[lit-ideas] Re: You Don't Say!

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 30 Jun 2012 13:06:33 +0100 (BST)

These comments are something of an immediate response...

 From: "Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx" <Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx>

In a message dated 6/28/2012 6:03:43 P.M.  Eastern Daylight Time, 
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:

>Well, part of the  problem seems to be that the so-called (by D. McEvoy) 
'key tenet' in  Witters's philosophy is hardly the standard exegesis (of 
Witters's  philosophy). Not that there is anything wrong with a novel way of 
approaching  things -->

As a layperson with only scant knowledge of the enormous secondary literature, 
I did not offer this 'key tenet interpretation' knowing how far it deviated 
from "the standard exegesis" [insofar as there is such]. Yet what I am 
suggesting seems to me compatible with what is found in Monk and Pears, for 
example, though it goes further in amplifying how it is W should be understood 
as showing not saying. My reasons for putting it forward stretch from 
understanding W as being always fundamentally engaged with language from the 
POV of there being "limits to language", to recognising that the fundamental 
point of what W says in PI lies in what it shows [as correspondingly, and as W 
wrote to Russell, the fundamental point of what W says in TLP lies in what it 

An example:- when W says it would, after a certain stage, be "futile" to keep 
repeating the same examples to convey the sense of a formula to someone, it is 
not properly to understand him to conclude that what he says here is the point 
of him saying it: i.e. that his point (in case anyone asks) is that in such a 
case it would be "futile" to reiterate the same examples to convey the sense of 
the formula to someone who did not understand the sense as we did. The point of 
what W says here is in what it shows - that the sense of a formula is not said 
in the formula, and so there is nothing that can be said so as to convey the 
sense:- that is why it would be "futile" to keeping saying the examples as if 
they conveyed their own sense. 

Here is a case where doubters of the 'key tenet' should really put their 
exegetical cards on the table and give an alternative reading: but if their 
exegesis simply stops at taking what W says as being its point, then it seems 
to me they have not properly understood. Yet it seems that this is what 
interpreters do - we see this in Ayer and even in someone who like Gendlin who 
professes to take seriously the idea that W is showing not saying [as I have 
posted to explain]. [We might suggest interpretation can settle on answering 
'What does this say?' or can pursue 'What does this show?']. The primary source 
of W's doubts and misgivings that he would not be properly understood is surely 
that, while what W shows is for W fundamental, others will take him merely or 
mostly for what he says or appears to say. This was why W did not think the 
Vienna Circle had properly understood the TLP: they took it for what TLP 
appeared to say [that only the propositions of
 natural science have sense (; but remember: the TLP's propositions actually 
say nothing with sense)] and missed or skimmed over what it showed as to the 
"limits of language" and what we can properly say and what we cannot. From W's 
POV the Logical Positivist reading of TLP as a tract expounding a creed of 
Logical Positivism is a shallow and superficial reading that can be traced to a 
failure to see that what is shown is more fundamental than what is said and 
what is said is important only because of what it shows.

So if the "standard" view of TLP is that the 
>the 'show'/'say' distinction plays a minor role there>
this is not, in my view, a proper understanding - and it is not W's 
understanding of its role, which is that its role is absolutely fundamental (as 
W wrote to Russell; and as is related in what W said to his publishers that 
what is not contained in TLP is more important than what is contained in TLP).

It is clear that what I am putting forward sees a fundamental continuity in W's 
philosophical outlook and thus between TLP and PI: they both address the 
"limits of language" as this affects understanding "language", in both cases by 
"language" they are concerned with the "sense" of language, and both maintain 
that the sense of 'what is said' is not said in 'what is said' but can only be 
shown [for to try to say the sense of language in language is to try to go 
beyond the "limits of language"]. 

Moving on to something distinct and important - the status of this 'key tenet 
interpretation' in terms of its testability or falsifiability or refutability 
or criticizability etc.. It should perhaps be admitted that any view of W's 
work raises a problem as to its status in terms of its testability etc. (Here I 
am using testability in a wider sense than in the sense in which testability 
denotes 'testable by observation in a way that observation can be formulated as 
a "test statement" in science'). Nevertheless, it is useful to ask of any 
interpretation - What could render this interpretation 'false'?
>D. McEvoy is a Popperian at heart and wants refutations. So, he is looking  
for a 'refutation' of his view (or an attempt of a refutation) that the 
'key tenet' is otiose as regards an interpretation of Witters's philosophy. 
Unless such refutation is presented or found, he rightly holds his exegesis 
to be a valid one>

The problem of the status of this 'key tenet' view (in terms of its 
falsifiability or refutability or criticizability etc.) is not straightforward. 
What could render the 'key tenet' interpretation 'false' - or untenable, or at 
least not viable? I have suggested several possibilities: (a) (i) W writing in 
a way incompatible with the 'key tenet' or (ii) W denying any such 'key tenet' 
is in PI (perhaps in W's Nachlass there is a draft of an unsent letter to Gr**e 
to this effect?) (b) an example given of a "rule" [or any other statement] 
which says its own sense (c) an example of a statement that says the sense of a 
"rule" [or of any other statement], where that statement says its own sense (d) 
an alternative and better interpretation of PI - for example, of why W 
discusses teaching the sense of a formula to someone who does not understand it 
as we do: "better" than the 'key tenet interpretation' that this discussion is 
to show that the sense of a formula is
 never said by the formula [and so this discussion is an example showing the 
'key tenet' idea that the sense of language is never said in language] (e) a 
counter-argument or interpretation drawn from W's philosophy of mathematics.

Nothing has been forthcoming [afaicansee] that substantiates a "refutation" in 
any of these ways (RH's suggested refutation was easily rebutted, for a "rule" 
as programmed into a computer does not contain the sense of that "rule"): on 
the contrary, I have even posted to suggest how the 'key tenet' might be tied 
into understanding W's philosophy of mathematics.

Of course, this does not mean the 'key tenet interpretation' is therefore 
correct: absence of a "refutation" in this way may be only a necessary but not 
a sufficient condition of truth. There is also the important (Popperian) maxim 
'Irrefutability is a vice not a virtue': while I have indicated what could tell 
heavily against the 'key tenet interpretation', the 'key tenet' itself is one 
which might be thought to have an irrefutable character; and this is a vice, 
even if it might be here an unavoidable vice. And this vice might, to some 
extent, be inherited by any interpretation of W's work as reflecting such a 
'key tenet'. So there is an important issue here. But this issue is not 
straightforward, I feel: we might have to see where discussion takes us, 
particularly a discussion that compares the merits of a 'key tenet 
interpretation' against alternatives.

>I am fascinated by the fact that D. McEvoy keeps stressing what Witters  
does not say, but show . THIS McEvoy manages to _say_, rather than show.>

Yes, I have 'said' "THIS": but the sense of what I have 'said' [or of "THIS"] 
was not said by what I 'said'. So this may not be the paradox or contradiction 
it might appear: i.e. what I have 'said' is perfectly consistent with the 'key 
tenet'. It would only be incompatible if the sense of "THIS" was said by "THIS".

> It would seem that the ideal exegesis for the primacy of 'show' over 'say' 
> in  
Witters (I and II) should best be _shown_. >

Indeed; and I have stressed this is W's view and that W's view is reflected in 
how PI is presented -where 'what is said' by W has its point because of what it 
shows [rather than W presenting his POV by 'saying' the point he wants to show, 
as he did in TLP].

>On the one hand, McEvoy rightly ejects technical jargon when it comes to  
applying original 'show'/'say' distinction by Witters in the TLP -- a narrow  
view as to what a formula says with reference to its logical form -- and 
sticks  to a somewhat broader view that relies on some basic idea of the 
'sense' (or  "Sinn" but unformulated by Witters) as carried by an expression, 
ironically  not being _said_ (by it) but shown (by some 'utterer').>

This, to me, is on the right lines: certainly W's conception of a say/show 
distinction is not one that involves "technical jargon" but rather an 
understanding of sense such as we all have [for W, all our understanding of the 
sense of language depends on understanding what can only be shown]. We might 
suggest that "Sinn" is "unformulated by Witters" because it is W's view that 
"Sinn" cannot be said but only shown.

Now JLS turns to the status of this 'key tenet' in another way, and here I do 
not agree:-

>On the other hand, McEvoy apparently regards this 'key' tenet as pertaining 
to meta-philosophy, i.e. not as a description of a phenomenon of nature or 
culture (for surely scientists don't care about the 'show' and the 'say') 
but to  a rather more narrow description of a specific field -- 'the fly in 
the fly  bottle' as it were -- i.e. what philosophers, according to Witters 
(or himself,  qua philosopher) should end up doing or at least end up 
avoiding. It's not  clear, incidentally, if there is a prescriptive side to the 
description of the  phenomenon behind the key tenet of "You don't say; you 
_show_" --. If there is,  the imperative force of this prescription is kept 
somewhat secretive. >

It is hard to put crisply why I do not agree with this: but two things (a) for 
W, the say/show distinction [as reflected in the 'key tenet'] is not 
"pertaining to meta-philosophy" but is to be found everywhere we have language 
for language never says its own sense (b) (which may be 'the same or similar 
point' per W) the say/show distinction concerns or pertains to the "limits of 
language" - including the "limits of language" as a tool for investigating or 
giving an account of itself.


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