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Tag Archives: scheme/content

A Wittgensteinian Conundrum

Below is a puzzle that I feel is a product of Wittgenstein’s over-reaching into the analogy of  grammar to explain what for him is a  fundamental distinction between sense and nonsense. Nonsense is that barred by hidden rules of (philosophical) grammar, Sense, that which is enabled by them. When someone speaks nonsense, it is because they have violated the rules of (philosophical) grammar, that is, the way that words should be used.

“If grammar says that you cannot say that a sound is red, it means not that it is false to say so but it is nonsense—i.e. not language at all”  (Wittgenstein’s Lectures, Cambridge 1930-1932, p. 47; Lent Term, 1931).

1. Let us say that I say sentence “x”, a sentence which you do not understand at all. You tell me that x is plainly in violation of hidden grammatical rules which prevent the formation of just such a word sequence.

2. I tell you are wrong, and you ask me several questions which you hope could help you understand what I mean by x. None of my answers help. This confirms for you that there are such a hidden grammatical rules which forbids x.

3. Now you come across some friends of mine who regard x as perfectly sensible. What they have to say when interacting with me over sentence x suggests to you that indeed perhaps x does have some sense (at least these people are behaving as if it did, similing, responding with looks of comprehension…your only evidence). You still claim that there are such hidden grammatical rules which forbid the formation of x, even if we think or act like it makes sense.

4. Now you come to a person who seems to understand x quite well. He gives you several explanations what x means which come to satisfy you. You come to understand that x, rather than being barred from formation, is sensical.

5. My question is, were there ever such a hidden rules which barred x from formation in the first place?… If there were not ever such rules, what use is a reference to them?

If indeed there were such rules, were the conditions for their employ ONLY confined to the circumstances of your incomprehension? If this is the case, what good is reference rules which have  theoretically only one circumstance for their employ…when sentence x is uttered in your presence before time t, that sentence is barred from formation?

6. Now let us say that the new, comprehending, you then utters in the presence of someone else the sentence x, and they do not understand you at all. They claim that there are hidden grammatical rules which forbid you from forming sentence x. All your explanations fail. Are these the same rules you referred to earilier, or different ones? How can we tell? In otherwords, what role do these unspoken rules serve to explain whether something is sense or nonsense?

7. Lastly, now imagine that sentence x is:

“If a lion could talk, we could not understand him”. (Philosophical Investigations, Third Edition, p. 190)

Are there or are there not grammatical rules which forbid this sentence’s formation? How can you tell?

There are of course several answers needed here, only the last as it pertains to Wittgenstein has the irony. On that, an average person would tell you that such a sentence violates Wittgenstein’s notion of the grammar of the words “talk” and “understands” and he may or may not be able to understand an explanation if offered. On the other hand a Davidsonian would tell you, I believe, even after elaborate explanation from a Wittgensteinian that on Wittgensteinian terms the grammar of the words in the sentence is violated: for us to be able to say that something “talks” this entails the necessity that we can “understand” him (by Davidson in his very rejection of scheme/content dualism). Is Wittgenstein talking nonsense to tell us what sense must be?

[Some additional thoughts on the Lion who could speak but not communicate sufficiently enough to be understood: Anselm’s Proof of God, Wittgenstein’s Lion, Davidson’s Belief ] 

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.