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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27 Jul '05 11:56:43 PM

Wow, the last time I inserted a CD into my computer that hadn't already been put into an interweb CD database, it was only because interweb CD databases sucked and none of the CDs had been put into them.

26 Jul '05 09:20:13 AM

I don't think I have any idea what other people mean when they say someone is a good actor or bad actor.

26 Jul '05 06:32:42 AM

The best thing a gift can do is to foster a spirit of graciousness amongst its recipients.

25 Jul '05 07:36:58 AM

Ethan on The Dayton Family (plus, Bun B + LeRoi Jones).

21 Jul '05 09:42:52 AM

There are some italics missing from that Cavell quote. Just think of all the different ways you could read it by trying out different words with the missing italics. No, really. Try it.

21 Jul '05 09:40:23 AM

Some of my interpretive hunches and leads feel less fruitful than others, but only, I suppose, because I don't see how to connect them directly to textual features and am wary of not doing so. Take, for example, the comparison noted below between Socratic questioning and psychoanalysis. The latter is relevant to Wittgenstein's method partly because of the similarly structured problems and their disappearances; see here and here, as well as the following by Cavell:

'The more one learns, so to speak, the hang of oneself, and mounts one's problems, the less one is able to say what one has learned; not because you have forgotten what it was, but because nothing you said would seem like an answer or a solution: there is no longer any question or problem which your words would match. You have reached conviction, but not about a proposition; and consistency, but not in a theory. You are different, what you recognize as problems are different, your world is different. ("The world of the happy man is a different one from that of the unhappy man" (Tractatus; 6.43).) And this is the sense, the only sense, in which what a work of art means cannot be said. Believing it is seeing it.'

(The final two sentences throw off my quote, meant to indicate the similarity between the disappearance of philosophical problems for Wittgenstein, or Cavell's Wittgenstein, and the disappearance of psychological problems, on some reading of psychoanalysis; but the part about art is so nice that I can't not quote it.)

And then Socrates' method becomes relevant by being the most distinguished object of comparison one could pick, in philosophy. One of my difficulties is that it's somewhat far afield from what I want to use it for, though. A parallel between the elenchus and psychoanalysis is fine, but I'm interested in the parallel between Wittgenstein's method and Freud's method because it may let me say something about the rules (let's say 'rules' just to be paranoid) governing Wittgenstein's method, as opposed to the fundamental rule of psychoanalysis; which may then give me something to say about how to understand Wittgenstein's 'lack' of 'reasoning'. You would think that Socrates would let me fill that last gap, but I don't think he's enough. Philosophers pay lip service to the elenchus but as a profession I think they left it behind long ago; it is not the main thing that structures the activities they call 'argument' that they fault Wittgenstein for lacking.

21 Jul '05 09:15:18 AM

'"The unexamined life," Socrates famously said, "is not worth living." By now it is almost commonplace to view Socrates as the ancestor of psychoanalytic method. After all, he fashioned a method of cross-examination, designed to elicit conflicts which had hitherto remained unconscious inside the interlocutor. Like the cathartic method, this inquiry was meant to be therapeutic. His was not an abstract inquiry into, say, the nature of piety, but a practical attempt to help the "analysand" live a better life. For Socrates, "How shall I live?" is the fundamental question confronting each person; his peculiar form of examination was intended to help a person to answer it well. That is why Socrates had his own fundamental rule: state only what you believe. The "analysand" was not allowed to try out a debating position, but had to bring his own commitments to the inquiry. If the inquiry led to contradiction, it was not the reductio of an abstract position with no putative owner, but of the "analysand's" own commitments. That is also why Socrates, like a contemporary psychoanalyst, disavowed knowledge of how the "analysand" should answer the fundamental question. The point of Socratic examination was to help people to be able to ask and answer the question for themselves.'

'At first sight it might appear that nothing could differ more from Socrates' fundamental rule than the fundamental rule of psychoanalysis: try to state whatever comes into your mind without censorship. However, if one believes, as Freud did, that a person's psychic commitments have their own upward thrust - that the contents of the unconscious will tend to get themselves expressed unless they are prevented from doing so by inhibiting psychological forces - then, in trying to state whatever comes into consciousness, one is tending to state one's "beliefs," at least in the extended sense of one's psychic commitments. Freud discovered that if one enlarges the scope of psychological commitments, Socrates' fundamental rule is too narrow to elicit them. Stating only what one believes, in the narrow sense, can be a way of hiding and inhibiting unconscious psychic commitments. But the fundamental rule of psychoanalysis is an emendation and an extension of Socrates' fundamental rule, not a reversal. It plays an analogous role in eliciting psychic commitments.'

21 Jul '05 08:41:39 AM

John Powell's How to Read (and How Not to Read) Wittgenstein, which he gives to his undergraduate students, is satisfying. Powell taught a friend of mine who I think has gone a long way to finding his own means of expressing what he learns from reading Wittgenstein.

21 Jul '05 08:37:52 AM

Some extremely rough notes and drafts on Wittgenstein's method:

It seems common - maybe because it's hard to avoid - for 'therapeutic' readings of Wittgenstein to use, implicitly or explicitly, the figures of doctor and patient, or therapist and patient (if they're more scrupulous about avoiding the unwanted implications of the strictly medical doctor), in some way. I don't know in detail at the moment, but my general impression is that the introduction of the therapeutic relation and its figures into an explanation of Wittgenstein's method may tend to obscure the workings of the method. Consider one way: if Wittgenstein is the doctor, and the reader is the patient, then one might be prone to thinking of Wittgenstein's method as something only Wittgenstein can use, which is to say, as something one can only get at by reading Wittgenstein's writing (or by having been one of Wittgenstein's flesh and blood interlocutors). While it could be true that we are limited in this way in our ability to take up Wittgenstein's thought for ourselves, it would be ironic, given his purposes, if we were to think so only for want of having been able to understand him in any other way.

Wittgenstein usually gets to be the doctor, but there are enough clues internal and external to the Investigations for some readers to have decided that his method may have been meant as a means of self-therapy, of ridding oneself of one's own philosophical problems. This is better, in my opinion, but here the therapeutic metaphor may still cause problems; here Wittgenstein would be both doctor and patient, which is problematic just because weird, unfamiliar.

I think attention to textual, literary, rhetorical, stylistic, and formal features of Wittgenstein's writing may provide means for answering questions about Wittgenstein's method, particularly like those above. Or maybe I can put that more strongly. I don't know how to answer these sorts of questions (which for me all tend to lead back to 'what is Wittgenstein's method?' or 'how can we use Wittgenstein's method for ourselves?' or 'how can we repeat Wittgenstein's method?') without such an investigation. And, I suppose that I think that these questions are significant because no one seems to me to be using Wittgenstein's method, and few use anything that much resembles it (count the method marked by Stanley Cavell's prose style as one such cousin); and if no one is using his method then it's hard to see how anyone is taking real heed of his work in doing their own work.

Consider these various possible combinations: 1. Wittgenstein is the doctor, the reader is the patient. 2. Wittgenstein is the doctor, the 'bad philosopher' is the patient, the reader is an observer to the treatment (like a medical student, say). 3. Wittgenstein is the doctor, Wittgenstein is the patient, the reader is an observer.

I could discuss these at greater length, and should, but I'm mainly interested in the third one because it seems like the - forgive me - most Wittgensteinian reading of the text, by which I guess I have in mind, the least committed to some particular content for his method involving, say, ideas about rule-following or the meanings of words. Or: the reading for which it is least difficult to say what the method is without smuggling in content which is unlikely to be redeemable to other philosophers (who are, ideally, prospective patients, if only through self-adoption).

Some speculation as to how rhetorical criticism, for example, may bear on any of the three ways of reading Wittgenstein just mentioned:

Typically in philosophical writing - especially of the modern era - the reader is taken (by both the author and the reader) to be more or less anyone (even when one factors in various limiting specifications of who the reader is or what they are like owing to professional deformation, what's left is taken to be 'anyone' whose committments are generally taken to contribute to common cause with the author, ultimately; limiting cases of polemic, invective and other rhetorical positioning against real, mischaracterized and imagined opponents are no doubt important and will completely overturn what I've just written). This is bound to have an effect on one's interpretive strategy, on one's efforts to figure out and then say what constitutes Wittgenstein's method, or less narrowly, what his philosophy is up to. If the reader is any old person, and the reader is the patient, as in (1), how much more tempting is it to take Wittgenstein's method to rest on special facts about humans, or special facts about language, or about the philosophical impulse? Things do not seem much better with (2), where the generality of the bad philosopher (unless he enjoys some particularity, for example being a dirty Platonist) invites one to construe Wittgenstein's method in a similar way; and, worse, maybe invites too much identification with Wittgenstein as distinct and against the bad philosopher.

With these easier generalities made unavailable in (3), what is the observer-reader left to observe? (I hope the answer is: Wittgenstein's demonstration of his method, his example. So that the injunction to the student ends up being: try it like this.)

This opens out onto a broader investigation into the construction of the reader of the Investigations, for example by looking at Wittgenstein's use of pronouns - ich, du, wir, man, etc. - the addressees of questions, assumptions about community, committment, complicity, temptation, the relation between Wittgenstein, the reader, and the interlocutors' voices.

On readings that court unwisely substantive explanations of Wittgenstein's method, Cavell's remarks on ordinary language and 'what ''we'' say' seem to be making claims for Wittgenstein about ordinary language, about what a philosophical method that took its nature and relation to philosophy into account would look like. But how might these remarks be taken differently? What is the point of, for example, a search for community, by someone using Wittgenstein's method? Might a rhetorical study say more?