Wittgenblogging: Proposition 3.5

Peter’s all caught up on the Wittgenblogging, and pretty close to outstripping me. I’ll admit I haven’t started on the fourth proposition yet; the third sort of took the air out of my tires, and besides that I’ve got a list of philosophy texts I want to read that’s thiiiiis big. But I will get to it soon; this week, hopefully.

Anyway, Peter raised some issues with my last post on the subject that I think I should address.

For example:

First, I would hesitate use “mental pictures,” as the litmus test for the logicality of a statement. There are plenty of statements that I can not picture, but that are almost certainly true. Examples of these include, “People with synesthesia can taste music,” “Bees can see ultraviolet light,” “When in a state of dreamless sleep, you experience nothingness,” and “The universe is infinite.” I can also picture things that, while I guess they don’t contradict logic, are physically impossible*. For example, I can imagine ashes burning.

Peter may be right here, but I think he’s actually being a little over-literal when it comes to the idea of “mental pictures.” While you might not be able to take a literal snapshot of how a synesthesiac (that’s a word, right?) perceive music, you can certainly imagine what it would be like to experience a certain coppery taste when one hears a high C-sharp. I think that when Wittgenstein talks about mental pictures, he just means imagined sets of data that it is within our capability to perceive.

As for the ashes burning thing, I think Peter’s right there. “The ashes are burning” is a phrase that obeys a certain logical form, and you can imagine how one might perceive it. As a result it has some truth value (likely negative). 

Peter also writes:

Second, Wittgenstein directly says, “It is as impossible to represent in language anything that ‘contradicts logic’.” Language is inherently logical. A statement may be meaningless, but it can never be illogical. Therefore, when somebody says “We are all one, because spirit is everything,” they are speaking a logical statement. I think that Ned is confusing the colloquial idea of “logic” with the philosophy of language idea of “logic.”

Right. The “spirit is everything” example clearly obeys the form of a logical statement. When I suggested that it doesn’t express anything, I meant that I have no idea how one would form a mental picture corresponding to that sentence. I think the spiritualist would tend to agree, arguing that these things are beyond our perception — but I think the Tractatus Logic-Philosophicus goes a pretty long way towards establishing that if there’s no faculty we can use to perceive something (even with artificial enhancements to our perception), then it’s unlikely that we can legitimately call it a part of the world.

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