I was re-reading today F. R. Leavis’ “Memories of Wittgenstein”, and came across the following story. Leavis and Wittgenstein hired a boat and, after Wittgenstein had paddled for a while, he stopped and got out, saying that he and Leavis should get out and walk. The walk takes them a fair distance and quite a bit of time. Eventually, Leavis reminds Wittgenstein that they hired the boat, have a long trek back (both by foot and by boat) and that the man from whom they hired the boat must still be waiting for them to return. They go back, arriving at the boathouse at about midnight.
The man came forward and held our canoe as we got out. Wittgenstein, who insisted imperiously on paying, didn’t, I deduced from the man’s protest, give him any tip. I, in my effort to get in first with the payment, had my hand on some money in my trousers pocket and pulling it out, I slipped a couple of coins to the man. As we went away, Wittgenstein asked: “How much did you give him?” I told him, and Wittgenstein said: “I hope that is not going to be a precedent.” Not, this time, suppressing the impatience I felt [Leavis had been impatient with Wittgenstein for a good part of the evening], I returned: “The man told you that he had been waiting for us for a couple of hours—for us alone, and there is every reason for believing that he spoke the truth.” “I, ” said Wittgenstein, “always associate the man with the boathouse.” “You may, ” I retorted, “but you know that he is separable and has a life apart from it.” Wittgenstein said nothing.
Wittgenstein on this occasion provides an example of the sort of thing that Marcel is trying to prevent in himself in the remark I quoted a few days ago: “I am not watching a show.” What Marcel wants to prevent in himself is, put one way, a failure of moral imagination, a failure of negative capability. Wittgenstein gives in to the impulse to see the world (to see the man at the boathouse) as (part of) a closed, rational system oriented on his own desires and habits and needs, as two-dimensional. The man at the boathouse becomes, slightly alarmingly, somewhat like the owner of the house in PI 398c:
Think of a picture of a landscape, an imaginary landscape with a house in it.–Someone asks “Whose house is that?”–The answer, by the way, might be “It belongs to the farmer who is sitting on the bench in front of it”. But then he cannot for example enter his house.
Wittgenstein’s boatman cannot leave the boathouse; he cannot return to his own home, to his life that is separate and apart from the boathouse. –We all give in to this impulse from time to time. That is why Marcel calls the no-show-ness of the world in which he finds himself “a fundamental spiritual fact”. Like all spiritual facts, ignorance of it counts not as being ill-informed, but as a refusal to know.
One reason this story struck me was because I was again re-pondering Marcel’s remark due to reflections Lowe provides on her blog.