Friday, December 20, 2013

Etymology of 'Philosophy'

Following up on a post from yesterday where I introduced the Linguistics blog, language again comes up here at the on-line etymology dictionary entry for "philosophy" from our Tom's studied Ludwig Wittgenstein:
[Philosophical problems] are, of course, not empirical problems; but they are solved through an insight into the workings of our language, and that in such a way that these workings are recognized -- despite an urge to misunderstand them. The problems are solved, not through the contribution of new knowledge, rather through the arrangement of things long familiar. Philosophy is a struggle against the bewitchment (Verhexung) of our understanding by the resources of our language. [Ludwig Wittgenstein, "Philosophical Investigations," 1953]
We have the empirical problem solved (MMT assertions are observable and mathematically true) so I guess that leaves this a purely "philosophical" problem.

This quote from Wittgenstein then leaves the solution to all of this a matter of "arranging things long familiar" which I think I can see what he means here and probably agree with it strongly if I understand him.

So we don't have to come up with new knowledge in this, humans have demonstratively possessed the knowledge of how to design and operate a system of state currency for thousands of years; this is readily apparent from a cursory review of the archaeology and the ancient manuscripts we have available today; only a moron would think not (and they probably do!).

This knowledge that we (humans) once utilized has been hidden or covered for quite a while now, through almost 2,000 years of rampant human subjection to metals (can you believe it!) with the resultant chaos and carnage born of this "metal-love".

Well, we've somehow been made able to throw the yoke of these metals; and this knowledge of state currency systems once utilized by our human ancestors has been again revealed to currently a small group of us, but obviously, virtually all of humanity continues to remain in the dark on all of this and continues to operate as if we are still under the metals.

So according to Wittgenstein, this now comes down to a struggle against a bewitchment of our understanding via certain language techniques the morons use that we can perhaps study and operate against.  Among these are the metaphor and metonymy.

Not that which is entering into the mouth is contaminating a man, but that which is going out of the mouth, this is contaminating a man." Mat 15:11

The morons sure can spew garbage out of their mouths that is for sure...


Roger Erickson said...

Now, now, Matt.

The Morons were ourselves a few years back.

They include our kids, spouses, siblings & co-citizens.

They can do this. It'll happen faster by recruitment, especially if we make them welcome.

Trying to shame people into leaving their current positions rarely works, as long as you're in the minority.

Enticement works faster.

Focus on the upsides, not the negatives.

Tom Hickey said...

Very few in philosophy have followed Wittgenstein, and many of those that do misunderstand him. The point he makes is that most persistent issues are not about matters of fact that are decidable based on empirical investigation but rather are matters of logic.

Some of these issues can be dealt with formally, as LW did in his early work leading up to the Tractatus as an account of the logic of description. But the most knotty issues cannot. His later work focus on issues involving the informal logic of ordinary language.

The only book he published on this is Philosophical Investigations but he left copious notes that were published posthumously by his literary executors, and some of his students also published lecture notes.

One of the basic ideas here is that ordinary language is the base case from which we start and we don't clearly understand its logic. When we attempt to import expressions from ordinary language to new uses, we bring along a lot of baggage unbeknownst and that biases the case.

We see this is econ with the importation of household and firm finance into macro analysis in the false assumption that macro is scaled up micro. But the problem is that many see this mistake as being correct intuitively. So it is difficult to disabuse it.

The chief point that LW makes overall is that the most salient issues that have occupied thinkers for millennia are not resolvable through description, as the logic of description reveals, since they are not chiefly fact-based. Rather, they are matter of logic broadly speaking and logic cannot be described because it is the basis of description.

So the challenge is to elucidate how the logic actually works in a controversial matter. Therefore, it's a matter of "seeing," but not empirical observation. And once one has seen it, one cannot describe what one has seen. One can only devise ways of getting others to see it too.

To use an analogy that LW doesn't employ himself, it's like Alexander realizing immediately that the way to loosen the tangled Gordian knot is to sever it with his sword. This analogy is also used by mystics wrt the necessity of "seeing" that which ineffable with the "inner eye," or "eye of the heart."

So it is not so much a matter of smarts. Often people not working with these issues can be led to seeing rightly because they aren't already biased.

It has seemed to me from the outset of my involvement with MMT that is is what is going on. Very quickly I picked up that Warren was seeing thinks differently and if one wants to grok MMT, then one has to get things from his perspective as the founder.

Fortunately, Warren was answering questions at his place then, and through questioning him and reading his responses to the questions and comments of others, I got it.

Moreover, I did not have a lot of prior training in econ either, and only became interested in the subject owing to the GFC. I as on the ground in CA and saw the bubble building in RE and finance in 2004-2005 and couldn't understand how those in a position to head it off missed it.

So I don't see this so much as a matter of stupidity as looking in the wrong direction and missing the action. What MMT does is explain the logic of monetary economics clearly, e.g., through the accounting and using operational definitions instead of ambiguous and misleading metaphors.

Of course, in many respects MMT is not original in this, but past knowledge was either forgotten (Innes, Fisher, Keynes, Eccles, Ruml, for example) or unknown.

Once one has the ahha! experience, everything including policy orientation falls into place and becomes obvious. I don't think that people who get it are necessarily smarter than those that don't. A lot of very smart people can't see this owing to the blinders of biases that constitute hidden assumptions.

jrbarch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jrbarch said...

Without inner peace, it is impossible to have world peace. [Dalai Lama]

What is essential is invisible to the eye. It is only with the heart that one can see clearly. [Antoine St Exupery 1930AD]

No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it. We must learn to see the world anew. [Albert Einstein]

The quieter you become, the more you can hear. [Ram Dass]

I have found that if you love life, life will love you back. [Arthur Rubenstein]

Love is wisdom’s law on earth. [Ingmar Bergman 1950]

Gamble everything for love, if you are a true human being. [Rumi 1200AD]

The purpose of life is to increase the warm heart. [Dalai Lama]

And we are put on earth, a little space, so that we may learn to bear the beams of love. [William Blake 1800]

Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart. [Confucius 500BC]

Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside dreams; who looks within, awakens. [Carl Jung 1900]

Pleasure comes from the outside. Happiness from within. [Remez Sasson]

Ask the heart the right question. You will get the right answer. [Prem Rawat]

For where your treasure is, there also will be your heart. [Luke 12:34 100AD]

Life is a voyage that is homeward bound. [Herman Melville 1840]

Only in the heart can one experience the divine presence of truth. [Kabir 1400]

I have walked this earth for thirty years, and, out of gratitude, want to leave some souvenir. [Van Gogh 1850]

You have fallen in love with war, why not Peace?
You have fallen in love with doubt, why not Clarity?
You have fallen in love with hate, why not Love?
You have fallen in love with death, why not Life?
You have fallen in love with knowing when the time is up; why not when Time stands still?

The heart has no curiosity – the heart wants to know.

There is an inside and an outside - Knowledge is the tool to go within. Take your attention from the outside and place it on the inside - like a mirror it reflects you back to you: that is why it is called self-knowledge.

Simplicity is the Key for understanding.

Without the Self, we have no-one.

[Prem Rawat]

All we are saying is give peace a chance. [John Lennon]

Merry xmas Tom Hickey !!!

Roger Erickson said...

Well said, Tom. You can find thoughts analogous to what LW said, expressed in different jargon, in many disciplines. All, I'd wager.

It does come down to different paths to similar perceptions and/or actions. As long as people DO what's appropriate, we usually never even find out exactly WHY they did that in that context.

Re your last sentence, we already know that people who grasp MMT can be seriously deluded about other issues.

We're all have multidimensional personalities, and are never geniuses in all areas.

Clifford Johnson said...

“To show the fly the way out of the fly bottle ”— that, Wittgenstein wrote in Investigations, was the aim of philosophy.

How pragmatic is that? Not as much as it might seem, since it presupposes an Objective and Unbarred Path of Escape.

Ditto, MMT?

Tom Hickey said...

The fly-bottle is an analogy about bumping into the (logical) limits of language instead of seeing the obvious ‚ that is, how the logic is actually functioning in a given context. Very often this happens by trying to analyze or explain "philosophical" terms independently of context, e.g., "cause."

I'd also say it's a pretty good analogy for describing conventional economics with its assumption of money neutrality along with ignorance of accounting, dismissal of monetary economics, and overlooking stock-flow consistency.

The result? "Structural unemployment" and "secular "stagnation." See Paul Krugman, Learning to Speak Economese

Or "unforeseeable shocks" that others else saw coming plain as day.

These are evidence of bumping up against the limits of the model (language).

MMT shows the way out through a correct operational understanding.

Roger Erickson said...

hence the joke about the economist stranded on an island with nothing but a can of food

"Assume a can opener."

Matt Franko said...

Tom can we look at the similarities between these statements:

OK here is Wittgenstein: "solved through an insight into the workings of our language, and that in such a way that these workings are recognized..."

Then here is Dominik Lukes from the 'metaphorhacker':

"when we become aware of the images that are contained in a metonymy (as in the examples above), we are witnessing a failure of the metonymy. It stops doing its job as a trope and starts being perceived as somehow inappropriate usage."

I see strong similarities between these statements...

I dont know if Lukes studied Wittgenstein... but if not this is interesting that they both would see and assert this...


Tom Hickey said...

Bringing it back to money, I think that "money" as metonymy used as a high level abstraction for a lot of functions and contexts is OK when recognized as a figure of speech. Problems arise when one proceeds to assume that "money" a high level of abstraction denotes something specific, e.g., a medium of exchange, and draws conclusions from this. This is called "reification." As Randy points out, for instance, it confuses money as a unit of account with "the money thing."

Matt Franko said...

Well as a "tactic" in this Tom we may do well to point out these "language workings" in front of the morons....

It sounds to me like Wittgenstein and Lukes both assert that simply pointing out the foibles in the moron's "language workings" would be effective in combating these falsehoods... as mundane as that sounds...


Tom Hickey said...

If we look at Krugman and Summers' resort to secular and structural, which mean in economese long term rigidities, they are actually terms that "explain" why the assumption of a long run trend to equilibrium isn't working as assumed.

Similarly, the "unforeseeable shock" doctrine is conjured up to explain how it was not the fault of the model, read economists, for missing the obvious.

This is standard practice is speculative reasoning, e.g., the use of epicycles in Ptolemaic astronomy., rather than realizing/admitting that the model and its assumptions are the problem.

But when they refuse to look at anything else, they are stuck in the fly-bottle, running up against the walls that are invisible to them.

Matt Franko said...


"it presupposes an Objective and Unbarred Path of Escape. "

Are you asserting this path does not exist?


"walls that are invisible to them."

Its not that the walls are invisible, its that their eyesight is not sharp enough to detect the difference between the view when they look thru the glass and when they look down the sight line thru the neck of the bottle... WE have the visual clarity to be able to see the hole in the bottle and just fly out that way... THEY do not.

So you have flys that are morons, and flys that are rubes and flys that are US ...

So the morons cant see with adequate detail to get out of the bottle forget them... but we have rubes who I assert have the visual clarity but dont know what it implies and they are just following the lead of the morons and banging their heads into the bottle with the morons...

So we have to take the rubes aside and point out to them the failings of the morons that they are following, and point out to them the difference in visual detail if you look out the neck of the bottle and tell them what that visual difference implies ie a way out, and nudge them in that direction...

And there should always be TWO of us IN DIALOG when we do this for the rubes, ONE of us is inadequate as a DIALOG is not possible with only ONE person...


Matt Franko said...

Now the 'flys in the bottle' is a physical metaphor and how this really happens with humans is THRU LANGUAGE....

The morons lack a key capability that WE have and the RUBES also have...


Matt Franko said...

So I disagree with Roger above, the morons cannot be recruited, only the rubes can be recruited...

The morons need to be exposed to the rubes...

Six said...

I've believed for some time now that the biggest learning impediment of all is the belief that one is "smart". It impedes the absorption of new ideas. I think that may well be what is at play with respect to the "morons" and "rubes".

Tom Hickey said...

The wall of the fly-bottle symbolizes generally preconceived ideas, for one thing, which are called assumptions in econ. These cognitive rigidities that are built into the model by construction act as blinders. If your only tool is a hammer, then everything becomes a nail, and you end up braking a lot of stuff unnecessarily. If you believe strongly in equilibrium and build it into your model, then you have to concoct ad hoc explanations for when things don't turn out as the model predicts. Thus the model doesn't really say anything specific that it can be pinned down to, since it accounts for everything after the fact given the flexible rules it plays by. As a result, its proponents don't even realize they are bumping into the wall of their own making.

Matt Franko said...

"The wall of the fly-bottle symbolizes generally preconceived ideas,"

Yes but Tom this is not a vacuum bottle.... the ideas are influenced by other flys... thru language and other cognitive abilities which can vary from fly to fly...


Tom Hickey said...

Actually, what is supposed to happen in the debate within a discipline is that a smart fly leads the way out. However, in econ the flies that won't follow remain stuck bumping into the wall of the bottle, which is constructed in part by assuming money neutrality and not seeing how the nominal affects the real through its own dynamic.

jrbarch said...

The opening in the bottle is the 'heart' of a human being. Mind is the wall. Once the mind understands that the focus changes.

Actually, I think the 'fly and the bottle' is rather uncharitable. Why not a beautiful songbird, battering its wings against the cage - the door always wide open!!!

jrbarch said...

Oh what the heck. It’s xmas!

Mind is the glass wall. On the wall is written all of your philosophies, all of your mathematics, all of your culture, all of your civilisations - all of your doubts and fears. You are busy, busy, busy – reading, studying writing. Talking, talking, talking. If you learn how to be still – the wall becomes clear, absolutely transparent. But you need to be very very still.

Then you will feel a gentle breeze, coming through the mouth of your bottle. And you will see that the glass wall is alive, pulsing! Mind a body! The breeze, the pulsing – are the same Breath that came into you, allowing you to be alive – a few moments after you were born - by whose grace you now write so intensely on the glass wall.

If you follow the breeze (follow the heart) you will find your way out. But there is a password at the opening, hidden in the Breath. Your breath! Help is at hand. There is a Sun, in whose rays you were born to dance. It is that simple! Mind turns you into something complex.

After that, go back, write something sensible on the wall – with Love, gentleness and kindness, for human beings (not flies); for me, it means to read from the blueprint of Life and do my tiny little bit to build it. Our dreams are just that …..

You would not believe how literal and pragmatic this description is ….!

Roger Erickson said...

Yes, and what if that signal is all drowned out by Foghorn DemGopHorn?

then you may need to get out your slide rule, read up on Claude Shannon, get good at signal-to-noise discrimination .... and STAY good at it (despite the exponentially increasing noise)