• Antony Nickles
    237
    My contention is that, in the Philosophical Investigations (3rd Ed.), Wittgenstein ("Witt") is ultimately making a point about the individual ethics (virtue) of our philosophical methods. My claim is that he is advocating how to proceed from our individual position in a way that is rigorous, thorough, reflective, considerate, and rational in the face of our feeling that there is no other way to start than with the goal of certainty imposed on a universal theory of reason--a metaphysical or positivist solution to skepticism which removes any obligation by us (philosophers and general humanity).

    As an Ordinary Language Philosopher ("OLP”, explained in another post of that name), Wittgenstein is using the method of imagining examples, in context, of what we say about, for example: meaning, intending, mental processes, etc. (either in what he says, or in the words of his positivist Interlocutor), so that the reader might see for themselves the subsequent claims he makes of what are our ordinary criteria (roughly, how it works/what it implies) for those words/terms (he will call them Begriffen—translated as “Concepts”—but they are not concepts, like “ideas”). This is not a “theory of language”, but a method for insight into ourselves.

    A lot of modern philosophy is still stuck between Descartes’ realizations and the Enlightenment's confidence, striving for a logical, rational, scientific certainty. It assumes a relation between us and “reality”, or “meaning”, and then pictures how philosophy can ensure communication or (moral) action (or doesn't care anymore). What Witt sees is that this desire to solve skepticism with knowledge, ahead of the moment where we are in a situation where things break down, is the fear of the human—their uncertainty, failings, irresponsibility, lack of ability to agree—to skip over any part we might have, in order to have an answer for our doubts, or a method that provides certainty, say, that is a justified theoretical picture of meaning, language, and human action.

    I would classify Wittgenstein with Descartes and Hume as those who begin their investigation of moral judgements from their (an individual’s) position, although OLP is making a universal claim for all of us, verified by your ability to also see it (as I discuss in my other post). Because the inquiry starts with our first impressions and unexamined assumptions, it is naturally going to be involved in confusions and false starts. In pointing out the directions that do not work for philosophy and revealing its illusions and traps, Wittgenstein is not saying what does work is going to be any easier or clear (like that language is now justified by agreement). Anyone mistaking this initial position as certainty or universality, apart from the need to dig deeper and see our own faults, runs the risk of being prejudiced, arrogant, ideological, or dogmatic (as you may see in the quotes below, Witt is sensitive to the pitfalls in the face of skepticism, possibly from his being Jewish and a homosexual fighting in the war against fascism).

    But avoiding the forced perspective, to dictate the terms of our knowledge, is to take upon ourselves an ethical obligation in our search to understand; conducting better philosophy by being a better person, seeing ourselves as part of the work. Witt points out we must avoid what we are inclined to do in the face of human limitation:

    [They] want to say there can't be any vagueness...the ideal 'must' be found in reality. Meanwhile [they] do not as yet see how it occurs there, nor do [they] understand the nature of this 'must'. [They] think it must be in reality; for [they] think [they] already see it there. — Wittgenstein, PI #101 (my emphasis in bold)

    (I changed 'we' to 'they' so the passage can be read in terms of Witt’s characterization of what those who desire certainty (they) want.)

    Following his investigation of a myriad of imaginings and examples of when people say: ideal, perfection, purity (#107), concrete, reality, must, etc., Witt is making a claim that people misconstrue our concepts in desiring certainty. The “must” here being our demand upon our knowledge for logic/certainty (an ideal without vagueness); “reality” is what we imbue with this certainty (as justified, etc.); and the “how” is by projection of our ideal as “reality”. We jump to the conclusion that our narcissistic projection of what is ideal (certain) is a part of the world, called “reality”. But notice (through my highlights) that it is only something we “want” to say, something we are compelled to want, but only inclined to do, and that we need not go down that road. That we could see how this compulsion works, but we have not “as yet” turned to look at what is occurring (in ourselves). We “think” we see the certainty we want in reality, in the sense that we imagine it as a quality of the world.

    Witt is wrestling with (even within himself) staying open-minded and paying attention to the particulars.

    ...we [philosophers] do not find the whole business of seeing puzzling enough. — Wittgenstein, PI p. 212 (all emphasis added)

    After many examples of what we imply when we say “seeing”, Witt is admonishing us not to take our first impression as correct; not to equate “seeing” with “understanding”, as if both always happen right away.

    An example of this is when philosophers do a reading of another philosopher. Some people take Wittgenstein as making statements, rather than claims contingent on your following along. Worse, some people grab at words and their first impression of what they take as theoretical propositions, and jump to conclusions or dismiss him altogether based on their assumptions or, worse, the preconceived objectives they have no intention of changing. Are these people just innocently misunderstanding? Could the reason they jump to that end be harmful or dangerous as well?

    The forms of expression we use [are (see note)] designed for a God, who knows what we cannot know... we lack the effective power... — Wittgenstein, PI #426

    We "cannot know" and lack "power", unless we think we ARE a god---the important part being what I left out: I substituted [are] for what in the text is really “seems to have been" (emphasis added), and who does it “seem” to? someone who conjures up pictures that “fix the sense unambiguously” (ibid). Witt discusses 'aspect-blindness' (p. 213 PI) as a descriptive analogy of the inability of some people to see the aspect of humanity in others (having an attitude to them that they have a soul, p. 178); to wish that knowledge could replace our relation and responsibility, answerability, to the Other.

    But Witt says (I take it, here, personally, seriously):

    In… actual use...we go by sideroads. We see the straight highway before us, but of course we cannot use it, because it is permanently closed. — Wittgenstein, PI #426

    Maybe he is too naive; the highway straight to certain knowledge is closed for humans, but not people who think they are gods, with their omnipotence and power to create (reality/theories of rationality) and to destroy (our human condition of responsibility in the face of our knowledge’s limitations); or maybe using the straight highway makes others inhuman to us, making us inhuman(e), unethical in our search for knowledge.

    So Witt is imploring us to "go by side roads”; to look first (rather than “see” immediately what you want) and investigate how everything (every “concept”) works differently (and in each “use” Witt says) with each situation (with a context which may need to be drawn out to the extent that matters) seen as an event (in time, with a history, as Nietzsche’s examples teach us).

    More than knowledge or an idea of rationality, a philosopher needs virtue (as Cicero and Aristotle and Emerson will call it). They need reasonableness and to be understanding (rather than assume they understand at first glance); to see someone and their writing (and their terms) from their point of view (empathetic reading), as it relates internally to itself, rather than whitewashing that relation just because words can make sense without a context. In “What is Called Thinking?”, Hedeigger talks of letting the thing come to us (hearing its “call” to us), rather than grasping at it (as Emerson will say is our most unhandsome part ) with our criteria for what we want it to be, particularly negatively so we can refute/dismiss/ignore it. Is any philosopher always right? If not, is there then nothing to be learned from them? (Marx, Hegel, Heidegger, early Wittgenstein?)

    Dogmatism in philosophy, along with ideology in politics, cuts off the investigation and conversation before they can even begin. In learning about each other, we learn about, and better, ourselves.
  • Joshs
    1.1k


    Wittgenstein’s work is brilliant. He is among the first modern thinkers to see past the paired facades of idealism and realism to the intimate contextualism of life.
    But don’t we need to direct that thinking back toward it’s own history , that is to say , to see it operating within history? Are Witt’s ideas a special and unique enlightenment , to be pitted against the dark history of philosophy, which in its entirety represented nothing but ‘a desire to solve skepticism with knowledge’ motivated by the ‘fear of the human’ ? Why does the endless productivity of language games no longer apply when it comes to the prejudices of earlier eras and cultures? Why do concepts like ‘desire’, ‘skepticism’ and ‘ human’ become reified so that they can be wielded as a weapon against all of cultural history prior to Wittgenstein?
    Do these terms really mean the same thing as we move from one philosophical era to the next?

    In Heidegger’s’What is a Thing’ he recognized that a never-ending rethinking of the nature of a thing has taken and continues to take place in philosophy and science. Isn’t the same true of the motivations for failing to embrace his outlook that Wittgenstein is assuming as somehow transcending cultural eras?

    quote="Antony Nickles;d10273"]Worse, some people grab at words and their first impression of what they take as theoretical propositions, and jump to conclusions or dismiss him altogether based on their assumptions or, worse, the preconceived objectives they have no intention of changing. Are these people just innocently misunderstanding? Could the reason they jump to that end be harmful or dangerous as well?[/quote]

    Perhaps what is dangerous is forcing an unjustly universalized rationale on those who fail to get Wittgenstein , instead of using of a historical genealogical approach which would allow one to see such failures as innocent misunderstandings belonging to the endless becoming of philosophical history.

    This weakness in Wittgenstein’s approach might, however, explain his intense impatience with other people.
  • Antony Nickles
    237

    Are Witt’s ideas a special and unique enlightenment, to be pitted against the dark history of philosophy, which in its entirety represented nothing but ‘a desire to solve skepticism with knowledge’ motivated by the ‘fear of the human’?Joshs

    Touché; I guess in the zeal to get our point across, we can all be a bit narrow in our focus (thus, I will mention, proof of my point, however). I did not intend to make a sweeping judgement about "all" philosophy, and with the larger theme simply being our part in doing philosophy well. The tendency to want to solve our doubts by demanding certainty is only an example of one form of dogmatism, such as: the end bit of Plato, every grand finale of Hegel, the whole bit of Descartes, the starting move of Kant (and positivism)... Even where this temptation pops up, as I said, there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater (as happened to Marx just because he thought the ending would take care of itself). Without Descartes, we would never be able to see the depth of our doubt (and Cavell will even argue there is a "truth" to radical skepticism). And Hegel's dialectic not only sees a way through his "dark path", but shows us the temptation of dichotomies and what they hide. Socrates' questions (along the same method as OLP) lead us to a better understanding of our selves and our lives (even if he is a jerk to everyone he talks to). And without the depth of Kant's work on conditions and possibilities (along with positivism), we would never get to Wittgenstein's later work. Witt doesn't have ideas to accept in contrast, only the insight into ourselves after tearing down some of philosophy's houses of cards.

    In Heidegger’s’What is a Thing’ he recognized that a never-ending rethinking of the nature of a thing has taken and continues to take place in philosophy and science. Isn’t the same true of the motivations for failing to embrace his outlook that Wittgenstein is assuming as somehow transcending cultural eras?Joshs

    The idea is intriguing that the desire for certainty might somehow block people from even acknowledging that the way Witt is leading us to see for ourselves is legitimate philosophy. But I will grant that the fear of doubt is a cultural phenomenon. Without the Enlightenment, and all the success of science, no one before Descartes may have tried to apply its example to our moral lives and our ability to understand each other. Of course, Socrates also tumbled from his doubts about objects, to doubts about our political and moral lives, but it may wax and wane perennially--something to think about (pretty sure its waning now). Say, even if we don't take skepticism to be part of the human condition, we could say instead it is a constant threat. But isn't it better to know our impulse in the face of it so we can avoid another philosophical pitfall? is there no concession that philosophy being done better (or worse) falls on us being better?
  • Jack Cummins
    1.4k

    It is hard to be certain about many of the big questions in philosophy and doubt is important.
    However, I do think it is worth taking risks in exploring lines of thinking, even those beyond the conventional ones. What do we have to lose? You ask if 'there is no concession that philosophy being done better (or worse) falls on us being better?' Of course, it is debatable about what us being better means really, but I am inclined to think that the more we explore ideas helps us gain self-knowledge, even if we don't manage to gain absolute knowledge of the big questions, the self knowledge we gain can enable us to live in a more conscious and reflective manner than if we have not thought about the philosophy questions in the first place, and who knows, it can involve stumbling upon new ways of seeing.

    So, I am personally prepared to leap into the deep void and discuss all the issues even though I don't claim to have the answers because it is a search for meaning and it seems foolish to just sit back and wait for ideas to arise out of nowhere. Reading others ideas is good, but perhaps we have to test them in our individual, unique ways as well. I see this as an exciting challenge.
  • Antony Nickles
    237

    You ask if 'there is no concession that philosophy being done better (or worse) falls on us being better?' Of course, it is debatable about what us being better means really, but I am inclined to think that the more we explore ideas helps us gain self-knowledge, even if we don't manage to gain absolute knowledge of the big questions, the self knowledge we gain can enable us to live in a more conscious and reflective manner than if we have not thought about the philosophy questions in the first place, and who knows, it can involve stumbling upon new ways of seeing.Jack Cummins

    The implication here might be that we are better for having come closer to gaining absolute knowledge of the big questions (finding the best "answer" we can--"best" being, say, the most certain, universal, etc.); that our reflection might come up with "seeing" something "new", and thus possibly: solving skepticism, perfecting communication, understanding through more knowledge.

    Partly I am claiming it is letting go of a certain kind of answer; that self knowledge is not tied to being sure (or more sure) in our uncertainty, but in seeing how we force the framing of the "big questions", and instead turning to see what matters to us about things, the way we value something, how we judge it on its terms--in learning about our shared lives, we learn about how we do or want to fit in (or not). Without that kind of reflection, we lead lives of quiet desperation; we consent unknowingly to what we say.

    If there is a debate my contention is that to do better philosophy we need to be virtuous. Our method and our attitude being more than our reasoning and our knowledge; that character comes before intellect Emerson will say. That we need patience, imagination, empathy, an open mind, the ability to leave things unanswered without further investigation; to not be imposing, dismissive, condescending, dogmatic; to remember, to pay tribute to the past; to be responsive to the concerns of others, to allow our words to reflect our selves; to speak as if we are bound to our words, having put everything into them as if we might die afterwards and they could still speak for us. But why would any of this need to be contentious?
  • Jack Cummins
    1.4k

    You describe the life of potential virtue but it does not seem to me that this would necessarily result in enabling one to be a 'better philosopher' . It seems as if you are almost giving a person specification, like in a job description. Certain people may fit the description but it doesn't mean that they would make the best philosophers because, surely, that requires analytical ability as well. I am not sure that to be a philosopher, character is necessarily more important than intellect. Who is in the position to judge the character of the philosopher? That would be to view them almost like priests. I would have thought that the criteria for thinking about the philosophers is their work and not their personal lives. You might say that the ideals you suggest could be measured in their work, but I am not sure that this is true necessarily.
  • Antony Nickles
    237

    You describe the life of potential virtue but it does not seem to me that this would necessarily result in enabling one to be a 'better philosopher'... surely, that requires analytical ability as well.Jack Cummins

    These are well taken questions that can help to clarify. We can ask ourselves, what does the "ability to analyze" something amount to (what are its criteria for identity, its process, the standard for the judgement of it)? is it a gift? is it intelligence? is it knowledge? a skill? Could it be, not a "life of potential virtue", but the "ability" to imagine (say, examples), the ability for patience (with your impulse to reject the other/absolve yourself), the ability to remember (the tradition of philosophical expression/our ordinary criteria), etc.? And is our "ability" to analyze: a capability? or a willingness, a conscious effort? something to work towards? for/on ourself? If we start, as I said, from our individual position, then our voice, how we act, read, write, will matter and is subject to assessment.

    Let's take the example of reading philosophy. Because we can take words to have meaning individually, we can read something and believe we understand it at first glance, without allowing ourselves to be puzzled, without allowing the text to make us question ourselves, to widen our context, our perspective. We can read superficially, we can read searching for what we want to hear, searching for a weakness so we have a "justification" to stop listening. Science is done better or worse, can not philosophy be done poorly or well? We do not have a method that you can follow to necessarily reach the same conclusion as me, as in science. Then how do we judge?

    As I originally posted, there is the temptation to skip over our part and reach for the "straight highway" and create an external standard or set a form of universal rationality. Yet can't we determine (don't we have a part in): rigor, depth, expansion, consideration; and, alternatively, when someone is simply embracing easy dichotomies, using unpacked jargon, generalizing before investigation, characterizing merely to dismiss, etc. We are tempted to put it out of our hands, to turn philosophy into independent knowledge, but is it not more of a search, a process; learning, changing, perfecting our selves by reaching for greater personal responsibility for our actions and expressions? The philosophy we read is an example for us to follow; Emerson will see a path in exemplars of our higher self.

    I am not sure that to be a philosopher, character is necessarily more important than intellect...Jack Cummins

    We could say above we are judging the writer more than the outcome, but that is not to say Wiggenstein is mistaken because he is snide or Austin's point is trivial because he is curt (though it didn't help). But knowledge is not our only relation to the world Cavell says. At a certain point it is I talking to you beyond something I can directly tell you--some knowledge or theory you can hold to. I make a claim, beyond our knowing, on you, for you to see, to follow, to acknowledge and accept. And what is a modern philosophical justification or basis for my claim, or for you to accept that claim? If we are to set aside the old standard of certainty, a rationality that can't be denied, how do we proceed? Is Wittgenstein's goal of perspecuity--a clear and precise presentation--a form of reason?(reasonableness?) Are his examples of viewing the world as it fits together (a Weltanschauung)--with all its criss-crossing forms of expression--convincing? But this presentation is categorically not rhetorical persuasion because my claim is not an argument to sway or cause you to believe what I know, but a powerless observation; it is a claim on you, it is yours to take up, to follow through, to see for yourself, to aspire to. So it will matter (it will count, as a kind of criteria) if I am thorough, and have run down every objection, and patiently waited to find the details and distinctions, etc. And it will matter as well that when you read philosophy, you respect its secrets and its need sometimes for indirectness (thanking it, Heddeigger will say); that you grant it the benefit of your doubt, go towards it, resist the straight (and lazy) route--taking something up as if every word was chosen of necessity and put down with the seriousness only awarded through hard work, persistence, resolve. I call these virtues, in contrast to the quick, the didactic, condescending, unmoving, dogmatic. Is not the aim of philosophy for understanding, communication, agreement, learning, clarity, epiphany--the betterment of the self?
  • Valentinus
    933

    After many examples of what we imply when we say “seeing”, Witt is admonishing us not to take our first impression as correct; not to equate “seeing” with “understanding”, as if both always happen right away.Antony Nickles

    Or maybe the hoped for connection will not happen at all.
    I had one tutor a long time ago who asked: Are you sure you are sharing his problem? Isn't your impatience to go beyond it a lack of interest in it?
  • Jack Cummins
    1.4k

    While I said in my previous post to you that I thought that it would be problematic to see the philosopher's task as being one of character, rather than of work, I do believe that that the quest for knowledge arises within the context of living experience. Therefore, I think that in a deep sense, philosophy stems from the personal experience, and this means that it connected to the person. It is limiting to just see philosophy as a search for independent knowledge.

    The question of what analysis involves does depend upon whether it is viewed as a grasp towards independent knowledge. I would say that analysis involves taking ideas apart and considering their meaning carefully. This would involve cultural significance and evaluation but it is done within a framework of subjective participation. We are looking at ideas within the context of our own search for understanding. When we read a writer's work it is done so in connection with our search for meaning and to dismiss this would seem to me to miss the whole purpose of reading. It is inevitably connected to the search for personal truth.

    So, I think that the question of the virtue of the philosopher is complicated, because it is bound up with the personal life and authenticity. It should probably be seen as one which the philosophy is accountable to a life of virtue in a sense of personal accountability, and you do suggest the point of 'perfecting our selves by reaching for personal responsibility for our actions and expressions'. Here, I would suggest that the philosophers are accountable in many senses and are not to be judged any more or less than any individuals, but as they search for truth they may be more intricately involved in deciphering values more than most people. In doing so, the thoroughness of this quest is important and does require a certain dedication, and this should be how philosophy should be approached ideally.
  • Antony Nickles
    237

    I had one tutor a long time ago who asked: Are you sure you are sharing his problem? Isn't your impatience to go beyond it a lack of interestValentinus

    Wittgenstein will refer to "interest" roughly 40 times in the Philosophical Investigations (the joys of text search). He will say what interests "us" (and what does not), and what he is doing is making a claim, in the style of OLP, for himself on behalf of all philosophers (and sometimes everyone).

    Concepts lead us to make investigations; are the expression of our interest, and direct our interest. — Wittgenstein, PI #570

    That "our interest" is "expressed" is to say that: what we care about, what matters to us in our lives, shapes our concepts (which is Witt's term explained in my OLP post--like following a rule, pointing, understanding, apologizing, intending, imagining, etc.) And this "us" is everyone who uses these concepts. But "us" philosophers are led; we, follow; we should let ourselves be directed.

    For Cavell and Heidegger and Emerson, our interest(s), what we are attracted to/by, is fundamental. This is the human missing from philosophy. That we should be pulled by our interest, passively drawn by the world, not actively desiring an outcome or a form of result, say, certainty, or universality, or independent of me (the Hindu concept of duty and detachment--I commented on this elsewhere).

    Witt, however, is very specific and exclusive about the interests of "our" investigation, contrasting them with the Interlocutor, who is urged, compelled, inclined, forced, to say things (from the desires of positivism, referentialism, empiricism).

    #109. "It was not of any possible interest to us to find out empirically that..."

    #126 Since everything lies open to view there is nothing to explain. For what is hidden, for example, is of no interest to us.

    (The question whether the muscles of the larynx are innervated in connexion with internal speech, and similar things, may be of great interest, but not in our investigation.) p. 220

    But our interest does not fall back upon these possible causes of the formation of concepts; we are not doing natural science; nor yet natural history. p. XII
    — Wittgenstein

    This can be off-putting, and causes many (say, those with emperical hopes) to reject Witt because he minimizes their hopes, denies their applicability (thus the retorts that "He is only talking about language", or "only showing how words confuse us"). And this is where I question the wisdom of conducting philosophy this way, along with Nietszche's enigmatic style in appearing to make statements.

    But I think there is a reason Witt does not satisfy our desire to be pandered to. If you are not doggedly attempting to "share his problem", he won't tell you; he speaks in riddles; he hides his conclusions; and leaves more questions than answers. The point of making you crawl through the mud blind for it is that, when you consider those questions, put yourself in the Interlocutor's shoes, and fill in Witt's blanks, you come to the realizations for yourself, conclusions justified by you without the need for premises, a change in attitude/perspective. When we say philosophy changes how you think, it isn't to say now you know the answer.

    Or maybe the hoped for connection [seeing or understanding] will not happen at all.Valentinus

    Here the "impatience to go beyond it" will latch onto something like: the justification for language is "forms of life". Do we "lack interest" as we lack the virtue of curiosity? Or is it that we already come to a text with other interests (to defend), or a vested desire?
  • Valentinus
    933
    That is well said.
    Much to think about.
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