Bringing Philosophy Peace?

Wittgenstein wants to bring philosophy, the philosopher-in-us-all, peace.  When we encounter this aim in PI, it is easy to believe that what he wants to bring philosophy, the philosopher-in-us-all, is knowledge.  And of course there is something right about that, especially if we modulate the claim to one about self-knowledge.  (After all, Wittgenstein cares particularly about the philosophical questions that bring philosophy itself into question, questions that bring the philosopher-in-us-all himself into question.)  Crucially, however, self-ignorance involves alienation from ourselves more than it involves any failure of introspective acuity.  And so acquiring the peace of self-knowledge is less learning something about ourselves than it is acknowledging something about ourselves.  (Self-knowledge is typically bitter for good reason.)

So the peace Wittgenstein wants to bring is the peace of self-knowledge; we might even call it the peace of faith.  But faith in what?

Before answering, I want to help myself to an idea of Marcel’s.  Marcel talks about faith, about fundamentally pledging oneself, as reaching so deeply into the person pledged that it affects not only what the person has, but who the person is.  His term for this, the idea I want, is existential index.  When person’s belief has an existential index, ‘(e)’, the belief absorbs fully the powers of the person’s being.  For Marcel, beliefs(e) are incompatible with pretension:  A person who believes(e) is humbled by that in which he believes(e).

And now I want to say something that I know sounds paradoxical.  Wittgenstein wants to bring the philosopher-in-us-all to belief(e) in himself, so that he is no longer tormented by questions that bring himself into question.  But this will be a belief(e) in himself–a rallying to himself, to borrow another idea of Marcel’s–that involves no pretension.  In fact, it will be a form of humility, a form of true love of himself.  He will have faith in himself, but a faith that acknowledges his own nothingness.  This is a faith that allows the philosopher to be filled with the spirit of truth (although not, notice, with the truth); it is a faith that allows him to be light seeking for light.  Such humility does not protect the philosopher-in-us-all against error.  It does protect him against depending on himself.

When the philosopher-in-us-all is tormented by questions that bring himself into question, his has fallen prey to self-dependence.  He has lost his sense of his own thinking as a creative receptivity, a dependent initiative.  He believes he has to be responsible for himself, that he has to support every response to a question by responding to questions about that question.  To believe that is to fall into the predicament of being unable to make philosophical problems disappear.  Pretension on the part of the philosopher-in-us-all guarantees the appearance of the philosophical problems.  Pretension is a lack of faith, the surety of peacelessness.

(Probably a bad idea to try to write about such things when it is so late and I am so tired.)

2 responses

  1. Probably a bad idea for me, Kelly, to write when I’m half asleep, but your words strike chords even at this early hour. They bring me to myself, to my own words, to past thoughts that I retrieve now before coffee — the thought, for example, that Socrates will know how to ask questions and will know when to stop, when to rally himself (as you say, so aptly) around himself — and leave questions aside.

    He says after his trial that he honors his city, and if he knows himself in saying that it’s because those words don’t lead to other questions but to his being himself, at peace with himself. The saying of them is seamlessly wedded to his ease, faith, peace, in steadfastly living out what is closest to himself (a pledge). He’s utterly free from temptation not to honor that pledge. To know himself will be to honor it in deed and disposition, without a hint that he pines for anything else. He does he agonize over a bewildering array of options he might have followed out, nor over whether he is justified in honoring it. He considers what his pledge necessitates, and follows up, rallying himself and his friends to it, to himself, without a trace of false bravado, without pretension, as you say. He’s full of peace, even before the scorn of his city, even before the unknowabilty of death.

    His pledge, as you beautifully say, is a ‘dependent initiative’, an initiative in creative response to the call that can claim him. He seems willing to ask endless questions – yet he knows a peace where questions cease. He is a churchman, at home in and witness to the shrine of Delphi and the revelations of Diotima.

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