Presentation on theme: "The Opening of Philosophical Investigations: What’s the Point? [a]“When they (my elders) named some object and accordingly moved towards something, I saw."— Presentation transcript:
The Opening of Philosophical Investigations: What’s the Point? [a]“When they (my elders) named some object and accordingly moved towards something, I saw this and grasped that the thing was called by the sound they uttered when they meant to point it out. Their intention was shewn by their bodily movements, as it were the natural language of all peoples: the expression of the face, the play of the eyes, the movement of other parts of the body, and the tone of voice which expresses our state of mind in seeking, having, rejecting or avoiding something. Thus, as I heard words repeatedly used in their proper places in various sentences, I gradually learnt to understand what objects they signified; and after I had trained my mouth to form these signs, I used them to express my own desires.” (Augustine, Confessions, I.8) [b]These words, it seems to me, give us a particular picture of the essence of human language. It is this: the individual words in language name objects—sentences are combinations of such names.—In this picture of language we find the roots of the following idea: Every word has a meaning. The meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands. [c]Augustine does not speak of there being any difference between kinds of word. If you describe the learning of language in this way you are, I believe, thinking primarily of nouns like “table,” “chair,” “bread,” and of people’s names, and only secondarily of the names of certain actions and properties; and of the remaining kinds of word as something that will take care of itself.
World’s Weirdest Grocer [d]Now think of the following use of language: I send someone shopping. I give him a slip marked “five red apples.” He takes the slip to the shopkeeper, who opens the drawer marked “apples”; then he looks up the word “red” in a table and finds a colour sample opposite it; then he says a series of cardinal numbers—I assume that he knows them by heart—up to the word “five” and for each number he takes an apple of the same colour as the sample out of the drawer.—It is in this and similar ways that one operates with words.—“But how does he know where and how he is to look up the word ‘red’ and what he is to do with the word ‘five’?”—Well I assume that he acts as I have described. Explanations come to an end somewhere.—But what is the meaning of the word “five”?—No such thing was in question here, only how the word “five” is used. (PI, §1)
Baker-&-Hacker’s Elucidatory Reading Now, the ‘standard’ reading of PI § 1 reads it as purely an attack on the Augustinian picture of language. This picture of language is said to provide the paradigm within which Frege (in Foundations of Arithmetic), Russell (in Principles of Mathematics), and Wittgenstein (in the Tractatus) were alleged to operate. Baker-&-Hacker write: “[Wittgenstein] is concerned only with the points explicit in the quotation in [a]. (iv) Words signify or name objects. (v) Sentences are combinations of words. (vi) That a word signifies a given object consists in the intention with which the word is used. (vii) The intention with which a word is used (i.e. the intention to mean that object) can be seen in behaviour, bodily movement, facial expression, tone of voice, etc.” (61). The trip to the grocer in paragraph [d] is taken, by Baker-&-Hacker, to illustrate “different types of words” (63; our emphasis). “The example is designed to stress the fact that the contention that the three words are of different types rests on the differences in the operations carried out in each case, and on the ordering of the operations” (63; our emphasis).
An Alternative Reading We suggest that Baker-&-Hacker underplay the significance, and are thus apt to mislead as to the purpose, of PI § 1:[d]. In what follows, I will outline a reading of [d] that we contend captures much better the subtlety and nuance, not to mention the philosophical import, of the example. There is something of a conundrum presented to all who pick up Wittgenstein’s PI, particularly for those who read the opening as Baker- &-Hacker do. Why did Wittgenstein choose a passage from the biographical sections of Augustine’s Confessions and not an overtly philosophical passage from a recognised work in the philosophical canon? Furthermore, why is the example of the trip to the grocer so eccentric?
Two Suggested Answers 1.Part of what is wrong with seeing PI 1 purely as an (alleged) attack on a particular picture of the nature of language or of language-world relations is, we think, this: (part of) what interests Wittgenstein, in the Augustine quotation, is surely the speed and ‘naturalness’ of Augustine’s leap. His leap to conclusions. The ‘automatic’ element in his thinking here. And; 2.Insight can be gained by working through for oneself why Wittgenstein chose to illustrate the limitations of the picture he identifies at play in the quote from Augustine with a rather eccentric depiction of a trip to the grocer? The shopper appears to be dumb, and the (rather mechanical) grocer keeps apples in drawers and counts them out individually after matching the colour to a colour chart. The eccentricity has purpose.
More on answer one: unwarranted inference So: one key part of the answer to the question as to why Wittgenstein chose a passage from Augustine’s Confessions and not one from a recognised work in the philosophical canon is connected directly with the observation that Wittgenstein was interested to take a passage which is not merely a instance of a philosopher theorising, but the kind of theorising that we are all likely to (or are maybe guilty of) fall(ing) into all too easily, naturally and hubristically. All of us (me, you, and Wittgenstein himself, included). This, Wittgenstein thinks, is a very widespread assumption or presumption that has become yet more dominant in our culture. He means to challenge it in the broadest possible way, returning us to some sanity of sociality and community.
Answer one’s therapeutic import In other words, this section (PI §1) is already an ethical moment and a therapeutic moment in Wittgenstein’s philosophising, and Augustine is already an exemplar of the very attitude that quintessentially requires therapeutic treatment. Leaping to conclusion—unwarranted inference—is not merely a logical error, an error of cognition or psychological pathology (as someone like Eugen Fischer claims). It is an ethical problem. Or it might be more perspicuous to say, it can serve as the root of many ethical problems.
More on answer two: weird grocers Another key to understanding PI § 1 is in reading the passage as a whole, being sensitive to its eccentricity, and paying particular attention to the remark, towards the end, made by Wittgenstein’s interlocutor, and the way Wittgenstein responds. Recall, in response to Wittgenstein’s story, the interlocutor says, and Wittgenstein responds, as follows: “But how does he [the grocer] know where and how he is to look up the word ‘red’ and what he is to do with the word ‘five’?”—Well I assume that he acts as I have described. Explanations come to an end somewhere.—But what is the meaning of the word “five”?—No such thing was in question here, only how the word “five” is used.” (italicisation mine)
Weird Grocers and Weird Philosophers: internalist prejudice The interlocutor’s question invokes the notion of “meaning” coming from an inner mental process. The interlocutor is not satisfied with the explanation being given only with reference to outward criteria, or behaviour; the use of colour samples and the counting out of the apples one by one leaves her still wanting to know more about from where meaning might come. To Mulhall, “the cast of her [the interlocutor’s] questions rather takes it for granted that nothing behavioural can settle the issue of understanding even in principle; only a transition to the entirely separate realm of the inner can give her the reassurance she craves” (2001a, 44). Following Mulhall’s remarks above, we contend that the grocer example in PI § 1 is analogous (a more profound precursor) to John Searle’s (1980) Chinese Room thought experiment (or “intuition pump,” in Daniel Dennett’s depiction). However, rather than serving as an argument against strong artificial intelligence, Wittgenstein’s scenario serves to bring to light the underlying prejudices that can lead one to both behaviourism and dualism (including varieties of cognitivism).
Internalist temptations Wittgenstein’s imaginary scenario is designed to tempt us into positing inner mental processes of some sort, which is what Wittgenstein’s interlocutor does. However, this is only to begin to understand the reach of the imaginary scenario. For when we reflect upon what such an (inner) process might be, we find that we want to describe something very similar to the (external) behaviour that Wittgenstein’s grocer exhibits. Consider: A note is passed to him—data are entered. The words on the note are related to objects— the input data are related to inner mental items (samples). More precisely: the word “apple” is matched to the object “apple”—the apple-data are related to a mental image of an apple (or the psychosemantic “concept”: “apple”); the word “red” is matched to a colour sample—the colour-data are related to a mental image of red (or the psychosemantic “concept”: “red.”) Then, having ascertained what “a red apple” “means”—having related the data with the correct mental image of what we call “a red apple”—we count five of them—we mentally mark-off the lines in the five-bar gate, or mentally slide the beads of the abacus across. The data are thus processed. The grocer retrieves five red apples and hands them to the note-bearer—he “understands” the request.
Understanding the Point of the Eccentricity The trip to the grocer is structured to mirror the form of a dominant picture of “inner mental processes.” In tempting the interlocutor to ask for more, so that she might be satisfied that the grocer has understood, Wittgenstein tempts the interlocutor into undermining her own prejudices. Mulhall writes: “If the public, externalised versions of such procedures were not in themselves enough to establish the presence of understanding to the interlocutor’s satisfaction, why should their inner counterparts?” (2001a, 45). Is it because they are inner? Surely, this is not enough. Things don’t stop there. For, as Mulhall notes, “If Wittgenstein’s shopkeeper’s way with words strikes us as surreal and oddly mechanical, to the point at which we want to question the nature and even the reality of his inner life, and yet his public behaviour amounts to an externalised replica of the way we imagine the inner life of all ordinary, comprehending language-users, then our picture of the inner must be as surreal, as oddly mechanical, as Wittgenstein’s depiction of the outer” (46)
To Sum Up – looking back at PI §1 1.Wittgenstein sees an ethical import in bringing to consciousness Augustine’s propensity to inferential hubris. Inferential hubris is a vice; we might say that it is a child-like vice. 2.Wittgenstein’s depiction of a trip to the grocer is eccentric for a purpose. It is designed to bring to consciousness our temptation to internalism and our concomitant prejudice against external processes. 3.It is also designed to bring to consciousness the overlooked eccentricity, and thus implicit limitations, of cognitivist explanations. 4.This has ethical import too: we mechanise human being in committing ourselves to cognitivist depictions of human consciousness and thinking. 5.What motivates Wittgenstein is the desire—the deeply ethical desire—to therapeutically liberate us (and himself) from this hubristic propensity to negate our own humanity.
Looking forward to PI §2-6 Wittgenstein introduces us to two builders, who employ a very simple language, seemingly consisting of only a few names. Before doing so, however, it is crucial to see how §2 opens with the following sentence: – “The philosophical notion of meaning is at home in a primitive understanding of the way language functions” If we read this with an eye to our summing up of our reading of §1 (on the previous slide) it will help us understand better what is going on here in the opening of PI
Philosophical Notions and Primitivity Wittgenstein’s interest in Augustine is based in his providing for us a clear example of the sort of inferential hubris we are wont to exhibit, not only as philosophers but in general (whether for reasons of cognitive bias or for cultural reasons). This is a logical failing, but also, more importantly, a moral failing. When we do philosophical work, how might such inferential hubris manifest itself? As we have seen, it might manifest itself in a propensity to represent human interaction in a distinctly non-human, mechanistic, way: depicting our lives with others as like that of symbol-processors (computers) interacting. Understanding seems absent. And indeed, this propensity runs so deep that when we see that understanding seems absent and we try to correct this, all we do is hide the symbol-processors “in the head”. Rather than bring our commitment to this picture (of humans as mechanistic symbol processors) to consciousness, we theoretically construct a safe in which to hide away the processor.
Primitive Language or Primitive Signalling? The second sentence of §2 then comments on or suggests an alternative to the first: – “But one might instead say that it is the idea of a language more primitive than ours.” So, the idea is to explore this possibility. Let’s see if we can give adequate sense to such a primitive language, as one might extrapolate from Augustine. This is the ‘language’ of the builders (the scare quotes are crucial: the status of the builders’ vocal interactions are hovering before us here.)
Philosophical Investigations §§2 – 6: §2 2. That philosophical notion of meaning is at home in a primitive idea of the way language functions. But one might instead say that it is the idea of a language more primitive than ours. Let us imagine a language for which the description given by Augustine is right: the language is meant to serve for communication between a builder A and an assistant B. A is building with building stones: there are blocks, pillars, slabs and beams. B has to pass him the stones and to do so in the order in which A needs them. For this purpose they make use of a language consisting of the words “block”, “pillar”, “slab”, “beam”. A calls them out; B brings the stone which he has learnt to bring at such-and-such a call. —– Conceive of this as a complete primitive language.
Linguistic Communication vs Vocal Signalling or verbalising vs vocalising Pay attention to the last sentence of §2. In what idiom should one read this? Let us take it as an invitation (not as a command) to “Conceive of this as a complete primitive language” – Can you? This is what is explored as we work through the following remarks to the end of §6. Does what the builders do here amount to something we want to call language, are they communicating? Or are they merely signalling?
What is at stake here? Well, think back again to the Grocer. What seemed wrong there was the mechanistic nature of the interaction. It was like two symbol processors interacting. It was not human. To communicate is to commune through language; it is to join together in some sense which is more than just stimulus and response. One obvious thing that is introduced into the interaction of the builders that was not present in the grocer scenario is that of vocalisation. Does this in any meaningful way amount to verbalisation?
The Path to the End of §6 In these remarks, Wittgenstein now explores the necessary conditions for the ‘language’ of the builders. Now, it might appear less question-begging to simply say “interaction of the builders”, but this would be to load the question in the other direction, as it were. The point is, we need to work through this for ourselves. We need to explore the extent to which we can or cannot give adequate sense to the ‘language’ of the builders as something we would be satisfied to conceive as a language.
Two Options? 1.The Builders are operating with their words, and do so as part of a larger linguistic community, such as ours. Here “The philosophical notion of meaning is at home in a primitive understanding of the way language functions” and is as partial as and account of the functioning of language as is the ‘language’ of the builders as an account of the language of the whole community. Or, 2.The builders ‘language’ is the complete language; there is nothing outside their putative primitive ‘language’. Here we are “instead say[ing] that it [i.e. the philosophical notion of meaning] is the idea of a language more primitive than ours.” So, what does our reading through §§2-6 lead us to believe about our response to Wittgenstein’s invitation at the end of §2? Can we accept the invitation and conceive of this as a complete primitive language?
Well… If we push the thought that this can be the complete primitive language of the whole tribe, then we find ourselves unable to depict it as anything other than signals, we lose the resources that enable the differentiation between, sound and word, vocalising and verbalising, signalling and communicating. We, again fall back on an account of human interaction which would just as well depict two symbol processors interacting.
But… If we push the thought that this is merely a region of language, that the builders and their exchange in §2 is merely a suburb of a larger city (the city we take to be the language as a whole), then we find ourselves inclined to decline Wittgenstein’s invitation to conceive of it as complete primitive language, and in doing so are drawn to question the philosophical notion of meaning, based in hubristic inference from particular cases to general conclusions (about meaning or language). Let’s read through §6
PI §6 [i] We could imagine that the language of § 2 was the whole language of A and B; even the whole language of a tribe. The children are brought up to perform these actions, to use these words as they do so, and to react in this way to the language of others. (PI § 6, paragraph i) § 6, paragraph i. Wittgenstein asks us to imagine the language of § 2 as the whole language of a tribe, where “the children are brought up to perform these actions, to use these words as they do so, and to react in this way to the words of others.” And this is indeed one form that our lives with words can take; words can operate as signals to which we are trained to respond. But if this is the only way that words operate, then that marks quite a difference from what we normally understand by the concept of “word”.
PI §6 [ii] An important part of the training will consist in the teacher’s pointing to the objects, directing the child’s attention to them, and at the same uttering a word; for instance, the word “slab” as he points to that shape (I do not want to call this “ostensive definition”, because the child cannot yet ask what the name is. We will call it “ostensive teaching of words”.―I say that it will form an important part of the training, because it is so with human beings; not because it could not be imagined otherwise.) This ostensive teaching of words can be said to establish an association between the word and the thing. But what does this mean? Well, it may mean various things; but one very likely thinks first of all that a picture of the object comes before the child’s mind when it hears the word. But now, if this does happen—is it the purpose of the word?—Yes, it may be the purpose.—I can imagine such a use of words (of series of sounds). (Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination.) But in the language of § 2 it is not the purpose of the words to evoke images. (It may, of course, be discovered that that helps to attain the actual purpose.) § 6, paragraph ii. Wittgenstein begins to meditate on how we might characterise the teaching of such a use of language. He remarks that “the ostensive teaching of words can be said to establish an association between the word and the thing.” We are asked what this might mean, and he suggests it is often thought of as a picture of the object coming before a child’s mind as he says the word, and then asks if this is the purpose of the word. And while Wittgenstein is happy to acknowledge that this “may be the purpose” on some occasions in some language-games (we might say), “in the language of § 2 it is not the purpose of the words to evoke images.” § 6, paragraph ii, then begins to make clear the limitations of the language of § 2.
PI §6 [iii] But if the ostensive teaching has this effect,—am I to say it effects the understanding of the word? Don’t you understand the call “slab!” if you act upon it in such-and-such a way?—Doubtless the ostensive teaching helped you bring this about; but only together with a particular training. With different training the same ostensive teaching of these words would have effected a quite different understanding. § 6, paragraph iii. Here Wittgenstein points out that while ostensive teaching is involved in the learning of the language of § 2, it can only be so, effectively, given a particular form of training. Without a particular training designed to elicit these effects the understanding of the child might well be different with regards to the words of the language in § 2.
PI §6 [iv] “I set the brake up by connecting up rod and lever.”—Yes, given the whole of the rest of the mechanism. Only in conjunction with that is it a brake-lever, and separated from its support it is not even a lever; it may be anything, or nothing. (PI § 6, paragraph iv) § 6, paragraph iv. Wittgenstein illustrates the thought suggested in the previous paragraph by analogy with a simple brake mechanism. Here the understanding of brake-lever is internally related to its purpose as part of the whole brake mechanism. Indeed, when disconnected from the mechanism and separated from its support not only does it no longer seem to make sense to call it a brake-lever but it makes little sense to call it a lever. This analogy adds something over and above the discussion in the previous paragraph by way of not merely illustrating the point about ostensive teaching and training, but by also suggesting that the meaning of a word is accorded significance by us in virtue of its use, or more accurately, its place in our lives.
Goldfarb’s Dog What Wittgenstein is depicting the philosopher as doing might perhaps be illustrated in the following joke. X asks Y, “How does a telephone work?” Y responds, “Think of it this way. There is a large, long dog with his head in Moscow and his tail in St Petersburg; when you pat him on his head in Moscow, his tails wags in St Petersburg, and when you tweak his tail in St Petersburg, he barks in Moscow.” X says, “Oh, I see. But tell me, then, how does a radio work?” Y answers, “It's just the same; but without the dog."