Accidents Will Happen: Elvis Costello as Philosopher


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.

Link to essay


John Wild on Psychologism

A focal text for my current Plato seminar:

To anyone who has followed Plato’s critique of the phenomenon of sophistry, it is evident that psychologism is not merely a dubious hypothesis to be corrected by distinguishing between logic and psychology.  It is a basic deformation of the understanding itself, which penetrates into every branch of philosophical endeavor, distorting both the elaborate procedures of academic philosophizing, as well as those less articulate, but more primordial, modes of apprehension by which man, as such, always, to some degree, understands the word and his station in it.


More on Abiding in Hope

Abiding in hope…

Ed Mooney, over at Mists on the Rivers, has been mulling over the Heidegger passage I posted yesterday, as have I.  The passage fascinates me in part because so many paths intersect in it:  one from Socrates and his avowal of ignorance, one from Eckhart and his working-out of contemplation, one from St. Thomas and his condemnation of curiositas as a form of cognitive intemperance, one from Neitzsche and his linking the will to knowledge to the will to power, one from Husserl and his plying of the reduction, one from Marcel and his ideal of secondary reflection, and one from Wittgenstein and his contrast of explanation and description.

I cannot rise to the level of Ed Mooney–but let me say a bit more about the line from Marcel.  Marcel distinguishes primary from secondary reflection by distinguishing between what we might call their ‘objects’, problems and mysteries.  There is a lot to say about that distinction, and I have toyed with it on the blog a time or two (here for example).  But a key idea is the idea of investigations that are, as it were, self-willed, where the investigator stands above, over and against, what he investigates, and one where the investigator is ‘object-willed’, moved to consideration of what she stands enmeshed in, alongside, and which calls out to her for consideration.  We might say that in the first case, the investigation proceeds in light produced by the investigator, in the second, in light produced by the ‘object’ investigated.  (Marcel works a far-reaching change on the popular understanding of mystery, which he regards, not as a darkness that overwhelms, but as a light that is blinding, –at first, but that becomes eventually the light in which we see light:  think of Christ on Mount Tabor.)  Heidegger seems to understand some things as worthy of thought, as calling out to us to think them, and to think in relationship to them.  Curiosity all-too-often is something that we project upon the world–we think about what we regard as worthy of thought, instead of what calls us out of ourselves and into thought.

There seems to me little doubt that Walden (to hook up with Ed’s reflections) is not only a book about but a book that exemplifies secondary reflection.  And I think that secondary reflection is at play too, albeit in different ways, in Socrates’ unknowledge, Echart’s contemplation, St. Thomas’ studiositas (the contrast to curiositas), Husserl’s reduction and Wittgenstein’s descriptions.  It seems likely true even in Nietzsche’s transvalued knowledge.  For all of these, the relationship between the investigator and the investigated transforms the investigation, and that must always already be on the mind of the investigator.  The world does not bumble around us, a flattened pother of objects indifferent to their investigation and that we investigate willy-nilly as we choose, but  instead structures and variegates itself around us, featuring objects that call us to thought and objects that do not.  And what they reveal to us is not a matter of what we take from them but of what they give us, sometimes only after we have earned it by abiding in hope before them, listening even to their silence, waiting for them to speak. What we ‘know’ of them in such moments is not something that we can commodify, something that we can learn by banking on our own conceptions of reasoning about them, our own ability to wring answers to our questions from them.

Didn’t Aristotle push us this way, too, long ago, when he noted that the problem of method is entirely (note that word) determined by the object?

What Does Husserl Want?

I am preparing for a seminar on Plato, the Sophists, and psychologism this Fall.  Among the texts we will read is (sections of) Husserl’s Logical Investigations.  I have been working on the early sections on logic this morning.  Husserl complains of the incompleteness of all the sciences; none have that “inner clarity and rationality”:  as theories, they are not “crystal-clear”, the functions of all their concepts and propositions are not fully intelligible, not all of their propositions have been exactly analyzed.  –My question is this:  is this crystalline clarity Husserl demands itself crystal-clear, fully intelligible?  If not even mathematics (to take the crucial case) exhibits this crystalline clarity, then what grasp of what Husserl wants do we have?  Do we want a more mathematical mathematics?  Hard to see how that would help, since it would presumably only apply the lack of inner clarity and rationality to itself.  (And presumably not in a “fight fire with fire”-ish way.)

Now it is true that, in an important sense, Husserl attempts to explain what he wants across much of the rest of the book, often enough by the example of his phenomenological practice.  But it remains necessary to be aware that we do not really know what Husserl wants in the early sections:  clarity is something about which we have to become clear.  (Consider how distant Wittgenstein’s desiderated clarity is from Husserl’s.)

Edith Stein on Sister Clara and Husserl

Edith Stein writes from beside the death-bed of her Sister Clara to her Sister Adelgundis, who was herself beside the death-bed of their teacher, Husserl:

Pax Christi!

Dear Sister Adelgundis,

Our greetings go from one death-bed to the other.  Our Sister Clara departed today for eternity, very gently, after a year of suffering.  I commended our dear Master [Husserl] to her often, and will do so again tonight at the wake.  I believe one is well taken care of in her company.  She was our eldest lay sister, tireless in the lowliest of tasks, but a strong and manly character who had grasped and lived the Carmelite ideal with complete determination.  So faith turned it into a completely spiritual life.  I am not at all worried about our dear Master.  It has always been far from me to think that God’s mercy allows itself to be circumscribed by the visible church’s boundaries.  God is truth.  All who seek truth seek God, whether this is clear to them or not…

Most cordially, your

Teresa Benedicta a Cruce

In Spite of Death and the Devil: Husserl–Diary Entry, 9/25/1906


Pure meditation, pure internal life, being absorbed by the problems and devoting myself to them, and to them only, that is the hope of my future.  If I do not succeed, then I shall have to live a life which is rather death.

…I have to pursue my way so surely, so firmly, so decidedly, and so in earnest as Dürer’s Knight in spite of Death and the Devil…And be God with me in spite of the fact that we are all sinners!

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