Saturday, March 18, 2006

Overheard in a bar

'I worked with him a few years ago and he was always trying to convert me to Islam. It would drive me mad. Finally, I said "So you believe that when I die, I will go to hell and suffer eternal punishment, and so will my wife, and so will my two beautiful daughters". He thought about this for a bit then said "Yeah. But let's not let that get between us as mates"'.

A similar thought, isn't it, to this "The Roman Catholicks are certainly the most zealous of any sect in the Christian world; and yet you will find few among the more sensible people of that communion who do not blame the Gunpowder-treason, and the massacre of St. Bartholomew, as cruel and barbarous, though projected or executed against those very people, whom without any scruple they condemn to eternal and infinite punishments. All we can say in excuse for this inconsistency is, that they really do not believe what they affirm concerning a future state; nor is there any better proof of it than the very inconsistency." (Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, I. iii. 9).


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Being and Nothingness

Too good to keep off the internet. A companion piece to Dens of Robbers.

"The reflective nihilation, however, is pushed further than that of the pure for-itself as a simple self-consciousness. In self-consciousness, in fact, the two terms of the dyad 'reflected-reflecting' were so incapable of presenting themselves separately that the duality remained perpetually evanescent and each term while positing itself for the other became the other. But with reflection the case is different since the 'reflection-reflecting' which is reflected-on exists for a 'reflection-reflecting' which is reflective. Reflected-on and reflective, therefore, each tend toward independence, and the nothing which separates them tends to divide them more profoundly than the nothingness which the For-itself has to be separates the reflection from the reflecting. Yet neither the reflective not the reflected-on can secrete this separating nothingness, for in that case reflection would be an autonomous for-itself coming to direct itself on the reflected-on, which would be to suppose an external negation as the preliminary condition of an internal negation. There can be no reflection if it is not entirely a being, a being which has to be its own nothingness. (Sartre, Being and Nothingess, Pt III c1. , 4)

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Hobbes and Ockham on ordinary language

There are two approaches to ordinary language philosophy, one represented by Hobbes, the other by Ockham. According to the first, there is no problem at all with ordinary language. The apparent difficulties are the result of meaningless technical language (in Hobbes' day, the Latin of the schoolmen), designed for the defence of what is really absurd and untrue. According to the second, the problem is ordinary language itself, which is systematically misleading. Thus, Ockham argues our propensity to believe every name is the name of something is the source of all philosophical error (Summa Logicae 1.51)

Wittgenstein represents both views. In his polemics against mathematical logic and set theory, to be found in his mathematical writings of the early 1930's and in the Remarks on the Foundation of Mathematics, he takes the Hobbesian line. '"Mathematical logic" has completely deformed the thinking of mathematicians and of philosophers, by setting up a superficial interpretation of the forms of our everyday language as an analysis of the structures of facts. Of course in this it has only continued to build on the Aristotelian logic'.

At other times, he takes an Ockhamist approach. 'A clever man got caught in this net of language! So it must be an interesting net. ' ' Human beings are entangled all unknowing in the net of language.' ' In philosophy it's always a matter of the application of a series of utterly simple basic principles that any child knows, and the – enormous – difficulty is only one of applying these in the confusion our language generates.'

See here for all the Wittgenstein quotes.


Dens of robbers

Here is a passage from Locke, in a similar spirit to Hobbes, and with the same ingredients. The gibberish of metaphysicians, contrasted with the solid good sense of the statesman, the businessman and the 'contemned mechanic'.

"For, notwithstanding these learned disputants, these all-knowing doctors, it was to the unscholastic statesman that the governments of the world owed their peace, defence, and liberties; and from the illiterate and contemned mechanic (a name of disgrace) that they received the improvements of useful arts. Nevertheless, this artificial ignorance, and learned gibberish, prevailed mightily in these last ages, by the interest and artifice of those who found no easier way to that pitch of authority and dominion they have attained, than by amusing the men of business, and ignorant, with hard words, or employing the ingenious and idle in intricate disputes about unintelligible terms, and holding them perpetually entangled in that endless labyrinth. Besides, there is no such way to gain admittance, or give defence to strange and absurd doctrines, as to guard them round about with legions of obscure, doubtful, and undefined words. Which yet make these retreats more like the dens of robbers, or holes of foxes, than the fortresses of fair warriors: which, if it be hard to get them out of, it is not for the strength that is in them, but the briars and thorns, and the obscurity of the thickets they are beset with. For untruth being unacceptable to the mind of man, there is no other defence left for absurdity but obscurity."


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Hobbes: Ordinary Language Philosopher

"There is yet another fault in the discourses of some men; which may also be numbered amongst the sorts of madness; namely, that abuse of words, whereof I have spoken before in the fifth chapter, by the name of absurdity. And that is, when men speak such words, as put together, have in them no signification at all; but are fallen upon by some, through misunderstanding of the words they have received, and repeat by rote; by others from intention to deceive by obscurity. And this is incident to none but those, that converse in questions of matters incomprehensible, as the schoolmen, or in questions of abstruse philosophy. The common sort of men seldom speak insignificantly, and are therefore by those other egregious persons are counted idiots. But to be assured, their words are without anything correspondent to them in the mind, there would need some examples; which if any man require, let him take a schoolman in his hands and see if he can translate any one chapter concerning any difficult point, as the Trinity; the Deity; the nature of Christ; transubstantiation; free-will, &c., into any of the modern tongues, so as to make the same intelligible; or into any tolerable Latin, such as they were acquainted withal, that lived when the Latin tongue was vulgar. What is the meaning of these words, "The first cause does not necessarily inflow anything into the second, by force of the essential subordination of the second causes, by which it may help to work?" They are the translation of the title of the sixth chapter of Suarez' first book, "Of the concourse, motion, and help of God." When men write whole volumes of such stuff, are they not mad, or intend to make others so? " (From the Leviathan)