The keyword here is the say-show distinction which McEvoy claims pervades
most (implicature expanded: if not all) of Witters's opus or oeuvre.
Witters: I can't say it, but I can show it.
Ramsey: I can't show it, but I can whistle it.
Straffa: Would you two stop?! You bore me with your language games!
Moore: Here's one hand.
In a message dated 6/11/2015 4:25:16 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
"First, exgeticists might object to bringing in "form of life" here. (No
matter, as Robert Paul might say.)"
I always prefer the implicature of "no matter" to that of "no mind". Recall
the punch in "Mind!":
A: What's the matter?
B: Never mind.
McEvoy goes on:
"We can make W's point [about the lion] without using the notion of "form
of life": it is one of those points made many times (tacitly) in PI."
Wittgenstein's tacit points. I like that. Almost like Wittgenstein's
implicatures. "Tacit", as opposed to making a point _blatantly_.
"It is that there is always a "background" - usually of practice and action
- against which words have their sense."
Well, I like KEYWORD: Background. From what I understand, 'ground' has
always been a philosophical piece of jargon. Searle made the most of it with
KEYWORD: foreground (as opposed to background). My favourite is KEYWORD:
Since 'sense' is a Fregean keyword, I wonder what Frege's background was
when he coined 'sense' that has been overused by philosophers ever since
Frege wrote his "Sinn und Bedeutung" and which Black and Geach cared to
translate (mis-translate) to English (they got 'bedeutung' wrong?).
"strip that background away and the words no longer have that sense."
Eggs have backgrounds too. Humpty Dumpty being an egg in case (cfr. "I am
the eggman"). He infamously said to Alice:
Humpty Dumpty: There's glory for you.
Alice Hargreaves: I don't know what you mean by glory.
Humpty Dumpty: A nice knock-down argument. Impenetrability.
Alice Hargreaves: I don't know what you mean by impenetrability.
Humpty Dumpty: I mean we should change the topic quickly.
Humpty Dumpty's lesson seems to be that he didn't need a background, but
apparently he did.
Alice Hargreaves: I don't know what you mean by 'impenetrability'.
Humpty Dumpty: Of course you don't until I tell you.
(Davidson takes this response by Humpty Dumpty to refute that by uttering
"Impenetrability! That's what I say!" Humpty Dumpty can NOT mean that he and
his addressee should change the topic quickly).
"In the case of a lion in the wild roaring "Take a photo","
or roaring thereby meaning "I am here -- Look out"
"we are imagining a situation where the kind of background where it would
make sense for a human to make this utterance is entirely stripped away. We
understand "Take a photo" as words because we have a supply of
"background" within which these words make sense, but we do not understand "the
saying them because "the lion" has no such "background" to its utterance.
[Hence W isn't saying we could not understand Aslan, for in that case we are
given a fictional world where the "background" for a lion talking is in
"But where is the fourth?" asked Aslan.
"He has tried to betray them and joined the White Witch, O Aslan," said
Mr. Beaver. (12.17-18)
It's interesting that this conversation takes place. Aslan pretty much
knows everything that is going on in Narnia, and he definitely knows what's up
with Edmund and the Witch, so we assume that asking about the fourth child
is just a formality. It needs to be said outright that Edmund is a traitor.
--- end of interlude.
Moral of interlude: expansion of Witters:
"Wenn ein Löwe sprechen könnte, wir könnten ihn nicht verstehen."
If a lion could talk, we could not understand him -- unless he is Aslan.
The figure of Aslan may have been inspired by a mysterious lion which
appears and disappears suddenly at key moments in the novel "The Place of the
Lion", written by Lewis' close friend Charles Williams.
But can't we CREATE backgrounds. I can imagine that I go and see a lion at
the zoo. He makes some gestures and noises, and I interpret them as "Take a
photo". A peacock similarly may display his tail just for that purpose. Or
on a 'dolphin' cruise, dolphins have been seen as jumping around the boat
with the specific purpose of observers (or addressees to their jumps)
taking photos of their jumps.
"Second, W is typically condensed and oblique in his language. He doesn't
much try to clarify by expansion. But then he may say the work in totality
is clear, as it consists of the "same or similar points" repeatedly
illustrated in different ways. So W does not explicitly expand his aphorism
"v. If a lion could talk, we could not understand him, because we don't
share his form of life"; he also does not expand the aphorism along the lines
- "If a lion could talk, we might understand the words if they corresponded
to sounds in human language, and we might attempt to explain why the lion
talks etc., but we would not understand the lion as we would understand
each other - even if the lion were using the exact same words." Some may be
relieved at that."
Unless you are into a conceptual analysis of 'understanding' that Witters
seems to be trading and leaving 'tacit'.
"I suggest the main defence lies in W being clear enough when his work is
considered as a whole. But it seems to me W could have been clearer, both in
the Tractatus and in Investigations (e.g. in what way does "the world"
consist of "facts"?**). But W was very, very deliberate in his formulations
and was obsessed with achieving clarity - a large part of the story here is
that W is using language that he thinks is the clearest means of showing
what cannot be expressed by language. And this leads onto the next point.
Third, there is no theory and no analysis to get us to an answer to "Why?". We
cannot say or express "the background" by which language has sense, we can
only show it."
It seems then that 'background', which is rather differently used by Searle
(as is 'foreground', or 'common ground') and turned into a metaphysical
je-ne-sais-quoi -- when perhaps it shouldn't. Perhaps it corresponds to
Collingwood's 'presuppositions' (about which L. Helm has written, and as they
deal with language, too, in "The idea of language").
"Part of W's point is to show we can easily delude ourselves that we have
said 'what it is' that gives language its sense, but we can never do this.
On W's pov, there is no theory or analysis because we run up against the
"limits of language", and where we cannot say or express then we cannot
theorize or analyze. Two key examples: try to say, express, theorize, analyse
"naming-relation" (i.e. using words to name objects (this example is drawn
from the very opening of PI) or try to say, express, theorize, analyse how
we teach someone a simple "rule" (e.g. a rule of counting by continually
adding one): here W seeks to show that language is powerless to say/express
the sense of the "rule" in a way that conveys that sense to someone who
fails to understand that sense. It turns out (if we follow the strictures of
the Tractatus) that we cannot say: we can only show that it does."
So it would seem that there is this 'metaphysical' background to any
understanding to, say, 'naming' and 'rule'. But Hart has been using 'rule' for
ages and he thought that when he said that legality consists of primary and
secondary rules he was ELUCIDATING 'obscurus per clarum' (or by the less
obscure) (whereas for a Wittgensteinian it would be 'obscurus per obscurius').
As for 'name', that was in part what Frege is having in mind not so much in
the "Sinn" bit of his essay ("Ueber sinn und bedeutung") but in the
"Bedeutung" part, and I would not be surprised if a Fregean provided necessary
and sufficient conditions for when an expression is being used to NAME a
denotatum (the "Fido"-Fido theory of meaning).
On the other hand, G. E. Moore's prose is translucid.
On Thursday, 11 June 2015, 1:11, "dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx"
If a lion could talk, we could not understand him. "Wenn ein Löwe sprechen
könnte, wir könnten ihn nicht verstehen."
In a message dated 6/10/2015 4:17:20 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
A B A ⊃ B
T T T
T F F
F T T
.F F T
A famous non-truth-functional interpretation came from Strawson's
Introduction to Logical Theory. His theory of "if" was very much
Witters's dictum seems to fit the truth-functional reading.
There is still room for variation:
i. If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.
ii. Wenn ein Löwe sprechen könnte, wir könnten ihn nicht verstehen.
Does that mean (iii)?
iii. If a lion could talk, we would MISunderstand him.
(After all, misunderstanding is a form of non-understanding). But Witters
seems to be saying that neither understanding nor misunderstanding
here. This may bring a trick to a sensical reading of the
reading (which is what most logicians accept for 'if').
Then there are the Strawsonian variants (and he does think there are such
things as truth-value gaps):
iv. If a lion could MEAN, we would still misunderstand him.
In other words, Witters's aphorism can always welcome the question
Therefore, it should always welcome the answer "Because". But he does not
provide it. It might be said that he does implicate it:
v. If a lion could talk, we could not understand him, because we don't
share his form of life.
There's something question-begging here: 'form of life' has then to be
analysed in terms OTHER than meaning and understanding. Suppose we
'l', lion, and 'w', Witters. Then we have a dyadic predicate "M", for
meaning, and one for understanding "U".
We then assume that the standard scenario holds, contra Witters: The lion
means that p, and Witters understands the lion:
M(l, p) & U(l, w).
Here we are working with a grammar of understanding where
vi. Witters understands the lion.
(Witters denies this -- there is no need to generalise to all, as he
The 'reason', in terms of 'forms of life', that Witters provide for his
aphorism to hold true, may be more difficult to symbolise.
We may turn this into an argument:
Witters and the lion share no form of life
Therefore, Witters can't understand a lion.
Regardless of whether the lion talks or not. The lyrebird scenario
by McEvoy is interesting in that Witters may be into Dilthey's distinction
(later reworked by Hintikka) into sciences of explanation (nature) and
sciences of humanities (understanding). The argument would be similar:
Witters and the lyrebird share no form of life.
--- Therefore, Witters can't understand a lyrebird.
Witters can though EXPLAIN the lyrebird's behaviour (mimicry) and this
explanation is ruled out, for some reason, in the case of the lion.
Lewis, Hywell David, "Clarity Is Not Enough" (Muirhead Library of
To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off,
digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html