Man, I don’t know what it is about LW (Ludwig Wittgenstein), but it seems like the man’s name is mentioned in just about every philosophy book, especially when the topic concerns language. He’s almost as ubiquitous as Hume who I discovered to be much more astute than previously assumed. He wrote a major book and entered college at the ripe age of eleven, a fact I somehow missed before.
Today, at a large bookstore, I spent roughly two hours through three sections, psychology, web development and philosophy. I learned a little here and there about this and that. So, I walked over to the philosophy section after reading about AJAX and AI, and decided to see what philosophers, old and new, had to say about the relationship between language and logic. I thought I might have something. Now, I have something. And it’s big. It’s a monster. It’s a herculean monster. It might even be a sisyphean herculean monster, which are rare, indeed. The only problem is that I’m sort of skipping ahead of myself and it’s possible that my intuition is misguided and short-sight. Something other than right.
Anyhow, so, I started digging into one philosopher after another, finding good ideas here or there, excellent ideas in spells. The trick with philosophers, you see, especially ancient Greek philosophers, is that, if you’re looking for something specific, you sometimes have to read in chunks, extracting important chunks of data while bypassing the verbosity, like using a sieve at an archaeological dig. Yes, knowledge is digging. You just need finer and finer sieves the deeper you go. But don’t try this with postmodern philosophers; you’ll only get your hands dirty. Or bloody.
Anyhow, I extracted a few semi-precious ideas, deductions, what have you, placed them where they belong alongside other ideas, deductions, what have you, and, then, when what do my wondering eyes should appear but Ludwig’s Blue and Brown Books.
I could not have found a better book. I didn’t buy it. That’s dessert. Dessert’s later. Finishing the broccoli. With cheese. What I did do, however, was read the mind of someone who very likely “got it.” He very likely saw the connection like a composer sees his composition, all at once, in his head, complete. LW’s trick was to find a way to explain it. Whereof you don’t know how to explain something, thereof keep your trap shut. A trap. A game. Say cheese!
Anyhow, so, here is what I found more enlightening than bodhisattva. Let’s say Wittgenstein was sitting on a plane of enlightenment known affectionately as Siddhartha Gautama’s bald spot. And what he found might very well settle the score between descriptivist and direct reference theorists. It seems nihilistic, but I don’t think it is underneath. It’s basic. It’s a matter of looking at reality from the perspective of what we know about how we know anything about reality with no credit for preconceptions.
In his Blue and Brown Books, Wittgenstein gives an example of looking at a swatch of paint on a barn door. He says that when we think of this swatch, it is as if we have drawn a black chalk outline around it. The point is that we take what is already in our heads and project it onto what we see, giving us a picture of reality from an aggregate of what we know about it.
Wittgenstein then notes that this makes it unnecessary to have a “sample” of our thoughts present when thinking about something the sample represents. A name is its own referent. I’m making this bold because, if you remember nothing else, remember this. LW says that we do not have thoughts about things but to things. Making sense of something means comparing what we experience with what we already know.
In this light, then, the reference debate between descriptivist and direct reference theorists can be differently interpreted. A name represents an object, idea, emotion, quality, etc., and each is, in turn, represented by a predetermined, finite conceptualization. One can refer to conceptualization as a description, sense impression, reference, or whatever, but, whatever name you give it, it consists of mental abstraction, which can be broken down and concretized.
That’s what I remember from what I read. If that’s way off base, I apologize. I don’t think it is, though. And, like I mentioned earlier, I don’t think this makes LW a nihilist in the least. I think it makes him a hero. I think so, anyways. Lots to digest. No firm convictions. Chomsky might be right, after all, in opining that formal languages and natural languages are completely different. That’s sort of what LW thought, too, if I understand him properly. Maybe that’s the fatalistic part.