Showing posts from May, 2021

Learning Code from Wittgenstein [Part 3]

IAN FAIRWEATHER 'CHI-TIEN BURNS THE BUGS' 1964 Wittgenstein suggests — as Leibniz also did — that the rule of language, of calculus, or society takes shape in the mind as a picture or a symbol, which is combined and compared with others. In a governance context I often imagine a symbol combination of no-yes or negative-positive, expressed as a cross and a tick.  In Wittgenstein’s words “symbolic understanding” of the rule “intimates to me the way to go”, as in a line, row, or a series in calculus. When the rule is implied and intuited it becomes the decision. Wittgenstein: “To guess the meaning of a rule, to grasp it intuitively, could surely mean nothing but: to guess its application. And that can't now mean: to guess the kind of application; the rule for it. Nor does guessing come in here.” A rule is like an implied agreement between individuals, specific to a context. In the case of state decisions we should say this intuited agreement would relate to two elemental proce

Learning Code from Wittgenstein [Part 2]

  IAN FAIRWEATHER 'EPIPHANY' 1961-1962 On a rare occasion when Wittgenstein mentions ‘society’ there is an illuminating observation about the laws of inference, which suggests something about the governance of society:   Wittgenstein:   “[A] regulation says "All who are taller than five foot six are to join the ... section". A clerk reads out the men's names and heights. Another allots them to such-and-such sections — "N.N. five foot nine." "So N.N. to the ... section." That is inference. Nevertheless the laws of inference can be said to compel us; in the same sense, that is to say, as other laws in human society. The clerk who infers must do it like that; he would be punished if he inferred differently. If you draw different conclusions you do indeed get into conflict, e.g. with society; and also with other practical consequences. And there is even something in saying: he can't think it. One is trying e.g. to say: he can't fill it with

Learning Code from Wittgenstein [Part 1]

IAN FAIRWEATHER 'CHI-TIEN STANDS ON HEAD' 1964 Code goes beyond mere language. Code is simpler than language. But, like all language, all code consists in a rule. Ludwig Wittgenstein offered explanations of how signs and rules of language learning to some extent mitigate inevitable problems of misunderstanding. From his observations on the subject it is possible to conclude that language perplexes greatly only if one thinks too hard about what is going on inside the human mind. In practice, we usually obey the rule we have learned by repeatedly experiencing the context in which words and sentences have been used.  I will draw a small number of general lessons from Wittgenstein's influential writings on language rule-learning, and adapt them for the purpose of highlighting the domain-specific rule-learning processes encountered in the evolutions of governance. His observations also suggest methods of overcoming the risks of misunderstandings associated with interactional d

The Heart, Egg, and Physician of the Early Modern State

'The Fate of the Animals' by Franz Marc 1913 [originally titled 'The Trees Show Their Rings, The Animals Their Veins’] A systems theory of society would not portray society as an organisation. But neither would a systems theory need to argue — as did Friedrich Hayek in 'Law, Legislation and Liberty' — that the guiding rules of self-generating systems differ fundamentally from the rules of organisation. Organisations operate with the system, and whatever ‘rules’ or ‘codes’ apply to the system apply to organisations, even if some rules are typed as organisational and others as individual. Systems are centreless interactions, so a system theory of society explains the interactions of functional parts of the social system. The parts of such a system include persons, organisations, but also the subsystems of systems.  Neither is it necessary theoretically to assume all parts of the social system of society are commensurate either in their type, size, or societal impact