The Trivialization of modern philosophy, part II

A. J. Ayer, when charged with trivialization of philosophy, claimed that the distinction between “about language” and “about the world” is not sharp, for the world is basically our description of the world in our system of concepts. Therefore the investigation of language is the investigation of the structure of the world as experienced by human beings.

Is this truly the case? Let’s suppose there are two people arguing about causation. They are trying to talk about what takes place in the world. However, if they were arguing about the finer points of a causal statement, and analyze it, they are doing something else: how a proposition in language is to be understood. Therefore, the argument about the world and argument about what people say about the world are logically distinct. Then it follows that there are different areas of discourse. According to Karl Popper, there are three worlds of discourse: World One, the objective world of material things, World Two, a subjective world of mental states, and World Three, an objectively existent but abstract world of man-made entities, such as mathematics, knowledge, art, science, language. The argument about causality is an argument about World One, while the argument about a causal statement is about World Three. That is why the structure of the world isn’t necessarily identical to the structure of language.

John Searle shares the same fundamental assumptions as Ayer:

“… The world divides the way we divide it, and our main way of dividing things up is in language. Our concept of reality is a matter of our linguistic categories.”

To a certain extent, I am in agreement, but the only problem is whether the categories of our system of representation are fundamentally or primarily linguistic.

What I observe when I am looking around is composed of many items and shapes, and I see all this clearly, instantly and effortlessly. This simple and unitary act of vision cannot be reduced to a collection of words. My conscious awareness is a chiefly visual experience, yet there are no words to describe the multitudinous shapes of the objects I encounter, and neither are there words to describe the varied, three dimensional spatial relationships I directly see them as standing to one another. What language can do is indicate with sheer generality, in broad and crude terms, what it is that I see. I possess the vision of many objects with great precision and definiteness, in all their complexity wholly and securely in direct experience, but I am incapable to capture that experience in words. Therefore “the world is the world as we describe it” or that my “concept of reality is a matter of linguistic categories” is false.

The problem is compounded when including the other senses. For example, language is inadequate for the distinction between the tastes of different types of food. Nobody can put his experience into words by describing the taste of the food in a way that another person who hadn’t tasted those things would know solely from the description how they taste like. Consequently, direct experience cannot be adequately put into words.

Moreover, besides direct experience of the external world, even more difficult is the inner experience: a dynamic and complex flow of ever-changing awareness, mood, response, reaction, feeling, perception of connection and differences, back references, side references all darting in and out of the many interweaving strands that flow continuously… Thus all private experience is utterly unverbalizable. Try describing an orgasm or a subjective response to a brilliant work of art or the unbearable horror of a nightmare, and you will quickly discover the inadequacy of language.

In other words, direct experience is never fully communicable, and is the only knowledge we fully have, only one and true, unadulterated, direct and immediate. The effort of putting direct experience into words is the translation of first order knowledge into a second order one, a secondary, derived, watered down, abstracted and generalizable, publicly sharable mode of knowledge. The life lived at the level of concepts rules out what makes the individual’s experience unique.

It is no wonder why there is a great amount of difficulty in explaining what a work of art means or expresses.

Noam Chomsky shrewdly pointed out that during introspection the person will know immediately that the majority of his thinking does not involve language. This should be self evident.

The process of “put something in words” means one has to withdraw from one’s immersion in immediate experience, extract itself from the direct preoccupation in order to do a file search and filter the public medium of language in order to find the best way to say what one wants to say.

That step is always necessary – sometimes it is effortless, sometimes difficult – and it is taken from the concrete specificity of life to the generalized and public medium of language. This step is inescapably insufficient, for the former instance is always unique, and the latter, forever general.

The geneticist Jacques Monod wrote in his book Chance and Necessity that the many cognitive functions, esp the complex ones are not immediately linked with speech or other means of symbolic expressions. At the deepest level of the mental reflection, the scientist notes that it is an imagined experience, not a verbal one. Cognitive science has offered a clear refutation to the fundamental assumptions of linguistic analysts.

Most of human behavior is similar to animals but animals do not think in language. Animals, particularly dogs, do demonstrate an entire level of behavior in which they make valid connections between one absent thing and another, and act upon those connections. A dog, without training, will spontaneously behave as if it knows that someone else is about to arrive to take it out for a walk.

It should be noted that people are capable of apprehending long and difficult discursive structures in a single act. There are many examples which demonstrate a wide variety of different ways of organized and complex thinking that do not rely on words:

Great composers like Mozart claim that during the invention of new compositions the entire thing sometimes came to him at once.

a race car driver perceives and quickly seizes the unexpected opportunity on the track and changes his strategy.

a football coach utilizing a new scheme in order to counter a certain offensive or defensive formation on the fly.

These and many more examples should indicate how tiny and small is the percentage of thinking that is done in words.

Most importantly, linguistic analysts were notorious for neglecting the most successively descriptive and communicative uses of language, despite being exclusively concerned with language – poetry, plays, novels. There was a tendency to be dismissive of literature, and even “poetry” was used as a pejorative for emotive language not worth examining in philosophy.

Antinomies of time and space were worthwhile problems to be addressed, and they proved common sense to be utterly inadequate. But the linguistic analysts would evade this and insist that those sort of problems were insoluble and not worth the time working on.

Furthermore, when we look at the enormous percentage of the human race being illiterate or semi-literate, and even in educated societies, many are semi-articulate, then it isn’t likely to continue under the delusion that all those people are thinking in words.

The philosophical investigation of language is as important as the philosophical investigation of the mind, logic, science, art, etc., no more, no less.

Language is a medium for many different modes of expression: description, communication, explanation, depiction, narrative, argument, recording, creating art, formulating scientific theories, etc. Language in philosophy is to embody insights and theories of ultimate nature of reality, both content and form, to formulate questions and frame answers and utter criticisms to those answers n answer those critiques. Kant painted philosophy as the “disciplined examination (wissenschaft) of concepts” but Schopenhauer actually did him one better: although philosophy is communicated with concepts, and although only concepts make conclusions possible, philosophy is a science in concepts, not a science of concepts. Therefore, concepts is the medium of philosophy, but not its subject matter. The subject matter of philosophy is reality, and the purpose of philosophy is the enhance the understanding of the nature of reality.

The Early Wittgenstein vs the latter Wittgenstein

What I recall is that during his time at Cambridge, Wittgenstein spent most of his time talking to Bertrand Russell. Basically he was always isolated, and that sort of obsession with the nature of mathematics and logic locked up his thinking, and the Tractatus reflects that individualistic philosophy. The notion that language is a communicative tool, a medium of exchange, or a social institution is absent, for it is an instrument for description.

After a while, about 10 years, he went back to philosophy and instead of clear, definite abstract principles about the fundamental nature of language, Wittgenstein went in the direction of a natural human phenomenon, a social phenomenon that functions if and only if there are rules accepted by the users. the use of those rules guide the user in speaking are always open to correction and improvement by another user. The shift in Wittgenstein is fundamentally metaphorical: instead of a picture relationship, Wittgenstein used the metaphor of a tool, for the meaning of an utterance is the sum total of all the possible uses of language.

Now, we can choose to look at his latter philosophy in a number of ways:

1. The majority of professors in philosophy think the late Wittgenstein supersedes the early version.

2. Russell, who thought the early stuff was genius, but the latter was useless, for it was a complete self-abnegation

3. Popper scoffed at both, claiming that neither was of lasting substance.

i think Russell has it right, but not that the latter philosophy is completely worthless. Sure, there were good material in the Philosophical Investigations – a lot can be taken up in isolation. however, i am starting to think the context of the latter stuff is gravely mistaken. in the transition from the Tractatus, Wittgenstein abandoned the most important things, the greatest insights:

The direct acknowledgement of a world of non-linguistic reality.

The perception that there is something mystical about the existence of such a world.

The realization that the meaning of life is transcendental (including values, morals, and aesthetics).

The most important things in life cannot be accounted by language fairly.

the latter Witty no longer has any sense of the authenticity of both sides of reality – the world of facts and the realm of the transcendental. he chose to treat the medium of communication as if it was everything there is, and ignoring the things it actually communicates about. it’s not just that the latter Witty’s philosophy has departed from the problems of tradition, he has chosen to denies their existence, and that appeals to people who never had philosophical problems in their lives.

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...a philosophisticator who utters heresies, thinks theothanatologically and draws like Kirby on steroids.