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The Limits of Language

Copernicus

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If your paradigm of language-driven thought is correct, then uncertainty and ineffability are related, no?
So are lots of concepts, but there is an important difference between uncertainty and ambiguity.

As for the Wittgenstein line quoted in the OP, it seems clear to me, even without identifying the source, that the line is about the limits of language, not the limits of thought. The terms are speaking and silence after all. And given the source -- since we both appear to have an appreciation of Wittgenstein -- you are no doubt familiar with the even more famous line of his in which he asserts that the limits of his language are the limits of his world, yes?
In short, I don't see my take on the OP quote as "off the tracks," but I welcome elaboration from you on this score.
Well, maybe you take the stance of a logical positivist, although I wouldn't have guessed it from your other posts. You do know that the Tractatus inspired that school of philosophy, don't you? I actually admire his later work more, because he took a more sophisticated stance on the nature of language and had a more profound impact on my field of linguistics.

What was really going on there was that early linguistic philosophers had come to the conclusion that many philosophical conundrums were caused by language--e.g. Russell's paradoxes. In Wittgenstein's early phase, Russell had a big impact on him. Russell was one of the originators of the so-called "Ideal Language" school, which sought to invent a formal "ideal" language that would not permit one to express paradoxes. I suspect that this was more of what was on in Wittgenstein's mind when he wrote the Tractatus.

However, Wittgenstein was also notoriously prickly about people discussing philosophical concepts that he felt they had no real understanding of. Silence is better than gobbledygook.

In his later phase, Wittgenstein departed completely from Russell's view that natural language itself was flawed. The school of "Ordinary Language Philosophy" took the position that language itself was not the problem, just the way people misused it. They weren't adhering to the rules of the game properly. That different direction led to some very important insights into discourse theory in the latter half of the 20th century.

For the record, I am not anti-atheist. I have the greatest respect for the great atheist thinkers of the past, such as Sartre and Camus. I am anti-anti-theist, which is today's pop atheism, a strident ill-informed brand of atheism that is really anti-religion and based on fear and ignorance, a brand of atheism generated some fifteen years ago by Dawkins and company, a form of religious bigotry that has done a great deal of harm in its influence on non-critical minds. Your debut post and its follow-up were chapter and verse out of the New Atheism, and so the association on my part was not silly as it addressed quite specifically the content of your posts.
I'm glad you cleared that up, and I'm equally not really "anti-theist" in the sense you meant it, although you jumped to that hasty conclusion. I admire Dawkins and am in complete disagreement with your assessment of him and his contributions, although I don't pretend to admire every aspect of his personality or behavior. It was unfair of you to start treating me as if I were some kind of disciple of his. Of the so-called "four horsemen", I actually prefer Dennett more, but I don't see any reason to demonize any of them, unless it's just an exercise in poisoning the well.


I'm completely in accord with your anti-muzzling agreement. I'm first and last in favor of the free and open marketplace of ideas.

The intention of the OP was that knowledge of Wittgenstein or his work is unnecessary to forming an opinion on the quoted line, but it is identified as a line from a philosophical word and your characterization of it as an "adage" and "a wise piece of sophistry" that launched on this one-upmanship trophy hunt. We can move on.
I understand, but I don't really think you were starting an intellectual discussion on the merits of the Tractatus, of which that line was basically the final conclusion. For the purposes of this discussion, it really can be treated as an adage. Basically, it could just mean essentially "If you don't know what you are talking about, keep your mouth shut."

Wittgenstein actually put that principle to practice in an interesting way. He was something of a theist, although a very nuanced one. When asked whether he believed in an afterlife, he avoided answering with the explanation that he didn't really understand what it meant to say that he could not "cease to exist".
 
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Tim the plumber

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"Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen."

Translated: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

Quoted above is one of the most famous (perhaps also infamous) propositions to come out of twentieth-century philosophy, written by one of the most renowned philosophers of the twentieth century .

What do you think this proposition means?
What does it say to you?
Do you find its meaning congenial to your philosophical view of the world?
If true, what implications does this proposition hold for philosophical discussion?
It mean that you should never speak about science other than to ask questions as you have not the slightest clue about it.
 

Angel

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It mean that you should never speak about science other than to ask questions as you have not the slightest clue about it.

"It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to."
— W.C. Fields
 

Angel

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I understand, but I don't really think you were starting an intellectual discussion on the merits of the Tractatus, of which that line was basically the final conclusion. For the purposes of this discussion, it really can be treated as an adage. Basically, it could just mean essentially "If you don't know what you are talking about, keep your mouth shut."
...
You see, that's not how I read the line. I don't read it as saying anything at all about knowledge. I read it rather as saying something about the semantic limits of language. Something a poem like the Frost poem we've shared above gives the lie to.
 

Copernicus

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So are lots of concepts, but there is an important difference between uncertainty and ambiguity.
I don't follow you here. Would you kindly restate?
Sorry, Angel. I meant "ineffability" where I wrote "ambiguity". I plead advanced age as my excuse. :3oops:

Ineffability is about subject matter that one could never be certain about, whereas uncertainty is about unresolved subject matter. It would have helped, if I had not misspoken.

I understand, but I don't really think you were starting an intellectual discussion on the merits of the Tractatus, of which that line was basically the final conclusion. For the purposes of this discussion, it really can be treated as an adage. Basically, it could just mean essentially "If you don't know what you are talking about, keep your mouth shut."
You see, that's not how I read the line. I don't read it as saying anything at all about knowledge. I read it rather as saying something about the semantic limits of language. Something a poem like the Frost poem we've shared above gives the lie to.
Wittgenstein's perspective was that language wasn't the issue so much as the misuse of language--not playing by the rules of the language game. If one played by the rules, then the problems would go away. He had rejected Russell's position that one could come up with a kind of language that would prevent irrational claims. Russell's intellectual progeny came up with brilliant advances in logico-mathematical systems. Wittgenstein's progeny came up with brilliant advances in discourse theory. Ultimately, though, the conclusion would not turn out to be a problem with the limitations of language but a misunderstanding of how natural languages actually worked to produce meaningful communication. That is, philosophers in the early 20th century did not understand the concept of presupposition very well. They also did not have a very good grasp of how languages other than a handful of European languages worked.

I still hold that Frost's poem is a brilliant example of how language can convey the thoughts and feelings of the poet and not of the limitations of language. It has nothing whatsoever to do with ineffability. We all share those feelings. As Wittgenstein was often at pains to point out, language doesn't itself fully express the thoughts being communicated. It evokes those thoughts, which already exist in the mind of the person interpreting the language. It isn't just about the linguistic signal. It is about the signal in a particular context of discourse. We understand metaphors, because metaphors evoke thoughts that are not associated with the literal semantics of the linguistic expression.

BTW, I recommend Lakoff and Johnson's Metaphors We Live By, if you haven't already read it. It is a fairly short monograph and requires no linguistic training to understand. The reason I recommend it is that it goes into detail on how deeply ingrained metaphor is in the language that everyone uses, not just poets.
 
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Angel

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I still hold that Frost's poem is a brilliant example of how language can convey the thoughts and feelings of the poet and not of the limitations of language. It has nothing whatsoever to do with ineffability. We all share those feelings. As Wittgenstein was often at pains to point out, language doesn't itself fully express the thoughts being communicated. It evokes those thoughts, which already exist in the mind of the person interpreting the language. It isn't just about the linguistic signal. It is about the signal in a particular context of discourse. We understand metaphors, because metaphors evoke thoughts that are not associated with the literal semantics of the linguistic expression.

BTW, I recommend Lakoff and Johnson's Metaphors We Live By, if you haven't already read it. It is a fairly short monograph and requires no linguistic training to understand. The reason I recommend it is that it goes into detail on how deeply ingrained metaphor is in the language that everyone uses, not just poets.
On the Frost poem we agree.
Thanks for the book recommendation. I'll see if Strand here in town has a copy.

Tell me, is what we appear to be disagreeing about related to the Sapir Whorf hypothesis? Does early Wittgenstein agree with Sapir Whorf, and later Wittgenstein disagree with Sapir Whorf? And is that where we disagree? Am I with and are you against a Sapir Whorf view?
 

Good4Nothin

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Actually, poets are quite good at expressing their thoughts in words. That's the whole point. It is not language that limits them. It is language that empowers them. We can talk about anything that we can have thoughts about, because language is basically word-guided mental telepathy. Any emotion or mood can be quite nicely described in terms of language, because the speech signal itself is only a means of evoking mental states and associations that we all already possess.
Yes, I agree that language is word-guided telepathy. However, that explains why communication can be so hard. If your listener isn't already to some extent on your "wavelength," your words will mean nothing to them.

By the way, did you get that idea from the linguist called Moonhawk? That's where I heard of it.
 

Copernicus

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Yes, I agree that language is word-guided telepathy. However, that explains why communication can be so hard. If your listener isn't already to some extent on your "wavelength," your words will mean nothing to them.

By the way, did you get that idea from the linguist called Moonhawk? That's where I heard of it.
Sorry for the late reply, but I dropped away about a year ago for RL issues and lack of time. So I didn't see your reply. The answer is that I got the observation about language being "word-guided mental telepathy" in a personal conversation with the late Charles Fillmore. He didn't tell me whether he got the metaphor from someone else, but it is entirely consistent with his work in semantics ever since I came to know him in the late 1960s. I just felt that it was a very good way of expressing the theoretical perspective of what came to be known as Frame Semantics, not to mention the general position of Cognitive Linguistics.
 

OrphanSlug

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"Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen."

Translated: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

Quoted above is one of the most famous (perhaps also infamous) propositions to come out of twentieth-century philosophy, written by one of the most renowned philosophers of the twentieth century .

What do you think this proposition means?
What does it say to you?
Do you find its meaning congenial to your philosophical view of the world?
If true, what implications does this proposition hold for philosophical discussion?
I am sorry I missed this thread, it is an interesting subject but not for reasons you would think.

Originally the quote "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent" is the last of seven propositions, or "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus," where Ludwig Wittgenstein was basically speaking about logical positivism. It is also the one of the seven that received the least explanation, in fact it received absolutely no other context and that last proposition was the very end of the writing.

That means something to trying to isolate just that one quote, ironically because nothing was said after that line.

Logical positivism has been called several things across the years since the roughly 1920's philosophical movement that originated the thinking but logical positivism, or logical empiricism, or even empirical positivism all mean the same basic thing... it was a view the scientific community, more or less a means to confine all other views, that scientific knowledge is the only kind of factual knowledge and all other means of explanation from observances and/or beliefs should be rejected as meaningless.

Now that is a harsh line of thinking because even science to gain hypothesis has to consider options for what is observed well before the consideration of a system of process to validate the theory, so knowledge itself is derived from the very means that starts with thought. Really, when you boil it all down all scientific knowledge starts with question and doubt.

The other conversation with logical positivism and that last quote is a discussion on the limits of language, the methodology of language used to communicate logic and scientific knowledge.

Just before that 7th proposition were two others from 6.

Specifically 6.522 - "There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical."

and 6.53 - "The correct method in philosophy would really be the following: to say nothing except what can be said, i.e. propositions of natural science—i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy—and then, whenever someone else wanted to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had failed to give a meaning to certain signs in his propositions. Although it would not be satisfying to the other person—he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy—this method would be the only strictly correct one."

Other philosophers not only misinterpreted what Wittgenstein was trying to say with that line but he also more or less denounced his own work with later work, "Philosophische Untersuchungen" or Philosophical Investigations published posthumously where he tried to put context behind the meaning of what something, or words, "mean." Even though Wittgenstein concluded that there was nothing left for philosophers to do with those mystical subjects, and he abandoned philosophical writing for nearly a decade, the effort to correct the misinterpretation came down to what you could call swim lanes.

One of the most profound conclusions from the 2nd work was the concept of "don't think, just look" (loosely translated at best.)

In that context, the meaning of the original proposition changed... but it boils down what I interpret as explain what you can from systems of process that make conclusions within the language limits known, as in what words "mean," then observe the rest and enjoy the discussions that follow.
 

COTO

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"Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen."

Translated: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

Quoted above is one of the most famous (perhaps also infamous) propositions to come out of twentieth-century philosophy, written by one of the most renowned philosophers of the twentieth century .

What do you think this proposition means?
What does it say to you?
Do you find its meaning congenial to your philosophical view of the world?
If true, what implications does this proposition hold for philosophical discussion?
I don't know how much nuance/connotation is lost in the translation, but if it's faithful and the intended meaning isn't "Don't speak on topics you aren't knowledgeable in.", it's going to be widely misinterpreted.

Having said this, @Elvira mentions that the quotation is the final line of one of Dr. Wittgenstein's major works. Without having read the book myself, I suspect the context of the quote may be indispensable to its proper interpretation.

As an engineer, I regard most philosophy--and especially contemporary philosophy--as trying to erect a building on top of a heap of garbage, floating in water, drifting in outer space, in the middle of a supernova. And once this "building" is erected, whatever chaotic mess it turns out to be, the goal of the next eager philosopher is to erect a building on top of it.

Intellectually stimulating, I suppose, but ultimately useless.
 

ttwtt78640

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"Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen."

Translated: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

Quoted above is one of the most famous (perhaps also infamous) propositions to come out of twentieth-century philosophy, written by one of the most renowned philosophers of the twentieth century .

What do you think this proposition means?
What does it say to you?
Do you find its meaning congenial to your philosophical view of the world?
If true, what implications does this proposition hold for philosophical discussion?
I took it to mean: if one lacks first hand knowledge (experience?) on a topic (matter?) then they should STFU about it and defer to those who do.
 

Simpletruther

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"Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen."

Translated: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

Quoted above is one of the most famous (perhaps also infamous) propositions to come out of twentieth-century philosophy, written by one of the most renowned philosophers of the twentieth century .

What do you think this proposition means?
What does it say to you?
Do you find its meaning congenial to your philosophical view of the world?
If true, what implications does this proposition hold for philosophical discussion?
Reads like a trivial tautology. :2razz:
 

TheParser

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1. I have just returned from reading the Wikipedia article about Mr. W.

2. I am probably wrong, but I interpret his famous quotation as: Language has its limits when people want to express certain ideas or feelings. So do NOT even try.

3. I know nothing about poetry, but I have heard that some people feel that a good poem (and especially some music) can "speak" to people in a way that no human-invented prose ever can.
 

Angel

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1. I have just returned from reading the Wikipedia article about Mr. W.

2. I am probably wrong, but I interpret his famous quotation as: Language has its limits when people want to express certain ideas or feelings. So do NOT even try.

3. I know nothing about poetry, but I have heard that some people feel that a good poem (and especially some music) can "speak" to people in a way that no human-invented prose ever can.
I don't know how much nuance/connotation is lost in the translation, but if it's faithful and the intended meaning isn't "Don't speak on topics you aren't knowledgeable in.", it's going to be widely misinterpreted.

Having said this, @Elvira mentions that the quotation is the final line of one of Dr. Wittgenstein's major works. Without having read the book myself, I suspect the context of the quote may be indispensable to its proper interpretation.

As an engineer, I regard most philosophy--and especially contemporary philosophy--as trying to erect a building on top of a heap of garbage, floating in water, drifting in outer space, in the middle of a supernova. And once this "building" is erected, whatever chaotic mess it turns out to be, the goal of the next eager philosopher is to erect a building on top of it.

Intellectually stimulating, I suppose, but ultimately useless.
I took it to mean: if one lacks first hand knowledge (experience?) on a topic (matter?) then they should STFU about it and defer to those who do.
Reads like a trivial tautology. :2razz:
 

nota bene

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1. I have just returned from reading the Wikipedia article about Mr. W.

2. I am probably wrong, but I interpret his famous quotation as: Language has its limits when people want to express certain ideas or feelings. So do NOT even try.

3. I know nothing about poetry, but I have heard that some people feel that a good poem (and especially some music) can "speak" to people in a way that no human-invented prose ever can.
Music is a universal language, one that far transcends words.
 

Norml

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"Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

There is speech (the word, language), and there is silence.

If you are not able to use language to describe, silence is the only recourse.

Words are like the footprints of birds in the sky.

Language is not capable of expressing meaningful thought.

Experience expresses meaningful thought.

For the individual, meaningful thought needs no expression. Silence will suffice.
Among various individuals, meaningful thought can not be conveyed by words (language).
The experience of one, can not be given to another.
Silence will suffice.
 

Norml

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A relative is not nuerotypical. They are autistic, nuero-atypical.
Language is not absent, but nearly so. At age seven, they are beginning to understand the use and purpose of language.
The way they think, shapes their language (not the reverse).

For many weeks, a flamingo was "eleven". (Based on the legs)
Other, short squat birds were simple "eagle" (thanks to a favorite cartoon episode that featured an eagle).
As they begin stringing words together, a favorite toy might be "red, little, ball" if it is small, red, and roundish (Maybe a mickey mouse car).
They have a thought they want to share. They start with the most important aspect, and color always rates high, then add other characteristics, as they see them and as they have mastered control of the word.

Their mind has been full of thoughts, with no grasp of the purpose or use of language.
Being an intelligent sort of person, they are figuring out this language business. Piece by piece they are putting the rules together.

They have learned that simply thinking about something when they are with an adult, does not put it in their hands. Even describing it with two or three adjectives may not be enough.
With hindsight,we are often amazed at the logic and thought process. Sometimes it takes a couple of days for the adults to realize the connection between thought and words.

I am reminded of the language learning primate that asked (signed) for "water candy" , to get another piece of watermelon like they had the day before. Its thought process shaped its language.

Language is more than words. Words are one expression of language.

I am hesitant to agree that language shapes thought, any more than thought shapes language. I would need more consideration on the subject.

Although my relative is neuro-atypical, the other primate was nuerotypical.
 

3leftsdoo

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INEFFABLE


"Do you know what the word ineffable means, boys and girls?"
I think that speaking about the things we know little/nothing about - and can know little/nothing about - is part of the learning process.
 

MamboDervish

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"Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen."

Translated: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

Quoted above is one of the most famous (perhaps also infamous) propositions to come out of twentieth-century philosophy, written by one of the most renowned philosophers of the twentieth century .

What do you think this proposition means?
What does it say to you?
Do you find its meaning congenial to your philosophical view of the world?
If true, what implications does this proposition hold for philosophical discussion?
LOL - well . . . my experience with my fellow Americans has, all my life, been quite the opposite. In fact, it often seems like the less we know about a subject, the more likely we are to voice our opinion about it.

Correlative to this notion is the expression: "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open ones mouth and remove all doubt."
 
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