Bradley’s Critique

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kant:

That logic has already, from the earliest times, proceeded upon this sure path is evidenced by the fact that since Aristotle it has not required to retrace a single step, unless, indeed, we care to count as improvements the removal of certain needless subtleties or the clearer exposition of its recognized teaching, features which concern the elegance rather than the certainty of the science. It is remarkable also that to the present day this logic has not been able to advance a single step, and is thus to all appearance a closed and completed body of doctrine. If some of the moderns have thought to enlarge it by introducing psychological chapters on the different faculties of knowledge (imagination, wit, etc.), metaphysical chapters on the origin of knowledge or on the different kinds of certainty according to difference in the objects (idealism, skepticism, etc.), or anthropological chapters on prejudices, their causes and remedies, this could only arise from their ignorance of the peculiar nature of logical science. We do not enlarge but disfigure sciences, if we allow them to trespass upon one another’s territory.  [emphasis mine]  The sphere of logic is quite precisely delimited; its sole concern is to give an exhaustive exposition and a strict proof of the formal rules of all thought, whether it be a priori or empirical, whatever be its origin or its object, and whatever hindrances, accidental or natural, it may encounter in our minds.

I have been reading and teaching F. H. Bradley.  I have also been reading about him–reading T. S. Eliot, Geoffrey Hill, Alan Donagan and others.  Bradley wrote wonderfully (and I have remarked on his prose previously on the blog).  But Bradley was a genuinely gifted thinker as well as stylist.  At the heart of his work is stationed the acknowledgment that Kant expresses above (“We do not enlarge but disfigure…”) and Bradley observes it dutifully throughout all his work.

Consider one important, wholly characteristic passage:

The supposed gulf between sheer errors and utter truths is, again, created by the same vice of abstractionism.  A truth so true that it has no other side, and an error so false that it contains no truth, I have condemned as idols.  They are to me no better than the truths which are never at all born in time, or again the truths whose life does not pass beyond that which is made and unmade by chance and change…

On the one hand it is the entire Reality alone which matters.  On the other hand, every single thing, so far as it matters, is so far real, real in its own place and degree, and according as more or less it contains and carries out the in-dwelling character of the concrete Whole.  But there is nothing anywhere in the world which, taken barely in its own right and unconditionally, has importance and is real.  And one main work of philosophy is to show that, where there is isolation and abstraction, there is everywhere, so far as this abstraction forgets itself, unreality and error.

This:  Bradley’s peculiar anti-reductionism.  Bradley’s (Absolute) idealism largely resolves into this anti-reductionism.  It is easy to miss it, in part because Bradley’s talk of abstractionism makes you think up not down as reductionism usually does.  The anti-reductionism yeilds an ideal-ized version of Butler:  Everything is what it is and not another thing, and in the place that it is and not another place, and to the degree that it is and not to another.

Everything is justified as being real in its own sphere and degree, but not so as to entitle it to invade other spheres, and, whether positively or negatively, to usurp other powers…And it is the true Absolute alone that gives its due to every interest just because it refuses to everything more than its own due.  Justice in the name of the Whole to each aspect of the world according to its special place and proper rank–Reality everywhere through self-restriction and in denial…

For Bradley, philosophy enforces justice in the name of the Whole.  Isolation discounts the Whole for the sake of a part; abstraction discounts the part for the sake of the Whole. We may, if we need, knowingly isolate or knowingly abstract–knowingly discount Whole or part for the sake of the other.  But we must not allow ourselves to forget what we are doing, and so lose either the Whole or the part.  Bradley knew that to take thought is almost always to isolate or to abstract, and so he knew that taking thought renders the thinker liable to unreality or error.  The only way to resist the unreality or error is to remain constantly aware not only of the product of isolation or abstraction, but also of the process of isolation or abstraction that produced it, and so not lose sight of the product’s limited value and reality.  Philosophy itself matters, remains real, only through self-restriction and in denial.  Bradley would have appreciated J. L. Austin’s metaphilosophical reminder–neither a be-all nor and end-all be.

Bradley’s work is a remarkable conceptual successor of Kant’s; it is thoroughly Critical, and so thoroughly critical.  It builds nothing but character.

 

 

Wisdom, Other Minds I (Part 2): Philosophical Criticism

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.)

John Wisdom, Other Minds I (Part 1): Reasons and Causes–Philosophical Criticism

Near the beginning of “Other Minds I”, Wisdom makes a distinction between two sources of doubt about other people’s states of mind.  I will not now take up that distinction; I will come back to it soon.  Wisdom notes that his attention was drawn to the need to make the distinction by Wittgenstein.  And Wisdom takes this mention of Wittgenstein’s name as an opportunity to say something about his debt to Wittgenstein:

How much in this paper is due to Wittgenstein will be appreciated only by people who have listened to him.  My debt to him is enormous and is no means to be measured by the few places where I happen to mention that such and such a point come from him or put a W. against an example of his.  At the same time I do not think my way of doing things would quite meet with his approval–it’s not sufficiently hard working–a bit cheap and flash.

I make no apology for mentioning this sort of point.  For this is the sort of criticism of philosophical work which I find appropriate.  Those who deplore so ‘personal’ an attitude and say, “Who cares whether so and so likes what is said, wheat we want to know is whether it is true”, emphasise the objectivity of philosophy to the point of turning it into a science.  I remember with what relish I once heard McTaggert say in a discussion, “What we want to know is not why he said it but what reason he had for saying it”, But I didn’t then realise how near to reasons are some causes which aren’t reasons and how beside the point are many reasons.

I want to spend some time thinking about Wisdom’s sort of philosophical criticism.  I will begin doing so tomorrow or Friday.

Completed Draft of New Talk

Since I posted bits of this already–its first part yesterday and its last part a while back–I thought I would go ahead and post the whole thing.  I find writing talks for audiences that will include both philosophers and non-philosophers especially hard.  I wish I were better at it.

Philosophical Investigations and Three Kinds of Illusion:  A Talk

Final Paragraphs of New Talk: Philosophical Investigations

[I’m unsure how much sense these paragraphs make without the preceding 15 pages or so. First draft material.]

Allow me to reiterate my thinking about the three illusions in PI As I have said, I think that transcendental illusions are central to PI, central to understanding its conception of philosophical problems. But I do not mean to deny that the other two types of illusion make appearances in PI. They do. If they didn’t, the other two readings of PI I have discussed would probably never have tempted anyone. But I do not think either of those other two illusions is central in the way transcendental illusion is central. Even more, although I do not have time to detail this now, I also think that the other two types of illusion can metastasize into transcendental illusions, and that what seems merely an empirical or logical illusion can itself be revealed to be or involve a transcendental illusion.

Still, I suspect at this point that you may be less interested in this nicety of housekeeping and more interested in the spirit-sinking midwinter bleakness of the picture of philosophical problems that I have been presenting. Haven’t I said that philosophical problems don’t get solved? —Yes. Haven’t I said that the best we can hope for is to cope with them, and that only temporarily? —Yes. Isn’t that an incredible downer? —Yes. —No. —Yes and no.

Let me revert to Kant once more, while also recalling my opening remarks. At least from his early 20’s, Kant is vexed by the uncanny fact that for so long and so often philosophers of equal education and gifts, each deeply serious and sincere, persist in apparently irreconcilable conflict. Kant regards this as a disgrace to reason. We can think of Kant’s entire philosophical career as driven by his passionate concern to settle conflicts in philosophy—not by entering a judgment in favor of either of the conflicting philosophers, but rather by entering a judgment on the conflict itself, by finding a way to end it. Kant first pictured these conflicts as between philosophers; but he later came to picture them as conflicts between arguments; and still later he came to picture them as reason in conflict with itself, as reason having fallen out of agreement with itself. This became Kant’s new picture of the uncanny fact: reason can fall into apparently irreconcilable conflict with itself.

Wittgenstein we can think of as accepting and, in a sense, extending this movement of Kant’s. He comes to see philosophical problems as manifesting my having fallen out of agreement with myself. It is this uncanny fact about me—and about you too of course—that is the mainspring of PI. Philosophical problems are all at once conceptual, i.e., invulnerable to the empirical, and also deeply personal, personal in the sense that I am at stake in them in various ways, personal in the sense that the problems encroach upon me. My desires and longings, my needs and fears, –my whole affective being potentially is part of the problem. Because it is, we cannot take a simply objective approach to the problems. We must instead always and everywhere approach the problem subjectively, attending to our mode of involvement in it. And there is always already one of those whenever we reflect on a philosophical problem. (Reflecting on a philosophical problem is not an empty holding of something, of the problem.) I am a part of, involved in, every philosophical problem that I take up, like it or not. You too are part of every philosophical problem you take up. The mode of involvement in the problem matters and is, in fact, itself a part of the problem. When we see this, we are also position so as to see what PI is showing each of us: I am susceptible to transcendental illusion. I can, with practice, develop a discipline of response to such illusions. I can teach myself—-with the aid of PI—-to push back against the pressures of transcendental illusion, to stick to ordinary realities. But learning this discipline neither ends philosophy itself for me nor ends any philosophical problem permanently. I have to recognize that I am tempted and I need to find a way of responding to the temptation other than yielding to it. And I have to recognize that there is no way simply to end temptation. I should expect to be tempted until my last breath. But none of this makes much sense if we think that philosophical problems can be independent of modes of reception. To care about illusion as Wittgenstein does is to care about modes of involvement and vice-versa: To use `illusion’ as a term of criticism as Wittgenstein does is to bring the mode of involvement in a philosophical problem into work on the problem.

Philosophy, as Wittgenstein teaches it to us in PI, is transcendental dialectic, but Wittgenstein’s transcendental dialectic is self-critique. Philosophy is self-critique. Philosophy is a form of self-knowledge. Is that a downer? No: there is philosophy to be done. There is always philosophy to be done. Self-critique has no endgame. Even more, there is progress of a sort that can be made. I can become better at resisting temptation, better at recognizing its onset; I can discipline myself to push back harder and for longer and with better focus. That is, I can come better to know myself in such a way that I become better at controlling myself. I cannot make myself impassible, invulnerable to temptation. But I can respond to it better, yield to it less often or less easily. Still, isn’t that a downer? Yes: since such self-knowledge is, face it, almost always bitter. (What I discover will not be things of which I have been ignorant, simply epistemically blank, but things I have refused to know, to acknowledge.) We would all rather not do philosophy as self-examination, self-critique. We would rather do it as distinct from the self, as objective investigation in which my self does not count. We would like to be the investigators of the investigation but not the investigated. We want to be neither shaken nor stirred.

One quick parting comment: We can understand the similarity and difference between Kant and Wittgenstein and their transcendental dialectics in this memorable way, even if it may be slightly misleading: for Kant, we see things aright philosophically when we come to see that the solutions to philosophical problems must be transcendental idealist solutions. For Wittgenstein, we become what we need to be philosophically when we become `transcendental idealists’ about the problems themselves. Wittgenstein’s Copernican Revolution (PI 108) revolves the problems—and, thus revolved, we can see past the apparent need for a solution to them. So, since I have been talking about downers, let me end with a hurrah: Vive la revolution!

Philosophical Questions 3

Philosophical puzzlement:  unless this does–or may–threaten the possibility of understanding altogether, then it is not the sort of thing that has worried philosophers.  If you overlook that, then you do not see what the understanding is that is sought in philosophy; or what it is that may be reached.  But the understanding that is sought, and the understanding that may be reached–the understanding that has been achieved if philosophical difficulty has really been resolved–is not something one could formulate; as though one could now give an account of the structure of reality, and how how language corresponds to it; and to show the possibility or reality of discourse in that way.  –Rush Rhees

A most remarkable passage.  There’s much that I’d like to say about it, but I want for now to limit myself to its bearing on the issue of philosophical questions and answers.  Take Rhees to be pointing out just how hard it is to see how deep philosophical questions go, and so how hard it is to see how peculiar the answers to them must be.

Philosophical question threaten the very possibility of understanding altogether, but this means that the questions threaten their very possibility as questions, and threaten the very possibility of answers to them.  The questions challenge the reality of discourse, of understanding:  but how can a question, a mode of discourse, something that must be understood, challenge the reality of discourse or understanding?  Success would seem failure; but failure cannot be success, can it?  What sorts of questions are these?

More soon.

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