Category Archives: wittgenstein
Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus #6.54
My Propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them — as steps — to climb beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)
He must overcome these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter XI #38
At the critical moment, the leader of an army acts like one who has climbed up a height and then kicks away the ladder behind him. He carries his men deep into hostile territory before he shows his hand.
I haven’t heard or seen too many uses of the concept of “throwing away the ladder.” It seems interesting, though coincidental, that it shows up in these two places.
Wittgenstein is discussing the end of philosophy, how once you understand his statements in the Tractatus, you will understand how to move beyond thinking in those terms. And then everything will be solved.
Sun Tzu, on the other hand, is discussing how a leader can get the most out of those under her command by preventing retreat. The famous examples are of Hsiang Yu, and later Cortez, who burnt their ships behind them to prevent mutiny and ensure that their troops would fight as if their lives depended upon it (because they did).
Sun Tzu and Wittgenstein may be two of the most commented upon authors of all time. However, I don’t think either could have the other’s meaning in these passages, or at least I’ve never seen any commentary to that effect. However, this does not mean there is nothing to be learned:
For Wittgenstein, the recognition of the nonsensical is what is doing the work. His words are nonsensical and the realization of this is what allows you to move beyond them, to something better (says he). So by doing as he says, by recognizing his words as nonsensical, your retreat is prevented, because no one, save a mad man, would willingly return to a nonsensical philosophy when a better one exists. By climbing the ladder, you also discard it.
Compare this to Philosophical Investigations #309:
What is the aim in philosophy?– To shew the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.
The fly-bottle, a supposedly one way process, Wittgenstein is trying to walk back… In the Philosophical Investigations he’s trying to climb down the discarded ladder.
If there were a verb meaning ‘to believe falsely’, it would not have any significant first person present indicative.
Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, II x
Interesting that there is no significant first person present indicative of self disrespect. Consider, with Moore’s Paradox in mind: ‘I disrespect myself by sitting here, but I am doing it anyway.’
* * * * *
Considering disrespect”s relation to Moore’s Paradox at issue here, it begs the question, ‘What is the analysis of Moore’s Paradox?’ For given an answer to that, we might have a parallel answer for disrespect.
My stance is that a person’s statements about the truth are indistinguishable from statements of how he or she is going to act. Also, statements about a person’s beliefs are about how that person plans on acting. So Moore’s Paradox breaks down to saying that you are going to act one way but then planning on acting a different way, yielding a contradiction.
This suggests that if you believe that Moore’s Paradox has something to do with predicting how the speaker will act, then the similar form of self-disrespect may likewise be about self-knowledge.
Venturing a tentative opinion, let’s assume that respect has something to do with capabilities. You have to respect the strengths of your enemies; they are capable of fighting back. You have to treat dangerous objects with respect because they can hurt you. You respect people you like because they have done or can do things that are difficult.
Disrespecting someone is to treat that person as incapable when they are not.
Disrespecting yourself would be to treat yourself as incapable when you are not. So in any case that you could say you were disrespecting yourself, you would know you were capable of greater things and yet not changing. Hence it makes sense that there is no first person present indicative of self-disrespect on this analysis.
Today I was in a shop and a young mother came in with her stroller and a handbag with an image of a sleeping rabbit in a forest of mushrooms. The rabbit had a thought bubble that read, “A rabbit in a forest of mushrooms.”
I told her I liked the bag… I don’t think she realized that it had reminded me of the last paragraph of Wittgenstein’s On Certainty:
676. “But even if in such cases I can’t be mistaken, isn’t it possible that I am drugged?” If I am and if the drug has taken away my consciousness, then I am not now really talking and thinking. I cannot seriously suppose that I am at this moment dreaming. Someone who, dreaming, says “I am dreaming”, even if he speaks audibly in doing so, is no more right than if he said in his dream “it is raining”, while it was in fact raining. Even if his dream were actually connected with the noise of the rain.
The rabbit had created a visible dream-thought bubble that had correctly identified his actual situation, though the rabbit was asleep.
Does the rabbit’s dream-thought count as justified true belief? It may well be justified because the rabbit could be observing it’s surroundings within the dream (and those images could be connected to reality through memory), it is apparently true, and the rabbit believes it (according to the rules of thought bubble attribution). So the dream-thought of the rabbit seems to qualify as Justified-True-Belief, but I don’t believe we normally count dream-thoughts as knowledge.
… Another alternative would have been to give you what’s called a popular scientific lecture, that is a lecture intended to make you believe that you understand a thing which actually you don’t understand, and to gratify what I believe to be one of the lowest desires of modern people, namely the superficial curiosity about the latest discoveries of science.
This quote is from the beginning of Wittgenstein’s “A Lecture on Ethics” or whatever the untitled transcript of the talk he gave to The Heretics Society is called. I’ve seen this part of the lecture omitted; admittedly it has little to do with his later arguments. However, I always felt that this barb was something interesting.
The quote has little force as an argument: it is merely his opinion that a superficial curiosity about the latest discoveries of science is bad. No contradictions or other nonsense is pointed out, nor does it even evoke a parallel between those he is disparaging and some accepted foul thing.
But it is clear, concise and otherwise totally unlike everything else that Wittgenstein is known for, while touching upon the topics of belief, understanding, science, and desire. Odd, no?
What the quote is, is a smear; it is an insult: Calling something a lowest desire, without reason, is merely to insult it. What’s going on here?
Say I have a superficial curiosity about the latest discoveries of science. So what? If the latest scientific research has little to do with my profession, say I’m a restaurateur, then what harm is there in having a passing interest in what other smart people do? It might even be considered commendable that I make such an effort.
Now Wittgenstein is saying that my earnest effort is nowhere near commendable, but all the way at the bottom, the basest, of desire. Since he accusing “modern people” it is not just ‘me’, but everyone. This is insulting and unwarranted.
However, this isn’t exactly what Wittgenstein was after: he disliked superficial curiosity in scientific discoveries not because of the impulse of people to learn and take interest in others, but because it made people believe that they understood a thing which actually they didn’t understand. Understanding difficult things is an accomplishment, and scientific research is difficult. In enjoying a superficial curiosity about the latest discoveries of science, he is accusing us of feeling a sense of accomplishment when we have done nothing to merit it: he is accusing us of mental masturbation. Ouch.
We can also now understand why this criticism is “modern”. Before modern times, there was no way to have a “popular scientific lecture”: only in the last century or so have we had the communications technology and an available public which allows for such a thing. You couldn’t expect feudal peasants to leave their farms or be educated enough to appreciate such a lecture. But by November 1929, the date of this lecture, mass media was in full swing with the wide distribution of newspapers and books, and the start of national radio broadcasts. Only with widespread media distribution did the danger of popular science becoming a narcotic exist.
Wittgenstein saw that with the modern increase in information distribution capability came a danger of intellectual drugging of the population. It disgusted him that people would take pleasure from the feeling that they understood difficult theories with which they only had the most superficial engagement. Unfortunately he had no argument or solution to prevent this, and so he resorted, as we all do when we are out of good arguments, to insults.
One can only think that the internet has made this an even more pervasive problem. It blows our information distribution capability off the charts. And we are, unsurprisingly, completely addicted to it. It’s too bad dear Ludwig never really commented more on modernity, he seems to have been rather perceptive.
You may believe something, fine, and have whatever justifications you wish. But how do you know the thing is true?
The point he was making was that far beyond the issue of problems in having the right sort of justifications is the problem of having truth as well. Whenever the Justified-true-belief scheme is used for knowledge the truth of the thing in question is whitewashed over: all the focus is put on the justification and the truth is assumed to exist separately.
For example if I make a claim P, then I clearly believe P, I will need to give justifications x, y, z, etc., and P needs to be true for me to count P to be part of my knowledge. The first two conditions are easy enough for me to demonstrate according to some standards, even if skepticism is still an issue. However, I, nor anyone else, has any ability to demonstrate the truth of P in ways over and above whatever I have given as my justification. Therefore Justified-true-belief reduces to Justified-belief, which no one accepts as knowledge.
Between this argument and Gettier, I see the Justified-true-belief scheme of knowledge as beyond saving. To recover some sense of knowledge, we can focus on this idea:
If you know something, then it is not possible to be mistaken.
There are two ways of dealing with this conditional. First, you can make your definition of what it is to know something always correspond with whatever you cannot be mistaken about. Besides being ad hoc, this sliding scale for knowledge does not correspond very well with what we generally take to be knowledge.
Secondly, we can make what it is not possible to be mistaken about correspond to our knowledge. Although you have already called foul, hear me out. If you were to find out certain things were wrong you might start to doubt your own sanity. For example if you were to find out all the basic things you ‘know’ were wrong – there is no such place as the United States, water is not comprised of oxygen and hydrogen, subjects and verbs are one and the same, you are currently not reading, etc., – you would have reason to worry (at least I would).
Therefore I suggest that knowledge is comprised of things that if they were to be false, then we would not be able to claim we were sane. This definition makes a distinction between things we can be mistaken about and things we cannot be mistaken about. To be mistaken about this second type of thing would entail an unacceptable consequence: if you are insane then you cannot claim to have knowledge.
Is this ad hoc, as above? No, because the definition of what would classify you as insane does not refer to knowledge specifically. For example take the statement, “If x, y and z are false then I am crazy.” No mention of knowledge whatsoever. Therefore this definition is not ad hoc.
Does this definition of knowledge correspond to our intuitions? Very much so: it is based specifically upon the everyday experiences we have and our most established theories of the world.
What about skepticism: can’t we always be mistaken? The skeptic here is asking us to imagine the unimaginable. If we do as the skeptic asks, then we would be required to imagine ourselves to be insane and tell the skeptic what we think as insane people. I can’t do this- I don’t even have a guess as to how to go about trying to do this.
In the end you are wagering your sanity in order to have a claim to knowledge. However, there is no danger in this bet because you hold all the cards: you know what you can imagine to be different. Therefore you gain a theory of knowledge and lose nothing.
In my biorelativity series I used mutations per generation as a measurement of distance. However, with my recent historical/generative musings, specifically the post on the logical foundations of biorelativity (the logic of which is at the foundation of how I arrived at biorelativity), I fear I may have ignored the distinction between a mutation and an adaptation.
Consider an organism with some feature. The feature can be considered both a mutation or an adaptation depending on what the organism is being compared to. If the organism is being compared to another organism, then the feature is likely to be called a mutation. If the organism is being discussed in reference to the ecosystem, then the feature will be referred to as an adaptation.
Now I am sure that there may be some technical properties/definitions having to do with genetics or whatnot that distinguish mutation and adaptation. This is not my concern, though, because in my arguments the two can be used interchangeably.
What does concern me is that there are different sets of related concepts associated with the two words. An adaptation is, to my ear, always a positive thing. A mutation can be good or bad, e.g. mutant freak. By this line of thought adaptations are useful mutations, a subset.
Since mutation is the measurement of time and adaptation is only those mutations which are useful, then we can use adaptation to signify the forward motion of biological time (and forward change of a species as adaptations per generation) which will almost always be what people are discussing (“as time marches on, as things adapt…”). Conversely, to describe biological time going backwards, we could say something like ‘unmutating’.
On a slightly different note it is interesting that that there is no word for adapting in the opposite direction: it’s a significant gap. Unadapting? This could imply mere stagnation; the idea here is to think of what it would mean to be adapting in a way to specifically undo previous adaptations. I think a word like this does not nor cannot meaningfully exist: the logical/grammatical structure of adaptation presupposes forward progress.
Consider, “If there were a verb meaning ‘to believe falsely’, it would not have any significant first person present indicative.” (Philosophical Investigations Part II Section x)
“The species is currently *counteradapting*” — It just makes no sense.