« Putting My Contingency Into English: Are There Legitimate Non-Epistemic Uses of 'Might'? | Main | Necessity and Contingency Within the Sphere Not Affected by Human Volition »

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


I venture to suggest that you have misread the above quote. Suppose I am late for a gathering with friends. Suddenly I fly through the door and announce to the party, "I am here." Clearly, this has a use that is determined by the situation: namely, they are impatiently waiting for me and I announce my presence. In the same way, when you suggest to another that there is some unrealized possibility, you have already determined the use of the statement, "I am here," in relation to the possible counterfactual. So LW essentially agrees with you here. What he has in mind is, say, a conversation between two individuals about the weather during which, in the middle of the conversation, one person exclaims, "I am here.” This statement in such a context stands in need of determination. Such a context may appear when the other (bewildered) individual asks what he means by this expression. But what happens here is that the one who made the proclamation determines the use by further explanation. Perhaps it was you and me speaking and suddenly I say this statement. You, knowing that I enjoy a good philosophical discussion, take me to be signaling a discussion of spatial determination (here you have determined the meaning by giving it a use).

Think of the section of On Certainty where LW and Moore are speaking in the garden and Moore assures LW that “There is a tree.” Someone else comes by and looks at them as if they are insane. Wittgenstein replies, “Oh no, we are not mad. We are just doing philosophy.” Presumably, LW is saying that such a response gives the individual the necessary determination to make sense of what is going on.

Likewise, your cave analogy is faulty. Suppose we are talking about life after death and you ask me if you will be able to swim in heaven (presumably because you greatly enjoy doing so). LW’s point, and a point that Peter Geach echoed time and again, is that such a question does not make any sense. The meaning of “swim” is determined by its role in our language. The use, itself, suggests the presence of a body while your postulated further existence suggests that there is none. This is Aquinas’ point too when he suggests that if his soul goes on to exist without his body, then he cannot be said to go on to exist. The problem with the analogy then, is that it continually uses spatial terminology throughout. LW replies, “Well, if you did not understand the meaning of ‘outside of the cave,’ then you have simply not grasped how outside and inside are used.” You may reply that of course these individuals have grasped the use, but they have done so only cave-imminently. But can’t this problem be remedied by the postulation of analogical reference? It is not a stretch to imagine that once one person in the cave exclaimed, “Let’s go outside,” the other would ask what he meant by this. Through further explanation it would become clear that outside was no longer being used to refer cave-imminently, but was rather retaining its (cave-immanent) meaning while analogically referring to cave-transcendence.

I wonder if you have happened to read John O’Callaghan’s excellent book, Thomistic Realism and the Linguistic Turn? I ask because you continually suggest that ordinary language philosophy presupposes logical positivism. O’Callaghan, on the other hand, believes that you can find “meaning as use” in Aristotle and that, essentially, ordinary language philosophy presupposes an Aristotelian essentialism. Anyway, read it or not. I just thought I’d offer a recommendation.

i too have an opinion. i just need to go and eat but i will be back.

Right Bill,

I think what we must remember when considering the mind of Ludwig Wittgenstein is he, really before any others (at least clearer than others), distinguished our language as ambiguous, and our use of this ordinary language is hindering our philisophical advancement. I completely agree with our man on this rather ''face-value'' aspect of his work.

So using his most basic principle as a catalyst to analyse the quote, his motive or rather his purpose, in that quote, becomes a lot clearer.

''the words 'I am here' have a meaning only in certain contexts.'' LW cannot be faulted in this example for reasons i will explain. Splitting up the phrase into 2 - 'I am' and 'here.'
'I am' implies one is being, one is a being of their mind and body. I am a human being for example. I am ringing you etc.
Now,'here' has connotations relating to the present day, not even that but the present continuous. Right now, in other words. Well, I say that but even my understanding of the word, and the accepted understanding of the word, has been contorted through meaning. We now use 'here' where it is not appropriate.
For example, a husband says to his wife during an argument, 'I am here for you'. What? The husband is saying that he is physically there, he is physically ''being there'' for her (excuse the phraseology but such are the limits of this language...) But is this what the husband meant? Of course not. He wants to be supportive of her. His meaning of the phrase is to show almost an abstract meaning. This is where LW goes horribly wrong in his general intellect. Slightly off topic, LW states how language is the only way to express our emotions, otherwise our emotions have no existence. He of course, was new to such emotions as love. Surely, people feel something like love, surely it exists, even if people don't compact that feeling into language. LW, a logical positivist, does err around this subject.

But as LW says, when a person says 'I am here' and the person is in front of the recipient of the words, the words cannot be taken out of context. There is no ambiguity there as my friends who replied first points out.
But when we use the phrase for situations such as 'I am here for you,' we are being quite mundane and ignorant. I am here is in present continous so only when we mean we are actually going to ''be'' in that place (not some fictional, abstract place) can we use it. Otherwise, as Robert says, we have to further justify the expression to give it legs and remove total ambiguity.

It is an endless debate that LW embarked on but vital nevertheless. Language has limits that result in us being unable to determine the actual meaning of words.
' I am here for you' may sound perfect in context of the husband and wife situation but in terms of language, it is errored.

And by the way, the cave analogy is interesting but it reminded me of Plato's cave. I don't know if it was an intentional link, i can't see the relevance. Unless, you mean the physical world and then the sensory world.

Thanks though anyway. I hope to have been of help but i do realise my response has been rather too focused on one aspect of the quote.


I am not quite sure you have adequately represented LW in your response. First, there is the fact that LW consistently denies that the personal pronoun (as well as the first-person inflexion) does refer to oneself. Anscombe later elaborated and defended this view in her essay "The First Person" (1975). So the "cogito ergo sum", for instance, is faulted on account that the conclusion, i.e., "I am," is meaningless. Now this is obviously a very contentious suggestion and one that many have been quick to challenge; however, whether or not one agrees with it, it will be evident that LW would not approve of such a dissection of the statement "I am here."

You follow this by an analysis of the term "here" taken in isolation from the grammatical role that it plays in our language and conclude that we now use it in a way that is inappropriate. This is exactly the view of language which LW is disagreeing with. You are assigning a definitive meaning to "here" apart from how it is used in our language. Then when you find it used differently than the meaning you assigned to it, you claim that this is inappropriate. This is more akin to the Tractatus then that latter-Wittgenstein.

You then conclude that paragraph as follows: "This is where LW goes horribly wrong in his general intellect. Slightly off topic, LW states how language is the only way to express our emotions, otherwise our emotions have no existence. He of course, was new to such emotions as love. Surely, people feel something like love, surely it exists, even if people don't compact that feeling into language. LW, a logical positivist, does err around this subject."

Nothing could be further from the point. He never once claims that language is the only way to express our emotions and even goes to great lengths to show that such an idea is ridiculous. "For the best image of the human soul," he says in the Investigations, "look at the person's face." His whole discussion of pain is in an effort to rid us of this dualistic image of the inner and outer and the idea that only language can express what one feels. In other words, the husband need not say anything in your example. He may just grab his wife's hand and kiss her forehead.

You then close by saying, "Language has limits that result in us being unable to determine the actual meaning of words." Here again you are thinking of the meaning as something that hovers around the word, exists alongside it, a picture in the head to which language maps on, or similar ideas. This is everything the LW speaks against and I do not know how someone could have read the Investigations and think otherwise.

I apologize if this comes off harsh, but I just do not see your reading of Wittgenstein to be at all credible.

Robert, i will get back to you but its been a long time since i studied LW and his philosophical investigations, so i will try and recollect my thoughts and reply back.
P.S no offence taken towards the criticism.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 10/2008



January 2023

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31        
Blog powered by Typepad