Category: sense impressions


We’ve had a little trouble with us, so I’ve written the following in order to think it through. I offer it here because sharing meaning is what it’s all about! 
It’s the idea of naming objects (naming sense impressions) that’s the problem. Because we can’t see into each other’s boxes/brains, then if we were to  name a sense impression we would do so on our own. 
Imagine this (it’s a little like my sausage example, but has less distracting comic potential): Sam and I are looking at a watch and I say, “Sam, that’s a watch,” and Sam says, “I agree.” So we both attach the name ‘watch’ to the sense impression inside our heads. 
Now, what we have done is EXACTLY THE SAME as both agreeing that we each have a ‘beetle’ in our matchboxes, without being able to see them, because we can’t see inside each other’s head anymore than we can see in each other’s matchbox. 
The point is difficult to grasp this because when Sam and I are both looking at the watch, when I see Sam seeing the watch, I ‘automatically’ assume he is seeing the same as me. (I’m almost certain he is, but that’s not the point here.) It’s the ‘seeing’ that misleads us. 

Imagine the same situation if we were both blind. Although we could both feel the watch, hear it ticking etc. I don’t think we would have anything like the same confidence that we both perceived the watch in exactly the same way. I think we would be much less likely to attach meaning to the object itself and much more likely to create that meaning in the language and behaviour that surrounded the object.
I think there’s something about the act of ‘seeing’ that makes it seem very powerful in the way we understand the world around us, (that’s probably why I draw so many diagrams.) 
The ‘meaning’ of watch is not attached to the object, but is in all the things we ever say and do with the watch. 
Imagine a society, perhaps in the future, where people have developed a pretty accurate inbuilt sense of what the time is. They are a very laid back relaxed kind of people and think that the few people who are still obsessed with time and still wear watches are at best old-fashioned and at worst insane. In such a place the meaning of ‘watch’ would be quite different. Wouldn’t it? Think how the question ‘Do you wear a watch?’ would be different. So the meaning of ‘watch’ is not attached to the object but to the language use that surrounds it. 
So the naming of sense impressions in our heads, the naming of beetles in boxes, is without meaning. We have to forget ‘naming’ sense impressions as giving meaning and see that meaning only comes about through language use. 

Does that help? Comments please.
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WITTGENSTEIN’S, BEETLE, THE PRIVATE LANGUAGE ARGUMENT & SOLIPSISM:

SOME MORE THOUGHTS 

I find myself struggling to get this right, so I’ve written the following in order to think it through. I offer it here because sharing meaning is what it’s all about! 


It’s the idea of naming objects (naming sense impressions) that’s the problem. Because we can’t see into each other’s boxes/brains then when we name a sense impression we do so on our own. 


Imagine this: Sam and I are looking at a watch and I say, “Sam, that’s a watch,” and Sam says, “I agree.” So we both attach the name ‘watch’ to the sense impression inside our heads. 


Now, what we have done is EXACTLY THE SAME as both agreeing that we each have a ‘beetle’ in our matchboxes, without being able to see them, because we can’t see inside each other’s head anymore than we can see in each other’s matchbox. 


We/I struggle to grasp this because when Sam and I are both looking at the watch, when I see Sam seeing the watch, I ‘automatically’ assume he is seeing the same as me. (I’m almost certain he is, but that’s not the point here.) It’s the ‘seeing’ that misleads us. Imagine the same situation if we were both blind. Although we could both feel the watch, hear it ticking etc. I don’t think we would have anything like the same confidence that we both perceived the watch in exactly the same way. I think we would be much less likely to attach meaning to the object itself and much more likely to create that meaning in the language and behaviour that surrounded the object.


I think there’s something about ‘seeing’ that makes it very powerful in the way we understand, (that’s probably why I draw so many diagrams.) 


The ‘meaning’ of watch is not attached to the object, but is in all the things we ever say and do with the watch. 


Imagine a society, perhaps in the future, where people have developed a pretty accurate inbuilt sense of what the time is. They are a very laid back relaxed kind of people and think that the few people who are still obsessed with time and still wear watches are at best old-fashioned and at worst insane. In such a place the meaning of ‘watch’ would be quite different. Wouldn’t it? So the meaning of ‘watch’ is not attached to the object but to the language use that surrounds it. 


So the naming of sense impressions in our heads, the naming of beetles in boxes, is without meaning. We have to forget ‘naming’ sense impressions as giving meaning and see that meaning only comes about through language use.

As Hume believed that all ideas were faint ‘copies’ of the sense ‘impressions‘ that they originated in, he was able to propose a method for solving certain philosophical problems by tracing the ideas these problems involved back to their original ‘impressions‘. If an idea could not be traced back to its original sense ‘impression‘ then it must be empty, meaningless and not worth pursuing. 


I got you to try to apply this ‘method’ to the notion of  ‘a time when nothing happens’. This caused a lot of confusion and ‘debate’, but eventually we all agreed (I think) that because we could not have experienced a time when nothing happens, we cannot have a sense impression to base our idea on and therefore the idea was empty and meaningless. 

It is confusing because we ‘think’ we can imagine such a time, but we tend to imagine ourselves or someone ‘observing’ nothing happening, but of course the observation itself is something happening.

So we agreed that what we actually experience as ‘time’ is in fact change and ‘time’ as a ‘substance‘ separate from change does not exist if Hume is correct. 

You went on to apply this method to love / hate and innate ideas and of course you could find the impressions that the ideas of love and hate come from, but not those for innate ideas. This would have made Hume happy. Well done people!

We saw how Hume, writing some 60 years later, builds on Locke’s empiricist foundations and develops many of his views. Hume also rejects innate ideas and believes that all our thoughts are given through the senses.


Hume believes that;

we can divide the mind’s perceptions into two classes, on the basis of their different degrees of force and liveliness. The less forcible and lively are commonly called ‘thoughts’ or ideas’.

For Hume, these ideas are pale copies of the more direct and immediate perceptions we have when we are actually experiencing something rather than thinking about it. He calls these more direct perceptions ‘impressions’, and explains that he uses this term to mean, ‘all our more lively perceptions when we hear or see or feel or love or hate or desire or will.’


So Hume thinks that ideas are got from the way we experience the world physically, emotionally and intellectually (although I’m not sure if he would approve of those divisions of our experience) but that all our ideas are fainter perceptions of … our impressions.’ As he puts it, ‘all our ideas or more feeble perceptions are copies of our impressions or more lively ones.’