More on (Plain) Reminders (PI 127)

A couple of excerpts on reminders from a paper of mine gathering dust in a drawer…

Consider the remark (127): “The work of the philosopher consists in assembling reminders for a particular purpose.” Calling his work assembling reminders accents the relationship between the his remarks and his interlocutor. If the interlocutor takes the remarks as reminders, then assessing the remarks involves the interlocutor’s assessment of herself. That is, taking the remarks as reminders requires the interlocutor to be present to herself as she thinks. She must be present to herself to assess herself. Is the remark a reminder? If so, why had she forgotten what she is now reminded of? Was her forgetfulness temporary? When, roughly, did she forget–when she started thinking about the philosophical problem the remark responds to, or before that? Why forget then?  Would she have remembered eventually on her own or not? If so, when and why?  If not, why not?   What, other than Wittgenstein’s remark, might have jogged her memory? For Wittgenstein, these questions on the part of the reader are exactly right: they force her back on herself, and keep her present to herself as she philosophizes. (I am not saying that they are all answerable, or easily answerable.)  For Wittgenstein, it is in part our failure to be present to ourselves as we philosophize that accounts for the apparent intractability of the problems.

Earlier, I let a list of questions tumble out, all turning on a remark of Wittgenstein’s being a reminder. All the questions forced the reader of the remark back on herself. None forced her back on the remark itself, so to speak. So someone might object: “Look, Wittgenstein may have been aiming at giving reminders, but he may sometimes have missed the mark, failed to provide a reminder.” And so he may. But the important point is that Wittgenstein failed to achieve his aim–giving a reminder. If a remark that is to be a reminder fails to be, then that is that; the remark falls beneath philosophical notice. For the remark had claim to notice only if was indeed a reminder. What I am trying to make clear is that by calling (some of) his remarks reminders, Wittgenstein has rendered a certain structure of critical terms properly applicable to the remarks. If one of Wittgenstein’s remarks is false, then it is not a reminder. (I can remind you of a falsehood in a way–by reminding you of something false that you believed. But this sort of reminder is not what Wittgenstein is interested in giving.) But if one of his remarks is true, that does not make it a reminder.  Reminders share a border with the false, but not with the true, except incidentally. (We cannot assemble reminders for God.) For a remark to be a reminder, it must not only be true, it must be true and true-in-a-certain-relationship (i.e., forgotten (or some relationship roughly cognate)) to the person reminded.  And even more, it must also be accepted by the person as a reminder.  If it is accepted as something else, Wittgenstein has not achieved his aim.  –Assembling reminders turns out to be an extraordinarily delicate occupation.

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