[lit-ideas] Wittgenstein's Anticlimax

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  • Date: Fri, 2 May 2014 06:23:39 -0400 (EDT)

If there are three Wittgensteins -- the first Wittgenstein, the latter  
Wittgenstein, and the middle Wittgenstein (not necessarily in that order) -- 
can  we say that one of his philosophies provides the anticlimax to the climax 
of  another of his philosophies? 
We are discussing Wittgenstein as considered by Stanford (Encyclopedia of  
McEvoy notes, in "The Independent Moralist", that the entry leaves  
something to be desired.
"A lot to say about [a climactic part] of PI", on which he posted  
extensive commentary some time ago, "but it does not suggest the interpretation 
my commentary."
So, what _is_ McEvoy's suggested interpretation. In his words:
"[My] suggested interpretation takes W as seeking to show that, insofar as  
we might seek to explain how language has sense through 'rule-following', 
(a) no  'rule' says its own sense (a version of W's general position that 
language never  says its own sense) (b) the sense of a 'rule' can be shown but 
cannot be said (a  corollary to (a) that denies there is any metalinguistic 
way to exhibit a 'rule'  so that the sense of the 'rule' is said in the 
This may relate to Omar K.'s recent point that he would like to be shown  
(or said) more about the show/say distinction.

"Sections leading to this climax seek to show (though they do  not say) 
that the 'rule' as to the correct sequence of natural numbers  ['0,1,2,3,4'] is 
neither said by stating that sequence nor can it be said  
'metalinguistically':- as becomes clear when we face someone who does not  
understand the 
sequence 'correctly' - for there is nothing 'said' or 'sayable'  by which we 
may teach them the correct sense of the sequence merely by what we  say [they 
can only understand the 'correct' sequence if they grasp the sense of  what 
is shown, for us, by what is said]; these sections also show, though they  
do no say, that a "same or similar" point holds for following a mathematical  
'rule' like 'Take n and continue to add 2', for the sense of the 'correct'  
sequence is not something said by this 'rule' nor can it be said  
'metalinguistically':- as becomes clear when we face someone who interprets the 
'rule' differently [so that after 1000, they insist that '1004' is next in the  
sequence] - for there is nothing said in the stated 'rule', and nothing  
otherwise 'sayable', by which we can teach them why their interpretation is  
incorrect merely by what we say [again they can only understand the 'correct'  
sequence - 'correct' in our terms - if they grasp the sense of what is 
shown, in  our terms, by what is said]."

"W thinks that language not saying its own  sense is an ever-present fact 
due to the "limits of language" but that we are  typically blind to this - we 
are so familiar, with the sense to be attached to  much of the language we 
use, that it becomes inconspicuous to us that this sense  is not attached by 
virtue of the language itself: indeed, we tend to treat  language as if it 
does say its own sense - so that faced with someone who does  not understand 
the sense of the sequence '0,1,2,3,4' in the order of natural  numbers, we 
might be first tempted to simply repeat the sequence to them as if  this 
repetition conveys the sense of the order we intend (which W shows,  
emphatically, it doesn't)."
Indeed. Only I would NOT count '0' as a natural number. Variants with  
Speranza: How many members of the British royal family are visiting  
Geary: Two.
The answer 'zero' would implicate that 
Members of the British royal family are visiting Memphis; to wit:  zero.

Back to Wittgenstein's anticlimax:

"What the Stanford passage  (below) crucially omits is the key conclusion W 
draws at this climactic part of  PI - viz. that the considerations W has 
canvassed show there is a way of  following a rule that is not an 
interpretation [201]: "What this shews is that  there is a way of grasping a 
rule which 
is not an interpretation, but which is  exhibited in what we call "obeying 
the rule" and "going against it" in actual  cases." Here an "interpretation" 
may be taken to mean something that captures  the requisite sense in 
language: and W here makes clear what the foregoing in PI  "shews" - that the 
requisite sense is never something that can be captured in  language in this 
though it may be shown or "exhibited". This is the  fundamental theme of PI 
from the Preface onwards: from the beginning (which  shows the 
naming-relation is not something said by a name but shown by how names  are 
used) to the 
sections on 'rule-following' (which show we cannot say the  sense of 
language in terms of 'rule-following', though we may be able to show it  in 
terms in relation to "actual cases")."
I wonder why G. E. M. Anscombe thought of using 'shew' rather than 'shows'. 
 Does this show that she was rather pedantic and found the archaism a way 
to  distinguish her talk from 'hoi polloi'?

McEvoy goes on:

"It is a theme that makes understandable what is  otherwise hard to 
understand: for example, W writing "Teaching which is not  meant to apply to 
anything but the examples given is different from that which  'points beyond' 
[208]." We may distinguish teaching children to recite  sounds like 
'Nought, one, two etc.' by rote, without understanding more about  what these 
sounds mean, and teaching them '0,1,2 etc.'  so they understand  the sense of 
this in terms of the sequence of natural numbers - the latter  teaching 
involves using examples to convey a sense that "points beyond" the  examples 
a sense, W contends, that may be shown but cannot be  said."
Again, 'nought' is not really a _number_, less so a _natural_ one. The  
Latins were so confused with it that they thought it declined:
ex nihilo nihil.
The lack of things featured large in Greek thought, too. When the Cyclops  
asked Odysseus for his name, he said, "No-one". The Cyclops misunderstood 
that  as a _name_, which isn't ("No-one blinded me!"). 

McEvoy notes:

"From this POV, the Stanford entry has the  drawback of not even canvassing 
this suggested interpretation as a serious  possibility, even though it 
mentions what is a radical misinterpretation a la  Kripkenstein (an 
interpretation that posits W as a radical sceptic about  "sense":- when W 
takes "sense" to be shown in a quite matter-of-fact  and sufficiently 
determinate way but does want emphatically to deny that this  "sense" is 
that it is within the "limits of language" to capture):-  "These considerations 
lead to PI 201, often considered the climax of the issue:  “This was our 
paradox: no course of action could be determined by a rule,  because every 
course of action can be made out to accord with the rule. The  answer was: if 
everything can be made out to accord with the rule, then it can  also be made 
out to conflict with it. And so there would be neither accord nor  conflict 
here.” Wittgenstein's formulation of the problem, now at the point of  
being a “paradox”, has given rise to a wealth of interpretation and debate 
since  it is clear to all that this is the crux of the general issue of 
and of  understanding and using a language. One of the influential readings 
of the  problem of following a rule (introduced by Fogelin 1976 and Kripke 
1982) has  been the interpretation, according to which Wittgenstein is here 
voicing a  skeptical paradox and offering a skeptical solution. That is to 
say, there are  no facts that determine what counts as following a rule, no 
real grounds for  saying that someone is indeed following a rule, and 
Wittgenstein accepts this  skeptical challenge (by suggesting other conditions 
might warrant our  asserting that someone is following a rule). This 
reading has been challenged,  in turn, by several interpretations (such as 
and Hacker 1984, McGinn1984,  and Cavell 1990), while others have provided 
additional, fresh perspectives  (e.g., Diamond, “Rules: Looking in the Right 
Place” in Phillips and Winch 1989,  and several in Miller and Wright 2002)."
McEvoy is right that there are fresh perspectives that the Stanford  
Encyclopedia should (and we hope shall) take into account. 
The best way to deal with these questions is via the Wittgenstein Society.  
There is a Grice Club and a Wittgenstein Society. They publish a 
Wittgenstein  Journal. And they celebrate Wittgenstein's birthday every year -- 
To stick with the metaphor, we may see the new interpretations as  
'climactic', while those who ignore or dismiss them as merely sticking with  
Wittgenstein's anti-climax.
I.e., it is anticlimactic to see Wittgenstein, with Fogelin and Kripke, as  
a Sceptic, when Baker/Hacker, McGinn, Cavell, Diamond, and Miller and 
Wright  have sought to locate Wittgenstein's climax where it belongs.
Palma would possibly say, rightly, that 'zero' IS a number, if not a  
'natural' one. Perhaps Witters could have clarified his case by providing  
FURTHER examples of 'rule-following' where the 'sense' of the 'rule' cannot be  
said, but just shown, by behavioural evidence of those following it, rather 
than  saying that they are following ("Do as I show you I'm doing it and not 
as I  say").
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