A Manifesto–from Henry Bugbee’s Inward Morning

Since [my] earliest days of philosophic study, I have remained concerned with the works of philosophers, not in themselves, but as helps to the understanding of experience. I study the works of philosophers out of an interest which subordinates theory to understanding. . . . It will be ever important to me to give attention to technical philosophy but I will never be able to take technical philosophy as the ultimate phase of a reflective life.

Henry G. Bugbee

Philosophical Questions 4: Understanding Rhees

One of the striking things about Rhees’ passage is this:  there is not only something deeply peculiar about the question that seeks understanding in philosophy, but there is also something deeply peculiar about the understanding which is sought.  It is not something that can be formulated, stated.  I will say more about that this week, but for now I just want to relate the idea to the work of Rhees himself.

Reading Rhees is itself a peculiar experience.  In one sense, everything is simple, and its simplicity is further simplified by its repetitive, chant-like structure.  Sentences are short.  Rarely is any technical or recondite vocabulary employed.  And yet, and yet Rhees work is extremely difficult.  It is as though what he wants you to understand cannot be found in any of his sentences, no matter how often repeated.  It is as though what he wants you to understand is somehow floating among the sentences, brought to presence by them, but embodied in no one of them nor in their conjunction.  —So maybe Rhees has found a way of writing that is true to his conception of the understanding that is sought in philosophy?

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.

Rhees on Philosophical Puzzlement (or, Philosophical Questions 2)

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.

This is from Rush Rhees’ Wittgenstein and the Possibility of Discourse.  I will have a say about it over the next few days.

Faith Seeking Understanding?

What happens when faith seeks understanding?  Is it an attempt by faith to change, to become something new, higher–say, knowledge?  Is it an attempt to understand something that is held by faith but held in, say, incomplete understanding, but where complete or at any rate more complete understanding would not change my relationship to what is understood (it would remain faith)?  Or is it an attempt to secure knowledge that could be somehow ranged alongside faith without turning that faith into knowledge?  Or is it an attempt to come to know something that could only be known by first having faith in it, so that the subsequent knowledge has to be regarded as faith-having-molted-into-knowledge, not as faith-replaced-by-knowledge?  (I take it that not all knowledge is required to begin in faith.  But how would we understand the distinction between knowledge that is so required to begin, and knowledge that is not?)  Or should understanding here be juxtaposed with knowledge (say, in a Cavellian way) so that faith seeking understanding cannot be taken to put faith in relationship to knowledge (at least not straightforwardly)?  Would the sense of ‘understanding’ here be factive or quasi-factive?  If so, how far could we keep it from knowledge?  If not, what then is understanding?  (A set of propositions expressed, a la Frege, in the That p form–showing that the propositions are entertained but not asserted?  Something else?)  –Questions, questions, questions.

You knew it was coming:  What is Anselm doing?

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