Philosophical Investigations 123 says that a philosophical problem has the form: "I don't know my way about." The German is Ich kenne mich nicht aus. According to my dictionary this might also be translated "I am stumped" or "I am at a loss." Auskennen means to know one's way about, to know what's what. Wittgenstein's words suggest feeling trapped, not knowing how to get out. Hence, presumably, the need for the liberating word. Language traps us, but the problem is really one of the will. So perhaps really it is the will that traps us. Or perhaps we cannot so easily distinguish between language and the will. It is our language, after all, and the problems of philosophy seem to arise, according to Wittgenstein, when we want to say things that in some sense we cannot say, or when we cannot find any words that mean what we want them to mean, or when our will is frustrated by language. Involuntary nonsense is a result of a certain kind of coming together (or not coming together, perhaps) of language and will. This means there is an ethical aspect to linguistic analysis: the will is involved, and willing can be evaluated as good or bad.
In this review of G. A. Cohen's Finding Oneself in the Other, Ralf M. Bader writes:
While Cohen does not provide an analysis of what it is for a statement to be unclarifiable, he puts forward a sufficient condition (which he attributes to Arthur Brown), namely "that adding or subtracting (if it has one) a negation sign from a text makes no difference to its level of plausibility: no force in a statement has been grasped if its putative grasper would react no differently to its negation from how he reacts to the original statement" (pp. 105-106). This proposal seems problematic insofar as the plausibility of the proposition that Fellows' lawn has an even number of blades of grass at a particular time seems to be equal to the plausibility of the negation of this proposition, yet neither of these propositions is bullshit. While the unfounded assertion of either statement might constitute an act of Frankfurt-bullshitting, in that the assertion would be groundless and as such not display a concern for truth, it would not be a case of Cohen-bullshitting since the statements are both perfectly clear and can be grasped (though not evaluated) straightforwardly.I wonder about this. What could someone possibly mean by saying that the lawn has an even number of blades of grass on it? If they have some way of knowing then it makes sense. Perhaps the grass seed is planted in some way such that, would you believe it?, we know exactly how many blades there are (or perhaps we don't know the number but do know that it can only be an even number). Perhaps our new spy satellite is so good that it can even count the number of blades of grass on a lawn. But if we don't have anything like this kind of way of counting the blades, what could we possibly mean? (I don't mean that verificationism is true in general, but it seems to have some plausibility in this case.) I would not know what someone who said such a thing (i.e. something like "There is an even number of blades of grass on this lawn," assuming a normal, grass-covered lawn) meant. Because the assertion would seem so groundless and to show such a wild lack of concern for truth I would not feel that I could grasp the statement, nor that it was perfectly clear. There is a sense in which I know what "There is an even number of blades of grass on this lawn" means (it means what it says, I can paraphrase it in a Google-translate kind of way), but I would not know what someone who said it meant.
In his recent essay on "Rhees on the Unity of Language," Lars Hertzberg quotes Rush Rhees:
Understanding what is being said; not just understanding what the words mean. Objection: “those are synonymous.” I do not think so. You can understand what the words mean even when nothing is being said.
I would suggest that what Rhees means by “understanding the words” is not simply recognising the single words but also recognising the sentence as an English sentence, getting a “sentence feeling,” as in a grammar exercise in which nothing is being said: “The cat is on the mat.”It is neither true nor false that the cat is on the mat, because this kind of grammar exercise is a kind of bullshit in the technical sense: the concern is not with truth. "The cat is on the mat" has a sentence feeling, but does it have a meaning? I don't see how to avoid the answer Yes and No to this question. There is no question of the speaker's meaning because there is no speaker. Even if a teacher of English were to pronounce the sentence, she would not be saying (asserting) it. Qua grammar exercise it cannot be asserted, i.e. in grammatical exercises one demonstrates and practices grammar, one does not make, is not making, assertions. Such sentences are mentioned but not used, so to speak. So if by "the meaning of the sentence" we mean the use to which it is being put then it has no meaning. (The sentence is being used, but in a special kind of way.) But of course it would be odd to teach and learn English using meaningless sentences. These sentences do have a meaning in a thinner sense. They can be paraphrased, and we can imagine circumstances in which just those words in just that order could be used.
Perhaps we could say they have a potential meaning, but everything has a potential meaning. So maybe we should say they have a standard meaning (or a literal meaning, which need not be the most common meaning since some words, e.g. 'literally', are most often not used literally). Then does "I am here" or "I exist" have this kind of meaning? Yes, I think so. But "I am here" doesn't have a clear standard meaning. It's literal meaning is tautological, but it's most common use would, I think, be much the same as that of "Here I am!" or "Cooey!" And cooey is neither true nor false. "I exist" has no common use outside of philosophy. But there it is taken to be true, at least usually. Is it therefore true? It seems to be, but Wittgenstein was apparently reluctant to say so. More than reluctant. He was apparently insistent that we not say that such sentences are true. Perhaps because he had a bit of Rorty's idea in him that to call a sentence true is to pay it a certain kind of compliment. I doubt he had more than a little bit of this idea in him, but it might have been enough.
Do I have a point? What ties all these ideas together? Philosophy seems to involve a relationship between the self (the puzzled philosopher), other people (who created and sustain the language, and help determine what is correct and what incorrect), language itself (which has a limited kind of independence of its creators), and the world (which language, among other things, describes). In the grass case the philosopher is puzzled by how a speaker, his sentence, and the world (the nature of lawns, for instance) could go together. Is the speaker lying? Bullshitting? Kidding? Roughly the problem is: how can we be charitable to the speaker in this case? (There might also be questions of charity towards the world or towards language. Skepticism is a lack of faith, which is a kind of lack of charity. Or is that more bull?) And questions of meaning are not wholly separate, or separable, from questions about people, because words only have meaning in a full sense when used by people. (And on the question of the relation between language and the world, see Cora Diamond's recent essay "The Skies of Dante and Our Skies.") This is all a bit half-baked, but perhaps I will be able to finish baking at least of it later.