Clarity, Combative Clarity

Does philosophy have results?  –As I practice it (ahem!), I guess not.  Or at least it has no results that are not internal to philosophical investigation itself.  I am Wittgensteinian enough, or Kierkegaardian enough, or Marcelian enough to believe that what philosophy aims for is clarity.  But one is always becoming clear; one is never finally clear.

Clarity.  Clarity is internal to philosophical investigation:  it is not a separable result, isolable from the activity that realizes it and such that it confers value onto the activity because of a value it has independent of that activity.  If a result is separable, isolable and independent, then it has a career cut off in an important way from the process that realized it.  Indeed, in one sense its history only begins after the process that realizes it is finished.  The result can be seized and put to purposes quite different from anything that those involved in the process of realizing it intended or foresaw.

But clarity is valuable because of the process of philosophical investigation that realizes it.  And there is no clarity in isolation from the philosophical investigation that realizes it.  Philosophical investigation does not realize a clarity that someone could hope to enjoy who is no longer involved in philosophical investigation.  (“I got clear, you see; and now I am enjoying my clarity, although, thank God!, I am no longer involved in the travails of philosophical investigation.”)  –Kierkegaard’s Climacus talks about the true Christian, the subjective Christian, as “combatively certain” of Christianity, as certain in a way that requires that the certainty be daily won anew.  “Eternal certainty” (his contrast-term) is not something that the subjective Christian can enjoy on this side of the blue.  Similarly, the clarity realized by philosophical investigation is combative clarity, not eternal clarity.

It was once fashionable to charge that clarity is not enough. Someone (Austin, I believe) rejoined that we could decide whether clarity was enough once we’d gotten clear about something.  I worry that both the charge and the rejoinder treat clarity too much as if it were a separable result.

Sufficient unto the day is the clarity thereof, I reckon–the combative clarity thereof.

2 responses

  1. Thanks, I enjoyed this. Some of what you say about being done/finished, as it were, makes me wonder about the relationship between “early” LW and his eventual return to philosophy. Perhaps the later return shows a recognition that the work of philosophy is never done. (Even if there is something to be said for “stopping doing philosophy” when one wants to?)

    • Yeah, Matt, I think there’s quite a bit in what you say about the ‘early’ and ‘late’ conceptions of philosophy. –About “stopping doing philosophy” when one wants to: I have lately been hearing that against the backdrop of Emerson’s comment (roughly) “to find the journey’s end in each step of the road…that is wisdom”. I guess I have been doing so because I have been thinking about daily clarity, combative clarity, and its contrast with eternal clarity. What I mean is that I now hear the stopping comment not as a comment about stopping full stop (if you’ll allow me that phrase) but about stopping here, for now. This clarity, today’s clarity, about this problem–it’s enough. Tomorrow will have to fend for itself.

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