Currently Reading:

Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations

The following is my final reaction paper for my class on Ludwig Wittgenstein:
By the end of the Philosophical Investigations, I find it nearly impossible to find Wittgenstein’s work either reproachable or praiseworthy. He has succeeded in stirring the waters of language so much as to make any distinction impossible (which, to be fair, is quite possibly exactly what he set out to do). Part II of the Investigations centers loosely around psychology, but intersects with each of the other themes set out in the book, as well. It reiterates (or perhaps “reiteration” isn’t exactly the right word, given the non-chronological authorship of the book) all of the things that we can’t say about language and thought. Wittgenstein again attempts to demonstrate that we can make no differentiation between thinking of something and believing that we are thinking of it, and again points out the absurdity in “claiming” to believe something. Belief is not something that we can claim to have, or something that we think we have — we either have a belief (or a thought) or we don’t.
Wittgenstein also writes at length in Part II of Jastrow’s duck-rabbit. He ponders what it could me for us to say that we now “see” the duck, and now the rabbit. Has the image changed? Or has our attitude toward the image changed? Or has only our description of the image changed? Wittgenstein attempts to demonstrate that we have no basis by which to suppose that these are actually three different questions. He seems to believe that we cannot have an attitude toward the image without having the image itself, and we can only express our perception of the image descriptively. As such, it makes no sense to wonder what exactly has changed when we see the duck, and then the rabbit. All that we can do is to offer our description of what we see — a description which presupposes a certain linguistic understanding in our audience. To wonder if they “see” the same thing as us is futile; we can only offer our respective descriptions, and compare the compatibility of the the two. To wonder if we have the same thoughts or same mental pictures when we offer identical descriptions is a senseless question.
I do find myself somewhat disappointed with Wittgenstein’s dogged persistence in relating thought to verbal or written language. It seems to me that only a very small portion of conscious (or unconscious) thought relies upon words. I think that the vast majority of thought is non-verbal, but experiential. We often daydream ourselves in certain situations; the daydreams have components of sight, sound, physical sensation, etc. True — when we describe the daydream to someone else, we typically do so verbally. But it need not be so. Children frequently enact their experiential daydreams through experiential play; they pretend to be in certain situations, and behave as if they were actually in those situations. I don’t think that they say to themselves, “Now this pile of sand shall be treated as a city.” They simply treat it as such. I don’t think that such types of thought are incompatible with what Wittgenstein has to say about other (more traditionally “linguistic”) thoughts. The same principles can be applied with similar effect. And it seems to me that it would enhance Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language explore non-linguistic thought more thoroughly.

Back From The Dead is finally back from the dead. After hardware problems compounded by the fact of my living 300 miles away from the server, I’ve relocated everything to my home in Virginia. Internet service is now being provided by NTelos, which seems like a good deal so far. I’ve also migrated the entire site to Moveable Type, which should make updates infinitely easier.
So lots has been going on since I last was able to update the site. I’ve nearly survived my second semester of graduate school, I’ve nearly completed my first semester as a teacher, the lovely Cheesehead has moved into my home, as has a lonely stray cat with a lust for blood. Life is good.