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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29 Nov '13 04:08:19 PM

'We must reserve a back shop all our own, entirely free, in which to establish our real liberty and our principal retreat and solitude. Here our ordinary conversation must be between us and ourselves, and so private that no outside association or communication can find a place; here we must talk and laugh as if without wife, without children, without possessions, without retinue and servants, so that, when the time comes to lose them, it will be nothing new to us to do without them. We have a soul that can be turned back upon itself; it can keep itself company; it has the means to attack and the means to defend, the means to receive and the means to give: let us not fear that in this solitude we shall stagnate in tedious idleness: In solitude be to thyself a throng.'

28 Nov '13 11:26:03 PM

Give thanks if you can say 'no'. Few really can.

28 Nov '13 11:10:53 PM

I would like to have a better idea of the kind of skeptic a philosopher who 'does ethics' is.

28 Nov '13 11:01:24 PM

It's rare that Wittgenstein's remarks refer explicitly to anyone, far less so to anyone known intimately to him. The reference to Frank Ramsey in §81 must owe something to how struck by the phrase, 'normative science', Wittgenstein must have been. Perhaps at that point, in Ramsey's mouth, 'normative' (or worse, 'normativity') did not yet sound like yet another semi-meaningful philosophical para-word, whatever initial sense it had quickly worn away through mindless over-circulation. In Wittgenstein's own gloss on the description of logic as a 'normative science'—

'[W]ir nämlich in der Philosophie den Gebrauch den Wörter oft mit Spielen, Kalkülen nach festen regeln, vergleichen, aber nicht sagen können, wer die Sprache gebraucht, müsse ein solches Spiel spielen…'

—I can hear an echo of a remark (6.422) from the Tractatus seemingly meant to characterize the way in which ethics, like logic (6.13), is said to be transcendental (6.421):

'Der erste Gedanke bei der Aufstellung eines ethischen Gesetzes von der Form »du sollst…« ist: Und was dann, wenn ich es nicht tue?'

28 Nov '13 10:28:44 PM

§§81–88 of the Investigations must somehow be more remarkable, more dynamic, than they usually seem. So much happens.

§83 seems to recapitulate §1d: Wittgenstein says, essentially, here's a description (people playing out in the open, goofing around with a ball, doing this and that, 'dazwischen den Ball planlos in die Höhe würfen'), and then (and yet): 'nun sagt Einer: Die ganze Zeit hindurch spielen die Leute ein Ballspiel, und richten sich daher bei jedem Wurf nach bestimmten Regeln'.

I can't help but imagine this 'someone' who says this saying it with an air of penetration, the same sort of affected, mystical farsightedness which is soon to be depicted repeatedly during the metaphilosophical remarks to come. It seems to come from nowhere. Someone hears this description, sees or imagines people doing what they have been said to be doing, and his immediate response is to insist (is that not the tone?) on some other description, not just as one which would also fit, but as one which is somehow needful (—in order to…?). As the nearby remarks make clear, Wittgenstein's mind is on doubt, on a skepticism with onset so rapid and consequences so calamitous that the skeptic, the person in that mood, that frame of mind, imagines the earth swallowing him up (§84). At least, so long as he cannot find or devise a way of ruling those doubts out; all doubt out.

Where does the skeptic think of himself as trying to stand? As making some space in which, from which, to reflect, to entertain and then settle the questions that words, as ordinarily used, provoke, or tempt, or leave him free to pursue? When Wittgenstein makes an entirely characteristic response to the idea of rules which leave no room for doubt (compare §85 to §28: a signpost sometimes leaves room for doubt, sometimes not), he then remarks: 'dies ist nun kein philosophischer Satz mehr, sondern ein Erfahrungssatz'. The 'empirical proposition' in the standard translation is a little too fancy, maybe; it's not as if 'signposts sometimes leave room for doubt, and sometimes don't' was or is to be tested, confirmed, experimented about. 'Empirical…' is a philosopher's construction. But anyone with experience, of signposts or doubts or otherwise, knows what Wittgenstein says about them, can confirm his remark and, with it, using it, get back in touch with the ground of language, with words as they are used in everyday life.

So why 'not a philosophical proposition'? Aside from the fact that, duh, it's not? Maybe because the skeptic is liable to suppose that any response to his doubts is, or must be, philosophical, effected with 'philosophical propositions'. Especially if it seems to work. Because what else could work?!

For Wittgenstein there is nowhere to stand except the usual places, the ordinary ones, where ordinary language is spoken.

28 Nov '13 09:13:11 PM

Isobel Sollenberger—on a verge which is always sustained.

28 Nov '13 09:03:49 PM

Our mindlessness

28 Nov '13 09:02:13 PM

It's as if Kurt Vile and his band have some recollection of rock music—exuberant, surging, joyful swaggering noise—but recognize that they, we, now, cannot just have that, do that; what works instead, for now, is measured, deliberate.

28 Nov '13 08:42:02 PM

The image of a person alone with a book; one way of picturing philosophy.

A person keeping a journal is alone with a book, too. But then, not just a book being read; a book being written.

And not even being read, at least not like any other book. Your journal is never just a book.

And not even in the way that a book you write is not just any book.