the Epistemological Boundaries of Language and Thought:
as fore runner of Wittgenstein
thesis, expounded in the remnants of his poem On
be interpreted in a Wittgenstinian sense, in that it identifies
the limits of language as a means of both understanding and expressing
propositions about the world.
terms of the intelligibility of language propositions, that is,
whether a statement is meaningful and well formed as apart from
being simply coherent, we usually have no difficulty in judging
whether a proposition is intelligible. However, what can be made
of the following propositions?
Reality ceased to exist then there would be Nothing
Reality ceased to exist then Nothing
Reality ceased to exist then __________
Reality ceased to exist __________
could go on to posit other propositions that could try and describe
the state of reality if all Being were to cease being. But these
four are sufficient to illustrate the dilemma at hand, and the
one that also confronted the Eleatics all those years ago.
a little thought, it should be obvious that only proposition 4
is intelligible, or at least valid. Propositions
1, 2, and 3 masquerade as meaningful, well formed propositions
but they are in fact non-starters and meaningless.
1 is internally inconsistent and therefore meaningless since the
copula “then there would be” cannot be applied to “nothingness”.
To say that "there would be nothing" is incoherent.
Nothingness - whatever it is - cannot have a being, a
logically obvious truth pointed out by Parmenides.
2 is slightly better, since it does not use “beingness” in
relation to nothingness. However, it still fails, because it assumes to speak of "Nothing".
3 is an attempt to eliminate all reference to the “state” of “reality” which
would ensue if all objects in present Reality ceased to exist.
It in fact does not say anything about that ensuing state. Except
however, that it would follow on from the previous
state (present Reality). Nevertheless, this is still somewhat a
non-starter, because the proposition retains a concept of time
in the use of “then”.
There is no legitimate reason to use temporal references to any
event, even hypothetical, whose outcome results in __________ (i.e.
would seem therefore, that the only proposition possible that
could be considered to be well formed as well as a starter (that
is, admissible in discourse), is of the type similar to proposition
4. Although this proposition is somewhat unhelpful, it is nevertheless
well formed, though it is of course syntactically inelegant and
incomplete and could rightly be rejected as inadmissible.
fact, Proposition 4 should be rejected as inadmissible,
but not on “superficial” grounds such as syntax or
inelegance, but for the fact of the lack of semantic content, rendering
the proposition utterly useless. The proposition is meaningless
beyond the trivial fact that it highlights the fact that of "nothing"
we cannot speak.
this is the whole point of the thesis of Parmenides, that anything
that could be said, or any attempt that could be made
to think or say anything concerning nothingness or Not-Being is,
from the start, inadmissible.
recognised that it was not only impossible to speak of Not-Being,
but that it was also unthinkable.
Parmenides faced an insurmountable difficulty in trying to articulate
what he thought - or couldn't think - regarding "nothingness".
(Though he admirably and brilliantly addressed this difficulty).
experience may have been similar to that of the ancient Hebraic
tribes when they sought to speak of God, or Yahweh. To them, this
entity was so unspeakably unspeakable that where its name
should be written in texts, it was left blank _________.
however, in the case of the Hebraic tribes, the reason for omitting
the name of this supernatural being was because it was held to
be unspeakably sacred, and not because it was simply impossible
to know or articulate anything about this entity.
Indeed, the Hebrews had very much to say about this supernatural
being, all of it unreliable due to its being pure doxa,
one doctrine of which was that this being (God) is the cause and
reason for the universe’s existence.
contrast, in the case of Parmenides (who leaves questionable positions
such as sacredness well alone, something which we could be sure
he would also have classified as doxa), he considers only
what can be thought to entail knowledge and truth, or simply alethea.
a result Parmenides rightly declares “not-being” as
an unthinkable state of reality. He does this not simply because
it is physically impossible that reality could cease to exist (or
equally, that reality could come from “not-being”),
but unthinkable in the sense that no language predicates
of any description can be attached to the state that would "immediately
follow" once all existent objects in the universe ceased to
other words statements such as:
is…” or "Not-Being would be..."
be completed, and will forever remain with just a “subject” (Not-Being)
and a copula (is), but no predicate. Indeed, how is it possible
to predicate Not-Being?
is therefore not possible to speak of Not-Being. It is unspeakable,
literally, except perhaps to identify it as an imperfectly formed
pseudo concept that would form itself coherently in our
thought if it were possible, but the true fact is that
it is both unthinkable and unspeakable.
fact we commit a fallacy when we attempt to speak of Not-Being
precisely because it is not possible to speak of it, and what ever
it is that we do in fact speak of when we use the term “Not-Being",
it cannot refer to __________.
recognises this, that both conceptually and linguistically any
thought or proposition that concerns “Not-Being” is
imperfect and not well-formed, and is in fact a non-starter -
including the present sentence.
this sense of “articulating” the unspeakable, or rather
articulating the impossibility of articulating the unspeakable,
Parmenides is seen to have stated once and for all an eternal truth.
He recognises, in a fundamental and rather overwhelming manner
(but emphatically without mystical connotation, as Nestor Cordero
explains in his book By Being, It Is) that it is impossible
to articulate the central thought that would, if it were
otherwise possible, form itself with regard to the question of
existence and that it therefore lies outside of language.
is in fact a “Wittgnestinian” type statement on the
epistemological bounds to knowledge - 2500 years before Ludwig
Wittgenstein, that other great, though somewhat confused, thinker.
Wittgenstein states (in the only intelligible sentence) in his
work Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:
can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk
about we must pass over in silence”.
think it is not uncharitable to Wittgenstein to say that he was
in fact pipped a the post (pre-empted) on this colossal truth by
Parmenides, in his realisation that “of not-being we cannot
think or speak”.