Clarity, Combative Clarity

Does philosophy have results?  –As I practice it (ahem!), I guess not.  Or at least it has no results that are not internal to philosophical investigation itself.  I am Wittgensteinian enough, or Kierkegaardian enough, or Marcelian enough to believe that what philosophy aims for is clarity.  But one is always becoming clear; one is never finally clear.

Clarity.  Clarity is internal to philosophical investigation:  it is not a separable result, isolable from the activity that realizes it and such that it confers value onto the activity because of a value it has independent of that activity.  If a result is separable, isolable and independent, then it has a career cut off in an important way from the process that realized it.  Indeed, in one sense its history only begins after the process that realizes it is finished.  The result can be seized and put to purposes quite different from anything that those involved in the process of realizing it intended or foresaw.

But clarity is valuable because of the process of philosophical investigation that realizes it.  And there is no clarity in isolation from the philosophical investigation that realizes it.  Philosophical investigation does not realize a clarity that someone could hope to enjoy who is no longer involved in philosophical investigation.  (“I got clear, you see; and now I am enjoying my clarity, although, thank God!, I am no longer involved in the travails of philosophical investigation.”)  –Kierkegaard’s Climacus talks about the true Christian, the subjective Christian, as “combatively certain” of Christianity, as certain in a way that requires that the certainty be daily won anew.  “Eternal certainty” (his contrast-term) is not something that the subjective Christian can enjoy on this side of the blue.  Similarly, the clarity realized by philosophical investigation is combative clarity, not eternal clarity.

It was once fashionable to charge that clarity is not enough. Someone (Austin, I believe) rejoined that we could decide whether clarity was enough once we’d gotten clear about something.  I worry that both the charge and the rejoinder treat clarity too much as if it were a separable result.

Sufficient unto the day is the clarity thereof, I reckon–the combative clarity thereof.

Marcel on ‘Performatives’ and the Self (Kierkegaardian Subjectivity and Austinian Performatives 2)

When I say that my act commits me, it seems to me that it means just this:  what is characteristic of my act is that it can later be claimed by me as mine; at bottom, it is as though I signed a confession in advance:  when the day comes when I will be confronted by my act, whether through my own agency or that of another…I must say:  yes, it is I who acted in this way, ego sum qui fecit; what is more:  I acknowledge in advance that if I try to escape, I am guilty of a disownment.  Let us take a specific example.  The clearest, the most impressive example, is doubtless that of promising, to the extent that promising is not “mere words,” just words.  I promise someone that I will help him if he gets into difficulty.  This amounts to saying:  “I acknowledge in advance that if I try to escape when these circumstances occur, in thereby disavowing myself I create a cleavage within myself which is destructive of my own reality.”

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.)

“Going the Bloody Hard Way” (Marcel)

It is indeed of the nature of value to take on a special function in relation to life and, as it were, to set its seal upon it.  An incontestable experiment, which can scarcely be recorded in objective documents, here brings us the most definite proof:  if I dedicate my life to serve some supreme cause where a supreme value is involved, by this fact my life receives from the value itself a consecration which delivers it from the vicissitudes of history.  We must, however, be on our guard against illusions of all kinds which swarm around the word ‘value’.  Pseudo-values are as full of vitality as pseudo-ideas.  The dauber who works to please a clientele, even if he persuades himself that he is engaged in the service of art, is in no way “consecrated”; his tangible successes will not deceive us.  Perhaps, in a general way, the artist can only receive the one consecration that counts on the condition that he submits to severe test.  This does not necessarily take the form of the judgment of others, for it may happen for a long time that the artist is not understood by those around him–but it means at least that with lucid sincerity he compares what he is really doing with what he aspires to do–a mortifying comparison more often than not.  This amounts to saying that value never becomes a reality in a life except by means of a perpetual struggle against easiness.  This is quite as true in our moral lives as in scientific research or aesthetic creation.  We always come back to the spirit of truth, and that eternal enemy which has to be fought against without remission:  our self-complacency.

Hopeful Philosophical Investigations

I struggle to express a particular way of taking up Philosophical Investigations–it seems like I have been doing this since I first began to read it seriously.  What I want to express is something I rate as cognate with what others have expressed when talking about the “ethics” of PI, or of its “ethical over/undertones”, with responses to it as “a feat of writing” or as “the discovery of the problem of the other”.  I have in the past expressed it (helping myself to Kierkegaard’s objective/subjective distinction) as a “subjective reading” of PI.

Here I go again.  I am going to try yet again:  I want to say something about hopeful philosophical investigations.  Something brief.

Let me prefix Gabriel Marcel’s summary of the nature of hope:

I hope in you for us.

We can read the miniature dialogues that constitute PI in a variety of ways.  It is natural enough, I suppose, to understand the voices as antagonistic (Cavell, if I remember correctly, uses that word in “Availability”).  But although that is natural enough, is it best?  Or is it, instead, a vestige of non-Wittgensteinian philosophical practice?  –I will call it an analytic vestige.  We know, don’t we? and what would it be to know it?, that Wittgenstein wanted no part of a conception of philosophy as contest, of any agonistic conception of philosophy.  So, although I do not deny that we can perhaps find moments of agon in PI, such moments are not the stuff of PI.  As I read PI, it is not a series of miniature contests, skirmishes, but instead a series of miniature ameliorations, betterments.  Thinking of the voice of temptation and the voice of correction as in an ameliorative relationship, instead of an antagonistic one, frankly makes better sense of Cavell’s confessional understanding of PI than does thinking of the voices as in an antagonistic relationship–it also makes better sense of ‘temptation’ and ‘correction’ as terminological choices.   In particular, ‘correction’ in an antagonistic relationship has a very different critical valence than it does in an ameliorative one.  The hope of the dialogues is for mutual wholeness:  neither the voice of temptation nor the voice of correction may treat the other voice as alien–anything one voice says may be said, and in a certain sense is said, by the other.  And so the voices respond to each other, each finding itself in the other, working at becoming integral, to achieve agreement (in PI’s difficult sense of that term), to come to a meeting of voices, a time at which the passion of each voice is at one with its life (to borrow another bit of Cavell’s phrasing).  The nisus of each voice I take to be expressed by Marcel’s summary of the nature of hope:  each voice speaks from hope, and is constantly saying to the other, sotto voce:  “I hope in you for us.”

I will come back to this.

Marcel’s Table of Categories (Phillipians 4:8)

For the rest, my brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things have honor, whatever things are upright, whatever things are holy, whatever things are beautiful, whatever things are of value, if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, give thought to these things.

Reading “RM” 6: Problems vs. Mysteries

For some of us, the impulse to philosophize is bound up with a realization of our broken world and our patchwork lives.  But among those of us for whom this is true, there is a further division:  for some of us, the breaks and the patchworks are problems, something to be solved; for others of us, they are mysteries, something that we live through.  Marcel famously distinguishes problems from mysteries; I am using his distinction—but I will not try here to provide a full account of the distinction, rather only an anticipatory sketch.  I need the sketch because it will aid me in my continuing reading of Merleau-Ponty’s “RM”.  I will say a bit about how momentarily.

Central to Marcel’s distinction is this:  a mystery is something whose true nature can only be grasped from the inside; no objective statements can be made about it from outside, for it is our situation, ours to live through.  We cannot get outside of it.  A problem has no inside/outside contrast, so to speak; it is something I confront, something I find complete before me.  I can therefore, as Marcel puts it, “lay siege to it”.  A problem is an object before me, inert; it is “voiceless”.  I can take an interest in it or not, but whether I do or not is a matter for my unconstrained decision.  A mystery is something that presents itself to me; it “speaks”; I respond or I refuse to respond.  A problem is always coordinate with a technique, a way of handling, treating, working on or solving it.  A mystery transcends technique.  Progress, as a notion, belongs to the problematic; is has no truck with the mysterious.  We make progress on a problem as we come to know things of which we previously were ignorant.  But the knowledge/ignorance contrast gets no real hold on a mystery; to the extent that it may seem to, each new acquist of relevant knowledge only to deepens the mystery.

One important result of this distinction is that it makes available a new term of philosophical criticism, namely the degrading of mysteries into problems.  We might think of this as a form of metaphilosophical reductionism.  Degrading is perennially tempting, because it allows us to normalize philosophy, to tame it.  Often, we degrade without realizing it:  we take something to have the form of a mystery while we deny it the power thereof.  Degrading permits us to be philosophers by acquisition, by having a philosophy (if you know the passage, think here of Marcel’s joking talk of “Marcelism” early in vol. 1 of The Mystery of Being), instead of requiring us to be philosophers only by maintaining ourselves in relation to mystery (since you will know it, if you have been following the blog, think here of Merleau-Ponty’s distinction between teaching the absolute and teaching our absolute relation to it.)

I know that all this is far from clear, but I will continue to develop the distinction in later posts.  For now, bear in mind that what we think of Montaigne the skeptic will be quite different if we take Montaigne to be so-called because of his response to problems or because of his response to mysteries.

Marcel on Popular Philosophy

A nice portion of Marcel:

…[S]ome scraps of philosophical thought conveyed through newspapers, magazines and ordinary conversations find their way to one extent or another into all minds.  Most of the time these scraps could just as well be burned like household garbage, and it is perhaps one of the more important functions of true philosophical thought to carry out this kind of trash-burning.

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