Back Off Science

Stuck between two things

Posted in philosophy by backoffscience on December 13, 2009

Philosophy is the battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of our language. PI 109

Reading a lot of Wittgenstein at the moment. A moral from the Philosophical Investigations:

Wittgenstein on a stampMany problems come from our wanting to treat something as something it is not. For Wittgenstein, this was treating the meaning of words as something in some special realm, or treating thoughts as mental objects to which only I have access.

The solution is to look at how we use words and what actually goes on and figure out from that how to treat things. Starting with an idea of what something is and then forcing the thing into that idea only leads to problems.

The same basic problem is faced with the incursion of the scientific attitude into non-scientific areas of language.

We want to treat depression as a medical problem, with an entirely biological explanation, but this makes the fact that we often “catch” depression from events in our life seem quite odd – (“queer” in Wittgenstein’s terms).

We want to treat religion as making factual claims about the universe, but this makes the fact that people are converted to a religion and not just educated about it seem odd.

We want to believe that our experience takes place in the brain, but that makes the shared world we live in an odd place.

We want there to be a firm separation between subjective and objective so that we can put everything on the objective side in a bag marked truth and discard everything else as lightweight. But when we look at the world we find it much harder to fit things into the bag. What, for example, is money? Without our “subjective” acceptance of its value, the objective marks on paper or gold atoms are literally worthless.

I haven’t really understood it yet, but I think I’m on the right track.

One Response

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  1. Alan Slipp said, on December 14, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    There are facts of the matter, and then there is what we think about those facts. I agree that since we (as the thinkers) are so staunchly on one side of the equation, it can be a little difficult to tell the difference, but that, to me, is all the more reason why we should try as hard as we can to do so.

    Depression IS a medical problem. It is an illness, and one that is treatable. Talking about neurochemicals doesn’t particularly describe the content of one’s conscious experience while depressed, but they nonetheless alter the medium in which that experience takes place. That certain events trigger certain neurological responses isn’t odd, it’s precisely what we ought to expect.

    As for religion, it very often DOES make claims about the nature of the universe. That some people aren’t turned from religious belief on the truth or falsity of those claims is neither here nor there; religion is not just a set of propositions, as I’m sure you are well aware. It plays on people’s hopes, desires, their sense of mortality. Powerful stuff.

    And as for money… just watch stock market trends for a while and you can see how fluid our notion of value is.


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