Rogers Albritton

Philosophy, as he [Wittgenstein] means to be practicing it “simply puts everything before us, [it] neither explains nor deduces anything” and it “may not advance any kind of theory” (Philosophical Investigations I 126, 109). Its aim is, rather, “complete clarity,” which “simply means that the philosophical problems should completely disappear” (ibid., 133). I’d like nothing better. Moreover, I believe it: the problems (at any rate, those I care most about) should indeed, as he says, completely disappear. That’s how they look to me. I love metaphysical and epistemological theories, but I don’t believe in them, not even in the ones I like. And I don’t believe in the apparently straightforward problems to which they are addressed. However, not one of these problems has actually done me the kindness of vanishing, though some have receded. (I don’t have sense-data nearly as often as I used to.) And if there is anything I dislike more in philosophy than rotten theories, it’s pretenses of seeing through the “pseudoproblems” that evoked them when in fact one doesn’t know what’s wrong and just has a little rotten metatheory as to that.

4 responses

  1. “We cannot” Beckett told Tom Driver in a 1961 interview, “listen to a conversation for five minutes without being acutely aware of the confusion. . . . The only chance for renovation is to open our eyes, to see the mess. It is not a mess you can make sense of.” And Wittgenstein in the Tractatus:
    “Even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all.” [see Majorie Perloff’s chapter “Witt-Watt” in Wittgenstein’s Ladder.]

    I suspect that the vision of all possible scientific questions being answered is like the vision of all philosophical problems having disappeared. They don’t haunt us. The problems of life hang on, however. Is the conclusion that the problems of life are not philosophical problems? They are certainly not text-book philosophical problems, but surely existential, “life problems” will be felt to be philosophical in the sense that they are questions of living, of living wisely, despite the mess, without denying the mess.

  2. Thanks for this, Ed. If I understand you, I believe I agree. The problems of life are the problems that matter, the ones that hang on. They are mysteries, really, and not problems (Marcel)–or not ‘problems’ in the same sense. We are implicated in the problems of life; solving them means knowing how to go on, how to go on living within them; it does not make them go away.

  3. It reminds me, partially, of the differences between Eastern Orthodox and Catholic theology. Not to throw too many ashes on the scholastics, but they do have a tendency to epitomize everything Wittgenstein dislikes about metatheories in philosophy. It could also, in part, explain some of the divides between him and some of his (contentious?) peers. In the 13th century, a Catholic theologian, Humbert of Romans, expressed frustration with the East because he did not recognize the difference in what was called ‘phronema.’ A Greek word that is virtually untranslatable but, to give an idea of what it means, is not too dissimilar from ‘perfect orthodoxy of the mind.’ Humbert said about the Greeks: “[T]hey do not understand what is said to them with reasons, but always adhere to some councils or other, and to what has been handed down on to them by their predecessors, like some individual heretics, for whom reason is of no avail.” This same fundamental dialectical difference plagued the Catholics and Orthodox at the Council of Florence in 1439. George Every rightly stated that it was “the constant conviction of the Latins that they always won the disputation, and of the Greeks that no Latin argument ever touched the heart of the problem.”

    Not to say that Wittgenstein shared the same assumptions of the Eastern Church but the essence of the disagreement, the Latins believed that their elaborate systems designed by rationality could solve answers while the Greeks believed that–at best–they merely added to their troubles–shares many similarities.

    • I am quite sympathetic with your comment, Amyclea. My recent essay in *Turning East* (SVS Press) ends with a section that attempts to reveal similarities between Wittgenstein and the Eastern Church, using the notions of prelest and podvig. Thanks!

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