[lit-ideas] Re: Show and tell

  • From: "" <dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> (Redacted sender "Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx" for DMARC)
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 8 May 2014 09:57:53 -0400 (EDT)

My last post today!
In a message dated 5/8/2014 8:29:05 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,  
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:
"The ‘say/show’ distinction is admittedly  problematic – even highly 
problematic. But that does not mean it is wrong (it  does not mean it is right 
either of course)."
Well, if you are, like Grice, a bivalentist, then if p is not right, it is  
wrong, and unlike 'double negation', two wrongs don't make it right.
"This post," McEvoy goes on,
"is to say a few things by way of defence of [Witters]’s fundamental POV – 
 and that it is a POV to be taken seriously and not dismissed as silly."
Or 'blessed', as I prefer. ""Silly", etymologically, is blessed." ("She is  
silly is, etymologically, she is blessed" -- cfr. the Oxford Dictionary on 
the  Silly Virgin Mary).

"It wants to stress that some of the opposition to this POV arises from  
not taking seriously enough the idea that there are “limits of language”. 
Unless  we take very seriously the idea that there are “limits of language”, 
it is  almost inevitable that we shall not take an idea like a ‘say/show’ 
distinction  very seriously."
But cfr. is a cosmologist were to argue:

"The problem with you, Newton, is that you don't seriously recognise  that 
the Universe is FINITE". "There are LIMITS OF THE UNIVERSE".
Since one of the teachings of Chomsky is that language is open-ended,  
generating every day brilliancies like the poetic line from a quatrain,
Colourless green ideas sleep furiously.
it is HARDER to argue that language HAS limits -- or rather the onus  
probandi lies with the 'finitist'.
"It seems to me that [Witters] is on the right lines in thinking most of us 
 are largely blind to the “limits of language” as he is concerned with 
them. We  (unconsciously or otherwise) tend to the view that language can do 
whatever we  want or need it to do: after all, we might think, specify 
something that  language cannot do?"
Well, good ole Witters once infamously, perhaps he had a cold that day,  
invited one of his many friends, to 'try and describe the aroma of  coffee'.
--- I think he was sceptical about one's KNOWING other minds, too ("I know  
you have a headache, so I won't ask").
"But this challenge would be naïve (naïve like Turing’s challenge): for, in 
 being able to specify, we would have to be able to put into language the  
challenge language must meet – and it is not surprising that language can 
meet  (most or all of) the challenges that can be put into language."
I think there are undecidability issues that may be counter-examples to  
There are two distinct senses of the word "undecidable" in contemporary  
use. The first of these is the sense used in relation to Gödel's theorems, 
that  of a statement being neither provable nor refutable in a specified 
deductive  system. The second sense is used in relation to computability theory 
and applies  not to statements but to decision problems, which are countably 
infinite sets of  questions each requiring a yes or no answer.
McEvoy goes on:
"To understand [Witters]’s very different POV we need to understand that,  
for [Witters], language is very limited in fundamental ways: the “limits of  
language” are extremely severe, but they are often inconspicuous to us,  
particularly because those limits are not themselves expressed in language – 
so  we use language blind to its limits. They are also invisible to us"
"because language by and large does what we ordinarily try to do with it:  
so we ordinarily do not experience or run up against its limits. Here is an  
analogy with a machine-builder. The machine-builder has a whole range of 
items  with which to build machines – nuts and bolts, springs and coils, 
levers and  buttons, cylinders and pumps etc. The machine-builder may not 
experience any  “limits to machines”: he may even challenge anyone to specify 
kind of  machine, claiming that he can always make a machine to that 
specification. But  this challenge would be naïve (as per Turing’s ‘machine 
argument’) to show there  are not “limits to machines”: for, in being able to 
specify, we would have to be  able to put the specification in terms so that 
the challenge could be met by a  machine-builder. If we did not, the 
machine-builder might object that what we  were specifying was not a machine 
[say we 
specified that he build us a novel]:  and the specification of something 
that is not a machine, he might insist,  cannot be used as an argument as to 
there being “limits to machines”. Is the  machine-builder right in his 
attitude and response? One view is this: there may  be an infinity of 
of machine-parts so as to build different  machines and in this sense there 
may be no limit to machines – there may be an  infinite number of unique 
machines that may be built (though we may find their  uniqueness is often 
negligible compared to their similarity as types); yet each  of the various 
parts of machines – each component – may be seen to have limited  properties, 
and also limited properties in terms of how it can be combined with  other 
components so as to make a machine. These limits may be understood as  “
logical limits” to the building of machines. Not every combination of  
can make a machine: we do not make a machine by tipping components  into a 
barrel – for such a barrel of components lacks the (logically) necessary  
relationships to constitute a working machine or a machine at all.   Language 
with “sense” also consists of various components aligned in various  
combinations: these components have limited properties, and they are also  
in the combinations they can have so that they make sense. Not every  
combination of components makes language with “sense”: we do not make language  
with “sense” merely by randomly throwing together various components. There 
are  “limits” to how we can combine components of language and even to how 
we can use  individual components (insofar as these may have “sense” in a 
way that stands  alone: though we may see that, for Wittgenstein, no 
component of language – not  even a name – has its “sense” in a truly 
Well, we need a "Treatise on Machines", which is not a machine.

And we need a "Treatise of the Logico-Philosophical kind", about what  
Language is, which, alas, IS Language.
So THAT's one feature where a machine is not like a language.
Russell of course saw this in the "Preface" to TLP when he mentions the  
language hierarchy that Witters denied. For he felt he could be BETTER than  
Russell, and that Russell "was not going to teach him not one thing".
"These “limits” may be understood as “logical limits”. These “logical  
limits” may be understood as setting the “limits of language”, just as the  “
logical limits” of machine-components and their combinations may be 
understood  as setting the “limits of machines” (we cannot build a machine that 
a novel:  that is a “logical limit” on what we can do with machines)."
The machine builder is working with an implicit definition of 'machine'.  
For example, Descartes allegedly misused the word 'machine' when he said that 
 animals (like my aunt) are machines.
The language speaker is also working with an implicit definition of what  
'language' is. If I go to Mars and they display signs to me, I have to start 
by  ASSUMING that they are 'saying' things. That is, I need my own 
'implicit'  definition of what a language is, and assume that the 
Martian  also has one, which HAS to overlap, in aspects, with mine. 
Similarly, if I say, "Aren't you hungry today?" to my cat (or dog) I have  
to assume that I share an implicit definition of language with cats and  
(It's different with _plants_, as Prince Charles showed).
"Now can we build a machine that maps these “logical limits” of  
machine-building? Most of us would intuitively sense that we cannot: we could  
use the limited components and their limited combinations to map out what a  
machine cannot be built to do – a machine cannot be built to show what a 
machine  cannot be built to do. We can use the limited components and their 
combinations  to map out (from the ‘inside’ as it were) what machines can do – 
every machine  is an example of what it is logically possible for a machine 
to do. But we  cannot make a machine that maps out what machines cannot 
logically do: and we  cannot make a machine that maps out the line between what 
machines can do and  what they cannot do. By analogy, this is [Witters]’s 
view in relation to the  “limits of language”. We can use examples of 
language with “sense” to map out  what language has “sense” – every example of 
language with sense is an example  of what it is logically possible for 
language to do with sense. But we cannot  use language to map out what language 
cannot logically do: and we cannot use  language to map out the line between 
what language can do and what language  cannot do."
Again, this seem a bit of a stretch, in that, say, Descartes says that my  
aunt is a machine. Therefore, he is relying, albeit implicitly, on a 
"Tractatus  machinisticus", let's call it (pompously). 
Witters says that 'what we cannot say, we better stay silent about' -- and  
that the limits of the language are the limits of my world -- in a 
"Tractatus  logico-philosophicus" which IS a set of English sentences (as first 
translated  by Ogden).
McEvoy: "The “limits of language” are therefore inexpressible in language. 
 But Wittgenstein does not think we must stop there – otherwise he would 
himself  have “passed over in silence” on the many issues raised by the “
limits of  language”: [Witters], both early and later, thinks these limits make 
themselves  “manifest” and that they may be shown.  To further understand 
how  Wittgenstein thinks we can grapple with what is beyond the “limits of 
language”,  we need to turn to his work."
I fail to see the distinction. I am a functionalist. Suppose you say to  
Aristotle: "We cannot know the essence of 'plant'; we must direct our 
attention  to how plants work."
Some items are 'functional' in this sense: what they are is what they do.  
Or, to use what Grice called 'ontological Marxism':
"If they work, they are".
"I work; therefore, I am."
(* For Marx, work was important in the creation of what he called 'the  
capital' -- neuter in German, "Das Kapital"). 
"I am not greatly enamoured of some of the motivations which prompt the  
advocacy of psychophysical identifications; I have in mind a concern to 
exclude  such ‘queer’ or ‘mysterious’ entities as souls, purely mental events, 
purely  mental properties and so forth."
Add: Language.
"My taste is for keeping open house for all sorts of conditions of  
entities, just so long as when they come in they help with the housework."
"Provided that I can see them WORK [emphasis Speranza's], and provided that 
 they are not detected in illicit logical behaviour (within which I do not  
include a certain degree of indeterminacy, not even of numerical 
indeterminacy),  I do not find them queer or mysterious at all…. To fangle a 
ontological  Marxism, they WORK [emphasis Speranza's] therefore they exist, 
though only some, perhaps those who come on the recommendation of some form 
of  transcendental argument, may qualify for the specially favoured status 
of entia  realissima. To exclude honest WORKING [emphasis Speranza's] 
entities  seems to me like metaphysical snobbery, a reluctance to be seen in 
company  of any but the best objects."
McEvoy goes on:

"But I want to suggest that this POV is far from  outrageously silly"
or blessed.
Old English gesælig "happy, fortuitous, prosperous" (related to sæl  
"happiness"), from Proto-Germanic *sæligas (cognates: Old Norse sæll "happy,"  
Saxon salig, Middle Dutch salich, Old High German salig, German selig  
"blessed, happy, blissful," Gothic sels "good, kindhearted"), from PIE *sele-  
"of good mood; to favor," from root *sel- (2) "happy, of good mood; to favor" 
 (cognates: Latin solari "to comfort," Greek hilaros "cheerful, gay, merry, 
 joyous"). The word's considerable sense development moved from "happy" to  
"blessed" to "pious," to "innocent" (c.1200), to "harmless," to "pitiable" 
(late  13c.), "weak" (c.1300), to "feeble in mind, lacking in reason, 
foolish" (1570s).  Further tendency toward "stunned, dazed as by a blow" (1886) 
knocked silly,  etc. Silly season in journalism slang is from 1861 (August 
and September, when  newspapers compensate for a lack of hard news by 
filling up with trivial  stories). Silly Putty trademark claims use from July 
"In particular, the idea that there are “limits of language” that cannot 
be  drawn in language should no more be dismissed as outrageously silly than 
the  idea that there are “limits of machine-building” that cannot be 
illustrated by  building a machine."
Well, if the machine BUILDER **FAILS** (blatantly) in showing the 'limits  
of machine-building' BY BUILDING A MACHINE, he did succeed, after all.
By the same token, a stone, who doesn't speak, illustrates the 'limits of  
language' -- by showing them. (But one wonder about Ali Baba, who did speak 
to  stones). 

"Another point that ‘silly-ists’ should be bear in mind:  Wittgenstein 
gives many examples to show his POV – for example, he begins  Investigations by 
showing how the naming-relation is shown: his fundamental  point being that 
it is shown rather than said (and it is beyond the “limits of  language” 
to explain this naming-relation so that language itself expresses or  says 
the explanation: that is, we can (obviously) use language to name objects,  
but we cannot use language to capture how names name objects – this is 
something  that can only ever be shown)."
For some reason, the point was nicely communicated to Gilbert Ryle, who  
dubbed Witters's theory, the "Fido"-Fido theory of naming, and Urmson, the  
'picture theory' of meaning. 
So it seems that for Ryle and Urmson, Witters successfully communicated, in 
 words, the naming relation.
McEvoy concludes his post:
"What would be impressive would be for “silly-ists” to explain the  
naming-relation in a way that rebuts Wittgenstein’s POV – I think they may find 
it much harder than they might think."
was a Rylean geniality.
It failed, slightly, to emphasise that dogs are not ARBITRARILY named  
'Fido'. They are after all, loyal.
As I read elsewhere,
""Fido" deriva dall'aggettivo latino fidus, "fidato"... "
"Fido" derives from the Latin adjective, 'fidus'.
In Romance Latin (Italian), Classical Latin 'Fidus' becomes Romance  "Fido".
"di cui mantiene il significato anche nell'italiano moderno. Dalla forma  
base Fido si sono originate molte varianti attraverso processi diversi: 
Fidalma  e Fidalba possono essere un incrocio con i nomi Alma ed Alba."
It may be argued that when I call my dog "Fido" I am using "Fido" as a  
'noun', rather than as an adjective.
fido adj. (fedele, leale) loyal, faithful, trusty 

fido -- masculine noun --  (limite di un credito  bancario) overdraft n
credit limit  n

But I would not be surprised if a banker called his dog "Fido" to refer to  
an overdraft. ("Sit, overdraft").

From Wikipedia:
"A type of simple descriptivism was originally formulated by Frege in  
reaction to problems that confronted the predominant theory of names of the 
 century due to John Stuart Mill. Mill's theory is often referred to as the 
 "Fido"-Fido theory because it suggests that the meaning of a proper name 
is  simply its bearer in the external world (its direct referent, as we would 
say  now)."
"There are several significant problems with this proposal, however."
"First, it does not explain how and why names without bearers can still be  
meaningful even though they have no reference."
"Take the following two sentences."
(A) There is no Santa Claus.
(B) Santa Claus does not exist.

"According to Mill's theory, these sentences must be  meaningless."
"Another problem for Millianism is Frege’s famous puzzles concerning the  
identity of co-referring terms. For example:
(V) ”Hesperus is Phosphorus.”

"In this case, both terms (“Hesperus” and “Phosphorus”) refer to the  
same entity: Venus. The Millian theory would predict that this sentence is  
trivial, since meaning is just reference and “Venus is Venus” is not very  
"Other problems for Millianism are those of negative existentials (e.g.,  “
Batman does not exist”) and statements such as “Fred believes that Cicero, 
but  not Tully, was Roman.”"
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