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The logic of language games and other practices Jörg Zeller Aalborg Universitet zeller logic of practice.

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Presentation on theme: "The logic of language games and other practices Jörg Zeller Aalborg Universitet zeller logic of practice."— Presentation transcript:

1 The logic of language games and other practices Jörg Zeller Aalborg Universitet zeller logic of practice 1

2 The middle between sentence and reality zeller logic of practice 2 In PI 94 Wittgenstein says: „‘The sentence, a curious thing‘! In it lies already the sublimation of the whole representation. The tendency to assume a pure medium (Mittelwesen) between the sentence sign and the facts.“ (1963, 338). Apparently he believes that we don‘t need such a medium – i.e. at least not a thing between sentence sign and facts. It is the way we use the sentence sign that connects it with the facts. This way or mode of use establishes itself in what he calls language game. In fact language games consist in connecting sentence signs and other signs with facts. Much of what holds of language games holds too of practices in general. They connect what I with Bourdieu 1993 will call an actor’s habitus with facts. Let me say it this way: the middle between an actor’s intention and the world of facts is not a thing but a (special kind of) effectivity. I will call it practice.

3 Logic of practice 1 zeller logic of practice 3 By ‘practice’ I understand how an actor – i.e. a conscious being capable of acting – realizes (makes real, causes) desirable intentions. The way an actor causes intentions is used to be called action. Practices consist of actions on the basis of and in connection with other actions. In analogy to Frege’s dictum that a word only has meaning within a sentence - actions can only unfold their effectivity within practices. Practices – my example practice will be social work – for their part can only unfold their effectivity within what I again with Bourdieu 1993 will call practice field.

4 Logic of action zeller logic of practice 4 The – according to Wittgenstein – curiosity of the middle between consciousness and reality, i.e. the curiosity of action, is that, from an ontological point of view, it isn’t a kind of thing or substance but a kind of happening or causality. Action – both the intentional and the unintentional version – cannot be understood by referring (pointing) to objects but to a more complex ontological structure. I will – inspired by Barwise & Perry 1999 – call this structure situation. A situation is a spatio-temporal connection of things having properties and relations to each other. As my sample-situation I will take a social worker at work interacting with a user in order to facilitate a better life for the latter. An action is then not the situation that is realized (caused) by it but the transition from one situation to another – more or less changed – situation. The logic of action has then to be a transition logic or logic of change (cf. v. Wright 1977).

5 World and reality zeller logic of practice 5 If we say the world basically consists in three complementary entities, called substance, energy, and information (cf. Zeller 2011) then action can be understood as a kind of energy making substances informational and information substantial. Wittgenstein’s suggestion in Tractatus to understand the world as the totality of facts instead of objects foreshadows in my opinion his later “pragmatic turn” to understand logic not any longer as a mapping or picturing of isomorphic structures but as (a special kind of) acting that makes facts meaningful and intentions (i.e. meaningful wishes) factual. Inspired by Nørreklit (2004, 2012) I will though differentiate between the world as totality of facts and reality as the totality of facts, possibilities, meanings, and values. By intentional action we not only make facts meaningful but realize also (aesthetic and pragmatic) values. By ‘pragmatic values’ I embrace both kinds of Aristotelian practice-values – the poietic (technical) and the practical (ethical) ones.

6 Possibility zeller logic of practice 6 Actors are just able to act in situations providing the factual and pragmatic conditions for acting. Factual conditions consist in physical possibilities that can become real – either effected by physical causes or pragmatic actors. I will call them objective possibilities. To take one of v. Wrights preferred examples: a closed door implies the possibility to become opened. This can happen by the impact of a wind gust or an actor. Pragmatic conditions consist in poietic (technical, instrumental) or practical (social) possibilities that by an actor’s action can become real. I will call them subjective possibilities or (pragmatic) action potentials. Again with Bourdieu 1993 I will call them habitus. In Bourdieu’s theory of practice there is also a subject-objective hybrid possibility called capital. They are not just subjective abilities to act but by actors produced institutions or media of action. I will call them artefacts. As should be clear now – the kind of possibility I am talking about is a reality anchored possibility. I will call it realistic possibility.

7 Meaning, value zeller logic of practice 7 To make an effort to realize an intention an actor has to understand (find a meaning in) what it is he or she wants to make real. Pragmatic acting presupposes an actor able to form (construct) a meaning out of his or her experience of facts. Comparing, condensing (abstracting), unifying, separating etc. experiences is the work of conceptualizing. Concepts are the instruments (Aristotle: organs) of making our experiences meaningful. The meaningful is what we can imagine to be. To intend to make something real presupposes to be able to imagine it as being real in a future time. Acting presupposes the ability to anticipate the future. To imagine future being requires on its part to be able to remember the past. Not everything that has a meaning for an actor is also desirable for him or her. The valuable for an actor is what she on basis of the totality of her knowledge and experience can hope will do something good for her and/or other actors (or living beings).

8 Language games and the logic of practice zeller logic of practice 8 Back to Wittgenstein: the middle between a sentence or other sign representing a meaning formed out of the experience of facts is nothing curious but just the actions or practices connecting signs and facts. These practices Wittgenstein calls language games. Wittgenstein uses the idea of language games to investigate how language is possible. Calling his investigations philosophical implies that Wittgenstein is not interested in a theory of language- formation or language-acquisition. ‘Language game’ is not a theoretical but a methodo-logical concept (cf. Zeller 1978). I will go one step further and claim that Wittgenstein’s understanding of logic in the transition from Tractatus to Philosophical Investigations has changed from a theoretical to a methodological and thus pragmatic concept. Language games can then be understood as more or less realistic logical experiments, i.e. constructions of pragmatic (communicative and interactional) situations in order to investigate the logic (possibilities) of practice.

9 History zeller logic of practice 9 An immediate consequence of the logical or constructive character of language games is their lack of history. Wittgenstein’s criticism of traditional semantics as begging the question how it is possible to connect signs with facts can also be passed on most or all of his language games. Starting with language game 1 – a person sending someone else with a slip of paper containing the characters ‘five red apples’ to a fruit seller - most or all language games Wittgenstein experiments with in the course of his Philosophical Investigations throw light only on some aspects of language construction or language use respectively. A lot of others he ignores. In the fruit seller game he shows one possibility how the fruit seller could act to make the signs on the sheet of paper meaningful; i.e. how he could connect them to the given fruit grocery situation. The history of how he for instance has learned to connect the character sequence ‘r e d’ with a certain colour pattern Wittgenstein ignores. This history, however, is critical for that the logic of language games works. Actions and practices can only generate meanings within practice fields. Practice fields are not static but dynamic structures of action-possibilities. This means among other things that they are spatio-temporal extended structures of pragmatic potencies.

10 Dynamic logic of practice zeller logic of practice 10 Notwithstanding this ahistorical character of the logic of language games the Philosophical Investigations have revolutionized the whole field of epistemology. Wittgenstein makes not only clear that the middle between sign and fact isn’t of substantial but pragmatic nature. He shows thereby at the same time that our knowledge forms altogether – i.e. all the different ways of our experiencing and thinking – are not a priori or transcendental but pragmatic. As a consequence the logic of practice is not a closed system of unchangeable (i.e. essential) rules but an open and innovative system changeable rules. I think there is no doubt that Wittgenstein by adopting the concept of ‘game’ to explain what I call the pragmatic character of logic was clear about its dynamic or innovative nature. This I will illustrate in the following by some considerations about Wittgenstein’s idea of while playing a game to ‘make up the rules as we go along’. My sample language or practice game will, as announced earlier, be a social work situation.

11 The practice game of social work zeller logic of practice 11 Let’s say the social work game takes place between a social worker s and a – in the jargon of the profession – so-called user u. To treat the concern of her users s is used to recur to written and unwritten but usual rules how to treat the particular type of user u represents for her. The usual language game with this user is ruled by mistrust. S suspects u of cheating on her about the dole-money he should use to buy food, clothes and other vital things for himself and his family. Instead, she guesses, he buys alcohol and drugs thereby worsening the in advance miserable situation of himself, his wife and two children. U suspects s that she denies him money that she in fact was obliged by law to grant him because of a personal aversion. Also in the case it should be the first meeting between s and u their actual language game and thereby the rules of how to play it has a factual history. S “knows” this type of user – either by her own experience or by general experiences in the profession. She has learned by professional education or narratives of her colleagues that users “of this type” normally are not trustworthy.

12 Pragmatic a priori 1 zeller logic of practice 12 The personal or professional history of the practice game between s and u makes up what I will call the practice field for this special kind of interaction between these particular actors. The special history and practice field of the social work game between s and u makes at the same time the rules for the game up. In a way these rules can be conceived to be practically a priori. They make it possible for the participants to play this type of game. Here: the type of language game that is used to be played between social workers and social work users mistrusting each other in respect of their mutual motives. S is for u the representative of a social system that has made him miserable. U is for s the type of irresponsible fellow citizen that makes it difficult or almost impossible to make her work meaningful. If she chose her profession with her best intention to help people in need to get a better life then she had to learn that her personal and professional possibilities to play a part in realizing a better society are extremely limited. Of course, this type of game is not universal. Different types of societies generate in different countries with different national cultures different rule sets – I called them practice fields – at different times in the course of the country’s history.

13 Pragmatic a priori 2 zeller logic of practice 13 Thus we have to do with factually specified a priori rules for the game. They are a priori because they precede necessarily every actual realization of the game – i.e. every time when s and u actually meet. If neither of them had any kind of pragmatic pre-understanding how to play the social-worker- user-game they would no doubt interact in one way or other but not play the game they met for. If chess players would use the chessmen not to move them according the chess rules but to belt each other with them they wouldn’t play chess in a bed way but just play something else - for instance which one of the players was first able to hit the other player’s nose.

14 Changeable rules zeller logic of practice 14 Thus it looks like that the rules of human interactions on the one hand always are a priori. This means that any type of human interaction has necessarily a social and personal history - without this history no interaction of this type. On the other hand, the rules of any type of interaction are changeable. Though following the rules of a practice game no human actor is able to follow them slavishly. Human individuals – if they realize it or not – are different. The Nazis’ slavish obedience – in German “Kadavergehorsam” – is in other words a contradictio in adjecto. To follow a rule or to obey an order, everybody has to do it his or her way. Only robots are able to follow rules slavishly – and I am not quite sure that they in the end really are able to do it. We inhabit after all an evolutionary world. What we call efficient causality is perhaps not as slavishly efficient as our deterministic ancestors and contemporaries believe.

15 Changing the rules of social work zeller logic of practice 15 The actors of our social work game charged by pragmatically a priori mutually mistrust are able to change the rules and thereby the logic of their practice game if they recognize that these rules are historical – that means pragmatic – and not substantial (essential). Of course we cannot arbitrarily changes the rules of our practices. We are always bound – Barwise & Perry 1999 say constrained – to the factual or situational conditions of our possibilities to act. These conditions are ambivalent. On the one hand they make it possible for us to act in certain ways. On the other hand they limit our pragmatic possibilities to our pre-understanding and prejudices of how reality works. However, pre-understandings and prejudices reflect not only an actors personal but also the social history of the society he or she is a member of. If we situate our social work practice game within a present-day Western society then what I call social mentality will coin the pre-understanding and prejudice of the actors.

16 Mentality zeller logic of practice 16 The assumed mistrust between the actors of our social work game has a chance to be changed if one or both actors realize that their personal mistrust to each other has not only a personal but also a social history. There is a Western tradition of thinking society as a necessary evil constrained to repress the efforts of its members to realize antagonistic ends. Without government social life would according to Hobbes’ Leviathan be a war of all against all. No doubt Hobbes’ and after him a long queue of other social theoreticians in the Western World are part of the pre-history of people as a general rule mistrusting their fellow human beings. By realizing that this rule is not of substantial but pragmatic nature the possibility of changing it becomes imaginable. The transition from imagination to realization is thorny. The one daring to make the first step to trust the other risks to be disappointed and – as a consequence – reaffirmed in his or her original mistrust. Though daring it anyway opens a space of new pragmatic possibilities – of a new logic of social work practice.

17 The nimbus of theoretical logic zeller logic of practice 17 Wittgenstein says in PI 97 about thinking, if its essence, the logic is understood as “a priori order of the world, the order of the possibilities, that has to be common for the world and thinking” (1963, 339) then thinking is surrounded by a nimbus. Wittgenstein, as we know - don’t like this kind of glorification. We can avoid it if we – borrowing from Faye 2000 the idea of analytical a posteriori sentences – understand ‘analytical’ as meaning ‘guided by rules’ and rules as generated a posteriori. If we understand ‘a posteriori’ not in an empirical but in a practical way then experience becomes understandable not as a condition but a consequence of practicing. Practice is thus a priori in relation to both experience and thinking. This holds not least because experience and thinking are kinds of practice. We need rules to understand what we do, but we need to do something, i.e. to act in one way or other, eventually to become able to understand one thing or other. This I will call the practice- theory paradox. The logic of thinking presupposes a logic of practice that becomes understandable (conceivable) by the logic of thinking practice.


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