Back Off Science

Wittgenstein vs Melvyn

Posted in 1 by backoffscience on September 25, 2009

Listened to the In Our Time on Wittgenstein and thought there was some good talk about science and that. Here are some rough transcriptions:

Marie McGinn: In the Tractatus – “he [Wittgenstein] is interested in how language is used by scientists to state facts.”

“There is a danger in taking something that has nothing to do with anything being true or false and treating it as if it can be represented as a truth.

Barry Smith: “You’re trying to draw the limits to what is intelligible. The trouble with drawing a limit is that you seem to have to stand on both sides of the line… to understand the boundary is to see where its drawn.

“The limits are the limits of what you can say in science. Science has done a perfectly good job of describing the way the world is, and how things work. What about all the things that cannot be put into scientific speak? We might want to say that the world has a certain meaning for us or that things are valuable. But when we say that life has a value or a meaning, thats not just one more fact. It’s not going to be found in the world, alongside water boiling at 100c and certain facts about chemical substances.

“So what are we to make of that idea, that the world has value or that there’s a meaning to our lives? Instead of it being something that we state in another proposition or that scientists might investigate – it’s not a part of the world, it is an attitude to the world. It is a way that we regard the world. So if you’ve got the facts in front of you, there’s something else you can do other than just list them. You can take up a stance in respect to what you find there. Thats what gives the wold its value.

“For Wittgenstein, in doing philosophy, one is doing something like that. Philosophy’s job is just to say what can intelligibly be said and that is maybe to remind ourselves that what is intelligibly said is said by science, but then, where does philosophy belong? Is it a science? no it is not.

Marie McGinn: “He comes to see¬† not only the complexity of the logical structure of our language but that our language is in its nature something elastic, something ambiguous, something we are constantly extending, using in new ways. The mastery we have of it is not something that can be described in a determinate set of rules.”

Ray Monk: “In the 1950s, english speaking philosophy was to a very large extent Wittgensteinian. Since then there has been a twist in the main stream of analytic philosophy in that it has become more Russelian and less Wittgensteinian in that it is a central view of the later Wittgenstinian that there can be no thing as a philosophical theory, and i think that most analytical philosophers nowadays think of themselves as engaged in precisely the kind of theory, the possibility of which Wittgenstein denied.”

“Philosophy since Descartes has got it wrong about the relative priority of the private and the public. Descartes image is this – “I know that I’m thinking , there’s a philosophical problem about your mind. How do I know that you’re conscious, how do I know what you’re thinking” – so the private is certain, the public is uncertain.

“Wittgenstein turns that around to say that the public has to be prior to the private. The later work is all about language embodied in practice, in a community. Wittgenstein says look. You know the contents of your thoughts, not prior to your acquisition of language its rather because you take part in a community, and you know the words of the language that you can describe your own thinking. So it is being in a community first. Be in a community, acquire the language of that community, then you are in a position to say what it is you are thinking.”

Barry Smith: “He doesn’t see language as a clothing of thought, but as the fabric of thinking. That turns philosophy on its head. To get from the inner world out. There isn’t going to be an inner world until you’re already bound up with others.”

Marie McGinn: “When we teach the child language we’re beginning to open up a world for that child.”

Ray Monk: “He was driven by cultural concerns. He really didn’t like the way our culture was going, in its worship of science, and I think that rings a strong chord that resonates with thoughts that a lot of people have had.”

“People look to Wittgenstein to give voice to a dissatisfaction with the intellectual¬† culture of the 20th century and its overestimation of the value and power of science.”