Posts Tagged ‘wittgenstein’


In experiments, induction, justificationism on 20/08/2011 at 7:29 am

A philosophical problem has the form: I don’t know my way about. (Ludwig Wittgenstein)

Up until the late 19th century every observation was compatible with Newton’s theory of gravity. All these observations are also compatible with Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Two quite different theories were compatible with the same set of observations; therefore, one cannot know they have derived true theories from observations.

Assume we have a long series of numbers. They go on: 2, 4, 8 … What is the next number in the series?

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In critical rationalism, fideism, popper, wittgenstein on 26/07/2011 at 5:51 am

A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push. (Ludwig Wittgenstein)


In Wittgenstein’s posthumous Philosophical Investigations he argues that meaning of terms is equal to its use within language: each ‘linguistic universe’ has its own rules. Content cannot be separated from criteria by which they are judged: criteria is never inter-cultural, but sub-cultural. Each discipline or ‘language’ game has its own standards, which cannot be reducible to other standards or principles. The task of the philosopher is then to describe and clarify standards, not to judge, defend, or criticize proposals laid out within a ‘language game.’ Criticism can only point out the misuse of language, or violations of the rules.

Argument or judgment does not cross disciplines, for they exist only in reference to criteria of the rules of the game. This leads to relativism, where there is no rational choice to be made between competing games: all games are equally defensible.

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The “Proper” Work of Philosophy

In wittgenstein on 19/07/2011 at 11:27 pm

That there can be no … superior tribunal has also been one theme of contemporary analytical philosophy in Britain, beginning in the late 1930s and gaining strength since the war. Philosophy as a kind of antropology of knowledge and belief is a conception revived in the later work of Wittgenstein. His suggestion was that we should turn our attention to the justification of belief, and of claims to knowledge, which are customarily accepted, and not look for a rationally satisfying justification altogether outside our established habits of thought: such a justification could never in principle be found. The proper work of philosophy is purely descriptive, to set out the linguistic facts that reveal our habits of thought … (Professor S. Hampshire, in David Hume: a Symposium, ed. D.F. Pears, London, Macmillan, 1963, p. 5)


Lash on Commitment

In ethics, irrationalism, justificationism, wittgenstein on 14/07/2011 at 11:08 am

I cannot suffer fools, and Nicholas Lash is an educated fool–the worst kind by far, for his words can beguile those with less learning than he. And by Jove, Lash has a way with words. His All good reasoning comes from prior commitments and beliefs, published in the “Comment is Free” section of the Guardian, is a strangely enticing word-salad.

And what of Lash? He is, according to the press release by Durham University on the occasion of Lash receiving an honorary degree, “regarded as one of the most influential Roman Catholic philosophical theologians of our time.”

… all good reasoning expresses and proceeds from prior commitments and beliefs and relies, at every step along the way, on believing – however cautiously and critically – the testimony of others engaged in this and similar collaborative enterprises.

The article is, in brief, a case-study of the Wittgensteinian attempts by the learned to protect religious conjectures from criticism. With a quick bit of Googling, it turns out that Lash is indebted to Wittgenstein’s approach. That attitude throws up hastily built walls to keep trespassers at bay–while simultaneously legitimizing all other ‘forms of life.’ While such a conclusion may have sat well with Wittgenstein, how can Lash dare say anything critical of other ‘forms of life’? Everyone is already committed. No rational argumentation–and thus no change, except for the religious conversion on par with Saul on the road to Damascus–is permissible.

But is that the case? Don’t people often change their minds when confronted with criticism from without the community? Of course; however, Lash’s attitude, and his perplexing language, do little more than hinder those that may in due time change.

It follows (and O’Collins’s definition brings this out so well) that serious theological investigation is never purely a matter of inference and deduction; never merely a matter of the reasoning mind. It is also a matter of the mind and heart at prayer. There is a sense in which all good theology is done on one’s knees.

In sum, rather than a raging a war of words between intellectual ‘nations,’ Lash would have us all live in little herme(nu)tically-sealed cocoons. Thank you, but I’ll pass on the offer.


Debate Styles

In critical rationalism, justificationism, popper, wittgenstein on 12/07/2011 at 12:54 pm

There’s a lovely debate that’s been around for some time between Christopher Hitchens and William Lane Craig at Biola University. I recommend that you watch it — or watch parts of it, namely Christopher Hitchens’s turns at the podium. William Lane Craig is an awful speaker. Christ must have granted Hitchens a silver tongue and Craig a wooden ear. If you can bear through Craig’s turn at the microphone, then you’ll witness a great ‘debate’ between a philosopher-hack and a public intellectual.

What I find most interesting about the debate — besides the subject of ‘Does God exist?’ — is Hitchens and Craig’s respective debating styles. I will start with Hitchens:

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The Orthodox Story

In bartley, kuhn, wittgenstein on 03/07/2011 at 12:31 pm

The orthodox story runs as follows: Kuhn is the philosopher that undermined the philosophical tradition of Logical Positivism. I think this is wrong; Kuhn did not manage to break from the preceding philosophical tradition. His work is laden with principles belonging to the philosophy he was determined to reject. In fact, incommensurability, non-directed progress, rejection of the concept of truth as a regulatory principle, and the very thesis of “world change” are all consequences of the positivist elements Kuhn’s philosophy retains.

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The Chaos Monster

In fallibilism, skepticism, the ancient greeks on 22/06/2011 at 9:28 am

In Jungian terms, the uncanny breaks down our expectations for how the world is to operate. When we attempt to understand things, we can only see them through our own filter. If you have a hammer, everything you see is a nail. Our preconceived notions of what is normal break down, and when they are violated, we realize how fragile our epistemic assumptions are: the world isn’t full of nails. We’re left disturbed, unsettled, or shaken. We’re confronted with the irrational and the breakdown of fundamental order of the world. Without something to hold on to, we’re left fumbling in the dark.

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Later Wittgenstein

In popper, wittgenstein on 16/06/2011 at 1:15 am

Early Wittgenstein is usually understood within positivist circles as setting forth the idea that the only meaningful statements are those that are possible to be known to be true or false; it must be possible to decide for or against the proposition by an appeal to Nature Herself. We present Her our sentences for review, and She either approves of our words or rejects them with a vengeance. For the moment, let us assume, along with the Later Wittgenstein, that this understanding of meaning as demarcating sense and nonsense is patently false.

This Later Wittgenstein agrees in part with the Würzburg School (Bühler, Selz, Külpe, and Koffka) and the Austrian School Reform Movement* in their rejection of the theories expressed in the Tractatus, along with the associationalist school of child psychology, which aligned itself with the implicit thesis of the Tractatus: a child may learn only through the repeated memorization of the atomic structure of words; instruction takes place only from without the subject.

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Through a Glass Darkly

In fallibilism, fideism, kuhn, popper on 15/06/2011 at 3:41 pm

There exists some way to certify statements as true or false. There must be some reason for believing them, a reason that may rest on other reasons (for example, z rests on y; y rests on x), but there must be some sort of instrument — call it a ‘touchstone’ — that sorts out true from false statements. There exists entrance examinations that determine truth and falsehood, similar to academic standards of admittance. If analogies to instruments and standards are not enough, then a religious allusion may be necessary: true statements are touched with grace by good reasons. This paragraph, in brief, sums up the prism through which the justificationist views the world.

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In justificationism, kuhn, skepticism, wittgenstein on 15/06/2011 at 3:18 pm

Justificationism in Continental Rationalism leads to a situation of salvation and damnation. The epistemologist must save some commonsensical ideas, such as other minds, an external world, the reliability of science, and cast out or exorcise supposed illegitimate foundations. She sorts out the desirable from the undesirable statements, yet to begin this sorting this requires a proper sorter.

Out of all the possible foundations for knowledge, all but one foundation will fail to correctly sort out all desirable positions. If a foundation does not succeed, it will fail to deliver the promised goods. It is one thing to question whether the system is coherent; it is another to question whether it accomplishes its task. For instance, if a proposed foundation asserts the existence of the external world, this is not a satisfactory foundation, for it does not tell us anything of importance about the external world. We are not searching for a meta-criterion, but as a criterion of preferable foundations. I want a foundation that doesn’t let too much in, yet keeps all the riffraff out.

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