Hopeful Philosophical Investigations

I struggle to express a particular way of taking up Philosophical Investigations–it seems like I have been doing this since I first began to read it seriously.  What I want to express is something I rate as cognate with what others have expressed when talking about the “ethics” of PI, or of its “ethical over/undertones”, with responses to it as “a feat of writing” or as “the discovery of the problem of the other”.  I have in the past expressed it (helping myself to Kierkegaard’s objective/subjective distinction) as a “subjective reading” of PI.

Here I go again.  I am going to try yet again:  I want to say something about hopeful philosophical investigations.  Something brief.

Let me prefix Gabriel Marcel’s summary of the nature of hope:

I hope in you for us.

We can read the miniature dialogues that constitute PI in a variety of ways.  It is natural enough, I suppose, to understand the voices as antagonistic (Cavell, if I remember correctly, uses that word in “Availability”).  But although that is natural enough, is it best?  Or is it, instead, a vestige of non-Wittgensteinian philosophical practice?  –I will call it an analytic vestige.  We know, don’t we? and what would it be to know it?, that Wittgenstein wanted no part of a conception of philosophy as contest, of any agonistic conception of philosophy.  So, although I do not deny that we can perhaps find moments of agon in PI, such moments are not the stuff of PI.  As I read PI, it is not a series of miniature contests, skirmishes, but instead a series of miniature ameliorations, betterments.  Thinking of the voice of temptation and the voice of correction as in an ameliorative relationship, instead of an antagonistic one, frankly makes better sense of Cavell’s confessional understanding of PI than does thinking of the voices as in an antagonistic relationship–it also makes better sense of ‘temptation’ and ‘correction’ as terminological choices.   In particular, ‘correction’ in an antagonistic relationship has a very different critical valence than it does in an ameliorative one.  The hope of the dialogues is for mutual wholeness:  neither the voice of temptation nor the voice of correction may treat the other voice as alien–anything one voice says may be said, and in a certain sense is said, by the other.  And so the voices respond to each other, each finding itself in the other, working at becoming integral, to achieve agreement (in PI’s difficult sense of that term), to come to a meeting of voices, a time at which the passion of each voice is at one with its life (to borrow another bit of Cavell’s phrasing).  The nisus of each voice I take to be expressed by Marcel’s summary of the nature of hope:  each voice speaks from hope, and is constantly saying to the other, sotto voce:  “I hope in you for us.”

I will come back to this.

2 responses

  1. Pingback: Notes on hope « Practice and History of Philosophy

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