Thursday, June 29, 2017

An Aside about Wittgenstein and Math

I haven't really studied Wittgenstein's philosophy of mathematics. I read the entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on this subject, which I highly recommend.
This does NOT qualify me as anywhere near an expert on this subject, but since I've studied math in my life it was interesting to read, whether I completely agree, or even understand, or not.

My own experience of math has had moments where I felt like I was entering a Platonic realm. But, according to what I read, Wittgenstein will have none of this!
If you're like me, and you've experienced an other worldly sensation sometimes in math -- something unexpected suddenly makes sense, like coming over a hill and seeing an awesome view, a space that you can't help but believe somehow existed before you got there -- then you might not like his philosophy. The Encyclopedia says Wittgenstein insisted that math was invented, not discovered. It is a language game that involves truth.

He famously rejects the Incompleteness Theorem. From what I've gathered so far from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy the argument is something like: mathematical propositions are those propositions that can be proved or disproved in a logical calculus, therefore undecidable propositions are not mathematical as defined by the logical calculus. End of story.

Now, if someone else, who actually knows this part of Wittgenstein, happens to read this and wants to disabuse me of my misapprehensions, I would appreciate greatly.

Why do I bring this up? The reason is what I mentioned in the second paragraph. I can only describe some experiences I had as metaphysical, a step away from religious. Wittgenstein is kind of a downer on all of this. Math is purely invented and 'mathematical objects' don't exist until they are being used in the practice of math. It is interesting to me that someone who wanted so badly to be metaphysical would take such a view. Is it an example of his empirical conscience chiding him? Or is it because he prefers to think about God as real rather than numbers?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Wittgenstein, Religion, and the Problem of Life

If this post title doesn't bring in readers...

"The way to solve the problem you see in life is to live in a way that will make the problematic disappear.
     The fact that life is problematic shows that the shape of your life does not fit into life's mould. So you must change the way you live and, once your life does fit into the mould, what is problematic will disappear.
     But don't we have the feeling that someone who sees no problem in life is blind to something important, even to the most important thing of all?"(CV 27e)

Seems to me we have two things going on here:
1. Your problem is a lack of alignment with life. The problem is to get in alignment.
2. The problem is something important about life itself.

Does 1 contradict 2? Wittgenstein goes on to say that if you see the problem correctly it isn't a sorrow but a joy. So the problem exists, but is a good thing?

Well, what to make of that? A little later we get:
"In the course of our conversations Russell would often exclaim 'Logic's hell!'...
      I believe the main reason for feeling like this was the following fact: that every time some new linguistic phenomenon occurred to us, it could be retrospectively show that our previous explanation was unworkable....
     But that is the difficulty Socrates gets into trying to give the definition of a concept."(CV 30e)

This makes it sound hopeless, that is, trying to fit everything into a conceptual scheme that satisfies you logically, much less existentially.

     So, what does this have to do with religion? Well, we can try to solve our existential worries by bringing our thinking into alignment with life, but it seems to be impossible on two counts: the problem is in life itself, every solution produces other problems. If religion is a system of reference, perhaps a system of reference trying to solve the 'problem of life', does the above mean that these schemes are destined to fail? Or that they can only succeed by ignoring the problems they give rise to logically or otherwise? How can ANY system satisfy every question? I've met people, religious and not religious, who seemed to have an answer to everything. And while I did come way from these conversations unable to refute their position based on what I could figure out about their presuppositions,  I also came away feeling they were missing something. Something big. The problem of life. In fact, it seemed a kind of insanity.

What's the answer here? No answer? Serial answers? Distracting myself with questions? Politics? My whole life there's seemed to be a problem, but my experience has revealed thus far that there is no answer, at least for me.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Wittgenstein and Religious Reference

Wittgenstein writes in Culture and Value:

"It strikes me that religious belief could only be something like a passionate commitment to a system of reference. Hence, although it's about belief, it's really about a way of living, or a way of assessing life."(CV 64e)

So, what is a 'system of reference'? Let's see, I suppose words are supposed to refer to things and if you have a system of those you have locutions, games, patterns of speech. So, the word God, while not referring to something empirical, has its use in the center of a religious system of reference that has empirical consequences. These consequences involve how one spends their time, their money, how one evaluates life situations, talks themselves into various emotional states, copes with life's stresses, thinks about the future, in many cases provides a community. A religious system of reference can accomplish all of these things.

He further says in 64e:

"It would be as though someone were first to let me see the hopelessness of my situation and then show me the means of rescue until, of my own accord, or not at any rate led to it by my instructor, I ran to it and grasped it."

The system of reference presents as a solution to hopelessness the adoption of a religious system of reference. For a system of reference to be able to do this it has to present hope and ways of responding within oneself and to others that reinforce the reference system, and thus the hope, even in the face of opposition, or, especially in the face of opposition. A system of reference is thus not merely an abstract set of game, but very practical, real-world games, where hope is at stake.

When people 'lose their religion', or regain and then lose it again, they have a rather difficult relation to the hope these reference systems, and the ways of life they create and embody, proffer. If one has felt the hope, had it taken away, regained it, and then lost it again, is there a 'diminishing return' in trying to regain it again? A loss of  emotional credibility, perhaps.

This approach to religion suggests the possibility of new systems of reference, without the dogmatic aspects of religion, that can play a similar role in restoring hope to the hopeless to religion. For many of us the widely available 'systems of reference' do no work. Thus we have to devise our own in the meantime. Is such a thing possible without a community? Or is it impossible for a solitary individual to do this?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wittgenstein and Religion 2

Quoting from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy quoting from Culture and Value:

"Rules of life are dressed up in pictures. And these pictures can only serve to describe what we are to do, not justify it. Because they could provide a justification only if they held good in other respects as well. I can say: "Thank these bees for their honey as though they were kind people who have prepared it for you"; that is intelligible and describes how I should like you to conduct yourself. But I cannot say: "Thank them because, look, how kind they are!"--since the next moment they may sting you." p. 29e

While this is not directly a religious statement, I think for Wittgenstein ethics and religion both involve language games that exceed what I'll call the "Logical Positivists' theory the of Legitimate Use of Language"(LPL for short). But for Wittgenstein it seems, the most important things are beyond LPL.

And it is difficult for me not to agree with this. Having passed the midpoint of my life, I find I am looking more and more for things beyond LPL, probably because of fear of death, but also a sense that LPL and those things within its confines do not give me the degree of peace I want; sorry, it doesn't, might as well be up front about it. I don't have any tricks up my sleeve or anything. I'm not going to spring something on you, like, "the answer was Jansenism all along".

But where can I turn? The vexing thing with this view is that there doesn't seem to be anywhere to go within this gloss on Wittgenstein. I call it a gloss because maybe someone out there has something better to say.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Wittgenstein and Religion 1

I've been reading, here and there, parts of Culture and Value, and just got another book on Wittgenstein's lectures and conversations on a variety of topics. I thought I would focus my thinking on some of his remarks on religion. I come to it with the thought that Wittgenstein, kind of a mystic, would not apply standard empirical blahblahblah to religious thinking, but would focus on parts of religious practice, language games, and emotions.

One remark that has me thinking is when he wrote that when a believer in God asks "where did it all come from" s/he is NOT asking for a causal explanation, but is expressing an attitude toward ALL explanations.

I think he is on to something here. In my religious periods I would have agreed with that. This suggests that a Wittgensteinian gloss on religious talk is that there are language games that practitioners engage in, the features of those games are different than other types of games; but, and this is what I would add and maybe he thought or maybe he didn't, the fact that these games are not like math or science or history, does not mean we should necessarily denigrate all of them.

I read a book by Lawrence Krauss, A Universe From Nothing,  and, interesting though the book was, I felt like Krauss was missing the whole point of 'why is there something rather than nothing?' And I feel like Wittgenstein is pointing at part of my dissatisfaction with the book.

At another place he says that if Jesus did not resurrect, then he could help (italics in original). He said we would be trapped down here in 'hell'. Again, it's something I understand in some way, otherwise how to explain my love of Dante?

I've also been re-reading Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You (Wittgenstein was very moved by Tolstoy) and I want to agree with him so much but I can't.

This is the how I am responding to this so far, we'll see where it goes. In further posts I will have my copy of Culture and Value with me, so the posts will be better, I hope.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Plato's Gorgias, Entry 3

I noticed in part of the argument that Socrates mentions that goodness of something is due to the 'presence' of goodness, badness due to the 'presence' of badness. He uses this to defeat Callicles. Now, this is all in translation, so I don't know how close 'presence' is to the actual Greek word. But you can't hear this and not think about Derrida. Callicles admits Socrates is right about all of this presence business. Is the fact that I found this line of argument questionable that I'm some sort of crypto-postmodern? I agree that the point where Callicles could stop losing the argument is by refusing to admit the 'presence' stuff.

But if you don't buy the presence stuff, you disagree with both Callicles and Socrates. Callicles is a moralist in the same way that Nietzsche is. I'm sure that using the word 'moralist' here may seem strange, but if you think about it, there is a kind of ubermench-ish morality in play here. The problem is the presence of the ubermensch, or the possible presence of the ubermensch. If the ubermensch is notable by its absence, not its presence, the whole thing falls down. The ubermensch is itself a kind of logocentrism(yeah, FU, Nietzschians, if you don't like it!) -- running around like Diogenes wondering where the ubermensch is, what a load.

Socrates is right when he points out to Callicles that the many, who Callicles derides as weak, get together, they are stronger than the ubermensch, and Callicles realizes it. Nietzsche just didn't like the fact that Socrates won this part of the argument. I know that Nietzsche admired Plato for inverting everything, preferring the snub-nosed philosopher for Achilles, but I'm sure he felt that the heroes of the Iliad and the tragedies were more moving.

I get that. Achilles and Agamemnon are so mighty. Compare them to, say, Humbert Humbert, a pathetic villain. Think this is a bad comparison? Think again. Think of the plot of the Iliad, what precipitates it -- and you should watch any movie with the great James Mason. How our society has changed, our values, the gulf that separates a novel like Lolita from the Iliad; trace this over time and realize Socrates played a role -- who knows how big? -- in this. How much is Humbert Humbert the shadow of Socrates?

There is also an obvious phallocentrism, or phallogocentrism, in this whole thing that I could go off on for some time. Nietzsche himself was horrible in this regard. People like to credit Plato with allowing for women philosopher-kings, but it was pointed out to me by a professor that Plato did not think this was likely, and pointed to the treatment of Xanthippe as more emblematic here.

I'm glad the gulf is there, between us and Agamemnon and Achilles, and that it is growing ever wider, I hope. Relativism, while it seems to be akin to Callicles and Nietzsche, is not. Relativism does not heroize Achilles, or, say, Hannibal Lecter, or Dexter, anymore than it sees universality in the Golden Rule. We relativists have our values, and feel them deeply, but we know they are not the inevitable products of dialectic.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Plato's Gorgias, Entry 2

After discussing rhetoric with Gorgias, Socrates takes on Polus and talks him around to agreeing that the one who suffers injustice is better off than the one who inflicts it. They discuss dictators who seize power unjustly and do not suffer punishment. I'm not going to rehearse the arguments, rather, I'm going to talk about the suffering of Macbeth.

The power of Macbeth for me is Macbeth's powerful imagination and the depiction of guilt and insecurity of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Shakespeare dramatizes the damage the murders do to the psyche of the Macbeths. Macbeth says he heard voices saying "Macbeth has murdered sleep", and he goes on, indicating apparent remorse. And Lady Macbeth is driven to insanity and suicide. Macbeth himself degenerates to concluding "life's but a walking shadow". Is Macbeth's famous speech merely a representation of the effects of treason, or has Macbeth, in his degenerated state, seen a deeper truth? Or is the 'deeper' truth itself relative?  I was reminded of this when Socrates talks about the good done to the soul by punishment and the idea that it rectifies a damaged soul. Perhaps, just as Macbeth realizes that Burnam Wood has come to Dunsinane and Macduff was not of 'woman born', Macbeth has his first psychological relief. Maybe his last moment, when he knew he was beaten, he got himself back. If so, than Shakespeare is gesturing at ideas like those of Plato. But it's difficult to pin Shakespeare down, that's why he's so much better than everybody else.

Unfortunately for this argument, it seems to me that there are plenty of examples of terrible people, people who have no conscience, and can do awful things with impunity and get away with it. Socrates may claim that in an 'objective' sense their souls are worse off, but my experience is subjective, not objective, and I reject the notion that there is an objective condition of the soul at all. What appears to the mind is all there is to the soul, nothing else. And if what appears to the soul is not suffering, argument over. Now most people feel guilty when they do things contrary to the society in which they are raised, very much including the Macbeths. But there are some people who don't, or not much to speak of, and often not nearly so much as to cause them to regret doing something bad if they gain a sufficient amount from it.

I should say here that I'm NOT encouraging people to be selfish dictators, selfish dictators suck. I'm only saying that we should face the reality of our condition, which is that all the attempts to prove that those who profit from injustice somehow are worse off, have failed and are doomed to fail. I wish I could agree with Socrates' arguments, I really do, but I can't -- it's too bad, really.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Plato's Gorgias, Entry 1

So I started listening to Plato's Gorgias on my MP3. I bring it up because it goes back to an issue I have wrestled with over the years:  are there real answers to adversaries like Callicles? But before Callicles there is a VERY timely discussion of rhetoric. So I will concentrate on that here.

Gorgias admits that the rhetorician does not know medicine but knows how to persuade patients to submit to the knife. In fact, the specialty of the rhetorician is to persuade. Thus the students of Gorgias, and the other accomplished sophists, can be very powerful, more powerful than those who actually know the arts themselves. Now, convincing sick people to go to the doctor seems like a great thing. But, as Gorgias admits, specialists at persuasion can also persuade others to do bad things.

Gorgias says the teacher can't be held responsible for students using their training for evil. But rhetoric is a particular kind of skill, a skill at persuading, completely neutral, that bends others to the will of the speaker, so the potential for abuse is readily apparent.

I could go on at length about the many examples I've seen of rhetoric over the course of the presidential campaign, but I want to focus on an exchange one of the candidates had with the head of the Sierra Club before the campaign. You can find the video of this on YouTube if you want to see it. He demolishes this man, who was, admittedly, unprepared for the exchange. I still can't tell whether this candidate believes what he says, but he is certainly capable of defeating others in debate. I was so struck by this that I went back and examined the data for climate change, and of course it was overwhelming. The so-called 'pause' the candidate mentions is the result of an extremely warm year, 1998, apparently brought about by a powerful El Nino.  The candidate went on at length about how it showed that there hasn't been global warming in 18 years. His poor opponent was not prepared for this exchange and looked bad.

I'm sure this exchange has also been used to try to defeat the experts who know about such things. So, you can see that this is directly to Socrates' point. Rhetoric can be used to convince those ignorant on a subject to believe things that are untrue. I'm sure you've also seen lawmakers evade the question of climate change by saying they are not scientists, just like Gorgias says rhetoricians are not doctors. But the scientists ARE scientists, and if those who don't know will go online and exert even the modest effort I made to understand the data, they will be convinced as I have been.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Entry 17, The Case of the Cube

     In sections 139-142 are some of the most interesting so far. Here he uses the example of the cube to investigate the relations between the picture we get of a word and how we may use it. That is, how does the picture we get of a cube really limit the way we may use it.
     One may think that the picture we have of a cube will completely determine how we use the word. But, we will be surprised when we can think of a triangular projection of a cube and still have to call it a 'cube'.
     It is too easy to just say, as everyone does these days, that the USE of a word is what we mean by it. Wittgenstein, pun intended, turns it around in his mind and shows how the notion of 'use' reveals potentials in a word beyond what we immediately think when a picture occurs in our mind. We may think we mean the picture by the word, and that has to be an important part of it, but it is not the full expression of the word. It is the place the word in all our language games that reveal its potential.
    We do not immediately think of all possible uses of a word when we hear it, in that regard the picture is a central part feature of the 'meaning' of a word. Perhaps the 'meaning' of the word is not something that happens in a single instant when we hear it, and we should think of the meaning of a word as something extended in time, that mutates, expands and contracts. Now, this does not mean we mean NOTHING by the word, only that the meaning of a word is a complex of things 'before the Mind' and uses we make of it. The picture that comes to mind might always be the same, so doesn't change with time, but we use the word in time in new ways and contexts that the image in our mind alone does not immediately suggest. Wittgenstein emphasizes that the 'meaning' of a word is tied to how it is used in practice, which in turn depends on how we are trained to participate in language-games.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Joel weighs in on Ferguson

Alright, I'm going to say a few things about Ferguson. Here goes:

1. The prosecutor did not want to prosecute the case, that's obvious. I think a special prosecutor would have avoided the appearance of a conflict of interest. The presentation he gave the night of the announcement sounded more like a defence attorney. Furthermore, while it may seem fair to present both sides to a grand jury, my gut tells me other defendants do not get the same consideration. This appears to be a double standard.

2.  Wilson said he didn't carry a taser because it was 'bulky'. I understand that a police officer has to be agile, but we should consider the possibility that a bulky encumbrance is a small price to pay if it means not killing an unarmed person. Also, I've certainly heard of and even seen on TV police using tasers, I would need to know how they were able to carry them if they were so bad, but I'm not an expert on this and would be interested to hear other opinions.

3.  I knew a number of small-time thugs when I was growing up who did worse things than what Brown did at the convenient store(they were all white). Several of them were arrested etc.. but NONE of them were killed by police. I realize this is anecdotal, but I wonder if I would be able to report the same result if they were not white. By the way, I hope these kids have grown up to be law-abiding adults and I wish them well.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Spirituality: Sam Harris versus Thomas Merton, Duelling Banjos of the Self

     So, I had a sudden inspiration to read Thomas Merton's book The Inner Experience , which talks a lot about the "I", and play that off against Harris' book, which will talk about how the "I" is an illusion, and see whether anything interesting comes from it. Maybe, maybe not.

Spirituality: The Case of Sam Harris, Entry 3, Taking on OMMM Mechanics

     Here Harris is right on. There is no reason to conclude from QM that the universe is fundamentally Mind. QM is indeed mysterious and counter-intuitive in many ways, but Idealism is not the necessary consequence of this. As Harris points out, 'measurement' does not invoke Mind per say, it only invokes measurement.
     Now, there are strange things in QM, mainly non-separability, which is genuinely strange, but that doesn't mean we have to smoke doobies and try to use The Force.
     Additionally, Harris points out that the Mind is still dependant upon the physical processes within the body, and, as much as I find Penrose an interesting read, it is not obvious that QM gets us anywhere when it comes to solving the PHILOSOPHICAL problem of Mind.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Spirituality: The Case of Sam Harris, entry 2

     Here I'm going to digress onto some of his comments about Christianity and its relationship to mysticism. I'll open by quoting the opening of Dante's Paradiso:

"The glory of the One who moves all things
permeates the universe and glows
in one part more and in another less."

This is from the Allen Mandelbaum translation. Other Christian mystics, many of whom are quoted in The Perennial Philosophy, which Harris takes to task for being an inaccurate representation of Christianity, make similar points to the above.  I see the mysticism in Christianity as not merely the result of a few outliers, but as part of the mainstream integration of Greek thought into Christianity. The opening Gospel of John is as mystical as anything you are likely to read:

"In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God, and
the Word was God ...
All things were made and came into
existence through Him; and without Him
was not even one thing made that has
come into being. In Him was Life, and the
Life was the Light of men.
And the Light shines on in the darkness, for
the darkness has never overpowered it"

     This shows an obvious neo-Platonic influence, whereas the Dante bit has a strong dose Aristotle as well. There is thus a tendency toward union with God that runs throughout Christianity that Harris downplays in remarks such as

"In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the human soul is conceived as genuinely separate from the divine reality of God. The appropriate attitude for a creature that finds itself in this circumstance is some combination of terror, shame, and awe. In the best case, notions of God's love and grace provide some relief -- but the central message of these faiths is that each of us is separate from, and in relationship to, a divine authority who will punish anyone who harbors the slightest doubt about His supremacy."(Harris, pg. 21)

His description here does NOT represent my own experience of being a Christian, nor do I think it adequately represents the relationship to God most of the Christians I know have, or think they have. God represents that which is the most real in the self, yet transcends the self. A relationship with God is with an entity that invades the soul, remakes the soul, unites with the soul. Harris' characterization, while good fodder for his atheist readers(including myself) is, in my opinion, a misrepresentation of a wide swath of Christian experience.

Lest you think this type of mysticism is only a Medieval Church thing, protestant thinkers like Paul Tillich(Martin Luther King wrote his dissertation on him) emphasized 'The Ground of Being' etc.. as central to his thought. This kind of talk can be hard to parse, and there is not the same emphasis in Christian thought as there is in Eastern religion that the self IS God, more that God is the activating principle behind all things, including the soul.  This element is different from Eastern thought, but is not given its due by Harris. Aspects of this tendency are in the usual 'come to Jesus' invitations to allow "Jesus into your heart".

     Finally, I'm not arguing that the Inquisition didn't come out against many mystics, of course it did, but I am saying that the experience of Christianity has had an element of UNION with God that is undeniable and Harris just misses the boat here.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Spirituality: The Case of Sam Harris, entry 1

     So, I got Sam Harris' new book, Waking Up . I am not going to venture into his recent controversy with Ben Affleck and Bill Maher. I am only going to respond to the topic of this book  -- sorry, folks.

    Harris recounts a life-changing experience on Ecstasy. I used to hear this kind of stuff when I was in college; I didn't buy it then and I don't buy it now. When I started college I read a lot of Aldous Huxley, including The Doors of Perception and The Perennial Philosophy(which Harris quotes and then criticizes -- I'll have more to say about this later). I once wrote a paper in a philosophy class about Huxley -- it was assigned as our final paper. I wrote that if a drug can create the same experience as meditation then logic won't allow me to distinguish one from the other. The professor didn't like my answer: he claimed that the drug would have to make you virtuous etc..., in keeping with traditional Christian mysticism. I still disagree with him. Look, I have a lot of experiences, some when I'm tired or my blood sugar is high or low, some when I've had a lot of caffeine, and so on, but there is no reason to think an experience is telling me anything profoundly metaphysical, including about the nature of the 'self'. And it's certainly not obvious that virtue, faith etc.. are a gateway to mystical insight. So, in my paper I was rejecting the entire mystical program, which I am doing again.

     I don't need to have a drug-induced, or meditation induced, experience, to reject traditional notions of the self; ordinary experience and logic suffice. It is interesting that Harris, who in other contexts tows the line of scientific atheism, would be prone to such hippy-dippy thought processes when it comes to Buddhism and the 'self'. This does not mean I think meditation is bad: it can be very relaxing and can allow you to pause and passively perceive what is occupying your mind in a way that you don't when you are too involved in your life.

   In my next entry I will examine Harris' comments about the separateness of God in Western religion and the unity with God in Eastern religion. Not that what he says is necessarily wrong, but I'm going to talk about the influence of neo-Platonic and Aristotelian thought on medieval Christianity, which added some Eastern sounding elements -- which may not be surprising as Plato was influenced through Pythagoras, who is reputed to have travelled to the East.



Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ender's Game: why it bothers me and does that make it a good book?

     Just saw the movie "Ender's Game". Good production values, good special effects. I never managed to finish reading the book. I took the book with me when I was going to get a sleep apnea test. I read about 30 pages and found the book rather repellent. I was unable to finish it.
    When I have a strong reaction like this I question myself as to whether I'm justified. So I kept trying to give the story, and Orson Scott Card, a chance. Then I read about Card and didn't like some of the things he had said which it made it more difficult for me to be fair to the book.

    Now, there seem to be some people who think of this book as some profound statement about the nature of reality. Why should that be?

And if a book can create such a response in me, does that mean the book really is great?


      The real question is, why do the people who like the book like it so much? I can think of two opposite reasons why people would like the book:

1. They like the heartless, militaristic, picture of the world and discipline. Ender never intentionally commits genocide, so he's innocent. See the following, and I think insightful, essay:

2. They like the end and interpret it to mean that the heartless, militaristic, picture of the world is terrible and leads to genocide, which is a bad thing.

Unfortunately, and maybe this is says something about ME, I think most people like the book because of 1. and not 2. -- and this is why I don't like them. Now, you could also like the book because it raises these issues, but that's squishy and academic, so I'll put it aside.

The wikipedia page on the book says that it has been used in military training, which suggests interpretation 1., that you suck unless you think mercilessly about life. Life is about tactics, about being cool under pressure, like Hemingway without the attempt at grandeur, and not about genuineness. Genuineness is for wimps.

    Then there's the issue of the analysis given in the above essay: that the book centers around Ender's purported innocence because a. he didn't know it was a simulation, b. he had no choice.  This is the more interesting take on the book. I also appreciate what Kessel says about 7th Grade morality. Really, you should follow the link above. It is a popular point of view that a person's intentions are all that matter when evaluating someone's actions from a moral point of view and Card does seem to push this question to an extreme, which makes the book itself interesting. But then, the ends justify the means stuff is what underlies most of the book, and despite the ending of this part of the trilogy(or however many books there are!) that I haven't read, it seems so far that this is the emphasis, and what leads me to think most people who like it, like it because of 1. -- and that's why I think I dislike the book.

    Then there's the other question, should we act in video games as we do in real life on the off-chance that it's real? That sounds like a profound, 'The Matrix' kind of question, but I don't think so. There has to be a realm of human action where we don't have to act like morally perfect beings. 


Thursday, July 24, 2014

An aside about Brave New World Revisited

So, please let me interrupt the break-neck pace of posts about Wittgenstein to say a few words about Brave New World Revisited. For a trip down memory lane I took it to breakfast this morning to see what I think about it now. I did have a couple of thoughts:

1. Huxley's concerns about concentration of media are very timely, and put issues like net neutrality in relief. The internet provides a sources of information that might have made Huxley a little more optimistic. Sources such as

and others that provide an alternative to 'corporate' media. If I want to know something about what's going on in the news I wouldn't rely entirely on newspapers, cable news etc... when there's an infinite variety of opinions on any subject. The danger is if/when the current decentralized internet becomes just another space for what Morton Downey called 'pabulum'.

2. Technology. The pace is way too fast and I can't keep up. I try to sort of keep up but I frankly don't see the point most of the time.  When I was young I wished I could live long enough to see all the new gizmos coming along, but frankly I find it a bit boring; that's right, I said BORING. Alas, if I were to prognosticate, I would say it will be a very, very long time before we zip around the galaxy. In the meantime it will be one more random collection of apps on whatever electronic what-have-you as we crowd onto our planet(yawn).

3. Huxley and many others I think did not appreciate the staying power of traditional religion to throw a wrench in their visions of future utopias/dystopias. They figured such things would be long gone. But there's no reason we won't see traditional religious fundamentalists far into the future; so there, humanists, your bright godless future is a fantasy, you'll just have to deal with the loss of your little pipe dream -- or maybe not, religionists don't. And lest you think religion will keep these dystopias from occurring, recall that the Nazi's appropriated the cross:

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Entry 16, More on Kripke's Sceptical Interpretation and a Innate Ideas Proposal

"Kripke detects an entirely novel form of sceptical argument that allegedly establishes that there is no fact, either in my mind or in my external behaviour, that constitutes my meaning something by the words I utter, or that fixes what will count as a correct application of a rule that I grasp. The conclusion of his sceptical argument -- that no one can ever mean anything by their words, or be following a rule that fixes what counts as a correct or an incorrect application of it -- is clearly deeply paradoxical, and it is impossible that anyone should rest content with it."(Marie McGinn, Wittgenstein and the Philosophical Investigations, p. 75)

So, Chomsky argued that the number of possible languages a child would have to choose from is simply too large for there not to be a constraint on the possible syntactic structure the child actually selects from(otherwise the child would not be able to acquire language at all, especially as quickly as children do.)  This seems to me to be his most powerful argument. As to what those structures are etc..., well that can be argued over forever. Wittgenstein's sceptical arguments about meaning and so on, have the feel of this kind of problem. If I'm reading all of this right,  our uses of words do not sufficiently constrain their possible meaning and our definitions of rules are insufficiently 'fixing' of future use. A solution to this problem would be that there are certain structures underlying the use of language that render these problems solved, otherwise we couldn't communicate.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Philosophical Investigation, Entry 15, Language idling

"The confusions which occupy us arise when language is like an engine idling, not when it is doing work."(Section 132)

      He then launches into a discussion of propositions and the predicates 'true' and 'false'. I found this paragraph difficult and may not have got this right, but that's why this is a blog and not an article submitted for publication. He considers 'this is the way things are' as the basis for the types of sentences that may be true or false. Then he criticizes this and asks how does a proposition 'engage' truth?

      To insist only propositions have truth-value is the same as insisting only a King may be checked. Does this mean that games where pawns are checkable are bad?  Wittgenstein is once again criticizing the point of view that privileges a certain language game, that of propositions, and acts as though it were not a game among others and which could be formulated differently.

     Then he moves on to ask about questions like 'who, what' etc.. and whether only certain answers fit. In so doing he circles back to the question of whether truth-value fits a proposition by asking a child whether a given sentence "is the kind of sentence where you can add 'is true' to the end of."

     So, what do I make of all of this? He seems to be going over and over the same ground. In this case, deconstructing the notion of a 'natural' truth-valued language game. There is part of me saying he is wrong. Boolean type logic and propositions that can be true or false do seem to occupy an important place in language. Philosophical problems are not the result of needing therapy, they are the inescapable limits of that type of language -- there is no therapy for it. Or, maybe I'm just sick in the head.

     In Section 138 Wittgenstein talks about the distinction between use and meaning. He says we may 'grasp' the meaning of a word in an instant and then 'use' it according to what we have grasped. In Section 139 he mentions the traditional view of having a 'picture' in our mind.

What to make of all of this? Well, Marie McGinn in her book Wittgenstein and the Philosophical Investigations mentions Kripke's sceptical interpretation. The difference between meaning and use is unpacked in this section of her book using the word 'intention'. She gives the example, I'm not sure if it comes from Kripke, of 68+57. In what sounds like a reference to Nelson Goodman and the Grue/Bleen business, she says perhaps we mean by '+' not the usual summation but an operator that equals '+' until one of the numbers is at least 57 and and if one of the numbers is 57 or greater the answer is 5.

She writes:
"If the skeptic is right, then there is no fact about my past intention, or about my past performance, that establishes, or constitutes, my meaning one function rather  than another by '+'. "(McGinn, 75-76)

So, we are left with skepticism about language, whether words mean anything other than their use. Obviously this is the empirical situation, and the internal state of a person, whether they 'intend' this or that, or 'intention' means anything etc.. is not something that is empirical, possibly not even to the person using the word.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Entry 14, taking off your glasses

"The ideal, as we think of it, is unshakable. You can never get outside it; you must always turn back. There is no outside; outside you cannot breathe -- Where does this idea come from? It is like a pair of glasses on our nose through which we see whatever we look at. It never occurs to us to take them off(Section 103)

"We predicate of the thing what lies in the method of representing it. Impressed by the possibility of comparison, we think we are perceiving a state of affairs of the highest generality"(section 104)

"When we believe that we must find that order, must find the ideal, in our actual language, we become dissatisfied with what are ordinarily called 'propositions', 'words', 'signs'.
the proposition and the word that logic deals with are supposed to be something pure and clear-cut. And we rack our brains over the nature of the REAL sign...(Section 105)"

I see in these passages Wittgenstein rejecting the program of finding a logically ideal language, the assumption of the existence of which is so ingrained that they are like glasses we never think to take off. To assert there IS NO such language is like taking these glasses off. How does taking the glasses off in Wittgenstein contrast with leaving Plato's Cave? Discuss.

1. Is taking the glasses off the reverse of leaving the Cave?
2. Is taking the glasses off the same as leaving the Cave?
3. Are 1. and 2. stupid questions?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Entry 13, Pretentious Antifoundationalist/Van Gogh Entry

     Wittgenstein goes on and on about inexact vs. exact. On and on and then writes:
"Logic lay, it seemed, at the bottom of all the sciences. -- For logical investigation explores the nature of all things. It seeks to see to the bottom of things and is not meant to concern itself whether what actually happens is this or that --- It takes its rise ... from an urge to understand the basis, or essence, of everything empirical."(Wittgenstein, Section 89)

Later he writes, remember he is talking about things he really rejects:

"...we eliminate misunderstandings by making our expressions more exact; but now it may look as if we are moving towards a particular state, a state of complete exactness; and as if this were the real goal of our investigation."(Wittgenstein, Section 91)

But I take it from all the subjunctive and conditional statements and so on that he is rejecting the program of seeing past rough, inexact language, like the broad strokes in a Van Gogh (ha!), to a precisely-lined ideal language. The empirical phenomena of language is where we live, it is presumptuous of a logic to claim to be its purification; logic is a system that applies to ideal languages.