17 July 2006

Ethics + Epistemology + Wittgenstein

I said in the previous post that this blog would be getting back to philosophy. Well, it is. We're getting ready to launch a new blog that will be hilarious and heartbreaking, a little bit country and a little bit rock 'n roll. We just have to get our drinking caps on, and then I'm sure we'll come up with some good content.

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If your actions are overlain by a framework, a system, that supports itself based on its own general coherence; if your actions fall all within the parameters set by that system; then there's no mind of which to speak. That's O.K.

Mr. Benjamin, a professor emeritus at Michigan State, has sent me a brief paper arguing the above epistemic picture. It would be misleading to call it epistemic, though, since the On Certainty-Wittgenstinian model doesn't make a claim to knowledge. This takes some major getting into, but a good place to start: When people think 'I know' must be a certain and infallible proposition (that those are the standards of the use of 'I know'), they have forgotten the phrase, 'I thought I knew'. Action shows our epistemic picture of the world. There are certain pieces of knowledge-belief-information (when you're acting, I don't think it matters what you'd call it; there are, however, different circumstances under which you'd call something a knowledge, belief, certainty, etc) certain pieces of knowledge under which one acts; certain assumptions give intelligibility to my and all your actions. These assumptions are not propositional, even though it appears they can be put into propositions. But the instances in which I'd say, 'I know I have two hands' are so limited as to render the statement in general complete nonsense. I'd certainly get more into this if it seems interesting to anyone.

In his paper Mr. Benjamin doesn't base ethical actions on the picture supra; rather, he says ethical actions are similarly underlain by a similar ethical, non-propositional assumptions. Roughly speaking, this view is all right. But can it withstand close scrutiny? (We murder to dissect.) I do not think Wittgenstein shifts his views radically from the TLP to On Certainty (which are practically the first and last things he wrote). Mr. Benjamin's reconstruction of a Wittgenstinian ethics denigrates the importance of ethics; ethics is "transcendental". I think Mr. Benjamin is on the right track, though. (Mr. Benjamin specializes in bioethics and he is the author of a book, Philosophy & This Actual World, which seems to deal somewhat with his Wittgenstinian ethical picture.)