Narrative and Understanding Persons- food for thought

B. Woolner 15/08/2005

For any narrative account to ‘get started’ a framework needs to be established: this may be variously called a belief, a concept, a narrative form, a form-of-life shown within a language game, but however described or designated, it is a simple affirmation and commitment by a person to that form. Everything said, done, narrated, or presented with that formal commitment, an empirically expressed yet structural necessity, is necessarily meaningful.1 This is what we, as people, do: these are the commitments of our form-of-life and have no justification beyond that which we say and practice. Each meaningful2 presentation of a narrative within a form is a representation of that form. In effect we say, ‘It is like this,’ the ‘like this’ being a formal commitment to ‘the way things are’. However, before explaining or describing how ‘beliefs and their narratives’ come to be for us as an empirical expression of our actuality as persons, we need to look to the necessary logical structure of what we say is reality. My starting point is Ludwig Wittgenstein’s3 Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus4 to which I turn with a critical eye.5

An often voiced criticism of TLP is its static nature. As a logical account it does not capture the dynamic of temporal existence. If we examine the opening ‘pseudo’ proposition we find:-

1 The world is all that is the case.

This proposition establishes the ‘domain of discourse’. It shows a commitment to a static, objective reality, one which we somehow ‘picture’ in all our contingently expressed empirical propositions. But the commitment is to a ‘reality’ which is a logical constant, true, fixed beyond question so much so that LW states:-

6.13 Logic is not a body of doctrine, but a mirror image of the world.

Logic is transcendental.6

Thus, on this account, in the first proposition, ‘logic’, the structure of the ‘domain of discourse’ occupies the same logical position of Kant’s noumenal realm, the realm of ‘things in themselves’ which generates a correspondence ‘theory of truth’. It is just that in this case ‘logical structures’ are ‘shown’, rather than the representation of Kant’s transcendental items. In attempting to provide a new, logical account, LW has ensnared himself within the commitments of a somewhat Kantian transcendental account. He has entered the ‘fly bottle’ of objective commitment, the commitment of the a priori, the given in order of time: ‘things’, or ‘facts’ are as they are, and that’s that!

However, if we refer back to the opening proposition, the domain of discourse, what do we find? ‘The world is all that is the case.’

At this point I would draw your attention to the verb tenses – our grammar: in natural language the verb ‘to be’ can be expressed as ‘was’, ‘is’, ‘will be’; thus the opening proposition, though it affirms the dynamic of ‘being’ by the present tense ‘is’, the domain of the proposition itself is incomplete: it needs to include the dynamic within the domain. I would suggest, as a matter of logical consistency which expresses the ‘totality that may be reality’, the opening inclusive proposition is required to read:-The world is, was, will be all that can be the case.’

The ‘can be’ is not to be understood as ‘permission’ but as a logical limitation – an item that is addressed in TLP. If the above is understood and accepted –which occurs in natural language – then not only is the ‘logical space’ of any affirmed ‘fact’ filled, but it is also already acknowledged that such a ‘fact’ is ‘situated’ within the temporal dynamic: time and space in necessary combination, understood by Kant in his transcendental account, but with the added ‘benefit’ that any empirical expression, affirmed ‘fact’, ‘representation’ has a before and an after. Our formal commitments do not mirror or represent a universal, transcendental constant in the way that LW and Kant intended. All our expressions are necessarily situated within a dynamic – and express exactly that.

The account as it stands thus far, in common with Kant, is ‘free floating’. It provides a structure, the dynamic of time and space, but it does not give us any sense of its employment, or even deployment. It is a ‘blue print’ without substantial actuality.7 For that we require what LW called the ‘Objeckt’8, a logical objeckt which he said was simple – that is could not be further analysed. It is a logical point without extension [or dynamic], but is that which is ‘shown’ by the structure itself9, the point of ‘invisibility’ because all its relations are outwards. It is that which is necessarily a priori, not in order of time, but is the logical position for the generation of any account, thus cannot appear in the account: in short ourselves as self-aware, living actualities.10 It is ‘me and thee’ as people. It is we that provide the form and substance of the whole domain which is the world in the logical account. Our living ‘actuality’, our behaviour ‘shows’ this structure, which is the dynamic of self-knowing, self-referring actuality.

Each time we affirm our ‘situated’ existence, in logical terms we ‘fill’ the place of the TO. Thus the ‘situated’ form of the narrative is ‘shown’ in any of our contingent narratives as a matter of logical necessity. As a metaphor, our account of our living reality is neither a dictionary nor a telephone book, but is an autobiography, a ‘narrative’ which necessarily ‘joins up the dots’ of our empirical creation.11

As a formal, logical recognition with respect to our ‘meaningful practices’, our expressed forms-of-life, there is at least one necessarily key belief, key structural commitment, else the ‘self-reflective meaningful practices’ of designation and affirmation of ‘what it is like’ to the actuality of our living cannot get started. What might this key mutual commitment be? The commitment that secures the mutuality of our actuality, the commitment that cannot be overlooked, ignored, the one that, in a sense, we accept as an a priori necessity? It is the one that secures the formal nature of reality itself! Unless a commitment to a reality of some form, the possibility for substance, we cannot create a narrative at all.

At this point I am minded of ‘the Web of Belief’, the illustrative insight of the epistemologist, Quine. He noted that there are key ‘beliefs’ and that we employ ‘belief’ to provide a necessary structure for any empirical expression at all. So, once again, what might the key belief or beliefs be?

Consider our commitment to a physical reality such that we may say something as simple as ‘we are embodied’, but not just as a ‘dictionary entry’ – no extension, no dynamic – but that our embodiment is necessarily situated in time and space. In effect, we have a history and consider ourselves as an on-going project both creating by living the dynamic of our narrative and writing/narrating the project as a history. At all times we consider ourselves to be situated in time and space. This practice is so ingrained and sustained by the manifestation of psuche that Kant could say that time and space were intuitions, the possibilities for the representation of time and space were necessarily presupposed: that was the nature and the structure of our reality, that which we presented as a representation of a ‘transcendental’ situation. In a strange way what he said was true, was appropriate, but though this form ‘time and space in necessary combination’, is that which is represented as the manifestation of a situated reality [we say so] nevertheless the forms are neither a priori in the requisite sense, nor are they ‘intuitions’: they are the form we learn 12 to employ to present the actuality of that which we call reality, and that reality is the knowing activity of the lived life.

To further elucidate: by saying and recognising embodiment we have already entered the Wittgensteinian ‘fly-bottle’, but in our case, for our form-of-life necessarily so. The first move in the meta game of our form-of-life has already been made. By designation and affirmation we have already committed to a game within which we are pieces, authors and players, and we have not recognised what we have done. For us, our form-of-life, knowing psuches, such a designation and affirmation is formally necessary, and it behaves as an a priori commitment, though its actuality is necessarily a posteriori. To ‘unpack’ this paragraph, the following which should serve to clarify what I have affirmed.


Embodiment, the dynamic of physical existence is the form of reality within which the narrative occurs. Consider, if no commitment to ‘reality’ then no structure to existence itself. Try to meditate on a non-embodied existence – what sort of narrative could be generated? What sort of account of living as a person, what sort of biography could be provided? For any of us to be able to give an account of both, then it would be necessary to think ‘both sides of the line’13 as an embodied person and as a disembodied entity – if ‘entity’ is the correct term. The logic of our commitment to ‘embodiment’, the ‘knowing’ of the dynamic of a physical reality, compels a narrative in just those terms. It is not a matter of choice, but a matter of logical necessity, our telos , the logic of our actuality as embodied creatures that know such is the case. We are committed to the meta game, the dynamic of a physical reality. Because, as persons, we know this – we affirm it, it is our commitment – then we also become committed to the narrative form, our embeddedness within the dynamic of a physical reality, which is shown in all our meaningful behaviour.14

Almost a parenthesis.

I will note at this point that I have been using ‘we’, ‘our’, rather than ‘I’, ‘me, ‘mine’. The ‘we’ is the acknowledgement of ‘our’ intersubjectivity. This is merely to state that we are not born ‘knowing’, we are subjective entities, people, individuals. We learn what it is to be a person, a subjective member of the team. In a very real sense we come to understand that we are ‘person’, by being inducted into the meta form-of-life of ‘being a person’ a team member. We become net contributors and participants within the society of other persons. Many of the mistakes of earlier accounts produced either a universal ‘critique’, which was then applied to the individual – Kant for example, in Critique of Pure Reason, or started from the singularity of an individual, the single point of The Cogito, ‘I think therefore I am’, of Descartes, which meant that neither addressed the necessary and sufficient conditions for any kind of account, which is our embeddedness as social creatures, our intersubjective practices. All my comments are directed to our knowing that we are ‘situated’, predicated on the fact that to know that you are a person there must be people. Our behaviour and practices are in the public arena, expressive of our form- of-life, a mutual enterprise of affirmation.

Back to the main strand of Clarification.

Any narrative acknowledges and shows the above commitments. There is always a narrator, one who speaks, affirms. And a possible ‘listener’, one who receives the communication of ‘what it is like’. If you are a person, then always the possibility of communication – even if it is but a ‘message in a bottle’. ‘Is there anybody there?’ – tied to the Seti projects, modelling others on ourselves. ‘Won’t anybody listen to me?’ Each example shows the commitment to people, our form-of-life.

As for the narrative form itself: in a sense it is always ‘autobiographical’ a subjective account, expressive of ‘what it is like to be you’, the individual person, your everyday concerns and projects. In that way you are the author of ‘the narrative’ but as an author you cannot appear in the narrative. You live the dynamic, it is the dynamic of embodied living which you affirm, and your narrative is your contribution within our embodied form of life. Our ordinary grammar shows this. – ‘I cannot know what it is like to be you, I can only know what it is like to be me,’ - and you give an account of just that. The meta game of our form-of-life demands just this: each is a knowing net contributor, you are already a player. Each affirms who they are – ‘I do not agree with you, there is another way to proceed,’ perhaps in addressing the causes and solutions to the current ‘terrorist’ situation. This immediately demonstrates our acceptance of ‘other points of view’, other ‘narratives’ generated by other people who are also engaged in and with the meta game of our form-of-life. At each and every move it demonstrates how we are ‘situated’.

If we are giving an account of past, or future, situations then – ‘Last week I believed myself to be cured. Today I know differently. Maybe soon I will be cured.’ – Maybe the words of a person suffering from cancer or HIV/AIDS. It is always the ‘situation’ of you as a person. We have already agreed on cancer or HIV/AIDS as adequately meaningful, and what you say, the narrative expresses ‘the part it plays in your life.’ 15

All the above occurs because of the innocuous step into ‘knowing embodiment’, the commitment to the dynamic of a physical reality which we may describe and talk about as embodied beings, as persons. This commitment is the Wittgensteinian ‘fly bottle’. That we can do it is a matter for metaphysical speculation, but not a transcendental matter in the manner of Kant.

End of Clarification, looking at the employment of words.

In a sense Wittgenstein ‘side-stepped’ the whole of the Kantian transcendental project, the commitment to a noumenal realm which we represented contingently – a realm of ‘forms’, and simply employed the evidence of our actual practices within this commitment to a reality. He would make a grammatical comment such as ‘On which occasions would you employ that word/concept?’ So a question might be, ‘How do we employ the terms time and space?’ A father might ask a daughter, ‘Where were you till 2 a.m.?’ A physicist might say, ‘To describe the theoretical functioning of quantum particles, I require another logic – an alternate extension paradigm for the description of my theory,’ – or observation, as the case might be.16 A driving instructor might say, ‘Left hand down a bit.’ A tutor might say, ‘Give in the essay by next Thursday.’ The suspect caught in a lie might be told by Hercule Poirot, ‘But you cannot have been both at the post-office and at home digging the garden at 4 p.m. last Monday.’ The toddler might stamp his foot and say, ‘No, it’s mine!’ Each of these comments show, or represent, a commitment to a physical reality, ‘substance’, quite naturally. Even the quantum physicist requires the dynamic of a relational form, though that form is quite different to the one we employ for every day purposes, the one that Kant called ‘intuitions’, and the one used quite naturally by Wittgenstein in his examples. I note, that to provide any sort of narrative/account a form of some sort is affirmed. But for the nature of our reality, the form of our ‘embodiment’ itself has to be presupposed. And this we learn.17

To return to the narrative, it is just not possible to separate the narrator from the form and contents of the narration. When one considers the Cogito of Descartes, ‘I am a thinking being,’ ‘I think therefore I am,’ we can see that there is an unexpected truth to what he is stating – that is unexpected by conventional thinking. So often we are taught/inducted into saying ‘but a commitment to that is a commitment to substance dualism,’ especially when you read his ‘evil demon/god justification’, but if you return to the Cogito and appreciate what is going on, all he is saying is ‘there is a locus for structural affirmation, and empirical representation of that affirmation’, a logical and necessary starting point for any structure and narrative account: by this the ‘substance’ is the structure and narrative, necessarily situated by simple affirmation. Differentiation into ‘what is’ is provide by the simple knowing affirmation of ‘I think therefore I am’. How that may come to be is a matter for metaphysics, something of which we can give no account; is something which is outside/beyond the scope of the narrative that is our substance.18 This is meant to be limiting. ‘That of which we cannot speak, we pass over in silence.’19 We are limited to and by the form, the knowing commitments of our actuality. For us it is the only game in town. Anything to do with metaphysics, for us, is beyond the range of substantial possibility, thus has to be a matter of faith – of speculation. But even then we will be constrained to ‘talking about it’ in our own substantial terms.

I note that it is our commitment to the primary, essential form of our substantial narrative, the form of reality itself that generates much philosophical confusion. Overlooking what it is we do, say, create by affirmation, we proceed to ask questions such as:-

  1. ‘How do we stand in relation to reality?’20
  2. ‘What are the objects that furnish that reality and how may we produce a ‘true account’ with respect to them?’
  3. ‘Are we objects in an objective world which can be pinned down, be verified, be falsified and so forth?’21

With respect to questions one and two, it is very much a question of what part we play in the narrative we call reality – really real – can I say, as subject, I stand here and reality is outside, there? To which I can answer both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. As a subject, a creative narrator, one who says ‘what is’, I cannot stand in any sort of relationship to the activity of narration, it is what I do at the logical point of affirmation and designation. But with respect to the narrative already designated, the ‘facts’ and occurrences with which we have ‘furnished the world’, it is an ‘object’ a posteriori, generated and provided by the account already provided. To that I do stand in some sort of relationship. The narration provided is ‘the furniture and facts’ of reality on which we have already agreed – or disagreed, as the case may be. On ‘the narrative thus far’ I may then further evaluate and reflect, considering the part that they did play in my life, and the part that they play in my life now, what significance it continues to play, even in denial. ‘I was wrong’, for example. This is an ethical enterprise, one of value and evaluation, and is what Aristotle22 addressed in his Nichomachean Ethics. 23

To use a traditional conundrum, I know that a tree has fallen in the forest, but the part that incident plays in my life is dependent on the story I am telling. If it is an ecological story it will signify one thing, if it is a personal story, another: if I am committed to the ‘totality that is reality’ and I wish to provide a ‘complete account’, then I am obliged to provide a complete account within the dynamic of time and space – and of course, in empirical terms, that is just not possible. [Think about it.] But even considering ‘the tree that has fallen in the forest’ I have already by that ‘presentation’ ‘represented’ the totality that is the physical form!24

The above comment may seem strange, but for it to stand it is necessary to think non-empirically. In Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein outlined the Truth Functions as a table laying out ‘the limits of possibility’, the possibility of what may be properly said.25 To say, or ‘show’ any part of it is to commit to the totality of the form.26 Similarly, with respect to the extension and dynamic of substance, physical reality, to designate and affirm one empirical manifestation is to commit to the whole. – I am minded that you cannot be a little bit pregnant or an unbelieving theist – square circles cannot be. However, both these observations – not the examples – amount to the same thing. Again, think about it.

The objects and facts that furnish our reality are those of our designation, including ourselves, and we proceed to elaborate upon them, drawing finer and finer descriptions, providing more and more elaborate narratives, then expect further experiential accounts to ‘slot into’ the accounts we have already provided.27 We expect conformity, but encounter anomalies, and are required to provide new narratives, new paradigms which subsume prior narratives, even when we say those narratives were ‘incorrect’:28 thus ‘science’ progresses, and the sun continues to dawn each day. We furnish the structure of reality with the whole panoply of our beliefs, commitments, and practices. We create our own ‘comfort zone’ for empirical expression.29

Continuing with question two, and addressing question three30, understood as embodied ‘pieces’ we are objects, physical objects within a physical reality.31 By our form we have and are physical extension and situated within the dynamic of time, living within the physical reality of our form-of-life. We may be standing, sitting, sleeping, eating, but in common with all other ‘objects’ we are only designated and affirmed physical entities, mere ‘dictionary entries’ separated, in logical terms, into monadic isolation.32 Looked at thus, as objects, we have no more logical significance than any other object, and some of our practices ‘show’ this, the ‘object/objective’ form-of-life, perhaps that of the profiteer or empirical scientist. In this sort of world the victim has the same value as the bully, which is to say, ‘None’: the smile of the father for his child is of no more value than the same man being an efficient concentration guard. Things, objects, roles, are disconnected, each is an individual, empirical manifestation: reality itself is fragmented into ‘parts’. Does this not sound familiar? A world where ethics is an ‘optional extra’, after all ‘ethics’ is but another ‘object’ or ‘fact’. Each individual, as an ‘object in an objective world’, supposing a reality of ‘objects’ where ‘facts’ are fixed and true, then proceeds to produce a narrative in just those terms. We get the commitments of ‘the scientist’ working on bio-weapons, who disclaims responsibility – he was engaged in ‘pure science’ – the commitments of ‘the politician’ who espouses ‘ethnic cleansing’ for the genetic purity of the race – ‘purity’ resists degeneration, thus what he does is ‘good’ - the justification of slavery by any means – that is the exploitation of people as objects in pursuit of profit, as true in Ancient Athens as it is today, economic slavery – said to be a necessary evil. With this sort of narrative form any one reading this ‘food for thought’ is able to provide their own existential examples simply by reading a newspaper. All the above occurs if we are misled into committing to a part of the narrative form, that is our embodiment as ‘objects’, as pieces in play – we become somehow trapped in a deterministic, solipsist33 hell, one in which we deny our own subjectivity – we dehumanise ourselves.

As stated, the above shows us as ‘embodied pieces’, objects within the narrative, but the ‘embedded pieces’34 within the narrative are also the contributing actors and playwrights – the writing is a posteriori , but the activity of creation is but pure improvisation35. Each of us, as we live, know ourselves to be living subjects both encountering ‘living’ and revealing ‘living’ as it occurs. Simply36, we are subjects and unless our subjective nature, no designation, no affirmation, no narrative of any sort! Reality itself disappears! The intersubjective form of our subjectivity is shown in the embodied/physical narrative we all embrace, but the ‘motive force’ for this expression, that which we variously call personhood, metaphysical self, transcendental I, which is the I/subject[ivity] presupposed by thinking itself is not up for designation or examination. That is not in the world or the narrative, but is the condition for the narrative that is the world, reality.37 Thus, our philosophical enterprise leads us directly to the heart of what it is to be self-knowing, the ethical enterprise of designating and affirming, the recognition of our responsibility to ourselves and to others and for others in all we do and say38. We are both the subjects and the objects of our actuality – something Kant noted when he talked of both the ‘empirical I’ and the ‘transcendental I’.

Truth, verification and falsification in effect become redundant terms – we either agree, or disagree – they are terms we employ when ‘looking in the wrong direction’, an observation made by Wittgenstein39. Such muddles arise when there is either a conflict between narrative commitments, or when we have been confused by mistaking the telos of the narrative form itself – a confusion between ourselves as ‘objects and subjects’, as ‘pieces and creative players’, which amounts to much the same. As for justification, as Wittgenstein noted, justification can only occur within the form of any language-game, it is not possible to justify the practices of one game in terms of another. – Thus our problems with those that still cling to a somewhat ‘logical positive’ framework. But however understood, it is that our commitment to our embodiment, our physical reality, is key for the narrative form itself.

I am aware that by providing this formal account, I am ignoring, but not overlooking, how it is we come to be ‘knowing narrators’, but I do not require that ‘domain’ to examine the form of the narrative, and to note that we are inducted into its commitments and practices. That is why, whenever grammatically possible I have employed ‘we’ rather than ‘I’, acknowledging the necessary intersubjective form of our practices, an area extensively explored by Wittgenstein, in effect a topic for another occasion.40 It is the case that none of us with our commitment to embodiment and the narrative form, cannot even begin to imagine this not being the case. That we commit to embodiment, a physical reality, though it provides a ‘handle by designation and affirmation’ nevertheless, if misunderstood, is the source of much of our philosophical confusion and muddles, which is amply demonstrated in the title of the Hertfordshire Conference ‘Narrative and understanding Persons’. – Think about it!

I acknowledge that the account is incomplete, and that I could provide a description of how we come to become persons – but if I were to detail that in this account, then the focus would be quite different. It is like having a flat pack instruction kit which describes and details what you need to do to build a set of wardrobes – if one part of the instruction is missing, then the whole project cannot be completed. Nevertheless, in my ‘clarification’ I outlined, sketched, what needs to be in place. – For a narrative, there has to be a context, and that context is the form-of-life ‘persons’. Thus ‘understanding persons’ begs the question – Persons in the formal account – my account thus far – are the ones that create understanding.

To summarise, we have but one key belief and it is that of embodiment. But though in metaphysical terms we may say that it is a belief, as ‘knowing’ embodied actualities it is not a belief. Of embodiment and a physical reality, well, of that we may have no doubt. As Wittgenstein noted ‘We cannot start from a position of doubt.’ Our living actuality is physical, the potentiality, that we live, is affirmed by us and is the condition for the world, thus cannot appear as the world.

Note on Logic.

It is interesting to note that both the ‘creationist’ approach and ‘evolutionary theory’ approach share the same logical form. Each narrative, with respect to the a priori, is what we say are the antecedent conditions for that which we have already created. The content of either narrative does not necessarily apply. Each is a contingent account, and dependent on us as narrators. We affirm both the structure and the contingent content. ‘We cannot know what we cannot know’, though it is possible for us to believe. Neither can cast any light on our narratives as embodied beings that affirm both the structure and contingent contents of our autobiographical narratives. Whether a God, or empirical science, each require a level of belief – a belief in that which cannot be explained: the condition for our actuality at all. Our living actuality, the condition for reality is a logical point without dynamic, without extension, thus does not and cannot appear in any account. Our embodied actuality is necessary, not contingent, but for ‘a domain of discourse’, ‘The world is, was, will be all that can be the case’ then our living actuality, our potentiality to become which ‘knowingly’ occurs, is required.




1 The importance of this unsupported, and unsupportable claim, will become obvious as the account proceeds. You need to be able to ask yourself, unless ‘meaningful’ how could we come to recognise any of our empirical accounts as accounts at all? The justification occurs within our recognised practices, and the recognition itself shows that they are necessarily meaningful. To ask ‘why’ at this point is a matter for metaphysical speculation. Our ‘form-of-life’, requires the affirmation of ourselves as subjects, it is a requirement of logical necessity. If this form of life, then meaningful expression: if meaningful expression, then this form of life.

2 I know that in this context meaningful is a redundant term. 

3 Hereafter called LW.  

4 Hereafter called TLP. 

5 My thanks to Will Baker on his Philosophy page – a format for discussion – to drawing the following to my attention. His question was, ‘What gives rise to narrative accounts, why are they necessary?’

6 The logical outcome of my criticism also answers another problem I encountered very early on when studying TLP. At 6.421 It is clear that ethics cannot be put into words.

Ethics is transcendental.

[Ethics and aesthetics are one and the same.]

I protested to my professor at the time that you cannot make two transcendental claims – you would never know of what you were speaking. In effect a ‘transcendental realm’ is just that, either the substance necessarily ‘shows’ the form, or it does not. A logical observation, and one with which LW created problems for himself within his logical account!

7 Not surprising really when you consider that LW started out as an aeronautical engineer, who became ‘distracted’ by philosophy.

8 Hereafter called the ‘Tractarian Objeckt’ or TO, to distinguish it from ordinary, substantial objects.

9 That which may be inferred, reproducing the inductive/deductive account of Aristotle with respect to science.

10 We present ourselves as living actualities, we say what it is like to live, but we cannot share ‘living’, the ‘sense’ of what it is to live. This is our ‘selves’ as subjects, not objects.

11 As an addendum to the account so far, I include this as clarification:

‘The truth function schema can be found at 5.101 in TLP. The opening is [was, will be]:-

(TTTT) (p, q ) Tautology. (If p then p, and if q then q.) (p<->p. q<->q.)

Note, the language form ‘situates’, we read/suppose present tense, but it could be past or future, in effect a formal constant within the dynamic, ‘This is what we affirmed.’

In plain language:-

It was raining.

It is raining.

It will be raining.

The above propositions share the same logical form, but if written in logical notation would not capture the dynamic – an observation of my ‘logic’ lecturer. In life, our common practices, I really do need to know when and if I should water the garden.

The project of creating a logical language which ‘fixed’ meaning is a vain enterprise. We already have one which ‘does the job nicely.’

Any ‘logical notation’ which commits us to an ‘objective reality’ of any sort, is in effect ‘free floating’, rather like the notation of mathematical calculus and functions. If we follow down that path like Frege and Russell – let alone Kant, the early Wittgenstein and the logical positivists – and I include the whole of the analytic tradition – then at a fundamental level we discover that we have been misled by our linguistic ‘turns of phrase’.

12 There is a long ‘back story’ with respect to ‘all is learned’. If any part of our ‘knowing’ was a priori then what we may know, both form and content, narrative, would of necessity be pre-determined. My claim will be that our ‘knowing’ determines both form and substance. But that would be for another ‘food for thought’ and in a sense I ask that you accept my affirmation ‘all is learned’.  

13 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

14 It is interesting to note that as adults, we witness behaviour by other ‘tribes of people’ and always consider the behaviour to be meaningful – even when we do not know what that meaning maybe. Thus, if people and their behaviour, then meaning.

15 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

16 I am minded of the possible logic that would eliminate the ‘law’ of the excluded middle – needed for some of the accounts provided by the quantum physicists.

17 I have just been observing my nephew’s new born son – five days old. It is more likely that he will hurt himself, than be hurt. He is not aware of what his hands are, or what his fingers may do to his eyes. In effect, I prevented him from poking himself in the eye. His movements thus far are undifferentiated. His ‘intuitive movements’ are just that, are reflexes. His eyes react to light, his head moves to the smell of his mother’s breast milk – but these are not ‘knowing movements’ any more than a sun-flower ‘tracking’ the movement of the sun.

18 Though I note that even to say this is to employ the logic of substance, of narrative that cannot be encompassed by such narrative. For us ‘The world is all that is the case’, Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1

19 Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, proposition 7, Ludwig Wittgenstein

20 The enterprise of the ‘facts’ of empirical science – theoretical ‘certainties’

21 These are only examples, you can furnish your own from the entire corpus of philosophical, religious and non-philosophical writing – but these will suit my purpose.

22 Aristotle considered what the full actuality of a human psuche might be, and that enterprise is intimately entwined with the sort of narrative we provide, the understanding that the self-reflective capacity is key, our capacity as embodied creatures within a physical reality in which we create and recognise value. In effect what it was to live in virtue of being a human. But that would be material for another essay, and here could only serve as a distraction.

23 Also Socrates – his comment about the unexamined life.

24 This next section ‘took me by surprise’! I often start writing, and the activity itself ‘leads me in unexpected directions’. In short, I cannot ‘plan’ an essay, for me any philosophical considerations ‘evolve’ as they are written. I then return to read and discover whether or not I have expressed myself clearly. So the next section is new to me, too.

25 Note – it presupposes the formal nature of our embodied existence, our physical reality.

26 In a sense Plato was right in that ‘the form’ could be approached – we show it as we live. In a sense Kant was correct, if ‘the form’ is transcendentally secured, then we cannot approach it. Interesting. Depends on which story you are going to tell!

27 Our narratives behave as theories, and as Hume observed with respect to causality – the narrative form itself – we cannot expect what will happen to conform to what has happened, thus our theoretical constructs are always a posteriori though empirical scientists appear to treat with them as factual, as a priori necessities.  

28 Consider paradigms with respect to astronomy – Ptolemy, Newton, Einstein and, maybe, Hawkin.

29 With thanks to Will Baker for this observation, this ‘turn of phrase’.

30 Our questions are so entwined, it is better to use the ‘entwinement’ rather that create a muddle by ‘untwining’.

31 Consider the strained possibilities of ‘properties’ with respect to an objective reality, one of the puzzles set in the first and second year of my degree. It gave me a headache! 

32 I thank Liebnitz for this observation.

33 I am aware that this is an unusual use of the term ‘solipsist’, but consider its employment to be apt. Consider the plight of the autistic person. Are not such people, the ones whose beliefs I have outlined, display some of the observed behaviour of autism in the way that they are somehow disconnected from reality? 

34 The ‘embodied pieces’ are also ‘embedded’ within the narrative. This is not a mistake in terminology.

35 I am showing my drama credentials here – I was a drama teacher earlier in my life.

36 Or seriously – I always used to use that to signify that I was hopefully making a substantive point. Now, simply serves that purpose.

37 I am not asking ‘why’ with respect to this statement, that would be a metaphysical enterprise and cannot come within the scope of a narrative – it would probably generate some sort of regress.

38 Indeed the recognition of the awesome responsibility for recognising the full scope of being human. This leads directly into what Aristotle, Kant and Nietzsche had to say in their ‘ethical accounts’.

39 Read 275 in Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein. – How do you point to with your attention? When you pay attention – to what are you paying attention? We need to look to ourselves.

40 Dan Hutto gives an excellent account – it is published as an article, but will be the conclusion of his forthcoming book.









 (Essay Collection)






Life's meaning