Yesterday, I had a useful conversation with my friend and former student, Andy Bass. He described how strongly Wittgenstein’s critical remarks about philosophy struck him and how much they worried him. Given what Wittgenstein says, why persist in philosophy? Why not find something else to do?
It seems to me that Wittgenstein’s critical remarks generally should be thought of in this way: (1) Much of what he says is about Philosophy-as-Other, i.e., philosophy not as he does it but as it is all-too-often done. (2) Wittgenstein deliberately employs a deflationary rhetoric about the way he does philosophy.
(1) When Wittgenstein is talking about Philosophy-as-Other, he wants to highlight especially the false enchantments of traditional philosophy–highlighting such is important, as Auden notes, because it is a mark of a false enchantment that it “can all too easily last a lifetime”. Austin provides a nice way of characterizing this false enchantment–the self-image of the philosopher as “a specialist in the sui generis”.
(2) Wittgenstein’s deflationary rhetoric about he way he does philosophy is aimed primarily at himself, I believe, at his vanity and his tendency to high hat. Wittgenstein’s way of being in philosophy, deeply personal, ascetic, purified, made it easy for him to treat his way of doing philosophy as something special, too special. He needed to constantly warn himself against that. But the rhetoric is aimed secondarily at others. Wittgenstein did not want his way of doing philosophy to falsely enchant. He knew that it could enchant, and he wanted it to enchant truly, where the mark of true enchantment, as Auden notes, is that it “fades in time.” Wittgenstein’s deflationary rhetoric is a warning to others against false enchantment, and a warning against the future fading of its true enchantment. He knew that eventually the enchantment would go and that we would need then to “walk alone in faith”, as Auden puts it–walking alone in faith without either denying the promise of Wittgenstein’s way of doing philosophy, treating its promises as deceptions, or trying to recover its promise by distorting it into something else, something it is not (a form of naturalism, a closeted metaphysics). No: we must take up our fly-bottles and follow the path alone.