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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Random quote
We should not take the absence of the word to be equivalent to the absence of thought.

Martha C. Nussbaum (1947-)

Monday, October 18, 2021

Words and deeds

You don’t need to write thick books and many articles to have a big impact on philosophy. Wittgenstein, for instance, published only one article and one book (the Tractatus) during his life. His Philosophical Investigations were more or less ready for publication, when he died. His other later published works were lecture notes taken by students and fragments and notes by Wittgenstein himself that were not (yet) meant to be published. Or take Edmund Gettier. His publication list is also short, but he has become famous by an article of only three pages (“Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?”). His other works have been forgotten, but this article, published in 1963, is still much discussed and belongs to the classics of epistemology.
Also J.L. Austin’s (1911-1960) publications list is short. Moreover, his most famous work How to do things with words has been published in 1962, so two years after his death, and it has not been edited by himself. It has become one of the most influential books in the philosophy of language, but the ideas Austin developed in this little book help also to understand what we do in daily life, when we are speaking. Actually, these ideas are very simple and looking back one wonders why nobody have had them before. But as it happens so often, ideas need a fertile soil to shoot, in this case the breeding ground of the relatively new analytical philosophy. Austin tells us that his first views on the theme were formed in 1939 and next he used them in an article in 1946. However, he fully developed his views only in his William James Lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1955, which were published only seven years later, in 1962.
Traditionally, certainly during the first days of analytical philosophy, language was seen to exist of statements that can be true or false. “The cat is on the mat”, is a typical example of such a statement. The cat is there on the mat or it isn’t there. In the first case the statement is true, in the second case it is false. But stop! This is quite a limited view on language, so Austin. Not all sentences are descriptive in this way and so not all sentences have a “truth value”. Take this sentence: “I do” (meaning “I take this person to be my lawful wedded wife/husband”). Or take these words: “I name this ship ‘Queen Elizabeth’ ”, while smashing the bottle against the stem. With sentences like these we don’t state a fact that can be true or false. Such sentences are also not meant to utter a statement that has a truth value. No, with such a statement we perform an act. By saying “I do”, I take the other person as my spouse. The utterance is not a description of what happens, which can be a right or a wrong description, but the utterance is an action; it is performing the act of marrying the other itself. Therefore Austin calls such a sentence a “performative sentence”. Although a performative sentence cannot be true or false, nevertheless something can go wrong. Then we say that this sentence was not uttered at the right place, it was a mistake, it was fake, it was infelicitous, or something like that.
Austin makes also clear that by speaking a sentence we can do different things. Take for example again the sentence “The cat is on the mat”. When uttering this sentence, we can mean to say that a certain animal is at a certain place, and nothing more. Austin calls uttering a sentence in this way a locutionary act. However, usually we have a further aim when uttering this sentence. For instance we want to inform you, so that you’ll not step on the cat; or maybe you are looking for the cat. Then we utter a warning, or give information, etc. Austin says then that we perform an illocutionary act by uttering this sentence. But it is also possible that we want that the person we are addressing brings the cat to us, or that this person gives the cat some milk: we want to bring about or achieve something with our words. If so, then we perform a perlocutionary act by uttering our sentence.
People often say: No words but deeds. Now we know that it is false contradiction. But who didn’t know that words can hurt … or can make you happy?

J.L. Austin, How to do things with words. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Random quote
The relative independence of the motorway in the landscape demonstrates the independence that travelling has gained in our society.

                                                                            Ton Lemaire (1941-)

Monday, October 11, 2021

Lost or left behind

Philosophers write about all kinds of ingenious and difficult themes that are often remote from day life. They (and I must say that I am often among them) write about questions that only philosophers find interesting. It also happens that what they say or write what seems obvious to everybody, unless she or he is a philosopher. “The world is everything that is the case”, Wittgenstein famously wrote. What else could the world be? But he elaborated this in a little book that became one of the classics of modern philosophy. Heidegger even wrote “The nothing nothings”, which everybody, if s/he is not a follower of Heidegger, would call nonsense. Especially the first half of the last century was a period with many obscure and difficult to understand – for non-philosophers – writings. Was this the reason that there was a reaction to this in philosophy called “ordinary language philosophy” that wanted to bring back philosophy to what words mean in everyday life instead of constructing complicated structures of theoretical constructs? However, this attention for daily words and objects gradually faded away and abstract thinking became mainstream again, certainly in analytical philosophy, which still is one of the most important streams in western philosophy. Philosophical articles have become increasingly complicated and can usually be understood only by philosophical experts. Even if you are a philosopher but not an expert you often feel lost. In a sense it is normal. Although I exactly know how to keep my income in balance with my expenses, I am not a bookkeeper, and now and then I need one to help me. However, sometimes I wonder, whether themes from daily life that are actually normal for everybody are not too much neglected.
Take for instance the picture at the top of this blog. It shows a box with pastry on a bench. You may say: Nothing special. However, I didn’t take the picture, after I had put the pastry there for a picture. No, I found the box with pastry there on a bench near a road junction, left behind. When you know this, it may raise several philosophical or sociological questions: What has happened that the pastry was left behind? Why didn’t the eaters take it with them? Hadn’t what remained of the pastry any worth for them? Although pastry isn’t really expensive for most people, you don’t throw it away but keep it for later. Moreover, didn’t the pastry eaters care for the environment? You simply don’t leave your waste behind (and it can be fined, too). Certainly, if such things like people leaving behind their waste (or certain kinds of waste) often happen, it says a lot about society and the people who make up that society.
It is for such reasons that I have several series of photos of daily life and of objects lost or left behind on my Dutch photo website. Since bikes are popular in the Netherlands, you find there two series of bike photos (look for fiets of fietsen in the column left): How people park their bikes everywhere and how they turn bikes into objects of art or simply leave them behind, broken. I think that these photos are not only photographically interesting, but also philosophically and sociologically. They show that bikes are an integrated part of Dutch daily life and they show an aspect of this daily life and how bikes are used and treated.
Other objects I like to photograph are lost gloves and mittens (handschoenen and wanten). Also these photos have a philosophical meaning. It’s obvious that I seldom find them in summer. Gloves are lost in the cold season, when people wear them. When lost, some are lying on the ground for weeks. Nobody seems to care for them. The owner didn’t do any effort to get it back, or s/he didn’t know where s/he had lost it or lived too far away to make it worth the effort. But look! Sometimes a passer-by has taken up the glove or mitten and has laid it on a striking place, like a pole or a gate, so that the owner can easily find it and so that the glove or mitten doesn’t become dirty. This action says a lot about the mentality of people who find objects. They know that a lost object like a glove has worth and that the owner may want to look for it in order to get it back. In this way they take care of someone they don’t know, a stranger. Maybe they bring the lost object even to the police or a depot for lost objects. However, I am afraid that the latter happens less and less. But doesn’t this say something about our present mentality and how we were in the past? Be it as it may, have you ever heard about a monkey or a wolf that finds an object in the wood and thinks: “Hm, maybe someone of a neighbouring group has lost it. Let me put it on that pole, hoping that the owner will find it there”? Objects lost or left behind say a lot about who we are; more than you might think.

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Random quote
In sharing a language, in whatever sense this is required for communication, we share a picture of the world that must, in its large features, be true.

Donald Davidson (1917-2003)

Monday, October 04, 2021

Are philosophers moral experts?

Aristotle, the most significant moral philosophers in the history of Western philosophy

In the abstract of his article “Are moral philosophers moral experts?”, Bernward Gesang writes: “I call people moral experts if their moral judgments are correct with high probability and for the right reasons.” It’s a theoretical article about the question whether there are moral experts. I don’t want to discuss the article here, but I think that it is reasonable to say that moral philosophers and in fact philosophers in general are moral experts in this sense. And if such philosophers are moral experts, they shouldn’t be influenced in their judgments by irrelevant factors. For instance, an experiment showed that holding a warm cup of coffee makes you have more positive attitudes towards a stranger than when you hold a cup of ice coffee. (see this blog). Other possible influences on judgments found are the presence of an odour, the presence or absence of direct physical contact or the order in which hypothetical moral scenarios are presented. (see Schwitzgebel and Cushman 2012, p. 135) Philosophers should not be influenced by factors of this kind, when judging a moral problem, for if so they don’t pass judgment for the right reasons. However, are philosophers really free from the influence by irrelevant factors? It’s what the authors just mentioned, Schwitzgebel and Cushman, wanted to know. “Because of their extensive training, professional philosophers are a ‘best case’ population for the skilful use of principled reasoning to influence moral judgment, and they have occasionally been explicitly described as such by psychologists”, and judging studies in this field, “[t]here is some empirical cause for optimism about philosophical expertise in moral reasoning”, so Schwitzgebel and Cushman (p. 136). However, because they had some doubts about the value of such studies, they decided to test the expertise of philosophers on moral questions for so-called order effects: Philosophers and non-philosophers were presented three series of two moral problems. Half of them got them in the order AB and the other half in the reverse order BA. Would the order presented have an impact on their judgments of these moral problems? If the philosophers would be experts, they should not be influenced by such an irrelevant factor like order of presentation, or at least less than non-philosophers.
One of the questions the test persons had to pass a judgment on concerned the so-called “doctrine of the double effect”: It is worse to harm a person as a means of saving others than to harm a person as a side-effect of saving others. An example of this doctrine is the trolley problem, which I have discussed several times before in my blogs (see here). In short it’s this: Switch: A driverless, runaway trolley on a railway is heading for a tunnel, in which it will kill five people, if nothing stops it. A bystander can save their lives by turning a switch and redirecting the trolley on to another track. However, then a man walking on that track will be killed instead of the five. Push: Alternatively, a bystander can stop the trolley by pushing a fat man from a footbridge on the track. The test persons had to read these cases either in the order Switch-Push or in the order Push-Switch and then rate the hypothetical action on a seven-point scale from (1) ‘extremely morally good’ to (7) ‘extremely morally bad’ with the midpoint (4) labelled ‘neither good nor bad’. (In fact the test was more complicated, but we can ignore it in this blog; see Source below). The result was, so Schwitzgebel and Cushman, that “Push was rated better when presented after Switch than when presented first, and Switch was rated worse when presented after Push than when presented first. Thus, respondents tended to assimilate their responses to the second scenario to their responses to the first scenario.” (pp. 141-2). This was the average result of all test persons, and we should expect, if philosophers are moral experts, that they would be less influenced by the order of presentation of the hypothetical cases than non-philosophers. However, what was the case? The philosopher maybe did slightly better than non-philosophers, but not significantly. Tests for the two other moral problems in the investigation showed about the same results. Even more, when the results on the three tests were aggregated philosophers appeared to be more influenced by the order of presentation of the cases than non-philosophers (p. 356).
Philosophers are supposed to do better than non-philosophers in passing moral judgments. We can ask what “better” involves, but anyway they should not be influenced by irrelevant factors. However, the investigation by Schwitzgebel and Cushman doesn’t support this view: Judgments by philosophers seem to be as much influenced by irrelevant factors as judgments by non-philosophers. At least, philosophers are as much vulnerable to order effects as lay persons, while they should be resistant to them. As the authors say: “Our analysis found no support for the view that philosophical expertise enhances the stability of moral judgment against order effects.” (p. 147) Since in the investigation the judgments by philosophers also appeared to be not fundamentally different from those passed by non-philosophers, it calls into question whether philosophers are really moral experts. Of course, there is much more to say about the moral expertise of philosophers and about the expertise of philosophers in general. For example, we may expect that they are better in logic and that they are better deductive reasoners. However, we should not overestimate their expertise, for philosophers are as human as humans are. 

Eric Schwitzgebel and Fiery Cushman, “Expertise in Moral Reasoning? Order Effects on Moral Judgment in Professional Philosophers and Non-Philosophers”, Mind & Language, Vol. 27, No. 2 April 2012, pp. 135–153. Or here.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Random quote
The traditional disputes of philosophers are, for the most part, as unwarranted as they are unfruitful.
A.J. Ayer (1910-1989)

Monday, September 27, 2021

The discursive dilemma

To my mind, one of the most intriguing issues in social philosophy is that groups as such can have different opinions than its individual members taken together have. It is not simply an ivory tower problem, for it can have practical consequences, for instance when a group takes a decision that is against the will of its members or when it takes a decision that doesn’t find enough support among its members, so that it is difficult to get it executed. I have discussed this problem already before in these blogs, but when I noticed that the last time I did is already six years ago (see here and here), I thought that it would be worthwhile to raise the matter again, but then from a somewhat different angle.
The problem has been famously discussed by Lewis A. Kornhauser and Lawrence G. Sager in their article “The one and the Many” in which they analysed the case of a three-member court that passes a verdict that deviates from what the individual judges think. But here I prefer to discuss an example treated by List and Pettit (2013, pp. 45-46), which is more general, because unlike judges, the participants are not limited by exogenous constraints like official procedures in their decisions. List and Pettit call this more general problem the “discursive dilemma”. Here it is, a little bit adapted by me:
  “[I]magine an expert panel that has to give advice on global warning. … The panel seeks to form judgments on the following propositions (and their negations):
- Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels are above 6500 million metric tons of carbon per annum (proposition ‘p’).
- If global carbon dioxide emissions are above this threshold, then the global temperature will increase by at least 1.5 degrees Celsius over the next three decades (proposition ‘if p then q’).
- The global temperature will increase by at least 1.5 degrees Celsius over the next three decades (proposition ‘q’).
The three propositions are complex factual propositions on which the experts may reasonably disagree. Suppose the experts’ judgments are shown in the table below, all individually consistent. … 

                        Emissions above         If p then temper-         Temperature
                        threshold?                   ature increase?            increase?
                        (p?)                             (if p then q?)               (q?) 

Individual 1                True                True                            True 

Individual 2                True                False                           False 

Individual 3                False               True                            False 

Majority                     True               True                           False

Given the judgments in this table, a majority of experts judges that emissions are above the relevant threshold (‘p’). Moreover, a majority judges that, if they are above this threshold, then the temperature will increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius (‘if p then q’). Nevertheless, a majority judges that there will be no temperature increase (not ‘q’).” List and Pettit conclude then that “a majority voting on interconnected propositions may lead to inconsistent group judgments even when individual judgments are fully consistent …” (p. 46).
I think that examples like this one illustrate that groups are not simply aggregates of individuals. Groups are not just collections of certain individuals but they are entities of their own and in a sense they are independent of the individuals that make up the group. Otherwise, we couldn’t explain, for instance, how a sports team can become champion, if the members that make up the team at the beginning of the season are not the same members that make up the team at the end of the season (or for a part). Just as we don’t get a new car, when its tyres are replaced, we don’t get a new team when one or more members are replaced. That a team becomes champion is the consequence of purposeful and intentional actions by the team members but as such these individual actions aren’t actions of the group. A team can play a match because its actions are constituted by the individual actions of its players, but the players of the team don’t need to be the same players all the time. Therefore, in the end, it’s not that the individual players win the cup but the team does. I think that something like this happens when a group takes a decision, as in the example above. The group members think individually and vote individually and this results in a group decision, but this individual voting is not the same as the group decision. It would be different if the group members would take a decision in a joint consultation in consensus.
The case discussed exemplifies that generally what groups do and what individuals do are different things and are on different levels. Groups are not simply individuals put together. This is an important conclusion. If one doesn’t take it into account, it can happen, for instance, that a group takes a decision that cannot be executed because it is against the will of its members, although all members had a say in it. 

Christian List; Philip Pettit, Group Agency. The Possibility, Design, and Status of Corporate Agents. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Random quote
One of the reasons that we find so few persons rational and agreeable in conversation is there is hardly a person who does not think more of what he wants to say than of his answer to what is said. 

François de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)

Monday, September 20, 2021


Mass at Fatima, Portugal

One of the strangest, if not weirdest, words that you can find in many English dictionaries is “mumpsimus”. It looks like Latin, but everybody who knows a little Latin and has a feeling for the language, knows that it cannot be Latin, nor cannot it be an original English word. But what then can the origin of this word be?
I didn’t know the word, until I read a biography of the great Dutch theologist and philologist Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536). One of the tasks Erasmus had set himself was making an improved edition of the New Testament. In the days of Erasmus the Bible version used by everybody was the so-called Vulgate. The origin of the Vulgate goes back to the fourth century. After intensive study of the Vulgate it had become clear to Erasmus that the book was full of mistakes. The origins of these mistakes were many. For example, the original books of the New Testament were in Greek, but the Vulgate is in Latin, so it’s a translation of the original. Moreover, when the Vulgate had been written, already several versions of the Greek Bible books existed, and they were all a bit different. The question then is: What is the real original text? Also important was that the Vulgate was already more than thousand years old and it had been copied by hand again and again. Especially this was a source of many mistakes. And last but not least, for several reasons sometimes sentences had been added to or omitted from the Vulgate during these thousand years. Erasmus decided to try to reconstruct the New Testament in order to get a text that was as near to the original as meant by the authors as possible. He called the result Novum Instrumentum (New Instrument). The Novum Instrumentum contained the original reconstructed Greek text of the New Testament, a Latin translation and an extensive explanation of both, so that the readers could judge themselves whether Erasmus had made the right choices when reconstructing and translating the New Testament.
When Novum Instrumentum was published in 1516 Erasmus was sharply criticized. However, it was not because the Erasmus should have made the wrong choices in his text reconstruction, but he was criticized because he had reconstructed the Vulgate. People were angry because Erasmus had replaced old familiar words by new words. There were even rumours that the Novum Instrumentum would be judged by the Inquisition, the court of the Roman Catholic church. This made Erasmus in a letter to a friend refer to a story going around in his days “about a poorly educated Catholic priest saying Latin mass who, in reciting the postcommunion prayer Quod ore sumpsimus, Domine (meaning: ‘What we have received in the mouth, Lord’, instead of sumpsimus (meaning: ‘we have received’) substitutes the non-word mumpsimus ... After being made aware of his mistake, [this priest] nevertheless persisted with his erroneous version, whether from stubbornness, force of habit, or refusing to believe he was mistaken.” (quoted from the Wikipedia) The theologians who judge my Novum Instrumentum, so Erasmus, are like this priest who didn’t recognize and correct his mistake, even after it had been explained to him. When former students of Erasmus in Cambridge heard about this letter, it caused such great hilarity among them that since then “mumpsimus” became an expression for nonsense, inveteracy and for an inveterate person in the English language, an expression that still exists in modern English. So we can say “He prefers his mumpsimus for my sumpsimus”, meaning that he stubbornly sticks to a clear mistake that I have explained to him. Generally, a “mumpsimus” is a person who adheres to or persists in old ways or ideas, practices, uses of words, etc., although it has been made clear that they are wrong, erroneous, etc. Also the practice, idea etc. itself can be called a mumpsimus. A modern example of a mumpsimus is the former American president George W. Bush, who persisted in saying “nucular”, when meaning “nuclear”. And I would call also many anti-coronavirus-vaxxers mumpsimusses, in view of all the facts that have shown the value of vaccination against Covid 19. On the other hand, one shouldn’t be too hard on someone who is a mumpsimus, especially when it is on matters that aren’t really important. Aren’t we all often mumpsimusses? Don’t we all often stick to ideas, habits, practices and so on, which we once thought reasonable if not good but which have shown to be mistakes, false ideas, bad habits …? Many people often make themselves immune to criticism, just because they don’t want to change, just because they don’t like the person who criticizes them, just because going on in the old way is easier than changing, despite the negative consequences. Is not everybody a mumpsimus in his or hear heart? Everyone thinks his own geese swans. 

Sandra Langereis, Erasmus dwarsdenker. Een biografie. Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 2021; pp. 542-544.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Random quote
The criterion for philosophy of primitivism lies not in the conceptual form to which one feels absolutely allied, but in the pursuit of a fixed idea that there should be something like a single unified, all-compassing, exhaustive form.

Wolfram Eilenberger, abstracting Ernst Cassirer’s (1874-1945) philosophy of culture.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Mental fog

Yes, I know that you are eagerly waiting for a new blog. However, this time you’ll see only mental fog. Sometimes I must working on my physical shape and I give my mind a little rest. So, again, like a few weeks ago, I took a mental break and worked on my physical condition. Last week I have cycled a lot and now I hope to have a fresh mind for a new series of blogs. But as it goes, my mind kept working when I wasn’t in the saddle, so I read a lot, too, and I kept thinking as well. Next week you’ll see some fruit of my thinking, but this week you’ll see only fog.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Random quote
One does not need to hope in order to undertake something, nor to succeed in order to persevere.

William I of Orange (the Silent) (1533-1584)

Monday, September 06, 2021

How we perceive

Traces of a roe (little deer) in the concrete
of a cycle track

Philosophers often come with new theories which then are refuted by other philosophers with again new theories. Such theories are about all kinds of themes: ethical and moral theories about what we should do, theories about the best political system, theories about the essence of man, theories about how we act (my specialty), theories about being, theories about happiness, and so on. I could make here a long, if not very long list of philosophical theories, but you know what I mean. And, of course, philosophers discuss, and sometimes fight as well, what the best theory in their field is. But how do we know what the best theories are? How do we know which theories are true? Philosophical discussions are mainly discussions about ideas, not about facts. By nature, philosophical theories just are about what cannot be experienced or at least not directly, and because of this they cannot be tested. In the end, philosophical ideas are mere speculations; they are views – albeit reasoned views – on how the world is constituted. They are subjective. We can also say that philosophy is about what is not empirical.
Therefore it’s a pleasure when we find facts that maybe don’t prove philosophical views – for that’s not possible – but that at least make some theories quite likely and in a sense give them a kind of empirical foundation. Take for instance the way we look at the world. A view long sustained by many is that what we see around us is passively received in the brain via the senses, especially by the eyes and ears. The world we see leaves a kind of imprint somewhere in the brain, like in the memory, just as a stamp that you push in a soft substance like wax; or, to take a modern metaphor, like how a printer prints the image on your computer screen on a piece of paper. This view is called naïve realism. However, as empirical research has made clear, it works in a very different manner. In a way, perceiving is more a brain-to-world process than a world-to-brain process, although the latter certainly plays an important part. I’ll spare you the details how it really works but basically it is so that we first make a construction in the brain how the world around us is and then we test this construction with the information that comes to us through the senses. With the help of this incoming information the constructed “image” in the brain is improved. To know this as a philosopher is very interesting, especially if you are an epistemologist, for in fact it confirms two philosophical theories. As Gerhard Roth makes clear in his Aus Sicht des Gehirns (= From the Brain’s View Point), pp. 86-87: Thinking is the most important organ for perception. Starting from genetically determined interpretations or interpretations required in early life, each process of perception or observation is a kind of making hypotheses about forms, relations and meanings in the world. To put it differently: The way that processes of perception and observation articulate our environment in meaningful forms and events is the consequence of trial and error; of trials to make constructions and interpretations that are then tested and improved. It is a matter of confirmation and correction. Is this not exactly Karl Popper’s well-known scheme P1 > T1 > E > T2 > P2 as discussed, for example in my blog dated 13 July 2015? Is this not Karl Popper’s theory that scientific theories are developed by putting forward an idea, then testing it and then correcting it with the help of the test results as summarized in this scheme?
This way how the brain forms an image of the world is, so Roth continues, also exactly the way it is stated in the field of knowledge theory by the adherents of the idea of epistemological constructivism. This view says that there is no direct representational connection in the brain of what happens in the world and the contents of our perceptions and observations. To put it crudely, there is not a kind of photo of the world around us in the brain. What happens in the world stimulates our senses and these stimulations are the basis of the processes that construct our conscious perceptions and observations, so what we think to “see”. In this way there is no independent knowledge of the world (so there is no “photo”), but for us our knowledge of the world is what these brain-made constructions are. These constructions are continuously tested with the help of new information coming from the outside in the Popperian way just mentioned. However, the brain as such cannot distinguish between its own constructions and the world outside. For the brain the world outside is the construction it has made.
Although philosophical theories are non-empirical, when developing and discussing their views, philosophers can learn a lot from what empirical research has brought. 

Gerhard Roth, Aus Sicht des Gehirns. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2015.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Random quote
As is well known, everyone sees the world differently, but he usually does not notice anything of it.

Gerhard Roth (1942-)

Monday, August 30, 2021

Normative objects

The photo at the top of this blog shows a boundary stone somewhere east of the Dutch town of Nijmegen. The stone marks there the border between the Netherlands and Germany. The foreground is the Netherlands and on the other side of the stone it is Germany. Once this stone had a compelling force: It told you that without permission it was forbidden to cross the border it marked. Many boundary markers of this kind – besides marking the border – still have this prohibitive function, like those on the border between Lithuania and Belarus. Instead of a stone (or pole) you could put there also a board with a text or a symbolic drawing or a border guard. Just like the board or the guard such a boundary stone has a normative force. It replaces the board or the guard. Therefore we call a boundary stone a deontic artifact: an artifact with a normative intent. The stone prescribes you what to do, or rather what not to do: to pass the stone without permission. Once, this was the normative function of the stone in the photo. Now, in these days of open EU borders, it warns you only that the rules and laws on the other side of the side of the stone are different from those on your side, but it is still a deontic artifact in a sense, for it prescribes you that on one side of the stone you need to obey other laws than on the other side.
Look around and you’ll see that deontic artifacts abound. You see them especially in traffic: traffic signs and lights, lines and symbols on the roads, etc. Examples of other deontic artifacts are hedges and fences that mark out private territory or now in the days of the Covid pandemic arrows on the floor of a shop that tell you how to walk. Deontic artifacts are not only symbolic but they can also force you to behave in a certain way. A roundabout is a typical example. It prescribes you to follow a certain route and to give priority to the traffic on the roundabout. You can ignore the prescriptions, but you will not do so for it is risky.
As my examples make clear, deontic artifacts can be of different kinds. A boundary stone is normative or prescriptive: It informs you about desired or prescribed behaviour. Or better, take a road sign. It tells you what to do, though in many cases you can ignore it, if you want to. On the other hand, a roundabout is regulative: it regulates or enforces your behaviour for you don’t want to have an accident. Another example is a speed bump on a road. It doesn’t prescribe you to drive slower, but you’ll do for you don’t want to damage your car. Because as such a speed bump is not normative, actually we can call it better a regulative adeontic artifact. A fence marking a private territory not only marks what is private and what is public, but if it is high enough it also stops you to enter the private area and so it is a regulative deontic artifact.
A deontic artifact can be permanent or temporarily. Above I discussed already several examples of permanent deontic artifacts, like boundary stones or fences. Once placed, they stay there “for eternity” or at least for an indefinite time. But sometimes we want to mark a place or forbid certain behaviour only for a short time. A row of chairs barring the entrance of a lounge or a bar or a part of a room is a case in point. Normally you can come there for a drink or a meal but the barman has closed the space for a little while, for instance because it must to be cleaned. Another example is a coat left on a chair telling you that the chair is already used by someone else who has left for a moment. The momentarily deontic artifacts just mentioned are informal markers, but markers can also be formal, like the traffic cones used by road workers to mark a hole in the road or the place where they are working. However, we consider a traffic cone only as a marker of danger or as a sign that marks out road works if placed on the road. If you see a few disorganized traffic cones on the roadside, you’ll not see them as markers, so as deontic artifacts that warn you for a danger or that regulate your behaviour. They are just there; left. This exemplifies that a deontic artifact gets its meaning as such only if it is situated: it needs “to be installed in a particular place to exercise [its] function and influence.” A deontic artifact “only performs its function when it is in its place.” (see Source, p. 194)
These are only a few distinctions that characterize deontic artifacts, or normative objects as they can be called as well. If we think of norms that prescribe or regulate what we do, usually we think of texts set down in explicit rules and laws or in cultural habits and customs or in implicit behavioural precepts; that is, we think of something that is linguistic in some way. As we have seen above regulative phenomena of everyday life can and often do have also a material aspect, or they are even fully material (like the speed bump). The material dimension of a normative phenomenon is often as important as its linguistic dimension. 

When writing this blog I have leaned heavily on
Giuseppe Lorini, Stefano Moroni, Olimpia Giuliana Lodo, “Deontic artifacts. Investigating the normativity of objects”, in Philosophical Explorations, 24/2 (June 2021).

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Random quote
No man shall be interfered with on account of his religion, and any one is to be allowed to go over to any religion he pleases.

Akbar, Indian Moghul Emperor, Muslim (1542-1605)

Monday, August 23, 2021

Someone else’s shoes

Wittgenstein writes in his Philosophical Investigations, § 443: “ ‘The red which you imagine is surely not the same (not the same thing) as the red which you see in front of you; so how can you say that it is what you imagined?’ ” Let’s forget the quotation marks and concentrate on the contents and take the remark as it is. Let’s go one step further. Then we get the question: Is what you see exactly the same as what I see, even if we describe it with the same words? For instance: You see something red and describes it as being red. But is your red also my red? It’s a thing I always have wondered, already as a child. To be exact, then I wondered whether the yellow colour that you see is the same yellow colour as I see it. In short, I wondered whether your yellow is my yellow. Not only then I asked myself this question, but I still do. Even more, when I keep a hand for my right eye and then for my left eye, I always have the impression that the yellow I see with my left eye is a little different from the yellow I see with my right eye: My left eye yellow is slightly darker than my right eye yellow. Leaving aside for a moment the latter problem of seeing the same thing in different ways, depending on the eye I use, I think that we have here a fundamental problem of human relationship and being human: Are we really able to have the same experiences as other persons when seeing the same red object or taking part in the same event, even though – at first sight, at least – we and they are the same in relevant respects? So, can we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes? Many people think we can: That we can experience another person’s feelings, but also another person’s reasoning when taking a decision. And many people think we often do: they often automatically think that another person’s view point is their view point. For instance, someone tells a dirty joke and you think that he knows that he tells a dirty joke; his view on the world is your view on the world.
The problem here is that you may be right in thinking that what you see, feel, experience, etc. is what the other sees, feels, experiences ... However, this doesn’t need to be so. You can make the mistake – and it often happens –that is called the psychologist’s fallacy (a term coined by William James some 150 years ago). The Lexico dictionary describes it this way: “The confusion of the thought of the observer with that which is being observed; the assumption that motives, etc., present in one’s own mind are also present in that of the subject under investigation.”
There are different types of the psychologist’s fallacy, which I’ll not discuss here (see for instance this link, where you can also find more examples). However, it’s a fallacy that is prevalent. For many people it is difficult to imagine that other people are different, think differently and behave differently. Oh, certainly, they say that they can imagine that others are different etc. and in the abstract they know that it happens, but when it comes to the point they feel that not being, thinking and behaving like they do is strange, if not weird. It’s the basis of prejudices. “Why are they not as us”, they say. “It’s normal to do it our way.” Etc. This thinking, being, behaving differently is enough to look down on “them”, and to turn their backs on them. But note that your own left eye may see things in a different way than your right eye does. Aren’t we so already a bit as the other whom we think we don’t understand? Even if you wouldn’t want to be in someone’s shoes, maybe those shoes do fit him or her better.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Random quote
The history of power politics is nothing but the history of international crime and mass murder. … This history is thought in schools, and some of the greatest criminals are extolled as heroes.

Karl Popper (1992-1994)

Monday, August 16, 2021

Homesickness or desire? Or just waiting?


Last week I was on holiday and so I couldn’t write a blog. Instead, I have uploaded this photo. It’s a photo that I like a lot. I have taken it in Klaipeda in Lithuania, a few years ago. I had spent a holiday in the Baltic States and I was waiting in the harbour of Klaipeda till the ferry would appear that would bring me to Germany. I think that this photo can express a lot. Is it homesickness? Desire? Hope? Or nothing of this at all, and does it capture simply the idea of waiting? Or is it not more than a harbour view? Or is it something else? But does the photo really express anything? It’s a photo that raises many questions. That’s why it is a really philosophical photo.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Random quote
That the sun will rise to-morrow, is an hypothesis; and that means that we do not know whether it will rise.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1888-1951)

Monday, August 09, 2021

“You cannot step in the same river twice”

I find fallacies intriguing. That’s why I have treated them already several times in these blogs. Fallacies are incorrect reasonings and sooner or later everybody makes mistakes of this kind. Even philosophers, scholars and scientist do. So a good reason to keep paying attention to them. As before, I make extensive use here of Arp, et al., 2019 (see Reference). Here is their full definition of a fallacy:
“A fallacy is an error in reasoning whereby someone attempts to put forward an argument whereby a conclusion supposedly has been appropriately inferred from a premise (or premises) when, in fact, the conclusion does not and should not be inferred from the premise(s).” (p. 19; italics in the original)
Fallacies are errors and should be avoided. They are based on false facts or views and usually the conclusion is a false fact or view (although it remains possible that the conclusion of a false reasoning happens to be true despite the false reasoning). However, it’s often not noticed that a reasoning is false and fallacies can have long lives. Some fallacies may have been put forward while those who did simply thought that the reasoning was correct, but it also often happens that false reasonings are put forward on purpose by people who think to gain by doing so and who want to manipulate people. Especially in politics both things happen, and maybe the latter more than the former, but that’s a personal opinion that I cannot substantiate with facts. Anyway, beware of politicians who use rhetoric.
Fallacies can be divided into formal and informal fallacies. A formal fallacy is one in which the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise(s) because of errors in the structure (form) of the reasoning, rather than in the content. The fallacy called “affirming the consequent” is a case in point, for instance: “If it is raining, the sidewalk is wet. > The sidewalk is wet, so it is raining”. The conclusion doesn’t follow, for maybe someone has just scrubbed the sidewalk. This simple fallacy is committed more often than you think!
An informal fallacy is one in which the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise(s) because of errors in the content of the reasoning. Since the content is expressed in language, often we find the false reasoning in the language used, like the misuse of words or grammar, false understanding, vague use of conceptions, and so on. Prejudices belong to this type of fallacy, for instance: Someone did something wrong and then the reasoning is “it is because s/he is a person from that ethnicity/sex/creed and my experience is that such persons behave that way.” (cf. Arp, et al., 2019, pp. 18-27) Arp et al. discuss seven formal fallacies and 93 informal fallacies, but it’s only a selection.
Also schooled thinkers commit fallacies. Even the Old Greek philosophers did, although they introduced the idea of fallacy in Western philosophy. By way of example, I’ll discuss here a statement by Heraclitus (540-480 B.C.). Fallacies were first systematized by Aristotle (who lived after Heraclitus, namely from 384-322 B.C.; click here for his work on fallacies), but I think that fallacies were certainly already known to Heraclitus.
Last year in a blog (click here; at the end) I shortly discussed Heraclitus’s statement that you cannot step into the same river twice. I explained that in this statement Heraclitus confused levels, namely the levels of the river and the water, and that you can step into a river as often as you like. We can also say that Heraclitus committed the fallacy of composition. The river consists of a bed in a landscape and this bed contains streaming water, indeed. However, it is not so that the river itself streams but that the water in the river streams. As such the river has a fixed place in the landscape and keeps this place when you cross it. If we say that a river streams, it is only a metaphor, a figure of speech that means that the water in the river streams. So, if we say “a fast-flowing river”, in fact we mean that the water in the river is fast-flowing. Therefore, you cannot step into the same (river) water twice, but you can step in the river itself as often as you like. The fallacy of composition is the error to ascribe characteristics, attributes or features of a part to the whole it belongs to, and this is what Heraclitus did: streaming is a characteristic of the water in the river but not of the river itself. (cf. Arp, et al., 2019, pp. 250-1; the example is mine)
Now it is up to you to uncover the fallacies that I committed in my blogs. 

Arp, Robert; Steven Barbone; Michael Bruce (eds.), Bad arguments. 100 of the most important fallacies in Western philosophy. Oxford, etc.: Wiley Blackwell, 2019.

Thursday, August 05, 2021

Random quote
Fighting for prestige, for honour, is litteraly fighting for nothing,

René Girard (1923-2015)

Monday, August 02, 2021

Montaigne and the Olympic Games

OLympic Stadium in Olympia, Greece

In the days of Montaigne there were no Olympic Games. The original Olympic Games of Antiquity had ended about 400 B.C. (the precise date is not known), while the first modern Olympic Games have been held in 1896. When Montaigne lived – the time of the Renaissance or Rediscovery of Antiquity – it was known that such games had been held long ago, but no one was interested to bring this past to life again. Compared to the day of today there was by far less interest in sport. However, tournaments like in the Middle Ages were still held, jeu de paume was quite popular, especially in France, as were boule games. Other sports practised were running, ice-skating (especially in the Netherlands), weight lifting, wrestling, etc., etc. But there was no competition on a scale that can be compared with what happens nowadays (one practical reason for this was, of course, that there was no good and fast transport system). Montaigne himself liked horse riding; just for pleasure, not for competition. One of his brothers played jeu de paume (and died after a ball had hit his head). So sport belonged to Montaigne’s life and to the society he lived in. Therefore it is not surprising that he mentions sport now and then in his Essays, though not very often. Sometimes Montaigne mentions the jeu de paume, sometimes he mentions sport in quotations or examples from Antiquity, and that’s most of it.
It is in examples that Montaigne mentions the Olympic Games four times in his Essays. Three references are not very interesting. However, one reference to the Olympic Games is, for it tells us a lot about the meaning and significance of sport. Although this reference doesn’t contain an idea of Montaigne himself but one developed by Pythagoras, it’s clear that Montaigne agrees with it. Here it is:
“Pythagoras was want to say that our life resembles the great and populous assembly of the Olympic games, wherein some exercise the body, that they may carry away the glory of the prize: others bring merchandise to sell for profit: there are also some (and those none of the worst sort) who pursue no other advantage than only to look on, and consider how and why everything is done, and to be spectators of the lives of other men, thereby the better to judge of and regulate their own.” (Essays, Book I, 25)
Montaigne refers to this view of Pythagoras in his essay “Of the Education of Children”. First, he says there that we must watch others and see how they behave, so that we can learn from it. In this context he mentions especially the ridiculousness and the arrogance of others. Such examples, such knowledge of what others have done “fortify our sight without closing our eyes to behold the lustre of our own; so many trillions of men, buried before us, encourage us not to fear to go seek such good company in the other world.” And then Montaigne comes with the passage on how Pythagoras interpreted the Olympic Games. With this passage Montaigne wants to say that children – and actually not only children, but everybody – must be like spectators and that they must learn from what they see happening around them. However, to my mind the meaning of this passage is wider. It contains not only the metaphor that a child (and actually everybody) is like a spectator of a sports event, but the passage is a kind of allegory of life. Life is like a sports tournament in which each person has a role to play and in which the occurrences and incidents are like the occurrences and incidents in life. In a sports event like the Olympic Games but also in smaller sports events there are players – the main participants –; there are winners and losers; those who try to profit for personal gain, but are not the main players; onlookers and bystanders; but also others, not mentioned by Pythagoras, like organizers, people in the background who may have the real power, manipulators, cheaters and deceivers, supervisors, innovators, and so on. The more you think about it, the more you’ll see that the Olympic Games and in fact any sports event is a reflection of life. Events like the Olympic Games are maybe too big for it, but smaller events of that kind, local and regional events, can function as a school of life. Then we don’t need to be only spectators, as Montaigne suggests, but we can also play one of the other parts. Every part in a sports event has aspects that are important in life. In this sense, sport is more than relaxation and recreation as is often thought. But can we reproach Montaigne that he wasn’t aware of it? For sport in his days was very different from sport in 2021. Then sport was mainly relaxation and recreation, indeed, and several centuries would have to pass by before it became a real model of life; before it became life itself.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Random quote
All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.

George Orwell (1903-1950)

Monday, July 26, 2021

Photos as representations of society

For Wittgenstein, a picture represents what it depicts. Often it also expresses what we cannot say in words. If we can, maybe we need a long essay to describe what the picture captures in one image. As a photographer it’s obvious that I agree with this view and therefore it is not strange that once I got the idea to illustrate these blogs with photos. At first I did it only now and then, but now you find a photo of mine at the top of each blog. Sometimes I pick one from my archives and sometimes I take one especially for a blog. However, it happens also the other way round: I have taken a photo, for instance because I like the scenery that I captured with the photo, and afterwards I give it a wider – philosophical or sociological – interpretation and write a blog about it.
Take for instance the photo at the top of this blog. To my mind, it’s not only an interesting picture, but it says also much about our society and how we interact with each other. But let me first tell a bit about what made me take it.
Once on a trip to Paris I took a photo of Les Halls (once the old fresh food market, now a shopping centre; click here for the photo.) It’s a picture of a square in the shopping centre. In the middle you see a man with a notebook or something like that. Around him, people are passing by. What makes this photo special is that the people around the man look like shadows or ghosts. This effect was brought about by using a long shutter speed, when taking the photo. I had done so only because it was quite dark then. However, when I saw the result, it appealed so much to me that I wanted to take more photos like this one. It was just because of the artistic expression, not because they had a special philosophical or sociological meaning for me.
It proved very difficult to find places where I could take such photos, so places with the right people (one person stationary plus some persons moving) and the right light conditions. In the 30 years since I took the Paris photo, I succeeded to take only a few like that. One is the photo here at the top of this blog, taken in a shopping mall in Helsinki, some 15 years ago. At first, I found the result a bit disappointing, for wasn’t there too much movement in the photo? However, when I looked at it again after a while, my view had changed, for it was precisely this strong blur of the moving people passing by, as distinct from the still figures who were in focus – a man and a woman with a pram – that seemed to me to enhance the effect even more. Just this contrast turned out not only to produce a photographically appealing image, but also to give the photo a meaning that goes beyond the purely photographic image. In fact it is the core of the philosophical or sociological expression of the photo, not in the sense that it places this photo in a certain philosophical or sociological frame, for example because it is the photo of a certain type of photographer or because such photos are characteristic of a certain era or society, because many people took such photos then or there. No, the photo is, as it were, a theory about man himself.
On the one hand, when people act, they do it in a certain social environment that functions as the background of their actions. It is the space in which they act. However, this social environment is not merely background. The acting people are not separate from it. By their actions people also make their own social environment. The social environment is background and product of their actions at the same time. But what is the relationship with the social environment, with the people around us, worth when it really comes down to it? In this respect, this photo shows a pessimistic view. The man in the photo is doing something with the pram. Does he need help? No one seems to care. In this sense, the photo gives a certain pessimistic, if not negative, picture of society, indeed: in the end, we must rely on ourselves. Or is this too pessimistic? For there is also another person who obviously is involved. Is it the partner of the man behind the pram? The photo doesn't make it clear. What is clear is that we see one or two individuals socially isolated from the environment. From this point of view, and if this interpretation is right, the photo is an expression of our present highly individualistic society.
But maybe all this is a too pessimistic view on society. On the one hand people often altruistically help each other if they see others in need – see the present flood disaster in Europe – but on the other hand, how often isn’t it so that people think only of themselves and don’t care about others when they should. – see the corona crisis – However, that’s another discussion. What I want to show here is that photos often are not simply beautiful pictures, art for art’s sake, a manner to show to others what you did during your holiday, and so on. Photos can also – and I think they do so most of the time, if not always – have a wider philosophical and/or sociological meaning. They say something about who we are and how we live. A photo is a picture of reality; it is a model of the reality as we think it is.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Random quote
The word, like a god or a daemon, confronts man not as a creation of his own, but as something existent and significant in its own right, as an objective reality.

Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945)

Monday, July 19, 2021

To say and to show. Wittgenstein and photography (2)

In my last blog we have seen that photography was important for Wittgenstein, not only because he himself was an enthusiast photographer, but also because he often referred to photos in his work, especially in his Philosophical Investigations (PI). Apparently, the basis for his “photographic view” on philosophy was laid in the 1920s by his photographic experiments, but we find already elements of this view in the preceding years. So, in a letter to Russell in 1919 Wittgenstein called the distinction between to say and to show the “main problem of philosophy”, and actually he stressed the significance of this distinction already in his Tractatus logico-philosophicus. From here the move from showing in general to showing with a photo is easily made, if you have become interested in photography.
In the Tractatus philosophizing is talking, saying, in the first place. There philosophy is logical analysis, so analysis in words. It is talking about thinking, and language is the totality of our thoughts. For example, Wittgenstein says in the Tractatus:
4. The thought is the significant proposition.
4.001 The totality of propositions is the language.
4.0031 All philosophy is “Critique of language” …
But what if you cannot express things in words? What if you have no words for what you want to say? What if there are no words for what you want to say? Wittgenstein gives the answer in the famous last sentence of the Tractatus:
7. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
In the German original we read “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen”, and maybe this statement could be better translated as:
7’. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one needs to be silent.
Or in other words, one has no choice but to be silent.
That is what Wittgenstein said in the Tractatus. But in this work we find already the seeds of one of the main points of his Philosophical Investigations, namely the importance of the picture, the image, and so also of the photo, which is expressed in his famous words “Don’t think, but look!” (PI, 66) For we read already elsewhere in the Tractatus:
2.172 The picture, however, cannot represent its form of representation; it shows it forth. (italics mine)
4.1212 What can be shown cannot be said.
Here, implicitly, the importance of showing is presented as an alternative to saying, although this idea is not yet developed in the Tractatus. Rather it is there ignored, if not rejected (cf. 7 above). Note, by the way, that in 4.1212 Wittgenstein sees saying and showing not as supplements to each other but as alternatives. This changes in the PI (which I’ll not demonstrate in this blog, but see what I said in my blog last week about the importance of photos and photography in the PI). But if, as in the PI, showing comes of equal standing to saying, then it is no longer true what Wittgenstein says in Tractatus 5.6, namely
5.6 The limits of my language mean the limits of my world,
for now my world comprises also what can be represented in pictures, in images. Once we see this, the importance of photography becomes clear, for photography is one way – and currently one of the most important ways – to make images of the world. In a photo we show instead of say, and often we show with a photo what we cannot say. 

Related literature
|- Franz Hoegl, “Sagen, Zeigen, Beobachten.Eine philosophisch-systemtheoretische Betrachtung,” (click here)
- Wilhelm Vossenkuhl, “Sagen und Zeigen. Wittgensteins Hauptproblem” (click here, chapter 2)

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Random quote
Every people must face the truth that in the space it calls its property and to which it is attached, it is a relatively recent and, moreover, contingent appearance.

Ton Lemaire (1941-) 

Monday, July 12, 2021

Wittgenstein and photography

regard the photograph, the picture on our wall, as the object itself (the man, landscape, and so on) depicted there. This need not have been so. We could easily imagine people who did not have this relation to such pictures. Who, for example, would be repelled by photographs, because a face without colour and even perhaps a face reduced in scale struck them as inhuman. (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, xi).

Everybody knows Ludwig Wittgenstein as a philosopher. What is less known is that he had also a great interest in photography. Not only are there many references to photography in his work, like in the quote above, he himself was also an enthusiast photographer. In the mid-1920s, Wittgenstein did some photographic experiments with the help of his friend Moritz Nahr, a court photographer. One of these experiments was making a composite photo of three photos of his sisters and one of himself. This photo is said to be the start of the development of his ideas of language game and family resemblance. In the 1930s he made his own photo album. Now, in these days that everybody has a camera, albeit maybe only the one in the smartphone, this would not be worth to notice, but in Wittgenstein’s days not many people did. Then taking photos was something for the elite and for hobbyists, so it says something about the person Wittgenstein was. In 2011 photos by Wittgenstein have been exhibited by the Wittgenstein Archives in Cambridge, England, and from next November till March 2022 there’ll be such an exhibition in the Leopold Museum in Vienna on occasion of the 70th anniversary of his death.
Wittgenstein had an idea of what a photo represents and means that was yet rather unusual in his days. Then the mainstream idea was that a photo is an objective picture of reality. Generally, a photo that had not been taken according to strict technical rules, and was blurred, with a sloping horizon, too large a foreground, etc., was looked down upon as amateurish, even though there were already photographers who just used such “mistakes” as creative expression. Just in Wittgenstein’s time a new generation of photographers was coming that didn’t care about such rules. Already in his photo experiments we see that Wittgenstein had also a wider view on what a photo could be. Moreover, he didn’t think that a photo was an objective depiction of reality. A photo is a kind of “probability”. It is a mere snapshot. You don’t know what happened before and after it had been taken. If you would know it, the original meaning you had given to a photo might completely change. I can illustrate this best with a portrait: Someone poses for a portrait, but maybe s/he is acting and plays someone else. The real person is different, but can you see in the photo who s/he is? Knowing the before and after of the photo can give you a different view on the image. As Michael Nedo, keeper of the Wittgenstein Archives in Cambridge explains: “A photograph is a frozen moment, outside time. As Wittgenstein says it is ‘a probability’, not ‘all probabilities’, what one sees in the blink of an eye. But if you keep your eyes open you will see things move and change, nature as a dynamic event, and it is this constant changing that creates fuzziness on one hand but clarity on the other, because if you only glimpse then you exclude all other aspects, you have no greater clarity, you are blinkered.”
As we see in the quotation at the top of this blog a photo can, and is, also subjective in another way. Even if we agree what a certain photo is about, not everybody needs to see it in the same way. In Wittgenstein’s days photography was black-and-white photography. This gives him the idea that for one person a photo can be a good portrait and for another it is rather a caricature just because it lacks colour. But even if a photo, or in this case, a portrait, is in colour, it can bring different interpretations. For one a portrait of, say, Stalin, can arouse happy feelings because he sees in him the man that saved the Soviet Union during the Second World War. In another person the portrait can arise disgust because s/he sees in Stalin the man who murdered many innocent persons. In the same way non-portraits can lead to many different interpretations. As Wittgenstein implicitly said in the quote: A photo doesn’t depict an object but an idea, a view.
To end this blog, yet another quote from the Philosophical Investigations, although from a different context: “Don’t think, but look!” (66) Doesn’t this say more about Wittgenstein view on photography then any words? What you can’t say, you must show. 

- Josh Jones, „The Photography of Ludwig Wittgenstein”,
- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations,

- “Wittgenstein on Photography”,
- “Wittgenstein’s Camera”,

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Random quote
The putting men to the rack is a dangerous invention, and seems to be rather a trial of patience than of truth.

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)

Monday, July 05, 2021

Celebrate the Dutch Landscape

IJssel River near De Steeg, Netherlands. This is one of the photos I exhibit in
the Naarden Photo Festival (see link under "Sources" below; till 29 August 2021).

The way we look at the world around us says much about who we are. Therefore it is not without meaning that it was only in the 14th century that in Europe artists started to paint landscapes. At first landscapes were backgrounds of portraits, but gradually landscapes as such became the main theme. At the end of the 15th century the landscape had become a genre of its own in the western art of painting. At the same time also man and society began to change. The God-centred closed society of the Middle Ages gradually opened itself to the world. Traditional man discovered that things could be different from what it had been for them. Man began to travel and became an explorer and discoverer or a travelling scholar. Rich young people made “grand tours” for their education. Romantics made walks in nature or went to other countries to see different ways of life. People began to travel out of curiosity or just in order to see what there is behind the horizon, or they simply wanted to be away from home. Tourism developed. A new man was born.
In a way, landscapes had always existed before they were painted, of course, and without a doubt some people always have enjoyed them; have enjoyed being there and walking or riding in nature. However, landscapes were not a subject of art and reflection till the end of the Middle Ages. With the expansion of the traditional world there came room for a new look on the space around man: The space seen as landscape.
As such a landscape is not any view or representation of this view (painting or photo) on the man surrounding space, whatever it is. It’s true, generally speaking we can – and often do – call a view of the wild Rocky Mountains or icy Antarctica a landscape, but when we look at the way painters and later also photographers represented the idea, a landscape is usually something different: It is something between the wild untouched nature and the completely man-made environment, the town. In this sense a landscape is a mixture of nature and culture. Actually in all landscape paintings both aspects are present. A landscape painting is meant to represent space and nature but it’s actually never so that we see only wild nature in a landscape painting. There are always elements that refer to man, to human presence. We see a farmhouse, or a cabin, or the shadows of a town in the background; a (usually lonely) man or woman strolling along a muddy road. A landscape is nature and culture in one.
What also seldom is absent in a landscape painting is the horizon, explicitly or implicitly. A horizon symbolizes space, but it indicates also that the world is wider than what you see depicted. In this sense a horizon is also desire. It closes the view but there is always something behind it that we cannot see but actually want to see. It is a limit we want to overcome (although when we try, it moves further and further away, showing that there is no limit to our desires).
This idea of landscape is quite romantic, maybe too romantic. It supposes that there is something like nature in the space represented in the image. Just those painters that have become famous for their landscape pictures, the Dutch masters of the 17th century, in fact depicted fully man-made sceneries, although they suggest a meeting between man and nature. Almost each meadow, each ditch or river, each other element there has been made or shaped by man. Already since ages there is no real nature anymore in the Netherlands. It’s not without reason that there is a Dutch saying that “God made the world and the Dutch made the Netherlands”. And isn’t this so also for large parts of Europe, certainly around cities and bigger villages?
If this was already the case in the 17th century, it is the more so in this day and age in the 21th century. In most of Europe and I dare say on every square cm of the Netherlands nature does no longer exist. Everything there is man-made, everything is culture. Even so-called nature reserves are, and all “wild” birds and animals there actually are zoo animals. But when cities penetrate the countryside, as they increasingly do since the 19th century; when townspeople buy and build houses in the countryside; when the countryside urbanizes, what remains then of the idea of landscape? Or must we give it another meaning?
A few days before I published this blog, in Naarden in the Netherlands the biennial Photo Festival has been opened. A special project of this festival is “Celebrate the Dutch Landscape”. What makes this project so special and valuable, thanks to curator Kenneth Stamp, is that you see there not only landscapes in the traditional sense of the 17th century, but that it discusses the idea of landscape as such: Is the traditional idea of landscape still valid these days that “nature” has become man-made? What has changed in the landscape outside the towns? Must we not look for the landscape also within the towns? Aren’t towns types of landscapes as well? Is there still room for the horizon? Must we regret these changes? In the photo festival these questions are discussed for the Dutch landscape but they are important for everybody who is interested in the idea of landscape.

- Ton Lemaire, Filosofie van het landschap. Bilthoven: Ambo, 1970.
- Naarden Photo Festival, especially the subpage on the special project Celebrate the Dutch Landscape.