Category: Philosophical Intercultural Communication

The Motivation for Doing Philosophy

Today I have read the following:

“Wittgenstein, in particular, opposed the view that the purpose of language was to express our thoughts. Chomsky, on the other hand, embraces exactly this view. […] Chomsky has said in many different ways and places that “language serves essentially for the expression of thought.””

Stephen P. Schwartz: A Brief History of Analytic Philosophy. Wiley-Blackwell 2012, p. 182.

These three short sentences explained it quite well to me why I cannot find any interest in Ludwig Wittgenstein – not even in the older Wittgenstein:

And what if the interest in expressing oneself – like it is the case in my case – was the motivation that brought a person to philosophy? What would Wittgenstein say then? What would he have said, when he still was alive?

I sensed that somehow in Wittgenstein’s writings, but I did not know what it was. So I used to say (in Socratic words): “I cannot find the ‘philosophical Eros’ in Wittgenstein.”

Now, through Schwartz, I have come to know where the missing ‘philosophical Eros’ hides: Wittgenstein does not think that words are there to express one’s thoughts.

But how should I have expected anything like that? Do I expect that do not want to fill their lungs with air? – No. Do I expect them not to want to eat and drink? – No. Do I expect them not to want any clothes or rooms with heating when it is cold outside? – No.

So how should I have expected that Wittgenstein was saying/writing things without wanting to express his thoughts?

If I do not want to express my thoughts I do not need to philosophize. I can not-express-my-thoughts as well when working at the cashpoint of a supermarket or while playing a trumpet.

There are actually many positions available in our society for persons who do not want to express their thoughts: worker in an industrial plant, press officer, scientist. Actually, there are almost no positions in our society where one is supposed to express one’s thoughts.

Therefore, I do not understand why philosophy especially attracts persons like Wittgenstein who desire nothing more than to not-express-their-thoughts.


Are Scientific Philosophers Revolutionaries?

Reading Stephan P. Schwartz’s book “A Brief History of Analytic Philosophy”, I stumbled over the following sentences:

“Analytic philosophers saw themselves, initially, as revolutionary, breakting with the past traditions of Western philosophy. They saw their work as freeing philosophy and even society, from its past forms and obsessions.” (p. 5)

“Aren’t they rather the opposite of revolutionary?”, I remarked on the side of the page.

After all, their project was that of a scientific philosophy. – And science is a very conservative thing by its very nature. Scientists strive to always hold the same opinion as the other members of their group. Science is the anti-revolutionary project par excellence.

Once there was a revolutionary project of philosophy. Its idea consisted in the individal philosopher reflecting upon the collective truths of tradition and religious belief and finding out that all these contents were self-contradictory and incoherent.

Such an individual philosopher who criticized collective certainties for sure had all the others against him. But against who can one make revolution against, if one beliefs – like scientists do – only in collective truths? -Against outsiders? -Strong performance!

There is yet another reason that makes me wonder how scientific philosophers can by revolutionary: If one wants to discuss his opinion with other people, one needs to utter at least one whole opinion. But scientist usually do not discuss whole problems, they discuss parts of problems.

Parts of problems are problems of a kind so that non-scientists and scientists not specialized on that subject in order to understand that subject would first have to ask: “What is the context of this problem? What is its relevance?”

It may also be in some cases that the scientist specialized on that very topic does not know what is the relevance of the problem he is working on. If this is the case, he is a riddle-solver; somebody, who just does not care about the meaning of his problem, as long as he has fun solving it.

Normally, when you express your opinion this experience is person-constituting. A human being commits herself/himself to thinking in order to find out what she/he is convinced of.

But scientific philosophy dealing with a quarter of a problem or a tenth of a problem is person-dissolving. One does not have to be one or the other kind of person to have one or the other opinion, because the problem is so tiny that it is not clear what follows from it, anyway.

The scientific project has this peculiarity that it tends to conceive all problems this way, as parts of problems, as technicalities.

So we end up with persons who dislike it to disagree with the community and who express arguments which are to small to be understood by lay people to think of themselves as revolutionaries. That’s weird.

Of course, even though science can be revolutionary in the sense that it has revolutionary effects. This is actually the case as science is transforming our societies via technical innovations.

But even in that case science is not revolutionary through its word, by convincing society. Because science is conservative pe se.

Utilitarianism is self-contradictory

There is rarely any other theory in philosophy which I do NOT understand so entirely as utilitarianism. It is said that utilitarianism is the most developed moral theory, but to me utilitarianism makes no sense from the very start. A presentation of utilitarianism as a moral theory sounds to me as if somebody would point at a car and explain to me that in reality it is an elephant.

The reason of my problems in understanding utilitarianism lies in the fact that its very first presuppositions are self-contradictory in my eyes. Here I obviously stumble over things which are sound according to the intuitions of the followers of utilitarianism.

“Utilitarianism is a theory in normative ethics holding that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes utility, usually defined as maximizing happiness and reducing suffering.” (Wikipedia) The goal of utilitarianist action is to contribute to the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people.

Here, at this point, there is already something I do not understand: If we work for the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people, when do we have time to be happy? If we work to produce the highest degree of utility for the greatest number of people, when do we enjoy the utility produced by us?

This contradiction was already formulated by Benjamin Franklin (although I doubt that anybody is aware of the fact that Franklin’s statement constitutes a criticism of utilitarianism:

Remember, that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor, and goes abroad, or sits idle, one half of that day, though he spends but six pence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings besides.” (Advice to a Young Tradesman (1748)) (Wikipedia)

The problem described by Benjamin Franklin in this quote in economics is called “opportunity costs”. Opportunity costs are the lost profit of one alternative of action if you choose the other alternative. In Franklin’s quote a young tradesman has chosen to enjoy his free time, and although he has only spent 6 pence during that time, Franklin calculates that in reality he has spent 6 pence and 5 shillings; for had he worked instead of being idle, he would have earned 5 shillings in this half day.

From that follows that if one enjoys the fruits of his work, he fails to fulfill the utilitarianist imperative, for he would maximize utility rather by working than by enjoying.

This is why I believe that the problem of utilitarianism is not expressed in the controversy between Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, in which the first one argued that all pleasures human beings are able to enjoy are o.k. (“the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry”), whereas the second one held that “higher pleasures” are better than “lower” ones (“It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.”)

The problem in my eyes is rather that there will be no time left to consume the utility produced by us by working harder and longer hours every year.

Actually, it seems to me that today’s world is aready ruled by utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is inherent in free market economy. By producing goods and providing services to others we try to maximize overall utility and are successful in falling on each others nerves. For instance with the help of advertisments. Every evening when I come home I find a staple of advertisments in my post box. I remember that all these companies try to offer something useful to me. Then I turn around and thrust the whole utility into the dustbin.

Utilitarianism is part of the problem of today`s societies, and not of the solution. If I look around myself everwhere I see people trying to maximize overall utility in the utilitarianist sense. The consequences are stress, depression, psychosomatic and cardiovascular illnesses, drug abuse and a general feeling of the senselessness of life.

If we really wanted to maximize pleasure and positive feelings (higher and lower ones) of all human beings, the first thing we would have to do is stop talking about the utility of all things and projects. Most important would be to stop talking about the utility of enterprises or scientific discoveries for society (“What you can do for your nation…”). Because all these utilities just add pressure to life in society and prevent people from relaxing and feeling at ease.

The second important measure, if we really wanted to maximize pleasure, would be to think about the times and places when and where we can enjoy the fruits of our work and consume the utility produced by us. There have to be isles of leisure amidst the ocean of labour.

Maximizing utility alone will only lead to the erasement of these isles of leisure. If we want to maximize pleasure, we have to be aware of the fact that this puts limits to the maximization of utility.

As the Franklin`s trademan sometimes decides not to maximize utility by not earning those 5 shillings in order to drink a pint of beer with his friends, we should also know that pleasure can only be achieved at the cost of not always maximizing utility.

My message can also be expressed in the following manner: utilitarianism is a version of consequentialism. Consequentialism holds that every human action has to be judged by the its consequences. For many people this approach is quite natural and self-evident, but not for me. Consequentialism holds that you always only do something now in order to achieve something later. So when will you be happy? If you are happy, whenever, it is always now. Happiness, pleasure, and enjoyment are always now. But for consequentialism “now” does not exist, because everything that counts is always “later”. So if you ever happen to be happy at the moment, consequentialism will send you away to do something useful, because enjoying the moment is not included in the consequentialist program.

On Peer Disagreement

Thinking about the 36th International Wittgenstein Symposium (2013) I remember the 34th International Wittgenstein Symposium (2011), where I became aware of the fact that in epistemology there exists a large discussion on the topic of peer disagreement.

As I was not familiar with this discussion I understood the notion “peer” in a different way, and it was only one year later, through reading the papers of the past Wittgenstein Symposium that I understood that in this discussion “peers” are meant to be equals.

Before that, when I had heard the term “peer” in “peer disagreement” and also in “peer review”, I had always remembered my school time when I had learned the sociological or psychological term of “peer pressure”.

My notion of “peers”, derived from the concept of “peer pressure” had been that of boys, two or three years older and also stronger than myself, who told me what to believe and punched me into my belly, if I refused to believe what they told me.

That is to say: My notion of “peers” was not exactly that of equals; rather the opposite. Then I read a paper on “peer disagreement” and found out that “peers” are meant to be equals. I was really astonished about that, and till today I am not quite sure whether I should accept to believe it that peers are really equals.

I mean, take for instance peer review: There is a collegue from the same discipline as you, but he/she is in the position to give you a punch into your belly by refusing your submitted article. Can somebody be a peer to me, if he/she is in a position to judge me? It appears to me rather that a person in the position to judge another person is in a higher position than that other person. Moreover, they do not ask just anybody to do peer reviewing; one has to have already a record track and a name in the specific field of expertise to be asked to become a peer reviewer.

Another reason why I was astonished about the discussion about peer disagreement in philosophy was the fact that I had always believed that philosphy had always been a project directed especially against peer agreement. In old Greece, a philosopher would abandon society in order to reflect upon common traditions and beliefs, and by doing that he would find out that these traditions and beliefs (the beliefs of the peers) are incoherent and unconvincing.

I was, thus, surprised to learn that in the discusson on peer disagreement philosophers try to establish and defend the specific conditions when somebody is allowed to disagree with his/her peers. It seemed for as if disagreement for them was a problem, something that has to be justified by special conditions under which a disagreeing proposition is uttered.

To me, disagreement never seemed to be a problem. I rather thought agreement to be suspicious, for it might point at the fact that one or some persons told the others what to believe on a certain subject, and the others believed it because they did not take the effort to find out what they themselves thought about that very subject.

Scientists and scientific philosophers, of course, will tend to another way of thinking, because for them nothing is achieved (in a certain field or in the discussion about a specific problem) if agreement is not achieved. Knowledge in science is just another word for agreement: it is that upon which we have agreed that we now in fact do know it.

Still, if I hear the word “peers”, I can feel the punches into my belly, and I have the urge to retract myself from the discussion about “peer disagreement” in order to think FOR MYSELF if I believe that it is really possible that a peer is my equal and if that the way philosophers use this word isn’t, in the end, an ideological one.

Report on the 36th International Wittgenstein Symposium

Conference Center Kirchberg

The 36th International Wittgenstein Symposium took place in Kirchberg/Wechsel, Lower Austria, 11-17 August 2013. It was organized by Daniele Moyal-Sharrock, Volker A. Munz, and Annalisa Coliva. This year’s topic was “Mind, Language, and Action”.

The Wittgenstein Symposium is a large symposium, 11 plenary talks and 174 talks in sections were offered. Every day, from Monday to Friday, one had to choose between 36 talks in the 6 sections. That means that one was able to listen at the most to 6 of them, missing the other 30.

The participants of the Symposium were accomodated in Kirchberg and other small villages nearby (Raach, Trattenbach, St. Corona, Ödenhof, Unternberg). Free shuttle busses were available for them to go to the congress center, the primary school of Kirchberg, in the mornings and back to their rooms in the evenings at 20:30 p.m or 23:00 p.m.

There were two groups of very different level of importance at the Wittgenstein Symposium. The important participants were the invited speakers; their talks were plenary talks (1 hour, 30 min for discussion) in the morning, and their talks were published in a hardcover book by the editorial De Gruyter (before that by the editorial Ontos). Participants, who had submitted papers to the symposium, were not so important. Their talks (30 min, 10 min for discussion) took place in the sections and were published in a voluminous brochure, soft cover, format A4.

In another analysis, the participants of the Wittgenstein Symposium can be divided into 3 groups:

a) Wittgensteinian scholars – they tend to come back every year, many years in a row;

b) invited specialists on the topic of this year’s symposium;

c) students and young graduates who need the attendance at an international conference in philosophy for their PhD study programs or for their CVs.

The talks at the Wittgenstein Symposium, in most cases, have the same structure: the positions of two philosophers, e.g. Anscombe and Wittgenstein, are presented and afterwards one of them is defended against the other. The speaker may also argue that both of them are false, and that a third philosopher is right in what he or she stated on that topic.

It may happen that a listener of a talk is indifferent to both of the presented philosophical positions. In this case the speaker will give no clue as to why he/she thinks that these positions are important or in which framework or conception they are relevant.

The question heard most often in the breaks between the talks was: “What are you working on?” Possible answers to that question were: “theory of action”, “enactivism”, “intentional actions”, “joined actions”, “propositional attitudes”, “language acquisition”, and so on. The word “working” in the question “What are you working on?” seemed to point to the fact that the result of this work would be an diploma or PhD thesis, or a paper, published in an international journal of philosophy, but not an answer to a question the philosopher is interested in, personally.

By attending a symposium like the Wittgenstein Symposium in Kirchberg one can arrive at the conclusion that a basic human capability has become lost: the capability of a person to tell others about an issue, because she is interested in it; the capability of communicating one’s interests to others.

After listening to the talks at the Wittgenstein Symposiums and to the private discussions during lunch time and in the evenings, I experienced the strong impression that there was not possible meaning of a philosophical stance other than that of deciding upon who is right about a specific question, Wittgenstein or Anscombe, Davidson or Putnam. I felt that there was no other interest in a philosophical problem than that one of making a PhD thesis or a published paper out of it.

These assertions have to be understood in a strong sense: There was no other interest that could be thought of in such situations; there was no other interest in those problems that could be imagined existing anywhere. The phrase “I am interested in …”, meaning that there is some motivation in myself which directs my attention to one question or the other, seemed to be absurd after the Wittgenstein Symposium.

On the Gettier Problem

At this years Wittgenstein Symposium (11-17 August 2013) I will give a talk on the Gettier problem. I am still thinking hard about what I want to tell the people who will attend my talk because the Gettier problem is a real case of what I call ‘Philosophical Intercultural Communication’. By that I want to say that the congress participants (I expect them to be professionals in philosophy, experts) will think that what I am saying about the Gettier problem is absolute nonsense, whereas, on the other side, I, myself, think that the Gettier problem is absolute nonsense.

So, there seems to be no possible way of communication. And if, as we suppose it to be in philosophy, it can only be the case that I am right and they are wrong or they are right and I am wrong, then it follows from that that either they are or I am an idiot, stupid or little intelligent, which is the component of shame in philosophical discussion.

Thus, the fact that I go there in order to speak about something – the Gettier problem – I do not understand, just in order to express my total incomprehension of it, can by regarded as courageous, silly, or as an act of sheer aggression against the discipline of philosophy.

But it is neither of these attributions. It is really the case that professional philosophers – be it in English or in German – are often talking in a “different language” from mine, and I do not understand what they are saying. And at the same time, while listening to them, I have the Impression that, if their way of talking about the subject is correct, then there is no place left over for my thoughts to be expressed (because their way of conceiving the problem or topic makes my treatment of it impossible from the very start). Or, to express it in other words, it is really a case of Philosophical Intercultural Communication.

The Gettier problem for me to is a parade example of the huge differences between the different cultures of philosophizing, because it seems to be necessary to go through a kind of mental conversion (similar to a religious conversion) for a person in order to be able to understand the Gettier problem at all.

I will now give a very short synopsis of the Gettier problem as I understand it. The aim of the Gettier counterexamples is to prove that the so called Standard Analysis of Knowledge is insufficient. The Standard Analysis defines Knowledge as justified, true belief. A person S knows a Proposition p iff (I) she believes p, (II) if she is justified in believing p, and (III) if p is true. In his article from 1963 Edmund Gettier constructed two counterexamples in which all of these three conditions are fulfilled, but even though the person S does not know.

The first counterexample is about Smith and Jones having a Job interview. Smith is justified to believe that Jones will get the Job. (Why? That’s not so important. It might be “that the president of the company assured him that Jones would in the end be selected.”) And Smith has seen ten coins in Jones pocket. Therefore he draws the following inference: “The man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket.” But the truth is that Smith, and not Jones, will get the Job, and Smith also has ten coins in his pocket (but he does not know that.

In conclusion, Smith believes that “the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket”, he is justified in believing it, and it is true – but, even though, he does not know it.

That’s at least the Interpretation of the case of the analytical epistemologists. They say, Smith was right, but luckily right. There was too much luck involved, epistemic luck, and he could, under different circumstances, easily have been wrong. And the fact that his assertion was nothing more than something like a ‘lucky guess’, is the reason why we say that Smith did not know that  “the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket”.

What I do not understand about this Interpretation of Gettier’s counterexample is the following: It is obviously based on the supposition that linguistic utterances have to be taken literally. That means that “the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket” can either be true or false, and in the case that it is true, all three conditions of the Standard Analysis of Knowledge are fulfilled.

That’s not my way of thinking. I would ask Smith: “What do you mean by ‘the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket’?” As I am neither a logician nor a lawyer, “the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket” and “the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket” can mean different things, depending, for example, on the man, Smith had in mind when constructing that phrase.

Or, shorter, I would not Interpret the first Gettier counterexample in the way that Smith was right when assuming that “the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket”. What he assumed, had the same linguistic expression like what was true, but it had a different content. What Smith had in mind was: “Jones will get the job, and Jones has ten coins in his pocket.” What was true was: Smith got the job, and Smith had ten coins in his pocket.

The reasons why the Gettier problem is important for me is, first, to be confronted with people who really do think logically. They think logically means that they take linguistic statements literally. For them there is no difference between “the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket” and “the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket”. (If you understand me literally, I will get angry. This is also the reason why I get angry with the Gettier problem: I also get angry when I experience that other persons – even fictitious ones are understood literally. I think that we express our contempt towards a person when we understand her literally and not according to what she wants to say.)

And, secondly, the Gettier problem shows in which kind of problems and mess you put yourself when thinking logically. The Gettier problem is up to now unsolved. And there is a reason for that: the concept of knowledge expresses an inner relation between the knower and the thing she knows. That is: something additional to external conditions like those of the Standard Analysis of Knowledge.

It can be evaluated by an observer whether a certain person has a certain belief (for instance if she says to have this belief), if there are reasons for her to be justified in having that belief, and if the belief is, in fact, true. But in order to find out what it is a person knows one has to start asking her what she means when saying that she has this certain belief. But logically thinking philosophers do not do that, for the logical analysis of linguistic expressions for them is already the highest degree of accuracy possible in philosophical research.

Knowledge has to escape them, for knowledge is an inner relation. Or, the inner relation is an important part of its characteristic: “I know that I know.” “I know what I know.” If you want to find out about what somebody knows you will have to start asking this person about what she thinks to know. If you start – like the epistomologists and logicians – with the conviction that the same words always necessarily mean the same things, and that it is completely irrelevant what people have in mind when saying them, you will miss knowledge. Of course, you will not miss other things which can be seen from outside, like truth, belief or justification – but you will miss knowledge.

This is what is really interesting about the Gettier problem: that logical thinking leads to an absolute standpoint (a perspective in which statements can just be true or false – and not: interpreted differently), and that there are certain things – like knowledge – which cannot be understood from such a standpoint; that knowledge pertains to those queer things which require a second, a relative perspective in order to be understood. Relative perspective means: You have to go, yourself, to the place where a certain person stands in order to find out what the landscape looks like from that standpoint.

In conclusion, the Gettier problem is interesting for me because so many intelligent philosophers writing a mountain of sophisticated papers have failed solving it. But instead of suspecting that there is something wrong with the conception of the problem, they are still investing more logic and sophistication into it.

Now I am about to come and tell them that the king is nude and to take away their favourite toy from them. How will they react? I suppose that by proving to me that I know so little about formal logic, the rules of logical thinking and handling definitions that I will degenerate psychically to a sobbering something that does not even know its own name, anymore.