[lit-ideas] Re: Sraffa's Gesture

  • From: "" <dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> (Redacted sender "Jlsperanza" for DMARC)
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 28 Nov 2015 14:35:09 -0500

And the limits of Sraffa.

--- "I should never have written anything on philosophy." Sraffa.

We are considering a way Neapolitans have to display disgust: they brush
the underneath of their chins with an outward sweep of the finger-tips of one

In a message dated 11/28/2015 1:25:07 P.M. Eastern Standard Time,
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:
"Sorry but Grice is not the starting point for understanding Witt[ers] and
Grice belongs in a tradition that, for W[itters], is blind to the "limits
of language".

-- where 'blind' is used metaphorically. Or not, as when "He was blind to
the limit of the wall, and his car crashed unto it." (Geary's gloss: "But
he was blind simpliciter; he should never have gotten that driving


"There are other points where the later W[itters] rejects Gricean

I was referring to Grice's strictures specifically in "Meaning Revisited".
This lecture he gave in Surrey, of all places, and later cared to reprint
in his WoW! (Way of Words).

Let's say the necessary and sufficient conditions for a language to be a
language are:

-- the language is composed out of items -- which we may call lexical.
-- there is an open-endedness or productivity: with a finite means that
the 'rules' provide we can utter endless utterances
-- the sense or semantic weight of the whole utterance-type (sentence) is
dependent on the sense of its component units. (All paraphrased, of course
-- Grice is thinking Davidson).


"Why should this be so? When the later W[itters] turned away from the kind
of "logical atomism" of the TLP he also turned away from thinking sense
must be determined by compositional units."

McEvoy gives an interesting example that reminded me of Jonathan Bennett
(formerly of Oxford), in his "Language" (Routledge), which could well have
been entitled, "Primitive language".

i. wee wee.

ii. I want to urinate.

iii. I want to go to the rest room.

iv. Rest room.

-- slightly adapted, because if the implicature of "I have to go to the
bathroom" is "I need to urinate" I can't see why the reference to a bath (or
tub) should be made. Grice's mother used to implicate this by "I have to
powder my nose". And Americans use 'rest' as in 'rest room'.


"If we replace "I need to go to the [rest room]""

i.e. our (iii)

with "[Rest room]"

i.e. our (iv)

"as a single word, must we then say the sense of this "'rest room" is
parasitic on the longer compositional form?"

Well, if out of the blue, the conversation at the Thanksgiving table
happens to be:


A: And this turkey is delicious I must say.
B: Restroom.
A: Sorry?
B: Restroom.

I would think that to get the _meaning_ out of B's "Restroom" we HAVE to
expand it into a proposition to the effect that B is thinking about a
restroom as a place he would presently stand up to go to.

McEvoy goes on:

"Not necessarily. It is conceivable that in a primitive society a single
word, like "Wee wee""

-- our (i)

"might have the SENSE of "I need to urinate""

-- our (ii)

"(as well as perhaps having other senses) without that language having any
further elaboration - and W[itters] does not think the sense of language,
like "Wee wee", must depends on some unstated but stateable compositional
structure of a more elaborate kind that underpins what we actually say."

Well, but how would this work evolutionarily?

i. wee wee.

needs to express a whole belief (e.g. "I need to urinate"). At least if we
are talking about what Popper calls the 'descriptive' function of lingo
(after Buehler) -- It needs to be expanded to "I need to urinate" if (i) is to
have an 'argumentative' function (the most important function of lingo,
Popper thinks). Qua 'expressive' gesture, it may have a conative side, after
all "I will to urinate" is the expression of a conative state on the
utterer (cfr. Benedetto Croce).

I.e. 'wee wee' has to REPRESENT something, and the addressee needs to be
able to conceptualise that in some proposition or other. It may be a string
of nonsense, as per a verse by Edward Lear, in which case the proposition
may well be: "Lear is trying to tease me" (He used to send nonsense letters
to his friend in nonsensical hieroglyphs, with the intention of teasing


"It may depend so, but it need not."

But then Witters is using 'language' figuratively. And indeed, if it was
from Sraffa, or stimulated by Sraffa, that he comes up with those 'many'
usages of language (which include things which are hardly linguistic, like
"making a drawing") he perhaps should say so.

Witters was possibly unaware that in Oxford they don't joke about
language. Sir Alan Gardiner, who wrote "A companion to hieroglyphs" also wrote
"The theory of speech and language" in 1932, that Ryle revered. But perhaps
Witter's Viennese dialect lacked the distinction made by Gardiner between
'speech' and 'language'. Thus 'speech' may be less articulate than language,
and so on (German has "Sprache" but nothing like "Language", since words of
Latin origin were banned by Luther?) (Literally, a 'language' is a
derivation of Italian 'lingua', which is the tongue).


"W[itters] also would ask, where we felt some linguistic short form was
parasitic on some linguistic long form, that we look closely at what kind of
dependence we actually have - and do not rush to judgment that there is a
kind of dependence of the kind philosophers' might claim (as in a necessary
condition). The later Wiitters] would not agree with any assumption that we
must have a kind of dependence where the surface short form language by
necessity depends on some underlying long form compositional structure. The
sense of "Wee wee" to mean "I need to urinate" is not a lesser kind of sense
nor one that presupposes the other - we might just as well, for the later
W[itters], say that when a grammatical Englishman says "I need to urinate"
the sense of that is just what is expressed by "Wee wee" in other societies
or by the [once and future Englishman when] three year[s] old."

Well, the use of 'wee wee' to express things does compare to Sraffa's
gesture, but it also differs from it. In fact, 'wee' is a verb, and the
repetition seems to flout Grice's "do not be more informative than is

Thus I read at

wee -- intransitive verb. To urinate.

Since modern English, as opposed to Anglo-Saxon, has no conjugational
endings, it is unclear who is weeing or willing to wee. The default
interpretation is not that the utterer who says 'wee' IS 'weeing', but
mentioning a
verb that stands for an action the utterer is going to perform in the future.
The iterative form may be just emphatic -- or not.

Sraffa allegedly convinced Witters by a Neapolitan gesture that a
proposition and what it describes need not have the same logical form.

The analyses that are based on this silly anecdote, however, do not yield
satisfying results, as a number of papers in recent essays on Sraffa, held
by the International Sraffa Society, show (Davis 2002; Marion 2005; Sen
2003a, 2003b).

Fann (1969) suggests that the Neapolitan gesture was a “kind of concrete
counter-examples which broke the hold on Wittgenstein of the conception that
language always functions in one way” (pp. 48-49).

Kienzler (1997, p. 54) takes a distinct, but related stance.

He argues that in the anecdote Sraffa conveyed to Wittgenstein that the
sense and the meaning of linguistic expressions are only determined in the
context of their use.

The anecdote itself, however, is also in need of explanation.

Why does Wittgenstein accept the Neapolitan gesture as a counter-example?

Wittgenstein could argue that the gesture is emotive and does not describe
a matter of fact.

The general form of proposition would, thus, not be applicable (Jacquette
1998, p. 187).

Even if the gesture would be a descriptive statement and it appears as
though it does not have the same logical form as the matter of fact it
describes, a correct analysis according to atomic facts may reveal that it
nevertheless is the case.

Or not -- 'wee' is a bit like 'leak'. Grice considers that 'leak', when
followed by 'discover' is factive in the affirmative:

vi. He discovered that there was a leak on the roof.

However, it is not factive in the negative:

vii. He never discovered that there was a leak on the roof, since there was
no leak on the roof.




Davis, J. B. Gramsci, Sraffa, Wittgenstein: Philosophical Linkages.
European Journal of History of Economic Thought, 9.

Fann, K. T. Wittgenstein’s Conception of Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell.

Jacquette, D. Wittgenstein’s Thought in Transition. West Lafayette, IN:
Purdue University Press.

Kienzler, W. Wittgensteins Wende zu seiner Spätphilosophie [Wittgenstein’s
Turn to His Later Philosophy]. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Kurz, H. D. On the Use of Counterfactuals in Alternative Theories of Value
and Distribution. Unpublished Manuscript, University of Graz.

Malcolm, N. Ludwig Wittgenstein. A Memoir. London: Oxford University Press.

Marion, M. Sraffa and Wittgenstein: Physicalism and Constructivism. Review
of Political Economy, 17, 381–406.

Monk, R. Wittgenstein. The Duty of Genius. New York: Penguin Books.

Ramsey, F. P. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. [Critical Note]. Mind, 32.

Sen, A. Piero Sraffa: A Student’s Perspective. Atti Dei Convegni Lincei,

Sen, A. Sraffa, Wittgenstein, and Gramsci. Journal of Economic Literature,

Sraffa, P. Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities. Prelude to a
Critique of Economic Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Unterhuber M. Sraffa’s Influence on Wittgenstein. Salzburg.

Wittgenstein, L. Some Remarks on Logical Form. Aristotelian Society
Supplementary, 9.

Wittgenstein, L. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (C. K. Ogden, Ed.). London:
Kegan, Trench & Trubner.

Wittgenstein, L. Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Blackwell.

To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off,
digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html

Other related posts: