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See Why They Call Me ‘The Recondite Polemicist

October 23, 2006

See how Wittgenstein’s philosophy can get you out of defining “girly music” to your friend.

Here it is guys – an update.

Looking back on the site — it’s been two months since I’ve posted.  That’s insane.   Well, I’ve written journal entries that I just never posted to the site  🙂

In the main – as far as things I’ve been working on that I consider to be moving me “forward” – it would be reading Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations.  I’ve never read a book quite like it.

The main basis behind the book is that a lot of intellectual “problems” and arguments that have been brought up over time – whether by philosophers and religion, etc, were never problems at all, but simply confusions based on a lack of understanding of language and its mechanics.

The book can be summarized in this one statement:
“Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of our language.”

I don’t plan on recapping the book, but I’ll give a few of the more simplistic examples.  We’ll take mind to begin with.  Take two sentences:

“I’ll keep that in this box.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Here you see the word ‘mind’ being used like we use the word ‘box’.  We use words like ‘inside’ and treat mind as we do a physical container.  Then people get to thinking this “mind” is some entity that contains things and we need to explain them.  Then people go on to ask “What is mind” and never have an answer.

There’s lots of ‘What is’ questions people ask everyday.  I remember a funny conversation I had with a friend while playing a video game not too long ago.  I’ll try to recap basically what was said:

Me:  “Oh, I’m just listening to some girly music.”
Her: “Girly!?  Definition Please!”
Me:  “Well, I’m listening to Sixpence None the Richer”

I actually have no idea ‘girly music’ entails, but I think this is a good example of how words get injected into vocabulary and used by people all the time, and they don’t oftentimes have a definition which could be defined by a universal criteria.

Hehe, I found myself in that old dilemma – What exactly are definitions?  Especially in music.  Wittgenstein had a fun example which basically is the same thing:

Take the word “game” for example.  Someone asks “what is a game?” Then the person goes on to describe Basketball, Football, Soccer, Chess, Billards, several video games, etc.  Would we say this person doesn’t understand what a game is because they don’t give a common critera that belongs to them all?

I asked Greg this question and he gave the reply, “Well, I guess you could say all games entertain someone.”  You could say this – but which explanation is more valuable – the listing of examples, or the universal critera? People are entertained by a wide myriad of things – crafts, reading, cooking, hobbies, jogging, etc.  Certainly all these aren’t considered games, yet they can entertain people as well.

Let me ask the reader of this entry this:  Can you give me a definition of a ‘game’?  A set of critera common to all games?  If not (instantly off the top of your head), does that mean you didn’t know what a game was before I asked you?

Let’s say you do come up with a definition that we feel adequate to define games.  Now let’s go to a school child and ask him what a game is.  He goes on to list sports he plays and video games he plays on his Playstation but yet isn’t able to give us a definition based on universal critera. Does he not know what a game is?

Definitions are fascinating because they don’t neccessarily need a common set of criteria for the word to have meaning.  Sometimes words are simply container labels which stand in a one-to-many relation to various things they correspond to.  You simply add objects to the list.

Back to our music example – it seems to be in the same dilemma.  If someone asks “What is country music” and you talk about banjos and steel guitars and try to give this technical musical information about various music scales, tempos, etc. — I think having a person just listen to a set of music which all exhibit this common critera which you simply perceive with your mind is not only easier to communicate, but in reality, a better definition.

How many of us have seen various cds classified as one music genera and we all wonder why they considered it such?

Words are all about purpose – what are you trying to communicate?  Everything boils down to purpose – everything.  As for calling the music girly – I was simply trying to aggravate that girl because I know she’d reply like that.  Haha.  *evil grin*  If that was my purpose, then I succeeded – no need for furthur explanation.

Philosophical Investigations is a great book – I barely scratched the surface.  Have to read it for yourself I guess.

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