Wednesday, November 14, 2018

They tell one themselves

Here's a nice passage from Anscombe:
So far as I know, the only places where Wittgenstein considers the expression itself to be what it expresses are aesthetic. A musical phrase, a bed of violets: such things may strongly give one the impression that they tell one something. What is it that they tell one? They tell one themselves, not something else.
(from "Frege, Wittgenstein, and Platonism", p. 163 in the electronic version of From Plato to Wittgenstein: Essays by G. E. M. Anscombe).

Compare Schopenhauer's idea of all phenomenal things as embodied music (that perhaps sing or dance themselves), and Larkin's "The trees are coming into leaf/ Like something almost being said."

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Alice Crary's Inside Ethics: a symposium

There's a wonderful set of discussions of Alice Crary's book Inside Ethics here. It features Avner Baz, Anne-Marie Søndergaard Christensen, Nora Hämäläinen, and Stanley Hauerwas, among others, with replies by Crary. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Books by friends of the blog

Sean Wilson and Stuart Mirsky, who you may know from the comments section here, have books either out or coming out soon.

New Critical Thinking

What Wittgenstein Offered


Ludwig Wittgenstein changed everything. To understand how, we need to understand what he did to the subject of critical reasoning. 

Wittgenstein didn’t leave us “philosophy”; he left a pathway for a more perspicuous intellect. This was caused by a psychological condition that made him meticulous and hypersensitive. He could abnormally perceive three natural phenomena: (a) the social traits implicated in word use; (b) the task-functions signified in communication; and (c) the pictures that flash before the mind’s eye. With this unique acuity, he showed us how post-analytic thinking was to occur. 

And this discovery changes everything. It revolutionizes how we must argue with one another and what we believe is “true.” Instead of focusing primarily upon premises or facts, we must point people to how their intellect behaves during a speech act—something called “therapy.” And this has radical implications for analysis, conceptual investigation, value judgments, political ideology, ethics and even religion. 

This book is both an explanation of, and a blueprint for, the new critical thinking. Written for both a lay and special audience, and for all fields of study, it shows what Wittgenstein invented and how it affects us all.
 Value and Representation: Three Essays Exploring the Implications of a Pragmatic Epistemology for Moral Thought 
by Stuart W. Mirsky
Consisting of three essays examining the role of valuation in assertoric discourse, and its implications for epistemology, value theory and moral philosophy, this book explores the ways in which valuation enables referential behavior and so makes it possible to live and operate within a world. Examining the different dimensions of valuational activity, it situates moral concerns within a broader constellation of human behavior to show how our moral judgments arise and attain credibility in a world of facts. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Forthcoming sooner than November

Wittgenstein in the 1930s
Between the Tractatus and the Investigations

  • AVAILABILITY: Not yet published - available from November 2018
  • FORMAT: Hardback
  • ISBN: 9781108425872
Wittgenstein's 'middle period' is often seen as a transitional phase connecting his better-known early and later philosophies. The fifteen essays in this volume focus both on the distinctive character of his teaching and writing in the 1930s, and on its pivotal importance for an understanding of his philosophy as a whole. They offer wide-ranging perspectives on the central issue of how best to identify changes and continuities in his philosophy during those years, as well as on particular topics in the philosophy of mind, religion, ethics, aesthetics, and the philosophy of mathematics. The volume will be valuable for all who are interested in this formative period of Wittgenstein's development.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Wittgenstein between the Tractatus and the investigations David G. Stern
Part I. Changes and Continuities in Wittgenstein's Philosophy:
1. Wittgenstein and Moore on grammar David G. Stern
2. Wittgenstein on understanding: language, calculus and practice Alois Pichler
3. Wittgenstein on sentence-hypotheses and certainty Mauro L. Engelmann
4. Wittgenstein on meaning, use and linguistic commitment Anna Boncompagni
5. Will there soon be skilful philosophers? Wittgenstein on himself, his work, and the state of civilization in 1930 Wolfgang Kienzler
6. Wittgenstein and his students:
1929–33 James C. Klagge
Part II. Philosophy of Mind:
7. From Moore's lecture notes to Wittgenstein's Blue Book Hans Sluga
8. 'Two kinds of use of 'I'': the middle Wittgenstein on 'I' and the self William Child
9. Wittgenstein on rules and the mental Volker A. Munz
Part III. Religion, Ethics, and Aesthetics:
10. Wittgenstein's discussion of 'use of such a word as 'God'' Anat Biletzki
11. Wittgenstein on ethics, May 1933 Duncan Richter
12. Wittgenstein on aesthetic normativity and grammar Hanne Appelqvist
13. Wittgenstein's remarks on aesthetics and their context Joachim Schulte
Part IV. Philosophy of Mathematics:
14. Moore's notes and Wittgenstein's philosophy of mathematics: the case of mathematical induction Warren Goldfarb
15. Wittgenstein, Goodstein and the origin of the uniqueness rule for primitive recursive arithmetic Mathieu Marion and Mitsuhiro Okada.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

World Congress of Philosophy

One of the high points of the recent World Congress of Philosophy in Beijing was hearing Hans Sluga talk through the PowerPoint slideshow I blogged about here. Unfortunately I didn't get to ask him any questions, but I did have a couple of new thoughts about it. On slide 19 he talks about metaphysics as a "stage of development" that is to be overcome, according to Schopenhauer. I don't know of anyone else who reads Schopenhauer like this, but it's an exciting suggestion. (Reminiscent of j's suggestion here, if I'm remembering correctly, that the four books of The World as Will and Representation might correspond with the four noble truths of Buddhism. These aren't just (meant to be) truths, they are something like stages on life's way. If Buddhism is right then we escape the first truth (suffering) and end up in the fourth (Nirvana).) I hadn't really noticed this before.

My second new thought is about the idea of a world ethics (see slide 41). Since the world is not (at all) the same thing as the planet, I don't quite see how we get from a world ethics to environmental ethics. It feels as though there could be a route from one to the other, but I'd be interested to know how far Sluga has mapped this. After all, say my world ethics is that whatever happens I should accept it, letting God's will be done. Then if the planet is destroyed this will be just another thing that I (believe I ought to) accept. A world-accepter will not be likely to destroy the planet, but also won't have any obvious reason (qua world-accepter) to try to prevent environmental destruction. So it looks as though there is work to be done here.

After Sluga's talk was one by Ruth Chang on three dogmas of normativity. I'm not quite sure how to characterize the second dogma, but the three dogmas are something like this:
  1. goodness is a property
  2. all states of affairs are comparable with regard to their goodness, so that each must be as good as, worse than, or better than any other. Incomparability (with regard to goodness) is not an option
  3. values are discovered, not created
I think what I've written for 1 and 3 are direct quotes (albeit from a talk rather than from a fully polished written work), but I'm not sure about 2. Anyway, Chang (if I understood her rightly) rejects all three. Very interesting stuff.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Inside Ethics

Alice Crary's Inside Ethics: On the Demands of Moral Thought is an excellent book, and I have no criticisms to offer. But I do have some questions about it. First, though, a summary of the argument, in the form of a series of quotations:
Human beings and animals have moral qualities that are, in a straightforward empirical sense, open to view. That is the thesis of this book. (p. 10)
I describe thinkers who take human beings and/or animals to lack all observable moral characteristics as situating human beings and/or animals outside ethics, and I describe those who in contrast take human beings and/or animals to have moral characteristics that are open to observation as situating human beings and/or animals inside ethics. (pp. 11-12) 
It is entirely standard to conceive of ‘moral’ values [...] as values that are internally related to action and choice, and thus far in this chapter I have simply assumed that my talk of human and animal ‘moral’ characteristics would be read as implying—as I intend it to imply—that the recognition that a creature has these characteristics is practically significant in the sense of being directly relevant to how it should be treated. (p. 13)
There are passages in his later work in which Wittgenstein gives expression to a view of mind of the sort I want to defend (viz., a view on which psychological categories are irreducibly ethical and metaphysically transparent), and his writings also develop interrelated lines of reasoning that, when brought together, can be used to make a compelling case for such a view. (p. 39)
Mental characteristics are only at home in human and animal lives in which some things matter in that they are, say, to-be-feared, to-be-sought, to-be eaten, to-be-protected, or to-be-befriended. Our ability to recognize creatures as possessing such characteristics presupposes that we have already at least imaginatively adopted an attitude toward them as beings who are caught up in such lives and who accordingly, in appropriate circumstances, merit specific modes of concern and attention. It is in this respect, insofar as they are aspects of the lives of creatures who call for particular forms of response, that the mental characteristics of human beings and animals are essentially practical. Given that they are thus both objective and essentially practical, it is fair to say that these characteristics present us with objective moral values. (p. 88)
[I]n ruling out conceptuality we commit ourselves to representing any natural or learned canine responses as operating on (or triggered by) particulars. We cannot talk about modes of conduct that involve the recognition of kinds of things or of individuals. This is what speaks for attributing conceptual capacities to dogs. (p. 113)
[I]f we are to bring human beings and animals empirically into view in ethics, then— without regard to whether they possess species-typical capacities of mind—we need to look at them in the light of ethical conceptions of what matters in the lives of members of their kinds. That is what speaks [...] for saying [...] that merely being a human or an animal matters for ethics. (p. 161) 
[L]iterary works can contribute internally to the kind of empirical understanding that we seek in ethics (p. 204) 
One striking feature of the book is its similarity to, and engagement with, regular philosophy. That might not sound striking, but Crary somehow both draws heavily on Wittgenstein and engages in what looks very much like the kind of philosophical theorizing that he rejects. I can't help feeling that this is a sign that something must have gone wrong, but I also can't see that it matters. This is not a good position for me to be in. So my first question is, what should I do about this? I'll attempt a kind of answer below.

Secondly, Crary distinguishes between two kinds of facts in a way that puzzles me. This comes up especially in the last chapter of the book. For instance, see these passages about Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals:
To arrive at this recognition we need to know some of the plain facts about what this system [i.e., the industrial food system] is like. These facts have in recent years gotten attention in, among other places, non-fiction best sellers, blogs, and the columns of major newspapers, and they are increasingly familiar to the reading public. Safran Foer takes it for granted that his readers will know the basics about factory farms, and he devotes himself to filling in some of the details. For instance, when he talks about the treatment of those chickens who are raised for meat—or, in the industry lingo, “broilers”—he tells us not only that the birds are packed together in close quarters but also that they are generally placed in windowless sheds by the tens of thousands at densities that allow each bird on average something less than a square foot of floor space; he tells us not only that these conditions quickly become filthy and produce illness but that they lead to respiratory disease, musculoskeletal injury, and enormously high rates of infections of different kinds (including some like E. coli that are caused by fecal contamination); he tells us not only that the birds therefore all get antibiotics in their feed but also that their bodies are routinely bathed in chlorine to decontaminate them after slaughter; he tells us not only that many chickens are injured when being packed for transport to slaughter but also that approximately 30 percent suffer broken bones, that they receive no further food or water once under way, and that they are slaughtered by a mechanical process that, when it works correctly, slits their throats while they are still conscious and, in the small but significant number of cases in which it doesn’t, scalds them alive; and so on and so on.
When Safran Foer discusses the treatment of broiler chickens, he isn’t merely concerned with these kinds of neutral facts. He is taking for granted the ethically charged image he develops of the significance of different animals’ lives and using it to get us to register the horror of what is done to the birds. One of his goals is to have us visualize what it means for a chicken to be crammed into a room with tens of thousands of its fellows, with no more than about an eighth of a square foot to itself. “Find a piece of printer paper and imagine a full-grown bird shaped something like a football with legs standing on it,” he instructs, “and imagine 33,000 of these rectangles in a grid.” He uses evocative language in talking about the kind of ailments from which many of these chickens suffer because he wants us to register the bodily significance of the fact that a small percentage of the birds “die writhing in convulsions from sudden death syndrome” and that three quarters have the sorts of walking impairments that are in all likelihood signs of chronic pain. He uses similarly expressive terms in talking about the ways in which the birds are treated during transportation to slaughter and during the killing process because he also wants us to register horrors here. Workers are, he explains, expected to crate chickens so quickly that they “will regularly feel the birds’ bones snapping in their hands.” Moreover, “often the screaming of the birds and the flapping of their wings will be so loud that workers won’t be able to hear the person next to them on the line,” and “often the birds will defecate in pain and terror.” It is in this way—by moving from his effort, early in the book, to get us to see that animals matter to evocative descriptions of the handling of broiler chickens in the industrial food system—that Safran Foer positions us to see the awful callousness of the birds’ treatment. (pp. 262-263)
Crary contrasts plain or neutral facts with ethically charged expressive terms and evocative descriptions. This sounds like a contrast between ways of saying what the facts are more than a contrast between two kinds of facts, and perhaps this is what she means. But I'm also not sure about where the contrast is. When she talks about "these kinds of neutral facts" does she mean both such facts as that "birds are packed together in close quarters" and that "they are generally placed in windowless sheds by the tens of thousands at densities that allow each bird on average something less than a square foot of floor space"? Or is the former a neutral fact while the latter is ethically charged? As these paragraphs are written it looks as though the stuff about birds having their throats slit while still conscious and in some cases being scalded alive are (supposedly) neutral facts while their dying while writhing in convulsions is either a different kind of fact (an ethically charged one) or else a different kind of presentation of a fact (an evocative one). I agree that there is a difference in kind between the bland statement that chickens are packed together in close quarters and the statement that the screaming and flapping of the birds is so loud that workers cannot hear the person next to them. But both, I take it, are equally facts. 

The first paragraph quoted above contains a series of "not only...but also" pairs of facts, and it seems to me genuinely unclear whether Crary means that everything in the paragraph is a plain or neutral fact (which is what the words "these kinds of neutral facts" in the first sentence of the next paragraph seem to imply) or whether the "not only" facts are plain/neutral and the "but also" ones are ethically charged. That would make more sense to me. But the difference seems more one of degree than of kind. One of the "not only" facts involves reference to filthy conditions that produce disease. That isn't as evocative as the fact about routine chlorine baths for decontamination, but it's at least somewhat evocative. And this matters because the inside/outside ethics distinction that gives the book its title has to do with this distinction between neutral facts and (what I think Crary never calls) ethical facts. 

A difference of degree is still a difference, but I wonder whether there's a tension, and whether this matters, between Crary's distinction between outside and inside ethics (between neutral facts and non-neutral facts) and her view that ethically relevant facts are empirically discoverable. Here's a possibility: those who situate humans and/or animals outside ethics believe that there are neutral facts, or perhaps rather that there is a space of neutral facts with no essential or internal connection to ethical facts; those who situate humans and/or animals inside ethics deny that there is such a space or, if there is one, that humans and/or animals exist within it. (The latter might think, for instance, that mathematics or physics is a kind of conceptual space in which the facts are neutral, but that in this space there are no people or animals.) In this case, from the inside ethics perspective, the distinction between neutral and ethical (non-neutral) facts is only relative at most. So in the passages quoted above about Safran Foer we need to read in words such as 'relatively' and 'supposedly' whenever anything is described as neutral or evocative or morally charged. Because all the facts mentioned there are morally charged to some extent. This, it seems to me, is in fact the case, i.e. it is the case, and not only "from the inside ethics point of view." 

I can't (be bothered (here and now) to) explain how or why, but I think this shows the outside ethics position to be not just false but nonsensical. It is a 'position' that is committed to the existence of a way of making sense of human and/or animal life that does not exist. And what I suspect is that all of Crary's book has to be read in a kind of as-if spirit. The various 'theories' that she shows to be 'wrong' are, in fact, not even possibly correct. But she talks about them as if they might be. And the 'theories' that she shows to be better are in fact a (possibly misleading) representation of the only way we can, or at least do, make sense of the phenomena in question. Thus, for instance, there is not really "a view of mind" to which Wittgenstein gives expression and which Crary endorses. Rather, there is the way (or ways) we talk about and understand the concept of mind (or a whole bunch of concepts related to mind). I haven't spelled it out, but somewhere in this, I believe, is the answer to my first question about theories and Wittgenstein. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The philosophy of Agatha Christie

This is Amy Leatheran in Murder in Mesopotamia, channeling Schopenhauer:
Somehow, the more I get older, and the more I see of people and sadness and illness and everything, the sorrier I get for everyone. Sometimes, I declare, I don't know what's becoming of the good, strict principles my aunt brought me up with. A very religious woman she was, and most particular. There wasn't one of our neighbours whose faults she didn't know backwards and forwards...