Or, I language myself into bondage. The found words worm their way into my mind, self-replicating a meaning thought to be there all along. A meaning that tightens a hold on my chest until I relent to its eloquence. A meaning that spreads like a simile. The wholeness of words are institutions-in-waiting, treatises, decrees, commandments. Or like the corpuscular fact of a suicide letter, solicited by the very flesh it promises to punctuate. I fear there is a case for blood in every prophecy.
Let’s start this New Year off right.
I have used the concepts ‘reason’ and ‘faith’ before and for the most part I have tried to keep their use confined to the realm of a thought experiment, because I believe they do not directly relate to the activities underlying these concepts as they manifest in life. Herein I will refer to ‘reason’ as a position, analagous to rationalism, which endorses certain articulated laws of argumentation (logical, analytical) for or against a particular belief. There is an extension of this position which maintains that aspects of human behavior are caused by a priori or acquired understanding of these rules of logic. In the case of a priori understanding it is argued that an articulated rule of logic triggers a correspondence with a hardwired recognition feature in the individual (either on a conscious or unconscious level); in the case of acquired understanding it is argued that the articulated rule of logic forms the basis for which a person remembers how to perform a task in the future. I contend that these conceptualizations of how reasoning occurs are fundamentally divergent from the phenomena they are meant to signify.
What is lacking is a demonstratable verification for either belief. I cannot on faith accept that intentionality is caused by a set of knowable hardwired or acquired rules of reason; for example, that how I am able to communicate with another person and be understood, or how I am able to open a door is causally linked to my consciously knowing a set of hardwired of learned rules of reason. The argument that the knowledge is unconsciously acquired a priori is not alone sufficient evidence that the articulated law of reason bears an essential relationship with human cognition (one could just as much argue that the content of an openly illogical claim is in some way authenticated by some mystical unconscious correspondence) . In the case where the articulated law of reason pertains to how people follow rules on a conscious level, I would argue that only in certain contexts is a conscious awareness of rule-playing relevant, for example in philosophical language games where we form our ideas into rational arguments susceptible to some agreed upon rules of engagement; however, in these cases the ‘rational principles’ are wholly conceptual, because by virtue of a thought experiment only certain criteria applies in the analysis, such criteria that depends on public language and articulated rational principles. For the large part of our participation in life we do not require this rigid scaffolding of logic to get by.
Ludwig Wittgenstein uses the anecdote about a boy told to buy five red apples. Suppose in order to perform this task the boy had to refer to an index of information in his pocket pertaining to what “five” meant, and what “red” meant, and what “apples” meant. Is this analgous to how we know how to follow a command, do we go through an inventory in our minds, count up to five and then know what five means, or think about where red occurs in a colour wheel and then know what red means? Insofar as we are talking about what is consciously ascertained in the moment of rule following, it appears to have less to do with abiding by some articulated system of logic, as it has to do with grasping tacitly some meaning pertaining to the situation (or ‘language-game’ in Wittgenstein’s terminology).
I believe it is a fallacy to say that in any way beyond a ‘leap of faith’ one knows that some articulated rules of reason have a definitive causal role in our behaviour of ‘rule-following’, i.e. that reason has an essential quality. In this case the whole ‘reason-as-essence’ position is just one more leap, self-sustained within a category of terms that describes itself tautologically. If I am wrong then there should be a way to prove ( i.e. to know in verifiable terms) that, for example, inductive and deductive thinking occur in the human cognitive process. What happens instead is that inductive and deductive thinking are tautologically ‘proven’ by applying the rules of inductive and deductive thinking. Since so much of the weight of ‘reason-as-essence’ argument hinges upon the meaningfulness of these terms in describing actual cognitive processes, the contingent arguments are undermined.
Rather than support the reason-as-essence view, and in order to alternatively explain man’s capacity for rational behaviour, I propose that the articulated laws of reason have a causal influence over our behaviour of rule-following insofar as they, as ‘concepts’, sway our beliefs. Beyond these instances I would argue our behaviour of rule-following occurs indifferent to knowable articulations of intent and instead in consequence of tacit comprehension via some manner of impulse or private sensation; therefore, I can open the door without thinking through any sort of rules for doing so, indeed without even needing to be thinking at all of the action at hand. What may appear to be evidence of reasoning (from an external view) may in fact be nothing more than a tacitly grasped hunch (a ‘leap’ as it were of articulated causes). These hunches may in fact be the shadows on the cave wall reflecting some real essential qualities but by virtue of our orientation in the cave (our epistomology) we cannot adequately explain in what manner they exist distinct from our propensity for grammatical misuses of language and fanciful imagination. To deduce or infer causal significance from the hunches is to derive interpretations which are self-perpetuating with more in common with myth-making than with demonstratable fact-discerning.
Reason-as-essence requires a hierarchy, but under what authority can one argue for a hierarchy of hunches?
My own belief is that the beliefs which occur most consistently have a natural advanatage over those that do not. In a way this is reminiscent of Nietzsche’s strange biological view of the ‘Will to Power’, except my view lacks doctrinal content. I do not even have to hold this belief, the point is the consistent beliefs sort out the hierarchy through their consistency, rather than through my imposed doctrine. Certainly a doctrine can be held in my mind and persuade some beliefs to occur in a consistent fashion, and I am wary of this ‘fanaticism’, insofar as I can consciously dismantle belief-structures which hold to an absolute conviction.
I welcome any thoughts on the subject, and particularly any examples of where one can prove reason-as-essence as a causal force in our behaviour of rule-following. To reiterate, I have set up a dichotomy analogous to a hardware view (reason-as-essence) vs. a software view (reason-as-concept). I believe human intentionality bears no essential dependence on articulated rules of reason. I argue that as far as we can show, reason exists only as concept, and has influence over our behaviour in only this matter, so that the significance of reason-based assertions are subject to this limitation, a conceptual one, not an essential one. It is a crude analogy to then assume the concept pertains to the activity of the mind, because the concept is based solely on public language and the phenomena of cognition is based solely on private sensation: the two are not demonstrably isomorphic.
In his final years at Cambridge, Ludwig Wittgenstein postulated that philosophical problems are merely linguistic puzzles wrongly imbued with metaphysical significance. The solution to a philosophical problem could thus be obtained through a grammatical investigation into the puzzle’s articulated statements. He describes a grammatical investigation as one in which ‘we remind ourselves of the kind of statement that we make about phenomena’ (p 90). This extends beyond the traditional usage of the term grammar - as it pertains to ordering well-formed syntactic sentences - to include the structure of our practice of using words, or language-in-use, as a spatial and temporal phenomenon. This emphasis on the dynamic aspect of language differs greatly from his earlier work in the tractatus wherein he treated language isolated from use with reducible essential qualities that could be defined through atomic propositions of logic. This treatment results in the development of an idealized system which focuses on a narrow aspect of language, excluding all non-fact-stating uses. His career after the tractatus marks the end of his peripheral participation in logical positivism, and helps define post-modern skepticism as we know it.
Wittgenstein endorses a grammatical method which ‘simply puts everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything, since everything lies open to view there is nothing to explain’ (pi 126). I should mention the grammatical method I speak of is implicit in his lectures and is distinct from ‘method’ as in his delivery of ideas. By ‘grammatical method’ I mean a loose manner of investigation discernible through Wittgenstein’s own pedagogical method. The grammatical method derives its meaning from the form of life of the particular language-game being studied by merely playing out the conclusions inherent in the uses made of the words; as such, the application of the method does not depend upon axiomatic reasoning nor knowledge of universal truths to accomplish its purpose; similarly, the method is not a theorem asserted to refute other theorems (in the way Popper’s falsificationism was), and it is only consequently by reframing the grammatical structure of language-in-use that the method disenfranchises theories of their soundness, revealing their linguistic errors. Unlike dogmatic assertions based on essential claims of truth, Wittgenstein’s method is a loose manner of investigation which encourages a shift in understanding not on the basis of absolute truth but through personal awareness of what is made open to view in the linguistics of the philosophical problem. Wittgenstein considered the method a therapeutic exercise which alleviates the frustration involved in trying to solve philosophic problems that have plagued inquisitive minds for centuries.
One of Wittgenstein’s prominent achievements in Philosophical Investigations is his critique of private language. It is worth noting that the conceptualization of a pre-existing private language, complete and structured inside a child prior to the acquisition of language, had a wide appeal in western thought until Wittgenstein came on the scene; in fact, Descartes’ emphasis on the private realm lead to what historians of philosophy refer to as the advent of ‘modern philosophy’. Very early on in his lectures Wittgenstein quotes a passage of St. Augustine’s Confessions to illustrate the private language notion that has so dominated the western imagination:
Little by little I began to realize where I was and to want to make my wishes known to others, who might satisfy them. But this I could not do, because my wishes were inside me, while other people were outside, and they had no faculty which could penetrate my mind. So I would toss my arms and legs about and make noises, hoping that such few signs as I could make would show my meaning, though they were quite unlike what they were meant to mine
(St. Augustine, 1961, p. 25)
Wittgenstein challenges this conceptualization of an innate private language by correcting the linguistic fallacy evoked in the supposition of an independent, private realm of senses. Before explaining how Wittgenstein reveals the linguistic error of private language I would like to first introduce an offshoot of this fallacy which he sets out to critique: the presumption that learning is contingent upon the ostensive teaching of words. This is to say that the act of giving the meaning of a word is achieved by pointing to an exemplar, in the same way the young Augustine gesticulates to express what he means. An internal complete and structured concept is communicated by pointing to an external exemplar which other individuals, with their own innate hardwired grasp of language, eventually grow to understand and this is how learning occurs between people in Augustinian terms.
Wittgenstein reveals the shortcomings of this method of learning by illustrating various scenarios (language-games) where the act of pointing and defining are alone insufficient for explaining the successful transfer of information between people. For example, it is quite reasonable for a builder to say ‘slab’ to a fellow builder, and point to a particular object, yet based purely on an ostensive grasp of meaning, the understanding of the utterance may be misinterpreted; for example, if this is his first encounter with the word and the object, he could plausibly misunderstand what aspect of the object is being pointed out, and why. Does ‘slab’ refer to the object as a single entity, or the color, or the shape, or the context of the object in the general area it is resting? Furthermore, we are familiar with commands such as ‘slab’ which mean ‘please hand me one of those slabs over there’, but there is no such command discernible on purely ostensive means of understanding. The builder’s inclination to state ‘slab’ and point to an object could be interpreted in various ways without another manner of learning to encourage greater proficiency in understanding. Ostensive definitions, while certainly playing a part in education, cannot alone sufficiently explain our capacity to communicate accurately. What it fails to acknowledge is our dependence on language-games embedded in an overall training within a particular culture, which is to say it lacks contextual sensitivity in the social realm, which imbues language with greater functionality. Wittgenstein offers a long but incomplete list of some of the characteristic language-games that constitute the form of life:
-giving orders and obeying them
-describing the appearance of an object, or giving its measurements
-constructing an object from a description
-reporting an event
-speculating about an event
-forming and testing a hypothesis
-presenting the results of an experiment in tables and diagrams
-making up a story; and reading it
-guessing a riddle
-making a joke; telling it
-solving a problem in practical arithmetic
-translating from one language to another
-asking, thanking, cursing, greeting, praying
At any time in a conversation we are confronted with a recursive variety of language-games (such as those listed above) which we are able to tacitly grasp and then use to evaluate what particular function words are imbued with in the moment and which connotations we wish to employ in the words of our responses. These games could not be hardwired into a private language simply because they are culture-sensitive. Not only are their gaps in translations between languages but there are also culture-specific language-games which challenge the plausibility of an innate private language hardwired a priori; for example, the form of a joke in one culture may be distinctly different according to the cultural context, the role of play-acting may take on different significance in a Victorian era society than it does in an esoteric Peruvian tribe, and similarly the terminology will likewise possess different meanings. The language-games of a particular form of life are software additions which are socially mediated.
Wittgenstein renouncing the logical positivism that inspired his early career in philosophy:
“(107). The more narrowly we examine actual language, the sharper becomes the conflict between it and our requirement. (For the crystalline purity of logic was, of course, not a result of investigation: it was a requirement.) The conflict becomes intolerable; the requirement is now in danger of becoming empty. — We have got on to slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk. We want to walk: so we need friction. Back to the rough ground!
(108). We see that what we call “sentence” and “language” has not the formal unity that I imagined, but is the family of structures more or less related to one another. — But what becomes of logic now? Its rigor seems to be giving way here. — But in that case doesn’t logic altogether disappear? — For how can it lose its rigor? Of course not by our bargaining any of its rigor out of it. — The preconceived idea of crystalline purity can only be removed by turning our whole examination around. (One might say: the axis of reference of our examination must be rotated, but about the fixed point of our real need.)…
(109). It was true to say that our considerations could not be scientific ones. It was not of any possible interest to us to find out empirically that, contrary to our preconceived ideas, it is possible to think such-and-such — whatever that may mean. (The conception of thought as a gaseous medium.) And we may not advance any kind of theory. There must not be anything hypothetical in our considerations. We must do away with all explanation, and description alone must take its place. And this description gets its light, that is to say its purpose, from the philosophical problems. These are, of course, not empirical problems, they are solved, rather, by looking into the workings of our language, and that in such a way as to make us recognize those workings: in despite of an urge to misunderstand them. The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have always known. Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.”
- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 1953
Ludwig Wittgenstein, a hero of mine