[lit-ideas] Re: Philosophical Investigations - text and comments - The Preface

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 6 May 2012 16:43:52 +0100 (BST)

Note:
The ‘key tenet’ is the sense of ‘what is
said’ is never said in ‘what is said’, the sense of ‘what is said’ can
only be shown.
 
In
the Preface to PI, W says various things that indicate that the ‘key tenet’
will be fundamental in what follows. These, as in the main text, stop short of
explicit statement of the ‘key tenet’. That W might leave such a ‘key tenet’
only implicit might seem very dubious – except for the striking (even
extraordinary) background against which PI must be assessed. 
 
To
begin with, the ‘key tenet’ is in the TLP, and W wrote to Russell that it is the
fundamental point of the TLP:- yet even there this fundamental point is not 
explicitly emphasised throughout the
text. Nor could one easily recognise the ‘key tenet’ from what W says in the
Preface to TLP. Rather, it is only at the end of TLP that W points out that,
according to the “truth” TLP presents (which “truth” is, fundamentally, the
‘key tenet’), the TLP’s sequence of numbered propositions do not say anything
with sense but are an attempt to show what cannot be said. Few are likely to 
have
otherwise considered them as not saying anything with sense on merely reading
them: only in the light of the ‘key tenet’, and the statements that make this
tenet more or less explicit, is it clear that this is how they are to be read. 
 
This
is so important to understanding the TLP, and W’s later PI, that it bears close
consideration and emphasis. Though on careful examination we find the ‘key
tenet’ is fundamental to TLP, even in TLP the fundamental role of the ‘key
tenet’ is not made that explicit –
rather the fundamental POV it reflects is left largely implicit. It is only in
relative terms that we may say that the ‘key tenet’ is explicit in TLP whereas
it is only implicit in PI: for it is largely left implicit in TLP; indeed 
implicit – not explicit – in every
single numbered proposition that makes up the text. It is implicit in every 
single proposition not by way of ‘implicature’ from what those propositions 
‘say’, but because the
doctrine of ‘showing not saying’ that underlies the work must be implicitly 
taken as given for understanding
every single proposition of which the work is constituted. And this is what
W more or less explicitly recognises when he concludes TLP: “6.54 My 
propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me
finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on
them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has
climbed up on it.) He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world 
rightly.
7 Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”
 
Reasons
have been elsewhere given as to why W left the ‘key tenet’ implicit in PI
whereas it is (albeit only relatively speaking) explicit in TLP. It avoids the
paradoxical character of appearing to say [though only actually showing] what
cannot be said – a paradox that might be thought to undermine the TLP’s
fundamental POV, as its numbered propositions turn out to say nothing with
sense. In the later philosophy this ‘paradox’ is avoided by simply showing ‘what
cannot be said’ without explicitly ‘saying’ what cannot be said. Thus, in PI, W
deploys a more self-consistent way of showing what is claimed (implicitly) to
be only showable and not sayable.
 
But
there is perhaps a hitherto unmentioned reason W left this ‘key tenet’ implicit
– W thought his thinking could only be really understood by the like-minded. 
Doubts
as to how his work would be understood are a running theme in W’s life. The
Preface to TLP begins: “This book will perhaps
only be understood by those who have themselves already thought the thoughts
which are expressed in it—or similar thoughts.” The Preface to PI almost
ends: “It is not impossible that it should fall
to the lot of this work, in its poverty and in the darkness of this time, to 
bring light into one brain or
another—but, of course, it is not likely.” Throughout his life W felt his work 
was profoundly misunderstood –
including by close associates like Russell and Ramsey. Indeed, W thought his
work would only be properly understood in another age – in some different time
and place where the sense of what he wrote would resonate aright.** For those
suitably like-minded, the ‘key tenet’ could be – and might be best - left
unsaid and implicit.
 
Against
this striking –  indeed extraordinary – background,
it can understood why the ‘key tenet’ is left implicit in PI – and so the fact
it is not made explicit in PI is not much of an argument that the ‘key tenet’
of TLP has been abandoned in PI. 
 
The
‘key tenet’ is implicit in the main text but also implicit in the Preface. How
is this shown?
 
(1)
The numerous points in the main text illustrating the ‘key tenet’, some of
which are pointed out in these posts: in particular, when we ask what is the
purpose of what W writes, or what is its point, we find the ‘key tenet’ is at
the back of it. 
 
(2)
If W had abandoned the ‘key tenet’ of TLP as among its “grave mistakes”,* W
would have been explicit on this or at least made this clearly implicit. That 
is, if the fundamental point of the TLP
was itself just a “grave mistake” in W’s later view, W would have been clear to
this effect in his later philosophy. It simply beggars belief, and would amount
to W derogating from his aim of utter clarity, that W would not acknowledge if
the fundamental point of TLP was a “grave mistake”. The truth is that the
“grave mistakes” W was forced to recognise are not so fundamental as the
fundamental point of the TLP which still underpins PI as the ‘key tenet’. 
 
(3) W
wrote to Russell to the effect that the ‘key tenet’ was the central point of
the TLP. And W writes in the Preface to indicate there is fundamental
continuity as well as important discontinuity between the TLP and PI: “It 
suddenly seemed to me that I should publish those
old thoughts and the new ones together: that the latter could be seen in the
right light only by contrast with and against the background of my old way of
thinking.” Though it is not said, it is implicit that the ‘key tenet’
constitutes the point of fundamental continuity between TLP and PI.
 
(4)
There is the reference to Sraffa in the Preface which is, implicitly, a
reference to the central importance of ‘what can only be shown not said’, and
how this ‘key tenet’ of the TLP has been reworked in PI. When W writes, “I am 
indebted to this stimulus for the most
consequential ideas of this book”, that “this”
is a this that can be shown, not said;
and the effect of this stimulus will
be shown, not said, in what follows. (In
this, the acknowledgment has something of the air of a self-referring joke).
 
(5) W
writes in the Preface:-
 
“After several unsuccessful attempts to weld my
results together into
such a whole, I realized that I should never succeed.
The best that I
could write would never be more than philosophical
remarks; my
thoughts were soon crippled if I tried to force them
on in any single
direction against their natural inclination.——And this
was, of course,
connected with the very nature of the investigation.
For this compels
us to travel over a wide field of thought criss-cross
in every direction.—
The philosophical remarks in this book are, as it
were, a number of
sketches of landscapes which were made in the course
of these long
and involved journeyings. 
The same or almost the same points were always being
approached
afresh from different directions, and new sketches
made. Very many of
these were badly drawn or uncharacteristic, marked by
all the defects
of a weak draughtsman. And when theywere rejected a
number of
tolerable ones were left, which now had to be arranged
and sometimes
cut down, so that if you looked at them you could get
a picture of the
landscape. Thus this book is
really only an album.” – PI, from the ‘Preface’.
 
How
might we view the above in the light of the ‘key tenet’? 
 
What,
for example, is the “natural inclination” of “thoughts” so that they are 
“crippled”
if we try “to force them on in any single direction”? Why are the “same or 
almost the same points…always being approached
afresh from different directions”? [Why not, instead, always different
points arising from the “different directions”?]
 
The
answer to these questions is, I suggest, implicit: it arises from understanding
the implicit ‘key tenet’. The “same or almost the same points” are those points
that ‘show’ the ‘key tenet’:- this tenet is shown to underpin discussion of 
sense no matter what part of the landscape of
language is being traversed or from which direction. It must do, of course,
because the key tenet is that the sense of language is never said in ‘what is 
said’
in language. And this is held to be true no matter ‘what is said’ in whatever
kind of language. It will be true of a ‘name-object’ kind of language [or
‘language-game’]. It will be true of a language-game where formulas are stated
and then applied. It will also be true of the ‘language-game’ of chess. It will
be true of a language-game where a simple sequence of numbers [zero to ten] is
stated. And so on.
 
The
‘key tenet’ is the “natural inclination” of W’s thought: and this means his
thought is “crippled” if forced in any single direction – for “any single
direction” would not enable us to grasp the myriad ways that sense may be shown 
to be ‘affected’ or changed.
 
By
showing how sense may be affected or changed***, we may show how
'senses' may be differentiated within distinct ‘language-games’. To show the 
sense we show how there would
be differences in sense if we varied such-and-such. This is how W’s discussion
of the ‘language-game’ of chess should be understood: as showing the sense by 
imagining differences that might affect its
sense. Why discuss a person who cannot understand, as we do, the
sequence ‘0,1,2,3 etc.’; or why raise the possibility of a person who thinks
that ‘continually add 2 to n’ means
that the sequence after ‘996’ runs ‘998, 1000, 1004, 1008’ and after ‘1996’
runs ‘2000, 2008, 2016’? The answer is clear albeit implicit: these are
presented to show that the sense of ‘what is said’ in these cases is not said
in ‘what in said’. For otherwise what is the point of what W writes? **** 
 
Dnl
Writing what may be passed over in silence

Eng

 
*“I have been forced to recognize grave mistakes in
what I wrote in that first book” [i.e. TLP] – PI, Preface
 
** Monk,
p275-6: “Wittgenstein’s conviction that his paper on infinity would be ‘all
Chinese’ to the philosophers gathered at Nottingham is a typical expression of
a recurrent feeling that whatever he said would be liable to be misunderstood.
He was, he felt, surrounded by people unable to understand him. Even Ramsey was
unable to follow him in his radical departures from the theory of the 
Tractatus.” Monk, p.486: “‘The darkness of this time’, therefore, is directly
attributable to the worship of the false idol of science against which his own
work had been directed since the early 1930s. Thus, his ‘dream’ of the coming 
collapse
of science and industry was an anticipation of an age in which his type of
thinking would be more generally accepted and understood. It is linked with his
remark to Drury: ‘My type of thinking is not wanted in this present age, I have
to swim so strongly against the tide. Perhaps in a hundred years people will
really want what I am writing.’ And yet, if ‘they’ mean to do it, and the
apocalyptic view is not absurd, then that time might never come. There would
never be an age in which his type of thinking was wanted.”
 
 
***
‘Changed’ by, for example, changes in “grammatical form”, changes in tone, and
– perhaps most importantly – by changes in “use” and “training”. These last are
most important because learning how differences in tone or “grammatical form”
affect sense is, in effect, learning about different “uses” of language – or is
being trained in different “uses”.
 
****This
question contains the central challenge to those who would deny the ‘key tenet’
plays this (or any) role in PI – for what, on their interpretation, is the
point of what W writes? If the ‘key tenet’ is denied its role, what, for
example, is the point of talking about conceivable misunderstandings of a
sequence of numbers like ‘0 to 10’ or of a formula like ‘continually add 2’? 
Monk, p.338: “As [W] himself once
explained at the beginning of a series of lectures: ‘What we say will be easy,
but to know why we say it will be very difficult’.” That is (we might add, 
though
W does not say it) unless we bear the ‘key tenet’ and its central role in mind. 
Then it is (relatively) easy to see why W writes what he writes.

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