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.

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31 Mar '14 08:14:25 PM

'For me, style—which does not exclude simplicity, quite the opposite—is above all a way of saying three or four things in one.'

31 Mar '14 01:13:02 AM

In a way, 'a rule stands there' is the whole content of §85: that phrase alone achieves enough distance from another—'a rule tells us what to do'—for us to be able to think both that we have our part to play, and that the rule says nothing—nothing without us.

31 Mar '14 12:42:35 AM

'Eine Regel steht da', says §85, 'wie ein Wegweiser'. Most of the remark appears to be about signposts. Rules tell us what to do: signposts tell us which way to go. Does a signpost leave no doubt about which way to go? It does leave room for doubt, Wittgenstein answers. Rather: sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. But what is he calling 'doubt' here? It's odd: in each case, he asks a question. He answers his questions with questions. Does a signpost leave no doubt about the way I have to go? Well, does it show which direction I should go when I've passed it? Along the highway (say), or the dirt road, or through the fields? The next question, perhaps, contains the best hint as to how his questions about signposts could bear on the issue of doubts about applying rules: 'Aber wo steht', but where does it say, which way I'm to follow it—thinking now of a sign styled like a hand, pointing the way—in the direction of its finger, or in the opposite direction? 'Eine Regel steht da… Aber wo steht…?': rules tell us what to do, but do they tell us how to follow rules? If a rule says which way we should do something, where does it say which way we should apply the rule? If these are the right sorts of analogues to Wittgenstein's questions about signposts—and I'm not all that confident that they are—then do they show anything about how he could be conceiving of doubt in the case of the signposts (and thus of rules)? It is hard to imagine anyone—at least, anyone who knew about signs—asking these questions, ever being in doubt in these ways or giving voice to something we would call doubt with questions like these. Wittgenstein's last assessment seems soundest: the signpost sometimes leaves room for doubt, and sometimes not. Because we can imagine, say, signs twisted the wrong ways, knocked off their posts, markings effaced or blacked out, ambiguously positioned. But those would be signs about which it's normal, natural, to have doubts: signs which are broken, which can't serve their intended function (Heideggerian examples, there). The doubts Wittgenstein asks about, and affirms the possibility of, are not about those signs. They're about signs signs: normal ones, encountered the usual way. For those signs, how does 'which direction should I go once I've passed it?' express something we would call doubt? A doubt which remains open, or, we could say, unexcluded? One for which there is room? One to which the sign remains open, exposed?

The signpost stands there; Wittgenstein's questions about it are about what I am to do.

30 Mar '14 07:58:30 PM

The state exchange asks you to type in a 'shared secret' when setting up an account—'something that only you would know'. I'm going to make mine a juicy one!

30 Mar '14 06:47:57 PM

'Let's start over!'

30 Mar '14 02:12:23 AM

To ask and to try to answer a question like 'why is this exactly as it is?', you have to see and say what it is almost as if it were not what it is.

30 Mar '14 02:07:22 AM

Some days, between trying to get it right, trying too hard to make it come out right, and not being able to wait for it to strike me in the right way, interpretation wearies me, even sickens me, and I feel as if all real interpretation is just seeing and saying, and what I occupy myself with daily is instead nothing but saying I see, seeing if I can say, reading without seeing, seeing more than I can say, saying what should just be seen, reading instead of saying, saying instead of being. —Little knots of thinking and willing and wishing.

30 Mar '14 01:29:32 AM

(In §83, the philosopher stands apart from the group at play, claiming to know more than Wittgenstein has just said to be the case about them. As in §82 the possibilities attractive for, or vexing to, the philosopher are the first and third, where he distances himself from the other or must take the other at no more than his word.)

30 Mar '14 01:12:41 AM

Does what Wittgenstein's interlocutor imagines in §84a—a sort of complete game, with a system of rules that exclude all doubt—really do something about the doubt he seems to think it does? In §84b Wittgenstein responds assertively to the interlocutor (who had asked, 'well can't we imagine…?'), pointing out that 'das sagt nicht, daß wir zweifeln, weil wir uns einen Zweifel denken können'. By way of illustration, he says—not that he can imagine a doubt, exactly, but—that he can imagine someone who doubts in a certain case, without for that reason himself doubting in the same case. What's the significance of this reference to the similarity of the cases? And what's the significance of his asserting this point by imagining someone else, who doubts, rather than simply imagining the doubt, say as one he might face?

Wittgenstein's doubter, let's call him, is in the case of standing before the closed door to his house, and being unsure whether an abyss has opened up on the other side of the door. He doubts whether his case is one in which he can leave safely (without checking) or one in which he will fall into an abyss, should he pass through the door without checking what's on the other side: solid ground or a hole. So he what he does is to make sure, before he goes through, so that he doesn't fall in a hole.

Wittgenstein doesn't say why the doubter has this uncertainty. He also doesn't say why the doubter takes it seriously, but perhaps that doesn't need any further explanation: he does note that the doubter makes sure of what's on the other side of the door before he passes through, which certainly seems like the sensible thing to do for someone who really does have that doubt. Here Wittgenstein's parenthetical concession, that it could sometimes prove to be the case that the doubter was right to doubt—because an abyss has opened up—seems to reflect his not ruling the doubt completely out of bounds, beyond what's imaginable. For he imagines that such a doubter may be proven right, i.e., that this is a doubt which we can also imagine being confirmed.

Does Wittgenstein need to say why the doubter has this uncertainty? Does he need to say why he doesn't? For he does say that in the same case, he does not doubt. On a certain conception of reasoning by cases, he should be able to distinguish his case from the one the doubter finds himself in: otherwise, he too should doubt. (And start worrying about how to put to rest all the doubts he can imagine.) But to expect this of Wittgenstein would be to put too much emphasis on his saying 'the same case', to his calling the cases the same, as if they were identical, indistinguishable. Because they are the same, in this respect: in one, Wittgenstein stands before the door to his house, about to leave. In the other, the doubter stands before the door to his house, about to leave. But in another, more significant respect, the cases are different. The doubter is in doubt: uncertain about whether an abyss lies in wait for him. Wittgenstein is not uncertain. Before his door, he does not have that doubt. How do we know he doesn't? He says he doesn't. And how does he know he doesn't? Well, why does the doubter doubt? Wittgenstein doesn't say, in either case.

The difference between the cases could be put more simply: Wittgenstein and the doubter are not the same. He can imagine someone who doubts in this case, but when he does, he imagines someone else. He does not doubt. His case is different: at the very least, because he is different. It is, we could say, the usual one, in which that is something he never doubts.

This is all supposed to illustrate Wittgenstein's point in response to §84a: 'Aber das sagt nicht, daß wir zweifeln, weil wir uns einen Zweifel denken können'. As a response to the interlocutor's questions about being able to imagine a game whose system of rules would put every doubt to rest, this is pretty oblique. And anyway, wasn't the possibility of every doubt being taken care of by the imagined game, with its system of rules, the point? If so, then what would it matter whether the doubts were imagined or not?

I think a common reading here goes like Baker and Hacker's, emphasizing the contrast between imaginable doubt, and the absence of doubt for his own, usual case, which Wittgenstein asserts: given some obvious difference between the two, there's no need to concern ourselves with dispelling every possible, every imaginable, doubt. The philosopher, say a certain kind of skeptic, is on this reading just silly, foolish—blinded by an ideal, something of that sort.

Perhaps this reading trades on the obvious exaggeration attaching to Wittgenstein's illustration of his point. For this makes it seem as if no imaginable doubt leads naturally to being in doubt, so that asserting that it is not just because we can imagine a doubt, that we doubt, is an assertion that imagined doubt and 'real doubt' somehow do not even make contact. Or imagining is not enough: something else, something from reality, is required to get us all the way to doubt. Thus Wittgenstein's illustration appears as a way of emphasizing how unrealistic, bordering on bonkers, it would be to let mere imagination determine that one doubts.

But, as I suggested, it appears as if the interlocutor's intention to exclude all doubt in his imagined game makes this sort of reading of Wittgenstein's response seize upon a false issue. Certainly it would not be a response which would satisfy a more fully developed skepticism (or traditional philosophical response to skepticism, say via the elaboration of a system of rules), which though imagining doubt would presumably imagine it realistically, reasonably.

So how is what Wittgenstein says a response? What is it responding to? What it is that he denies follows from, or is meant by, or is said on the basis of, what the interlocutor imagined concerning a complete game, is 'that we are in doubt because it is possible for us to imagine a doubt'. The 'because' there is slim, but suppose it relates mainly to whatever would make us doubt. As I said earlier, Wittgenstein says nothing about what would make his doubter doubt. Nor about what makes him, Wittgenstein, not doubt. What we could call the criteria for doubting, for what we would ordinarily call 'doubt', are only distantly under consideration. And, as I've said, while imagining his complete game, the interlocutor is imagining doubts. So perhaps what Wittgenstein is denying, is that this imagination of doubt is why the interlocutor doubts. In imagining his complete game, which he supposes will take care of every possible doubt, the interlocutor has, Wittgenstein is implying, not yet taken care of his doubt. For isn't the interlocutor, at least, someone who is in doubt?

Suppose so, for now. Why say, beyond that, that Wittgenstein's response says effectively that what the interlocutor imagines has not taken care of the doubt he has, because imagining a doubt is not the same as doubting?

I said that in illustrating his point, Wittgenstein distinguished between himself and the doubter; his own case and the doubter's case, or rather, what he does in that case, as against what the doubter does. Wittgenstein is not the doubter: put that otherwise as, Wittgenstein knows who he is—he knows himself. He knows what his doubts are; he knows, at least this much, where the case of standing before the door is concerned: that he does not doubt. He does not doubt what is the case—what is obviously the case.

Does the interlocutor? Express his difficulty in these terms: of identifying his doubts, of knowing what it is that he doubts, knowing why he doubts. If imagining his complete game would take care, along the way, of imagining all the doubts that could arise concerning the application of its rules, would that necessarily entail identifying the doubts which are his among those that are ruled out? Would imagining this game allow him to know himself in that respect?