Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The limits of my language are the limits of my world (or can we think beyond language?)

Having taken a healthy 2 week holiday away from blogging to stuff my face on Spanish christmas fare and demolish my liver it is a bit daunting to be back in the UK having to face exams and the baying crowds (my definition is the 3+ variety) who visit this blog in search of a grammatical, or, heaven forbid, a logical mistake!

Which brings me to my good friend Mr. Wittgenstein, whose wonderful, if impenetrable book, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus woke me from my dogmatical slumbers in bed. The bracketed comment in the title above, is mine, and is the thought that tortures anyone who enters in to Witt's philosophical world. Is life just language or is there something that can be thought about outside language? If you're a french philosophe of the Derrida school the first might seem an attractive option, but if, like me, you're of the romantic and yet realist persuasion that we are not all created constructs of the language that we use, the fact that Witt, in this famous passage seems to endorse the idea that there is no world outside of language can be terrifying. Does he really mean what he says? What kind of world do animals inhabit? Is he just dead wrong or is there something profound lurking in the words of the zen master? Let's face it, whatever is going on in the Tractatus is very odd and the definition of "world" is queer to say the least, but the book holds such endless fascination that even such opaque pronouncements are set to torture the unwitting reader for years to come. Damn book, I wish that philosophy didn't have the capacity to give a person nightmares even once the reading matter has been laid down many years ago and lost somewhere in one's room! Yet isn't that the fun of it?


Szwagier said...

So, according to this gentleman, if I have an experience I acn't describe or encompass, what am I doing? Moving to another world?

It doesn't make a great deal of sense to me...

Toby Lewis said...

Me neither.

A Wittgensteinian response, assuming that language is the limit of our world would be that the (so-called) ineffable experience you describe can only be understood using language. All the content that is beyond language is literally outside your world. You have no grasp of what it is and so for you it is only what you can understand. The phenomenal experience beyond language does not even exist for humans once they have language.

I don't buy it either, but I think it is a point of view that can hypnotise a lot of people (mainly philosophers).

Szwagier said...

Let's get down and dirty here. I was thinking of sex, an activity that's pretty central to human existence, even for philosophers.

I'm not a consumer of erotic literature or pornography precisely because I think attempts to capture sex in language are doomed to failure. Look at how often it transforms into a series of non-linguistic noises.

I very carefully used "transforms" instead of "degenerates" there. The non-linguistic communication is every bit as valid as the linguistic. It's just different.

Anyway, something so important to us, being extralinguistic, is not part of our world? Witty's witless. Or a virgin.

butwhatif said...

But even the noises have meaning, surely. Why else those particular grunts and groans, at particular points in the action, scripted into porn films?

Guess at the very least, they are inserted to symbolise, to denote, to convey, raw animality.

All the while, raw animality goes on a-humping. Silently. The dogs that never barked.

Szwagier said...

They may well have meaning. It doesn't follow that they're language, for reasons I went into ages ago on Pike's.

I also don't think you can say they 'symbolise' anything for the same reason. Words symbolise, grunts don't. If I utter the word 'chair', you have a mental image of the kind of thing I'm talking about. If I go "ugh", you have no idea what I might mean. No symbolism.

zola said...

Calm down you randy buggers.
Old Wiitgi was, in context, making a philosophy of "language games" vis-a-vis the kinds of (IN-HOUSE)attempts to combine mathematics to philosophy and all that. ( Just like the New labour government tries still to do).

It has already been said years ago that Wittgi-baby would be misunderstood if an alien landed on our planet and asked for the main philosophy. So don't give that one please.
Why did Wittgi go rowing so much I ask myself sometimes I do ?

Toby you might think to join the labour backbenchers ( or what is LEFT of them and us)because there is no need of abstract "exams" in that arena.

anticant said...

I doubt whether even Witters was mad enough to believe that nothing exists beyond language. Like so much hifalutin' phlosophy, it is a nonsensical concept. Why waste your time being in awe of it, Toby?

Toby Lewis said...

Szwag - Could it be the case that everything that can't be expressed in language is meaningless? All the exciting dirty behaviour which you attribute value to has meaning, all the rest is irrelevant. That I think would have to be the Wittgensteinian response.

Toby Lewis said...

As to the meaning of the grunts, I'd agree with you, Szwag, that they aren't language, but the wittgensteinian would argue only that which could have meaning attributed to it would form your worldview.

Toby Lewis said...

Zola - I'd rather be involved in politics as an observer than as a cog in the machine, but who's to say abstract thought and politics don't mix?

Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Bentham, Mill, Rousseau, Marx (to name but a few abstract thinkers) ......

I agree with the alien from the other planet remark. German philosophers have a tendency to be vaguely poetic which tends to obscure what they have to say sometimes, even though this adds far more exciting possibilities to their perplexed readers.

Toby Lewis said...

Interestingly, Anticant, I think you're knowingly (or even more amazingly, unknowingly) referring to the currently fashionable interpretation of those final lines from the Tractatus which reads them as a sort of self-destructive analysis of Wittgenstein's early work paving the way for his highly disillusioned, but brilliant later philosophy.

My general feeling was that to greet the new year with something abstract, and dear to my heart, would be more enjoyable than obsessing about the Butcher of Tikrit and the way he went.

anticant said...

Toby, I heard Bertrand Russell lecture at Cambridge on the Principles of Philosophy. First two lectures, hall crowded to overflowing; third lecture, plenty of spare seats; by the fifth lecture it was down to about six stalwarts. The old boy took no prisoners.

I knew Freddie Ayer. Lovely guy. Brilliant debater - I once watched in awe as he demolished the inconsistencies of a pompous person at a committee meeting in two minutes flat. But his 'logical positivism' didn't make much more sense than Witters' vapourings.

Much "professional philosophy" - especially the tribe of French 'postmodernists', 'deconstructionists', and their American academic dupes - is what is vulgarly but accurately called 'mind-f*****g'. The sooner you cotton on to this, the better.

billstickers said...

There is far more language in this world than the spoken or written. I think Wittgenstein would have been more accurate had he used the term 'communication' instead of language.

Many ideas are communicated during the sex act. Grunts and moans are easily understandable for the person hearing them.

My dog and the dog next door make use of no spoken language, to my mind. However, I've noticed that my dog responds (attempts to make investigation) to only some of my neighbour's dog's barking - while I fail to discern any differences. It's obvious that ideas are being communicated in the different manners or tones of barking.

Now, can placing your hand on someone's shoulder at certain times communicate any ideas? Is a smile or a frown always meaningless to onlookers? Can a person's staying completely motionless and expresionless convey any ideas?

To explore this subject and answer the initial question, I think we must first reach agreement on what constitutes language.

Once we have reached such agreement though, we will find that our worlds are limited by our thoughts, which, in turn, are limited by our vocabulary.

If we don't have a word for the thing that a creature is placing on our shoulder, we can't hope to receive any idea porentially being communicated by that action.

anticant said...

The oracle stumbles! Communication is the message received. It is not limited to the verbal or the linguistic. Wittgenstein, however, was wrestling with language and the meanings of words. To say there can be no meaningful communication without language is clotted nonsense.

zola said...

Billstickers and Anticant : Without in any way saying that your words do not make sense or are meaningful I can say that you are not in the same world here.
Witti baby should be respected a bit more than that I claim.
he was never denying that body language or alternative communications existed. never.
If we talk around Wittgi then we should respect a bit more.
We could talk about "worlds" and the "language games".
We could, perhaps better, discuss just how is it possible to form a reasonable question.

billstickers said...

"Communication" is not the message received. "A communication" is a message received. Communication is an instance of mutual understanding between two or more sentient beings.

Wittgenstein appears to have been wrestling with the limits of personal reality, and not language, per se.

I don't know who you refer to in your last senstence, anticant. Was it Wittgenstein? Did he say there could be no meaningful communication without language?

Toby asks: "Is life just language or is there something that can be thought about outside language?"

Of course there is. Although the majority can only catalogue and express their thoughts when they have vocabulary sufficient to do so.

Human emotion represents a case in point. Who can really accurately describe, in language, fear? Or shame? Or anger? Or any other emotion? What colour is envy, in reality?

We read Szwagier's attempts to describe deep depression a while back. Do any of us believe he even came close to capturing the reality of what it feels like? Has anyone in all of history?

If you can experience agony, is that to say you must also possess language sufficient to express the reality of it - even to yourself? If not, can it still be said to be within the limits of your world? Does pain exist?

Tell me about cold and hot. Explain the wind. Describe gas without comparing it to anything else. Tell the blind man about red and blue and yellow.

The limits of our worlds are not circumscribed by language (how could we allow the concept of 'progress' if they were?), but since the expression and cerebral cataloguing of them is, they might as well be.

I believe the force of invention to be limited to those souls who can hold and recall thoughts without the aid of a linguistic catalogue. If you want to invent an entirely new entity or process, or come up with a new and plausible theory, you must necessarily forego thinking entirely in known words or pictures. If you want to understand difficult teachings, you must become as a child.

billstickers said...

Zola, Wittgenstein, no longer existing in anyone's reality, commands no respect.

To quote another, potentially, dead guy: "Problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking /awareness /consciousness that created them."

Which means today's questions, resulting from yesterday's observations (even if they are the same observations and questions as before) call for present thinkers and present thoughts, if we are to find present answers. Wittgenstein is obsolete.

The other dead guy made provision for his continuing relevance. Perhaps he still exists in a time and space not yours.

anticant said...

As I understand it, Wittgenstein rejected Russell's empirical stance that we can learn knowledge from experience. In his view, knowledge was limited to logic. While logic is certainly a very important and much neglected tool - I believe it should be taught, in basic form, to all schoolchildren - surely he was mistaken?

Thanks, Toby, for starting such an interesting thread and worthwhile discussion. I've just awoken from a dream in which Russell and Wittgenstein were vainly hunting for a rhinoceros which Wittgenstein insisted could logically be present in the room. In the dream I was the rhinoceros. They nearly found me. It was scary.

anticant said...

"Does pain exist?" Now really, billstickers, for you, of all entities, to pose that question when you aroused so much heat and fury a while back by maintaining that pain, suffering and illness are all "in the mind" really is priceless.

Szwagier said...

We do indeed need to define what a language is. The trouble is, still, that a lot of people treat language and communication as synonyms. They're not.

A large proportion, probably the vast majority, of communication that goes on in the world is not linguistic. And everything that uses language is not communication. What is a crossword communicating? When language students parrot their teacher, are they communicating?

If knowledge comes from logic according to Witty, and I don't know because I don't read philosophy, then we are all certainly screwed. Language isn't logical...

I agree completely with billst, that a great deal of our experience and knowledge and understanding is neither linguistic nor logical...

Szwagier said...

It also occurs to me to point out that we need to agree on some categories of meaning.

I was having this discussion elsewhere yesterday. The relationship between the collection of graphical symbols "smile" and the thing they are talking about is qualitatively different to the relationship between :) and the thing it is talking about.

I would want to argue that :) isn't language.

billstickers said...

"[billstickers] aroused so much heat and fury a while back by maintaining that pain, suffering and illness are all "in the mind"

No I didn't. I aroused much heat and fury by maintaining that illness is all in the mind. Pain, as in the pain felt when being struck, cut or burned, is very real. At least, it is real as long as its reality requires no language to describe it.

BTW, you have continued to miss the point re illness being all in the mind. I maintained that illness (as a manifestation of symptoms) is generated by wrong thinking. I never doubted the reality of the symptoms once generated. i.e., I don't believe in catching cold, therefore I manifest no symptoms of one. Others do and do.

Suffering is, like illness, a product of wrong thinking. Two-step wrong thinking:

1. The thinking that engenders the 'cause' of the suffering, and

2. The thinking that results in the choice (or the idea of the inevitability) of suffering due to that cause.

However, let's not spoil a good thread by rehashing something we've agreed to disagree on.

anticant said...

If more people adopted as a working rule, here and elsewhere, that the only sensible course on many topics is to agree to disagree, debate would become far more productive.

I did not, by the way, "miss the point". I just think that your attitude to all this is a load of old cobblers.

billstickers said...

I'd say that language (in a functional sense) is a means of communication, whereby both parties, the issuer and the receiver, are coding and decoding human thought on the basis of a previously agreed upon set of criteria.

French (or English or Spanish), then, could only potentially constitute a language where two or more people had agreed on its grammar and vocabulary as representing acceptable criteria (for them, then). Where one party of two failed to come to that agreement, French would cease to be a language in that environment, at that time. Conversely, gangland hand symbols, in gangland, must necessarly potentially constitute a limited language.

Even when two people have agreed on a particular grammar and vocabulary set, it does not follow that an agreed criteria set (language) will result.

"My wife doesn't understand me" may be a perfectly reasonable literal claim. It would appear that 50% of married people fail to come to such an agreement. Basing their compatibility on a smattering of "Say it in...ish" and sundry grunts and moans.

The fact that we know next to nothing about each other here, that we lack most of the non-linguistic cues normally available to interlocuters, and that it would be therefore very difficult to come to an agreed criteria set on this medium (to say nothing of the permutations involved as the numeber of people increases), perhaps explains why we have so many misunderstandings and almost "international" incidents.

Taken loosely, this "group" was formed on the basis of a negative - not wanting to be dictated to by CiF. That's probably not enough for survival in this medium. If we were here out of a common positive interest, one that already had a criteria set for a language in real life, we'd have a better chance of getting along.

Perhaps also, that's why any "dissent" appears to get blown way out of proportion and promptly rounded on by the rest. Perhaps the "group" recognises those comments as blows to its already fragile criteria set constitution.

billstickers said...

"I just think that your attitude to all this is a load of old cobblers."

As I do yours. We have no common crieria set on which to base a productive discussion. As adults recognising that fact, we should leave the thing alone. The opposite and extreme example is the typical I/P debate. In their own "lands", each making perfect sense. On a "bilingual" I/P thread, babble, plain and simple, from both sides.

anticant said...

billstickers: You don't have my reality of experiencing illness through my own and other peoples'. You don't even admit to having a personal reality, away from your computer terminal. You therefore contrive to debate with everyone else who posts here [except your creator] on unequal terms, claiming the privilege of a disembodied cyberghost. You, I, and everyone else know that is a load of hooey. The only question is who will get tired of it first.

billstickers said...

I don't have yours or anyone else's reality. I believe you don't have to have the reality you do have, since I believe you can have the reality you choose to have.

I do have a personal reality. I never stated to the contrary. I just don't see what good it would do to introduce that here. On the contrary, I see what "bad" it would do. I see that by observing what your, and others, attempts to introduce personal reality here deos to the quality of discussion. It limits discussion and is therefore unwarranted.

If you didn't bring your personal reality here, we'd be able to discuss (or agree not to discuss) the non-necessity and non-inevitability of illness without all your blubbering and self-pity.

The truth is, you and others, are looking for an argument (a safe argument, unavailable in your real lives) and are not interested in discussing the issues raised by the articles.

anticant said...

"Taken loosely, this "group" was formed on the basis of a negative - not wanting to be dictated to by CiF. That's probably not enough for survival in this medium."

I can't say "speak for yourself", as so far as I am aware you were not one of the formers of this group. I cannot speak for Toby, Angela, Chris, YD, Szwagier, or Zola, but that was certainly not the reason I joined the Awkward Squad. I joined because Frank Fisher first invited me to post on his site, and then said "how about a blogring?" I was unclear then, and still am, as to the purpose and function of a blogring - increasingly so this one - but I thought "why not?" and signed up.

Having been wondering for some time what if anything the Awkward Squad was actually going to do, except gossip, I put a New Year's Day post up in my burrow asking for answers to that question. So far, there has been a reluctance to respond. So perhaps you, BS, as someone [if you are a someone] who has been consistently critical of the 'ring' idea, would read what I wrote and offer us the benefits of your unearthly wisdom? One pointer is Jose's recent comment on my "Loony Tunes" thread.

anticant said...

Thanks for the "blubbering and self-pity". You really are a deeply unpleasant person, whether in your cyberghost or real-life persona.

Your claim that bringing one's personal reality and experience into play limits discussion of issues, and that those of us who do so are "not interested" in discussing the issues, is poppycock. How do you know what I am or am not interested in? What I am not interested in - indeed, increasingly bored by - is billstickers and his constant distortion of meaningful debate. It is not us, but BS, who continually twists the conversation into irrelevant and increasingly bad-tempered directions. Go look in a mirror, Caliban. Or if you bear any real-life resemblance to the portrait on your profile, perhaps better not.

zola said...

To return at an apt time Wittgi.
One of his key concerns was just how to form a question which could then be answered.
A typical Wittgi lecture of about one hour would use 55 plus minutes just trying to set the question.
Maybe Wittgi had a point there.

What question is being asked here on this post with comments.

anticant said...

Whether the ability to articulate a question logically and verbally constitutes the limit of what is knowable?

zola said...

Anticant : "THE ABILITY" ( emphasis mine) rather than an ability or abilities to?
Should it be THE question rather than "a question" or any question?
Could be limits here too methink.
Damn it the hour is nearly up already.

Szwagier said...

The thing that makes language different from non-language systems of communication is its capability. Using a limited, finite set of lexical items and grammatical rules (however these are come by), it can create an infinite number of grammatical strings of these lexical items. There is, literally, no upper limit to the number of things that can be said in a language. This is emphatically not the same as saying that language can describe everything.

All other systems of communication, be they human grunts, dog barks, or even bird- or whalesong, are not languages partially because they don't meet this criterion, in addition to several others (some of which have to do with the categories of meaning I mentioned earlier). Human languages are the only things we know that do.

Whether two individuals speaking the same language understand it in the same way, which, I think, is what billst was getting at, is not a linguistic, but a philosophical question. For what it's worth, my guess is that every speaker of a language understands that language differently, but that the amount of overlap is so great that it doesn't, usually, matter. That's only a guess, though. I'm not a philosopher.

billstickers said...

Everyone's a philosopher. you can hardly be human and entirely non-philosophical.

I appreciate that, being a linguist, you'd want a good and tight definition of what constitutes a language. I agree with what you wrote above, but when language becomes the subject of a philosophical discussion, it must be redefined in that context - whether Wittgenstein had the broad or tight definition in mind when he aired his views.

I think though, that you're wrong about the part that doesn't overlap being so insignificant as to "not matter". I think that, in communication, that part is of the utmost importance and is the root of all human strife.

If we're to live in peace with another individual, or another nation, we must seek to eliminate those language unisets. I believe the first step to be:

Say what you mean.

How will anyone ever hope to understand your (not yours, Szwag)language if you prevaricate and use euphemisms, etc? We need more honesty and more thick skin.

billstickers said...

anticant: "It is not us, but BS, who continually twists the conversation into irrelevant and increasingly bad-tempered directions."

Do you think so? I disagree. You, for example have displayed nothing but bad temper and intolerance on this thread alone. Dragging up the illness thing from its slumbers.

As I said, you are looking for an argument. You are becoming irksome and I'm considering ignoring ALL your future commentary for the benefit of all.

I am neither an unpleasant person. Perhaps you are confusing the doctor with his prescriptions. Have you ever heard the saying:

A gentleman does not discuss his ailments.

There's a very good reason for that.

billstickers said...

"So perhaps you, BS, as someone [if you are a someone] who has been consistently critical of the 'ring' idea..."

I haven't ever criticised the 'ring', whatever it stands for. If I have criticised anything, it is the mob mentality (with its concommitant lowering of intelligence and reason) that the 'ring' appears to have engendered in some.

You are, perhaps, confusing me with harrystarks.

billstickers said...

Back to the discussion at hand...

In any event, as I've said elsewhere, I believe people to be so mentally individual as to have no chance of either entirely understanding others or entirely being understood by others.

In lieu then, of seeking to eliminate those language unisets, perhaps we should strive toward a greater degree of tolerance than we have thus far displayed as a species.

We may receive language from others in any way we DECIDE to receive it. An insult or slight is both entirely in the eye and under the control of the beholder. We can choose never to be insulted, cheated, sidelined or otherwise treated "unfairly" (and therefore never hurt) ever again. We choose not to choose that. We continue to suffer and to add to the collective suffering.

"Turn the other cheek" is not advice on how to become a humble doormat. It is part of a lesson outlining an individual's potential absolute control over his environment - if he chooses to exercise that control. Control, however, takes place on the inside, not on the outside.

What does it matter where the limits of language set your world's boundaries, if your world is not under your own control? Better to seek to eliminate all evil in an (your) ordered universe, than to seek to expand the limits of (their) chaos.

anticant said...

billstickers: I agree with much that you say on a philosophical and psychological level. Where we part company is over the standpoint from which you say it. I maintain that even though you pose as a cyber abstraction, it is IMPOSSIBLE for you, or anyone else, to leave every trace of yor real-life persona outside the computer room. True, we can choose how much of ourselves to reveal, but to pretend that the individual typing all the billstickers stuff into the ether is an abstraction without any personal baggage is a bogus sham, and gives you an unfair advantage in the way that you address others. It may be fun and worthwhile to you - it obviously is, or you wouldn't do it - but I find it not merely tedious, but dishonest. Dishonesty is, in fact, the offence of which I accuse you.

On the one hand, you ask for more plain speaking. On the other, you complain that I am so bad-tempered and intolerant that you are "considering ignoring ALL [my] future commentary for the benefit of all." You can't have it both ways. If the heat is getting too hot for you, by all means stay out of the kitchen. I personally [for unlike you, I am a person here] would find it a relief to be rid of you, but you seem to go with the Big Pike package, like unwanted software extras.

You say, ungrammatically, "I am neither an unpleasant person." What I said was - and I repeat: "You really are a deeply unpleasant person, whether in your cyberghost or real-life persona."

I did NOT "drag up the illness thing from its slumbers." I merely remarked, en passant,that "you [BS] don't have my reality of experiencing illness through my own and other peoples'" - whereupon you promptly jumped on me for "all my blubbering and self-pity". Now you proclaim, in your usual lofty de haut en bas fashion, "a gentleman does not discuss his ailments. There's a very good reason for that." What good reason? Because billstickers says so? You are certainly no gentleman.

You demand plain speaking, and then when you get it complain that I am becoming so irksome that you are considering ignoring me in future. Please do. I no longer find you amusing, if I ever did, and you are too thick to realise that this absurd "cyberghost" pose of yours vitiates the value of your sometimes otherwise very intelligent contributions.

Apologies to Toby for taking up so much space on his site with this private feud, but typically, you didn't accept my invitation to state your views about the ring business on my thread and argue it out there.

zola said...

At least for me, after trying to pick my way through the many weaves of this becoming thread, i am thrown into issues of the CONCEPT.

It seems that some plead for concept which is somehow objectified "away" from the use of language games. Is this back to the abstract as Hegel would have said?

billstickers said...

Zola, I really must say, with all due respect, that I have hard time understanding most of what you write. I understand the words, and the sentences appear to make sense in themselves, but, overall, I usually fail to grasp the point you are attempting to make.

I wonder if that's my fault, your fault, or our fault?

Szwagier said...

Couple of things. Yes, billst, you're right. I'm not entirely non-philosophical, but I do try to limit the amount of time I spend thinking about thinking. It really doesn't get me very far.

About the not mattering, I have an opportunity for a tiny spark of revenge. Read what I said. I said, "usually". I think that's an adequate description. I think that in the vast majority of linguistic communication that goes on, speakers and listeners well enough understand what's being said
for the slight differences in comprehension to be irrelevant. Not every conversation ends up as a breach of promise court case.

I wonder who you're referring to, zola?

billstickers said...

Yes, you wrote 'usually'. However, I believe it does usually matter, or is at least usually important. Not all communication that is not understood matters, but the bits that do, matter much.

I think that's because communication not understood, or misunderstood, is out there, out of control. The communicator has zero control over it. Its meaning is entirely at the mercy of the receiver's imagination and mood. The communicator's meaning has ceased to exist; vanishing into the ether.

Who says to himself: "I'm not sure what he meant by that remark but I'll attribute this meaning to it in lieu of the communicator's actual meaning"? Instead the receiver will say "He meant THIS by that remark". Since the communicator is now out of the loop, the attributed meaning becomes the only relevant meaning.

Confusion tends to the negative. A comment out of control is potentially a lethal weapon.

People should take care to take the necessary steps to prevent their communications from getting out of control after those communications leave their bodies.

anticant said...

Into deconstructionism now I see, BS. There's a whole colony of demented academic 'literary critics' out there waiting to welcome you to their ranks with open arms.

As you are not a person, and have no body, you have no way of preventing your communications from getting out of control. So watch out!

Toby Lewis said...

Wow, you guys! I'm glad to see you've had fun while I've been away.

Anticant - I tend to share your feelings about deconstruction and Literary Theory although on occasion you can meet some quite interesting people who enjoy it. To my mind the key problem with current "Continental" philosophy is that it has become to jargon heavy. That said, contemporary Analytic Philosophy despite its claims to clarity can often seem obfuscatory, as well. Russell, Witt and Ayer despite being heroes, still suffer from having espoused some fairly mad doctrines during their time. I guess that's the nature of the philosophical beast.

Toby Lewis said...

Szwag - For the earlier Wittgenstein, knowledge is certainly related to logic. The later Wittgenstein is far more mysterious. I would strongly recommend a read of his key book on epistemology, On Certainty, although like much of what the man wrote you'd be lucky to understand fully what he has to say (I don't and I think no-one does fully).

The definitions of meaning, understanding, communication and language were key to Wittgenstein's later philosophy. He took a very multilayered view of all 4 words, hence as Zola says, Language Games (and the Family Resemblance theory of words) are part of what can be taken from the very complex (and truly brilliant) work the Philosophical Investigations. The notion is that when we try to understand uses of language we view it as if a certain game is going on (logic, for instance, or the passing of bricks from one person to another). The Family resemblance theory supplements this because the meaning of a word such as "game" or "knowledge" is context sensitive and related to other variants. The knowledge that philosophers talk about, he alleged, often becomes confused because they try to use a single definition of the word "know" but really this does not reflect how they or we actually use language. I think from what you generally say, you'd find the Philosophical Investigations quite amenable to some of your other views.

zola said...

Is this one of the bests and worsts of the blogs I ask meself.
When family meets family or even when family meets itself there is so often a movement of words and things that just do not connect.
Just a thought I suppose.
Nokia Land in a nushell?

zola said...

Billstickers : If there is any "fault" involved it a a fault that is way beyond you or "I" or "me" or even us alone.
Elemental in a "HOT CULTURE" my dear Billstickers.
Now there is a thread.

anticant said...

Toby, if you are in danger of catching the poison the best antidote is "In Defence of History" by Richard J. Evans.

Toby Lewis said...

I'll take the recommendation but I don't think there is much danger of my being infected by post-structuralism. I'm a meat and bones realist.

Szwagier said...

Thanks, Toby. I suppose I should try... but the time! The effort!

I just briefly glanced at the beginning here. I should, of course, look further, but perhaps you can save me some time.

It seems he is suggesting the building block game is a primitive language. Or is he saying that is what Augustine thinks. In any case, the building block experiment is not a primitive language. It is a form of communication, but it is not a language. It uses no symbol-symbol references, just iconic symbol-thing references. It cannot create an infinite number of grammatical strings. Indeed, it has no grammar. This makes it no different from animal alarm calls, and therefore not language, as I understand the term.

Toby Lewis said...

I think he's suggesting it's what Augustine thinks or simple way of is illustrating the kind of basic version some philosophers may think a primitive language would look like. The experiment expands throughout the book in a very interesting way. I'd recommend reading it without the annotations (when you have the time, of course).

Szwagier said...

OK, I'll give it a pop.

billstickers said...

Thanks guys for the book reports. Now, has anyone actually had any thoughts of his own? Or are the limits of the library the limits of your world.

PS. I find Ayer to be sooooo yesterday.

Szwagier said...

At least Ayer had a rock.

Szwagier said...

I remember reading your book report on the New Testament, billst. I sent it back saying "could do better".

billstickers said...

You didn't read my book report on the NT, because I didn't submit one. I don't recall ever telling you what I think the various authors of the NT might have meant by their writings.

Even taking the content of that book, we were never meant to discuss what Jesus thought or meant, but how we could apply that thinking to the betterment of our lives. Knowing what Jesus thought is of no use in itself. It's all in the application - via individual thought.

If you'd like to tell me how YOU feel we might successfully apply the teachings of any human philosopher to the betterment of my life, I'd be interested to hear it.

Now, why would a person who has admitted to not being inclined to spend much time thinking about thinking want to read what others (who clearly lived in the past) reported on the results of their thinking about thinking?

billstickers said...

"People should take care to take the necessary steps to prevent their communications from getting out of control after those communications leave their bodies."

Since it's quiet, I'll elaborate.

Communications can "lose" their entire original meaning in the journey across the ether. They can arrive at the receiver with no meaning then attached. Humans, being human, seek order out of chaos (although they have very limited seeking energy and, thus, most times opt for the first thing that pops into their emotion/mood-driven heads). They don't necessarily require order, they'll blissfully live out their entire lives in chaos, but they do require to seek order, if only momentarily for each communication.

The above is not a healthy state of affairs (hence the resulting negative health symptoms and disastrous world management).

A communicator then, should take all necessary steps to ensure (as far as it is in his power to do so) that his communication is set adrift with a solid meaning firmly attached, able to survive the journey. However, that's just part of his responsibilities. The communicator should also ensure (as far as it is in his power to do so) that the the potential and intended receiver is capable of both receiving and adequately interpreting his communication.

Real life in itself presents many pitfalls in that regard. A communicator must choose his receivers wisely, and when that choice is not his, use all means of communication at his disposal to effect a coherent transmission.

The Internet (with regard to the majority of its interactive communications, i.e. those between two anonymous strangers) is destined to produce many errors (and all the offence those error engender), most of the time. As I noted before, the only easy way to prevent that is to form some kind of false "group" whose members have previously agreed not to strongly disagree on any point - or, indeed, make any comment that might be deemed "offensive" to other group members. Then, any ephemeral "offence" engendered by "miscommunication" can be quickly dismissed as being impossible (and, therefore, a mistake) in the given false reality created by the group.

The only other alternative appears to be the I/P thread, where, false group member or not, all engage in a hypocritical to-and-fro offending/being offended mudslinging contest. One group against a another, with memebers of either group being disallowed from making offensive comment about their own group.

In studying this phenomenon, and interactive communications on the Internet in general, I've come to the conclusion that that particular facet of the medium must necessarily and increasingly tend towards a fantasyland of bonhomie (apart from I/P threads}, with all "dissenters" gradually becoming disillusioned, and either posting their thoughts on their own non-interactive blogs, or abandoning the experiment altogether.

I would say that hypocrisy (the kind that sees an individual feel free to denigrate a Muslim, or other religious devotee, for having found something offensive (comically so to the hypocrite's mind) under his individual ethical or moral code, while simultaneously attempting to chastise another for having broken some imaginary ethical or moral code of conduct that he {the hypocrite} would force on the "sinner") is one of the most serious obstacles to interactive Internet communications. It's a bandage of false justification across the eyes and ears.

You may get away with that in real life (where your circle is for the most part hand-picked or is regulated by a clearly defined pecking order), however, in interactive Internetland it won't wash (and productive communication flourish).

Where does anyone get the idea that his personal take on ethics or morality or right or good is the correct take? Why does anyone feel he has EVER more moral highground than exactly the same as anyone else? Outside of real life laws and authorities, what gives an individual the right to tell another what he should or should not do or what he may say or not say, or worse, what he may think or not think?

All communication, to have any chance of it reaching the receiver's reasoning faculty with its original meaning intact, must be received first by non-judgemental eyes and ears. Judgement of that communication should take place in the brain, and that judgement should not be coloured by personal prejudice, but directed by reason.

Anything else is not true communication.

May we then say that an individual's world is limited by the limits of his own prejudice? I believe we may.

anticant said...

"If you didn't bring your personal reality here, we'd be able to discuss (or agree not to discuss) the non-necessity and non-inevitability of illness without all your blubbering and self-pity."

That was neither said, nor meant to be received, in a non-judgemental way.

As usual, BS, you are wanting to have your cake and eat it.

For all your intelligence and "reasonable" arguments, what a nasty, vicious, hypocritical person you are!

Just plain speaking.

Toby Lewis said...

Bill - I'm sorry if you feel you've been badly treated because you have some very interesting ways of looking at things. A word of advice, though, whilst you may think this is some kind of back-slapping private members club, if you didn't decide to insult all who disagreed with you, perhaps you might be more welcomed.

One of your points of view that particularly riles people is the belief that health problems are all in the mind. It seems insensitive to rub this view in people's faces when they are ill and I think that is the greatest explanation for people like Anticant's anger (or poor angie, who I don't think was planning a debate on the rights and wrongs of charitable giving).

Are these manners "a bandage of false justification across the eyes and ears"? My first point would be to say that your idiosyncratic belief about illness has no basis in fact. Although I do understand why believers in God feel the need to defend themselves that god might possibly exist, please do not use that to justify solely any other beliefs, it is what Kant called "transcendent metaphysics" and basically means anyone can believe what they like. I could sit here telling you the world is flat and insist that my basis for believing this is just as great as anyone elses that it is curved. To my mind philosophical debate does not go forward under such conditions.

anticant said...

Thanks for that, Toby.

YellowDuck said...

Fascinating read this. Again I have learned a lot. I am tending towards - what I perceive to be - the essence of the Billst Gospel: that by discussing things openly and without hard feelings the participants in the discussion and perhaps the casual reader of the discussion gain from it.

I think (kind of returning to what I understand of the Witti thing here) that by entering such an open discussion it is possible to broaden our perspective and also our grasp of the language - whether this be our first or second language. An internet discussion that dispenses of social etiquette (as in trying to be considerate of the interlocutor's feelings) may enrich the participants' thoughts for the future.

I kind of like that idea. Still, I am unsure whether something is not left out by doing so. Relating personal experience can be highly insightful for someone who has been ignorant of the emotional side of things. I think I can express in words how Angela_F or Anticant may feel, but it would still be different (i.e. more real, perhaps more authentic) coming from their mouths. Although, I have just realised I would invest them with authority in this case that is based on a trust that is perhaps more absent from the internet than in everyday dealings with people.

Hm. I have confused myself now. Bit of a pickle this one. Perhaps I should not hack these things out highly caffeinated and in my lunchtime. Thanks for reading if you made it this far...

billstickers said...

1. I haven't decided to insult all those who disagree with me.

2. I haven't insulted all those who disagree with me.

3. If I have insulted (to their way of thinking) anyone (disagreeing with me or not), I haven't always insulted them.

4. I have been the target of insults more than all regulars put together during the month of December. I have regularly been subject to insults for my stated belief in God. I have been subject to a torrent of the most childish name-calling. It bothers me not a whit (insults being in the eye of the beholder.) I have yet to witness one poster chastise another for trying to insult me.

5. Those who (to my way of thinking) I have insulted, I have insulted in retaliation for insults received from them. The flesh is weak. I'm working on it. I find that most can give pretty well. Taking is another story.

6. I have not insisted that the world is flat. I have stated MY beliefs on certain theological and psychological issues. One of those being that illness stems from wrong thinking. You may be able to staisfactorily prove that the world is not flat, but can you do likewise in the case of the cause of illness? Can you prove that illness is not the product of wrong thinking? Must I change my views or hush them up because those running the institutions state to the contrary?

7. anticant chooses to be upset by my views on illness. He has no similar qualms about rubbishing my belief in God. anticant gives but can't take. I can do both. Where, pray, is all the indulgent pussyfooting around my beliefs? Are you saying that we are subject here to a majority rule? anticant also reraises dead issue in order, I can only assume, to be insulted anew. Have you thought of asking him why he does that? Why he did it on this thread?

8. I don't use my belief in God to "justify" other beliefs. I believe illness is directly caused by wrong thinking. Why that or any other of my BELIEFS should rile anyone is beyond me. They're just my beliefs. I'm not running the health service. I am not treating anyone as a patient. I am not masquerading as a competent authority or relieving anyone of any funds. I don't believe in the inevitability of illness. What would you have me do? Pretend that I do? Keep silent for the sake of those I consider the deluded? Why? What gives you the right to even suggest that I do? Would you attempt to control me and place restraints on my thinking? Has anyone ever been WRONG in the past? Might you be? Should we call in the bleeders and brain drillers and tell them all is forgiven?

9. Your belief that the world was flat would be fully justified in itself. You have the right to believe whatever you want, whether philosophical debate wins or loses by your doing so. You similarly have the right to express those beliefs. Nobody has the right to use any type of force to try to stop you from exercising those rights. You have no responsibility to prove anything you state as a belief.

10. I don't feel hard done by. I couldn't care less what anyone here thinks about me. Better men than I have been grossly misunderstood and unfairly vilified. The relevant 'ring' of his day would have executed Da Vinci for heresy. I only care that my arguments make sense.

11. Attempted censorship by any other name is still attempted censorship, whether using force or coercion. Have I argued my case well in any respect? Have you changed your mind on any point?

12. Some people take me and my comments far too seriously for their own good. People here have quoted me as far back, and as far afield, as CiF during BB. That's pretty sad, really. I'm definitely not that important. Have they forgotten where the ignore button is?

billstickers said...

I would explain point 5.

I don't receive hurt from the "insults" themselves. What people say is either true for me or it's not. I retaliate against the attempt to insult. Against the intent to harm.

Would that I didn't.

zola said...

Considering that Toby posted a text concerning Wittgi who, like many others, struggled to embody practice or even praxis into the written text we might begin again from where we are or think we are right now.

Could this be, this debate so far, an example of a fairly long ( not winded) philosophical condition?

Is the "social-body-politic" ( I would cite the canadian John O'Neil here if i needed to) important?

YellowDuck said...

I don't know, Zola. But perhaps everyone can indeed give Billst-bashing a rest and just return to being a fun online debating club....

Whenever there is a specific subject on illness it may be possible to return to that topic. But it may just be prudent to give the Great Charity Quarrel of December 2006 (stolen from Szwagier) a rest. I remember from the early days of CiF and Pike's that Billst is a fun and argumentative person whether you agree with him or not. Besides, the way he harangued Emily Bell or whatever her name was was class.

Sorry, I am being too diplomatic perhaps, but it does appear that Billst has been on the receiving end for too long whilst just trying to engage with a debate at hand. And, returning briefly to the Great Charity Quarrel his comments led to Angela writing a response which I thought was more than interesting. Even if you can take fault with his semantics, but hey, it is just an online discussion.

Whatever. as far as I am concerned a given topic ends when the thread is closed or no longer visited. No point harping back.

Anyway. Witti. What was he on about, eh?

anticant said...

BTW, Toby, there is a Flat Earth Society which used to be, and maybe still is, presided over by a Mr Huttle-Glank. I've just Googled them and found the following manifesto:

"The Flat Earth Society is not in any way responsible for the failure of the French to repel the Germans at the Maginot Line during WWII. Nor is the Flat Earth Society responsible for the recent yeti sightings outside the Vatican, or for the unfortunate enslavement of the Nabisco Inc. factory employees by a rogue hamster insurrectionist group. Furthermore, we are not responsible for the loss of one or more of the following, which may possibly occur as the result of exposing one's self to the dogmatic and dangerously subversive statements made within: life, limb, vision, Francois Mitterand, hearing, taste, smell, touch, thumb, Aunt Mildred, citizenship, spleen, bedrock, cloves, I Love Lucy reruns, toaster, pine derby racer, toy duck, antelope, horseradish, prosthetic ankle, double-cheeseburger, tin foil, limestone, watermelon-scented air freshner, sanity, paprika, German to Pig Latin dictionary, dish towel, pet Chihuahua, pogo stick, Golf Digest subscription, floor tile, upper torso or halibut.

Copyright © 1998 Flat Earth Society Inc. All rights reserved."

They sound highly suitable candidates to be invited to join the Awkward Squad!

anticant said...

billstickers says: "You may be able to staisfactorily prove that the world is not flat, but can you do likewise in the case of the cause of illness? Can you prove that illness is not the product of wrong thinking?"

I have made this point before to bill, and I do wish he would take it on board. YOU CANNOT PROVE A NEGATIVE. No scientific or rational person attempts to do so. Those of us who are sceptical of others' belief claims simply ask, perfectly reasonably, for believers in whatever it is to produce sufficient evidence to dent our scepticism. Scepticism, atheism and agnosticism are NOT faiths; they are merely the absence of belief.

I know that foxes sometimes visit my garden. I have seen them there, they occasionally have noisy mating episodes on the lawn, and they leave droppings which I can produce as evidence for anyone who is prepared to believe that they really are fox droppings. However, I do not feel called upon to prove that there are no fairies in my garden. I have never seen or heard any, and I have no good reason to believe that fairies may be hiding around somewhere under the bushes. I certainly can't be bothered to look for them.

I hope the distinction is clear.

Toby Lewis said...

I think it would be nice, following YD, to give billst bashing a bit of a rest. My early morning criticism was mainly to try and calm trouble waters in that I think Bill has said some things that have hurt many people here and he seemed to blame it on herd thinking (although we are far less herd like than many). It also seems he may have been offended at other times. Atheists definitely do have a habit of proselytising against religion, for example. Bill, also, despite some idiosyncratic beliefs has some interesting things to say.

Why not have a mutual smoke of the peace pipe? I henceforth promise to take each person's arguments as they appear and call on everyone not to attack the individual but instead what they say. How about it?

zola said...

Pass the pipe please Toby.
Sorri I did not mean ..... you know what i mean you ole hippy.

anticant said...

I entirely agree,Toby. I've no wish to bash billstickers - let alone ban him. I simply ask him to take on board that even cyberphantoms can function in a good-tempered way without getting sucked in to what he may regard as a too-sickly mateyness.

I've been scattering olive branches around here, in the burrow and on Frank's site, so now it's over to bill.

billstickers said...

So, Toby, there you have it. It is impossible for you to prove that the world is not flat. Therefore, the question must be still open, no?

Actually, plenty of negatives can be "proved" (as far as we coincide on a meaning for that word). I can prove to the police that I wasn't at the crime scene yesterday, because I have plenty of eye witness to say I was out scoring love tobacco. I can prove I'm not a woman. I can prove I'm not a child. Etc. I can prove any negatives by proving the opposite. the only negatives I can't prove are those that have an unprovable opposite.

I can prove I'm not Frank Fisher, because he wouldn't just turn up the very day I left his site, now would...he..?

All belief has its built in opposite belief. In all things, having some knowledge of an issue, you either believe one thing, or you believe the opposite. Introducing degrees of belief doesn't work either, as all you would be doing was raising a new issue, with yeh believers and nay believers on either side.

So, Szwag etc., are wrong when they say that they don't "believe" God doesn't exist - that they only "refuse to believe He does". They, having some knowledge of the issue, must believe something about it. I say they believe God doesn't exist. Their stance is no more based on fact than mine. The absence of a billion Chinese in my living room does not mean they don't exist. I may claim that they don't exist because I have no tangible proof of their existence, but as most rational people would affirm, that would constitute solely a belief on my part. As it happens, I choose to believe they do exist - based on no more evidence than I have for the existence of God, hearsay.

I thank YD and Toby for taking the time to think things through, re the bashing. I'd like to continue contributing on this site, as it has produced some interesting threads (Why do the same individuals contribute differently on different venues? Does the site owner's standing/lead dictate behaviour?) I am willing to also promise to only respond to ideas, adding no superfluous judgements on the presentation of those ideas, etc.

I realise that some of my beliefs and/or theories may be seen as being whacko or, at least, grossly erroneous, by others. I happen to think that whackoland (a place a little beyond my reasoning faculty) is the forge of new and useful thinking. Much ends up (later) on the scrap heap, but occasionally a ploughshare of reason is produced. Those tools are transferred back into the faculty.

I believe the worst thing a thinker can do is try to deliberately think within his own reason. Everything is whacko until seen to be otherwise. Whacko examined under reason's microscope must be dismissed in short order - worse than in the Red Queen's court, sentence first, fullstop.

I believe the potential beauty of this medium to be that one may cast caution to the wind and think ALOUD freely, without losing the train of your real life personality, character or tradition. It's a Jabberwocky machine for bank managers.

Limiting thinking here is to limit the potential benefits of this medium, promised us in the information age. The only potential benefits of living at the crossroads of an international trade route was to make money or learn new things - the same as we have here. I believe learning and judgement cannot simultaneously take place. In order for any learning to take place, all judgement must be temporarily suspended until the information is past the eyes and ears. Anyone who has attempted to learn a second language in adulthood will know that acceptance of the "illogical" until the logic becomes apparent, is key. Anyone who remembers the learning to walk process will know why it's usually reserved for babies.

Real life limits us to teachers who are "qualified" in our judgement. Here we may lose that limitation and come to realise that "others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story."

That's not to say, however, that the dull and ignorant, or the eloquent and erudite, should not be questioned and tested. The only way to differentiate between new babble and new sense is to question it.

There is no place in this school for sentimentality, traditions, prejudice, feelings, deference, stone-writings, bronze-castings or petrification. We should be frank fishers on the banks of a flowing river of potential knowledge, drawing out and examining, before casting back or securing in our pouches. The greater the variety of catch the more the chance of broadening our palates, the greater the chance of survival and the richer our lives.

anticant said...

Oh dear, Bill, there you go again! It was the White King's court, not the Red Queen's. I would say "check your facts", but I'm damned if I know what a 'fact' is. Many philosophers seem to think they do, but I'm not convinced. A topic for a new thread?

Renewed thanks to Toby for sparking off what has proved, for me, to be the most interesting thread our lot have produced so far. Not only have we debated some important issues in a thoughtful way, we've also smoothed away [I hope] some of the personal grumps which have been impeding worthwhile discussion. [It's not where you operate, BTW, Bill - it's HOW you operate.]

Serious [but not too earnest] talk + playful banter = the Elysian fields. If you carry on like this, Bill, you may almost convince me that there is a desireable heaven.

anticant said...

billstickers: You say: "I am willing to also promise to only respond to ideas, adding no superfluous judgements on the presentation of those ideas, etc." That will be a nice change.

There is also one other promise which I think it is incumbent on you to make. It is of course entirely for you to choose on which sites you operate. But wherever you operate, will you please give an undertaking that the views and opinions you put forward in future are genuinely held by the real-life person writing as "billstickers"? Because unless you do I, and I am sure others, will be completely uncertain as to whether what you say is seriously meant, or merely put up as a provocative cockshy.

If it is the latter, I am not prepared to waste time debating with you. I am still completely uncertain as to whether the views you have expressed in previous exchanges about faith, God, and the nature of illness are your actual views or nothing but cyberbabble. If internet discussions are to be worthwhile, they should be conducted with sincerity, and not as a game of verbal ping-pong.

zola said...

Would our Wittgi claim that it is quite usual for chat-lines to make sense sometimes to many and yet, at the same time, pass each others in such a way that no solid connections can be made?
Just wondering.

billstickers said...

This will be the last time I try to communicate this. If you can't grasp it (no blame placed) I give up.

1. I am a real person. All uses of "I" and "me" below refer to me the real person. All other personal pronouns refer to real people.

2. I use a username = billstickers. I use it for purposes of anonymity and continuity.

3. I have opinions on many things. I also have beliefs and theories. I post regarding those three under the username of billstickers. I tell billstickers what to write. billstickers posts nothing without my express permission.

4. I have normal human emotions. They come in handy in real life. billstickers represents a subset of me that has no use for sentiment and social etiquette and that can operate without it. A shipwrecked, trying to survive alone, shaggy beard-growing, naked "me". Interactive Internet sites appear to be one of the few, if any, venues suitable for billstickers.

5. 4 means that billstickers doesn't let sentiment get in the way of truth-seeking. I think that's a good thing here, because it allows for more in-depth, free and productive discussion than is normally possible in real life, for me and probably you, what with its varicoloured human emotion running amok.

6. My rule for billstickers is that the normal real life rules of social etiquette do not apply. billstickers shouldn't go out of his way to deliberately offend, but when the choice comes down to truth-seeking vs etiquette, the former is programmed to win every time.

7. billstickers would function best in an Internet community that agreed with and adopted my point of view in this regard. We have no need of cyber etiquette or cyber sympathy. We can get those in real life. We should strive here for something that we can't get in real life.

8. No other poster is in any way bound to agree and/or adopt this policy, just as I am not bound to agree to and/or accept the policies of others, although I acknowledge the right of blog site owners to ban billstickers and I as they see fit.

9. If other people here decided to agree to and adopt the same rules as I have laid out for billstickers, for their usernames, they would necessarily withhold as much real life personal information as possible, at least where such information could be held to represent potential grit in an otherwise well-oiled truth-seeking machine.

10. In return, those usernames would be freed from tongue-tying etiquette as regards other usernames' opinions, beliefs and theories. In short, all would get to say what they mean without fear of offending anyone else. (If no real people were here, who could take offence?)

11. In lieu of withholding personal information (such as "I believe in God"), people could opt to allow their usernames to divulge certain personal details (hopefully in support of a point), in full knowledge that they would then be leaving themselves fair game for "being offended". They could avoid being offended by any subsequent "offence" by choosing not to be.

12. People would, of course, still be free to divulge less personal, personal details (such as "I have a dog named Stanes", or "I live in Macclesfield", etc.)

13. usernames would be free to use personal pronouns that all would acknowledge as referring to the username.

14. It's an experiment, a game, if you like, where real people may safely reap any benefits that a voluntary down-sizing of social mores would bring, without a) having to experience the concommitant disadvantages, and b) wholesale anarchy breaking out.

15. IF NOT HERE AND NOW, WHEN AND WHERE? This was your chance to experience what it's like to be a robot.

16. It's too late now, in any case, but that was the gist of the idea.

I'd be happy to hear from anyone who feels that there is more to be gained on an interactive Internet site by maintaining all real life social etiquette.

billstickers said...

For all intents and purposes (which represents the real reality), it was the Red Queen's court.

Or do you also think Saddam was tried by the Iraqis?

anticant said...

We can take it, then, that the points of view expressed by billstickers represent the genuine opinions of the real person? I am willing to transact with BS on that assumption, but not if what BS says - about illness, God, or whatever - is NOT the real person's standpoint. There can be no worthwhile discussion if you are just playing mental gymnastics.

Oh, and BTW, the Red Queen is in the other book. It was she who has to run faster and faster in order to remain where she is. Rather like debating with billstickers....

billstickers said...

I should have said the Queen of Hearts. Thanks for noticing that that was my most important point. Most would have missed that and concentrated on then philosophy. And I mean that most sincerely, folks!

How would you possibly know if even real people, in person, in front of you, were telling the truth about their beliefs? Who is genuine any more? Millions say they believe in God and their actions scream to the contrary - me included. Millions say they believe smoking causes cancer, say they don't want cancer, then smoke. I believe many real people don't even know what they believe.

zola said...

With respect : I felt a little frustrated at this post too. I wanted to try and contribute a little something here and there but failed.

Therefore i have tried to post on my site today one alternative to the Wittgi way.
Toby : I did not know what else to do as the main themes of your orginal post keep getting ignored.
But maybe this is what the "Ring" can do for the good. Maybe.

billstickers said...

Suggestion for a new thread:

Can a man be immortal?

At what point would he qualify for the title?

anticant said...

Red Queen? White Queen? A.E. Housman said "Accuracy is a duty, not a virtue".

I think sincerity is, too. Yet again you evade my question as to whether the opinions expressed by BS are those of a real-life person. Agreed, you can never be sure whether someone is telling you the truth about what they are thinking and feeling, but unless there is a modicum of trust all communication becomes pointless. You ask for plain speaking, so I must honestly say I don't really trust you. You are too clever by half. Slippery, in fact.

Merkin said...

Sometimes, I am reminded of one tale about Wittgenstein (as recounted by Steiner) :
'You know what happened on Wittgenstein's last birthday?
He was working at his desk. Mrs. B came in carrying a cake. She said, 'Many happy returns, Ludwig!'
He turned to her and said, 'I want you to think precisely about what you have just said.' She burst into tears and dropped the cake'.
That type of autistic disconnection from humanity is what we see with some people.
For certain, that is precisely what led to the disappearence of HeiGou on CiF.
Once 'It' was 'outed' it no longer held much interest for the majority of commenters.

Toby Lewis said...

To be fair on Witt, while I have often wondered whether he might have had asbergers or autism I think he was in general a very warm and loyal if some what crazy friend to his circle around him. Read Ray Monk's excellent biography about his life and sure you'd be convinced that he was a very warm and inspiring person.

As to the Anticant/Bill row, hopefully you both have put aside some differences. I tend to disagree with you about internet etiquette, Bill, (and I think this might be Merkin's point) I like politeness and find that often cruelty on blogs takes some of the pleasure out of it. A polemic does sometimes have value, but more often it serves to stifle discussion.

I find it sensible to express what you believe or at least an idea that you find tempting. I'm reminded of Dawkins' horrified appearance at a Cambridge debating to find a highly skilled and intelligent person defending creationism. Having had his arguments that God is a delusion spiked by this woman he went up to her afterwards and asked her whether she actually believed what she had to say. Her reply was "of course not, debating societies always function like this and you often need to defend a topic you don't agree with." The enraged and sincere Dawkins vowed never to attend again.

I guess this is a debate between whether the methodology of the sophists is a good way to go about things. It does seem valuable to at least understand that arguments we disagree with might have coherent defences in their favour, but I do quite like the Dawkins/anticant view that people should in general express what they think. So God, the tooth fairy, a flat earth and the fact we are all brains in vats are seemingly logically possible but why would you want to believe in them without any evidence?

Merkin said...

'I think therefore,.........that's good enough for me.'
Good comments, Toby, but I was probably being a bit more pointed than that.
No matter. Excellent blog which is a valuable addition to the melange (should that be melee?).
Congrats and happy New Year to you and yours.
PS I would have loved to have seen such a debate with Dawkins.

Jose said...

I can't but applaud Tobi Lewis's intervention with which I agree.

billstickers said...

I wonder, could I have explained my position any more clearly (or in any more detail) than I just did? As I mentioned, wherever the fault lies, I won't attempt it again.

Toby, I have no problem with the fact that you consider my ideas on this matter to be less than favourable. I don't claim to be right. I am open to argument that may help me to see it your way. What I've had for the last while, and what I'm strictly against, is attempts to coerce me to see the opposite view, based on some untenable "universal" morality and almost religion-in-power bullying.

If I decided to adopt your methods of Internet discussion, it would be after you had convinced me that more productive overall discussion would result. Not because you screamed that I was a bad man for daring to think differently (which of course YOU didn't).

What I do find though, is that few can lay out a coherent argument, logically explaining why etiquette is necessarily a good thing in even real society, never mind Internet semi-society. I refer to the practical results apparent in our actual society and not the sentimental wished-for, hippie-dream of a peace and love culture, which doesn't exist, and has never existed, on this planet.

Where has etiquette gotten us thus far in this world? Is it not, in fact, a form of dishonesty?

Again, while I'm not prepared to accept the consequences of a wholesale abandoning of real life etiquette (I fear that, perhaps, worse would result), is it really so bad to propose that the experiment could be carried out in an Internet "community"?

Another question that fascinates is why the most vocal supporters of a rose-coloured, cooperative and friendly society (that's not a trademarks, is it?) are also the most hostile and verbally beligerent? I tell you, it has an almost laughable religious patallel, incongruous in confirmed aetheists. Is it that that side of humanity has really nothing to do with religion, or theological issues, but must necessarily out. Could it be that religions, being essentially big clubs (NPI), provide a ready conduit for that psychlogical need to control others and inflict personal moralities on them?

billstickers said...

"So God, the tooth fairy, a flat earth and the fact we are all brains in vats are seemingly logically possible but why would you want to believe in them without any evidence?"

Nice list Toby. I'm sure you had no intention of offending anyone with it, and I'm sure you thought long and hard over the elements you added to it. Tell me though, what is less offensive about your stating your disbelief in the existence of God (and the Tooth Fairy) than my stating the same regarding the inevitability of illness? Is it possible that you offended some passing reader with your above list? Do you care? What does etiqutte require you do? Would you be prepared to retract it for the sake of harmony and people's feelings? My point is that you shouldn't and that anyone offended by your list should grow an epidermis.

Now, the nitty gritty.

Who says I have no evidence for the existence of the Tooth Fairy? Are you saying that because you haven't seen it, that it doesn't exist? Suppose some eminent scientists types told you that that entity existed. Suppose they told tou they had seen it through a very powerful microscope or telescope? Suppose they even let you have a look, informing you that that speck, or that shiny light, was, indeed, the Tooth Fairy? Should you then believe? Is it not true that you believe much of what you do believe simply because you believe what some people have told you, either verbally or in writing? Won't you agree that you base your beliefs on the standing of the people informing you of the "facts"? Isn't it true that you belief that anticant is ill, based solely on his testimony? Do you have a shred of real evidence on which to base that belief? Isn't it true that, in the absence of positive evidence you simply CHOOSE to believe what you believe, based upon your individual psychological makeup and NEED to believe certain things, in order to keep your personal world spinning?

If you prefer to claim (in the face of all evidence to the contrary) that you can't believe until you have been provided positive evidence, will you then admit that you do not believe that over 1 billion Chinese exist in China? Have you ever seen them? Has anyone ever seen them altogether in the same place, at the same time? How then can you say evidence of their existence has been provided you? Think now, what is the extent of your evidence pile as regards the existence of more than one billion Chinese in China? I'd guess a few news reports, perhaps (but not likely) directly quoting official Chinese government "sources".

Have you ever seen Mars except in easily fabricated photographs. I could draw you a planet in 5 minutes. Have you any evidence for the existence of germs. Actual evidence - not hearsay and theories? Have you seen a germ attack and debilitate a part of the human organism? How can you be sure Julius Caeser ever lived? Surely only becsuse some person, now dead these two milenia, wrote somewhere that he did and others copied that writing, let me say it: WILLY NILLY. You believe that Julius Caeser lived. You have zero hard evidence he did.

"...but why would you want to believe in them without any evidence?"

Really Toby, how could you even ask that question? The need for belief and the existence of positive evidence are obviously (for me at least) mutually exclusive. If I have evidence of the existene of something, I no longer need to (nay, I am no longer entitled to) "believe" in it's existence (to say nothing of my entitlement to disbelieve). It would then be a fact, not requiring of the action of faith that belief constitutes.

The ONLY things open for belief or non-belief are those things for which the individual has no evidence. I'm really sorry that I had to inform you of that here. I'd have thought thought you'd know what a belief was.

Additionally, (and once again), belief is a personal issue. If you and I both know there are clouds in the sky, does that make the issue beyond the realm of belief for the man born blind? He has to either believe or not believe in the existence of clouds. Evidence could never be provided him. The fact that we "know" makes no difference to his need for faith. The fact that he decides not to believe in clouds, despite the obvious proof of their existence, or fairies, despite the apparent dearth of visible proof, is his CHOICE.

Once more, the only thing not open to belief/disbelief, for the individual, are things for which evidence HAS been provided THEM. Where no evidence is available either way, individuals may quite rationally CHOOSE to believe or not believe. And that is true definitely in the cases of both God and the Tooth Fairy...and for most of the world's population, it's true in the case of a Flat Earth also.

Anonymous said...

Oooooh, he's getting excited.
In an empty room as well.

billstickers said...

And what was wrong with the "sincere" Dawkins that he had lived in this world and didn't know how a debating society functioned? And why all the tantrums. I'm pretty sure that, had Mr Dawkins ever found himself before a judge on serious (and well-founded) charges, he would be more than happy to hear his lawyer make an impassioned case for something he didn't believe in, in the slightest: his client's innocence.

I believe the parties are being reversed here a little, though. It is I who favour honest and sincere debate (although I can see immeasurable benefits to be gained from having to research the "other" side and argue it on occasion). It is anticant and others who would limit that debate to that which doesn't offend anyone else. Not quite preventing others from arguing that which they do not themselves believe, but, in effect, forcing them to stifle that which they do. It's the same difference for me.

Surely, the cardinal "sin" for any debater is to fail to present information vital to the success of his argument, out of some kind of misguided pity for his opponent? Would Dawkins have condoned that kind of conduct from the person charged with arguing the Non-Creationist side?

billstickers said...

"Oooooh, he's getting excited.
In an empty room as well."

And when it's four o'clock,
We climb the stair,
We never knock,
For nobody's there...

anticant said...

billstickers: I do not believe that you are a disembodied brain in a vat. Neither do you ["you" being the person typing the words which appear on my screen under the label "billstickers"]. It is not necessary for you [shorthand henceforth for the person typing billstickers' words] to pose as a disembodied brain in a vat in order to have a candid and useful discussion. I have never said that I do not wish you to "offend" me or anyone else. I have said that I sometimes find you unecessarily aggressive and offensive - which is quite different. This has nothing to do with "etiquette", which you seem to believe [quite wrongly] is a sort of mealy-mouthed blanket of bland sludge designed to smother the pure fires of argument. You think you can be as rude and deliberately nasty to anyone else as you choose, but when some of us tell you to lay off you whine that we are being "hostile" and "verbally belligerent"! What poppycock.

Nobody has attempted to "coerce" or "bully" you to see things differently. You have been requested to modify your cyber-manners, which is quite different. You are like these absurd Christians who are currently moaning on CiF that, because some of us believe strongly that democracy cannot exist without a secularist state holding the ring between different strands of belief, they are being "persecuted" by "totalitarians". What hooey.

Why do you persist in distorting my and others' arguments? You have gone to great - indeed, tedious - lengths here to set out and justify your idiosyncratic view of how people should conduct debates on the Internet, which you quaintly seem to believe is not part of "real life". I do not know why you affect to believe this, but I suspect it is so that you can absolve your real-life social conscience for the kick you get out of being rude and aggressive to people whom you are never likely to meet in person. Your "I am a cyberbrain without social obligations" pose is cowardly. It is also bogus, because it isn't true. it is, above all, boring to me and I suspect to most others who have waded through all your pseudo-philosophical bilge.

I had decided not to engage in debate with you any more, because I regard you as insincere. However, since you persist in dragging my name into your fantasy, and in misrepresenting my actual situation and views, may I point out that the "reality" of my long illness is attested to by medical files several inches thick, which Toby - and for that matter, you - are welcome to inspect if you dared to venture into my presence. By claiming that you are the only person operating here who has any integrity, and constantly calling mine and other peoples' into question, you vitiate useful debate. While you continue to adopt this absurd and meretricious posture, I shall not bother to debate any substantive issue with you. But I shall continue to attack your humbug, dishonesty, bad manners, and incorrect references to myself.

In my view, the best thing would be for everybody to leave you alone, roaming around your demented cyber-attic muttering to yourself like the mad Mrs Rochester.

Clouds, by the way, don't "exist". They are an optical perception on the part of individual cloud-seers.

billstickers said...

As I've said all along, anticant, I believe you're just looking for an argument. You are entitled to your opinions regarding what I think and what my posts represent, although, for the most part, I don't share them. What's boring is your obsession with me.

For what its worth, if a given democratic system appears to require changes, those changes should be decided by the PEOPLE, by plebiscite. If most want a nation run by the Pope, the Rev Moon or the Mullahs so be it. I'm sure you agree that's the only thing worth arguing for, as a democrat, on CiF.

billstickers said...

anticant: "In my view, the best thing would be for everybody to leave you alone"

Thanks anticant, I totally agree. Why not become the poster boy for that campaign?

anticant said...

What's wrong with looking for an argument? Aren't you doing that all the time? You are the Great Argumentifier.

And, of course, by saying that you conveniently once again evade meeting my repeated points: that you are a dishonest person who doesn't really believe the arguments you put up here. Until you undertake that billstickers will only post views which you - his creator - actually hold, why should I believe that anything you say is sincere or said for any other reason than to stir up controversy in which you can demonstrate your superior debating powers and biff other people?

If you find my determination to expose your bogusness "boring", that's your choice. It's in your hands to demonstrate your sincerity, by giving the undertaking I have repeatedly asked for. Until you do, I have every reason for thinking you are a phoney. And a bully.

billstickers said...

My name is billstickers and I'm an aetheist! I descended from a long line of ring-tailed lemurs. I know no "creator" and I resent your coming here and inflicting your deluded creationist beliefs on us.

My, my, where's Dawkins when you need him!

anticant said...

Evading the real issues as usual. And still can't spell.

billstickers said...

Okay, new post-Epiphany quiz:

I you had a year to live and you were guaranteed some degree of health and strength for the first 11 months of that year, what better ways could you think of spending the time you had left than constantly haranguing a cyberghost?

Toby Lewis said...

The standard definition of "knowledge" is generally felt to be justified true belief. That said, since Gettier (and Wittgenstein?) most philosophers have felt the demands of justified true belief are too great to provide any form of useful knowledge.

My point here though is that if you have a belief it can most certainly be about a fact and it is very rational to base your beliefs in the facts as you understand them.

Does testimony undermine our faith in our beliefs? I don't think so. When I hear that Godel's proof ruined the attempt to formalize mathematics I take it on hearsay because I don't understand it, but I'd still probably be very foolish to claim that formalizing mathematics (a la Russell) is possible without a full and working understanding of Godel's proof. So I believe that it is impossible to formalize mathematics basing that belief upon what all of the leading experts say. When evidence to the contrary appears I may need to reconsider that belief.

anticant said...

I am far from certain that I shall be alive in a year's time, and I do not have an adequate degree of health and strength now. What little I have is dwindling. FACTS. No sneers about "blubbering and self-pity", please.

I am not "haranguing" you. I am simply requesting you to operate in an above-board fashion - namely, by undertaking that opinions expressed by "billstickers" are either your genuine opinions, or else that BS says something like "I may not actually believe this, but just as a hypothesis and for the sake of argument let us suppose...."

I would be perfectly happy to deal with you on that basis, or to ignore you if the argument didn't interest me. But you consistently and persistently refuse to give that undertaking, which clearly indicates that you are not interested in having an honest debate, but only in point-scoring on your own terms.

As for "how do you know that 2 billion Chinese really exist?", how do I know that there is such a place as Iraq, and that the USA and Britain invaded it without a UN mandate? I've never been there, and for all I know the UN may be a figment of media fantasy. Come off it!

Toby Lewis said...

Sorry to hear that, Anticant, I hope the illness is not too grave.

Anonymous said...

I know that 2,000,645 Angels can dance on a pinhead.
Big deal.
What has that got to do with the price of fish?.
Yet another blog about 'how to....'
Complete with resident troll and a few others who rise to the bait.
Just where I need to stumble on a Sunday afternoon.

Toby Lewis said...

Welcome anonymous, I'm not sure what you mean by this being a blog about "how to...."? Is it that I'm teaching people how to philosophize? I'd rather like to think of it as a place for free-flowing discussion related to the varied topics I choose, with people who perhaps know far more than the landlord about the topic at hand.

I would also like the place to remain equally accessible to people who are not experts in philosophy, so if you're criticising how easy the topics are, my intention is to make the obscure clear and raise questions that might interest anyone.

Anonymous said...

Apologies, mine host.
The blog is excellent and deserves to do well. And will.
Was just disappointed to see a well-known troll given houseroom after his destruction of that formerly excellent site known as Pike's Palace.

anticant said...

How can we deny houseroom? The sensible thing to do is to withhold the oxygen of publicity. But when Thatcher did that to Gerry Adams, look where it got him.....

zola said...

Toby : Can there be an "expert" in philosophy or even a non-expert?

Plato said...

I am no expert, but........

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Anonymous said...

Our reality, that is everything that makes our/your reality is constantly being created/updated by a mostly unconscious and at times conscious internal narrative that we keep with ourselves. Or to put it in other words, we are constantly describing the world to ourselves. We are forever trying to make sense of our world.

This narrative, this self description, is done via our "language". And that language is not just our spoken and written one, althou it is mostly that, but any form of communication that we use be it images or emotions.

To elaborate on what I mean when I say it is mostly that, our spoken/writen language, you need to look no further than the reason why philosophy, humor and poetry are hard to translate while keeping the exact meaning and at times not doable at all. For example take something as simple as humor. Some jokes totally loose their "ha ha" quality when translated. One of the reasons is because language is very interwoven and symbiotic to the culture and conciousness of where it developed and grew and what may be perceived as funny in one culture, may not in another. In other words, different realities or understanding, hence different worlds.

Also, as the reality of our world changes so does our language.

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