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[Wittrs] Wittgenstein's Meaning is Use [message #1368] Mon, 28 September 2009 19:51 Go to next message
CJ is currently offline  CJ
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re Kirby's message

And the use is not to "us' but to the game. The game itself must be
served by the words because the language game in turn serves the forms
of life from whence it sprung.

To me, there is an implicit "natural selection" model which operates
in the back of Wittgenstein's
mind ...according to which it is the survival of the fittest language
games which determine what we see around us and, in turn, the survival
of the fittest words in the configuration of each such language game
which determines the words we find ourselves using. Meaning is
predicated upon this 'fitness" and the fitness the words or
expressions contribute to the game of which they are a part.

To invoke the classic model of the chess piece and the game of chess,
what is the "meaning" of the chess piece, the knight for example?
Without the awareness of the game of chess it would surely make no
sense to an observer But, equivalently, without that piece, where
would the game of chess be today? That is the "use" of the piece: How
it serves the survival (and growth) of the game.

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[Wittrs] Re: Wittgenstein's meaning is use. [message #1384 is a reply to message #1368] Tue, 29 September 2009 07:47 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Nasha Waights Hickman is currently offline  Nasha Waights Hickman
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Reply to CJ:
Just a quickie before I disappear again for a few hours.(by a quickie I
usually mean a tome, not so hot on being concise).

First of all thanks for the comments on thought, I need to think about all
that stuff more, but have no time and my brain will soon be petrified.

You say:

" To me, there is an implicit "natural selection" model which operates in
the back of Wittgenstein's
mind ...according to which it is the survival of the fittest language games
which determine what we see around us and, in turn, the survival of the
fittest words in the configuration of each such language game
which determines the words we find ourselves using. Meaning is predicated
upon this 'fitness" and the fitness the words or expressions contribute to
the game of which they are a part."

I think the question of pragmatism is very interesting in Witt. The natural
selection idea is curious, but how to define fitness?-- Fit, presumably,
relative to a given purpose or need.

I think that while a region of grammar, a set of conceptual apparatus, will
develop to serve certain needs or ends, I think it is a mistake to see them
as 'determined' by these needs or ends, if this is meant in the sense that
implies we could not have chosen otherwise. We could; that is what is meant
by grammar being arbitrary. i guess you mean determined by their
*suitability* given the ends or needs which govern the game...well, I still
think 'determined' may be too strong, especially when borrowed form a
natural selection picture. A conceptual choice may be explained in such a
way, but it remains a choice.

I am incredibly taken with this example of Peter Hacker's re the
development of new grammar, and I will relay it just because I like it
really. The issue here is how it is that conceptual choices are determined,
and we can look as always at a region of language on the analogy of a game.
The example is from tennis:

Suppose in the middle of a match a pelican swoops in, seizes the tennis ball
and lands it in the opponent's box. Did you win the point? Well, who is to
say? There are no rules in the tennis book to deal with what happens when a
tropical bird walks onto the court (what an oversight!! the rules must be
incomplete!!) . Nothing decides things one way or another. Now if enough
pelicans persist in this outlandish behaviour, we will introduce a new rule
to say whether I win the point or not.

The moral here (one of them) : Experience requires, demands if you like,
that a conceptual choice be made, that a new rule be laid down, but what
choices we make and what rules we develop is not *determined* by experience
or by the need we have of incorporating new experience in our conceptual
scheme.

I guess there is an argument to say that in many cases, which way we go will
be informed by the rules in place already, what kind of developments make
most sense given the game as it stands, what would cause least disturbance
to it so to speak (at the risk of getting a bit Quinean here!). But there is
always a choice. ultimately we make a decision and we would say "this is
just what we do"; "this is how the game is played" and there is no more to
be explained. 'Why are the rules of tennis as they are?' -- does that
question really admit of a sensible answer?

So I kinda think that the natural selection idea is not helpful in these
ways:
1) when talking about fitness, we could just say that we develop the
concepts to suit our needs and purposes in life.
2) there is nothing 'natural' about the selection; these are conceptual
decisions.

On the other hand, it might be apt in the sense that:
1) there is a question of fitness relative to the purpose
2) there are considerations which will inform and explain our making one
conceptual choice and not another -- clearly when we say they are in a deep
sense arbitrary we do not mean they are ad hoc, because a game does not hold
together as a game then. the considerations however I'd say are logical and
conceptual, not natural --though the purposes (some of them) may be
naturally determined.(?)

One other thing that won't sit I think is talking of 'fittest words' , as if
a meaningful word stood apart, were intelligible in abstraction of
the network of grammatical rules against which moves are made with it, as if
it lay idle but were full of potential power, and could be picked up and put
to a use already contained within it (One might talk instead of 'fittest
rules'? ). But I take it that you have no such picture of words in mind, and
what you mean is that in a given game it could be useful to invent a new
piece (of course the piece is defined with ref to rules for its use) with
which we could make cartain new moves? does that sound roughly right? We
probably have no dispute, and I'm just being pedantic...

N.

PS: You're quite right in fact in calling me Natasha as this is my given
name. However I've never really used it (grew up in Spain); I'm Nasha/Nacha
( a sort of nick-name if you like) or Natalia :)

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[Wittrs] Re: Wittgenstein's meaning is use. [message #1391 is a reply to message #1384] Tue, 29 September 2009 12:35 Go to previous messageGo to next message
CJ is currently offline  CJ
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On Sep 29, 2009, at 7:47 AM, Nasha Waights Hickman wrote:

> Reply to CJ:
>
> Just a quickie before I disappear again for a few hours.(by a
> quickie I usually mean a tome, not so hot on being concise).
>
> First of all thanks for the comments on thought, I need to think
> about all that stuff more, but have no time and my brain will soon
> be petrified.
>

Nasha,

I appreciate you response, especially your reactions to my introducing
the notion of "natural selection" as a means of understanding what
Wittgenstein is "getting at". But, alas, I won't be dealing with
that issue this brief note. Oh well, at least for two very general
points. (Whoops. I started writing with the intention of making this
extremely brief, but I'll only get to my brief comments on "thought"
at the end of this bit of business on "natural selection"

So, as to a preliminary to Natural Selection

First, that we must understand each writer as a mere mortal embedded
in a framework of surrounding humanity and ideas and Wittgenstein
certainly came of age and then struggled with his ideas at a time when
evolutionary theory was going through its stages, first of being the
"next big thing" and then itself struggling establish itself on
firmer footing and so he was undoubtedly surrounded by those
currents. Indeed, I love to know what he would made of the discovery
of the genetic code and the actual and organic "grammar" by means of
which the pairing of nucleotides proceeds to yield all of our life.
Ironically, the first glimmerings of that wisdom in regard to the
ultimate grammar, and the best model for any "grammatical" ruminations
on our part, occurred at the time his Investigations was being pieced
together...and it would not at all be surprising if he were privy to
some of the "speculation' at that time.

Second, "natural selection" is a "way of speaking' and not at all a
manner of occurrence in any spatio-temporal framework, or a force or a
process or any such locatable sequence of "events" that those lazy
speakers that W sets up as straw men in the Investigations would have
us join them in speaking about. It is a "way of speaking" which
allows the speaker to productively speak and to make constructive
sense of what is observed by somehow tying in the the present with the
past. It has nothing at all to do with mechanistic "determination"
which I believe is on your mind. But it was rather the first step in
an elegant intellectual maneuver (see Dennett on "Darwin's Dangerous
Idea") by means of which we could speak constructively and usefully of
the observations of natural life without succumbing to notions of
either arbitrarily imposed "intelligent design" or arbitrarily and
even more capriciously imposed mere chance.

As a way of speaking, natural selection is a wonderful device, no
thing but a way of speaking, and not at all proclaiming, when it is
invoked, that anything is determined (in your sense of the word) It
allows for an infinite possibilities to have occurred, and understands
that even that infinity of possibilities is, in turn, embedded in a
higher order of infinity of even further possibilities (which might
not have likely occurred) and that those yet further infinity of
possibilities are in turn embedded in a yet a further higher order of
infinity of logical possibility (which may indeed be practically
impossible possibilities). So speaking of natural selection leaves us
with understanding that there is no simplistic, old-fashioned,
mechanistic determinism of outcome here, but an infinite number of
scenarios and possible outcomes could have occurred consistent with
it. Simply an infinity buried within a higher ordinary infinity and
so on. So it does narrow things down a bit.

If you are interested in this notion, just consider what or whether
any terms invoked in the eminently less successful "ways of speaking"
invoked by those attempting to productively speak about psychological
matters as opposed to biological matter, are anything like this notion
and whether, when they are employed, the speakers are at all aware of
that fact that the notions have no referents whatsoever in any spatio-
temporal domain, especially that convenient fiction known as
"reality". If we study how the notion of "natural selection" is used,
me have, I believe, the firmest clue as to how several of the key
notions of psychology ought to properly be used.

As to "thought" (where my brief comments in this email were going to
be directed) Just ask yourself where does that "way of speaking"
lead. Where has it led us. Whenever have you ever read anything
productive dependent on that peculiar 17th century way of speaking.
Just consider the "uselessness" of the discussions by those who insist
on invoking that notion in their "ways of speaking". In psychology,
it has led nowhere and the hardcore of those who wish to stick with
that notion are now forced to camouflage their speaking, politically
correctly, by employing the notion of 'cognition". If you look within
psychology at the work of Piaget, you'll find a thorough disregard of
the lazy dependence on the use of "thought" as part of a way of
speaking productively about anything...and the need to introduce new
"ways of speaking" and a new vocabulary, that Piaget, in fact,
intended to be based on biology, which was his original area of
training and education.

And anywhere else other than in everyday life, i.e., in philosophical
discussion it has proven completely useless and empty to engage in its
use, unless one wishes to recreate and reincarnate the unproductive
debates and dissipation of energy in fruitless argument of two
millennia that have depended on a clinging to the use of that useless
concept.

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Re: [Wittrs] Re: Wittgenstein's meaning is use. [message #1404 is a reply to message #1391] Tue, 29 September 2009 15:20 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Nasha Waights Hickman is currently offline  Nasha Waights Hickman
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reply to CJ:

I like and am intrigued by much of what you say here. My apologies for misreading things on the question of determination, and thanks for the clarification.
I will look into Dennett's stuff -- his name keeps cropping up.

I'll need to reread more carefully,and have a ponder!

Only one thing jumps out and jars with me again at the outset though:

This business about useless words and concepts, and our need to drop them from currency. I really don't think a revision of our language is in order. Undoubtedly we should cease talking nonsense in philosophy, psychology and so on, but I don't think that one removes the temptation to talk nonsense by removing words. One stops people talking nonsense by showing that it IS nonsense, and that is done by showing that they are not employing their terms meaningfully -- in a way that accords with how those terms are used. They will be crossing language games, or trying to get a concept that has application in one domain to do work in a context where it has none, and so on.

"Thought" clearly has a use in every day life, I don't really see that it is redundant or harmful or corresponds to a pseudo-concept, indeed I think we'd be rather stuck without it. (I say to you "consider this thought: bla bla bla" what is wrong with that?).

If psychologists and philosophers have been talking elaborate nonsense for millennia because they wanted to assume that "thought" had a spacio-temporally located referent, then that is their affair. That is not how the word is used ordinarily -meanigfully- and it is only by careful consideration of how the word IS used that we come to realise that what these scientists and philosophers were talking was nonsense.

I most certainly hope that reality is not a convenient fiction!!

--Again the fact that many anthropologists and sociologists achieve notoriety by throwing around rubbish about 'realities' , 'social realities', 'social universes' 'engendered realities' and such like is unfortunate, but 'reality' is a perfectly decent and respectable term with a good and established use.

I will have a more careful think on the rest, and see that I can reply with something more constructive!!

N.
[Wittrs] Re: Wittgenstein's meaning is use. [message #1407 is a reply to message #1404] Tue, 29 September 2009 15:38 Go to previous messageGo to next message
CJ is currently offline  CJ
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Natalie,

I've addressed some of what I would say to you here in my reply to
Sean. But just to note, that in SCIENCE--and unfortunately that
community now includes those who call themselves psycologists, the
very nature of the advance is through the establishment of new
vocabulary and defining of new concepts to be used and the slipping
into retirement of the notions which become useless.

What the ordinary man or woman in the street says is fine by me. Long
live ordinary chit chat. But we must be vigilant and it is our duty as
those with an interest in philosophy to pay close attention to the
manner in which science like psychology eventually contaminates our
ordinary language (and indeed I believe that Wittgenstein's emphasis
on psychology was so important not because it was a therapy for the
ordinary person but because it was a way of umpiring or refereeing the
excesses of that population of self proclaimed "scientists" who call
themselves psychologists.

I appreciate your comments....and I appreciate your passion as well.
Christopher

PS1 The Dennett book on that "dangerous idea" of Darwins' is great.
To me, however, his consciousness book, although I never cease to be
impressed with how glib and articulate he is, is based on sinking into
the quicksand of one long and tragic mistake...........despite that
there is much evidence and argument within it that is informative.

PS2: As to "reality", well that is another matter entirely. The
notion of "reality", if you examine it closely, does not amount to
much it is pretty much an every day shorthand for referring to a
infinite assemblage. And just as "infinity" is problematic and has
its own esoteric considerations, so does the notion of "reality".
Indeed just as infinitiies are nestled within higher order infinities,
so is the notion of reality nestled within higher order notions of
reality. And just as infinite is a useful way of speaking when used
properly so is reality. But remember it took thousands of years
before folks had a clue of what "infinity" really meant.

One problem with "reality" is that we are tempted to include
'ourselves' the supposed "subject" within "reality" and then once we
position ourselves within this reality, the question of "experience",
"into us from the the outside" and in particular, causative experience
from outside us, somewhere out there in that presumed reality that
becomes available to us, so that it impacts somewhere inside us, where
we are positioned sufficiently within that reality to be subject to
its laws of causation. In fact famed Schopenauer sketch, reproduced in
the iInvestigations, of the eye in its relation to the visual field,
is a more appropriate model for how things can more usefully and
grammatically be spoken of than assuming the 'eye to be in the visual
field which arrays itself before it".


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[Wittrs] Re: Wittgenstein's meaning is use. [message #1413 is a reply to message #1407] Tue, 29 September 2009 17:29 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Cayuse is currently offline  Cayuse
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CJ wrote:
> One problem with "reality" is that we are tempted to include
> 'ourselves' the supposed "subject" within "reality" and then once we
> position ourselves within this reality, the question of "experience",
> "into us from the the outside" and in particular, causative experience
> from outside us, somewhere out there in that presumed reality that
> becomes available to us, so that it impacts somewhere inside us,
> where we are positioned sufficiently within that reality to be subject
> to its laws of causation.

This is close to my view, but for the question
that occurs to me in respect of /what it is/ that is
"tempted to include the supposed 'subject' within 'reality'."
Is it the "supposed subject" that is so tempted?

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[Wittrs] Re: Wittgenstein's meaning is use. [message #1416 is a reply to message #1413] Tue, 29 September 2009 17:56 Go to previous messageGo to next message
CJ is currently offline  CJ
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On Sep 29, 2009, at 5:29 PM, Cayuse wrote:

> CJ wrote:
>> One problem with "reality" is that we are tempted to include
>> 'ourselves' the supposed "subject" within "reality" and then once we
>> position ourselves within this reality, the question of "experience",
>> "into us from the the outside" and in particular, causative
>> experience
>> from outside us, somewhere out there in that presumed reality that
>> becomes available to us, so that it impacts somewhere inside us,
>> where we are positioned sufficiently within that reality to be
>> subject
>> to its laws of causation.
>
> This is close to my view, but for the question that occurs to me in
> respect of /what it is/ that is "tempted to include the supposed
> 'subject' within 'reality'."
> Is it the "supposed subject" that is so tempted?


Once we accept the notion of "reality" it is difficult for us to
imagine otherwise, i.e. to imagine that "we" who are said to know and
to speak can be anywhere else but in its midst. And so, to paraphrase
Wittgenstein "we are certain that we must be there in reality not
because we "know" in any compelling Cartesian way but simply because
we can't imagine otherwise.

The problem is not one of gullibility or lackadaisical nature of
mankind but akin to the problems we encounter when we discuss
numbers. It is a problem of how we "speak"of things in general, I
believe, when we try to be smart. This is the question that
Wittgenstein has himself raised of the relation between th eye and the
visual field.

The question of "zero" and its role in relation to the other numbers
is very much the same problem. While "reality" is the analog, for the
purposes of this discussion of infinity...of everything that is, if
you like, and of the "all that the eye can see"........although the
notion of "reality" that we tend to use is a simple and primitive
analog of the infinite---- akin to that which prevailed prior to
Cantor----since there are many orders of reality, just as there are
infinitely many integers, infinitely many rationals, infinitely many
reals, and so on, but we never speak in terms of orders of
reality......just "reality, per se"

Once we accept the idea of "reality" as "everything there is", It then
somehow seems appropriate (or tempting) to simply throw zero in with
the other numbers and to identify as an integer, a rational number, a
real number, and so on. But don't we know that there is something
special about "zero" that is different and that simply placing it
along a spectrum of integers in any discussion does not do it justice,
and is not quite enough (without clarification).

This may not seem convincing to you. To me it is like unraveling the
dreamwork in which our Western world expresses itself and which
results in its "ways of speaking".........





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[Wittrs] Re: Wittgenstein's meaning is use. [message #1435 is a reply to message #1368] Tue, 29 September 2009 20:42 Go to previous messageGo to next message
kirby urner is currently offline  kirby urner
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On Tue, Sep 29, 2009 at 5:23 PM, BruceD <blroadies@yahoo.com> wrote:
>
> --- In Wittrs@yahoogroups.com, CJ <wittrs@...> wrote:
>
>> The "use" of which it makes sense to speak is NOT  the personalized,
>> incipient about-to-be expressed flicker of a word, but is the role
>> that the expression or word fills in the playing of the language game
>> of which it is a an aspect and part, how it helps hold the game
>> together and how it enables that game to reside firmly and solidly in
>> an underlying 'Form of life".
>
> Given the above definition, why isn't it in accord with LW's use of use
> to point out that the role of of the "incipient about-to-be expressed"
> is also that which "holds the game together"....etc.
>

There is what I'd call the "moment of meaning" in some of the
investigations, especially in Part 2 with the duckrabbit stuff. When
that picture is seen to shift, when the new gestalt gels, there's that
experience of enlightenment (about whatever, maybe not long-lasting).

In my Guide to Wittgenstein posts (way back in this archive), I
emphasized you'd be on the wrong track if looking to any special
spatiotemporal phenomenon or event to be 'the meaning' of a word or
gesture. That's faithful to the chess metaphor, where the meaning of
'pawn' has to do with the whole grammar of chess, i.e. to understand
the meaning of a word, you already need to have a lot of the language
figured out. A pawn is not just a lump of plastic or wood, any more
than a pain is simply that sensation you're having (even if painful).

However, that all should be balanced with these so-called "meaningful
experiences" that we might have any time, revelations, aha! moments or
whatever. When people speak of some movie or play or other art as
being "meaningful" it may well be with reference to this "power to
move" or "power to alter one's perceptions" (even permanently, and
we'd hope for the better or why pay admission?). There's no need to
wait for neuroscience to tell us "why" these events are meaningful, in
terms of brain chemistry. We're not asking them "why".

> In short, if the meaning of our words is in the use, what uses can be
> illegitimate?
>
> bruce
>

So often this tone of "permitted" versus "out of bounds" in some of
these commentaries, whereas the dichotomy in LW's later writings is
much closer to the sense versus nonsense of the Tractatus.

To be in nonsense is like being off road, spinning one's wheels in the
sand. Might one get somewhere? Sure, if you're adept at working in
nonsense namespaces, you might 'erect a tent' as it were, and create
new sense for people to share ("welcome to my tent!").

However, most people with off-road-capable vehicles stick to the roads
for a reason. They're fish out of water if not following a well
trodden track. Off-road experience results in dents, lost resale
value, nothing rewarding, no aha!

Let's be aware if we start treating LW like some disapproving
patriarch who forbids or frowns upon or might get mad if we... [fill
in the blank]. That's to buy into the sick fantasies of the
Popperians and their sado-masochistic "fire poker" imagery. Not
something to encourage, if wanting to steer clear of self-indulgent
immaturity.

Kirby

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Re: [Wittrs] Wittgenstein's Meaning is Use [message #1444 is a reply to message #1368] Wed, 30 September 2009 04:25 Go to previous messageGo to next message
nobul savage is currently offline  nobul savage
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Reply to Nasha

In PI 201a Wittgenstein explicitly states the rule-following paradox: "This was our paradox: no course of action could be determined by a rule, because any course of action can be made out to accord with the rule.(wikipedia).

This is a NO True Scotsman Ploy.

There are no rules in the tennis book to deal with what happens when a
tropical bird walks onto the court (what an oversight!! the rules must be
incomplete!!) . Nothing decides things one way or another. Now if enough
pelicans persist in this outlandish behaviour, we will introduce a new rule.

As it turns out we thought we had an interesting proposition but it turns out we have an idiosyncratic analytic Truth. What we are doing is say that I am using a word in a certain way and the other person responds, this is the way I am using the word, As we can see it as such(N) and (N)+1). Making anything I say an analytic truth
Brendan
[Wittrs] Re: Wittgenstein's meaning is use. [message #1532 is a reply to message #1368] Sun, 04 October 2009 00:36 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Rajasekhar is currently offline  Rajasekhar
Messages: 52
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This state of mind described by you called maya by Adi sankara of advaitha philosophy.This term maya got misinterpreted in India by so many so called sanyasis.As it was pointed out very good philosophical adventure is in wrong hands because of mixer of religion.There is one quote from vyasa of Mahabharath which you may see here.All mental states were created by languageThese mental states are supposed to achieve its desired endAll mental states are the product of description and explanationsthank you

sekhar

--- On Wed, 30/9/09, CJ <castalia@optonline.net> wrote:

From: CJ <castalia@optonline.net>
Subject: [Wittrs] Re: Wittgenstein's meaning is use.
To: wittrs@freelists.org
Date: Wednesday, 30 September, 2009, 4:35 AM






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[Wittrs] More on "meaning as use" [message #1960 is a reply to message #1532] Tue, 27 October 2009 01:45 Go to previous messageGo to next message
kirby urner is currently offline  kirby urner
Messages: 349
Registered: August 2009
Location: Portland, Oregon
Senior Member
The "meaning as use" dictum is introduced in conjunction
with "language games" designed to make this point.

In a complicated piece of machinery, like a wrist watch,
you have many moving parts, however none need be
described as "referring" to another, even though their
various actions are tightly coupled.

Parts that physically touch one another nevertheless
are not described as "referring" to one another.

Likewise, a word like "mind" has no specific meaning
minus its role in specific language games, which are myriad.
We should free ourselves of the notion that "mind" has
a referent versus simply a role in various complex machine-
like accounting systems.

It's a token, a moving part, a component, a cog. There
need be no specific experience or phenomenon at the
other end of a pointing stick.

Nothing in a wrist watch is pointing, except the long and
short hand on the face, which by social convention we
have learned to read as designating specific numbers.
On a digital watch, pointing is replaced with a direct
display of these same numbers.

The pre-Wittgensteinian believes that words are primarily
nouns or names that tag objects. But even the social
convention of tagging has many forms. Routing tags or
bar codes are bear a family resemblance to proper names
applied to human beings or cities. Further investigation
discloses plenty of divergent patterns however.

Imagine a cocktail party where, for purposes of anonymity,
one had to select from pre-printed nametags. You would pick
one corresponding to your gender (up to you) and wear it
for that event and people would address you by that name,
but at the next event you might choose a different nametag
and so forth.

Even this slight variation for the norm helps break the hold
of the idea of "referents". I am Robert one day, George the
next, and it's easy to see these names as tools, tokens.

In the game of Monopoly or other board game, the pieces
do not refer to anything. In pushing the little car around the
board, I may say "I am winning" or "I am making money",
which might suggest that the little car refers to me. But I
could just as well say "my car is winning" or "my piece
is making money" in which case the car doesn't refer to
me. Perhaps I'm pushing someone else's piece around
the board (people get bored with Monopoly, go to bed
early).

So we see how easy it is to break these ghostly bonds
of association, which is another way of saying the
game doesn't really depend on them being there.

The word "mind", like the little car on the Monopoly board,
is not obligated to anchor to some referent off the board,
floating in some nebulous ether as some "hard to put one's
finger on" phenomenon or "thing". "My mind is a thing in
my head" is already a problematical statement that we
wouldn't know what to do with, although it's not clear that
it's "wrong" so much as "useless".

Computer languages were far less evolved when
Wittgenstein was writing, however they today provide a
clear exhibit of meaning as use, as the language games
have everything to do with driving machinery, making
things happen, more like those "orders in battle" he
was talking about (indeed, we speak of "imperative
languages" sometimes, of expressions as
"commands").

In the Python language, one tends to use the word
"self" a lot, and indeed it plays an analogous role to
"self" in ordinary speech, in that every object has one,
and because of this "self", each object is "personalized"
i.e. rendered distinct from every other, even if it
arises from the same blueprint or class definition.

Academic logicians may have no training in such a language,
as analytic philosophy hasn't upgraded very quickly. If we
ever get to a point where contemporary high level
computer languages get into the philosophical literature,
post-Wittgensteinian especially, we may find we're blessed
with yet another tool for dislodging outmoded ways of
conceiving of "meaning".

[ Speaking of Python, we also have a strong nominalist
model in that everything is an object and every object
has its names (note use of the plural). Yes, that's right,
the very same object may have lots and lots of names,
all pointing to the very same thing. It's only when a
thing ceases to have any names at all that it's
automatically "garbage collected", meaning the memory
it occupied is now free to hold other things instead
(this memory is called "the heap"). ]

So in computer languages we have language games in
which "self" has plenty of meaning. It would also be quite
permissible to use the word "mind" in place of "self" (the
Python interpreter would not fuss at this). Yet no one
imagines that this use of "self" or "mind" is with reference
to some spooky mental phenomenon that we can't quite
put our hands on. There's far less superstition about what
it takes for these words to be meaningful.

For this reason alone I would urge anyone wishing to
understand the later Wittgenstein to pay some attention
to computer languages.

Kirby
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[Wittrs] Re: More on "meaning as use" [message #1966 is a reply to message #1960] Tue, 27 October 2009 10:46 Go to previous messageGo to next message
SWMirsky is currently offline  SWMirsky
Messages: 188
Registered: August 2009
Senior Member
--- In Wittrs@yahoogroups.com, kirby urner <wittrsamr@...> wrote:
>
> The "meaning as use" dictum is introduced in conjunction
> with "language games" designed to make this point.
>


> In a complicated piece of machinery, like a wrist watch,
> you have many moving parts, however none need be
> described as "referring" to another, even though their
> various actions are tightly coupled.

>
> Parts that physically touch one another nevertheless
> are not described as "referring" to one another.


Referring is one thing words do, just like some prescribe and some emote and some evoke, etc. I think, Kirby, that you are too obsessed with this referring thing, somehow imagining that to note that not all words in language are referring words is to deny referring in toto, i.e., to suggest that no words actually ever refer. That just flies against the obvious.

>
> Likewise, a word like "mind" has no specific meaning
> minus its role in specific language games, which are myriad.
> We should free ourselves of the notion that "mind" has
> a referent versus simply a role in various complex machine-
> like accounting systems.
>

It's nice that you see this but, once again, you go too far. Yes, words get their meanings from the roles they play in particular game-like activities. But that doesn't mean that words used to refer can never refer or that all references must follow the same model. The point I have repeatedly made is that referring to private experience, such as the sensation in my chest, is a perfectly natural language use and does not depend, to be properly understood, on the supposition that I have nothing in mind when I make the statement or that the doctors had nothing in mind when they asked it.


> It's a token, a moving part, a component, a cog. There
> need be no specific experience or phenomenon at the
> other end of a pointing stick.
>

Right, there need not be. But sometimes there is. And sometimes, in some cases, what we have in mind at the other end of the "pointing stick" has characteristics that make it entirely different from rocks and trees and so forth.


> Nothing in a wrist watch is pointing, except the long and
> short hand on the face, which by social convention we
> have learned to read as designating specific numbers.
> On a digital watch, pointing is replaced with a direct
> display of these same numbers.
>

That wristwatches work one way doesn't mean that other things don't work another way. That some words don't refer doesn't mean no words refer.


> The pre-Wittgensteinian believes that words are primarily
> nouns or names that tag objects. But even the social
> convention of tagging has many forms. Routing tags or
> bar codes are bear a family resemblance to proper names
> applied to human beings or cities. Further investigation
> discloses plenty of divergent patterns however.
>

Quite so but so what with regard to whether some words refer or not, whether some words tag or not?

> Imagine a cocktail party where, for purposes of anonymity,
> one had to select from pre-printed nametags. You would pick
> one corresponding to your gender (up to you) and wear it
> for that event and people would address you by that name,
> but at the next event you might choose a different nametag
> and so forth.
>

> Even this slight variation for the norm helps break the hold
> of the idea of "referents". I am Robert one day, George the
> next, and it's easy to see these names as tools, tokens.
>

Again, that there are referents doesn't mean that they all work the same way nor does the fact that they work differently mean there aren't referents.


> In the game of Monopoly or other board game, the pieces
> do not refer to anything. In pushing the little car around the
> board, I may say "I am winning" or "I am making money",
> which might suggest that the little car refers to me. But I
> could just as well say "my car is winning" or "my piece
> is making money" in which case the car doesn't refer to
> me. Perhaps I'm pushing someone else's piece around
> the board (people get bored with Monopoly, go to bed
> early).
>

Yes, there are other games. And there are also referring games. Accepting this doesn't mean we must accept a notion that referring is the paradigm of all language.

> So we see how easy it is to break these ghostly bonds
> of association, which is another way of saying the
> game doesn't really depend on them being there.
>
> The word "mind", like the little car on the Monopoly board,
> is not obligated to anchor to some referent off the board,
> floating in some nebulous ether as some "hard to put one's
> finger on" phenomenon or "thing". "My mind is a thing in
> my head" is already a problematical statement that we
> wouldn't know what to do with, although it's not clear that
> it's "wrong" so much as "useless".
>

Here, then, is the crux. You want to say "mind" means lots of different things and so do I. But I want to say that some of those things involve features of our subjective experience and others physical behaviors of entities, whereas you seem to bridle at such an idea. Can you say why? It's not enough to note that there are other uses of words or that "mind" may play many roles. The issue is whether the role I am assigning it is supported by our actual experience or not. Do you think it isn't?


<snip>

> Kirby

SWM

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[Wittrs] Re: More on "meaning as use" [message #1967 is a reply to message #1960] Tue, 27 October 2009 10:55 Go to previous messageGo to next message
jrstern is currently offline  jrstern
Messages: 159
Registered: August 2009
Senior Member
--- In Wittrs@yahoogroups.com, kirby urner <wittrsamr@...> wrote:
>
> The "meaning as use" dictum is introduced in conjunction
> with "language games" designed to make this point.

... which I agree with overall, but want to comment on
just a couple of pieces.


> Likewise, a word like "mind" has no specific meaning
> minus its role in specific language games, which are myriad.
> We should free ourselves of the notion that "mind" has
> a referent versus simply a role in various complex machine-
> like accounting systems.
>
> It's a token, a moving part, a component, a cog. There
> need be no specific experience or phenomenon at the
> other end of a pointing stick.

There *need* be none, but there *might* be one.

Same for "cat" or "John".

The point is that language is *independent* from ontological
commitments - or fulfillments, not that such referals are never
valid, nor that there really aren't cats or minds
out there somewhere.


> Nothing in a wrist watch is pointing, except the long and
> short hand on the face, which by social convention we
> have learned to read as designating specific numbers.
> On a digital watch, pointing is replaced with a direct
> display of these same numbers.

Some other time I may need to take issue with this at some length,
but for now I'm 100% in agreement with it.


> The pre-Wittgensteinian believes that words are primarily
> nouns or names that tag objects.

I would note that many post-Wittgensteinians believe so too.
(cough) Kripke (cough)
Unless such are taken as atavistic throwbacks.

I'm also trying to remember my college linguistics, I suspect there
are other linguistic traditions pre-Wittgenstein that do not take
words as quite that atomic, certainly the universally understood
linguistic fact that sounds or marks are arbitrary and only acquire
even simple associational meanings in context or by use, is along
these lines. And skepticism about the quality of associational
meanings is a long tradition. So, carefully drawn, it may be a bit
more difficult to find what exactly in Wittgenstein is a new and
unique take on language, than just to say pre- and post-.

And then, Quine (post-W) has his famous holistic statement:

our statements about the external world face the tribunal of sense experience not individually, but only as a corporate body

The problem is that holism is as problematic as word-atomism.
We need, we use, all sorts of strategies in our everyday language.
"Meaning as use" covers many, it doesn't outlaw much of anything.


> Even this slight variation for the norm helps break the hold
> of the idea of "referents". I am Robert one day, George the
> next, and it's easy to see these names as tools, tokens.

The entire computational art of "neural networks" shows how
you can duplicate referential systems with virtually no references
at all.

Quine's holism is also purportedly reference-free - more like
reference-problematic I suppose, but it's over in that direction.


> Computer languages were far less evolved when
> Wittgenstein was writing, however they today provide a
> clear exhibit of meaning as use, as the language games
> have everything to do with driving machinery, making
> things happen, more like those "orders in battle" he
> was talking about (indeed, we speak of "imperative
> languages" sometimes, of expressions as
> "commands").

But most languages tend to be very referential in their styles.

However, what do they refer to - real entities in the world, or
conventional entities we stipulate - objects we make up, virtual
gears for our virtual watch?


> [ Speaking of Python, we also have a strong nominalist
> model in that everything is an object and every object
> has its names (note use of the plural). Yes, that's right,
> the very same object may have lots and lots of names,
> all pointing to the very same thing.

But this is an inverse to what the main meaning of nominalism
is, or certainly the main point of nominalism for me, which is that
systems can manipulate by the names, without ever knowing what
the real objects are. When I go to the Claim Jumper restaurant,
they hand me a tag that says, "Clem". When they have a table for
me, they call for "Clem", and I go and sit down. I'm not Clem,
except for the moment, in this context, but the "name" works.
The restaurant never makes any ontological commitments to
anything about me, except that I can fill the role of a Clem.

(hence "functionalism", but this is a distraction, not where I'm
going at all)

How a Kripkean could ever make sense of this I don't know, they
would see the associational "baptism" and understand that, but how
it would then be true that I am "necessarily Clem in all possible
worlds" or "rigidly designated" by a name that will in an hour refer
to someone else entirely - would seem to not work at all. Oh, they'd
make up an entire new metaphysics - to explain the waiting system
at the restaurant. Good luck with that.

A Wittgensteinian can just say, "meaning is use", and have more
time to drink beer.


> For this reason alone I would urge anyone wishing to
> understand the later Wittgenstein to pay some attention
> to computer languages.

I absolutely agree, watching the mechanics of how computing
systems compile and execute languages is another world that
any modern philosopher of language or mind can only benefit from,
whether it ever turns out that human brains work this way or not.

Josh




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[Wittrs] More on "meaning as use" (reply to SWM) [message #1970 is a reply to message #1960] Tue, 27 October 2009 16:06 Go to previous messageGo to next message
kirby urner is currently offline  kirby urner
Messages: 349
Registered: August 2009
Location: Portland, Oregon
Senior Member
--- In Wittrs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, kirby urner <wittrsamr@...> wrote:
>
>> The "meaning as use" dictum is introduced in conjunction
>> with "language games" designed to make this point.
>
>> In a complicated piece of machinery...
>> Parts that physically touch one another nevertheless
>> are not described as "referring" to one another.


> Referring is one thing words do, just like some prescribe
> and some emote and some evoke, etc. I think, Kirby, that
> you are too obsessed with this referring thing, somehow
> imagining that to note that not all words in language are
> referring words is to deny referring in toto, i.e., to suggest
> that no words actually ever refer. That just flies against
> the obvious.

It's precisely "the obvious" that we're setting out to
question in Wittgenstein's later philosophy, starting
with that language game with the slabs.

The first step is to acknowledge that "to refer" is *not*
some simple atomic irreducible fundamental or essential
action that some words engage in while others do not.

Rather, the verb "to refer" is embedded in a complex
machinery of social activities that must be investigated,
dissected (if we're serious about doing philosophy).

When you get back to "referring" at the end of the day
(and I'm with you: like you, I am able to refer to a pain
in my chest, or in yours, or in hers, able to say "the
cat is on the mat" and mean that cat over there, on
that specific mat) you're no longer assuming there's
some essential underlying, one-of-a-kind mental action
that is "the act of referring". That's gone out the window
(what window?). You likely agree.

Your objections have the flavor of the guy who refutes
the statement that "no solids have been discovered
by science" by simply kicking a bowling ball and
saying "there, isn't that solid?". The "no solids"
thesis has to do with the atomic structure of matter,
the discontinuities inherent in any substance, and
the fact that atomic nuclei themselves are equivalently
energy, which radiates away if their equilibrium is
sufficiently disturbed, as in atomic fission.

One may look at a bowling ball an mutter "Democritus
was right, as no atomic nuclei actually touch one
another" or one may mutter "at least we'll always
have perfect solids as there's nothing like a bowling
ball to prove my point".

Ironically, you're on the side of the ordinary language
user in saying "of course we refer to things, that's
obvious", whereas I seem to be out on the fringe,
questioning the unquestionable.

However, when doing philosophy, as when doing
science, it's accepted that we sometimes have
more esoteric meanings in mind and so warp our
usage patterns correspondingly.

I'm not out of bounds (going against the rules) in
questioning the referential essence of language,
or even portions of language, especially on a
Wittrs type list of all places.

>> Likewise, a word like "mind" has no specific meaning
>> minus its role in specific language games, which are myriad.
>> We should free ourselves of the notion that "mind" has
>> a referent versus simply a role in various complex machine-
>> like accounting systems.

> It's nice that you see this but, once again, you go too
> far. Yes, words get their meanings from the roles
> they play in particular game-like activities. But
> that doesn't mean that words used to refer can
> never refer or that all references must follow the
> same model. The point I have repeatedly made is that
> referring to private experience, such as the sensation
> in my chest, is a perfectly natural language use and
> does not depend, to be properly understood,
> on the supposition that I have nothing in mind when
> I make the statement or that the doctors had
> nothing in mind when they asked it.

I think you expressed some frustration that you found
it difficult to refer to that very specific pain on that
day and time, to characterize it completely. Indeed,
people often fumble for words in doctors' offices,
reaching for adjectives like hot, throbbing, comes
and goes, dull. Some dig up size words ("like a
golf ball between my eyes") or even color words.

On the other hand, if you have a dog named Fido,
it seems relatively easy to mean that dog rather
precisely. You will call the dog "public", because
others see it, the pain "private", because only you
feel it. The dog becomes "outward" the pain
"inward". We then have the grammar of "two
worlds" (the public world of dogs, of cats on mats)
and the private world of pains and thoughts.

I am very familiar with all of the above, how people
customarily talk and think about an internal and
external world and what they mean by these terms.

However, I also think that the process of philosophical
investigation as handed down to us by Wittgenstein
involves *not* accepting all this grammar as a
starting point in the sense of "what we all agree on".

Rather, it's a starting point in the sense of "what
we all agree to dissect, investigate, in order to
see more clearly how it works as machinery".

We want to see what makes it tick (back to my
wrist watch metaphor).

>> It's a token, a moving part, a component, a cog.
>> There need be no specific experience or
>> phenomenon at the other end of a pointing stick.
>

> Right, there need not be. But sometimes there is.
> And sometimes, in some cases, what we have in
> mind at the other end of the "pointing stick" has
> characteristics that make it entirely different from
> rocks and trees and so forth.

You're wheeled into a hospital suffering chest pain.
You have been equipped with tools by your culture,
have this bag of tricks, a utility belt, a vocabulary
of gestures, grimaces, sounds, some of which
you may not have access to under the circumstances.

Your goal is to assist care givers such that they
make a correct diagnosis and do what their training
suggests they do by way of treatment, so there's
this sense of high stakes, wanting to assist, get
it right. The sense of frustration is heightened if
you sense they're not getting all the information
that pertains.

Stepping back from this picture, a philosopher
might ask: how does one get thoughts and
feelings into words? The "getting into" phraseology
is already a departure from the "pointing" metaphor
and sounds more like music, as we probably agree
that composers communicate emotions or mental
states (e.g. a sense of suspense or foreboding)
in music.

How will the hospital patient make effective music
for the doctors, thinking of vocal chords as like
violin strings? That's another way to articulate
the question.

Wittgenstein often speaks of the musical function
of language, its close affiliation with that mode of
communication (not that he's unique in this regard,
even among top drawer philosophers e.g.
Kierkegaard had some passages on that, also
Thomas Paine).

I think one response to Mr. Philosopher above
(the guy asking how one gets thoughts and feelings
into words) is to say: it's not a matter of getting
one thing into another. You have your tools,
your song and dance capabilities, and a social
context.

The mental image that you're trying to point to
something, but can't quite (like a fuzzy Fido,
too blurry and private, too elusive to be publicly
poked) is simply a misleading image.

Likewise the mental image that you're trying
to get some "into" words, as if words were
like containers needing to be stuffed with
goodies (meanings), is simply that: a mental
image. Why should that be the best image in
this case?

The above response has a Wittgensteinian flavor
because it doesn't answer the question but
instead asks the asker to step back and
question the metaphor, the driving image
behind the question.

Q: "How might I point to my mind?"

A: "Why do you take it for granted that
'pointing' is the appropriate metaphor?"

Your response has the flavor: "Of course
pointing is the correct metaphor! I point to
my dog Fido don't I? Why should the pain
in my chest not be considered a 'private
dog?'" (or beetle as the case may be). You
don't want to depart from "referring" as the
central axis around which your philosophy
of language revolves (and which marks
you as pre-Wittgensteinian).

This is why I think of you as a nominalist,
acknowledging up front that this isn't the
Catholic meaning of nominalism, which the
priests tend to contrast with Platonism
(sometimes called realism -- just to muddy
the waters some more, clever to take their
preferred position and make it the "realist"
one, a rhetorical maneuver) i.e. the nominalist
doesn't believe in the reality of the Platonic
form behind the sign '2'.

Do you think '2' is one of those "referring
words"? (as if words themselves could be
sorted that way -- some probably think
they can be though).

>> Nothing in a wrist watch is pointing, except
>> the long and short hand on the face, which
>> by social convention we have learned to
>> read as designating specific numbers.
>> On a digital watch, pointing is replaced
>> with a direct display of these same numbers.
>

> That wristwatches work one way doesn't mean
> that other things don't work another way.
> That some words don't refer doesn't mean no
> words refer.

I think there's a way of observing the everyday
functioning or ordinary language where you've
simply dropped the sense of referring or
pointing. You're free of that sensibility, even
when saying "the cat is on the mat" or when
saying "here Fido!" or "there's this pain in
my chest." Language remains exactly as
it is, nothing changes, and yet your outlook
is subjectively different. You see in a new
way.

As you well know from reading me for a long
time, I persistently harp on this theme that
Wittgenstein's investigations are primarily
aimed at producing gestalt switches in the
investigator, not changing behavior or even
word usage patterns. How we ordinarily talk
is OK, even how we ordinarily talk about
referring, naming and pointing. However,
it's possible to not be a nominalist in the
sense I mean nominalist, and have a different
sense of language that's more operationalist
or instrumentalist.

By way of analogy, it's all in how you look at
that bowling ball, as a perfect solid, or as
another example of how the word "solid" is
deceiving (now that we've investigated more
deeply).

>> The pre-Wittgensteinian believes that words
>> are primarily nouns or names that tag objects.
>> But even the social convention of tagging has
>> many forms. Routing tags or bar codes [...]
>> bear a family resemblance to proper names
>> applied to human beings or cities. Further
>> investigation discloses plenty of divergent
>> patterns however.
>

> Quite so but so what with regard to whether
> some words refer or not, whether some words
> tag or not?

Many hospitals these days slip a bar coded
bracelet around your wrist upon admission, then
associate your proper name with said bar code
in a computer lookup table accessed by caregivers.

A bottle of pills or medical device might
have a bar code too, and those will be scanned
if used in treatment, and associated with the
bar code on your wrist, both for billing purposes,
and to show what substances or devices were
administered or implanted, or used and
discarded as medical waste in connection
with your treatment.

Now some poet might wax eloquently about
how this impersonal bar code doesn't really
refer to a person, because it doesn't single
out an individual, doesn't point to a thinking
feeling self, is merely a luggage tag or UPC
code in a supermarket, not referring to anything
but itself. That's putting a spin on the matter,
maybe decrying the industrialization of medicine,
it's sometimes factory-like aspects.

Another poet might spin it another way and
say how your own proper name is likewise
no more than a bar code, assigned to you
at birth, and no more a pointer to your soft
inner center, your thinking and feeling essence,
than an industrial bar code.

Neither the hospital bracelet nor your legal
name at birth are pointers to your consciousness,
your mind, to a living cogito or soul etc. etc.
Said poetic responder might be working for
the hospitals, trying to counter charges of
depersonalization with some alternative clever
hooey, a countering argument in support of
a medical practice.

Both of the above poets are working in the
aesthetic dimension, not really in the realm of
science. But this isn't to say their combat is
low stakes or irrelevant to the future of medical
care.

The link to Wittgenstein: both the Tractatus
and the PI were *not* designed to dismiss
the aesthetic dimension as the realm of
irrelevant nonsense, next to science as
the one true discourse for any matters of
vital importance.

On the contrary, both were designed to
welcome and emphasize the aesthetic
dimension in our language and to acknowledge
an eternal significance that science would
not be able to discount from within its own
purview without committing logical fallacies.
In the TLP, tautologies corral science,
circumscribe it. In the PI, we're allowed
to keep talking (no need to keep silent
having ascended the latter).

Poets, advertisers, diplomats, politicians,
pundits... all have similar work as spin doctors,
employ the music of authority in the game
of allegiances. Studying Wittgenstein helps
them be more effective (more dangerous,
more in need of countering -- by others
who've done their homework as well).

>> Imagine a cocktail party where, for purposes
>> of anonymity, one had to select from pre-printed
>> nametags. You would pick one corresponding
>> to your gender (up to you) and wear it for that
>> event and people would address you by that
>> name, but at the next event you might choose
>> a different nametag and so forth.

>> Even this slight variation for the norm helps break
>> the hold of the idea of "referents". I am Robert
>> one day, George the next, and it's easy to see
>> these names as tools, tokens.
>

> Again, that there are referents doesn't mean that
> they all work the same way nor does the fact that
> they work differently mean there aren't referents.

Just because science has discovered discontinuities,
discrete energy events, a quantum mechanical,
digital character to phenomena, any time it zooms in
closely enough, doesn't mean we no longer have
a use for the word "solid" or "smooth continuum".

In his book 'Polyhedra', Cromwell talks about how
the sense of that word has changed over time, in
concert with science, such that today we're thinking
more in terms of wire frames, gossamer webs,
networks. "We mathematicians live in a more
discontinuous and discrete-seeming conceptual
world" might be a good summary, "whereas in
an earlier age, a polyhedron was something
perfectly solid, absolutely dense to the point of
having no individual constituents, no internal
structure, no 'parts' as it were" (my words not
his).

When paradigms change, the sensibility changes,
the aesthetic character. I'm saying that the
linguistic turn has had a similar impact in the
philosophy of language in that nominalism (as
I operationally define it) is no longer the guiding
sensibility when it comes to thinking about
language and what it means to mean stuff
in language.

We're not using the metaphor of "pointing" to
anchor even the most basic and primitive moves
or operations, even though we still have a use
for pointing and pointers (in the C language
especially).

Of course my above claim is open to debate,
however I think it's obvious that Wittgenstein
*was* challenging us to question in this
direction. He asked us to question the
social convention of pointing itself. When
you extend your finger in a particular direction
and say "*that* is what I mean", how exactly
is that meaningful? (i.e. let's investigate!)
At the very least, he's saying there's a
complicated game going on, not something
atomic and essential, not a peg for some
philosophical hat.

How does one point to London? Do you
point to a dot on the map? A postcard?
Or if you're standing in Trafalgar Square,
do you make an arms wide gesture and
say "This is London!". "All of the above and
more" might be a good answer.

I remember being on a tour bus in what I
was imagining to be London and coming to
what is more technically the City of London,
with the guide saying something like: "the
queen needs the mayor's permission to
enter the city gates" or something crazy like
that. I was thinking something like "obviously
there's more to this 'London' than meets the
eye." Or one might have thought "welcome
to the twisted mind of an Englishman" (or
maybe one should say "mindset" instead
of "mind"?).

>> In the game of Monopoly or other board
>> game, the pieces do not refer to anything.
>> In pushing the little car around the board,
>> I may say "I am winning" or "I am making
>> money", which might suggest that the little
>> car refers to me. But I could just as well
>> say "my car is winning" or "my piece is
>> making money" in which case the car
>> doesn't refer to me. Perhaps I'm pushing
>> someone else's piece around the board
>> (people get bored with Monopoly, go to
>> bed early).
>

> Yes, there are other games. And there are
> also referring games. Accepting this doesn't
> mean we must accept a notion that referring
> is the paradigm of all language.

And yet you seem to insist that any talk of
"mind" and "consciousness" IS to involve us
in a game of referring, the only difference
being that now we're dealing with "private
Fidos" instead of public ones. This "pain
in my chest" is like this barking dog in
some internal world that I struggle to point
to, but just can't, quite. Frustrating. And
that's because "mental objects" have this
more elusive nature simply in being private,
and that makes them harder to point to.
This is how your thinking comes across
to me, very nominalist, very "old skool".

In the operationalist view, there's no struggle
to point to anything, even when there's this
very specific pain going on. The struggle
has ended in part because we've undermined
nominalism even in that public world of
public events. We've learned a different way
of looking at language that lets everything
stay the same, in terms of what people
say and do. We're happy to speak of
"referring" and "referents" (this medical
bracelet has a referent: the patient who
is wearing it), but on the other hand we
know that's just short hand for some
complicated mechanics. We're able to
take an operational view even when someone
points over a fence and says "that there is
Millie the cow" (obviously referring to a
cow named Millie). Likewise we still see
solids everywhere we look, even though we
know of no "solids" in the superstitious
sense people used to believe in.

>> So we see how easy it is to break these
>> ghostly bonds of association, which is
>> another way of saying the game doesn't
>> really depend on them being there.
>>
>> The word "mind", like the little car on the
>> Monopoly board, is not obligated to anchor
>> to some referent off the board, floating in
>> some nebulous ether as some "hard to put
>> one's finger on" phenomenon or "thing".
>> "My mind is a thing in my head" is already
>> a problematical statement that we wouldn't
>> know what to do with, although it's not clear
>> that it's "wrong" so much as "useless".
>

> Here, then, is the crux. You want to say "mind"
> means lots of different things and so do I.

The phrase "Means a lot of different things" already
embeds a kind of nominalism though, in that the
meaning is now a "thing" i.e. some "off stage
presence" or "object" (either public or private).
I'd rather say that "mind" has many different
uses and, when dealing with a philosopher, it
may take some time to discover what rules
are being followed, what the grammar is. How
a philosopher uses the word "mind" will help
one decipher that philosopher's mindset.

> But I want to say that some of those things
> involve features of our subjective experience
> and others physical behaviors of entities, whereas
> you seem to bridle at such an idea. Can you
> say why? It's not enough to note that there
> are other uses of words or that "mind" may
> play many roles. The issue is whether the
> role I am assigning it is supported by our
> actual experience or not. Do you think it isn't?

One might say "how could I speak of 'self' all
the time if there was in reality no self? Can't
I just glance inwardly and see to my own
satisfaction that not only do I have a self, but
that the self has a mind, or *is* a mind as the
case may be?"

To the naive nominalist, there might seem to
be something like a logical argument here:
words mean by referring to things, the word
"mind" is meaningful, ergo it refers to a thing,
ergo the mind is a thing (albeit an elusive
one)".

Thanks to Wittgenstein's operationalism, we're
quite able to accept that "mind" is meaningful,
plus we're not encumbered with ontological
commitments as Josh puts it, or rather I'd say
the commitment is there ("language is dipped
in the blood of human experience -- like egg
beaters in batter") but minus the nominalism,
minus the referentialism. We don't even have
the "picture theory of meaning" per the TLP
(one of those aspects he *did* back away
from, even though both works were pointing
to the aesthetic dimension as existentially
beyond science's clutches -- a grammar is
ultimately not empirically justified, is simply
another expression of nature's variety).

The link to Buddhism is obvious in that the
latter espouses a "no self" doctrine, in
contradistinction to Cartesian belief in a
core cogito. We might get into more spin
doctoring here, regarding "mind" and/or "self",
but at least we're not any longer sidetracked
by the naive nominalist position that would
make referentialism a kind of proof of existence.
*That* sort of metaphysics no longer meets
current standards, which I think makes
cross-cultural dialog with Asian philosophies
a lot easier.

Kirby
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[Wittrs] Re: More on "meaning as use" (reply to SWM) [message #1972 is a reply to message #1970] Tue, 27 October 2009 19:13 Go to previous messageGo to next message
SWMirsky is currently offline  SWMirsky
Messages: 188
Registered: August 2009
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--- In Wittrs@yahoogroups.com, kirby urner <wittrsamr@...> wrote:
<snip>

> > Referring is one thing words do, just like some prescribe
> > and some emote and some evoke, etc. I think, Kirby, that
> > you are too obsessed with this referring thing, somehow
> > imagining that to note that not all words in language are
> > referring words is to deny referring in toto, i.e., to suggest
> > that no words actually ever refer. That just flies against
> > the obvious.
>
> It's precisely "the obvious" that we're setting out to
> question in Wittgenstein's later philosophy, starting
> with that language game with the slabs.
>

But being "obvious" doesen't make something wrong. Sometimes it makes it right. Remember his dictum that everything is right befor our eyes, nothing is hidden.


> The first step is to acknowledge that "to refer" is *not*
> some simple atomic irreducible fundamental or essential
> action that some words engage in while others do not.
>

Some words refer and some don't. It's different things we do with language. No one is making any assertions about "some simple atomic irreducible fundamental or essential action". There is referring and there is other stuff we do with language.


> Rather, the verb "to refer" is embedded in a complex
> machinery of social activities that must be investigated,
> dissected (if we're serious about doing philosophy).
>

So? Some words still refer and some don't whatever the mechanism at work that makes it so.


> When you get back to "referring" at the end of the day
> (and I'm with you: like you, I am able to refer to a pain
> in my chest, or in yours, or in hers, able to say "the
> cat is on the mat" and mean that cat over there, on
> that specific mat) you're no longer assuming there's
> some essential underlying, one-of-a-kind mental action
> that is "the act of referring". That's gone out the window
> (what window?). You likely agree.
>

Yes.

> Your objections have the flavor of the guy who refutes
> the statement that "no solids have been discovered
> by science" by simply kicking a bowling ball and
> saying "there, isn't that solid?". The "no solids"
> thesis has to do with the atomic structure of matter,
> the discontinuities inherent in any substance, and
> the fact that atomic nuclei themselves are equivalently
> energy, which radiates away if their equilibrium is
> sufficiently disturbed, as in atomic fission.
>

In that text from the Blue and Brown Books I put up here, Wittgenstein makes just that point, noting that such a description of atomic structure has nothing to do with how we use our words in an everyday sense in such cases.


> One may look at a bowling ball an mutter "Democritus
> was right, as no atomic nuclei actually touch one
> another" or one may mutter "at least we'll always
> have perfect solids as there's nothing like a bowling
> ball to prove my point".
>
> Ironically, you're on the side of the ordinary language
> user in saying "of course we refer to things, that's
> obvious", whereas I seem to be out on the fringe,
> questioning the unquestionable.
>

What's ironic here?

> However, when doing philosophy, as when doing
> science, it's accepted that we sometimes have
> more esoteric meanings in mind and so warp our
> usage patterns correspondingly.
>

Yes. Still some words refer and some don't and whatever the mechanism that makes it happen (which is part of what AI is about, by the way) referring is still part of the range of things we do with language.

> I'm not out of bounds (going against the rules) in
> questioning the referential essence of language,
> or even portions of language, especially on a
> Wittrs type list of all places.
>

> >> Likewise, a word like "mind" has no specific meaning
> >> minus its role in specific language games, which are myriad.
> >> We should free ourselves of the notion that "mind" has
> >> a referent versus simply a role in various complex machine-
> >> like accounting systems.
>

> > It's nice that you see this but, once again, you go too
> > far. Yes, words get their meanings from the roles
> > they play in particular game-like activities. But
> > that doesn't mean that words used to refer can
> > never refer or that all references must follow the
> > same model. The point I have repeatedly made is that
> > referring to private experience, such as the sensation
> > in my chest, is a perfectly natural language use and
> > does not depend, to be properly understood,
> > on the supposition that I have nothing in mind when
> > I make the statement or that the doctors had
> > nothing in mind when they asked it.
>

> I think you expressed some frustration that you found
> it difficult to refer to that very specific pain on that
> day and time, to characterize it completely. Indeed,
> people often fumble for words in doctors' offices,
> reaching for adjectives like hot, throbbing, comes
> and goes, dull. Some dig up size words ("like a
> golf ball between my eyes") or even color words.
>


The frustration occurred in the context of the event, not in its aftermath of considering the implications of that for language usage generally.


> On the other hand, if you have a dog named Fido,
> it seems relatively easy to mean that dog rather
> precisely. You will call the dog "public", because
> others see it, the pain "private", because only you
> feel it. The dog becomes "outward" the pain
> "inward". We then have the grammar of "two
> worlds" (the public world of dogs, of cats on mats)
> and the private world of pains and thoughts.
>

> I am very familiar with all of the above, how people
> customarily talk and think about an internal and
> external world and what they mean by these terms.
>

> However, I also think that the process of philosophical
> investigation as handed down to us by Wittgenstein
> involves *not* accepting all this grammar as a
> starting point in the sense of "what we all agree on".
>

> Rather, it's a starting point in the sense of "what
> we all agree to dissect, investigate, in order to
> see more clearly how it works as machinery".
>

> We want to see what makes it tick (back to my
> wrist watch metaphor).
>

Everything is before us, nothing hidden. Philosophy has the form of making statements that everyone would agree on.


> >> It's a token, a moving part, a component, a cog.
> >> There need be no specific experience or
> >> phenomenon at the other end of a pointing stick.
> >
>
> > Right, there need not be. But sometimes there is.
> > And sometimes, in some cases, what we have in
> > mind at the other end of the "pointing stick" has
> > characteristics that make it entirely different from
> > rocks and trees and so forth.
>

> You're wheeled into a hospital suffering chest pain.
> You have been equipped with tools by your culture,
> have this bag of tricks, a utility belt, a vocabulary
> of gestures, grimaces, sounds, some of which
> you may not have access to under the circumstances.
>

> Your goal is to assist care givers such that they
> make a correct diagnosis and do what their training
> suggests they do by way of treatment, so there's
> this sense of high stakes, wanting to assist, get
> it right. The sense of frustration is heightened if
> you sense they're not getting all the information
> that pertains.
>

> Stepping back from this picture, a philosopher
> might ask: how does one get thoughts and
> feelings into words? The "getting into" phraseology
> is already a departure from the "pointing" metaphor
> and sounds more like music, as we probably agree
> that composers communicate emotions or mental
> states (e.g. a sense of suspense or foreboding)
> in music.
>

> How will the hospital patient make effective music
> for the doctors, thinking of vocal chords as like
> violin strings? That's another way to articulate
> the question.
>

> Wittgenstein often speaks of the musical function
> of language, its close affiliation with that mode of
> communication (not that he's unique in this regard,
> even among top drawer philosophers e.g.
> Kierkegaard had some passages on that, also
> Thomas Paine).
>

> I think one response to Mr. Philosopher above
> (the guy asking how one gets thoughts and feelings
> into words) is to say: it's not a matter of getting
> one thing into another. You have your tools,
> your song and dance capabilities, and a social
> context.
>

> The mental image that you're trying to point to
> something, but can't quite (like a fuzzy Fido,
> too blurry and private, too elusive to be publicly
> poked) is simply a misleading image.
>

> Likewise the mental image that you're trying
> to get some "into" words, as if words were
> like containers needing to be stuffed with
> goodies (meanings), is simply that: a mental
> image. Why should that be the best image in
> this case?
>

Still we refer in some cases and certainly in this one.


> The above response has a Wittgensteinian flavor
> because it doesn't answer the question but
> instead asks the asker to step back and
> question the metaphor, the driving image
> behind the question.
>

> Q: "How might I point to my mind?"
>
> A: "Why do you take it for granted that
> 'pointing' is the appropriate metaphor?"
>

Language arises in a public domain where pointing is part of the game. That pointing needn't always be physical is beside the point.


> Your response has the flavor: "Of course
> pointing is the correct metaphor! I point to
> my dog Fido don't I? Why should the pain
> in my chest not be considered a 'private
> dog?'" (or beetle as the case may be). You
> don't want to depart from "referring" as the
> central axis around which your philosophy
> of language revolves (and which marks
> you as pre-Wittgensteinian).
>

That's a misreading of everything I've said about this, Kirby. If words express and emote and provoke and invoke and prescribe and command, etc., etc., they also refer and this is available to us because it is right before our eyes. Noting this fact has nothing to do with being "pre-Wittgensteinian" which is a remarkably strange locution, as though Wittgenstein, everytime he changed his mind on something was, himself, pre-Wittgensteinian. It's like asking what time is it on the moon (to borrow another of his examples).


> This is why I think of you as a nominalist,
> acknowledging up front that this isn't the
> Catholic meaning of nominalism, which the
> priests tend to contrast with Platonism
> (sometimes called realism -- just to muddy
> the waters some more, clever to take their
> preferred position and make it the "realist"
> one, a rhetorical maneuver) i.e. the nominalist
> doesn't believe in the reality of the Platonic
> form behind the sign '2'.
>

Well I can't stop you from thinking how you like, whether you're right or wrong.


> Do you think '2' is one of those "referring
> words"? (as if words themselves could be
> sorted that way -- some probably think
> they can be though).
>

Sometimes it refers, e.g., if I am referring to a particular notation in the course of working through an example. But this is hardly to say that it represents something real inside or outside of time and space, that its referent is some strange entity called a number 2.


> >> Nothing in a wrist watch is pointing, except
> >> the long and short hand on the face, which
> >> by social convention we have learned to
> >> read as designating specific numbers.
> >> On a digital watch, pointing is replaced
> >> with a direct display of these same numbers.
> >
>
> > That wristwatches work one way doesn't mean
> > that other things don't work another way.
> > That some words don't refer doesn't mean no
> > words refer.
>
> I think there's a way of observing the everyday
> functioning or ordinary language where you've
> simply dropped the sense of referring or
> pointing. You're free of that sensibility, even
> when saying "the cat is on the mat" or when
> saying "here Fido!" or "there's this pain in
> my chest." Language remains exactly as
> it is, nothing changes, and yet your outlook
> is subjectively different. You see in a new
> way.
>

I don't see it, or the point of proclaiming it.


> As you well know from reading me for a long
> time, I persistently harp on this theme that
> Wittgenstein's investigations are primarily
> aimed at producing gestalt switches in the
> investigator, not changing behavior or even
> word usage patterns. How we ordinarily talk
> is OK, even how we ordinarily talk about
> referring, naming and pointing. However,
> it's possible to not be a nominalist in the
> sense I mean nominalist, and have a different
> sense of language that's more operationalist
> or instrumentalist.
>

> By way of analogy, it's all in how you look at
> that bowling ball, as a perfect solid, or as
> another example of how the word "solid" is
> deceiving (now that we've investigated more
> deeply).
>

> >> The pre-Wittgensteinian believes that words
> >> are primarily nouns or names that tag objects.
> >> But even the social convention of tagging has
> >> many forms. Routing tags or bar codes [...]
> >> bear a family resemblance to proper names
> >> applied to human beings or cities. Further
> >> investigation discloses plenty of divergent
> >> patterns however.
> >
>
> > Quite so but so what with regard to whether
> > some words refer or not, whether some words
> > tag or not?
>
> Many hospitals these days slip a bar coded
> bracelet around your wrist upon admission, then
> associate your proper name with said bar code
> in a computer lookup table accessed by caregivers.
>

Again, so what? That is certainly a form of referring and I am arguing that some words in language refer and some don't. You are arguing that referring implies a misunderstanding of how language works. I am simply pointing out that it doesn't.


> A bottle of pills or medical device might
> have a bar code too, and those will be scanned
> if used in treatment, and associated with the
> bar code on your wrist, both for billing purposes,
> and to show what substances or devices were
> administered or implanted, or used and
> discarded as medical waste in connection
> with your treatment.
>

> Now some poet might wax eloquently about
> how this impersonal bar code doesn't really
> refer to a person, because it doesn't single
> out an individual, doesn't point to a thinking
> feeling self, is merely a luggage tag or UPC
> code in a supermarket, not referring to anything
> but itself. That's putting a spin on the matter,
> maybe decrying the industrialization of medicine,
> it's sometimes factory-like aspects.
>

Whatever . . . and beside the point.

> Another poet might spin it another way and
> say how your own proper name is likewise
> no more than a bar code, assigned to you
> at birth, and no more a pointer to your soft
> inner center, your thinking and feeling essence,
> than an industrial bar code.
>

> Neither the hospital bracelet nor your legal
> name at birth are pointers to your consciousness,
> your mind, to a living cogito or soul etc. etc.
> Said poetic responder might be working for
> the hospitals, trying to counter charges of
> depersonalization with some alternative clever
> hooey, a countering argument in support of
> a medical practice.
>

Yes but sometimes, in some contexts, we do use referring words to refer to non-physically characterizable things.


> Both of the above poets are working in the
> aesthetic dimension, not really in the realm of
> science. But this isn't to say their combat is
> low stakes or irrelevant to the future of medical
> care.
>

Quite right. It isn't relevant to what we are talking about.

> The link to Wittgenstein: both the Tractatus
> and the PI were *not* designed to dismiss
> the aesthetic dimension as the realm of
> irrelevant nonsense, next to science as
> the one true discourse for any matters of
> vital importance.
>

> On the contrary, both were designed to
> welcome and emphasize the aesthetic
> dimension in our language and to acknowledge
> an eternal significance that science would
> not be able to discount from within its own
> purview without committing logical fallacies.
> In the TLP, tautologies corral science,
> circumscribe it. In the PI, we're allowed
> to keep talking (no need to keep silent
> having ascended the latter).
>

> Poets, advertisers, diplomats, politicians,
> pundits... all have similar work as spin doctors,
> employ the music of authority in the game
> of allegiances. Studying Wittgenstein helps
> them be more effective (more dangerous,
> more in need of countering -- by others
> who've done their homework as well).
>

This is going too far afield. I no longer see the relevance to what we are addressing!

<snip>
>
> Just because science has discovered discontinuities,
> discrete energy events, a quantum mechanical,
> digital character to phenomena, any time it zooms in
> closely enough, doesn't mean we no longer have
> a use for the word "solid" or "smooth continuum".
>

Right. So?


> In his book 'Polyhedra', Cromwell talks about how
> the sense of that word has changed over time, in
> concert with science, such that today we're thinking
> more in terms of wire frames, gossamer webs,
> networks. "We mathematicians live in a more
> discontinuous and discrete-seeming conceptual
> world" might be a good summary, "whereas in
> an earlier age, a polyhedron was something
> perfectly solid, absolutely dense to the point of
> having no individual constituents, no internal
> structure, no 'parts' as it were" (my words not
> his).
>

> When paradigms change, the sensibility changes,
> the aesthetic character. I'm saying that the
> linguistic turn has had a similar impact in the
> philosophy of language in that nominalism (as
> I operationally define it) is no longer the guiding
> sensibility when it comes to thinking about
> language and what it means to mean stuff
> in language.
>

Still, you get what I am saying precisely wrong no matter how many ways you cut it here.


> We're not using the metaphor of "pointing" to
> anchor even the most basic and primitive moves
> or operations, even though we still have a use
> for pointing and pointers (in the C language
> especially).
>

We still point. We still refer. I showed my doctor where the discomfort in my chest was. I pointed.


> Of course my above claim is open to debate,
> however I think it's obvious that Wittgenstein
> *was* challenging us to question in this
> direction.


I thought being "obvious" meant nothing?


> He asked us to question the
> social convention of pointing itself. When
> you extend your finger in a particular direction
> and say "*that* is what I mean", how exactly
> is that meaningful? (i.e. let's investigate!)
> At the very least, he's saying there's a
> complicated game going on, not something
> atomic and essential, not a peg for some
> philosophical hat.
>

Right, so? And some games are easier than others, less complicated as it were.

> How does one point to London? Do you
> point to a dot on the map? A postcard?
> Or if you're standing in Trafalgar Square,
> do you make an arms wide gesture and
> say "This is London!". "All of the above and
> more" might be a good answer.
>

Right. Again what has that to do with what I have been talking about? Nothing I've said denies any of it and the truth of such a description has no implications for what I am saying.

> I remember being on a tour bus <snip>
>

> >> In the game of Monopoly or other board
> >> game, the pieces do not refer to anything.

> >> <snip>

> >
>
> > Yes, there are other games. And there are
> > also referring games. Accepting this doesn't
> > mean we must accept a notion that referring
> > is the paradigm of all language.
>

> And yet you seem to insist that any talk of
> "mind" and "consciousness" IS to involve us
> in a game of referring, the only difference
> being that now we're dealing with "private
> Fidos" instead of public ones. This "pain
> in my chest" is like this barking dog in
> some internal world that I struggle to point
> to, but just can't, quite. Frustrating.


Only in the event, not the philosophy.


> And
> that's because "mental objects" have this
> more elusive nature simply in being private,
> and that makes them harder to point to.

You use "point to", not me. I was actually speaking of "referring" because it is a more abstract description of what's going on, it doesn't imply something physical.

> This is how your thinking comes across
> to me, very nominalist, very "old skool".
>

Yes, so you've said.

> In the operationalist view, there's no struggle
> to point to anything, even when there's this
> very specific pain going on. The struggle
> has ended in part because we've undermined
> nominalism even in that public world of
> public events. We've learned a different way
> of looking at language that lets everything
> stay the same, in terms of what people
> say and do. We're happy to speak of
> "referring" and "referents" (this medical
> bracelet has a referent: the patient who
> is wearing it),

And "mind" has a referent, too, depending on context.

> but on the other hand we
> know that's just short hand for some
> complicated mechanics.

And how does that affect the fact that we use referring words to refer? No one here is denying that there is context or mechanics. Indeed, that's the point of the AI project, to identify the mechanics that underlies this.


> We're able to
> take an operational view even when someone
> points over a fence and says "that there is
> Millie the cow" (obviously referring to a
> cow named Millie). Likewise we still see
> solids everywhere we look, even though we
> know of no "solids" in the superstitious
> sense people used to believe in.
>

So?

> >> So we see how easy it is to break these
> >> ghostly bonds of association, which is
> >> another way of saying the game doesn't
> >> really depend on them being there.
> >>
> >> The word "mind", like the little car on the
> >> Monopoly board, is not obligated to anchor
> >> to some referent off the board, floating in
> >> some nebulous ether as some "hard to put
> >> one's finger on" phenomenon or "thing".
> >> "My mind is a thing in my head" is already
> >> a problematical statement that we wouldn't
> >> know what to do with, although it's not clear
> >> that it's "wrong" so much as "useless".
> >
>

> > Here, then, is the crux. You want to say "mind"
> > means lots of different things and so do I.
>

> The phrase "Means a lot of different things" already
> embeds a kind of nominalism though, in that the
> meaning is now a "thing" i.e. some "off stage
> presence" or "object" (either public or private).


Sometimes the meaning lies in the referring and sometimes it doesn't. Words like "mind" are referring words.


> I'd rather say that "mind" has many different
> uses and, when dealing with a philosopher, it
> may take some time to discover what rules
> are being followed, what the grammar is.


It's the grammar of referring.


> How
> a philosopher uses the word "mind" will help
> one decipher that philosopher's mindset.
>

> > But I want to say that some of those things
> > involve features of our subjective experience
> > and others physical behaviors of entities, whereas
> > you seem to bridle at such an idea. Can you
> > say why? It's not enough to note that there
> > are other uses of words or that "mind" may
> > play many roles. The issue is whether the
> > role I am assigning it is supported by our
> > actual experience or not. Do you think it isn't?

>
> One might say "how could I speak of 'self' all
> the time if there was in reality no self? Can't
> I just glance inwardly and see to my own
> satisfaction that not only do I have a self, but
> that the self has a mind, or *is* a mind as the
> case may be?"
>

> To the naive nominalist, there might seem to
> be something like a logical argument here:
> words mean by referring to things,

Some words refer and some don't and those that do do so in a variety of ways.

> the word
> "mind" is meaningful, ergo it refers to a thing,
> ergo the mind is a thing (albeit an elusive
> one)".
>

In the pursuit of learning what brains do and how, we are interested in how they produce what we call "minds". So the first thing to do is to figure out what we mean by calling anything "mind".


> Thanks to Wittgenstein's operationalism, we're
> quite able to accept that "mind" is meaningful,
> plus we're not encumbered with ontological
> commitments as Josh puts it, or rather I'd say
> the commitment is there ("language is dipped
> in the blood of human experience -- like egg
> beaters in batter") but minus the nominalism,
> minus the referentialism.


Here's your problem. You insist on characterizing the obvious fact that we can refer in language with something you call "referentialism". But I am not arguing for any "isms". You are simply imputing this, wrongly, to me.


> We don't even have
> the "picture theory of meaning" per the TLP
> (one of those aspects he *did* back away
> from, even though both works were pointing
> to the aesthetic dimension as existentially
> beyond science's clutches -- a grammar is
> ultimately not empirically justified, is simply
> another expression of nature's variety).
>

We should talk about the TLP. I think a very good case can be made that, if confronted with someone arguing for something like we find in the TLP, the later Wittgenstein would have denigrated that person. Why should we hang onto it then, merely because it represents "the master's" failed attempt at resolving certain issues?


> The link to Buddhism is obvious in that the
> latter espouses a "no self" doctrine, in
> contradistinction to Cartesian belief in a
> core cogito. We might get into more spin
> doctoring here, regarding "mind" and/or "self",
> but at least we're not any longer sidetracked
> by the naive nominalist position that would
> make referentialism a kind of proof of existence.
> *That* sort of metaphysics no longer meets
> current standards, which I think makes
> cross-cultural dialog with Asian philosophies
> a lot easier.
>
> Kirby

I knew a very serious Buddhist once and we exchanged books. I gave him the PI. He gave it back to me without comment a few months later. I did the same with the book he gave me.

SWM

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[Wittrs] More on "meaning as use" (reply to Josh) [message #1978 is a reply to message #1960] Wed, 28 October 2009 00:08 Go to previous messageGo to next message
kirby urner is currently offline  kirby urner
Messages: 349
Registered: August 2009
Location: Portland, Oregon
Senior Member
-- In Wittrs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, kirby urner <wittrsamr@...> wrote:


>> It's a token, a moving part, a component, a cog. There
>> need be no specific experience or phenomenon at the
>> other end of a pointing stick.

> There *need* be none, but there *might* be one.
>
> Same for "cat" or "John".

Consider the fact that we may speak of the word "John"
and yet there's no singular instance of this word, as
new uses of "John" occur literally millions of times
a second all over the world. Words themselves are
mostly anonymous, not itemized, as language is a
"socialist" enterprise, free and open source, until you
get to the trademarked words and phrases, or "priests
only" sacred sayings, which to a commoner are
perhaps off limits. Likewise with "cat". Say "cat"
with wild abandon, with no royalties due.

In this sense, we could say words themselves escape
being named, tagged, referred to individually except in
relatively rare circumstances. This begins to change
in a computer, where every string of bytes has a starting
memory address, more like in a printing shop, where
each physical instance of a word has heft, takes up
room.

I mention this rather obvious fact to emphasize that
relatively few things in our world receive names such
that we might track them over time, even our very
words, which are more like grains of sand, pebbles,
all without names of ID tags.

Most nouns such as "belt" or "box" give us a momentary
way of fixing attention and sharing information about
specifics, then releasing said items from attention, with
no permanent tagging or naming. You won't know if
that seagull is the same one from last week, though
in principle we apply the same grammar of persistent
identity (lots of philosophical literature on this concept
of "identity").

A friend and I both look at this grain of sand or this
microbe under a microscope, then lose it back into
the mix. We don't incur the overhead of needing to
establish "same" versus "different" in so many
games with "referents" -- just wanted to remind us
of this fact.

Of course scientists, in their need to monitor and track
over time, have extended the need for labeling,
applying serial numbers, other tags -- learning from
merchants and their evolving bookkeeping games.
Notions of "cardinality" (keeping things distinct,
perhaps with no ordering or only a partial ordering)
connect to notions of "ranking" (sorting, indexing,
devising a system for storage and retrieval --
addressing).

[ what's engaging, for me about writing this, is
I'm at the same time focusing on a specific capacitor
inside a DVD player and reading on the web about
replacing it -- engineers and owners of electronics
take advantage of our industrial age ability to get
very very specific about things (it's not the fact
that the capacitor has a named position on the
circuit board that amazes so much as the fact
there's a whole literature on this particular
problem with this particular model of DVD player
-- the so-called "knowledge explosion" has its
advantages ]

We might call language an "attention management
system" in that it allows humans to control what
we call "focus". At least that's one thing it's good
for: concentrating the attention of one or more
people on the same task, activity or item, a
prerequisite for getting work done in many cases.
Nouns help, proper names not always required,
i.e. only sometimes to we care about "identity
over a relatively long period of time".

> The point is that language is *independent* from
> ontological commitments - or fulfillments, not
> that such referals are never valid, nor that there
> really aren't cats or minds out there somewhere.

Comparing "cats" with "minds" in the sense that
both are "out there somewhere" is just playing into
this sense that minds are localized spatial objects
of a ghostly nature (ghostly because we have no
agreement on how to point to them, as distinct
from brains or cats or cats' brains). This is to fall
victim to a random image, to buy into a mental
picture that goes nowhere, a kind of dead end.

Both "cat" and "mind" have instrumental applications
in social situations. "That's not what I have in mind"
means something like "that's not the course of
action I was intending" or "this was not my dream
for the future" or "I was envisioning something else."
This isn't the same instrumental use for "cat", a
different kind of tool, although one might have a
sacred being associated with cats (e.g. Bastet)
that one prayed to for guidance (i.e. fixing a
future course of action has been a job for oracles,
a function some serve even today, thought that's
not what's on the business card usually (the
term "oracle" has been deprecated, except we
still have "the oracle of Omaha")).

>> The pre-Wittgensteinian believes that words
>> are primarily nouns or names that tag objects.

> I would note that many post-Wittgensteinians believe so too.
> (cough) Kripke (cough)
> Unless such are taken as atavistic throwbacks.

I've taken issue with Kripke at some length on
another elists, have also heard him in person at Princeton,
though this was on a visit, after I'd already moved on.
He writes about Nixon doesn't he? As an example of
a proper name? Google confirms. I've been writing
about Nixon lately in my blogs, or about Nixon-Kissinger
(almost like a hybrid individual).

Kripke will go down in history associated with Nixon.
The meaning of the word "Kirpke" has been affected
by the meaning of the word "Nixon" (their word-meaning
trajectories have altered, is how I might put it, a fancy
way of talking about "karma" -- or "precession" in the
Buckminster Fullerian sense).

> I'm also trying to remember my college linguistics,
> I suspect there are other linguistic traditions pre-
> Wittgenstein that do not take words as quite that
> atomic, certainly the universally understood linguistic
> fact that sounds or marks are arbitrary and only
> acquire even simple associational meanings in
> context or by use, is along these lines. And
> skepticism about the quality of associational
> meanings is a long tradition. So, carefully drawn,
> it may be a bit more difficult to find what exactly
> in Wittgenstein is a new and unique take on
> language, than just to say pre- and post-.

Yes, true. My off-the-cuff answer was that Wittgenstein
was role modeling a practice, a method, showing us
ways to investigate, to disentangle. He was less into
writing discursive 10,000 foot overview stuff, melodious
grand summaries, which is pretty much the meat and
potatoes of most philosophy. He needed a more
aphoristic style and an implied sense that it'd all
fold up via hyperlinks (a term not yet coined) and
make a light go on. More like setting a trap or, more
positively, freeing us from a trap. The Philosophical
Investigations are supposed to "spring to life" as it
were, as when you look at a 2D pattern of lines and
suddenly see a 3D figure. Duckrabbit analogy, or
the tetrakis (obscure!).

> And then, Quine (post-W) has his famous holistic
> statement: our statements about the external world
> face the tribunal of sense experience not individually,
> but only as a corporate body

That's somewhat clever, has that Roman influence
so evident in Anglo culture (where the idea of "a tribune"
comes from).

> The problem is that holism is as problematic as
> word-atomism. We need, we use, all sorts of
> strategies in our everyday language. "Meaning as
> use" covers many, it doesn't outlaw much of anything.

It's a nudge away from nominalism and towards
operationalism. What I take from the "meaning as
use" dictum is "meaning" is not some phenomenon
staring you in the face (as it were) at the time of
a singular usage. You need to watch an hour long
documentary, let us say, to really have a sense of
the meaning. If you want to study "pain" (it's
meaning), it's not a matter of pinching your arm
or biting your tongue and saying to yourself
THIS is what pain means. That'll reinforce your
nominalist tendencies, but you won't get that
Wittgensteinian sense of language games, of
grammar.

>> Even this slight variation for the norm
>> helps break the hold of the idea of
>> "referents". I am Robert one day, George
>> the next, and it's easy to see these names
>> as tools, tokens.

> The entire computational art of "neural networks"
> shows how you can duplicate referential systems
> with virtually no references at all.

> Quine's holism is also purportedly reference-free
> - more like reference-problematic I suppose, but
> it's over in that direction.

Feel free to elaborate.

>> Computer languages were far less evolved
>> when Wittgenstein was writing, however they
>> today provide a clear exhibit of meaning as
>> use, as the language games have everything
>> to do with driving machinery, making things
>> happen, more like those "orders in battle" he
>> was talking about (indeed, we speak of "imperative
>> languages" sometimes, of expressions as
>> "commands").

> But most languages tend to be very referential
> in their styles.

I'll have more to say about this sometime.

> However, what do they refer to - real entities in
> the world, or conventional entities we stipulate
> - objects we make up, virtual gears for our
> virtual watch?

>> [ Speaking of Python, we also have a strong nominalist
>> model in that everything is an object and every object
>> has its names (note use of the plural). Yes, that's right,
>> the very same object may have lots and lots of names,
>> all pointing to the very same thing.

> But this is an inverse to what the main meaning of
> nominalism is, or certainly the main point of nominalism
> for me, which is that systems can manipulate by the
> names, without ever knowing what the real objects are.
> When I go to the Claim Jumper restaurant, they hand
> me a tag that says, "Clem". When they have a table
> for me, they call for "Clem", and I go and sit down.
> I'm not Clem, except for the moment, in this context,
> but the "name" works.

Hey, that's like my cocktail party example, didn't know
a certain restaurant chain (?) had already institutionalized
this language game.

Aside: what if we said "mind game" instead of "language
game"? How would that make a difference?

> The restaurant never makes any ontological commitments
> to anything about me, except that I can fill the role of a
> Clem.

I'm getting the feeling that I could maybe learn your
language. If you could drain away any sense of ontological
commitment from language, I think you'd be at a certain
place in the TLP -- I need to dig up the passage. That's
the value-free world of pure facts, separate from what
waxes and wanes in the aesthetic dimension.

> (hence "functionalism", but this is a distraction, not
> where I'm going at all)

> How a Kripkean could ever make sense of this I don't
> know, they would see the associational "baptism" and
> understand that, but how it would then be true that
> I am "necessarily Clem in all possible worlds" or
> "rigidly designated" by a name that will in an hour
> refer to someone else entirely - would seem to not
> work at all. Oh, they'd make up an entire new
> metaphysics - to explain the waiting system
> at the restaurant. Good luck with that.

Interesting. I like getting philosophical about
restaurants practices, very Wittgensteinian.

> A Wittgensteinian can just say, "meaning is use",
> and have more time to drink beer.

Raising a glass. "To Wittgenstein!"

>> For this reason alone I would urge anyone
>> wishing to understand the later Wittgenstein
>> to pay some attention to computer languages.

> I absolutely agree, watching the mechanics of
> how computing systems compile and execute
> languages is another world that any modern
> philosopher of language or mind can only
> benefit from, whether it ever turns out that
> human brains work this way or not.

So how might we challenge the universities to
upgrade their philosophy curricula? I suppose
it's a political issue. I have the same issue
with high school math curricula. Why is it OK
to stay stuck in the age of calculators? If you
went with an object oriented language ala the
Litvins text, used at Phillips Andover... but I
digress. Sounds like we agree on this point
however.

Thanks for chatting.

Kirby
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[Wittrs] Re: More on "meaning as use" (reply to Josh) [message #1979 is a reply to message #1978] Wed, 28 October 2009 02:37 Go to previous message
jrstern is currently offline  jrstern
Messages: 159
Registered: August 2009
Senior Member
--- In Wittrs@yahoogroups.com, kirby urner <wittrsamr@...> wrote:
>
> > The point is that language is *independent* from
> > ontological commitments - or fulfillments, not
> > that such referals are never valid, nor that there
> > really aren't cats or minds out there somewhere.
>
> Comparing "cats" with "minds" in the sense that
> both are "out there somewhere" is just playing into
> this sense that minds are localized spatial objects
> of a ghostly nature (ghostly because we have no
> agreement on how to point to them, as distinct
> from brains or cats or cats' brains). This is to fall
> victim to a random image, to buy into a mental
> picture that goes nowhere, a kind of dead end.

I don't know what a mind is.

And I've said I have no further problem with the linguistic
practice of using abstractions like "beauty" the same way,
so if "mind" is that sort of thing, I still lump it with "cat"
in my linguistic concerns.

I rather suspect "mind" is rather ike "boiling water", something
which is out there, but is not quite a simple.

But the question is whether it is *linguistically* valid to
refer to "mind", and I suggest it is.


> > The problem is that holism is as problematic as
> > word-atomism. We need, we use, all sorts of
> > strategies in our everyday language. "Meaning as
> > use" covers many, it doesn't outlaw much of anything.
>
> It's a nudge away from nominalism and towards
> operationalism. What I take from the "meaning as
> use" dictum is "meaning" is not some phenomenon
> staring you in the face (as it were) at the time of
> a singular usage. You need to watch an hour long
> documentary, let us say, to really have a sense of
> the meaning. If you want to study "pain" (it's
> meaning), it's not a matter of pinching your arm
> or biting your tongue and saying to yourself
> THIS is what pain means. That'll reinforce your
> nominalist tendencies, but you won't get that
> Wittgensteinian sense of language games, of
> grammar.

I just don't grok the argument, for me it's always about
operationalism, empiricism, ... science. I suppose there are
philosophers who don't care what actually happens in the world,
and I've sat in their lectures and heard them disclaim interest
in the evidence ... yet I can't quite believe in their existence!


> > Quine's holism is also purportedly reference-free
> > - more like reference-problematic I suppose, but
> > it's over in that direction.
>
> Feel free to elaborate.

I'd have to go refresh to pick up the specifics, but in general
he goes on about "gavagai" and how we pick up the ostensive
definition, but is it ostensive of the rabbit, or some part of
the rabbit, and is it the word or the context, ... his basic unit
of meaning is not a word but a sentence, but even a sentence has
no meaning outside of a full language, and so the unit
of understanding is ... um, I forget. Remember, Quine is *post*
Wittgenstein, and this is I suppose compatible with "meaning is use"
except that Quine *is* trying to find some linguistic mechanics -
and failing, and so advancing the holistic concept instead. But
Fodor has written about how illogical holism is, it fails to
respect that words are used in certain ways, and that "rabbit" is not
"cat" but it seems the learning of the different words would be
logically impossible, if the unit of understanding was *never* just
the word but some holistic blob.

... or something along those lines


> >> For this reason alone I would urge anyone
> >> wishing to understand the later Wittgenstein
> >> to pay some attention to computer languages.
>
> > I absolutely agree, watching the mechanics of
> > how computing systems compile and execute
> > languages is another world that any modern
> > philosopher of language or mind can only
> > benefit from, whether it ever turns out that
> > human brains work this way or not.
>
> So how might we challenge the universities to
> upgrade their philosophy curricula?

New guys move in, old guys retire, says Kuhn.

When the local university philosophy department actually
manages to update their web site more than once every three
years, I'll have some hope that their content begins to
recognize computation as well.

Josh



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