[lit-ideas] Wittgenstein's Whistle

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 7 Jul 2012 22:19:06 -0400 (EDT)

Whistle and I'll be there -- A. E. Housman
 
We are discussing Frank Plumpton Ramsey's counterexample (alleged), to  
Witters, as per R. Paul, in "Re: The Philosopher's Show" and 

P. M. S.  Hacker,
"Was he trying to whistle it?"  at
http://info.sjc.ox.ac.uk/scr/hacker/docs/Was%20he%20trying%20to%20whistle%20
it.pdf

Hacker  indeed quotes from F. R. Ramsey,
’General Propositions and Causality’, 
in  R.B. Braithwaite ed. F.P. Ramsey: The Foundations of 
Mathematics (Routledge  and Kegan Paul, London, 1931), p.238:

"But what we can’t say, we can’t  say, 
and we can’t whistle it either."

Hacker comments: "So can one  whistle what one cannot think, i.e. can one 
apprehend truths which one cannot  even think?" Later, in dealing with a 
quotation by Max Black,

"Black’s  suggestion is in effect that Wittgenstein was, as Ramsey 
had suggested,  trying to whistle what he held one could not say."

Hacker adds: "In  recent years a quite different defence of Wittgenstein’s 
Tractatus has gained  popularity, particularly in the United States. On this 
view, Wittgenstein was  not trying to whistle it."

"[T]he question," Hacker goes on, "is whether  Ramsey is right in thinking 
that 
Wittgenstein was trying to whistle it, or  whether Diamond is 
right that he was not.Diamond and Conant, like
Ramsey,  argue (rightly) that if you can’t say it, 
you can’t say it, and you can’t  whistle it either."
"Unlike Ramsey, they think that Wittgenstein was not  trying to whistle it."
"Nevertheless, Ramsey retained the impression that  Wittgenstein was ‘
trying to whistle it’."
Indeed, "[w]hat one means when one  tries to state these insights is 
perfectly correct, but the endeavour must  unavoidably fail. For the ineffable 
manifests itself, and cannot be said. He was  indeed, as Ramsey claimed,
trying to whistle it."

One problem with  Hacker's account is the _oratio obliqua_ of 'whistle'. I 
read from Etymology  Online:

"whistle", 

from "O.E. hwistlian, from P.Gmc. *khwis-, of  imitative origin. Used also 
in Middle English of the hissing of serpents.  Related: Whistled; whistling. 
To whistle for (with small prospect of getting) is  probably from nautical 
whistling for a wind. To whistle "Dixie" is from  1940."

R. Paul quotes from N. Malcolm:

"[h]e whistled for me, with  striking accuracy
and expressiveness, some parts of Beethoven's 7th  Symphony."

To simplify, I'll refer to Witters having whistled _one_ part  of 
Beethoven's 7th symphony. And now I go back to the Hacker quotes. KEYWORD:  
WHISTLING

"Was he trying to whistle it?"  at
http://info.sjc.ox.ac.uk/scr/hacker/docs/Was%20he%20trying%20to%20whistle%20
it.pdf

Was  he trying to whistle it.

Mrs. Malcolm: Was he trying to whistle a part of  Beethoven's 7th Symphony?
Mr. Malcolm: And successfully, too.   (??)

Ramsey, who obviously beared with Witters's whistling (for why even  
mention it otherwise?) has it simply by using the "it" -- postphoric, rather  
than 
anaphoric -- cfr. Cole Porter: Let's do _it_: let's fall in  love.

Ramsey:

"But what we can’t say, we can’t say, and we can’t  whistle it either."

Fill, in the above, the 'it' with "a part of  Beethoven's 7th Symphony"

Ramsey:

"We can't _say_ a part of  Beethoven's 7th Symphony." YET: "We _can_ 
whistle  (it)."

---

Hacker then adds:

"So can one whistle what one  cannot think, i.e. can one apprehend truths 
which one cannot even  think?"

Again, having 'a part of Beethoven's 7th Symphony' in mind, the  above 
becomes:

The question is whether one is justified to extend the  meaning of 
'whistle' (as in "he whistled a part of Beethoven's 7th Symphony") to  mean 
"apprehend a truth" (and even one that cannot even be  thought).


"Black’s suggestion is in effect that Wittgenstein  was, as Ramsey 
had suggested, trying to whistle what he held one could not  say."

--- At this point, it is clear that by 'it', Ramsey meant  'nonsense'. It's 
nonsense that one cannot apparently _whistle_ (according to  Ramsey). 

"In recent years", Hacker notes, "a quite different defence of  Wittgenstein
’s Tractatus has gained popularity, particularly in the United  States. On 
this view, Wittgenstein was not trying to whistle it."

--  where 'it' is again nonsense, rather than, say 'a part of Beethoven's 
7th  symphony'.


"[T]he question," Hacker goes on, "is whether Ramsey is  right in thinking 
that 
Wittgenstein was trying to whistle it, or whether  Diamond is 
right that he was not. Diamond and Conant, like
Ramsey, argue  (rightly) that if you can’t say it, 
you can’t say it, and you can’t whistle  it either."

---- In fact, this relates to a further cliam: can you  whistle _AND_ say 
it?


"Unlike Ramsey, they think that Wittgenstein  was not trying to whistle it."

-- even if he could. Note that while  Wittgenstein could allegedly whistle 
"a part of Beethoven's 7th Symphony", it  becomes rather a conceptual issue 
whether Witters could whistle "nonsense".  

"Nevertheless, Ramsey retained the impression that Wittgenstein was  ‘
trying to whistle it’." -- If we exemplify with a piece of nonsense,  
represented 
in logical form by "p" -- the issue is whether "whistle" behaves  like 
"say" (or "show") in 'reported' oratio obliqua claims.


Indeed,  "[w]hat one means when one tries to state these insights is 
perfectly correct,  but the endeavour must unavoidably fail. For the ineffable 
manifests itself, and  cannot be said. He was indeed, as Ramsey claimed,
trying to whistle  it."

----- The issue then becomes whether Ramsey's point is conceptual:  can we 
define, a priori, the class of things that cannot be  _whistled_?

The Etymology Online notes that 

"to whistle for",  "with small prospect of getting" is probably from 
nautical "whistling for a  wind" -- as in:

"He whistled for a wind"

But hardly, "he whistled  that he wanted a wind" --. The implicature about 
the 'small prospect of getting'  surely adds weight to Ramsey's proposal 
that even if Witters MEANT to whistle  nonsense (unlike whisting a part of 
Beethoven's 7th symphony) he did not  succeed.

Cheers,

Speranza


In a message dated 7/7/2012  5:44:31 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, 
rpaul@xxxxxxxx writes:
he whistled for  me, with striking accuracy
and expressiveness, some parts of Beethoven's 7th  Symphony.'

—Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: a Memoir, 1958,  p.84.

There are a number of other comments on Wittgenstein's  whistling
talent. I'm sure there are some in Monk's biography. 
 
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