[quickphilosophy] Re: Leibnizian Interlude

  • From: wittrsl@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • To: wittrsl@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 21 Jul 2010 09:00:15 -0700 (PDT)

The complaint that questions about idealism and realism amount to 
"spewing nonsense" has a number of defects.

An obvious one is that it lacks charity.  It isn't the case that the 
work of the great philosophers who discussed such issues can be written 
off as totally misguided.  Philosophers are great not because they were 
"right" (a questionable attribution at the best of times) but because 
they looked at questions insightfully.  The fact that someone disagrees 
with them is of little interest, whereas the reasons for disagreeing 
with them may be much more interesting.  Wittgenstein seems guilty of a 
lack of charity, and some of his followers take this to extremes.

Another obvious one is that it is a criticism that is applied 
selectively.  The TLP famously (notoriously?) concludes by saying that 
its propositions are nonsensical, yet serve as elucidation.  It seems 
that a "nonsensical" text may yet clarify matters.  One might therefore 
wish to say that what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.

A more direct consideration is that the argument for dismissing all talk 
of realism and idealism is weak.  G M Strander 
(http://revistas.um.es/daimon/article/view/8461/8231) analyzes the 
arguments given in the Blue Book with a view to clarification rather 
than criticism.  He summarises the basic argument as:

* Metaphysics is misguided
* The R/A distinction is metaphysical
-> The R/A distinction is misguided

A related argument is characterised as:

* Metaphysics involves taking grammatical claims as scientific claims
* Taking something for what it is not is misguided
-> Metaphysics is misguided.

Strander brings out a number of assumptions that provide the basis for 
the claims above, picking out two as most questionable:

* Philosophy is simply the study of grammar
* Common sense is but the grammar of ordinary language

None of these assertions is obviously (or maybe unobviously) true.  One 
immediate problem is that it is not clear that the distinction between 
grammatical and scientific claims is any less problematic than the 
distinctions that may be made between different varieties of realism and 

It would probably be quite easy to obtain a consense around the 
dismissal of the more extravagant reaches of metaphysics, following Kant 
and others.  But it needs a better argument to dismiss the whole of what 
is usually regarded as metaphysics.

Even if one were to focus entirely on language, my impression is that 
questions about what is effectively the R/A distinction looms large. 
Saussure develops linguistics with arguments against viewing language as 
a nomenclature (as does Wittgenstein himself in PI when criticizing 
Augustine's remarks).  The conclusion from the evidence presented by 
Saussure is decidedly Kantian.  Opposition to Saussure seems to rely on 
a prejudice in favor of formal languages as somehow superior to natural 
language, a prejudice that seems to inform much of the discussion in the 
years before and during Wittgenstein's writings.

* * * *

Has it been established that the elementary facts are enumerable?


On 20/07/2010 16:38, walto wrote:

> I take it that his view in the TLP was that, in the end, there was no
> real difference between idealism and realism, that neither philosophy
> can even really be stated without spewing nonsense.
> Again, he discusses that matter in "Some Remarks on Logical Form." I
> think he there holds "This is red" to be tantamount to "This item
> appears on line 4 column 6." That is, if something takes up that
> particular place, nothing else can.
> W


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