[lit-ideas] Did Wittgenstein's whistling stop? I

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 15 Dec 2013 09:16:02 +0000 (GMT)

The interpretation of the
philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein is a field or forest in which it is easy to
get lost and to lose others (one sometimes feels that getting lost and losing
others is part of the attraction for some). This post will be sparing on points
of detail in which it is all too easy to get lost and will try to stick to
seeing the wood for the trees. A main point in what follows is how different it
is to view Wittgenstein as a ‘metaphysics-denier’, who thinks the field of
metaphysics is illusory and non-existent,
and to view him as merely a denier that metaphysics is a field we can speak
sensibly about. On the second view, Wittgenstein thinks it is our attempted talk
about metaphysics that is illusory in that it contains only the illusion of
sense – but he does not conclude that the talk-about field is illusory or does
not exist.
In terms of Wittgenstein’s
reception in the English-speaking world, and in the German-speaking tradition
of Logical Positivism that resurrected a version of Hume (and became implanted
in the U.S. via Carnap et al),
Wittgenstein’s appeal may be due to the very anti-metaphysical thrust of his
philosophy. For where Wittgenstein was best received there already dominated a 
kind of anti-metaphysical stance, a stance often blind to the difference
between the issue of whether metaphysics exists and whether we can have valid
knowledge of it. The conditions were ripe for misinterpreting Wittgenstein as a
‘metaphysics-denier’ though he was far from this.*
P.M.S. Hacker (the
initials are his and do not denote a medical condition**) is a renowned
Wittgenstein scholar. But, as with Popper and Lakatos, we should beware
assuming that a follower has the right interpretation of the master (Popper
fortunately remained alive to reject wholesale Lakatos’ exegesis). 
Hacker’s on-line papers,
including the two subject to this post, are available at:
JLS has previously posted
an article by Hacker that makes many weighty points supporting the view that
the key to Tractatus is the ‘saying/showing’
distinction. Here is another url for it at the above site:
One doesn’t have to agree
with everything Hacker says, especially his view as to how the ‘saying/showing’
distinction works (or his view that
it doesn’t work), to see the weight behind the view that ‘saying/showing’ is
key to Tractarian (or early) Wittgenstein. 
Hacker’s title expresses that,
though W believed in “limits of language” such that his philosophy was dealing
with things that could be not be expressed in language, nevertheless W was
“trying to whistle it”. There is something unfortunate about this way of
putting it, which is better put by saying that nevertheless W was ‘seeking to
show’. W never claimed he was trying to whistle anything (we owe this claim to
Ramsey). But then the whole situation is somewhat less than fortunate from the
point of view of perspicacity. 
It is clear enough that
the Tractatus fundamentally rests on
a ‘saying/showing’ distinction:- but how this key distinction works is at least 
somewhat unclear and perhaps even fundamentally unclear. 
Not surprisingly there
have emerged a range of speculations as to how it works – for example, (i) that 
W somehow sayswhat can only be shown (Hacker’s view: “[W]e should take
equally seriously the claim that those sentences are a self-conscious attempt
to say what can only be, and indeed is, shown by features of the relevant
symbolism”), or (ii) that what W writes only shows and does not say anything
(Max Black), or (iii) W only says and the idea he shows anything is an illusion
and it is his point to reveal this illusion (Diamond et al). 
Before going further, may
I indicate my view is closest to Black’s (though Hacker points out details
Black overlooks, like the difference between a nonsense ‘p’ and a senseless 
‘p’). But an important possibility here is the following, which
indicates that speculation about how ‘saying/showing’ works may be beyond 
anything W aims at or considers legitimate:-
(1) W did not think it vital that he spell out how saying/showing works: what 
was important to W was that
it was manifest (that it does work); (2)
it may be W’s view that how saying/showing works is one of the many ineffable
things that concern his philosophy: so the saying/showing distinction is part
of the ladder we must simply adopt to see things right and then discard – beyond
that we can only pass over in silence how the distinction works, for this 
itself  cannot be expressed but shows itself.
The Diamond view is that
the distinction is not a genuine one but a sham to expose the illusion of
metaphysics. This seems counter to Wittgenstein who took the distinction
extremely seriously and who took ethics and metaphysics very seriously. What we
have lurking in the Diamond view is the idea that W was a slayer of metaphysics
in the sense of showing metaphysics is mere nonsense in that the field of 
metaphysics is empty or non-existent. But the
record shows that W no more thought metaphysics empty and non-existent than he
thought that of “ethics”: on the contrary, W wanted to defend “ethics” (and
thus metaphysics of which “ethics” is a subset) as most important and existent.
What W wanted to slay was
not metaphysics or ethics but empty talk about metaphysics or ethics: he did
not think the field of metaphysics empty, even in the Tractatus. Here W was a 
world apart from the Logical Positivists
(as W tried to make clear). W thought that, because of the “limits of
language”, our attempts to talk about anything within the field of metaphysics
(including “ethics”) lack sense (though W never claims that makes the
talked-about field ‘empty’). For
Tractarian W, metaphysics is no more empty than ethics: both are most important
for understanding life and what is most important about life – both more
important than the field of natural science which contains the only 
propositions with sense. But W is
trying to show that nevertheless we cannot say anything with strict sense 
aboutany of these fields (including
the field of natural science). None of this is part of a view that any of these
fields are empty.
The Hacker view that Tractarian
W is somehow saying what can
only be shown is, I think, incoherent as against the Black view. The Black view
is that W is somehow showing what is most important
for philosophical understanding of the “logic of our language”. This somehow is 
left unexplained: it is even
unexpressed and perhaps inexpressible – perhaps, at best, manifest. 
As indicated, it may be
very difficult for philosophers raised in an Anglo-American tradition of
empiricism to not misunderstand Wittgenstein, who is in the Kantian tradition 
as it is very difficult for them to understand Kant): while paying lip-service
to Kantian aspects of Wittgenstein’s thought, they still tend to assimilate W
to their tradition of empiricism – as did the Logical Positivists. A central
tendency of this kind of empiricism is that it
denies that metaphysics exists. In this light, we can understand the
Diamond misinterpretation that W is
denying the existence of metaphysics, with an upshot of this
misinterpretation being that the ‘saying/showing’ distinction is to be viewed
as a sham device for revealing the non-existence of metaphysics.
This sets some of the
background for looking at Hacker’s paper on the later W. 

On Sunday, 15 December 2013, 3:43, "Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx" <Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx> 
Again from

World Wide Words is copyright ©  Michael Quinion 2013

"Living with the relatives: An article on the study of personal names in  
[Quinion's] newspaper introduced [him] to "uxorilocality", supposedly as an  
example of the exotic vocabulary of genealogy."

"Uxorilocality", Quinion goes on to note, is "term in social anthropology  
for a practice in some societies by which a married couple goes to live with 
or  near the family of the wife"

It's from Latin uxor, wife.) 

Quinion notes:

"The equivalent when it’s the husband’s family is  virilocality (from 
Latin vir, man)."

There are, as Quinion notes, "older terms for the customs", to wit:  "are 
"patrilocality" (from Latin for father) and "matrilocality" (from  Latin for 

But genial Leonhard Adam proposed virilocality  (and uxorilocality) in The 
American Anthropologist (issue of 1947), because  "he felt" patrilocality 
and matrilocality "presupposed the presence of  children".

I would not say "Presuppose", not even "implicate" (much as I love that  
word). I, against Leonhard Adam, would argue that 'patrilocality' (but not  
'virilocality') ENTAILS children. Or not.



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  • » [lit-ideas] Did Wittgenstein's whistling stop? I - Donal McEvoy