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.