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Introduction

The Philosophical Investigations of Ludwig Wittgenstein.

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Aphorism 89-100 from
Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations
with commentary on the right by
Lois Shawver
 
 
Wittgenstein:
(Emphasis in bold is inserted by Shawver to enhance commentary.) 
Shawver commentary
and supplementary notes:
89. These considerations bring us up to the problem: In what sense is logic something sublime?

For there seemed to pertain to logic a peculiar depth
-a universal significance.  Logic lay, it seemed, at the
bottom of all the sciences.--  For logical investigation
explores the nature of all things. It seeks to see to the bottom of things and is not meant to concern itself whether what actually happens is this or that.
 

In 89, The question is: How did we come to believe that logic is sublime? Why do we think that it is sublime?

The people of our culture have believed that logic is sublime for a long, long  time. (SUPPLEMENTARY ARTICLE)  Since Aristotle, at least, philosophers have been inspired with the idea that logic is something something lofty and, if followed carefully, can lead us to a more accurate understanding.  In fact, thinking this way, it seems if we could only get logic right, define things precisely enough, then we could make sense of all things. 
 

--It [logic] takes its rise, not from an interest-- in the facts of nature, nor from a need to grasp cause connexions: but from an urge to understand the basis, or essence,
of everything empirical. Not, however, as if to this end we had to hunt out new facts; it is, rather, of the essence of
our investigation that we do not seek to learn anything new
by it. We want to understand something that is already in plain view. For this is what we seem in some sense not to understand.
This glorification of logic emerges, not from our need to grasp particular connections, (such as what specifically causes what), but a desire to find a key that will open up the secrets of the world for us, make it all make sense. The quest is not to uncover something new detail, but to understand something that is already before us, but confuses us because its mysteries are somehow veiled.
 

 

Augustine says in the Confessions "quid est ergo tempus? si nemo ex me quaerat scio; si quaerenti explicare velim, nescio".

 

this translates as: "What therefore is time?  If you
don't ask me, I know - if you ask me, I don't know." In other words, the loftiness of  logic is something we understand until we are asked about it.  Then, suddenly, we see how confusing it is to us.
-This could not be said about a question of natural science
("What is the specific gravity of hydrogen?" for instance).
Something that we know when no one asks us, but no longer know when we are supposed to give an
account of it, is something that we need to remind ourselves of.  (An it is obviously something
of which for some reason it is difficult to remind oneself.)
There are many scientific problems that we either know the answers to or we don't.  But there are other thngs we to undestand so well we take our knowledge for granted, until we are asked.  Then, we are puzzled.  It is as though we know the answer but can't quite remember what it is and need to be reminded.
 
90.  We feel as if we had to penetrate phenomena: our
investigation, however, is directed not towards  phenomena, but, as one might say, towards the 'possibilities' of phenomena.
 
 
 
 
 

 

When we feel that logic is lofty, we feel as though we had to penetrate the mysteries of what is before us with the power of logic, but we do not actually look at what we are studying in order to try to do this.  We simply think about things, or study them, in our "logical" reflection. 

We might ask about our subject, for example, in relationship to certain possibilities.  If time is the subject of our study, we might ponder, for example, if time would continue to exist if the world stopped turning. 
 

We remind ourselves, that is to say, of the kind of  statement that we make about phenomena.
 
 
 

 

Using logic, we try to recall things about our subject.  We might say to ourselves, for example, that,  "time seems to pass more quickly when you're busy."  And we would ask ourselves, "What does that mean about time?"  This kind of logical reflection, then,  is more reflective than observational. 
Thus Augustine recalls to mind the different statements that are made about the duration, past present or
future, of events. (These are, of course, not philosophical statements about time, the past, the present and the
future.)

Our investigation is therefore a grammatical one. Such an investigation sheds light on our problem by clearing
misunderstandings away.
 

 

So our investigation is not based on observations of new data.  Instead, it is a study of the things we say or have said about this subject.  Our purpose is to clear away certain misunderstandings that seem to block clarity about whatever interests us.  This means that our study is a grammatical one in the sense that we might ponder the meaning of certain terms, or the connection between different terms, and remind ourselves of the criteria for different application of these terms.  If we wanted to know what time is, we might remind ourselves of the way we name time differently in different time zones, for example.
Misunderstandings concerning the use of words, caused, among other things, by certain analogies between the forms of expression in different regions of language.
 

 

Many of our misunderstandings result from the fact that there are superficial similarities  between different regions of language.  If I say "love" when I am scoring tennis, this does not mean the same thing as when I speak endearingly.  These things continuously confuse us. 
supplementary note
-Some of them [misunderstandings] can be removed by substituting one form of expression for another; this may be called an "analysis" of our forms of expression, for the process is sometimes like one of taking a thing apart.
 
 
 

 

Some of this confusion can be removed by replacing words with other words that seem less confusing.  "Love" we might say, "means zero" so instead of saying the score 30-love.  We might say that the score is 30-zero, in order to be less confused and confusing.  There are many multiple uses of most terms that get confused this way, and we are scarcely aware of them.  When we do study them, unravel the equivocations, this we might call "analysis." 
91. But now it may come to look as if there were something like a final analysis of our forms of language, and so a single completely resolved form of every expression. That is, as if our usual forms of expression were, essentially, unanalysed; as if there were something hidden in them that had to be brought to light. When this is done the expression is completely clarified and our problem solved.  When we analyze the equivocations, straighten things out, it sometimes begins to appear as though we could finally get a picture of the accurate meaning, that we could invent, even, ways of talking that allowed tus o speak in ways that are completely clear, so that the problem
at hand is solved. 

 

It can also be put like this: we eliminate misunderstandings by making our expressions more exact; but now it may look as if we were moving towards a particular state, a
state of complete exactness; and as if this were the real goal of our investigation.

 

When we are mystified like this, we think we can find a way to put things that will eliminate all misunderstandings.  It will just require, so we think, more exactness.  It even seems that exactness, not clarity, is the real goal of our investigation.  Somehow we have become infatuated with the idea that exactness will bring us closer to a final picture of the hidden mysteries around us.
92. This finds expression in questions as to the essence of language, of propositions, of thought. Our infatuation with exactness shows itself when philosophers ask about the essence of language in that they often strive for more exactness. 
--For if we too in these investigations are trying to understand the essence of language -- its function, its
structure, --yet this is not what those questions have in view.
It may seem that this is what we, in this book, are trying to do as well.  But the questions we ask are different. 
 

 

For they see in the essence, not something that already
lies open to view and that becomes surveyable by a rearrangement, but something that lies beneath the surface. Something that lies within, which we see when we look into the thing, and which an analysis digs out.
We need to use different metaphors for their questions and for ours.  While they are seeking something deeper that will be unveiled as the mystery structure of language, we are seeking something that might be clear to us by a certain rearrangement of the details.
'The essence is hidden from us': this is the form our problem now assumes. We ask: "What is language?",
"What is a proposition?" And the answer to these questions is to be given once for all; and independently
of any future experience.
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

If we are in their frame of reference, and we ask questions about the essence of things, we look for answers that can be given now and for all time, regardless of what happens in the future.  After all, the essence of language cannot change. If langauge has an essence, so they think, it exists everywhere and whenever langauge exists.  Not so for us.  We will look at changeable aspects of language that happen to create patterns during our cultural experience.  For example, whereas they will look for what "truth" really is, apart from any true statement, we will be inspired to notice the ways in which this term is used in our culture and in particular language games and practices.
One person might say "A proposition is the most
ordinary thing in the world" and another: "A proposition -
that's something very queer!" --And the latter is unable simply to look and see how propositions really work. The forms that we use in expressing ourselves about
propositions and thought stand in his way.
When they are looking for essences they do not look at the way the statements actually work and how we use them.  They look for something hidden from us.  We look
for something we can watch and see. 
 

 

Why do we say a proposition is something remarkable? On the one hand, because of the enormous importance attaching to it.  (And that is correct). On the other hand this, together with a misunderstanding of the logic of language, seduces us into thinking that something extraordinary, something unique, must be achieved by propositions.
 
 
 

 

When this logic of propositions seems remarkable, it is for two reasons.  One I endorse:  There is much importance attaching to language, and why and how that is so is worthy of our reflection.  The second reason we think logic is remarkable is that we are seduced by certain illusions that tell us that language is alien to other things in the world.  We will find the distinction between language and non-language quite blurry.  Our culture tends to polarize the world, mistakenly I feel, into language and not-language, failing to see that the distinction is not so complete as we at first think. 
--  A misunderstanding makes it look to us as if a propositions did something queer.
 

 

Our recognition of the importance of language, plus our having been seduced into seeing it as something completely different from non-language, makes language propositions (statements) seem very odd, indeed. 
94. 'A proposition is a queer thing!' Here we have in germ the subliming of our whole account of logic. This "subliming" of our logic is a way of seducing ourselves into this mystification that treats logic as something quite mystical.
The tendency to assume a pure intermediary between the propositional signs and the facts. Or even to try to
purify, to sublime, the signs themselves.
 
 
 

 

When we sublime the logic of our langauge in this way, we turn it into a kind of ghost which is seems to work as an intermediary between the statements we make and the words we say.  We try to get rid of the words (signs) themself and stare at the essence, this linguistic ghost,
so to speak, that connects our words with the facts they are meant to portray. 
-For our forms of expression prevent us in all sorts of ways from seeing that nothing out of the ordinary is
involved, by sending us in pursuit of chimeras.

 

Seduced by the ghost of language into seeing apparitions between words and things (into seeing "selves" "minds" "schizophrenia" as things, for example) we are distracted and do not notice the ordinary that is involved. 
95. "Thought must be something unique". When we say, and mean, that such-and-such is the case, we -- and our meaning-- do not stop anywhere short of the fact;
but we mean: this-is-so. But this paradox (which has the form of a truism) can also be expressed in this way: Thought can be of  what is not the case.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

95 begins with LW talking indirectly about the fly-bottle/ That is, he is exploring the cultural thoughts that weave together and block our path out of the fly-bottle.  Here, at the source of this impasse, we find ourselves saying things like, "Thought must be something unique".  This is not an innocent statement.  It represents our willingness to imagine "thought" as something mysterious and beyond explanation at the same time that that we look for explanation.  This is a path into thinking of language as tied to metaphysical mysteries such as Platonic forms. supplemental article.

Here is my paraphrase of the last part of this aphorism:
When I say, "This is a cup." my words seem to point directly to this cup.  I am pointing right  to it.  My words don't fall short of the cup and point just to a concept.  This is a cup, I say.  It is so. 

But words can only point to what is true?  Isn't this a truism?  If I say "This is a flower" and it is really a  cup before us, then my words are not really pointing to anything.  That is fine.  My words are just pretending that there is a flower there.  I can't really point to what is not here.

Or can I?  If I look for my cup and find a bare shelf and say, "My cup is not here", aren't I pointing to its absence?  And how is this different from looking at the bare shelf and saying, "The  flower is not here?"  What would be different about the shelf and what I point to in the two  cases? It must be that there is something else that I am pointing to other than the cup itself.
 

96. Other illusions come from various quarters to attach themselves to the special one spoken of here. Thought, language, now appear to us as the unique correlate, picture, of the world. These concepts proposition, language, thought, world, stand in line one behind the other, each equivalent to each. (But what are these words to be used for now? The language-game in which they are to be applied is missing.)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

I point here to this bare shelf and say, "The cup is not here", but what am I pointing to?  I might say, perhaps I am pointing to the thought of the-cup-that-is-not-here?  Or if not the thought, then to the proposition "This is a cup" or to the web of language that reflects this meaning, or to the
"world" (as LW used the term in the Tractatus when he said in the beginning "The World is all that is the case).  These are all more or less synonyms.  As soon as you knock one down, I have a backup concept that stands between the word and the fact.  These words may look a little different to you, but they function in the same way.  They are place holders that I use to talk about these ghostly Platonic images as i think about my difficulties in explaining the way langauge seems to me to work.
Is that any better?

By having a string of abstract concepts we construct in order to have something to point to, we create a mysterious object of meaning that language seems to address.  It suddenly appears, when we are pointing to that thought, whatever that should mean.Then, language begins to appear to be something remarkabe, almost magical. 
 

97. Thought is surrounded by a halo.  --Its essence, logic, present an order, in fact the a priori order of the world:
that is, the order of possibilities, which must be common to both world and thought. But this order, it seems, must
be utterly simple. It is prior to a experience, must run through all experience; no empirical cloudiness or
uncertainty can be allowed to affect it --It must rather be of the purest crystal.  But this crystal does not appear as an
abstraction; but as something concrete, indeed, as the most concrete, as it were the hardest thing there is (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus No. 5.5563).
 
In this aporia, it seems, that thought is surrounded by a kind of halo.  This halo of thought is "essence" or "logic", and this logical-essence-halo seems to hold the world in some kind of order, to organize it.  Without that organizing halo the world would appear chaotic.  But this organizing halo must be completely simple, perfect in someway.  It would not work for this metaphysical-halo of essences to
have something confused about it, something fuzzy.  And, we must have this organizing principle prior to our being able to make sense of anything.  Without this organizing principle, all if confusion.  
 
We are under the illusion that what is peculiar, profound, essential, in our investigation, resides in its trying to grasp the incomparable essence of language. That is, the
order existing between the concepts of proposition, word, proof, truth, experience, and so on. This order is a
super-order between --so to speak-- super-concepts. Whereas, of course, if the words "language", "experience",
"world", have a use, it must be as humble a one as that of the words "table", "lamp", "door".
And, so, in this state of mystification we are under the illusion that there is some essence of langauge, some magical essence, and that we are trying to grasp this essence, which is just beyond our grasp.  This essence consists in the organizing principles, concrete almost, ghostlike organizing principles.  And these appear to be permanent fixtures in the world.  How can they change, we say in our illusions, they are the principles that control the world of human understanding? See #91
 
98. On the one hand it is clear that every sentence in our language is in order as it is'. That is to say, we are not striving after an ideal, as if our ordinary vague sentences had not yet got a quite unexceptionable sense, and a perfect language awaited construction by us.-- On the other hand it seems clear that where there is sense there must be perfect order. So there must be perfect order even in the vaguest sentence.
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

But there is aporia while in this mystification, because, for
example, we know that it is a bit odd to say that we can point to nothing, and yet it seems we can.  It seems with my concepts, I can point to the fact that John is not in his seat.  I see the seat empty.  How can I do that?  Then, noticing this aporia and we think that the problem is
that the language that we use is not quite perfect enough, so we want to make it more perfect, more exact.  This perfect language awaits our construction.  What will it be like?  Well, it seems, it will be much like the one we have, only more exact, more perfect.  Thinking like this,
we say to ourself that the organizing principle that controls everything is there even in the fuzzy imperfect principle, but still, things do not quite work correctly.  The organizing principle is perfect, we just have a language that is an imperfect picture of it.  There are a few flaws, and we must figure them out and fix them. 
99. The sense of a sentence --one would like to say-- may, of course, leave this or that open, but the sentence must nevertheless have a definite sense. An indefinite sense-- that would really not be a sense at all. --This is like: An indefinite boundary is not really a boundary at all. Here
one thinks perhaps: if I say "I have locked the man up fast in the room --there is only one door left open"-- then I simply haven't locked him in at all; his being locked in is a sham. One would be inclined to say here: "You haven't done anything at all". An enclosure with a hole in it
is as good as none. --But is that true?

 

In this perfect language, that, in our mystification it seems we must construct (if we are to gain any clarity) we may, of course, allow for a sentence to have some flexibility.  We might have a structure like, "The book is on the table" that could be adapted to "The pen is on the table."  But, it seems, there must be something quite definite in the
boundaries of it all.  We can't have the basic rules be flexible.  If I leave any of the basic rules flexible, it seems, I might as well not have any rules at all.  (Think how this relates to Lyotard and his notion that we negotiate the basic rules of our language in paralogy.  We can say, now, in our postmodernism, "This is what I mean by X" and, sometimes, people can follow us.) 
100. "But still, it isn't a game, if there is some vagueness in the rules". -- But does this prevent its being a game? --
"Perhaps you'll call it a game, but at any rate it certainly isn't a perfect game." This means: it has impurities, and what I am interested in at present is the pure article.

-But I want to say: we misunderstand the role of the ideal in our language. That is to say: we too should call it a game, only we are dazzled by the ideal and therefore fail to see the actual use of the word "game" clearly.

And so, let me ask you, must there be exact rules in order for us to have a "game"?  Or is this just an illusion of our logocentrism?  The mystified voice responds, well, you can call this game without precise rules a game if you wish, but it is not a perfect game.  But, now, as I think through this, finding my way out of the fly bottle, Wittgenstein  says, I want to say that we misunderstand the nature of our task here.  We are far too dazzled by the dream that increased precision will show us clarity to see any other prospects clearly.. 

First Page





Table of Contents
Shawver Commentary


Aphorisms
Index Page
1-10
11-20
21-30
31-38
39-50
51-59
60-64
65-69
70-75
76-80
81-88
89-100
Reference
Extended Look at 43


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