Wittgenstein’s Three Living Principles

More of the fruits of cleaning–an old essay I forgot that I wrote.  I gave it at a Pacific APA, I think; anyway, I likely forgot it because it got anaphora’d (carried up) into my Concept ‘Horse’ Book.  But it now strikes me as usefully revealing the topography of that book.


PI’s Opening Remark

The final paragraph of a paper I am now finishing:

Wittgenstein puts away the common notions that a book, particularly a book of philosophy, should open either by presenting its undeniable first premise or by defining its terms or by telling you what is coming. He does nothing of the sort. He begins instead with a quotation from St. Augustine. That quotation serves as a blessing from St. Augustine, who Wittgenstein venerated; as an example of authority or the lack of it in philosophy, or at least of its nature and its acknowledgment or denial; as a reminder of the way in which philosophy can shape even what seem relatively unremarkable remarks, as if philosophy were always stealing a march on us, out ahead of and so determining what we have it in us to think or to say; as a critical target, carrying with it a germ, a contagion, a communicable if not wholly communicated picture of communication; as a lexicon-in-use, a first glimpse of a use (or attempt at a use) of the words whose use (and non-use) will preoccupy the pages of PI; as invoking connections between philosophy and childhood and education, of the ways in which philosophy is now accessible, now inaccessible to childhood, and of the ways in which childhood is now accessible, now inaccessible to philosophy (what makes more merry or kills more joy than childhood, than philosophy?), and of the ways in which philosophy requires us to learn how to learn and how not to learn and how to unlearn what there is to learn or what we have learnt. But of course not all of that can be clear on a first reading of the first remark. Which means, I take it, that the remark has not been read until it has been double-read, until it can be read in relation to the rest of the book and the rest of the book in relation to it. As I said, PI begins but has no beginning, ends but has no ending. When we open it at the first page and we confront its first remark, we are confronting the whole of PI, not just one remark. We may make PI’s acquaintance one remark at a time, but we do not come to understand it that way. In for a dime, in for a dollar–the book makes no small change.

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

Hell Hath No Fury…

Hell hath no fury like a romantically oriented reader of the Tractatus who has thought of the early Wittgenstein as an enchanting mystagogue, but gone on to read the later one and realized subconsciously that the project of the thaumaturgic Tractatus is fundamentally the same as that of the quotidian Investigations.  — T. P. Uschanov, “The Strange Death of Ordinary Language Philosophy

Language and Bewitchment: PI 109

A footnote from an old essay of mine:

Think of the instructive amphiboly in the (translation of the) concluding line of PI 109:  “Philosophy is the battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.”  How is this to be understood?  Is it (1) “Philosophy is the battle against the-bewitchment-of-our-intelligence-by-means-of-language” or (2) “Philosophy is the battle against the-bewitchment-of-our-intelligence by means of language”?

And then in the text proper:

The very thing which is to free us from confusion is the very thing which confused us to begin with.  The poison is also the antidote.

Writing Without Authority–Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein

Kierkegaard understands himself to be, wants to be understood as, writing without authority.  I’ve lately been mulling over whether it means anything, and if means anything whether it means anything sufficiently interesting, to say that Wittgenstein understands himself to be, wants to be understood as, writing PI without authority.  The answer of course hinges on what it is to write without authority.  For Kierkegaard we might say that writing without authority is, first and foremost, to abjure the role of preacher.  But that is not all that it is for him:  he clearly means not only to reject one form of relationship to his reader, but a panoply of forms–any form that would make it the case that the reader’s attention finds it easier, more natural, to perch on Kierkegaard than on the reader himself, any form that deflects self-attention.  So Kierkegaard is always and forever side-stepping, ducking out, disappearing.  He wants his reader to read as if the reader is reading what the reader has written.  Reading as self-confrontation.

But how is that to work?  Is the experience of such reading supposed to be like the experience of finding something you’ve written previously but forgotten, so that now its content seems news, as does the fact that you are its author?  That seems too distanced a relationship to what is written.  Is the experience supposed to be like the experience of re-writing something that you have written, editing, poking, patting and scraping?  That seems a not-distanced-enough relationship to what is written.  (Partly because there is, in an important sense, nothing written yet.  You are still writing.  Everything remains in the flux of composition.)  So what is the experience supposed to be like?

Wittgenstein writes:

Nearly all my writings are private conversations with myself. Things that I say to myself tete-a-tete.

And Kierkegaard prefaces For Self-Examination with this:

My dear reader!  Read, if possible, aloud!  If you do this, allow me to thank you.  If you not only do it yourself, if you induce others to do it also, allow me to thank them severally, and you again and again!  By reading aloud you will most powerfully receive the impression that you have only yourself to consider, not me, who am without authority, or others, the consideration of whom would be a distraction.

I reckon that what Kierkegaard wants from his reader is for the reader to experience the reading as private conversation with himself, as saying things to himself tete-a-tete.  Doing so fastens the reader’s attention on himself, makes any examination the reading requires self-examination.  We read Kierkegaard aright when we read in forgetfulness of him–and only read in remembrance of ourselves.  I believe that this is something Wittgenstein aspires to as well.  That is, I take his remark about conversations with himself as not purely descriptive but as also prescriptive, say as a registration of a realized writerly intention, realized in PI.

In this way, Wittgenstein aims to write without authority.  And I think Wittgenstein signposts this aim:  PI’s self-effacing (as I read it) epigraph leaves it to the reader what sort of advance, if any, and if any, how much, PI represents.  His desire not to spare others the trouble of thinking and his hope that he would stimulate thinking seem not to target thinking about him (Wittgenstein) but rather thinking by the reader and for the reader and about the reader–specifically, about the reader in relationship to philosophical problems.  (As Kierkegaard targets thinking by, for and about the reader–specifically, about the reader in relationship to existential problems.)

Here is what I find myself moved to say:  PI exists as being-for-another.  Wittgenstein writes it as a gift to his readers.  It is a work of testimony, of confession, and Wittgenstein wrote it for those who are troubled as he is troubled.  It is a gage of his friendship, even his love, for them, for his readers.  But for it fully to exist as such, the reader must fully acknowledge it, fully acknowledge it as such.  To fully acknowledge it is to answer its call to self-awakeness.  Wittgenstein wrote a book to be acknowledged, not, if I may put it this way, a book to be known.  (I judge this one of the deep similarities between Wittgenstein and Emerson and Thoreau.  What they write puts the reader in the space of acknowledgement, and their reader answers the call of the writing, or not.  Sometimes gifts are refused.  And sometimes what looks like acceptance is still a form of refusal.)

Wittgenstein toyed seriously with the idea of prefacing his work with Bach’s epigraph to the Little Organ Book:

To the glory of the most high God, and that my neighbour may be benefited thereby.

He hesitated because he thought that in the darkness of our time such a remark would be misunderstood.  And so it probably would.  But why is that?  What has gone wrong in a time when giving and receiving have soured, a time in which we have become so stuffy even while so indigent, a time so graceless as ours?  Job endured the Lord taking back what He had given.  We will never have to endure that.  But only because we have made ourselves unreceptive, and so have never been given anything.  Job got everything back, double; we go on and on with nothing.

Reminders and a Kind of Taste

I’ve been thinking again about Wittgensteinian reminders, and, while I was doing so, I ran across the following from Henry James.

There are two kinds of taste, the taste for emotions of surprise and the taste for emotions of recognition.

It strikes me that much of the power of Wittgenstein’s work in PI is only available to those who have the taste for emotions of recognition. In fact, I wonder if the juxtaposition of PI 127 and 128 is not itself a juxtaposition of the two tastes: in 127 Wittgenstein engages the taste for emotions of recognition and in 128 he denies the taste for emotions of surprise.

I suppose as I have put this it is oversimple–as James’ categorization itself is. But, there is something to it (isn’t there?), something important, I believe. Aren’t the two tastes also being juxtaposed in the final paragraph of PI 89?

A Thought on Cavellian Generic Objects and Our Relationship to Philosophical Problems

I’ve been talking about our relationship to philosophical problems, and I want to say more about that idea.  The idea is made more clear by Cavell’s notion of a generic object–and in its turn makes Cavell’s notion clearer.  (I will not now say more about the use to which the notion (and its companion notion, specific object) is put by Cavell.   To see that use, look at pages 52ff. of The Claim of Reason.)

Consider Cavell’s crucial comment:

I will not by such titles be meaning to suggest that there are two kinds of objects in the world [generic and specific], but rather to summarize the spirit in which an object is under discussion, the kind of problem that has arisen about it, the problem in which it presents itself as the focus of investigation.”

Here (briefly) is what I take to be crucial:  whether the object under discussion is to be ‘classified’ as generic is a matter not settled by the object itself (by its marks or features), but rather by the way in which we are related to the object–but that means by the way in which we are related to the problem of which the object is the focus.  To ‘classify’ the object as generic is really to classify the spirit of our discussion, our relationship to the problem.  In the Kierkegaardian terminology I habitually use here, to ‘classify’ an object as a generic object is to highlight the how of our relationship to it, not the what of the object.  (The distinction between generic and specific objects is not metaphysical but metaphilosophical.)

Cavell’s phenomenologies of philosophizing, populating the pages of The Claim of Reason, are extensions of Wittgenstein’s own (less protracted) phenomenologies of philosophizing, populating the pages of Philosophical Investigations.  And the phenomenologies are devoted to revealing our relationship to philosophical problems.

Resolute Reading–New Paper Intro (Draft)

Below is the draft intro of my new paper, “Resolute Reading”.  I will post more as I finish the draft.

The Resolute Reading of TLP exerts a willy-nilly but mesmeric fascination. Its fans try to substantialize it; its opponents try to prevent its substantialization. We all know about food fights. But this is a recipe fight. Before the cake has been baked, indeed before the batter battered, the bakers fall on each other, rending and tearing.

Well, ok, so it is not quite as bad as all that. But it is bad, bad enough. Perhaps the worst of it is the seemingly interminable character of the debate. How is it to end? What are the (are there?) conditions of winning? What kind of debate is it, really?

I want to provide an answer to that last question. I hope that doing so will allow me to shed some light on the previous two. –When I say I want to provide an answer, I do not mean to say that I want to dogmatize about the answer. I want instead to suggest an answer that strikes me as helpful. If it turns out not to be the final answer, that is fine with me, so long as it helps us to the final answer.

Here is how I want to reach my suggestion of a helpful answer: I want to backtrack to a debate about Philosophical Investigations between O. K. Bouwsma and Gilbert Ryle. After reconstructing that debate, I will talk a bit about why it seems hopeless, why it is that Bouwsma and Ryle resemble two blindfolded fencers back-to-back, each lunging to deliver the final blow to his opponent, but each stabbing nothing but air. –Well, ok, so it is not quite as bad as all that. But it is bad, bad enough.

Essence and Grammar (and Definition)

Reshef Agam-Segal has asked about the difference between Socrates’ desire for a definition and Wittgenstein’s for grammar.  The two desires meet or can seem to meet in the word ‘essence’.  Socrates wants to know, say, the essence of piety.  Wittgenstein wants to know the grammar of piety (“theology as grammar”); and, according to Wittgenstein, “essence is expressed by grammar”.  So each chases essence.

What Socrates chases is familiar enough (at least as standardly interpreted).  What Wittgenstein chases is not so familiar. To succeed in construing the grammar of piety would be to express the essence of piety.  The grammar of piety would be construed in an a series of grammatical remarks. But the series of grammatical remarks does not tell us the essence of piety.  Rather, the series of remarks expresses the essence of piety.  ‘Express’ in “essence is expressed by grammar” works intransitively.  That is, what grammar expresses is not something that we can tell, can say. If you like, what grammar expresses is inexpressible. (Moving, in that sentence, from the intransitive to transitive.)

We are here at one of those anti-type spots in PI–of which, of course, TLP contains the type.  We are in the ambit of showing/saying, as indeed in Wittgenstein we always already are.  But, as my typological talk is meant to suggest, what we have in PI is something foreshadowed in TLP; but what we have in PI is not what we have in TLP.  Getting the differences straight is more than I can do; I will though do what I can.  Perhaps the best place to start is with a glaring absence in PI:  the absence of the symbolism.  The symbolism glyphs the pages of TLP.  It wards those pages.  Without a real, active and sympathetic inwardness with the symbolism, TLP is a closed book.  (Anyone who has attempted to teach the book to undergraduates will know this.)  But the symbolism is almost nowhere to be seen in PI.  What does that mean?  And what does it mean for showing/saying in PI?  [Pause here to light pipe.]

One thing it means, I reckon, is that showing or expressing is now something done by means of ordinary sentences, by means of the spatio-temporal phenomena of language.  The crucial issue in PI is the issue of our relationship to those sentences, to those phenomena.  A sentence is a grammatical remark not in and of itself–noumenally, as it were–but rather because of our orientation upon it.  The possibility of the orientation that makes a sentence a grammatical remark, and so one that expresses or contributes to the expression of essence, results from our being in the grip of a philosophical problem.  The problems provide the light, we might say, in which a sentence can shine forth as grammatical, as essence-expression. Without the problem, the sentence is, well, just a sentence.  Philosophy is a battle against the-bewitchment-of-our-intelligence by means of language, by means of the spatio-temporal phenomena of language.  But the language is only a weapon in that battle–a weapon of peace, ultimately, to be sure–if we orient on it in a way made possible by a philosophical problem.

This makes philosophizing in Wittgenstein’s way both easier and harder.  It is easier in that we need no special magical weapon, no Excalibur, no symbolism, to do what needs doing in philosophy.  It is harder because the weapons we have can always appear to be no weapons at all, to be valueless in the fight.  (“So?  That’s just more words.”)  Being in the grip of a philosophical problem makes the necessary orientation possible, but it does not make it automatic.  Being in the grip of a philosophical problem can also make the necessary orientation look only like so much rigmarole, like a willful way of losing track of what really matters in responding to the problem. Losing our way among words can lead us further afield, but it can also allow words to lead us home in a way that they ordinarily do not.  “Where the danger is, also grows the saving power.”  [Pipe dies; re-light.]

Having written all this, I am aware that I have still not answered Reshef’s question.  But I hope this opens the way to answering his question.  And I hope to get back to his question again soon.  (Thanks to D. for a recent useful conversation about these topics.)

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