Notes on the Brown Book (Part I, Remark 48)

[…] whether a word of the language of our tribe is rightly translated into a word of the English language depends upon the role this word plays in the whole life of the tribe; the occasions on which it is used, the expressions of emotion by which it is generally accompanied, the ideas which it generally awakens or which prompts its saying, etc., etc.

Remember at this point that the personal experiences of an emotion must in part be strictly localized experiences; for if I frown in anger I feel the muscular tension of the frown in my forehead, and if I weep, the sensations around my eyes are obviously part, and an important part, of what I feel. This is, I think, what William James meant when he said that a man doesn’t cry because he is sad but that he is sad because he cries. The reason why this point is often not understood, is that we think of the utterance of an emotion as though it were some artificial device to let others know that we have it.

disclaimer: I may be committing a philosophical sin by taking Wittgenstein out of his work and commenting on quotes. Consider these notes sketches or scribbles, something you would find in a notebook. I find Wittgenstein wholly gripping and unbelievably frustrating, maybe this will relieve some tension.

Wittgenstein is committed to the fluidity of words. That is, a word does not have a definition and is rooted in that definition. Words have a life about them that is not fenced by their definition. They are flexible beyond measure. The first quote reinforces that idea, and becomes important in understanding translation. When we think of someone translating a word into another language, we might think something like this: someone looks up the definition of the word in the base language (say English) and then translates the definition of the word into another language (say French), using the corresponding words to the best of the translators ability. That, however, does not communicate the life of the word to the page. As a matter of fact, the life of the word can only be lived out in its use. A word cannot be understood on its own, understanding does not come from knowledge of a definition. The word must live.

This is related to the second quote, where we can make the same mistakes with our own thoughts and emotions. A kind of reduction-ism is being battled on two fronts. Wittgenstein understands language and emotion to have a kind of life that is not able to be reduced. the facial expressions of my sorrow are not the effect of my sorrow, but part of my sorrow. It makes up part of the emotion itself. Wittgenstein is also always trying to blur the train of thought typically associated with our expression of language. He doesn’t like the idea of a ‘this then that’ kind of cause and effect between our brains, thought processes, and the actions we take. The expression of a thought is thinking. It seems like some kind of metaphysical argument, but Wittgenstein does not mean it to be (I am often tempted to think so). He is showing us something human, not something metaphysical. He is showing that we are not reducible to a brain or to a simple cause, it is more complicated than that.

This shit is hard.

~ by Barky on August 18, 2011.

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