Chapter II. Theories of Emotion, Thought, and Language

A. Introduction

Theories are frequently recklessly abstract. They are often themselves regarded as jokes. Even Comedians and actors may find little use for theories of humor-and the average person none at all. We may turn this around by beginning with what people actually say, and not lose touch of concrete examples of humor as used in everyday language. Out of the examples themselves arise an understanding of humor. As an overview, here are the basic models which derive from such concrete analysis: Humor will be first analyzed as an emotion. It is odd to have to say that but it comes as news or with objection by people that humor can be regarded as an emotion. It will also be analyzed as a language-game according to ordinary-language philosophy. The types of humor will be extensively and intensively classified as types of metaphor. For each type of humor the presentation will often include: analysis, techniques, uses of the humor; the negative or opposite emotion; examples, both good and bad humor (the reader is left to determine which is which); the kind of thinking and personality people have who would favor a certain type of humor; and the way in which one type relates to other types of humor.

B. An Analysis of Emotion

Humor is the least important, yet the most important thing in the world. People often value emotions as perhaps the greatest part of life, yet the following quotations suggest that it was and is one of the least known areas of our knowledge: The Encyclopaedia Britannica (1955) states, "Our knowledge of the topic, emotion, is much less complete than our knowledge of the other topics in the field of psychology." G. Mandler (1962): "The analysis of emotion has lagged behind other apparently less appealing topics. We know more today about verbal learning, psychophysical scaling, and discrimination in the rat, for example, than about the determinants of emotional behavior." D. O. Hebb (1949:235) wrote, "The discussion of emotion has been about as confused as that of any topic in psychology." A. I. Melden (1969:209) wrote, "Traditional views concerning the nature of emotion...persuasive as they may appear to be...are incoherent." (cf. Shibles 1974c, 1995b)

"We are still without an adequate general theory of laughter." (Morreall 1987:128) "Laughter is one of the unsolved problems of philosophy." (Monro 1963:13) Work on emotion in the twenty-first century shows inadequate analyses of emotion also. It is significant that if we are not clear about how emotions work, we cannot be too clear or effective in the area of therapy. And the controversy between Freudians, behaviorists, Gestaltists, and others still rages. Freudians are seen by many contemporary philosophical psychologists as believing in uncritical, mystical, pseudopsychological fictions. Ostow (1959) writing on Freudian psychoanalysis stated, "There is no systematic treatment of affect as a category in psychoanalytic theory."

Therapy in prisons is at present seen to be almost totally ineffective, and there is a swing back to abandoning it in favor of punishment. (cf. On blame see Shibles 1987a) In addition, if our knowledge of emotion is poor, our knowledge of humor will be poor. But we need not give up on our understanding of emotion or on therapy just yet. There is excellent work and clarification being done, especially in the area of philosophical psychology. The following is a brief presentation of one such clarification. It is based on the author's book, Emotion: The Method of Philosophical Therapy which may be consulted for a more extensive analysis. Only in 1995 has the cognitive-emotive theory been used to analyze emotion in aesthetics. For the purpose of analyzing humor, an account of emotions is necessary. Emotion may be defined as assessments which cause feelings and action in a certain context. The older naive and mentalistic term should be avoided. There is no evidence for thought or ideas as such. Instead all we have is self-talk, language use and imagery. Emotion words describe a) assessments, b) feelings, c) actions, and d) situations. For example, the emotion, revenge, involves the statement, "You did something bad to me, and I'll get you back." If revenge did not involve that sort of statement, it would not be revenge. It might be anger, depression, or some other emotion. We can distinguish one emotion from another partly because each involves different self-talk or statements. Emotion, then, is not just irrational, but rather involves thinking and reason. This opposes the view that emotion is irrational or involves merely feeling. Feeling may be defined as a bodily sensation such as pain, sensations of pleasure, or sensations of being tired. Emotion is not just a sensation. If it were it would make no sense to us.

The philosopher, E. Bedford (1964:91), wrote, "If an emotion were a feeling no sense could be made of them at all." For example, suppose emotion were just a feeling. Then it would be possible for one to merely walk down the street and suddenly fall in love only because the feeling came over one. A friend might ask, "With whom are you in love?" The reply comes, "No one, the feeling just came over me." Or we may just fall in love with a telephone pole because the feeling came over us.

If emotion were just a feeling, then if a person were jealous one might say, "Oh, you have that feeling again. I find that if you have a strawberry soda the feeling goes away." If we said this, others would not understand us. They would say, "No, you don't understand. I'm jealous because my best friend has decided to go out with someone else, and I find it hard to cope with it. Soda won't help."

Jealousy involves a statement, not just a feeling, and so dealing with the feeling alone will not eliminate the jealousy. We must resolve or change the thought-statement as well. We may think, then, of what will change the jealousy:

1) The situation changes. Your friend no longer decides to go with someone else.

2) You change your thinking. You perhaps decide that your friend is too undependable to keep as a friend.

3) Your feelings change. Your bodily feelings may be sedated with a drug, or you may be intoxicated, but when the drug or alcohol wears off, the problem of jealousy is still there. Nevertheless, the change in feeling can alter the emotion even if it will not eliminate it.

If someone is jealous we often ask about a context. For example, "Tell me about it. Who did what with whom?" The jealousy will also change if the statements regarding the context or situation change. A. I. Melden (1969:210) wrote, "No account of feeling does justice to the facts except by reference not only to bodily states, but also to the ways in which, in statement and action, those who feel emotions deal with the matters that confront them." Emotions, then, are not just bodily feelings or internal states. Emotion words, e.g., "jealousy," refer to and include all of the following: a) thinking, (language use) b) bodily feeling, c) action, d) situation. Our language misleads us here. We say, "I feel angry," or "I feel revengeful." Now, it may be seen that this is a category-mistake. Emotions are not just feelings. Thus, whenever we say, "I feel x," where "x" stands for an emotion, it is a category-mistake. "I think-feel emotion," is awkward, but more accurate. Even more ac curate would be, "I state-feel emotion." Wittgenstein (1967:#504) wrote, "Love is not a feeling." In order, then, to change an emotion we must change one or more of these four factors. To change or dissipate jealousy we must especially change our thinking. The situations or contexts themselves cannot change our emotion, but only our thinking about them can.

Basically, to change emotion one must change our self-talk. Thus, if we see that emotions are assessments which cause feeling, then we can change our emotion by changing our asessments. This view is in direct opposition to the common view that we cannot change our emotions. People seem to think that emotions cannot be changed-because they are imagined to be merely internal, passive feelings and, as such, they "just come over us" as pain does. Emotion is not like pain. It is not a mere sensation. Rather, we can have control over our emotions because we can have control over our assessments. If our reasoning is unrealistic or unclear, it leads to negative emotions such as anger, revenge, and hatred. Negative emotions may be regarded as being due to fallacious arguments, and as logical fallacies as much as is outright contradiction. Negative emotions are a contradiction to our humanity.

"But isn't it important to release our emotions rather than let them be dammed up inside of us?" Here one speaks as if emotions were fluids inside of us, as if emotions were things or entities there. The way emotions are changed is rather by communication and understanding what went wrong. They are not "released." What happens is that if one is angry one needs to talk about one's faulty assessments to find out what went wrong. This reveals the cause of the anger. One may walk twenty miles or hit a punching bag all day, and still be angry unless he or she changes the beliefs which cause the anger. To expend energy, become tired, or get drunk, do not solve emotional problems. They merely distract one temporarily. Also, time alone does not solve problems. There is no "release" of emotions. Rather, there are appraisals which constitute one's views and so one's problems. Also, if one is angry it is important to admit it and then do something constructive about it.

Thus far we have argued that emotion: is not just a feeling, involves rational and irrational statements, and can be changed by changing the statements. Several examples may help clarify. Suppose someone decides to type a paper and take care of children at the same time. The implicit statements may be, "I don't have much time. I'll just watch these children while I work. Children are quiet, do not make noise, and are gentle at all times." As soon as the typing begins, the children do scream, do make noise, do throw toys, do fight, and do spill soda on the typewriter, and are not gentle at all times. The typist becomes angry, angry because no typing is being done, angry because the children, "Shouldn't be doing that!"

The anger here was caused by faulty assessment. Children do do such things. They are often noisy. They do need guidance and attention. Anger and negative emotions are caused by faulty or conflicting assessments. If, in this case, the typist had assessed, "I will try to type, but I realize there will be noise, possibly fights, distractions in any case," then little or no anger would have arisen. Anger and negative emotions are due to ignorance, perceived conflict, and poor, or unrealistic reasoning. Whenever people are angry, it is a sign that they are confused or lack knowledge about something. This assumes that there is no purely medical, physiological cause. If that were the case it would, however, not be an emotion, but rather a feeling or physical state, possibly correctable with medication, e.g. drinking less cofffee which makes one physically depressed. Emotional depression is not the same as physical depression.

To take another example, suppose someone pours molasses all over your clothes and belongings. It is going too far. You become revengeful. You say to yourself, "She can't do that to me. I'll show her." You then pour molasses over all of her things. Does this make sense? First of all, it leads to further revenge. She then washes your car with a jagged rock and you do the same to her car in return. Revenge simply leads to further revenge. It does not make sense. Permanent feuds, vendettas and grudges result, and nothing is solved or resolved. It doesn't make sense to "get back" for its own sake, or to do the same thing back to others. It does not get at the cause of the problem. It is irrelevant to the problem. The person who pours molasses over all of your things has gone too far. It is to act insanely. To respond in the same way is equally insane.

It is not just a practical joke. Revengeful people show that they are angry, frustrated, or confused. One may have poured molasses over things because he or she has personal problems such as rejection by family or friends, loss of financial support, low university grades, etc. The person may have, in effect, been acting out or reaching out in some way for help when the problems were too great to handle. This might have become evident if after one pours molasses in getting back, the person committed suicide. How would you feel if you provoked someone to suicide? It may never make sense to get revenge. (cf. Shibles 1987a) The penal system in perhaps every society and for the most part, is an instrument of revenge. It does not rehabilitate. One needs to be clear here. People do not understand this. Therapy is not revenge and revenge is not therapy. The prison system is barbaric vindictive cruelty at the most primitive level.

If we do come to realize that revenge never makes sense, then whenever we are in a revengeful situation, we will find that we are much less vindictive, or not revengeful at all. Our revised assessments may be: a) It never makes sense to "get back" for its own sake. b) To take revenge is not to get at the cause of the problem. c) Revenge just leads to further problems. d) Revenge does not induce pleasant feelings. In opposition to the common belief, revenge is not "sweet." e) Revengeful behavior is a kind of ignorance. By changing our assertions in this way, one will find that revenge will seldom be experienced. If it is experienced it can be quickly restated and changed. Many people find that they are less revengeful as they grow older and as their reasoning changes. We may also become more revengeful if we become less critical, or if we are more enculturated to do so. Culture is often the ally of negative emotions and the enemy of positive emotions. Culture is often not our friend.

If emotion is statements which cause feeling, then no two emotions are ever exactly the same. Your anger when you were a child involved your speaking as a child. Inasmuch as you no longer speak in the same way, your anger is different. The anger of a child is not the same as the anger of an adult. Anger1, is not anger2, is not anger3, etc. Your anger five minutes from now is not the same as your anger now. Again, your statements, feelings, actions, and the situation have changed. You can, then, never have the same emotion twice when you see the "same" painting, listen to the "same" music, see the "same" play, or meet the "same" emotionally involving person. One or more of the four factors of emotion has changed.

The method of reducing emotion to concrete statements, feelings, action and situation allows us to make emotion concrete. Emotion words are notoriously obscure and vague. Some people even erroneously think that words such as "love, anger, hate" are mystical or mysterious and cannot be defined. It seems to be rather the case that if we do not try to define and be clear about love, for example, we will not be able to love well or know if we are, or are not, "in love." The theory of emotions presented here allows us to become concretely clear about each emotion. Emotions will not, then, be lumped together, or be treated as entities or atomistic things in themselves. No two emotions of different types are alike, and no two emotions of the same type are identical. They are only vaguely similar. Also, because each statement or assessment involves feeling, every statement involves emotion. We, on the other hand, typically think that there has to be excessive feeling or violent action for there to be emotion. This is not the case.

Now it becomes apparent that stating even that, "The sky is blue," is accompanied by some feelings as well, and so may be regarded as an emotion. It may, in this case, be referred to as an aesthetic emotion. (cf. Shibles 1995b) But most statements can be regarded as involving nameless emotions. This is true even of the statement-with-feelings accompanying the assertion that you now are reading. The above analysis allows for a classification of emotion. Each emotion refers to a) statement, b) bodily feeling or sensation, c) action, and d) context. Each emotion word stresses one or more of these and may be classified accordingly. In the area of the emotion of humor, terms such as "tense, giddy, cheerful, thrill, and tickle" stress the bodily feeling or sensation. Humor emotion words which stress action are: apathetic, chuckle, crying, excited, frown, grimace, loving, rage, repulsed, furious, scowl, shy, smile, sneer, strut, etc. Emotion words which stress situation or context are: anxiety, desire, fright, greed, grief, hope, jealousy, joy of life, patience, patriotism, phobias, revenge, surprise, etc. Emotion terms which stress assessment are, for example, doubting, guilt, hope, love, stubbornness, trust, yes, and even humor. Basically, however, all emotions fundamentally involve assessments.

Brief Summary of the Cognitive Theory of Emotion

C = cognition [By which is meant only nonmentalistic assessment, self-talk, language use. There are no thoughts or ideas as such.]

F = feeling (bodily feeling, sensing, hearing, etc.)

= means "equals"

= does not equal

> = causes item on right

1. Emotion is not just a bodily feeling. E F. Instead say, "I assess-feel."

2. Emotion is a cognition which causes feeling. E = (C -> F)

3. The emotive cognition is typically a value assessment. (Bedford 1964, Shibles 1974c, 1995bf, et al.)

4. Emotion can be changed by changing the cognition. We cause our own emotions. (See also the articles on emotive reflexives in the bibliography.)

5. Emotion is not innate or unalterable. (Personality can be radically changed.)

6. We cannot have exactly the same emotion twice, because both C and F change.

7. Negative emotion such as Anger or revenge is due to faulty assessments such as:

a) failure to accept reality. (cf. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations on #a, b)

b) failure to understand that we can only do that which is within our power.

c) misuse of value terms, such as thinking that something is bad in itself.

8. Emotion is not and is not the sort of (mentalistic) thing that can be "released." (We are wrongly told to "release" our anger, grief, jealousy.)

9. Emotion as such is not a cause of behavior. Only (C -> F) can be a cause.

10. Because a judgment or statement is cognition plus feelings (C -> F), any statement may be regarded as an emotion. (cf. Stoics: Zeno, Chrysippus)

11. There are metaemotions such as emotion about emotion, or enjoyment of emotion.


Each person has his or her own repertoir of emotions.

EMOTIONS! There are a lot of possibilities here. Just pick the face you like:

 -happy. You don't have to be angry. Just turn your mouth upside down.


-sad. Notice how to arrange the eyes.


 -angry. Am I stuck with this face all of my life?


or -no emotion at all.



































Can you just be angry at nothing? I'm angry at this corner of the page.

I just fell in love with this page. Turn it very gently.

I just fell in love, but I don't know whom I'm in love with?




It's your feet. You probably fell

in love with your feet. You tripped.






Love is not a feeling.

(Wittgenstein 1967: #504)

My left foot is jealous
of my right foot.

Who says I don't have emotion? I love cheese and cheese loves me. I once ate a book on humor, but it made me upset.

I'll just have a mean sundae!

I couldn't help being angry. I forgot my head today.

What shape of mouth would you like today?

I've got to dump this on someone!


The problem is that I'm jealous. Maybe if I just hit this punching bag it will solve all of my problems.



I have a mouse feeling.


"I showed him!"

(If all you think about is getting even, that is all you get-even.)

Revenge therapy: Maybe you will improve your arithmetic by being in this cell. Try counting the bars.


When people go too far with a practical joke, it is probably because they really need help.

What's wrong, Jim. Perhaps I can help.





Please write this forty times.




Great book! It's called, How to Become Angry!








There are people who even feel bad because they are always happy.


























It makes no sense to feel bad or inferior. We can only do what is within our ability. Because cats cannot fly does not make them inferior to birds.









Only a wise person knows how to love well. (SENECA)



That's interesting. I thought that love just happened. But it is really I who create it and make it what it is.




C. Analysis of "Thought"

Another way of describing emotion is to say, along with Wittgenstein (1968) and other ordinary-language philosophers, that emotion is a "language-game." The emotion, anger, involves the use of language in a concrete context. Its meaning is rendered by both the language context as well as the situation. The approach of this book on humor is to reduce abstract terms to concrete, detailed language-games we play in our everyday experience. It is a reduction to intelligibility, not a reduction to a naive empiricism. This is another reason for the label Realhumor. We may also speak of the approach as pragmatism, practical philosophy, applied philosophy, or philosophical counseling to solve serious everyday problems.

Because emotion involves "cognition" or "thought", it is important to clarify what is meant by "thinking." What thought is seems to be a well kept secret, or even an ultimate mystery. Humans are often defined as a thinking animals, yet what is meant by "thinking" is seldom mentioned. "Thinking" has been thought of as consisting of ideas. But this is a circular statement which defines in terms of a synonym. We are said to "ex-press" or "press out" "ideas" into language. It is not clear how we could do this, how ideas could be "pressed" into a word. We are said to associate one atomistic idea with another in conformity with the laws of association, namely, by similarity of ideas, closeness of ideas, etc. This was once called "mental chemistry." But we do not have evidence that ideas are atoms, or that they combine as do molecules. "Ideas" are now regarded by some contemporary philosophical psychologists, and psychologists as being merely pseudopsychological, mentalistic fictions. In short, we have no evidence for ideas, thoughts, or concepts as being entities within us.

If ideas and thoughts are not small atomistic entities or things inside of us, what is thought? One way of approaching the problem is to look and see what we are doing when we are said to think. When one takes an exam one uses language. When people are said to know something, we usually expect that they can use language to describe it. By "thinking," we largely mean, then, "language-use." We do not catch nonverbal, atomistic ideas inside of ourselves which we then put into words. We do not know what thinking would be like if we had never learned a language. It is too late for us to find out, because we now have a language. We are already poisoned by it. We are caught in what I call the "linguo-centric predicament," so that we cannot get out of our language to find out what thinking would be like without language. (cf. Shibles 1972a)

Also, it will not do to say that we just have these atomistic ideas and then put them into words. Without language there is no "thought, " and with language, there is no "thought." There is no thought as such, period. There may be some imagery, however. "Thought" may, then, be defined as language-use: self-talk or talk aloud. When we say "I'm thinking one thing, but saying another," all we mean is that I am saying one thing to myself and another aloud. Thinking is language-use plus some imagery. A more precise and concrete definition of emotion may now be given: Emotion (including humor) is thinking defined as language-use plus imagery, which causes bodily feeling. To analyze or clarify emotions, a clear description must be given of a person's self-talk and talk aloud. Emotion is one's language and imagery which cause bodily feelings. One reason researchers have been unclear about emotion, and therefore humor, is that they have been unclear about how to describe thinking and emotion, as well as unclear about the relationship between thought and emotion.

Can you think ideas as such-not of anything-just an idea?

"Try not to think of understanding as a 'mental process' at all."

(Wittgenstein 1968: #154)

D. Emotion and Ethical Terms

Another reason for confusion about emotion is that it was not clearly seen that emotion terms involve ethical terms. Also, there has been much confusion about how to understand and analyze ethical terms themselves. The case can be put simply. Ethical terms are terms such as "good, bad, right, wrong, ought, ought not, duty," or their equivalents. Thus, if we say, "I am bad," or "I am worse than others," these are ethical statements which lead to the emotion of inferiority. The emotion of "guilt" is based on the ethical statement, "What I did was bad."

Ethical statements, then, can lead to negative or positive emotions. "I am bad" leads to negative emotions; "I am good," leads to positive emotions. Does saying, "I am bad," make sense? To determine this an analysis of ethical terms is needed. Ethical terms may be characterized as being essentially open-context terms with a limited range of substitution instances. For example, "good" can mean a great many things. In themselves, ethical terms are meaningless. To become intelligibly meaningful, a specific empirical and descriptive meaning must be substituted and a specific context provided. Thus, to say, "I am bad," is a misuse of language and a failure to understand how ethical terms work. The statement in itself says nothing.

But people do often think that such value terms are meaningful in themselves and so think that, for example, they are in themselves, "bad" people. Confusions about ethical terms can in this way lead to assessment-feelings of, depression, neurosis, and inferiority. Suppose you are making toast for your spouse. You burn the toast, and he or she says, "Oh, no, not again!" You may interpret this as, "You burned the toast and you are a bad person." You "feel bad" all day about the incident. We often generalize or take the part for the whole, in rhetoric this is called "synecdoche." Because we did one thing wrong we tend to think we are generally hopeless or bad. But if the spouse notes that "bad" is open-context, the inferiority may vanish. If the toast is burned, it is admitted. It is a fact one must accept. "Yes, I did burn the toast. It's soot black." That one is bad is not a fact. If one wishes to improve one's toasting ability one may get a few loaves in and practice, or check to see if the toaster is working properly. But in no case need one "feel bad." One may scrape the toast, put more toast in, attempt to improve one's toasting skills, but also one can decide not to bother making toast.

"Bad" here reduces to, "I will try (or not try) to make toast without burning it." Nothing more need be involved. Thus, "bad" is open-context and when it is made concrete it just reduces to an empirical want or desire. It makes no sense to "feel" bad, inferior, criticized, or blamed. We can only do what is within our power, as Marcus Aurelius (1873) often pointed out. Instead of feeling bad, we can simply act to change unacceptable behavior. Feeling bad bakes no bread. Emotion involves ethical statements. Guilt, for example, is "I should not have done it," or "I did the wrong thing." The emotion of humor involves a positive value term, namely, "That is a mistake, but it is not bad " Rather, it is acceptable as a fact. The analysis of humor is the extended analysis of one emotion.

Return to Table of Contents

The mathematics of ethics: "It's wrong because it is immoral," is a circular statement, not a reason or argument. It is circular to define one ethical term by another. Wrong = immoral.


THE FIRST RULE OF ETHICS: Off with their heads.

Alice in Wonderland

People often seem to misuse ethical language without knowing it.

If spinach is so good, how come it tastes so bad?

Shakespeare showed how vague ethical words can be. He wrote, If that be right which Warwick says is right, there is no wrong, but everything is right. (Henry VI)



Our food is:

Beyond Good and Evil


Fortune Cookie Sayings:

This was your last meal.

You need not worry about the future.

You will give the waiter or waitress a generous tip.

You are not illiterate.



It looks like there is a lot wrong with the word "wrong."

I always tell my cat to do things. It never does! Sometimes I get the idea it doesn't understand why it should obey my commands.


Hsueh-T'ou wrote, "When one has understanding, one should laugh, one should not weep."


If you do something which hurts others, don't worry about it, or feel guilty. Just do what you can to make up for it and learn how to prevent it from happening again.

E. Models for Defining "Thought" and Language


Wittgenstein (1968: #330)

Humor and other emotions were shown to involve nonmentalistic cognition or thought. Therefore, an analysis of thought and language is required. The following is an attempt to show that language, not mentalistic thought, has epistemological primacy. An argument mentioned by Aristotle against skeptics is that if they are to present their theory of skepticism they must say something. If they say something, they must mean something by the words they use and must assume that they can communicate intelligibly to others. They must presuppose meaning, language, and communication, and to that great extent cannot be a complete skeptic. They are caught in what I earlier called the "linguo-centric predicament."

Descartes erroneously takes "I think" or the "cogito" as the epistemological starting point of knowledge. The trouble with his view is that it commits the menttalisstic fallacy in assuming that there is a mind and that there are mentalistic ideas. It is also a prescientific view of mind as a metaphysical substance. Also, he fails to realize that mind and thought, as well as his theory, presuppose and are constituted by language. We do not catch nonlinguistic ideas, although we do have imagery. Even imagery cannot be dissociated from language. That language has epistemological primacy accounts for its own existence. Thought, on the other hand, cannot account for itself. "Thought" is a vague, pseudopsychological term. "Language-use" gives us a concrete paradigm for what we usually mean by "thought." Even the word "thought" is a part of language. One can have language without "thought," but one cannot have thought without language.

It is not clear that we would know what thought is if we had never learned a language. To assume that one just has thoughts, and then puts them in words assumes that we would know how we would think if we had never learned a language. It assumes that we would know what thinking is entirely independent of language. But we are not in such a position. We have a language already. And this language usage is or constitutes most of what we usually mean by thought. Wittgenstein (1968:#330) asks, "Is thinking a kind of speaking?" Our intelligence tests deal almost solely with language ability. We just do not have direct access to pure or bare thought. Knowledge is not translated into words when it is expressed. "The words are not a translation of something else that was there before they were." (Wittgenstein 1967:#191, Zettel) There are not such entities as mental thoughts, ideas or meanings.

Knowledge is not translated into words when it is expressed. The words are not a translation of something else that was there before they were.

(Wittgenstein Zettel 1967: #191)

We do not introspect to find discrete "ideas" or "thoughts." It was the old associationist, atomist view of mind that there are discrete ideas linked to each other by laws of association. Thinking is referred to as "stream of consciousness," "train of ideas," "association of ideas," "mental chemistry," etc. But there is no evidence for ideas as such. They are part of the fictional, fairy machinery of the mind mentioned earlier. As the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis suggests, language partly constitutes reality. Whorf (1956:66) wrote, "Thinking is to a large extent linguistic." The behaviorist, John Watson, (1930:268), regarded thought as primarily consisting of verbal behavior, especially subvocal speech, "internal speech," or talking silently to oneself. One learns to speak aloud and then exercises that ability to speak silently to oneself. He states, "'Thinking' is largely 'subvocal talking'" (66). "The final response or adjustment, if one is reached, must be verbal (subvocal)" (26) "The term 'thinking' should cover all word behavior of whatever kind that goes on subvocally" (243). "Once verbalization of the manual activity begins, word organization soon becomes 'dominant' because man has to solve his problems verbally" (265).

Watson (1930) also gives a place to manual ability and visceral activity as forms of thought especially for the newborn baby. But language soon becomes so intricately involved with them that it achieves dominance: "We, as sophisticated adults, behave as though verbal conditionings were of the primary order and the manual and visceral of the secondary order" (255). Our thinking is a total reaction of our manual, visceral, and linguistic abilities. Memory is largely the verbal part of our habitual actions. "It is the running through or exhibition of the verbal part of a total bodily organization." (256. cf. Shibles 1974a "Remembering") On his view, the so-called "unconscious" is a visceral and manual experience which is not made verbal, where the verbal organization is blocked, or where there is no verbal association made. Because gesture and other body responses may be substituted for words, "thinking" may go on to some extent without words as such. Such substitution is a metaphorical activity and depends on linguistic primacy. Watson also notes that new thoughts come into being by means of the manipulation of words.

Wittgenstein also gave language epistemological primacy. He calls language-uses, "forms of life." A "form of life" is a "given." It is to say that our language as we learned it is a primitive, primary experience and cannot be explained by another kind of experience. An explanation is only one kind of language game and cannot take the place of other explanations such as the language game of describing. In short, there are no real explanations as such.

"Form of life" refers to the notion that we live our language, or that language is a basic form of life. "Form of life" means "language of life," as well as the "life of language." Because language has epistemological primacy it must be regarded as a given. It does not rest on the prior notions that there is thought, objects, or behavior. Language is not just a form of behavior, but rather behavior is one form of language-game, that of using and speaking about the word "behavior." There is a givenness of language beyond which it makes no sense to go. Nor could we go there. "Can only those hope who can talk? Only those who have mastered the use of a language. That is to say, the phenomena of hope are modes of this complicated form of life." (Wittgenstein 1968:174)

It is often thought that such things as objects, ideas and thought exist independently of language, that, for example, a cat can exist without the word "cat." If that is so, the question is raised as to how we know a cat when we see one. Before continuing, it is evident that there is a lot wrong with the preceding sentence. "To know" often means to be able to say something about something, in this instance, to say something about a cat. In this sense, one cannot know independently of language. "Know" applies to language. We say, "I know something, but I just cannot say anything about it." We say this, but it is not clear what knowing would be like in this case. In "We know a cat when we see one," if we are to assume a cat can exist without the word "cat," what could we mean by seeing "one"? "One" is also a word in a language and if there is no "cat" there is no "one," that is, "one" would have no referent in the sentence. Realizing that these points may be difficult to understand, I will clarify further.

It takes perhaps very flexible thinking to imagine that one can see a cat without the word "cat." If one can do this, it is hard to ascertain just what one would see. Would one see the cat, but not the "cat," the tail but not the "tail"? Can there be a wordless thought? It would seem not. But on the other hand, don't we see a furry something out there with two little eyes, four paws and a long swaying tail? Certainly we can sense that. But do we sense that or do we "sense" that? Do we see it or do we "see" it? The case is similar in regard to whether we can know a cat and yet not "know" a cat. The matter may be put in the general form: Can we see, know, or have x without ever having learned a language? Can we, for example, see a cat without language? Here always substitute a word or sentence for the x in the above general question. The result is that because a word or sentence is substituted, language is needed. The answer to the question, "Can we see, know, or have x without language?" will always be, "No." We cannot know without "know."

This is disturbing. How can perception be reduced to mere words? Something must have gone wrong here. But what? What did go wrong? We ask that, we do not perceive that. "But talk all you want," we say, "we see things out there in the real world." (These words are odd, perceptually speaking.) We want to write the question, "Can you see, know, or have x without language?" on a white table and then, as if we are playing chess, make a move. Our move is to silently put a saltshaker on top of the x on the table. The question would then read, "Can you see, know, or have [show picture of a saltshaker] without language?" That is what we want to do. Perhaps this is convincing, but we have not made a move in the right game. Without language there is no saltshaker. And the more we talk about and describe the situation as being purely perceptual, the weaker the argument for perception without language becomes.

If we substitute "experience" for x, we have, "Can you see, know, or have experience without language? It might be thought to be self-evident that experience is assumed by language, that language itself must be experienced. Experience is thought to be a basic and universal category descriptive of human behavior. Consider the statements, (1) "I learn," and (2) "I learn by experience." It would at first seem that "by experience" adds something to "I learn." Experience, however, can apply to everything a person does and thinks, and so to say, "I learn by experience" adds nothing to "I learn." We could not learn without experience. But this is still not to the point. Not even language can be experienced without "language." It is not clear what it would be like to have experience without "experience." To answer this, we would have to know how we would think without ever having learned a language.

Now, although particular words are merely being substituted for x in the general form of our basic question, it is necessary to use this formula to overcome the persuasiveness of phrases which are so familiar to us that they go unquestioned. To the question, "Can we experience without language?" the answer was, "No." Can we have ideas without language? Can we think without language? Can we have consciousness without language? Common sense, we think, tells us that thought comes before what is expressed by thought. "We have ideas and then we express them. We are not stones. Of course we must have consciousness."

Descartes made mental substance, the "I think," the foundation of all knowledge. It may be noticed that few people know what they mean by "idea," "thought" or "consciousness." Descartes' notion of mental substance is now fundamentally, though by no means universally, rejected. We are not sure how human thought takes place, and "consciousness" is a highly controversial term both inside and outside the field of psychology. Can we, as with Locke, just know what an idea is? But when we try to say what, we have difficulty. We may say it is a distinct unit or a part of a stream of consciousness. We search for words to define and suggest what an idea is, but they do not satisfy. We say we have "an" idea. But how do we know ideas can be numbered? Can we have one idea, for example, if thought is a stream of consciousness? Can we have one idea if thought does not correspond to the isolated and unitary nature of a word?

Maybe we are all just balloons.

Re: Descartes

We may not be able to say what an idea is, but we still use the word as if we can. We say we have an idea. This implies that an idea is a unit. As a word, we manipulate "idea" in various ways. We predicate of it and give it functions in language. But it may have no meaning. We can similarly create a new word, "zinch" in place of "idea," use it as part of language and predicate of it also, although we do not know what it means. It is a puzzle. One report may be "I am having blue zinches now," or "You don't seem to be able to zinch well today." We may educate people and so say, "I will teach you to zinch," and this may imply they could not zinch before. (We can see here also the use of humor to give insight.) Compare, "You go to school to learn to think," and this partly suggests that you do not think before you go to school. Do you think or zinch either before or after? Does a word, for example, "think," or "idea," have a meaning if we do not know it? Are we unable to know which words are the right ones with which to talk about it? We are in trouble when we ask what we mean by "idea, thought, consciousness." Similarly, we are in trouble when we ask what "spirit" is and what "mind" is. "But I know I think," is a captivating expression. It has been mentioned that it is not a tautology. I can know without thinking or even zinching, but I cannot know without speaking or writing. "Know" applies to language, not something hidden. "But still I think, whether or not some subtle distinction about 'know' is made." If we say this, then an examination of the mind may be in order. The procedure may be as follows:See if it is possible to be weighing thought without "weighing," to be thinking without "thinking." Or introspect to see if we are really weighing thoughts or thinking. Could we be really weighing thoughts when we say we are thinking and thinking when we say we are weighing thoughts?

And, furthermore, to ask what a word means is to remain within the realm of language. To the question, "Can you 'ride a bicycle' in French?" the reply would be, "No." "Can you think in English and speak in French?" This begs the question, which is, "Can you think without language?" We cannot "ride a bicycle" in French, but only in English, and, too, we cannot do it without English. We may do something else in French.




The results of philosophy are the uncovering of one or another piece of plain nonsense and of bumps that the understanding has got by running its head up against the limits of language.

(Wittgenstein 1968: #119)


F. An Analysis of Meaning

What does it mean?

You must be crazy to ask such a question.

The customary notion of meaning is that a word represents (a) an idea (or one of its synonyms) and/or, (b) an object. Is a word itself an idea or an object? We speak of the "meaning of a word" as the idea it stands for and give the advice that one should attend to the meaning, not merely to the word. But how could one attend merely to the meaning? What would be attended to? A word may be regarded as (a) a meaning, (b) a mark, or (c) both a mark and a meaning. In what way is a word any of these? If a word is a meaning only, then we need to know what a meaning is, what evidence there is for there being such a thing. "Meaning" is ordinarily used as a synonym of "idea." But if a word is a meaning and a meaning is an idea, then a word is an idea. To say a word represents an idea, then, is to say an idea represents an idea. Furthermore, although it need not be argued for here, it is not at all clear what an idea (and so a meaning) is, or what would count as evidence for there being ideas. It is not clear that they exist, that they are mental entities or that mental entities exist. In fact, there are no meanings as such. Meaning is a pseudopsychological term.

We are, however, more in agreement with each other that marks exist, letters on paper, and a word may be regarded as physical marks. This is suggested in the view that we should attend to the meaning not to the word itself, the word itself being merely marks or spoken sounds. The word as a mark may supposedly represent (a) an idea, or (b) an object. How does a mark correspond to an idea? Does a period represent the idea: stop? Does a comma represent the idea: pause? Does a question mark represent the idea, doubt? It is thought that we know what ideas we have and that we need only let a mark stand for them, that we can think without language. Think: "Tomorrow I may reconsider my judgment to stay," without language. Just think the thought. This does not seem possible or, stated differently, there seems to be no thought without words. The evidence for the supposed thought or ideas is that there is a spoken or written word (or mark), or an organized movement of some sort. Intelligence is tested by actual written or spoken performance. It may also be tested by behavioral skill of some sort other than writing or speaking. This is not quite accurate because to speak, write, or move is not evidence of thought as something separate from the evidence. All we know is the evidence, not what it is evidence of.

This is to deny that a word as a mark may represent an idea. A word as a mark or sound is all that presents itself. We may ask, for instance, whether an idea corresponds to every word of a sentence. We say each word has a meaning, but also that a sentence is one complete idea. Is the idea a word is said to represent therefore incomplete? Does "if" in "It looks as if it will rain," represent one idea? We may say that for each word, sentence, paragraph, etc., there is one corresponding idea. We may say that, but how can we know it? We see the word, the mark, and think there must be something else behind it. But what else? We observe that the following marks go together without clash: "The car is red." But what is meant by "go together"? The marks themselves do not relate themselves. Rather we see the marks together. This is all that is meant by them being "related." To say a mark "signifies" or "represents" another mark is to say only that it is seen in a certain pattern of relations with that other mark. Relations between marks, then, need not involve mental entities such as meanings or ideas.

In addition to marks being related to marks they are related to other observable objects. The object, car, is related to the marks "car." The question as to how a word means an object is simply that the word as a mark is an object and is in fact seen in a pattern of relations with a certain object. We are here suggesting a nonmentalistic association theory of meaning. (cf. Shibles 1995bd) "Association" merely refers to the fact or paradigm of our being able to learn that for example, the marks "eraser" are observed to relate to a certain kind of object. No mentalism need be involved. This view of meaning as nonmentalistic association will be expanded in explaining how connotation humor works, and as the basis for understanding how metaphor works. It also makes concrete the "thought" and" meaning" factor which constitutes emotion as well as humor. (For an analysis of meaning using insight humor see the poem "Programmed Meaning" at the end of the section on "simile and analogy humor." (cf. Shibles 1985:63-73)

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or continue to Chapter III.