Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Outline of an Argument from Nietzsche (corrected)

[A reader posting in another part of this blog noted a very basic mistake in the last section of this essay as it was originally posted about a week ago. I denied the antecedent (which is a deductive fallacy) and called it modus tolens (which is denying the consquent)! Ouch! I have now corrected this. I have also deleted the previous, erroneous version of the essay, including the comments (because it was an all-or-nothing deletion). Sorry about that folks, but I didn't want my mistake to be circulating in the blogosphere any longer.]

I have puzzled over the following statement for years. Now I have finally put it in an argument form. This is only an outline, but it captures the basic idea. Call it The Argument From Grammar, a species of the argument from design.

Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher (1844-1900):

1. “I am afraid we are not rid of God because we still have faith in grammar.” (Walter Kaufmann, ed., The Portable Nietzsche, “Twilight of the Idols”, Penguin, 1982, p. 483. )

a. Grammar presupposes a universal rational order known through language. The structure of language approximates the structure of reality outside of language.

b. The best explanation for (a) is that a rational and personal God created grammar to reflect reality and give humans knowledge.

Or (put in deductive form):

c. If grammar exists, then God exists.

d. Grammar does exist.

e. Therefore, God exists. (By modus ponens.)


2. Nietzsche apparently denies (a) , given that he was an atheist.

3. What are the philosophical implications of denying (a)?

4. Nietzsche’s argument :

a. Grammar presupposes a universal rational order known through language. The structure of language approximates the structure of reality outside of language.

b. The best explanation for (a) is that a rational and personal God created grammar to reflect reality and give humans knowledge.

Or (put in deductive form):

a. If grammar exists, then God exists.

b. God does not exist

c. Therefore, grammar does not exist. (By modus tolens.)

6. What is more likely:

a. That grammar does not exist or

b. That God does not exist?

7. The claim that grammar does not exist seems to be absurd. If so, Nietzsche is refuted by a reductio ad absurdum argument

14 comments:

Kevin Winters said...

You still need to substantiate 1.a., which is the crux of Nietzsche's argument. Chomsky's dream of a "context-free grammar," which is necessary for your argument, is no longer dominant within linguistics and is seen to be problematic.

Jonathan Erdman said...

4. Nietzsche’s argument :

a. Grammar presupposes a universal rational order known through language. The structure of language approximates the structure of reality outside of language.


Doug,

Are you suggesting that Nietzsche asserted 4a? Or are you doing the reductio ad absurdum at this point?

(Consider this an intense effort to get at the authorial intent of the post!)

If Nietzsche would not concur with "a." then would not the burden of proof shift to you to substantiate "a." in some way???

Martin Cothran said...

This is a fascinating topic. I have been pondering Neitzsche's comment in "Twilight of the Idols" for a number of years now.

You should know, if you do not already, that George Steiner deals with this also in his book "Real Presences". In fact, if you find Neitzsche's point interesting, you'll love what Steiner (who is clearly a theist) does with it.

But I do love what you have done with this in terms of formulating it into an argument for the existence of God.

I'm going to post something on this over at my own blog (http://www.vereloqui.blogspot.com). I'll shoot it over to you in case you're interested.

Great job!

Martin Cothran

Zac said...

I think you, perhaps, have misunderstood Nietzsche. After reading the relevant section from Twilight, I do not think he is saying that there is no such thing as grammar. Even though this is a blog article, shouldn't you have at least for the sake of charity delved into what he could have possibly meant? It seems you're strawmanning him here.

If you read the context of Nietzsche's discussion he seems to be criticizing our habit of presuming:

"Grammar presupposes a universal rational order known through language. The structure of language approximates the structure of reality outside of language."

When, in fact, Nietzsche denies this. We have faith in grammar not that it exists (for who could deny that?) but that the above quotation of yours is true.

For example, he speaks of how we used to think of the will as the cause of things, but now we know that it is merely a word. It IS a word, which would seem to mean that Nietzsche admits some type of grammar. I cannot even possibly understand what you mean by attributing to him this belief that there is no grammar; I would rather not attribute that to him unless I had no other choice.

He then mentions Plato's doctrine--which shares similarities to some Eastern philosophies--that we were once in the world of the Forms (i.e. in the presence of god; whatever Socrates means by that in the Phaedo). Why does he mention this? Presumbly because we have taken language to mean that we have reason and reason is some objective thing. That we have reason must mean that we must have some how partaken of the divine nature.

I think the deceptive female that reason is is precisely what you call proposition 1.a. That is, I think you've fallen into what Nietzsche calls the deception here. You have faith not in grammar existing but in it necessarily presupposing some rational order.

Furthermore, the abduction in 1.b. could be questioned--I don't think Nietzsche is making that abduction with you.

Yadda yadda yadda

-Zac
www.zachensley.com

Zac said...

Furthermore,

The reductio you mention is not a real reductio in logic. Who cares if people dont want to accept the conclusion? You have not proven anything except that the average person would not accept Nietzsche's conclusion (if indeed he concludes that there is no grammer--which, again, I don't think is the case). This would not bother Nietzsche. In fact, this would probably signal to old Friedrich that he's doing his job.

Kevin Winters said...

I just got a wonderful, generally short, and largely inexpensive book on Nietzsche's thought that some here might enjoy (or could use). It is Robert Solomon and Kathleen Higgins' What Nietzsche Really Said. I've been impressed with every Solomon piece on Neitzsche that I've read (admittedly few, but impressed nontheless), which is why I was willing to buy it (good Nietzsche works are hard to find). I've found it very useful for understanding an admittedly (and willfully) enigmatic thinker.

Douglas Groothuis said...

1. Please spell Nietzsche correctly, folks.

2. I am not making a straw man (nor do I make it into a verb: "strawmanning." Argh!). I read the context. I am not proof-texting.

3. Nietzsche denies the divine Logos of creation. As such, he cannot affirm that grammar connects us with objective reality. Yet we still believe in grammar in this sense (as even must Nietzsche, in spite of himself, if he wants to be taken seriously when he makes statements about reality). So, we are not done with God if we believe in grammar in this sense. But "in this sense" is a transcentally necessary assumption for intelligible discouse: Nietzschean or otherwise.

4. My last point "which is easier to accept?" was not a psychological point, but a logical point: Which is logically the best position?

Kevin Winters said...

Groothuis,

You say:

"Nietzsche denies the divine Logos of creation. As such, he cannot affirm that grammar connects us with objective reality."

So one cannot accept that "grammar connects us with objective reality" without believing in the "divine Logos of creation"? Nietzsche's issue is the fact that we have reduced truth to grammatical constructs for so long that we forget there are other modes of knowing. Aristotle's phronesis is one example; the pre-Kantian understanding of "taste" and "common sense" is another; the work of art and literature (the hiss and byword of "analytic" philosophy) is yet another.

"Yet we still believe in grammar in this sense (as even must Nietzsche, in spite of himself, if he wants to be taken seriously when he makes statements about reality)."

Why must he? Simply because he speaks a language? Is there no knowledge or understanding without language? What of the baby's understanding, prior to language? What of the art connoisseur's understanding that this painting is not the original, though he cannot for the life of him (if you held a gun up to his head) codify how he knows? Or the chess master who, after looking at a chess board for 1 second, can know the best move to make? I don't think that any of these can be reduced to semantic constructs.

"But "in this sense" is a transcentally necessary assumption for intelligible discouse: Nietzschean or otherwise."

You have yet to demonstrate this, which is at least Jon and my problem.

Kevin Winters said...

P.S. What is "transcentally" and "discouse"? If you are going to criticize people for spelling a foreign name wrong (one that is not the easiest to spell as it has no english equivalent), at least get your own spelling correct on english words.

Jonathan Erdman said...

With Kevin's comments I am reminded of Wittgenstein and the debate about private/public language. Is there such a thing as a "private" language?

For Wittgenstein words have meaning in the "form of life." He encourages to "look and see" how language is used and occurs within the flow of human experience. So, there seems to be a connection for W. between language and reality, although I don't believe W. goes so far as to say so.

For me, I believe that language can connect us with reality, but it may just as soon deceive us of reality as to describe reality. Furthermore, there may be degrees of which it connects us such that language may describe reality, but only imperfectly....perhaps this is realated to how we see ourselves: "now we see as in a mirror darkly" (1 Cor. 13:12)....

I can rely on language to reflect reality because I believe in a Creator who has arranged things in such a way. But if the question of God was in the dock I don't know that I could conclude that God exists based upon the nature of grammar.

Zac said...

I think Doug is begging the question.

Nietzsche is not affirming that language necessitates anything about the 'objective world' (whatever that is).

Doug is and then attributes that to Nietzsche.

I believe in the existence of God; I just don't rely on really bad arguments for it.

Kevin Winters said...

zac,

Groothuis is assuming that because he thinks it is self-evident: if truth as the correspondence between a proposition and "reality" is possible then propositions (i.e. language and grammar) must "correspond" to reality itself. I think, in modern terms, Groothuis is confusing the vehicle for the content. Language is the vehicle through which content is given, but must not be reduced to that content itself. In short, he's working with a faulty view of the essence of language. How does that sit with you?

Zac said...

if truth as the correspondence between a proposition and "reality" is possible then propositions (i.e. language and grammar) must "correspond" to reality itself.

And anyone who has read Nietzsche knows that he rejects the correspondence theory of truth. Thus, like I said, he begs the question.

If begging the question helps him sleep at night, then he should go ahead and do it. But it's not an argument against Nietzsche and any argument for the existence of God that must beg the question isn't much of an argument for His existence now is it?

How does that sit with you?

I agree that there is a difference between a sentence and the proposition which the sentence expresses. However, I would need Doug to explain his understand of the philosophy of language before I could comment on his supposed errors in this field.

prodrig151 said...

proposition A is not what Nietzsche understood as language. Neither did Wittgenstein, who has a similar remark about theology and grammar in the Philosophical Investigations.