[lit-ideas] Re: Logical Corpuscularism

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 5 Sep 2015 13:58:58 +0000 (UTC)

McEvoy writes:

"What is vital to the theory is not "corpuscularism"  but "emergentism" and

I might disagree:>
You might, and you might be wrong to. Below is why you would be wrong to.

JLS adds: >everything is vital to corpuscularism.>
Really? This might render "corpuscularism" vacuous - if "everything" pertains
to it; but it is surely false - what "corpuscularism" shares with "atomism" is
that bigger things can be broken down into smaller things (and perhaps
explained - maybe even entirely - in terms of the smaller things).

It is clear that the Buehler/Popper theory is not "corpuscularism" in the above
sense: it is not saying bigger or higher level functions can be broken down
into smaller or lower level functions - on the contrary, it is explicitly
denying that they can be broken down [or "reduced"] in this way, and so is, if
anything, "anti-corpuscularism".
The idea of breaking down the bigger into the smaller is highly intuitive, and
we might guess it is this intuition that has fundamentally inspired movements
of thought like "atomism" or "corpuscularism"(whether "logical" or in physics)
- as opposed, perhaps, to that contrary movement of thought that explains
bigger things in terms of even bigger things [e.g. God]. It's an intuition that
has guided and underpinned many of the most successful research programmes in
the sciences - Feynman plausibly insisted that if we were to pass on only one
item of scientific knowledge it should be the "atomic hypothesis", because of
the sheer volume of knowledge that is bound up with that "hypothesis". That
"atomic hypothesis", and its attendant science, derives from hundreds of years
of thought and testing that takes in everything from "Avogadro's Number" to
"Brownian motion". But arguably it goes back further to a human determination
to account for the bigger by way of the smaller. (The current situation in
physics, btw, is that we have a very successful quantum theory of the smallest
and a very successful non-quantum theory of the biggest, but at present no way
of integrating these into a 'unified field theory').
Against this background, it is clear that Popper, though an admirer of
"atomism" as a potential research programme for science, at a philosophical
level supports neither an "atomist" nor "corpuscularist" approach - one that
maintains we can analyse everything by breaking it down into smaller items from
which the bigger is constituted. Popper does not think "atomism" is a true
metaphysical picture of the physical world or of W1, despite its success as a
research programme (he would say the same of "materialism" to which "atomism"
is closely related); and he does not think "atomism" is true as a metaphysical
picture of W2 or of W3.

The distinction, between what might be true as a metaphysical claim as to the
constitution of reality and what might be successful as a programme for
research, is often obscured but is vital to Popper's thinking. We may accept
there are "atoms", and accept that some 'bigger' things may be partially
analysable in terms of 'smaller' things, without accepting that an "atomic
structure" constitutes everything - whether in W1 or in W2 or in W3.

Popper is an avowed "emergentist" - reality contains levels that have emerged
from previous levels but which are not constituted by those previous levels and
which cannot be analysed down into those previous levels. This is expressed
boldly by his distinction between W1, W2 and W3 but it can also be expressed
within W1 itself - where there are different levels to physics, from which
emerges different chemical levels, from which emerges different biological

As to applying "atomism" to W2, we can attribute this kind of approach to Locke
and others in the tradition of British Empiricism: "sense-data" may be viewed
as the 'atoms of W2' from which bigger experience is constituted. Popper thinks
this is a ghastly mistake: but his own speculation is that Locke's error was
more due to trying to account for Aristotelian "subject-predicate" logic in
psychological terms, with the "copula" replaced by a psychological theory of
"associationism". It is explanation in terms of "associationism" that
underpinned British Empiricism, rather than a commitment to psychological
"atomism" - even though psychological "associationism" and psychological
"atomism" are themselves deeply associated in British Empiricism. In other
words, Popper's diagnosis is that the fundamental error arose from taking W3
logical relations and trying to collapse them into a merely W2 psychological
ones: and the remedy is to abandon a subjectivist W2-based [JTB] theory of
knowledge for an objectivist W3-based one.

But not only does Popper reject "associationism" for essentially Kantian
reasons (centrally: the character of "association" cannot be determined by the
mere fact of "association"), but it is clear he rejects as mistaken any attempt
to fully analyse W2 "atomistically" - and this is connected with his view of
how W2 is W3-dependent and how W3 content is not "atomistic".

To be clear: at a W3 level, W3 entities are not, in Popper's view, to be
conceived along "atomistic" or "corpuscularist" lines. Nor does he think we
grasp W3 entities by way of an "atomistic" W2. But this is too large a topic to
begin to go into here.
As my previous post indicated, the Buehler/Popper theory of language functions
should be tied in with Popper's subsequent account of W1, W2 and W3. It then
becomes clear that Popper is not someone who accepts "atomism" or
"corpuscularism" as a true characterization of either W1 or W2 or W3.

So JLS can disagree all he likes, but he is wrong in thinking the
Buehler/Popper theory is at all "corpuscularist".
(Btw, I agree with Robert that JLS is also mistaken in thinking the later
Wittgenstein wanted to "count" the uses of language - but I would go further
than Robert's reply, which suggested W regarded trying to count them as
imprudent: for Wittgenstein, we cannot "count" them - because we cannot say
them but only show them. But I have posted at length on this theme before and
will leave it here).

On Saturday, 5 September 2015, 13:29, "dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx"
<dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

McEvoy writes:

"What is vital to the theory is not "corpuscularism"  but "emergentism" and

I might disagree: everything is  vital to corpuscularism.

McEvoy had earlier written about this  doctrine:

"Might I then rush to be first to found, and tempt even weaker  minds with,
the School of Logical Corpuscularianism? Admittedly, like  "nomological
dangler" and unlike "Logical Atomism" or "Logical Positivism", it  perhaps
doesn't have that ring to it. Might explain why it's not a well-known  School.
Anyway, we have the copyright. Might I further propose that the central  and
abiding problem for our new School is determining how far 'logical 
corpuscules' can be further divided, and in what ways? This will be discussed
nauseum in our house journal, "The Corpuscular Review" (incorporating "Logical
Entities Monthly" and "Divisibility [Bi-]Weekly")."

I was suggesting that  the greatest logical corpuscularist of all seems to
have been Witters.

As cited by R. Paul,


But how many kinds of sentence are there? Say, assertion, question, and 
command? There
are countless kinds; countless different kinds of use of all  the things we
call "signs", "words", "sentences". And this diversity is not  something
fixed, given once for all ... Review the multiplicity of language  games in
the following examples, and in others. Giving orders, and obeying  them--
Describing the appearance  of an object, or giving its  measurements--
Constructing an object from a  description (a drawing)--  Reporting an event--
Speculating about an  event-- Forming and testing a  hypothesis--  Presenting
results of an  experiment in tables and  diagrams-- Making up a story; and
reading it-- Singing catches-- Guessing  riddles--
Making riddles-- Making a  joke; telling it-- Solving a  problem in
practical arithmetic-- Translating from one [language] into another--  Asking,
thanking, cursing,  greeting, praying.--"

If we stick by Witters's original causal remark:

"assertion, question, command"

later expanded as "reporting an event, asking, and giving an order" we 
would have a corpuscularist doctrine. Let "p" be the propositional  content,

i. The door is closed.

This is a 'radix', it needs to be 'played' with, as per an assertion


⊢The door is closed.

Or as R. M. Hare prefers:

ii. The door is closed, yes.

Then we have the second type, the order or command


iii. Close the door!

or as Hare prefers

iv. The door is closed, please.

Finally we have the question

v. Is the door closed?

Grice considers various types of questions in the third John Locke lecture.
There are 'yes/no' questions and 'x' questions (Witters underestimates the
distinction). Surely, "Is the door closed?" is not an x-question, and
thus, in  Grice's words, "its logical form is simpler" (than it would otherwise
be). It  allows for three answers:

vi. Yes.
vii. No.
viii. (Strawsonian pseudo-answer): The question does not arise. The house 
has no door (cfr. "The present king of France is not bald"). For Grice this
is a  "No".

Had it been an x-question the proper form would have been alla:

ix. What door is the one you want me closed?

which may trigger the implicature:

x. What are YOU talking about? I never said anything about 'wanting': it is
a matter of 'duty'.

The utterer of (x) sees commands as Kantian categorical imperatives, not 
mere (to use McEvoy's favourite corpuscule) the expression (in W2) of
someone's  will.


"Giving orders, and obeying them--"

By having 'obey a rule' as a game, he is suggesting (or implicating) that 
"Close the door!" should be followed by closing the door WHILE uttering, "I 
will, sir".

"Describing the appearance  of an object, or giving its measurements-- 
Constructing an object from a  description (a drawing)--"

The implicature seems to be IKEA: that as you construct or assemble the 
object you TALK about how you do it.

"Reporting an event-- Speculating about an  event-- Forming and  testing a
hypothesis--  Presenting the results of an  experiment in  tables and
diagrams-- Making up a story; and reading it--"

For surely you can read a story that you did not make up. A different 
language game, inviting or implicating a different corpuscule.

"Singing catches-- Guessing riddles--Making riddles--"

To guess a riddle implicates (or entails) that someone made it.

MH: Why is a raven like a writing desk?
A: I guess I know the answer to that. But on second thoughts, I don't. Why 
is it?
MH: I haven't the slightest idea.
A: You should try and find something better to do with your time than 
making a riddle that has no answer or that someone cannot guess.

Is Witters IMPLICATING that making a riddle ENTAILS or merely IMPLICATES 
that someone can guess it?

The Mad Hatter can always say that he was merely "asking" and not "making a
riddle". But Witters is not clear about this. (He would if he'd be 

"Making a  joke; telling it-- Solving a problem in practical  arithmetic--"

And verbalising it. Euclid found that spoken Greek was clumsy and tried to 
invent a mathematical language for solving (or dissolving as Witters would 
prefer) a problem in arithmetic.

"Translating from one language into another--"

-- as Strawson would add, "where the translation exists." In Mundle, "A 
critique of linguistic philosophy", Mundle reports a repartee by Strawson.
They  were discussing types of nonsense. And Mundle asked Strawson: So what is 
nonsensical in a language is nonsensical in every language? Sir Peter
wisely  reported: "Into which in which it can be translated, of course."

Witters concludes (but he has said, "[these examples or "others"): 
"Asking, thanking, cursing,  greeting, praying.--"

"Asking" rightly falls within ?p but surely an answer to ?p is what  Frege
has as


?Is the door closed.
(a) ⊢Yes, the door is closed.
(b) ⊢No, the door is open, or semi-closed, only.
(c) ⊢The house has no doors.

?But if the door is semi-closed isn't it closed?
⊢By implicature, not entailment.

After 'asking', Witters adds four corpuscules:

"thanking, cursing,  greeting, praying."

"I thank you" may be seen as an assertion:

!Close the door
⊢The door is now closed, yes.
⊢I thank you.
⊢And you are welcome.

"Cursing" is also assertive in character. A curse without assertive force 
is not really a curse. Greeting may be expanded as an assertion, or a
question,  or an order

⊢I greet you.
?How are you
!Be well

Praying is a form of asking God (for this or that).

Vide J. H.  Gill, "J. L. Austin and the religious use of  language".



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