A Thought on Cavellian Generic Objects and Our Relationship to Philosophical Problems

I’ve been talking about our relationship to philosophical problems, and I want to say more about that idea.  The idea is made more clear by Cavell’s notion of a generic object–and in its turn makes Cavell’s notion clearer.  (I will not now say more about the use to which the notion (and its companion notion, specific object) is put by Cavell.   To see that use, look at pages 52ff. of The Claim of Reason.)

Consider Cavell’s crucial comment:

I will not by such titles be meaning to suggest that there are two kinds of objects in the world [generic and specific], but rather to summarize the spirit in which an object is under discussion, the kind of problem that has arisen about it, the problem in which it presents itself as the focus of investigation.”

Here (briefly) is what I take to be crucial:  whether the object under discussion is to be ‘classified’ as generic is a matter not settled by the object itself (by its marks or features), but rather by the way in which we are related to the object–but that means by the way in which we are related to the problem of which the object is the focus.  To ‘classify’ the object as generic is really to classify the spirit of our discussion, our relationship to the problem.  In the Kierkegaardian terminology I habitually use here, to ‘classify’ an object as a generic object is to highlight the how of our relationship to it, not the what of the object.  (The distinction between generic and specific objects is not metaphysical but metaphilosophical.)

Cavell’s phenomenologies of philosophizing, populating the pages of The Claim of Reason, are extensions of Wittgenstein’s own (less protracted) phenomenologies of philosophizing, populating the pages of Philosophical Investigations.  And the phenomenologies are devoted to revealing our relationship to philosophical problems.

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