Language, Reality and Work: The Joy of Wittgenstein

Warren Kinston 9. February 2013 10:00

Like all truly great philosophers, Wittgenstein had a gift for words.

Ludwig Wittgenstein  Language Truth Reality  "Uttering a word", he said, "is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination."

THEE could be viewed as codifying many elements in his thinking.  There is certainly support for many taxonomic propositions that look strange on the surface e.g. the notion that at the core of all well-founded belief, lies belief that is unfounded. He recognized that “man has to awaken to wonder—and so perhaps do peoples. Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.

His view that anything that can be said should be said is clearly an approach to using language that I share.  However, my taxonomic researches make it clear that this logical method is but one of 7 approaches for using language (available soon in the TOP Studio).  It suits some purposes and not others. He asserted that "the complexity of philosophy is not a complexity of its subject matter, but of our knotted understanding."  That is a principle I always keep to the forefront of my mind.  The taxonomy, at least each little bit, has to be simple and self-evident.

Of course, Ludwig said very little that wise individuals had not observed for millennia before him.  Ancient Indian Vedic scriptures, for example, claim that speech is the essence of humanity.  The fundamental principle of the Jewish Kabbalah is that names and letters are the essential, active and creative elements of reality. Confucius, too, emphasized the rectification of names.  Even biologists share that view, although they are probably not focused on the same concerns as those ancient sages.  The sages realized that what we do is governed by what we think.  And in order to know what we think, we have to put it into words and either say it or (as civilization has developed) write it down.  

Once what we write is divorced from what we do, words start playing tricks on us.  Not least making everything over-complicated or over-simple … just look at most blogs explaining scientific findings.  For Wittgenstein, words did not have meanings, they had uses.  You can see how that plays out in the Taxonomy where nothing but «use» matters. 

It seems self-evident that something that exists purely as unarticulated ideas or images cannot be actualized.  I suppose that is why John suggested that “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God”.  He already knew that God created the world by saying: Let there be light … and so forth.

Modern philosophy became (and still is) trapped by language.  It gets stuck in logic and in “what is … ” questions, like “what is truth, what is civilization”.  Wittgenstein broke ranks with his field, saw its pointlessness, and became a hero.  As Einstein noted: "Logic gets you from A to B, but imagination takes you everywhere." 

Wittgenstein realized that the world that we deal with exists and gets its meaning by the way we talk about it.  In short, the world is nothing more nor less than what we make of it.  This truism applies to great scientists as much as to the man in the street—these two just use language differently.  They have different goals in regard to how they want to use language and what they want to make of the world.

LW’s famous aphorism: “the limits of my language are the limits of my world” is often referred to as if it is the epitome of brilliant perception or some conundrum or paradox.  But it seems to be discovered and rediscovered time and again, and not just by academics.  Wet-behind-the-ears bloggers and modern day mystics have made hay with the awareness that using words is what sets man apart from other living creatures.  Wittgenstein himself was inclined to the mystical with his famous proposition: “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”  As if to prove the point, it is said that he would disrupt philosophy meetings by reciting the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore with his chair turned to the wall.

But what if we are serious about an awareness that reality is constructed via language? 

I am.  And nothing is more serious for me than the taxonomy.

Then what must I conclude?  Simply that this notion must be represented unequivocally and unambiguously in THEE, and it must have major—and I mean truly massive—consequences for our personal social life.  Consequences that would shake us to the core if we grasped them.

To some degree, I have already incorporated and explained this position by locating Communication at L5 in the Root Hierarchy of Endeavour.  The 5th level (in general as well as here) is what controls all actualization.  In the Root, it is about altering reality so as to bring it into harmony with transcendent states like imagined goals and inner willingness.  You can only alter what you can talk about.  You can only move forward with others by thinking and explaining how and why you are choosing and deciding.

What about those two transcendent levels beyond communication?  Your values and goals-RL6 are about the future, about what does not exist in reality but which you are going to make exist.  In Wittgenstein's terms, you must first imagine what you will allow yourself and others to talk about, and that imagining drives the effort to articulate it in words.  Willingness-RL7 is also transcendent because it is independent of reality.  Willingness lets us shake our fist at reality and even die for something unreal if we choose.  We are all aware of feeling reluctance or enthusiasm welling up sensually within us—in a way that is independent of language.

There is another conclusion that you can draw: people are going to differ greatly in dealing with reality directly, and this will be in accord with how they use language.  They are going to perceive different realities and they are going to change different realities in distinctive ways.

But changing reality is not easy.  It’s work!  So the sort of work that people can in principle do (and would naturally choose to do) must be a function of their use of language.

You can read more about it as I develop the 28 distinct hierarchical levels of using language.  This framework relates to markedly different work that people can engage in within society … it’s quite something.  You will learn about yourself here.  I certainly did.

Ludwig Wittgenstein was a sensitive neurotic soul, intense but prone to depression.  He spent much time alone.  He lived simply and hated pretence: I like that.  As you can imagine, his respect for imagination and anti-theoretical and anti-scientism stances meant that he rapidly went out of fashion in academia. 

But how much choice was possible for him in his work?  And how much choice is possible for you in your work?  To learn about that, visit the website.  Login and join me in the TOP Studio (it should appear very soon) as I struggle with language, work and reality—re-invigorated and re-encouraged by a colleague's example.



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Warren Kinston is the creator of the THEE-Online website as an open forum for the further discovery and development of THEE. He writes this blog as an escape valve for the excitement and frustrations of the work. More info here.

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