[lit-ideas] Re: The Independent Moralist

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  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 1 May 2014 07:26:25 -0400 (EDT)

In a message dated 5/1/2014 3:20:03 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,  
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:
the ethical debate as to pushing fat men  and pulling levers (so as to 
minimise the numbers who die), appears largely  fatuous: and W might even see 
as a result of pernicious 'scientism' in our  modern culture that 
researchers found people to participate seriously in their  study rather than 
brushing them off with their umbrellas (I assume most people  are more likely 
to be 
carrying umbrellas than pokers when accosted by  researchers).
Thanks. I was thinking more along the lines of this precisely quotation by  
Witters in the Stanford, as per below. 

Biletzki, Anat and Matar, Anat, "Ludwig Wittgenstein", The Stanford  
Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =  
But again, we have these psychologists. One is working in Chicago and, I  
think, thinks or wants to draw practical conclusions out of the experiments:  
that members of the jury should better NOT have, say, English, as their 
native  language, since that turns them into 'emotional' beings when discussing 
things.  We should be recalled (i) that while national origin should not be 
explicated,  the researcher holds a BA from a 'foreign' university (by 
Chicago standards),  and that Chicago is a 'foreign' word originally, but 
foreign-language sign posts  are no longer necessary in the area! It is 
with the other reserarchers  in Catalonia, Barcelona, where foreign-language 
sign posts ARE required by LAW  and Catalonians are, by law, as I think, 
also in Ireland, to learn something  that we may term 'foreign' (Gaelic Irish 
versus English, say). 
Bilingualism is a problematic issue. At one point, the Italian community in 
 Buenos Ayres was prohibited to USE Italian (granted, they were also 
displaying  photographs of the Italian royal house in the classrooms) because 
Argentine  government had problems with 'bilingual brains'. By that time, 
the Native  Population had been mainly reduced to 'reservations', and their 
language  survives in a few toponyms.
But back to Witters, while I agree with all that McEvoy says about  
different Witterses, this is the point about 'form of life'. We may need a full 
report of 'large man', and 'hombre grande' (why not 'grand homunculus'?). It  
seems that 'large' and 'grande' are not REALLY synonymous in the Carnapian  
sense. But 'hombre largo' may trigger different moral decisions, granted.  
Proficiency in a language is a matter of degree and the choice of those 
taking  part in the experiments may also have been controversial, even to the 
point that  McEvoy mentions regarding Witters reaction with the umbrella.
In the Stanford entry, the authors say, slightly adapted: "The grammar of  
English and the grammar of Spanish are not abstract things, they are 
situated  within the regular activity with which language-games are 
Then  there's the quote from Philosophical Investigations, section 23:
"The word ‘language-game’ is used here to emphasize the fact that the  
speaking of language is part of an activity, or of a form of life" 
----- Philosophical Investigations, section 23.  
KEYWORD: form of language. The use of Catalonian by Catalonians is part of  
the Catalonian form of life, not the Castillian form of life. The use of 
English  is Chicago is part of the Chicago English form of life. The use of 
Native  American in old Chicago is part of an old Native American form of 
life. The use  of Boaz's native language back in Jerusalem is part of a Hebrew 
form of life. 
The use of American English in America is a part of an American form of  
life. The use of British English in America is part of another form of life,  
that of a Brit in America. The use of English in Ireland is part of an 
English  form of life. The use of Gaelic Irish in Ireland is part of an Irish 
form of  life. 
The use of Latin by the Pope is part of a Latin form of life in the  
Vatican. And so on. The authors go on:
"What enables language to function and therefore must be accepted as  “given
” are precisely forms of life."
KEYWORD: Form of life.
In Wittgenstein's terms: “It is not only agreement in definitions but also  
(odd as it may sound) in judgments that is required"  (PI242) and this is  
"agreement not in opinions, but rather in form of life" (PI 241). 
And you don't AGREE in form of life unless you lead THAT life, I suppose  
the implicature is. Thus, a Castilian anthropologist (using Castilian) may 
try  to understand the Catalonian form of life, WITHOUT SHARING it. 
Used by Wittgenstein sparingly—five times in the Investigations— the  
keyword "FORM OF LIFE" has given rise to interpretative quandaries and  
subsequent contradictory readings. 
Forms of life can be understood as changing and contingent, dependent on  
culture, context, history, etc -- but notably LANGUAGE -- as when we say 
Irish  is a different language from English, even if they share an "Aryan" 
Or  when we say that American English ('theater') is a different language 
(and  entails a different form of life) from British English ('theatre').
This appeal to the keyword of FORM OF LIFE grounds a relativistic  reading 
of Wittgenstein -- hence my earlier reference to Sapir-Whorf, which is  
emphasised by THE INDEPENDENT talking, alla the original essay, of YOUR 
 being THE FACTOR in "your moral" (whatever that is), or YOUR MORAL 
(whatever  that is) *depending* on YOUR LANGUAGE. Oddly, the original title 
the  wrong slogan:
Your moral depends on language. It should rather be: Your moral depends on  
YOUR language.
Or your dialect. There's routines in New York City (inner city) that, as  
Labov noted, HAVE to be conducted in the DIALECT (AAVE, I think he called 
it).  The 'moral' of these activities may involve a dialectal-qualified form of 
The authors of the Witters entry in Stanford conclude by noting that, on  
the other hand, it is the form of life COMMON to humankind, "shared human  
behaviour” which is “the system of reference by means of which we interpret 
an  unknown language" (PI 206). 
Note that here the INPUT is the form of life, and the output is  
'interpreting an unknown' (or hitherto unknown, I would say) language. Which is 
for granted in the experiment being reported, when the MEANINGS of  
passages are GIVEN as being synonymous, when perhaps they are not. The people  
in the experiments were by definition NOT dealing with "an unknown  
language" (to use Witters's phrase) but with a language they thought they know  
in relative terms). The conclusion by the researchers seems to be that,  
given that input, TWO FORMS OF LIFE are derived: one when an utterer makes a  
moral decision in his own lingo; another when he makes a moral decision in a 
 'furrin' one -- out of which bigger conclusions are drawn: such as the  
anti-Roman idea that jury members should best NOT be members of the COMMUNITY  
the where crime they are discussing took place!
The authors conclude that this might be seen as a universalistic turn,  
recognizing that the use of language is made possible by the human form of 
life.  But it can also read less grandly as Witters's answer to the 
inescrutability of  reference and translation that was later going to interest 
loads to 
Quine and  Davidson ("Radical translation").
Albert Costa, Alice Foucart, Sayuri Hayakawa,  Melina Aparici, Jose  
Apesteguia, Joy Heafner, Boaz Keysar. Your Morals Depend on  Language.  
2014; 9 
Boaz, K. "Using a  foreign language changes moral decisions." Science  
Daily. ScienceDaily, 28 April  2014.
Boaz, K. cited in 
rals-depend-on-language-9303510.html  "Would  you push a stranger off a 
bridge? How your morals depend on  language" 

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