Pragmatic Language

Discussion in 'Religion & Philosophy' started by ExpectantlyIronic, Nov 20, 2008.

  1. ExpectantlyIronic

    ExpectantlyIronic e̳̳̺͕ͬ̓̑̂ͮͦͣ͒͒h̙ͦ̔͂?̅̂ ̾͗̑

    By my understanding, the late Richard Rorty saw philosophy as an ongoing argument over the best manner of speaking, and suggested that the best manner of speaking is whatever manner helps you get what you want. What do you think?
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2008

  2. fleinn

    fleinn 101010

    That Richard Rorty was an ass.

    Rhetoric is a tool, like any other, and equivocating on the difference between using language and achieving your goals by using language well is the same as advertising that you're a quack.
  3. ExpectantlyIronic

    ExpectantlyIronic e̳̳̺͕ͬ̓̑̂ͮͦͣ͒͒h̙ͦ̔͂?̅̂ ̾͗̑

    Are you saying that language is just a tool used by philosophers to discuss deeper questions? If so, let's consider the subject of free will. The disagreement doesn't seem to center around what we would observe if we were to empirically examine something, so what does it center around? What the hidden framework of the world is?

    I imagine that's what folks think they're discussing, but if we stop thinking in words, can we get any clear mental impression of what we're discussing when discussing free will? If not, then how are we talking about anything beyond manners of speaking? That's not so clear to me.
  4. fleinn

    fleinn 101010

    Wittgenstein spent his life disagreeing with himself over exactly that. Whether there is real understanding in language, or whether it is made up of constructed pieces, dictating the meaning of the expressions in one way or another. Perhaps by the way we're taught and how we learn.

    I mean, it's a very interesting question.

    But yes, I obviously think/believe rhetoric is a tool to express your thoughts. And that if you can do so with enough skill, it's possible to make others understand those thoughts clearly. So you have an easily described duality between expressing yourself accurately, and between understanding thoughts of others. Either of which will be a challenge on it's own, even if they are two different ones.

    But to suggest that what "we" are really discussing as "philosophers", is a way to express the real state of the world as it actually is, and that when we achieve agreement - then that in itself has value... that is not just arrogant or false, it is inherently misguided, and based on the idea that the few enlightened will dictate reality. Anyone who has read Aristotle or Plato will see that instantly, and understand very, very easily what sort of sin Rorty is committing. As well as that any philosopher since at least Plato has expressed some form of battle with avoiding this exact problem; from the worst nominalists to the most disciplined realists, they always abhor the phenomena when orthodoxy is stated as reality by virtue of existing.

    Not that that means what he says isn't interesting. To deny that would be illogical, as well as require you to ignore the reality he is describing, and the context of it - where it actually makes perfect sense.

    But assuming there is such a thing as the "ideas- world" that he as a philosopher is more or less an arbiter of, together with the other elites... to me, that's about the same as proclaiming something along the lines that "rape is fine as long as it's done in public": it's easy to disagree with - but engaging at the same time simply for how wrong it is.

    For example - Plato suggests that the most intense and deep understanding of the real terms still makes it only a guide to understanding an imperfect, real thing. While Rorty says the ideas- world is actually what people agree on is reality. And therefore has an existence on it's own...? Through the written words in a book, perhaps? Or an unquestioned moral imperative? Which exists through the power of discussion and reason between good and wise people?

    I'm sure you see where I'm going with this- since this is the kind of criticism you have for a system that only exists by virtue of it's own arbitrary rules.

    Anyway.. I'm curious about what you think Rorty describes? And why do you feel we should find a hidden framework for how the world operates? Or to decide one way or the other if free will exists? I'm interested in hearing why your chose that particular question, too, btw. Or if you feel it would be satisfying if consensus was the only thing deciding what something is?
  5. ExpectantlyIronic

    ExpectantlyIronic e̳̳̺͕ͬ̓̑̂ͮͦͣ͒͒h̙ͦ̔͂?̅̂ ̾͗̑

    I'm no so sure he was conflicted on that point (though, certainly the problems of philosophy bothered him, despite his allergy to abstraction). The only thing that really changed about his philosophy between the Tractatus and PI, was how he saw language. When the Tractatus he obviously saw language as a tool for drawing pictures (in a sense) of reality (as a novelist may do), whereas in PI he makes the case that language is used to do things (e.g. yelling "stop" to make someone stop). He seemed to think at the time of their writing, that both works would end philosophy as we know it, by "shew[ing] the fly the way out of the fly-bottle."

    I think you misunderstood the OP. The major point of Rorty's philosophy, is that language is just a tool, and that there is no one vocabulary or manner of speaking that best mirrors reality. In fact, he felt that trying to mirror reality with language was misguided. Rather, our different vocabularies are geared towards particular purposes, so there is no real point in insisting that one vocabulary is better than another (e.g. that the vocabulary of biologists better mirrors the world than that of physicists), since different vocabularies aim at different things.

    Furthermore, he thought the whole project of philosophy was misguided, since its purpose (he seemed to feel) is to find the vocabulary that best mirrors the world, and also to justify doing so.
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2008
  6. fleinn

    fleinn 101010

    ..Another way to see it was that Wittgenstein was trying to find out whether or not there is such a thing as an atomic building block of "language". So that everything else could be logically derived from start to finish. Which would, if that was possible, prove that the words we use reflect actual terms. And that we are talking about the same things in a discussion. As in the example with the beetle - two people are describing two seemingly identical beetles as if it was one single beetle, even though it's obvious that it's not the same one.

    The question is why that is possible. Whether maybe it is because we arbitrarily choose or decide that certain things mean something specific - or whether it is because we create useful building blocks out of somewhere. Temporary constants (as my brother thinks)? Something more dynamic - who knows.
    No, I really think he's an ass because of that. Because from the outset he's suggesting the goal with language is not to understand, but to convince or coerce. But as I said, I don't think that's not an interesting statement in the context it's said - because Rorty has a few extremely good points, just by putting this into a surveyable system.
  7. ExpectantlyIronic

    ExpectantlyIronic e̳̳̺͕ͬ̓̑̂ͮͦͣ͒͒h̙ͦ̔͂?̅̂ ̾͗̑

    By my reading, the point of Wittgenstein's dismissal of "private languages", was to serve his view that language does things, as opposed to expresses thoughts: which I take him as having been trying to demonstrate as impossible (in PI). Incidentally: in the Tractatus, he says very clearly that he thinks all logical truths are given by the syntax of a language, and that there can be no surprises in logic. He also says that logic presupposes that names have meaning. Of course, he supposes no such thing, and says that propositions only have meaning insofar as the reflect a picture of the world, which he says logical propositions do not.

    In the beetle thought experiment, he asks us to imagine that we each have our own private box, and inside each of our boxes is something that we intend to call a "beetle". When we talk of beetles in such a case, we can hardly be talking about the contents common to all of our boxes, since we do not know if they all contain the same thing or not. Thus, names only have meaning insofar as that meaning is not taken to be private.

    As for Rorty, I think he sees language as a tool to do things. Not necessarily convince or coerce, but also to e.g. let a group organize itself to complete shared goals, or aid another in the completion of their goals. When Rorty talks of using language to help us get what we want, he does not imagine that our goals are necessarily selfish, and is not advocating selfishness.
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2008
  8. fleinn

    fleinn 101010

    Well, it's true that Wittgenstein says syntax and semantic propositions explain truth in Tractatus. But "expressing thoughts", if we mean trying to shape words to give an impression of your thoughts.. and not manifesting ideas in words and so on.. that's what he worries about. The way it's maybe necessary to have some breakage before really understanding what the language says.

    I mean, Wittgenstein wrote these enormous works on pedagogics, and everything always makes perfect sense. And he wrote that while sitting alone in a cabin out on the western part of Norway. Apparently he didn't turn out to be a very good teacher either.
    Could be he's talking about /how/ that meaning is assumed to be general, no? Do the people agree it must be the same beetle? Why?
    Of course not. But he's not advocating philosophy or rhetoric as a tool for understanding, or expressing yourself properly. He's simply declaring that language only has value if it can be used to accomplish a task. And in the process he, logically, concludes that actual philosophical studies are just more advanced and intricate ways of trying to accomplish some goal or another. To me that's like suggesting that everyone knows what they want with their life when they're born, and only develop more intricate ways of trying to achieve it when they grow up. So, in my opinion, it's just a different way of saying all logical arguments is some form of sophistry. Everything we properly argue for, it's always just a tool for achieving a task - never does he apparently accept that discussing an issue can make people understand something better and in more depth, than they initially did from - say - reading the book, or the theory, and so on.

    I mean - I could be wrong, and that Rorty has some extremely well thought out things about how that could happen also within the context he describes. But generally the impression I get is that he's basically suggesting there's no practical difference between saying: "I argue that black is white, because..", and between "black is white, because the Lord/Leader says so".

    If we introduce "narrative" into this - where will it fit in? Will there be a difference between wishing something is true, and insisting that it is - and between finding that it is true?

    How will "accomplishment" be measured, and who will do so?
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2008
  9. ExpectantlyIronic

    ExpectantlyIronic e̳̳̺͕ͬ̓̑̂ͮͦͣ͒͒h̙ͦ̔͂?̅̂ ̾͗̑

    The same reason you and I could look at the color red, and both agree that it is, in fact, red. As in the infamous "inverted qualia" thought experiment, neither of us would have any clue what it is like for the other to see red, but it doesn't stop us from referring to the hidden contents of our respective "boxes" (i.e. minds) as "red". For all you know, I could experience what we agree to call "red" as you experience what we agree to call "blue".

    As for how we come to do such a thing: it's simply been trained into us. We try to parrot how other folks use the term. If we didn't do that, the term would cease to be useful or meaningful at all.

    Isn't that how it is, though, in a way? If you poke a newborn baby with a pin, he/she will likely cry and otherwise indicate the he/she doesn't enjoy it. As we grow up, we observe how certain things lead to others, and effectively start avoiding future pin pokes. Differences between people get magnified as they grow up, due their different experiences leading them to avoid different potential pin pokes. Some people may even come to try to avoid purely imagined pins (e.g. hell). They weren't born knowing they wanted to avoid going to hell, but they were born with certain automatic responses to certain stimuli.

    Consider this:

    A person has never seen snow, and so he picks up a book on it, and reads that "most snow is green." Suddenly, he (thinks he) understands snow better. Clearly, though, he doesn't. If he were to see snow, he would realize that saying "snow is green" isn't helpful at all. Now, we could say that's because saying "snow is green" failed to reflect on the reality of matters, but how is that different than thinking the proposition isn't helpful?

    Thinking of language as a mirror of the world can lead us to think some pretty odd things, though. Saying "cruelty is wrong" is helpful, but it doesn't really paint a particular picture of the world that we can go out and empirically confirm. I wouldn't want to call it false, but if we think of language as a mirror of the world, it seems we should at least say it's untrue, since I have no clue what part of the world it's supposed to correspond to. Individual preferences? Perhaps we can say that, but not everyone means to indicate such a thing. We can imagine someone saying "cruelty is wrong, but sometimes I wish it weren't".

    We could squabble over semantics forever, but trying to find a perfect language in which each person can specify whatever particular metaphysical implications their usage of "cruelty is wrong" has--so we can figure out if they are, in fact, speaking the truth--isn't helping us stop cruelty. It seems beyond beyond the point. It just seems like a game.

    I don't see that. One of those propositions could prove helpful, while the other may not. I think what you mean, though, is not that they have no practical difference in the theory I'm describing, but that they are taken to have no essential difference in value. Though, by saying that, you're not attacking the theory for failing to mirror the world, but rather for it not being helpful in your eyes, since you no doubt think folks should avoid blindly accepting whatever some odd authority says.

    If we stop thinking some e.g. scientific authority is speaking in a way that mirrors the world, but rather is simply speaking in a manner that may or may not be helpful, are we anymore inclined to listen to him/her? I don't see why we would be.

    There would be a difference in how useful either manner of speaking would be.

    How do you determine if something was accomplished? That would be the means by which you do it, and different folks would--of course--have different ideas of what constitutes an accomplishment.
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2008
  10. fleinn

    fleinn 101010

    True. But it also is meaningless if you don't make those terms your own. What I'm trying to get at is that there is a process where language makes sense - that doesn't exist in the "usefulness" scenario.

    Hehe. Or maybe it actually takes very much training to get someone to fear pins like that.

    Well, like you say - if that's the only thing wrong with the book, then he could go about his business on green snow without caring one way or the other. It's the same with "success", or any other positive doubleplusgoodness like that - you can sense something and associate it with any label, and not notice it's wrong. I fully appreciate that.

    But there are some things that you, in my opinion, need training to skip past. That one thing is not the same as another, for example. And what I'm getting at is the difference when language is used to, for example, make one thing appear as another. As opposed to attempt to.. avoid doing that.
    I agree. What might not be a game would be when you can understand what the other person puts in their terms.

    No. I just pointed out that when the only real qualifier in the picture is whether or not language can be used to accomplish a task, then what is really being done is completely immaterial. There's nothing in here to suggest it might not work for someone to misunderstand someone else fundamentally, or that someone else is tricked by another group. If you subscribe to this view, petty things like that won't really matter - because, well, it might actually "work".
    Oh? But what if a lot of people believe that general health in a nation would improve if the ministry of health should annouce the eradication of an imaginary disease every friday - would anything stop this from working - and so be perfectly comparable with an actual increase in health?
    Ok. But why and in what way? Isn't that the interesting part?
    So everyone defines their own success? Unless they do it together in a group?

    I don't see how that decides whether something has effect as a narrative, or whether it has effect as a real size. And that's the interesting part - the system just exists as a wrapper around a world that presumably works by automatic. Where no decisions really have an impact - only the search for an accomplishment puts people aside each other. I think it's fascinating - but still...

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