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The Scientific World-Picture - A Response to thewalkindude

This is something I originally typed in response to thewalkindude in a discussion on a post I wrote about the transgender movement. It came out quickly that what I don't like in that phenomenon is its use of what I called the “scientific world-picture.” Walk gave a thorough response to my attacks on the scientific world-picture, which he referred to as the “scientific worldview.” Here I present my response to him, dealing mostly with the issue of the scientific world-picture and only parenthetically mentioning its relation to the transgender movement.


There's a reason I chose the term “scientific world-picture” and not “scientific worldview” (though I did allude to the latter). The way we characterize this phenomenon matters; the picture we use in characterizing it matters. (I hope, in addition to explaining what I mean by “picture,” to exemplify what I mean by the word in my descriptions) A picture in the ordinary sense – contrasted with a viewpoint – is not something that is, in any straightforward sense, true or false. A picture -can- picture something, yes, and if it's a photograph of a pair of shoes, you can see it (picture it!) as “asserting” that a pair of shoes sat in a particular place at a particular time, and hence as something either true or false. But even a photograph isn't usually spoken of this way, and a painting of a pair of shoes certainly is not. Pictures have all sorts of uses, assertion being at best a rare and subsidiary one. And the same picture may have many uses – a picture of a pair of shoes may be art, or a depiction of the type of shoes I want (though I don't mean I want the very same pair as the ones in the picture), or a depiction of the kind of shoes -not- to wear on certain formal occasions, etc.

The term “picture” comes from Wittgenstein. He wants to -picture- our language as a virtually endless collection of “language games,” activities with words that each have their own rules, though many (like chess and checkers) may overlap quite a bit. And many language games also utilize a “picture,” a sort of implicit way of viewing things that draws the language games that use it together into a sort of gestalt, gives a unified sense of the “point” of those language games. A good example, to go back to it, is our language games of talking about psychological phenomena like thoughts, emotions, etc. We “picture” psychological phenomena as “inner,” but we implicitly understand that this could only be metaphorical since they are not within some boundary (such as my skin) as opposed to being outside of that boundary. We say things like “Outside of me everything is calm, but inside I'm scatterbrained and nervous,” “The answer to your questions is found within,” “Deep within herself was a determination not to let her family down,” etc. Wittgenstein calls this “the picture of the inner.”

Now here you will recognize that the scientific world-picture goes against the grain of the picture of the inner. This is one of many reasons to take a second look at the scientific world-picture, since, as I'm suggesting (though I don't think I got this point across the first time), it wants to -identify- psychological states with brain chemicals, not just assert that the former depends on the latter (a point that I consider so well-established that it's beyond dispute). If you listen to the media or to how people talk and handle various kinds of question in general, you will find that they implicitly assume that, e.g., if I'm running to get a “runner's high,” what I'm “really” (the word “really” is important here) chasing is a set of chemicals, perhaps endorphins, perhaps (just in time for the CBD hype!) endocannabinoids. (If you don't believe me, here's an example: If I'm enjoying intimacy with someone I'm “really” chasing oxytocin, the “love hormone.” Books abound on these issues, and scientific studies are taken to prove their conclusions – but the assumption that these various psychological phenomena just -are- chemicals and nothing more is not usually made explicit.

Just think of what this would mean if “taken to heart” (the metaphorical use of “heart” might belong to a picture - maybe) : it would mean that I would be able to give the “location” of my emotion in my brain (not in the sense that we say that sadness is in the heart!), and it becomes mystifying what role subjective experience has in emotions, since the presence of a chemical in my brain is an objective, third-person phenomenon. I can be wrong whether there is oxytocin in my brain, but it makes no sense to say in the same way that I can be wrong that I'm in a good mood. A good mood is a first-person experience.

So people don't take so naturally to this idea – truly absorbing it, and dropping the picture of the inner, would radically change what we do with words for psychological phenomena, and it's hard to see how the vast and complex purposes to which we put those words could even begin to be achieved if they are taken as synonymous with words for brain states. I think perhaps a lot of people just take both the picture of the inner -and- the scientistic (not scientific; scientistic – see next paragraph) identification of psychological states and chemicals and assume that the contradiction is a mystery that smarter people either understand or will understand in time. But I want to say that the two are just straightforwardly incompatible.

The scientific world-picture evolved out of the Enlightenment period and belongs to what is sometimes called the Age of Reason, as opposed to the Age of Faith (the medieval period). It takes scientific investigation to be the method of determining the answers to pretty much any important question, scientific or not. (This is sometimes called scientism.) So whether we are talking about why my dog is whining at me, why people seem to have an inherent sense of right and wrong, what the origin of society is, why “men are so ugh!” or “women are so urgh!”, these questions are brought to the “experts” (another key term) for adjudication just the way we bring questions of ant physiology and the effect of gravity on the tides to the experts. We might even imagine that in almost every arena of life we have pictures of the scientist and the expert in the background the way churches have images of saints on each stained glass window surrounding the sanctuary, and we instinctively look to them to tell us what's “really” going on.

This picture is not confined to scientists. We all have it - myself included. It's not something we choose but something we're brought up on, something that helps create the background against which we think and act. This is not to say that it is 100% operative – the pictures it has tried to displace have often remained somewhat intact, as I pointed out above. But by and large I think it does carry the day, and it is deeper in us than we usually realize.

Take the issue of the dominance of nature. The people you allude to - “those without this view” who “tend to see nature as 'put here for me to do whatever I want with'” - also have the scientific world-picture in the background. I'm going to assume (correct me if I'm wrong) that you mean political/social conservatives who perhaps object to what they take to be the “scientific worldview” on the basis of their (putatively) religious beliefs; this is not a case of genuinely objecting to the scientific world-picture. Religious conservatives will often use the methods of science to try to justify their objection to the “scientific worldview” - that's what Intelligent Design and Creationism are. They also want to use the related methods of historical investigation and harmonizing historical accounts with apparent contradictions (the Scriptures) in order to remove inconsistency in these accounts. This movement as a whole misses the striking irony that it is assuming the standards of the very thing it's trying to attack. Rather, I attribute the dominance of nature to the scientific world-picture in general, and it was partially a result of (and partially perhaps resulted in) the increased capability -to- dominate nature as it emerged in the Industrial Revolution.

As for the issue of my projecting the inheritance of a picture onto people for whom the description doesn't apply, here again I feel you're misunderstanding me. I'm not claiming that this inheritance is something transgender people “do” any more than you and I “did” it in being born and raised in a world in which this picture functions as a pivot and hinge upon which all of our thinking swings.

As per the nature of the issue in question, I'm not trying to offer a solution to a problem but to point at the picture and get us to notice that it -is- a picture, to notice that there are other options, and to notice that a picture is not justified or unjustified, and hence that scientific evidence does not weigh in and force any reasonable person to accept it. World-pictures are not justified by evidence; whether what counts as a satisfactory answer to a question is scientific evidence, or something else, is set by the world-picture. The difference here is between moves in chess (questions the -kinds- of satisfactory answer to which are already presumed and in the background) and deciding to play chess or checkers (deciding to adopt different world-pictures with different -kinds- of criteria for satisfactory answers to questions).

Take the case of natural laws. That gravity is a natural law is a question for science; whether or not there -must- be a natural law governing phenomena even when we can't seem to find one, is not. How would it be decided? We know how to decide whether or not gravity is a natural law – how do we decide whether -all- phenomena abide by natural laws, even if we never find out what they are? What experiments would you perform? What observations would confirm or disconfirm it? The belief that the universe is governed by natural laws is not a belief within a world-picture (a move in chess) but belongs to the world-picture itself (the rules of the game of chess). When a belief is utterly unfalsifiable even in principle, think of it (picture it) as belonging to a picture, not as a belief or hypothesis.

But the scientific world-picture turns back to the world-picture that preceded it (the religious one) and -pictures- it as a sort of primitive attempt at science. It tends to see the ancient Greeks in believing that the sun was pulled by Helios in his chariot, “primitive” tribes in performing rain dances, medieval Christians in believing that bread becomes the body of Christ, etc. as scientific hypotheses, except that no evidence seems to be given, no studies done, and the scientific method seems to have been ignorantly flouted at every turn. This is a bad picture. Rather than thinking of whatever does not play by the rules of the scientific world-picture as a failed attempt to do science, think of these phenomena (picture them) as behavior belonging to a different world-picture entirely.

The picture of the earth as our home, of the givens of our existence - like the male/female duality, birth and death (transhumanism revolts against the latter), some unavoidable measure of disease and suffering, the human body, society (and some unavoidable measure of imperfection in it), etc. - as belonging to our "fate" and not as impersonal stuff the transcendence of which is not of any absolute consequence, this primarily pre-Enlightenment, pre-Industrial Revolution picture is not true or false - and neither is the picture of nature as an impersonal set of forces that "doesn't care." (And why say "doesn't care"? Isn't that subtly repeating the picture of nature as personal while intending to reject it? We don't say a stone "doesn't care," but we do say that of an apathetic human being. For a stone, the space of options in which "caring" and "not caring" appear just doesn't open up at all.) Once we become clear about pictures, it becomes clear that we're free to choose our pictures, on a cultural level. That's what I want to get across.

Hanfling on "Family Resemblance" Concepts

"But is there a definite set of features, x, y and z, in terms of which the word [game] can be defined? What do all games have in common, in virtue of which we call them 'games'? According to Wittgenstein, the meaning of a word cannot be captured in this way; and we should not assume that such definitions are either available or needed. 'Don't say: "There -must- be something common, or they would not be called 'games'" - but -look- -and- -see- whether there is' (PI 66). ... 'we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing' but no essential set of features in virtue of which they are all games. The situation was that of a 'family resemblance'.

... It is sometimes thought that in speaking of family resemblance Wittgenstein had in mind a rather special class of concepts (family resemblance concepts), which are characterised by a certain vagueness or 'open texture'. ... But to view the matter in this way is to underestimate the scope of Wittgenstein's remarks.

... There is also the point that this relation affects a given concept several times over, so to speak. Consider the features mentioned by Wittgenstein in connection with games, such as amusement, skill, and luck. It is true, of course, that many games have these features in common, and they may indeed be given as reasons for calling something a game. But we must also remember that these features, in their turn, are characterised by family resemblance. Thus Wittgenstein reminds us of 'the difference between skill in chess and skill in tennis' (PI 66). ... What is involved in skill or amusement will depend on -which- game is being described.

A similar point arises in speaking of games versus activities other than games. Wittgenstein mentioned winning and losing as one of the characteristics of games (though not shared by all). But these features, again, must be understood in a sense appropriate to -games-. Losing a game, for example, is not like losing an umbrella or losing one's temper; and winning a game is not like winning a court case or winning someone's confidence.

... A similar point may be made about colours. ... Thus, 'Ginger Rogers has red hair. [Yet] if there were a coat of exactly the same shade of colour as Ginger Rogers' hair it would not be a red coat.' And similar points may be made about 'white coffee, white wine, black grapes, red cows, auburn hair, yellow hair, white men.'"

- Oswald Hanfling, "Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy"

On "Religion" and "Superstition"


The Oxford English dictionary defines religion as "a particular system of faith and worship," and as "recognition on the part of man of some higher unseen power as having control of his destiny, and as being entitled to obedience, reverence, and worship." ... This is one of those definitions that can only be properly understood if we already know and take for granted that which is being defined. ... Properly understanding the definition requires, to begin with, being clear about -how- the object of worship is being spoken about. ... The object of worship is not -unseen- in the sense in which electrons are unseen, nor is He -higher- in the sense that would open up the question whether He is higher even than Mount Everest ... To understand how the words "unseen" and "higher" are used here -is- to understand that they are used in a religious sense.

It might be thought that this problem could be avoided if we start out by simply describing the sorts of things believers do, but in fact the problem recurs here. In order for the description actually to constitute a description of a religious practice, the terms it contains would have to be understood in a religious sense. Thus, the sense in which that higher being is -entitled- to obedience, reverence and worship is not to be spelled out, say, in legal (or even moral) terms; furthermore, the question of what it is to -obey-, to -revere-, or to -worship- such a being cannot be understood on the model of a private obeying his commanding officer ... In other words, with respect to all the central words in the OED definition just quoted, we will not be able to understand them in the relevant way unless we already bring an understanding of religious language to our reading of them.

All in all, then, it doesn't seem possible to give an account of what a religious form of life amounts to in non-religious terms. Unless we were people who took this way of speaking to heart, who "found themselves in" these ways of speaking, there would be no such thing as religious language or the understanding of it. ... Talk of God and of the reality of God can only have life in connection with a way of life involving the religious practices of worship and prayer.


For a belief to be superstitious in the secular sense means, roughly, that it is treated as grounded in evidence even though it is never in fact put to the test or confirmed by experience (e.g. the belief in divining rods). … However, when the word “superstition” is used in a religious context, it seems to be connected with the idea of something being alien to the spirit of faith, even a cheapening of the faith. To be guilty of superstition in the religious sense is to be guilty of religious confusion.

There is an understanding of petitionary prayer on which it can be seen as an expression of religious confusion. I would suggest that the operative idea in this context is the notion of testing God's benevolence. Where prayer is the spontaneous expression of fervent hope, praying for a favorable outcome of events need not be superstitious. What would turn prayer into a matter of superstition would be the presence of an element of calculation, such as telling oneself, “It seemed to work before, so let's try prayer again,” or, “I know prayer never worked before but let's give it one more try.” Perhaps it could be said that for prayer to be genuine means that it is not chosen as one among a range of alternative methods for reaching a goal. It is an expression of one's unconditional faith in God, and the proof of the genuineness of that faith is the fact that it is impervious to adverse experience. For someone to be superstitious in the religious sense is a form of human shortcoming. It is to take up a frivolous or superficial attitude toward holy things, to be lacking in reverence, to take God for granted, to reckon with grace, even to put oneself before God. What prevents someone from being lucid in her relation to God is not primarily lack of cleverness but lack of humility and reverence.

The concept of superstition qualifies what “making sense” means with respect to religious language. And hence, to the extent that the philosophy of religion is an attempt to make clear the kind of sense religious utterances have, it presupposes taking a stand on what is involved in reverence to God. … What is at issue here is a point of logic: namely that taking part in a discussion of the sense of religious remarks presupposes a shared sense of what is worthy of reverence. Someone who makes a religious utterance is commonly expressing some such attitude as the following: gratitude for some particular course of events or for life itself, a sense of absolute safety in the face of contingencies, a sense that life has meaning no matter what happens, an awareness of her own unworthiness, a sense that her failures have been forgiven, a sense that life imposes a task on her, a sense of the eternal significance of the way she conducts her life, a sense that the people she loves and who have died are still present somehow and that she must not let them down, etc. In fact, if I heard someone using religious expressions but could not see how her words were related to the expression of some attitude similar to those mentioned here, I might find it hard to understand what kind of remark she was making.

- Lars Hertzberg, "On the Difference that Faith Makes"


""The first is itself the memory of a memory. As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton's "enormous bliss" of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to "enormous" comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what? not, certainly, for a biscuit-tin filled with moss, nor even (though that came into it) for my own past. [Greek: Ioulian pothô] [2]--and before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased. It had taken only a moment of time; and in a certain sense everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison.

[Footnote 2] Oh, I desire too much.

The second glimpse came through Squirrel Nutkin; through it only, though I loved all the Beatrix Potter books. But the rest of them were merely entertaining; it administered the shock, it was a trouble. It troubled me with what I can only describe as the Idea of Autumn. It sounds fantastic to say that one can be enamoured of a season, but that is something like what happened; and, as before, the experience was one of intense desire. And one went back to the book, not to gratify the desire (that was impossible--how can one possess Autumn?) but to re-awake it. And in this experience also there was the same surprise and the same sense of incalculable importance. It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure; something, as they would now say, "in another dimension".

The third glimpse came through poetry. I had become fond of Longfellow's Saga of King Olaf: fond of it in a casual, shallow way for its story and its vigorous rhythms. But then, and quite different from such pleasures, and like a voice from far more distant regions, there came a moment when I idly turned the pages of the book and found the unrhymed translation of Tegner's Drapa and read

I heard a voice that cried,
Balder the beautiful
Is dead, is dead----

I knew nothing about Balder; but instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of northern sky, I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described (except that it is cold, spacious, severe, pale, and remote) and then, as in the other examples, found myself at the very same moment already falling out of that desire and wishing I were back in it.

... I will only underline the quality common to the three experiences; it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is."

- C.S. Lewis, "Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life"


"Beauty is the only finality here below. As Kant said very aptly, it is a finality which involves no objective. A beautiful thing involves no good except itself, in its totality, as it appears to us. We are drawn toward it without knowing what to ask of it. It offers us its own existence. We do not desire anything else, we possess it, and yet we still desire something. we do not in the least know what it is. We want to get behind beauty, but it is only a surface. It is like a mirror that sends us back our own desire for goodness. It is a sphinx, an enigma, a mystery which is painfully tantalizing."

- Simone Weil, "Waiting for God"

Summary of W's Later Philosophy

The following is from the Hacker/Schulte translation of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. I think that if there were a sort of basic setting-out of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy - a summary that leaves out an enormous amount of material that can only be said with the most meagre plausibility to be contained in the summary in seed form - it might consist of these passages. Here they are:

1. "When grown-ups named some object and at the same time turned towards it, I perceived this, and I grasped that the thing was signified by the sound they uttered, since they meant to point -it- out. This, however, I gathered from their gestures, the natural language of all peoples, the language that by means of facial expression and the play of eyes, or the movements of the limbs and the tone of voice, indicates the affections of the soul when it desires, or clings to, or rejects, or recoils from, something. In this way, little by little, I learnt to understand what things the words, which I heard uttered in their respective places in various sentences, signified. And once I got my tongue around these signs, I used them to express my wishes." (Augustine, Confessions I. 8)

These words, it seems to me, give us a particular picture of the essence of human language. It is this: the words in language name objects -- sentences are combinations of such names. --- In this picture of language we find the roots of the following idea: Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands.

Augustine does not mention any difference between kinds of word. Someone who describes the learning of language in this way is, I believe, thinking primarily of nouns like "table", "chair", "bread", and of people's names, and only secondarily of the names of certain actions and properties; and of the remaining kinds of word as something that will take care of itself.

11. Think of the tools in a toolbox: there is a hammer, pliers, a saw, a screwdriver, a rule, a gluepot, glue, nails, and screws. -- The functions of words are as diverse as the functions of these objects. (And in both cases there are similarities.)

Of course, what confuses us is the uniform appearance of words when we hear them in speech, or see them written or in print. For their -use- is not that obvious. Especially when we are doing philosophy!

12. It is like looking into the cabin of a locomotive. There are handles there, all looking more or less alike. (This stands to reason, since they are all supposed to be handled.) But one is the handle of a crank, which can be moved continuously (it regulates the opening of a valve); another is the handle of a switch, which has only two operative positions: it is either off or on; a third is the handle of a brake-lever, the harder one pulls on it, the harder the braking; a fourth, the handle of a pump: it has an effect only so long as it is moved to and fro.

13. If we say, "Every word in the language signifies something", we have so far said nothing -whatever-; unless we explain exactly -what- distinction we wish to make. (It might be, of course, that we wanted to distinguish the words of language from words 'without meaning' such as occur in Lewis Carroll's poems, or words like "Tra-la-la" in a song.)

27. "We name things and then we can talk about them: can refer to them in talk." -- As if what we did next were given with the mere act of naming. As if there were only one thing called "talking about things". Whereas in fact we do the most various things with our sentences. Think just of exclamations, with their completely different functions.


Are you still inclined to call these words "names of objects"?

31. When one shows someone the king in chess and says "This is the king", one does not thereby explain to him the use of this piece - unless he already knows the rules of the game except for this last point: the shape of the king. One can imagine his having learnt the rules of the game without ever having been shown an actual piece. The shape of the chess piece corresponds here to the sound or shape of a word.

However, one can also imagine someone's having learnt the game without ever learning or formulating rules. He might have learnt quite simple board-games first, by watching, and have progressed to more and more complicated ones. He too might be given the explanation "This is the king" -- if, for instance, he were being shown chess pieces of a shape unfamiliar to him. This explanation again informs him of the use of the piece only because, as we might say, the place for it was already prepared. In other words, we'll say that it informs him of the use only if the place is already prepared. And in that case it is so, not because the person to whom we give the explanation already knows rules, but because, in another sense, he has already mastered a game.

Consider this further case: I am explaining chess to someone; and I begin by pointing to a chess piece and saying "This is the king; it can move in this-and-this way", and so on. -- In this case we shall say: the words "This is the king" (or "This is called 'the king'" -) are an explanation of a word only if the learner already "knows what a piece in a game is". That is, if, for example, he has already played other games, or has watched 'with understanding' how other people play -- -and- -similar- -things-. Only then will he, while learning the game, be able to ask relevantly, "What is this called?" -- that is, this chess piece.

We may say: it only makes sense for someone to ask what something is called if he already knows how to make use of the name.


32. Someone coming into a foreign country will sometimes learn the language of the inhabitants from ostensive explanations that they give him; and he will often have to -guess- how to interpret these explanations; and sometimes he will guess right, sometimes wrong.

And now, I think, we can say: Augustine describes the learning of human language as if the child came into a foreign country and did not understand the language of the country; that is, as if he already had a language, only not this one. Or again, as if the child could already -think-, only not yet speak. And "think" would here mean something like "talk to himself".

on morality and hot and cold

walk i thought i would create a blog post because the whole discussion is going in a direction I didn't want to go, and it's my fault for not choosing a good thought experiment and wording it correctly … and I don't want to assume that you're interested in following this to the end, it is going to be a bit in depth and you have more important things to do with your time, but if you are interested, then here goes:

there are three senses of "it's hot in here": the first is an expression of how I feel, i.e. it's equivalent to "I feel hot"

the second is a commitment to a claim about what temperature it is in here, which is in turn assumed to be what most people hot - i.e. the second sense is equivalent to "it's 81 degrees in here (and I assume you'll agree that that's a temperature most people would feel as, and call, hot)"

the third is a commitment to a claim about what most people would feel the current temperature -as-, i.e. the third sense is equivalent to "the current temperature is what most people would feel as hot (and I assume you agree that the current temperature is 81)"

in the first sense there's no such thing as my being wrong; in the second sense, if i'm wrong, i'm wrong because it's not 81 degrees; in the third sense, if i'm wrong, it's because 81 is not what most people would feel as, and call, hot

(there are gaps and loose ends in that account, but i hope you'll agree that filling them in and tying them up would be inessential to my point)

now the thought experiment is supposed to be this: suppose a child is brought up in a sort of Truman Show type situation in which everyone intentionally mimics the mannerisms and onomatopoeias of feeling cold when it's 81 or 98 and mimics the mannerisms and onomatopoeias of feeling hot when it's 15 or 20 - but they still say "it's cold" and "i'm cold" when it's 25 and "it's hot"/"i'm hot" when it's 98

the child will learn the mannerisms and expressions of shivering and saying "brr!" in connection with what we call Feeling Hot, and he will learn the mannerisms and expressions of wiping the forehead and saying "ugh!" with what we call Feeling Cold - so he will learn to say "i'm cold" when it's 25 out, but he will wipe his forehead and air out his shirt by tugging it

does he know what hot and cold mean? of course he could say "it's currently 81 degrees" and "81 degrees is what people call hot," but when he says "i'm hot" or "it feels hot in here," if this is connected for him with mannerisms like rubbing his hands together and sitting close to a fire, he might learn the expression "i feel hot" the way a child learns to use the expression "knock on wood" whenever you talk about misfortunes that might happen to you (whereupon you knock on wood) - the parents will have to say things like "when you're cold, this is what you do, does that make sense?" - just like they say "when you mention a possible misfortune, this is what you do, does that make sense?" - "dad, why do you rub your arms during the summer?" - "well it feels right, that's just what you do, don't you feel like it's natural?" (upon which the child will imitate him and say "it's natural!" just like he would imitate knocking on wood)

so i'm suggesting that in an important sense at least he would -not- know what the words mean … the concepts of heat and cold are inseparable from the natural reactions we have to fire or blazing summer sunlight on the one hand and ice and snowstorms on the other, to situations we can nowadays measure as being 25 or 98 degrees fahrenheit, it's these natural reactions that are essential to the sense to the words … and Backstrom is suggesting that morality is this way too, if we divorce morality from the natural reactions we have to certain sorts of behavior - e.g. theft, lying and manipulation, lives devoted to nothing but oneself, etc. - then all we have left is the outward forms, the words and signs, but whatever function they might serve in such a situation, it would be radically different, and would not be what we now call Morality

to try to talk about morality without these natural, shared reactions is like talking about a smile without a face - whatever the word "smile" would mean in such a situation, it wouldn't be what it now means, even if we artificially enforced the same forms of words in the same contexts

"but are our reactions to fire and ice -really- reactions to hot and cold, or just arbitrary" and "but are those natural reactions to lying and theft etc themselves right? they could be wrong" - compare "but is a smile -really- connected to a face, or is that just an arbitrary association?"

it's in that sense that morality is "absolute" (i.e. it makes no sense to talk about "questioning" it, not because it's a set of absolutely certain judgments, but because at its foundation it's not a set of judgments at all but a set of primitive, preconceptual reactions)

Wittgenstein on Self-Knowledge

The following passages from Wittgenstein's Culture and Value are mysterious in at least two ways: they challenge our philosophical assumptions about how language in the region of ethical self-evaluation and self-knowledge works, and they challenge us to think seriously about self-evaluation and self-knowledge in a vein in which we cannot (grammatically cannot!) be neutral. I'll begin by quoting these mysterious and (I think) morally instructive passages, and I will then attempt to give a short and circumscribed analysis of them:

No one can speak the truth if he hasn't mastered himself. He cannot speak it - but not because he isn't clever enough. The truth can be spoken only by someone who is already at home in it, not by someone who still lives in falsehood (Wittgenstein 35).

What makes a subject hard to understand - if it's something significant and important - is … the contrast between understanding the subject and what most people want to see. Because of this the very things that are most obvious may become the hardest of all to understand. What has to be overcome is a difficulty having to do with the will, rather than with the intellect (ibid. 17).

A poet too has constantly to ask himself: 'but is what I'm writing really true?' - and this doesn't necessarily mean: 'is this how it happens in reality?' (ibid. 40)

Understanding oneself is difficult, because an action to which one might be prompted by good, generous motives is something one may also be doing out of cowardice or indifference … Just as not all gentleness is a form of goodness (ibid. 48).

Not funk but funk conquered is what's worthy of admiration and makes life worth having been lived. Courage, not cleverness, not even inspiration, - this is the grain of mustard seed that grows into a great tree. To the extent that there is courage there is a link with life and death (ibid. 38).

You can't be reluctant to give up your lie, and still tell the truth (ibid. 39).

You cannot write anything about yourself that is more truthful than you yourself are. That's the difference between writing about yourself and writing about external objects. You write about yourself from your own height. You don't stand on stilts or on a ladder but on your own bare feet (ibid. 33).

One's character is involved in uttering any proposition; sincerity is involved even in a claim that the cat is on the mat. (If I make that claim insincerely, I have lied.) But when speaking about empirical matters one's sincerity is only indirectly relevant to the truth of what is spoken – what we call the truth of a proposition about objects and states of affairs in the world does not involve the sincerity of the speaker, though of course knowing she is sincere (together with her being in a position to know) may convince us of the proposition's truth. If someone says that it rained yesterday, she may be right even if she is lying, and even if she is intentionally speaking from a position in which she couldn't know such a thing. We may not believe her in those circumstances (if we are aware of them), but we will still admit that she could be right regardless.

When speaking about one's own character this is not at all the case. One's character simultaneously is involved in making the claim and is the subject matter of the claim. One speaks about one's character with one's character. About the confession, “I am prone to laziness,” the question cannot arise: “Even if he's being insincere, still, could his confession be true?” That proposition (string of words) may be true qua empirical proposition, but not qua confession. An insincere confession is by definition a false confession – what we call a true confession is (among other things) one that is sincere.

But isn't it nonetheless possible that one sincerely says he is lazy when he isn't? And wouldn't that be uttering a falsity just like saying it rained yesterday when it didn't? I don't think so. In order to be justified in saying that it rained yesterday, one indeed must be in a position to know – but one may be justified and still be wrong (i.e. one's statement may be false even if she is not making a mistake). When uttering a confession about one's own character, however, making a mistake and uttering a falsity do not come apart like this – if one is sincere and in a position to know, one utters a true confession; if one's confession is false, it can only be so in virtue either of his being insincere or his not being in a position to know – that is, to know himself. His knowledge of himself, together with his sincerity, are both necessary and sufficient for the truth of his confession – and if either one is absent, his confession is false by definition.

But what if one sincerely says he is lazy while not being in a position to know – and, as it turns out, he is lazy? Again I think this proposition is true qua empirical proposition but not qua confession. When speaking about one's own character one cannot be right by accident.

There are further limitations, too, on speaking about one's character. Many positive claims about oneself can never be uttered, except in very special circumstances, without automatically being false in virtue of being uttered (and even in virtue of being believed). In most circumstances, if I say that I am humble, wise, or that I have transcended myself in the altruistic love of others, I will thereby show myself not to possess these qualities. Humility, wisdom and self-sacrificial love can only be exhibited, never claimed (and if it comes to light that “He thinks he is wise,” even if he never says so, he will be taken to be unwise). And if I compare myself to another person the situation is even more dire and encompasses more qualities. I may be able to say that I am patient and be right, but if I say I am more patient than someone else, it becomes more difficult to think of me as having spoken the truth. If I say that I am more patient than anyone I've ever met, I will be taken as a narcissistic and unvirtuous person whose apparent patience is almost certainly due to some ulterior motive. So it would seem that humility is a necessary condition of having any positive character trait, such that if humility is absent, one's “apparent” virtues become vices by default – and so if one speaks about oneself in a way that does not exhibit humility, one's utterances will be false by default.

There is a connection here between speaking about one's own character and, e.g., expressing one's pain or other psychological state. If I sincerely say that I am in pain, I cannot be mistaken – if I sincerely say that I am lazy (and if I'm in a position to know), I also cannot be mistaken; and both of these observations are grammatical ones, not limitations on some self-standing ability to “be mistaken.” One is speaking in the first person when making a confession about oneself just as much as when one expresses a pain or an itch. The temptation Wittgenstein is steering us away from in these passages, then, is the temptation to “construe the grammar … on the model of 'object and name'” (Wittgenstein 107). If we construe the grammar of ethical evaluations of oneself on the model of “object and name,” it does indeed look mysterious why one cannot speak the truth if he hasn't mastered himself; why one cannot speak the truth if one is reluctant to give up his lie; why one cannot write anything about oneself that is more truthful than he or she is. These are also grammatical claims, not strange, unexplained limitations on how far one's third-person observations can go when those observations are about oneself; they are meant to exhibit (among other things) the first-person grammar of ethical self-evaluation and self-knowledge.

And these grammatical claims are not pedantic corrections of mere mistakes – the temptation to construe the grammar of ethical self-evaluation on the model of “object and name” is not a mere mistake but constitutes a morally charged and potentially dangerous misrepresentation of the inner life itself. Taught to think in such a way about self-knowledge, one may fail to learn the values of humility, sincerity and self-honesty, and one may (sincerely!) see self-congratulation and egotistical claims as a mere innocent “self-esteem.” One may not be aware that a subtle sort of coup has occurred in which a new language game has begun to displace the old one without our being aware of it. Wittgenstein's “perspicuous representation” of the grammar of self-knowledge, aside from its considerable philosophical importance, may also allow us to be in better charge of how we think about character, virtue and ethical self-evaluation.

Works Cited

Wittgenstein, Ludwig: Culture and Value. The University of Chicago Press, 1980.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig: Philosophical Investigations. Blackwell Publishing, Ltd., 2009.

Arjuna and the Therapist: A Dialogue

THERAPIST: "It sounds to me like you're saying that nothing is worth doing because you might fail. But certainly that can't be right. If every action were guaranteed to succeed - there you would find pointlessness. If there were no possibility of failure, there would be no reason to act, since non-action would bring the same (or at least equivalent) results."

ARJUNA: "Not only is there no guarantee that my efforts will succeed - that's natural - but there is no guarantee that there is even ever -any- way to achieve anything, or any way to solve or mitigate a problem when it arises. Obviously, many things are possible; but I can't know for sure which ones they are when they are future potential goals. People tend to have a background optimism that where there is a will, there is a way. But entropy paints a different picture. I cannot know beforehand, when aiming to achieve a goal, that it is even possible."

TH: "Is that any reason not to act? The case could just as easily be made that when you do achieve something, it is more valuable, since it wasn't guaranteed. And this achievement, with its greater value, is, in virtue of that value, more worth the attempt. Don't you think so?"

AR: "Yes, it does have greater value, but it also may be said to bring less satisfaction, since if I know my achievement wasn't guaranteed, I also know that my keeping it isn't guaranteed - it can be taken from me at any moment. But enough about value. Value comes from valuation, and valuation depends on attitude. Attitude in turn depends greatly on factors beyond our control; I may choose optimism within a certain range of difficult circumstances, but at a certain level of difficulty, breakdown is inevitable, rendering optimism impossible. And since entropy is the default state of the universe, this breakdown accords with reality, while optimism is a fragile anomaly with a guaranteed expiration date. What is guaranteed in life is chaos and disorder; order is like a sand castle waiting for the wave.

You ask me if taking action is worth it. I want to say that action is like trying to write a poem in a windstorm. You may pen a line or two before a gust of wind blows your paper away, but your chances of finishing a poem are pretty slim. And to be aware of this beforehand brings about a natural loss of interest - one's trust in the stability of the paper falters, and one may say 'With all this wind, what's the point?' This just happens, and asking if there 'really is' a point anyway is just sophistry. Of course one could go inside; but buildings too are at the mercy of the wind, and tornadoes and hurricanes are common."

TH: "But can't my point about action and guaranteed success also be made concerning the -possibility- of success? Granted, the possibility of success is itself not guaranteed. But what if it were? Anyone who wanted to be an emperor could be. What if two people wanted to be emperor of the same empire? So it looks like this idea of guaranteed possibility is, quite literally, impossible.

You mention what you call a 'natural' response when trying to write a poem in a windstorm. Isn't it also a 'natural' response to gather a few rocks as paperweights on the corners of the paper? Or take it inside, and if a tornado destroys that building, to put forth all efforts to find another one? A poem finished in such circumstances would be meaningful indeed. But my point is that many people double down on effort in the face of the possibility of the impossibility of achieving their task - not everyone falters and gives up. And I will say too that deep down one chooses which attitude to adopt. Saying it's inevitable is just the rhetoric of the resigned, a lie one tells oneself in order to avoid the difficulty of choosing the harder road."

AR: "Wouldn't it be fair to say that depicting it as a choice is also rhetoric - the rhetoric of the one who doubles down on effort? Couldn't I say that such a person has a feeling that deep down their redoubled effort corresponds to a halving of their chances, and that continuing to multiply effort in the face of divided possibility ends in absurdity? Could the rhetoric of the determined be a product of this secret knowledge, and the anxiety it brings? Could the redoubling of effort itself be a product of this anxiety?

But that would be unfair. What I just said was -also- rhetoric. The fact of the matter, as I think we must admit, is that nothing outside the attitude can justify the attitude, whether it's one of redoubled effort or one of resignation. This nullifies your arguments, but it nullifies mine too."

TH: "Would you admit, at least, that it's possible - or at least -possibly- possible - to choose to adopt a different attitude? Perhaps I can't convince you that optimism and effort are the more rational attitude, but certainly they are the more happy and life-giving. Don't you want to be happy?"

AR: "What does this mean - to choose a different attitude? I can choose what color socks to wear, and if asked why I chose black, I might say that I have a melancholy attitude or mood today. The mood determined what looked to me like the best choice of sock color. The mood or attitude is a necessary background to the choice. But what does it mean to 'choose my attitude'? What mood or attitude would be in the background, giving -that- choice its color and content?"

TH: "You are overintellectualizing. You've presented a clever abstract argument to show that choosing one's attitude is impossible - perhaps this too is a defense mechanism you have that gives you license to refuse to choose. In any case, I answer that it is possible because it actually happens. I have seen many patients do it."

AR: "I'm sure you've seen many instances of what you're calling 'choosing one's attitude.' My quandary concerns what exactly it is that you've seen in these cases. 'Choosing one's attitude' is no more an answer than 'A circular square' is to the question 'What shape was the box that you saw?' It makes no sense; I'm asking you to explain what you mean by what appears to me as a nonsensical notion."

TH: "I'm afraid we're out of time. See you next week?"


I am often charged with overthinking, or even with intellectualizing my emotions away. My good friends suggest this to me in genuine concern for my mental health and overall well being, and they do so often with intelligence and considerable knowledge of the history and tendencies of my psyche. But I do not know how to interpret this term: overthinking or overintellectualizing, or intellectualizing away the emotions. And if I say so, it's usually taken as a covert and implicit attempt to debunk the idea; my interlocutor takes me to really be suggesting, either that I am not actually guilty of overthinking, or that there is no such thing, that it is a phantasm of folk psychology.

In reality I mean neither of these things. I genuinely do not know how to take the idea. But this is not due to unfamiliarity with the term; it's not that I can connect nothing with it, but that I can connect too many diverse ideas, some compelling, some bordering on phantasmic folk psychology, some in between. So I will attempt here to pick the most compelling version of the notion of overintellectualizing and explicate it.

When I was a child, when I would experience an overwhelming negative emotion, especially if I were to witness the filmed suffering of the poor and starving, or a movie in which someone is tortured or dies, I would be so incapable of doing anything you might call "feeling" or "processing" the emotion, so overwhelmed by it, that I instinctively relocated the stress on to the general fact of human life that the event (fictional or real) was an instance of. So if I witnessed starvation I would say to myself "Yes, but starvation has been around forever, and there are thousands starving in the world right now." Or if it were suffering or death I would say "Yes, but these are universal and unavoidable features of human life." And then I would ask myself: "How do you deal with THAT?" And for some mysterious reason, the fact that many adults seemed to wrestle with these issues meant that I was let off the hook - I was able to postpone dealing with the stress by transferring it to general facts that (I suppose, though this is unclear to me) nobody really had adequate ways of dealing with or relating to; and so I certainly could not be responsible for dealing with them, since I was just a child! Negative emotions were transferred to general facts of life, again and again, every time that they were difficult and overwhelming. I didn't know that this was abnormal; I didn't know that there was an alternative. It seemed necessary to me.

And so, over the years, the stress and pain that I had not faced, that I had pushed over on to life as a whole, began to accumulate more and more; and life as a whole became tainted with negativity, first like an albatross, then, eventually, as a full-blown existential crisis in which life itself was the problem par excellence. And it needed to be solved in order for life to be worth living at all. I was probably 14 when I decided that I had no reason to live.

But I instinctively searched in what was certainly an even more poisonous direction: I felt, though I did not explicitly or consciously think, that if life has this profound negative net value, then there must be something in addition to it that brings the balance back, not just to zero, but to a positive value. Life must be salvaged by "the something more." The stories of my vast multitudes of worldviews - religious and atheistic, supernatural and naturalistic, nature-based, Eastern, Western, and the countless slight variations on all of these that continued or postponed the essential breakdown for just another day or two - cannot be detailed here. But each breakdown of a worldview, suffice to say, as it were put the balance on a credit card, and when it came time to pay the bill, I cut up the card and charged my debt to a new one. And this appeared to me, except near the end, as an epiphany of the real truth about the meaning of life.

At some point no more cards were available. No one would lend to me. I realized the futility and madness of my "search for meaning." But the tendency was not gone; indeed, the scrutiny of the tendency, the making explicit of it, has still not fundamentally changed it. I simply live with a negative world, and I continue to live with it for the sake of my wife. The world will almost certainly never have a positive value for me; the tendencies I have define who I am, and any effort I make towards health ends up only to be another disguised ghost of those tendencies.

What, then, is overthinking? It is not simply the overuse of the mind, as though the healthy person only uses the mind in moderation. It is a specific use of the mind to short-circuit the feeling of overwhelming negative emotion and to postpone it (though the intellectual apparatus may not be aware that it will ever have to be really dealt with). I conclude with some observations about the qualitative difference between processing and feeling a negative emotion directly, and intellectualizing it away.

If I feel compassion for a suffering person that I cannot help, it's true, in a trivial and formal sense, that I am feeling compassion for an instance of a universal fact of human life. I pity the person I witness the suffering of; therefore I pity a particular instance of the general fact that everyone suffers (or even that most or many people suffer the specific kind of suffering this person is experiencing). But the two - the suffering person qua suffering person and the suffering person qua instance of the general fact of suffering - are, in all the important senses, not the same. If I pity Cheryl because she has terminal cancer, I am in contact also with the general tragedy of the commonality of terminal cancer; if I contemplate only the general tragedy, I do not thereby pity Cheryl. Contemplating mortality only includes Cheryl in a conceptual sense; I cannot connect with Cheryl by contemplating mortality. So compassion for the individual necessarily connects with the general; contemplating the general does not necessarily connect with the individual.

And I may contemplate mortality at any time, and it will not have any special relevance to what I am encountering right now; but if I have compassion for Cheryl and mourn her impending death, I connect directly with what is happening in front of me, with my actual lived experience. Contemplating mortality is abstract; mourning Cheryl is concrete, it is real. And human life is lived in time, in experiences that have a certain relevance by virtue of their being MY experiences. Contemplating the general, as a way to escape the pain of the particular, removes me from the "stream of life," as Franz Rosenzweig puts it; it removes me from MY life, from the events that are happening to ME.

None of this removes the importance of coming to terms with suffering, mortality, unfairness. But it does show that overthinking - that is, using the existential crisis as an excuse (consciously or unconsciously) not to feel negativity in the moment - cannot help either the pain of the moment OR the attempt to come to terms with life. It can only poison and weaken a person in their ability to do both.

Cockburn and Searle on the Chinese Room Argument

Cockburn and Searle on the Chinese Room Argument

In Chapter 7 of An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind, David Cockburn offers a summary and criticism of Alan Turing's “test” for the presence of artificial intelligence as well as John Searle's response to it, a response now famously known as the “Chinese Room” argument. Cockburn does not agree with Searle or Turing on the issue, but instead offers a third perspective, influenced by Wittgenstein, that maintains a connection “between the idea of a creature as 'thinking' and that creature's behavior”(Cockburn 110). As he quotes Wittgenstein:

Of course we cannot separate his 'thinking' from his activity. For the thinking is not an accompaniment of the work, any more than of thoughtful speech.
Were we to see creatures at work whose rhythm of work, play of expression etc. was like our own, but for their not speaking, perhaps in that case we should say that they thought, considered, made decisions. For there would be a great deal there corresponding to the action of ordinary humans. (qtd. in Cockburn 109)

Activity and thought are, according to Cockburn and Wittgenstein, necessarily conjoined; you cannot have a thought without an activity, an activity that gives the sentence corresponding to the thought its meaning. Searle's Chinese Room argument assumes that a fluent Chinese speaker in the same room would understand the symbols in the boxes – but what is it that would enable the Chinese speaker to understand a given question? The fluency itself (considered as a mere abstract entity separable from the contexts in which speech and writing occur) would not be enough; he would have to understand what sorts of activities give rise to the question, and what activity the given question occurs in (or is imagined to occur in). Suppose a box were given to him with the question, “What time will you arrive tomorrow?” Are we willing to say that he understands the question? Well, we wouldn't say he is in the same situation as Searle, who cannot understand the symbols – nonetheless, without understanding what specific situation and set of activities (whether hypothetical or real) that question arises in, he has no idea who the hearer is supposed to be, and no idea what the hearer is supposed to be arriving for, or where, or by what mode of transportation. And if given these details, he could answer correctly, but could not answer certain further questions such as “Do you feel safe waiting outside the station until I can pick you up?”

Consider a more difficult case, one in which I will assume English grammar and semantics: suppose the question is “Does Susan see the point?” Now at first glance it may seem as though this question fairly unambiguously occurs as part of the activity of discussing some argument or thesis-driven piece of writing, etc. with the purpose of understanding it; but the same sentence is just as understandable as part of viewing a painting of a pointed object (say a pen or sword) alongside a visually impaired Susan. And even in that case it may belong either to wanting Susan to be able to see the detail of the painting or attempting to determine how poor her eyesight is.

It may be objected that, even though the sentence “Does Susan see the point?” is ambiguous without a context, nonetheless we must understand something about the sentence that someone who does not speak our language does not understand – something that we could certainly demonstrate by, e.g., giving the various possible meanings of that sentence, as we did above. Someone who does not speak our language would not be able to do that; and does that require an activity? Well, what is it that is understood when we are able to differentiate between different meanings of a sentence if it isn't that the sentence is used in the contexts of various activities (in the case of our question about Susan, discussing arguments, viewing paintings, assessing eyesight, etc.)?

Searle assumes that a computer program with the relevant code could answer a question like this just as reliably as a human being. But without a context and activity, even a human being could not answer it. And it seems that whatever is understood about a sentence is simply the knowledge that that set of morphemes in that order is used in one or more activities for specific purposes. So thought, it seems, is necessarily bound up with activity in the way Wittgenstein suggests.

However what Searle is attempting to do with his Chinese Room argument is refute Turing's claim that if the output of a computer program is indistinguishable from the output of a human being (their sources being concealed), then the computer program ought to be called a thinking thing. Certainly Cockburn and Wittgenstein would disagree with this along with Searle, unless (perhaps) the computer program were housed in a robotic humanoid body that was involved in the same sorts of activities that human beings are (a possibility I doubt was in either Searle's or Turing's mind). And there is probably at least a small set of questions that both Searle and a fluent Chinese speaker could answer correctly and quickly, questions like “What is the capital of China?” or “How many sides does a triangle have?” This is because these questions have one dominant use in one sort of activity (though they may have others, as in the English “What is the capital of China?” being used as a training exercise for children in which they are asked to identify the capital letter in the word “China”). The question is fairly unambiguous because the hearer knows that this specific sort of question is almost always a function of one sort of activity. But it is nonetheless the case that if a computer program (or John Searle) were programmed (or given instructions) to respond with the same sets of morphemes that a fluent Chinese speaker would, this would not constitute thought.

Cockburn accuses Searle of assuming mind/body dualism (109), and while this charge may be fairly made of Searle himself, I see no reason to make it of the Chinese Room argument. A sympathetic read of the argument, along with the modifications I suggest above, does indeed make it clear that output is not enough for thought, and that Turing's test cannot establish the presence of thought. Whatever Searle may think is necessary for thought is, in my view, irrelevant. His argument helps (regardless of his intent in creating it) to establish that a certain (behavioristic?) account of thought is impossible, and in so doing forces us to consider alternative accounts.

Is a Cartesian or substance dualist account a viable alternative given Searle's observations? Can we say that what constitutes the presence of thought is some internal, non-physical phenomenon? If thought were an “internal” phenomenon, its presence would likely have to be established by inference from “external” phenomena – i.e. output. But Searle's argument shows that output is not sufficient to establish the presence of thought. Are we then left with only the appearance of thought, an appearance which may (and therefore always may) deceive us like Searle with his instruction manual or Descartes' pedestrians in coats and hats?

Searle does not understand what is in the boxes, but he does understand the instruction manual. What constitutes his understanding there? An internal phenomenon? That would only push the question back further and open us up to an infinite regress.

So it would seem that, given the conclusion of the Chinese Room argument, thought is neither an internal phenomenon or an external output. The essentialistic and reductive options are then exhausted. At this point Cockburn's Wittgensteinian perspective begins to look quite plausible. It's my contention that while Searle does indeed display a misunderstanding of the nature of thought in the Chinese Room argument, he does nonetheless help to make it clear that the only plausible account of thought would be one that does not identify it with mere behavior or with a hypothetical “non-physical” phenomenon. This assists greatly in Cockburn's and Wittgenstein's assertion that thought is necessarily linked with human activities, an assertion that resists an essentialistic definition of thought and follows Wittgenstein's task of bringing “words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use” (Wittgenstein 53). Consider Wittgenstein's hypothetical group of non-speaking creatures performing work; if one creature were to point at a loose screw and another creature quickly tightened it with a screwdriver, we would say, “The first one thinks that the screw is too loose.” If he handed the other creature a rag and it began wiping and cleaning various surfaces, we could say, “The first creature realized that the surfaces were dirty and needed cleaning.” These are not philosophical theories but reactions that most of us would have when observing such behavior. And we say much the same sort of thing when observing the same behavior accompanied with speech. In order to understand what thought is, it may well be instructive to observe how we use the word “thought” rather than give a definition.

Works Cited

Cockburn, David. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind. PALGRAVE, 2001.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2009.
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