As will be seen immediately, inversion in this sense is a devise for reversing priorities. William James summarized his famous theory of emotions (The Principles of Psychology)...by the assertion, "...the...rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry...not that we cry...because we are sorry. (p. 450). Many philosophies can be summed up crudely (no doubt, not really accurately) by slogans in similar form: "We do not condemn certain acts because they are immoral; they are immoral because we condemn them." "We do not accept the law of contradiction because it is a necessary truth; it is a necessary truth because we accept it (by convention." "Fire and heat are not constantly conjoined because fire causes heat; fire causes heat because they are constantly conjoined" (Hume). "We do not all say 12+7-19 and the like because all grasp the concept of addition; we say we all grasp the concept of addition because we all say 12+7=19 and the like" (Wittgenstein).
The device of inversion of a conditional in the text achieves the effect of reversing priorities in a way congenial to such slogans. Speaking for myself, I am suspicious of philosophical positions of the types illustrated by the slogans, whether or not they are so crudely put." Saul Kripke (1982) Wittgenstein on Rules, pp. 93-4 note 76. [HT Jody Azzouni]
In the "preface" to Wittgenstein on Rules, Kripke informs the reader "with "emphasis" that "in this piece of writing" he does not "attempt to speak'" for himself, "or, except in occasional and minor asides, to say anything about" his "views on the substantive issues." (ix) Thus, the present topic is perfect for a Digression.
The quoted passage is a footnote to a restatement (and elucidation) by Kripke of an interpretation he has just given of a politically salient element of Wittgenstein's view as understood by Kripke. (At this point of the overall 'argument' Kripke is presenting Wittgenstein's 'skeptical solution' to the rule following 'paradox.') A deviant individual may be "judged a madman" by the community if his responses do not accord with the community's in enough cases. To be mad by the community's lights is to be (thought) to follow "no coherent rule at all." And then it excludes him from some transactions "such as the one between the grocer and the customer." (93) On this view, ordinary commercial life presupposes, for example, being a member in good standing of a community.* Somebody whose behaviors can be relied upon.
An impatient reader may be annoyed that I call the discussion 'politically' salient here. On this picture of communal life, from within the community there is almost no difference between the madman, the outlaw (recall this post on Azzouni's aesthetics), the dissident, and the political revolutionary (until she usurps power successfully). A philosopher at odds with her own community better remain silent.
To return to the main point, or better Kripke's footnote, Kripke treats inversion as a device to shift attention and "reverses our priorities." (94) It is notable that Kripke, speaking in his own voice, strictly for himself (and, one may hasten to add, on nobody's authority) does not treat inversion as explanatory at all. Not to put too fine point on it, and to speak crudely for a moment, Kripke sees himself as unmasking a louche gimmick that is widespread in philosophy--William James is famous for some such trick, and so are Hume and Wittgenstein.**
As it happens, James's version of the inversion is Spinozistic in character: "Our natural way of thinking about these standard emotions is that the mental perception of some fact excites the mental affection called the emotion, and that this latter state of mind gives rise to the bodily expression. . My thesis on the contrary is that the bodily changes follow directly the PERCEPTION of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur IS the emotion." (I am not claiming that James is committed to attribute-parallelism here.) And it is notable that the one of the unnamed slogans [we do not condemn certain acts because they are immoral; they are immoral because we condemn them] is also Spinozistic (and Hobbesian).+ What James and Spinoza have in common is a willingness to treat our natural way of thinking as something that can be shown to be illusory even if there is also a sense in which this way of thinking, a manifest image of sorts, can not be eliminated fully from ordinary life.
One reason why Kripke is unmoved by the inversion, is that he sees in it merely a logical point, after all "a conditional is equivalent to a contrapositive." (94) (P--> Q); (-Q --> -P). In such instances, to treat the contrapositive as special and more worthy of our attention seems (ahh) crude no better than a slogan. (Of course, a slogan may well be true!)
But, that's not the end of the matter. Another influential reader of Wittgenstein, Daniel Dennett, treats such inversions as potentially explanatory. And that's because he does not treat them as merely logical. For we can represent how Dennett thinks of the inversions in the following way:
- You may naturally think that some basic property X is required for the explanation of (observed) properties Y.
- Where X exhibits some intelligence/mindedness/intentionality and Ys typically do not.
- But in reality properties Y are needed to explain X.
Throughout his writings of the last decade, Dennett attributes some such strange inversion of reasoning as a key moment in Darwin (natural selection), Turing (computing), Hume (causation), and David Haig (content). It is undoubtedly the case that Dennett has a tendency to say, 'don't look there, look here.' And philosophical critics often trouble themselves with understanding what the point of Dennett's writings are. (Kripke does not mention Dennett, so if you are the sincere type, you can treat the title of my post as click-bait.)
But in Dennett (and James, Hume, etc.) the shift of attention is not the end of the matter, but a heuristic toward a better explanation of the thing (mind, computers, emotions, morality, natural selection, causation, etc.) we're trying to understand. And a key step is to give up, or forego, a natural way of thinking about the issue at hand. To do so frequently is indeed mad. But the first step to a better understanding may well require a willingness to be thought mad by one's community/peers.
*This echoes a famous line in Adam Smith also treats this interaction as presupposing common citizenship (see my treatment here).
+No name is attached to the slogan that the law of non contradiction is a necessary truth because we accept the convention. Some such view, Kneale claims not to understand is, is discussed by Urmson in 1947 (inspired by remarks by Britton, a friend of Wittgenstein who briefly overlapped with Quine at Harvard).
*Kripke's relationship to Hume is worth further attention because he both "fears" what an expert may say of his presentation of Hume (see note 56 on p. 67) and he finds one of Hume's philosophical strategies (of reinterpreting common sense) "suspect" (65).