The best essays in this unusually coherent and dialogical collection make it wonderfully clear how well broadly Wittgensteinian treatments of the relations between human and non-human animals can illuminate a variety of philosophical problems concerning ethics, language and the mind, whilst also bringing philosophy into critical conversation with evolutionary psychology, primatology and literature.So, you should really read this book. It's great.
Mikel Burley has another book just out, Contemplating Religious Forms of Life: Wittgenstein and D.Z. Phillips, about my old mentor at Swansea. This one has a more articulate blurb by me, which I'll quote to give you a sense of the book:
Contemplating Religious Forms of Life is a pleasure to read. It is articulate, fair, and shows impressive familiarity with the relevant literature. Mikel Burley clearly brings out the value of D. Z. Phillips’ influential Wittgensteinian approach to the philosophy of religion without ever denying or ignoring its weaknesses. This is a sympathetic and reliable guide to an enormous and controversial body of work.And today I started reading Rupert Read's Wittgenstein among the Sciences, which promises to be entertaining. This is from page xii:
I have enjoyed (if that is the right word) a sustained series of debates in print with Steve Fuller over his criticisms of Kuhn's philosophy of science. In his latest very lengthy critique of my criticisms of him on Kuhn, Fuller (2005) makes a number of disastrous interpretive bloopers and intellectual mis-moves, which I shan't trouble to try to correct. The very final page of his paper is however of some worth...(Which reminds me that I think I once tried to write a novel in which one of the characters was based on Steve Fuller. Not that I know him, but I attended a talk he gave once. As I recall he said something like this: "People think that scientists try to discover the truth, but if you actually look at what they do it's all moving test tubes around and stuff." The 'but' seemed misleading.)
Another thing that struck me in Read's book is this. He quotes Wittgenstein: "Say what you choose, so long as it does not prevent you from seeing how things are. (And when you see, there is a good deal that you will not say.)" (This is Read's translation of PI 79, and it reminded me, as it has before, of Wittgenstein's "laugh, if you can" from his remarks on the Golden Bough. Seeing things as they are does not guarantee that you will not say this or that particular thing, or react in some particular way, but it makes a certain range or kind of reactions much more likely (or appropriate) than others.) But if we are really free to say what we choose, then how can Read talk about "temptations to scientise where we shouldn't"? Where can this should come from? (Or: if there is a should, then why pretend we may say what we choose?)
I think the answer comes in the very next paragraph. Read summarizes what he has been saying to this point thus:
What do we want to mean, and what can and do we actually mean, when we call something a 'science'? And when and where ought we to honestly admit that such appellation is more trouble than it is worth?I think this idea of what we want to mean and what we can and actually do mean (all at once, as it were, so that it is simultaneously what we want to mean and what we can mean and what we actually do mean) is what I was trying to get at in the comments here. What it's possible to mean is not wholly distinct from what we want. And these normative (logical and ethical) considerations are not wholly distinct from the positive fact of what we actually do mean (if that is a positive fact--it sounds like it ought to be one). Read is talking about science while I was talking about intelligence, but what we're saying seems very similar to me. But I have left it very obscure so far.
Let's take Read's example and imagine that I have a friend who insists that economics is a science. What does he mean by this? What he means, his meaning, is not here and now, like a bang. Meanings aren't that kind of thing. They don't exist apart from all the things they depend on. And his meaning depends on the meaning of those words, which depends on actual practice but also on hypothetical practice. Actual practice comes in fairly straightforwardly. Dictionary definitions are largely based on how words are commonly used. Hypothetical practice is a matter of what people would or would not say in various circumstances, including circumstances that have never occurred and might be very unlikely to occur. In some such circumstances we don't know what people would say, how (or whether) they would use the words in question, but in others it is obvious. Of course we wouldn't call that a science, or of course it still would be a science. What is true of, or as a matter of, course depends on the course of our lives, on the general way we do things. Given that this is the kind of thing we do in this kind of situation, in that kind of situation we would do that kind of thing. Patterns of behavior matter here, as do patterns of seeing and reacting to patterns. By 'patterns of seeing patterns' I mean things like the fact that we all tend (i.e. there is a pattern) to react to certain arrangements of dots and lines (another pattern) as a face. We generally see the same things as being alike and we generally behave in like ways (or ways that strike us as being alike). It's not that we have to act or react in such ways. We just do. And we can call this doing what we want or doing what we choose or doing what comes naturally or doing what's appropriate. There's no reason not to call it free. It isn't constrained.
There are limits of meaning or sense, but these themselves reflect or embody our interests, choices, or desires. And we can break them, since we made them. So language is not a cage, but it does provide some guidance. Maybe we should think of the lines on a tennis court more than the bars of a cage. The lines don't stop me doing anything--I can do what I choose. But if I want to play tennis there are certain things I will not choose to do. And the rules of tennis embody some of the kinds of things we want to do. So logic (or what makes sense, what is allowed), desire, and standard practice all somehow combine. But I suspect I'm at the wrong level here--speaking much too abstractly, with too little attention to what I'm actually saying--and should talk about an actual problem or example. Mostly I'm just glad to see that Read and I are in agreement. I hope that continues throughout the book.