Dick Moran Keeps it Real

There’s much to profit from in Moran’s recent interview at 3am magazine.  The section on Experimental Philosophy is a tour de force.

As to ‘experimental philosophy, I can’t claim to be very well versed in it, but it seems to be a research program in its early days. I think that by now, even its practitioners are beginning to realise that simply asking people, outside of any particular context, about their “intuitions” about some concept of philosophical interest is not really going to be informative since without any philosophical background to the question, the respondents themselves can’t really know just what question they are being asked to answer, what their responses are responses to. There are just too many different things that can be meant by a question like, “‘Was such-and-such an action intentional or not?”, for example. And without further discussion or further analysis, the experimenters themselves can’t know what answers they are being given by the respondents. It’s not good data. So I can imagine experimental philosophy evolving in a way to account for this, and starting to include some philosophical background to the investigation, perhaps even some philosophical history, to provide the needed context to the particular intuitions that they are trying to expose and test for. At that point, the experimental situation might also become less one-sided, with a researcher examining a respondent, and could allow for the experimental subjects themselves to ask questions of the experimenters, including questions of clarification and disambiguation, and perhaps even challenges to the way the experimenter has framed the questions.

Later it might be found useful to conduct such experiments in small groups rather than individually, with one experimenter and one subject, and instead the respondents could be encouraged to discuss the questions among themselves as well as with the experimenter. People could meet in these groups two or three times a week and perhaps some relevant reading could be assigned, to clarify and expand upon the question, and the respondents would be given time to do the reading, and asked to write something later on about the question in connection with the reading and the discussions they have had. Then the experimenter could provide “comments” on this writing for the experimental subjects themselves. I think grading the results would be optional in such an arrangement, and probably of no experimental interest, but other than that I think something like this could be the future of experimental philosophy. It’s worth trying anyway.

Philosophical Questions 4: Understanding Rhees

One of the striking things about Rhees’ passage is this:  there is not only something deeply peculiar about the question that seeks understanding in philosophy, but there is also something deeply peculiar about the understanding which is sought.  It is not something that can be formulated, stated.  I will say more about that this week, but for now I just want to relate the idea to the work of Rhees himself.

Reading Rhees is itself a peculiar experience.  In one sense, everything is simple, and its simplicity is further simplified by its repetitive, chant-like structure.  Sentences are short.  Rarely is any technical or recondite vocabulary employed.  And yet, and yet Rhees work is extremely difficult.  It is as though what he wants you to understand cannot be found in any of his sentences, no matter how often repeated.  It is as though what he wants you to understand is somehow floating among the sentences, brought to presence by them, but embodied in no one of them nor in their conjunction.  —So maybe Rhees has found a way of writing that is true to his conception of the understanding that is sought in philosophy?

Philosophical Questions 3

Philosophical puzzlement:  unless this does–or may–threaten the possibility of understanding altogether, then it is not the sort of thing that has worried philosophers.  If you overlook that, then you do not see what the understanding is that is sought in philosophy; or what it is that may be reached.  But the understanding that is sought, and the understanding that may be reached–the understanding that has been achieved if philosophical difficulty has really been resolved–is not something one could formulate; as though one could now give an account of the structure of reality, and how how language corresponds to it; and to show the possibility or reality of discourse in that way.  –Rush Rhees

A most remarkable passage.  There’s much that I’d like to say about it, but I want for now to limit myself to its bearing on the issue of philosophical questions and answers.  Take Rhees to be pointing out just how hard it is to see how deep philosophical questions go, and so how hard it is to see how peculiar the answers to them must be.

Philosophical question threaten the very possibility of understanding altogether, but this means that the questions threaten their very possibility as questions, and threaten the very possibility of answers to them.  The questions challenge the reality of discourse, of understanding:  but how can a question, a mode of discourse, something that must be understood, challenge the reality of discourse or understanding?  Success would seem failure; but failure cannot be success, can it?  What sorts of questions are these?

More soon.

Rhees on Philosophical Puzzlement (or, Philosophical Questions 2)

Philosophical puzzlement:  unless this does–or may–threaten the possibility of understanding altogether, then it is not the sort of thing that has worried philosophers.  If you overlook that, then you do not see what the understanding is that is sought in philosophy; or what it is that may be reached.  But the understanding that is sought, and the understanding that may be reached–the understanding that has been achieved if philosophical difficulty has really been resolved–is not something one could formulate; as though one could now give an account of the structure of reality, and how how language corresponds to it; and to show the possibility or reality of discourse in that way.

This is from Rush Rhees’ Wittgenstein and the Possibility of Discourse.  I will have a say about it over the next few days.

Hell Hath No Fury…

Hell hath no fury like a romantically oriented reader of the Tractatus who has thought of the early Wittgenstein as an enchanting mystagogue, but gone on to read the later one and realized subconsciously that the project of the thaumaturgic Tractatus is fundamentally the same as that of the quotidian Investigations.  — T. P. Uschanov, “The Strange Death of Ordinary Language Philosophy

Language and Bewitchment: PI 109

A footnote from an old essay of mine:

Think of the instructive amphiboly in the (translation of the) concluding line of PI 109:  “Philosophy is the battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.”  How is this to be understood?  Is it (1) “Philosophy is the battle against the-bewitchment-of-our-intelligence-by-means-of-language” or (2) “Philosophy is the battle against the-bewitchment-of-our-intelligence by means of language”?

And then in the text proper:

The very thing which is to free us from confusion is the very thing which confused us to begin with.  The poison is also the antidote.

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