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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3 Aug '05 09:29:02 AM

I must've spent half an hour trying to whistle remembered melodies for my amusement tonight while waiting for the 1:22 bus. The 'yes but can you whistle it?' test is a very canny one, I found; but it seems to depend an awful lot on people's limited ability at whistling. I can do alright but if the melody doesn't have a lot of sizeable up and down motion to it, it starts sounding flat and tuneless as as the limitations of the instrument are emphasized. Proximity to speech adds so much that's hard to replace.

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.