Sunday, August 30, 2009


Here are a few approaches to consider while composing narratives:

- Compression/compressed narrative: Summarize a novel's worth of events in 2000 words. A 250 word story....

- Inversion: Make good guys into bad guys, invert moral or social codes, etc. If you are a Democrat, write a story about a jolly hunting trip with Sarah Palin. If you are a Republican, write a story that passionately advocates socialized medicine.... Satirical or not, it will be amusing.... Alternative history or current events....

- Substitution: Substitute fire trucks for tidally-winks, circuit chips for Bibles, what have you.

- Lists: Longs lists of funny words to produce satirical effects, or to wind the reader through landscapes of sense data stimulus. Could a grocery list serve as a plot outline? Why not?

- Telephone directories: See lists

- Catalogs: Write stories about pictures, consumer themes; if those pictures could talk, what would they say?

- Criticism: Novel as critical commentary, a la Pale Fire. Using the voice of a critic to tell a story....

- Pedantic voice, pedantic forms: see above.

- Instruction manual or handbook: Could a pilot's checklist be adapted as a plot line?

- Advertisements: TV, newspapers, radio....

- Pulp action/adventure/sci-fi: "elevate" a traditional generic form to "literary" status through over-burdened cleverness, big words, and satirical intentions. Not necessarily parody, but parody is OK too of course.

- Hypochondria/obsessive-compulsion: a sort of craven fixation upon plot elements, imagery, or the representation of emotional states: example, a lurid description of a soldier cleaning his rifle, or an oral surgeon hammering away at impacted wisdom teeth....

- Hysteria: hyperbolic description, emotions run amok, purple prose, etc.

- Mock Epic: See Alexander Pope "Rape of the Lock."

- Cut-Up and Fold-In Technique:

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Tao of the Tractatus

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein:
6.54 My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it).

He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.

From The Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee:
Again let me remind you Jeet Kune Do is just a name used, a boat to get one across, and once across it is to be discarded and not to be carried on one's back.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Few Notes on Analytic Philosophy

British Philosophy

It is often maintained by historians of philosophy that England has had only one school of philosophy, or rather, that it has had none at all, for its philosophy is a perpetual protest against Scholasticism. A faith in experimental science, based upon empirical evidence of the senses, and a complementary distrust of scholastic and rationalistic a priori speculation, may be said to form the cornerstone of the English philosophical tradition. Although Swift developed no systematic philosophy--this absence, too, seems to be characteristic of the tentative and experimental English mind--a peculiarly English and to some degree Lockeian nexus of assumptions underlies one major area of his satiric technique.

Rejection of Mechanism in Nature

[Jonathan Swift strikes] at the affectation of those who, by formula and artifice, impose some rigid subjective perception upon the world and then pay honor to this graven image as truth and to themselves as its discoverers. The folly of man's refusal to see things as they really are is thus consistently translated by Swift into symbolic representations of man as a mechanism. Inflexible, blinded to external truth by his own conceit, contentious in his assumption of the infallibility of his subjective responses, man becomes a puppet in life's Punch-and-Judy show of artifice, system and self-delusion.

Source: Bullitt, John M. Jonathan Swift and the Anatomy of Satire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1953. (124).

Emphasis on the Particular

William Blake argued for the perception of reality as a disparate aggregate, for a reality consisting of "minute particulars" which expressed the distinction and individuality of all things. Blake rejected the neoclassical attempt or practice to get at the essence or first principles of things by homogenizing or otherwise discarding the details. According to Blake, it was these details which comprise the windows into perception. "General Forms have their vitality in Particulars" (Jerusalem 91:30). "Sacrifice the Parts, What becomes of the Whole?" (462). "Minute Discrimination is Not Accidental. All Sublimity is founded on Minute Discrimination" (453). "What is General Nature? Is there such a Thing: Strictly speaking, All knowledge is Particular" (459).

Source: Blake, William. The Complete Writings of William Blake. Keynes, Geoffrey, ed. New York: Random House, 1957.

Rejection of Inevitable Necessity

The idea that man is an unconscious victim of external forces, or internal necessities, is one of the greatest intellectual orthodoxies of our time. Ever since the waning of traditional religions, men have been convincing themselves of one inevitable necessity after another, until the point has been reached where some of them have actually started to become operative in detail. Whether or not this desire to discover some omnipotent external force signifies an intellectual rage for order and understanding or rather a deep psychological drive to identify with a superhuman force and avoid responsibility is open to question: but its existence is beyond dispute. It can be seen in the Marxist appeal to inevitable laws of history, in the Freudian appeal to basic drives of the libido and most recently in the appeal to underlying forces of technology by Galbraith and McLuhan.

Jencks, Charles. Architecture 2000: Predictions and Methods. New York: Praeger. 1971. (20).

Analysis of Intellectual Mythology

In the days of the Enlightenment, science was rightly seen as being in the forefront of the struggle against religious mystification, superstition and dogma. Today science has replaced religion as the source and authority of truth. Every source of truth must, in the nature of things, also be a source of falsehoods, against which it must itself struggle. But it may also be a source of intellectual mythology, against which it is typically powerless. One great and barely recognized source of such mythology in our age is science itself. The unmasking of scientific mythology (which is to be distinguished from scientific error) is one of the tasks of philosophy. For philosophy is not the under-labourer of the sciences, but rather their tribunal; it adjudicates not the truth of scientific theorizing, but the sense of scientific propositions. Its aim is neither to engage in nor abjure science, but to restrain it within the bounds of sense, to curb the metaphysical impulse that is released by misinterpretations of the significance of scientific discoveries, to restrain scientists and philosophers (who have been beguiled by their myth-making) from metaphysical nonsense.

P. M. S. Hacker. Wittgenstein's Place in Twentieth-century Analytic Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell. 1996. (123).


Wittgenstein's Early Thought: The Tractatus

Although the Tractatus conceived of logic as nonsense, or the metaphysical ends of logic as being beyond sense, it shared logic's desire to employ depth analysis to reveal the hidden essence of things. The Tractatus was "possessed by a vision of the crystalline purity of the logical forms of thought, language and the world," and strove for a sublime, unifying form of philosophical insight and procedure.

According to Wittgenstein's early thought, metaphysical contraptions do exist, but language cannot describe them. Metaphysics lies beyond the limits of language. Metaphysics cannot be described, but we know that something is "out there." Thus, according to the most quoted slogan from the Tractatus: "7. What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence."

Wittgenstein's Later Thought: Philosophical Investigations

The Investigations presents a diametrically contrasting philosophical view.

The Investigations strove for a "'quiet weighing of linguistic facts' (Zettel §447) in order to distangle the knots in our understanding . . . [through a] heightened awareness of the motley of spatial and temporal phenomena of language (PI §108), [and] the deceptive forms which lead us into conceptual confusion."[1] In the Investigations Wittgenstein strove for "no more than the description and arrangement of what is simple and familiar, 'hidden' only because it was always before one's eye and goes unnoticed" (PI §129). In these respects, Wittgenstein is remarkably suggestive of the philosophical stance Poe assumes in his mystery stories.

A key difference between Wittgenstein's early and later thought concerns the expressibility of metaphysical propositions. According to the most quoted slogan from the Tractatus: "7. What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence." In contrast to this, Wittgenstein's later thought rejects the notion of the inexpressible entirely. If it cannot be expressed, then it does not exist. Indeed, there is nothing that language cannot express. "For there is nothing that cannot be said, and there is nothing beyond the bounds of sense save nonsense."[2] Metaphysics is nonsense.

In the Investigations Wittgenstein broke free from the vision of a single, unifying form of philosophical insight and procedure, and replaced it with a method in thinking that moved upon many levels and was aware of the "prodigious multiplicity, diversity and inexhaustible richness of things, and . . . describe[d] the nature of a vast variety of phenomena for what they are in themselves, without seeking to fit them into one, all embracing unitary vision." [3] Although expressing a rejection of metaphysics and idealism, the Tractatus pursued the same illusion of a unified theory (or underlying metaphysics) of logic. In the Investigations, however, Wittgenstein came to reject deep logic because it is an act of superstition to pursue "a final analysis of our forms of language, and so a single completely resolved form of expression. That is, as if our usual forms of expression were, essentially, unanalysed; as if there were something hidden in them that had to be brought to light" (PI §91).

In Wittgenstein's later thought, philosophy is not, as the logical positivists believed, a science. Philosophy "neither explains or deduces anything" (PI §128), but "leaves everything as it is" (PI§124). Philosophy does not contribute "to human knowledge, but to human understanding."[4] As for philosophical problems, they are simply misunderstandings caused by conceptual confusion. Once these misconceptions are understood, philosophical problems are revealed to be nonsense, but not "beyond sense" or metaphysical--as Wittgenstein had conceived them to be in the Tractatus. Philosophical theories are latent, concealed nonsense; the task of philosophy is to transform them into patent nonsense (PI §524). In the Investigations Wittgenstein introduced a new analysis based on descriptions of the way we use expressions. This descriptive analysis is synoptic in the way context operates as a determining factor in our understanding of the meaning of an expression.[5]

Appropriate Response to Phenomena: Empirical Explanation vs. Understanding

Wittgenstein was unsatisfied with Frazer's reading and conclusions regarding Frazer's own anthropological findings. Wittgenstein asserted that the human rituals Frazer cataloged went beyond the simple expedient of an empirical explanation, and that, indeed, understanding Frazer's discoveries does not require an empirical explanation. Frank Cioffi describes this in Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer: "Whatever relevance empirical method may have to the question of the nature and origin of ritual practices . . . is not the central question which Frazer raises and is not, in any case, the question which arises for us when we contemplate human sacrifice and the ritual life of mankind."[6] Wittgenstein voices the same objection to psychoanalytic explanation. Again, according to Cioffi, "Freud advances explanations when the matters he deals with demand clarification, that is, they call for an elucidation of the relation in which we stand to the phenomena rather than an explanation of them."[7] Again, as to aesthetics, "causal hypotheses are conceptually inappropriate responses to requests for the explanation of aesthetic experiences and . . . they are not what we really want."[8]

Melville also makes this distinction in Moby-Dick. In Moby-Dick, Melville is rejecting scientific, philosophical and religious explanations in favor of what he really wants, which is a kind of self-understanding, or an understanding of how he stands relation to scientific, religious and philosophical phenomena.[9]

Wittgenstein's Conception of Philosophy

"Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language" (PI §109).

"Our motto might be: 'Let us not be bewitched'" (Z §690).

In Wittgenstein's later thought, philosophy is not, as the logical positivists believed, a science. Philosophy "neither explains or deduces anything" (PI §128), but "leaves everything as it is" (PI §124). Philosophy does not contribute "to human knowledge, but to human understanding."[10]

"What is your aim in philosophy--to shew the fly the way out of the fly-bottle."

"The treatment of a question is like the treatment of an illness" (PI §255).

It was one of Wittgenstein's aims to make philosophical inquiry into a therapy and, through an examination of language, purge philosophy of those questions which were based upon illusory concepts, i.e. concepts which were parented by a misapprehension of grammar rather than the facts of nature. Wittgenstein was put on this track by Hertz and his grappling with the terms "force" and "electricity." Hertz writes:

Our confused wish finds expression in the confused question as to the nature of force and electricity. But the answer which we want is not really an answer to this question. It is not by finding out more and fresh relations and connections that it can be answered; but by removing the contradictions existing between those already known, and thus perhaps by reducing their number. When these painful contradictions are removed, the question as to the nature of force will not have been answered; but our minds, no longer vexed, will cease to ask illegitimate questions.[11]

Philosophical theories are latent, concealed nonsense; the task of philosophy is to transform them into patent nonsense (PI §524).[12]

Therapy for Philosophers

Wittgenstein's technique of philosophical clarification is therapeutic in that it involves a rearrangement of familiar and unfamiliar contexts for the use of expressions that will make the grammar of the relevant expressions surveyable (PI §92, §225)[13]

Decide which of the following propositions provides the most accurate description of reality:

a) My mind is hungry for a big lunch.

b) My brain is hungry for a big lunch.

c) My body--my stomach--is hungry for a big lunch.

d) I am hungry for a big lunch.

The correct answer is d. The other statements are nonsense. Minds do not exist; brains are only to be found in medical textbooks, or on the tables of surgeons and gourmands; and bodies are only to be found at the morgue, at the beach, in the pages of muscle magazines, or in Newton's descriptions of objects possessing mass.[14]

It is not an easy thing to give up one's mind. If this concept is still difficult, you need more therapy. Consider the following propositions:

a) My mind is thinking about Plato.

b) My brain is thinking about Plato.

c) I am thinking about Plato.

d) You would do well to keep Plato in mind for the exam.

e) An Idea just crossed my mind.

f) The idea went in my right ear and out my left, crossing my mind along the way.

g) Some bees dance.

h) Some bees exist.

i) The dinosaurs no longer exist.

j) On my day off I am going to sit in the park and exist.

Propositions c, d, e, g and i are valid. The rest are nonsense. They exhibit conceptual confusion rooted in the misapprehension of language.[15]

The Synoptic Surview

"The pedigree of psychological concepts: I strive not after exactness, but after a synoptic view." (Z §464).

A technique for arriving at a perspicuous, synoptic surview of our critical problems:

The term "critical synoptics" can be used to refer to a number of analytical activities. For critics, critical synoptics refers to the examination of the influences of context, scenario and lexical/syntactical precision upon the meanings of propositions and concepts. The idea is to construct a synoptic overview of a concept or proposition. Any variety of techniques might be applied toward this end. In memorable terms, the basic idea of synoptic analysis is to tell stories about the ways propositions and concepts are used and understood. Such an overview provides a test for determining whether or not the proposition is valid. Once an appreciation for the synoptic overview is part and parcel of the critic's technique, any variety of concepts might be analyzed. The point of the following questions is to realize a synoptic overview:

I. How is the concept used? The use of the word, phrase, or proposition determines its meaning.

II. How is the concept used and understood in other scenarios? What is the accustomed practice of its use? The meaning of a word, phrase, or proposition is determined by what is explained by an explanation of its meaning, or an explanation of the rules for its use. (How does the concept reflect the discourse community that gives it rise?).

III. How is the concept understood? The way the word, phrase, or proposition is understood is its meaning.[16]

IV. What does the concept mean in simplified terms? How would the use of the word, phrase, or proposition be taught to a child?

V. What are the implications of the concept? What kind of world must be necessary in order for the use of the word, phrase, or proposition to be correct or legitimate?

VI. Are abstract nouns used in the formulation of the concept? Abstract nouns often have no validity outside of (and thus also within) the proposition in which they are used.

VII. Does the concept represent an empirical explanation of a phenomenon, or does it advance understanding of a phenomenon? Does the concept represent what we really want to know about a phenomenon?

Consider the following as synoptic overviews of various philosophical problems:

"Perhaps the most important thing in connection aesthetics is what might be called aesthetic reactions, e.g. discontent, disgust, discomfort. The expression of discontent is not the same as the expression of discomfort. The expression of discomfort says: 'Make it higher . . . too low! . . . Do something to this.'"

"What makes bright colors bright? Does it reside in the concept or in cause and effect? There is no luminous gray. Is this inherent in the concept of gray or is it part of the psychology, that is, of the natural history of gray, and isn't it strange that I don't know this?"

"What is called an alteration in concepts is of course not merely an alteration in what one says, but in what one does."

"Duration of sensation. Compare the duration of a sense-experience of sound with the duration of he sensation of touch which informs you that you have a ball in your hand; and with the "feeling" that informs you that your knees are bent" (Z §478).

""It is quite possible that he glands of a sad person secrete differently from those of someone who is glad; and also that their secretion is the cause of sadness. But does it follow that the sadness is a sensation produced by the secretion?" (Z §509).

"We should hardly ask if a crocodile means something when it comes at a man with open jaws. And we should declare that since the crocodile cannot think there is really no question of meaning here" (Z §522).

"What is the difference between these two things: Following a line involuntarily--Following a line intentionally?

"What is the difference between these two things: Tracing a line with care and great attention--Attentively observing how my hand follows a line?" (Z §583).

"The limitlessness of the visual field is clearest when we are seeing nothing in complete darkness" (Z §616).

"I should like to ask, not so much 'What must we do to avoid contradiction?' as 'What ought we to do if we have arrived at a contradiction?'" (Z §688).

"To understand sums in the elementary school the children would have to be important philosophers; failing that, they need practice" (Z §703).

a) First phase: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus ("The Tractatus")

b) Middle/transitional Phase: The Blue and Brown Books

c) Foundations of mathematics

d) Notes on Frazier, Freud, and Aesthetics (Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief).

e) Second phase: Philosophical Investigations, On Certainty.

[1] P.M.S. Hacker, Wittgenstein's Place in Twentieth-century Analytic Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996)., 98. The abbreviations "Z" and "PI" refer, respectively, to Wittgenstein's Zettel, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell, 1967) and Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell, 1958).

[2] Ibid., 111.

[3] Ibid., 98-99.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Carter Kaplan, Critical Synoptics: Menippean Satire and the Analysis of Intellectual Mythology (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2000) 27-29.

[6] Frank Cioffi, Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer, (Cambridge: Cambridge, 1998), 2.

[7] Ibid., 3.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Carter Kaplan, Critical Synoptics, 117.

[10] P.M.S. Hacker, Wittgenstein's Place...110, quoted in Carter Kaplan, Critical Synoptics 28.

[11] Quoted in P. M. S. Hacker, Insight and Illusion (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972), 21.

[12] Carter Kaplan, Critical Synoptics (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson) 28.

[13] Ibid., 28-29.

[14] Ibid., 14.

[15] Ibid., 203.

[16] P. M. S. Hacker, Wittgenstein's Place, 125. Press, 2000)

Supplemental Reading:

Duncan Richter: Introduction to Wittgenstein from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Wittgenstein Links: