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Thread: Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

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    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

    Below is a completely re-written and very much shortened version of an article I posted at RevLeft a year or so ago.

    [Added on edit: I have now completely re-written this article once more, making the argument, I hope, even clearer. The updated version can be accessed here.]

    When I use the word "metaphysics" I am in fact referring to traditional philosophy, as it has been practiced in the 'West' since Ancient Greek times. As far as this essay is concerned, the two terms are interchangeable.

    Why All Philosophical Theories Are Non-Sensical

    This is a summary of Essay Twelve Part One. It tackles issues that have sailed right over the heads of some of the greatest minds in history. I claim no particular originality for what follows (except, perhaps its highly simplified mode of presentation and its political slant); much of it has in fact been derived from Wittgenstein's work.

    This is an Introductory Essay, which has been written for those who find the main Essays at my site either too long, or too difficult. It does not pretend to be comprehensive since it's a summary of the core ideas presented at my site. The vast bulk of the supporting evidence and argument found in the original Essay has been omitted. Anyone wanting more details, or who would like to examine my arguments and evidence in full, should consult the main Essay for which this is a précis.

    ---------------------------------

    Metaphysical Theses

    Here is a typical metaphysical proposition:

    M1: Time is a relation between events.

    Theses like M1 purport to inform us of fundamental aspects of nature, valid for all of space and time.

    The seemingly profound nature of theses like M1 is linked to rather more mundane features of the language in which they are expressed: that is, the fact that the main verb is often in the indicative mood.

    Now, this apparently superficial grammatical outer facade hides a deeper logical form, which is something that only becomes obvious when such sentences are examined more closely.

    Expressions like this look as if they revealed profound truths about reality since they resemble empirical propositions (i.e., propositions about matters of fact). But, they turn out to be nothing at all like them.

    Consider an ordinary empirical proposition:

    M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.

    Compare that with these similar-looking indicative sentences:

    M1: Time is a relation between events.

    M3: To be is to be perceived.

    First, in order to understand M2, it's not necessary to know whether it is true or whether it is false. I am sure all of those who have read M2 understand it even though they haven't a clue whether or not it is true.

    Contrast that with the comprehension of M1 or M3. Understanding either of these goes hand-in-hand with knowing they are both true (or, alternatively, knowing they are both false, as the case may be). Their truth or their falsehood follows either (1) From the meaning of the words they contain, (2) From specific definitions or (3) From a handful of supporting 'thought experiments' -- i.e., from yet more words.

    To be sure, (1)-(3) might also be prefaced by some sort of 'philosophical argument' -- but these, too, are just more words; no evidence is needed. Indeed, it's not possible to devise experiments to test propositions like M1 and M3.

    This now intimately links the truth-status of sentences like M1 and M3 with meaning, not experimental or factual confirmation, and hence not with a confrontation with material reality. Their truth-status is thus independent of, and anterior to the search for supporting evidence. [Well, what could you look for in nature that would confirm M1 or M3?]

    In contrast, understanding M2 is independent of its confirmation and its disconfirmation. Indeed, it would be impossible to do either of these if M2 had not already been understood. Plainly, the actual truth or the actual falsehood of M2-type propositions follows from the way the world happens to be, and not solely from the meaning of certain expressions. The truth-status of M2 can't be read-off from the words it contains, unlike M1- and M3-type sentences.

    Empirical propositions are typically like this; they have to be understood first before they can be confronted with the evidence that would establish their truth-status.

    In contrast, metaphysical propositions carry their truth or their falsehood on their faces, as it were, and need no evidence to establish either of these. Understanding them is at one with knowing their supposed truth-status.

    Second, metaphysical theses (like M1 and M3) were deliberately constructed by philosophers in order to transcend the limitations of the material world.

    This approach was justified on the grounds that it allowed them to uncover the underlying "essence" of reality, thus revealing nature's "hidden secrets" (i.e., the fundamental principles by means of which the 'deity' had created the world). This idea then linked philosophical language with the invisible, underlying structure of the world; it still remains in place today, even though its theological origin has been forgotten. That's why metaphysical 'truths' are still being derived from language/thought alone, even by atheists.

    Theses like these are deemed "necessarily true" (or declared "necessarily false"), and are thus held to express knowledge of fundamental aspects of reality, unlike contingent, empirical propositions whose truth can alter with the wind.

    After all, Tony Blair might sell his copy of Das Kapital -- or, indeed, buy the book if he doesn't already own it. But, 'philosophical knowledge' -- 'genuine knowledge' -- can't depend on such changeable features of reality, or, so we have been led to believe.

    Traditionally, this meant that empirical propositions like M2 were considered epistemologically inferior to M1- and M3-type sentences, since they were deemed incapable of revealing fundamental knowledge of the above sort.

    Metaphysical propositions thus masquerade as especially profound Super-Empirical Truths, which cannot fail to be true (or cannot fail to be false, as the case may be). They achieve this by using the indicative mood --, but they then go way beyond it.

    Thus, what they say does not just happen to be so, as is the case with ordinary empirical truths. What M1- and M3-type sentences say cannot possibly be otherwise. The world must conform to whatever they say, not the other way round. They thus determine the logical form of any possible world.

    This also helps account for the frequent use of modal terms (such as, "must", "necessary" and "inconceivable") -- as in "I must exist if I can think" [paraphrasing Descartes], "Time must be a relation between events" [paraphrasing Kant], or "Being must be identical with and yet at the same time different from Nothing, the contradiction resolved in Becoming" [paraphrasing Hegel].

    Everything in reality must be this or it must be that.

    Contrast this with M2. If anyone were to question its truth, the following response: "Tony Blair must own a copy of Das Kapital" would be highly inappropriate, and misleading.

    So, the world dictates to us whether what M2-type sentences say is true, or what they say is false. They do not dictate to reality what it must contain, or what it must be like.

    With respect to M1- and M3-type sentences, things are the exact opposite: because their truth-values (true or false) can be determined independently, and in advance of the way the world happens to be, philosophers use them to dictate to reality what it must be like.

    Such Super-Truths (or Super-Falsehoods) are derived solely from the alleged meaning of the words they contain (or from the 'concepts' they supposedly express). In that case, once they have been understood, metaphysical propositions like M1 and M3 guarantee their own truth or their own falsehood. They are true a priori.

    The intimate connection such theses have with language means that questioning their veracity seems to run against the grain of our understanding, not of our experience. Indeed, they appear to be self-evident precisely because they need no evidence to confirm their truth-status; they provide their own 'justification', and testify on their own behalf. They thus appear to many to be 'self-evident'.

    Unfortunately, that divorces such theses from material reality, since they are true or they are false independently of any apparent state of the world. [Which is, of course, why no experiment is conceivable by means of which they can be tested.]

    The Ineluctable Slide Into Non-Sense

    Third, the Super-Scientific nature of such theses means they rapidly slide into non-sense. This happens whenever their proponents undermine either the vernacular or the logical and pragmatic principles on which it is based. [How that works will be explained as this article unfolds.]

    It's worth pointing out, however, that "non-sense" is not the same as "nonsense". The latter word has various meanings ranging from the patently false (e.g., "Karl Marx was a shape-shifting lizard") to plain gibberish (e.g., "783&£$750 ow2jmn 34y4&$ 6y3n3& 8FT34n").

    "Non-sense", on the other hand, relates to indicative sentences that turn out to be incapable of expressing a sense no matter what we try to do with them -- that is, they are incapable of being true and they are incapable of being false. So, when such sentences are employed to state fundamental truths about reality, they seriously misfire since they can't possibly do this.

    Finally, the word "sense" is being used in the following way: it expresses what we understand to be the case for the proposition in question to be true or what we understand to be the case for it to be false, even if we do not know whether it is actually true or whether it is actually false.

    For example, everyone (who knows English, who knows who Tony Blair and what Das Kapital are) will understand M2 (i.e., "Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital") upon hearing or reading it. They grasp its sense --, that is, they understand what the world would have to be like for it to be true or what the world would have to be like for it to be false.

    More importantly, the same situation will make M2 true if it obtains, just as it will make M2 false if it doesn't. [The significance of that comment will become clearer presently.]

    These conditions are integral to our capacity to understand empirical propositions before we know whether they are true or whether they are false. Indeed, they help explain why we know what to look for (or to expect) in order to show such propositions are indeed true, or to show they are in fact false, even if we never succeed in doing either.

    Fourth, intractable logical problems soon emerge (with regard to such supposedly empirical, but nonetheless metaphysical sentences) if an attempt is made to restrict or eliminate one or other of the paired semantic (i.e., true or false) possibilities associated with ordinary empirical propositions -- that is, if we try to exclude their truth or we try to exclude their falsehood.

    This occurs, for example, when an apparently empirical proposition is declared to be "only true" or "only false" -- or, more pointedly, 'necessarily' the one or the other.

    As we will soon see, this tactic results in the automatic loss of both semantic options, and with that goes any sense the original proposition might have had, rendering it non-sensical.

    That is because an empirical proposition leaves it open as to whether it is true or whether it is false. That is why its truth-value (true/false) can't simply be read-off from its content, why evidence is required in order to determine its semantic status (true/false, once more), and why it is possible to understand it before its truth or its falsehood is known.

    If that weren't so, it would be impossible to ascertain the truth-status of an empirical proposition. Plainly, it's not possible to confirm or refute a supposedly indicative sentence if no one understands what it is saying!

    When this is not the case -- i.e., when either option (truth or falsehood) is closed-off, or when a proposition is said to be "necessarily true" or "necessarily false" -- evidence clearly becomes irrelevant.

    If, however, a proposition is held to be a Super-truth about the world -- about its "essence", or its underlying 'rational structure' -- then it's plainly metaphysical.

    [A 'Super-truth' superficially resembles an ordinary scientific truth, but it is in fact nothing like it. Super-truths transcend anything the sciences could possibly confirm or confute. M1 and M3 above are excellent examples of this. Their alleged truth depends solely on meaning, not on the way the world happens to be.]

    Otherwise the actual truth or actual falsehood of such propositions would be world-sensitive, not solely meaning- or concept-dependent. And that explains why the comprehension of metaphysical propositions appears to go hand in hand with knowing their 'truth' (or knowing their 'falsehood'): their truth-status is based solely on thought, language or meaning, not on the material world.

    This means that they can't be related to the material world or to anything in it, and hence they can't be used to help change it.

    An empirical proposition derives its sense from the truth possibilities it appears to hold open (which options can later be decided upon one way or the other by a confrontation with the material world -- i.e., with evidence). That is why the actual truth-value of, say, M2 (and its contradictory, M4, below) does not need to be known before it is understood. But it is why evidence is relevant to establishing that truth-value.

    M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.

    M4: Tony Blair does not own a copy of Das Kapital.

    In order to comprehend M2 and M4, all that is required is some grasp of the possibility that they both hold open, which is the same in each case. M2 and M4 have the same content, and are made true or made false by the same situation obtaining, or not obtaining, respectively.

    Fifth, if a proposition looks as if it were empirical -- because it uses the indicative mood -- and yet it can only be true or it can only be false then, as we will see, serious problems soon arise.

    We can see why this is so if we consider the following typical metaphysical thesis and its supposed negation:

    M1: Time is a relation between events.

    M5: Time isn't a relation between events.

    As we have seen, the alleged truth of M1 is derived from the meaning of the words it contains. But, unlike M2 and M4, the truth of M1 can't be denied by the use of, say, M5, since that would amount to a change in the meaning of the word "time".

    That's because sentences like M1 define what a given philosopher means by, in this case, "time".

    If time isn't a relation between events, then the word "time" plainly has a different meaning in M1 and M5. And if that is so, M1 and M5 can't represent the same state of affairs.

    So, despite appearances to the contrary, M5 isn't the negation of M1!

    And that's because the subject of each sentence is different.

    To see this point, compare the following:

    M6: George W Bush is the 43rd President of the United States.

    M7: George H W Bush isn't the 43rd President of the United States.

    M6 and M7 aren't the negations of one another since they relate to two different individuals, George W Bush and his father, George H W Bush. They are true or false under entirely different conditions since they do not have the same sense, the same empirical content.

    The same applies to a metaphysical proposition (such as M1) and what appears to be its negation, M5.

    Why is this important?

    Well, if M1 is deemed "necessarily true", then we would have to declare its alleged negation (M5) "necessarily false". But, M5 isn't the negation of M1. But, in declaring M1 "necessarily true" we should have to know what was being ruled out as "necessarily false".

    We saw that if we know under what conditions M2 is true, we automatically know under what conditions its negation, M4, is false. That allows us to investigate empirical propositions; their negations don't change the subject, and are made true or made false by the same state of affairs.

    M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.

    M4: Tony Blair does not own a copy of Das Kapital.

    [If there were no conditions under which M2 could be false, and thus none under which M4 could be true, we could read the truth of M2 off from what it's words say. Evidence would become irrelevant.]

    But, a metaphysical proposition and its alleged negation change the subject. They don't relate to the same alleged state of affairs. In fact metaphysical propositions don't have negations!

    Hence, we can't reject M1 by means of M5, since we would have no idea what we were ruling out, and thus no idea what we were ruling in. [Why that is so will be explained presently.]

    Or, rather, what we think we are trying to rule out would not have in fact been ruled out, since we would thereby have simply changed the subject.

    Why is this important?

    It's because to declare a sentence "true" is ipso facto to declare it "not false". These two go hand in hand.

    But, if we can't do that (and we plainly can't do it if we have no idea what we are ruling out -- indeed, in trying to do so with M5 we end up changing the subject of the original sentence!), we can't then say the original sentence is true. [Why that is so will now be explained.]

    By declaring a sentence like M1 "necessarily true", we seem to be ruling some things in, and ruling other things out as "necessarily false" -- just as we would if we declared M2 true, we'd be automatically ruling M4 out.

    And yet, in relation to M1, what we think we are ruling out is M5. But, M5 has a different content to M1, so we aren't in fact ruling M5 out! In which case, we now have no idea what we are ruling out since it's plain that M1 has no negation. And if that is so we have no idea what we are ruling in, either.

    M1: Time is a relation between events.

    M5: Time isn't a relation between events.

    When sentences like M1 are entertained a pretence (often genuine) has to be maintained that they actually mean something, that they are capable of being understood, and thus that they are capable of being true or capable of being false. In that case, a further pretence has to be maintained that we understand what might make such propositions true, and their 'negations' false, so that those like M5 can be declared 'necessarily' false.

    But, this entire exercise is an empty charade, for no content can be given to propositions like M1, or M5.

    So, in order to declare M1 true, we must also declare M5 necessarily false. But to do that, the possibility of M5's truth must first be entertained (otherwise we'd not know what we were trying to rule out). And yet, no one who accepts M1 as true can do this, and that's not because it would be psychologically impossible for them to do it, it's because to do so changes the subject. So, it's not possible to specify conditions that would make M5 false without changing the subject.

    That being the case, we can't declare M1 true -- and thus not false -- since we would now have no idea what would make M1 false, so we can rule it out. And if we have no idea what would make M1 false, we are certainly in no position to declare that it isn't false. [Just as if you had no idea what a Meskonator was, you'd be in no position to say that something wasn't a Meskonator. ("Meskonator" is a meaningless term, invented for this purpose.)]

    Hence, if we can't say M1 is false, we can't say it is true either. Hence, we are in no position to declare M1 either true or false! Any attempt to do so must fall apart for the above reasons.

    In which case, metaphysical propositions can't be true and they can't be false. They thus lack a sense, and there is nothing that can be done to rectify the situation.

    Our use of language actually prevents philosophical propositions from expressing a sense, let alone being true.

    They are thus, one and all, non-sensical and empty strings of words.

    And that includes Dialectical Materialism.

    --------------------------------------

    Added on edit: the above material has been completely re-written, and posted at my site; its argument is now much clearer:

    http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/Why...n-sensical.htm
    Last edited by Rosa Lichtenstein; 04-06-2017 at 4:04 AM.

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    Default Re: Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

    good read rosa. I have one question for you tough. Are you a logical positivist? how is what you say different from what they said and they all later admitted they were wrong right?

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    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

    No, I'm not a logical positivist, since, among other things, I don't hold that the meaning of a sentence is determined by its method of verification.

    We might have no idea how to verify a certain proposition, but if we understand it, then we automatically know under what conditions it would be true or would be false.

    Indeed, if we didn't already understand it, we would have no idea how to go about verifying or falsifying it. So, the LP-ers got things the wrong way round; the possibility of verification follows from the sense of a proposition, so it can hardly determine meaning.

    Plus they tended to confuse the meaning of a word with the sense of a proposition. [I deliberately blurred this distinction above -- when I talked about the meanining of a proposition -- since I did not want to make too many points at once.]

    I have explained more about this here:

    http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page_13...aning-vs-Sense

    However, I'd put off reading the above for a day or two. The webhost I use has screwed up all the links in that essay, so none of the End Notes work!

    I will fix it tomorrow.
    Last edited by Rosa Lichtenstein; 03-08-2012 at 7:34 AM.

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    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

    Ok, I have now fixed things!

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    Paperback Writer RevForum Administrator Amoeba's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

    The title seems a bit grandiose; why all philosophical theories are nonsensical?

    There's a lot of sense one can gain from the philosophies of the likes of Kant, Hume, and Wittgenstein himself, as long as you stay away from the abstractions that plague the vast majority of philosophy these days, in various forms of postmodernism. I think, by the way, it would be better if you directed your efforts towards discrediting postmodernism rather than further combating dialectical materialism, which is pretty much meaningless (as I argued with you elsewhere) and irrelevant anyway, except among some self-described Marxists who claim to know what the hell they're talking about.

    Postmodernism is much more of a dangerous ideology, dangerous in the sense that it is actually taught at academic universities and taken seriously on a societal level by the intellectual class, so much so that it is shoved down peoples' throats. And whenever someone proposed a materialist alternative, they're denounced as an archaic fool trying to desperately salvage some of the Enlightenment tradition.

    You would definitely find much more of a platform for that work (which, by the way, I consider your above piece to be partly addressed to). Write a piece on why Derrida is full of shit, and why Lacan is nonsensical trash, and how Zizek has some interesting things to say but also a lot of nonsensical stuff to say (which, by the way, pseudo-intellectual academics take out of the context of the interesting and focus on exclusively, thereby turning him into and regarding him as the very same clown that the mass media likes to portray him as). There's a lot of stuff to refute there.
    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

    Amoeba:

    why all philosophical theories are nonsensical?
    In fact, the title is

    Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical
    A small, but significant difference.

    There's a lot of sense one can gain from the philosophies of the likes of Kant, Hume, and Wittgenstein himself, as long as you stay away from the abstractions that plague the vast majority of philosophy these days, in various forms of postmodernism. I think, by the way, it would be better if you directed your efforts towards discrediting postmodernism rather than further combating dialectical materialism, which is pretty much meaningless (as I argued with you elsewhere) and irrelevant anyway, except among some self-described Marxists who claim to know what the hell they're talking about.
    1) Well, as my post shows, this is not so -- all philosophical theses (not 99%, or even 99.99%), but all philosophical theses are non-sensical. I still maintain this and will do so until and unless someone can show where my argument goes astray.

    2. Wittgenstein used the word 'philosophy' in a new way -- not as a body of theory aimed at discovering truth from thought alone, but as an activity aimed at unravelling the confusions we fall into when we try to do philosophy in the traditional way, and when we misuse language.

    I can't be bothered with postmodernism, or with Derrida and Zizek. Their ideas have no effect on the class war, and so aren't worth discussing.
    Last edited by Rosa Lichtenstein; 05-14-2012 at 9:23 PM.

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    Paperback Writer RevForum Administrator Amoeba's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

    Quote Originally Posted by Rosa Lichtenstein View Post
    Amoeba:



    In fact, the title is



    A small, but significant difference.
    The question mark? Yeah, that was mine. If you added one it might have challenged the bombastic nature of the title, so it should have been obvious it was my addition. I'll use quotation marks next time.

    I can't be bothered with postmodernism, or with Derrida and Zizek. Their ideas have no effect on the class war, and so aren't worth discussing.
    Their ideas have more of an effect on reality, the real world that you also live in, than all the 'dialectical materialists' combined, times a thousand. Now, unless you want to limit your scope to that group which self-identifies as 'revolutionary', but in reality has a marginal to no influence whatsoever on political discourse, you can't deny that fact. If you do want to limit your scope to that -- then have fun busying yourself with the marginal I guess.

    Also, by the way, even if you do limit your view to that, there are a significant amount of people who get turned off from 'class war' due to the influence of those kinds of philosophical theories. Zizek was even invited to your own party's annual Marxism conference a couple years back, and people like Lacan, Derrida, Foucault are usually on the just-read lists of those pseudo-intellectuals who used to be all into Marxism but now consider it to be archaic, and pepper their essays with words like 'sublime'.
    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

    Amoeba:

    The question mark? Yeah, that was mine. If you added one it might have challenged the bombastic nature of the title, so it should have been obvious it was my addition. I'll use quotation marks next time.
    No, the word 'non-sensical'. I explain the difference between this and 'nonsensical' in the post itself.

    Their ideas have more of an effect on reality, the real world that you also live in, than all the 'dialectical materialists' combined, times a thousand. Now, unless you want to limit your scope to that group which self-identifies as 'revolutionary', but in reality has a marginal to no influence whatsoever on political discourse, you can't deny that fact. If you do want to limit your scope to that -- then have fun busying yourself with the marginal I guess.
    But not on the class war.

    On the other hand, DM still dominates the vast majority of revolutionary parties and tendencies.

    Also, by the way, even if you do limit your view to that, there are a significant amount of people who get turned off from 'class war' due to the influence of those kinds of philosophical theories. Zizek was even invited to your own party's annual Marxism conference a couple years back, and people like Lacan, Derrida, Foucault are usually on the just-read lists of those pseudo-intellectuals who used to be all into Marxism but now consider it to be archaic, and pepper their essays with words like 'sublime'.
    I am not in a party right now. But even if I were, I'd still object to what Zizek has to say (on most things -- much of which is irrelevant to the class war, anyway).

    And I agree that some are turned off Marxism by the things you mentioned -- and the individuals you list are embroiled in 'Continental Philosophy' -- which is no less non-sensical.

    Other than that, and with all due respect, I can't see the relevance of these points.
    Last edited by Rosa Lichtenstein; 05-14-2012 at 9:25 PM.

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    Paperback Writer RevForum Administrator Amoeba's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

    Quote Originally Posted by Rosa Lichtenstein View Post
    I am not in a party right now. But even if I were, I'd still object to what Zizek has to say (on most things -- much of which is irrelevant to the class war, anyway).

    And I agree that some are turned off Marxism by the things you say -- and the individuals you mention are embroiled in 'Continental Philosophy' -- which is no less non-sensical.

    Other than that, and with all due respect, I can't see the relevance of these points.
    I guess it has to do with degrees; do you believe more people are turned off Marxism by the influence of postmodernism, and continental philosophy more generally, which reigns supreme in academia in the West, or by dialectical materialism? You seem to be indicating the latter, and my point was to take issue with that, because it seems to me to be a gross misreading of the situation.

    Even if all self-described dialectical materialists dropped their ideology, their numbers would still pale in comparison to those who are turned off Marxism by the dominating influence of postmodernism on a yearly basis. That is the archetypal bourgeois philosophy of the day, which indoctrinates students all across the social sciences. Though maybe that influence is less pronounced in the UK (where I believe you reside), but trust me, on the continent it's as pervasive as the bubonic plague was back in the early modern period.

    But it's not an either-or thing; I'm not saying you should stop writing about dialectical materialism, I'm merely suggesting (and it's a polite suggestion at that!) that you should perhaps also concern yourself with the dominant, hegemonic reactionary bourgeois philosophy of the day (which, as I said before, is something you seem to have done in the above essay as well).

    Perhaps that's just a personal bias of mine; I'm very eager to read any sound criticisms of postmodernism, and the more there are, the better. But I do also believe that it may serve a good purpose to the loads of students who are indoctrinated with this nonsense on a yearly basis.

    So actually what I'm doing is commending you on this piece you wrote (which I'll read as soon as I have the time, and might comment on as well, though I suspect I will largely agree with it given its premise, which I've argued myself), and suggesting you write more pieces of the same nature.
    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

    A:

    I guess it has to do with degrees; do you believe more people are turned off Marxism by the influence of postmodernism, and continental philosophy more generally, which reigns supreme in academia in the West, or by dialectical materialism? You seem to be indicating the latter, and my point was to take issue with that, because it seems to me to be a gross misreading of the situation.
    I'm not really bothered by those put off Marxism by postmodernism. However, DM has definitely damaged revolutionary socialism, and that does concern me.

    Even if all self-described dialectical materialists dropped their ideology, their numbers would still pale in comparison to those who are turned off Marxism by the dominating influence of postmodernism on a yearly basis. That is the archetypal bourgeois philosophy of the day, which indoctrinates students all across the social sciences. Though maybe that influence is less pronounced in the UK (where I believe you reside), but trust me, on the continent it's as pervasive as the bubonic plague was back in the early modern period.
    I doubt this, but even if it were correct, it still doesn't concern me compared to the damage DM has done, and will do.

    But it's not an either-or thing; I'm not saying you should stop writing about dialectical materialism, I'm merely suggesting (and it's a polite suggestion at that!) that you should perhaps also concern yourself with the dominant, hegemonic reactionary bourgeois philosophy of the day (which, as I said before, is something you seem to have done in the above essay as well).
    No chance.

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    Default Re: Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

    In my opinion this was an excellent article.

    I understand that it is Lichtenstein's aim to demolish Dialectical Materialism, which must be respected. That said, I would also echo Amoeba's concerns over the prominence of postmodernism and loosely connected views. These are views the content matter of which is generally language, and how language works (at least, it seems to me that is what's left when you shake off some of the most obstructive jargon).

    Surely enough, the working class generally stays as far away from postmodernist currents as possible. However, the particular problem of postmodernism (and 'truth-relativism') as far as I see it is that it is not contained within the realm of philosophy but potentially distorting what are actually useful fields of study (such as sociology), that could aim to help the working class rather than find new ways not to do so (compare the works of Marx to those of Zizek).

    From my own experiences, this form of thought is generally rather widespread on the left. Rosa Lichtenstein said 'DM' has damaged the left, I think postmodernism is also damaging the left in moving it away from the working class.

    Its muddling with social-science and its constant tendency to connect philosophical ideas to observations of society is also what makes it hard to point out and attack. The philosophers/sociologists are notoriously vague, in for example using terms like "reason", "structure" (in a philosophical way), "abstraction" and so on. They never address statements, they address 'sentiments' they feel are underlying structures, such as that of 'reason' in the natural sciences. Sure, scientists can go wrong and make a priori statements, and some fields may be based around some metaphysical tendencies, but the vast majority of scientific work is founded on observations. Not observations of how things 'must be', but of how things are, in the same manner that we all make observations all the time. When I point that out, they say my problem is that I am "quantifying language", just to give an example. That said, interesting research is to be done on paradigms in science (and so on), but the way to do it is hardly to attack some concept of 'Truth' and replace it with your own philosophical ideas.

    The vagueness of their statements coupled with their supposed radical stance makes arguing from an anti-philosophical stance something like trying to grab hold of a buttered trout. It's not always easy to make a distinction of whether a statement is a jargonized piece of theory or a metaphysical idea come about from grammatical misunderstanding.

    Sometimes I feel like the greatest lesson to be learned from reading Wittgenstein is simply that of trying to gain clarity.

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    Default Re: Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

    Quote Originally Posted by Rosa Lichtenstein View Post
    No, I'm not a logical positivist, since, among other things, I don't hold that the meaning of a sentence is determined by its method of verification.

    We might have no idea how to verify a certain proposition, but if we understand it, then we automatically know under what conditions it would be true or would be false.

    Indeed, if we didn't already understand it, we would have no idea how to go about verifying or falsifying it. So, the LP-ers got things the wrong way round; the possibility of verification follows from the sense of a proposition, so it can hardly determine meaning.

    Plus they tended to confuse the meaning of a word with the sense of a proposition. [I deliberately blurred this distinction above -- when I talked about the meanining of a proposition -- since I did not want to make too many points at once.]

    I have explained more about this here:

    http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page_13...aning-vs-Sense

    However, I'd put off reading the above for a day or two. The webhost I use has screwed up all the links in that essay, so none of the End Notes work!

    I will fix it tomorrow.
    On an unrelated note to what I said before in this thread: I've been reading about logical positivism, Popper, Quine, Duhem etc. lately for a philosophy of science class I'm taking, and I'm wondering how what you have said above is any different from Quine's position? If I recall correctly you repeat him verbatim regarding your criticism of logical positivism, and are arguing for a pragmatist point of view to counter it.

    Maybe I'm missing something. I see you've quoted Quine approvingly in the piece you linked to, so perhaps you're heavily influenced by him?
    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

    Thank you for those thoughts Sans. However, the method I have used can just as easily be applied to Postmodernism [PoMo] to show that it, too, is non-sensical.

    I have directed my arguments against DM since it has exercised, and is still exercising a far greater influence on revolutionary parties than PoMo ever will. I can't, however, agree that PoMo has had a noticeable effect on workers -- nor will it.
    Last edited by Rosa Lichtenstein; 04-13-2012 at 5:26 PM.

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    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

    Amoeba:

    On an unrelated note to what I said before in this thread: I've been reading about logical positivism, Popper, Quine, Duhem etc. lately for a philosophy of science class I'm taking, and I'm wondering how what you have said above is any different from Quine's position? If I recall correctly you repeat him verbatim regarding your criticism of logical positivism, and are arguing for a pragmatist point of view to counter it.
    My method is in fact nothing like Quine's. For example, he holds that philosophy should be, and is, an extension to our best science. I follow Wittgenstein in drawing a clear distinction between science and philosophy; the former helps us make sense of, and control, the world, the latter merely unravels knots in our thinking when we misuse language.

    If I quote Quine it will only be where, on rare occasions, I agree with something he has said, or I think he has made a point rather well. Having said that, I disagree with the vast bulk of his work.

    This is worth reading on these matters:

    http://info.sjc.ox.ac.uk/scr/hacker/...cul-de-sac.pdf

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    Default Re: Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

    I wrote something here that disappeared. It was a query regarding what 'kind' of propositions we could call those that are in the OP. They are meant in an elucidatory manner, yet they do not seem like 'empirical' propositions themselves. Many of them seem to be a priori, or am I wrong?

    If I am not wrong, what is the difference between these kinds of propositions and metaphysics? Perceived subject matter?

    Edit: Having thought about the subject of Post-Modernism, and the relationship between it and Wittgenstein, I think I've narrowed down the 'issue' I am having to the arbitrariness of grammar (as Hacker and Baker calls it in their Analytical Commentary on the Philosophical Investigations). Post-Modernists would be happy to agree that grammar is arbitrary (again, in the specific sense meant by Hacker and Baker), but then go on to make, in my opinion, mistakes they feel follow from this premise (constituting the basis of their post-modernism). Implicit is the idea that every use of language 1) is descriptive and 2) is normative, and in a sense that grammar is descriptive. This is my 'intuition', if you could call it that, based mostly from discussions. I will have to read more to form a proper argument.

    Another point has to do with epistemology and post-modernists misuse of the word "truth", saying things like "there are many truths". A developed version is that everyone is essentially walking around with a theory of the world and that everything they say, do and perceive is in accordance with that theory, ie. that reality, that measure of truth; this is all paralleled. I found this note on Rosa Lichtenstein's site which was helpful about 'truth': Note 10 on: http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/Wittgenstein.htm
    Last edited by Sans; 04-13-2012 at 4:47 PM.

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    Default Re: Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

    Quote Originally Posted by Rosa Lichtenstein View Post
    Amoeba:



    My method is in fact nothing like Quine's. For example, he holds that philosophy should be, and is, an extension to our best science. I follow Wittgenstein in drawing a clear distinction between science and philosophy; the former helps us make sense of, and control, the world, the latter merely unravels knots in our thinking when we misuse language.

    If I quote Quine it will only be where, on rare occasions, I agree with something he has said, or I think he has made a point rather well. Having said that, I disagree with the vast bulk of his work.

    This is worth reading on these matters:

    http://info.sjc.ox.ac.uk/scr/hacker/docs/Quine's%20cul-de-sac.pdf
    Thanks for the clarification, and the link as well. I haven't delved too deeply into the philosophy of science as of yet, only scratched the surface. I thought Quine's Two Dogma's of Empiricism was pretty good though, and saw some reflections of his argument in some things you were saying.
    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

    Sans:

    I wrote something here that disappeared. It was a query regarding what 'kind' of propositions we could call those that are in the OP. They are meant in an elucidatory manner, yet they do not seem like 'empirical' propositions themselves. Many of them seem to be a priori, or am I wrong?
    Apparently the site went down for a while and some posts were lost.

    Here is how I answered the above query when a similar one was posed over at the LibCom Forum (slightly edited):


    Non-sensical sentences are those that are incapable of expressing a sense, no matter what we try to do with them -- that is, they are incapable of being true, and they are incapable of being false. But, there are many different types of non-sensical sentences, which aren't the least bit philosophical or metaphysical. For example, rules. Rules can't be true and they can't be false -- since they are imperatives. They can only be practical, or otherwise, useful or not, obeyed or abrogated.

    Now, my sentences are elucidatory rules; they are aimed at explaining where traditional philosophy goes astray. An analogy might help. Let us suppose that a certain individual is a novice at chess, and does not really grasp the rules. Let us further suppose that I try to explain where he/she is going wrong. I will say things like this "This is the queen and she moves like this". This can't be false, for if it were, it would not be a rule about the queen in chess, but about a figment of my own imagination. And if it can't be false, it can't be true either -- of course, since I am expressing a rule. Suppose I then go on to say "No, the bishop does not move like that, it's an important piece that moves diagonally, like this". These sentences look like they are in the indicative mood, but their role tells us they are imperatives.

    Now, my comments about metaphysical sentences are like this; they show where traditional philosophers have gone wrong by reminding them/us how we ordinarily use language -- i.e., what it's rules are.

    And this follows Marx's advice (in the German Ideology):

    "The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognise it, as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life."
    And when we do that, we can see philosophical theses for what they are: self-important and empty strings of words.
    So, some of my sentences might look as if they are a priori, but they are rules, and rules can't be true or false, and so can't be a priori either.

    Thanks for those other comments, though, but as I said, in general I totally ignore PoMo

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    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

    Amoeba, if you have read Quine's Two Dogmas, then you ought to read Grice and Strawson's effective reply to it:


    http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct...N7QqSPHvAO5tXg

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    Default Re: Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

    Quote Originally Posted by Rosa Lichtenstein
    I will say things like this "This is the queen and she moves like this". This can't be false, for if it were, it would not be a rule about the queen in chess, but about a figment of my own imagination. And if it can't be false, it can't be true either -- of course, since I am expressing a rule. Suppose I then go on to say "No, the bishop does not move like that, it's an important piece that moves diagonally, like this". These sentences look like they are in the indicative mood, but their role tells us they are imperatives.
    In chess the rules are set already. When you are explaining the rules, it seems you are doing something different from what the (supposed) creator of the game would be doing, you are reiterating the rules while a game-creator would be settling them. Though I think both accounts are imperative (normative?), it seems that the person recounting the rules can do so correctly or incorrectly.

    If you, in reiterating the rules, were to make a mistake (which means allowing something which is not allowed, or disallowing something which is allowed (or failing to give an exhaustive account?)) you would in effect not be giving the rules of that game at all but changing the game; you would not be talking of f.ex. the piece as it is used in the game of chess. In the game analogy it seems you would then be able to go on and play that modified game, is this analogous to philosophy? I feel the analogy breaks down here, as the new game could be just as fun as ordinary chess.

    But if you do not make a mistake, you are recounting a rule determined by the game-creator. But how would anyone be able to see whether you had made a mistake? It must be implicit that we are all in a sense the game's creators, or know of the rules from before hand. We are talking about language, so that seems about right.

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    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why all Philosophical Theories are Non-Sensical

    Sans:

    In chess the rules are set already. When you are explaining the rules, it seems you are doing something different from what the (supposed) creator of the game would be doing, you are reiterating the rules while a game-creator would be settling them. Though I think both accounts are imperative (normative?), it seems that the person recounting the rules can do so correctly or incorrectly.
    I agree, but the only point I was making was that rules are also non-sensical, in the manner in which I am using that word.

    Of course, no one has ever consciously and deliberately constituted the rules we use to communicate with one another, as they have in chess, but when we misapply, miscontrue or distort language, it is possible to show (along the lines I illustrated in my OP, but in more detail at my site) that the one doing so has abrogated a linguistic rule (established by social practice) at some point.

    So, if someone comes out with this sentence:

    T1: Time is a relation between events.

    If this can't be false (which I think I have shown it can't), and can only be true, then the one propounding T1 must either be using the word "true" in an odd way (i.e., he/she can't mean by it "not false), or they are misusing it in some other way (see below). In which case, I would point out to this individual, just as I would if they misused the Queen in chess, "If you mean by 'true', 'not false', then T1 can't even be true. In which case T1 is non-sensical."

    If you, in reiterating the rules, were to make a mistake (which means allowing something which is not allowed, or disallowing something which is allowed (or failing to give an exhaustive account?)) you would in effect not be giving the rules of that game at all but changing the game; you would not be talking of f.ex. the piece as it is used in the game of chess. In the game analogy it seems you would then be able to go on and play that modified game, is this analogous to philosophy? I feel the analogy breaks down here, as the new game could be just as fun as ordinary chess.
    Sure, you can play any game you like with language, but then you wouldn't be explaining time, but 'time', a word that has yet to be explained, and the nature of time would have gone unexplained.

    As Hanjo Glock pointed out:

    "Wittgenstein's ambitious claim is that it is constitutive of metaphysical theories and questions that their employment of terms is at odds with their explanations and that they use deviant rules along with the ordinary ones. As a result, traditional philosophers cannot coherently explain the meaning of their questions and theories. They are confronted with a trilemma: either their novel uses of terms remain unexplained (unintelligibility), or...[they use] incompatible rules (inconsistency), or their consistent employment of new concepts simply passes by the ordinary use -- including the standard use of technical terms -- and hence the concepts in terms of which the philosophical problems were phrased." [Glock (1996), pp.261-62.]
    Glock, H-J. (1996), A Wittgenstein Dictionary (Blackwell).

    But if you do not make a mistake, you are recounting a rule determined by the game-creator. But how would anyone be able to see whether you had made a mistake? It must be implicit that we are all in a sense the game's creators, or know of the rules from before hand. We are talking about language, so that seems about right.
    I am not sure what you mean here. Are you supposing that the rules haven't been written down somewhere, or that no one can agree what the rules are? Or are you talking about a mistake in language? [You must distinguish between a mistake, a maloproprism, and a distortion of language. Typically, metaphysicians do the latter, or they do what Glock alleged.]

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