josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

newest | archives | search | about | wishlist | flickr | email | rss

15 Feb '16 11:28:46 PM

—I suppose, then, that what that triangulating tells me is that I am looking for something like a cynicism of knowledge, or a cynicism of speech (where the latter often goes for the former, especially where ordinary talk about the world goes). With the thought of the whole public apparatus of language, as it were a linguistic polity, in mind, I'm reminded of Cavell's parenthetical in The Claim of Reason (pp. 94–95):

'(If to what we call something and to what we count as something we add the notion of what we claim something to be, we have gathered together the major modes in which we have invoked the fact of talking, the work of wording the world; and if to the pairs telling and counting, and counting and claiming, and claiming and acclaiming or clamoring, hence proclaiming and announcing, and denouncing and renouncing, and counting and recounting, or recounting and accounting, we add the notions of calling to account or accusing, hence excusing and explaining, and add computing and hence reputing and imputing; what we seem headed for is an idea that what can comprehensibly be said is what is found to be worth saying. This explicitly makes our agreement in judgment, our attunement expressed through criteria, agreement in valuing. So that what can be communicated, say a fact, depends upon agreement in valuing, rather than the other way around. This is what our speech acts come to, or come from. Such an idea arose at the beginning of our consideration of Wittgenstein's notion of a criterion when we had to say that his notion seemed to make statements of fact turn on the same background of necessities and agreements that judgments of value explicitly do. It comes up again in beginning to weigh Austin's findings that epistemological assessments, assessments of our offerings of knowledge, can come from curiosity, from suspicion, or from a demand to know the special reason which makes a question (as to the reality of an object) reasonable. Here I am thinking of the special reason as the thing which makes the question worth asking. The idea of valuing as the other face of asserting will make another appearance in Part Two, in the form of the issue of the philosopher's "non-claim context". But while the idea will be present throughout these pages, it will not be much taken up thematically. I understand this idea to require studies in what I should like to call the aesthetics of speech and in the economics of speech. In the former case we follow the fact that understanding what someone says is a function of understanding the intention expressed in his or her saying it, and then the fact that one's intention is a function of what one wants, to a perspective from which responding to what the another says is to be seen as demanding a response to (the other's) desire. When in earlier writing of mine I broach the topic of the modern, I am broaching the topic of art as one in which the connection between expression and desire is purified. In the modern neither the producer nor the consumer has anything to go on (history, convention, genre, form, medium physiognomy, composition…) that secures the value or significance of an object apart from one's wanting the thing to be as it is. The consequent exercise of criticism is not to determine whether the thing is good that way but why you want it that way—or rather, the problem is to show that these questions are always together. A strictness of scrupulousness of artistic desire thus comes to seem a moral and an intellectual imperative. About the latter case (of an economics of speech), I have said a word or two in The Senses of Walden (pp. 87 ff.) where I point to the vocabulary established in the opening chapter of Walden entitled "Economy", as the fundamental vocabulary of the work as a whole, implying that the question of true necessaries, which it shares as its opening theme with Plato's Republic and with Rousseau's Social Contract, is a question about what we have to say as much as it is about what we have to do; and in the way Thoreau means them, the one because of the other. My version of Thoreau's answer is in effect that he takes it upon his writing to tell all and to say nothing.  —If we formulate the idea that valuing underwrites asserting as the idea that interest informs telling or talking generally, then we may say that the degree to which you talk of things, and talk in ways, that hold no interest for you, or listen to what you cannot imagine the talker's caring about, in the way he carries the care, is the degree to which you consign yourself to nonsensicality, stupify yourself. (Of course your lack of interest may be your own fault, come from your own commitment to boredom.) I think of this consignment as a form not so much of dementia as of what amentia ought to mean, a form of mindlessness. It does not appear unthinkable that the bulk of an entire culture, call it the public discourse of the culture, the culture thinking aloud about itself, hence believing itself to be talking philosophy, should become ungovernably inane. In such a case you would not say that the Emperor has no clothes; in part because what you really want to say is that there is no Emperor; but in greater part because in neither case would anyone understand you.)'

I've wondered before about Cavell's seeming tendency, in his discussions of modernism or the modern, to slip between remarks about domains with some autonomy of their own—art, religion—and remarks that seem to encompass everyday life as such. One such seems to be his comment in 'Music Discomposed' about the breakdown of convention, where 'saying' as an act of artistic creation slips over into saying simpliciter. One uncertainty I've had over that remark concerns the extent to which it can be well grounded as a remark about the conventions of ordinary language, which whatever their state of health or disrepair or disarray seem not to leave us, generally, yet, with only the three options Cavell enumerates for the modernist artist: 'silence, nihilism, or statements so personal as to form the possibility of communication without the support of convention'. But perhaps part of the problem I have with that is that designating the middle option as 'nihilism' already sets the stakes too hyperbolically high. If it's with regard to ordinary language as such, everyday life, that we're to be making an assessment, then perhaps the long parenthetical from Claim suggests why: we dwell, day to day, in so extensive a part of ordinary language as a whole that we do, on the whole, sustain a talk about which we care: we're interested, invested, in that part, something of, our discourse. Maybe not comprehensively, and maybe not with total consistency, but we get by. Which is as much as to say that when Cavell says it doesn't appear unthinkable that a culture could become 'ungovernably inane', he's imagining something like a widespread nihilism: but doing so from a position from which it's an unrealized possibility, because mindlessness is not the norm. —Because we remain, however erratically, interested.

15 Feb '16 10:41:15 PM

(From a letter to K.)

… I don't know if there is a relation between skepticism and cynicism. It would be nice if there was a clear one, for my sake, since I was prompted to think about this by working on someone with views about skepticism which are odd and which might be more amenable to being understood in a different frame. A contrast between public and private is very important in that context of mine as well, which is what helped make the frame of cynicism seem workable. In a social-political or moral setting, one mode of cynicism would be to act, like a politician does, on the basis of crude calculations of costs, benefits, and interests, especially self-interest, to play to voters' vices and fears and ignorance rather than their better selves, and so on—most perniciously so while superficially, outwardly, publicly, appearing not to. In the case of morality, something similar could be described, and there 'public' would have to do with the endorsement of shared norms for conduct. A view like Hobbes' that sees moral norms as binding on us, but by reason of our individual self-interest best being served by subjection to them, is usually regarded as a not-too-covert expression of cynicism, as a result of which people who wish to avoid cynicism, say because they believe in a stronger or more genuine source for moral conduct than fear of punishment, fear of being found out, tend to make themselves out to be capable of seeing that there's more to life. So there's some kind of relationship between cynicism and realism, thus knowledge, insofar as we tend to think that a person can become cynical by 'seeing too much', being around the block too many times, seeing behind facades that most people can't or don't get a chance to see behind. The more realist a view is, the more it puts pressure on any credibly sustainable attitude distinct from cynicism to back itself up, because there's seemingly nowhere believable to 'go'—which is why 'idealist' is a typical counterpart to 'cynic', because the grounds for the former tend to be non-materialist, non-realist (but 'realist' in a 'higher sense', cognizant of true realities, etc.), to go beyond what is or could be known in the usual way (a buildup in awareness of which, without suitable counterbalance, is what can generate cynics—world ain't pretty). Moral nihilism would appear there, i think, as the real opposite to idealism, sort of as stemming from a belief that absent idealism's guarantees, a default cynical realism must collapse. I'm not sure what that would mean or would have to mean—I suppose the Nietzsche line on it is that whatever their credibility, 'higher values' generated life- and action-sustaining convictions, so that when they are no longer credible, it becomes a question whether any really significant action, modes of life, etc., will remain viable or (for new ones, a need for which is probably entailed by a loss of credibility of old values) will be capable of being found. I think in that case 'cynicism' would make sense to situate between the poles of idealism and nihilism. That would suit my other external considerations, at least; the other big factor in the context I'm thinking of, is that I'd like to locate what I'm doing relative to 'ordinary life' as it contrasts with philosophy. You said that people might tend to sort into cynics or idealists, not in a middle. My thought has been that ordinary life might, for a lot of people, make a middle position available just in virtue of the way ordinary life tends to go, the way knowledge tends to play a role in it day to day. There are 'higher values' on the horizon in ordinary life, but it often has more to do with just moving along, keeping things going. Even just getting by is something that seems possible within the scope of a non-cynical attitude. So I'm interested in determining whether it makes sense, in that setting, to view cynicism as more like a do-not-touch-on-pain-of-electrocution pole, or more as a disagreeable but certainly livable possibility of ordinary life. Then its counterpart would, within the ambit of ordinary life, not necessarily be idealistic, but at least noncynical. Think of it like the contrast between a person who, in midlife, remains open versus a person who has become closed off. Outside both of them, there's still a person who goes far beyond and a person who actively makes things worse.

For application to philosophy, I guess you could say that I have been seeking to model a kind of cynicism suiting philosophy, certainly an academic-scholarly-professional one, on the political model. So, it appears to be easy to engage in philosophy cynically in that sense, trading on its high reputation when dealing with students and non-philosophers but not really credibly holding much belief in it. Not believing what you're saying, basically, as a philosopher. Or, if this is coherent, thinking that you do, when from an outside perspective (the kind a non-philosopher might have, looking into what philosophers do and wondering how anyone could take it so seriously) that just isn't believable.

15 Feb '16 12:50:55 AM

No release of memory.

14 Feb '16 12:27:11 AM

(One part of Socrates' remarks definitely omitted from the language Wittgenstein describes is the constitutive role for the Urelemente themselves, 'aus denen wir und alles übrige zusammengesetzt sind'. We're not composed of red, green, black, and white squares. Some things are, but not 'alles', and not us. But perhaps that suggests the idea of the primitive that fits the language described—it can't promise to be basic in the sublime way pictured by Socrates' remarks, but then as described it's not meant to represent the simples, out of which everything is composed, just certain complex wholes which can be said to be composed out of things we would call simples. Our relation to it, and to the representative complex (nine squares) provided to describe it, should thus be something like our relation to a chemical equation or to an atomic orbital diagram.)

14 Feb '16 12:03:33 AM

(Augustine had described 'the learning of language', and so if the picture of the essence of human language Wittgenstein found in his words contained a concept of meaning at home in a primitive idea of the way language functions, or an idea of a language more primitive than our own, it stands to reason that the result of imagining a language for which Augustine's description was valid would be inflicted toward the primitive-as-undeveloped. It's not clear whether primitiveness is to play a role in the use of 'the method of §2' as such, although Wittgenstein continues to refer to his stipulated language-games as 'primitive' later on, e.g. the series-continuation game at §146. But at the very least, the context for the color-square game in §48, probing the supposed linkage between (genuine) names and 'simples', invites a different idea of the primitive. The 'Urelemente' Socrates speaks of in §47 are, let's say, ontologically and/or explanatorily primitive, but they are, conceptually or methodologically, the product of extreme refinement, a philosophical endpoint, as it were a residue of analysis (at least, on the counterpart Russellian or Wittgensteinian versions, for 'individuals' and 'objects' rspectively). Although the last of Socrates' statements about the essence of explanatory language being 'die Verflechtung', interweaving, of names, echoes the Augustinian picture of the essence of human language extracted by Wittgenstein in §1, by virtue of what is being said one may feel one has to imagine language, so pictured, in terms of something about it that we can learn, something hidden within it to be uncovered, discovered, just as, in the words familiar to us we know no such 'names' and in the things around us see no such 'primary elements'. The language Wittgenstein describes to suit this picture is still functionally basic, primitive in that same sense as the builders' language was, but it denies the feeling of hidden, sublime depth. —In favor of…?)

13 Feb '16 10:35:44 PM

(Rather than describing a language as it is used—a game—in §48 Wittgenstein has described a language that can be used—an instrument.)

13 Feb '16 10:21:01 PM

'Just be done': or, better, the language does it. For 'no people', it could just as well be said that the language described in §48 has no use, but it could have one.

13 Feb '16 09:57:10 PM

§48's color-square language-game contrasts with the other major games in the Investigations in giving little to no hint of the people (one must imagine) playing it. As it is an abstraction, the players are an afterthought, or, say, some things about gameplay are still to be determined. Or may be. (Wittgenstein gestures at some relevant circumstances in §49b). Of course, the language 'serves to represent combinations of colored squares on a surface', as language (2) was 'meant to serve for communication between a builder A and an assistant B'. And that can, as it were, just be done, without taking the players into account. —But §49b does invoke the idea of a move in a game. Akin, one might want to say, to some notion of validity or invalidity.

13 Feb '16 09:30:01 PM

Odd that there aren't more denunciations of the eisegetes among Wittgensteinians.