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Philosophy of Psychology - Part B

[Outline of this page]

The background of the remarks on this page is the discussion of Part A: the Language of Feeling, which looks at the meaning of sensation, emotion, and disposition words such as 'pain', 'sorrow', and 'love'.

The common pictures of language meaning are: (1) that "All words are names and the meaning of a name is the thing the name stands for", where 'thing' means both tangible and ghost-like things ("abstract objects"), and (2) that the meaning of a word is the essence of the thing the word names, a meaning that once grasped is constant in all contexts. Both those pictures are nebulous and stand in the way of any verifiable distinction between sense and nonsense (Not even all nouns are names, and most words do not have essential meanings). Wittgenstein's logic of language is based on a rejection of both.

There are many meanings of the word 'meaning' -- Wittgenstein chose one that allows an objective distinction to be made between language with meaning and language without meaning: in his logic of language words are tools used to do various kinds of work in our life; that work is their meaning. The use (the work) in the language of psychological words is not to be the names of objects, of any kind, ghostly or otherwise.

B. The Language of Mind

There are two vocabularies to compare here -- two conceptual systems -- running parallel to one another: a psychological and a physiological. But there is no way to translate one vocabulary into the other: these parallel lines do not meet.

Philosophical investigations: conceptual investigations. (Z § 458)

It is not the relationship between mind and body that concerns logic-philosophy, but the relationship between our concept 'mind' and our concept 'body', that is to say, the use of words, of the roles of the words 'mind' and 'body' in our language. A sentence such as 'The mind is really only the brain' isn't true or false; it is nonsense akin to the sentence 'A number is really only a numeral'. The words 'mind' and 'brain' belong to different "parts of speech" (different categories of word use, of which there are far more than nouns and adjectives): 'mind' is a psychological-word; 'brain' is a physiological-word.

'Mind' is not the name of an object. 'Brain' is the name of an object. The "grammar" -- (In Wittgenstein's revision of our concept or jargon, grammar DEF.= any description of the use of language, of the rules of language, both syntactic and semantic, because that is where philosophical problems are found (PI § 109)) -- of 'mind' is not learned or taught, the word's meaning is not explained, by pointing at an object (i.e. ostensively), whereas the grammar of 'brain' is.

'Thinking' is not the name of a physiological process; 'neurons firing off in the brain' is. That the phenomena we call 'mental' are caused by the brain (or rather, that significant correlations can be made between what we call 'mental phenomena' and events in the central nervous system) is an hypothesis -- of medical science, not of logic.


Outline of this page ...


Are mental phenomena real?

Saying that the word 'mind' is not the name of an object (whether physical or metaphysical) seems to suggest that Wittgenstein denies the existence of the mind and therefore of mental phenomena. But that is to confuse grammar with hypothesis -- for Wittgenstein is saying nothing about the mind (he hasn't a theory about what the mind or thought really is) but only about the use of the word 'mind' in our language.

There are many kinds of use that a word may have besides being used to name an object. Not all words are names; not even all nouns are names, as e.g. the word 'mind' is not.

The word 'mind' has a use in our language: it just isn't to name an object (PI § 304). Logic of language's method isn't to investigate the reality of phenomena, but only to reject false grammatical accounts (ibid. §§ 305, 307) -- i.e. false descriptions of the use of the words of our language. "We have only rejected the grammar" -- i.e. the grammar of the part of speech name-of-object -- "that tries to force itself on us here" (ibid. § 304). That is the essential point.

"What then is consciousness?"

The word 'consciousness' appears in many misunderstandings about our psychological vocabulary. Normally -- i.e. when we are not philosophizing -- the word 'consciousness' contrasts with nothing really (we don't use the word 'unconsciousness'), but the antithesis of the word 'conscious' is 'unconscious' ("unconscious" as in fainted or knocked over the head), and 'self-conscious' with 'at one's ease'. There is nothing here to suggest an object of any kind. (The grammar of 'consciousness' is very like the grammar of 'mind'.)

Is consciousness a ghost?

When we philosophize we say "What is consciousness?" And by this we mean that although consciousness is something we seem to know from our own experience of it, what consciousness is in itself eludes us. It is like nothing we can see or touch. It is real, but then what is it? Is it a ghost?

What is the substance of a ghost? A ghost has no substance in this world, the world of things that are perceptible to man's senses.

'Consciousness' would seem to be the name of something to which none of the grammar of object-words applies (color, shape, etc.) except it seems location.

Locke: "When my body goes for a carriage ride, my consciousness goes with it." But if we are asked, "Does Locke's body contain a brain?" our reply will be, "Let us cut him open and look inside." But do we also say that cutting a man open allows us to verify whether or not he has consciousness? [Note 6]

Led by such considerations we wander onto a path of utter darkness, where it seems that one can only say, "Well, who knows?" It is like asking what life itself is, is it a "force"? That is, we are in the realm of vague undrawable pictures, but not answers. When this happens, we should recognize that there is something mistaken about our original question -- namely that it is not a question (but a conceptual muddle in the form of a question).

"The mind's a strange thing." Does the word 'thing' here refer to an object of some unknown kind? Is that thing the meaning of the word 'mind' -- i.e. is the use in the language of the word 'mind' to be a name that refers to that thing? (Of course it is possible to study mental phenomena from a factual point of view (PI § 108), but that is natural science, not metaphysics. Metaphysics wants to know -- well, what is it that it wants to know? There seems to be some ghostly phenomenon called 'consciousness' or 'mind', and metaphysics wants to know what its substance is, if e.g. it can exist independently of the body.)

Known by a "private" ostensive definition?

The sign 'What is consciousness?' is a collection of marks on paper or spoken sounds. And the question for logic of language is: what gives these spoken sounds or marks on paper meaning?

Suppose that the word 'consciousness' were the name of a ghost that only I could perceive. Then it would be possible for me to point to the bearer of this name -- and thereby give myself a "private ostensive definition" of that word. But is pointing at something that there is no criterion for correctly identifying any different from pointing at nothing? How can I know whether I have applied the word 'consciousness' to the correct thing -- or even to anything at all? If my only criterion of correctness is whatever seems right to me, then I have no criterion of correctness (PI §§ 293, 258).

When Wittgenstein tried to invent a meaning for the combination of words 'private ostensive definition', what he showed instead was that there is no meaning to be given to it -- because our concepts 'private' and 'identification' do not intersect. And where 'identification' has no meaning, neither has 'definition'. (Definition = meaning, like knowledge, belongs to the community, not the individual.)

Knowledge of the existence of "other minds" (than my own)

What we want to say is that we make an analogy. But from what to what? "From my own consciousness to someone else's consciousness, from one private ghost to another. Because from their behavior I deduce that other people have a private ghost too." [Note 7]

There is a ghostly object inside that body named 'consciousness'. -- How do you know? -- Look at the way the body behaves. -- Then isn't the definition of the word 'consciousness' (the criterion for its correct application) to be looked for in that behavior rather than in some ghostly object? The meaning of the word 'consciousness' is shown by how we use that word in the course of day to day life; cf. the words 'awareness' and 'self-awareness'.

Wittgenstein's logic of language is this: Look at language this way: See words as tools that we use in our day to day life, and their meaning as the work we use them to do in the language (PI §§ 360, 421). (This way of seeing language is illustrated by the word 'know' in the Fable of the Born-Blind Community.)

"But surely philosophy is about reality, not mere words"

Your questions refer to words; so I have to talk about words. (PI § 120)

"But I am not asking what the meaning of the word 'consciousness' is -- I want to know what consciousness itself is. That is the philosophical question." But if the use in our language of the word 'consciousness' is not to name an object -- (a "ghostly object" is not an object but rather a conjuring trick of our language (ibid. PI § 36)) -- then how is the second question to be answered -- e.g. what form should the answer take? It is as if we said, "Very well, 'consciousness' is not the name of an object, but what is the object that 'consciousness' names?"

What form should the answer take? We really haven't any idea. There are, of course, many things we might say about consciousness, about how it seems both very familiar to us and yet at the same time very foreign and mysterious, because we know it, but we don't know its origin. Or about thought, e.g. about how our thoughts are sometimes directed by us -- we know not how -- but at other times seem to flow of themselves -- from we don't know where.

What we are inclined to say -- the pictures that occur to us -- belong to the raw material of philosophy (PI § 254). But the question about that material for logic of language is: what have those pictures to do with the use of the words of our psychological vocabulary?

If someone said that to him the word 'consciousness' suggested a bluish wave against an indefinite background, does that picture belong to the meaning of the word 'consciousness'? (Cf. "Definition by introspection".)

[But someone] else perhaps [pictures] something quite different; and if both of them make correct use of the word ... the essence [of this use of language as if it were a game played according to rules, or, "language game"] ... lies in this use [of language], and not in what they may say about what they experience. (RPP i § 212)

Suppose I said that the word 'blue' suggested a fairy tale princess to me? But pointing to blue objects is how we define the word 'blue'; it does not belong to the grammar of the word 'blue' that it suggests fairy tale princesses to me.

Why this meaning of 'meaning'?

As Wittgenstein chose to define the word 'meaning' -- for there are many meanings of the word 'meaning' he might have chosen for his work in philosophy -- no one's peculiar psychology belongs to the grammar of any word (BB p. 65). But Wittgenstein's choice of 'meaning' DEF.= 'use in the language' was anything but arbitrary: that meaning was chosen in order to make an objective, verifiable distinction between sense and nonsense (between meaning and meaningless language), without which there can be no philosophical understanding or clarity. (Psychological-experience definitions of 'meaning' are as arbitrary as W.E. Johnson's "If I say that a sentence has meaning for me, no one has the right to say it is senseless.")

Does the child teach itself to use the word 'consciousness' -- does it define that word for itself privately?

When discussing consciousness, we must make a grammatical reminder for ourselves, namely that learning a language, especially learning a psychological vocabulary, is something children do in the company of others: what the child learns is a word with a normal use in our language (not as it were with a use just anyplace and everyplace). If instead we try to use the word 'consciousness' as if we had learned its meaning in private, it is as if we took that word to a place far away from the home where its use is familiar to us (PI §§ 38, 116), or as if the word 'consciousness' were also a word in a foreign language, a language we did not know; and when we heard the speakers of that language utter the word, then we believed that we still knew what that word meant, even though it had been removed from its English language home.

Unable to grasp a question

'Consciousness is a feeling.' Is that proposition nonsense -- no, but the proposition 'The word 'consciousness' is the name of a feeling' is. (Psychological testimony versus logic of language. Points of view.)

Is it nonsense to ask what the substance and cause of consciousness is, say, a ghost or organic matter? Because since soul and consciousness are the same insubstantial substance -- it makes no sense to say that one is the cause of the other.

The soul, consciousness. Pictures, not hypotheses (nothing verifiable), but not a drawable picture, certainly not a pottery drawing.

"Every time you open your eyes a miracle occurs" (DW p. 73), when you look into a mirror and you see yourself (self-awareness), and in contrast the entombment of blindness. Well, it is wonderful (and to be jaded to this is life in death) -- but what is the philosophical question here? (That has never been clear to me.)

If someone asks about the soul in the context of death and an afterlife, I see his point. But otherwise no. (Imagine there were no word 'soul' or its synonyms, e.g. 'spirit' and 'ghost', in our language, would we still ask about "life after death"?)

One cannot grasp a will-o'-the-wisp

We have a "picture", an experience: our thoughts appear out of nowhere. "They are produced by the brain, a biological mechanism." Thought is mysterious. "Not at all, if you are not ignorant of science."

In the case of consciousness, it seems that the imperceptible (thought, awareness) has its source-cause in the perceptible (brain, nervous system). "Different substances".

Consciousness is not a feeling; consciousness is feeling. Thought is something, nothing. What have these remarks to do with the grammar of our language?

It's possible to be interested in a phenomenon from various points of view, e.g. thought. (PI § 108)

"Logic of language leaves all the most interesting questions untouched." Vague notions are not questions. "What is consciousness?" for example. "What is the mind?" Noting that the words 'mind' and 'consciousness' are not names (that we don't use those words the way we use name-of-object words, that part of speech) does not remove-undermine the deeply set picture that they are names. "Consciousness is a feeling." "The mind is the location of thought."

Imperceptible-substance words

We want to know what the substance of consciousness is, what the substance of the mind is. These would presumably be imperceptible (to the five senses) substances, and that means that the grammar of object-words and phenomenon-words does not apply to them. Object-word grammar doesn't apply: we cannot ask for the location, much less the size or the color (Verification belongs the grammar of perceptible substances, but that is a grammatical rule, not an empirical-metaphysical hypothesis). And phenomenon-words grammar does not apply, because phenomena are perceptible (which means verifiable), even if only as perceptible as the air.

"But there are more than five senses, for there is an internal sense, the sense that perceives pain, that experiences moods." But the word 'pain' isn't the name of an internal object, despite there being phenomena of pain, not as we normally use the word 'pain': (1) I do not perceive that I have a toothache because I do not verify that I have pain; and (2) when a doctor identifies an affected nerve, he does not identify an object named 'pain'. (The two grammars of 'pain', but in neither case is 'pain' a name-of-object word.)

What we have done with the word 'perceptible' is what Russell does with the word 'hippopotamus' by saying that the hippopotamus in the room has no head, no body, no legs, no tail. What we've done is to strip away all the grammar of substance-word (names of objects, names of phenomena) so that we have created a grammarless category (a category without rules), and consequently we can say nothing about the objects or phenomena mind and consciousness at all. And this shows that the words 'mind' and 'consciousness' are not the names of objects of any kind, much less of "imperceptible objects", but that their use in our language must be something else, for those words are not nonsense.

"But what of the experiences of awareness and thinking?" But is there a philosophical question as distinct from questions about psychological phenomena, the kind of thing the science of psychology is about (The distinction between psychology (medical science) and logic (grammatical investigations)).Metaphysics asks about the substance of things, about their ultimate causes, but in this case it can only point to " something" it says is imperceptible, but about the imperceptible nothing can be said, and therefore there is nothing for metaphysics to talk about.

Metaphysics and everyday

Rather than say what the grammar of 'consciousness' and 'mind' is not, why not say what it is? What is necessary is to remember, to remind ourselves.

A child learns to use a word in particular circumstances, but the child is not taught to describe the circumstances it learns to use the word in. (cf. Z § 114)

Do you mind? I don't mind.
What do you have in mind? Go, if you have a mind to.
The product of a remarkable mind.
The mind of the composer. The mind of the artist. The scientific mind.

I wasn't conscious of it.
It made me feel self-conscious.
It was an unconscious act.
The victim wasn't conscious.

What this shows is that although there are questions to ask about the phenomena of mind (thought, self-awareness), there is no metaphysical question, for in the examples above the word 'mind' is clearly not the name of an object, as e.g. "the scientific mind" is a way of thinking, not the name of an object; it is nonsense to ask about the substance of the artist's mind (in contrast, say, to the tissue of his brain).

Is it the metaphysical non-use of language?

What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use. (PI § 116)

But if there is a metaphysical use, then isn't that the philosophical use and the use we should be interested in? What Wittgenstein must mean, I think, is not the metaphysical use, but the metaphysical nonsense. Because otherwise why would we "bring words back"? It can't be: because we don't want to philosophize, because we don't want metaphysical speculation. (Or can it be? But if that is Wittgenstein's project in philosophy, then it is indeed, to use Russell's word, trivial.) Metaphysics has to be impossible (i.e. nonsense), not merely undesirable.

Two children play a simple game of catch. One throws a ball and the other catches it and throws it back. Back and forth, back and forth. But now one of the children tosses the ball up and catches it himself. The child has broken the rules of catch -- he has disrupted the game; now he is either playing the game wrong or not playing it at all (cf. OC § 446). That is what nonsense is -- a disruption of a language game (Wittgenstein's comparison: using language is compared to playing a game according to rules; the rules say what is and what isn't allowed; what is allowed is sense; what is disallowed is nonsense). Is that a compelling comparison -- is the child who disrupts the game like a metaphysician talking nonsense? Well, couldn't you say that the child is playing a different game? (Does the game metaphor make the relation of grammar and sense and nonsense clearer in the case of metaphysics?)

The reality of consciousness and mind

What is it that we want to know or understand about consciousness and about the mind? What are we asking philosophy to tell us? "A noun misleads us, making us look for a substance, if not an object or phenomenon then a ghost" (and the words 'consciousness' and 'mind' seem to allow us to grab hold of ghosts).

These remarks seem to suggest that consciousness and the mind are unreal, because if the words 'mind' and 'consciousness' are not names then aren't mind and consciousness unreal? The phenomena of awareness and thought are real enough, but there is nothing for metaphysics to say about them. The propositions 'There is consciousness' and 'There is mind' are akin to the propositions 'There are objects' and 'There is space'. That is, these are propositions of logic (rules of grammar).

What is the substance of mind -- what is its ultimate nature and cause (What is its essence)? (The origin of some metaphysics: false syntactic analogies.)

We require a new understanding of the grammar of our language, one that runs counter to everything we have thought about language all our lives. It is not an easy understanding to acquire.

One can't underestimate how puzzling all this is. (But the difficulty here seems to be not understanding something deep but accepting something simple.)

All things are things

The words 'thing' and 'phenomenon' are so broad in meaning that anything and everything is a thing and a phenomenon. The word 'and', for example, the sign of conjunction. The word 'conjunction' is a noun and therefore the name of some thing or phenomenon. The phenomenon of conjunction. And metaphysics asks what the substance and ultimate cause of conjunction is. Absurdity of this kind is the result of following false syntactic analogies. This is harder to see in the case of 'the mind' and 'consciousness', however.

All things are things, and all things are phenomena.

"That in which they do not differ but are all the same?" (Meno 72c)

Any ostensive definition (definition by pointing out) is public -- i.e. it belongs to the grammar of the part of speech 'name of object' that names of objects have their meanings explained (defined) by pointing to the bearers of their names (PI § 43). Why limit the concept 'object' this way? Because in order to make sense and nonsense objective, Wittgenstein needed to make distinctions: he needed to call attention to differences: the distinction 'physical object' and 'abstract object' obscures the difference between nouns that name objects -- and nouns that are not names at all.

"Same name, therefore same nature" (obscuring logical grammar)

Giving things the same name (giving them a common name or label) (PI § 15) suggests that they must have the same nature (essence). Therefore Wittgenstein put the words 'mind' and 'brain' in different categories of language use (or parts of speech), namely 'psychological words' (which are not names of mysterious ghostly objects, but have a different use in our language than to name) and 'name-of-object words' respectively -- and asked what, if anything, they now have in common. The answer is that they have nothing in common but a name -- namely 'noun' (Syntactically they are both nouns).


Physiological Fictions and Psychological Facts

Our psychological concepts are not defined by causal criteria. For example, a man with sawdust in his head rather than brains can have the word 'thinking' applied to his behavior with as much (grammatical) justification as a man with a brain -- because that is the grammar of our word 'thinking'.

The limit of grammar is logical, not real possibility. (Cf. OC § 4)

On the other hand, there are no rules for circumstances that never arise, men with sawdust in their heads rather than brains, for example. Our concepts are only as determinate as they need to be (in order for the game not to break down).

The sign-post is in order -- if, under normal circumstances, it fulfills its purpose. (PI § 87)

"Imaginary pain"

The proposition 'A man with sawdust for brains cannot think' is either a scientific hypothesis or a rule of grammar, but as a rule of grammar it is contrary to our everyday one. But the contrary rule might give rise to the concept 'imaginary thoughts' -- just as medical science has invented the concept 'imaginary pain'. For neither is our everyday concept 'pain' fixed with respect to causal criteria (e.g. affected nerve endings). In answer to the question 'Where does it hurt?', the reply of pointing to a piece of furniture (BB p. 50-51) is a possibility allowed by grammar (not only syntactic, but semantic grammar as well).

Rather than invention of new concepts, revision of everyday ones

When scientists invent language for their own use, that language -- like any other language -- has its own grammar, but in medicine the practice has been not only to invent new concepts but also to revise our everyday ones. For example, in the language of physiological theory the sign -- i.e. the combination of words (seen as marks on paper, spoken sounds, i.e. the physical aspect only of language) 'I feel pain in the table across the room' is nonsense, because of the way medical science defines the word 'pain'; but in our psychological language it is not nonsense. And this is not an entirely fanciful example; William James described such cases -- and the doctors do not say that the patients are babbling meaningless sounds (undefined signs). [Note 8]

Physiological fictions -- e.g. the runner's "second wind" or the dieter's "My stomach has shrunk" -- can be psychological facts. This 'can' is grammatical: the truth conditions are different in physiology and psychology -- i.e. same words, different grammars: physiology has grounds; psychology has testimony (but no grounds). All the physiologist has the right to say is that no physiological phenomena have been found to correlate with the psychological phenomena; to call the latter 'imaginary' would be to make a grammatical rule, not to disprove anything. Another example: The psychological experience that a room seems cooler when the room lights are turned off, although the outened lights have no physical effect on room temperature.

When I touch this object with a stick I have the sensation of touching in the tip of the stick, not in the hand that holds [the stick] ... I feel something hard and rough over there. (PI § 626)

This testimony is grammatically interesting. It reminds us that in everyday speech it is not nonsense to answer 'In the end of the stick' to the question 'Where do you feel the hardness of the object?'

Do you think there must be counterparts?

Question: do you think that every psychological phenomenon has to have a physiological counterpart? Or that every physiological phenomenon has to have a psychological counterpart? What does the word 'must' ("has to have") signify? A metaphysical theory? The project of natural science is to find a counterpart, and that is the meaning of 'must' in the context of natural science. But outside that context it is metaphysical. Compare the proposition 'Every event has a cause'.

"... or that every physiological phenomenon has to have a psychological counterpart?" The physiological phenomenon of exposure to nuclear radiation damages the cells of the body, but that phenomenon has no psychological counterpart: the victim has no awareness of being exposed to radiation at the time of exposure.

Driving along Route Two the colonel's hand that wasn't there began to pain him, as it often did when he sat in a draught, or when the heat was excessive, or change of weather was about to take place. Sharp little red-hot stings shot down his non-existent fingers, nipping and stabbing needles of fire. (The Red Danube, (Vespers in Vienna) (1947), ii)

When exposed to radiation, tissue begins to deteriorate. However, the effect does not appear at once, and each internal organ has its own latent period. The person may not feel any pain or may not be aware of being injured at the time of the irradiation. When the radiation penetrates the human body, it does not stimulate the nervous system, so the person does not even know that he or she has been irradiated until the symptoms appear some time later. (Takashi Nagai, The Bells of Nagasaki [1949] ix, [1987] tr. Johnston)

Imaginary Dreams

Suppose a correlation were made between someone's testimony that he had dreamed and events in his brain, and suppose this were generalized such that regardless of what future testimony were, if the brain correlation exists then the person "must" be dreaming (even if the person later testifies that he has not dreamed); and contrariwise, if someone testifies that he dreamed and yet no events had occurred in his brain, then the person "cannot" have dreamed.

'Therefore you must have dreamed.' 'Therefore you cannot have dreamed.' Those two propositions use the word 'dream' equivocally -- that is, although they want to use the word 'dream' as we normally do (because otherwise why use that word rather than invent another) -- what they instead do is to define the word 'dream' using a different conceptual scheme (a different criterion) from our normal scheme (our normal scheme being a psychological scheme whose criterion is: testimony) -- namely a physiological scheme (whose criterion is: events in the nervous system).

The words 'must' and 'cannot' belong either to logic of language (definition) or metaphysics, not to natural science. "Our normal concept does not show you a theory, but only a concept" (Z § 223), i.e. a rule for using a word in our language.


Free will and Philosophy

The view of natural science: "The brain, the nervous system, is an extremely complicated organic mechanism. We don't understand it yet, or we don't understand it fully; but someday we shall." This is a prediction (or a scientific project); it may come true (lead somewhere). But what if it does come true -- what follows from that? [Note 9]

Our friend tells a lot of lies. We look at his brain and find many correlations between his lying and a particular mechanism in his brain; and on the basis of these correlations we are able to accurately predict when he is about to lie. But does this imply that when we see the mechanism, we see the cause of our friend's lying? No one can be forced to say that if he is disinclined to (i.e. this is a way of looking at things).

Suppose someone said: "If our friend is going to lie, he is going to have to speak; and here [pointing] is the mechanism of speech. But we do not say that the vocal chords, the tongue, and so on, cause his lying. It is what is behind the speech mechanism that is the cause. And the same is the case with the brain mechanism: it is what is behind that mechanism that causes our friend's lying."

If it makes sense to speak of the 'physiological cause of lying', then why not say that the speech mechanism causes our friend's lying? Because we shall never come to the end of mechanisms "behind" mechanisms -- not even at the atomic level.

At no level of investigation can we say we have reached the real thing in itself ... (DW p. 80)

We could stop with the speech mechanism if correlations between that and lying could be made. And if that were our inclination.

"Physiological cause of an intentional act"

Does the phrase 'the physiological cause of lying' describe any real or logical possibility? If someone had the knowledge to induce a false statement by manipulating the brain or the speech mechanism, all that would be induced would be a false statement, not a lie. That is of course a grammatical reminder that a false statement is only a lie in particular surroundings (cf. RPP i § 780-1). 'False statement of fact' and 'lie' are different concepts.

Say someone pokes a laboratory probe into our friend's brain and, in response to questions, our friend now writes down a false name and address. But is that what we call 'lying' (because this is a question of defining a word)? Not every false statement is a lie -- and we might also say that not every mark written on paper or spoken sound has a meaning, recalling the distinction between a sign and its use or work in the language; compare the hammer as an object versus the hammer as a tool.

Again, someone pokes a laboratory probe into our friend Robert's brain and the probe induces a false statement (e.g. 'I am a kangaroo'). But is it a false statement? It isn't a statement at all, because apart from its use within the circumstances of our life, that sign with the form of a statement of fact is without meaning (cf. "Were it correct to utter the sign 'I am here' in any and all circumstances ...").

"But suppose our friend is not only induced to utter a false statement -- but also induced to intend to utter a false statement?" Our friend can only intend to tell a lie -- he can only "knowingly make a false statement" or "mean to make a false statement" -- in appropriate circumstances, not apropos of nothing. Apart from those circumstances (context) his statement isn't "a move in the language game that is its normal home" (PI §§ 22, 116) -- and if we use this language as we normally do, "and how else are we to use it" if not the normal way? (ibid. § 246)

You can also only "mean" something in appropriate circumstances. The words 'I mean this' would be nonsense if added to every statement, as e.g. 'Today is Thursday; I mean it.' 'England is north of Spain; I mean it.'

The non-responsibility of cows and small children

If a man and a cow are both caught in the corn field, only one is charged with theft. We do not put cows on trial. Can we imagine a people who did? "I put it to you, Bossy, that you deliberately and with malice aforethought entered the cornfield." No, it would not take that form. The behavior of cows is not enough like human behavior for a cow's trial to take that form.

We only say of a human being and what is like one that ... (PI § 360)

But can we imagine a people who regarded all behavior -- both human and non-human -- the way we regard the behavior of animals and small children? "A people who held all acts to be involuntary." What would their attitude be towards what we call 'liars'? They might regard them as ill and try to cure them. Or they might regard them as defective and destroy them, or as inferior and make them slaves. Or they might isolate them in some other way -- because a community cannot tolerate the tellers of false statements. ("Did you put out the campfire?" -- "Yes, I told you that I did." But you did not and the forest is on fire.)

The cow is not locked up to punish her; the cow is locked up to protect the corn. So even a people who regarded lying as involuntary might lock liars up. This people might well put the cow on trial if that were necessary to maintain public order; indeed, the cow might be tried together with the man who was caught in the cornfield. Neither is held responsible -- they are found to have entered the corn field; but they are not found to have freely entered it, because the word 'free' is without meaning in their language -- but both are locked up to protect the corn.

But need anything about this people's behavior be different from ours? They would not speak of "crime and punishment", because the word 'punishment' would have no meaning in their language.

'Free will' is a moral, not a factual (hypothetical), concept. It is interconnected with the concepts 'innocent' and 'culpable'. Those who punish wrong-doing show that they use 'free will' as a category of judgment.

Denying responsibility means, not holding anyone responsible. (CV (1998 rev. ed.) [MS 135 110: 28.7.1947 § 2])

Free will and determinism

Clarification (because we use the word 'responsibility' ambiguously, both to indicate who did the deed and whether that person is held morally accountable for doing the deed): Denying free will amounts to not holding anyone morally responsible.

We say that "those who punish wrong-doing show that they believe in free will". But what do we mean by saying that -- that they hold a particular picture (world-picture) of reality? What exactly is that picture?

The words 'free will' and 'determinism' -- are these used to make a distinction in pictures? What is the picture of "free will" -- can a picture be of a possibility that is not logical, i.e. describable (an event without a mechanical cause; the movement of a ghost? But ghosts are invisible = imperceptible: "that events that are perceptible have what is imperceptible as their cause")? Determinism: what does our picture of strict causality -- e.g. the action and reaction of billiard balls -- contrast with? Random events (quantum physics and probability).

They "hold to a life-guiding picture" ("free will"): The concepts 'crime' and 'punishment' form part of their way of life.

What is the difference between someone with free will and someone without? Is the distinction metaphysical ("Every physical event must have a physical cause" is a metaphysical proposition) or grammatical? Well, but in contrast to metaphysical speculation, when we talk about sentient things we don't contrast the word 'free' with 'determined' but with 'compelled'. [Note 10]

Free will and automatons (robots)

Asking whether or not people have free will = asking whether or not people are automatons. The only question seems to be -- because this is not a question about facts -- what our attitude towards people is (PI II, iv, p. 178)? Can we imagine a people who treated other people as automatons? "Those people do not feel pain", children would be taught. With regard to real possibility, it seems not. When the people Albert Schweitzer described said, "That man is not my brother", they did not mean that he did not suffer, for they saw that he did (ibid. § 303), but only that he was not worthy of compassion (He was the member of another tribe, a rival and potential enemy) (ibid. § 420).

Suppose it were someday possible to account for all human behavior by pointing to physical mechanisms -- what would that change -- would we then treat ourselves and other human beings as if we were automatons (and what would it be like to consistently live that way)?

How we normally use the words 'free' and 'compelled'

If a policeman grabs me and shoves me through the door, we say I am compelled. But if I walk up and down here, we say I move freely. (WLFM xxv, p. 242)

Need the imagined people whose thinking, language, has no concepts 'free' and 'not free', make a distinction between being dragged into the cornfield and just walking in? They would not be a people we understand if they did not.

But although this is a distinction we make, it is not always so easily made. For instance, we say that although the man walked into the cornfield, it was his hunger that dragged him there: he appeared to be free, but he really wasn't. Then we distinguish between greed and starvation, degrees of hunger: could he help himself (cf. CV p. 63, remark from 1947)?

And from here we may slide into metaphysical or social-science speculation about hidden mechanisms, and end up saying that all behavior is compelled. But if we say this, haven't we deprived the expression 'compelled behavior' of any meaning? 'Compelled' contrasts with 'free', and if 'free' no longer applies to anything, then neither does 'compelled'. These words are inseparable antitheses.

And in this way we might become like the imagined people above who do not make this distinction and who consequently live very differently from the way we do. No saints, no sinners, no good men, no bad men, no morality, only laws to maintain order, to make life in community possible.

We say I move freely. But it is objected: "If you knew all the laws of nature ... you would no longer say that you were moving freely; you would see that a man just cannot do anything else." -- But in the first place, this is not how we use the expression 'he can't do anything else'. (ibid.)

Remember: our naive, normal way of speaking shows us a concept, not a theory of either the metaphysical or scientific kind (Z § 223). This is what we call 'to move freely' -- i.e. this is a description (definition) of how we use these words, not a theory about reality, about what is "really real".

Parrots and gramophones cannot tell lies

There may be no physical counterpart to -- i.e. something that correlates with -- some mental phenomena at all. (cf. Z § 607-609)

That is logically possible (if it is logically possible for an event not to have a cause, although that is contrary to our worldview), and if it turns out to be actual, then it may not be possible to invent machines to "read thoughts" and possibly control them.

If perfect correlations were someday discovered, what consequences would that have for our concept 'free will', with the grammar of the words 'compelled' and 'uncompelled'? Would we stop using those words, stop making that distinction (would we say that man is merely an organic machine)? Or could we continue to respond that a false statement is only a lie in particular surroundings, that machines and parrots do not use language; they do not play (Wittgenstein's) language games.

'Parrots and gramophones do not tell lies'? No, rather, 'Parrots and gramophones cannot tell lies.' The 'cannot' is grammatical (i.e. it is not logically possible -- this language has not been given a meaning (definition) in our language -- for parrots and gramophones to tell lies). In the first case, the gramophone (record-player) is a machine. And in the second case, the parrot is an animal whose behavior is too unlike human behavior (PI § 360) for us to know (except as a joke obviously) what anyone means if he says that a parrot can be a liar.

Causality between parallel vocabularies

We could say that the question here is not whether correlations can be made between psychological and physiological phenomena, but whether 'causality between the two' has been given any meaning. A meaning could be invented, e.g. we could change the grammar of our common word 'lying' so that it would be fixed by causal, mechanical criteria -- and then if the correlations between our new and our old concepts were imperfect, scientists could speak of "imaginary lying" or "unintentional lying" (as they now speak of "imaginary pain").

But nothing -- certainly no philosopher -- can force us to make that change -- i.e. to adopt that rule, to abandon our old concepts in favor of new ones.

New use in natural science is justified by a theory (in contrast to the grammar of natural language)

Why shouldn't I apply words in ways that conflict with their original usage? [Cf. "If we use the word as it is normally used (and how else are we to use it?)" (PI § 246)] ... In a scientific perspective a new use [e.g. 'imaginary pain'] is justified by a theory. And if this theory is false, the new extended use has to be given up.

But in philosophy the extended use does not rest on true or false beliefs about natural processes. No fact justifies it, and none can overturn it. (CV p. 44, remark from 1944)

The method of Wittgenstein's logic-philosophy is only to describe the "customs, usages, institutions" of psychological words as they are, not to try to justify how they are used.

As was noted above, we have not given up our everyday concept 'pain' in favor of the concept 'pain' that appears in medical theories. We do not say: 'I had thought that I had a pain in my face, but the dentist says that there are no nerve endings in that location. So I must be mistaken if I think I have pain there.'

Abandoning our psychological vocabulary in favor of our physiological one

Rather than choose to make the rule of grammar 'The movement of the mechanism is the cause of our friend's lying' (Physiological definition of 'lying', whereby 'lying' simply means 'making false statements'), we may choose instead make the rule 'It is our friend's will [intention] to lie that causes the movement of the mechanism' (Psychological definition of 'lying', which interconnects the concepts 'lying' and 'intending', as our normal language does).

Neither of those two propositions is a statement of fact ("hypothesis about the cause of lying"), although both appear to be.

What does it mean to say 'His will to lie is the cause of his lying'? Nothing -- i.e. it is a grammatical, not an empirical, proposition. It is a reminder of what we mean by the word 'cause' when we apply it to the decisions human beings make, that we do not mean a physiological mechanism.

If we say 'He could not help himself, because his will is weak', the 'because' does not refer to a cause (RPP i § 217 -- i.e. "A is the cause of B", but here the cause of B is, as it were, not-A, meaning that there was no physical obstacle to his helping himself), but, rather, we are giving our view of his character.

The word 'will' is not the name of an object -- ghostly or otherwise; there is no "the will" to be strong or weak or to be the cause of anything. (If there is a difficulty here, it is to see that all the remarks here are grammatical remarks.)

Causes and correlations

'Freedom of the will' or 'free will' is a conceptual muddle, not a factual problem [Note 11] as the above remarks show. We may point to any mechanism we like -- but that will not take us one step closer to understanding 'the causes of psychological phenomena'. Because we cannot understand nonsense. (Our physiological vocabulary is about objects, e.g. brain cells, nerve endings, and here we can talk about causes. But our psychological vocabulary is not about objects ('physical objects' is a pleonasm), and so if we use our language as we normally do, we can -- grammatically (i.e. the possibility here is logical, not real) -- only talk about correlations between psychological and physiological (or physical) phenomena. But making correlations is not the same thing as identifying a cause.)

Here it is difficult to see that what is at issue is the fixing of concepts. (PI II, xi, p. 204)

*

"What is the mechanism behind the mechanism?"

If someone took a wind-up clock apart to trace its mechanism, but afterwards said, "Still, there must be something behind this mechanism, a spirit making it work", we would say that he is confused. But why? Because clocks do not have souls. "But do human beings?" That is not a question; 'soul', like 'mind', is a concept, not the name of a hypothetical construct. Our naive, normal way of speaking does not show us a "theory of the soul" -- but only the use of the word 'soul' in our language (Z § 223). 'Human beings have souls, but clocks do not (except in fairy tales)' is a rule of grammar (What else would it be, for again "We only say of a human being and what is like one" that it has a soul, and it is only to a human being and what is like one that we have the attitude towards a soul (PI § 360; ibid. II, iv, p. 178).

To speak of 'discovering the mechanical cause of lying' is nonsense -- in just the way that to speak of 'discovering the color of numbers' is nonsense. It is to try to jump across the grammars of different parts of speech: to try to apply the grammar of object-words to psychological-words (as of object-words to number-words). This "jumping across" produces nonsense, not philosophical insight.


The Location of Objectivity

"Kant was the first philosopher to locate objectivity entirely in the mind," Professor Dennis Bradley told us at school. [Note 12] Maybe we can say this, so long as we remember that the mind is not a location. But maybe what we ought to say is that objectivity is entirely located in grammar (because grammar states the criterion for a proposition's being true or false). Time and space e.g. belong to the grammar of name-of-object words, to the grammar of 'description of an object'. And so the proposition 'The world consists of objects in space' is either grammar or nonsense. It is not a statement about the world.

"The mind is not a location." But this is correct: if we see what someone has written or sketched on paper, we see that person's mind. And this is not a metaphor; it is a rule of grammar (definition) -- a rule invented by Wittgenstein to give sense to the words 'location of the mind' (BB p. 6-7).


A spirit hovering about a Greek tomb. Detail of a vase image.
"... the dead, whose spirits may be seen hovering round the tomb"
From a painting on a white vase (detail) in C.E. Robinson, Hellas (1955)

Note 6: In a way, of course, it does, if the poor man screams e.g. But this is the only thing here that corresponds to cutting a body open to look for an object. It is not as if when we cut a living body open a little man with insect's wings flew out and that this object was what everyone called by the name 'consciousness'. Here the grammar of 'consciousness' is similar to the grammar of 'soul' -- when the soul is awake, that is. ('Ghosts are invisible' is a rule of grammar.) [BACK]

Note 7: We make analogies from human to non-human life (PI §§ 357, 360-361). We observe animals outdoors, e.g. squirrels, ducks, but not so much insects (butterflies), and small birds, and we ask ourselves what they are thinking. We make analogies to human beings, and we also do this with objects in fairy tales, e.g. coffee pots.

The biology and behavior of cats is studied. Investigators say that cats dream. Well, if you like. It's a question of accepting analogies, not of accepting the results of an investigation. That is, although it is a question of fact whether such-and-such analogies (correlations between human and feline behavior and physiology) can be made, this is not as it were a question about the facts of feline consciousness or the feline soul. What would it mean to say that 'a cat thinks', 'a cat dreams'? This question asks for a definition, an explanation of meaning; and that is where accepting analogies to human beings comes in.

Since flowers live and sleep, they must also dream, like children and animals. Surely all creatures dream. (Jean Paul Richter, quoted in Brion, Schumann & the Romantic Age, tr. (1956) Sainsbury, p. 35)

Robert Schumann underlined Jean Paul's words twice. How do we know whether small children and animals, neither of which are able to speak (and therefore according to Wittgenstein are unaware of philosophical problems (PG i § 138, p. 191), and therefore very different from ourselves), dream? It is not a question of knowledge, or is it?

How do I know that a cricket cannot dream? Is it because I am so minutely acquainted with a cricket's soul? Well, one might say this: If one sees the behavior of a living thing, one sees its soul. (PI § 357)

Note.--That is a grammatical remark only, Wittgenstein's decision about whether to apply the word 'soul' to other life forms. A flower dreams, a cricket dreams -- we call these fanciful pictures, yet how odd that we are able to give them any meaning at all: the picture of the soul as a ghost, the picture of spirits as the meaning of abstract terms (Should we call this superstition? There is instinct, but there is also imagination).

"But in a fairy tale the pot too can see and hear!" (Certainly; but it can also talk.) (ibid. §  282)

We only say of a human being and what is like one that it thinks. We also say it of dolls and no doubt of spirits too. Look at the word 'to think' as a tool. (ibid. § 360)

We look at a bird and we ask ourselves, What is that bird thinking? If a human being behaved like that, or When a human being behaves like that ... And we also do this with other human beings. What is that fellow thinking? When people do that, or If I were doing that. We make analogies, comparisons (instinct suggests doing this).

We say: "The cock calls the hens by crowing" -- but doesn't a comparison with our language lie at the bottom of this? -- Isn't the aspect quite altered if we imagine the crowing to set the hens in motion by some kind of physical causation? (ibid. § 493)

Just as "the aspect is quite altered" if we look at human behavior that way too. Man as an organic machine. We compare the behavior of animals to human behavior. That is all. About the souls (self-awareness or consciousness or inner life) of animals we know nothing; and to presume that we do is the gravest type of presumption (arrogance, "conceited ignorance"), a crime against philosophy and against life. [BACK]

Note 8: They don't medicate the furniture either. Why -- has this been demonstrated once and for all not to relieve a patient's pain? Doctors do not demonstrate it even once.

If I am inclined to believe that a mouse has come into being by spontaneous generation out of gray rags and dust, I shall do well to examine those rags ... But if I am convinced that a mouse cannot come into being from these things, then this investigation will perhaps be superfluous. (PI § 52)

But if I am convinced that pain must be caused by a physiological mechanism --. That words must be the names of things --. That the meaning of a name must be the essence of the thing it names --. My thinking cannot change until I am willing to look at other possibilities. [BACK]

Note 9: This topic was suggested by Bouwsma's conversation with Wittgenstein of August 8, 1949. Wittgenstein Conversations, 1949-1951. [BACK]

Note 10: The expression 'free will' is a pleonasm -- or what does it contrast with -- 'compelled will'? Was it your will to do this, or were you compelled? the judge asks. But he also uses the form of expression, 'Did you do this of your own free will?' (in which case the pleonasm is expanded to include 'own').

Leo Tolstoy and G.E. Moore

You say: I am not free. But I have lifted my hand and let it fall. (Tolstoy, War and Peace, quoted in Greene's The Human Factor iii, 8, 2)

Tolstoy's proof of free will, like Moore's statements of what he knows ("Here is a hand"), is only invalid (circular) if it is "somehow" (because it's not clear how) regarded as a philosophical argument rather than as what it is: a grammatical reminder that this is how we normally use the word 'free' in our language. [BACK]

Note 11: C.D. Broad, referring to instances in his own life where he had made what he regarded, even while making them, as weak-willed choices that he could not and should not have made ("Autobiography" in The Philosophy of C.D. Broad (1959), p. 67), reproached philosophers who called the problem of free will a "pseudo problem". But it is one thing to say that a problem is not a philosophical problem (e.g. a metaphysical problem of freedom versus determinism), quite another to say that it is not a problem at all. Obviously "free will" is a profound human problem. Human beings are imprisoned and put to death because of the judgments human beings have made about human responsibility. And children are punished for not doing well on their exams.

Suppose a drug were created that, if students took it, they would welcome studying. No more Shakespeare's "like schoolboys to their books with heavy looks". No more scholastic laziness. Some people would welcome this drug; others would condemn it for diminishing our humanity, saying that the need for self-discipline is part of what we are as human beings, and that human beings should not be turned into machines. But others would reply that human beings already are "machines", controlled by their biology (In Heraclitus' view "A man's character is his fate", and by 'character' he means 'nature'), so why shouldn't the mechanism be retuned?

Are there limits to scientific discovery -- can that drug be created? I don't know. Would we be willing to say that the drug was the cause of the children who took it studying -- that it compelled them to study? That is not a question of logic of language; that is the scientific worldview, and in our community of ideas we would call anyone who did not accept it irrational (That is not to say that ours is the true way of looking at this. All we can point to is a strong positive correlation between physical and psychological; anything more is arrogance, for what else would it be).

The choice to adopt a particular point of view -- can philosophy force which frame of reference is adopted by the individual? No, and that is why "free will" is not a problem that can be solved by philosophy, because the problem is one of selecting a point of view.

Philosophy cannot force a view of life on anyone, because the only philosophical force (compulsion) is logical necessity, and there is no logical necessity in the acceptance (selection) of one point of view rather than another. At most, a philosopher can suggest that you adopt a particular view: The philosopher says: "Look at things this way rather than that!" (CV p. 61, remark from 1947). On the other hand, Plato's method of tautologies can be applied to more subjects than ethics. [BACK]

Note 12: Kantian objectivity has two parts: (1) a standard set by the mind, and (2) data that is independent of the mind. Without both those parts there is no objectivity. "Concepts without precepts are empty."

If objectivity were located completely in the mind, then there could be no knowledge, but only whim ("seeming to be true").

What we can say is that Kant identified the frame of reference that the mind imposes on the data and that within that frame of reference there is objectivity. The human mind imposes a particular and inescapable frame of reference (i.e. concepts) on perceptible reality, the frame of reference within which there is objectivity.

The mind sets standards. Its concepts are standards. The mind organizes the data, the "something" independent of the mind. [BACK]


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