Wittgenstein: Rethinking the Inner (Ideas)

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It is not an instrument endowed with a telos , an artifact presided by a rationality, whose operation falls under external control.

Works by Paul Johnston

Rather, it is nothing other than praxis : irreducible and heterogeneous socio-cultural verbal practices, in which we are immersed, and into which we are more or less continually being "reinitiated". Thus conceived, language has no interior or exterior : "it is not contiguous to anything else" Lectures It remains fragmentary and multiple, just as the human activities from which it cannot be separated.

It is of course, however, definitely rule-governed; only its rules are not like those rules of a calculus, of an abstract system that is logically prior to its own application. Furthermore, this angle favors the realization that to an important extent the words we use have no cause. And this in the following sense: contrary to a recurrent and widespread assumption in the history of linguistic thought, when we learn a language, we do not acquire a causal mechanism that, by pairing forms and meanings, allows for coding and decoding operations during verbal interactions.

As Nietzsche had put it much earlier but in very much the same spirit, "the genesis of language does not proceed logically", and the uses of words should not be thought of as regular and tangible effects of causal abstract entities supposedly held in the mind:. We call a person "honest. Our answer usually sounds like this: because of his honesty.

That is to say again: the leaf is the cause of the leaves. After all, we know nothing of an essence-like quality named "honesty"; we know only numerous individualized, and thus unequal actions, which we equate by omitting the unequal and by then calling them honest actions. In the end, we distill from them a qualitas occulta with the name of "honesty. The use of a word does not presuppose, thus, that we have a concept, Platonic or otherwise, to which it has previously come to correspond. Before using the word "honesty", one is not required to know what this word means over and above the different acts often outrageous acts that are accepted as honest in our social environment.

Knowledge of language is here know-how more than know-that : knowing the meaning of a word is no more than knowing how to go about with it, how to estimate, sometimes precariously, what it does within the intricate weave of our public activities. And we can know how to go on with a word into new contexts without having "the formula which determines the fresh occurrence", as Stanley Cavell has once put it Augustine's famous dictum gains metonymic value here: "What, then, is time? If no one asks of me, I know. Finally, thus conceived, language does not of course hold a marginal position in human affairs: quite the contrary, it is "the great Lord", as the sophist Gorgias had already realized so many centuries ago, just as so many philosophers and artists of our time seem to do.

Nothing other than this sharing of a form of life determines that we should call this sane , and that lunatic ; this beautiful, that ugly ; this horse , that zebra - this body , that soul ; this literal , that metaphor. Given the contemporary philosophical scene, this is hardly an extravagant perception. However, for the purposes of this work it is important to stress that in Wittgenstein's philosophy such a perception is entirely compatible with a sense of necessity - even if a special somewhat oxymoronic form of contingent or anthropological necessity. This view is of course prone to yield some distrust or disappointment.

As Cavell observes, it is "as if it is not really necessity which he [Wittgenstein] has given an anthropological view of ": once we realize that what we take to be necessary in a given period may alter, we may be tempted to view our human activities as the "mere manipulation or exploration of conventions" Yet, as Cavell aptly puts it, taking a Wittgensteinian angle means accepting that the realization that the "a priori has a history" does not change the fact that it is still "beyond our control", does not render it mere convention in disguise It can be said thus that, from this point of view, language has so to speak "demiurgic" powers - its effects are not merely rhetorical or political ; they are world-effects , in the sense that anything in the world always offers itself already infused with our language infused activities: each object in the world is less a substance in itself and more a mute inventory of human actions pervaded by words, narratives.

Language is not thus an instrument designed for the description of states of affairs; rather, to a certain extent, it institutes them. Our ontological, epistemological and moral partitions are not represented in language, they are forged in it. And the fact that language is not here a system - not even a Whorfian one - but rather a multiple, volatile and ultimately ungrounded form of life lends these qualities to all these partitions.

This does not mean, however, that they are merely conventional partitions - they can be and often are quite necessary and coercitive. At this point, we can turn to the more specific topic of this article: how are we to conceive of the relationship between metaphor and the body from a Wittgensteinian angle? To begin with, it is important to let go of the desire to probe for any essential meanings behind these two words - to renounce the wish to find the body in itself behind the word "body", metaphor in itself behind the word "metaphor".

It may prove useful to ask ourselves here: do we use these words knowing what they mean - in themselves? Let us begin with "body" and its satellites. The very fact that words related to the body are so very often seen as vehicles for metaphor may be taken as a sign that their meanings are specially well-known, or in any case sufficiently given to function as grounds for figurative projection.

As we have seen, this perception appears indeed to be inevitable whenever the body is assumed as a source for the metaphorical, be it in discourses that take bodily experiences as the ultimate "literal" ground of knowledge and language, be it in anti-foundationalist discourses that make the case for the ubiquity of metaphor. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that he did see bodily metaphors as occasionally liable to figure amongst the dangerous "traps" that, according to him, "language sets everyone" CV 18e. The pervasiveness of bodily metaphors in Western?

Glock Such is already the case when we imagine two different kinds of worlds, "worlds built of different materials; a mental world and a physical world": we may then be inclined to think of the mental world "as gaseous, or rather, aethereal" BB, But, Wittgenstein suggests, however gaseous or aethereal we take it to be, we still conceive it as a world , a realm inhabited by entities susceptible to be disposed in states , undergo processes , participate in events - all of them just like their physical counterparts, only hidden and more mysterious.

While leaving the nature of this "spirit" undecided, such bodily metaphors commit us, however, with a particular way of looking at the matter. To begin with, they help drawing what Hans-Johan Glock's has aptly phrased as an "iron ontological curtain" between the inner and the outer, separating the literal exterior domain of concrete objects and bodily activities from the figurative interior "land" of their supposed abstract and mental counterparts Furthermore, these metaphors incline us to think of the mental as a realm of entities and activities that, however gaseous or aethereal, are still autonomous - that is to say, exist in themselves away and apart from language, culture, history.

Now, we have seen that, from a Wittgensteinian point of view, not even what we call the physical world enjoys this sort of autonomy and separateness: for the verbal and the non verbal are for the philosopher mutually constitutive. The perception to Wittgenstein, misguided that the physical is given without the filters of language and culture is solidary to - even dependent on - the equally misguided idea that language is essentially a system of representation of some exterior order. And the traditional perception that the mental is just as autonomous and exterior to language as the physical is supposed to be has certainly something to do with the mental being conceived as no more than a gaseous version of the physical thus understood.

Every sign by itself seems dead. What gives it life? Is life breathed into it there? In the characteristic style of the Investigations , Wittgenstein enacts a dialogue between alternative views viewers of language.

Wittgenstein on the Self

As it is also typical, he explores common situations or experiences that may prima facie speak for the image of language he means to undermine. If one comes upon, say, a Chinese ideogram and does not know how to read Chinese, then the sign, by itself, is likely to seem dead to this person.

Now this talking of signs as being "dead" or "alive" may lead, or mislead, to different metaphorical projections. One path that Wittgenstein seems to both elicit and discourage is that of taking articulate sounds - or in this case ink marks - as a sort of perceptible outer , something like a body, that if alive harbors an invisible inner , akin in turn to a soul or mind.

From this perspective, meaning may perhaps be conceived as an accompaniment , as something that co-exists with the material word, just as the soul may be thought to co-exist with the material body. This metaphorical conception of words as bodies may also favor the impression - for Wittgenstein, the wrong impression - that meaning is something that has to be endowed to words, "breathed" into them by some sort of autonomous entity, say, a mind, capable of performing internal acts of meaning during verbal interactions PI , , , ; see also Hacker 76 ff.

For it urges us to consider the possibility that the reason why a sign by itself "seems dead" is precisely its consideration away and apart from the stream of life where it belongs and from which it remains inseparable. Accepting Wittgenstein's invitation here, we may perhaps be inclined to acknowledge that what one needs to "revive" the Chinese ideogram is not access to any abstract entity that it supposedly accommodates, say, the "breath of life" within it.

What is lacking rather is the ability to use it; and use here is itself the sign's whole and only possible life: in use, so to speak, the sign breathes, lives, but without having life or breath within itself. In other words, the sign is used without standing for anything, without being a perceptible surface to an imperceptible depth.

Now what is noteworthy in this deconstruction of the metaphor through which language appears as exterior material body coupled with in terior immaterial life is that it seems to go hand in hand, in Wittgenstein's thought, with the deconstruction of precisely those already mentioned bodily metaphors for the so-called inner life itself.

At a certain point in the second part of his Investigations , Wittgenstein states that "the human body is the best picture of the human soul" II In what strikes me as a very insightful reading of this passage, Stanley Cavell renders it as an attempt to replace or reinterpret "the myth of the body as a veil", a myth that "expresses our sense that there is something we cannot see" And whatever it is that we supposedly cannot see is often taken to be hidden within the body, or else by the body. When Wittgenstein says that the human body is the best picture of the human soul, he is thus undermining or at least shifting the veil mythology: the body no longer conceals, but rather reveals.

As Cavell aptly points out, though, it does this revealing "not primarily because it represents the soul but because it expresses it" , my emphases. The difference is difficult and subtle, and there are many occasions where Wittgenstein grapples with it. A notable example is found in his Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology vol. In general I do not surmise fear in him - I see it.

I do not feel that I am deducing the probable existence of something inside from something outside; rather it is as if the human face were in a way translucent and that I were seeing it not in reflective light but rather in its own. In what sense is the human body the best picture of the human soul here? Not in the sense that it represents it - rather, it expresses it. The human face is not an "outside" reflecting light from an "inside" - it glows, so to speak, with its own light.

Wittgenstein urges us to acknowledge that what we see is not some outer bodily configuration that, once recognized , leads us to surmise something going on inside, in the mind or soul. We already see a face in fear - a living human face is never mere body without soul , it is never "expressionless". As Cavell puts it, the body is "condemned to expression, to meaning" Cavell So, under this perspective, whatever the mind or soul are, they are not contiguous to and hence not separable from its bodily manifestations - they are in this sense open to view.

How do we know or recognize that someone is in fear, or pain, or pleasure? Well, from a Wittgensteinian point of view, a central part of this ability will have to do with the place of the words "fear", "pain", and "pleasure" within our practices; it will have to do with our ability to use these words. That particular sort of facial expression is part of what we call "fear". But, one might object, is that all? Isn't the use of such words, the ability to assign them to a physiognomy, based on something else, something prior?

Isn't our knowledge of what fear is , as a private experience, precisely that which enables and determines the uses of the word "fear"? How can this possibly be open to view? With this argument he sets up to show that even there the filters of our language infused public and cultural practices remain necessitating. Let us consider one of his favorite examples, the case of "pain":. For how can I go so far as to try to use language to get between pain and its expression? What seems to be challenged in this passage is, to begin with, the assumption that language serves as an instrument to mediate between an experience and its manifestation.

If we conceive of language as such an instrument, we may be inclined to think that the experience, say the sensation of pain, has to be converted into an autonomous representation before it can be the object of linguistic manifestation: this frame of mind indeed favors the belief that "one has to get the sensation apart from its expression" Cavell Underlying this perception is of course the tacit assumption that the function of language is to represent: a cry would be an inarticulate non linguistic expression of pain; language, on the other hand, could only come about once this experience had already been somehow "domesticated" into an internal representation of some sort - the meaning of the word "pain" must then be independent of the expression of pain Hacker 28ff.

It must be a notion that is built upon supposedly direct experiences that make themselves present to our cognitive equipment without the interference of language and culture. Wittgenstein questions this supposition: do we in fact domesticate the experience of pain?


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Is this a precondition to the use of the word "pain"? Wouldn't it be plausible that language were here just another way to behave in face of the non negotiable experience of pain, another way to express it? Why should representing or describing be the nuclear impulse for the emergence of language? Could it not be simply the impulse to express a condition, a pathos , not a logos? The philosopher invites us to entertain the possibility that the very identity of pain - the very possibility that the word "pain" makes sense to us - depends on its place within the complex fabric of a form of life: the identity of pain, any meaning the word might have, depends less on the "brute" sensation and what would that be?

The list of possibilities here cannot be reduced, but the fact remains that "pain has this position in our life; it has these connexions. Someone might object: "And yet you again and again reach the conclusion that the sensation itself is a nothing. It is not a something , but not a nothing either! The Wittgensteinian approach does not deny, thus, the sensation per se , but just the idea that it has to be converted into a something , a stable cognitive result, a notion belonging to an immaterial, or in any case, language independent realm.

Whatever pain is it is what we call pain - "there is no assignable end to the depth in us to which language reaches" Cavell What Wittgenstein seems to metonymically suggest with these thoughts about pain and other sensations is that the body does not offer itself to cognition in the position of a founding and unmediated reality: its identity is given, rather, by its position in the complex and volatile web of a form of life, which is culturally and linguistically determined.

The body cannot found this web, when it has itself a position within it. So the fact that our language is fraught with bodily metaphors does not correspond to our actual capacity to perceive or grasp the body in itself , as a given. We do not say sentences like these out of knowledge of what such words as "body", and "soul", and "me" mean in themselves.

If the body is the outer , and the mind or soul, the inner , then, as Stanley Cavell puts it, "nothing is closer than the inner and the outer And this goes for the relationship between words and meanings too - from a Wittgensteinian point of view, there is no room between a word and what it means, that is to say, between a word and its uses in the stream of life where it belongs. So if it might prove fruitful to conceive of language as having no interior or exterior - to acknowledge that "it is not contiguous with anything else" -, it might be just as promising to renounce thinking of body and mind as "neighbors", as dimensions that are in some sense contiguous to one another.

Now the question is: where does this leave us with respect to the notion metaphor and its place within explanations of language?

Works by Paul Johnston - PhilPapers

As it should be clear by now, under the viewpoint explored so far, the autonomy of thought and experience with respect to language is radically denied. Metaphors are thus neither mere linguistic ornaments with no impact in thought and action, as tradition has it, nor occult thought operations that are merely represented in the tangible surface of language, as some contemporary theories seem to hold. What is it then? From a Wittgensteinian perspective, metaphor cannot be a superconcept, a philosophical superlative; what it is will ultimately have to do with what we call metaphor.

We should begin by acknowledging then that the distinction between what we call "metaphor" and what we call "literal" enjoys an important position in the stream of our Western? And we should accept further that the identity of the metaphorical, as well as that of the literal, will also be given by their position and by their connexions within these practices.

Wittgenstein III

Suppose we are confronted with the following statements: a life is the period of time between birth and death; and b "life is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing". If asked which one tell us what life literally is, we shall feel inclined - even coerced - to answer a ; in b , we should recognize perhaps admire Shakespeare's metaphor. Our choice here shall not, however, be caused by an unmediated access to the real intrinsic meaning of the word life - it will have much more to do with the position held by what we call "literal" and "metaphorical" in our form of life, with their connexions to the relative positions occupied by what we call "science", and "art", and "fact", and "value", and "understand", and "interpret", and so on and so forth.

But we should also acknowledge that these relative positions are not logically necessary in the traditional sense - however beyond our control they may be felt to be, however anthropologically necessary they indeed are for us. No matter how inevitable such oppositional pairs are in our life, nothing prevents us from imagining with Nietzsche, for example, that their internal hierarchy might be subverted or inverted, as was perhaps the case in "ancient Greece, [where] the intuitive man handles his weapons more authoritatively and victoriously than his opponent Or even to imagine with Vico, a civilization that lacks the very distinction or opposition between the literal and the metaphorical.

And what does all this tell us about the nature of the studies of metaphor and of its relationship with thought and body? Does this non foundationalist take on metaphor render these studies void or uninteresting? Not at all. To accept Wittgenstein's offer surely implies that the focus is kept on language, taken not as a system but as an irreducible and multiple set of socio-historical practices. It recommends, further, the adoption of a descriptive attitude, a deflation of explanatory ambitions - of the wish to answer essentialist questions such as What is language?

What is thought? What is metaphor? What is the body?

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The potentialities of such "deflated" descriptive studies are to my view extremely auspicious, all the more auspicious if generalizing metaphysical aspirations are kept under control. The often so very telling descriptive results achieved within the framework of the Conceptual Theory of Metaphor ever since its inception in the 80's speak very loudly for themselves. This theory is, as we know, part of a broader epistemological enterprise - variously termed experientialism , embodied realism , and, more recently, second generation cognitive science 5.

And this intellectual movement is, as we know, centered on a programmatic and vigorous rejection of traditional versions of foundationalism - a rejection that is indeed so comprehensive that one might think it is, in many respects, hardly different from the Wittgenstenian critical path just described above. Indeed, Wittgenstein is explicitly acknowledged among the authors that inform and inspire experientialism cf. Lakoff There are however a number of irreconcilable differences, some of which are more or less blatant, other less conspicuous and yet equally consequential.

Perhaps the most obvious difference is that experientialism is after all a foundationalist framework - even though it claims to be and, in many respects is indeed, a radically new and improved version of foundationalism. Whatever the case, the rhetoric of discovery and unveilment so often adopted by authors of this persuasion leaves no doubt of their foundational commitments:.


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The mind is inherently embodied. Your complimentary articles. You can read four articles free per month. To have complete access to the thousands of philosophy articles on this site, please. Ludwig Wittgenstein should have left an indelible mark on our understanding of the mind, but sadly his approach is often misunderstood. Too many accounts of his views on the subject expressly attempt to locate them on a grid of contemporary positions within the philosophy of mind, for purposes of comparison. Importantly, he reminds us throughout the book that Wittgenstein did not wish to deny the Inner, or our concepts thereof, but rather he wanted us to focus properly on its role in our lives.

Because of the nature of his project, Johnston tends to focus on passages and remarks from Wittgenstein that are less well known and not frequently discussed in the literature. Just as our shared capacity to appreciate, understand and find meaning in music is grounded in this kind of kinship so too is our capacity to recognise what is expressed in psychological language. But, one might ask: Is this a book designed solely for Wittgenstein aficionados? I think that Johnston does great service by showing the threat that Wittgenstein poses to the questionable assumptions inherent in much philosophy of mind and cognitive science.

The book also highlights potential limitations with the Wittgensteinian approach. For example, Johnston notes that for Wittgenstein the idea that we have experience of objects is logically prior to the idea of experience itself.