Hearing Voices in PI

[A thought connected to the paper I am working on today.]

Consider the interlocutory voices in PI. How am I, the reader, supposed to relate to them?

My surmise: I have to find my way to hearing all the voices as mine. I ought not simply choose one and denominate it my champion, or denominate it me. No, I must come to hear the voices as giving voice to different modulations of my existence; I find myself in each voice. To achieve this is to achieve a regrouping of my own mind. The best single term I know to use here is Gabriel Marcel’s: ingatheredness. I find my way to ingatheredness–and the ingatheredness is not achieved apart from the philosophical problems that confront the voices; rather the philosophical problems that confront the voices are themselves factors in the ingathering; they must play a role in my self-recollection because they play(ed) a role in my self-forgetfulness. (Finding myself in all the voices helps to make that clear.)

“But this means that the whole of PI is devoted to putting me back together? To finding in myself all these temptations, these corrections, these murks, these clarities?” –Yes. “So what do I take away from PI?” –Yourself. “I started with that.” –Did you?

To travel the length of PI, really to find yourself in all its voices, to achieve ingatheredness, is to have undergone ‘a change without change’. Marcel:

…[W]e must suppose that we are here in the presence of an act of inner creativity or transmutation, but also that this creative or transmuting act, though a paradox…also has the character of being a return–only a return in which what is given after the return is not identical with what was given before…The best analogy for this process of self-discovery which, though it is genuinely discovery, does also genuinely create something new, is the development of a musical composition; even if such a composition apparently ends with the very same phrases that it started with, they are not longer felt as being the same–they are, as it were, coloured by all the vicissitudes they have gone through and by which their final recapture, in their first form, has been accompanied.

[Footnote: N.B. the relationship between PI 1 and PI 693.]

I win and lose, win and lose ingatheredness: but this isn’t to toggle between the same two conditions again and again, but rather is the local shape of a globally ‘upward’, winning movement. And over and over, PI helps.

A Really Alive Person–A Comment from Gabriel Marcel

A really alive person is not merely someone who has a taste for life, but somebody who spreads that taste, showering it, as it were, around him; and a person who is really alive in this way has, quite apart from any tangible achievements of his, something essentially creative about him…

Wittgenstein, Bouwsma and Our Relationship to Philosophical Problems

O. K. Bouwsma once declaimed that “…Wittgenstein’s interest was not in any particular problem, but in the bothered individual, particularly the hot and bothered.” He was rhetorizing about PI.

I believe Bouwsma is on to something quite important here, even though he seems to me to miss a better way of putting his point. It is not that Wittgenstein is not interested in any particular philosophical problem in PI–he is, in fact, interested in many–but rather that he keeps steadily before himself the puzzled (“hot and bothered”) person (now his interlocutor, now his reader, now both, now both in different ways), the particular problem, and the relationship of the person to the problem. Wittgenstein’s specific focus, the spotlight of his attention, shifts across this structure in complicated, sometimes dizzying ways, but more often than not, he spotlights the relationship between the person and the problem. Wittgenstein over and over again tries to make that relationship the available to the person, often doing so (in part) by making his own relationship to the problem available to the person–i.e., by making himself exemplary (in one sense of the term). (H/T to j.) As I understand Wittgenstein, he believes that the person believes that the particular problem is just there, palpitating problematically in its isolation, and that his or her relationship to the problem has nothing whatever to do with its being problematic. But the person’s belief is confused. I do not have time now to go into detail, so let me try to explain briefly by means of two quotations, both from Remarks on Color:

In every serious philosophical question uncertainty extends to the very roots of the problem.
We must always be prepared to learn something new. (I, 15)

In philosophy we must always ask: “How must we look at this problem in order for it to become solvable?” (II, 11)

Each of these is a response to the relationship between the person and the problem. The first is a reminder that we are all-too-often guilty of a philosophical knowingness, of a carried-with-us conviction that we are certain at least of the roots of the problem, that we understand its logical aetiology. We are prepared to learn something new, but not at the root level: that would mean that we have misunderstood the problem completely, or fancied a problem where there is none. The second is a reminder that we tend to occupy one fixed position in front of a philosophical problem, as if there were a chair bolted to floor and as if we had to sit in that chair in order to see the problem for what it is. We will not unfix our position, bound from the chair, and take a look around, hunting specifically for an angle of vision on the problem that allows us to undo it, like an apparently complicated knot that simply falls out of the string when we pull on the right end. –We can comment on one thing that unites these remarks by using a term of Kenneth Burke’s, occupational psychosis. An occcupational psychosis is a kind of blindness created by the aquisition of certain skills, the shadow, as it were, of our occupational accomplishments. (By ‘psychosis’ Burke does not anything strictly psychiatric; instead, “it applies simply to a pronounced character [Burke’s emphasis] of the mind.”) We approach philosophical problems as philosophers, where that means that we approach the problems occupationally: we believe we know what the problems are and we believe we know how to see them–knowing these things is what makes us philosophers. We are not prepared to learn that we do not know what a philosophical problem is, that we are at the root confused. We are not prepared to abandon our familiar angle of vision on the problem. To abandon these would be to approach the problem non-occupationally, to approach the problem with empty hands. That is hard, really quite hard, to do. Our occupation is our preoccupation. How could philosophy become unskilled labor and still know itself as philosophy? (Forgive me for that.)

How often the conjuring trick that illudes us is one we play on ourselves, one that we play on ourselves when we pride ourselves on our skill at avoiding illusion.

A Philosophy of Considered Experience?

Can a philosophy be grounded on the considered experience of its author?  –So grounded, we could understand it as open to analysis and to disagreement, but not as straightforwardly vulnerable to argument based on general principle.  I ask because it strikes me that many of the philosophies I care most about can be understood as grounded in this way, as grounded in their author’s considered experience.  Montaigne’s, of course; but Cavell’s too, of course.  Many philosophers who turn in the direction of ’empiricism’, ‘experience’–can I think be best understood as appealing to his or her own considered experience.  They are not best understood as appealing to experience (full stop), are not worried about (or much worried about) theorizing the rational or a-rational bearing of experience (full stop) on belief or knowledge.  They are neither rationalists nor empiricists, although stretches of their philosophical terms, constructive or critical, sound empiricistic.

A give-away for the sort of philosophy with which I am concerned is a moment at which the philosopher talks of experience as something to which we can be loyal, something to which we can rally, something that can obligate us, something that can be educated.  Another give-away is talk about experience as accumulating, as having weight.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Marcel)

My post on combative clarity (immediately below) was in part, and roundaboutly, a reaction to a point made in the closing sections of Marcel’s Introduction to The Mystery of Being.  He summarizes the point so:  Philosophical research is “research wherein the link with the result cannot be broken without loss of all reality to the result.”

I want to attend again to that Introduction.  It ends in a way particularly appropriate to the Nativity season.  Marcel mentions the notion of good will found in the Gospels, and goes on:

It would be folly to seek to disguise the fact that in our own day the notion of ‘the man of good will’ has lost much of its old richness of content, one might even say of its old harmonic reverberations.  But there is not any notion that is more in need of reinstatement in our modern world.  Let the Gospel formula mean “Peace to men of good will” or “Peace through men of good will,” as one might be often tempted to think it did, in either case it affirms the existence of a necessary connection between good will and peace, and that necessary connection cannot be too much underlined.  Perhaps it is only in peace or, what amounts to the same thing, in conditions which permit peace to be assured, that it is possible to find that content in the will which allows us to describe it as specifically a good will.  ‘Content’, however, is not quite the word I want here.  I think rather that the goodness is a matter of a certain way of asserting the will, and on the other hand everything leads us to believe that a will which, in asserting itself, contributes towards war, whether war in men’s hearts or what we would call ‘real war’, must be regarded as intrinsically evil.  We can speak then of men of good will or peacemakers, indifferently.

A philosophy of peace, a weapon of peace–that is Marcel’s thinking.  Marcel writes philosophy so as to seek peace and ensue it.  –There are less noble motives.

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.)

Socratic Irony, Good and Bad

In his talk, “In Praise of Philosophy”, Merleau-Ponty begins his discussion of Socrates’ irony by considering his behavior at the trial:

What can one do if he neither pleads his cause nor challenges to combat?  One can speak in such a way as to make freedom show itself in and through the various respects and considerations, and to unlock hate by a smile–a lesson for our philosophy which has lost both its smile and its sense of tragedy.  This is what is called irony.  The irony of Socrates is a distant but true relation with others.  It expresses the fundamental fact that each of us is only himself inescapably, and nevertheless recognizes himself in the other.  It is an attempt to open up both of us for freedom.  As is true of tragedy, both the adversaries are justified, and the true irony uses a double-meaning which is founded on these facts.  There is therefore no self-conceit.  As Hegel well says, it is naive.  The story of Socrates is not to say less in order to win an advantage in showing great mental power, or in suggesting some esoteric knowledge.  “Whenever I convince anyone of his ignorance,” the Apology says with melancholy, “my listeners imagine that I know everything that he does not know.”  Socrates does not know any more than they know.  He knows only that there is no absolute knowledge, and that it is by this absence that we are open to the truth.

To this good irony Hegel opposes a romantic irony which is equivocal, tricky, and self-conceited.  It relies on the power which we can use, if we wish, to give any kind of meaning to anything whatsoever.  It levels things down:  it plays with them and permits anything.  The irony of Socrates is not this kind of madness.  Or at least if there are traces of bad irony in it, it is Socrates himself who teaches us to correct Socrates…Sometimes it is clear that he yields to the giddiness of insolence and spitefulness, to self-magnification and the aristocratic spirit.  He was left with no other resource than himself.  As Hegel says again, he appeared “at the time of the decadence of the Athenian democracy; he drew away from the externally existent and retired into himself to seek the just and the good.”  But in the last analysis it was precisely this he was self-prohibited from doing, since he thought that one cannot be just all alone and indeed, that in being just all alone he ceases to be just.  If it is truly the City that he is defending, it is not merely the City in him but that actual City existing around him…It was therefore necessary to give the tribunal its chance of understanding.  In so far as we live with others, no judgment we make on them is possible with leaves us out, and which places them at a distance.

For me, this is a Janus passage: it retrospects Reading “RM” 10 (as well as another recent post) and prospects Reading “RM” 11 (or it will, when I produce 11).  –But for now I want to think about it just for Socrates’s sake.  Montaigne I set aside.  What interests me in the passage now is the contrast between good and bad irony.  I agree that there is such a contrast and I agree in the main with Merleau-Ponty’s Hegelian understanding of it.  Noting the contrast is important in reckoning with Socrates.  (It is therefore important in teaching Socrates, as I now am.  Students tend to react most strongly to the traces of bad irony in Socrates’ (good) irony and thus to treat his irony as (unalloyed) bad irony.  Merleau-Ponty’s description helps me sympathize with the students when they react that way, without yielding to their reaction.)  Socrates’ good irony hugs his ignorance, without crossing out that ignorance, rendering it merely apparent.  As I have said in previous posts, Socrates targets double ignorance–thinking that you know when you do not know–and having that target makes irony all but unavoidable.  Unlike simple ignorance–not knowing–double ignorance is not-knowing entombed in pride (self-conceit), coldly obstructed from the truth.  Socrates’ good irony aims to disinter a person’s simple ignorance, and to bring a person to acknowledge that simple ignorance.  Socrates’ good irony is, as Merleau-Ponty notes, a distant but true relation with others:  distant–because if he comes too close he aggravates their pride, risks losing himself or approbates himself against their freedom; true–because genuinely hopeful and genuinely humble.  Available, as I am now habitually putting it.  Sometimes Socrates fails because he cannot maintain distance or maintain truth, and then he either misses irony altogether or he slips into some degree of bad irony.  Good irony is Socrates’ way of making himself available to others without trespassing upon their freedom; it is also a way of targeting their pride, the pride that not only makes them unavailable to others, but makes them unhandy to themselves.  Pride creates only the freedom to fall.

(A puzzle in Merleau-Ponty’s passage is its use of ‘distant’ and ‘distance’.  Socrates’ irony is a “distant but true relation with others”, but Socrates will make no judgment on others that “places them at a distance”.  I solve the puzzle this way:  Socrates’ good irony does not place him at a judgmental distance from others.  It is not a standing over and above them.  In other words, Socrates can count himself among those he lives with, making no judgment on them that leaves him out, and which places them at a distance, even while his way of living among them is to maintain a distant but true relation to them.  In fact, his ironic distance even aids his refusal to place others at a judgmental distance from himself:  think of judgmental distance as a false relation to others.)

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