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Wednesday July 31st 2019Tim Candler9

 

     There's a story about Wittgenstein that's well worth remembering. At a gathering of great minds, he got kind of heated around the subject of whether morality was an objective true thing or whether it was essentially a rule constructed by us people to make ourselves feel that we might be getting somewhere useful in a cooperative and friendly way. At the gathering was a man called Karl Popper, who was all about analytical empiricism which essentially is when you look at data collected by the evidence of your senses and you make your judgments about what might be real on the basis of stuff like math, physics, the sciences in general, and this way the argument runs you have a still remote yet much better chance of being roughly correct. No doubt it was some nuance in the discussion that resulted in Wittgenstein picking up a poker from the fireplace and waving it around in a somewhat threatening manner, and having done this for a while Wittgenstein left the room. When Wittgenstein was gone Karl Popper is reported to have remarked that in his view an example a moral rule was that you don't threaten visiting academics with fireplace pokers. I've no clue what point Wittgenstein was trying to make when he got so worked up, but his body of understandings included the idea that the underlying structure of language mirrored the underlying structure of the world.

 

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     Worth noting that he didn't say language was logical or scientific, he said language mirrored the world. So if you wanted to know more about what was real, language was the direction to take, and fair warning, if you weren't able to say something clearly then a very good chance what you were trying to say shouldn't be said. And you can understand why Wittgenstein's position might be truly infuriating to anyone who might be remotely interested in for example math. The thing is Wittgenstein was very much about mathematics, his point as I understand it, was that the meaning of a word depended very much upon the context in which the word was framed or uttered. And with respect to the context or game in which the word was uttered the meaning of the word changed. And he argued that within the particular game in which the word was uttered, there were rules as firm as the rules that make mathematics possible. So if you take "Evil is Real" Popper might get a little '"where's your empirical evidence" snide around the statement. Wittgenstein, whether he believed "Evil is Real" or not didn't matter, he'd call the statement true in the context of the rules of the game in which the statement was uttered. Tricky business Wittgenstein, but lessons in his thinking for the relationships you and I develop with the mathematics that power new media, technology, robots, Russians, climate change and it's a long sometimes terrifying list.   

 

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