back to the beginning: the limitations of language

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Wed Nov 02, 2011 7:21 pm

From Tim Park's review of Dostoyevsky's "Notes From underground" in Nation magazine:

Character, the narrator argues, is consolidated in action, good or bad, but the corrosive nature of intellectual thought constantly undermines the basis of action, because one senses its futility. Imagining someone who is able to act to take revenge, for example, the narrator remarks:

'Well, sirs, it is just such an ingenuous man that I regard as the real, normal man...I envy such a man to the point of extreme bile. He is stupid...but perhaps a normal man ought to be stupid, how do you know?'

Such self-deconstructing reflection not only ridicules centuries of Enlightenment optimism, but opens a wound in the reader's relationshiop with the narrative voivce. Who is it really who is speaking? Since the man who doesn't act has no relationship with anyone....since he constantly contradicts himself, since he is often not sure himself whether he is lying or not, we begin to feel that he is no more than a voice stretched across time. At moments of ellipsis---and there are many----he simply ceases to exist.


And:

When not falling into quotation, Dostoevsky's underground voice invents neologisms and syntactical tics all its own. Language is either private to the point of excluding the listener or so worn out and public as to mean nothing.


I try to imagine a reader of Nation magazine ingesting this point of view. After all, most folks read journals of this ilk because they are politically committed to changing the world we live in...transfiguring it from the Bush/Obama administrations into one more liberal and progessive and enlightened. They are looking for words, for arguments, for political concepts that encompass The Good. In other words, they are looking for words that propel them into embracing action that will bring this about. So, the words they are searching for are hardly going to be the sort you find underground, right?

Is there even a practical place in this world for philosophies like this one? Don't we all need to act...to take a language we embrace as expressing verities and use it make the necessary changes?

The words used by those who conspire with others to render a political judgment are almost invaribly words that are understood to be denoting the world as it ought to be. As though we can use language to make this distinction in the appropriate manner. There are words that the capitalists and the socialists and the liberals and the conservatives and the anarchists and the objectivists and the libertarians and the humanists use to render the world as one very much above ground. They know the words they use express good rather than evil, don't they?

It just does not work like that for me anymore. I have become the underground man in that I see all of these words impaled on contingencies that can never be reconciled or resolved rationally or logically or knowledgbly or truthfully. I see the world in many, many conflicting and contradictory ways. The words I use have become fragmented. And that is because the man I have become is hopelessly fragmented into so many countervailing tendencies.

So, do I envy those up on the surface who can know that the words they use are quite simply the only words any reasonable man or woman would use?

Well, of course: yes and no.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Sat Nov 12, 2011 5:14 pm

From Anathemas and Admirations by Emile Cioran:

One does not inhabit a country; one inhabits a language. That is our country, our fatherland---and no other.


To test this one need only interview folks who were born and raised in, say, China or Rwanda or Haiti or North Korea or Afganistan or Uganda or Iran or France or Botswana or India or Japan or Thailand or Chile or Canada or Isreal or Saudi Arabia or Indonesia or the United States of America.

Ask them questions about the meaning of life. Ask them about right and wrong and religion and politics and gender and sexuality and social decorum and raising children and caring for the elderly. Ask them about the nature of justice and freedom. Ask them about the duties and obligations of citizenship.

Or take a trip through a history book and note how the same language used by the same people 300 years ago has come to evolve into a very different set of connotations.

Even among those who speak the same language there are so many conflicting and contradictory cultures, sub-cultures and individual communities, you would be hard pressed reconcile literally hundreds of crucial words that are [for all practical purposes] used to mean very different things to very different people in very different circumstances.

Or even in the same circumstances.

Language, in other words, is not necessarily analogous to a pile of bricks you can mortar together to form a wall of reality. At least not the language used in adjudicating human behavior. In order to understand the words we use to do that you have to understand how language is uniquely situated, profoundly problematic and evolving over and again to reconfigure our lives into ever changing new realities.

And ever changing interpretations of what those alleged realities mean.

Language, you might say, is not always about a relationship between objects; it is, instead, often about a relationship between subjects; between individual men and women putting their own existential spin on what the relationship between the objects mean.

And that includes the language of philosophy as well.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Wed Nov 30, 2011 12:52 am

From Pauline Rosenau's, Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences:


Linguistic meaning, always personal and idiosyncratic, can never be communicated from one person to another. Language has a will and power all its own. It generates meaning quite independently of human agency or will. There are no precise meanings for words, no definitive versions of a text; in short, no simple truths. Human institutions are all predicated on 'the lie that is the word'

And:

Post-modern truth is, then, necessarily fragmentary, discontinuous, and changiing. It is rhetorical and aesthetic, associated with experiencing art, and as such it is constantly reconstructed and ultimately linked to death, just as all art is destined to disappear.


Rationalists often deconstruct post-modernists of this ilk by noting how they take linear conceptions of reality/truth and tie them into subjunctive knots. Every "knot" then becomes merely a particular context that we all interpret -- and then untie and retie -- in our own uniquely different ways.

And, up to a point, I agree here with the rationalists. Or, rather, I agree with them that, all too often, post-modernists who profess to be effortlessly deconstructing our world fail to differentiate and distinguish points of view that are impeccably linear from those that can never be. In other words, there are contexts and then there are contexts. Some cannot be deconstructed because, quite simply, they reflect the objective nature of the world around us. Thus when relativists say, "we do not see the world around us the way it is but the way we are", this does not apply to, say, the interaction of hydrogen and oxygen to form water. We can't say, "well, you may think water consists of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen but I think it consists of 12 parts carbon to 4 parts helium."

So, again, regarding the use of language, it is not whether deconstruction is right or wrong but when it is right or wrong. It is, in other words, a matter of distinguishing contexts in which it is more rather than less pertinent.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Wed Nov 30, 2011 7:36 pm

More from Pauline Rosenau's, Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences:

Critics argue that post-modernism erases the difference between truth and error and that this opens the door to nihilism. 'Since there is no truth, there is no error, and all beliefs are equal'. Vattimo, a skeptical post-modernist, acknowledges the validity of this complaint and argues that nihilism is a respected and viable philosophical tradition. But most skeptics claims that when they recognize the impossibility of truth they are not endorsing nihilism. They argue, rather, that the absense of truth is a positive, liberating activity inasmuch as it accepts 'complexity and complication'. Derrida contends that the absense of any possibility of truth claims makes not for nihlism; rather it makes totalitarianism impossible...because totalitarianism depends so completely on its own version of the truth.

The post-modern view -- there is no truth, all is construction -- is itself [however] the ultimate contradiction. By making this statment post-modernists assume a position of privilege. They assert as true their own view that 'there is no truth'. In so doing they affirm the possibility of truth itself. Few post-modernists escape this dilemma, but those who try...relativize everything, including their own statement. They say even their own views are not privilieged. They warn their readers that the views they express are only their own and not superior to the opinions of others. But even this relativist position, once stated positively, implicitly assumes truth. It assumes truth in the statement that what they are saying is not more veracious than any other position. There is simply no logical escape from this contradiction except to remain silent.


Shades of Wittgenstein?

This paradox, in my view, revolves around the inherent gap between human language and that which it seeks to express as reality. In particular when the words are used to envelop a point of point regarding normative values and value judgments. Here the exchanges can only express contextual points of view as they emerge from evolving/changing relationships with other contextual points of view; not an omniscient point of view necessary to express objective moral/aesthetic truth.

Furthermore, the usual accredited [academic] renditions of nihilism almost always focus the beam on the negative: what the philosophy is said to deny or negate or dismiss. Rarely do they note more positive contributions like the one suggested above regarding the relationship between totalitarianism and rationalism [and idealism and ideology].
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:29 am

Emile Cioran:

As long as you live on this side of the terrible, you will find words to express it; once you know it from inside, you will no longer find a single one.

What this encompasses [at least for me] is the manner in which people try to envelop the world in words -- in meaning -- only to find that, when the world comes to envelop them, words can become excruciatingly futile.

The only recourse is God.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Mon Jun 11, 2012 11:21 pm

Paul Edwards from Heidegger's Confusions:

Heidegger's teaching that man is the Da of Being, 'the site of openness' and 'the clearing of Being', is supposed to constitute a great discovery. I do not see that it is anything of the kind. When the metaphors are eliminated, his assertion comes to no more than that of all known entities human beings are the only ones who are reflectively conscious of the world, who not only see, hear, touch and traste objects but also think about them and ask questions about their meaning and value. The 'world' is here used broadly so as to include human beings themselves. Calling this a platitude is not quite right, but it hardly qualifies as a discovery. The same thought has occured to many people, and we do not need Heidegger's obfuscating jargon to express it.


More to the point, perhaps, even to the extent one makes an effort to minimize jargon, neologisms, "technical langauage" etc. and tries instead to be less abstract and more tangible in expressing philosophical propositions, how in the world could "the Da of being" or "the site of openness" or "the clearing of Being" possibly be conveyed more perspicuously...more demonstrably? How would
one point to something concrete, material, circumstantial, experiential and familar and situate these words there? On the contrary, this sort of language is merely an attempt to grapple "intellectually" [pedantically?] with complex mental states that are essentially beyond our capacity to "capture" analytically; beyond our being able to "know". You may as well try to ensnare the meaning of existence itself in words.

Is this however what Heidegger's Being is really an attempt to do?

Bascially, what this jargon reflects [in my view] is the exasperation embedded in the minds of those creatures [us] who are able to ask questions "intellectually" -- to broach "ontological" or "teleological" enquiries -- but are not able to answer them substantively. So, in attempting to understand and to explain various aspects of what human existence "means" they construct these elaborate word-worlds in order to ground themselves in something rather than in nothing at all. Even if it is all just "conceptual".
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Thu Apr 23, 2015 4:42 pm

https://philosophynow.org/issues/106/Re ... From_Rorty

An interesting argument about the limitation of language. And, in particular, the manner in which, in acknowleding these limitations, one can come to grasp the need for choosing pragmatism with regard to political conflicts.

Deontology gives way to the manner in which moral narratives are really little more than social constructs rooted in history, culture and political economy.

There is no criteria for truth. There is only collective social know-how. What you see as force of logic, I see as force of habit.

Philosophy can create a new way for people to think of themselves or tell people the history of why we now talk and think as we do. The last thing a philosopher is supposed to do is make everything clear and intelligible.

Most of our words, if you treat them as denoting something, refer to nothing.


That which the moral objectivist is simply to willful to see. Or, rather, too invested psychologically in his whole truth.

But then there is the part where science fits into all of this...
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Orbie » Thu Apr 23, 2015 5:30 pm

Hello,

Subjectivism is a few hundred years old. Objective criteria served the Greco-Roman languages well, and the limitations of language, although indisputable, do not irrevocably lead to a pragmatic politic. The newly forming evolution of a world language, maybe English, can put linguistic positivism to rest, thereby re-forming a new literacy.
[size=50][/size]Allone's Obe issance



In answer to your prayer
sincere, the centre of
your circle here,
i stand ; and , without
taking thought,-
i know nothing. But i can

Full well your need-as
you be men
This: Re-Creation. With a
bow,
Then, your obedient

servant now.
One gift is all i find in me,
And that is faithful
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Thu Apr 23, 2015 10:44 pm

Orb wrote:Hello,

Subjectivism is a few hundred years old. Objective criteria served the Greco-Roman languages well, and the limitations of language, although indisputable, do not irrevocably lead to a pragmatic politic. The newly forming evolution of a world language, maybe English, can put linguistic positivism to rest, thereby re-forming a new literacy.


Sure, it would depend on how you construe the limitations of language. In other words, with respect to what relationships? It would just seem to me that if you come to conclude that, using tools of philosophy which revolve around the rules of language, we are unable to arrive at the most rational, ethical, just etc. political agenda, what are we left with but either might makes right or a willingness to employ the tools of pragmatism: moderation, negotiation and compromise.

And this is applicable to any language in which the relationship between words and worlds involves a complex intertwining of both objective truths and subjective prejudices.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Orbie » Fri Apr 24, 2015 1:31 am

The basic relationship is between syntax and semantics. The question which determines where to put the emphasis, in other words, do or did the formal elements of language preed the meaning , is determinative. If, this is viewed as non determinative, then it can be argued, that meaning is developed in the two aforementioned way You mention. I would hazard the intpretation where, semantics is primarily determinative, and in which case, meaning depends on objective criteria.
The modern-postmodern disassociation of language can be viewed as not primarily a semantics dissolution, but a casual result of variance in the syntax. Therefore I adhere to the legitimacy of modern literature and verse, not heeding objections of irrelevance to basic meaning. If people talk implying they do not understand the meaning of this or that modern-postmodern work, the fault lies with their interpretive abilities, to extricate the meaning, and not the other way around.
[size=50][/size]Allone's Obe issance



In answer to your prayer
sincere, the centre of
your circle here,
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taking thought,-
i know nothing. But i can

Full well your need-as
you be men
This: Re-Creation. With a
bow,
Then, your obedient

servant now.
One gift is all i find in me,
And that is faithful
memory
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Uxorious » Wed Apr 29, 2015 5:35 pm

I believe that language is a social contract that can be negotiated. I have come to believe that, until we have a separate word for everything from the beginning of time (e.g., every second there has every been, every thought there has every been, every emotion that has ever been, etc. etc. etc.) we can only partially convey information. I do not believe that we can, as humans, know everything, and so we must do the best we can with what we do know, or at lease what we believe we know.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Tue Jun 09, 2015 4:29 pm

Uxorious wrote:I believe that language is a social contract that can be negotiated. I have come to believe that, until we have a separate word for everything from the beginning of time (e.g., every second there has every been, every thought there has every been, every emotion that has ever been, etc. etc. etc.) we can only partially convey information. I do not believe that we can, as humans, know everything, and so we must do the best we can with what we do know, or at lease what we believe we know.


Do we really have to negotiate the meaning of words that pertain to the laws of science? to the manner in which mathematical equations are applicable to engineering feats? to the manner in which the rules of logic are relevant to rational discourse?

No, my point is that only with respect to existential contraptions like identity and value judgments can language be shown to have clear limitations. For example, gun manufacturers can share a precise and objective language in reconfiguring nature into a .357 magnum revolver. But what is the precise language available to ethicists pertaining to the morality of choosing to do so? What is the most rational, moral and just manner in which to enact laws that either prescribe of proscribe the ownership and the use of these .357 magnums?

The bottom line seems to be that with respect to some things the language that we use is considerable closer to reflecting a knowledge of everything, than with other things.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Wed Sep 02, 2015 4:38 pm

Just finished reading this: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/clas ... guage.html

Give it a go. See what you think. Me, I am never not in the mood to discuss the "limitations of language". In particular as these limitations are applicable regarding the relationship between human identity and human value judgments.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Wed Sep 02, 2020 6:11 pm

This video comes from Kvasir over at KT. On the "Words" thread: https://youtu.be/EjNhfuiEq6U

Which brought to mind this thread. One I had begun here some years ago:

Back in the day when it was actually not unusual that philosophy was exchanged here at ILP on a -- believe it or not -- rather regular basis. Just follow the posts. I was still regarded more or less with disdain by the serious philosophers, but at least substantive and substantial exchanges were sustained.

Basically the video explores the relationship between truth/Truth in a world of words and the extent to which those words are aligned or are not aligned with the actual physical world around us.

In other words, from the perspective of Satyr and his clique/claque at KT [given the extent to which I understand them], the world is understood such that genes are ever and always prior to memes. Only to the extent that we understand our lives as the embodiment of nature can we grasp the extent to which words are derived instead from historical and cultural memes...which can then only be more or less in sync with the manner in which the KT crowd [or, rather, what's left of it] understand it. In regard to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, political values etc.

That is their own objectivist font: nature.

You either understand it as they do or it's off to the Dungeon with the Rodent.

Unfortunately, the video itself seems intent on exploring this relationship in but another "general description intellectual contraption."

So, if anyone here is willing, they can watch the video and bring the ideas propounded out into the world of actual human interactions. In particular in regard to relationships that revolve around identity, value judgments and political economy.

Even Richard Rorty and Wittgenstein and James are basically reduced down to a world of words. This is everything I find grim about "serious philosophy". Everything becomes "points" encompassed in words defining and defending other words.

The irony here being completely lost on them.

Or, rather, so it seems to me.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Wed Sep 09, 2020 8:17 pm

Rules, Language & Reality
George Wrisley considers how some of Wittgenstein’s later ideas on language relate to reality.

Two of the perennial questions in 20th century analytic philosophy have been “How we are able to say or mean anything with signs, symbols, and sounds?” and “What exactly is the meaning of those signs, symbols, and sounds?”


Cue me:

I only have one perennial question here by and large. This one: How do analytic philosophers, having come to conclusions regarding this technically, bring their intellectual assessments out into the world and, in regard to human interactions that come into conflict over value judgments, encompass the meaning of particular signs, symbols and sounds relating to an examination of these interactions. Pertaining to what either can be or cannot be established as objectively true for all of us. Which involves that which I deem to be the limitations of language...philosophical or otherwise.

Instead [by and large] the examination will revolve instead around language defining and defending yet more language still:

But why in the world would philosophers become so focused on language and meaning? Let me mention two very general reasons. One reason is that an enormous range of issues are touched by looking at language, and important philosophical insights can be won by doing this. Another reason is the immense influence a number of philosophers who were interested in language had on everyone else doing philosophy, especially in Britain and America.


In what particular world understood in what particular way relating to what particular issues? And where do the philosophical insights begin to segue into, say, moral and political insights? As for the influence of those philosophers noted for interest in language -- Wittgenstein, Frege, de Saussure' etc. -- how are their philosophies translated into the things that interest me?

There is the study of language used in "doing philosophy" and there is the "for all practical purposes" applications of this for all the rest of us going about the business of living our lives.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Wed Sep 16, 2020 6:03 pm

Rules, Language & Reality
George Wrisley considers how some of Wittgenstein’s later ideas on language relate to reality.

The importance of Immanuel Kant for later philosophy can’t be over-emphasized. One of his legacies was philosophy’s focus on the relationship between the mind and the world; that is, the connection between subjective consciousness and the objective world outside of consciousness. Kant ultimately explained the relation between the two in terms of the conceptual categories we must all possess in order to have any meaningful experience of the world. However, he didn’t think of these categories and concepts in linguistic terms – for Kant they certainly would have been prior to language.


Here we are all basically intertwined in same problematic uncertainty. We are the end result [so far] of the evolution of biological life on planet Earth. We are the species whose brains have progressed to the point where we now have minds able to invent words [in English] like "language". A word that eventually the surplus labor we call "philosophers" began to explore in terms of how it fits into how genes and memes fitting together in the "I" of any particular one of us.

Which of our minds comes closest to intertwining the word "language" in the most rational overall understanding of how human sense perception, human mental conceptions, human moral assumptions, human behaviors etc., become most fully explicable?. What exactly is "prior to language" in any particular reaction that we have to any particular context? What on Earth does that mean? Where does the mind stop and the world begin? Where does the world stop and the mind begin.

Or is that in and of itself merely an illusion built into how a fully determined universe compels us to understand it?

But over time philosophers slowly shifted the emphasis from categories supplied by the mind to concepts supplied by language: philosophers began to look at the role of language in the connection between mind and world and language’s role in mediating our experience of the world.


What a thought! Language used to mediate what the mind conceives and what the body experiences out in a world in which some experiences are in sync with the laws of nature while the moral and political prejudices we come to fabricate and embody in our interactions with others can use the same language to come to completely opposite and conflicting value judgments.

So, doesn't this revolve around the limitations of language in expressing the whole truth about that which is of most importance to me: morality here and now, immortality there and then. Words out in the actual world.

Nope, not yet:

Aside from Kant, a further driving force behind 20th century philosophy’s focus on language was the idea that if we can get clear about the logic of language, and if we can analyse our statements so that we aren’t misled by their ‘surface grammar’, then we will be able to answer all sorts of exciting philosophical questions, or (on another view) be able to show that they are pseudo-problems.


It's not the exciting philosophical questions that intrigue me, but the ones that come closest to the stuff we are bombarded with day in and day out on the evening news. Here problems can become "pseudo" only to the extent they are "weighed" academically up in the technical clouds.

On the other hand, haven't I come to see language/logic as so limited that, when confronted with these problems embedded in the existential reality of our lived lives, "I" find myself fractured and fragmented to the point that the most nitty gritty realities embedded in all human interaction -- how ought one to live -- become beyond the reach of both language and logic. If that reach were to include actual resolutions.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Tue Sep 22, 2020 7:12 pm

Rules, Language & Reality
George Wrisley considers how some of Wittgenstein’s later ideas on language relate to reality.

As to the second reason for the focus on language: those giants who set the agenda for 20th Century analytic philosophy, for example Frege, Russell, Moore, and Wittgenstein, in one way or another all focused on some kind of philosophical analysis of our language. Because of their influence the next generation of philosophers, such as Quine, Putnam, and Davidson, also spent a great deal of time and effort investigating various aspects of language and issues concerning meaning and reference.


Here though my own reaction is always the same: Frege, Russell, Moore, and Wittgenstein; Quine, Putnam, and Davidson.

You tell me...

What did they have to say about language and how do we go about reconfiguring this into a discussion in which language revolves around conflicting goods precipitating conflicting behaviors precipitating consequences that make the lives of particular individuals better or worse?

"Meaning and reference" here.

After all, language was around long before the historical reality of surplus labor allowed for the existence of those we now call philosophers. And certainly those aspects of human interaction that revolve around subsistence itself -- the stuff embedded in political economy -- go on regardless of the words that folks like Adam Smith and Karl Marx provided us with. In other words, in my view, there are limits here beyond which the "rules of language" get stuck. What are the rules of language when value judgments come into conflict? What is or is not logically or epistemological sound then?

Instead, the focus is often more in regard to the either/or world:

Language plays an enormously important role in our interaction with other people and with the world. We employ various words and concepts to talk about objects (tables and flowers), properties (colors and shapes), and relations (the flower is on the table, the pain is in my arm).


Once we go beyond that...

We express feelings, ask questions, give commands, tell jokes, tell stories, sing songs, and so on.


...there come into existence all manner of subjective/subjunctive reactions: what feelings, what questions and answers, what commands, jokes, stories and songs? In what situation provoking what actual cheers or scowls?

Then back up further into the "technical" clouds:

So let’s return to our initial questions: How is that we’re able to do all of these things with language? How is it that certain signs, symbols, and sounds are meaningful, and what exactly is their meaning? Is the word ‘cat’ meaningful because of what it refers to – namely, those furry, meowing fleabags many of us have as pets? Is the meaning of ‘cat’ just those animals themselves? Further, does the world determine what our concepts are to be? That is, with language do we simply try to mirror the various kinds of objects, properties, and relations that exist, or is the world ‘open’ to different ways of conceptualizing it?


And then when I suggest "we'll need a context, of course", some here will insist that, no, only when we are all in agreement regarding the definition and meaning of the words themselves can we then turn the focus on, say, whether it is important morally that a big cat like the tiger not become extinct.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby promethean75 » Wed Sep 23, 2020 1:27 pm

That last quote about the cat is an epistemological concern... not an ethical one. You can create an ethical concern with an actual cat and say that concern is more important than the epistemological concern addressed in the quote... but that isnt to detract from the philosophical relevance of the 'technicality' of the problem... which is very real. Plato's the first boss on written record to be baffled by it, in fact. That's how important it is, bro.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Wed Sep 23, 2020 5:43 pm

promethean75 wrote:That last quote about the cat is an epistemological concern... not an ethical one. You can create an ethical concern with an actual cat and say that concern is more important than the epistemological concern addressed in the quote... but that isnt to detract from the philosophical relevance of the 'technicality' of the problem... which is very real. Plato's the first boss on written record to be baffled by it, in fact. That's how important it is, bro.


Of course, with you, one can never be entirely certain how much is tongue in cheek and how much isn't.

But, in regard to any particular cat behaving in any particular way, we can always at least make the attempt to note where the objective epistemological truth ends and the subjective ethical opinion begins.

Still, even this part...

"Is the word ‘cat’ meaningful because of what it refers to – namely, those furry, meowing fleabags many of us have as pets?"

...is problematic because some pet cats are anything but furry. Sphynx cats for example. And to be a pet cat is not necessarily to have fleas.

But what of those who eats cats? Small, furry ones. Take that to PETA and see how fast they turn it into an ethical question.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Thu Oct 01, 2020 7:21 pm

Rules, Language & Reality
George Wrisley considers how some of Wittgenstein’s later ideas on language relate to reality.

The Normativity of Language and Rules of Grammar

Linguistic meaning is in an important sense normative. That is, there are right and wrong ways to use words. If we use words in the wrong way we may fail to say anything meaningful. For example, if I say, “The window was dog,” then I’m misusing either ‘window’ or ‘dog’ in such a way that I’m talking nonsense. Normativity plays an important role for Wittgenstein’s later views on language.


That's not the "normative" that matters most to me, of course.

That would be this one:

"...establishing, relating to, or deriving from a standard or norm, especially of behavior."

And, in particular, when the focus is narrowed all the more:

"Normative ethics is the study of ethical behaviour, and is the branch of philosophical ethics that investigates the questions that arise regarding how one ought to act, in a moral sense."

What of "linguistic meaning" there? Not "the window was dog", but "John threw the dog through the window for his own amusement".

In regard to the normative relationship between "rules, language and reality", what can be or cannot not construed as either reasonable or ethical in regard to the treatment of other animals by human beings?

Wittgenstein in his later writings notoriously related the notion of linguistic meaning to the notion of our use of language. The exact nature of the relationship he saw between meaning and use is hotly debated, but I will try to steer around the need to decide such exegetical matters. At the very least, we can say that for Wittgenstein there is an important connection between our use of language – what we do with it, when and where we say what we say – and the meaning of the sounds that we make and the symbols that we write.


My own speculation here is that some will steer clear of Wittgenstein's "later writings" because it is much easier to examine his earlier writings up in the academic clouds that swirl around technical philosophy. Words defining and defending other words such that the actual use of those words with respect to human social, political and economic interactions can be put off [indefinitely] until these technical issues are resolved once and for all.

Apparently no one is allowed to use a word -- to decide "what we do with it, when and where we say what we say" using it -- until it can be entirely pinned down logically and epistemologically how one must define it before using it.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Wed Oct 07, 2020 5:10 pm

Rules, Language & Reality
George Wrisley considers how some of Wittgenstein’s later ideas on language relate to reality.

For Wittgenstein our use of language is constrained in a way analogous to the way the movements of a game piece are constrained by the game’s rules, for example, for the king in chess.


On the other hand the analogy breaks down in that the king as a piece on the chess board really is constrained by rules of the game which are applicable to everyone. You can't just decide that the king can be moved like the knight or the bishop or the rook. Whereas if we were discussing a king on the throne of one or another nation, there are still the facts we can garner about him in which all agree. Here, in the either/or world, the rules of language are in turn applicable to all. But, again, once the discussion shifts to our reaction to a monarchy itself, we can all use the same language but come to very different interpretations of how we should react to conflicting political assessments of monarchism.

But that's not where the author goes. He sticks with chess.

So in his later philosophy he appeals to the notion of a linguistic rule, or what he (somewhat confusingly) calls a rule of grammar. ‘Grammatical rules’ are the standards by which we evaluate whether someone has spoken meaningfully. Their evaluation, however, need not be explicit. Insofar as you and I have learned the same language and belong to the same community of speakers, I ‘evaluate’ your use of language by either understanding or failing to understand what you say. If you move the rook in chess in accordance with the rules we make nothing of it: I understand your move. Nevertheless, the rules are there, in the background. If you were to move your rook diagonally, the rules would be brought forward and explicitly cited. Similarly, if you were to misspeak, I might either correct you, or ask you what you mean, and your answer might entail explicitly bringing forward the rules of grammar. But what exactly does Wittgenstein mean by a rule of grammar?


But: how are the rules of grammar the same or different in either the either/or or the is/ought world? When in one world or the other can following the rules lead either to consensus or conflict? When and where and why does communication seem to break down time and again more in the latter? Sure, if the assessment here revolves solely around the language we use in describing or discussing a chess match, grammar can be wholly in sync with a game played strictly be the rules of chess. But once the discussion shifts to a context in which it's about kings and noblemen and peasants and serfs?

Where here are the words chosen to describe and discuss feudalism such that all can agree on whether words like, say, freedom and justice and honesty and integrity and good and bad and true and false are in sync with the political lay of the land back then. What of grammar then? When does someone "misspeak" when the discussion shifts to evaluating feudalism as a good or a bad social, political and economic system?
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Tue Oct 13, 2020 4:29 pm

Rules, Language & Reality
George Wrisley considers how some of Wittgenstein’s later ideas on language relate to reality.

Wittgenstein maintained that he was using the term ‘grammar’ in its ordinary sense. However his examples of rules of grammar certainly aren’t ones to be found in your usual grammar book. Some of his examples of rules of grammar are “4 meters is a length,” “A sofa is longer than a chair,” “This is red (said while pointing at something red),” and “Believing is not thinking.” Part of the idea here is that rules of grammar are the kinds of things we tell others when explaining the meaning of a word or an expression to them. If we’re talking to a child and we tell her that something is 4 meters, and she asks whether 4 meters is heavy, we might very well say “4 meters is a length.” Or if we are trying to get clear on what exactly we mean by ‘believing’ something, we might note that there is a difference of use between ‘believing’ and ‘thinking’ and so indeed there is a difference between believing and thinking: one can believe something while not thinking about it and one can think about something without believing it. For Wittgenstein the rules of grammar normatively constrain what we mean by words and expressions. They’re the conditions of linguistic meaning.


Still, the closer we are to the either/or world, the closer the words we use are to that which is able to be demonstrated as in fact true for all of us. To ask whether 4 meters is heavy will make more sense if we are talking about a particular substance we are unfamiliar with and someone asks us to carry 4 meters of it from here to there. Whereas in differentiating believing from thinking things can become more problematic. We use thinking to form beliefs. And we believe many things without "in the moment" thinking about them. But again what becomes crucial is the thinking that we do use in coming to believe something. Why? Because someone else might employ thinking in regard to the same set of circumstances but believe something different. In particular when that something shifts from the either/or to the is ought world.

Another aspect of grammar connected to its importance for meaning is the way it sets up the conditions of speaking sensibly about the world. To use one of Wittgenstein’s later metaphors, grammatical rules function as channels for our talk about the world in the way that a river bank channels water. As he remarks in the Philosophical Grammar (written in 1930-33), part of the idea here is that grammatical rules do not determine the truth or falsity of our statements about the world. The role of grammar is instead to provide the conditions for comparing our empirical propositions with reality in order to determine whether they are true or false.


Ever and always however we need to know if a grammatically correct language also relates to us information that is in fact true. If asked where Jane is, one can note that "Jane go get an abortion". This is not grammatically correct. Instead, "Jane has gone to get an abortion". But suppose someone is asked where Jim is and they say "Jim has gone to get an abortion". Grammatically correct but biologically impossible. If, in fact, Jim is a male of the species. And then when the discussion shifts to the morality of abortion is it possible even using grammatically correct language to encompass what is true here?
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Mon Oct 19, 2020 5:39 pm

Rules, Language & Reality
George Wrisley considers how some of Wittgenstein’s later ideas on language relate to reality.

...the notion of language games plays a huge role for Wittgenstein’s later philosophy. By a ‘language game’, he means the way words, phrases, gestures, and facial expressions, and other actions are habitually used by people to communicate in a particular kind of situation.


And how could it not make sense but to make a clear distinction between a situation in which language descriptions revolve around accurate or inaccurate depictions of the behaviors that we chose and accurate or inaccurate assessments of our reactions to those behaviors that revolve instead around moral judgments? Words, phrases, gestures and facial expressions are either in sync with what can in fact be demonstrated to be true for all rational men and women or they can't. The communication here might be at odds but the facts do exist to at least allow for an accurate assessment in the end.

If you look at the development of Wittgenstein’s post-Tractatus writings, there is a shift of emphasis from talk of grammar to talk of language games when issues of meaning are discussed. However, Wittgenstein’s appeal to the notion of language games is still motivated by a recognition of the normativity of language and the importance of grammatical rules. As such, the shift of emphasis from grammar to language games does not betoken a rejection of the former. The rules of grammar are seen as an essential part of language games; the shift of emphasis is a shift to a more open-ended view of language use, and the recognition that our words are meaningful even if not perfectly constrained by rules.


Okay, so how much more "open-ended" is someone here willing to be in exploring the shift from the rules of grammar to language games when the discussion shifts in turn to a set of circumstances in which both can be explored. But explored only after yanking the words down out of the clouds of intellectual contraptions like the one above.

According to Paul Livingston of the Philosophy Department of the University of New Mexico, in early 1930 Wittgenstein reportedly told Waismann and Schlick, in a reference to the matter of ethics, that philosophical inquiries about ethics amounted to trying to run "up against the boundaries of language," suggesting that, in his view, there was little of conceptual significance that could be said explicitly about the classical ethical questions in philosophy.

Stuart Mirsky at the Serious Philosophy website.


That's my point as well. It's not so much what language can tell us about human interactions in a world teeming with conflicting goods, but what, apparently, it cannot tell us. Here the games we play with words actually used out in particular worlds, however correct the grammar might me, resolve nothing. Other than by way of a consensus reached regarding what the words themselves are said to mean. At least not without that elusive "transcending font" that mere mortals can go to on one or another rendition of Judgment Day.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Sat Oct 24, 2020 7:37 pm

Rules, Language & Reality
George Wrisley considers how some of Wittgenstein’s later ideas on language relate to reality.

The Arbitrariness of Grammar and the Role of Reality

Wittgenstein’s tying of meaning to use here has a number of important consequences. Earlier I posed the question as to whether the word ‘cat’ gets its meaning in virtue of referring to the familiar creatures many of us love. It’s tempting to think that since language is representational – it is about things – then it is the things that language is about (cats, tables, thoughts, feelings) that make language meaningful. Wittgenstein rejects this view of language. We do talk about and refer to a whole host of things, but language is not meaningful because of the things themselves. Language is meaningful because of how we use words in particular contexts and because there are right and wrong ways of using words and expressions: again, language use is normatively constrained by the rules of grammar. This use is socially upheld, like the rules of a game.


Okay, in any given society then what words are used to describe, to assess and then to judge human interactions such that we can explore more specifically what it means to believe that "language use is normatively constrained by the rules of grammar."

Let's focus in on the right ways and the wrong ways to use words/language such that we all agree on what is grammatically correct and then take these objective rules and examine the "rules of behavior" as this pertains to rewarding or punishing particular behaviors that are in fact encompassed in a grammatically correct manner.

Or, again, am I missing something "technical" here regarding that the author is communicating?

A number of interesting insights come out of this way of looking at language and meaning. One result is Wittgenstein’s emphasis on the public nature of language. A good deal of the normativity that provides for meaning comes from the admonishments, requests for clarification and corrections of others when we speak, especially when we are learning a language. A further aspect of this is that much of our language is meaningful only as a result of its public context.


Then we pick one or another combination of 1] might makes right, 2] right makes might or 3] democracy and the rule of law. After encountering all of the "admonitions, requests for clarification and corrections" from others regarding what they actually mean. And there have always been an unending advance of historical and cultural permutations regarding the parameters of any particular "public".

A related question is whether a private language is possible; this involves thinking about what we mean when we talk about sensations we experience [see the article by Richard Floyd in this issue]. The point I want to focus on however, is the idea that the rules of grammar aren’t answerable to any objective reality. In Wittgenstein’s words, grammar is arbitrary and language is autonomous.


No matter how private any language might be the words are either in sync with accurate descriptions of the physical world around us or they're not. It's like the scenes from the movie Dogtooth -- https://youtu.be/kuyFxZ5OHIM -- where the parents raise their children to live in their own private world. They give them the wrong names for objects but as long as they connect the sound of the word to the actual object, they communicate as well as do those who use the right words.

As for grammar being arbitrary and language autonomous, let's take that out into the world of actual human interactions and focus in on a specific situation.

And then the part where what Wittgenstein means by grammar meets the part that revolves around what he figured logic was.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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