Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

Wittgenstein's Ladder in Prigogine's Universe

Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

Wittgenstein's Ladder in Prigogine's Universe

Article excerpt

What if the postmodernists' main message about uniqueness and idiosyncrasy of individual humans is taken seriously? What if Wittgenstein's suggestion about philosophy as the "critique of language" in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (later TLP, 4.0031) is taken seriously? Then individual humans are placed at the top of the diversity chain of nature in the Prigoginean sense (Prigogine, 1997: 70; Gulbenkian Commission, 1996: 61). The purpose of my text is to show that if we consider the other end of ontology, nominalism1, as only denying the existence of universal concepts, as for example Dieterle (2001) does, we miss the essence of nominalism, i.e., agency, and are still encased in language for the next hundred years. Respectively anti-positivism still needs some substance but it is too often narrowed down to asymmetry of power, i.e., diversity that can actually be seen as the starting point of nominalism. What is claimed is that agency is the essence of both anti-positivism and nominalism. And if so, maybe we can eliminate nonsensical dichotomies and paradoxes sooner or later if we believe Wittgenstein: "language disguises thought" (TLP 4.002).


In this account I will focus on only one theme that manifests both in texts of Wittgenstein and complexity research: ontology and subject/I/agent. It will be ponderedupon whether ontology is the way that Wittgenstein paved in his Tractatus and texts before it, but backed off from, in his later writings. The peculiar 'limit' of language was approached from the inside by Ludwig Wittgenstein and from the outside by Ilya Prigogine. It is claimed that it is possible to combine thoughts of both- or more correctly: keep limits of world separate from limits of language.

The importance of language is not down-played but balanced within ontology. Do living agents use language for their own purposes or does it go the other way around so that dominant discourses harness agents? As postmodernists (e.g., Deetz, 1996: 194) claim the distinction between the subjective and objective is not an interesting rhetorical move and I would say it is even nonsensical and irrelevant: things derive from agency. The definition of agent is the same as in normal use of language: one who moves in self-ruling ways and sets things in motion. It seems that in social sciences many researchers deny 'agent', and in complexity research, models are rule-based, not agent-based and stochastic.

When prominent scholars like Nicos Mouzelis explicitly eschew ontology of humans it makes me curious. Mouzelis (1995:9) has considered it wise "to keep clear of the type of theorizing" as to "the ontological nature of the social", and Hosking (1999: 118) warns ontology-oriented researchers that "they risk becoming lousy philosophers and seriously dubious social scientists". Is there in the social sciences an area that researchers should avoid? Why? The answer is: confusion as to understanding of ontology by philosophers and, thereupon, by social scientists. The answer was easy to find but here it is more interesting to follow the track to its origin. It seems that the origin is in Wittgenstein (TLP 5.6): "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." However, use of words (propositions) was no problem to Wittgenstein. But in the Metaphysics Aristotle creates definite universals that constitute real entities: this is the origin of the linguistic turn, a topic that is fully explained in a forth-coming dissertation (Muhonen, 2008).

The ontological peculiarity of language was manifest already in the sentence of Wittgenstein: he does not say that the limits of my language are the limits of my world, but they mean them. Mixing meanings that people produce with existence is the core issue of ontology. Obviously anticipating problems deriving from this statement he opened a backdoor in his last paragraph (TLP 6.54): "throw away the ladder ... to see the world aright"! With the ladder he meant his own propositions. …

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