanding of a rule either by observation or by inquiry? Is it possible that a person is not aware of rules he or she is conforming to? He is seeking an understanding of our relation to the rules we follow, but at the same time behavior cannot be reduced to rules.
In remark 83, he makes this point more strongly. "Do we not play and make up or alter rules as we go along?" There must be a language-game devoted to the creation of new rules. I think of the sort of informal rules that arise in child's play. I remember playing sandlot baseball pickup games. There was no umpire. Since we knew the rules of baseball we were able to proceed. But when a dispute arose there was no final judge. For those instances when a dispute could not be resolved by argument there was an invention: the "do-over" rule. This way play could continue. For those of us who were Catholic, there was an underlying belief that in doing a play over, God would resolve the issue. Justice always reigned.