Thursday, 14 April 2016

Reading David Pears' "Wittgenstein" (1971)

My general attitude to Wittgenstein's thought is that I prefer not to read it, because it means things are problematised which it is the work's aim to be able to see as not a problem. If Wittgenstein wanted to show the fly the way out of the fly bottle, then he himself is (or was) in the bottle and I don't want to get in it too, in order to understand the work (W's work) that shows the way out.


I recently bought and read David Pears' introduction to the thought of Ludwig Wittgenstein (Fontana Modern Masters, 1971)
Well, in fact I have read, so far, only the portion of the book relating to early W's 'Tractatus Logico Philosophicus' (TLP).

I came to Pears' account after having read Janik and Toulmin's "Wittgenstein's Vienna", and also Ray Monk's "Wittgenstein", and after having watched a documentary from Oxford in mid-1970s, in which Pears describes his first encounter with TLP, which seemed a transformative moment for him.
I am interested in reading the account of someone, such as David Pears, who really thinks TLP is worth attending to!

Well, anyway, there is Pears' account of the problem at which W was getting at in TLP. He describes TLP as a work of critical philosophy, similar to that of Kant. Kant aimed at a de-limitation of reason from within reasoning, and postulated certain a priori knowledge  of the world, synthetic a priori 'truths'. Kant wrote in the belief that Newton's theories were true.

W aims at a de-limitation of thought through a de-limitation of language in which language is in some direct contact with the world, or rather not a de-limitation of thought but a de-limitation of what thought can be put into language.

But Pears' account stresses the language W has in mind is a kind of basic language, and the important thing is the logical relationship between words, propositions and complexes if propositions, which structure W believed (at that time) would be common to all language. So W is concerned with the world and people in the world, who are thinking, and language is the mode or medium of their thought.

Well, I'm also remembering that W came into this from engineering mathematics. How does mathematics have a grip on the world? With Russell's and Frege's attempts to reduce Mathematics to Logic, the question becomes How does logic have a grip in the world? But it's not that Logic has a grip on the world. Logic is the operation that happens that relates propositions which claim or state certain states if affairs in the world. Logic alone has nothing to say of states of affairs in the world, but only of what relations there are between those propositions. So the question becomes How do propositions (language) have a grip on the world?, and from this, what logical structure is there which holds all those propositions together, which complete concatenation and complex of propositions (because language is the medium of thought) will be the limits of my (sayable) world?

Pears wants to show the structure of a deduction that W makes in TLP, reminiscent of the deduction Kant makes in CPR (the transcendental deduction) and to do this, Pears describes W as having had three premises, which Pears calls X, Y and Z. I forget now which is what.
'Y' is that a proposition gains it's 'sense' (has a grip on the world) by picturing the world, or a 'fact'.
'X' is ...
'Z' is to do with complexes of propositions (maybe something about there being 'atomic' (most basic) propositions(?)

Well, the upshot seems to be that to make the deduction W makes is to see that the whole thing hangs together only if there is a sort of synthetic a priori truth about the world, but which is denied within W's opening premises. This seems to be why W regards TLP as itself 'non-sense':  it is an attempt to say the unsayable.

So anyway, the account Pears gives of all this... I had the impression of it being very pleasing to Pears. But I also found it less tractable than the account given by Janik and Toulmin. After a couple of years I can still conjure up something of the flavour of the 'space' of 'facts' and what W intended by a 'fact' that distinguishes it from 'objects', from the account of TLP by Janik and Toulmin. Pears talks at one point, discussing the possible (logical space) of facts, about a physical model that occupies a space and turns the logical space of facts into 'p' and 'not p', for example, and this is picturing of facts that happens in language, etc.

So anyway, I come at this, again, from having sought for (without knowing, because it was not my problem), and found, Popper's criticism of the linguistic focus of philosophy. I am still inclined to be very skeptical of claims of THE PRIMACY OF any philosophising that takes analysis of the meaning and application of words as the method, or the problem.

So anyway, I then take up W's 'Philosophical Investigations' (PI) translated by Elizabeth Anscombe.
The first statements concern a theory, or description, of learning of, or acquisition of, language by the early Christian thinker Augustine.
This is W's starting point in PI.

At this point, I am again wondering over this view of language that makes of philosophy the investigation if how language functions. Ok, so it's no longer (as it was in TLP) something that has a 'most basic' form (ur-script), to which all languages could be reduced, but that detachment is still there. Speech as an action comes into view, but it seems there is still an over-emphasis on function.

What I'm more sympathetic to, is indicated in the 2014 Gifford Lecture by Rowan Williams, material language (?), where he draws attention to our bodies (voice, tongue, lips) put into some sort of configuration or position, that is our response to the world, when we speak. Dr Williams draws on Merleau-Ponty.

Another thing, for me, is a connection between voicing, language, understanding, being acknowledged. I think this is also addressed in Dr Williams Gifford Lecture. I suppose all this could also be framed in terms of language's "function". But it really seems secondary.

I think of the story 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears', and a baby hearing the story told (for the baby there isn't 'listening', I think, but there is 'voice' and other sound, and there are images - the pictures in the book, the body and mouth of the parent or grandparent telling the story, and the baby's own inner life of responses, as well as noises - not quite yet under control in terms of speech - and movements - also not quite under control.
So the story is told and I think, what interests me, is that there is, to begin with, merely an association of images and movements and sounds. Repeated tellings repeat those associations. Ok, maybe this kind of thing is given sympathetic treatment in W's PI. I don't know. But here I think of a sort of humanising. Something shared, so the baby and the teller know they are in the same relation to the story, that "your [baby's] responses are like mine, and I [teller] understand you".

I feel this sort of thing probably is addressed in PI.
I know that what is sometimes (mis-)called W's "Private Language Argument" (it is, I understand, no "argument") appears in PI.

From what I understand, W explores the notion of a private, un-teachable language, and shows (?) that it can not occur, even if it is pre-supposed in certain modes of thinking. I associate it, for some reason, with Descartes, but can't remember why.
I associate the private language with the kind of thing that can happen in life, in which a child's (or even a baby's) responses are not acknowledged, and where the child might not be given to understand "my responses are like yours, I understand you", and the acquisition of language, alike with the acquisition of ranges of bodily response - emotions, self-imagining, fantasy, is given over to the child's accommodating itself to what he/she perceives to be the environment's needs, that is, given over to reasoning, even before there is speech.