Saturday, August 10, 2013

Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Entry 6, transformations and solipsism

     "If you do not keep the multiplicity of language-games in view you will perhaps be inclined to ask questions like: "What is a question?" -- Is it the statement that I do not know such-and-such, or the statement that I with the other person would tell me....? Or is it the description of my mental state of uncertainty? -- And is the cry "Help!" such a description?"(Wittgenstein, pg. 10)

I'm going to try to think this out -- feel free to help me here. So, it seems to me that he is saying something like: when we forget there are all these different games with their own purview, we start puzzling over meta-problems, asking self-referential questions or making self-referential statements. This is a take on why self-referential statements should be avoided: it is not to avoid paradoxes, per say, but because they betray a forgetting that language is actually a collection of games. Paradoxes are a hazard of this forgetting.
     "The significance of such possibilities of transformation, for example of turning all statements into sentences beginning "I think" or "I believe"(and thus, as it were, into descriptions of my inner life) will become clearer in another place. (Solipsism)."(Wittgenstein, pg. 11)

This manner of writing is very evocative. The reader has to make all these associations and try to puzzle through what's happening here. Transformations of one kind of statement into another, mixing and matching types, leads to philosophical problems like that of Solipsism('Soul Alone'). Since every proposition can be preceded with an 'I think', there is always the linguistic possibility of solipsism. Does this make solipsism invalid? I think the previous question is probably a forgetting about the language games mentioned above. Solipsism is a description of an ever-present linguistic mutation.
     He goes on, starting in 27, to go back into naming. I'll deal with that more in my next post. For now let me remind you of the weird entry 1, the 'naming infinity' entry. These Russian mystics were engaged in a game where there were rules of definition and the objects in the game were those that could be defined according to the rules of mathematical argument that go back to folks like Cantor. Once one of these well-formed entities could be named, defined, they called them into being by the act of defining them. Did they exist somehow before they were named? Again, a meta-question, but my habits of old keep me asking them. No need to devolve into squishy mysticism, just realize that games have words, phrases, names that can come into being because of the rules of linguistic mutation that define them.

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