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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23 Jun '13 06:31:43 AM

'… reading as a place to be…'

22 Jun '13 08:15:52 PM

'… which questions these facts answer and which facts would begin to speak if other questions were asked are hermeneutical questions.'

19 Jun '13 03:50:16 AM

H. writes from Dubai, sez the Doritos in the airport are refrigerated.

I don't know what to say about that.

16 Jun '13 02:04:35 AM

'It is finished can never be said of us'

14 Jun '13 09:06:07 AM

'For now, we need only consider a thoroughgoing position that any ingredient or constituent could be describable in terms of properties. Only a philosopher could want to say that an omelet has the property of being made of eggs. Why?'

13 Jun '13 11:23:07 PM

When you buy a bike, they don't tell you that you're basically going to bleed a lot more often, if you didn't much before. All over the place! It's like your body is a pump or something.

13 Jun '13 06:41:03 AM

Convention (formula) as compact: '… no matter how bad things get, the story will end'.

13 Jun '13 05:37:06 AM

'… assembling', making, originating…

13 Jun '13 03:47:31 AM

I wrote the entry below about Investigations remarks ca. §300 a year or two ago while trying to sort out some of the things Cavell (in Claim Part Four) and Mulhall (in Wittgenstein's Private Language) say about the given passages.

It was a typical bit of writing, for me: with an idea in mind (that time, from Cavell and Mulhall; other times, arising from my own reading), I returned to the text, found a suitable place to start, and just tried to read up through §300 and far enough beyond it to know how to break off for interpretation. I'm preoccupied by wholes, by the integrity of the texts I read (and their proper parts), by the job of giving sustained readings. On the practical side, that means doing sustained readings, actually holding together some worthwhile sense of the text as it develops so that this sense might uncover the most useful anchors within the text to place or communicate a more articulate interpretation of it. You know, usual hermeneutic stuff.

One reason the privacy remarks in the Investigations are so maddening is that they can pretty much elude, from section to section, any grasp of the overall course of the discussion you might be beginning to sustain. But there are too many pieces, too many turns and lateral shifts and changes of subject and role and point of view and purpose, to be able simply to work piece-by-piece and accumulate an interpretation that shows you the sense of the whole after the fact.

I was reminded of this lately because I reread the Investigations from §134 ('This is how things are') onward when some of Philip Cartwright's remarks on that passage put the text in a new light for me. I haven't been reading much Wittgenstein since finishing my Ph.D., except for what I needed to read to teach, so I've been doubly confined to the beginning of the text (§§1–133). First, because writing a dissertation on Wittgenstein and teaching him to undergraduates are pretty distinct undertakings, and I found that I needed a much more substantial idea of the beginning of the text than I had privately been working with. Second, because the argument about the structure of the Investigations I made in my dissertation gave me reasons not to have to understand, yet, the course the text takes after §§1–133, to which I confined most of my interpretative energies.

I don't want to be confined! But when I first started looking ahead at the parts of the text less-charted by me, after my first year of teaching (and after a Wittgenstein course I had been scheduled to teach was cancelled, which stirred up thoughts about how to teach the rest of the book anyway), I was unhappy with my (already limited) understanding of Wittgenstein's remarks about 'logic' in the big methodological sequence §§89–133. I didn't have much to say about what he had in mind there, but I was bothered by his apparent unconcern (more than usual!) for detailed engagement with his target. Besides, though I was well aware that the proper thing to do would be to read those passages against the Tractatus, and that he already had a kind of funny conception of logic (or of philosophical consideration of it) in the Tractatus, I sort of felt: given the affinities with ordinary language that Wittgenstein declares in the Investigations, and given how little he says about logic there, shouldn't (this is where the really obscure transition in my thinking took place, more of a stubbornness than an inference) I be able to say something, myself, about what is wrong, and how, with a standard introduction to symbolic logic, the kind almost everyone who teaches it still teaches to undergraduates, more or less a relative of Wittgenstein's, and Russell's, and Peano's, version of logic? Or to say something about how fraught the standard treatment is of the relation between that course's content, and 'language', or 'thinking', or 'reasoning'?

Well, no. Aside from the problem of the Tractatus, what I found from poking around for a while in the philosophy of logic was that this was not easy to work out without studying a lot more of the philosophy of logic, and even then, didn't seem real workable given how unsympathetic most things in the philosophy of logic are to what Wittgenstein is up to in the Investigations (much less the Tractatus). The standard intro course in logic, and Wittgenstein's dismissal (?) of logic's enshrinement as the core of philosophy, are not readily to be brought into contact—with the result that the intro course must remain something like a technical adjunct to the discipline, one which is badly intellectually accounted for (rather, it's given thin pragmatic or institutional justifications: 'lots of certain kinds of philosophers use this notation to express themselves and insist that you do so as well'), and can only be approached philosophically after the fact if at all ('but they have to master the technical details first!'). And when it is approached philosophically, logic seems to me mostly to serve as the pretext for more of the kinds of philosophical work that the Investigations identifies as suspect—which should make us wonder whether there ought not to be a different approach to it, one that's slower from the very beginning.

One nice reorientation toward my questions that I'm drawing from Philip's remarks has to do with the connection he draws to the Tractatus, because it links up with some of my other intermittent concerns from the past few years. I have been reading the Tractatus, a little. But I haven't needed much. Mainly, the predominance in it of the concept of the world. I've read my Heidegger; and invested a lot of time in reading Schopenhauer for partly genuine, partly venal reasons (ill-researched, good bridge to my other concerns, kind of turgid and antiquated, but also kind of thrillingly embittered and pessimistic, and good for practicing long German sentence construction). And, especially, placing the Investigations alongside Nietzsche and Descartes in my intro course has made me sensitive to how useful the concept of 'world' is in teaching Descartes, and how painfully absent it seems to be in Wittgenstein, as well as in Nietzsche, who shares with the Investigations Wittgenstein a different emphasis on 'life'. So, in effect, knowing that I can get more of what I need of 'world' from the Tractatus, while also (and pretty much because of the way Wittgenstein's subject relates to 'world' in that book) addressing some of my questions about logic in the Investigations, has made much that was old look new to me.

This is just as true of that elusiveness I mentioned above. The other day, so much more about the remarks on privacy made sense to me, in a really sustained way, thanks to all my intervening reading, and this new way to think about the text. But! As I read, without stopping to get it down (itself a way to lose the sense of the text you're building up), I could feel it slipping away a bit, until I got back to—that fucking teapot.

Then, I was no longer sure I knew what I had been doing.