“4.1122 Darwin’s theory has no more to do with philosophy than any other
hypothesis in natural science.”
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, l. Wittgenstein, Routledge Classics, 2001.
(this is the official translation, no original this time, sorry)
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 20-05-2009. I have almost come to the point where all old posts have been transferred to the new site and I feel like maybe one of these days I can make new stuff, hopefully having learned from all the many mistakes I have made previously.]
When discussing this with friends of mine, one of them suggested I argue for it on a reductio ad absurdum. I won’t. It seems more fitting to the case at hand to go for a less known (and known to be merely rhetorical) argument: the one “ab absurdo”, ie from the absurd. Hence (I am in a playful mood), I do apologize on beforehand: for assuming the existence of God in some parts of the below.
Shame on me to be reading the TLP only know. It is much better than it is made out to be. It does border on the juvenile from time to time but all philosophers disclaiming being influenced by it are definitely to be categorized as ‘hypocrites’.
But that is not the point here. The point is that I was baffled to find in these seas of abstraction an exquisitely explicit reference to Darwin.
Why so? What was his gripe? How come he wrote this down, never succeeded in
working it out and still decided to keep it in? I am sure it wasn’t merely to go against the fashion of his time (if it was a fashion then). As it happens (sorry to bore you with all these prosaic details but it is important for the later I to work this out better than the present I is doing now), I was in a mood to look up a quote from Kant on the synthetic a priori and ‘quought’ on it and could not get to it because the above questions got in the way. And somehow – somehow – I feel like this has to go out of the way before that other thing can get started. The reason is, I think, that I have no issue with a special status for mathematics (and its mysterious origins) but that I have an issue with what is commonly believed to be the uniqueness of this specialness. The blood of everyday life has its rights too and there has to be more to those rights than an unavoidable dirtiness (or, to put the best known term for it: original sin).
Ab absurdo it was:
Let’s assume there is an omniscient God (you need not force yourself more: no need for omnipresence and omnipotence) and let’s assume there’s no matter. He was lazy – couldn’t be bothered … only God knows. This God would surely know mathematics – and if He knows some of it, He’ll know all of it. So much for the specialness of logic, 1-0.
But let’s assume there is matter as well (never mind where it came from). Then our God will have to know physics. He does not need to know the physics of our world and it is natural to assume he knows all kinds of physics (only one of which
happens to be the one governing our material world). So you get some kind of space-time, but nothing much more bloody than that. I would say 2-0 for mathematics.
Most physicists would agree as far as I know (but there’s something on the first and second law of thermodynamics I’ll need to explore later on, this post is already too thick as it stands).
And then comes the primeval soup (or whatever other sexy image that we invent to make our theories more TV-friendly). Now pure mathematical God has a problem as: “the show must go on!” (the theme of ‘show’ is continued in the paragraph below). Sure, it’s conceivable that the primeval soup and everything else was skipped, cutting straight to humanoids. But even that moronic conception is of no avail: life is in flux – if it wouldn’t be in flux it wouldn’t be life.
Evolution is unavoidable.
Even if all of the details of all evolutionary theories can be dismissed as ‘mere’ hypotheses, evolution itself cannot. So our assumed God is stuck with more than mathematics – and more than He can handle (maybe there’s concealed in all this a proof of atheism but let’s not get ahead of ourselves). So 2-1, there is some non-mathematical specialness after all; it is expressable in logic that things are in statis (in fact that’s the only thing logic will allow you to express: stasis) but it isn’t conceivable that you have life AND stasis.
Back to the show: enter intelligent life and, eventually, enter language. Clearly language requires an element of logic and requires matter as well (something to ‘language’ about) – it presupposes life as well but I’ll not work that out. Language scores our equalizer because – clearly – there is an element of logic in there if we are to make ‘sense’ of each other, but as evidently there is an element of creativity in it if we are to express, for instance, new hypotheses.
The creative power of language cannot just be a matter of recursive generation of propositions and/or the postulation of new names . Language that is restricted to that is thinkable (it’s the language which the TLP is about), but it just is not conceivable that that is the only language.
[In fact: the language of the TLP is only thinkable if there is some other vaguer, less strict, more organic language that comes evolutionarily before it. This still is cryptic but probably less so than what I originally said below.]
It is a.o. not conceivable because I – and Ludwig for that matter – would not be able to talk about logic. Hence, it wouldn’t be conceivable that anybody but our almost forgotten assumed God knows logic. It’s not my point that it’s a fact that we do speak about it (without being God); the point is that it’s inconceivable that we’d speak about logic if there would not be creativity in language beyond the mere logical element in language.
2-2, but blood wins since it was playing an away match 😉
Although I shouldn’t declare victory that soon. It’s just a sketch to be worked out even if I believe that it is a quite convincing sketch and one that introduces non-logical specialness without vagaries of mysticism, idiocies of vulgarizing scientism and with a passing blow to a whole lot of intelligent design-freaks and other theists.
So Wittgenstein was wrong. There are at least two points (remember the laws of thermodynamics: I hope to make it 1-3 one day) where philosophy needs to talk (and cannot but talk) about non-logical matters. Both points are closely linked to Darwin – let me risk the vulgarizing terms genes and memes. Sure, you can forget about the spirit of Darwinism and make an arbitrary non-vague definition of Darwin’s theory (and Adam Smith’s & …) to get out of it, but that’s not playing it fair. You also could dismiss talk of ‘the spirit’ of a theory like Darwin’s but that would be self-defeating (just read the TLP) exactly for the reasons highlighted above.
Evolution and creativity are of the essence in convergence. Their special status, and the other kind of special nature of logic and mathematics combine to a view which is a sustainable view that accords well with our intuition of knowledge “locked in” but not specific (logic/evolution), and knowledge that is specific but always improvable (that of empirical science).
Philosophy is indeed an activity. Logic as such is not.
[I’m actually quite happy with this.]
[Whilst writing this I was listening to Richard Muhal, George Lewis and Roscoe Mitchell, PI Recordings, “Streaming”.]