Wisdom Other Minds I (3): Nearly Reasons Causes

But I didn’t then realize how near to reasons are causes which aren’t reasons and how beside the point are many reasons.

What is Wisdom saying?  I do not think we can answer this unless we face the fact that Wisdom understands philosophy as targeting individuals with philosophical problems instead of philosophical problems.  Consider this passage from “The Logic of God”:

But I want to come to know what you mean.  I want to know what’s at the back of your saying that questions which seem to be real questions aren’t really; I want to know what makes you say it…

Now, in this passage, Wisdom goes on to say that he wants to know the reasons the person has, whether the person is right or wrong or neither.  Let’s ignore that for a bit and focus instead on the lines I quoted.  A source of much of the energy of Wisdom’s philosophizing is his desire to come to know what someone means, what he (Wisdom) means.  Much of what he writes serves that purpose–and often, when he has come to know what someone means, Wisdom is finished.  That is a stopping place for his way of doing philosophy.  And that is important to bear in mind.  Coming to know what a particular person means is a process of coming to know what is at the back of the person saying what he or she says.  I highlight this idea because it frames the comment about reasons and causes with which I started.

Wisdom is wrestling with embodied philosophical problems, the philosophical problems of someone somewhere sometime.  Often, what gives philosophical problems there special air of urgent depth is the fact that the person with the problem is in the causal grip of something that is damn near a reason, all but a reason.  Wisdom is courting paradox here–as he nearly always does:  he is the troubadour of paradox (but that is a topic for later).  Wisdom believed in the seclusion of causes from reasons.  But he never denies that they can almost touch.  There are causes that are yes-yes-yes-almost reasons.  That is, there are causes of things we believe, things we think, that work in ways that mimic some of the ways reasons work.  These are causes that determine our thinking but in ways that we can clarify to ourselves, in ways that we can alter by taking (the right kind of) thought, by coming to know what we mean.  These causes that are almost reasons are often what we find when we discover what is at the back of our saying, philosophically, this or that.  Ridding ourselves of such causes is possible–but very tricky.  Because they are not reasons, they cannot be falsified.  To press a term of Bouwsma’s into new service, these causes have to be disfuted, not refuted.

I will say more about this soon, but I will finish for now with this thought.  Consider what Wittgenstein calls “pictures” in PI.  Should we think of these as causes of ways we think, what we think, or as reasons?  Or are they best thought of as causes that are almost reasons?  Surely, they are often what we discover when we come to know what we mean, when we come to know what is at the back of what we think.

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