The Disappearance/Reappearance of the first person and Transcendental Logic in Philosophy and the Philosophy of Education

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Cogito ergo sum: “I think therefore I am” was the result of the Cartesian search for the first principle of Philosophy and although Kant picked up on the premise of that “argument” if such it be(“I think”), Philosophy and therefore philosophy of education after Kant’s influence waned, focussed more on the conclusion: the existence of the subject. This in spite of the fact that the most convincing argument Descartes produced for his first principle was an “epistemological” argument namely, that If I should try to doubt that I am thinking I cannot do so without thinking. Now I am not sure that this is an epistemological argument because the intuition of thinking seems to be an after effect of the thinking(admittedly a closely connected after effect).  Thinking rather appears to me to be a transcendental condition of the experience or intuition.

What I wish to begin to explore in this article is whether this transcendental condition is related to the grammatical structure of the first person. Wittgenstein counseled us to ask how we learn a word if philosophical disputes arise connected with the concept the word expresses but he does not talk about the conditions under which we learn the word “I” as far as I can remember. Kant, however, does take this issue up in his work “Anthropology”. Kant, the transcendentalist, points out that  children  before they learn the use of the word “I” call themselves  the name that other people call them, that is, they use their name  in (perhaps accidental)accordance with the rules of a proper name which are probably connected to citeria of  uniqueness such as Born in Demo Alopece, Athens in  470/69 BC into the family…etc. At some point probably around 2-3 years the child feels a unity of consciousness within itself which needs characterization  by the first person pronoun “I”. Logicians have probably misleadingly called  “I ” a “shifter” because of their obsession with the idea of ostensive definition and the role of such definition in naming. “Socrates” would be, according to Kripke, a rigid designator referring necessarily to that object given  by the criteria specified by a set of definite descriptions: the man born in…the man born at the time….. The term “I ” cannot designate rigidly in the way in which a name can, therefore the term “shifter”. By the time logicians are thinking in this way, the transcendental “I think” or the grammatical form of the first person has disappeared from mainstream Philosophical discourse. In my previous essays on the Post Kantian history of Psychology, I mentioned some of the factors responsible for this transformation of the philosophical landscape since Kant. Ludvig Wittgenstein initially a leading thinker in the kind of logical thinking instantiated by Kripke et al, relatively quickly joined the critics of his own earlier work and began to realize that Philosophical logic had replaced transcendental logic for no good reason. In his later work, we find Wittgenstein arguing for a concern for language which is no longer analytical but more anthropological and communal. Behind Wittgenstein’s “we say” is “we think” and many of his discussions with himself in his work “Philosophical Investigations” are in accordance with the ancient Socratic definition of thinking as “talking or discoursing with oneself”. Wittgenstein’s style therefore reaches back to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and further on in History to the more systematic transcendental treatment by Kant. Wittgenstein’s dialogical approach was  very effective in providing convincing arguments against behaviourism, functionalism, pragmatism, materialism, naturalism, scientism, logical atomism, logical positivism, consequentialism and instrumentalism: all of which had shifted into the vacuum created by the displacement of transcendental logic and the grammatical case of the first person. This looks a very abstract point but this is only so as long as one does not see the connection between transcendental logic and metaphysical and ethical investigations which deal with reality and the value of reality respectively.

My first contact with Wittgenstein’s thought was via a Philosophy of Education course at Exeter University in England during the 1970’s given by a lecturer who had substantial contact with Wittgensteinian Philosophy in Cambridge  both directly with the master and  with the initial inner circle. Philosophy of education became as a consequence of the influence of Wittgenstein’s thought a fermented keg of discussion confined to 5 Universities of which Exeter was one.  The ingredients of this fermentation were Platonic, Aristotelian, Kantian and Wittgensteinian and the key thinkers spreading ideas in Philosophy of Education were R. S. Peters,  Paul Hirst, and Richard Pring. This latter figure is particularly interesting because he has been relatively active until recently in the field of education. His work “Philosophy of Educational Research” is a work that is  highly recommended to those who are interested in the topic we are attempting to discuss in this article in particular for its consistency with the ideas of the 1970’s in England. If we are right in our reasoning, this period of the 1960’s/70’s in England may have been the beginning of the restoration of Hylomorphism, Transcendental Logic and also the beginning of a broadly Humanistic revival of spirit in Europe.

But let us begin at almost the beginning, with Aristotle. In an earlier article on political identity we  discussed the criteria of personal identity and referred to the central concept of continuity as a logical concept derived from Aristotle’s theory of change. Four elements were involved: continuity of the body(the actual material of our body is changing and dying), continuity of memories in our memory system (we have forgotten many early memories but some of the memories we have probably had some relation to other memories which in their turn were related to other memories which in their turn might have been related to the early memories we have forgotten), continuity of the social system(social structures are disappearing and appearing in accordance with some kind of continuity principle) we are embedded in, and continuity of the political system we have perhaps created in our lifetime with our political judgments decisions and opinions. Memories are individual memories and are memories of other individuals. Social institutions are composed of individuals and their memories de facto and in virtuo in the form of the books of a library: history is embodied in monuments and buildings and street names etc. Similarly with political institutions, there are living individuals writing books for libraries  and reading books from libraries: Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics, Kant’s Political Philosophy. In this latter context individuals form new political parties, change the direction of a party etc. The political element incorporates formally  (logically) the social as material which in its turn formally incorporates memories of individuals and individuals bodies as material. This logical connection of elements is only possible with the kind of matter-form formula which we encounter in Aristotle’s hylomorphic theory: form and telos  provides both the organizing principle and the end toward which  the underlying material substance is actualizing. We can also see in this  matter-form formula  the logical relation of wholes to parts which is  mentioned in Aristotles “Prior Analytics”.

There does not seem to be any difficulty in holistically characterizing what a person is in this kind of context and most commentators see the advantage of the hylomorphic view over the kind of view which suggests that the person is a complete  collection of facts. Facts are facts because they inhere in different categories. How are we to differentiate them if not by a theory of the categories? Categories are ways of thinking about reality. Now there has been enough controversy about such issues to realize that the categories at best allow us to glimpse reality as if through a glass darkly. Kant helped to tidy the discussion up by claiming that categories determine kinds of judgment which direct our relation to reality in different ways.  For Wittgenstein, Judgment, of course suggested something we do, i.e. conceptual  judgments emerged from  forms of life which embed language games as justifications of what we do. Different forms of life justify different judgments. This initially looks like a formula for relativism but this is not the case  because  Wittgenstein is not comparing judgments at the same level, i.e he is  not claiming that  a categorical form of life and thinking gives  rise to categorical judgments in one community can be compared and contrasted with a categorical form of life and thinking giving rise to a different categorical judgment in another community. He is rather claiming that if one community for example believes that happiness is the end  for which ethical action aims and another  community aims at duty as the good this is not a contradiction but a choice of a categorical view of the good over an instrumental view. On another level, Wittgenstein points to categories of language to distinguish between kinds of judgment. The language game with pain in “I am in pain” is categorical because it does not make sense to doubt that I am in pain(cf Descartes, it does not make sense to doubt that I think) but there is between these two language games of “I am in pain” and “I think” a fundamental difference. In the former case we are in the Kantian realm of Sensibility,(The Wittgensteinian realm of sensation) in the realm of events that happen to me,  and in the latter we are in the realm of activity, the realm of what is done. In the former case I learn the expression in connection with primitive behaviour such as  falling and skinning my knee: my teachers teach me to say “I am in pain”  and this replaces my  screaming in pain. In the latter case there is also undoubtedly some behavioural base which will be substituted by the words “I think”, perhaps the behaviour  in question might be that of an exclamation upon being struck by a thought, e.g. thinking of something I just exclaim that something. The major difference between the two cases is that in the former the question as to why one is in pain, reference will be made to a cause whereas in the latter case the question as to why one is thinking something or doing any activity, reference will  be made to a reason(and of course depending on the type of activity the reason may be an instrumental one, “because it makes me happy” or a categorical one, “because everyone ought to do what I am doing if one is to treat people as ends in themselves”).  In the case of the reason for thinking something we might in fact be reasoning in a series of premises culminating in a conclusion.

These are first person cases of different kinds and different language games will be embedded in different patterns of activity or forms of life. Even second person responses to our first person avowals will differ accordingly. In the pain case there will be sympathetic reactions and in the thinking case there will be more cognitive reactions and perhaps even a long discussion, i.e. in the thinking case the discussion with oneself will be replaced by discussion with any possible second person and both will be testing their understanding of each other in terms of the truth of the statements, the reasoning being used  and the conclusions drawn.  A major difference between the sensation case and the thinking case is that in the former one can engage in observing the course of ones pain but in the latter that is not a possibility because pain is a phenomenon and thinking is not: “although there are phenomena of thinking, thinking is not a phenomenon.”(Wittgenstein). What is the role of language in this context? Wittgenstein often refers to the first person plural case “We say…… and Stanley Cavell in his “Claim of Reason” asks the provocative question “and what gives anyone the right to speak for  or on behalf of others”. He might well also have asked “What gives anyone the right to “think” on behalf of others”: or what gives anyone the right to claim something is true and expect acceptance of the truth of what is said. This is the normative aspect of our discourse with each other and with ourselves when we are thinking: the truth is what ought to be acccepted and understood. Cavell points out we certainly are not appealing to empirical research or the process of voting or counting hands.  There are phenomena of talking but talking is not a phenomenon, Cavell seems to be arguing. Grammatical remarks  are  first person collective remarks and they transcend experience. Connections can also be made to the idea of the self being transcendental, being that is, as Aristotle would characterise the soul, a principle of experience and activity.