Dec 8, 2010

Wittgenstein on Wednesdays 011


There's a tendency to pretty up Wittgenstein. To make him look nice.

A lot of this is done by the aestheticization of his genius. He is made to be daring, dashing, brilliant, and blindingly so, and so our response to his work is one of admiring a thing of beauty, but not, actually, taking it seriously.

By making him brilliant -- I mean, he is, but by taking him that way -- we make it safe not to not actually think seriously about what he's doing.

And how could we take it seriously?

How would we take, for instance, "We cannot think illogically," seriously?

What does that mean?

Trying to unpack that phrase, I think it means there is no thought that is illogical, which means there might be something that is illogical, except it can't be thought, can't be a thought or put into a thought. What that would be, though, since, normally, it's exactly thoughts that are or can be illogical, as opposed to, say, rocks or periods of history, I can't imagine. I take it that would be OK with Wittgenstein, though, since he thinks I can't think the illogical.

Except I can think "the illogical," that is, have a thought about the illogical, about some thought being illogical, but, for Wittgenstein, I think, that thought, the one I had, the thought about the illogical, was, itself, logical. I can logically think about the illogical, but not illogically.

This might not be as strange as it seems though, and might not even be particularly Wittgensteinian: when philosophy functions with the code logical/illogical*, thinking about illogical (philosophically) falls or is supposed, if you do it right, to fall on the side of the logical, and even the code of the bifurcation is on that side of the bifurcation, or at least the model of it is, reinscribed there.

What it means, here, though, that one cannot think illogically, in this conception I think Wittgenstein is working out, is that to think illogically would be to think an impossible thought. A thought that couldn't be thought would be an illogical one, since that which is logical is that which is possible, which can be thought, which means it's possible it could be true, even if it's not. The impossible thought is then ruled out. You can't think it, and if you could, if it were possible, then it wouldn't be illogical (which is to say impossible).

This would have to count not just for illogicalness as such, but for the thoughts that normally pass for illogical thoughts. A logical fallacy, for example, would, I think, have to be considered logical, under this idea of Wittgenstein's. It would still be OK to think of something as wrong, or as mistaken, but not as illogical. There are certain classes of fallacies I think I can make this work for, for example, slippery slopes, since of course it's possible that because of A therefore B and therefor apocalyptic, culture-shattering doom, even if it's unlikely or mistaken or just not actually the case, or post hoc ergo propter hoc even, maybe, since it's possible that there really was a causal connection between the prior event and the latter one.

With other fallacies, though, Wittgenstein's ruling out of the illogical thought as an impossible thought confuses me. If, say, it's not illogical to say, "All men are mortal, Socrates is a mortal, therefore Socrates is a man," since it's not impossible (and in fact is true, though not necessarily so), then what is it I want to say when I say it's illogical?

Here, of course, I suspect I just don't know enough about logic to actually probe the idea. I end up just kind of floundering around in my mind, staring off as I ride the bus or sit at a dinner party I don't really want to be at, thinking, what's going on?

And there is a real temptation, there, to give up thinking about it, to cop-out of the "what the hell?" and turn, instead, to this admiration. "Wir können nicht Unlogisches denken, weil wir sonst unlogisch denken müßten" is aesthetically pleasing, even if I don't know what to do with it. Wittgenstein prettys up nice.

Except that what's actually going on, here, what he wants to do -- whether he's successful or not -- is actually explode philosophy. Wittgenstein isn't a wit, isn't Oscar Wilde, he's Guy Fawkes, planting this dynamite where it'll do the most damage to the foundation, he's the guy who shot Franz Ferdinand, hitting exactly the right duke with the right diplomatic entanglements to (try to) bring the whole system down. Wittgenstein's opponent, in this, is not this philosopher or that philosopher, this or that idea, but philosophy itself. If we stylize him, we miss that this is the crazy, powerful, dangerous, promising and possible insane idea here.

At very least he's trying to move that bifurcation, logical/illogical, from the center of philosophy, which was supposed to be the center of thinking, to the very outer edge of what thinking is. By switching the code from logical/illogical to possible/impossible, which he does with the move he makes deep in the sub-sub sentences of 2 about shapes of states of affairs, he's trying to make philosophy, or any system of thought that would think about and determine what's logical or illogical, meaningless. What is possible is possible, and we don't need philosophy to determine that.

Or maybe I've lost it and am making this up.

But what does that mean, we cannot think illogically? We cannot illogically think. There are no thoughts that are illogical. There can be none such that they are .....

Wittgenstein sure is pretty.

Auf Deutsch:
3 Das logische Bild der Tatsachen ist der Gedanke.
3.01 Die Gesamtheit der wahren Gedanken sind ein Bild der Welt.
3.02 Der Gedanke enthält die Möglichkeit der Sachlage, die er denkt. Was denkbar ist, ist auch möglichkeit.
3.03 Wir können nicht Unlogisches denken, weil wir sonst unlogisch denken müßten.
3.04 Ein a priori richtiger Gedanke wäre ein solcher, dessen Möglichkeit seine Warheit bedingte.
3.05 Nur so könnten wir a priori wissen, daß ein Gedanke wahr ist, wenn aus dem Gedanken selbst (ohne Vergleichsobjekt) seine Wahrheit zu erkennen wäre.
3.1 Im Satz drückt sich der Gedanke sinnlich wahrnehmbar aus.
3.11 Wir benützen das sinnlich wahrnehmbare Zeichen (Laut- oder Schriftzeichen etc.) des Satzes als Projektion der möglichen Sachlage.
Die Projectionmethode ist das Denken des Satz-sinnes.
3.12 Das Zeichen, durch welches wir den Gedanken ausdrücken, nenne ich das Satzzeichen. Und der Satz ist das Satzzeichen in seiner projectiven Beziehung zur Welt.

3 The logical picture of facts is the thought.
3.01 The entirety of true thoughts is a picture of the world.
3.02 The thought holds the possibility of the state of affairs that it thinks. What is thought is also possible.
3.03 We cannot think illogically, because otherwise we would have to think illogically.
3.04 An a prior correct thought is one such that its possibily is its condition of truth.
3.05 We can only know a pirori that a thought is true if the thought itself recognizes its truth (without object comparison).
3.1 In the proposition, the idea is expressed perceptibly through the senses.
3.11 We use the sensibly perceivable sign (spoken or written signs, etc.) as the proposition projecting the possible state of affairs.
3.12 The sign, through which we express the thought, I call the proposition-sign. And the proposition is the proposition-sign in its projective relation to the world.

- Gedanke -- Gets used as "thought," "idea" and "mind." A fmiliar word, for me, since it's sung in the Evangelisch liturgy before the weekly Pslam: Gott gedenke mein nach deiner Gnade. / Herr, erhöre mich mit deiner treuen Hilfe. God, think of me (according) to your grace / Lord, hear me with your true help..
- wahrnehmbar -- Translatable as "precievable," but containing, perhaps, a more complicated sense. "Wahr" translates as "true,"+ "annehmbar" which translates as "acceptable," "assumable," "reasonable" or "receivable."
- Satz -- This is a word that significantly depends on context. It can mean something as vague as "unit," and, in verious contexts, mean "proposition," "sentence," "set," "suit," "dart," "clause" or "phrase." My initial instinct is to choose the most mathematical of the words.
- Satzzeichen -- Normally means "punctuation mark." Perhaps this is a German pun that just doesn't quite translate (even though it almost works with a little straining)?
- Zeichen -- Because "sign" carries so much philosophical weight, I'm tempted to abandon it for something else, but the other possibilities, "mark," "note," "token," "figure," introduce unnecessary ambiguity.

*This move is Luhmannian, a move I'm finding somewhat useful.