josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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18 Jun '12 10:38:17 PM

Lugging laundry onto the bus, one wishes (wishes) just to brazen it out.

18 Jun '12 10:35:41 PM

In a small enough place, its intermittent routes rarely busy, boarding a bus, paying the fare, one feels: why can't you just give me a ride?

18 Jun '12 10:14:47 AM

PPF §25. 'The human body is the best picture of the human soul.'

It is important that this remark immediately follows §24, where two ‘pictures’ are under discussion. The pictures mentioned there are unmistakably the sort which Wittgenstein takes elsewhere to be the focus of his philosophical investigations, i.e., the sort which he often seeks to question the perceived necessity or inescapability of, particularly where they seem to fixate our attraction to nonsense.

But the picture in §25 seems different. How, for example, can a human body be a picture? (And not just a picture, but the best, at least the best, best possible, of the soul.) It seems that it can’t. And why not? At first, perhaps, because it is not; because the human body is a body, the body of a human being, and not a picture. Pictures are pictures; paintings, photographs, drawings, sometimes things formed in our imaginations, the images that appear on the screens of watches and computers and phones and on the television and projected onto the screens of movie theaters. Human beings are human beings, pictures are pictures; how could the one ever be the other?

That this sounds like nonsense suggests that it was not meant that way, and that we need not, and shouldn’t take it that way. Instead, we can look for the sense in saying it.

Start with the similarities. A human being, like a picture, can be seen, looked at. So, of course, can lots of things. We might say most things, though that might give too slight consideration to many important things, things of human interest, or even things not of interest to many human beings. (If everything is made out of subatomic particles and we can’t see them then nothing can be looked at! Not really, but so things would start.) Pictures are special, though; we have a special interest in looking at them. In some cases we want to look at the pictures just because they are pictures; that is, we want to appreciate how well done they are, as pictures, or how well they exhibit the human ability to make pictures, or they captivate our attention so purely that we give little thought to the maker or the thing pictured (if there is one at all, if it makes sense for there to be pictures that don’t picture anything), and just want to look at them. In other cases, though we may not particularly want to look at a picture for these reasons, or in these ways, we may want to look at a picture as opposed to looking at something else, something that is not, or that is in no way a picture (the sky? the horizon? our work? the mess we still have to clean up? ourselves? you?). Because, for example, we want to look at something, but not those things (not right now, maybe when we feel like it), or we want to look at something, but we can’t look at those things (because they’re not here, too far away, because they won’t permit it, because they can’t stand it), or we don’t necessarily want to look at these things (these pictures), but if we didn’t we couldn’t stand it, because otherwise we’d want to look at those, or we’d just be eaten up with not being able to look at what we’d really rather look at, at who we want to look at, who we want to see. Partly, we just look at stuff (‘hey, have a look at this’); sometimes liking to do so, sometimes not particularly so, without any great displeasure, just because, as human beings, we look at things, and for whatever reason this has led us (‘as much a part of our natural history…’) to make pictures and for them to be both an ordinary and an exceptional part of our lives (‘…as walking, eating, drinking, playing’, like ‘giving orders, asking questions, telling stories, having a chat’). Ordinariness aside, such looking at such pictures still expresses our interest in the pictures, and in what they picture, even though those mode of interest can become diminished, overlooked, habitual (as we see when struck by a painting free of images, a wall bare of decoration, a house unadorned by photographs, or any sight of just white, or just black).

We also love to look at things, whatever they are, and so have a natural interest in (looking at) pictures because pictures show us things; we can look at pictures in order to see what they picture, to look at the things pictured by them, or in them. We especially value pictures, even though we love looking at things that are not pictured (but can be), because pictures let us look at things we can’t otherwise look at, whether because they no longer exist, or have died, or because they are too far away from us (across the country, in the past), or because they are not even things we could look at unless we pictured them, that is, made pictures of them, relying on our ability to imagine, and create, in the form of pictures what we cannot, or perhaps could not ever, make in any other way.

We also have to look at things (most of us, at least); if we didn’t (while we still could), everything might fall apart for us, or we might. At the limit of not just not looking at things, but not seeing, at all, people sometimes say that the world has gone dark for them. An emphasis on ‘dark’ makes this sound merely figurative for saying ‘I cannot see’. But an emphasis on ‘world’ is a reminder that our idea of the world, of there being a world, which is practically inseparable from being alive, is so occupied with the idea of seeing that when the one is taken away it can be hard to see what is left of ‘world’, or of the world. To be alive, even if sightless, is still to be present in the world, and still in certain ways for the world to be present to oneself: think of the phrase, ‘I feel a presence’, which despite its spooky indefiniteness seems likely to refer back to one’s overall sense of touch, to the awareness via one’s skin, to the surrounding air and space. But we feel that to lose all sight would be for the world not just to darken, but to dwindle, to shrink; perhaps, in darkening, to appear empty.

This is because the world is (normally) filled with what we see; it fills our field of vision, our sight (would an idealist, or maybe a Kantian, say that it is filled by our sight, in a way?). The world is full of things to look at. Our interest is more often in these than in the world in which they can be seen, met, dealt with, pursued, had, held. And it is more often our interest in these things—particularly in dealing with them, pursuing them, having them, using them—which guides our interest in seeing them, looking at them, than any interest we might have in looking alone guides our interest in the things.

This is well enough, but it’s hard to see from this why we should have to look at things, meaning, why our immersion in the visible world should seem so essential to there being a world, to the world’s being what it is for us, to our being able to live in the world and, when and where we do, have a look at what we find in the course of living.

I was saying that our interest in pictures is often largely our interest in what we can see in them, in ‘things’, which, seen apart from their being pictured, even dominate our idea of what it is to live in a world, however the necessity to which we are thus subject remains unclear to us. But ‘things’ are not all we feel we have to look at. For some, if not for all, it is others at whom we most have to look, others that we need to see. Have to? Need to? There is some ambiguity there. If I feel there is someone I need to see, then she may be the only one; I may also be, in a way, wrong that I need to see her (I remain part of the world, alive), though right or wrong, being subject to a need as opposed to a wish or whim or whatever else is likely to make the consequences of not seeing her seem quite significant (and thus be significant?) for me. If I feel instead that I have to see people, then again it may be just one (‘he’s always there!’), but also several, many, most, or, we or some people might sometimes think, or wonder at the possibility of: feeling that we have to see all the people that we see, any people at all. For most it is not ever that bad, but most anyone will probably feel, with some others, sometimes (and times that may last, drag on), that one is subject to the very sight of them. Even here, if I feel this, I may be wrong that I have to see these people. But whereas my need to see someone draws me to her, or at least, keeps me waiting somewhere for her arrival or return, when I feel that I have to see these people I am likely not to leave even when my leaving would in fact remove them from my sight.

The question stands: need we, do we have to, see others just as we have to look at things? The ‘sometimes’, ‘some people’, ‘someone’ mentioned just now are awfully suggestive of the thought that, no, we don’t. We might confirm this thought, or test it, by thinking as before, with regard to things. What if we didn’t? What if we didn’t, for the most part, somehow, need or have to see others, need or have to look at them? Could we imagine things falling apart for us, imagine the world dimming or contracting as we did when we imagined things—that is, not people—receding permanently from view? With the thought in mind that the world would after all still be present, even lacking any sight of it, we might be inclined to deny that losing sight of others could have even so serious a consequence. Certainly no worse. But even though our moving through the world, living in it, dealing with what we find there, are certainly somehow aided by our seeing what is there—are tied up in a needful way with our seeing things—we might hesitate to say that sight enough to deal with things, to get by, to get around, would be enough to replace our seeing others, to make us feel, imagining it gone, that there is nothing to miss. One imagines stumbling over people, sitting on them, on their undistinguished, seemingly inert bodies. Or one imagines seeing a world more replete with animals, more of them than we as humans usually first take notice of when we look around. (For the purposes of this discussion, were we talking about animals when we talked about ‘things’? Or are we meant to be talking about them now, with what seems to be poor preparation for the way to do so?) Nevertheless, it is hard to feel as strongly that to lose sight of others in this way would also be to lose sight of the world, such that the depletion of the world that would follow on losing sight of things seems to diminish whatever analogous consequences there could possibly be of no longer seeing others.

Though we have to look at things, and though I did say that our interest in them (in living by means of them, in dealing with them, working with them, using them) guides our looking at them more so than the reverse, ‘our interest in things’ seems, as a phrase, to overshoot the level at which I imagined that ‘our having to look at things’, as opposed to needing to, or doing so with pleasure, set our involvement in the world. Rather than interest I would like to talk about investment. That we have to see things to get around strikes me as not very interesting. It certainly needn’t ask much of us. We seem to invest little of ourselves in merely seeing what’s around. And I say so knowing full well that we may be struck by being unable to see even this much, struck so as to feel at a loss, restricted, constrained, as if we ourselves were diminished, shrunken. I would say we would be rating such a loss too highly, reflecting back inaccurately on our estimation of the worth, to us, of mere seeing. Our interest in the world somehow waxes and wanes as a whole, as our sight of it can, whereas ‘our interest in things’ ramifies too quickly and too far in the imagination, becomes both too reticulated and to focused, to lend itself directly to our understanding of our interest in the world or in the way in which our seeing things (as opposed to seeing nothing) underwrites it.

I said that human beings, like pictures, can be looked at, but that we have a special interest in looking at pictures. Is the same true of looking at human beings? Perhaps I should be careful; Wittgenstein’s terms are ‘human body’, ‘human soul’. Linking these with the idea of a picture suggests that he has in mind not ‘looking at human beings’ but ‘looking at human bodies’, ‘looking at the human body’. What then is our interest in looking at the human body? Is it, like our interest in looking at pictures, a special one, even if not the same as that we have in looking at pictures? Do we have a special interest in looking at the human body?

It is hard not to think that the term is prejudicial. A connoisseur of sculpture, a doctor, a fiend for pornography, teenagers, obviously have certain special interests in the bodies of human beings, in looking at or looking upon them (or images of them). But knowing that we are talking about the human as such (somewhere, in the background), and knowing of the obviousness with which these examples of ‘looking at human bodies’ present themselves, we might shy away from pressing this thought that our looking at human bodies will ultimately express our interest in human beings, that we will be able, in thinking through this way of framing things, to make it all the way to satisfactory talk of human existence. Thinking of doctors and pornographers and sculptors, we might expect that we will fail, and that failing will even undermine our real interest.

But perhaps these are, we could say, deficient modes of looking. Compare to looking at pictures. If a picture is of something, if there is something pictured by it, then in looking at it (the picture) we will probably see, look at, what is pictured. We will look at the picture and see the thing. We could not see the thing (pictured) without looking at the picture. Why then do we not think first, when considering how we look at pictures, that talk of ‘looking at a picture’ is liable to impoverish our real experience of looking at pictures, as if looking at the pictures meant (had to mean) only looking at the paper they were printed on, or looking only at the screen, or the pane of the visual image, or the play of colors and shapes, heedless in each case of what the pictures are of?

The analogy would be to treat—as in fact Wittgenstein seems to instruct us—the human body as a picture. (‘Treat’, since it is not, or at present, while doing philosophy, we are not treating it so.) That would mean, to look at it in such a way that we are looking at what it is a picture of. Or to look at it in order to see what is pictured. To see, as we sometimes say in the form of a question, ‘what’s in this picture’. (So do we look at the human body in order to see what’s in it, (as) a picture?)

So is there a way of talking about our relation to the human body which preserves this sense of our relation to pictures, where looking at a picture is looking at what is pictured? We do not, after all, seem to be speaking literally (ordinarily) when we say that the human body is the best picture of the human soul, thus that the human body is a picture at all. So perhaps we should not expect that our relation to this human body (which we shall take, or grant, to ‘be a picture’) will exactly parallel our relation ‘to pictures’ (if we can even be sure that it is wise to focus only on ‘looking’ as our relation to pictures, given how many ways of being a picture or being pictured there seem to be).

17 Jun '12 11:27:31 PM

Worth recalling: when Wittgenstein has cause to talk of 'this complicated form of life', it is to situate, or root, 'the manifestations of hope'.

17 Jun '12 02:40:32 AM

'I would like to say that the topic of our attachment to our words is allegorical of our attachments to ourselves and to other persons. … My words are expressions of my life; I respond to the words of others as their expressions, i.e. respond not merely to what their words mean but equally to their meaning of them. I take them to mean ("imply") something in or by their words; or to be speaking ironically, etc. Of course my expressions and my responses may not be accurate. To imagine an expression (experience the meaning of a word) is to imagine it as giving expression to a soul. (The examples used in ordinary language philosophy are in this sense imagined.)

… The idea of the allegory of words is that human expressions, the human figure, to be grasped, must be read' (sec. 4, pp. 355).

'Part of the reason I want the word "read" is, I feel sure, recorded in its history: it has something to do with being advised, and hence with seeing.

But part of the reason has also to do with an intimation that I am to read something particular, in a particular way: the text, so to speak, has a particular tone and form. The form is a story, a history. You can tell who someone is by describing him and saying what he does for a living, etc. If you know the person, understand him, your knowledge will consist in being able to tell his story.…

Remarks which read a body as giving expression to a soul may be looked upon as myths, or fragments of a myth. (It has a body; it sees; is blind; hears; is deaf; is conscious or unconscious. He was out of humor; She struggled with herself; They fell in love; He lost his way.)' (sec. 6, pp. 363–4).

'A happy feature of the suggestion that the soul is mythical, that remarks about the soul are fragments of a myth, is that it does not exclude the fact that there will be arguments about it, especially about whether and how it exists.…' (sec. 6, p. 364).

'When myth and actuality cannot live together happily – when you keep wondering too much, say, about where rules come from, then you have stopped living the myth. Nor can you know in advance whether interpretation and argument will be in harmony or, if in conflict, which if either will emerge victorious. Either may cede vast tracts of territory to the other and yet find some rocky corner in which to subsist. (Pieces of the myth of philosophy keep cropping up: here, the part about its battle with theology.) It may be the ambition of an ambitious philosophy to unmask a field of myth. This can mean various things. It can mean just showing that you do not really believe it (any longer); you believe science, or anyway you believe somebody who believes science. It can mean what Hegel did when he tried telling the entire myth of the soul, from origin to end (including the myth of origin and the myth of end), by inventing a speech that he could call philosophy and in which he could tell the soul's story as part of God's. It can mean what Nietzsche was doing in trying to break the myth of the soul, especially those parts about its origin (from nothing, by creation) and its existence (as opposed to the body) and its end (in a world beyond) – to break it by replacing it, or by removing the place for it, which meant breaking all our interpretations of experience, breaking belief, breaking the self.

To speak of a fantasy of privacy is to speak of certain descriptions of privacy as fragments of a myth.…' (sec. 6, p. 366).

17 Jun '12 12:35:30 AM

'The conduct of a breaching experiment is sometimes referred to as "Garfinkeling".'

15 Jun '12 06:19:49 AM

I have never, ever, ever, stopped saying 'you-rippa-deese, you-buya-deese' to myself.

Nor 'mamalujo'.

15 Jun '12 04:37:31 AM

'In composing the skeptical recital, I did find it natural for the skeptic to wish to single out one other to exemplify the situation in which he, and by implication all of us, found himself. There was nothing special about this other that led the skeptic to single him out, nothing prejudicial it brought to the recital, was there? It was intended as analogous to the epistemologist's use of a generic object as the sort of example with which he is compelled to work, in order to speak of our capacity for knowing as such. I said early on that the rubric "generic object" was meant heuristically, for example to rule out the investigator's expertise in the case. It is a case, if there is a case, in which what is at stake is not the investigator's particular learning but his human capacity as a knower, a case in which anyone who has the power of knowledge can exercise that power. So if something was special about the one singled out, it must consist in the very way in which there is nothing special about him; in the fact, that is to say, that he is a stranger. Is this, in itself, special? Surely, at least, the stranger presents a more fundamental instance of our powers as knowers of others than instances of our friends and acquaintances, who will merely raise questions of our privileged position with respect to them, not of our general human capacities with respect to others?' (Part Four, ch. XIII, sec. 19, pp. 426–7).

'Am I implying that we do not really know the difference between hallucinated and real things, or between animate and inanimate things? What I am saying is that the differences are not ones for which there are criteria. As the difference between natural objects and artifacts is not one for which there are criteria. In such cases the role of origins is decisive, indeed definitive. So shall we rather say: knowing a thing's origin is knowing the decisive, the definitive, criterion of it? But that removes a criterion from its role in providing a means of knowledge, since in very few cases have we been present at a thing's origin, a thing we nevertheless know as well as anything! But then, as Descartes more or less says, conceiving how a thing is sustained or conserved comes to the same as conceiving its origin. The ultimacy of the idea of origin in our ideas of the difference between animate and inanimate things and between natural and artificial things is something that invites proofs from these locales for the existence of God.' (Part One, ch. III, pp. 63–4).

'Myths generally will deal with origins that no one can have been present at. In addition to God and the soul, society and the state are important figures.…' (Part Four, ch. XIII, sec. 6, p. 365).

Though at times others can be strangers to us while not so to others around us ('aw, cmon, so and so's been coming around here for years!'), a paradigmatic apprehension of someone as as stranger is literally when they show up, when they appear among us, and the question is: 'where did you come from?'. Not knowing their origins, we move naturally through a whole range of doubts, anxieties, fears, cautions, attractions which motivate our inquiries (or, sadly, sometimes our avoidance of inquiry).

Other strangers: the stranger who appears in a place where we are alone: in our home, working late in the office, lurking suddenly in the alley, meeting us in the other direction out on the road or passing through a field or a forest, overtaking us from behind in similar circumstances. The stranger who approaches us when we are alone in public: most fearsome for a child, recognized as pests or threats for single women, producing the most anxiety for adults generally when the strangers present themselves as authority figures ('come with me, at once').

Think of how we find out about strangers. Of course, by seeing how they act, by talking to them, and trusting them, or letting trust develop. But also by looking to find out from others, to be told, about the stranger. We want most to hear from people who know them: in the case of the stranger, that will often be, people who were present at their origin, at least in the sense of being present at the place the stranger came from. (The burden of being known by others is often what leads people to become strangers by leaving one place for another. This is something that was often appreciated before some point in history, and still is by, for example, watchful parents and small-town police.)

Think also of how unusual the circumstances would be in which one could truly claim to have been present at a person's origin, for example in the biological sense. 'I was there when you were born' is something people say (and also 'I wasn't there', apologetically, so probably more often 'He wasn't there when you were born', blamefully). Sometimes 'I was there when you were conceived', as a joke. Why a joke? Perhaps because, given the nature of conception, gestation, being present in this way does not so much provide the kind of knowledge of a person that one driven back to origins might seek. Knowledge of one's mother or, more likely, one's father. I want to say, being carried by, within, one's mother somehow obscures one's origin in the sense of origin one might imagine resolves any skeptical doubts about being animate or inanimate. As if one thought, secretly: 'who knows what can go on in there, during a pregnancy?' And sure enough, magical, supernatural, horrific, or science-fictional pregnancies are a standard site for the imagination of transformations, alterations, of the animate, the human.

14 Jun '12 11:34:32 AM

As the author, Descartes is explicit about submitting material that is to be carefully read, that is, material that is written, a book. As the meditator, he maintains a pretense of not having written any of each day's meditations down. Or at least, the meditator does not mention doing so. Except: 'right now my eyes are certainly wide awake when I gaze upon this sheet of paper', awake and seated by the fire, not dreaming. Is he writing down what he thinks?