Sunday, May 11, 2008

Conceptual Notation

"You can write history by tracing ideas, exposing the growth of a concept," said Ezra Pound (GK, p. 60). It's not a terribly original idea. But you have to grasp a concept as such (and not another thing) in order to do this well. To this end, I propose "conceptual notation", borrowing the phrase from Frege, but reading it very much through the later Wittgenstein.

And developing along lines suggested by Albers. I'm trying to get a hold of a book about his work called simply, To Open Eyes. Well, my aim is just as simply to open minds. Albers was able to show us how colours work. Eyes give us access to colour. Minds give us access to concepts. Eyes see colours; minds grasp concepts. They are the means by which we notice them. We then write down what we notice.

Conceptual notation is a technique of kulchural studies.


Kirby Olson said...

There are still a few History of Ideas programs. There was one at the University of Washington. It's probably lost most of its faculty members by now, since every department had to bleed to set up the Ethnic Studies departments which are now predominant.

The Great Chain of Being was a great early book (30s?), that worked on understanding Aquinas' notion of a chain.

I could follow you through Frege and Wittgenstein, but didn't know Albers well enough to grok what you were saying about colors and ideas are similar, or how you would apply this.

Do you mean something about the Red and the Black, and the Greens?

Presskorn said...

Normally, I’m suspicious of reading the later Wittgenstein as too much in continuity with tradition or his earlier self (and I did a lot of yelling about it at this years Wittgenstein-conference titled ‘Questions of continuity’.). Hence, I’m also normally skeptical of readings-strategies that draw simultaneously upon, say, early Frege and late Wittgenstein.

But in this specific instance, I’m right with you. There is indeed a relationship between the early Frege’s notion of Begriffsschrift and the late Wittgenstein’s notion of an ubersictliche darstellung, that might be fruitfully developed.

Allow me to think out loud:

Crucially, the early Frege thought of the role of logic as expressive rather than constructive.

Begriffsschrift contrasts the systems of, say, Boole or Russell by wanting to express inferential relationships rather than trying to develop systems of valid logical inferences. Russell (and most of 20th century) sees logic as a special sort of truth-seeking that is realized in constructing formal systems containing true propositions as its results.

Frege, on the other hand, wanted rather to express the inferential relationships already implicit in judgments with nonlogical contents. And his formal system primarily served the purpose of making these implicit relationships explicit. The judgments and their implicit logical relationships are already there; Begriffsschrift is only there to make them explicit.

Now the point is, of course, that the notion of an ‘ubersichtliche darstellung’ serves a similar purpose. To make something explicit is to make it ‘ubersichtlich’. And what it expresses is implicit logico-grammatical relationships already present in our language games.

An ‘ubersichtliche darstellung’ is first of all a form of arrangement. But unlike Frege, the late Wittgenstein came to think that demands of perspicuousness imposed upon this form of arrangement excluded that this arrangement could be realized in a formal logical system and opted instead for presenting series of comparative and grammatical remarks.

Both notions, of course, also serve a ‘therapeutic purpose’ (although, I’ve newer like this term and especially not when employed by the Diamond/Conant-interpretation of the late Wittgenstein, which is an example in point of overemphasizing continuity.). But while Frege intended Begriffsschrift to combat unclarity in ordinary language in general and to aid science in realizing the inferential relationships between its judgments, an ubersichtliche darstellung serves a more specific purpose; such as clearing up the notions of sensation, rule, thought etc..

I’m not quite sure how to specify this specificity, but there is certainly something more specific about, say, your charting of the logic of description and prescription in Likeness than what Frege does in Begriffsschrift.
(BTW, I’ve made a few remarks on the importance of getting clearing about the logic of description and prescription in relation to rules here:

In any case, I would also interested if you have any comments on how you see ‘conceptual notation’ as useful in doing history as implied by your quotation of Pound..

One analogy, I’ve begun to find to useful in relation to ‘conceptual notation’ and history is to think of genealogy as combating a sort of genesis amnesia, a forgetting of the origin. And this is analogous to the late Wittgenstein’s project in so far as this can seen as a battle against certain modes of forgetting. After all, Wittgenstein constantly says that he wants to remind us of something, that his writing is an arrangement of reminders etc..