Moritz Schlick’s Structure and Content: Inexpressibility of Content

28 Sep

In the eighth section of Structure and Content, another essay by Moritz Schlick, he talks about some of the things that are cannot express between each other. By using a blind man as an example, he states that we cannot express ‘content’ between each other; content being empirical observations that are the way they are, and it cannot be explained otherwise. For example, we cannot express yellow to one another. We see yellow, and know what yellow is, but we cannot describe and express yellow only by words and sentences.

Schlick makes a very good example where he talks about the event that you would be talking to a blind man, and you would be trying to describe the color green. When I read this I was drinking an Amp Lightning, which is an energy drink, and it has yellow all over the can, so I thought to myself how I would explain yellow to a blind man. I got no results. I could say: “Okay, so, yellow…..Its lighter than other colors…Its all yellowy.” Sorry if I find this humorous, but this is content according to Schlick, and it cannot be expressed with language. It can only be experienced and observed.

It should be noted the reason for the fact that we cannot express content with language. The answer to the question is that our language systems are all faulty in some way or another. Considering all of the systems of language we have, it is quite a feat for all of those to still be flawed. I have shed a lot of light on the reason that our language systems are naturally flawed, however the issue is how each language in existence is faulty, flawed, and unable to live up to the expectations that our sense, intuitions, and thoughts would like.

The process that I think goes on in us is that we are shown, told, and sensing certain things in the world, and the fact is that we cannot fully reciprocate these actions (if I use the verb correctly).  We are shown the color yellow and black in certain areas as content, and we are only able to tell it back. It can be compared to that tactic for creative writing taught in English classes in the ‘show don’t tell’ tactic. Instead of listing and simply saying what was seen, and sensed, the English teachers teach high school and college students to show. Showing basically means instead of ‘I saw a queen bee, and she stung me on my nose’ as telling, we would write ‘ the large black and yellow insect swiftly flew across the top of my head and confronted my eyes and face, she then inflicted sharp, intense pain with her small but potent stinger’ as showing.  This helps create a sensory image within the mind about what happened to the narrator, and creates a better image than ‘the queen bee stung my nose.’ This showing does not express content however and is as far as one can go in expressing his or her observation. Because the linguistic systems we have do not have the ability to express raw thought, we are left with altered versions of our thought in speech, and are basically stranded in what we really wanted to express.

So what does it mean to epistemology and other philosophy if we cannot express content? I think it means specifically to epistemology (and even more specifically the positivist theory of truth) that verifying the truth and/or existence of the things around us is made much harder. In any theory of truth in metaphysics and epistemology, meaning will always be involved, and if meaning is involved, this faulty language is going to make meaning harder to officially validate. Because we cannot express content, many things have to have more effort put to them to be verified, and also, some things cannot be verified. Some things we see, have content which of course cannot be expressed, and if content is all there is to work with, little can be verified about the experience. For example if an enormous ‘xoolos’ colored rectangular box stood before you, all you would be able to verify is a large rectangular box figure, because the color characteristics of it would not be able to be expressed, because of its content status. If no one else saw it and had no empirical evidence for it, you would basically be talking about any big rectangular box like figure which there are many of in the universe. Fortunately, not all things are so content involved as this that they would be reduced as so, but because of our inability to express content, our ability to verify the existence of some distinct individual things is also flawed, just like our language systems.  The color ‘xoolos’ is just like yellow to a blind man and is content, and cannot be described. This means that some empirical things have the lack of ability or inability to be expressed just as some metaphysics and ontology do. So if there is some epistemological data that cannot be described or verified, why did the logical positivists and the Vienna Circle bash metaphysics so hard? I do not know, but this inability to express content makes all philosophy equal. What this argument basically reduces down to is  that all things in the world are inconsistent, and some things in the world in every subject area cannot be verified. Further reducing the argument down:  We are not sure of some things we propose as truth, and this calls for other methods to assure ourselves of certain things i.e. faith etc.  (this means that we must turn to God for assistance, but that is another argument).

That is a kind of inconsistent explanation. I seem to have flaws in explaining my opinions in contrast with Schlick’s. If you want to talk more about it I would gladly do so.

Not only are there some things in epistemology we cannot verify (very few things cannot be verified in epistemology which allows for some rejection of metaphysics theories), but a way bigger problem is that most metaphysics involves things we cannot verify (by normal methods of empiricism and positivism). It is my point in this writing that if there are things we cannot verify in epistemology but then a few things we sometimes prove out,  it is in metaphysics the same situation. It just so happens that in epistemology more things are verified and proven out than in metaphysics because of the noumena involved in metaphysics. I say this because I think that content should include spiritual intuitions and thoughts in correspondence with God. Many if not most people in the universe would shoot down any theologian or metaphysician if they tried to describe this spiritual correspondence, thoughts or intuitions because we end up sounding irrational, dumb, illogical, and inconsistent. Theologians and metaphysicians sound this way because language cannot show the thoughts, they can only tell (going back to that tactic taught by English teachers). If we have a problem, for example, and pray to God, and then later our problem is solved and we feel very loved and happy in correspondence with God, there is no able way to describe this interaction and event. I have had these correspondences and spiritual thoughts from God, and I cannot come up with words to describe them. Also, if we tried to describe how we can feel God’s presence we will end up sounding illogical and irrational in most cases (God often helps us if we are trying to influence an atheist or agnostic person).  Not only is trying to describe an empirical observation of a color that of content, but spiritual feelings and intuitions are also this way. Comparing Schlick’s talking about describing green to a blind man to a metaphysical content problem, it would be similar to a man saved by God telling a full blown atheist about feeling the presence of God. I feel I have made my point about what content entails and why it equates epistemology and metaphysics in one certain specific manner. If you need more clarification about Schlick or want to talk about my argument more please inquire.

Thanks again for the support.

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