I offer this for its soporific value, if nothing else. Who needs a white noise app?
I offer this for its soporific value, if nothing else. Who needs a white noise app?
The following words of Heidegger’s have been on my mind for the past couple of weeks.
We all still need an education in thinking, and before that first a knowledge of what being educated and uneducated in thinking means. In this respect, Aristotle gives us a hint in Book IV of his Metaphysics (1006a ff.). It reads…”For it is uneducated not to have an eye for when it is necessary to look for a proof, and when this is not necessary.”
This sentence demands careful reflection. For it is not yet decided in what way that which needs no proof in order to become accessible to thinking is to be experienced. Is it dialectical mediation or originary intuition or neither of the two? Only the peculiar quality of that which demands of us above all else to be admitted can decide about that. But how is this to make the decision possible for us before we have admitted it? In what circle are we moving here, inevitably?
Aristotle’s passage–and its non-kissing cousin in EN–have become more and more deeply embedded in my thinking and teaching. My Seven Deadly Sins course this summer (now just ended) in many ways pivots on the EN passage. I take that passage to insist on differences in kind among objectivities, differences in kind among, say, geometry and history and philosophy and rhetoric. I have grown increasingly resistant to attempts to solder philosophy to science or to mathematics–or to whatever. (Not that I was ever very receptive to such attempts.) Philosophy is its own thing and not another thing. Perhaps Heidegger gets a little too invested here and there in soldering philosophy (or thinking) to poetry (that is a topic for another time), but generally he is acrobatically adept at sundering philosophy from other things. (Heidegger inherits the form of his Idealist predecessors’ metaphilosophy even if he rejects its specific content. –Compare him here to Bradley or to Oakeshott.)
Anyway, I do not like thematizing philosophy as argument, as argumentative. Why should philosophy be beholden to proof? I do not mean that philosophy should jettison proof or that proof does not matter. But why should it be essential? I am happy to say that argument has its place, an honored place, in philosophy. But there is no reason to believe that gaining admittance to philosophy requires an inference ticket (apologies to Ryle). –That does not mean that we just throw open the doors–free admission! –No, but some things may get in without an inference ticket. –Ok. But what, and why, and when, and how? –We need a sense of what is relevant in philosophy, to philosophy, and a sense that relevance itself is not a matter (always) for proof. (In what circle are we moving here, inevitably?) We need to understand what it looks like to be educated and uneducated in philosophy, so that we can embark on our philosophical education.
We glimpse here why the vocabulary of late Heidegger runs through the all the inflections of ‘receptive spontaneity’, why hearkening and following a path become leitmotifs of the work. The claim of relevance is not always to be established by argument; sometimes the claim of relevance is simply the peculiar quality of certain things, a claim that demands acknowledgment from us. We hearken to such things. We follow in their paths. Their relevance is their solemn power, calling us to free response. We make ourselves available to thought.
Accidents will happen; yes, they will. I wrote this little essay more than 25 years ago. I think it was my first–certainly it was one of my first–attempts to say much of anything about ordinary language philosophy or about Elvis Costello. It fell out of my file cabinet today as I was hunting something else. I had thought it gone for good. Perhaps it would have been better if I had not found it; perhaps I should not post it. Perhaps. Anyway, here it is. Apologies in advance.
Wisdom offers a piece of philosophical criticism, in this case, self-criticism. He takes what he is doing to be decisively influenced by Wittgenstein, but it does not live up to Wittgenstein’s example. It is not sufficiently hard-working. It is a bit cheap and flash. It is tempting to understand this as admitting that although what Wisdom has to say is–in terms of its content–decisively influenced by Wittgenstein, it is not–in terms of its form–decisively influenced by Wittgenstein. It does not live up to the standards Wittgenstein set.
This is not a hopeless understanding of Wisdom’s admission, but the bare distinction between form and content seems too crude to clarify much–particularly where Wittgenstein’s work is part of the story. Whatever else is true of Wittgenstein’s work–and I take this to characterize his lecturing as well as his writing–he aimed at work that unified form and content. Wisdom got that, I think. He aims at unifying form and content in his own work. (Renford Bambrough tells the story of taking an essay he had written to Wisdom. Wisdom reads it and responds with dismay–“A return to the old dogmatic idiom.” Wisdom writes always in an idiom other than dogmatic–playful, tentative, dialectically complex and committed, but aporetic.) Part of his admission is that his work does not quite unify form and content, or unify it to the degree that Wittgenstein’s did. I think this gets us closer to what Wisdom is admitting. But I do not think it quite gets us there.
Wisdom takes his admission to bring ‘personal’ attitudes into assessing philosophical work. He rates ‘personal’ attitudes as appropriate, and rates ‘impersonal’ or objective attitudes as potentially confusing categories, as turning (or threatening to turn) philosophy into science. The objective attitude asks whether what a philosopher says is true. It asks for the reasons a philosopher offers for what he says. And that is all. Nothing else matters.
Wisdom believes other things matter.
Before I start trying to tabulate these other things, let me take an apparent detour that will be not a detour but a shortcut. One of the most important themes in Cavell’s Must We Mean What We Say? is that of philosophical criticism. I am reasonably sure that the term ‘philosophical criticism’ itself, and the theme of philosophical criticism in the book, are anchored to this passage of Wisdom’s. I do not mean that Cavell meekly inherits Wisdom’s terminology or theme (when has Cavell ever done that–with anyone’s term or theme?) but rather that Wisdom is a key figure in the origin story of Cavell’s theme of philosophical criticism. Consider this passage. Cavell is talking about Austin’s terms of criticism:
To suggest that if such terms do not seem formidable directions of criticism, and perhaps not philosophical at all…that may be because philosophy is only just learning, for all its history of self-criticism and self-consciousness, to become conscious of itself in a new way, at further ranges of its activity. One could say that attention is being shifted from the character of the philosopher’s argument to the character of the philosopher arguing…[Such a shift] could…open a new literary-philosophical criticism, in a tradition which knows how to claim, for example, the best of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. Whatever the outcome, however, what I am confident of is that the relevance of the shift should itself become a philosophical problem.
I hope the connection between this passage and Wisdom seems generally clear. I will say more about details next time.
(Addendum: Cavell imprisons Wisdom in MWMWWS?’s footnotes. So far as I can recall, he never mentions Wisdom in the text proper. But he mentions him in several notes in the early essays. The notes tend to be stationed at rather important junctures in the essays. The most openly appreciative is on p. 40, n. 36.)
I am linking an essay of mine that has been hanging out in my Huh? File. That is, the file in which I put things I have written whose merits and demerits are unclear to me, or so nearly even that I cannot decide whether to invest any more effort in them. I wrote this for viva voce delivery. I don’t know that it deserves further work, deserves my trying to make it a full-on scholarly essay. If any of you have the time and the curiosity to read this, let me know what you think. Thanks in advance!
A confession (although my regular readers will likely be unsurprised): For me, many of the most perplexing philosophical problems relate to philosophers themselves. Here’s one thing I mean by that. I find the arguments for sense-data unmoving–they are few in number and they radiate only a meager glory. But I find the fact that philosophers have come to believe (in some at least professional sense of that term) that there are sense-data deeply fascinating. How can that be? It staggers credulity. Surely no one, not Russell, not Moore, especially not Moore, really believes that there are sense-data?
When you look closely at supposed arguments for sense-data, you actually find little argumentation. Conjuration is what you find instead. Sense-data are made to appear (usually hands are waved, even while they are perhaps waived) via an open sesame–‘illusion’, ‘dream’, ‘error’, ‘double-vision”, ‘after-image’.
In his “Moore’s Theory of Sense-Data”, O. K. Bouwsma masterfully reveals how hard it is to succeed–or, how easy it is to fail–to get the conjuration right. Moore takes himself to have supplied instructions that will allow the reader to “pick out” a sense-datum. (Look at your hand and do as follows….) Bouwsma tries repeatedly to follow Moore’s instructions, but never manages to pick out a sense-datum–he keeps slipping, seeing his hand and failing to see the sense-datum. Bouwsma ends the essay by noting that he has not refuted Moore: and that is surely right. But we should also remember that a set of instructions is neither valid nor sound. It is either helpful or not. Bouwmsa has shown that Moore’s instructions are not helpful. They didn’t help Moore. Moore took himself to have picked out a sense-datum (he seems to have had one handy) and then asked himself how he had gone about it, assuming, we might say, that since he had succeeded (however he did, if he did), anyone following his instructions would succeed. Moore as reverse-engineer. How much help are Moore’s instructions for someone who does not (yet) believe in sense-data and is waiting for one to appear, waiting to succeed in picking one out, before believing in them? (I’m from Missouri; show me!)
Here is a draft of a talk I am to give soon. I was asked to present something that might inspire majors and non-majors, and to do something more like what I would do in a class than what I would do giving a conference paper. This is the result so far. It is a formalization of the sort of thing I might do in an upper-level class. Since I think of it as a talk and not a paper, it is not bedecked with all the scholarly niceties–footnotes or full footnotes, etc. Most of the footnotes are really just drawers in which I have stashed useful quotations or (I hope) brief, helpful clarifications. Comments welcome.