Sunday, November 22, 2009

Week Ten: Analytic Philosophy

Reading:
Osborne: 149-152
Robinson: 137-144
Penguin
Supplemental Reading:
Oxford: 252-274
Duncan Richter: Introduction to Wittgenstein from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/w/wittgens.htm
Terms:
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Analytic Philosophy
Notes:
British Philosophy
It is often maintained by historians of philosophy that England has had only one school of philosophy, or rather, that it has had none at all, for its philosophy is a perpetual protest against Scholasticism. A faith in experimental science, based upon empirical evidence of the senses, and a complementary distrust of scholastic and rationalistic a priori speculation, may be said to form the cornerstone of the English philosophical tradition. Although Swift developed no systematic philosophy--this absence, too, seems to be characteristic of the tentative and experimental English mind--a peculiarly English and to some degree Lockeian nexus of assumptions underlies one major area of his satiric technique.
Rejection of Mechanism in Nature
[Jonathan Swift strikes] at the affectation of those who, by formula and artifice, impose some rigid subjective perception upon the world and then pay honor to this graven image as truth and to themselves as its discoverers. The folly of man's refusal to see things as they really are is thus consistently translated by Swift into symbolic representations of man as a mechanism. Inflexible, blinded to external truth by his own conceit, contentious in his assumption of the infallibility of his subjective responses, man becomes a puppet in life's Punch-and-Judy show of artifice, system and self-delusion.
Source: Bullitt, John M. Jonathan Swift and the Anatomy of Satire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1953. (124).
Emphasis on the Particular
William Blake argued for the perception of reality as a disparate aggregate, for a reality consisting of "minute particulars" which expressed the distinction and individuality of all things. Blake rejected the neoclassical attempt or practice to get at the essence or first principles of things by homogenizing or otherwise discarding the details. According to Blake, it was these details which comprise the windows into perception. "General Forms have their vitality in Particulars" (Jerusalem 91:30). "Sacrifice the Parts, What becomes of the Whole?" (462). "Minute Discrimination is Not Accidental. All Sublimity is founded on Minute Discrimination" (453). "What is General Nature? Is there such a Thing: Strictly speaking, All knowledge is Particular" (459).
Source: Blake, William. The Complete Writings of William Blake. Keynes, Geoffrey, ed. New York: Random House, 1957.
Francis Bacon: Abstract Necessities and Four Idols


Francis Bacon observed that human beings have a tendency to draw the separate facts, particulars, and events of experience into abstract necessities, general laws, and "natural" mechanisms. According to Bacon in Aphorism 45 from Book I of the New Organum:
The human understanding is of its own nature prone to suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world than it finds. And though there be many things in nature which are singular and unmatched, yet it devises for them parallels and conjugates and relatives which do not exist. Hence the fiction that all celestial bodies move in perfect circles, spirals and dragons being (except in name) utterly rejected.Hence too the element of fire with its orb is brought in, to make up the square with the other three which the sense perceives.Hence also the ratio of density of the so-called elements is arbitrarily fixed at ten to one.And so on of other dreams.And these fancies affect not dogmas only, but simple notions also. (50)
In Aphorisms 39 through 44 of The New Organon, Bacon defines four classes of "idols" which he says "beset men's minds."These four distinctions Bacon calls, first, Idols of the Tribe; second, Idols of the Cave; third, Idols of the Marketplace; fourth, Idols of the Theater.
The Idols of the Tribe, says Bacon, "have their foundation in human nature itself . . . [H]uman understanding is like a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorts and discolors the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it." Our understanding is distorted by our own animal nature.
The Idols of the Cave "are the idols of the individual man . . . [M]en look for sciences in their own lesser worlds [--according to their personal nature, the books they read, their education, the friendship and authority of those whom they esteem and admire--] and not in the greater or common world." Our understanding is distorted by our upbringing, through the association of our families and close friends.
The Idols of the Market are "formed by the intercourse and association of men with each other."Because of this association, language is often distorted "according to the apprehension of the vulgar.And therefore the ill and unfit choice of words wonderfully obstructs the understanding."Learned men are often in error in their definitions and explanations because "words plainly force and overrule the understanding, and throw all into confusion, and lead men away into numberless empty controversies and idle fancies." Our understanding is distorted by where we work and who we work with.
The Idols of the Theatre are "various dogmas of philosophies, and also the wrong laws of demonstration."These various dogmas are "entire systems . . . principles and axioms in science, which by tradition, credulity, and negligence have come to be received."The demonstrations and proofs for these systems are like "so many stage plays, representing worlds of their own creation after an unreal and scenic fashion." 
Our understanding is distorted by the language and orientations of various schools, academies, the sciences and the professions.

Bacon, Francis. Novum Organum. New York: Liberal Arts Press. 1960. (47-50).
Rejection of Inevitable Necessity
The idea that man is an unconscious victim of external forces, or internal necessities, is one of the greatest intellectual orthodoxies of our time. Ever since the waning of traditional religions, men have been convincing themselves of one inevitable necessity after another, until the point has been reached where some of them have actually started to become operative in detail. Whether or not this desire to discover some omnipotent external force signifies an intellectual rage for order and understanding or rather a deep psychological drive to identify with a superhuman force and avoid responsibility is open to question: but its existence is beyond dispute. It can be seen in the Marxist appeal to inevitable laws of history, in the Freudian appeal to basic drives of the libido and most recently in the appeal to underlying forces of technology by Galbraith and McLuhan.
Jencks, Charles. Architecture 2000: Predictions and Methods. New York: Praeger. 1971. (20).
Analysis of Intellectual Mythology
In the days of the Enlightenment, science was rightly seen as being in the forefront of the struggle against religious mystification, superstition and dogma. Today science has replaced religion as the source and authority of truth. Every source of truth must, in the nature of things, also be a source of falsehoods, against which it must itself struggle. But it may also be a source of intellectual mythology, against which it is typically powerless. One great and barely recognized source of such mythology in our age is science itself. The unmasking of scientific mythology (which is to be distinguished from scientific error) is one of the tasks of philosophy. For philosophy is not the under-labourer of the sciences, but rather their tribunal; it adjudicates not the truth of scientific theorizing, but the sense of scientific propositions. Its aim is neither to engage in nor abjure science, but to restrain it within the bounds of sense, to curb the metaphysical impulse that is released by misinterpretations of the significance of scientific discoveries, to restrain scientists and philosophers (who have been beguiled by their myth-making) from metaphysical nonsense.
P. M. S. Hacker. Wittgenstein's Place in Twentieth-century Analytic Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell. 1996. (123).
LUDWIG WITTGENSTEIN (1889-1951)
Wittgenstein's Early Thought: The Tractatus
Although the Tractatus conceived of logic as nonsense, or the metaphysical ends of logic as being beyond sense, it shared logic's desire to employ depth analysis to reveal the hidden essence of things. The Tractatus was "possessed by a vision of the crystalline purity of the logical forms of thought, language and the world," and strove for a sublime, unifying form of philosophical insight and procedure.
According to Wittgenstein's early thought, metaphysical contraptions do exist, but language cannot describe them. Metaphysics lies beyond the limits of language. Metaphysics cannot be described, but we know that something is "out there." Thus, according to the most quoted slogan from the Tractatus: "7. What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence."
Wittgenstein's Later Thought: Philosophical Investigations
The Investigations presents a diametrically contrasting philosophical view.
The Investigations strove for a "'quiet weighing of linguistic facts' (Zettel §447) in order to distangle the knots in our understanding . . . [through a] heightened awareness of the motley of spatial and temporal phenomena of language (PI §108), [and] the deceptive forms which lead us into conceptual confusion."[1] In the Investigations Wittgenstein strove for "no more than the description and arrangement of what is simple and familiar, 'hidden' only because it was always before one's eye and goes unnoticed" (PI §129). In these respects, Wittgenstein is remarkably suggestive of the philosophical stance Poe assumes in his mystery stories.
A key difference between Wittgenstein's early and later thought concerns the expressibility of metaphysical propositions. According to the most quoted slogan from the Tractatus: "7. What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence." In contrast to this, Wittgenstein's later thought rejects the notion of the inexpressible entirely. If it cannot be expressed, then it does not exist. Indeed, there is nothing that language cannot express. "For there is nothing that cannot be said, and there is nothing beyond the bounds of sense save nonsense."[2] Metaphysics is nonsense.
In the Investigations Wittgenstein broke free from the vision of a single, unifying form of philosophical insight and procedure, and replaced it with a method in thinking that moved upon many levels and was aware of the "prodigious multiplicity, diversity and inexhaustible richness of things, and . . . describe[d] the nature of a vast variety of phenomena for what they are in themselves, without seeking to fit them into one, all embracing unitary vision." [3] Although expressing a rejection of metaphysics and idealism, the Tractatus pursued the same illusion of a unified theory (or underlying metaphysics) of logic. In the Investigations, however, Wittgenstein came to reject deep logic because it is an act of superstition to pursue "a final analysis of our forms of language, and so a single completely resolved form of expression. That is, as if our usual forms of expression were, essentially, unanalysed; as if there were something hidden in them that had to be brought to light" (PI §91).
In Wittgenstein's later thought, philosophy is not, as the logical positivists believed, a science. Philosophy "neither explains or deduces anything" (PI §128), but "leaves everything as it is" (PI§124). Philosophy does not contribute "to human knowledge, but to human understanding."[4] As for philosophical problems, they are simply misunderstandings caused by conceptual confusion. Once these misconceptions are understood, philosophical problems are revealed to be nonsense, but not "beyond sense" or metaphysical--as Wittgenstein had conceived them to be in the Tractatus. Philosophical theories are latent, concealed nonsense; the task of philosophy is to transform them into patent nonsense (PI §524). In the Investigations Wittgenstein introduced a new analysis based on descriptions of the way we use expressions. This descriptive analysis is synoptic in the way context operates as a determining factor in our understanding of the meaning of an expression.[5]
Appropriate Response to Phenomena: Empirical Explanation vs. Understanding
Wittgenstein was unsatisfied with Frazer's reading and conclusions regarding Frazer's own anthropological findings. Wittgenstein asserted that the human rituals Frazer cataloged went beyond the simple expedient of an empirical explanation, and that, indeed, understanding Frazer's discoveries does not require an empirical explanation. Frank Cioffi describes this in Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer: "Whatever relevance empirical method may have to the question of the nature and origin of ritual practices . . . is not the central question which Frazer raises and is not, in any case, the question which arises for us when we contemplate human sacrifice and the ritual life of mankind."[6] Wittgenstein voices the same objection to psychoanalytic explanation. Again, according to Cioffi, "Freud advances explanations when the matters he deals with demand clarification, that is, they call for an elucidation of the relation in which we stand to the phenomena rather than an explanation of them."[7] Again, as to aesthetics, "causal hypotheses are conceptually inappropriate responses to requests for the explanation of aesthetic experiences and . . . they are not what we really want."[8]
Melville also makes this distinction in Moby-Dick. In Moby-Dick, Melville is rejecting scientific, philosophical and religious explanations in favor of what he really wants, which is a kind of self-understanding, or an understanding of how he stands relation to scientific, religious and philosophical phenomena.[9]
Wittgenstein's Conception of Philosophy
"Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language" (PI §109).
"Our motto might be: 'Let us not be bewitched'" (Z §690).
In Wittgenstein's later thought, philosophy is not, as the logical positivists believed, a science. Philosophy "neither explains or deduces anything" (PI §128), but "leaves everything as it is" (PI §124). Philosophy does not contribute "to human knowledge, but to human understanding."[10]
"What is your aim in philosophy--to shew the fly the way out of the fly-bottle."
"The treatment of a question is like the treatment of an illness" (PI §255).
It was one of Wittgenstein's aims to make philosophical inquiry into a therapy and, through an examination of language, purge philosophy of those questions which were based upon illusory concepts, i.e. concepts which were parented by a misapprehension of grammar rather than the facts of nature. Wittgenstein was put on this track by Hertz and his grappling with the terms "force" and "electricity." Hertz writes:
Our confused wish finds expression in the confused question as to the nature of force and electricity. But the answer which we want is not really an answer to this question. It is not by finding out more and fresh relations and connections that it can be answered; but by removing the contradictions existing between those already known, and thus perhaps by reducing their number. When these painful contradictions are removed, the question as to the nature of force will not have been answered; but our minds, no longer vexed, will cease to ask illegitimate questions.[11]
Philosophical theories are latent, concealed nonsense; the task of philosophy is to transform them into patent nonsense (PI §524).[12]
Therapy for Philosophers
Wittgenstein's technique of philosophical clarification is therapeutic in that it involves a rearrangement of familiar and unfamiliar contexts for the use of expressions that will make the grammar of the relevant expressions surveyable (PI §92, §225)[13]
Decide which of the following propositions provides the most accurate description of reality:
a) My mind is hungry for a big lunch.
b) My brain is hungry for a big lunch.
c) My body--my stomach--is hungry for a big lunch.
d) I am hungry for a big lunch.
The correct answer is d. The other statements are nonsense. Minds do not exist; brains are only to be found in medical textbooks, or on the tables of surgeons and gourmands; and bodies are only to be found at the morgue, at the beach, in the pages of muscle magazines, or in Newton's descriptions of objects possessing mass.[14]
It is not an easy thing to give up one's mind. If this concept is still difficult, you need more therapy. Consider the following propositions:
a) My mind is thinking about Plato.
b) My brain is thinking about Plato.
c) I am thinking about Plato.
d) You would do well to keep Plato in mind for the exam.
e) An Idea just crossed my mind.
f) The idea went in my right ear and out my left, crossing my mind along the way.
g) Some bees dance.
h) Some bees exist.
i) The dinosaurs no longer exist.
j) On my day off I am going to sit in the park and exist.
Propositions c, d, e, g and i are valid. The rest are nonsense. They exhibit conceptual confusion rooted in the misapprehension of language.[15]
The Synoptic Surview
"The pedigree of psychological concepts: I strive not after exactness, but after a synoptic view." (Z §464).
A technique for arriving at a perspicuous, synoptic surview of our critical problems:
The term "critical synoptics" can be used to refer to a number of analytical activities. For critics, critical synoptics refers to the examination of the influences of context, scenario and lexical/syntactical precision upon the meanings of propositions and concepts. The idea is to construct a synoptic overview of a concept or proposition. Any variety of techniques might be applied toward this end. In memorable terms, the basic idea of synoptic analysis is to tell stories about the ways propositions and concepts are used and understood. Such an overview provides a test for determining whether or not the proposition is valid. Once an appreciation for the synoptic overview is part and parcel of the critic's technique, any variety of concepts might be analyzed. The point of the following questions is to realize a synoptic overview:
I. How is the concept used? The use of the word, phrase, or proposition determines its meaning.
II. How is the concept used and understood in other scenarios? What is the accustomed practice of its use? The meaning of a word, phrase, or proposition is determined by what is explained by an explanation of its meaning, or an explanation of the rules for its use. (How does the concept reflect the discourse community that gives it rise?).
III. How is the concept understood? The way the word, phrase, or proposition is understood is its meaning.[16]
IV. What does the concept mean in simplified terms? How would the use of the word, phrase, or proposition be taught to a child?
V. What are the implications of the concept? What kind of world must be necessary in order for the use of the word, phrase, or proposition to be correct or legitimate?
VI. Are abstract nouns used in the formulation of the concept? Abstract nouns often have no validity outside of (and thus also within) the proposition in which they are used.
VII. Does the concept represent an empirical explanation of a phenomenon, or does it advance understanding of a phenomenon? Does the concept represent what we really want to know about a phenomenon?
Consider the following as synoptic overviews of various philosophical problems:
"Perhaps the most important thing in connection aesthetics is what might be called aesthetic reactions, e.g. discontent, disgust, discomfort. The expression of discontent is not the same as the expression of discomfort. The expression of discomfort says: 'Make it higher . . . too low! . . . Do something to this.'"
"What makes bright colors bright? Does it reside in the concept or in cause and effect? There is no luminous gray. Is this inherent in the concept of gray or is it part of the psychology, that is, of the natural history of gray, and isn't it strange that I don't know this?"
"What is called an alteration in concepts is of course not merely an alteration in what one says, but in what one does."
"Duration of sensation. Compare the duration of a sense-experience of sound with the duration of he sensation of touch which informs you that you have a ball in your hand; and with the "feeling" that informs you that your knees are bent" (Z §478).
""It is quite possible that he glands of a sad person secrete differently from those of someone who is glad; and also that their secretion is the cause of sadness. But does it follow that the sadness is a sensation produced by the secretion?" (Z §509).
"We should hardly ask if a crocodile means something when it comes at a man with open jaws. And we should declare that since the crocodile cannot think there is really no question of meaning here" (Z §522).
"What is the difference between these two things: Following a line involuntarily--Following a line intentionally?
"What is the difference between these two things: Tracing a line with care and great attention--Attentively observing how my hand follows a line?" (Z §583).
"The limitlessness of the visual field is clearest when we are seeing nothing in complete darkness" (Z §616).
"I should like to ask, not so much 'What must we do to avoid contradiction?' as 'What ought we to do if we have arrived at a contradiction?'" (Z §688).
"To understand sums in the elementary school the children would have to be important philosophers; failing that, they need practice" (Z §703).
Wittgenstein in Retrospect
In a series of architectural notes Wittgenstein made while building the spare and block-shaped family home in Vienna, the philosopher proposed that aesthetic reactions consist of feelings or impressions associated with distaste—“discontent, disgust, discomfort”—and the expressions of these forms of aesthetic distaste were formulated as instructions for reform and improvement—“Make it higher! . . . too low! . . . Do something to this.” If I am not wrong, these notions may lead to a characterization of Wittgenstein’s philosophy at its highest level. This characterization is as follows:
The essential thrust of Wittgenstein’s philosophy is the search for an appropriate response to phenomena. In order to identify this elusive appropriate response, it is necessary to construct a critical synoptic surview; that is, an imaginative overview or “story” in which the phenomena in question can be regarded with clarity and precision. Our conceptual confusion, however, can cloud our overview and lead to an inappropriate response, be it in our understanding, in our pronouncements, or in our actions. Our use—but of course more essentially our misuse—of language can lead to conceptual confusion and philosophical credulousness, and hence the attention paid in analytic philosophy to the use of language; thus the analysis of propositions is the activity, but the philosophy itself is the quest for an appropriate response, and an understanding of the world that both supports and is incumbent upon that appropriate response.
In an age which has mythologized science—or, indeed, in past ages which have mythologized sympathetic, superstitious and magical relationships—and as well amongst a species (Homo sapiens) which tends toward uniformity, conformity, rationalization, and following the habits of custom—empirical explanation is generally accepted as the end of all serious intellectual inquiry. While offering empirical explanation is the appropriate response to some phenomena—exploiting a pharmacological reaction for medical purposes, for instance—empirical explanation is an inappropriate response to other types of phenomena, such as aesthetic phenomena, which are more appropriately approached with the idea of getting hold of some sort of understanding. This understanding chiefly consists of understanding where we stand in relation to the phenomenon we are examining.
Interestingly enough, our understanding—our nurtured and cultivated understanding, which is rooted in an understanding of our feelings—can and has reformed our science, which (since Bacon, Locke and Newton) has been taken from a level of pursuing empirical explanation to a level of an on-going skeptical-empirical enquiry. In our cultivated response to poetry we have learned that our poetry (our mythological expression) is in a state of “semiotic flux” and transformation. When our myths become fixed, they stultify and breed orthodoxy and barbarism. Our myths must therefore become supple and changing, yielding softly to the shifting impressions of the poetic consciousness. Civilized science—the skeptical-empirical method—is in a like state of flux. Aristotle’s notion of potentiality and actuality is revised by Galileo’s emphasis on the quantitative measurement of the physical characteristics of motion, which is revised by Newtonian mechanics, which is revised by Einstein’s relativity, which is revised by quantum mechanics, and so on. These different models are “right” for different times, at different scales, for different tasks, and they all the time progress along a path weaving in and out through ever more subtle and deft articulations of understanding. We don't believe in them, but rather believe in what they can show us, or what they can do for us. They are not essential models, but tools we pick up and set down as we go about engineering new methods for dealing with (and in) the world.
Phases of Wittgenstein
a) First phase: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus ("The Tractatus")
b) Middle/transitional Phase: The Blue and Brown Books
c) Foundations of mathematics
d) Notes on Frazier, Freud, and Aesthetics (Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief).
e) Second phase: Philosophical Investigations, On Certainty.
[1] P.M.S. Hacker, Wittgenstein's Place in Twentieth-century Analytic Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996)., 98. The abbreviations "Z" and "PI" refer, respectively, to Wittgenstein's Zettel, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell, 1967) and Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell, 1958).
[2] Ibid., 111.
[3] Ibid., 98-99.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Carter Kaplan, Critical Synoptics: Menippean Satire and the Analysis of Intellectual Mythology (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2000) 27-29.
[6] Frank Cioffi, Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer, (Cambridge: Cambridge, 1998), 2.
[7] Ibid., 3.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Carter Kaplan, Critical Synoptics, 117.
[10] P.M.S. Hacker, Wittgenstein's Place...110, quoted in Carter Kaplan, Critical Synoptics 28.
[11] Quoted in P. M. S. Hacker, Insight and Illusion (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972), 21.
[12] Carter Kaplan, Critical Synoptics (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson) 28.
[13] Ibid., 28-29.
[14] Ibid., 14.
[15] Ibid., 203.
[16] P. M. S. Hacker, Wittgenstein's Place, 125. Press, 2000)

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