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Tag Archives: Language

The Voiceless Texture of the Octopus

Octopus Silence

“There is something about octopus intelligence that invites an almost perfect projection of the missing elements that are not swept up by lingistic descriptions. The radial non-anthropocentric nature of their bodies, the fluidity of their movements and contortion, the highly tactic nature of their engagments, their reclusivity, and yes, the incredible topographic aspects of their communications, a communications that works to express just as much as to conceal (camouflage), to connect to their surroundings…all work to give us to see some missing vector of what we too do when we speak, gesture and move.”

The above is my comment from Fido the Yak’s “Voicelessness as Symptom” post, speaking the way that vocalization is conflated with powers of cognition. His turn to the vocalizations of dolphins is what brought up the octopus for me. Also, when considering the textile dimension of intellection, the Ovidian myth of the rape of Philomena (at the hands of her sister’s husband who cuts out her tongue to silence her), and the tapestry she voicelessly wove to reveal the crime (a common feminist metaphor), comes to mind. Along with Deleuze’s notion of a Distaff tradition in philosophy.

When she first saw his sword above her head.
Flashing and sharp, she wished only for death,
and offered her bare throat: but while she screamed,
and, struggling, called upon her father’s name,
he caught her tongue with pincers, pitiless,
And cut it with his sword.–The mangled root
still quivered, but the bleeding tongue itself,
fell murmuring on the blood-stained floor. As the tail
of a slain snake still writhes upon the ground,
so did the throbbing tongue; and, while it died,
moved up to her, as if to seek her feet.–
And, it is said that after this foul crime,
the monster violated her again…

…But even in despair and utmost grief,
there is an ingenuity which gives
inventive genius to protect from harm:
and now, the grief-distracted Philomela
wove in a warp with purple marks and white,
a story of the crime; and when ’twas done
she gave it to her one attendant there
and begged her by appropriate signs to take
it secretly to Procne. She took the web,
she carried it to Procne, with no thought
of words or messages by art conveyed.

Ovid, Metamorphoses Book 6

We follow the Greek word for “irrational” often attributed to brute animals ἄλογος (a-logos), surely linked to the powers of vocalization itself. As well as the Greek onomatopoetic word which became our “barbarian” βάρβαρος (bárbaros), thought to mimic the incoherent sounds of foreign tongues to the East. Of silence, Ovid’s invocation of the tongue as snake (which itself sees with its tongue) is fitting for our imagination of the vocalizationless animal who inconcordantly speaks at the Fall, a wisdom/threat beneath speech. The semiotic tactility within the capacities of speaking, part of what Cixous/Irigaray called two lips touching. The semiosis that occurs at the limits of folds, where on thing ends in intensity and another begins, and vectors in orientation to it. Weaving.

And then under questions of rationality and vocability we have the case of Amanda Baggs, an autistic who until she got a computer keyboard was thought to be a low functioning schizophrenic. I’ve thought about Amanda Baggs before: Amanda’s “Private Language”.

Writing Philosophy: The Unclear Clarity

The Book “I Want to Write”

Levi at Larval Subject mourns that a student had bought his book on Deleuze, knowing that without training in the obscurities of vocabulary and concept the book is pretty much useless (except one might suggest, as a small tome of incantations, not a measure to be undervalued in the genre of the philosophical). He yearns, genuinely yearns, to write a different kind of book…

I would like to write a book that anyone could pick up, regardless of whether or not they have a philosophical background. When I fantasize about writing such a book I am not fantasizing about writing a book that is “easy” or “clear”. Rather I am fantasizing about a book that could function as an element of other assemblages or networks without the reader already having to be linked in to a pre-existent and extensive network characterized by the history of philosophy. The adventure of such a book would be premised not on maintaining its identity or the sameness of a message throughout all of the possible relations it enters into among readers, but would rather function as an element, like lavender in the region of wine grapes, contributing to the production of new productions. Here the history of philosophy wouldn’t be absent or ignored, but would be, as it were, virtual or in the background. Philosophy wouldn’t proceed through the activity of commentary as is practiced in Continental thought today, but rather there would be direct ownership of one’s writing and appropriation of the history of philosophy. Just as the peppers in my garden are borne of the soil, the water, and air out of which they grow without displaying these elements in any recognizable sense, such a writing would be willing to take direct responsibility for how it has “prehended” or integrated that history without thematically making that history the issue or question of the writing. Is it possible, today, to write in the fashion of a Descartes, Spinoza, or Hume?

The book that comes to my mind is Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. I have taken a critical stand against some of the thought-positions that seem to underlie its eliptical arguments (and the apostlary devotion of some to its text), but if one leaves behind one’s already assumed position upon the supposed notion of “language game” or ordinary language philosophy or Private Language, and simply engage the book, as a book, it is remarkably and precisely the kind of thing that Levi yearns to write. And while Levi is concerned with the leadened, commentary entrenched Continental traditions, and Ludwig’s freedom was composed against a very different style of thinking, there is something to be learned here. What makes the Philosophical Investigations so free?

It comes I believe from Wittgenstein’s notion that there are pictures of language (and therefore of the world, ourselves, and everything in it) that largely govern the way we see and think about things. For him these are very elementary things, simple compositional, almost building-block analogies that bring everything into view, making our explanations about explanations work. And so he presents another one. A different one. And he attempts to do so at the simplest level, without jargon, in self-conversation.

It is interesting that Levi wants to not necessarily write something that is “clear” because his writing seems at times overburdened with a kind of Herculean effort to make things that he takes to be very complicated, clear. In fact, his powers of explication of Lacan or Deleuze are quite admirable, leaving behind the firm trace of the the explicable. But for the unclear clear that Wittgenstein attempted, a different sort of tact is needed, a grasp and re-grasp of the “picture”. Perhaps to write philosophy in the genuine sense that Levi means one has to be a child about it. Just as Levi is moved by the anticipated incomprehensibility of his Deleuze book for one of his students, Wittgenstein was stirred to his philosophical awakening by his teaching of small children, noticing how children see and learn things.

The Unclear Clear

In this way, if we are to write philosophy of the unclear clear we have to paint the picture of it, and not just talk about the concepts. We have to compose the moving parts and turn the shaft to rotate the gears so that others can see it. It might be a complicated machine, but its parts must be made to touch, to be felt.

It challenges me to think of the same. I’ve spent a long while holding certain concepts in my mind, turning them about as a infant turns a building block and even sticks it in his mouth so as to feel its shape. What would it mean to write like this without lapsing into poetry so as to escape the shape/picture? I am thinking lately on a critique of Hoffmeyer’s Code Duality, and how I can just feel that it works out. I can almost synesthetically put my mouth around the two concepts “digital code” and “analogical code”. What would it mean to express them as a picture, a child-picture that makes the whole thing turn?

A (digital) code is a rhythm of discrete parts, joined by a syntactical governance.

The truth of it is not found in either the rules for their joining, nor the elements that are joined, but in their mutuality.

An analogical code is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.

An “analogical code” is a continuous stream of material recording, the scratching of one thing upon another, (so that there is revelation and memory).

Every digital code necessarily performs analogical powers of impress. DNA has a body.

 

Something like that…

The Mediation of the Fall

Below I post a significant response to Larval Subjects which deals with the question of intermediator as it is theorized in various forms. Larval Subjects had difficulty reconciling my own view that he favors a mediating position for those who hold knowledge, and his own contention that he is politically committed to the opposite.

LS: “As for mediators, much of the political thought on this blog has been devoted to arguing against precisely the sort of thing you were railing against in this post (i.e., the need for priests). Of course, it would be unreasonable for me to expect you to have read two + years worth of blog entries so as to be aware of this. Although perhaps it would not be unreasonable to expect you to understand that you’re entering a discussion midstream.”

Kvond: Of course I realize I am coming in midstream on your discussion with others and yourself. But in catching my stroke in these shifting waters one cannot help but note where EXPLICIT contradiction shows itself. For instance you declare yourself as against mediators, but then profess what seems to be a rather mediating “pegagogic fantasy” in which you imagine your students to be in Plato’s Cave, a place from which you imagine yourself to free them, so to speak. This is fundamentally the role of a priest (and I mean no offense). As you wrote to me in your comments on your rationalism:

[LS wrote] “As for the pedagogical fantasy I outline, in the course of my teaching I’ve come to believe there’s a sort or maieutic that students must go through before reaching more complex things such as metaphor, rhetorical strategies, and all the rest (although in my critical thinking courses I actually begin with the analysis of rhetoric and common informal fallacies). In my view the reigning doxa of our time is relativism, such that no truths exist or are possible. Insofar as this is a doxa (Plato’s cave), the more radical gesture is to first treat of valid arguments and the possibility that truth exists, and then move in to the rhetorical dimension where all of this is problematized. If you begin with the problematized position you end up being an apologist for a “whatever goes” ideology that prevents students from ever encountering the split in their being and from confronting alternatives to their own belief systems.”

As I responded at the time, I would never see students (or anyone else) as locked within a Cave from which I meant to free them with my supra-cave knowledge (even if I am “freeing” them to their own possibilities). I think that this is one of the most interesting consequences of a Spinozist approach to thinking. Even the most apparently self-imprisoning organizations are already organizations of freedom by degree. There is no strict categorical difference between those in a Cave, and those who can go outside a Cave. In my opinion, part of respecting the discourse of others is how one frames that discourse. It strikes me that at least in respect to your “being-splitting” fantasy of pedagogy, you place yourself as a kind of mediator between your student’s current state, and the state they may be able to achieve, through your mediation. This does not mean of course that the theorizer of the mediatation is malevolent. In fact they can be benificent. But what is more important is how knowledge is positioned and liberation is conceived plays a large part on the paths taken.

I have of course to patch together themes as I read your posts, and where there are apparent contraditions form ideas as to explain them. Perhaps your thought has tensions in it: your over-arching theoretical work in the service of non-mediation and your experiences of being a mediating Lacanian clinician and analysand may pull in two directions. Or perhaps what you mean by mediation and what I mean are different things. The Cave Allegory though is a primary example of the role of the intercessor.

LS: “What I have suggested is that you have approached these issues based on the notion of error and Spinoza’s 6th axiom defining truth, and not based on what Deleuze refers to as these “richer determinations”, where certain forms of illusion are generated inevitably through thought itself. Talk of lack, I have argued, is not a simple theoretical error that fails to properly represent the relationship between a proposition and the world, but is rather a transcendental illusion generated within those subjects that experience themselves as lacking.”

Kvond: The 6th axiom you appeal to, “A true idea must agree with that which is the idea” has to be read within Spinoza’s parallel postulate and his epistemology, if one is going to make analytical sense of it. The idea of anything in the mind is of the body as it exists, and nothing else. That is its object. All our ideational moves are material moves, therefore. There are no “transcendental illusions” which become objects of our analysis. Spinoza reads our thoughts to be the thoughts of God/Substance:

“…the human mind is part of the infinite intellect of God. Therefore when we say that the human mind perceives this or that, we are saying nothing but that God, not insofar as he is infinite, in insofar as he is explained through the nature of the human mind, has this or that idea” (2p11c).

The human mind/body experiences lack, but the path out from such an experience is seeing that such thinking is only part of a larger thinking expression. This very seeing has a “stronger affect” which overpowers weaker ones. There is no mediating knowledge (or intersubjective relationship) which allows us to overcome “transcendental illusions”. The process is one of witness and experience; one simply sees the sense of it, like when an explanation of a phenomena suddenly shows how it works, what Spinoza called “seeing with the eyes of the mind”, thus drawing on the original meaning of “theory”, theôrein.

Your treatment of your “transcendental illusions” which are born of thought violates Spinoza’s fundamental Naturalism, that is his primary objection to treating things in the human world as a “kingdom within a kingdom”. You are free to do so of course, but not within a Spinozist framework. Spinoza set himself solidly against the Cartesian split between the “human world” and the natural world, and Kant finds himself on the Cartesian side.

As Della Rocca articulates in his new book on Spinoza,

“Spinoza’s problem with Cartesian and other accounts of the affects is that such a views introduce an objectionable bifurcation between human beings and the rest of reality. Here we have non-human nature which operates according to one set of laws and here we have another part of reality – human beings – which operates according to a different set of laws…” (Spinoza 2008, 5)

Now the status of the very non-Spinozist “transcedental illusions” is an interesting one. I can’t tell if you take these necessary illusions of thought as a priori or a posteriori. If a priori then indeed we have entered the Kantian realm of the scheme/content distinction, wherein the philosopher acts as priest or mediator to truth. That is, in order to have access to the proper content, one has to consult the mediator who has access to the scheme that determines the truth. As Rorty has made clear following Davidson’s critique of Kant, this scheme/content dualism is a nesting ground for political power structures. And it is for this very scheme-mastering reason that Nietzsche found the philosopher’s work so much a Will to Power that had to be acknowledged.

Now if such “transcendental illusions” are a posteriori, or simply historically contingent, really it would seem that the proper non-elitist, non-mediating approach to them would be ethnographic, and part of a praxis of empowerment. A description of said illusions, and a practice toward their dispel through the display of OTHER ways of thinking about things would be the suitable way to counter them.

 

To return to a more Spinozist approach, the illusions of lack are countered by stronger affects, that is the power of seeing the world in more constitutive ways…at least that is the way that I see it, not by undergoing a process of subjected mediation. If the Sun appears 200 ft away one encounters the power of thinking of it roughly 93,000,000 miles away. This does not mean that it ceases to appear 200 ft away, but one is able to act outside of this experience. The same goes for the illusion that this woman you love makes you sad when she ignores you. Yes, you may have that affective experience, but a deeper understanding of causes and affects will allow you to experience your relations differently. (One need not consult someone who understands that human beings have all been subject to castration when entering language and therefore are (un)naturally subjected to a kind of perpetual crisis of desire in relation to an ineffable object.)

Key to this is understanding that the resources of power and freedom are within the affective capacities of a person, as NATURAL, as connected to all the rest of nature, and not seeing human beings as “a kingdom within a kingdom”. This is the reason why one turns to “ontology” when one wants to answer modal questions. There are no humans-only (or language holders only) laws.

I think that these are not just theoretical issues, but also issues of power distribution. It is in the great history of the priest that the human-world (however it is articulated or defined) is distinguished from, and CUT OFF FROM the natural world. The priest (however well-meaning) is the one who attempts to reconnect these two in whatever ritualized way, mediating them. Anytime you find these two cut off from each other, look for the priest. The notion that the subject is cut off from the Real by its entrance into language is the myth of the Fall all over again.

 The question is ultimately one of how knowledge itself is to be conceived of. It is a immanentive praxis, the exercise of freedom, in any degree, or is it fundamentally a distributive relation. That is, is it intercessed, or expansive?

[addendum: I post here as well Larval Subjects considered response to the above, which he took to be “name calling”. Hmmm. What is one to say? If one’s thought cannot be critiqued by how much one coherently follows stated principles without feeling that names are being called, well…]

Larval Subjects writes:

“In your opposition to transcendental illusions, it is clear then that you are opposed to the thought of Deleuze and Guattari on Spinozist grounds, then. Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari do, in fact, develop a naturalistic account of transcendental illusions. I am not sure where you get the idea that I think I’m somehow free of all ideology or illusion, as there is no view from nowhere. I also find your reading of Spinoza highly peculiar as we are, after all, talking about the author of the Theologico-Politico Treatise and who saw himself as correcting mistaken views about the nature of God. At any rate, it is difficult to continue a discussion with someone who has poisoned the well by referring to you as a priest and suggesting that you have a fascist or totalitarian agenda that is elitist in nature, so I would politely ask you to cease posting on my blog as I am getting little from this discussion beyond irritation at your rather uncharitable portrayals of my positions and claims. You also seem bent on measuring everything against Spinoza as the ultimate arbiter of truth and what counts as naturalism -your riff on Della Rocca here -which interests me not in the least. Such name calling is no way to continue a discussion nor get anywhere in discussion with others and clearly calls into question your motives here. Nor has your practice of posting messages I’ve deleted on your blog reflective of a charitable or good will effort at discussion. [LS then went on to edit his response to add] I have patiently and politely attempted to outline my positions in response to your questions, yet in each case you’ve attributed the most malicious of motives and positions to me (in stark contradiction, I might add, to your remarks about mediators). When I’ve deleted your messages you’ve gone and posted on your blog that I simply couldn’t withstand your arguments and was unable to tolerate difference, when in fact it has nothing to do with your arguments- which tend to evince a very limited background with what you’re discussing -but your rude and insulting tone. Enough.”

Kvond: I can say only say that posting comments of mine which Larval Subjects has unilaterally and with no explanation deleted, over here at my weblog space seems like the only rightful thing to do. When someone attempts to control (and I do mean limit) a discussion through unilateral means, in particular the shaping the medium in which it appears, the only “good will” effort is to present one’s own censorially effaced side of the discussion. Posting my claims here, rather than letting Larval Subjects decide just what is germane and not seems to be part of the larger project of having a rightful discussion. If Larval Subjects thinks that “priest” is a dirty word (I do not at all feel this way at all, as much good has been done in the world through priests, and even their modern avatars, analysts), it would be perhaps better for him to not behave priest-like in the more historically embarassing fashion – deleting dissent. As to the notion that I have accused him of “fascist” or “totalitarian” AGENDA, well one can only chuckle, for I have said nothing of the sort, nor did it cross my mind. His (re)actions though, raises the question tho’ if he “doth protest too much”. Publishing dissenting opinions after all is a lasting method of dilectical discourse, and my posting of my dissent is nothing other than this.

I post this additional response of Larval Subjects here in part because he would like to publically express his irritation and dissatisfaction with my critique of his position, failing to use email. Because his is a public mission, a public response is in keeping.

As far as the points that he makes in the above, there are some interesting thoughts to add:

LS:In your opposition to transcendental illusions, it is clear then that you are opposed to the thought of Deleuze and Guattari on Spinozist grounds, then. Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari do, in fact, develop a naturalistic account of transcendental illusions.

Kvond: As I said in my response, if one is going to address historically contingent “transcendental illusions” then the path to take is one of ethnography and prescriptions of praxis which empower the person or group through their experience of stronger affects, and not through any mediation of knowledge. As Larval Subjects ossilates between championing Deleuze and Guattari, and claiming that they are in need of a strong dose of either Kantian or Lacanian truths, one is never sure what to make of an appeal to their position. What I have tried to put forward is that the Lacanian and Kantian prescriptions hold within themselves theorization of a mediator (implicit or explicit), necessary for the freedom of others who do not have access to the “transcendental” scheme. One is left with the uncertainty of whether the Deleuze and Guattari onto-ethographic, praxis treatment of the transcendental illusion would survive the Kantian and Lacanian correction Larval Subjects would like to submit it to. 

LS: “I also find your reading of Spinoza highly peculiar as we are, after all, talking about the author of the Theologico-Politico Treatise and who saw himself as correcting mistaken views about the nature of God.

Kvond: The question isn’t whether Spinoza wrote as a corrector — he after all wrote on the Emendation of the Intellect — but whether he theorizes a path to freedom that  positions language using human beings on one side of a CUT, with Nature being on the other side, such that intercessors of knowledge are required to either repair the breech, or patch it up in some way or another. His Theological-Political Treatise after all is meant to liberate by given its readers hermenutical tools for how to read the Bible and the sociological authority based on it. None of this evokes a required intercessor role, nor is the human condition assumed to be a “kingdom within a kingdom”. Keys to liberation in Spinoza’s approach are through understanding exactly how this is not the case, how the ontological determines our freedoms, and how knowledge expresses real ontological change. A church official who claims to rule the people due to the authority found in Bible is NOT an unnatural thing.

LS: You also seem bent on measuring everything against Spinoza as the ultimate arbiter of truth and what counts as naturalism -your riff on Della Rocca here -which interests me not in the least.

Kvond: I can only say that I am unsure how to read Larval Subject’s own appeal to Spinoza. He seems to feel that he can invoke an axiom from the Ethics, Part I (the 6th), and not expect an analysis of what ROLE this axiom plays within Spinozist thought (perhaps this is symptomatic of his creative pick and choose method of concept synthesis from a variety of thinkers). If Larval Subjects had refrained from appealing to Spinoza, (and renounced Deleuze’s own commitment to Spinoza), then of course explaining what Spinoza meant or the kind of freedom he offered/theorized, would be at most alternatives to his own view. But because Larval Subjects feels that Spinoza’s 6th axiom is an important one, if one is to assess this one has to, as I explain, take up the entire context of such an approach to truth. The parallel postulate and Spinoza’s renunciation of a split between a human-realm and the natural realm are required if we are going to make sense of the relevance such an axiom would hold in our discussion. The “riff” that Della Rocca presents helps expose the “rift” Larval Subjects wants to open up between the human realm, and the natural realm. Spinoza is on this side of Descartes.

But because I have “poisoned the well” by suggesting that SOME of Larval Subject’s positions theorize for a necessary mediation, we may never know what may come of such a critique.

I might say that I highly recommend Larval Subject’s weblog, as it has some very articulate summations of the thought of Lacan and Deleuze (&G). There are times where the neutral voice slips into re-description wherein Deleuze and Guattari are expressed to have absorbed the critique he would like to make on their thought (i.e. they already bear the Lacanian, and it seems heavier Kantian, influences he wished they had embodied), but it is a most thoughtful weblog. What you might stand to learn from his propensity to delete critical comments, and perceive critique as personal attack, is of course up to you.

The Trick of Dogs: Etiologic, Affect and Triangulation, Part II of IV

 ◦                   ◦                   ◦

A Davidsonian Completion of Wittgenstein: Two Pictures of Language 

[continued from Part I, here is Part III]

The second part of this paper seeks to answer the vexing question: Given the widest of views that Augustine’s description offers, that of a panpsychic reality understood and filtered through our linguistic capacities to describe as real, how do we get our footing in the kinds of relations which make up our capacity to language in the first place? Wittgenstein’s critique, designed as it was to level certain Cartesian assumptions, as they had been preserved in the language of philosophy in his day, seems lacking in the ability to be applied beyond the ends of their means. Appeals to images of games played and rules followed only seem to take us so far. This is not due to any failing on his part, but rather to the nature of his project, and the kinds of discourse that he was rebutting. Here I will be concerned with approaches to languaging, and what they imply, such as to more fully embrace Augustine’s deeper vision, that of an active and affective world, in communication. And here will be presented prospective thoughts, not wholly in argument, but in illustration of what is occurring when we speak, both about ourselves and about the world, working towards the possibility of a theory, if only in the widest sense of the Greek word theōrein.

If there is a way to sketch out the bounds of Wittgenstein’s thought, perhaps it can be found in his illustrative examples, the nature of which are designed to bring forth certain aspects of language which he would like to emphasize. They do not really work so much as arguments, but rather conceptual signposts, thought-experiments, highlighting important characteristics of language which otherwise might be missed. In their very nature they must also in their emphasis suppress, or cause to fall into the background, other features not germane to his line of thinking. One could not say that Wittgenstein has brought out every salient point of language in his examples; rather, in taking his method seriously, one must assume that there are other ways of picturing and thinking about language than those he considered. It is my hope to take up just such a position, not as to say that Wittgenstein was wrong in the picture he painted of language, but rather that his explication is necessarily incomplete. By considering alternate pictures of language, a further light may be cast upon Wittgenstein’s own. Hopefully, by bringing into some relief the illustrative choices he made, so too will be made clear the nature and limits of the arguments they supported. So the ambition is to supplement an already rich oeuvre, so as to turn its explanatory power towards something more than what it already has achieved.

If Wittgenstein’s later philosophy could be characterized by a single picture of language, it seems to be that “rule-following” pictures would carry the day. Of course no philosophy can be summed in this manner, but certain thought-pictures can express the kernel of thinking which larger, over-arching arguments then explicate. In Philosophical Investigations, the picture of language that comes to mind, are those presented in the first sections of the book. It is they that establish a conceptual base from which he works. It is that they are not meant to be full or complete explanations of how language works, but as Ur-presentations, they suitably set the reader off in a direction. Perhaps one could say that they form the “ancient city” around which the more straight-lined suburbs of Wittgenstein’s descriptions of language and meaning will be built. Among these are the Five Red Apples game of section one, the Language of the Builders of section 2 (and 8-10, and 19-21). These are both designed to point up the rule-following dimension of language use, and lead up to the general concept of “language game” itself. What they present is a wholly public, and learned-by-rule picture of language. This is central to Wittgenstein’s conception. The question is: Are there other, fundamentally different pictures of language, thought experiments, which might shed other light upon the nature of language itself? And what is it that such pictures, as effective as they are, lose in their emphasis?

What I have in mind to contrast with these is the primary language picture used by Donald Davidson, taken from his professor, Quine: that of the field linguist, which shall be summarized shortly. Like Wittgenstein’s use of elemental language games, such as the Language of the Builders, such a thought-experiment is not here meant to be an argument per se; that is, one that proves Wittgenstein wrong, and Davidson right. Rather, it should be meant to be set beside Wittgenstein’s, so as to draw out the delineations of his thought, as it is presented in such examples that begin his work. As Freud once said of analogies, the do not prove anything, but they help us feel more at home. In proposing an alternate thought-picture of language, one can suggest that there is more than one way to feel more at home, in language.

Instead of a Language of Builders, Davidson, ala Quine, imagines as a fundamental picture of what goes on in language use, the occasion of a field linguist who is exposed to a native speaker whose language he knows nothing about. The reason for taking up such an example for Davidson is simple, we have no defendable account of how language is acquired, so we must make due with something more:

It might help if we knew how language came into existence in the first place, or at least could give an account of how an individual learns his first language, given that others in his environment are already linguistically accomplished. Failing such a knowledge or account, what we can do is instead ask how a competent interpreter (one with adequate conceptual resources and a language of his own) might come to understand the speaker of an alien tongue. An answer to this question should reveal some important features of communication, and throw indirect light on what makes possible a first entry into language (“Three Varieties of Knowledge.” 210)

 

 

 

 

 

When comparing these pictures of language, it is important to note that Wittgenstein’s language pictures of rule-followers operates somewhat rhetorically as mythic “primitive roots” of language use. He asks us for instance to understand The Language of the Builders as a “language more primitive than ours,” which nonetheless is “complete” (PI §8 ). In this way, such an imagined language operates in a mythical domain, one which conflates our unfortunate stereotype of one-word aboriginals who merely point, gesture and shout, with the very process we might ourselves undergo as children in a sufficient account of how we acquire language in the first place: how we might move from “training” to “thinking”. Apart from the cultural bias against such natives seen as “savages,” (perhaps ancient monument stone-stackers), upon which this example builds some of its satisfactory value, it is the way in which it subtly stands as a picture for aspects of language acquisition itself, that makes it both problematic, and effective. Davidson too returns to an idea of primitiveness, a seductive scene, but this time with the idea that whomever the interpreter is listening to (and in Wittgenstein’s example, we are invited to be interpreters, to understand how such a language is both like ours and not like ours, PI § 20), indeed has a complete and functioning, non-“primitive” language, just as we do.

As stated, the picture of language that Davidson begins from is that of a field linguist visiting a land with native speakers whose language is utterly unknown. It imagines a newly arrived anthropologist confronted with a native, who, in the presence of a rabbit which has just run by, shouts the word “gavagai” (Quine 52). Davidson is concerned, much like Quine before him but to much different ends (α), with what is it that is necessary to successfully interpret such a behavior/word. Quine will problematize even the translation of such a word “gavagai” into the one word sentence “Rabbit!,” but only insomuch as show the nature of an essential interdependence that does not rely on rule-following as a grounds for meaning (γ). There can be no appeal to rules between these languages. Davidson will find that what is necessary is not a specific training in language of the native, that is, an ostensive or rule-following pedagogy such that the field linguist can then justify his interpretations according to those rules, within that language, but rather, a generally assumed correspondence and coherence between his own speech (language) and that of the speaker’s (language), and the world it describes or responds to. He will follow a Tarksi-like conception of truth, such that the veracity of a sentence logically relies upon the veracity of another sentence in another language, such as in the classic example: “Snow is white” is true iff schnee ist weiß.

It is this fundamental co-incidence of sentences and effects in the world, which produces translation and meaning (β). What is important for our discussion here are not the immediate details of the justification of such an claim, but rather the elementary divergence between these two fundamental pictures of language. Each picture, those of a primitive language composed of orders and actions, and that of two language users coming to understand each other across the bounds of each of their languages, brings into clarity specific aspects of the nature of language use itself, as each thinker conceived them. Primarily, Wittgenstein’s Builders are rule-followers, Davidson’s linguist is an interpreter. These core pictures in this way allow us to see how much we are like each, rule-follower or interpreters.

Davidson in his “Three Varieties of Knowledge” thus offers a different sort of picture of what is going on at the primitive level of language use. What Davidson sees is that language use itself, even within languages that speakers share, is an occasion of interpretation. We are all, under Davidson’s picture of language, interpreters of others. All field linguists, by analogy. It is important that it be understood, much as Wittgenstein examples of rule-follower and game-players, that it is meant as an illumination, and not as a reduction, something that will “cast light” onto the nature of what we are doing (although Davidson’s example has the advantage of being something that actually occurs). What Davidson presents is a world in which people are not bound together in uses by the reference to shared rules or conventions which fix meanings and provide the sole process of justification, but rather one in which social relations are composed of a kind of immanent rationality, which displaces itself across a triangle of three domains. What Davidson will argue is that there is a trinity of knowledges of which or knowledge itself is composed: knowledge of ourselves, others, and that of the world; and that no one (or two) legs of this triangle can stand on its/their own. Any two assumes the third.

In a certain sense, Wittgenstein can be said to be, because he is arguing against a Cartesian framework of knowledge, still caught in the picture of Self/world, or Self/other, as he uses rule-following to upend one leg of the triangle or another. Adequately he plays one aspect of contiguity against another, but is yet unable to take them up into a whole, partly because he is not concerned with doing so. Philosophy has long found itself run aground upon the reefs of skepticism, either of other minds, or of the world itself, and Wittgenstein points clear of such reefs, articulating the wholeness of our communications, their fabriced interweave of interpenetrations. But perhaps because he seeks to bring out certain features of language, against mistakes made due to Cartesian pictures of bewitchment, he is confined within the space in which he engages others. The triangle cannot be taken as a whole. In a sense, Davidson’s view, when put besides Wittgenstein’s, subsumes it, and makes it more clear. It may be that within Davidson’s conception of triangulation, Wittgenstein’s standard of rule-following makes the most sense (δ).

Again, Davidson, like Wittgenstein, will turn to examples of learning, but here how one learns by what others are reacting to. Much as Wittgenstein’s primitive Five Red Apples language (PI §1) is meant to point up the poverty of ostensive definition explanations, and at the same time illustrate the kinds of elementary rule-following that indeed does appear to go on in language acquisition, Davidson will question, more conceptually, what happens when someone learns the use of words as meaningful in the world. The question is: Is there a fundamental acuity in interpretation, which is not reducible to rule-following? This will hopefully expose a primary facility of triangulation which will underlie rule-following itself.

Davidson begins with a larger description, when speaking about how objects and “aspect of the world’ get classified. All creatures indeed do classify objects, under our description, as one kind or another, but do so without language, in that they “treat stimuli as more alike than others” (212); a wolf is able to react to a sheep, as a kind of thing, just as an amoeba is able to react to either another predator amoeba, or a nutrient grade as a kind of thing. Davidson asks, what is the criterion for us saying that this is so, as observers?

The criterion of such a classifying activity is similarity of response. Evolution and subsequent learning no doubt explain these patterns of behavior. But from what point of view can these be called patterns? The criterion on the basis of which a creature can be said to be treating stimuli as similar, as belonging to a class, is the similarity of the creature’s responses to those stimuli (212)

This should be plain enough. What makes us call the behaviors of these creatures, “classification” is our observation that their behaviors before such stimuli have a similarity about them. When an amoeba is in the presence of what we might call a “predator” it behaves in a certain way, it “flees” or “hides,” but when it is in the presence of a nutrient grade, it “approaches” and “feeds”. But Davidson asks the further question, what is the “criterion of a similarity of responses” themselves? What is the standard by which we can say that their responses are similar to each other?

This criterion cannot be derived from a creature’s responses; it can only come from the response of an observer to the responses of the creature. And it is only when an observer consciously correlates the responses of another creature with objects and events in the observer’s world that there is any basis for saying the creature is responding to those objects or event rather than any other objects and events (212)

Our own classification of the similarity of another creature’s behavior, that is our own similarity of responses to that behavior, and its cause, grounds our interpretation of their behaviors, such that we can at the very least say that they are reacting to something that we too are. We are, in the most primitive sense, in agreement. And this sets up the fundamental conception of triangulation which Davidson uses to illuminate what is happening in language. An event or object in the world is taken to affect both us and another in such a way that we are able to make sense of the behavior of that other, as responding to that shared-world event. Thus there is a primary causal picture wherein the world is seen to affect both us and others.

Davidson goes on, and extends this essential relation to language use and interpretation itself, drawing forth what happens when we as language users encounter a foreign tongue we are attempting to translate:

As would be interpreters of the verbal behavior of the speaker of an alien language, we group distinct verbal acts of the speaker together: ‘Mother’, ‘Snow’, ‘Table’, when repeated as one-word sentences, sound similar if we are appropriately attuned. When we discover kind of objects or events in the world we can correlate with the utterances of the speaker, we are on the way to interpreting in the simplest of linguistic behavior (212)

Note how this picture subtly diverges from the kernel of Wittgenstein’s imagined picture of rule-following. It is not simply a matter of learning to repeat actions under command, but a larger idea of understanding that the world itself causes certain reactions, so much as to set up a connection between them. Like our interpretation of the behavior of an amoeba, what we do is correlate the behavior of the creature with events in the world assumed to be shared. In this view the events in the world have a causal relation to the behavior we are interpreting, even linguistic behavior. This is something that even non-linguistic beings do, in fact it seems, must necessarily do, and something that hence must lie very near the roots of what we do in language. When we interpret the occasions of the pronouncement of an alien word for “Table” in the presence of a regularity of an object of a recognizable kind, we are not just being given a “rule” for how to use the word “table”, as a Wittgensteinian might say. Although descriptively we can call the results of such learned behavior “rule-following” what is involved it is not reducible to such a description; rather, it is perhaps better to say that one is experiencing a causal relationship to the world and others, one in which events in the world are experienced to effect both the speaker and the interpreter. Just as we are able to correlate and interpret the behavior of an ameba as caused by the presence of an object to which we are both oriented, so too we are able to correlate the presence of an object in the world, especially in occasions of learned ostensive definition, such that object causes in some sense the behavior of the speaker. Against such a backdrop, rule-following gains stronger footing.

Davidson then turns to the supposed instance of actual language instruction, showing how as instructors we are governed by this sense of causal triangulation, such that the very orientation to a common cause in the world is the thing that helps one understand that behavior as meaningful:

If we are teaching someone a language, the situation become more complex, but more clearly interpersonal. What seems basic is this: an observer (or teacher) finds (or instills) a regularity in verbal behavior on the informant (or learner) which he can correlate with events and objects in the environment…For until the triangulation is completed connecting two creatures, and each creature with common features in the world, there can be no answer to the question whether a creature, in discriminating between stimuli, is discriminating between a stimuli at the sensory surfaces or somewhere further out, or further in (212).

In this way a causal relation to the world becomes principal in our understanding of the behavior of other creatures. The final sentences are paramount. The only thing that tells us that a creature (or speaker) is reacting to things in the world, and not to events occurring on the surface of his/her/its skin, or things below its skin (descriptions of which are readily available in science), is our correlation of their behavior with a causal connection to a shared world. What makes behavior, “behavior,” is that is can shed light upon the nature of the world itself, as an objective thing. And this stems from fundamental triangulation. It is the conceptual triangulation which at its basis gives our thought any content in the first place. Un-triangulated thought would not be “about” anything:

Without this sharing of reactions to common stimuli, thought and speech would have no particular content-that is, no content at all. It takes two points of view to give a location to the cause of a thought, and thus to define its content. We may think of it as a form of triangulation: each of two people is reacting differently to sensory stimuli streaming in from a certain direction. Projecting the incoming lines outward, the common cause is at their intersection (213)

Thus what gives thought its shape and form, and the world its confirmed substantiality is the triangulation of effects between the world, others and ourselves.

This triangulating approach to the nature of thinking, perceiving and interpreting, leads Davidson to a conception of belief that is causal. That is, because we understand others primarily through our ability to see their behavior as in some sense caused by the same things that cause our reactions as well, we come to understand the contents of the thoughts we attribute to others, as caused by events that surround them in the world. Programmed by language, events in the world can cause us to hold beliefs, fears, desires, and reasons (what can be classified as “mental predicates”). It is because we employ these predicates in our ability to get around in the world, and to understand others, this causal connection is fundamental to our knowledge of anything. And in this way, the same mental predicates conceptually act as causes of interpretable behavior themselves. To take one example of a myriad of those available, the fear I had of bees caused me to run into the house. It is core to our interpretations of mental predicates that they be understood as both caused by the world and the causes of our intentional behavior.

Yet there is a distinction to be made, for it does not seem that the way in which we speak of billiard balls is not the same way that we speak of fears and beliefs. Davidson explains that indeed there is a fundamental difference in the way that we relate to causes in the world, and the causal conception of mental predicates which govern our ability to understand the intentional actions of others (ε). Because we read the behaviors of others as interpretations of the world itself, our ability to causally connect those behaviors (the beliefs, desire and reasons) to the world presents a disjunction that makes our concepts about the world distinct from those that govern intentionality. To show how the causes of the world and the causal conceptions we have of beliefs and desires are distinct, he takes up the difference in the kinds of descriptions that may be thought of as causal, for instance those of physical properties such as “the rigidity of the wing caused its failure” and those of mental states, such as “his desire to be healthy caused him to go on a diet”:

In the case of causal properties like elasticity, slipperiness, malleability, or solubility, we tend to think, rightly or wrongly, that what they leave unexplained can be (or already has been) explained by the advance of science…Mental concepts and explanations are not like this. They appeal to causality because they are designed, like the concept of causality itself, to single out from the totality of circumstances which conspire to cause a given event just those factors that satisfy some particular explanatory interest. When we want to explain an action, for example, we want to know the agent’s reasons, so we can see for ourselves what it was about the action that appealed to the agent (216)

In this way, there is a divide in the manner in which we interpret the events of the world, and events of intention, though both are causally understood. “Descriptions of objects, states and events” fall under the capacity for “strict, exceptionless laws,” yet do not contain “causal concepts” (216).  Another way of putting this is that our language games about what occurs outside of us is fundamentally different than that which occurs within or between us, and with this Wittgenstein would have no problem at all-in many senses this is his main point. What Davidson adds to this though, is that these two ways of speaking, that of how the world is, and how we are, are related in that one employs causal laws in one (for instance the Newton’s Law of Gravity), and for the other, causal concepts (that is that our mental states can cause us to act in one way or another, and that these states can be caused by the world).

It is here that we stumble upon a very deep divide between the thinkers, for Wittgenstein makes a rather strong distinction between a reason and cause, in some sense vital to his criterion for what makes a language a language. In his rule-following vision, what is linguistic is the reference to an independent standard for correctness, without which we would not even have the idea of correctness in play. This lies that the core of his so-named Private Language argument. So when envisioning the possibility of a private language, he questions how a distinction one makes for oneself, in a wholly private way, could even be considered a distinction:

But “I impress it on myself” can only mean: this process brings it about that remember the connexion right in the future. But in the present case I have no criterion of correctness. One would like to say: whatever is going to seem right to me is right. And that only means that here we cannot talk about ‘right’ (PI §258 )

Davidson agrees with the impossibility of a private language, but grounds his perspective not on a question of rule-following, and justification, but upon an overall coherence of knowledge about the world and others, one such that enables language to get off the ground in the first place. What Wittgenstein importantly tries to do, instead, is place within the domain of the privately inner, a possible world of causation, events that may or may not happen in the head in a patterned manner, reference to which would only be like “buying several copies of the morning newspaper” to check for error (PI §265), or an empty “ceremony” (PI §258), or “a wheel that can be turned though nothing moves with it, is not part of the mechanism” (PI §271), which is distinct from the world of reasons, that which appeals to an outside, independent standards of use. It is upon this independent criterion of use that the possibility of a private language is foreclosed. In this sense, both thinkers agree that it is the connection with the outside world which makes linguistic distinctions linguistic, but in Davidson’s case it is the entire causal connections between world and fellow users, while for Wittgenstein the argument is narrowed to the idea of rule-following alone, something that requires him to entertain a primary difference between reasons (independently confirmed) and causes (internal events).

 

Wittgenstein puts forth his most clear conception of the difference between a cause and reason in the first pages of  The Blue Book. The difference is between something that just happens to happen in one’s head, in a causal fashion, and the appeal to a rule that has been taught you to:

Suppose I pointed to a piece of paper and said to someone: “this colour I call ‘red'”. Afterwards I gave him the order: “now paint me a red patch”. I then ask him: “why, in carrying out my order, did you paint just his colour?” His answer could then be: “This colour (pointing to the sample) which I have given him was called red; and the patch I have painted has, as you see, the colour of the sample.” He has now given me a reason for carrying out the order in the way he did. Giving the reason for something one did or said means showing a way which leads to this action (11).

Notice the distinct difference in language-picture Wittgenstein holds from Davidson, at this level. Where Wittgenstein imagines an elementary use of “samples” and “rules”, serving as a kind of template for how language operates, Davidson sees a causal picture wherein, for instance, in the presence of the color red, that similarity of stimuli, the subject is caused, due to being conditioned by language, to holding the belief that “that is red,” and hence led to proposing a rule to be followed. The student of red, who in Wittgenstein’s case is merely learning a rule, in Davidson’s case might still be said to be learning a rule, but a rule that is grounded in a larger triangulation of causes, which gives the world its objective appearance, (and also implies a necessary knowledge of other minds).

But let us turn to Wittgenstein’s example of what is not a reason:

[if you ask] “Why did you pain just this colour when I told you to paint a red patch?” you may give the answer: “I have been shown a sample of this colour and the word “red” was pronounced to me at the same time; and therefore this colour now always comes to my mind when I hear the word ‘red'”, then you have given a cause for your action and not a reason (15)

From this distinction one can plainly see the same distinction which works in Wittgenstein’s argument against private languages. The domain of the inner, is that of mental events seems to circulate without justification, or appeal to an outside standard. There is no sense of right or wrong, no difference between merely thinking you are following a rule, and actually following a rule.

And Wittgenstein clarifies the reasons why he is not concerned with statement of the kind “this colour now always comes to my mind”, a description of causes, that is, because he is not interested in science or natural history: “But our interest does not fall back upon these possible causes of the formation of concepts; we are not doing natural science; nor yet natural history…” (PI p 195). Quite rightly, Davidson would agree with not wanted to do science, for such an approach would be attempting to speak of the intentional, in the language of strict laws which mark out the way we speak of the world. There is a quintessential dividing line there, but such a line, for Davidson, does not cover mental predicates.

Wittgenstein’s strong distinction between reason and cause seems to cover over their relation. We would agree that saying that the this is the color that pops into my mind when I hear the word “red” tells us next to nothing, yet, we should also agree that “His belief that this color is ‘red’ caused him to paint such a color” not only makes sense (ζ), but also is illuminative. This is because, Davidson would tell us, there is a holism of beliefs, that is, we attribute beliefs (and other mental predicates) to others and ourselves in a rational manner, such that they cohere together in such a way that assumed beliefs shed light on other beliefs also attributed or expressed, and these beliefs are largely taken to be true about the world. Assumed beliefs is what positions us in a field of knowledge of others and the world. He puts it this way:

Any particular belief may indeed by false; but enough in the framework and fabric of our beliefs must be true to give content to the rest. The conceptual connections between our knowledge of our own minds [that is, to possess a first person authority] and our knowledge of the world of nature are not definitional but holistic. The same is true of the conceptual connections between our knowledge of behavior and our knowledge of other minds (214)

In the simplest of examples, the mental predication “I fear bees” may be thought of as coherent with other beliefs such as “Bees exist”, “That is a bee”, “Bees will sting me”, “It is difficult to escape bees”, “Bee are unpredictable” and a panoply of unstated others. In principle, it is this shift from definition to holism which allows Davidson to indeed say that our connections between ourselves, others and the world are not fully enough explained by any reference to “sample” and “rule”. Rather, it is the way that we indeed do understand others as having expressed, and very much non-expressed beliefs (desires, fears, etc.), such that they hang together, that gives us to understand “reasons” as caused. We may very well exercise the processes of justification which Wittgenstein champions, pointing to samples, evoking rules which justify our actions, but this can only be done in the larger context of a triangulation in which our beliefs and reasons are seen to be caused by a shared world, and cause (explain) our actions, for only in such a determination are the proper aspects of the world picked out between speakers.

Davidson finalizes his triangulation as an incorporation of both a Correspondence Theory and a Coherence Theory, wherein each plays its indispensable part in stabilizing discourse, an assumption which is regularly and necessarily made in the spirit of charity, maximizes the interpretability of speech.

The Principle of Coherence prompts the interpreter to discover a degree of logical consistency in the thought of the speaker; the Principle of Correspondence prompts the interpreter to take the speaker to be responding to the same features of the world that he (the interpreter) would be responding to under similar circumstances. Both principles can (and have been) called principles of charity (211)

We understand the world, and we understand others because we have formed, within the capacities of language, the possibility to hold beliefs about the world, and attribute beliefs about the world to others, even those with whom we share no language at all (in the case of the field linguist). Indeed there need not be reference to any rule (or sample) at all to understand others (though it can always help). This coherence of beliefs indeed provides something more than knowledge, either of ourselves, or others or the world. It has a normativity, in fact an inescapable normativity, which governs the interpretability of our actions. Apart from our ability to point to samples and rules, in occasions of justification, it is over all our ability to appear relatively coherent in our beliefs, such as others can ascribe them to us, that provides the backdrop for all our communicative action.

Whereas Wittgenstein might turn to the idea of whether indeed someone did or did not follow a rule so as to ascertain whether they were “right,” Davidson would say that the vital difference is between true and false belief about the world, in that, “…an interpreter must separate meaning from opinion partly on normative grounds by deciding what, from his point of view, maximizes intelligibility” (215).  It is not that one has incorrectly pointed to a sample, and played the rules of the game wrong, fundamentally so, but that one has expressed a belief in some way which has shown itself to be false or incoherent with others. Indeed there is an independent standard which justifies our actions, but this is the triangulation of the world, others and ourselves, as it plays out. And this shows itself in Davidson’s principal thought experiment about language, that of the field interpreter alone in a strange land. Missing are any of the recognizable references to rules which make up his own linguistic practices, but in fact he would be able to eventually understand the words and gestures of a native, across conventions. Interestingly, Wittgenstein himself alludes to such a capability at PI §206, “The common behavior of mankind is the system of reference by means of which we interpret an unknown language”. But Wittgenstein only has it partly right, Davidson would say. In invoking a “system of reference” found only in behavior, Wittgenstein is perhaps still a bit too much of a behaviorist, despite his self-inoculations against the position. There is no “system of reference” per se. Such a commonality is, rather than that of behavior alone, the linguistic capacity to hold beliefs, which hold together in a largely rational whole, such that others can ascribe them to us, and we to others; and such that they can be said to be caused by the world, and in turn cause our intentional actions. If Davidson is right, Wittgenstein’s behavioral “system of reference” is none other the capacity to triangulate the world.

  

 


  

Endnotes

α. It is important to note that Quine is an empiricist, and that his thought experiment is designed to isolate specific kinds of stimulus-meaning sentences, as privileged above others. Davidson see no such capacity, and attacks this empiricist line of thinking rather thoroughly in his “On The Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme” (196).

β. “Consider ‘gavagai’. Who knows the objects to which the term applies are not rabbits after all, but mere stages, or brief temporal segments, of rabbits? In either event the stimulus situations that prompt assent to “Gavagai” would be the same for “Rabbit.” Or perhaps the objects to which “Gavagai” applies are all sundry and detached parts of rabbits: again the stimulus meaning would register no difference. When from sameness of stimulus meaning of “Gavagai” and “Rabbit” the linguist leaps to the conclusion that a gavagai is a whole enduring rabbit, he is just raking for granted that the native is enough like us to have a brief general term for rabbits and no brief general term for rabbit-stages or parts” (52).

γ. Davidson’s crystallization of truth as interpretation, which he calls “Radical Interpretation” runs as follows: “The intrepid interpreter, working without a bilingual trot, seeks to assign a propositional content to the utterances of a speaker. In effect he assigns a sentence of his own to each of the sentences of the speaker. To the extent that he gets things right, the interpreter’s sentences  provide the truth conditions of the speaker’s sentences, and hence supply the basis for the interpretation of the speaker’s utterances. The result can be thought of as a recursive characterization of truth, by the interpreter, of the sentences, and hence actual and potential utterances, of the speaker” (210).

δ. Davidson himself addresses the Wittgenstein origin of such pursuits, but also suggests the incompleteness of that treatment: “Someone who has a belief about the world-or anything else-must grasp the concept of objective truth, of what is the case independent of what he or she thinks. We must ask, therefore, after the source of the concept of truth. Wittgenstein puts us on the track of the only possible answer to this question, whether or not his problem was as broad as ours, and whether or not he believed in answers to philosophical problems. The source of the concept of objective truth is interpersonal communication” (209).

ε. He stakes this difference upon Quine’s essential difference between the Underdetermination of Theory and the Indeterminancy of Translation, a specific argument of differences which I will not approach in detail here.

ζ. That is, sentences of this kind are part of the “grammar” of the word belief.

 

[Part III here]

Rorty and Davidson Talk

See and hear this 1997 conversation between philosophical fellow travelers Richard Rorty and Donald Davidson, posted by Gundlegung, which ends:

Davidson: “Well, it sounds to me that by your standards I am a straight-forward pragmatist.”

Rorty: “Even in the romantic sense?”

Davidson: “Even in the romantic sense.”

Rorty: “That’s nice.”

One gets the dramatic sense that these two souls are still in tension from their ethos, even though they repeatedly come to agreements in principle. There is a bodily sense in which the comfort of ideas tugs each in opposite directions. Rorty seems to work with the breadth of thinking, and Davidson with the micro-structures. Agreement seems to be what they have agreed upon.

Closely Related Post: Davidson’s Razor, Vico’s Magnet

Language on Holiday: Wittgenstein all Work and no Play

 

 

Wittgenstein says, with his usual brilliant adroitness, “…philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday” (PI section 38). This is a rather powerful swipe at broad range of “uses” (for one cannot deny that the kinds of linguistic behaviors Wittgenstein objects to are also “uses” of language). A stand against some uses, and for others.

So one has to ask, is Wittgenstein the task-master of “work”, the lowering industrial manager who “takes language off holiday”, and gets it doing what “needs to be done”? If language can go on holiday, what is to prevent us from using it to do so? Do not holidays have a value and a use of their own? Is there something of Wittgenstein-the-engineer still remaining in this abstention from “holidays”? Something of a good ole German work ethic (not that Wittgenstein worked much)?

If one is to look to use and not meaning, by what criteria do some sort of uses become illlegitimate? In looking to purge language of its “holiday-ness” is Wittgenstein still attempting the same kind of purification that he attempted, and failed at, in the Tractatus? Once he let the “use-genie” out of the bottle to defeat the postivists, how can he keep it from destroying the legislation of work/holiday he is still attempting to forge?

Apart from the old-fashion gear-work of plain language (you know, the kind that “gets things done”), are there not uses for language that get-things-done another way? And is not work-language itself shot through with holiday language, in the kinds of cerimonial, affective, metaphorical associations that keep language alive and growing?

What are the “proper” uses for language? How can you fully distinguish “work” from “play”? And how can you take the “play” out of language games?

 

[written August 27, 2006]