Tractatus 2.02, 2.0201, 2.021, 2.0211, 2.0212

•April 18, 2012 • Leave a Comment

2.02 The object is simple
2.0201 Every statement about complexes can be analysed into a statement about their constituent parts, and into those propositions which completely describe the complexes.
2.021 Objects form the substance of the world. Therefore they cannot be compound.
2.0211 If the world had no substance, then whether a proposition had sense would depend on whether another proposition was true.
2.0212 It would then be impossible to form a picture of the world (true or false).

The first three remarks seem straightforward to me (as much as anything can be straight forward in the Tractatus). Objects are atomic, they have no parts. What objects are is still mysterious. I will let Wittgenstein do his work with objects, as I feel i will wrap myself up in knots if I try to unravel the concept (as odd as that sounds). Objects form the substance of the world. This is not a metaphysical statement (keep repeating the mantra). Is it like this: objects form the logical substance of the world? This is the only way we can speak about the world, because the world contains objects of logical importance?

I’m not sure about this. Especially with the fourth remark here. This remark has plagued me. It is completely opaque to my understanding. If objects make up atomic facts, how could there be propositions at all without substance (objects). in remark 2.01 we learn that an atomic fact is a combination of objects. Given this, without objects there would be no atomic facts. IF there are no atomic facts, how could there be propositions? The harder question: how could their sense depend on other propositions at all? perhaps I’m missing a distinction between atomic facts and propositions. How are we to understand propositions in the Tractatus? How are propositions and atomic facts related? What true propositions would there be without substance? Or is that just the point, that there are no true propositions without substance?

The last remark seems to confirm my suspicions about objects and propositions. We could say nothing true nor false about the world without objects. What the world would be without objects, I don’t know. As I journey down the rabbit hole that is this work again, I am left with many such questions still.

Paschal Joy

•April 16, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The last month or so this blog has been abandoned. I found myself lacking philosophical motivation. Lent is always hard on philosophers. I don’t realize the deep connection between what my body takes in and how my thoughts operate until I deprive myself of certain foods. Thoughts become muddy and sluggish. I struggle to make it out of bed in the morning, let alone think deeply about the world. Now, the Paschal fest is upon us, and my joy has been returned. This year away from my friends, my family, and my fiance has been a new, unique struggle for every aspect of my life. I am being tried to my foundations. I feel I have gotten some of my hope back now, for The Lord is risen. I am eating the foods I deprived myself of, and my strength is returning. I am keeping the feast, and it has reinvigorated me. I feel I care about my work again, where before I felt myself slip into apathy. I hope to continue my Tractatus project, as well as reading through PI. Also working on my writing sample for a Phd program. I hope my laziness will recede the closer the deadlines approach, and I pray I have what it takes.

Teaching Relativism

•March 11, 2012 • 2 Comments

One of my professors overheard my method for teaching relativism in an intro to ethics class. He encouraged me to write a short paper outlining the method and try to publish it, since he thought it was a good idea and had never heard of it before. This is the first draft of the attempt. Any comments would be appreciated.

Teaching Relativism

One of the biggest hurtles of Introductory Ethics classes is relativism. The students are tempted to abandon the ethical project all together, considering “right and wrong are relative” (and in the way many freshmen characterize that statement). Those coming into a course with such a view will be unwilling to engage with the material. I find that setting aside classes specifically to loosen the attachment to relativism is worthwhile for getting the ethics project off the ground. I present a new way of loosening this attachment to relativism.

                My strategy involves getting the students to think about why they are attracted to relativism. I ask them, “why would someone be a relativist; what attracts people to the view?”. As students give me reasons, I write them on the board. After this is done, and the students are satisfied with the list, I take each reason or attraction and show them they can be a moral absolutist and still hold on to the reasons that attract them to relativism. Notice the strategy of this way of teaching. The professor no longer sets up claims and then knocks them down, but the students give their reasons (or the reasons one would have) and then come to realize they are not incompatible with moral absolutism. The attractions of relativism are therefore deflated. Once this door is opened, students become much more ready to engage in ethical debates. I would now like to present some commonly held attractions to relativism that students have brought up and how they are handled.

                One reason is “I no longer have to judge or condemn anyone”. I show them that just because we say another is wrong, does not mean we condemn them or judge them. I show them that this happens often in many debates, political and otherwise. Students often think that if someone has reasons for doing what they do, they can say nothing about the morality of the act. If we do claim that one’s act is wrong, we must condemn and judge them. I let them know that just because one has justified reasons, it does not mean we must claim the justified reasons are right. We can see what their reasons are and still disagree without judging or condemning. We often disagree and say that another is wrong about their view, but we are not forced to judge them or condemn them because of this.

                Another attraction is “I don’t claim moral authority over others”. The concern stems from a misstep from moral absolutism to having a monarchy on morality. The students will say “how can you be so sure you are right?” or “who’s to say what’s right?”. They find it arrogant to think that they have the truth and others do not. I let them know that moral absolutism does not commit one to knowing the truth of morality, but merely that there is a truth. They students link up the epistemological problem of morality with relativism. If I don’t know what the truth is, I must abandon the truth and say there is no truth. I show them that this move is not necessary and contrary to moral absolutist thinking. I let them know that this is the project of ethics, to find the truth as it pertains to morality. There is debate here, and rightly so, but that does not mean we should abandon truth. Moral problems are hard, and we disagree, but that does not mean there is no truth to the matter. Disconnecting the epistemological problem of ethics with relativism relieves the worry that one must know what the truth is to be a moral absolutist.

                I close the class by presenting what we lose when we are committed to moral relativism. I appeal to their intuitions to do this. I show them that we are often tempted to say other cultures are wrong, even given a relativistic viewpoint. I show that if we are committed to saying someone is wrong, we can say nothing morally about Nazism . If we are relativists, we are forced to say it was right for them. Since most students overwhelmingly agree that the Nazis were wrong full stop, this strategy helps students to see the attractions of moral absolutism. I try to show them that the consequences of holding onto relativism are far too great to endorse the view.

                My overall strategy of this method is to show moral absolutists, in the end, believe that there is a truth to moral concerns, questions, and problems. Most students believe this commitment forces one to a particular moral view, and this has bad consequences. Once the students see that moral absolutism doesn’t outright lead them to problematic views and commitments, they are much more eager to engage in the material. I show that what attracts them to relativism can still be held as a moral absolutist, and this is something unexpected and welcomed by students. 




Thoughts on physicalism

•March 10, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I’m currently taking a class that aims to explore the question: “what is physical?”. This class has made me think about metaphysics and the role this question has in it. I find it more and more to be a strange undertaking, and one that should be questioned. I realize I can no longer write papers the same way most others do, my thoughts are too scattered. In prepaeration for the paper, I’ve started outlining my thoughts on the matter. These are what I have so far:

-if mental properties were fundamental properties, would the mind-body problem disappear? No, since the mind-body problem is not about the incompatibility of the two properties, but is about their relationship. Even if mental properties are explained by science, the question of their connection is still not answered

-What if we answered what physiclaism is, what would it do for us? It owuldn’t solve any problems, it wouldn’t do much for us philosophically. What is the motivation for answering the question “what is physical?”

-Is physicalism a a priori or a posteriori claim? Answering this question is key, as it changes what our theory looks like and is supposed to do.

-Is solving the physcialism debate a matter of empirical exploration? Much like discovering the properties of an acid?

-If we posited a theory of physicalism that did not include beings like angels, and there ended up being angels, is physicalism false?

-if we posited a theory of physicalism that included trees, and science determined that trees did not have the properties that made something physical, do we now say that trees are not physical? Or have we gone wrong with our theory?

-If I point to something and say “that’s not physical”, have I contradicted myself?

-It seems philosophers are divided about how to approach physicalism. Some philosophers involved in the mind-body problem simply state a theory that subsumes the mental properties into physical properties (typically brain states or x-fibers firing). The question “what is physical?” is never addressed, it is glossed over. Does this mean these philosophers are sloppy because they did not address what the physical is? Other philosophers seem to want science to explain everything. They posit a physicalism that is rooted in the empirical sciences. This seems to have a different agenda all together. Are either one of these ways of approaching physicalism wrong? Is either right? Or is there no truth about the matter?

-Are implicit assumptions about the physical built into all theories about physicalism? Do we reject a theory of physicalism when the theory clashes with our intuitions? We don’t want our theories and our intuitions to be at war with each other.

-Is superposition a physical property? There is a question as to whether quantum physicists has gone wrong when they talk of particles being superposed. If our mathematical and empirical theories that support and determine physics end up merely showing the limits of empirical experimentation (statistics, etc), what does that say about physicialism?

-if the scientific method fails to give us what we want (truth), then what do we say about physicialism? Can physicalism still be rooted in the sciences? Or is physicalism simply false?

-physicialism in a metaphysical mode looks different than one posited in a scientific mode. It seems we must chose what mode we want our theory to be in.

-what do we say when our empirical theories have gone wrong? Dowell: What to say, then, with the discovery of what came to be called ‘hydrochloric acid’, a substance now recognized as an acid and which fails to contain oxygen? We could say that ‘‘acid’’ changed its meaning slightly so as to include in its extension certain oxygenless substances such as hydrochloric acid. But another possibility is that the original chemists were wrong in thinking that they held A a priori. It turned out that there was a way the world could turn out to be that was by their lights such that there were oxygenless acids; indeed, the actual world is one such way. The correct way to describe this scenario is as one in which what chemists thought was impossible, that something should both be an acid and fail to contain oxygen, is possible. The important distinction that the acid example illustrates, then, is just this distinction between believing that one holds a claim a priori (or a posteriori) and holding it a priori (or a posteriori). A diagnosis of the intuition behind the NFM [no fundamental mentality] constraint is that its treats the incompatibility between fundamental physicality and mentality as a priori, when it is in fact a posteriori.” (Dowell 44)

-Why should we be concerned with their being no fundamental mentality? Red is not a fundamental property, it can only be instantiated in shades of red. Am I some kind of color “shadiest” if I hold this view? I think I’m merely describing a relationship between two properties.

-Again, the question that bugs me: why do we care about what is physical? What does it solve?

-Will physicalism ever help us explain anything?

– Dowell constructs a theory of physicalism in a scientific mode. What would it look like to construct a theory of physicalism in a metaphysical mode? Is such a project possible?

-How would one go about refuting Dowell’s view? Wouldn’t be something like, “this theory doesn’t do what we want it to.”? Doesn’t the question, “what is physical?”, hinge on what we’re trying to do wioth the answer. Note that saying “Because I want to know what is physical”, doesn’t help us here. What are we trying to do with our answer? Notice if I say “because I want to know what exists”, already posits a theory we have yet to determine. IF I say something like, “I want to know what the body is in the mind-body problem”, it seems I have said something crazy or nonsensical. How can I not know what the body is?

-Another answer we might be seeking is something like “I want to know what is fundamental”. Again, why are we trying to figure this out? Given there is an answer, what would the answer do for us philosophically?

-Would any theory of physicalism determine that mental properties don’t exist? If it does, would we believe the theory?

-Why do we think we can posit what is physical and done anything significant?

-Look at how physicalism came about in the history of philosophy. It was a response to Cartesian dualism. Descartes said that the physical and the mental had to be different types or kinds of properties. Physicalism posited that the mental is connected to the physical, or is determined by the physical. How does positing what is physical help us with the description of the relationship between the mind and the body?

-Again, it seems the philosophers involved in the contemporary debate wan to do something different with their theories of physicalism. The question is what that is. If the theory yields nothing useful for philosophy, why would we posit it?

-If souls exist, and there was no way to prove this empirically, is physicalism false? Why do I want to say it isn’t? What do I commit myself to if I do believe souls exist and physicalism is true? I think I merely commit myself to a particular way of looking at the mind-body problem. Outside of that context, the theory holds no meaning.

-Wittgenstein’s family resemblances looks like the only way to help cash out the “what is physical” question and still be satisfactory. The problem is that the answer is now non-codifiable, which is exactly what the physicalists are trying to avoid.

-Nothing hinges on the answer to the question “what is physical?”. The question “what is large?” comes up with the same problems the former question does, and the answer wouldn’t be of any real importance. We merely have marked off some descriptions in our ontology.

-What if the answer ended up being “nothing”. Where would that put us?

-What if the answer ended up being “everything”. There would be many more questions to answer here.

-If we come up with an exhaustive list of properties that are physical, have we answered the question “what is physical?”

-If I say “these things and only these things are physical, now we can move on”, how I done any metaphysical work? Isn’t this merely a linguistic thesis that clarifies the word “physical”? Why is this not a satisfactory approach to answering our question?

-One philosopher stated, “the physical is what is spatially and temporally located”… Why was this view rejected?

-Hempel’s dilemma only comes up when we try to tie physicalism to the posits of physics. Would it be incorrect or misguided to disengage with the project of tying physicalism with physics? If so, why is that the case?

-If our project is to come up with an exhaustive list of criteria for the physical, then our answer would always meet with exceptions or be arbitrary. It wouldn’t do any kind of work for us, it would be a linguistic thesis.

-Is any answer to the question a metaphysical answer? Are we saying something about metaphysics? Have we “discovered” something about metaphysics?

-If I found an object in the world, does it make sense to ask the question “Is this physical?”, and to then check over my list of criteria to see if it satisfies the list?

-I suppose I have my own presupposition: metaphysical theories should help us solve metaphysical problems. I think this must be the case, for what would metaphysical theories be for other than solving philosophical problems?

Tractatus 2.014 and 2.0141

•February 29, 2012 • Leave a Comment

2.014 Objects contain the possibility of all states of affairs
2.0141 The possibility of its occurrence in atomic facts is the form of the object

I have one word written in the margin next to these passages: “Leibniz?”. At first glance there are some interesting parallels here. There also seems to be a contradiction between the two remarks. How can objects contain the possibility of all states of affairs, and at the same time be limited in its form? How objects contain all possibilities isn’t made clear here. We now have, however, a new concept: the form of the object. The form of the object is the limits of its possibilities. Every object has its place in atomic facts, and the full account of those places will give us the form of the object. An object cannot be spoken of beyond its possibility in propositions. Like Witt. says in the intro, it’s not as though we could draw a limit to thinking by stepping over the bounds of what is possible to think. Similarly, we cannot talk about objects outside of its place in possibilities (and by extension, propositions). All of the possibilities of the object says something about the object.

Tractatus 2.0131

•February 29, 2012 • Leave a Comment

2.0131 A spatial object must lie in infinite space. (A point in space is a place for an argument.) A speck in a visual field need not be red, but it must have a colour; it has, so to speak, a colour space round it. A tone must have a pitch, the object of the sense of touch a hardness, etc.

I’m not sure what to say about the first two sentences here. Witt. already made his point with space and objects, logical possibilities and atomic facts, I don’t know what this adds. The parenthetical remark is the most mysterious one here. Maybe lines like this are the reasons the logical positivist movement got off the ground. A way of cashing out that line is to say that arguments can only be made about points in space (existing things). That can’t be right though. Witt. talks about logical space far more than he talks about “spatial” space. The set of all atomic facts must have some logical atomic facts as a subset (or do they? He questions this later). Working through the 2’s is hard when we know some of what’s ahead.

Tractatus 2.013

•February 27, 2012 • Leave a Comment

2.013 Everything is, as it were, in a space of possible atomic facts. I can think of this space as empty, but not of the thing without space

Another tip of the hat to Kant? Wasn’t Kant doing metaphysics? Absolutely. Witt. makes an interesting parallel between the way we see the world and how logical propositions work. Just as I can’t understand tables, chairs, and bottles without time and space, so I cannot understand a logical object without an atomic fact. This is a connection I missed the first time through (a thorough seminar on Kant didn’t hurt). Witt. will drive the connection between words and propositions into the reader over and over. Here it comes out in terms of things and atomic facts, but the connection is easy to see. Logical possibilities map out the limits of our language. Again, this will be refuted in PI. Logical space is replaced with language games.

Tractatus 2.0124

•February 27, 2012 • Leave a Comment

2.0124 If all objects are given, then thereby are all possbile atomic facts also given

If everything is given, every single possibility is also given. Since the possibility of an objects place in atomic facts is already prejudged in the thing, all the objects map out all the logical possibilities. Objects give us what is possible. What does this mean for language?

Tractatus 2.01231

•February 27, 2012 • Leave a Comment

2.01231 In order to know an object, I must know not its external but all its internal qualities

A mysterious remark. What kind of distinction is Witt. trying to make here? What is an external quality of an object? What is an internal quality of an object? Why did the previous remark require this further clarification?

Tractatus 2.0123

•February 27, 2012 • Leave a Comment

2.0123 If I know an object, then I also know all the possibilities of its occurrence in atomic facts. (Every such possibility must lie in the nature of the object.) A new possibility cannot subsequently be found.

I have two comments written in the margin of my text (from last year’s reading). The first is “deep sense of know” after the first sentence. The second is “how is independence being used here?”. The second comment refers (most probably) to the previous remark (2.0122). I suppose I’m wondering about the connection of 2.0122 to 2.0123, what does independence have to do with possibilities? Are “things” and “objects” interchangeable here? Ambiguities like this make Ogden’s translation difficult at times.

The parenthetical remark is the most interesting to me here. Again, metaphysics seems to rear it’s head. We’re talking about an object’s “nature”, something the Greeks spent a large amount of time invested in. Yet again, I must be reminded Wittgenstein is not doing metaphysics here. He’s talking about logical possibilities and their connection to atomic facts (propositions?). he also seems to be making an epistemological claim. Is this a reference to Frege’s law as well? If I “know” an object (a word?), then I know all of it’s uses in every possible way? Or maybe Witt. is referring to rules governing objects. The nature of the object defines how and where it can be used. All of those possibilities are already prejudged in the thing. If this is right, Witt. certainly revokes this idea in PI. Objects are not confined by logical space. That thought has PI casting it’s shadow backwards on the Tractatus, which I will try to avoid here, but it’s an interesting thing to keep in mind.