[hist-analytic] Philosophy as Nonsense

Jlsperanza at aol.com Jlsperanza at aol.com
Sun Oct 9 10:33:01 EDT 2011

S. Bayne:
"If you take 'sense' in the way Frege does and assuming senses  are
intensions, then how can philosophy be nonsense and provide a way  of

S. Holbrook:

"It's been a while since I've read Frege.  All I really remember  about
"sense" is that it's how the thing is presented to us.  So,  perhaps,
the idea weighed heavily with me at the time, and, subsequently,  I've
now sort of molded it it, added and took away some parts meshed  it
with other things I've read and, possibly, lost the Fregean part in
the  fray.  I can tell you that Wittgenstein, Carnap and some others
have had  a heavy hand in this area of my thinking.  So, I'll have to
rain check  you on this last question.
Hopefully, however, everything else provides  enough controversy to
stimulate some good conversation."
---- When Bayne first posted his post, I reflected on it, but for some  
reason did not post to the group. Here is the post I compiled then. I add then  
the point about the 'sense' being:
↓  ↑
I haven't checked with ALL European languages, but I think Frege was  
perhaps misguided with "Sinn". In English, 'sense', oddly, shares some cognitive  
map with things Bayne was also recently talking about: Putnam on Austin on  
_SENSE_ data. 
So perhaps Ramsey is talking that, say, mathematics is IMPORTANT nonsense,  
because it's a play with symbols (formalism alla Hilbert) that may have a  
practical application in the realm of SENSE-data (upon which physics is  
Philosophy, Ramsey quoting Witters suggests, rather, is UNimportant  
nonsense; because it lacks this direct concern with sense-data? Ramsey's  loss!
In a message dated 10/5/2011 4:58:45 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, 
_Baynesr at comcast.net_ (mailto:Baynesr at comcast.net)  quotes from Ramsey,  interestingly:
"[T]he chief proposition of philosophy is that philosophy is nonsense. And  
again we must then take seriously that it is nonsense, and not pretend, as  
Wittgenstein does, that it is important nonsense." 
Foundations of Mathematics, p.263.
and comments: "For me philosophy at its best must be nonsense; but I do  
think it is important nonsense."

This would require some Griceian  (as I prefer to spell this) analysis! 
(At some stage!). 
E.g. the implicature of 'important'. 
Someone said (I think) that 'relevant' is a hateful (or odious, I forget)  
word (R. M. Hare has an essay on "Relevance", though!)
Someone else (I, for example) may think that 'important' triggers some of  
the same implicatures that 'relevant' does! -- and it is a word that should 
be  avoided, in polite conversation (cfr. Grice, "be relevant!"; "say 
important  things". Note how 'import' interacts with 'sense'. In System of Logic, 
Mill  talks of the IMPORT of a proposition: its sense. Unimportant nonsense 
is a  double oxymoron, in this view! (And I agree!).

I wonder what Ramsey, back in the day, did mean by  


strictly, being, in his words, then:

1. not important, unimportant -- strictly  "~IMPORTANT"
------------     2. important!

For there is this oxymoronic nature of the phrase, "unimportant  nonsense" 
(a double litotes, almost) -- if the _sense_ is in the import,  that is.

R. B. Jones may have something (important, let's hope!?) to say on the  

Personally, I never understood the sense of sense! 
I think I did check this with the OED, at some time. It seems that 'sense'  
(Latin sensus) refers to:

↑  ↓

i.e. there is one  sense -- the right sense, say: ↑

But then there is ANOTHER (or  _the_ other) sense -- the left or wrong 
sense, say: ↓

THAT sense of  'sense' I do understand. 
In Italian, Latin 'sensus' (which connects then with 'sensatio') has uses  
which are not necessarily Fregean. In English, the implicature may be in 
things  like 'clockwise' and 'anti-clockwise'. It is THIS use of 'sense' that 
is  relevant in the Romance Languages like Italian or French. Not for 
nothing, as  Cicero says, Deleuze wrote a rather typical French book on philosophy, 
called,  "The philosophy of SENSE". I read it, and was fascinated that it 
was all about  Nonsense and Lewis Carroll! (for surely to know the boundaries 
of sense we need  to deal with nonsense, as a philosopher of rationality, 
like Grice was, had to  deal with _madness_ or lack of reason). Ramsey knew 
his Carroll alright, and I  treasure his reference to the White Knight in 

"I'll sing  you a song"
"Is it long?"

"Not so long," the White Knight tells Alice. "But it's very beautiful --  
and sad. Either it will bring tears to your eyes, or..."

"Or else what?" asked Alice.
"Or else it won't, you know."

Ramsey quotes this in _Foundations of Mathematics_, as the point about  
bivalence. It would be NONSENSE not to abide with Bivalence in conversation,  
say. Yet, the White Knight is being NONSENSICAL in "flouting" the bivalence 
in  conversation: his "or..." suggests OTHER than ~p. He may assume that 
Alice is  rational and abides with the principle of Bivalence. His "or else it 
won't" then  comes out as a gratuitious, or as Albritton would say, 
nonsensical, almost,  otiose piece of 'info'.
Absence of sense (as per nonsense) is more difficult to grasp. 
Only when we have made sense of sense can we hope to make sense of what  
Ramsey sensed was unimportant nonsense, I hope!

----- Speranza

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