RE: virus: Altruism, Empathy, the Superorganism, and the Prisoner's Dillema

D. H. Rosdeitcher (
21 Apr 97 11:31:24 EDT

Robin wrote:
Robin wrote:

>FYI, I have been "devoted" to Wittgenstein's theory of meaning ever
>I first encountered it about 18 years ago. This says that the meaning
>a word or phrase is its use in a language game, where "language game"
>means basically "context". I fully appreciate how malleable is meaning.

There appear to be several problems with Wittgenstein's theory of meaning.
Wittgenstein said that 1) language is for describing sense data only (as well as
make commands and express emotion), and that sense data is all that exists in
reality--theories, concepts, morals are meaningless. and 2) Language is an
arbitrary game with arbitrary rules which is used to help us agree on things so
we can get along with others, and get jobs done. In this game we use the
dictionary definitions of words as the "standard" so people can agree on what
words mean.
This theory is self-refuting. Wittgenstein forms this theory about language,
yet claimed that theories were meaningless. Also, he said we are just playing an
arbitrary language game, but he himself is implying that he exists outside of
this arbitrary game, by describing an objective reality that there exists a
language game. So, he's exempting himself from his own rules about theories and
language games. He cannot escape the implicit assumption that there exists an
objective reality and language is for describing that reality.

>But if you've been following recent discussions you should know there
>is also Consensus Reality. The relevant aspect of CR here is our
>common understanding of what words mean, without which verbal
>communication is *absolutely* impossible. Now, this is certainly
>dependent in many cases, but in the case of "altruism" I am not aware of
>any such variability, which is why I said, in effect, that Reed's use
>the word was simply wrong. Context-dependence does *not* mean you
>can just use a word any way you like.

I agree with you on the importance of understanding what words mean in the
traditional sense. But, meanings of words can be flexible according to their
context. Notice that if Wittgenstein's theory is correct, that words only
correspond to sense data, then meanings of words would be extremely inflexible.

>>This is how Buddhism survives as an ideology--through people
>>stuck in a non-contextual thinking mode...

>Could you venture an explanation of how this works, or would you
>rather just leave it as a bald assertion?

Suppose you see Buddhist monks being altruistic by helping poor people.
Buddhists may call that pure altruism, devotional service, dissolving
egotistical needs, etc.Buddhists won't be probing into wider contexts by asking
questions like, "What is our motivation?" "Who do we work for?" "What effects do
we really make?" There could be a bigger picture than what is see directly in
front of you. But, Wittgenstein might say that the sense level was all that
really existed.
--David Rosdeitcher