4.112 Philosophy is (..) an activity

"4.1122 Darwin's theory has no more to do with philosophy than any other hypothesis in natural science." Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, l. Wittgenstein, Routledge Classics, 2001.

(this is the official translation, no original this time, sorry)

First off, this isn't going to be as good as it should be. Get over it! I did.

When discussing this with friends of mine, one of them suggested I argue for it on a reductio ad absurdum. I won't. It seems more fitting to the case at hand to go for a less known (and known to be merely rhetorical) argument: the one "ab absurdo", ie from the absurd. Hence (I am in a playful mood), I do apologize on beforehand: for assuming the existence of God in some parts of the below.

Shame on me to be reading the TLP only know. It is much better than it's made out to be; bordering on the juvenile from time to time but all philosophers disclaiming a large influence from it are definitely to be categorized as 'hypocrites'. But that is not the point here. The point is that I was baffled to find in these seas of abstraction an exquisitely explicit reference to Darwin. Why so? What was his gripe? How come he's penned this down, never succeeded in working it out & still decided to keep it in? I'm sure it wasn't merely to go against the fashion of his time (if it was a fashion then).

As it happens (sorry to bore you with all these prosaic details but it is important for the later I to work this out better than the present I is doing now), I was in a mood to look up a quote from Kant on the synthetic a priori and 'quought' on it and could not get to it because the above questions got in the way. And somehow - somehow, I feel like this has to go out of the way before that other thing can get started. The reason is, I think, that I have no issue with a special status for mathematics (& its mysterious origins) but that I have an issue with what is commonly believed to be the uniqueness of this specialness. The blood of everyday life has its rights too and there has to be more to those rights than an unavoidable dirtiness (or, original sin).

Ab absurdo it was:

Let's assume there is an omniscient God (you needn't force yourself more: no need for omnipresence and omnipotence) & let's assume there's no matter. He was lazy - couldn't be bothered ... only God knows. This God would surely now mathematics - & if He knows some of it, He'll know all of it. So much for the specialness of logic, 1-0.

But let's assume there is matter as well (nevermind whence it came from). Then our God will have to know physics. He doesn't need to know the physics of our world and it's natural to assume he knows all kinds of physics (one of which happens to be the one governing our material world). So you get some kind of space-time, but nothing much more bloody than that. I'd say 2-0 for mathematics. Most physicists agree, as far as I know (but there's something on the 1st/2nd law of thermodynamics I'll need to explore lateron, this post is already to thick as it stands).

And then comes the primeval soup (or whatever other sexy image that we invent to make our theories more TV-friendly). Now pure mathematical God has a problem as - "the show must go on!" (the theme of 'show' is continued in the paragraph below). Sure, it's conceivable that the primeval soup & everything else was skipped - cutting straight to humanoids. But even that moronic conception is of no avail: life is in flux - if it wouldn't be in flux it wouldn't be life. Evolution is unavoidable. Even if all of the details of all evolutionary theories can be dismissed as 'mere' hypotheses, evolution itself cannot. So our assumed God is stuck with more than mathematics - and more than He can handle (maybe there's concealed in all this a proof of atheism but let's not get too eager). So 2-1, there is some non-mathematical specialness after all; it is expressable in logic that things are in statis (in fact that's the only thing logic will allow you to express: stasis) but it isn't conceivable that you have life AND stasis.

Back to the show; enter intelligent life. Enter language. Clearly language requires an element of logic & requires matter (something to 'language' about) - it presupposes life as well but I'll not work that out. Language scores our equalizer because - clearly - there's an element of logic in there if we are to make 'sense' of each other, but as evidently there's an element of creativity in it if we are to express, for instance, new hypotheses. The creative power of language cannot just be a matter of the recursive generation of propositions and/or the postulation of new names - a language that is restricted to that is thinkable (it's the language which the TLP is about), but it just is not conceivable that that is the only language. It is a.o. not conceivable because I - and Ludwig for that matter - would not be able to talk about logic. Hence, it wouldn't be conceivable that anybody but our almost forgotten assumed God knows logic. It's not my point that it's a fact that we do speak about it (without being God); the point is that it's inconceivable that we'd speak about it logic it there would not be creativity in language beyond the mere logical element in language.

2-2, but blood wins since it was playing an away match ;-) Although I mustn't really declare victory that soon. It's just a sketch to be worked out even if I believe that it is a quite convincing sketch and one that introduces non-logical specialness without vagaries of mysticism, idiocies of vulgarizing scientism and with a passing blow to a whole lot of intelligent design-freaks and other theists.

So Wittgenstein was wrong. There are at least two points (and remember: I hope to make it 1-3 one day) where philosophy needs to talk (& cannot but talk) about non-logical matters. Both points are closely linked to Darwin - let me risk the vulgarizing terms genes and memes. Sure, you can forget about the spirit of Darwinism & make an arbitrary non-vague definition of Darwin's theory (and Adam Smith's & ...) to get out of it,  but that's not playing it fair. You also could dismiss talk of 'the spirit' of a theory like Darwin's but that would be self-defeating (just read the TLP) and exactly for the reasons highlighted above.

Evolution and creativity are of the essence in convergence. Their special status, and the other kind of special nature of logic & mathematics combine to a view which is a sustainable view that accords well with our intuition of knowledge "locked in" but not specific (logic/evolution), and knowledge that is specific but always improvable (that of empirical science).

Philosophy is indeed an activity. Logic as such is not.

Whilst writing this I was listening to Richard Muhal, George Lewis and Roscoe Mitchell, PI Recordings, "Streaming"

20:19 Gepost door Guido Nius in Algemeen | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: wittgenstein, convergence, dynamics, scientism, competition |  Facebook |


On Certainty - Über Gewissheit

"Das Kind, möchte ich sagen, lernt so und so reagieren; und wenn es das nun tut, so weiss es damit noch nichts. Das Wissen beginnt erst auf einer späteren Stufe." Ludwig Wittgenstein, Über Gewissheit - On Certainty, Clause 538, p 71-71e, Blackwell Publishing, 1969.

Official English translation below.


Philosophy of language is mostly known in its synchronic version. The method of language analysis has been extremely productive. The early Wittgenstein - a sentence corresponding to a certain state of affairs.. - is still quoted heavily for his contributions in this vein, however much his name is discredited by the opaque writings (like the one above) of the late Wittgenstein.

I am certainly not original in not buying the dichotomy between early and late versions of Wittgenstein (apart maybe from biographical details which are not specifically interesting to me). Nevertheless, I don´t believe ever having seen the attempt at unifying his thought using the traditional aspects of the study of language: synchronic & diachronic or - as I understand it - static analysis of language & the dynamic analysis of an evolving (grasp of) language.

Most of us reading texts like these will immediately understand the difference we want to convey in talking of dead & living languages. Dead languages are no longer evolving, they allow being analyzed or dissected - living languages on the other hand are not as easily analyzed. Although vivisection on them is not as morally questionable as vivisection on animals, the living nature of the language prevents us - in my view - from exhausting all explanation by 'static' explanation.

This does not mean that dissecting language into truth/falsity, recursiveness, truth conditions & so on is a wrong or unproductive labour. Far from it, maybe one of the more stupid assumptions of Wittgenstein was that he said all that could be said on the matter. Almost a century of further developments in this tradition show not only continueing progress but fundamentally new insights. Charles Darwin did not make further study of physics after Galileo, Keppler & Newton superfluous.

It does however mean that this statical analysis is fundamentally insufficient to come to terms with language. Giving lip service - as many do - to language evolution & language acquisition is doing a great disservice to us. There is a difference between using a language and knowing something (& expressing this knowledge in a language). This is just one of the differences one needs to appreciate if one wants to study important differences between knowing something and intending for something to be the case (& necessarily putting this intention in a linguistic way for social use). If one persists in not noting & contemplating these differences one is condemned to the false belief that the thing that makes us specifically human is something similar to those computer processes that admit exhaustive mathematical analysis.

My guess is that the great Ludwig never attempted an explanation like I did because that explanation is necessarily too static to do justice to what is to be studied. Forgive me my arrogance, maybe one day I´ll be able to reason & argument my case better than an old lady that always forgets where she last put her keys ;-)


"The child, I should like to say, learns to react in such-and-such a way; and in reacting it doesn´t so far know anything. Knowing only begins at a later level."

22:53 Gepost door Guido Nius in Algemeen | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: language, wittgenstein, dynamics |  Facebook |