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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14 Oct '14 04:57:43 PM

Any account of Moore's 'teaching' has to address the ways he conveys the 'importance' of the matters he discusses. Chief among them, in print, I think, are his italics:

'And it seems to me that, on the view we have accepted with regard to sense-data, our knowledge of the existence of material objects by means of the senses must be analogous to memory at least in this: it must consist in our knowing that there exists something different from any sense-datum or image which we are directly apprehending at the moment. This would seem to be the minimum which we must know, if we are to know of the existence of any material object by means of the senses. We must know, when we directly apprehend certain sense-data, that there exists also something other than these sense-data—something which we do not directly apprehend. And there seems no sort of reason why we should not at least know this, once we have dismissed the prejudice that we cannot know of the existence of anything except what we directly apprehend. Of course, merely to know this, would be to know very little. If the something, whose existence we know of really is, in fact, a material object, we might be said to know of the existence of a material object, even if we did not know that it was a material object. But, we must know much more than this, if we are to know also that this something is a material object. And moreover, if we are to know that we all saw the same envelope, we must know that the something, of whose existence we each of us know, is the same something. But there seems no reason again why we should not know many things of this kind.…'

Moore is a gifted expositor; despite the occasional (well, regular) stretch of tedium in these lectures he somehow manages to make the existence of material objects sound like a natural issue to address, even from a strenuously insisted upon 'Common Sense' starting point, and to make the inquiry in pursuit of an answer itself sound, and feel, natural. This requires a sense that something important is as yet unresolved—actually, a constantly controlled sense of irresolution, as one consideration, one possibility, one argument gives way to another, and then another. The exercise of control depends, obviously, partly on where the emphasis is placed; its timing, its rhythm. This passage falls at nearly the end of the chapter in Some Main Problems titled 'Sense-Data'. The use of italics in the passage is not particularly more pronounced than it is in others, for that—for comparison, here are all the words and phrases Moore italicizes in the same chapter, in each paragraph—

supposing, certainly do, supposing, is

by means of the senses, based, it, some, some, only, see, mutatis mutandis

see, mental, seeing, do, know, "seeing," seeing

what, seeing, is

saw, it, the same, the same, it, one, one, it, one

part, sense-data, given, sensations, had, had, seeing, seeing, had, had, had, had, had, have, having, not, either, conceivable, my seeing, sense-datum, existing, conceivable, seeing, conceivable, conceivable, conceivable, seeing, sense-data, seeing, impressions, ideas, sense-data, direct apprehension, directly apprehending, sense-data

the same, same sense-data, this, this, knew, know, same, the same man, same sense-data

if, did, identical with, all

whole, this, that, part, part

see, a part of, sets of sense-data, part

part, part, in


size, shape, part, part, occupy, is, is, has, be


all, all, one, not, not, not, is, this

all, one, much the same, the, only, one, if, whether

all, one, not, is, is, is, roughly, the, the same, the, the same, the, the, same, the, same, two, not, of, of, the, in quality, numerically, numerically, two, squares, one, another, the, must, two, numerically, of the same size, the, the, real, is, shape, the, is, the, the, of, the, one, the, the, numerically, the, exactly, the

was the, not, all, the, in

was, none, none

space, this, not, part, space occupied by, seem, seem, really do, really are, this, is, is, seems



is not, was, was, were, may, exactly like, not, the, is, is, is, it, it, same, same, that, the

every, is, exists

alike, numerically, now, the same, not, at the same time, while


same place, to one another, private space of my own, one

the same space with, in the mind of, in our minds, in, in, in my mind, in, dependent, the accepted view

either, or, one, seems, or, seems, possible, might, seem, really, in, which, the, what, must, not, sense-given, not, against, suppose, suppose


part, saw, at least, that, if, merely, at least, mere part, same, do not, beside, what, direct apprehension, this, directly apprehend, one, another, what, are, may, not, the, something, the, the same, now, saw, not, now, the same, had, now, of, the

this, only, in fact

merely, is, might

also, also, it, my seeing



I did see it a moment ago, know, was, now, now, was

exists something, also, other, except, merely, something, in fact, that it was, also that, is, the same, the same something, should not know, something, was

seeing, seeing, not, it, partly, knowing, besides and at the same time, something, see, not

knowledge, other

—so one couldn't say Moore is just ramping up the use of italics in concert with a little end-of-chapter crescendo of suspense, trying to fill tomorrow night's seats in anticipation: do we know it? how?! did we all see the same envelope?!? Moore's emphases are a constant strategy, a habit; the passage I initially quoted, corresponding to the third last group of italicized words in the list above, does not even stand out as the most insistently emphasized one.

But it does have its rhythm. In reference to the present aim of the inquiry, (knowledge of) the existence of material objects, it shifts from 'there exists something' to 'there exists also something other' in roughly the space of the paragraph's first half—a slight shift in emphasis, as the second phrase paraphrases what was meant by (Moore's saying) the first. Then, addressing himself to a recently-answered opposing view about the limitations imposed on our knowledge by the privacy of sense-data, Moore refers to 'the prejudice that we cannot know of the existence of anything except what we directly apprehend', not only neatly recalling his criticism of the view by labeling it a prejudice, but also paraphrasing the statement of the view (knowledge consists in the direct apprehension of sense-data; all our sense-data are private) into a form—via emphasis on 'except'—that both makes that view sound like an exception to what is really the case, yet accepts the seeming weight of that view, tacitly, as if 'what we directly apprehend' were almost exhausted by our private sense-data, so that, in pursuit of proof that we do in some other way know of the existence of material objects, we're in search of something, something other, something else, something exceptional. And with this, the remainder of the paragraph is structured out of shifts in emphasis as much as it is out of words. This exception, this something, does not amount to much; knowing (of) it would mean little by itself. 'We must know much more than this', even if the something is a material object. A less gifted expositor of philosophy would say, 'we must know that it is a material object'. Moore says, 'we must know also that'—as if an additional piece of information, of a piece with whatever we might have gleaned or intuited about the thing's existence otherwise—'this something is a material object', as if the difficulty that still awaited us were to somehow make out, discern, how something we have barely got hold of is something else, or is like it, or can be found to count as one of those. —When, as the hypnotic lists of italicized words (like unsalvageable Diels-Kranz fragments from some student of Parmenides) suggest, this is a difficulty that forces us into relying on and distinguishing between the slightest senses of, functions of, the smallest words, applied to the very world around us: see, this, one, it, of. Moore's emphases, and his rhythms of emphasis, invest these words with untold importance, as his shows of caution over their precise use signal the care we too are to take as he goes on. Thereby is a sense of inquiry created, sustained.

8 Oct '14 01:06:33 PM

'I sort of want to publicly say where I am at. I don't know why I want to do this except something about seeing a terminal open and a text editor running puts me in a semi-confessional frame. And this is a good place to do it because it's got that mix of public/private that made the early web so great; people will only find it if they want to read it and it will never pester them otherwise.'

6 Oct '14 10:40:40 PM

'A case can be made for the poet giving some of his life to the use of the words the and a: both of which are weighted with as much epos and historical destiny as one man can perhaps resolve. Those who do not believe this are too sure that the little words mean nothing among so many other words.'

3 Oct '14 10:02:06 PM

Melville's Emerson

27 Sep '14 09:03:06 PM

'Josh, you have so thoroughly internalized skepticism you no longer experience it as being skeptical.'

24 Sep '14 04:18:55 PM

Their work, the people's work, never stops; ours is interrupted.

21 Sep '14 04:59:34 PM

'Issues of legitimation do not pertain to the master. There is no question of licensing the master or checking up on him. The relation among peers is altogether different from the relation between master and novice. Each master speaks with an authoritative and representative voice. Failure of understanding in the master does not indicate the need for correction (or if it does, the master himself is able to make the correction), but some kind of physical or mental disorder. For understanding is shown in continuing correctly as a matter of course. In acting with right, he is not under the scrutiny of others. So it is no accident that when Wittgenstein turns to those passages in which he develops the community view (196–239), he speaks of what I do as a full-fledged master of language. The "we" is dropped. In being acculturated into this community, this form of life, I am enabled to speak for the community without justification for what I do and without being checked by others in the community. The master is autonomous and yet his autonomy is grounded in a dependence upon the community, both for his actions to be what they are and for his acculturation into the practice since the way one learns provides the paradigm for what is learned.'

14 Sep '14 04:06:19 PM

Days where the air carries every sound.

5 Sep '14 02:54:46 PM

Where should you look?