How then are we to understand Revelation in its relation to thought? Belief in Revelation is belief that ‘God has spoken’. What does this mean? Or rather, what is it to believe it, if to believe involves something more than assent to a factual proposition? Just as to apprehend God’s Holiness is to repent (‘Now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes’); so belief in a divine Revelation seems to involve something like a repentance in the sphere of the intellect. Certainly it cannot be meant that we, with an unbroken intellect, are somehow privileged to talk about God. Talking about God is one of the things which the Bible hardly permits us to do. When Zechariah says, ‘Be silent all flesh before the Lord’, this is not wholly different from Wittgenstein’s ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent’. What Wittgenstein seems not to believe is that God has spoken. But what is it to believe this? –Mystery and Philosophy
As best I can recall, Wittgensten wrote a short letter to Norman Malcolm when Malcolm earned his Ph. D. It went something like this:
Congratulations to your PhD. And now may you cheat neither yourself nor your students. Because, unless I am very much mistaken, that is what will be expected of you.
There may have been a bit more. My memory fails me. But just this touches the problem. How can you teach without cheating yourself or your students? Exasperated a little by my students, I wrote to them today and said:
You have to decide: do you want an education–a real education, or do you just want a diploma? And if you just want a diploma, go and get it in someone else’s class, please: I don’t care a whit about your diploma. But I do care about your education.
The problem here is a kind of knot. Our students all too often want us to cheat them, or are willing to let us; and we all too often want them to want us to cheat them, or are willing to let them want us to cheat them, or be willing to let us cheat them. And so it goes.
Here is a draft of a talk I am to give soon. I was asked to present something that might inspire majors and non-majors, and to do something more like what I would do in a class than what I would do giving a conference paper. This is the result so far. It is a formalization of the sort of thing I might do in an upper-level class. Since I think of it as a talk and not a paper, it is not bedecked with all the scholarly niceties–footnotes or full footnotes, etc. Most of the footnotes are really just drawers in which I have stashed useful quotations or (I hope) brief, helpful clarifications. Comments welcome.
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 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.
It is Sarte’s birthday. I find myself conflicted.
Coming of age philosophically in a department supersaturated by the methods and work of Chisholm and Gettier was difficult for me. My sympathies were wider than that, and, even worse, I had serious reservations about the Propose-a-Definition-Cast-about-for-a-Counterexample style of philosophizing I was being taught. In those days, the president of Rochester was a philosopher, Dennis O’Brien. O’Brien had written a dissertation on Wittgenstein (under Richard McKeon, believe it or not), taught at Princeton (where he wrote a book, Hegel on Reason in History), and served as president of Bucknell before coming to Rochester. (Those familiar with the secondary literature on Wittgenstein may know O’Brien’s fine paper, “The Unity of Wittgenstein’s Thought”, one of the earliest papers challenging the Two Wittgensteins orthodoxy, and containing the exactly appropriate continuation of the famous Wittgensteinian advice, “Don’t ask for the meaning, ask for the use”–“And don’t ask for the use, either!”) At Rochester, O’Brien discomfitted the faculty by teaching courses on Sartre. The TA assignment for those courses was disrelished by graduate students: after all, the courses were on Sartre, Sartre!—and they required a lot of preparation because O’Brien’s presidential duties could any week call him away leaving the grad student with a 3-hour lecture to give on some portion of Being and Nothingness. Predictably, given the view in the department that I would read anything (not exactly a compliment), I got tabbed for the assignment. It was a lot of work, but I learnt a lot about Sartre and a lot about teaching from O’Brien. I am in his debt.
But, Sartre. Well, I never know what to say about him. There’s so much I admire and so much I don’t. Undoubtedly, the man could write–and there are many moments of profound phenomenological insight in his work. Still, there is something wrong with it. Marcel, I believe, has helpful things to say about that. In an aside in “Testimony and Existentialism”, Marcel quotes Sartre’s B & N discussion of gifts and giving, which opens with “Gift is a primitive form of destruction…Generosity is, above all, a destructive function”. Marcel responds:
I doubt if there exists a passage in Sartre’s work which is more revealing of his inability to grasp the genuine reality of what is meant by we or of what governs this reality, that is precisely the capacity to open ourselves to others.
I admit that seems right to me. I have sometimes teased students in my classes by commenting that many forms of existentialism can be produced via a formula: Choose one of the seven deadly sins. Imagine someone held fast in the grip of the vice. Now, treat that person as the norm of human existence, and the phenomenology of the vice as the phenomenology of existence per se. Of course, I am teasing when I say this, but like most professorial humor it has a point, it is meant to shed some light. In Henry Fairlie’s book, The Seven Deadly Sins Today, each chapter on a deadly sin is prefaced by a drawing by Vint Lawrence. Here’s the drawing of envy.
Isn’t this a drawing of the Sartrean human? Sideways keyhole spying, fingernail gnawing, distendly squatting, beingful of nothingness?
Of course, I could be wrong.
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“